Welcome

Welcome to the world of adventure, love and war. You’ve entered 17th Century England. It’s a time of civil war, social upheaval, conspiracies and intrigue. In the world of historical fiction, this is gold.

Join me in this journey. I intend to pique your interest.

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Mark Noce: Author Spotlight

BetweenTwoFires-2I’ve taken another detour from the 17th century and transported back to Medieval Wales to welcome author, Mark Noce today. For anyone who has ever been caught up in the Arthur legends, it’s hard not to feel a connection with Wales and the Welsh tribes.

Mark’s debut book, Between Two Fires, is the story of Branwen, daughter of King Vortigern of Wales and one queen’s struggle to save her people from the Saxons.

Without further ado, please welcome Mark as he answers some questions about his new book which comes out in three days. 


Between Two Fires is told from the first person perspective of Branwen, the daughter of King Vortigern of Wales. What challenges did you have writing in a female voice and how did you get inside her head?

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 M.N: I really enjoyed writing from Branwen’s perspective. From the opening line I felt that I knew who she was, and I had to tell her story. It’s funny in a way, because I had no intention originally of writing in the present tense, but that’s simply what the character demanded. I know it sounds odd, but it’s the truth. I had this voice in my head and this is the way the words wanted to spill onto the page.
When the inspiration’s flowing, I try not to mess with it. I find that the present tense adds a sense of urgency to Branwen’s plight, as she herself doesn’t know what will happen to her from one moment to the next.

In addition, my wife is my secret weapon when it comes to writing. She gives me such great feedback when I’m crafting each chapter and her input always helps guide me when writing from a female perspective. I truly believe that we’re all human, and regardless of race, gender, or circumstance and that there are commonalities that help bind us together. That’s definitely something that helped me to write Branwen’s story with confidence.

 ◊ Tell us what inspired you to write this story
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M.N: The first line haunted me from the moment it popped into my head: “Today I will marry a man I have never met.”

For me the first line of a story is very important, especially as a writer. It’s the seed from which the rest of the story grows, and from that line on I knew who Branwen was and wanted to share her story. I’ve grown up around strong women and have always been fascinated by stories about strong women, so for me it’s only natural to write about a heroine like Branwen. My wife also continues to inspire me and many of Branwen’s best traits are definitely inspired by her example.

Between Two Fires takes place in Medieval Wales. What drew you to this time and place?

Welsh Flag Badge - Flag of Wales Button Isolated on White M.N: I’m always fascinated by “dark ages.” Not so much the end of civilization or backwards technology, but an era in which little has survived in the modern historical record.
Aside from some ruins, a few spare documents, and a bunch of oral tales, there’s very little concrete evidence regarding what Wales was like in the year 600 AD. We’ve literally lost the names of some of the kingdoms and kings from that era, let alone what everyday life might have been like.
As a writer this gives me great freedom in creating the world my characters inhabit, but it’s also a huge responsibility, because as a historical fiction writer I’m obligated to make the most believable setting possible with the facts at my disposal.
For me, this is where a historical fiction author can really reach beyond what a historian is comfortable doing, and to provide a glimpse of what the early medieval world within Wales might truly have been like. I certainly enjoyed writing Between Two Fires, and I sincerely hope people enjoy reading it.
Thank you Mark for giving us an insight into your inspiration for your story.

About Between Two Fires

Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King.

But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear itself apart.

Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.

Praise for Between Two Fires

“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter

“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin

To be released August 23, 2016 and available for preorder now through:

AmazonAmazon KindleBarnes & NobleBarnes & Noble NookiTunesIndieBound, and Thomas Dunne Books

Mark Noce

Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family.

His debut novel, Between Two Fires, is being published by Thomas Dunne Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan). It is the first in a series of historical fiction novels set in medieval Wales.

Connect with Mark through his Website, and social media on Twitter, Facebook (author page), Goodreads, LinkedIn, Google+. Join his Thunderclap Campaign.

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Spotlight: 1066 Turned Upside Down (Part 2)- Continuing the conversation

Authors

On my last blog post, I featured an exciting new speculative historical fiction anthology, 1066 Turned Upside Down. I had the opportunity to chat with many of the authors about what inspired them to create this anthology. If you missed Part 1, click here to read.

Today for Part 2, we continue the conversation about their writing and the anthology.

Without further ado, I present Annie Whitehead, Alison Morton, Richard Dee, Carol McGrath, Anna Belfrage, and Joanna Courtney.


Helen Hollick, in Part I of this blog, Annie Whitehead speculated about post-Hastings Britain if Harold had been victorious. What are your thoughts about how England would be different today had the Saxons won Hastings?   

Helen: It is usually speculated that had Harold II taken the victory England would, today be more like any of the modern Scandinavian countries. I am not so sure. Would this, perhaps, depend on how ambitious – or cautious, Harold had been? Duke William had sons. Had he been killed at Hastings (which would have happened had he lost, Harold could not have afforded to let him live), would Harold have had to ensure these sons did not pose a future threat? Given the victory could Harold have turned the tables and used the Norman fleet, anchored at Hastings, to sail to Normandy to make the Duchy is own? He had defeated Duke William, and that would mean most of the Norman nobility who had come with William would also be dead. Harold could not have risked Duchess Mathilda rallying troops to her eldest son’s side to avenge her husband. Harold would have had to make certain that William’s sons did not live to fight another day.

So I think we would have had the Norman Conquest in reverse – the English Conquest – and something very similar to the Plantagenet line of succession which followed 1066, only as the Godwinson Line and England being the hub, not Normandy. Harold would have ensured support from the Pope, would have built churches and initiated some form of coherent administration – he might have even built stone castles and introduced a feudal system. He might have gone on to take vast areas of France for his own, either by force or alliance – he had sons and daughters to marry off. Maybe, just maybe, in later years a certain young woman called Eleanor from Aquitaine would have married one of his grandsons and become Queen of England with Harold Haroldson, not Henry II…

You see the possibility for ‘what if’s’ are infinite!


Anna Belfrage, in the anthology, you feature a different perspective than either the Saxons or the Normans and instead write about the King of Denmark, Sven Estridsen. What impact did 1066 have on Denmark?

Anna: Since the beginning of the 11th century, there had been close ties between England and Denmark. King Canute was Danish, his son Hardicanute was half Danish, and some of the more powerful men in Anglo-Saxon England had close personal ties to Denmark. One such man was Harold Godwinson, whose mother was Danish and sister to King Canute’s brother-in-law, Ulf Jarl (or Jarl Ulf, as English speakers would call him). This Ulf was powerful in his own right, and by his wife, Estrid, he had a number of children, one of whom was Sven Estridson, king of Denmark by the time 1066 came around.

Sven Estridson used a matronymic rather than a patronymic name for the simple reason that his claim to the Danish crown came through his mother, a daughter to Sven Forkbeard. He was quite some years Harold’s senior, and I believe he would have been more than happy to see his cousin crowned king of England – this would only strengthen the relationships between the two countries.

Anglo-Saxon England contributed a lot to the building of the Danish state: Anglo-Saxon priests served in the churches, Anglo-Saxon craftsmen built churches and houses, Anglo-Saxon minters helped develop coinage. In Lund, a city presently in Sweden but back then very Danish, archaeological digs have revealed a number of finds engraved with Anglo-Saxon names, indicating there was sizeable colony – both before but definitely after the Conquest. Danish ships traversed the North Sea, laden with pelts and timber going one way, with luxuries going the other.

So of course Sven Estridson watched the development in England with concern – and even more so when Harald Hardrada decided to put forward his own claim. Ever since Harald had come back from his lengthy service at the Byzantine court, he and Sven had been at loggerheads, with Harald (and his brother) insisting Denmark was part of Norway, Sven just as vehemently arguing that if anything Norway belonged to Denmark.

Harald went to England and died at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Sven probably did high-fives, thrilled to bits at being rid of this constant burr up his backside. And then came the news that Harold had died at Hastings, and any joy Sven felt was replaced by trepidation. While William the Conqueror had Nordic blood, it wasn’t exactly as if Sven and William were kissing cousins, and Sven was concerned for all those Anglo-Danes who might lose everything in the coming upheaval. This is why, in 1069, Sven joined forces with Edgar the Atheling and arrived in northern England at the head of a considerable army. York fell to the Northerners (almost happily, I suspect) and William must have passed a sweaty night or two – until he came up with the perfect solution: he would pay Sven to go back home. After all, it had worked before with the Danes.

I am sad to say Sven took the bribe. Off he went back home, leaving Edgar to flee to Scotland and the men of northern England to suffer the vengeance wreaked on them by William, the so called Harrowing of the North. Obviously, at some point Sven was afflicted by second thoughts, and he made a reappearance in England in 1074 or so. By then, his would-be allies were all dead, crushed under the heel of the might Norman boot.


Alison Morton, you take speculative fiction to new levels by introducing your own alternative historical Roma Nova characters into this epic timeframe (1066). What makes alternative history so appealing? 

Alison: Just at a moment in the space-time continuum, an event occurs, the timeline diverges and history rushes off in an alternative direction. Nothing is ever the same again. We catch our breath and then, intrigued and fascinated, we explore. Suppose Harold had won at Hastings? What possible future is there for him standing exhausted on the battlefield, and for his country: continuation, then inevitable decline of Saxon culture; economic colonisation by Normandy and France; invasion from Scandinavia; excommunication of the whole of England and an early Reformation? The ‘what if’ list is endless, and that’s not counting the maverick accidents of history.

For a fiction writer, the alternate history framework is a dream. You can let your imagination fly. But there are pitfalls. The world you build must follow historical logic and be both plausible and consistent in order to engage the reader and gain their trust. And you have to have it all worked out before you tap the first key.

And who is to say that in a timeline in many ways similar to ours, but not quite, a remnant of the Roman Empire hasn’t survived? One where women are prominent in the power circles. And one that although small is robust, flexible, wealthy and knows the world’s secrets… Wary yet respectful, others listen to what the Roma Novans have to say.

Alternate history gives us a rich environment in which to develop our storytelling, to explore dangerous themes, even frightening ones, but always fascinating ones. And the writer is, of course, the mistress of her universe.


Annie Whitehead, in your novels, To Be A Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker, you focus on the Mercians. What is the source of this deep connection to Mercia?
Annie: This is a strange one. I have no personal link to Mercia, but somehow, throughout my university studies, names from there kept cropping up – people who seemed interesting and unusual. The Mercians got hidden under a great shadow cast by Wessex, so perhaps I felt a need to bring them out into the light, but really I was fascinated by people who, for whatever reason, went against convention, even in those days: Aethelflaed, a woman who fought the Vikings, her husband who was not a king, yet fought for his country as if he were one, King Edgar, who managed to reign peaceably in an era of warfare and bloodshed, and his right-hand-man, Alvar (Aelfhere), who took on the mighty establishment of the Church. I quite admire the rebellious streak that seems to link them all.

Richard Dee, you truly go speculative in If You Changed One Thing. You are a science fiction writer mingling with historical fiction authors. How did you get involved in this project?

Richard: For that I must thank Helen Hollick; she has encouraged me ever since I sent her the manuscript of my novel Ribbonworld for her comments.

When she asked me if I wanted to get involved in this project, I thought at first that the two genres don’t really mix. But when you sit down and consider it, writing about the past and writing about the future have one thing in common, they are both connected by the present. Obviously we know nothing of the future but, in some cases we know very little of the past either. So with a little imagination you can weave a tale that takes a fact or an idea and turns it upside down, to coin a phrase.


When most people think of the Battle of Hastings, they naturally think about battles and armies. But in this speculative anthology, many of the stories focus on the women (wives, mothers, and daughters). What are your thoughts on their influence at that time?

Carol McGrath: I am not sure they did have great influence, generally speaking. Legally Anglo-Saxon women could make wills and their property was theirs to distribute as they wished. In reality, this was more often controlled by brothers, uncles and so on. You could not force a woman to marry against her wishes, yet all the time, throughout history, marriages were arranged and girls were pressured into accepting these.

I would say that some women wielded ‘soft power’. Some women could indeed influence husbands physiologically and they sometimes did. Eleanor of Aquitaine famously supported her sons against her husband. None the less, she paid a price for that and was incarcerated for many years by Henry II. Matilda acquired much support against Stephen but it was her son who was eventually crowned a king. She was not. Women did sign charters as witnesses. Queen Emma in the first half of the 11th C was a strong woman by all accounts but at the end of the day King Edward, her son, stripped her of her wealth.

The Godwin women were educated. They learned languages and read and were able to write. Queen Edith had a school for noble women at Wilton Abbey. These women were superb embroiderers. Queen Edith, wed to Edward the Confessor, is also an example of an educated clever woman who was  pragmatic after the Norman Conquest and who was permitted to keep her lands. Of course, if she was on side, that looked very good for King William who was marrying off Anglo-Saxon heiresses to his knights post Hastings, commoditizing these women. Edith Godwin was widely respected by scholars, too, at home and abroad. However in 1052 when her family fell out with King Edward she was powerless and banished by Edward to Wilton. She did return to court once the quarrel was mended and the Godwins were recalled. Gytha, Harold’s mother, was physically struck by her son, King Harold, according to a Chronicle when he marched south after Stamford Bridge and she suggested he send his brothers on to meet William at Senlac. He may have taken a wound and this determination to march on suggests his lands and possibly family were under attack. ( The Burning House). However, this resourceful woman, survived Hastings and later was besieged by King William in Exeter for refusing to pay tax. Still, she was let down by the towns people and the Bishop when it looked like the siege would be unsuccessful. So influence, not really, resourceful and memorable absolutely. After all, Countess Gytha did leave England’s shores to go into exile with a great Anglo-Saxon treasure and with a company of noble ladies which probably included Thea-Gytha, Harold and Edith Swan-Neck’s elder daughter.


Joanna Courtney, how did you get into writing?

Joanna: I’ve always  wanted to be a writer and I wrote endless stories, plays and Enid-Blyton-style novels as a child. As I became older I wrote short stories in the sparse hours available between raising two children and two stepchildren with over two-hundred stories and serials published in women’s magazines before, finally, I signed to PanMacmillan for my three-book series The Queens of the Conquest, about the amazing wives of the men fighting to be king of England in 1066. I am passionate about history and delving beneath the facts enough to turn them into believable fiction – but it was such a pleasure to step outside the box and have fun with like-minded authors to make a few ‘what if’ scenarios up!


Find out more about the authors:

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Anna Belfrage is the successful author of eight published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind – two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first two books of the series, In the Shadow of the Storm and Days of Sun and GloryDays of Sun and Glory are now available.

For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

 


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Joanna Courtney cut her publication teeth on short stories and serials for the women’s magazines before signing to PanMacmillan in 2014 for her three-book series The Queens of the Conquest about the wives of the men fighting to be King of England in 1066.

Her fascination with historical writing is in finding the similarities between us and them – the core humanness of people throughout the ages – and her aim with this series is to provide a lively female take on an amazing year in England’s history. She lives in Derbyshire, England.

Connect with Joanna on Twitter (@joannacourteny1) and visit her Website.

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Richard Dee
Richard Dee has had a forty year career in shipping as Navigator, Master Mariner, and finally as a Thames Pilot. He started writing Science Fiction several years ago. His fourth book, a Steampunk adventure called The Rocks of Aserol, will be released September 2016 in print, eBook and audiobook. His other novels, Freefall and Ribbonworld, and his short story collection, Flash Fiction, are available on Amazon (see author page). Visit his Website, and follow him on FacebookPinterest, Twitter (@RichardDockett1), and Instagram.
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2 Helen MediumHelen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma TheForever Queen UK ttitle A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy.

As a supporter of Indie Authors she is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award. Connect with Helen through her WebsiteBlogFacebook, Twitter (@HelenHollick), and through her Amazon Author’s Page.


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Carol McGrath lives in Oxfordshire with her family. She has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her debut novel, The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 entitled The Daughters of Hastings, was shortlisted for the RoNAS, 2014 in the historical category. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister followed to complete this best-selling trilogy. Carol is the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference Oxford September 2016. Find Carol on her Website.

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Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova alternative history  thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA (currently shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award). Her fifth book, INSURRECTIO, (HNS Editor’s Choice) was published in April (http://alison-morton.com/books-2/insurrectio/)

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova siteFacebook author page, Twitter (@alison-morton), and Goodreads.

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Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016 and has been awarded an indieBRAG medallion. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, a nobleman in the time of King Edgar, is available now. Connect with Annie through her WebsiteBlog, and Amazon Author’s Page.

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Spotlight: 1066 Turned Upside Down (Part 1)

AuthorsHave you ever wondered ‘what if’ history turned out a little differently? What if  John F. Kennedy wasn’t shot; what if Charles II had a legitimate heir?

Historical fiction authors have a great deal of respect for what actually happened in history and will undertake years of research to ensure they get it right. But once in a while, it’s fun to let the imagination loose and contemplate an alternate reality.

This is what an illustrious group of historical fiction authors did. In honour of the upcoming 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, when King Harold of England was defeated by William the Conqueror, they have released 1066 Turned Upside Down, a speculative anthology of short stories that contemplates different outcomes leading up to the Battle of Hastings.

1066 Turned Upside Down is a bold, entertaining collection. The stories are beautifully crafted, full of period detail and authenticity. The author’s notes help the reader, who may not be well-versed in this era of history, to appreciate what was different and to prompt additional thought. The authors are Joanna Courtney, Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, Richard Dee, G.K. Holloway, Carol McGrath, Alison Morton, Eliza Redgold, and Annie Whitehead.

Today, some of the authors have dropped by to chat about the anthology, speculative fiction and their work.


Tell us how this project started. Why celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings with speculative fiction instead of a historical anthology. 

Helen Hollick: The idea was Joanna Courtney’s: we were guest authors together at the Battle of Hastings re-enactment in October 2015 and we had a conversation (in between doing talks and book signings) about ‘what if’; then earlier this year Joanna mailed me with, ‘What if we were to do a what if collection of short stories?’

I jumped at the chance because I so wished that I could have written a different ending to my novel about the events that led to Hastings – Harold the King (UK title / I Am The Chosen King US title). Part of the idea as well was to have a bit of fun with history, something you cannot do when writing ‘straight’ historical fiction as facts have to remain facts. With 1066 Turned Upside Down we set out to bend (or completely undo!) the facts.

Part of the original plan was to have a short introduction to each story about the ‘facts’, and to add suggestions for further discussion which could be suitable for schools or writer’s groups.

Joanna had suggested a couple of possible established ‘1066’ authors to join us, and I put forward authors Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage and Richard Dee because I knew they would come up with something fabulous based on their own genre of writing.

I loved the chance to be able to alter two scenes that appear in my novel: what if Harold had not been elected King in the first place, and what if Duke William’s fleet had been destroyed at sea by the English? The latter is something I firmly believe happened – just a pity the facts didn’t pan out as they do in my story. (Sssh not saying any more detail: Spoilers!)


In the spirit of pure speculation, what are your thoughts on how post-Hastings Britain would look like had the Saxons won?

Annie Whitehead: I’m of the opinion that, in general, the Normans were (in the style of 1066 And All That), a ‘bad thing’. The Anglo-Saxon system of government was very sophisticated and I don’t know that the conquest added much of value to the lives of people living in England. Had Hastings gone the other way, then I suspect we would not have gone to war with France quite so often over the succeeding centuries and perhaps our ties to Scandinavia might have strengthened. We kept our language anyway, but perhaps our spelling would have developed along more logical lines! I’m not convinced that Harold would have remained king for long, though. In theory anyone could be elected king, but in practice it was usually someone of royal birth, and he set a precedent there which other, powerful nobles might have wished to follow.


When most people think of the Battle of Hastings, they naturally think about battles and armies. But in this speculative anthology, many of the stories focus on the women (wives, mothers, and daughters). What are your thoughts on their influence at that time?

Alison Morton: When I was younger the unremarked lives of other women, duchesses to beggars, who made up fifty per cent of the population, were peripheral and hidden in traditional women’s auxiliary roles as wives, mothers, sisters and servants. Only exceptional heroines like Livia Drusilla, Joan of Arc or Queen Elizabeth I were highlighted. And exceptional was the exact word.

Historical research, writing and public awareness of history have moved on and women’s roles, especially the influencing and connecting ones of the early medieval period, are being teased out from the records. Historical fiction reflects the time it’s written; in 2016 it would be unthinkable to leave women on the sideline, however elusive they seem to be in the record. We just need to use different research methods like extrapolation and double cross-checking.

I’m convinced that women like Matilda of Flanders and Emma of Normandy with their connections across half of Europe weren’t just wives running the palace. Their influence, power and wealth were considerable, reinforced by their personalities; it was the latter that made the difference in what and how they delivered as much as it does today.


Carol McGrath, you write about the women of the Godwin family and in The Dragon-Tailed Star, you tell the story through Harold’s daughter Thea. What draws you to this family?

Carol: Originally I was drawn to Edith Swan-Neck’s story. She was a handfasted wife to King Harold. She was romanticised by the early Victorians who were looking for a pre-Conquest identity, particularly as in the early decades of the 19th C,  Napoleon and the French had been a threat. I found her story when looking at The Tapestry in Bayeux and was fascinated by the reference to her in The Waltham Chronicle. I wanted to write about these women’s lives as realistically as I could and using mentions in chronicles and historians’ research about 11thC noble women I felt I could try to make them live through the pages of a novel .

Edith ( Elditha) identified Harold’s body according to this chronicle after the Battle by marks only known to her. The Chronicle was written fifty years or so after the event. However, the monks who accompanied Edith to the battlefield were named which gave the story a degree of credibility. I began to think of what it was for women to lose their men in such a battle. It was just so moving.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts a vignette showing a burning house before the battle. It shows a woman and her son fleeing from it. The house is clearly two storey and the woman and child are nobly dressed. These are particular people even though they are not named. Since only three women are shown on The Bayeux Tapestry and since the first is possibly Harold’s sister who was a Prioress at Wilton Abbey in the early 1060s but died before 1066 and the second is identified as Edith Godwin, Queen to Edward the Confessor it is very likely that this woman could be Harold’s handfasted wife- so think some Historians, notably Andrew Bridgeford and Emma Mason. It is thought that all three women are connected to the Godwins. The Tapestry, is, after all, Harold’s and William’s story.

I was hooked by these noble women’s stories and what I could discover- what it was like to be a noblewomen during this period, their homes, how did they dress, look after families, childbirth, medicine and so on. Of course, poor Edith Swan-Neck was set aside by Harold for political reasons and forging of alliances when he was crowned king. He married Aldgyth of Mercia in a Christian ceremony. When I wrote Edith’s story, and it is a mix of fact and fiction, since with women who are but the footnotes of history one has to speculate, I discovered that her two surviving daughters by Harold had fascinating stories too.

Gunnhild, Harold’s younger daughter eloped from Wilton Abbey with a cousin of William the Conqueror and Gytha (Thea) the protagonist of The Long-Tailed Star made a spectacular marriage to Vladimir, a prince of Kiev in the 1070s. I could not miss out on these stories. Again, I researched women’s lives especially at a time of great change. Heiresses were a commodity, and, although dispossessed, these girls were heiresses.  I looked for mentions of them in chronicles, including The Russian Primary Chronicle, and I brought their possible stories to life.

I was hooked. I guess, above all, I enjoy mysteries. This was a family that could have founded a great dynasty. Yet, it was through a woman that that lost dynasty survived. Thea-Gytha of The Long Tailed Star was the ancestress of the Romanovs and, through a descendant’s marriage, Philippa of Hainult to Edward III, connected to Elizabeth II.  Finally, I think it is incredibly difficult to stand in the shoes of an 11th C noble woman as, no matter how emotions such as jealousy, love, hate etc endure, our circumstances are very different in the 21st C . We have more freedom to express our emotions. Reconstructing possible lives for women who lived then was a superb challenge.


Tell us about the collaborative process, given that there were nine authors, many living in different countries.

Anna Belfrage: Whenever you dump nine authors into one project, you risk potential chaos. Not so in this case, as there was very clear leadership from day one, Joanna Courtney and Helen Hollick laid down the rules and the rest of us only had to comply – most relaxing. Also, Helen and Joanna had an idea re the structure in their head, which meant they could give us various authors a few, distinctive pointers as to what they wanted. This meant that we all worked in our own separate bubbles, with any bridging between the various contributions done by Joanna and Helen. The fact that the end result turned out as it did is very much due to these two ladies – we all owe them a massive THANK YOU.

Richard Dee: With the internet, it doesn’t matter where you are, these days we are all so connected that we can almost be in the same room. Email, blogs and social media helped us all to share news and keep up with progress. Every step was given a timeframe and the whole thing was very well organised. As a newly independent author, I’ve learned so much about the process of getting your book out from this venture.


The conversation will continue tomorrow. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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1066 Turned Upside Down is now available in eBook through Amazon and the 1066 Turned Upside Down Website

Meet the authors:

535104_100812380057712_1874331872_nAnna Belfrage is the successful author of eight published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind – two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first two books of the series, In the Shadow of the Storm and Days of Sun and GloryDays of Sun and Glory are now available.

For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.


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Joanna Courtney cut her publication teeth on short stories and serials for the women’s magazines before signing to PanMacmillan in 2014 for her three-book series The Queens of the Conquest about the wives of the men fighting to be King of England in 1066.

Her fascination with historical writing is in finding the similarities between us and them – the core humanness of people throughout the ages – and her aim with this series is to provide a lively female take on an amazing year in England’s history. She lives in Derbyshire, England.

Connect with Joanna on Twitter (@joannacourteny1) and visit her Website.

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Richard Dee
Richard Dee has had a forty year career in shipping as Navigator, Master Mariner, and finally as a Thames Pilot. He started writing Science Fiction several years ago. His fourth book, a Steampunk adventure called The Rocks of Aserol, will be released September 2016 in print, eBook and audiobook. His other novels, Freefall and Ribbonworld, and his short story collection, Flash Fiction, are available on Amazon (see author page). Visit his Website, and follow him on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter (@RichardDockett1), and Instagram.
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2 Helen Medium Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma TheForever Queen UK ttitle A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy.

As a supporter of Indie Authors she is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award. Connect with Helen through her Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter (@HelenHollick), and through her Amazon Author’s Page.


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Carol McGrath lives in Oxfordshire with her family. She has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her debut novel, The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 entitled The Daughters of Hastings, was shortlisted for the RoNAS, 2014 in the historical category. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister followed to complete this best-selling trilogy. Carol is the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference Oxford September 2016. Find Carol on her Website.

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Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova alternative history  thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA (currently shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award). Her fifth book, INSURRECTIO, (HNS Editor’s Choice) was published in April (http://alison-morton.com/books-2/insurrectio/)

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova websiteFacebook author page, Twitter (@alison-morton@alison-morton), and
Goodreads.

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Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016 and has been awarded an indieBRAG medallion. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, a nobleman in the time of King Edgar, is available now. Connect with Annie through her Website, Blog, and Amazon Author’s Page.

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Gone editing

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Or should that be gone to edit, or better yet, I am editing

Just to drop everyone a brief line, for the next month I will be on my own hero’s journey, deep in the land of edits and searching for the holy grail of polished manuscripts.

In the meantime, for the writers and artists out there, I’d like to suggest some articles on writing to inspire your own journey:

And finally, here is my favourite Ted Talk on storytelling: Andrew Stanton and The Clues to a Great Story.

 

 

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A hat trick of exciting announcements

I’m so excited and pleased to announce not just one thrilling piece of news, but three!

Drum roll….

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Thrilling News #1:

I have been invited to speak before the Battle of Worcester Society on September 1st on the subject of the Royalist Highwayman, Captain James Hind.

Highwaymen, and especially 17th century highwaymen, have been a fascination for me for many years. It should come as no surprise that the hero in my ms Traitor’s Knot is a highwayman (you should have been surprised if he was not).

To say that I’m thrilled to be included in the Battle of Worcester Society’s Civil War Nights for 2016 is an understatement. The talk will be held at the Commandery in Worcester, which was the Royalist headquarters during the final battle of the English Civil War on September 3, 1651. As you can see, I’ll be there delivering my talk, the Royalist Highwayman, just two days before the 365th anniversary of that momentous battle. Check out the blog post, the Royalist Highwayman, that was originally written for the English Historical Fiction Author’s blog.

If you will be around the Worcester area on September 1st, I’d love to see you there. For more details, please check out the Battle of Worcester Society’s Events page.

Here is a slideshow I created about the Commandery during my last visit.

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Thrilling News #2:

Traitor’s Knot has been selected as a finalist in the Romance Through the Ages contest in its category (Ancient/Medieval/Renaissance). I haven’t stopped beaming since learning the news. Here’s the official announcement: 2016 Romance Through the Ages contest.

It’s a huge honour to be selected as a finalist, and I’d like to thank the Hearts Through History Romance Writers for running this contest. It takes a great deal of hard work to put something like this together. If I get no further than being a finalist, I will still consider this a big win. Congratulations to the other finalists!

I owe a huge round of thanks to my critique group and beta readers who have given me the gift of their valuable feedback; to the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and their New Writers Scheme for their mentorship and encouragement; to Barbara Kyle  for her master classes and manuscript review; and to editor Jenny Quinlan, who I’m currently working with to bring this novel home.

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Original art by Brittany LeClerc

Thrilling News #3:

The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) recently honoured me with the Len Cullen Scholarship for 2016. The WCDR offers their members scholarship opportunities each year, and this was one of two top awards. This year I’m fortunate to have been selected for one of the top awards along with fellow historical writer and poet, Sally Moore.

The WCDR is not just a writing group. When I first stumbled on them six years ago, I had this image of a small group of writers, cradling their tea and coffee while sharing their stories. My first breakfast meeting (A.B. Funkhauser came with me for company and ended up joining on the spot), revealed a vibrant organization of 275+ strong, featuring exceptional guest speakers and numerous workshop opportunities. In the twenty years since they started, the WCDR has always lived up to their mission statement: encouraging writers at all levels, offering support, education and networking.

This is truly a unique organization, and I’m grateful for them. Writing does not have to be a solitary act.

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And thank you everyone who has followed my blog and shared my articles. Your interest and encouragement is warmly appreciated.

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The Loyal Comptons

The following article was originally written for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog and published February 2015. If you enjoy English history and haven’t visited the blog, check out the EHFA site here.


The English Civil War was a time of divided loyalties, where brother fought against brother and neighbours faced each other on a bloody field. But there was one Royalist family that was united in their staunch loyalty to the King: The Comptons.

The Comptons had estates in Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire, and Compton Wynyates, in Warwickshire.

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Row17 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Spencer Compton was the 2nd Earl of Northampton, born in 1601 and educated at Cambridge. In 1622, he was appointed Master of the Robes when Charles I was still Prince of Wales, and he held that position until the third year of Charles’s reign.

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By Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen via Wikimedia Commons.

Spencer Compton succeeded his father as the second Earl in 1630 and became Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire. When King Charles needed to raise an army against Parliament, the Earl of Northampton executed the Commission of Array (a medieval system of raising troops by Royal decree) in Warwickshire to muster men for the King.

Spencer Compton was best known for his last stand against the King’s enemies at Hopton Heath in Staffordshire. On March 19, 1643, the Earl led a Royalist army (mostly cavalry) against Parliamentary forces commanded by Sir William Brereton and Sir John Gell. During the battle, the Earl’s Royalist army succeeded in capturing over three hundred horse and eight pieces of ordinance (cannon).

Their victory, however, was not without a price. The Earl was swept off his horse and captured by the enemy. When they offered him quarter, Spencer Compton gave them this famous response,

“I scorn to take quarter from such base rogues and rebels.”

Their answer was swift. The Earl died from a blow to the head.

When Sir John Gell tried to ransom the exchange of the Earl’s body for the captured ordinance, his son, James Compton, refused to negotiate. Imagine what the son must have felt having to reject such a request, even though without a doubt, his father would have given the same answer. Gell became enraged. In a base act, the Parliamentary commander allowed the Earl’s body to be paraded through the streets of Derby by his men.

James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton

With his father’s death, James Compton took over his father’s command. He led his troops at the first Battle of Newbury in 1643, and the following year, rode to the assistance of his brother, William Compton, who held Banbury for the King. With the assistance of Prince Rupert, James Compton lifted the siege on October 26, 1643.

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By William Dobson [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Following the end of the first English Civil War, James Compton was ordered into exile by Parliament, and on May 1, 1646, he and twenty retainers left England for the Netherlands. Unfortunately, that was only the start of his legal troubles. Parliament seized the Earl’s estates and levied a fine of £20,820.

Over the next four years, James Compton petitioned for a lower fine until Parliament finally settled on a reduced amount of £14,153. To place this sum in perspective, the approximate annual income of a nobleman was £6,000. In the end, James Compton was successful in keeping his family’s estates.

During the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, James Compton, 3rd Earl of Northampton, took on his father’s title of Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire until his death in 1681.

William Compton

Oliver Cromwell once referred to the third son of Spencer Compton as a “godly cavalier,” high praise from an enemy. While his eldest brother, James, commanded a dashing regiment of horse, William’s military service was dominated by sieges.

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William Compton by Peter Lely [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

As previously mentioned, he was governor of Banbury and held out against Parliamentary troops for thirteen weeks until his brother relieved the siege. He held Banbury until the end of the first English Civil War when he was forced to turn it over to Parliament.

During the second English Civil War, William continued to fight for the King. He held the rank of Major-General at Colchester in 1648 when General Fairfax besieged the town for Parliament.

The siege lasted eleven weeks during the height of summer with the ripening fields as a tantalizing backdrop. Fairfax’s men surrounded the town, and their tactic was simple: starve the Royalists and wait.

Having eaten the last of the rats and horses, the defenders had no choice than to surrender. A number of Royalist commanders were summarily shot, but William Compton escaped that fate and was imprisoned at Windsor Castle in early September 1648.

It appears that William did not remain Parliament’s guest for very long. In Prince Rupert’s memoirs (October 28, 1648), he notes that William Compton and William Legge brought to Holland a letter for him from the King. Charles I wrote the following during his confinement on the Isle of Wight.

“Dearest Nephew, For want of a cipher, I have chosen this most trusty messenger, Will Legge, to acquaint you with a business which is of great importance for my service; for I have commanded him to desire in my name both your advice and assistance. Of which, knowing your affection to me, I am so confident that I will say no more, but only to desire you to give full credit to this bearer, and to give him a quick despatch, for his sake who is Your loving uncle and most faithful friend, Charles R.”

The letter was a form of introduction to assure Rupert that the bearers were in the King’s confidence. The unwritten plea was for Rupert to arrange for a ship to lie in wait for the King’s escape off the Isle of Wight. No one was to know about the plan. But in the end, the King’s plans were foiled by a number of factors, and he never attempted an escape at that time.

The next time we hear of William Compton is in 1653 when he became one of the founding members of the Sealed Knot, a secret Royalist association.

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The Winter King, The Queen of Hearts, and the Thirty Years War

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I have the pleasure of welcoming historical fiction author, Laura Libricz, whose novels take place in 17th century Germany. On June 10th, she is re-releasing The Master and the Maid, the first novel of her Heaven’s Pond trilogy.

Today, Laura introduces us to the Thirty Years War, that took place in the beginning of the 17th century in Central Europe. The events of the Thirty Years War had a profound effect on European and English History; many of the later English Civil War leaders received their training during this time.

But in the beginning, there was the Winter King and the Queen of HeartsTake it away, Laura!


1613. Religious strife is reaching a crescendo in Europe. The Protestant Union, the alliance of German states, is in place to defend the lands and interests of the union’s members. The Catholic League, formed by Maximillian, the Hapsburg ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, is in the opposition. James VI and I, King of Scotland, England and Ireland, hopes to strengthen the English ties to the Protestants in Germany. 

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by; after Balthasar Moncornet; Unknown artists,print,1620s

Friedrich V, ruler of the Rhenish Palatinate and head of the Protestant Union, and Princess Elizabeth Stuart, second child and only surviving daughter to King James married on Valentine’s Day in 1613. In an attempt to keep all the fronts happy, James was also trying to match his son Charles I with Infanta Maria Anna of Catholic Spain at the same time.

Friedrich V and Princess Elizabeth had only met briefly before the wedding, which turned out to be a gala affair. This is reflected in John Donne’s poem Epithalamion, or Marriage Song, on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine wedding on St Valentines Day. Their marriage was reported to be a happy one and together they had thirteen children (including Prince Rupert of the Rhine). They resided in Heidelberg.

Their serious problems began after the Bohemian Revolt in Prague in 1618. The incidents were attributed to the beginning of the Thirty Years War. The Protestant lords in Germany wanted to come to Prague’s aid, but they had neither the funds nor the troops to do so. But there were a few generals, dukes, lords, landholders and businessmen who had no scruples or loyalties but did have a desire to further their personal enterprises. Together with other members of the Protestant Union, Germany recruited Count Ernst von Mansfeld, the man hailed as a mercenary general, or a ‘military entrepreneur.’

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Count Ernst von Mansfield By Robert van Voerst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 The illegitimate son of Count Peter Ernst von Mansfeld-Vorderort, Mansfeld was one of ten children, due to inherit next to nothing and out to better himself the only way he knew how: in a military career. It was in his best interests to see that a war carried on. He was known for threatening to change sides as soon as he smelled defeat.

The diverse conflicts and intrigues between the European powers were spiralling out of control. Many European leaders believed that they, or their territories, would also benefit if a war continued. Contributing to this was the means to fight that war; a steady stream of manpower-for-hire—men who because of economic, political and personal pitfalls were willing to join the ever-growing mercenary market.

Scottish and Irish soldiers began at first as a trickle to the continent. A small number of Irish men went to fight for the Hapsburgs while the bulk of the men were Anglo-Scottish, traveling at first to Bohemia for the Protestant cause. By 1625 their numbers tripled and totaled 127,000 by the end of the war in 1648.

In direct defiance of Ferdinand II, the then ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, Friedrich Wilhelm V was elected King of Bohemia on 26 August, 1619. Friedrich was not Bohemia’s first choice for the job and he was reluctant to take it. His advisers told him such an act would lead to war. But Elizabeth encouraged him and expected support from James I. Friedrich was also assured of financial support from other allies as well. Together with a very pregnant Elizabeth, the couple rode from Heidelberg to Prague and they were crowned King and Queen of Bohemia in November 1619.

Despite the conflicting nature of support for Friedrich, the English did levy soldiers and send them to the aid of the Protestants in both Bohemia and in the Palatinate. It was a way for the English government to remove a questionable layer of society, dissidents and criminals. Other Anglo-Scottish men volunteered for military service. If these mercenaries lived and worked up through the military ranks, they could do quite well for themselves and maybe even return home bearing a higher social standing.

Friedrich’s support dwindled, and the Catholic Imperial troops countered. In 1620, Mansfeld and the Protestant Union suffered crushing defeat at the Battle of White Mountain. Friedrich and Elizabeth had to flee. Because the Palatinate had fallen to the Spanish, Friedrich and Elizabeth were forced into exile and settled in The Hague. The Protestant Union was falling apart. Bohemia was lost, but there was still interest from other Protestant sources to continue the war. Friedrich summoned Mansfeld again on behalf of the Protestant Union. Mansfeld accepted and hired an army, attracting soldiers with promise of pay and even paying them an initial sum. But Mansfeld had no intention and no money to continue paying them. Afterwards many soldiers had to find their own means, namely through pillage and plunder.

Friedrich was now mocked as the Winter King because his reign lasted only a year. Elizabeth, known as the Winter Queen, was also called the Queen of Hearts because of her charm and beauty.

Friedrich and Elizabeth never regained their titles. The necessary support from the English and the Dutch was never rekindled. Friedrich died in 1632 after an infection, and Elizabeth continued to live in exile until 1660 when the Stuarts were restored to the English throne and she was allowed to come back to England. She attempted to claim titles back for her children, the most famous being Sophia of Hanover whose family later took over the English throne in 1714 and founded the Hanoverian dynasty.

Further Reading:

Wilson, Peter H. Europe’s Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War. UK: Penguin Random House, 2010.
Book review: Ernst von Mansfeld (1580-1626), by Walter Krüssman via crossfireamersfoort.wordpress.com

Laura Libricz was born and raised in Bethlehem PA and moved to Upstate New York when she was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, she received a scholarship to go to college. She tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all her time reading German literature.

Laura earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where she resides today. When she isn’t writing she can be found sifting through city archives, picking through castle ruins or aiding the steady flood of Höfner musical instruments into the world market.

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Laura’s first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven’s Pond Trilogy. The Soldier’s Return and Ash and Rubble are the second and third books in the series which will be coming out later in 2016.

For more information about Laura, please check out her website, lauralibricz.com, or to find out what she’s sharing with the historical fiction community, check out her blog (click here).

Pre-orders for The Master and the Maid are available through Amazon.

 

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