The Abbey of Death finds a publisher!

That’s right, The Abbey of Death will be my first book that’s not self-published. Amazon Publishing liked it enough to offer me a contract so it should be out under their banner sometime soon.

Honestly, it will mean little to my readers but to me, this is massive. Not only will I be paid an advance for the first time ever, but it shows someone really believes in my work. Now, given my sales numbers (just about to push past 100,000) and the numerous lovely reviews on Amazon and Goodreads it might seem strange that I value this so much but I still haven’t even managed to snag an agent! So for a publisher as MASSIVE as Amazon to offer a contract for my final Forest Lord tale is a dream come true.

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I’ve had a great relationship with the people at Amazon since I first put out Wolf’s Head in 2013 – they even selected three of my short tales for the exclusive Kindle Singles Program – but this is the next step for me and hopefully opens more doors in future.

I don’t know if they’ll decide to use the cover my own designers came up with but, for now, this is it. My brand new series following Bellicus the warrior-druid should also be ready to go in 2017 so it’s shaping up to be my most exciting year yet as a writer. I hope you’ll all join me for the ride!

 

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Amazon KDP now showing all-time “historical” sales in the dashboard!

Is it just me? I logged into my KDP dashboard last night and noticed a new feature – “historical” sales. This is something authors have been crying out for so it’s brilliant that Amazon have listened. It’s also great for me because I was able to count up my all-time sales from back in 2013 and realised I’d sold a thousand more books than I’d calculated previously!

Up until now I’ve been adding up my monthly sales with a calculator and keeping track that way, or, latterly, using a service like Book Tracker or Book Report, neither of which worked that well for me personally. So to be able to have this information directly on my KDP dashboard is great.

Well done Amazon!

Check it out indie authors and let us know what you think in the comments section!

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A short guide to Robin Hood – pagan, Christian, nobleman, gangster?

Like King Arthur, Robin Hood seems to hold a special place in the hearts of all sorts of people. There’s something very romantic about a downtrodden normal man rising up and thumbing his nose at society’s corrupt rulers. Hundreds of years after the first stories of Robin were told, we can still identify with the concept – some things just don’t change…

No one is quite sure when Hood might have lived, with most authors following Sir Walter Scott’s lead in Ivanhoe and placing him around 1194 and the time of King Richard, although the original tales mention King Edward which would push the time-frame back a century or so depending on which Edward they meant.

There’s also some question over the religious aspects of the character – was he an extension of a pagan figure like John Barleycorn, Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter? Or was he simply a devout Christian as the early ballads suggest? The people of the middle-ages were certainly Christian, as the Crusades so violently testify, but they also held to some of the “old ways” – could a real man have taken on some of these pagan aspects and become the mythical figure we know today?

The Green Man represents nature and the seasons – more specifically the cycle of life, death and the rebirth in spring. John Barleycorn is similar, although he stands for autumn and the barley crop which would be used to make beer. It’s obvious this kind of archetype – of a symbolic figure that brings life (and beer!) to the common man while triumphing over the oppressive, killing cold of winter – fits nicely with the myth of Robin Hood. Indeed, in my own Wolf’s Head Robin brings ale, food and money to the starving people of Wakefield, foiling the ever-present medieval spectre of an early death.

Of course, the bold outlaw has been portrayed countless times in TV shows and movies – the hugely popular “Prince of Thieves” and Richard Carpenter’s wonderful fantasy-tinged “Robin of Sherwood” probably being the pick of the bunch, but the popularity of the recent BBC series and the Russell Crowe movie proves again how audiences continue to connect with the legend.

In novel form Robin hasn’t fared quite as well as the ever-popular King Arthur, who was, of course, immortalized in fantastic books by Bernard Cornwell and Marion Zimmer Bradley among others. Angus Donald has taken a refreshingly new look at the character in his successful Outlaw Chronicles, making Hood something of a medieval gangster, although the books are still set around the 13th century. David Pilling, Prue Batten and Parke Godwin are others who have explored the legend although I haven’t got around to reading them yet, simply because I don’t want to be accused of stealing ideas!

For my own novel Wolf’s Head I chose to follow the very first, original ballads by placing the action in Yorkshire, rather than Nottingham, and in the early 14th century. All the old characters are still there though, with the much-maligned sheriff doing his best to bring the “merry men” to justice. The second in the series, The Wolf and the Raven also sees the introduction/return of Sir Guy of Gisbourne…
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There are, of course, lots of other ideas and theories around Robin Hood. Was he really William Wallace? Was he a Templar knight as suggested by John Paul Davis in The Unknown Templar? Or the Earl of Huntingdon, rather than the yeoman of the early ballads? Did he really use a longbow or did that only come into use after Robin lived?

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We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions, and that’s the great thing about Robin, Little John and Will Scarlet, just as it is with King Arthur and Merlin: we can allow our imaginations to fill in the blanks, knowing no one interpretation will ever be “right” or “wrong”. For me, there was a real man – or more likely men – that the Robin Hood legend was based on, over a period of decades. Hard men – probably violent criminals that weren’t very heroic at all. But their exploits – stealing from the obscenely wealthy while evading the unpopular ruling class – brought cheer to the downtrodden peasants and commoners of the medieval period. The tales grew in the telling to include elements of heroism, paganism and romance until, eventually, Hood became a symbol for justice and, perhaps most importantly, hope.

But that’s just how I see it. How do you picture the legendary wolf’s head and his band of men? In the end, that’s all that matters!

This blog post originally appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors website on November 22, 2014. 

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Blood of the Wolf US Sale!

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Good news, Forest Lord fans! The Kindle version of Blood of the Wolf, the final novel in the series, will be 99c in the USA for a couple of days. This is the first time the book has been on special offer so if you haven’t read it now’s the perfect time to grab your copy. Just click the pic below and feel free to hit that SHARE button too. 😉

Have a great week!

Research…rocks! Druids, pagans, Christians, Romans, the lot!

Just thought I’d share some of the books I’ve been using to research my new series. I’ve not read all of them yet but I’m getting there, so no-one can say I don’t put in the hours researching my subject.

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The AC/DC book is the wrong period. Critics will tell you they are actually Neanderthals

The best thing is, these books, and this whole period, rock! I’m really enjoying learning about post-Roman Britain and the fact almost nothing is known about the druids gives me a lot of scope to invent my own version of that legendary class.

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I can exclusively reveal that my warrior-druid looks nothing like this guy

I go through them all, underlining and marking important lines for future reference and the whole process gives me a good understanding of the period. I did the same thing when working on the Forest Lord books.

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Sorry, I deface my books. They love it really.

These are the two newest additions. I’ll be honest, when I started planning the series I thought it would be mostly set in England, with English characters, just like my Forest Lord tales. And then I sat down to write it and realised there wouldn’t be any druids left in England when the Romans left the island. They were all wiped out! The only place there might be any left was in Scotland. So the main character is a guy from my own neck of the woods, Dumbarton/ Dun Breatann and that’s where the action kicks off in the usual explosive fashion. I do like to start a book with a good fight. So these two books are coming in very handy!

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The action has moved further south (I’m almost halfway into the first book) and the whole series will see our hero, Bellicus, travelling all around the British Isles. There are less characters compared to the Robin Hood books but I’m convinced it will be just as exciting. I’m certainly really enjoying writing it, the ideas just keep coming!

Do you have any recommendations for great books I should look at for this period (post-Roman Britain)? Books about druids, pagan Gods of the time, or anything else related?Let me know in the comments section or send me a message!

 

The Abbey of Death – blurb and an update

Sorry everyone, I know I’ve been going on about this final Forest Lord novella for what seems like forever. I have actually finished it – it’s been edited and proofread, had a great cover designed and would, normally, have been published weeks ago.

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But I have, hopefully, found a publisher for it. This might not mean much to most people but, to me, it’s a huge opportunity going forward. If it comes off this will be my first book that isn’t self-published and MIGHT just pave the way for a deal for my new warrior-druid series. That’s in the distant future though, so for now I’m just trying to keep my feet on the ground and continue to work hard.

I’m hoping to have confirmation of the deal next week so publication isn’t THAT far off. And one beta-reader suggested it’s my best book so far, so it’s hopefully worth the wait and a good end to the overall series. In the meantime, here’s a blurb I knocked up, maybe it’ll whet your appetite. Chances are the publisher will come up with their own blurb but I think this sets the scene pretty well…

He wanted to find peace in prayer but some men serve God best with a sword in their hand.

England, 1328 AD

Will Scaflock has tried living the normal life of a farmer but, lonely and still haunted by the brutal murder of his family years earlier he decides to seek peace in God’s service. The Benedictine monks in Selby welcome him into their brotherhood but discipline in the abbey is lax, with openly flaunted vices like drink, prostitution and gambling angering not only the archbishop but the townsfolk as well.

When the people are goaded into a riot, wrecking much of the abbey, killing one of the wayward brothers and kidnapping the likeable cantor, the legendary former outlaw finds his God-given talent for violence called on once more.

Now, reunited with his old sword, Scaflock must find the abducted cantor before his captors realise he’s not worth as much as they hoped and, in the process, perhaps find God’s true purpose for his own continued existence.

Readers of Steven A. McKay’s Forest Lord series will love this pulsating adventure that explores the themes of loyalty, friendship, greed and ultimately, love, against the colourful yet brutal background of 14th century England.

“McKay brings down the curtain on the Forest Lord series with his best work to date.” – Parmenion Book Reviews

 

 

My May Audiobook reviews

Aye, I know it’s June but these are the audiobooks I was listening to during May! Check them out, starting with the penultimate book in the epic Dune series.

Heretics of Dune, by Frank Herbert

Narrated by Simon Vance

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I think most people would agree the Dune series peaked with the first, phenomenal book, then it was downhill from there. This one is book five and by now the reader/ listener is wondering where it all went wrong. How could that first book be SO damn awesome while the later ones are, well, boring and pretty directionless. That’s not to say this is complete crap – no a couple of the characters are actually very good and about two-thirds into it things start get interesting with some nice action and some really good ideas.

To me, it’s like Herbert had this amazing idea for a vast, sprawling epic in his head but it just never translated onto the page and I’m left wishing for Paul Atreides, the Harkonnens and something more than Bene Gesserit politicking and psychology that really makes little sense.

I seem to remember reading the novels as far as this one then giving up on the final book, Chapterhouse Dune – I already have that one in my Audible library so hopefully it’s not as bad as I remember!

Narration here is, as always with Simon Vance, top class. Great reader.

Rating – 3/5

The Elfstones of Shannara

By Terry Brooks, read by Scott Brick

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I was really looking forward to this after listening to The Sword of Shannara recently. My memories of reading these as a long-haired teenager were that this one was even better. My experience as a bald forty-year-old was a little different in that I found this rather drawn out and laboured compared to the previous book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great story and the relationship between the two (or three) main characters is quite touching. I just felt like it could have been edited down into something shorter and tighter, but the story is a good one. There’s less focus on the druid Allanon here, and it’s no longer merely a clone of Lord of the Rings, but I think the author was trying to stretch his wings just a little far and possibly avoiding those old LotR tropes too much. Again, though, my old memory tells me the next book in the series, The Wishsong of Shannara, was the best of the trilogy so I’m looking forward to that one!

Scott Brick’s narration is great, with no weird cockney accents this time around.

Rating – 4/5

From fantasy magic to a real life magus…

Aleister Crowley – Man, Myth and Magick

by Simon Ashe, narrated by Cliff Truesdell

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First off, let’s just get one thing out of the way – Aleister Crowley referred to himself as “Holy Crowley” for a reason. So anyone narrating a book about him should really be getting that right. Crowley rhymes with Holy, despite what Ozzy Osbourne sang.

Now, to the book. It’s alright. It basically covers everything you already knew about the “wickedest man in the world” if you’ve ever read ANY biography of him. They all basically say the exact same things but each author has their own slant on it depending on whether they admire or revile him. I’m not entirely sure which side of that fence this author sits – he DOES bring some new information to the table though, which I’ve never heard before but I’m pretty sure it’s not true. Ashe seems to have used a source who is less than reliable for many of his facts so what you’re left with is the same old rehashed tale with a few new facts which I believe are just plain wrong.

Crowley was a pretty horrible human being with some bizarre ideas but his life makes for an interesting tale and, despite his many flaws, he managed to write some truly inspirational stuff so a fairly unbiased audiobook about him can only be a good thing.

This one isn’t expensive and it’s a decent introduction to Crowley if you’ve never read anything about him before but I’d recommend you start on paperback or Kindle with the excellent biographies by Lawrence Sutin  or Richard Kaczynski. You can also explore many of his own books and writings for FREE at the fantastic Hermetic Library

Rating – 3 out of 5 unicursal hexagrams

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More non-fiction now

King Arthur – History and Legend

By The Great Courses, narrated by Prof. Dorsey Armstrong

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My new series follows a warrior druid in the time King Arthur is supposed to have lived, when the Romans had left Britain and invaders were attacking the country on all sides, so I thought it would be good to check this out. I have always had a big interest in the Arthurian legend and this is a really good refresher.

It amazes me that this whole industry has grown up around a “man” when the only real evidence for him is a couple of vague references in histories written long after he’s supposed to have lived. Was he real? I highly doubt it. There’s more evidence for Robin Hood than there is a historical Arthur but that’s not the point is it? It’s a brilliant legend that draws on all sorts of cultures and has touched so many people’s lives.

This audiobook is a good listen – the narrator really, really knows her stuff but she’s not some boring old professor, she is fun and interesting and has a rather nice voice! She points out the absurdities in the various versions and tales but obviously deeply respects and loves the subject and it leads to a good listening experience.

I haven’t learned anything that I’ll use in my new series but I’ve still enjoyed this one a lot.  A good companion to Bernard Cornwell’s excellent Arthurian books (the series that inspired me to write my own Forest Lord novels).

That’s it for this time. I’m currently listening to Ben Kane’s second Spartacus adventure. I was reading the first one on my Kindle app when my son was born three years ago – he had a touch of jaundice and we had to sit with him while he was under the sun lamp in the hospital. I read that novel to pass the time. That’s the kind of attachment to a book someone never forgets.

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Is that Ben himself on the cover?

So far I’m loving this second book as much as I did the first but this time I have the added awesomeness of Michael Praed. Praed was, of course, Robin Hood in the 1980’s TV series Robin of Sherwood which was a big influence on my own novels so this is an interesting experience to say the least. Friar Tuck from that series, Phil Rose, even wrote a foreword for my novella Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil (and read it out too for the Audible version!) so to hear THAT version of Robin reading a Ben Kane book is pretty weird. He’s great though!

Check out my reviews in the next few weeks to find out more.

Oh, I managed to snag an advance ebook copy of Glyn Iliffe’s final Odysseus novel Return to Ithaca so expect a review of that in the coming days. I’ve been a fan of those since they came out years ago so it’s quite sad to think this is the last one. Pre-order it here: http://amzn.to/2snylMT

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Knight of the Cross FREE!

I managed over 4,000 words of the brand new book today, “The Druid” is coming along very nicely, hopefully have it finished by the end of summer/autumn. Also…

FREE on Kindle, worldwide, until June 2nd. Get your copy NOW!

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Freebie!

Rhodes, 1309 AD

The good Knights of St John battle ancient evil as mysterious disappearances and insane devil-worshippers threaten to turn the island into a bloodbath…

When three heavily armed Hospitaller knights go missing from a sleepy village their Grand Master sends legendary hero Sir Richard-at-Lee and his sergeant-at-arms to discover their fate. Met with resistance from terrified locals, and whispered rumours of a blasphemous sect performing strange rites underground, Sir Richard finally realises he must defeat not only the cultists, but the faceless, unstoppable demon that haunts his dreams.

Fans of the Forest Lord series will enjoy this explosive spin-off novella that sees the much-loved English knight up against a foe that threatens his life, his sanity, and even God Himself!

“A fabulous action-filled read that manages to pack an epic punch into a novella-sized story.” Matthew Harffy, author of The Serpent Sword

Click here for your copy —->>> getBook.at/KotC-Kindle

 

Finally, you will probably know I used ACX to produce the Audible versions of my books. Well, starting today, June 1, 2017, ACX is now available to audiobook authors, publishers, narrators, studios, and producers in the US, UK, Canada, and Ireland. To get started, check out the ACX blog (http://wp.me/p1q5Wp-1bw) for more info.

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Very good news for authors in Ireland and Canada methinks.

Roll on the weekend, have a good one all!

Amazon Academy KDP event, EICC

I was invited along to be part of Amazon’s Academy event in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre last Tuesday, 23rd May. This was mainly for small businesses but there was also a section dedicated to Kindle Direct Publishing, chaired by the head of KDP UK, Darren Hardy. I was on two of the panels during the day. Here’s how it went…

My wife and I came through the day before and spent the night at the Edinburgh Park Novotel. I highly recommend this place as it’s on the outskirts so you can avoid the city centre traffic, check-in, and use the tram/train stations right outside to get about. We had a nice dinner and a couple of drinks. I don’t recommend trying to carry a full Cosmopolitan up four floors in an elevator packed with Chinese tourists, but I made it without spilling a drop!

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The next day I was nervous, as I always am before important things like this so all I had for breakfast was half a bread roll and a yoghurt. The bacon, scrambled eggs and beans looked good, but I had no appetite. We headed for the tram and made our way towards the city, where I got off at Haymarket and my wife went further on for some shopping.

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The EICC was a really impressive sight with all the Amazon flags flying and, when I got inside, my friendly KDP contact spotted me straight away. I had no time to hang around thinking about things as she ushered me straight into the auditorium where Darren was talking people through the process of uploading your book to KDP. I got a real kick seeing myself on one of his slides!

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I hoped for a moment to compose myself, calm my nerves and so on before getting up onto the stage for the first panel but I never had a chance. Paul Teague, Harriet Smart and myself were called up straight away, handed our headsets/microphones and it was on!

That first section was all about the process of writing, with Darren asking us questions about how we worked and I have to say it was so much fun. I loved it! The thought of being on a stage in front of a crowd is always frightening – I actually threw up before one of the gigs I played when I was in a metal band – but once you’re up there doing it the nerves go away and it’s great.

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There was a short break after that but I didn’t get a chance for a coffee as some of the audience came down to chat (including novelist Margaret Skea), which suited me fine. I was asked about appearing at a couple of other things and, of course, said I’d love to. I’ll let you know if it comes to anything.

The next panel was all about marketing and by now Murray McDonald had joined us after flying up from London that morning. We talked about free promotions, Goodreads giveaways, paid ads from the likes of Bookbub, Kindle Nation Daily, Facebook etc and I actually picked up some tips myself from the other panellists so it was really good although not quite as much fun as talking about writing. I will really need to write a detailed blog post with some tips on marketing but for now, you can check out this one I did a while ago.

That was my final panel for the day and time for another break. Some more people came to chat and I was glad to get a chance to talk to Darren Hardy in a more relaxed setting again. I first met him when I appeared with KDP at the London Book Fair in 2014 and he’s a really nice guy who does a great job of running the panels.

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It was down to the main hall then as Amazon had laid on a fantastic lunch for everyone at the event – salmon, potatoes, cheesecake! I’d brought along a box filled with copies of Knight of the Cross, flyers, and Blood of the Wolf bookmarks which people could help themselves to and they were quickly gone. I hope anyone that got a free book enjoys the tale…

So that was it for me. There were more panels later on, with Linda Gillard joining the others, but I had to head off to try and avoid the rush hour traffic back along the M8 towards Glasgow and home. I was so pleased to have been a part of the event and the Amazon staff and the audience were all really lovely. Some of them even told me I was very memorable. Hopefully they meant it in a nice way!

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I want to thank the audience for being so kind and Amazon for actually having me on the panel. If you ever get a chance to do something like this, grab it with both hands, even if you think you’d be too nervous. If I can do it, anyone can!

 

PS – I found some of those photos on Twitter and I don’t know who took them. If you want credited just send me a message. Thanks for taking them!

The Eagle: The Interview

My new book covers some of the same ground as this movie. I thought it was a poor film but this interview is really interesting, check it out!

An Historian Goes to the Movies

As I promised previously, it’s time for an interview that I had the pleasure of doing by email with Lindsay Allason-Jones, who worked as the historical consultant on The Eagle (2011, dir. Kevin McDonald).

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Lindsay Allason-Jones is the founder and former director of the Cluster for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies at Newcastle University, as well as a Visiting Reader at Newcastle.  (For those not familiar with British universities, a ‘reader’ is the equivalent of a full professor at an American university.) She is a specialist in the archaeology of Roman Britain, and was thus a very good choice to consult on The Eagle, whose director was serious about trying to by historically accurate with the film.

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So let’s get to the interview (which has been edited for readability).

An Historian: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I’ve wanted for some time to interview someone who’s worked…

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