Friday, 30 April 2021

Critique Corner - April

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Welcome to our Discovering Diamonds feature, Critique Corner, where our cover design experts volunteer kind, expert, and constructive critiques to help our readers make the most of their cover designs. Since Discovering Diamonds began in 2017, Cathy Helms of AvalonGraphics.org and Tamian Wood of BeyondDesignBooks.com have been co-judging the monthly cover design competition for the site. And since their selected designs have been so well received, they would like to share with all the #DDRev's fans and followers, some pearls of wisdom from their combined 40 years in the cover design business - so, over to Cathy and Tamian...

This month we have a cover submitted by Susan Appleyard


Thanks for sharing your cover, Susan! We appreciate your participation.
 

Tamian's response:

My first thought on this cover is that it's quite dark and a bit... muddy(?)  I really struggled to figure out what the central focal point is, aside from the obvious, "something on fire". I had to zoom in quite significantly to make out what I think is a ghost and skeletal hands at the top of what I assume is a witches pire. If I got that right, kudos on a great concept. Those hands are a stroke of genius! I just think it needed to be larger, to fill the space, and make it easier to recognise the figure for what it is, especially at thumbnail size. The scale of the central figure could have been increased a good inch and a half by pulling the bottom of the fire down to just above the series title, and snugging it up to the bottom of the title, leaving just a touch of breathing space. (1/8"ish on either edge.)

Next, the font seems a little too modern, and... almost "fun" or "frivolous" and doesn't match the mood of the rest of the cover. Also, I've never been a fan of all centered all the same size text. Many times it can make a title more interesting to decrease the size of the linking words like "the", "and" "or", "of the" and such like. I will sometimes even change the font, or make the italic, to give it more interest. -- caveat: don't get too crazy with the overall number of different fonts! 

I also might have chosen a bit brighter yellow from the fire as the font colour just to make it stand out a touch more, but it's great that it's not all white text (a personal pet peeve of mine) Or... if you (or your designer) has the skill, a bit of a hint of a flame texture within the font would have really made it unique.

All pretty minor things that could have made this just a bit more intriguing.

Cathy? What say you?

Cathy’s Response:

My first comment is on the artwork – definitely takes me back to darker, medieval times. And I do want to know why and who is being burned at the stake in front of the ominous castle. The scene is mysterious, moody and menacing; easily drawing the eye in.

What can help give more of an impact is the font used for the title – something that is more fitting for historical fiction overall. The peachy fill color is also not as rich and fiery as it could be. I think the intent was to use one of the colors from the flames or smoky atmosphere around the central image – just not quite enough saturation of red in it to totally pull it off. I would go a tad brighter with the orange.

The font choice for the title itself could also be more serious too. It seems a bit playful to me, and I am fairly certain that this novel is not playful in the least (correct me if I’m wrong). So, I would recommend going with the Sabon font family (typically used on historical fiction covers) or something close to it. And Sabon pairs nicely with a simple sans serif for a little typography hierarchy/variation on a cover layout as well. The title should be the largest element on the cover, in almost every case, thus go a few point sizes larger so the title is easy to read at thumbnail size.

The series title ‘The Albigensian Crusade’ is nearly lost as the point size is far too small. I would suggest moving it to the top of the cover and increasing the point size. Line the left and right edges of the series title with the author’s name too for balance. Most of the typography on a cover should line up for good balance.

And one final note about font fill color choices – avoid using white or black for all or most of your typography – that is a common mistake made by non-designers. In this cover design, I might go with a light color for all of the copy, other than the title, picked out of the clouds and smoke – being sure to have enough contrast so it is all still easy to read over the background. White is often too harsh – you want the entire cover design to use the same color pallet – and feel like all of the elements blend together.

I took the liberty of playing around a bit with the typography and came up with this version:

I gave a slight increase in size to our person burning at the stake, centering the fire ring on the cover, being certain that the title did not quite touch the pole. And while zooming in on the person on fire, I did notice a hard line of reddish orange on the right side over the person – I’m assuming part of the flames added to the design that need to be blended out along the one side to correct. I also gave the title a dark drop shadow effect to allow it to stand out from the background a bit more (depth).

Overall, the original is a good design with beautiful and engaging artwork – the typography is good, but with a few tweaks, could give this cover that extra punch that might better attract more readers.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - April

designer Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of www.beyonddesigninternational.com
select their chosen Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for 
Cover of the Year in December 2021
(honourable mentions for the Runner-up)

OUR APRIL WINNER

designed by Silverwood Books

Runner Up

Cover designed by Oliver Bennett, 

Book of the Month -APRIL
a personal selection
by Helen Hollick

Read our review

runner up

read our review



Tuesday, 27 April 2021

To The Fair Land by Lucienne Boyce

book of the month





Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

fictional drama
late 1700s, 
England and the Pacific Ocean

Ben Dearlove, an aspiring writer, rescues an ill woman from an angry mob at a Covent Garden theatre performance and sees her safely back to her impoverished lodgings. A month later the whole city is abuzz with praise for a spectacularly successful book An Account of a Voyage to the Fair Land. It’s about a voyage to an imaginary land in the Southern Ocean but the author is anonymous: even the publisher doesn’t know who it is. Ben takes on the challenge of uncovering the mystery, with the hope that this will secure his financial future. The trail leads him back to the lodgings of the unknown woman, only to find she has vanished and her lodgings have been ransacked.

The story races along with danger at every turn. Where is the woman, and who is she? Why has the Admiralty sent thugs to find her? Who are the people behind a missing ship, the Miranda? Murder is done, vital artefacts are stolen, danger stalks in unexpected places. The plot thickens but Ben is determined to find answers.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s well written, the descriptions are graphic and engaging, the writing is tight and well done, and the story is a page turner. Boyce brings the period to life with excellent dialogue and fast paced action. An excellent read and an author I’ll be watching out for.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Robyn Pearce
 e-version reviewed
note - this is new re-published edition


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Book and Cover of the Month announced
30th April

Sunday, 25 April 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Travels of Ibn Thomas by James Hutson-Wiley


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

Fictional Drama
twelfth century
Egypt / England / Europe

The world at the beginning of the twelfth century was a complicated place—especially for someone with a Christian father and a Muslim mother who has been raised as a Muslim in Egypt until one day he is sent off at the age of seven to be raised by Christian monks. Why this brutal uprooting? Well, little Thomas’ father has disappeared, and according to his instructions, his only son is to be sent back to England.

Baptised on his way to England, our young protagonist is now firmly Christian—or so everyone around him assumes—and after some initial years of schooling in England he is sent off to Salerno to become a highly educated physician. The Church (or rather some of the shadier organisations within the Church) expresses a keen interest in young Thomas—especially once he has completed his education at a school where Christian, Muslim and Jewish texts are used to impart as much medical knowledge as possible.

Through the machinations of the Church, Thomas ends up in Sicily, charged with a mission to spy for the Holy Church and do whatever else may be required to safeguard the faith. When Thomas discovers this safeguarding includes such distasteful tasks as poisoning the young Ruggerio of Sicily, he refuses. He also refuses to spy, which is why he is suddenly obliged to flee for his life when the vindictive Church lashes out. Over the coming years, Thomas will suffer pirate attacks, travel across the Mediterranean, befriend a hashashin, be sent off on a secret mission to Damascus and, finally, make it to Jerusalem where he is determined to find out what happened to his father. 

Thomas is something of a chameleon. As comfortable with Christian rites as with Muslim teachings, he fits in as he must to stay alive. At times, this causes him anguish and a lack of identity. It also makes him tolerant—and confused. To Thomas, there is no major difference between the faiths of the various People of the Book, but in the times he lives, divisive lines are drawn between the various faiths and anyone attempting to straddle the divides is, per definition, a potential apostate. 

Thomas Ibn Tomas is a resourceful if credibly naïve young man when he sets out to somehow navigate his way through what, at times, is a much too exciting life. Life, however, has its own way of imparting lessons, and by the time The Travels of Ibn Thomas comes to a close, our protagonist has lost his innocence and instead gained a modicum of two of wisdom. Not, all in all, a bad trade. 

It is evident Mr Hutson-Wiley has enjoyed submerging himself in the complexities of the time, be they the divisions within the Holy Church or the enmity between the Sunni and Shia Muslims. There is a lot of detail in this book: about the texts Thomas studies, about the spices he uses, about how to make soap, about the trade in sugar and various methods of worship. At times, all this detail has the pace dragging. At others, a couple of sentences indicate we have now leapt several months forward. It is a tad distracting, this uneven flow of time. 

The narrative itself is well-written with excellent descriptive passages. At times, it reads very much like a memoir, which creates a distance between the reader and the described events so it might not suit those who like fast paced adventure. For readers fascinated by the evident religious friction in the time of the first crusades however, The Travels of Ibn Thomas is an elucidating read.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed



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Saturday, 24 April 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Kathryn Gauci

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!



Hello Kathryn, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book, a box of chocs and glass of wine to hand.

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. Before becoming an author, I was a carpet and home textiles designer. 

Q. Where do you live?
A. Melbourne, Australia.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. Istanbul.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. Modern. (The castle is something I am aiming for!)

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Cat

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Both. I like to decorate the table when I have guests and I am afraid to say, I eat in front of the TV when engrossed in a good movie.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Documentary, drama, thriller.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. “The Embroiderer”. It spans 150 years and is set against the fall of the Ottoman Empire through to 1970’s modern Greece. It’s about the rise and fall of several generations of one family through the female line.


Q. What was your last novel about?
A. A WWII novel set in 1944. Preparations for the D-Day invasion are well advanced. When contact with Belvedere, one of the Resistance networks in the Jura region of Eastern France, is lost, Elizabeth Maxwell is sent back to the region to find the head of the network, her husband Guy Maxwell. It soon becomes clear that the network has been betrayed. An RAF airdrop of supplies was ambushed by the Gestapo, and many members of the Resistance have been killed. Surrounded on all sides by the brutal Gestapo and the French Milice, and under constant danger of betrayal, Elizabeth must unmask the traitor in their midst, find her husband, and help him to rebuild Belvedere in time for SOE operations in support of D-Day.

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. One genre.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. Yes. I will try my hand at another soon.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Sophia from “The Embroiderer” and Claire out of “Conspiracy of Lies”.

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. We would have afternoon tea at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Sophia would entertain us with stories about her thriving couture house which was once situated opposite the hotel. Tragically, WWI and the subsequent war between Greeks and Turks brought it to all to an end. Claire would tell us how she managed to operate as an SOE agent in France during WWII and Sophia would also tell us how she gained important information for the Greeks during WWI through her couture house. 

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. All three.

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what  do you do?
A. Ask him if he’s alright.

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)

1. “The Bridge on the Drina” Ivo Andric
2. “Birds Without Wings” Louis de Bernieres
3. “Freedom & Death” Nikos Kazantzakis
4. “Collected Poems of C.P.Cavafy”
5. “The Kite Runner” Khaled Hosseini
6. “A Year in Provence” Peter Mayle 
7. “Paris 1919” Margaret Macmillan
8. Any Martina Cole.

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. A Greek island with a beautiful beach and clear water to take a swim.

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. Dom Pérignon sipped out of a fine crystal champagne glass.




Click HERE (and scroll down to 'G') to find our  reviews of Kathryn's books  on Discovering Diamonds

See Our Full 

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Paris In Ruins by M K Tod

Shortlisted for Book of the Month


Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Goodreads

"A few weeks after the abdication of Napoleon III, the Prussian army lays siege to Paris. Camille Noisette, the daughter of a wealthy family, volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and agrees to spy on a group of radicals plotting to overthrow the French government. Her future sister-in-law, Mariele de Crécy, is appalled by the gaps between rich and poor. She volunteers to look after destitute children whose families can barely afford to eat.
Somehow, Camille and Mariele must find the courage and strength to endure months of devastating siege, bloody civil war, and great personal risk. Through it all, an unexpected friendship grows between the two women, as they face the destruction of Paris and discover that in war women have as much to fight for as men.
War has a way of teaching lessons—if only Camille and Mariele can survive long enough to learn them.!

This gripping story focuses on the two young women Camille and Mariele but both come from large families and their mothers, fathers and brothers are all also caught up in the fighting in various ways and the fate of all hangs precariously in the balance.

Camille is quite headstrong, with a tendency to ignore convention, take risks, not toe the line. Mariele is less so, at first in awe of, and perhaps a little envious of Camille. But neither is stereo-typically 'feisty' and both are hugely aware of their place in society, and their duty, despite railing against it at times. Camille lives life to the full in part because of the death of her sister, Juliette. It is as if she is living life for the both of them, and this drive, born of such a loss, felt very credible. She knows, even before the siege begins, that life is fragile and can be snuffed out in a moment. This knowledge informs her actions.

The horrors of war, the effects of the violence not only on the soldiers but on the civilians, are graphically and unsparingly described. The author has an economy of words which gives us the bare detail, and somehow makes it more visual. However for me the main interest lies in the development of the young women and their burgeoning awareness not only of what war can do to people's lives, but of their own place in the world. Did it take war to make them realise that marriage and children are sometimes not enough, or was it the age in which they were living? There is a stark contrast between their privileged existence and the plight of the poor of Paris. The women who live in the poorer quarters agitate for change and a powerful message comes through that women from all corners of society want, nay demand, more rights.

Woven into this driving narrative are the individual stories, the breaching of the divide between rich and poor, and the brave people who put their lives and careers on hold in order to help the war effort. One such example is the actress Sarah Bernhardt who here is shown turning her theatre into a hospital. In such times, social niceties have to be ignored, to the acceptance of some and to the horror of others: there are situations where young ladies cannot be chaperoned, for example; these moments, and the day that Mariele brings two poor children back to her family's grand house, demonstrate that this was an age where the older generation in particular were at first scandalised and then had to grow to accept the changes all around them, changes that would endure beyond the war.

This period of French history is not one with which I was familiar, and the author has a knack of providing just enough information about the military campaign without slowing down the narrative. There is no awkward exposition, and no 'info dumping'. The characters who provide the news do so in a believable and logical way; they would indeed have been the ones to receive the intelligence. Other characters talk about what they've read in the newspapers, in a very conversational style.

The only thing I would have liked to have seen explained is how Andre, a young man of Camille's acquaintance, initially came to be doing his dangerous work, more of which I won't say, for fear of spoilers.

The pacing of the book is fast; rarely a page goes by without the plot moving forward, and this completely chimes with the subject matter. These were eventful, frightening times and this is expertly conveyed. A great read which I heartily recommend.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
Discovering Diamonds Senior Reviewer


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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

A Wider World by Karen Heenan

Shortlisted for Book of the Month
Tudor
England

"Memories are all he has… Now they could save his life. Returning to England after almost five years in exile, Robin Lewis is arrested and charged with heresy by the dying Queen Mary. As he is escorted to the Tower of London, Robin spins a tale for his captor, revisiting his life under three Tudor monarchs and wondering how he will be judged—not just by the queen, but by the God he stopped serving long ago. When every moment counts, will his stories last long enough for him to be saved by Mary's heir, the young Queen Elizabeth?"

A Wider World tells the story of Robin Lewis, who features in the author's debut novel, Songbird. That novel centres around Bess and her childhood friend Tom, but this new book gives us Robin's story both before and after his life coincided with theirs. I'm happy to say that Bess and Tom do make an appearance, but this is Robin's tale, and he's the one telling it. 

I liked the structure of the book especially. We go back and forth between Robin in the present, as an older man, and Robin in his youth. Once you've been drawn into the two timelines, it is beautifully revealed that it was not the author's idea to present the story this way, but Robin's himself. And, there's a very good reason why he's doing it, too. I won't say more because it would be a bit of a spoiler.

The skilful presentation of the story is not all down to Robin, though, for Ms Heenan is a natural storyteller, writing scenes which have perfect shape and pace. She has a great way of using first-person narrative so that we see through Robin's eyes. There's actually very little use of the personal pronoun 'I' which means that we are not watching him, we are seeing what he sees.  

And what we see is a wonderfully realistic Tudor world. The author's research was clearly diligent but it sits lightly on the page and there is masterful and delicate placing of information, for example when Robin pinches his candle and puts it in his satchel when he has finished his work. There is no need to tell us that folk carried their own candles from place to place; that one tiny action revealed the fact. 

Ms Heenan is an American and uses US spellings which I don't mind at all because, and here's the crucial thing, her characters inhabit their Tudor world absolutely and the dialogue is spot on. Robin thinks, acts and speaks like a Tudor Englishman and he is so very real. He is a man of faith; prayer restores him. Though raised a Catholic, as were all of his generation, he sees the merits of some of the Lutheran ideas. And we see how often even those who were drawn to the new faith took comfort in the old. 

Just as with Songbird, we see the workings of the court but the main characters are not the historical figures. It was fascinating to see how the offices of the likes of Cromwell operated. And we are shown very clearly how the decisions, especially of the capricious Tudor monarchs, affected the lives of the ordinary people and in particular the fate of the monks who were turned out of the dissolved monasteries. That said, there are also moments of great commentary about the more famous history: something I'd not thought about before was that, in bringing Anne of Cleves to Henry, Cromwell held up a mirror to the ageing king, showing him a suitable bride for a man of his years, failing health and looks. And Henry didn't like it. 

The author has a lovely economy of words which nevertheless conveys a whole picture. Robin staggers slightly on the solid ground when disembarking from the ship and we know exactly what she means. A monk hugs him but wraps his hands round Robin's midriff while Robin places his chin on top of the monk's head and thus we know the difference in the men's heights. Other phrases made me smile: when Robin describes a young girl as being 'refreshing' the reply comes from her grandmother, 'Like cold water to the face.' When he's drunk, Ned falls across the bed 'like a tree', which perfectly describes the motion. Ned is Robin's friend and, in fact, is such a well-drawn character generally. A scene where he finds a borrowed shirt of Robin's which he'd forgotten to give back was a lovely vignette which summed him up and made me smile in affection for him, despite his questionable habits! In fact, Ned is such a rounded character that his older self is changed, but also recognisable as the man he once was.
Another constant in Robin's life is his manservant, Seb, who also grows up and older as the novel progresses. Towards the end there is a lovely scene where Seb goes off 'muttering' and we know exactly how he is feeling because we've spent so much time with him. (I won't say why he was muttering - that'd be another spoiler.) 

In Songbird, Robin was introduced as quite a prickly, unpopular character, who developed and grew and managed to make friends. But here we discover that he doesn't understand why people love/are interested in him. He knows he's stand-offish and so he thinks no one should like him but he forgets about his vulnerable side and that others can see it. There is a joy in watching him as he learns to accept that people love him and towards the end of the book there is a  jokey discussion about getting rid of Robin's beard. Again, no spoilers, but in that small moment Robin is super-aware that he's not alone and never has been. It is quite a skill to present a character in a first-person narrative and yet allow the reader, through that character, to see him as others do. Songbird was a confident and excellent debut and now Ms Heenan goes from strength to strength with this new book. There is a third book in the offing and I am very much looking forward to reading it.


Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
Discovering Diamonds Senior Reviewer

 e-version reviewed


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Sunday, 18 April 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Healing Touch by Liz Arnold

18th century
USA

A Healing Touch by Liz Arnold is set in 1796 and centers around a young woman, Molly Hillard's journey from Baltimore to Ohio after completion of medical training. She has undergone her training as an apprentice to Dr. Andrew West who develops a romantic interest in her. Molly does not reciprocate his feelings and insists on traveling, despite the dangers, that a single white woman could encounter. During the journey, she falls in love with Romney, a white man who was raised by the Delaware tribe and is often treated as a "half-breed" among white people. She is captured by another tribe despite Romney's efforts to escort her safely home. How they deal with the challenges en route, the conflict between the White people and the Natives, the prevalent illness at that time i.e smallpox, and how Molly's skills as a healer influenced her capture and release are detailed in the novel.

What was well done: The descriptions of life in the US at that time, the plants used for healing, how people lived and traveled are well researched and described.

There were a few inconsistencies: In the beginning Romney is shown to have a problem with English words because he was raised by Native Americans. After a few chapters, this disability disappears. He rescues his sister from her captors very easily at night in chapter 5 without any resistance, although in the previous pages, dogs were mentioned. The reader is left wondering why the dogs did not bark - were his sister's captors away with the dogs etc? Another inconsistency with respect to his sister was that she was captured by a man ten years ago from the Delaware tribe. When Romney, after rescuing her, is heading down the Ohio River, the Shawnee tribe appears and claims that they had taken his sister 10  years ago and now want her as the wife of one of the Native Americans. One wonders why the Shawnee tribe didn't care about retaking the girl in the ten years that she was with another tribal man.

Molly is portrayed as a strong woman, no stranger to men, being a medical person. She falls in love with Romney the minute she sees him, with the attraction being physical and the reader is left to wonder why a strong woman, determined to travel to her family at the beginning of the novel, changes her plan and decides to accompany a stranger on his mission to find his sister on the day after she met him for the first time. The same goes for the physical encounter they later share. I found it hard to believe that single women were unchaperoned in the late 1700s.There were also some characters and over-detailed descriptions that could have been cut to maintain the pace, especially in the middle where the narrative lost moment a little.

Having said all that, this was a typical, straightforward romance (girl meets boy, falls in love etc.,) with 'author's licence' where historical fact is concerned, but fans of light romance will enjoy this story for what it is - entertaining romance.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Juhi Ray
 e-version reviewed



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Saturday, 17 April 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Joanna Courtney

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!



Hello Joanna, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book,  box of chocs and glass of wine to hand!

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. I’m 48 and I’ve been writing from when I was very little, and publishing novels since 2013, although it feels like a lot longer than that as I was writing them for years before I secured a contract. I studied English literature at Cambridge and it was there that I discovered a huge interest in medieval – and earlier – literature and a general fascination with the world pre the 1100s. I firmly believe that the idea of a ‘dark ages’ is one of the most damaging anyone could ever have come up with – casually dismissing so much vital history as if it were a mere parade of dull, featureless days of just digging the land. I’m passionate about bringing light into those early periods and feel strongly that fiction is a great way to do that.

It was my great privilege to meet you, Helen, at several Battle of Hastings re-enactments and I found your drive, knowledge and enthusiasm a huge inspiration and encouragement to me. I was delighted to work with you on our collaborative book of short stories – 1066 Turned Upside Down - and am honoured to feature on your blog. Thank you.


Q. Where do you live?
A. I live in a Derbyshire village with my husband, dog and two children.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. I love it in Derbyshire but, ideally, I’d like to live by a river or lake I could swim in and row on.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  I live in an old cottage and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Sometimes I yearn for the simplicity of a house with right-angles, and decent lighting and insulation, but I love the history of my house. It was built in 1745 and when I sit by our stone fireplace, I love thinking about all the people who must have sat here before us. That said, if a castle was on offer…

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Dog. I’ve had cats before and love them but my husband is approaching retirement now and we’ve just bought a campervan to head off around Europe, with him cooking and me writing. The dog can come along but I don’t think a cat would be too keen!

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. I’m mainly a dining room for dinner person. We’ve still got two kids at home (just) and it’s an important time for us to actually sit around together and chat, even just for 15 minutes. That said, every so often, if we’re all tired, I love an indulgent in-front-of-the-TV dinner.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I like them all, though I only really watch documentaries for research. I love a good drama and have just finished watching The Queens Gambit on Netflix which I thought was fantastic. I was a sucker for Downtown Abbey and quite like The Crown, although I confess that a drama about living people always feels slightly uncomfortable to me. I also love a good old-fashioned murder mystery, with Morse and Frost being old favourites and Shetland and Silent Witness newer ones. There’s always room for comedy isn’t there? Blackadder remains my abiding favourite of all time, but I recently watched After Life – part comedy, part terribly sad drama – and I thought it was excellent.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. My first ever published novel, Running Against the Tide, was originally a People’s Friend serial and was a Romeo and Juliet style love story between a lighterman working the West India docks in London and the daughter of one of the powerful traders. My first true novel was The Chosen Queen, about Edyth, wife of King Harold in 1066.


Q. What was your last novel about?
A. My last novel was Iron Queen, the ‘true’ story of Cordelia from Shakespeare’s King Lear. In my version she is one of a trio of revered Celtic princesses in the Iron Age tribe of the Coritani in what is now Leicestershire. I loved writing it because I grew up very near Beacon Hill, the central fort of that tribe, and used to drink Thunderbird and cheap cider up there in the sixth form. Rediscovering the history of the place that had such happy memories for me and bringing the Iron Age to life was very rewarding.

now also in paperback


Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. I only write historical fiction as Joanna Courtney, but I also write contemporary fiction as Anna Stuart and enjoy the different challenges of that genre.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  I’ve been dabbling for a while with a Young Adult time travel series… Nothing concrete yet but watch this space.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. I would love to spend the afternoon with the dynamic, vigorous Harald Hardrada, who I confess to fancying like mad. I’d like him to bring along his sidekick, an Icelandic called Halldor, who was one of those fantastic characters that just seem to come to life independently. He’s a gruff, tough warrior who just happens to have a golden tongue when storytelling and I’d love to meet him in real life!

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
I’d ask them to take me out on their Viking ship – ideally all the way to Iceland, which I’m longing to visit, but I doubt we’d make it in an afternoon!

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I love trains best, as long as they’re empty enough for me to have some space to write. There’s something very soothing about the motion of a train and about there being people around to watch. That said, I love driving too and am very happy pootling about the place in my car. You can’t write at the wheel though!

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what  do you do?
A. I’d say the odd thing is that he’s dressed as a Viking (a proper one – no stupid horns!) and I would, of course, go up and talk to him – he’s got to have some great stories.

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)
Wow – that’s really difficult! I’m not a big one for re-reading novels as there are so many out there waiting to be discovered, but I guess if I was stuck on the island I’d need books that really bear re-reading so here’s my best attempt:
1. Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Thomas Hardy
2. Wolf Hall (Am I allowed the whole trilogy?), Hilary Mantel
3. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
4. The Keeper of Lost things, Ruth Hogan
5. Milly, Molly, Mandy (my favourite childhood book for comfort)
6. Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller
7. The Whale Road, Robert Lowe
8. A very, very large blank notebook that I can write in!

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. I love the beauty of a Scottish island but I’d definitely want it hot – now that’s a fantasy!!

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. I feel I should say something sensible like a really comfy bed, but I think the honest answer is – wine!







Click HERE (and scroll down to 'C') to find our  reviews of Joanna's books  on Discovering Diamonds

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