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Posts Tagged ‘Fun

A Gross of Pirates

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While there’s really no way I could claim to have read this for research, read it I did, and entirely for fun. I have written about pirates many times: the fictional Ghassan and Samir in Dark Empress, Kemal Reis and other Barbary sailors in The Priest’s Tale, and the Mauri pirates in my forthcoming fourth book in the Praetorian series (Lions of Rome), and so I thought I had a pretty good handle on pirates of all sorts of eras and cultures. Heck, I even own three textbooks on historical piracy.

This book opened my eyes. And gave me so many ideas for novel plots it’s untrue, to boot. A gross of pirates is exactly what it claims to be. I expected it to be another informative, and perhaps dry, history of piracy. This it is not.

What it is is a catalogue of real historical figures. A gross of them, in fact, categorised into eras and cultures. There are well-known names in there: John Paul Jones, Barbarossa, Morgan, Drake, Calico Jack. But with 144 pirates in there, clearly you are going to find names you’ve not discovered before.  For me, particularly fascinating were Jeanne de Clisson, Uluj Ali, and Henry Every.  In fact, of 144 pirates, I could say in truth that I knew less than 20, which is pretty good.

Each pirate is treated with a brief precis of their life – a mini but well-presented biography. With 308 pages and 144 pirates, you can immediately work out roughly how much page space is given to each character. As a writer, I can tell you that this is no bad thing. Having a word limit imposed makes you hone and pare down the text so that what you end up with is a really well-written and pertinent piece of writing, rather than perhaps a rambling account given to descriptive. The old Dragnet line leaps to mind: ‘Just the facts, ma’am’. And Breverton does an excellent job with this. Each account is engaging and informative.

In short, if you are an academic or writer with even a remote interest in the sea and its history, this book will give you endless resources. If you are just a lover of history or the sea, this will be an engaging and fascinating collection. If you simply like to read something fun, then this is actually for you too. Read. Enjoy. ’nuff said…

You can buy the book here, and I urge you to do so. 🙂

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Written by SJAT

December 15, 2018 at 10:29 pm

Tom Swan

with 6 comments

tsbooks

A nice review for you today, in that it comes out of the blue and not as part of my ‘leaning tower of reading matter’. You see, I have a set pile of books I’m working through in an order, and occasionally a book comes up that I really fancy or by a writer that I love, and I shuffle it to the top. But in addition to that, I have a tendency to ‘palate cleansers’. When I’ve been nose-deep in four or five serious historical works in a row, I like to interrupt the dangerously towering pile with something short and light and pleasant. Early on I used to have to spend a day trawling through the various shorts out there, deciding what to stack up as potential palate cleansers. Then, courtesy of Robin Carter of Parmenion Books I found a source of the perfect shorts to tap regularly.

Robin is a huge fan of the writer Christian Cameron (and I can understand why.) His ancient Greek epics include God of War about Alexander the Great, the Tyrant series, the Long War series, and he is now foraying into the high Medieval period, with his upcoming novel: The Ill-Made Knight. I’ve read a few of his classical tales and they are incredibly deep in content, bold in scope and well-written. They are not – I will hasten to point out – light reads and belong with the powerful Historical Fiction works of Ben Kane, Robyn Young, Manda Scott and their ilk. So when Robin started making appreciative noises about a set of short stories written by Cameron I wondered how easily his epic narrative style could possibly translate into shorts.

And so, at an appropriate palate cleansing moment in my reading, I downloaded and read the first part of Tom Swan and the Head of Saint George.

And since then, any time I need a palate cleanser, I just check online and see whether another part is out yet! I’ve now read parts 1-5 and part 6 is due out in two days, just in time to fit in my book pile yet again.

Set aside Cameron’s other works for this moment (and this moment only, as I would also urge you to pay attention to his Greek epics too) and I will concentrate on Tom Swan.

In truth, this isn’t so much a set of short stories, as one long story, told in episodes, like the old television serializations. Remember Flash Gordon (in black and white)? The Lone Ranger? Well add Tom Swan in that list and you won’t go far wrong. In style it is a classic adventure serial, with each episode leaving the reader saying ‘Damn! What next?’ and waiting for part x to emerge from the virtual quill.

Tom Swan is set in the mid 15th century (in a time and in locations not a great deal removed from those in which I am currently writing). The tale follows a young Englishman of dubious (illegitimate) noble heritage as he finds himself on the losing side on a French battlefield and through a series of strange fortunes and misadventures, finds himself employed by a Cardinal from Constantinople in the very year that great city is destined to fall to the Turk, exploring the known world, swashing his buckle, kissing princesses, defending fortresses, stealing treasures and spying for governments.

Tom Swan is something of an Indiana Jones of the later Middle Ages.

The tales are told with the sheer depth of knowledge that Cameron displays in his more epic works, but also with a lightness of heart and spirit and a sheer love of adventure that carries the reader along with him to each cliffhanger, making him feel like that young child watching the TV and wondering how Flash was going to escape next week.

Each book is only 99p ($1.55) on Kindle (these are an electronic book only, by the way) and I think you really can’t lose spending that paltry pittance on part one HERE for Amazon UK and HERE for Amazon.com just to see if you like it.

I think you will.

Written by SJAT

June 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Scots invade Hadrian’s Wall…

with 10 comments

Well, sort of.

I have just spent a magnificent long weekend in Gilsland on the Northumberland/Cumbria border with my lovely wife and children and with Gordon Doherty (of Legionary and Strategos fame) and his wonderful better half.

Gordon’s current portfolio:

 

Now the weekend was a particularly good one for three distinct reasons:

Firstly: Location. Our holiday cottage was close enough to Hadrian’s Wall (or at least the turf ridge that marks its passage) that I could have hit it with a thrown weasel, had I had one to hand. That kind of proximity to the ancient always gets my blood and imagination going. It also meant that in our available time we had the chance to visit a number of Roman sites (Birdoswald, Chesters, Poltross Burn, Willowford, and the Greenhead Roman Army Museum. Now that in itself is superb and worthy of pictorial memoirs and so here we go. Time to clog up your browser, broadband and memory with a run of photos:

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1. Two JAFRAs (in-joke term for a Roman Author) posing in their place of work. Do ya think we’re sexy?

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2. In case you didn’t get the details! Heh heh heh

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3. The Eastern wall and main east gate of Birdoswald (Banna) Roman fort in glorious sunshine.

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4. Marcus investigating every crevice of the Roman world.

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5. Tracey, Marcus and Callie taking in the view from the walls of Birdoswald.

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6. Simon (me) and my poser of a boy Marcus at Birdoswald. Future catalogue model in the making, you think?

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7. Poltross burn milecastle at Gilsland. One of the most sloping, geographically-challenged of all British Roman sites. Bet they never played dominoes or tried to eat soup from a shallow bowl!

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8. Renowned author of late Roman and Byzantine novels Gordon Doherty surveys his domain from the top of the wall. He is clearly uninspired by the railway fencing and the other tourists!

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9. Marcus tries to recreate Willowford’s early 3rd century Roman bridge by dropping stones into the river one at a time.

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10. Gordon appears to like Willowford.

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11. A detail shot of the three stages of bridge abutment at Willowford for those interested in real historical things rather than just posturing or…

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12. Pictures of WILLIES!!!!

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13. Chesters museum hasn’t changed much since Victoria was on the throne, but that just makes it all the better for me. Great, isn’t it?

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14. Marcus and Callie seem to like it anyway. I think Marcus just squeezed one out, looking at that…

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15. Too cool for school. Gordon Doherty and S.J.A. Turney trying to look normal among the barrack blocks of the cavalry fort of Cilurnum (Chesters)

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16. Callie and Marcus making no attempt to look normal and yet still beating us at the game…

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17. Deep in discussion. Come on, ladies… two Roman fiction authors in a hot baths together… phwoooaaarrrhhh!!! Or… not.

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18. Callie tries to work out why her boat won’t float.

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19. Gordon Doherty being tour guide and discussing the relative heights of original floor level in a Roman bath house.

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20. Simon and Gordon take a seat in the apodyterium (changing room). It was too cold for just a subligaculum and wooden clogs!

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21. The underfloor heating of the Commanding Officer’s baths. Now if only they’d been working. Oooh that chill wind….

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22. The ancient military meets the modern. Love this shot that wifey took: Chinook helicopters over Hadrian’s Wall. Bet the Caledonii would have been a pushover had Agricola got his hands on a couple of those…

The second reason the weekend was good? Well, because of great friends and family. Gordon and his wife are excellent company and the weekend was just comfortable and great fun.

But the third reason: It was not all fun. In fact, only half of it was having a beer and gallivanting around the Roman sites. The rest of it involved Gordon and I sitting in a room surrounded by laptops, pads and pens and reference books while we took the bare idea of a plot we had a while back and hammered it out before folding it and adding a keen edge and turning it into a fully fledged story right down to a chapter plan. Yes, as you may have noted on Twitter or Facebook, Gordon and I will shortly be embarking on a collaborative project and the story we have so far is fabulous. I mean, it’s going to knock your socks off, so you’d best send home to mummy for more with the next delivery (Vindolanda joke – sad, I know.) But it really is a stunning idea. We will start to release occasional teasers once we’re properly involved in the writing, which will being some time after the release of Gordon’s Strategos II and my Marius’ Mules V. I will simply leave you with these images to give you something to chew on….

bust  bridge building

Have a really nice week, folks. Will be back the day after tomorrow with a book review and then something else at the weekend.

Written by SJAT

April 23, 2013 at 4:49 pm