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Posts Tagged ‘writers

My writing has a process?

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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 riot and hurls thoughts at me that begin with phrases like ‘But what if…’ or ‘And what about…’ and I find myself branching out and adding another tandem project to my roster. And so… what am I working on?

Well, the simple one is The Assassin’s Tale, which will be released in less than 2 months. This is the third book in the Ottoman Cycle, following the adventures of Skiouros, a Greek former thief at the end of the Fifteenth century as he journeys around the Mediterranean on a quest for vengeance. For those of you who’ve read The Thief’s Tale and The Priest’s Tale, you might be interested to hear that the action here moves from Spain to Italy in the hunt for the exiled Turk.

But then there’s another project. A secret project. Shhhhh! No details, hints or teasers for you here, I’m afraid, but this is a project that is taking place intermittently between the others, alongside the talented Gordon Doherty. Yes we are working together on something, and I love it. 🙂 News on that will follow in due course.

And then there’s the OTHER project! This third one is a joint project with the superb Dave Slaney, the man who has designed most of my book covers and done other wonderful sterling illustrations here and there. Dave and I have joined forces to create a childrens’ book based on the Roman military, with my story and Dave’s amazing images. Having seen some of the early sketches, I can only say it’s going to be a belter of a book! 🙂

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

Hmmm. ‘Which genre?’ I would have to ask. I’m mostly known for writing in the Republican Roman era, but I’ve also written Roman principate stuff, 15th century Turkish/Byzantine, epic fantasy with a classical feel, a few contemporary short stories, and so on…

I suppose, then, that I simply have to try and answer ‘what is different about my work?’ Probably nothing is my answer. After all, such a question can only reasonably be answered by the readers. I can tell you what I think might be different, or perhaps what I hope is different:

I think I hit a nice mix. I have a tendency towards graphic violence in my work (hard not to when dealing with ancient warfare) but I think it is tempered by my general avoidance of sexual content beyond suggestion, my sparsity with bad language and the general idea that my books are suitable for all ages, so long as they don’t mind a bit of blood & guts. They’re also tempered with a bit of humour. I do feel that Historical Fiction is often lacking a sense of humour, and I like a little lightness of mood in my work.

Is that a good answer? I’m afraid it’s the best I have. 🙂

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3. Why do I write what I do?

Ye Gods! Because I love it. Anyone who reads this blog will be aware of what I read from my book reviews. If you note the sort of books I read, you’ll be left in no doubt as to why I write what I do. I am inspired to ever greater heights by people like Guy Gavriel Kay, Manda Scott, Anthony Riches, Ben Kane, Angus Donald, Giles Kristian, Doug Jackson and so many, many more. And, of course, I am obsessive over ancient history. I cannot spend enough hours wandering among ruins or visiting the most far-flung and exciting archaeological sites. And when I’m not visiting, writing, or reading other people’s novels, I am reading non-fiction. Incidentally, in that regard check back early next week for a mega-review of one of the giants of Roman non-fiction, Mike (MC) Bishop.

Marius Mules I Italian Cover

4. How does my writing process work?

Ha. Like a gaudily-painted runaway steamroller!

Actually, I start with an idea, often based upon a specific tiny event. These are usually unknowns, such as the event at the heart of the Thief’s Tale (no spoilers.) Equally often it is because I just want to write about a certain place that fills me with awe, or a character who fascinates me.

ThenI pick a concept. A theme. Brotherly strife. Irreconcilable political divides. Civil war. And then build a plot based around the concept and the hook. It rarely takes long. Terry Pratchett in his Discworld novels explained the concept that inspiration sleeted through the universe like shooting stars. Most people get pelted occasionally, but the really lucky (unlucky) ones get battered by them like a soggy cardboard box left out in a rainstorm. I am the latter. If I wrote every hour the Gods sent and subcontracted to four people I would still end up with ideas backing up!

Once I have my basic plot, I write it out, change it, tweak it, alter it, hate it, change it, rewrite it, bin it, start it, alter it, write it out, spill coffee on it, change it, give up on it and eat cake, have a beer, have an epiphany, have another beer, and then at 2am with a mad glint in my eye, I have the story.

The I break the plot down int0 sections, and then into subsections and turn it into a chapter plan. Then I assign a rough word count to each part based on its content.

Then… I drink several coffees, crank up the volume on a little Pink Floyd or Anathema in my office and…. WE’RE OFF!

I write each chapter and – I know this is unique to me, so here’s a helpful hint – at the end of every chapter I run a close edit of that chapter. Then, periodically, I go back when I reach critical moments and run another edit. I also have grammar nazi’s running edits for me throughout. Then, when I’ve finished it, I have one final edit and then send it out to a few trusted test readers. Then it’s a last edit based on their findings, and then it’s ready.

Tales of Ancient Rome


Ok folks. I’ve given you an insight into the randomness and craziness that is my process. Now, the next part of this tour I am supposed to recruit 3 others to pass on the torch to. However, due to time constraints and the fact that I was abroad for a chunk of the planning of this, two of the people I have asked simply did not have time to take part. I can sympathise with that, in truth. But I have managed to secure for you two more writers to investigate. Go check out their blogs now and watch for their own responses on Monday.


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Elaine Moxon is a Birmingham-based Historical Fiction writer and former Holistic Therapist. Her grandfather’s tales of his youthful adventures in rural Italy gave her a love of storytelling, inspiring her to write from an early age. She has a passion for languages, travel, art and history, her favourite eras predominantly the Saxon and Viking ages. She has contributed articles, short stories and poetry to online magazines ‘Birmingham Favourites’ and ‘Crumpets & Tea’. Her Grime-Noir Thriller short film ‘Deception’, produced and directed by Lightweaver Productions, has been nominated for the 2014 American Online Film Awards in New York. She is also a frequent speaker at Letocetum Roman Museum in Wall, Staffordshire, giving historical talks and readings from her forthcoming debut novel.

On a personal note, I have read a large chunk of Elaine’s forthcoming Saxon epic, and it’s a tale with style and oomph. I look forward to the full thing, and I urge you to keep an eye on her. Her responses to these prying questions will go live on Monday 14th on her blog at: http://elainemoxon.blogspot.co.uk/





A fab fella, engaging writer and sometime partner in crime of mine, here’s Tony’s bio in his own words:

‘I live in Manchester, England with my wife, three kids and two cats. In our household hierarchy, I figure just beneath the felines.

On moonlit nights I can be found looking under the bed or checking the back seat of my car. I have an over-active imagination.

I write dark, twisted fiction, and have an irrational fear of zombies, and, thanks to Stephen Spielberg, I’m also terrified of sharks. My biggest fear would have to be zombie-sharks. (Damn that over-active imagination!)

My first book ‘Entwined – Tales from the City’ has been the #1 bestselling horror anthology on numerous occasions. I hope the follow up book ‘Entwined – Tales from the Village’ will do equally as well when I finally get around to finishing it.’

… Tony is a man with a cruel, vivid, stunning imagination and when he puts his tales into words they will shock and thrill you. Look his work up on Amazon, including his many contributions to the ‘Inkslinger’ compilations from which the funds go to charity. Tony’s responses will also be up on Monday 14th, and his blog can be found here: http://ajarmitt.blogspot.co.uk/

Written by SJAT

April 11, 2014 at 8:00 am

Top Ten Reads of 2013

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It’s that time of year again where I choose the top ten books I read in 2013. In fact there are a number of other books that could have made it into here, but I had to limit it to ten, really, and it was tough. Note also that these ten are in Author order, not preferential countdown. If you missed these books in 2013 go read them in 2014.

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Actually, I had real trouble choosing between this and the follow-up (Assassin’s Reign) by Mike Arnold. Both are superb. For some reason, though, Hunter’s Rage edged in. Very tightly plotted and written, HR for me took the pace of Arnold’s first book and combined it with the depth of the second, resulting in a rollicking action-packed Civil War epic across Southwest England. It was the book that made me realise that, despite the comparative sticker on the front, Captain Stryker had, for me, surpassed Sharpe as a great character. Full review here.


Prue Batten is the mistress of the silken word, and with the Gisborne series she has moved away from the Faerie worlds that brought her talent to the fore, and into Medieval history. The first Gisborne book held me in its satin grasp to the very last word, despite the deliberate failings in the principal character which drove me nuts. This second book in the series had all the grace of the first, but threw in a solid plot of murder and mayhem that took us half way across the then-known world. Full review here.


Slight cheat for you here, in that this hasn’t yet been released, so you haven’t missed it. I had the opportunity to beta read ‘An Archaeological Guide to Walking Hadrian’s Wall (East to West)’ by M.C. Bishop last month. Like its earlier West to East counterpart, this is a stunning guide to the wall for anyone who might like to walk a stretch of it. You don’t  have to walk the whole thing to appreciate the guide. In fact, given the depth of knowledge, the surprising humour and the multitude of fabulous anecdotes, you don’t even have to leave your armchair to enjoy it. Boot up your laptop, start Google Earth and follow along. Watch for its release shortly.


For me, Nick Brown sort of came from nowhere. I read all three books in this series in 2013, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m often nervous starting reading a new Roman writer, as I tend to get twitchy in case they’re horribly inaccurate or they beat me at my own game. Brown impressed me. He has created an enthralling character, who gets thrown into a variety of life-threatening situations. The first two books were very different from one another, which is refreshing for a series, and this third was a total departure again, taking us on a fabulous manhunt across the Mediterranean and into action and intrigue. Read my review here.


My current read is actually Paul Fraser Collard’s second Jack Lark novel: The Maharajah’s General and it is, if anything, better than this, but will not be quite finished by midnight tonight, so it doesn’t count! The first was actually a real surprise to me, as it’s a long way from my era comfort zone (Mid 18th century Crimea), and yet it gripped me with an intensity few ancient world novels can. As a debut it was excellent. I find myself thinking that it’s been so long since Sharpe was televised that maybe Jack Lark should take a turn on the screen. Collard writes in a style that I find comparable to watching a thrilling historical movie. Read my review here.


Doherty continues to be both friend and nemesis. He and I tend to vie for top spots together a lot, and have become firm friends over the past few years. Yet the excellence of his work makes me grumble! 😉 Strategos was a tour-de-force for me, an epic of the Byzantine borderlands. In book 2, Apion has grown into a strong leader, haunted by his past and with strands of fate woven into his future. It is a powerful military tale, packed with intrigue and atmosphere. Read the review.


Angus Donald’s Outlaw Chronicles have always been a fave, with some particularly strong titles in the series, but Grail Knight definitely hits the top of the arc. Far removed from the old Robin of Sherwood forest robbing the rich and donating to the poor, this book takes us on a great quest to the Albigensian lands of SW France and, in a move I couldn’t have anticipated, even made me sympathetic to the one character in the series that I truly loathed. Reviewed here.


Ben Kane now has three series under his belt, two completed and one ongoing. This being the latter is not why the book stands out though. Hannibal, to me, is Kane’s strongest work, with the best characters, the most gripping action and the most powerful plot. It is more human than the Forgotten Legion series, and deeper than the Spartacus bilogy. It is Kane at his best, and Fields of Blood took the strong foundation of the first Hannibal book and built on it, continuing the tale as the Carthaginians ravage Italy, with Rome almost powerless to stop them, forever threatening the fragile relationships between the protagonists. Review is here.


I’m not an avid reader of crime and mystery, but occasionally I like to delve. I’m also not a huge fan of the Victorian era, though again I occasionally like to see a bit of Ripper/Sherlock type work. D.E. Meredith managed with her first Hatton & Roumande mystery to hook me completely with a tale that had me guessing to the end, packed with such atmosphere, you can almost smell the oppressive smog of 19th century London. CSI Victorian England dragged me right in. Read the review here.

The Eagle's Vengeance Empire VI

You simply can’t go wrong with Anthony Riches’ Empire series. If you like action and the Roman military, it’s the place to be. And the series seems to be going from strength to strength, with each novel surpassing its predecessors. After dragging us to the far corners of the Roman world in books 4 and 5, book 6 takes us back to where it began, on Hadrian’s Wall. Chock full of action and character, with a few unexpected twists, Eagle’s Vengeance is up at the top of Riches’ work. Review is here.

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So that’s my top ten. If you’re not on it, it’s no reflection on your work, as it was a really hard choice to pin down, and some of my fave writers have missed out because I’ve not read any of their books in 2013. A prime example of that is Doug Jackson, whose latest, Sword of Rome, is my next read and will be the first novel I delve into in 2014. An honourable mention has to go to Louise Rule, whose Future Confronted is a powerful book (check out my previous post for a review) and vied for a place.

I’m looking forward to some great books in 2014. In the meantime, Happy New Year to everyone, readers and writers all, and enjoy your work and leisure. Books are still the world’s best medium.

Cheers, all.

Written by SJAT

December 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm