‘Arthur Rex Brittonum’ by Tim Walker


*****

Arthur, King of the Britons, and only son of the late King Uther, now rules over the northern regions, but he still has to take on the Saxons in order to succeed. This is the fifth instalment of Tim Walker’s ‘A Light in the Dark Ages’ series and while it is clearly part of the series, it can also be read as a standalone.

The author has a solid knowledge of the period and the book is peppered with the kind of detail that brings his stories to life. He also provides lists of places and character names at the start of the book, which is handy (though I still got a bit confused about who was who). The writing is packed with vivid descriptions and it’s easy to plunge yourself into the world of King Arthur. As with the previous book I’d read by this author (Ambrosius: Last of the Romans) I had to occasionally re-read passages a couple of times before moving on. However, for anyone keen on history (or historical fantasy) this is a jolly good read with believable settings and suitably accurate historical facts, particularly for fans of Arthurian legends and the likes of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series.


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Oh, What a Lovely Murder

Ever since Blackwood’s Magazine published Thomas De Quincey’s satirical essay, ‘On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts’, in 1827, the British (and of course the rest of the world) have been fascinated by the slaughter of our fellow man in all its many permutations and variations. De Quincey’s musings were prompted by the Ratcliffe Highway murders, which also saw a change in reporting the events in the newspapers, as the press rose to the challenge of spreading the shocking tale wide and far.

But what is it that so fascinates us about this most heinous of crimes?

Over recent years, I’ve found myself reading more and more accounts of true crimes, from vicious Victorian slayings such as the Mile End Murder, to more recent ones including those committed by John Christie, Graham Young (the Teacup Poisoner) and Ted Bundy. I’d guess the main reason such gruesome details appeal to me is as a means of answering two questions:

What was the motivation for the murder?

How did the police catch the killer?

The first one is the most interesting, as there are clearly a great many reasons why one person may want to kill another. As a teenager, a schoolfriend of mine was killed when a relative stabbed him with an ornamental sword. Though I don’t recall the details, it’s fair to assume that the lad’s death likely occurred as a result of an argument that got out of hand. However, if the killer had deliberately set out to commit murder, that raises another question—when a murder is premeditated, what is it that drives someone to the point where they (presumably) cannot see any other alternative?

Writing a murder mystery series forces me to consider why and how a murder occurs—who is responsible, how it comes about and if murder is the only solution to their problem. However, because I’m what’s known as a ‘pantzer’ (a writer who doesn’t plan his novels), this requires that I create a murder victim without having any clue as to how or why it happened, or the events leading up to it. Writing the book, therefore, is my means of working out who’s responsible.

The trouble with this method is that, invariably, I arrive at the penultimate chapter and still have no idea who the killer is. That I always do work out who did it, is obvious, since otherwise I’d be unable to finish the book, but I’m never quite sure how the process of discovering the killer’s identity occurs.

My answer—and it’s a pretty lame one—is that because I’ve spent so much time reading crime fiction and true crime books, that the details of hundreds of murders have somehow seeped into my brain and sit there ruminating on whatever problem I have until they come up with an answer, which then emerges through my fingers, into the keyboard and finally, onto the page.

In truth, I don’t claim to go through any kind of process of ‘working out’ who the killer is, as more often than not, the solution simply pops into my head, a few paragraphs before I need to write it down.

This might sound a little ridiculous, but it backs up my theory, and since I rarely have to go through the book page by page trying to identify any clues I may have subconsciously planted, it’s a method I’m happy to continue.

Well, okay, not ‘happy’ to continue, as the experience of reaching that point when I really do need to solve the murder, often fills me with trepidation that refuses to leave until the book is finished. Clearly, it’d be a lot easier to plan the book first—if only the salient points, so I’m not left floundering around wondering who the hell killed my character. But to do that, I’d have to know the ending before I started writing, and that would be unthinkable.

‘Flying Start: How To Make Your Own Luck At Work’ by Carol Gillespie


****

When starting out on their careers, many people want to be noticed, supported and promoted. Looking at the six natural behaviours, Carole Gillespie describes what we must do to build confidence and encourage others to feel safe in trusting us.

Aimed mainly at the so-called Generation Z (17-24-year-olds), this short book is an easy to read for individuals starting work for the first time. Laid out with diagrams and real-life case-study dilemmas, the author sets out a clear, step-by-step guide on how to start conversations, ask useful questions and build strong and lasting relationships in the work environment.


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‘Driftnet’ by Lin Anderson

*****

A murder in a Glasgow flat sees forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod attending an early-morning crime scene. The shocking killing of a teenage boy brings back memories from MacLeod’s own past as she struggles to come to terms with the disturbing resemblance between herself and the victim. Having given up a baby boy for adoption seventeen years previously, Rhona is determined to discover if the boy could be her own son. In the meantime, there’s a killer on the loose.

This is the first of the Rhona MacLeod books by Ms Anderson and it gets off to a good start. Setting up several storylines, the author develops her characters well, leaving the reader plenty to think about. The relationships between the main character and her ex-husband, as well as her current, uncertain, musician boyfriend, are well-judged, while the unravelling of the plot delves into child abuse and paedophiles, which may be upsetting for some readers.

The detail Anderson gets into is satisfyingly realistic without being overly gruesome and though the story wasn’t quite as thrilling as I’d expected, it still held my attention without too much trouble.

Great start to a great series.


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‘Hot Love Inferno’ by Nicky Blue


****

Gardner and marital arts expert Barry Harris lives with his headbanger mum, lusts after Jo (who sells sex toys), eats fish fingers and watches Star Trek. When a bunch of Samurai warriors appear, Barry has to draw on all his abilities to save the world (or at least the town of Portslade). And then of course, there’s Mrs Jittery Twitch…

This is the second of Nicky Blue’s Prophecy Allocation Books and like the first, it’s a bit weird. The author’s humour is wacky to say the least, while his imagination conjures up some truly bizarre scenes. This book has the added novelty of footnotes, which explain some of the more ‘British’ phrases used in the story, as well as the meaning of words such as Pognophobia (the fear of people with beards).

The only downside is that (despite the footnotes), much of the humour may be lost on anyone outside the UK. But as a firm believer in writing what you want to write, I’m not going to complain.


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‘Apropos of Nothing’ by Woody Allen


*****

(Audiobook)
Director, comedian, writer, and actor Woody Allen relates how a love of movies during his childhood in Brooklyn eventually took him down the path to making movies of his own. From his early work as a writer and stand-up comic, Allen talks about his career, his friends and his relationships.

There didn’t seem any point in sitting down to read this book when I had the opportunity to hear the author narrate it himself. I’ve always loved Woody’s voice, his humour, his take on the world and his writing style. This book gives a solid account of how he created his many success, as well as the failures. Throughout the book, his self-deprecatory style is endearing and gives credence to his career and relationship decisions, even when everything seemed to be going against him. Known as someone who rarely watches his own movies, Woody’s recall of how each one came into being is absolutely fascinating, and it’s interesting to learn of his directing technique and how he deals with good and not so good collaborators.

I didn’t buy this audiobook to hear about the whole Mia Farrow allegations, but it’s reasonable that Woody might want to relate his side of the story. For anyone who thinks there’s no smoke without fire, it’s quite clear that Woody’s account is backed up by many others, including Farrow’s own children, Farrow’s previous employees and Woody’s (now) wife of twenty-odd years, Soon-Yi, and her treatment at the hands of her adoptive mother.

A fascinating account told in his own inimitable way.

‘The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher’ by Kate Summerscale


*****

During a summer night in 1860, a terrible crime is committed. When the Kent family of Road Hill House wake up the next morning, they learn that three-year-old Saville is missing and soon discover he has been brutally murdered. As local police fail to track down the killer, Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. With the whole family and their servants as possible suspects, Whicher is faced with a difficult task, and the personal histories of some members of the household give him plenty to be suspicious about.

This is the second of Kate Summerscale’s books I’ve read and as with the first (The Wicked Boy) it’s a cracker. Tracing the events leading up to and following the murder at Road Hill House, the author meticulously details the progress of Jack Whicher as he struggles to find evidence to back up his theory that sixteen-year-old Constance Kent killed her young brother in a vengeful attack against her stepmother. And though the young woman does eventually own up to the killing, Whicher’s suspicions also included the theory that a second member of the household was involved in the murder. But if that was the case, who really killed Saville Kent?

A fascinating and thoroughly well documented account of a dreadful crime.


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‘Stranger Still’ by Michaelbrent Collings


*****

Legion has a purpose – to teach, to avenge and to murder. Witnessing a married couple kidnapped at the side of the road, he follows them, knowing he’ll have to make choices about his actions—who to save, who to kill. But with a Russian crime syndicate involved, there are a lot of decisions to make in his bid to uncover the truth.

This is the third book I’ve read by this author, so I knew to expect a bit of creepy and a bit of weird, but this one is just plain off the wall. Michaelbrent Collings has the ability to write in different ways, and whereas with ‘Predators’ he deals with realistic situations (a group of tourists terrorised during an African safari), some of his other books veer well away from what I might call ‘normal’. What I liked about this one is his talent for keeping the reader guessing, piling on the twists like they’re going out of fashion. The gory scenes (and there are plenty) have a realism to them that makes me wonder what the author does in his spare time.

If you like your horror stories with a big slice of crazy, this’ll be right up your Nightmare Alley.


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Guest Post Q and A with Tim Walker

With the launch of his latest book, I invited Tim Walker along to talk about writing, research and all things Roman…

Tell me about your latest book.

Hi Colin – thanks for having me on your blog.
My new book is ‘Arthur Rex Brittonum’, book five in ‘A Light in the Dark Ages’ series. It is the story of a mature Arthur, and his efforts to unite the tribes of Britain in opposition to the creeping colonisation of England by Anglo-Saxons in the early sixth century. I chose to ignore advise against using Latin in my book title (again) and have followed on from 2019’s ‘Arthur Dux Bellorum’ (‘Duke of Battles’) with an Arthur upgrade to Rex Brittonum – ‘King of the Britons’.

I suppose the decision was made 18 months ago to use the title given to a real, historical Arthur by 9th century monk, Nennius, of ‘Dux Bellorum’, in my book title, and as the new book is a sister volume, it made sense to me to give it a similar title. I’m continuing the story from youthful Arthur to a more mature and considered Arthur, embroiled in politics and war, in the new book. New readers to the series can start with the new book as it works as a standalone novel, with backstory built in.

Where do you find inspiration for your novels, and in particular, your ‘Light in the Dark Ages’ series?

I was inspired to write the first book in the series ‘Abandoned’, in 2015, following a visit to Silchester – the site of former Roman town, Calleva Atrebatum. I came away wondering what life would have been like for the local tribes – the Atrebates – and how they would have felt after Roman occupation ended after almost 400 years. Perhaps opportunity for some, and concern for other. Abandoned in its first incarnation was an 16,000-word novella detailing the desperate defence of Calleva by the townsfolk against a roving Saxon war party, following the exit of their Roman masters. I self-published it to Amazon Kindle and got some stinging reviews mainly due to its brevity. Clearly, it needed developing into a longer book. With further research, I became hooked on the idea of writing a three-generation book series covering the early Dark Ages and leading to the coming of King Arthur.

The New Book:

From the decay of post-Roman Britain, Arthur seeks to unite a troubled land.

Arthur Rex Brittonum (‘King of the Britons’) is an action-packed telling of the King Arthur story rooted in historical accounts that predate the familiar Camelot legend.

Arthur, only son of the late King Uther, has been crowned King of the Britons by the northern chiefs and must now persuade their counterparts in the south and west to embrace him. Will his bid to lead their combined army against the Saxon threat succeed? He arrives in Powys buoyed by popular acclaim at home, a king, husband and father – but can he sustain his efforts in unfamiliar territory? It is a treacherous and winding road that ultimately leads him to a winner-takes-all clash at the citadel of Mount Badon.

Fans of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Mathew Harffy will enjoy Walker’s A Light in the Dark Ages series and its newest addition – Arthur Rex Brittonum.

Do you worry about factual accuracy in your books and how do you deal with this?

Yes, I do agonise over historical accuracy. The main problem I have is with the paucity of hard and fast historical evidence for what happened where and when to whom in the fifth and sixth centuries. From brief mentions of half-glimpsed figures and battles in the works of early historians and chroniclers, I have garnered some information on which my narratives are based – much of which is influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 1136 work, ‘The History of the Kings of Britain’. This has been widely criticised by historians for its obvious inaccuracies and apparent inventions, although he has been re-appraised in recent times by historians such as Miles Russell, who points out that here is clear evidence that Geoffrey was working from known sources, and that he makes mention of a ‘text in a native tongue’ which remains unknown to contemporary historians. He appears to have used artistic licence to rearrange some figures and events in the timeline, undermining his credibility, however he did not invent Uther Pendragon and Arthur, as there is enough evidence elsewhere for their existence.

Some of my support characters are ‘real’ historical figures, such as tribal kings mentioned by name in annales and chronicles, but other characters are inventions. Parallel historical events in Europe are alluded to – such as the death of General Aetius, the last credible leader of the Roman legions in Gaul, in 454, and the advance of Clovis, King of the Franks, in the years after. Also, the Welsh Annales – a list of dates and key events – records that a ‘strife’ took place at Camlann in the year 539 at which ‘Arthur and Medraut (Mordred) fell’. The date is a supposition based on where historians think the year 1 of the Annales corresponds to our calendar. However, taking 539 as the possible or likely date of Arthur’s death at Camlann, and say, he was 50 years old, then he would have been born in 489. This date does fit in with a rough timeline of his predecessors – Uther, Ambrosius, Vortigern and Constantine.

There is a lot of guesswork here by historians, but that is fine for me, as my work is fiction based on a largely opaque period in our history.

How do you approach the research aspect of your writing and does this ever result in stories taking a different direction?

I have read a number of books by historians that cover the fifth and six centuries, and it never ceases to surprise me how different their opinions and theories are. This is because the evidence is so scant, that there is much room for speculation. I can choose to cherry-pick whose theories to follow based on the direction I want to take my story. The idea for the direction of my Arthur story came from reading an article by historian David Ford Nash, who took the oblique ’12 battles of Arthur’ from the pages of Nennius’s 9th century work, ‘The History of Britain’, and tried to make sense of the locations of each battle. He decided that the first three or four battles were in Lincolnshire – a part of England where raids by the Angles had taken a foothold at the time of Arthur. Five or six other battles he placed in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Scotland. Others he had problems locating, but surmised that the West Midlands and West Country could be contenders.

So, I fashioned my story to take Arthur and his followers up the east coast from Lincolnshire to Yorkshire and further to Hadrian’s Wall in Arthur Dux Bellorum – covering roughly a ten-year period. Then in the new book, Arthur Rex Brittonum, he leaves his base on Hadrian’s Wall and travels to Chester and on to Wroxeter/Viriconium near Shrewsbury. Then he goes south to Gloucester and Bath, fighting his final few battles in the West Country. All perfectly achievable on horseback using Roman roads.

Apart from the obvious answer, what prompted your book ‘Devil Gate Dawn’?

Devil Gate Dawn started its life as a fiction blog called, ‘The Life of George’. This was near the start of my creative writing journey, and I would sit in cafes people watching and scribbling notes on what I could see, hear, touch, taste, smell. That’s what the creative writing course advised. I came up with my character George, a recent retiree, and started to invent situations for him. Each blog post was typically a scene of 300-500 words. After nine months, I had amassed close to 40,000 words. It was at this point that I decided to work it up into a novel. The main change was to introduce a sub-plot involving George’s daughter and her new boyfriend. I can’t remember how I arrived at naming the mysterious country house of my villain, ‘Devil Gate Drive’, after Suzy Quattro’s hit single of the same name. Maybe I was listening to it on that day! So, the book title was named after the dramatic climax – a dawn raid on Devil Gate Drive.

Are you planning any further adventures in the ‘Charly Holmes’ series for children?

Yes! Cathy and I are currently writing book three in the series, Charly in Space. Each new project starts with me asking my growing teenage daughter, ‘what are you interested in now?’ Last year it was superheroes, this year it’s Space. So, we have concocted a story whereby Charly goes on a school trip to the European Space Agency in France. Charly’s inquisitive nature somehow gets her into the command module of a rocket bound for the European Space Station orbiting the Earth. Oops! We are working on the finishing touches and hope to have it out in September.

Who is your writing hero?

My favourite authors are Bernard Cornwell, Hilary Mantel and John Grisham. I admire their differing styles and approaches, and get some inspiration from each of them. Mantel for her astounding prose and devilish descriptions, and the other two for their calm, confident storytelling abilities. I have seen Bernard Cornwell being interviewed on stage, and was fascinating. Also, I was lucky to get tickets to see Lee Childs and John Grisham interview each other on their approaches to writing fiction at the Harrogate Book Festival in 2018. Grisham is a meticulous planner, and Childs is more of a seat-of-your-pants inspirational writer. I am somewhere in between.

What advice would you give to someone writing about historical events?

Read in your genre. See how other writes do it. You will often find that the best writers’ deep love for their subject matter shines through. The author must grab and hold the reader’s attention, otherwise they will drift away to another book. You must convey your enthusiasm for your own story through your writing, otherwise you risk losing your reader. You must know your main character well, and make your reader see through their eyes and experience the period world you have created. Period detail is important, but your book will sink or swim on the strength and credibility of your story, and the charisma of your main character.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

I have been happy to remain self-published, so I can follow my own interests and whims when it comes to my next book. Also, given that I am managing a chronic health condition, I have no deadlines to stress about, save those I have set for myself. I have complete control over the creative process.
The best thing, however, is the enjoyment of the creative process. You can plan your story and sketch out your chapters before you start, but the finished manuscript will have deviated from your plans and taken on a life of its own once you start banging away at the keyboard. It never ceases to amaze me how the interactions and adventures of your characters can throw up new plot ideas that take you in unexpected directions. It is your story – you own it.

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‘The Tempus Project’ by Antony Johnston


****

When a hacker targets politicians with a ransom-ware attack known as Tempus, MI6 officer Brigitte ‘Bridge’ Sharp is tasked with tracking down the source. While picking up a journalist in Paris, Bridge finds other agencies are hot on her tail and is forced into a crazy car chase across the city in a bid to escape. Back in London, and after a dressing-down by her boss for messing up, Brigitte struggles to track down a computer hacker who poses a new threat to political stability. Pulled into the world of crypto-currencies, Russian hackers and an African rebel militia, time is running out—can Bridge stop a potential global disaster?

This is the first of Antony Johnston’s Brigitte Sharp Thriller’s I’ve read, and it gets off to a great start. The world of crypto-currencies, Blockchain and ransomware is fairly new to me, but the author clearly knows what he’s talking about and the detail gives the plot a real sense of what goes on behind the doors of MI6 and the CIA.

However, the thing about including so much detail, is using it to its best advantage, and for me there’s way too much techno-jargon in this book. I got bored very quickly, and found myself skipping paragraphs, looking for the next interesting scene. While Bridge is a great character and I loved her relationships with her sister and Mum, I could happily have chopped fifty pages out of the book without feeling I’d missed anything important.

An interesting and clever book that didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

About Antony Johnston:
Antony Johnston is a New York Times bestselling writer. The Charlize Theron movie Atomic Blonde is based on his graphic novel; his Brigitte Sharp thriller novels are critically acclaimed; and his first videogame, Dead Space, redefined its genre.

Antony’s books, graphic novels, and videogames include The Exphoria Code, The Tempus Project, The Fuse, Daredevil, Shang-Chi, Shadow of Mordor, the Alex Rider graphic novels and the adaptation of Alan Moore‘s ‘lost screenplay’ Fashion Beast.

He also hosts the podcast Writing and Breathing.

He lives in Lancashire.

Social Media:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AntonyJohnston
Facebook: http://antonyjohnston.com/
Website: https://www.antonyjohnston.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/AntonyJohnston/

Purchase Links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Waterstones
Foyles
Google Books
Kobo

NB This post first appeared as part of a Damppebbles Blog Tour.


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