Posted in Author Interview, Historical Fiction

Fortress of Fury Matthew Harffy #Q&A #author #interview @MatthewHarffy @AriesFiction @HoZ_Books #histfic #FortressofFury #TheBerniciaChronicles #AngloSaxonHistorical

The Bernicia Chronicles Book 7

Beobrand is besieged in the action-packed instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles set in AD 647 Anglo-Saxon Britain.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?

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Q&A with Matthew Harffy- Fortress of Fury

What inspired you to write The Bernicia Chronicles and Fortress of Fury?

As with all of the Bernicia Chronicles, Fortress of Fury is inspired by real historical events that are documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Bede’s History of the English Church and People. I find an interested event around which I can entwine Beobrand’s (the protagonist) story. In the case of Fortress of Fury, it is the attack on Bebbanburg by Penda of Mercia.

Why does this period in history appeal to you?

Seventh century Britain is a time of great turmoil and the island is like a continent in microcosm with all of its small kingdoms. The Germanic people have settled in the east and are pushing westward, displacing the native Britons. The Angles and Saxons also vie for power with each other, with frequent battles between the warring kingdoms. On top of all of that, two strands of Christianity (the Irish and the Roman) are also seeking to conquer the hearts and minds of the population, and defeat the old gods and superstitious ways of the people.

Conflict is needed to tell good stories, and the seventh century has it in spades.

Northumbria is the setting for Fortress of Fury, why is it the perfect location for the book?

It is the location of the real-life events, of course. But more than that, it has become Beobrand’s adopted home and all of his loved ones now live there. Despite his differences with his king, Northumbria is now Beobrand’s land and he will fight for it and for its people till his dying breath.

How did you research the historical period for this book?

I have done a lot of reading since starting the first book in the series, The Serpent Sword, nearly twenty years ago. So I have a clear feeling of the time and the place of the novels now. As mentioned, I glean what I can from the primary sources and then, as I come across specifics I am not sure on while writing the first draft (like types of tree, food, clothing, names of lesser characters, etc.), I make a note, and then research those details while editing and polishing the draft.

What type of books do you like to read? Why is this?

I like historical fiction, westerns and fantasy and really any good book. Increasingly, I enjoy reading non-fiction, often autobiographies. I think this is because I am drawn to stories of strong characters and by definition, autobiographies give an interesting window into memorable people.

What is the best thing about being a writer? Is there anything you do not like?

I love being able to tell the stories I would like to read, and also hearing from people that my stories have resonated with in some way. This is the ultimate thrill for any writer, I think; to know that your writing has connected and impacted someone.

I dislike how long it takes to finish a novel, then edit it and get it published! And I really hate the feeling of always having pressure to write the next book and to make it better than the last! The struggle is real!

Can you tell us a little about The Bernicia Chronicles series so far? Is there going to be another book in this series?

The first in the series is The Serpent Sword and it takes place in AD633. Beobrand begins as a young man with nothing but a desire to find a place in the world and a strong sword arm. He starts the series searching for his brother and fleeing a dark past. He soon finds himself embroiled in the struggles for the kingdoms of Bernicia and Northumbria.

Over the course of the novels he faces many foes and aligns himself with several lords and kings. He finds and loses love, and is never far from the action. His life is fraught with danger.

By the seventh book, Fortress of Fury, Beobrand is a lord in his own right with land and a warband. And the dangers he faces are more fearsome than ever!

I am currently writing book eight (currently untitled) in the series and I think there will be at least three or four more after that if people keep reading them!

Matthew Harffy

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters

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Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Noir, Psychological Thriller, Suspense

No Smoke Without Fire Claire S. Lewis 4*#Review @CSLewisWrites @Aria_Fiction #Psychological #suspense #Noir #Crime #CrimeFiction #BlogTour #BookReview Q&A

You can’t run forever…

Celeste has been running from her past for seven years. But now her past has found her.

For seven years, Celeste has battled her guilt and shame over the tragic events that led to her little brother’s death. But when her high-school boyfriend comes back into her life just as she gains a stalker, she wonders if there’s more to the story than she realized.

Celeste is determined to discover the truth – but she’s about to find out that when you play with fire, you get burned…

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I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

This dark and twisty psychological thriller explores the effect of domestic crimes on the victim. Celeste’s past emotional trauma defines her. Cleverly written with a noir ethos and menacing undercurrents it is compelling reading.

The complex plot has many characters and differing timelines. The psychological detail is well- researched and adds to the story’s unpredictability. Its focus is on crimes that are difficult to read about it, but this element is vital to the plot and the action and motivations of the main character.

The story is rich in visual imagery that enhances the characters and events. It resonates and keeps you guessing right to the end.

Q&A with Claire S. Lewis- No Smoke Without Fire.

Thank you so much Jane, for inviting me to Q&A on your wonderful website and for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts in response to your fascinating and perceptive questions. 

No Smoke Without Fire explores humanity’s darker side, how do achieve balance in your plot between noir and lighter moments?

You are so right that No Smoke Without Fire explores the darker side of humanity. At the core of the plot there’s a family tragedy and a rape that together propel the damaged protagonist, Celeste, on a journey that will not have a happy ending nor bring redemption to any of the characters. The novel touches on bleak themes of patriarchy and female oppression and explores ideas of victim shaming and the ways in which false, repressed and recovered memories can alter perceptions of morality and the truth. So, there are undoubtedly dark elements to the novel. But as you suggest in your question, I have tried to create a balance between noir and lighter moments. For example, death is ever-present, not least in the sense that Celeste’s online business venture (CelestialHeadstones.com) involves delivering memorial flowers to headstones in graveyards. On the other hand, she is a florist and the scenes in the florist shop, Seventh Heaven, provide opportunities for vivid colour and brightness which contrast with the mournful descriptions of cemeteries. Even on Celeste’s visits to graveyards, I have tried to give a contrast of shade and sunlight. Some of these take place at night, when ghostly shadows of the statues of black angels seem to trip her up. Others take place in glorious spring sunshine when her heart is lifted by the sights and sounds of nature bursting into bloom and teeming with new life. The relationships between the characters also provide a balance in the plot between noir and lighter moments – the opening scenes at a Cuban nightclub and scenes at Celeste’s flat where she enjoys flirtation and fun and light banter with her friends, contrasting with the darkness of oppressive and abusive encounters between Celeste and her father and teenage boyfriend in the flashback sections, for example, or the sinister scenes involving Celeste’s stalker. I have quite a visual imagination, and I find the use of colour very effective in creating this balance. In the opening nightclub scene and the florist scenes, I focus on the colour red – Celeste’s red dress, the red mood lighting on the dance floor, the vivid red of the Valentine roses – whereas black and grey tones help to create an atmosphere of melancholia or menace in other scenes. Settings can also be used to create light in the narrative, and I hope that the descriptions of the beautiful city of Cambridge and picturesque towns in the Surrey hills, have this effect in No Smoke Without Fire.

This story, falls into the noir crime genre, what are the positives of writing this type of literature? Are there any negatives?

Characteristics such as the presence of violence; complex characters, plotlines and timelines; mystery; moral ambiguity and ambivalence – these all come into play in the noir crime genre and can be found in No Smoke Without Fire.  The positives of writing this kind of literature include the fact that characters are generally drawn in a way that is more nuanced, not two-dimensional, reflecting the real complexity of human relations in situations of conflict. The writer sets out the interplay between the characters without dictating moral judgements on their behaviour.  Readers are left to ponder and come to their own conclusions – or not. Like crime in real life situations, in this genre there is no simple black and white clear-cut line between right and wrong or between the goodies and the baddies. Again, in the real world, many crimes are never fully solved or only become solved after many years of investigation. There may always be a lingering doubt about the justice of a conviction or an acquittal. Even where the jury reaches a conclusion on innocence or guilt, the ‘standard of proof’ for such a ruling is not 100 percent certainty – the prosecution must prove its case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. So fiction in the genre of crime noir which has the characteristic of moral ambiguity and allows the reader to ruminate on the rights and wrongs of the situations and the ‘truth’ or ‘integrity’ of the characters, is perhaps more interesting and a more authentic reflection of real life than stories which leave no room for doubt as to which character is the hero and which is the villain. I like the ‘smoke and mirrors’ aspect of the noir crime thriller in part because it feels truer to real life than the type of ‘whodunnit’ thriller in which all the loose ends are tied up neatly at the end. As for the negatives of writing in this style of fiction, one down-side may be that because the protagonists of noir fiction are a mix of good and bad, and a mix of selfish and altruistic motives etc, none of them are particularly likeable? Perhaps there are no heroes or champions or characters to engage or fall in love with? On the other hand, because the characters are nuanced and flawed this makes them in one sense more true-to-life and relatable.

You use flashbacks to give clues about the protagonist’s past, why do think this style of plotting works so well for psychological suspense?

I think the use of flashbacks is well suited to psychological suspense because it allows for the character to be gradually pieced together in a way which mirrors the way in which criminal trials gradually build up a picture of a defendant or of a crime scene by delving back into the past to gather evidence about a suspect and interviewing a number of witnesses. In the case of Celeste, I have portrayed her as a person who is very private about the tragedy in her past life when she was teenager and the sexual abuse that she suffered in the boathouse on the night that her little brother died. Seven years on, she has buried these traumas deep within her soul and she is trying to live a normal life as a single working young woman of twenty-four. If I had only the present timeline to tell the story it would be difficult to understand the reasons for which Celeste seeks revenge and for which CelestialHeadstones.com is so dear to her heart. The glimpses of Celeste’s backstory moving through her past allow me to gradually build up a picture of her troubled home life as a child (alcoholic mother, dysfunctional and aggressive father) and her sexually submissive relationship with Ben as a teenager, which helps the reader to understand the complexity of her character and perhaps to empathise with her behaviour and motivations in the main plot. The flashbacks also help to create the moral ambivalence that is characteristic of noir crime.

The plot has different timelines and an unreliable protagonist, do you plan your story in detail before writing? Can you give us an insight into your writing process?

I am not very good at planning which I find rather boring. I tend to launch straight in rather than plotting and mapping out scenes in detail before embarking on the writing. My starting point is a story idea – some situation or news item that sparks my interest and which I feel could be the basis of a good plot or the opening scene of a story but without really knowing how it will all play out. For No Smoke Without Fire (or ‘In Loving Memory’ as it was – in part ironically – called when I first thought up the idea and throughout the writing process) I did write a synopsis with an outline of the plot and an ending. As I write, I imagine the story spooling out like a film in my head and I think about what scene should be revealed next. My lack of planning does usually result in me having to do quite a bit of rearranging of chapters once I have more or less completed a first draft. In the case of No Smoke Without Fire for example, I did not write my backstory flashbacks in time order the first-time round. Instead I started with a date rape scene which was very central to the character development of Celeste. However, my editor advised that it was better to drop these backstory chunks into the main narrative in a chronological order as I already had a number of viewpoints and the lack of chronology in the flashbacks could be rather confusing for the reader.

Do you know how your story will end when you start to write? How easy is it to create an unexpected outcome for your characters? Have you any insights into the best way of creating a shock ending?

The ending I had in mind when I started to write the story is not the ending that made it to the final cut. The ending in my synopsis was inspired by my favourite Audrey Tatou French film ‘He Loves Me, He loves Me Not’, but I realised that in the novel form my planned ending would not work structurally and, moreover, I realised that the character of Celeste that I had written in the first half of the book was too sympathetic to allow for her transformation into an all-out psychopath as I had originally intended! When rethinking my ending, I wanted something that brought together all the characters in the novel as well as to some extent coming full circle to the opening page, whilst also being an unexpected outcome. I hope that the ending I have created is both a shock ending and one that will give pause for some reflection and pathos – but that’s for the readers and not for me to judge! As for insights into the best way of creating a shock ending – that is an interesting and difficult question. Obviously, the ending needs to follow naturally from what has gone before rather than being tacked on. Clues should be planted earlier in the story which once the shock ending has been delivered make the reader feel that there was a certain inevitability about it, so that on reflection the ending becomes believable as well as unexpected.

What surprises do you have instore for your next story?

My next story is also in the genre of psychological suspense and is set in post-pandemic north London and Tuscany. I am playing around with the idea of a ‘book-within-a-book’ along the lines of ‘Nocturnal Animals’. So, in addition to the uncertainty as to who did what, there will be an added uncertainty as to whether the secondary line of narration is intended to be true or imagined or a mixture of both.

Thank you again, Jane, for this lovely opportunity to take part in your Q&A!

Claire S. Lewis

Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways.  More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family. 

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Posted in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Fantasy, Magic

The Identity Thief Alex Bryant #TheGodMachine @alexbryantauth @lovebooksgroup #Author Q&A #Fantasy #magic #humour #BookPromo #BlogTour #LoveBooksTours

A shapeshifting sorcerer called Cuttlefish unleashes a terrifying wave of magical carnage across London. A strange family known as the River People move into Cassandra Drake’s neighbourhood. Are the two events connected?

Spoiler alert: no.

Reasons to buy this book:

✔ Good cover.

✔ Cheap. Seriously, the Kindle version only costs as much as about 3 mangoes. What would you rather have – 10 hours of gripping urban fantasy, or 30 minutes of biting into sweet, succulent mango flesh?

✔ OK, I shouldn’t have used mango, objectively the best fruit, as a comparison. But buying this book doesn’t stop you from buying mangoes, if that’s what you insist on doing.

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Q&A with Alex Bryant

Where did you get the idea for the novel?

The first idea for the novel came when I was 19, shortly after falling off a horse. Or possibly shortly before – the exact chronology is lost to history. So is the horse’s name, so don’t even ask. The idea was for an opening chapter: a girl comes home one day to find that her dad’s disappeared, and the shadowy organisation he works for wants to take her away for questioning.

The current book, admittedly, has almost nothing to do with that. But from there, the world rolled into life like an out-of-control snowball, picking up all of my other obsessions along the way. Witchcraft and witch-hunts were an obvious thing to include. And the very earliest scene I wrote that made its way into the book actually dates to a dream I had when I was 16. It was about being forced to visit a bizarre old house, meeting its strange inhabitants, and being shown into a vast underground library… It left a strong impression, shaping both Omphalos, the sinister house at the centre of The Identity Thief, and the Lyceum, the shadowy magical organisation which is tied to it.

Which character from The Identity Thief do you most identify with?

Obviously not the main character, Cass, who’s a nasty piece of work, inspired by the kind of girl I was terrified of in school. It’s actually Hector, the quiet and pathologically awkward one who’s probably plotting something evil behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, my friends unanimously agree that I am in fact Cuttlefish, the shapeshifting villain. I resent this – 18 is a perfectly sensible number of masks to own. I go to a lot of parties, and nobody wants to be that guy who’s always wearing the same mask at a party.

Where did you get the idea for the world?

First up,  magic is cool. Books with magic in are better than books without magic in. So there was always going to be magic in any novel I wrote.

In books, everyone is totally chill about magic. But in real life, people tend not to be remotely chill about magic. In fact, for a large chunk of history right up to the present day, people have gone around executing each other brutally for practising magic. In Europe, we literally only stopped doing that when it turned out magic didn’t exist.

In the world of the God Machine, magic does of course exist, so it stands to reason that people are still afraid of it – still hunting down witches and punishing them severely. That’s how I ended up creating the Sorcery Investigation Department, a modern-day Inquisition tasked with stopping sorcery in all its forms.

Who are your favourite authors?

First up is Jonathan Stroud. Specifically, the Bartimaeus trilogy. Possibly the most underappreciated children’s books out there. Not by me, of course. I appreciate them a huge deal. But I’m just one man. I can’t give them all the appreciation they deserve. Go read them! They’re about an alternative modern-day London where sorcery is wielded by a select few. So if you liked The Identity Thief, you like them.

If you like classics, read The Master and Margarita. This book is so influential that I straight up stole several quips and scenes from it. But because it’s a classic, this doesn’t count as theft; it’s an ‘allusion’, which actually makes me a better writer.

Contrary to everyone’s assumption, I don’t like either Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. Sorry, guys. I’ve just never been able to get into them. Despite having had virtually every book in the Discworld series recommended to me, or just outright bought for me, at some point. And despite The Identity Thief being compared to them most frequently.

Douglas Adams, on the other hand, is great. The best version of the infinite Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy adaptations is, of course, the text-based adventure game. Look it up!

What’s your writing process?

I sit down at my laptop and open my novel manuscript. I like to check my emails before I start writing, to clear all that annoying admin out the way. One of the emails is about booking an appointment. I open my phone to see when I’m free. While I’m checking my calendar, I get a message notification from a friend about something I was supposed to do yesterday. I open up Messenger to say sorry, and I’ll do it now. But before I do it, I see an article someone’s posted in a group chat. I read it, and three more articles that the first article links to. I close the page, and wind up looking at an Amazon checkout page. Oh yeah, I was in the middle of buying a birthday present three days ago, and must have got distracted. Looking at it now, I could probably find a nicer thing on Etsy. I take a look, and spot some way cooler stuff I want but probably shouldn’t buy. I decide I’m better off thinking about it over lunch. Damn, I don’t have any lunch food. I decide to nip to the shops, but remember I have a package to send that I may as well take with me. I go back to print out a postage label. I discover I’m out of paper so I’ll have to go to the shops first anyway. I go to the shops and buy toothpaste. I forget to buy either lunch or paper.

It’s taken me ten years to write The Identity Thief.

Alex Bryant

Alex has led a largely comfortable but unremarkable life in North London, and more recently Oxford. His main hobbies as a kid were reading and sulking.

When he’s not writing, he’s performing with his improvised comedy troupe, Hivemind Improv. And when he is writing, he’s procrastinating.

The first idea for The God Machine came when he was 19, shortly after falling off a horse. Or possibly shortly before – the exact chronology is lost to history. So is the horse’s name, in case you were wondering.

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