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Gisborne_Easter2014

To everyone who has enjoyed The Gisborne Saga to date:

Have a wonderful Easter Holiday!

(original image of Guy of Gisborne,BBC/Tiger Aspect Productions)

I have an exceptional guest blogger today. Former book critic, and now historical fiction writer, her books light a fire in one’s belly rather as Dorothy Dunnett did. She has a sharp wit which I rather like and we share a number of commonalities.

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I first met M.m. Bennetts in a Facebook group of english historical fiction authors and we connected over four things – our love of history, our love of horses (that is she, above) our love of cakey (yes, cakey!) and our admiration for the unparalleled  Dorothy Dunnett… 

 

“It all begins with Dorothy Dunnett, doesn’t it?

We all may have different stories about how we first encountered and then were drawn through her mystical wardrobe into the worlds of Lymond and Niccolo, but the result was always the same.

She changed us. She rattled our views and understanding of history. She changed everything.

I was studying Mediaeval History against the howl of the wind off the North Sea, amongst the mediaeval granite beauty of St. Andrews…

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 - when I say, Mediaeval history, I mean specialising in the Italian Renaissance as according to the world of history then the mediaeval period was divided from modern history in 1492 – though I do believe we’ve got a little less strict about that date since then … I hope so at least.

And, well, to break up the endless reading, and writing of essays, the daily visits to the tea rooms – I wasn’t just learning about Quattrocento Italy, I was learning to appreciate cakey! – to warm self after a few hours spent in an unheated lecture hall, I might occasionally have wandered up the stairs into the local hideaway for bibliophiles … or maybe you’d like to phrase it as it really was: I was skiving. (One had to have some novel or other to substitute within all those open tomes…)

And there, one day, she was. Sexy blond bloke on book cover (which I later discovered she thought so tacky and hated!). Intriguing blurb on back. And nothing at home to idle away time with because there certainly was nothing on telly.

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So it happened. It was so simple. So straightforward. And it involved pigs in castles–too startling, too wonderful, too delicious! I was lost. More lost than I knew. For as The Game of Kings segued into Queen’s Play–and I got further and further behind on my research into nevermind–my literary and historical landscape was being extended and stretched out beyond anything I had ever perceived.

This was nothing like the historical romances that were the escapism passages of my younger years. This was history brought alive, played out in a painter’s panoramic canvas, encompassing all that I had been studying but had never linked as one world. These were characters who had nothing to do with stock responses, but living, seething, laughing, more real than my hand characters. I didn’t just know them, I feared them, I loved them, I loathed them.

And the history, oh, the history! It was this shimmering seamless warp and woof of life rooted in the realities of 16th century life. No mere backdrop for a modern tale of courtship, this, but the politics, the passions and possessions which drove that, the music, the poetry, the power-broking, the mercenary wars, the trade which paid for everything, the skullduggery…

Yet that didn’t even touch upon the refinement of character nor the extra-ordinary investigative research Dunnett brought to her work. Nor her poet’s and painter’s eye for the incisive word, the perfect sentence, the balance of literary description, colour and prhase and cadence.

She was a game-changer. Of that there can be no doubt! Ever. Historical fiction would never be the same.

I completed my studies. I went home.

And a few years hence found myself working as a book critic for a major newspaper assigned to review the first novel in Dunnett’s new sequence, Niccolo Rising.

And it was all there–the jewels of her undoubted crown: the history, the dazzling multi-faceted characters, the endless invention, the minutiae of their daily lives, the wonder of this world that she understood and into which she invited me. Which led to my newspaper (unwisely?) saying yes to a proposition that I should interview her for them.

And so we met.

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She was the warmest, friendliest, most wonderful individual, with a wicked effervescent sense of humour, a delicious laugh, a profound humility about her work, a profound reverence for history and the facts and she would go to any lengths to ferret out the truth. Of all the countries and places about which she wrote, of all those locations, there was only one she didn’t visit–Mali in north Africa. (Alastair, looking at the transportation arrangements of one yellow bus which was regularly held up, said “No.”) And she always did take an extra empty suitcase, which would return with her, crammed of books she’d bought at the destination de la semaine…

And there was the family tree of every royal and Viking family stretched across the floor of the dining room (and it was no small dining room, I can assure you!) as she traced Macbeth’s bloodlines for King Hereafter…she spent five years researching that novel and in the midst of a most crucial moment of discovery of who was related to whom, her youngest son burst into the room after school, full of the news of the day and she lost the day’s work. So, he, sensible lad, invented a series of pins and stickers for her so that when he exploded into the room (every day), she could fix her days’ work on the genealogical map and lose nothing. And he didn’t lose a limb either. Win-win.

Well, all those years ago, when I did first meet her, she was more generous with her time and her openness about her work than the feeding of the multitudes–that won’t surprise you. I returned to my editor with a four hour interview, so laden of insight, humour, modesty and inspiration and just the joy in her work, that the interview was given the centre spread in the newspaper.

Dorothy was delighted. Her publisher was even more delighted. And her agent was over the moon!

But what was even better, we had become firm friends…and I saw her every time I was in Edinburgh. And we phoned frequently and she was as she ever was, full of vim, joy, interest, laughter, the next Edinburgh festival, Alastair, her next novel… I still miss her sorely.
And I cherish, absolutely cherish and always shall cherish, the inscription in The Unicorn Hunt which she sent me upon publication…

Yes, Dorothy Dunnett changed everything.

She showed us how to write so that we were in the room and not viewing from a safe distance. She challenged us to see beyond the stereotypes and into the portraits of the age. She raised the literary bar. She dared us to remember that they of the past were people–good ones, rough ones, dishonourable ones, wild ones, and they didn’t live in bubbles without smell or sound or light or laughter or music, nor were they tainted with modern sensibilities.
Honestly and without flinching, she painted the whole canvas! And none of us will ever be the same for having viewed the rambunctious and tender worlds of Lymond and Niccolo through the extra-ordinary talent of her pen. Not ever. Thank the heavens for it!

And even now, for those of us mad enough to take the challenge, she dares us to write it too.

***

Thank you, M.m, for the story of DD, of the way she inspired you and of the memories you have. I suspect that knowing you and hearing about DD from you, that you and she probably shared cakey as well!

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M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in early 19th century Britain and the Napoleonic wars and has written two novels set amidst the turmoil of the period: May 1812 and Of Honest Fame, both of which can be purchased at

Link for amazon.co.uk

Link for amazon.com

Or follow Bennetts on the blog at www.mmbennetts.com or on Twitter @mmbennetts

prue batten:

‘Like a gaudily-painted runaway steamroller!’ So says SJA Turney about his writing process. One of the most successful and popular independent hist. fict writers, this post on how he writes will show why he is liked and admired by so many – humour, happiness and complete humility.

Originally posted on S.J.A.Turney's Books & more Blog:

I was invited by the lovely and talented Prue Batten to take part in a writing process blog tour. For any of you who’ve not listened to me blather at great length about Prue before, you might like to check out her work: the fay fantasy Chronicles of Eirie and the medieval Gisborne saga. Her words are like silk. They are like a fine wine. They are beautiful. Check out Prue’s writing process here: Am I Unique?

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The tour requires that I answer several questions, and I find them to be sharp, complex ones on the whole, but we start with the easy one:

1. What am I working on?

And yet even that is far from simple. You see unlike most writers, who are sensible and logical and not clearly barking like me, I am apparently unable to concentrate on one project at a time. My imagination constantly runs…

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I was asked by historical fiction writer Ann Swinfen to be part of a Writing Process Blog Tour this week. Ann is a superbly elegant writer of literary and historical fiction. Formally a mainstream writer, she has now taken her backlist to the writing public independently and added to it with Flood, a stunning book on the politics of humanity in the 17th century Fens and with The Testament of Mariam which is a sensitively handled novel, poignant and crafted, about Jesus’s sister. You can read about Ann’s writing process here. http://www.annswinfen.com/column

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The questions for this blog tour reveal me in situ at my ‘desk’, (bearing in mind my ‘desk’ moves from town to House every few days) pouring the sweat of my soul onto the screen. Read on:

1. What am I working on?

It’s the end of summer in Australia and I sometimes ask myself if I am actually writing at all when I take advantage of sun, sea and sand. But the truth is I write so much more and so much better in summer. I am ¾’s of the way through the final book of The Gisborne Saga – Gisborne: Book of Kings.

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Three books ago, I became enthralled with the Robin Hood legend, but rather than taking Robin’s story and re-writing it, I decided to take Guy of Gisborne’s story and move it far from the original canon. We are told that Gisborne ended his life separated from his head and I suppose we all applauded that after his less than chivalrous treatment of the peasants around Nottingham.

But I had a decidedly ‘what-if’ moment.

What if Gisborne had never met the Sheriff of Nottingham? What if he had never met Maid Marian? What if he had never met Robin Hood? How would his life have been different? What might have happened? In this final book in the trilogy, we follow Guy of Gisborne, his lady, Ysabel, and a cast of favourite characters ranging from a dwarf minstrel to an Arab physician. It is a poignant, maybe even a tragic story. The Middle Ages were not for the faint-hearted and this story illuminates that.

Each day, I struggle with medieval Christian values, with revenge and brutality and one little child called William who is an angel and an innocent and can’t say his ‘s’s. I love the writing of this story. I think Ysabel has grown and Gisborne has suffered – what the end result will be I cannot say. Sometimes I wonder if I even know, as the characters have a way of riding at the quintain and spinning it off its axis every time.

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2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t think it differs all that much at all and I am not sure I want it to. Historical fiction is a steady, strong genre which draws on past lives to give it texture and depth. That said, if my work is any different, it may be that I take an event and make it utterly and uniquely my own. Show me another Guy of Gisborne that has lived his life so far from the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John. That is quite simply why everyone must read the saga! It’ll change your image of Basil Rathbone and Richard Armitage forever, I swear!

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3. Why do I write what I do?

I write historical fiction because I am compelled to. Isn’t that wonderfully clichéd? But I truthfully love history, I like the way it can define our own lives. And even more so, I especially love the way daily archeological and forensic discoveries are changing the way we view our history. It’s fluid and can be bent more with each find. So it was for me when I decided to take the Gisborne legend and re-write it. Fluid, bendable…

4. How does my writing process work?

*I have a one page outline of the story from the original idea.

*I have a character call-up with card profiles for each one, including images from real-life of people who might look like the characters. For major male and female characters, if they are based on a particular actor then I will watch that actor in various roles over and over to get the nuances of movement and expression. Subsequently I fill in a sheet/profile for each character (a mini history).

*I have a pinboard (Pinterest) of all images of locales, routes, architecture, lifestyles etc that are suited to the novel.

*Those research books set aside for the novel are defined by dozens of post-its that mark key points.

*You Tube sequences are bookmarked on my computer.

*I have a large (very large) A4 folder with plastic leaves into which I insert any photocopies and print-outs of research for that particular novel.

*I have a running style sheet divided into alphabetical order on which I write all names and odd words so that the spelling can be consistent throughout.

*In my head, I have key points which the novel must reach before it can move on.

* I write my whole story on A4 paper and in pen. The story evolves and I transcribe to the computer and edit every 30 pages.

*I read through and edit again.

*It is sent to two Beta-readers when finished. For unbiased comment.

*I edit again.

*Finally it is sent to my UK editor and we have a month of work nipping and tucking.

I am a much slower writer than the average independent author. The book, from idea to research to writing and editing, takes about a year. Then it has a professional cover design, formatting and is ready for release to an unsuspecting public. But that 12 months is absolutely key to me getting my work out in the way I want. Professional advice these days is to write often and fast, publishing 2-3 books a year. For me that is uncomfortable, indeed well nigh impossible because I’m a farmer’s wife and have almost an acre of gardens. If my readers can cope with a year between books, I will love them forever!

And if you wish to hot foot it over to the links below, you can read the first two books of the saga and be up to date before Gisborne – Book of Kings is released in late May of this year.

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Gisborne  - Book of Pawns.

Kindle UK: http://amzn.to/LrzO8l

Kindle USA: http://amzn.to/JFLNh8

Gisborne – Book of Knights.

Kindle UK: http://amzn.to/13F2im9

Kindle USA: http://amzn.to/1awRZ9Z

***

Now…

As part of this blog tour, I am required to invite three writers to continue the tour. I thought I would invite the three that have impressed me most in the last year and fortunately they agreed. I urge you to seek them out because in their own way, they are contributing great writing to the hist.fict genre.

SJA Turney. LowResProfilePhotoNot just a writer of energetic Roman fiction but also one of the most exciting series I have read in the last two years, titled  The Ottoman Cycle. He’s one of the most successful independent writers to emerge within the historical fiction genre in this new era of publishing. ‘Turney … weaves a fantastic fast paced, well researched atmospheric tale that sucks the reader back in time into the mix of… dirty streets and dangerous politics. His skill is always in educating whilst entertaining and (he) does it in spades.’

He is a historian and writer of Roman and Medieval historical fiction, as well as the occasional Fantasy work. His love of antiquity and travel has combined with his only worthwhile talent to produce three series so far, with two more in the works. Simon lives in rural northern England, where he finds it easy to procrastinate.

He has just returned from a trip to Istanbul, researching the last piece of the jigsaw of The Ottoman Cycle. I’m thrilled he accepted my invitation.

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David Pilling.

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I invited this gentleman because he has taken Gisborne’s arch enemy, Robin Hood, and set him in 1224 (only 30-ish years beyond my own trilogy) in a series that I absolutely loved. Mingling fact with fiction, and drawing heavily on surviving contemporary records, “Robin Hood” is a tough and unsqueamish tale and like no other version of the ancient legend.” I urge everyone who has ever enjoyed the Robin Hood Tale to buy this version. I swear you will not be disappointed. David too, has just returned from Turkey and I long to see if we are to enjoy a novel because of the trip.

David is an English writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as he can remember. He spent much of his childhood dragging his parents up and down the misted ruins of castles in Wales, and the medieval period has always held a particular fascination. He is also interested in the Roman period, the Dark Ages and the British Civil Wars of the 17th century. His latest book is a twist on Arthurian legend.

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Steven A Mckay.

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How could I not invite this furiously energetic Scotsman? Another writer of the Robin Hood legend and one who has moved the whole thing, lock, stock and screaming war-arrows to 1321 AD and the reign of Edward II. The second in the series is to be launched at the London Book Fair 2014 and that’s no mean feat for an independent. His series ‘brings the brutality, injustice and intensity of life in medieval England vividly to life, and marks the beginning of a thrilling new historical fiction series.’ It too is a must read and rounds off interpretive ways of writing history perfectly.

Steven was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland and now lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur series was his biggest influence in writing “Wolf’s Head”, and now “The Wolf and the Raven”. He plays lead/acoustic guitars (and occasional bass/vocals) in a heavy metal band when he can find the time to meet up with his fellow band members.

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Now you might say – ‘but they are all men!’

Well yes, they are, but don’t hold it against them. I love working with men and have done so all my life in the media and on the farm. The writers above are giants in the independent field and I have a great deal of respect for each one of them.

Go seek them out people, and run, don’t walk!

And if and when you do, please review them (and me). It’s one of the best ways for  a writer to see his/her books reach the people he/she is writing for.

Cheers all!

Robinson Crusoe 2…

Being Crusoe occasionally has a lot to recommend it. Far from the madding crowd, alone with one’s thoughts, being a small cog in a great big beautiful world of wonder and all at my very doorstep – 20 minutes away by boat! In 20 minutes I’m  in a national park within a world heritage area. It doesn’t get any more fortunate or any better!

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Heading out … and hoping we leave the heavy cloud far behind.

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Looking along a sunbeam bridge to the Freycinet Peninsula…

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The candlestick at Boy in the Boat (have no idea how that name came about) on the southern tip of Maria Island…

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Boy in the Boat (??)…

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A friend (Pacific Gull) visiting at Robies Beach…

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Seventh heaven… the sun emerged and we had summer all over again.

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Heading toward the track between Chinamen’s Beach and Riedles’ Beach…

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Chinamen’s… not a soul around. No boats, nor people. Heavenly…

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Looking north along a deserted Riedles’ and…

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Looking south. Perhaps the fact that the only way to get to the island and its magnificent southern beaches is by a boat and then wading through the shallows to get ashore, is why we had the whole place to ourselves. It sank under our skin and into our psyche. The air, the light, the calm sea, the sound of waves…

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Just him … and me…

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And the tide will come in and wash the words away and it will be exactly as it was before.

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Heading back to the boat after walking the length of the beach…

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Back to the mainland and heavy cloud cover but we didn’t care. We’d had the best day…

Walk away from it all and it will come back…

Creativity vs. Quants.

Picnic…

A picnic up the coast today at a place called Piermont.

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Normally the setting is perfect.

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And our weather like this.

Till today – 15 degrees with an icy wind which made the idea of picnics out of the back of cars not the best thing in the world. And reminded us that summer might indeed be over and autumn here with a vengeance.

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But we were amongst friends, we had baskets of delicious food, wine, an Argentinian BBQ and enchiladas supplied by the Argentinian owner of Piermont…

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Along with a display of polo…

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Skilful to watch, and when SJA Turney suggested I look at it from the POV of a medieval battle, it took on a whole other dimension!

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We also watched a display of natural horsemanship…

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A wild Australian brumby that cannot be backed but has learned to respond freely on the ground – respect, understanding and a hell of a lot of gentle whispering.

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And here. I was so impressed. The woman on the grey rides with the brumby free but listening to everything she says. Nothing intimidating. It gives one faith in man/animal relationships.

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This however was the Number One highlight of the day. Isabella. 6 weeks old and as good as gold all day.

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And this was the other highlight. Stopping at each group to grin and then crawling on. Eventually his dad picked him up, popped him on a miniature 2 wheeler bicycle (without trainer wheels) and wheeled him back to mum.

As one of my friends said at the end of the day, it didn’t matter that we froze and wished for Antarctic outerwear – anything that enables one to have a day with friends is good day out!

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