Dana Stabenow – author of Silk and Song


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Dana Stabenow, New York Times bestselling author and writer of the popular Kate Shugak series, has recently launched her latest novel Silk and Song. She’s here today talking about research and inspiration.


The great thing about writing historical fiction is what you stumble across during  research. Snake bombs? Really? Really, thus aiding in the success of the Mongol assault on Talikan during Johanna’s inadvertent stay within those, it turns out, highly breachable walls. Personally, given the Mongol record for wiping out any city or state who opposed them, man, woman, and child, I’d have yielded at the first sight of their banners on my horizon. Farhad and his father are not so wise.

Foot binding in China, to ensure the swaying gait which was considered to be erotic. It’s hard to create empathy for the villain who has it in for your hero but what if someone broke every one of her toes and folded her feet back on themselves and wrapped them tightly and left them that way for years, so that her feet would never be more than four inches long? So that ever after she would never be able to walk normally? Only teeter, or sway, which was held to be feminine and attractive to potential mates? It’s easier to understand the widow’s motivation in taking over Wu Li’s business when the option to run away from home to find a better life was brutally removed from her at the age of four. No wonder she hated Johanna so much.

The peripatetic nature of European life during the Middle Ages, contrary to the alleged immobility of those lives as we were taught in high school (“No one traveled more than a mile from their villages in those days,” my world history teacher said with immense authority in my junior year). Then I read the autobiography of Margery Kempe, a Christian mystic from England who not only traveled to Santiago de Compostela in Spain but visited multiple Christian shrines all over Italy. And that was on her way back from Jerusalem.

Also, please note, a woman, which opens up another entire can of worms about the status and privileges of women during that time. Evidently, they weren’t quite all barefoot and pregnant down on the farm for their entire lives. One of the most delightful discoveries during my research was The Medieval Woman: An Illuminated Book of Days, a daily diary which features illustrations from illuminated manuscripts current to the time in which I wrote featuring women…working. Yes, they are sweeping and spinning and weaving and cooking. They are also selling and painting and and laying brick for city walls and defending their castles crossbow in hand.

And, speaking of bricks, not just with crossbows. I hiked part of the Robert Louis Stevenson trail in France in 2015 and in Pradelles saw this bas-relief carved into part of the remaining medieval wall of the town. It commemorates the story of La Verdette, who beaned the leader of an invading force with a brick. After which the rest of the invaders…ran away.

I tried like hell to write La Verdette into Silk and Song but couldn’t work a believable diversion to Pradelles into the plot. Alas. The not so great thing about research is that you can’t use it all.

Many thanks, Dana. An intriguing and inspiring look at medieval times. Wishing you all the best with Silk and Song.

Silk and Song by Dana Stabenow – a gripping historical adventure of a young woman who flees China, crossing the known world in search of her grandfather, Marco Polo.

Beijing, 1322. Sixteen-year-old Wu Johanna is the granddaughter of the legendary trader Marco Polo. In the wake of her father’s death, Johanna finds that lineage counts for little amid the disintegrating court of the Khan. Johanna’s destiny—if she has one—lies with her grandfather, in Venice. So, with a small band of companions, she takes to the road—the Silk Road—that storied collection of routes that link the silks of Cathay, the spices of the Indies and the jewels of the Indus to the markets of the west. But first she must survive treachery and betrayal on a road beset by thieves, fanatics and warlords.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Second Career Author – Tony Riches


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Following on from the questions I sent last November on being a second career author, today I’m talking to British Historical Fiction author Tony Riches, best known for The Tudor Trilogy, all three books of which have reached #1 on Amazon US and UK.

Hi Tony – thanks for agreeing to tell your story. What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?

After gaining my degree and my MBA from Cardiff University, I held senior roles as a Director of the UK National Health Service, for a major UK Management Consulting Firm and as a Chief Officer of the biggest Local Authority in Wales. I also worked as a specialist Project Manager on significant regeneration projects.

Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?

I’d always written for journals and magazines, as well as being a Wikipedia reviewer. I found myself in the fortunate position of being able to ‘retire’ on a private pension, ten years earlier than planned, which enabled me to fulfil my lifelong ambition to become a published author.

Do you now write full time or part time?

I write full time and have published at least one book a year for the past five years. As I write historical fiction and prefer to use primary sources, this means spending spring and summer researching and visiting locations, then writing through the autumn and winter months.

What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?

I enjoy hearing from readers around the world, particularly when they tell me my books have inspired them to look deeper into medieval history. The least enjoyable aspect of writing as a career is reading reviews where there is no right of reply, (such as the reader who recently said my book OWEN was too short – it is a perfectly respectable 320 pages and is the first book of a trilogy!)

What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?

I don’t miss my former work at all, although when I first ‘retired’ I felt I should make use of my skills and management experience, so I supported the development of the local community arts charity for a year, which I found very rewarding.

Do you have any regrets?

Sometimes I wish I’d started writing years earlier, but work would almost certainly have conflicted with my writing time. I was also lucky to have started writing when Amazon and eBooks were becoming established as a viable international marketplace. My timing was also perfect for becoming an ‘early adopter’ of blogging and social media, which has significantly helped raise awareness of my books.

What advice would you offer other second career writers?

Read as much as you can – and remember if you only manage to write one page a day, that’s a book a year!

For information about Tony’s books please visit his website www.tonyriches.com  and his popular blog, The Writing Desk at www.tonyriches.co.uk. You can also find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tonyriches.author and Twitter @tonyriches.

Thanks for sharing your background and experience, Tony. I’m holding onto that one-page-a-day concept!

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Somewhere in France – 18th March 1916


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Lewis Gun

Just a line to keep you going, although I have none of your meantime to acknowledge. When we went up to the trenches last time, I was fortunate enough, after a couple of days there, to be sent on a course of machine gun instruction some seven miles behind the line. Here I have been for nearly a week, the course finishing tomorrow with an exam. It has been interesting work and I can take the gun to bits and put it together again in quick time. The Lewis gun is particularly adaptable for the firing line as it is light and can be shifted about easily and does not require the cumbersome platform and stand of the Vickers. We had a few nasty knocks during my sojourn in the line, one shell accounting or 9 men, 4 of whom were killed. Sim, one of the Company officers, was hit in the head but I learn that it is not very serious.

Vickers gun

The battalion has been out for three days while I have been here [I think he means on the training course], and we go up again the day after tomorrow. After that spell is completed we should go on Divisional rest for about three weeks, if the general position permits.

The weather has turned much better and spring seems to have arrived at last. There is an aeroplane base close at hand and it is a pleasant diversion to watch them at work. They go on patrols of about three hours duration, both forenoon and afternoon, and it is interesting to see them all trooping home at dusk – perhaps one of their number absent. Relatively speaking their casualties will be pretty heavy but I envy them their comfortable quarters and independence of the muddy trenches.

We are all very bucked at the stand the French are making at Verdun and this ought to go a long way to bring home to Fritz the futility of the struggle, but that is probably too much to expect.

How right he was – the war lasted more than two and a half years after this letter.