Thursday, September 25

Sisters in Crime September Blog Hop

Yes, I write historical thrillers. Much of what I blog about is the historical part, less so the thriller part. Not any more! For I have been tagged by fellow Sister in Crime Member, H.A. Somerled as part of the September SinC-Up. You can read her post on her musical muses here.

The blog co-ordinators at SinC posed some great questions, so here's my choices.

1. Which authors have inspired you?

For thrillers, it has to be Tess Gerritsen. She's a thriller writer that I read and think, 'Damn! Why can't I do that?' She writes great female protagonists that have their feet firmly on the ground yet can really piss people off too. (yay, Detective Jane Rizzoli!)There's no pink, no wittering on about shoes and no needing men to rescue them.

One of my all-time favourite novels is Robert Harris's Pompeii. You don't get many water engineers who are heroes, but Marius Attilius Primus most certainly is. Harris showed me in this book the thrilling story telling that can result when ordinary (fictional!) people are caught up in extraordinary historical events.
2. If someone said 'Nothing against women writers, but all of my favourite crime fiction authors happen to be men', how would you respond?

Tess Gerritsen. Kathy Reichs. Tana French. Karin Slaughter. Agatha Christie. Patricia Cornwell.Val McDermid. I got those ones out in one breath. And I have plenty more breath left.

3. What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?

The best part is those wonderful scenes that just pour out as if someone else is doing it. Finding a solution to a plot problem that is far, far more entertaining (and grisly!) than in the original synopsis.

The most challenging is when it doesn't fly. When the writing is sat there like a muddy lump and I am boring even myself. I carry on, then delete. I should learn to delete faster.

4. If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

Learn your craft. Like any apprenticeship, you need to learn which nuts and bolts fit together. If you don't, nothing works quite right. Worse case scenario, it falls apart.

Use the fantastic resources that are writers' organisations. Like Sisters in Crime. Like Romance Writers of America. Like the Historical Novel Society. Whatever your genre/cross-genre is, there will be an organisation for you. The support, the expertise, the sharing the frustrations, the generosity of other members: all this will help you greatly.

Yes, it costs to join. But not a great deal. And they're worth their weight in gold!

I'm now tagging fellow SinC member, Judith Starkston to write her September SinC-Up post. Judith writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire.

Her novel, Hand of Fire (Fireship Press September 2014), tells Briseis's story, the captive woman who sparked the bitter conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon in the Iliad. There was more to her than the handful of lines Homer gave her. Imagine a woman who can both challenge and love that most conflicted of heroes, the half-immortal Achilles.

Visit Judith's website at:

The Fifth Knight is a #1 Bestselling historical thriller. Find it here on and here on The sequel, The Blood of The Fifth Knight will be published by Thomas & Mercer on December 09 2014. Find it here!

Thursday, September 18

Book Review: Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700

Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History (Middle Ages Series)Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History by Alan Charles Kors
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When writing historical fiction, it's always important to access historical research that's as accurate as possible. My fiction is set in twelfth century England and research into events or issues can present challenges with the passage of some eight centuries.

I wished to include the issue of witchcraft or, to be more accurate, sorcery in my current novel. Many books on witchcraft/sorcery tend to concentrate on later centuries but I was thrilled to find entries in this book that covered the time period I needed.

This book chronicles the rise and fall of witchcraft in Europe over 1,300 years, starting (as per the title)in 400 A.D. It presents contemporary accounts and primary documents. While of course these are at times more challenging to follow, the translations are accessible for the non-expert (such as me!).

There are notes on each entry, along with meticulous attribution of sources. There are also suggestions for further reading.

My only quibble would be the lack of an index as it makes finding specific issues a bit more laborious. But it is a minor criticism and certainly should not put off anyone who is interested in reading reliable information on the subject.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 14

Tuesday, September 9

My Historical Novel Society Conference 2014

Okay, it's finished. I'm back from HNS London 2014. I'm over-tired and fractious plus very cranky that it's all over. A bit like a toddler post-birthday party, except perhaps not quite so sticky. Perhaps.

In order to keep the magic alive, I'm posting my highlights. There could conceivably be hundreds but I'll confine myself to these few.

Highlight #1: The Poppies at the Tower of London

I made some time to go and see the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower. It's one of the commemorations to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. It is truly inspiring and moving. These are words that have had their currency severely devalued in recent years. In this case, they properly apply.

Highlight #2: Imaginary Friends:

We writers all love our social media, don't we? We warble on for hours to each other, directing our warbling to a photograph of a person whom we hope is real. 

Anna Belfrage @Anna_Belfrage
Mark Patton @markpatton1
& Lisa J Yarde @lisajyarde

But guess what? You go to an event like #HNSLondon14 and find out that THEY ARE!

And they're even nicer in real life than they are in cyberspace. That's a tall order, for in cyberspace they are unfailingly generous and supportive in their sharing and tweeting and mentioning of my stuff.
Derek Birks @Feud_writer
Mary Tod

Michael Dean @MichaelDeanAuth
& Stephanie dos Santos @ByStephRenee
Charlie Farrow manages to do this while also organising and running the conference. And she was always charming and smiling like this:
Charlie Farrow @charliefarrow1
All weekend. Personally, I would have been throwing furniture by Sunday p.m.

Highlight #3: Meeting Cathy Rentzenbrink (@CathyReadsBooks)

Cathy is well known as director of adult literacy champions Quick Reads and associate editor of The Bookseller. During her fascinating Reaching Out to Readers workshop, she talked about being the first reviewer for major titles. That responsibility would have me sitting in a comer with a towel over my head, but she was utterly modest.

I also had the good fortune to speak with her writer-to-writer. She has the most heart-breaking memoir coming out in 2015. It's about the catastrophic injury suffered by her brother as a teenager and the unimaginable decisions her family had to take about ending his life. No, it's not historical, and no, it's not fiction. But I'll be reading it.

Highlight #4: Being a Loser:

Yes, I was long listed for the Short Story award. No, I didn't win. Lorna Fergusson was the very worthy recipient. I was just happy to be among fellow losers (heh) Christopher W. Cevasco and Laura Purcell. 
Mr. Cevasco does not possess a Twitter handle. Call the writing police!
Laura Purcell @Laura_D_Purcell

Highlight #5: Gin & Syphilis:

For the panel 'My Era is Better than Yours', the audience voted for the Georgians. One strongly suspects that a fondness for gin and syphilis is some kind of mass wish-fulfilment on behalf of authors. 

Highlight #6: Happy Pitchers:

This has to be the best part of the whole conference. I met so many writers who had pitched to editors and agents and who had had a 'yes' for fulls, partials and proposals. In an industry that can be 'no', 'no' and 'no' for years, getting the Y-word is such an achievement and an enormous confidence booster. I can't wait to hear how everyone gets on!

Till next time, all. I'm going for a lie-down...

The Fifth Knight is a #1 Bestselling historical thriller. Find it here on and here on The sequel, The Blood of The Fifth Knight will be published by Thomas & Mercer on December 09 2014. Find it here!

Thursday, September 4

A Beginner's Guide to the HNS Conference 2014

Yes, it's finally nearly here! Just the one more sleep before the Historical Novel Society's London 2014 Conference kicks off. From Friday 05 to Sunday 07 September 2014, all #histfic roads lead to the University of Westminster. Exciting times, yes?

But I'm sure there will be some folk attending who haven't quite yet achieved excitement. Probably more like a heady mix of dread/terror. For if you are a conference newbie/first-timer, the prospect can be absolutely terrifying.

Us writers are, by the virtue of what we do, a fairly solitary lot. We like to be alone, doing the words on a page thing. We may poke our heads above the parapet on social media. A bit. But the advantage of that is you don't even have to leave the house. Heck, if you choose your social medium (look, correct singular) wisely, you don't even have to get dressed.

Not so with the dreaded conference. You, as a newbie, have chosen to spend three days among living, breathing, sweating human beings. Lots of them. That you've never met. Who will all ignore you for three days and nights, and you will spend any free time alone in your teeny-tiny room, weeping for the time when you can back to being...alone.

Now, that would be just silly. And as a writer, you're probably able to conjure up far more elaborately hideous circumstances than that. Which would be a great shame and will keep you awake all night tonight.

This will be my third HNS conference. I may have done a bit of fretting prior to my first one.

So in the spirit of HNS support and co-operation, here are my pointers for a successful conference:

  • Everyone will be labelled. Even you.Not in a judgy way, but as in a wearing a name tag way. This really helps in that initial panic of trying to remember the names of multiple strangers.  And it means that people will know your name, too! (It also helps with identification gaffes. I once attended a classical music concert where I hassled a polite man into fetching me a chair. Turned out he was the conductor.)
  • Say hello to whoever is sitting next to you. They won't bite. If they do, change seats.
  • I write across genres, so go to different conferences. Thriller conferences tend to be a little testosterone-heavy. Romance ones favour oestrogen. HNS is more likely to have people arguing for hours about who first invented hormones. It's nice. And very relaxed.
  • There will be beards. The men will have some too. (I include myself in this particular heh-heh. My tweezers are packed.)
  • But if you have forgotten your tweezers/tights/good shirt/herbal tea bags: don't panic. The conference is in London. There are shops. 
  • Special notes for those travelling from abroad. For my countrymen and women travelling from Ireland: DO NOT BRING FOOD. No matter how many times your Mammy put rashers/sausages/brown bread in your suitcase, you need to now stop. London has food. It really does. For those coming from the US/Canada: you can drink the water. There will be no ice. At least no communal ice. People would just steal it.
  • If you're pitching to an editor or agent, try to remain calm.They are not waiting to catch you out or pour scorn on you. They want to hear about your book. Having said that, you might want to have something else in the locker as well. I pitched to Marcy Posner (a sweet, gracious lady) at the 2010 conference. I had honed those words to memorised perfection. Arrived in, every syllable ready. She smiled and said: 'Tell me about yourself.' I couldn't remember. The label came in handy. 
  • There will usually be weapons. 
  • If you have chosen an amusing Twitter handle like @Henrysseventhwife or @Historywhore or @Colossalmeatsword, I appreciate you never contemplated having to say it aloud. But you have nobody to blame except yourself. 
  • If you don't have arrangements for evening meal times, ask someone if you can come along with them/their group. That is a completely accepted way of doing things at conference. (Just not at home time).
  • Tell Richard Lee he's a good egg.
  • Enjoy spending time with a group of like-minded, enthusiastic individuals who love this marvellous thing that is Historical Fiction.

Simple, eh? See you there!

E.M. Powell is the author of The Fifth Knight, a medieval thriller based on the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. You can find it here on or here on The sequel, The Blood of The Fifth Knight, will be released by Thomas & Mercer on December 09 2014. Visit her website at or her Facebook page.

Saturday, August 16

Tuesday, July 22

Letter to an Unknown Soldier- Bury's Workshops

Most writers of historical fiction become very attached to their time periods. For me, that would be medieval. But the exploration of any time period is fascinating.

So when I was approached by  Bury Libraries to run workshops as part of the Letter to an Unknown Soldier project, I felt very privileged. The LTAUS project is part of 1914-18 NOW. 1914-18 NOW is a major cultural programme taking place across the United Kingdom to mark the centenary of the First World War. (For more details, please click here). The LTAUS is a new kind of war memorial, a memorial made only of words from thousands of people. (Details can be found here).

The statue of the Unknown Soldier on the platform at Paddington Station in London, reading a letter, provides the inspiration. Any individual can write letters. But Bury Libraries took the approach of offering workshops in collaboration with the Council's Archives Service to provide people with a sense of their local history and to make it even more meaningful to them. And here is what we did...

The Call to Fight
© 2014 EM Powell /Bury Archives
Archivists specialise in rabbit-out-of the-hat moments, except they do them with no drum rolls or spangled suits. But when they showed us these original recruitment posters that were used in Bury, it was a proper hairs on the back of the neck moment.

These were enlistment posters issued on behalf of Lord Derby: the very posters that were part the unthinkable tragedy that was the Pals Battalions. Pals Battalions were made up of men from one small area, so relatives and friends would sign up and fight together- just as they would die together. In another part of Lancashire, the Accrington Pals saw 720 men fight. 584 of them died, were injured or were reported missing.

And here were the very posters before which people stood on the streets of Bury and surrounding towns in Lancashire. Stood and were tempted with the promise of  uniforms, money, training at the upmarket seaside at Lytham and St. Annes. There is even the appeal to men who are 'fond of Horses.'

© 2014 E.M. Powell/Bury Archives 

The posters are huge, approximately two thirds the height of an average domestic door and about as wide. They shout out the opportunity that was in reality, for many men, a call to death. Our soldier may have stood on the streets of Bury, a young man reading that call before hurrying off to enlist. And once enlisted, his only contact with home would be through his letters.

© 2014 E.M. Powell/Bury Archives 

Life in Bury

And what of those left behind? Left waiting every day for a letter that told them their loved one was safe and well, or the dreaded message that they were killed or missing?

Again the Archives provided us with a fascinating insight with the newspapers of the time. We have an account of replica trenches in Heaton Park, Manchester's biggest park that is still thronged today when the sun shines. People in 1916 could pay to go and have a look at the replicas, with donations going to the fund for blinded soldiers and sailors. We doubted that the replicas would have shown the true nature of what the trenches were like.
© 2014 E.M. Powell/Bury Archives 

We saw the disapproval of society for a discharged soldier who was drunk on a tram, a finger-wagging article about the wives of soldiers who were spending their government allowance on drink.

© 2014 E.M. Powell/Bury Archives 

© 2014 E.M. Powell/Bury Archives 

We found a letter in a newspaper from a teacher, Mr. Frank Morris. One of his pupils, Corporal Hutchinson, was awarded the Victoria Cross for extreme bravery. In the letters we saw he has been badly wounded. 

Corporal Hutchinson mentions all the letters and telegrams he has received: 'Well, I could do with a typewriter to answer them all'. And he talks of home: 'I am awfully proud of myself for having won so great an honour for the town of Radcliffe.' Corporal Hutchinson touchingly signs his letter: 'So here's hoping you are in the best of health, from one of your Sunday school scholars.' 

So We Wrote...

We found so many other glimpses of life in Bury during the First World War. We began to know our soldier, know his world.

One participant at the workshops had had a great-uncle who fought. Her great-uncle died, unmarried, a couple of decades later, having checked himself into a sanatorium, still carrying the deep scars of what people knew as shell shock. She wrote to him, with the love, care and grief of someone who really knew him.

A young woman wrote to the drunk discharged soldier on the tram, outraged at his treatment by the society for which he had gone to fight.

A man wrote to his Irish relative who had left the soft, green fields of County Clare, only to die in the heat and dust of Gallipoli.

...and a Soldier Wrote Back.

We finished our workshops with a letter that had been sent by a Lance-Corporal J.W. Gilbert, from Tottington. He sent his mother the following poem:, called "TO MY DEAR MOTHER" 

© 2014 E.M. Powell/Bury Archives 

Lance-Corporal Gilbert was a cricket-playing mill worker before he enlisted. He never did come home to his cosy feather bed or his fireside at Market Street. He never did come home to his mother. On June 16, 1917, Mrs. Gilbert received 'official information of his death.' She received this almost a year after being informed he was 'missing.' He was twenty-two years old.

The Importance of Letters

Our letters will never bring Lance-Corporal Gilbert home to Tottington. But our letters will be there to remember him and honour all the others who have been forgotten. We think Mrs. Gilbert would have liked that we spoke of her son and her heart-breaking loss, all these years later. A letter doesn't take long to write. We think you should write one, too.

The Letter to an Unknown Soldier is open to submissions until 11p.m. (BST) on the night of 04 August 2014. You can find out more here. 14-18 NOW supported the Bury project. Alison Bond, Nichola Walshaw and Adam Carter from Bury Libraries and Archives brought the soldier home to Bury with their wonderful resources. Contact details for their service can be found here.

E.M. Powell is the author of The Fifth Knight, a medieval thriller based on the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. You can find it here on or here on The sequel, The Blood of The Fifth Knight, will be released by Thomas & Mercer on December 09 2014. Visit her website at or her Facebook page.