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Ancient Weapons of War!

It is great to have a castle, or large fortress, to set a scene in a historical novel.  The high curtain walls, the gatehouses, the murder holes and cunningly placed arrow slits.  All give the writer great scope in describing formidable bastions that appear all but impossible to penetrate.  However, history teaches us that the appearance of impregnability can be illusory, as ever since people started building walls to protect their buildings, others have been devising ways to get in – by fair means or foul.

Ancient siege weapons – the Greek Catapult.

When I started writing my first novel on Alexander the Great, I spent plenty of time researching the early catapults that Alexander used in besieging the many cities of Persia, in his conquest of the Persian Empire.  I proudly presented a long chapter to my father (who was helping me edit the novel) which held long explanations of the mechanics of the engines, describing them in great detail.  My father promptly put great red crosses through all the pages and scribbled “Too much information!!”

It was a great lesson for me as a writer, and taught me that historical detail should always be added subtly to novels, and not forced upon the reader in an endeavour to cram all the writer’s knowledge into the work.  When writing a historical novel, it is paramount to remember you are a writer first and foremost, and not a teacher.

However, my clumsy attempt to give prominence to these weapons wasn’t without reason.  When we think of Alexander the Great today, we tend to think of his vast land battles in which he led his Macedonian army so courageously, such as  Issus or Gaugamela.  But in his day, what Alexander was most famous for, was storming walls, and taking fortified cities.  The reason for this was Alexander the Great was the first man to truly achieve this repeatedly.  Up until Alexander came along, the chances were if you built a thick enough wall around your city, you’d probably be safe.  Alexander changed the rules, and warfare would never be the same again.  Alexander used a variety of rams, and covered siege towers, that he used to directly assault walls, but normally he’d weaken them first, using the latest technology of the day – the catapult.

A few hundred years earlier, the Phoenicians had devised the first great composite bows that could fire bolts much larger than your normal bow and arrow.  The composite bows would be made from two materials, one that was very difficult to compress, such as horn, and the other half something that was very springy, like yew.  The horn would be bound to the inside of the yew, and together they would make an incredibly powerful bow that could be drawn with the help of a lever.

However, by the fourth century BC, and the time of Alexander, this technology had moved on with the torsion engine.  A thick cable of sinew was wrapped around a lever and repeatedly twisted, building up a great amount of energy before being released without breaking.

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This combined with the composite bow, made for a very powerful machine that could shoot either bolts or rocks, which were flung at the walls and could reduce all but the strongest walls to rubble.

 

Roman

When the Romans brought the Greek states into their Empire via conquest, they also inherited the Hellenic torsion technology and like most things they came across, they developed and improved it.  The Roman Ballista was one such machine that was powered by two horizontal arms which had been inserted into two springs of sinew that were tightly wound by the use of a winch.  These came in a verity of sizes, the smallest used to hurl rocks or bolts over the city walls, whilst the largest could hurl projectiles that weighed three talents (approx. 80 kg or 175 pounds) and be able to destroy most obstacles that lay in its path.

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They also developed other uses of the torsion technology such as the Onager that’s kicking action resembled the wild ass it was named after, and the self-loading Polybolos that could fire a succession of smaller bolts repeatedly.

After being assailed by such weapons, the opposing city or fort could normally be forced into surrender, but if necessary the Romans were prepared to assault the walls themselves with a variety of Rams.

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Medieval

After the Roman Empire fell, and the world slipped into the dark ages, most of this technology was forgotten for a time, and clever siege engines and sophisticated catapults disappear from history for several centuries.  Competing Kings would prefer to put their faith in god, rather than rely on technological solutions.

However, with the onset of the medieval age, and the upsurge in Castle building and formidable thick walls, something more tangible than blind faith was needed to prise them open.  Small scale catapults or ballistae were no longer going to cut it, for this you’d need something larger – much larger…

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The Medieval Trebuchet.

The concept of the Trebuchet is actually very simple, a large counterweight is attached at the end of a long lever.  Attached to the long lever, is a sling, so when the counterweight is allowed to fall, the energy is transmitted into the end of the throwing arm and the projectile is sent skyward with great force.  The ancient Chinese and the Romans had used this technology previously, but by the medieval age the weapons were growing in size, so that vast stones weighing over 1000 kg could be hurled at enemy castles, at a range of 300 meters.  The cycle rate was also impressive, a rock capable of being launched every 15 seconds.  These weapons were so effective that they lasted well into the 15th Century, despite the introduction of gunpowder.

 

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Malazan Book of the Fallen

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Some stories just cannot be told in one book.  Many historical and fantasy epics span several volumes, taking well known characters through countless adventures, as the twists and turns of their stories unfold through multiple novels.  Sometimes starting such a long journey can be daunting – do I really want to commit myself to such a long story?  When will it ever end?

However, recently, I began to miss the involvement such an immersive story gives you, so decided to start Steven Ericksen’s long fantasy epic – Malazan Book of the Fallen.  The story starts with the novel, Gardens of the Moon.  Just reading this series is an ambitious project as it spans nine books and promises to take up a lot of my time.  Now I should point out, that at the time of writing this, I’ve just read the first of these novels.  So I’m unqualified to speak on the series in its entirety, but I was pleased with the start that Gardens of the Moon has made in taking me into this journey.

The world we find was once dominated by the elder races, of which there were four, who were imbued with vast magical powers, enough to challenge the Gods themselves.  However, the remorseless march of time has wearied the elder races, and they have largely withdrawn from the world by the time we join the story, leaving lesser mortals to take over the lands.  We enter the story on the continent of Genabackis, as the Malazan Empire starts its campaign of expansion against the Seven Free Cities.  We join a squad of soldiers, as they prepare to assault one of the cities and bring it into the Empire.  However, all is not what it seems, and soon their loyalty is tested to breaking point in a tale of intrigue and betrayal.

Their world is very different from our own, as mages of extreme power war against one another, pulling power from their particular ‘warren’ of magic, that represents the source of their craft.  Different mages have different talents and can draw from different sources, so Erickson’s novel gives us a very varied array of magical powers, that are almost limitless in number.  These are complicated further by the remnants of the Elder races, who occasionally make an appearance, with their vast arcane knowledge.  Those without the aid of sorcery are hardly defenceless however, as some are armed with swords made from the rare otataral ore, that can deflect the influence of magic – which I thought was a neat counter-point to the otherwise all-encompassing power of the mages.

The story is fast paced as we are introduced to a whole host of characters that I am guessing will play an important part in the story to come.  Each one is well thought out with their own back story and personality.  The first book culminates in a vast convergence of power at the city of Darujhistan, where competing forces wrestle for mastery over the great city, the jewel of Genabackis.

I’m not sure how many of you wish to embark on such a long journey with this series, but judging by the first novel, it won’t be a boring ride…

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Picture from the-Void.co.uk

Magical Swords

What is it about magical swords and fantasy fiction?  The concept of such weapons seem perfectly natural in a fantasy realm, and they feature as a centre point to many classics of the genre.  They fill readers’ minds with wistful thoughts of holding such weapons themselves, and being able to smite adversaries with the ease of the heroes (or villains) who wield them in the books.  Despite the regularity of such swords turning up in fantasy novels, the idea never grows tired, as a succession of authors have invented new modifications or types of mythical blades, seamlessly interweaving new flavours of mystery and interest into the forging of their weapons.

The list of them all would be endless, so instead I have just a few of my favourites.

Excalibur – numerous authors.

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Where else to start but the mythical blade of King Arthur, King of the Britons, and one true King of its shores.  Also referred to by its Celtic name, Caliburnus, it is interwoven into the legend of King Arthur almost as strongly as the Round Table, or Merlin the Wizard.  It was said that only the true king could draw the weapon from the stone which Uther Pendragon drove it into on his death.  Many tried, but only his son Arthur, hidden from his enemies by the sorcerer Merlin since birth, managed to pull the sword free and went on to rule  Camelot for an age.

On his demise, the sword was returned to the Lady of the Lake, to once again await the true king, who will come when the land was once again in dire peril.

Narsil – The Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien

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The sword of Elendil, that was wielded by Isildur, striking the finger and Ring from the hand of the Dark Lord Sauron, shattering in the process.  The Ranger Aragorn held the blade and re-forged it at Rivendell, renaming it Anduril – The flame of the West.  Argorn used it to identify himself as the heir and rightful King of the West, something that proved useful in convincing the shades of the men of Dunharrow to fulfill their vows and come to aid of Minas Tirith.

Tolkien showed with this sword, that is isn’t just magical powers or traits that make a sword (although the sheath that Legolas gave Aragorn for it meant it stayed ever sharp and unbreakable) but also its history, its own story, that makes a sword special.

The other magical blade in The Lord of the Rings, was named Sting.  It didn’t have quite as spectacular back-story, but it did glow when orcs were near, and showed its worth against the giant spider Shelob when Sam drove her off by poking holes in her.Glowingsting2_lotr.wikia.com

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Shardblades and Honorblades – The Stormlight archive, Brandon Sanderson.

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The Shardblades of the Stormlight Archives are truly awesome weapons, cutting through armour and other blades as easily as a knife cutting through butter.  Their wielders dominate the battlefield, being able to cut down anything in their path.  The only objects that can resist their destructive power are other Shardblades or the equally impressive Shard-plate that can resist several blows from such weapons before dismantling.

Originally these weapons were the preserve of the Knights Radiant, ten mythical orders of knights that kept justice in the world of Roshar.  However, the Knights Radiant, for reasons unknown, left the world and abandoned both their armour and the mighty blades – leaving them to be picked up by less virtuous and worthy recipients.  Due to their power, the holders of these weapons soon became the land’s nobility as the weapons were passed down from father to son.

However, Shardblades are not the ultimate weapons in Roshar.  These are Honorblades, which were held by the Heralds, the ten demi-gods that each order of Knights Radiant followed.  Only ten ever existed and they are far more powerful than Shardblades, being able to destroy Shard-plate, and imbue the wielder with other powers.

Otataral swords – Malazan book of the fallen, by Steven Erikson.

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The last one I would like to discuss are the dark swords, made from Otataral ore, that appear in Steven Erikson’s excellent series based in his realm of the Malazan Empire.  These swords have the ability to nullify magic, and are therefore carried by individuals who are adept at being mage-killers, redressing the balance of power in his novels, which otherwise would be completely dominated by the all-encompassing power of the mages.  I think it is an interesting twist on the magical sword, opening up new avenues of stories and conflicts of power.  It just shows that although magical swords in fantasy novels are nothing new, there are always ways of adapting this idea, and coming up with ways of making it original.

 

 

Heraldry.

A great device to give both historical and fantasy novels depth, are a Coat of Arms.  A family history, or tradition, encompassed into a heraldic emblem, a brightly painted shield and banner, complete with family motto.  This can give characters an intriguing edge, stories from their family’s past hinting at hidden secrets and mystery.

In a historical novel, especially those set in the High Middle Ages, they can be used to show authenticity, being such an important aspect of that age.  Whilst in a fantasy novel, they are equally useful giving the authors world credibility and tantalising the reader into what the mythical land holds.

Heraldry in a Historical context

Some people date the start of heraldry as far back as ancient Egypt, when standards topped with the names of kings and gods, can be seen depicted in their art.  However, the type of heraldry we would recognise as such today, started to appear in the middle ages when large armies, all being equipped with full helmets and faceplates, required some way for individuals to recognise one another.  A crest on a helmet and a colourful design on a shield was a simple method of ensuing that they could tell friend from foe.  The ‘coat of arms’ was developed further in the crusades, when knights found the use of a surcoat, worn over the armour, was beneficial to protect the knight from the hot sun and also could be used to display the knight’s family colours and affiliation.  In fact, the three Lions of England, which is still used on the badge of the England’s football and cricket teams shirts, was first used by Richard ‘The Lionheart’ I in this conflict.

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With so many different families, knights, and designs, spread throughout Christendom, it naturally became difficult to remember what devices belonged to who, so it became the responsibility of the ‘Herald’, a nobleman’s messenger, to remember them all and inform his lord, who was who.  Hence the study of Heraldry was born, and the various rules and protocols associated with it.

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Any historic novel set in the High Middle Ages must incorporate this branch of history, as it played such an important part in that time period.

Heraldry in fantasy novels

Like many aspects of our own history, heraldry is also found in many great fantasy novels.  In Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series – where our world turns into a twisted shadow of our past – heraldry once again signifies the ruling families of the competing nation states.  Whilst in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive novels, we find the Knights Radiant.  Ten orders of knights, each one following one of the Heralds – an elite group of semi-godlike beings who formed them.  Each order wear armour etched with magical glyphs that represent their order and hold mystical properties, a neat adaption of the symbology so important to Heraldry.

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However, it is in the Game of Thrones novels, by George R R Martin, that Heraldry really plays a huge part.  The ruling families of Westeros all have family emblems and mottos that define their houses.  The Lions of Lannister, the dire wolves of house Stark in the North, the Roses of Highgarden, all are known by their family traditions and house emblems.  It is not surprising that heraldry plays such an important part in these novels, as so much of the story was inspired by the War of the Roses, the great conflict that divided  England in the Middle Ages for generations.

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Common devices used in Heraldry.

I couldn’t possibly list all the thousands of variations of heraldry and their meanings, however, if you want my (very) condensed and simplified versions of heraldry, here goes…

Firstly, you have the more simple shield designs, these tend to be in the form of the Cross, Saltire, cheques, stripes, or chevrons.  These types of designs were called ordinaries.

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However, the number of ordinaries’ variations were obviously limited, so powerful ruling families would commonly mount “charges” on their shields or banners.  These could be man-made objects such as arrows, spears, or axes (as well as hammers, sickles, or horns) etc.

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But more commonly were animals, such as lions, dragons, boars, unicorns, fish, Eagles, or any other thing that took their fancy.

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These were displayed in typical poses, such as Passant: dragon

Vol: eagle

Rampant:Rampant

To distinguish various branches of the family, smaller symbols such as a crown, Rose, fleur-de-lis, or crescent could be added to distinguish seniority.

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When various powerful families were joined together through marriage or other means (such as murdering their rightful heirs and stealing their castles and lands) they needed to combine two or more designs on the shield.  This was called “Marshalling” and could either involve dividing the shield, quartering it, or dividing it up as many times as necessary so different branches of any given family could be represented.

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War & Peace.

Many describe it as the greatest novel ever written, Tolstoy’s historical classic, that takes us across the vast sweeps of Eastern Europe and into the Russian heartland.  Napoleon’s reign of European domination begins and culminates in him leading an army of unparalleled strength – the pride of France – into a doomed campaign against Alexander I’s Russia.  The army reaches Moscow before its calamitous retreat from the great city that now lay in burnt ruins, and Napoleon’s army’s eventual destruction in the long flight.

The novel is well named as it brilliantly describes and depicts vivid battle scenes, whilst also following the grandeur and splendour of early nineteenth century Russia, with its large beautiful estates, balls, and the wealth of the ruling aristocracy.  The story follows the Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov families as they wrestle with the changing times, the struggle of liberal ideals, and the rise and fall of their respective family’s fortunes.  These breaks from the military campaign give the narrative real depth, and you appreciate the titanic sacrifice and strength of the Russian people as they opposed the French military dictator.

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Most regular readers of historical fiction are aware of War & Peace as a novel, and aspire to reading it one day, but often put it off – I know, I did myself for years!! So what is it that stops us?  It is its length? It is because we worry it might be heavy or difficult reading?  Well, the first thing to say about War & Peace is that it’s not what I expected.  I guess, like many others, I thought that the novel would be tricky to read, and heavy going.  But I was surprised how easily the novel reads, Tolstoy brilliantly communicating the various wants, fears, and insecurities of the main characters, so that we can all identify with them.  Characters fall in love, find themselves betrayed, worry about their place in the world, fall in love again, and search for meaning to the tribulations and calamities that life throw at them.  All this, whilst a French Emperor is steadily crushing everything in his path to reach them and send their world into complete upheaval.

There is one other aspect of the novel however, that cannot be ignored: its length.  There is no getting away from it, this is long, long, book, and at 587,287 words, is longer than anything readers have read before.  But it must be remembered that it only seems so long as it is published in just one volume.  We are quite used to trilogies or a series of novels to be of these epic proportions, so why think of War & Peace in any other way?

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Tolstoy, throughout the book, will sometimes break off from the story, and write a chapter regarding the historic context of the specific event his is about to write about.  He will angrily denounce the historians of his times (especially the French ones) that have in his opinion misconstrued or misrepresented various historical events.  In particular he bemoans those who almost excuse the great amount of suffering and death caused by the French dictator’s actions as those of a ‘genius’ whose strength of will empowered him to command his people to expand into Russia.  These diversions from the story can put some people off, and most dramatizations of the novel – the recent one by the BBC included – exclude them as an outdated commentary of long dead historians whose views are of no concern.  But I’m actually with Tolstoy on this one, because people STILL speak of Napoleon in such vain-glorious terms, and just recently I saw a documentary (also on the BBC, who should know better) with a historian so wrapped up and enamored with Napoleon that as he recounted the French Emperor’s life, it was impossible to take anything he said seriously (which was mostly complete nonsense, by the way).

Either way, most of these interludes are quite short and at least give an understanding of how seriously this topic was being discussed at the time of Tolstoy’s writhing, some 50 or so years after the events he depicted.  The one exception is the endlessly long ‘Second epilogue’ that even I admit is a bit of a tedious read, where he expands on these views and discusses the meaning of history and how we understand it.  But this is at the end of the novel, after the story has been finished, so you can miss that bit if you like!

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Leaving aside Tolstoy’s interludes, it is the story that grips you in War & Peace.  Tolstoy used his own experiences in the Russian army to add to his writing, so he understood how unclear and confusing battles could be.  Countless times in the novel, French and Russian commanders issue meaningless commands, trying to somehow restore order to the long lines of their troops – meaningless, because by the time those same commanders hear of a situation and act on it, that information is already out of date.  Such was the early 19th Century battlefield, where armies would be deployed over many miles, and communication was limited to the speed of a man on his horse.

The spirit, camaraderie, and the ebb and flow of the soldiers morale is described in special detail through the course of the long campaign and the subsequent French retreat.  Tolstoy was very observant of human nature, and his insights into the desires and motives behind people’s behaviour struck me as authentic, albeit framed within the traditions and conventions of those times.  The Russian army is riven by fierce rivalries among its high command, as competing generals endeavour to curry favour with their Emperor, and undermine each other and their commander, the General Kutuzov.  The experienced and patient commander still manages to somehow steer a path to victory through these clouds of subterfuge and interference.

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Leaving aside the campaign, War & Peace really is the real deal when depicting real life in 19th Century Russia, and as you are swept through the complex story of love, betrayal, and heartbreak, you learn a great deal of the issues that were dividing the Russian people, whilst still highlighting a fascinating and, in some ways at least, an enviable lifestyle.  The epic length and involvement of the story means you get to know each of the characters very well, and you become entangled in their hopes and failures, so that by the time the novel ends you know each of them closely.

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War & Peace really is a novel that can’t be ignored, it tells the story of one of the most dramatic periods of European history, and it does it brilliantly, possibly better than anyone else could – surely a must read, at least once in a lifetime…

A Spanish adventure to write about…

Sometimes starting a new novel can be difficult, not least because the sheer scale of the work involved can be daunting.  Do I really want to commit so much of my time to such an arduous project?

Fortunately, it isn’t all hard work, and the pluses always out-way the negatives.  One such example is going away to do the groundwork for a historical novel.  I recently took a holiday to Northern Spain to research the sequel to my novel Roman Mask.  Spain might seem a surprising destination for those who are familiar with Roman Mask, as so much of that story is set in the forests of Germany, and I’m guessing many readers would expect any sequel to also be entwined into that dark mist-shrouded and menacing landscape.  However, without giving too much away, my story involves the brother of Julius Arminius, and takes my main character Cassius to a completely different land and will show how the disaster in the Teutoburg forest had far reaching effects throughout the Roman world.

Spain was always an incredibly valuable province to the Romans.  It’s close proximity to Italy meant that is had great strategic importance to them.  In Rome’s past it had been used very successfully against them, when the great Cathar General, Hannibal, raised an army against them from Spain and invaded Italy.  Hannibal destroyed several Roman armies and came within a whisker of sacking Rome itself.  The Romans had long memories and despite the fearsome resistance they faced from the Celtic-Iberian tribesman were determined to subdue the peninsular under their rule.  This was only achieved in 27BC after nearly 200 years of tribal wars and rebellions to their rule.  As well as Spain’s strategic importance, it was also vastly rich in minerals, and the gold and silver mines were especially important to Rome in funding their Empire.

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One of the most important aspects of the Roman-Spanish wars was the terrain of the peninsular.  Much of Spain is mountainous and these high peaks and hidden valleys played an important role in making it an incredibly challenging land to conquer.  I always wanted to set the majority of my novel in the North-Western quarter of Spain, within the picos de Europa, a stunning mountain range a short distance from the Northern Atlantic coast.  There was just one problem setting my novel there – I’d never been there!  So, undaunted, I packed my bags and took a trip to this wonderfully unspoiled and beautiful region of Spain.

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I imagine most of you will now be expecting me to show you several pictures of Roman ruins that dot the Spanish landscape.  However, even though most of my holidays are spent visiting such places, and there are many magnificent sites within the peninsula, that wasn’t the purpose of this particular trip.  Apart from the so called ‘Roman Bridge’ that was located in the village I was staying in (and was in reality a medieval construction) I didn’t visit any ancient sites.  This isn’t to demean the magnificent array of valuable historic ruins in Spain (the walls at Lugo or the Aqueduct of Segovia being great examples of Roman architecture) it was just not what I’d come for.

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What I wanted was a way to visualise my story – of which I already held a lose idea of in my head – and map out how my story could develop through the unique and spectacular landscape.  As soon as I reached there I realised I’d made the right decision.  The mountain paths and rocky canyons screamed at my authors instincts, and gave me countless opportunities to develop my story-line.  My mind buzzed with possibilities as I turned over idea after idea.

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Now, I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline – for that you’ll have to wait until the book is finished, but I’m sure if I manage to convey just a fraction of the drama that the landscape inspires into my novel, I’ll have a thrilling and exciting novel, so I’m more excited than ever in how my story can develop further.

 

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Spring Madness! Roman Mask 0.99 Sale!

Spring is finally here and the sun is beginning to shine.  This has always been my favourite season, as the new found warmth in the air puts a smile on everyone’s face.  In this spirit, I have decided to reduce the cost the Ebook\Kindle version of my novel Roman Mask for the rest of the week.  The price will return to normal on Sunday, so grab it whilst you can!  This will apply to the Amazon Kindle version, and the iPad version, and the Nook version which you can buy and Barnes and Noble or Google books.

The classical world is brought vividly to life in this novel by BrookeDaily Mail, UK National Newspaper

 “Ancient Rome comes to life in all of its glory and menace” 5 Stars Brokenteepee

“I read Roman Mask in one sitting; it was that powerful, that mesmerizing” 5 Stars TomeTender

“As a reader, I became emotionally entwined with Cassius; his fear, inner turmoil, his search for courage and love” 5 Stars readersfavorite

 

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Rome AD 9

Augustus Caesar rules Imperial Rome at the height of its power, as the Roman Empire stretches across the known world.  Cassius, son of one of her most powerful families, is the personification of Rome’s imperial strength: wealthy, popular, a war hero with a decorated military career – none of Rome’s fashionable parties are complete without him – except, he hides a secret.

After his nerve is broken in Germany, the thought of genuine armed combat is enough to send him into a cold sweat of fear and shame.  But this doesn’t dissuade him from living off a false reputation so he can continue a life of casual affairs, wine, and parties, as he is seduced by the many vices of Rome.

However his scandalous life is soon upset by a summons from the Emperor’s wife.  It ends his happy decadent life and returns him to Germany to assist the Roman legions in their greatest ever trial, and the events that will resound down in history, in the dark forests of the Teutoburg…

Links to Buy!

By the way, for any of you wondering how well Roman Mask is doing, look who is at number two…

Best sellers

The Archer’s Tale – By Bernard Cornwell

The Archers Tale

The set of books I have decided to look at this week is Bernard Conwell’s Grail Quest novels, which starts with The Archer’s Tale.  For these novels, Cornwell has chosen a fascinating period of history: The One Hundred Year’s War that raged through the fourteenth and early fifteenth century between England and France.  What is unusual about these novels is they follow the story of a young archer on the English side.  Why is this unusual?  Well, normally in any form of novel, be it historical, fantasy, or Sci-Fi we expect to follow the story of someone fighting to protect their homeland, livelihood, or some other righteous cause.  But by following the English, who were undoubtedly the aggressor during this long conflict in France, he has departed from this usual convention.  At the start of the novel we meet our hero – Thomas of Hookton – as the English coast is attacked by French raids.  I’m not sure whether Cornwell was trying to suggest that these raids may have led to the century of warfare or not, but either way, I didn’t buy it.  The One Hundred Years War was an inevitable conflict between the two nations when William of Normandy conquered England way back in 1066 leaving a state lying on both sides of the English Channel.  English Kings having claims to land in France might not seem a promising cause to base a set of novels on, but remember, these are the sort of reasons people made war upon one another back then.  The armies involved very rarely, if ever, concerned themselves with the right or wrong of any conflict, being more concerned with the more immediate matters, such as staying alive, having food to eat, drink to get drunk on, and the comradeship of their fellows.

Vagabond

Thomas of Hookton was one such soldier, an archer from the army of King Edward III of England.  Thomas is a long-bowman, the English army’s decisive weapon of the conflict, that led the largely peasant army of the English to beat a succession of larger more heavily armoured French armies.  It is here that we meet the true star of these novels – The English longbow.  This terrible and powerful weapon could only be drawn and used by those trained from birth.  The young archer as he grew up, would be given a succession of bows, each slightly larger than the last.  Only then, will the archer develop the powerful chest muscles and strength to draw the full size war bow which was over six feet tall.  Only in England and Wales, where a strong tradition of archery with these weapons existed, could they develop an army of these highly skilled masters of the battlefield.  Why was this weapon so decisive?  Because the power of the longbow was such that it could punch through the French Knight’s mail, out-range the crossbowmen drafted in to oppose them, and also have an astonishingly rapid rate of fire – successive volleys of arrow raining down on the French army would destroy any line or formation.  This weapon gave the English such a massive advantage that the French simply didn’t have an answer to.

Heretic

Forget about notions of chivalry, patriotism, or any other romantic notion of war, this is true gritty history, showing how a small highly skilled peasant army can upset the odds against the vast armies of France.  The story of Thomas of Hookton is an engaging one as he follows the English army through France and is confronted by many enemies (from both sides).  He finds adventure, love, and danger as the story in interspersed with the many battles between the opposing monarchs.  Cornwell is at his brilliant best in understanding and describing the battle tactics of each side, and how the English longbow could be used to such devastating effect.  I thoroughly recommend these set of novels to anyone interested in the period of history, or just fancies an enjoyable ride, full of excitement and action, as you slowly come to understand the long standing animosity between the two nations.  Cornwell once again shows historical fiction at its best!

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10 books that will teach you to read like a writer. Guest Post by Kory M. Shrum

What are the first steps we take to become writers?  The most important starting point, is to love books ourselves, and to be avid readers.  Kory M. Shrum The successful author of the Jesse Sullivan fantasy series, who has well over 300 Amazon reviews for her  novel Dying for a Living has taken this a step further and explains in this insightful guest post how a writer should read.  She has given strong examples to support her case and shows how much we can learn from other masters of the craft.  So I will pass you over to Kory…

Thomas M D Brooke

Kory

10 books that will teach you to read like a writer.

Before I tell you about the books, let me answer this question: Why SHOULD you read like a writer? It’s important to read like a writer for a couple of reasons.  A reader who is reading like a reader does so for pleasure mostly. Or to be informed about a certain topic or idea. Contrastly, a writer reads to study to the craft. A writer will be more likely to examine the story as someone who wants to recreate it. Imagine you are a boat builder and you see a gorgeous sailboat cutting waves in the harbor. It’s so beautiful! Look how it turns! Look how the willow white sails ripple. Admire the sunlight cutting across the pale pine hull. It’s gorgeous and you can’t help but oogle it. But don’t stop there. Why is it beautiful? And what can you do to create something as lovely?
Read like a writer.

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The Tale of the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

This book should be read for structure. Ozeki seamlessly weaves two narratives following 16-year-old Nao in Japan and adult novelist Ruth in Canada. It’s full of humor, beautiful prose, amazing characters—but the structure is particularly worth noting. If you read this novel closely, you can’t help to learn a lot about how to craft a well-built tale. Runner-up: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. She is a master of the framework tale as well as knitting the past and present together without a hitch.

Beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Dialogue is hard to do. “Oh geez, why Tim?” “Well, Bob let me tell you. To the spaceship!”
Thankfully there are a few novelists out there who have written beautiful novels that can show us how it’s done. One such novelist is the amazing Toni Morrison, particularly her novel Beloved. In the book the conversations never seem forced between characters and it’s just the right about of tension and character development. But don’t take my word for it. Read it like a writer yourself. Runner-up: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Stephen King

The Stand By Stephen King
Few people can craft a character like The King—Stephen King that is. And of all the novels I could choose from (he’s one prolific guy!) I chose The Stand. Not only because The Stand has an amazing cast, but it has quite the ensemble. There are several POV characters so you’ll gain intimate insight into an array of very different people. And for those of you put off by the idea of reading “horror” fear not. This isn’t really a horror story. It’s more of an Outbreak, oh everyone got sick and society collapsed novel—with some mysticism mixed in. And besides, the education you’ll gain in character development is unbeatable. Runner-up: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
The mark of good world building, is that an entirely new world is created and yet remains recognizable. But not in some cheap, let’s-just-slap-a-new-label-on-it, kind of way.  Le Guin has created a world where there is no gender binary and reproduction is unlike anything we know. The politics, the world order, all of it is unlike anything we know. And it’s done so well! The level of detail is astounding and there’s plenty to learn. Runner-up: the Dune series by Frank Herbert. Another great example of entirely new world rendered palatable by a writer’s pen.

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Spin by Robert Charles Wilson  

So much tension! There’s a love story, a father-son conflict, ecological/world-ending problems, and a growing up saga. Every page keeps you turning because you want to see how this ends. So for an excellent education in how to turn the page, read this SF thriller. Runner-up: Jane Austen. Not much excitement (read: car chase, crash, heroics) happens in Austen’s novels (Pride, Prejudice and Zombies aside), yet she was very good at building tension between characters. And funny to boot! So don’t let your aversion to classics steer you away from some excellent material.

Blood Ties – Mixing Modern With Old, Guest post by Hazel B. West

Today,  I have a guest post from the highly successful author Hazel B. West.  Hazel currently has five published novels out, and today she is discussing her latest novel Blood Ties.  I have posted a description of the novel, and it is followed up by a fascinating post by Hazel on how she has managed to combine her love of history with her fantasy writing.  I have also posted a link to Hazel’s website at the bottom of this post where you have a chance to win a signed copy of Blood Ties.  So over to Hazel…

Thomas M D Brooke

Blood Ties

Blood Ties by Hazel B.West

In an Ireland that mixes high kings, faeries, and modern warriors who drive fast cars, Ciran, a descendant from the famous warrior Fionn Mac Cool, bands together with a company of young warriors from the legendary order of Na Fianna to go on a quest to recover their missing family members who were captured by the Goblins in a shaky peace between the two kingdoms. Ciran and his companions must figure out not only how they are going to rescue the prisoners, but how they are going to complete their mission without killing each other. Through trial and error, running battles, unexpected friendships, and daring escapes, Ciran and his company come face to face with the Goblin King himself in a final battle that will decide the fate of all involved and of Ireland itself.

The first book in a new series, Blood Ties takes the traditional Irish legends and puts a modern spin on them with a heavy helping of friendship and the love of family.

Buy a copy of this novel here!

Hazel

Mixing Modern With Old

Writing Urban/Historical Fantasy

There’s a lot of really interesting fantasy worlds out there in the literary world from Middle Earth to more modern ones like the world of Game of Thrones. Then you have the ones from the urban fantasy genre like Harry Potter or the Dresden Files, mixing the modern world you know with an element of magic and the fantastical.

The world of Blood Ties is a cross between the times we live in now (post 2000) and what Ireland would have been like in the pre-medieval days of the High Kings of Ireland—the time period that the original tales of Na Fianna came about and were set in. Thus, it is sort of a cross between urban fantasy, and almost historical fantasy. I wanted to take modern technology and comforts and introduce to them the society of ancient Ireland—one of great warriors, noble kings, and of course, a small dose of magic and the Fae. Even with just the historical texts, the Celtic peoples have always seemed slightly fantastical to me, and it’s mostly their folklore that does it. A world of Faeries and mythology that has always fascinated me, and I’ve wanted to write about it for a long time, but thought it would be interesting to take a modern spin on things.

The hardest part of this one was figuring out where world history came in. Obviously, because my Ireland is still functioning as it did in the ancient times, and is obviously not a democracy, things are already different right off the bat. So it’s essentially a modern Ireland with a High Kingship. I also mentioned things like the Napoleonic War and the World Wars, so yes, things did still mostly happen, just maybe not the same way people expect. Plus, my Ireland has had its own wars to deal with, namely the Goblin Wars that have been going on for centuries between the human kingdoms and the Goblin Court. Other historical people are mentioned as well, like Brian Boru who was a High King of Ireland back in the Dark Ages.

The landscape was also something that needed to be figured out, because while I was using a real place, I had to make it work for the story and the type of setting I needed. I had to have the five different kingdoms, but I also needed a place for the Faery kingdoms as well so the northern part got turned into the Faelands and the southern part is the Commonlands with the kingdoms of men.

Creating a fantasy world around our normal one is in a lot of ways harder than making one from scratch. You have to decide what to keep and what to get rid of to make the story whole and yet different. For one I knew I didn’t want to have firearms used as weapons, so they go with the more traditional swords and bows and arrows. I wanted to keep that classic fantasy feel with the sword fighting, but most of the other modern technology I kept. I liked the idea of having modern warriors driving sports cars so they do!  It might be a lot of work writing historical or urban fantasy but it’s a very fun a rewarding genre too, and I for one enjoy both reading and writing it.

You can buy a copy of this novel here or if you prefer, you can go to Hazel’s website for a chance to win a signed copy here!

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