Authors’ Foundation Award

11th century fresco of Llucia de la Marca by the Master of Pedret in the church of Sant Pere del Burgal near Escalo in the Pyrenees

11th century fresco of Llucia de la Marca by the Master of Pedret in the church of Sant Pere del Burgal near Escalo in the Pyrenees

I am delighted to be a recipient of an Authors’ Foundation Award from the Society of Authors for a biography I am writing on the medieval female lord, Almodis de La Marche, and her sisters, Raingarde and Lucia.

Almodis was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona and acknowledged as an active participant in the rule of those two counties in the 11th century, alongside her husbands. Her sister Raingarde was Countess of Carcassonne and their younger sister Lucia was Countess of Pallars Sobira in the Pyrenees (where she was known as Llucia de la Marca). Both Raingarde and Lucia ruled as regents for their young sons, and were significant to the political strategies of Almodis.

Almodis had a very colourful life, with the monk chronicler William of Malmesbury accusing her of ‘a godless female itch’ because she had a series of three husbands, with the third one kidnapping her from the second, perhaps with her collusion. The biography, entitled Three Female Lords, will be published by Impress Books in 2017. My novel Almodis the Peaceweaver was published by Impress in 2011.

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The role of the writer in contemporary society

141113_Zooetics_press_NEW10I did an interview in Lithuania late last year and thought it worth posting a link to it today since the interviewer, Aldona Steponavičiūtė, asked some excellent questions about writing and contemporary society:

If that whets your appetite at all do hunt around the Zooetics website which is a rich resource on imagining future biosphere-friendly, organic technologies. There is a glossary, bibliography, links to podcasts and to the Zooetics Facebook site.

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Writing at the Castle – postscript

Ste MereJust returned from running a one day workshop for writers on writing with place, maps and objects at the fabulous 13th century castle of Sainte-Mere in south west France. The walled castle site with its tranquil gardens was a perfect environment to talk about how we write with a place, and to generate new pieces of fiction writing. P1030433

We used a number of objects which were dug up during the castle’s restoration to inspire our writing. This tiny head found under a beaten earth medieval floor was one of the objects. tiny headThe rest of the week included workshops with novelist, Amanda Hodginson, and with publishers and publishing agents. If you want to enquire about next year’s Writing at the Castle week-long residential course see their homepage.

The next event at the castle is their fantastic chamber music festival  5-8 August.

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New book on portraits of Renaissance artists


My review of Maria Loh’s fascinating book Still Lives, on portraits and self-portraits of Renaissance artists, was recently published in Times Higher Education.

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Writing at the Castle


Looking forward to the Writing at the Castle workshop in Gascony, France tomorrow. I will be focussing on settings and objects in fiction, and using some extraordinary objects dug up on the castle site.

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On a Viking trouser-snake

old cover



I’ve a crick in my neck,

And tend to fall on my head,

My trouser-snake is soft,

And my hearing’s gone away.


Thinking about a talk I will be giving to the Tenby Historical Society on 23 June about Vikings in Pembrokeshire, I was reminded of Judith Jesch’s translation of this lament on old age by the 10th century Viking skald (or poet) Egil Skallagrimsson.

My second novel, The Viking Hostage, imagines a viking settlement on Caldey Island off the coast at Tenby. I was talking yesterday with a TV researcher about why contemporary people from the Welsh coast, might like the idea of having Viking DNA, despite the popular image of Vikings as brutal raiders and slavers (see the first idea for the cover of my novel above). We can’t help but be impressed by the adventurous spirit of the Vikings and their achievements as seaborne explorers. I’m intrigued by the way they might have seen the map of the world, inside out as it were, from the perspective of the oceans and rivers that were their roads. One of their ‘roads’ skirted through the Scottish islands and came down past the Isle of Man, threaded between Ireland and Wales, and moved on towards France. I tried to write about Vikings as fully rounded people, rather than two-dimensional villains: as tender and funny, as well as fearsome pagan warriors. 8th to 11th century Scandinavia (the Viking Age) was a rich and complex culture as the recent British Museum exhibition demonstrated. There is evidence that Viking women were on some of the ships. Vikings were also traders, farmers and mercenaries, integrating with the other cultures they encountered. Evidence about the Vikings in Wales is in place names especially islands and coastal ports; in the Icelandic Sagas; in recent archaeological evidence, for instance at Anglesey; and in the Welsh Annals written at St David’s Cathedral where they had good cause to moan about them since Vikings raided the cathedral eleven times.

See Judith Jesch’s Viking Poetry of Love and War (2013) published by the British Museum; Mark Redknap, Vikings in Wales: An Archaeological Quest (2000); Gareth Williams and Peter Pentz’s Vikings: Life and Legends (2014); and the Vikings television drama series. The book cover idea above is from a 19th century French painting by Evariste Vital Luminais.  France was another place where there was also good reason to think of Vikings with less than fondness. My novel, The Viking Hostage, set in France and Wales, is published by Impress Books.


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New history book reviews



Five short book reviews by me are published today in the May issue of Historical Novels Review: biographies of King John, William Marshal and Queen Elizabeth I, Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World on the history of the North Sea, and a timeslip novel by Posie Graeme-Evans. You can read the reviews by following links on my Book Reviews page.



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