Contraband Heart available for pre-order

After an extraordinarily long time, there is finally another Age of Sail novel from me! The trouble was that after writing a naval voyage to the Arctic (in False Colors,) and another to Australia (in Blessed Isle,) I’d got to the point where I felt there was nothing fresh left to do. I was wrong about that, obviously, since there were plenty of places around the world I hadn’t written naval adventures in. Still, something had to change in order for me to feel interested again.

What changed was that I was asked to write another Porthkennack book, and that meant the story had to centre around our shared-world Cornish town. I couldn’t go galavanting across the world this time. The sea was still there, though, and still vitally important to the Cornish setting.

You know what else was important to the Cornish economy in the 18th Century? Smuggling.

I was initially reluctant to write a novel about the cat and mouse romance of a smuggler and an Excise Man, because I thought “the Cornish smuggling novel has already been done. I don’t want to compete with Daphne du Maurier!” But then I re-read Jamaica Inn and was surprised by how sinister her smugglers were, when my research showed that the Cornish people tended to regard successful smugglers as Robin Hood types, who robbed from a rich and uncaring government to give to the poor and starving locals.

Add some Methodists and some miners, and the French Revolution giving an uncanny mirror to current politics, and I was happy that I could come up with something very different, but hopefully equally entertaining. I hope it’s worth the wait 🙂

I can’t show you the cover art yet, but I can assure you that it’s the most romantic cover I’ve ever seen. More on that later!

Contraband Heart is available for pre-order here

500 Word Reaction – to Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Oh yes. This was a much better film than The Force Awakens. It managed to retain themes from the OT while never quite going in a way you expected. I’m not going to give any spoilers (except maybe in a very vague way) but this was a much more satisfying film altogether. Although I enjoyed TFA, I felt that it was very much a re-tred of things that had already been done before. I also felt that it was so painfully black and white that I couldn’t really believe in any of the characters.

Finn and Rey, in particular, seemed too undamaged by the places in which they had grown up. It was hard for me to believe that a girl who grew up all but feral and a boy who grew up as a child soldier would turn out to be the impeccable moral paragons they seemed to be in that film.

TLJ corrected that, and we got to see some of the doubt and darkness in Rey, which made her good heart just stand out all the more. And Finn’s journey from ‘fugitive from the First Order’ to ‘actual Resistance hero’ was given space in this film to unfold a bit more naturally as he gets to see more of life outside the stormtrooper barracks.

I might be alone in this, but I loved what they did with Luke, allowing him to have humanity and doubts, and to have grown old and regretful. Why not? He might be a legend but he’s also a person. And then that ending, with its combination of badassery and peace? I think Obi-Wan would have been proud.

I loved Rose! I hope she gets to be a major player in the next movie too.

I thought the interaction between Kylo and Rey was very interesting, and there was even a point where I was willing to like Kylo more, about half way through. But it went away again later. I still hope they won’t go down the direction of having Kylo and Rey balance the light and dark sides of the force by ending up in some kind of literal marriage. That would be hokey. But I was glad to see less evidence of that in this film than I feared.

I had the impression from all the background material that we were going to see more of Phasma. She still hasn’t been given the airtime that she deserves. But it was nice to see more of Hux. That poor man! He is having a very bad day.

There is a scene with Leia that will haunt me for some time. If this is her last movie, I think it’s a great scene to go out on; powerful, beautiful and awe inspiring.

I think I only have one real complaint. That is that it’s disappointing that the movie canon’s first on screen LGBT character sacrifices herself to save them all. How many times have I seen that gambit used before? Too many.

 

MM Historical Fiction Christmas Bonanza

Get swept away to times long past.
Thirteen authors share their love of history through fiction.
Follow the website links after my post to read the authors’  articles
about their books and then go pick up a great read
for half-price or less from December 12 – 24!

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As part of the MM Historical Fiction Christmas celebrations, I’m offering The Reluctant Berserker at the reduced price of 99c

 The Reluctant Berserker by Alex Beecroft.

Can we talk about that cover for a moment? It’s probably my favourite cover out of all my books and is by the inestimable Kanaxa

We worked hard on getting this cover right – by which I mean that Kanaxa worked hard, and I kept saying things like “can you make that helmet look more like a spangenhelm,” and “can we make it a round shield please?” But as a result of that unflinching back and forth we ended up with a cover that is not only beautiful but is also a kind of microcosm of the book itself.

Say “Early Medieval England” or “Viking Age England” and most people will think “Dark Ages.” It conjures up visions of grim horsemen, battleaxes, snake-prowed Viking ships running up the beaches, disgorging angry armoured men. Burning villages, looting, rapine, war. A bit like the Vikings TV series where everything that isn’t bloody is brown.

That would naturally make you think of dark colours, maybe some battlements, flames against a lowering sky and an atmosphere of oppression and threat.

And that was exactly what I didn’t want for the cover of this book.

I understand why so many people who write books set in this period focus on the battles between Saxon and Viking, the war and terror that that implies. After all, they tell you as a writer to focus on conflict and what more obvious conflict is there than two bunches of people trying to kill each other with swords?

But I wanted to do something that was a bit less obvious.

You see I love the Anglo-Saxons. I have done ever since I discovered that they were the closest thing to the Rohirrim you could get in the real world. I studied Anglo-Saxon art and archaeology at university and did a Masters degree focussing on the Saxons’ pre-Christian beliefs in magic, medicine and the gods. As a result of which I read most of their extant literature (in translation.) I even learned to read Old English, although I have thoroughly forgotten it by now, so that I could begin to appreciate the way they used their beautiful language.

For the last twenty years, I’ve been a member of the Saxon, Viking and Norman reenactment society Regia Anglorum, which has certainly helped me when it came to getting the small details of this book right. For example, here I am by the fire playing the same kind of bone whistle that Leofgar carries up his sleeve in the book:

And yes, I know exactly what it’s like to sit in a longhall on a cold winter’s night with your eyes streaming from the smoke, smelling like you’ve been kippered, and hearing the wolves howl outside. Even the wolf part is true – Regia has a longhall in Kent, just outside a nature reserve on which there are wolves. Close enough to hear it when they sing.

I love the Saxons’ art, the amazing colours and brightness of their illuminated manuscripts, the gold and glitter and garnet of their jewellery. I wanted some of that sense of light and colour in my cover and by Jove I think I got it.

I love the thoughtfulness and romantic melancholy of their poetry. They felt that they lived in a diminished age, that great things had happened in the past and nothing now lived up to it. They built their wooden halls in the shadows of Roman walls and made songs about “the ancient works of giants.”

They had a cooperative and really quite egalitarian society – much better for women’s rights, social mobility and the treatment of peasants and slaves than the Norman culture that replaced them.

So what I wanted in this book was to show that society working, in the last years before the Viking raids began to turn into a Viking invasion. I wanted to show that society at peace, so that I could look a bit closer at the kinds of things that war doesn’t leave time for: music, magic, gender and the social construction of masculinity.

We know very little about how the Anglo-Saxons treated gay men, so I’ve had to borrow from what we know of the Vikings’ attitude. I feel OK about this, as the Angles were essentially the same stock as the Vikings, they shared the same gods and many of the same words. They shared a past. It’s not a stretch to think that their beliefs about sex were similar.

It’s both good news and bad news. On the one hand no one is thinking same sex relationships are unnatural, illegal or damned. On the other, it’s a proof of your masculinity to be the top, but woe betide the bottom. He is the object of ridicule and the same kind of contempt that Victorian society dealt out to fallen women.

So there’s a conflict. How the hell do you negotiate a relationship of equals in a culture that’s preoccupied with the assumption that one of you must be the bitch? If you’re a well respected, high born, dangerous warrior, can you ever dare to be some man’s boy? And if you’re poor and beautiful and dependant on charity from your local warlord – like an itinerant bard – how do you get him to accept that you will never submit to him because you’re just as much of a man as he is?

These questions and many more are answered in the story, which does in fact contain numerous sword-fights, fist-fights and other types of conflict both magical and mundane. War, after all, isn’t the be all and end all of everything. Even a society at peace is not necessarily free of bandits, backstabbers, supernatural horrors and men with lethal levels of entitlement.

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Visit all the authors participating in this
MM Historical Fiction Blowout.
Discover a new author. Find a new book to read.
Click on the “website” links to read the authors’ posts.

Or go direct via this list :)

Dec. 12 Alex Beecroft
Dec. 13 JP Kenwood
Dec. 14 Summer Devon & Bonnie Dee
Dec. 15 Christina E. Pilz
Dec. 16 Anne Barwell
 
Dec. 17 Brita Addams
Dec. 18 Silvia Violet
Dec. 19 Deanna Wadsworth
Dec. 20 Joanna Chambers
Dec. 21 Michael Jensen
Dec. 22 Wendy Rathbone
Dec. 23 Charlene Newcomb
https://charlenenewcomb.com/2017/12/10/mm-historical-fiction-sale
Dec. 24 Ruby Moone
http://www.rubymoone.com/?p=174