24 February 2011

Welcome to maritime author ~ James L. Nelson

Multiple award-winning author of maritime history and fiction, bringing to life
America's historic links to the sea.

Jim Nelson was born and raised in Lewiston. He has always harboured a deep love of ships and the sea, though no one else in his family ever did, which leads him to believe that it is a genetic disorder and not learned behavior.

Non Fiction
George Washington’s Secret Navy is the story of the small fleet of schooners established by George Washington soon after he took command of the Continental Army outside Boston. It is also the story of how Washington, a farmer whose military experience had taken place far from the sea, came to appreciate the importance of naval power in the war he would be fighting.

George Washington’s Great Gamble
Published in the Spring of 2010. George Washington’s Great Gamble tells the story of the centrality of sea power to victory in the American Revolution, and how Washington gambled everything on the hope of a French naval victory over the British off the Virginia coast. It tells as well the nearly miraculous story of how all the elements came together to give the Americans and their French allies a situation in which they were able to capture Lord Charles Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown.


The Revolution at Sea Saga – Captain Isaac Biddlecomb of Rhode Island  is swept up in the naval war for American Independence

 By Force of Arms
The Maddest Idea
The Continental Risque
Lords of the Ocean
All the Brave Fellows

The Brethren of the Coast Trilogya series about Thomas Marlowe, a former pirate who tries to give up the old life and settle in Colonial America, but keeps getting drawn back to his old ways.
The Guardship
The Blackbirder
The Pirate Round
The Samuel Bowater Books- Set during the early days of the American Civil War, Samuel Bowater leaves his beloved United States Navy to fight for the Confederacy.
Glory in the Name – winner of the American Library Association/William Young Boyd Award
Thieves of Mercy
The Only Life that Mattered – a novel based on the lives of the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
Jim’s next book will be out in March 2011. Something of a departure from his usual maritime theme, With Fire and Sword is about the early days of the American Revolution, culminating in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Early Reviews of With Fire and Sword: 
Publisher’s Weekly: 
This rousing history rescues Bunker Hill from its folkloric shroud and pre-sents it as one of the revolution’s more significant and dramatic battles. Historian and novelist Nelson (Benedict Arnold’s Navy) calls the 1775 engagement–a struggle for high ground from which American artillery could hit the British stronghold in Boston–the revolution’s “first real battle.” Nelson’s gripping portrait of the battle caps a lively chronicle of the early days of the rebellion in Massachusetts and of the revolutionaries’ scramble to establish a government and organize an army as they edged uneasily toward independence. Nelson’s well-researched, entertaining account of the revolution’s opening chapter aptly conveys the difficulty and riskiness of the patriots’ gamble. 

Kirkus (starred review) 
A clever, often sardonic history of an iconic battle.  
Prolific historian Nelson (George Washington’s Great Gamble: And the Sea Battle that Won the American Revolution, 2010, etc.) begins in turbulent 1760s Massachusetts, which, in his often tongue-in-cheek narrative, resembles less the traditional high-school patriotic pageant than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nelson makes an entertaining case that the American Revolution may have been won on Bunker Hill. 

A few questions:
HH Out of your fictional sea-heroes, which one is your favourite?

JLN. Ah, that’s like asking which of my kids I like the best! Isaac Biddlecomb, protagonist of my series about the naval action of the American Revolution, was my first character, so he holds a special place in my heart. However, because he was my first, he is perhaps not as nuanced some of my later characters, though I do think he has some depth. Thomas Marlowe is the pirate turned gentleman who still gets lured back into piracy, and I like him quite a bit. Samuel Bowater is the main character in the two novels I did about the Confederate Navy during the American Civil War. In some ways he’s my least favourite, insofar as he is a bit of a stuffed shirt.
 His foil, engineer Hieronymus Taylor, is one of my favourites and one of my readers favourites, and I very much like the interaction between them.

A long response, and as yet no answer. I guess I’d have to give it to Thomas Marlowe.

HH. You wrote a fabulous book about the famous female pirates Mary Reed and Anne Bonny “ The Only Life That Mattered” – do you think they were the only female pirates, or were they only ones we know about because they were captured?

Ann Bonny and Mary Read were certainly not the only female pirates. Next most famous is the Irish pirate Grace O’Malley. But Ann and Mary are perhaps the best known, in part because they sailed during the last years of the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean, and in part because they were captured and there were so many witnesses to their trial, and the transcripts as well. The “Trial of the Century” circa 1720. Also, there is a serious titillation factor with them. But no, they were by no means the only women pirates.

As I tell my daughters, piracy is still a good career option for a young woman.

HH. Do you think you’ll write any more fiction novels?

I would love to wrote more fiction, but I don’t see it happening anytime in the next few years. A lot of editors have this idea that historical fiction aimed at a male readership is dead. You can write as many novels as you want about Anne Boleyn and they all seem to get published, but something that is aimed at a male readership? No interest. Now it is certainly true that women read a lot more than men (another reason they are the superior gender) but I think the publishers are wrong on this. [HH I absolutely agree!]

However, I will say that I enjoy non-fiction as much as fiction. It is an entirely different animal, and a real challenge to make the pages turn when you can’t make things up, but I like it. And it’s frankly easier to get review and media attention, as well as speaking gigs, all things one has to consider when supporting five people who insist on eating regularly.

HH. Your next book is ‘With Fire and Sword’ – not your usual maritime sort of work. What prompted you to write it?

I’ve been writing maritime history, both fiction and non-fiction, my whole career. It is certainly my passion. But I am also passionate about the American Revolution. With Fire and Sword is about the opening year of the Revolution, culminating in the Battle of Bunker Hill. It’s a fascinating story. Most Americans would tell you we won the Battle of Bunker Hill, which we did not. But it also was the event, coming right on the heels of Lexington and Concord, that let the British army know that this would not be the stroll in the park they envisioned. And I also want to give a good account of both sides. The British, of course, were not monsters, and Thomas Gage, the British commander, was about as fair a man as one could ask, but he was in an impossible situation. Great stuff.

HH. Let’s pretend you are a Captain aboard a grand Royal Navy Vessel. You have been instructed by the Admiralty to invite 10 guests to dine.
You can have anyone – alive or dead – who would you choose and why?

Oh boy…

Okay, Jesus would be one, how could you miss a chance like that?
Shakespeare, he’d probably be a lot of fun to party with. And Mary Read. Maybe Ann Bonny.
Benjamin Franklin, to be sure. He might be first on the list. George Washington, certainly. You would think I would say Horatio Nelson and John Paul Jones, and certainly I’d have to consider them, but brilliant as they were, I don’t know if they’d be my first choice for a dinner conversation.
Certainly I would invite Ernest Hemingway and C. S. Forester. And probably Teddy Roosevelt.
And of course my wife, Lisa. I couldn’t let her miss such a gathering, and I would clearly need help with the small talk!

Thank you Jim (please can we have some more adventures of Biddlecomb and Marlowe…… ?)

A personal note from Helen
Relevant to this guest spot – Jim is my “red pen” when it comes to editing the nautical detail of my Sea Witch novels.
I had read all his fiction books – loving both Marlowe and Biddlecomb as characters – and I e-mailed him to say thank you for the super reads. WE struck up a bit of an friendship and I confided in Jim that I was writing Sea Witch, but I knew it would be rubbish as I am no sailor (never been aboard a tall ship – or even a short ship – in my life!)

Jim offered advice and to edit; I am so grateful to him for his professional help and cheerful friendship.

Jim's website
Jim's Blog

He graduated from UCLA with a degree in motion picture/television production and for several years pursued a career in the television industry. Finally, finding that despite being in Southern California it was a damp, drizzly November in his soul, Jim took the cure Melville recommended and decided to sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
The Rose
(aka Surprise)
For six years he worked on board traditional sailing ships including a replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind the Lady Washington (known to Pirates of the Caribbean fans as the Interceptor) and the Revolutionary War frigate HMS Rose (better known as HMS. Surprise in the movie Master & Commander)

Jim went aboard the Rose in 1991 and a year later the urge to write a novel overwhelmed him and he started his first novel - By Force of Arms, was written mostly in the third mate's cabin of the ship, and on the great cabin table.

“ I was working on deck one day when the idea for my first book came to me, just one sentence, just like a bolt. I stood up and jotted that one sentence down, and that was the seed of the book."
Jim at work in the
Great Cabin

By Force of Arms incorporates much of the history of the original Rose when she was on patrol in Narragansett Bay, and some of Nelson's own experiences aboard the modern replica.

Finally realizing it would be easier to write about sailing rather than actually doing it, he came ashore and began a full time career as a writer.

Jim is the author of fifteen works of maritime fiction and history. His last book, George Washington's Secret Navy won the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval History.
He currently lives in Harpswell with his former shipmate, now wife Lisa and their four children

Nex time - 10th March
John Baird, author of the thriller Chasing Shadows
and chair of the New Writers uk group
dedicated to excellence in Self Publishing

9 February 2011

Please welcome my guest Richard Denning

Today Richard Denning, who has self published Tomorrow’s Guardian via his own Mercia Books, is a guest.

Richard Denning
 He has organised his own Virtual Book tour or Blog Tour and I wanted to find out more.
Richard: Hello Helen and thanks for having me on your blog.

Helen: Richard, could you tell my Blog visitors a little about you & your books?
Richard:  Sure. I am 43 and work as a GP in North Birmingham. I am married with two children. I have always had an interest in Science Fiction, Fantasy and also History. I love the books of Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Terry Pratchett (The Disc World novels), Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe, The Saxon and Longbow series) and George MacDonald Frazer (Flashman). Those and TV such as Star Trek, Farscape, Angel, Stargate, along which historical mysteries like Cadfael and Poirot have had  a strong influence on my writing.

I have been writing since the age of about 32 and I have three series which I am writing. The Amber Treasure is about 6th and 7th century Northumbria and the early years of Saxon England. The Last Seal is historical fantasy set in the 17th century and the book I have just released in paperback, Tomorrow’s Guardian is a teen time-travel adventure. The sequel will be out later in the spring.

Helen: Why did you decide to go self publish with your books?
Richard: Traditionally the only real route to publication was to get an agent and publisher. That is of course a valid route and an option I am also exploring. But with the economy still fragile it is an extremely hard time to get a publisher. My books had been read and enjoyed by a number of readers and I decided to try self publishing as a way of getting the books into more hands.
The world is changing and with the rapid rise of e-books sales and the ability to sell on Amazon and the internet this is a good time for small press and self published authors to get their work out there.
In the end what counts is the quality of the books. If readers enjoy the books and want to read more it really does not matter HOW the book got to them.

Helen: You are in the middle of a Blog Tour I believe? What is a Blog or Virtual Book Tour?
Richard: If you go back a few years the only way for an author to promote books was to visit book shops all over the country. This method is still used of course and meeting readers is a great aim. However, the internet has changed everything.
Rather than an author getting 40 or 50 people (if they are lucky) at a book tour visit to a book shop they can access hundreds and even thousands via visits to Book Blog sites.
These are blogs [HH. the word blog is a shortened version of Web Log] where the writer reviews books, interviews the author and discusses themes and ideas that might come up in the books.
These posts stay online and show up in search engines. They can be linked to from other blogs and websites and so readers can see it months or years after the original posting.

Helen: What gave you the idea to do a blog tour? How did you set it up and run it?
Richard: I saw your tour Helen, for The Forever Queen and thought it sounded something worth trying. I had also read about the idea on various sites that discussed book promotion.
To set the tour up I spent a few hours Googling terms like “Young Adult Fiction Blog”, “Book Blogs UK”, “Sci fi Book Blogs” etc. I visited the sites and looked over the types of books they covered to see if they appeared to match the genre of Tomorrow’s Guardian. I read the policy page on the blog. Most sites have these and they tell you if they will review your book, whether they want e-books or hard copy, whether they will deal with self published authors etc.
I also followed links from the blog rolls these sites had . Those are lists of other blogs they follow.
I drew up a list of appropriate sites and emailed the owner. Some did not reply, some said “no thanks” but many were friendly and happy to be part of the blog tour.
It is important to be polite and that usually pays off.
I then organised a schedule for the tour and offered people dates. I also offered to do guest posts and interviews (like this one). Blog owners want content and if you can provide this they will often say “yes”. When the tour goes live you need to let people know about it via Twitter, Facebook and Newsletters.

Helen: On the whole do you think it's been useful or not?
Richard: Well it is still in the middle of the tour but I have to say yes. It is not all wine and roses of course. Some reviewers might not like the book. 
You may not manage to get all the sites to go through with the post. People get busy and other plans get in the way. It takes time to organise and you must be willing to take rejection from some site owners. But it is a great way of rapidly accumulating reviews.
Be sure, by the way, to ask the reviewer to also add reviews on Good Reads and Amazon. Having reviews to quote from is one bonus.
You have also got the word out to hundreds of readers  you never contacted before. I also found that doing the guest posts and interviews made me think more about my writing, what I write and why and that helps in being able to market the books in the future.

Helen: As you are a self published author, did you find most of the blogs you approached friendly and helpful or were they a bit snooty about "vanity published"?
Richard: I did not approach sites that openly said they did not take Self published books. Some were even quite rude about it in their policy statements. You just ignore those sites of course.
A few sites without any explicit policy did decline to be part of the tour on the grounds my books were self published, so yes there is still a lot of snobbery out there and a lot of people who reject any self published authors.
It is not just SP. Some sites look at small press authors or turn down Print On Demand authors.
I did find one site who I came across asking about Mercia Books (my publishing house) and whether they were mainstream or vanity publishers. From my website and the books they could not tell. 

I have to ask: if an author can present a professionally produced and edited book,  on a professionally imaged publuisheing site and a professionally presented blog site resulting in readers unable to  tell if they are SP or not.... then should these people who belittle self publishing not be taking a long look at their attitude?

I think the world of publishing is going to be shaken by the e-book revolution.

Helen:  You have several books - what one of your characters is your favourite?
Richard: I would have to say probably Septimus Mason from Tomorrow’s Guardian. He is a bit of a rogue – a mercenary adventurer who makes money travelling back in time, stealing historical objects and selling them in the present day. He is a little but like Han Solo and a little bit like Captain Jack Sparrow.

cover designed by
 Helen: Finally, can you tell us a little about Tomorrow’s Guardian
Richard: Tomorrow’s Guardian is a teen time travel adventure. Experiencing disturbing episodes of déjà-vu, eleven year old Tom believes he is going mad. Then, he meets the adventurer Septimus Mason, who shows him that he is a “Walker” – someone who can transport himself to other times and places. Septimus explains that these abilities could be removed leaving him, once more, an ordinary schoolboy. Given the hurt these talents have caused, the choice would seem easy enough,but it is not so simple.

In dreams, Tom has experienced life as other “Walkers” in times of mortal danger: Edward Dyson killed at the Battle of Isandlwana, 1879; Mary Brown who perished in the Great Fire of London, 1666; and finally Charlie Hawker, a sailor who was drowned on a U-boat in 1943. Reluctantly agreeing to travel back in time and rescue them, Tom has three dangerous adventures before returning to the present day.

Tom’s troubles have only just started, however, for he has now drawn the attention of powerful individuals who seek to use him to change history and to bend it to their will. This leads to a struggle wherein Tom’s family are obliterated and Tom must make a choice between saving them and saving his entire world.

Richard's website

Tomorrow's Guardian Buy it from Amazon.co.uk 
RRP £9.99
Published:  January 2011
ISBN: 9780956483560 
 Published by Mercia Books.
Sequel is coming Spring 2011

Mercia Books

Helen: you have been asked to organise a dinner party - which ten people would you invite and why?
You can have anyone, alive, dead or fictional.
Richard: All four of my favourite authors – Tolkien, Pratchett, Frazer and Cornwell. I would love to be able to chat about their books and their writing. Bilbo Baggins because he knows how to have a good time and likes his food and drink. Hercule Poirot for when someone gets murdered (come on its inevitable - it is a dinner party). The Duke of Wellington and Alexander the Great so we can discuss the great battles of history. Sir Ian Botham (I am a cricket fan so he and I can talk about the game). Oh and why not Steven Moffat the Dr Who director and writer. Love to talk about his stories and find out what is going to happen in the next series.

Next Guest: James L. Nelson
Master Maritime Author
(24th February 2011)

3 February 2011

Welcome to a Regia Anglorum re-enactor

Who am I?
Connor & Paula

I am Paula Wilcox a psychiatric nurse working in Intensive Care for people experiencing an acute mental illness. I am also mum to Ron 23, Catherine 16 and Connor 14. I qualified as an RMN just two and a half years ago and I love my work.
Ten years ago I decided after my second marital break down, that I would have to re-evaluate my life and what I was going to do with it. I wanted something better for my children, so after procrastinating and feeling sorry for myself, I picked myself up and left my job of fourteen years and went to college and got on the mental health nursing course at Surrey University.
I chose mental health because I wanted to care for people who had suffered the traumas of life like I had,  but who were not lucky enough to recover like myself.
But my greatest ambition (and there have been many!) is to one day complete a historical novel.

I had started many in my younger days but had never finished them. So, in my forties, having ‘sorted’ myself out at last, I started on my project, Sons of the Wolf  after being inspired by a re-enactment of the Battle of 1066 at Battle Abbey in 2005.
Anglo Saxon  re-enactment

Whilst researchiWng for my novel, I stumbled across the Regia Anglorum website  and thought what a good idea it would be to join and experince first hand something of what my characters would have felt, and how they would have lived.

I looked at other re-enactment groups but Regia was the one that impressed me the most. It was the right period of interest for me and also had their own Long Hall site, a truly authentic settlement at Wychurst in Kent where members could experience what it was like to live in the Hall, feasting and drinking, huddled round the great hearth place, listening to sagas and riddles as our ancestors would have in the Anglo Saxon period.

image: courtesy Regia Anglorum
It has been of great use to me in my writing and Regia is a great organisation. Their insistence for authenticity is second to none and they always endeavour to present themselves as so to the public. For nearly a quarter of a century, Regia Anglorum has  been re-creating history for audiences around the world. The group can offer skilled, properly equipped and highly motivated men and women of all ages, including horses and riders and four full-scale ship replicas.

Helen with Paula & Conner
Battle 2010

To wander around a re-created encampment at places like annual the Battle of \Hastings re-enactment at Battle Abbey is an enlightening way to re-live the sights, sounds and smells of an era that existed around 1,000 years ago.
And to be a re-enactor, on top of all that is great fun!
Hello Paula,
H.H. As a re-enactor, do you have to wear authentic costume? Where do you get it from – and is it comfortable?
P.W. Hi Helen. All our ‘kit’ is made intending to portray authentic clothing for the time we are depicting. Most of us make our own. We mainly use wool or linen. It’s quite easy to make and believe it or not, it’s not as itchy or rough as it looks. The tunics are very comfortable but the thing I hate wearing the most are the wimples. They can be very annoying on windy days!
image: courtesy Regia Anglorum
H.H. I notice from your photograph that you had a great time at Wychurst, Regia Anglorum’s very own ‘Long Hall’ – what is it like sitting there in that big hall, does it really make you feel that you could be living back in say, the year 1066?
image: courtesy Regia Anglorum
P.W.  the Long Hall at Wychurst is one of the most magical places! It’s very atmospheric and you definitely get a feeling of being transported back to another time and place. We had a 12th Night Feast there recently and I really felt as if I was living a thousand years ago. It was all there, the fire blazing in the hearth, the food, the smoke, the torches in their sconces.....its just so magical.

H.H. Your son, Connor is a re-enactor too? Does he enjoy it?

P.W. Connor joined the society with me 4 years ago when he was 11. He does enjoy it but is looking forward to the day he can start combat training. At the moment he is too young and for health and safety reasons, he cannot fight until he is 16, so he has just over a year to go. So for now he has to be content with polishing the weapons and acting as a warrior's shield bearer.

H.H. Let’s pretend some magic has happened and you suddenly find yourself back in time in the real Anglo Saxon time period:
What do you think are the good things?
I think in some ways it was a much simpler time then, although the work was harsh for the peasant classes and even harsher for slaves. People were more content to just be alive I guess, so they would not have been wracked by guilt of putting on weight, nor did they worry about careers, having material things and so on. People lived off the land and their main worries were whether or not they had food on the table. I guess that was enough stress to cope with, without all the modern day stresses we have today. Women were more respected and had  more rights under Anglo Saxon rule, unlike the Roman and Norman women who were no more than chattels, the property of men, to be used and abused as their men-folk pleased. Women could own their own land and earn their own incomes. Once the Norman’s came, they lost these rights virtually overnight.
H.H. What are the not so good?
P.W. Toilets! They must have been the most awful unhygienic places. And smoke in the houses really gets in your eyes but I suppose they probably got used to that, unlike us who experience it only every so often. The cold too, must have been terrible for the poorer classes. The foot wear was not that brilliant and if you were lucky you might have been able to stuff your shoes with some fur or wool but otherwise cold feet would have been awful!
H.H. You are asked to hold a feast at Wychurst, you can invite ten guests – anyone from any time period. Who would they be and why?

9th/10th c Lady Aethelflaeda, she was an incredible woman. She was King Alfred the Great’s daughter, married to the Eolderman of Mercia. When he died she became known as Lady of the Mercians and led her men into battle against the Danes, succeeding in pushing them back Northwards.
11th c King Harold Godwinson. Of course he would have to be there, he is my hero!
12th c William Marshall. Another great Englishman. He was an amazing man, the David Beckham of his time. A star of the tourney, he was a true mediaeval celebrity. He had it all, could sing, play the lyre, fight and was tall and handsome. He lived to a great age and even in his 70’s went into battle.
5th c Ambrosius Aurelianus, so I could ask him who the hell was Arthur!lol.
9th c King Alfred the Great. His stand against the Danes, coming back from the swamp was something so admirable! And he did a lot for the Englisc language.
11th c Edmund Ironside. This was a very brave man and I have always wondered what sort of king he would have made.
11th c King Edward the Confessor. I would like to ask him why the hell did he not do something about the succession sooner. I would really tell him off!
11th c Hereward. He was a mean so and so! I admire him for his stand against the Norman whom he really hated.
11th c  Gytha Haroldsdotor. I would like to ask her how she felt about losing her father and uncles so tragically, having to leave England and become the wife of a Russian prince.
11th c Hakon Swegnson. He and his uncle Wulfnoth were real tragic characters. They were whisked away from their family to Normandy and kept there as prisoners for years. Hakon was released when Harold turned up at William’s court in Normandy and was lucky to go back to England for a short while before his death at Hastings. He would have been only about 21 when he died. I was glad that he had a few years home with his grandmother and uncles for awhile.
15th c Richard the third. This man was nothing like the Shakespearian hunchback everyone came to think of him as. He was a fierce warrior, brave and courageous and should not have been murdered in the way that he was. He was brave right to the end.
Oops there are 11! I would have invited more but there aren’t enough places at the table!
Thank you Paula – I’ll let you off the extra guest!

Regia Anglorum Events Calendar 2011 

Wychurst in the snow
image: courtesy Regia Anglorum

Next Week's Guest - Richard Denning - The Blog Tour