The King’s Daughter by Stephanie Churchill

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Some Queens are content with being the Royal Consort/breeder of heirs/alliance maker, some refuse to accept the situation as nothing more than duty, and some welcome all facets of the job including the role of a ruling Queen; a seat of power and influence.  Irisa, daughter of a scribe, or so she has always thought, is suddenly thrust into a world she does not understand; the world of princes and kings.  The irony of her situation (which I will not divulge) is cunningly wrought, and the solution Irisa arrives at is… well, you’ll have to read the book.  🙂  In masterful storytelling fashion, the author brings to life a fantasy world, brings to life the inhabitants of that world, and brings to the reader a tale of discovery, a tale of power seeking skulduggery, a tale of loyalty and love.  A tale replete with surprises, as well as a few hints about book three – yes, my peeps and fellow travelers, book three is in the works.  4.7 stars

 

Stephanie was gracious enough to submit to being interviewed by yours truly.  Thank you, Stephanie, for braving the unknown. So, without further ado:

What is it that prompted you to start writing?

That’s a really great question, and one I’ve been forced to think a lot about in the last several years.  As I’ve pondered the question, I’ve come to realize that the desire has always been there.  I just didn’t recognize it.  It’s kind of embarrassing, really, to think that I had been so oblivious to my abilities my entire life!

I was a consummate daydreamer as a child.  I’d spend hours wandering the countryside around my grandparents’ Nebraska farm, daydreaming and telling myself stories or pretending I was the protagonist in a live-action adventure.  Didn’t every kid do that?  My freshman year of college, my creative writing professor used to use my stories as examples for the other students of what to do.  I’d shrug my shoulders and wonder why it was a big deal.  Early in my adult life my sister and I would swap story writing, adding the next chapter to the other sister’s story then passing it along for the other to add the next chapter.   These were just things I did without thought, purely out of enjoyment.  Everyone does that, right?  It never occurred to me that I was any good at it or that it was an unusual hobby.

The signs were all there.  It just took someone with the weight of “authority” behind their name to point it out to me.  Enter historical fiction novelist Sharon Kay Penman.  To this day she minimizes her impact on my writing career, saying that I’d have come to it on my own eventually.  I vehemently disagree.  Clearly I’d been woefully oblivious throughout my whole life already, why would I suddenly change course?  I had been a rabid fan of her novels so wrote a review of one of her books for her.  It was something about that review that caught her attention, causing her to pen the fated question in an email: “Have you ever thought about writing?”

It was that question that prompted me to start writing with a goal towards publishing.  It also started a mentoring relationship with my favorite author as well as a lifelong friendship.

Why this particular genre?

Another question I’ve had to think long and hard about in the last several years.  I didn’t really start off considering genre when I began my first novel.  It just sort of wrote itself organically — the settings, characters, and plot, all taking shape on the page of their own accord.  I simply wanted to tell a story, and I didn’t need any history to do it.  My focus was on characters and their motivations, their pains, their passions, their circumstances.  Because I have read so much historical fiction, the world of historical places and people is so seeped into my consciousness that it couldn’t help but come out.  Ms. Penman urged me early on to write what I love, not what I thought readers, publishers, or the market might want.  The idea being that if you don’t love what you are writing, why write it?

Looking back at things, I chose a hard route.  My books are not truly historical fiction and they aren’t truly fantasy.  Not in the traditional senses anyway.  They are kind of a hybrid that echo elements of each genre without being true to either.  This makes marketing quite difficult, and it’s hard to target a particular reading audience.  I have been told that readers of historical fiction should find enough familiar in my books to make them feel at home, thus prompting me to adopt a sort of tagline of “fantasy that reads like historical fiction.”

Were there any influences that helped you create the world of Kassia and Irisa?

The first scene I wrote in The Scribe’s Daughter came about because I re-imagined a scene from the animated Disney movie Aladdin.  In this particular scene, Aladdin’s monkey friend Abu steals an apple from a market merchant.  So as not to get caught, Aladdin runs away to escape the pursuit of the local authorities who want to cut off his hand for stealing.  I simply eliminated the monkey and made my protagonist a girl.  That was my first glimpse of Kassia, and the more I got to know her, the more intrigued I became.  Her spunky reckless nature and her caustically sharp tongue were hard to ignore.  So she got her own book!

Part way through writing the first book, Kassia’s older sister, Irisa, began to tap me on the shoulder.  “Excuse me, scribe?” she asked very politely.  She is like that.  “I don’t mean to interrupt, but I have some really important things to share.  Kassia wasn’t the only one to go on an adventure.  And since my experiences will have a significant impact on my sister, I’d like to share what has happened to me.”  And so The King’s Daughter was born.

I can think of several authors who very specifically influenced my writing of these books, primarily for style, but some for plot and mood: Sharon Kay Penman (of course), Stephen Lawhead, Juliet Marillier, and Bernard Cornwell.  The authors that have proven to be the most helpful to me in terms of mentorship are Sharon Kay Penman (of course), Elizabeth Chadwick, and Michael Jecks.  Each of these are fabulous writers in their own way, but each of them is humble and extremely helpful to other authors.

 

What books, genres, authors do you read when you’re not writing?

Lately I’ve been reading multiple books simultaneously, one non-fiction and one fiction.  The non-fiction is all history, particularly 13th century British history.  In the fiction world, I made a decision about a year ago to read primarily from within the world of indie authors.  It has been FABULOUS, and I am utterly amazed at the amount of talent, particularly from within my circle of author friends.  I’ve still got a long, long way to go to get through their lists!  I know some very prolific authors, apparently!  There are a few mainstream authors whose books I’ll buy sight unseen as they come out: Sharon Kay Penman (of course), Elizabeth Chadwick, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen Lawhead.  I also enjoy a break from history and historical fiction now and then so will read murder mysteries, black ops political thrillers (Brad Thor, Vince Flynn); and now and then a literary work that has been recommended.  The most recent was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a Swedish comedy-drama that a friend of mine recommended.

 

Who do you turn to for advice or encouragement when the Muse is a bit reticent in supplying inspiration?

Am I one of the few who has never experienced the dreaded writer’s block?  Because honestly I can’t say I’ve ever been so stuck I’d felt I lost my muse.  There have been times in plotting when I am not quite sure what the next step will be for my characters, but usually I just need to keep pondering.  And it’s usually when I am not thinking too hard about it that ideas come to me.  My best ideas always seem to come in the shower or when I’m out in nature walking my dog.  In those moments I’m not really “working” but just allowing my mind to wander, engaging in free association.  I find that my mind tends to solve its own problems without me trying to help too much.  If I do need outside help, I’ll go to my mentor Sharon every time.  She has been an amazing source of wisdom because her experience is so long and deep.

 

I know from my own experience as an author how frustrating it is knowing you have written a good book, are getting positive feedback and reviews and yet sales are slow.  Does that ever make you question why you do it?

Absolutely!  Weekly!  Sometimes daily.  If something specific has prompted my despair, I’ll allow myself time to wallow, but at a certain point I tell myself enough is enough.  Then I just get on with it.  I am not writing to become rich or famous, but it certainly is easy to get caught up in the desire without realizing it’s happened.  Success looks different for every author.  I will constantly pursue perfection, or at least improvement.  So as long as I’m making progress as an author, I’m heading in the right direction.  Learning contentment with where I am right now is a good lesson, and one I learn every day.  My husband and I constantly remind one another to “compare down” rather than look at those who have more than we do.  We’ve done it all 20 years of our marriage.  This philosophy basically means that it’s easy to think you don’t have enough.  It’s when you look at those with less than you that you realize how much you have to be grateful for.  The same applies to writing.  There are many other authors who struggle more than I do, either because of certain challenges or because they are newer to it than I am.  Rather than make me arrogant, it humbles me.  I’ve been given a lot, and I’m grateful for all of it.  I’m not on this earth to live a selfish life, so if things don’t seem to be going as well for me as I’d want, I look outward and see how, if at all, I can help other authors.  Why not make the load lighter for others?

What is next for Stephanie Churchill?

Until I am able to install a shark infested moat around my house, I am struggling to write book three, as of yet untitled.  Life is continuing to get in the way, so it’s been quite a fight.  This book will combine the stories of both Kassia and Irisa and their respective families, tying in loose threads from both previous books.  I had finished off The King’s Daughter alluding to the story of Irisa and Kassia’s mother, intending to write a prequel next.  I got a fair way into planning that book but hit some walls for various reasons.  And then the whispering began again, this time from Casmir, one of my main characters from The King’s Daughter.  He said his unresolved issues take much more precedence.  Many readers of The King’s Daughter were fascinated by him, he argued.  Give the reading public what they want, he said.  A bit of an ego, huh?  He is a king.  What was I supposed to do?

About Stephanie

I used to live my life as an unsuspecting part of the reading public.  Spending my days in a Georgetown law firm just outside downtown Washington, D.C., by all outward appearances I was a paralegal working in international trade and then antitrust law.  I liked books, and I read them often, but that’s all I was: a reader of books.
When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal, specializing in corporate formation, mergers & acquisitions, and corporate finance.  Again, by all outward appearances, I was a paralegal and a reader of books.
And then one day, while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman, and while I’d never heard of her before, I took a chance and bought the book.  That day I became a reader of historical fiction.

Fast forward a dozen years or so, and I had become a rabid fan of Sharon Kay Penman’s books as well as historical fiction in general.  Because of a casual comment she’d made on social media, I wrote Ms. Penman a ridiculously long review of her latest book, Lionheart.  As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?”  And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.
When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking Cozmo, our dog or reading another book to review.  The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.

Books can be purchased at Amazon, iBooks, Google, Kobo, along with other online retailers.  Here are the Amazon links:

SChurchill head shot.jpg            The Scribe Daughter Cover small.jpg      The Kings Daughter Cover smaller.jpg

 

 

 

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The Reaper’s Breath by Robert Southworth

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Stepping outside my usual reading habits I decided to take on a mystery-thriller story.  I was pretty confident that the author would have penned an entertaining piece as I have read his Spartacus series and enjoyed that.  Not only a different genre, but also a quite different subject awaited me as I read The Reaper’s Breath, as I know next to nothing about the nightmarish exploits of Jack the Ripper.  What I found was a nerve-wrangling, page turning tale that was not only entertaining but a delight to read.  The author shows his creative side as he takes the reader on a roller coaster ride through the teeming underbelly of London.  Wonderfully crafted with great characters, plot twists, and descriptive enough to have the sights and smells of an industrial city come oozing out of the pages.  I enjoyed the way the author took a well known tale and was able to concoct a different telling; one that kept me guessing throughout.  4.7 stars

 

I was able to sit down and with and interview the author – well sort of as he’s on one side of The Pond and I’m on  the other.  Thanks Robert for taking the time for a few questions.

Interview with Robert Southworth

  1. Reaper’s Breath is a bit of a departure from your series on Spartacus. Was it difficult to make such a drastic switch in time and place?

Answer =Not really I have always had an interest in the Ripper murders, and the impact the crimes had on the populace of London.  I am fortunate that when it comes to things historical I am not restricted to one or two eras. The important thing for me was to be able to take the story in another direction. I didn’t want to produce another standard Ripper novel.

  1. What drew you to write about “The Ripper”?

Answer = I love to find subjects that are well known but actual facts are scarce. I believe it allows the author to be wonderfully creative and gives the readers something a little different.

  1. How is book two of The Ripper Legacies coming along?

Answer = The first draft is complete and is currently with the editor, after that I will make changes and it will go for its final edit.

  1. What does Robert Southworth do when he’s not writing?

Answer = I have a young family and I also care for a disabled parent. That aside, I market my books where possible but that is a part of the business that I do not enjoy. It is also very expensive in terms of money and time.

  1. Who does Robert Southworth enjoy reading?

Answer = Traditional authors such as Terry Pratchett, Simon Scarrow and James McGee but recently my tastes buds have feasted on delicious indy authors such as Paula Lofting, Robert Bayliss, Jeanette Taylor Ford, Kevin Ashman and many more…

  1. We’ve heard rumors of an exciting new project…care to let us in on it?

Answer = In keeping with taking legend, myth or factual personalities clouded in mist, from the past. I am going to be taking the Homeric poems and giving them a gritty update. I will attempt to show the politics of the time and offer differing reasons for war and the consequences of the fall of Troy. Im hoping that this book will show a different side to my writing…but I suppose only the reader will testify to my success.

 

 

A 63-year-old blog tour virgin reviews SJA Turney’s Praetorian – The Great Game

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Wow, this is sure exciting stuff.  Who would have thought that me, a humble yet insightful reader and reviewer of books, would make it to the most prestigious blog tour of SJA Turney?  I have known Simon for a couple years now, a relationship brought forth through the great bringer together of old friends and maker of new ones, social media.  In fact, it is his fault I have a Twitter account.  I had finished reading Marius Mules IV and noticed in the About the Author section that Simon listed his Twitter handle.  Well, I enjoyed the first four books in the series so much I just had to tell him and @hooverbkreview was born and began what has become a pretty cool network of authors, reviewers and other fellow travelers.  Soon I had inveigled my way into his confidence and got on his list of beta readers which is really nice because I get a signed copy of the books and I know that they will be worth a small fortune at some point in the future.  So if my writing career doesn’t take off then I have those signed editions to fall back on in my retirement and now I’ll have one more as I have just finished his latest, Praetorian: The Great Game.

Where to begin?  The protagonist, Rufinus, the depth of scenic detail, the mesmerizing plot twists?  That sounds like a logical order to proceed with.  Rufinus is your average legionary doing the foot slogging, shield walling duties of a Roman soldier all for the glory of Rome and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Then in one of those ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ moments his life takes a radical detour.  Without going into too much detail as to not spoil it, Rufinus is promoted to The Praetorian Guard and is subsequently posted undercover at Commodus’ sister Lucilla’s villa.  From then on he finds out just what kind of man and loyal soldier he is.  He is tested time and time again managing to emerge stronger as a character after each ordeal, physically, emotionally and rationally.  A fascinating character developed beautifully by the author.  That holds true for the rest of the cast of characters as well.  The two Praetorian Prefects, Paternus and Perennis, the dark and visceral Dis and the savage beast called Tad are just a few of the more interesting players.

I have found over the past few years that Simon has a great ability to transport the reader to the places he is describing, whether that is the Emperor’s Palace in Rome, the various monuments and temples but most especially the Imperial Villa at Tibur.  I felt as if I was walking the grounds taking in the opulence of the imperial sections, the contrasting slave quarters and even the hypocaust system.  This descriptive flair is also evident in his turns of phrase.  For example an exclamation uttered by one the characters: ‘by the seven sacred shits of Jove.’  Or when after setting the scene with a gate guard suffering from intestinal distress meeting Acheron, Rufinus’ hound from Hades.  The result: ‘The guard’s bowels surrendered.’  Maybe it’s just me but I burst out laughing when I read those tasty tidbits.  🙂

The pace  of the story moves along readily and builds to an exciting climax and has within it moments when I would pause and say ‘okay, I didn’t see that coming.’  Rest assured that you will be entertained and maybe even educated a little about the world of Gnaeus Marcius Rustius Rufinus.

I vow by the seven sacred you know whats that this is a 5 star winner.

 

Let’s all give a big Hoover Book Review welcome to today’s guest, Simon Turney.  Welcome, Simon and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions from this humble yet insightful reader and reviewer of books.

 

  1. How does it feel to have Praetorian published after such along interval between conception and publication?

Oooh…. Exciting! Yes, definitely exciting. I’ve long believed it’s my strongest novel and that it would be well received, and I’ve been dying to let readers see it for a long time (Oo-err!) It’s like having an amazing hat but only being allowed to wear it in private (weird analogy? You bet!) It’s been a long road for Praetorian and it’s not quite the book in started as, largely due to the talented editing of my agent Sallyanne, who turned it from a lump of quartz to a diamond. But the very best thing about it being out there? I have had the plots for books 2 and 3 sitting in a folder on my PC for a year now. I’ve even done the research trip, taken the photos and investigated the locations for book 2. I’ve been ready to write it for more than half a year, but it’s not been worth launching into until book 1 was in publication. Now… I can start on book 2 (working title: The Emperor’s Man)

  1. I have been impressed in all of your work with the amount of descriptive detail you include in the surroundings, the architecture and just the way you put the reader inside the luxuriousness of a place like the Villa Hadrianus. When you visit a site for a book how long does it typically take until you have enough inspiration for your imagination?  In other words how do you bring to life a site that has stood idle for centuries?

Funnily enough, this is to some extent the subject of a guest post I did a couple of days ago for https://forwinternights.wordpress.com/ … I’m a great believer that a scene in a book feels a great deal more real if the author has put their heart and soul into the location, and the best way to do that is to experience the place yourself. I try and visit every location I use (it’s not always possible, but I do my best.) When I visit a location, first of all I have my camera to hand at all times. I take a lot of photos. That means that when I come to write about it, probably months later, I can refer back to see, for instance, whether one building is visible from another, and such like. I also pay attention to smells, sounds, terrain and wildlife. Are there terrapins in the pond? Do you break into a sweat on the angle of approach? Is there the scent of jasmine in the air? These are the things that bring a location to life. Of course, the amount of detail you throw into the scene is a fine line too, since loading it down with too much can impede the pace, but a good description turns a scene from ‘mmmm’ to ‘wow!’ Because of the different senses I need to record, as well as my camera, I carry a dictaphone, on which I keep seemingly endless notes.  I am careful enough in selecting locations that it never takes long for inspiration to strike. If I cannot see the scene in my mind’s eye within minutes, it’s the wrong location! As for the bringing to life a long-dead site, I would suggest readers pop over to forwinternights and read the blog I posted, which goes into some detail on that.

  1. In any story involving the Roman Legions there is going to be violence and to bring the reader into what it is like to stand in a legion shield wall or even in a street fight there has to be some blood and gore. Do you ever question any of the gory passages you write as to whether it might be too much?

Oh yes. In fact, while it’s nothing to do with battle, there is a torture scene in Praetorian that is a vastly toned-down version of the original. My editor suggested I cut it down and she was, in retrospect, correct. Even now, going back over the original makes me wince and makes my eyes water! Similarly, in The Pasha’s Tale, which has just undergone its final edit, I have completely removed a scene in which a household of civilians is cut down. It was, in the end, seemingly too much for the tale, and so joined so many other scenes in ‘File 13’. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever toned down a battle scene. Battle is in its very nature brutal, and those people who are reading a novel about the legions at war are almost certainly expecting such vicious description. In fact, some of my readers have expressed disappointment at lack of violent bloodshed from time to time. What I am turning away from more often is non-battle brutality, since scenes like that are far more shocking and unpleasant.

  1. Another facet of your writing that I enjoy is your usage of colorful phrases. For example, the seven sacred shits of Jove.  How do you come up with these nuggets?

Simply: I have no idea! I have a peculiar imagination as anyone who knows me will verify. I tend to be very inventive with my phrases even at home. I have been known to shout things like ‘Turdhoney!’ when I drop an egg on the pantry floor. Words just fit together so well into odd phrases even if they shouldn’t. More so, if they shouldn’t.  I trained with the best, mind. My German housemate at University initiated the phrase ‘suppurating, buggering heck!’ which remains one of my faves. Cursing and swearing can be horribly offensive and it irritates me to hear people using gratuitous bad language out in the streets. But somehow the offensiveness of an imprecation is inversely proportional to the humour within. If what you shout when you drop a rock on your toe is odd or funny enough, people will laugh rather than taking offense.

  1. Do you have plans to see what’s in store for Rufinus?

Hmm. I nodded to this with your first question, didn’t I? There are years of fun ahead for Rufinus. For a start, books 2 and 3 will see him variously at the family estate in Hispania, in southern Gaul, in Rome and Ostia, and even out in the wilds of Dacia (modern Romania.) There are still an array of dangerous men in the Roman court, including a couple of well-placed men whose actions will change the course of Commodus’ reign. Be sure that Rufinus has a part to play with them. And over in Dacia sometime soon, two future usurping emperors are busy. Book 2 is already planned down to a chapter level ready to write and book 3 is a nebulous plot at the moment. Beyond that? Well, the sky’s the limit. As with Marius’ Mules, as long as people want to read about Rufinus, I’m happy to write about him.

  1. Finally, what’s next for Simon Turney? What are you working on now?

I am just putting the finishing touches to The Pasha’s Tale (the fourth and final installment of the Ottoman Cycle) which I will publish once the cover is complete, with a tear in my eye as I say goodbye to writing about 15th century Istanbul. Next week I begin work in earnest on Marius’ Mules VIII: Sons of Taranis, which I am already champing at the bit over. That should be out in the late summer this year, all being well. After that, sometime towards the end of the year, it is the turn of Praetorian book 2. In the meantime, there are three side projects already written and waiting for publishing, including the joint work with Gordon Doherty, which is one of my favourite things I’ve ever written. Shortly, we are going to embark on book 2 of that series too. All go at Chez Turney as you can see! Never a dull moment.

Interview with Derek Birks

Nice interview with Derek Birks…author of Feud.

Daniel F. Bowman

Today I’m interviewing Derek Birks, author of “Feud,” a novel of the War of Roses. “Feud” is the compelling story of Ned Elder, his sisters and the girl he loves. As the civil war rages across a snow-covered battlefield, they fight for survival and the bitter feud is played out to its bloody conclusion.

1.Why did you choose the Wars of Roses?

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Future Confronted…

I know both Louise and Prue through ‘social networking’ and have enjoyed their company and conversations.

Prue Batten's Blog

I first met Louise Rule amongst a host of Roman fiction aficionados through my friend, writer SJA Turney. We had a shared interest in history and Louise was about to take a step into my world, the world of the indie writer. I didn’t know what she had been writing, what she planned to release and when I found out, it took my breath away.

Louise for book

Louise has written an account of her journey through the one thing we never want to experience as parents – the loss of a child. What makes this story even more poignant is that Louise, her family and her then 20 year old son, had exactly 49 days from the moment her son found out he was ill until the day he died.

I asked Louise if she would talk with me on the blog and she kindly agreed. Louise, welcome…

Thank you Prue, for…

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