Monday, 28 May 2012

Review: Fitzroy, The Boy Who Would Be King by Kathleen S. Allen


Author’s name:            Kathleen S. Allen
Publisher: Self
Year: 2011
Price in sterling: £6.27 pb / £1.91 Kindle
211 of pages
ISBN: 1461195098

This novella, aimed at Young Adults, tells the story of Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate sone of Henry VIII and tells his tragic story.  Almost from birth the boy is used as a pawn in his father’s plans to secure a male heir.  He is removed from his mother at a young age and sent to Court where he is told to learn the ways of a gentleman as one day he may be King of England.  The story moves along at pace, but it is not easy reading.  The sense of disappointment and fear the young FitzRoy feels and the intimidating presence of his father the King is prevalent from very early on.  The young Royal is taught by the finest minds in all England and bestowed lands and titles that make him an attractive and powerful man, should he wish it.  However, the only thing FitzRoy wants is to be loved.  He misses his mother and, rather foolishly, falls in love with his father’s wife Anne Boleyn.

Reviewing historical fiction is not an easy thing to do.  You need to strike a balance between allowing the author artistic licence and keeping the history accurate and relevant.  When it comes to writing for adults, the lines are a lot clearer, but when a story is aimed at young adults it is not always so easy to define.  My own opinion is that the story has to come first.  If a young person is interested enough in a subject to read the story then they should be left with a thirst to find out the historical facts behind it. 

Kathleen Allen has written an intriguing story that is full of emotion.  You cannot fail but be swept along in the narrative which is engaging and concise.  She includes a paragraph at the end, admitting to taking liberties with accuracy to tell her story.  Personally, I will indulge her because it may not be textbook accurate, but she knows how to tell a story.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Coming up this week.......

Tomorrow, I will be publishing a review of a Tudor story aimed at the Young Adult audience.  "Fitzroy: The Boy Who Would Be King" is by Kathleen Allen and tells the life story of Henry VIII's illegitimate son.

I am accepting review requests from authors, if you would like your book to be showcased on Sir Read-A-Lot please contact me for a copy of my submission guidelines.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Pirates & Kings - An Interview with Helen Hollick

  1. Welcome to the Court of Sir Read-A-Lot.  May I ask what made you become a writer?
Thank you for inviting me kind sir [curtseys] I don’t know what made me become a writer – it’s just something I have always done. I have loved books ever since I was very young, and have always told myself stories. I wanted a pony, we couldn’t afford one, so I made up stories about owning a pony. I can’t remember when I started writing these, but I was writing them at 13 years old. (Mostly at school when I was supposed to be doing lessons or homework).  When I had my school career interview at 15,  I said I wanted to be a journalist – I knew I wanted to write, but I thought only clever people who went to University and had degrees and such wrote books. My lowly Secondary School, failed 11 plus education was not in that league. The career teacher told me not to be silly, I couldn’t possibly be a journalist as I couldn’t type.   I still can’t, I use two fingers – doesn’t seem to have stopped me though.
Helen Hollick with Stuart "Sir Read-A-Lot" MacAllister

  1. You have written books that are set in several different eras, from the Dark Ages to the 18th Century and also featuring vastly differing characters, both real and imaginary.  Do you have a favourite period of time?
Easier to answer with the periods I don’t like #laugh! I can’t stand the Tudor period, and Victorian has no interest for me whatsoever, nor am I particularly drawn towards anything from Victorian to present day.  I am very fond of the Post Roman era of Britain – between the going of the Romans and the coming of the English, and I love my Pirate-based “window in time”.  The 11th century is interesting, and I loved writing about Queen Emma and Harold – but I shall concentrate on the early 1700’s, and am seriously thinking of returning to 6th century Britain for my next book.

  1. How do you go about researching a particular project?
Read, read, read. Primary sources where they are available, but secondary source text books in particular (I have quite an expanding library of my subjects here in my office) I like to visit the locations where possible – not necessarily to look at what is there now, a lot of post-Roman buildings, for instance, are no longer there – but to get a feel of the area. My husband once drove me on a 300 mile trip just to see a river crossing, and I was so glad I went because I had no idea that the opposite bank was so steep! You can get an idea of the smells and the landscape from visiting a place. I went to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia USA just to understand what the area is like for my third Sea Witch novel, Bring it Close.
I also use a little psychic research with the Akashic Records (time travel without the time machine). Although I am not yet experienced with using this method of looking into the past with the aid of a very gifted friend, I am learning how to use this window into the past. Not for detailed research, but for ideas to spark the imagination. (see my blog  for details of the Akashics and transcripts of my sessions. Fascinating reading.)

  1. Your attention to detail is impeccable and, in the case of   Harold the King (UK title) /  I am the Chosen King  (US),  you try to remain close to the facts surrounding your subject.  How much artistic licence do you feel is acceptable for a novel set in a bye-gone age?
I personally think the story should come first, then the facts. The word Historical FICTION is the give-away. I feel a little uneasy that readers are expecting historical fiction to almost be historical faction now. An author gets slammed for not writing true, accurate down to the last dot history. I don’t write history, I write stories set in the past.
Having said that – as authors of historical fiction we have a ‘duty of care’ to ensure that if we are writing details, then we have got the detail accurate. In other words – that the Roman eating his supper while off duty on Hadrian’s Wall  is not eating roasted potatoes and smoking a pipe; that someone in 11th century England is not wearing a gown fastened with buttons. Or stating that the Battle of Hastings was fought in September 1067.
I do feel, however, that going as far as checking the phases of the moon to see if it really was full on Tuesday 6th May 1329 is taking detail a little too far. Does it really matter if it was a full moon or first quarter?
Helen giving a talk at Westminster Abbey

  1. Tell us about that scallywag, Jesamiah Acorne.  I understand you had a moment of epiphany when creating him?
Yes – I saw him on a beach in Dorset. Maybe I have a slight gift of seeing into the past as well? Or maybe I just have a very fertile imagination. Either way, I was on holiday in Dorset and went for a walk on the beach to work out the plot for an idea for a story about a pirate. I had the plot, most of the characters – the name of the ship (Sea Witch) and most of the detail. But I did not have my main protagonist – my pirate. I sat on a rock, looked up, and there he was, standing a few yards away, fully resplendent in Pirate-type gear and complete with a golden earing shaped like an acorn. “Hello Jesamiah Acorne” I said….
And I swear that is true.

  1. You have been critically acclaimed for all of your books, so much so that one is being made into a film. Can you give us any details on this exciting project?
Yes,  Harold the King (UK)/I am the Chosen King (US title)  - although it is not exactly the book being made into a movie – just the subject, which is the Battle of Hastings, 1066.
I was approached by producer Robin Jacob of Tiger Films several years ago now ( ) Robin had written a draft script but needed additional material and deeper characterisation, so he looked for what novels were available and found mine. He invited me to become co-scriptwriter, so obviously a lot of the script is similar to my novel.  The movie, as with all movies , is taking a while to put together, get the funding etc, but we are moving forward – and this movie is going to be made (Watch this space, as they say!)

  1. As Editor of the Independent/Self-Published Review Panel for the Historical Novel Society, what are your views on the standard of independently printed books?
Unfortunately there are too many novels written by self-published or Indie writers that fall short of being quality books. Not necessarily because of poor writing, grammar, punctuation etc, but because the author has not taken care to ensure that the end product – the book – is produced to match mainstream standard. I get books submitted for review that have the text left aligned (or even centred), double spaces at paragraph breaks, poor to awful covers … and far too many books that have not been professionally edited. No one worries about the occasional typo – even mainstream books have those (unfortunately), but page after page of blatant errors, lazy ‘tell not show’ writing and continuity not checked is an instant reject. (I have even found books where the main character’s name has changed half way through.) This is laziness on the part of the author. Get someone who knows what they are doing to edit your book. Yes it costs money, but to do anything properly it costs. You have a choice, produce something amateurish and not worth reading, or take the trouble to ensure your book is something of a professional quality.  The gems we come across, though, are a treat to find! Superbly written books that are fabulous to read.

HNS Submission Guidelines:
Anyone interested in Indie Writing Historical Fiction may enjoy the London 2012 Historical Novel Society Conference to be held in September.
I will be at the conference with Indie Publisher Helen Hart of graphics designer Cathy Helms of  and Richard Denning, who self publishes as

  1. What advice would you give to a writer to ensure their work is presented to the best possible standard?
Pure and simple;  if Indie publishing get an editor and don’t cut corners. If submitting to an agent or publisher, do your research. Ensure the agent accepts the genre you are writing, make sure you submit what the agent wants submitted – and Google for “How to Submit A Manuscript”.  Agents will not even look at pages and pages of tiny print that is single spaced in a comic sans font.  Want a reject slip? Ignore all the above.

  1. If you were only allowed to have three books on your bookshelf, what would they be and why?
Rosemary Sutcliff’s Mark of the Horse Lord because I adore her books, and she has been such an inspiration to me. I’ve read this particular book many times – and I still cry at the end.

Seamanship in the age of sail by John Harland because I couldn’t write my Sea Witch Voyages without it. It is a book about how to sail Tall Ships, full of minute detail. I bought it for £5 in a charity shop – serendipity sent me into that shop. It’s a treasured book.

My third book would be my Dad’s diary which he kept during WW II. The pencilled writing is getting a bit faded now, and the diary should really be in a museum. Dad wrote it – and added drawings and paintings, while a POW. It has his hand-drawn view of inside a prison huts during and after the famous “Wooden Horse” escape attempt, where the men used a wooden vaulting horse to disguise the entrance to the tunnel they were digging. Men would hide inside the horse, be lifted to the “entrance” and start digging. The sand was transported out of the tunnels inside the horse and initially hidden under the roof of the huts…. until the ceiling caved in. Dad was sitting in a hut drawing minutes before this happened – then added a second “afterward” drawing. After that the famous “emptying the bags hidden down the trouser legs” was used.

And added to this – my dad’s diary is not written in his own name. He was Corporal Fredrick R Turner – the diary is written as Flight Lt Rex Reynolds. Dad changed identity with the real Rex Reynolds so that he could escape. Officers, you see, did not join work parties outside the camps – so to change with an ordinary squaddie gave the officers a chance to escape. They switched identity while being transported from one camp to another. The real Rex did escape, got back to England and continued flying fighter planes. My Dad spent the rest of the war pretending to be him. If Dad had been discovered he would have been instantly shot.  That is my definition of a hero. Dad died back in 1992, just before my first book The Kingmaking was published. I miss him very much.

1        10.   Fun Question – if you could be a fly on the wall at a specific event in history, which one would  you choose?
I would like to be in Normandy in circa 1064 when Harold Godwinesson was a guest of Duke William.  Just what did those two men say to each other? And why was Harold there in the first place? (and to find out my view of these answers…. read my book!)



main Blog:



Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Review - The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams by Bill Page

Publisher: Matador
Year:    2011
Price in sterling: £7.99 (£7.19 on Amazon)
325 pages
ISBN:   978-1848766-105

The year is 368 AD and Roman Britain is recovering from a deluge of co-ordinated attacks, carried out by barbarian hordes, known as the Barbarica Conspirito.  A soldier is searching for a horde of stolen gold and a young priestess is looking for a missing man, hoping to find him alive and rekindle her diminishing faith.  Together they begin a journey across the region known as Britannia Prima, but the answers they seek may not give them the peace or security they desire.

What Page has done with this novel is produce a work based on a solid historical platform but seamlessly weave fiction with a super-natural element, and in doing so tells a wonderfully balanced story.  The characters are rounded, believable and fit each other perfectly.  You can relate to their insecurities, you feel their internal conflicts and sympathise with their shortcomings.


I am normally reticent to accept the presence of fantasy elements in historical fiction because so many writers over-egg them, leaving me with the distinct impression that the story is weak and needs supporting.  Bill Page manages to project the incredibly superstitious world of  Romano-Britain with consummate ease.  It was an age where Pagan & Christian conflict was rife and everyone believed  that a supernatural entity guided them on their life’s journey.  Page writes these passages so deftly, that you hardly notice them as being out of the ordinary. 

Bill Page has set the bar for independently published works extremely high with this work.  If any writer is considering an assisted publishing service, or similar entity, to get their novel into print, I can offer one simple piece of advice - read this book.  Use it as a benchmark, identify why it stands out and use those findings to improve your own manuscript.  This book was a pleasure to read and I thoroughly recommend it! 

I give "The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams" 5 crosses and award Bill Page "The Golden Hammer & Anvil Shield" as this book is beautifully written and deserves to be published as a main stream title.

   X X X X X

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Coming up this week........

Next week, in my Court of Historical Fiction, I am proud to announce the arrival of royalty!

The Queen of Pirates, Helen Hollick, will be my special guest on Wednesday.  In an exclusive interview, she will be talking about King Harold, Jesemiah Acorne and a few other things that might give you an idea of what it is like to write historical fiction.

If you enjoy books set during the days when the Roman Empire still ruled Britain, then I suggest you make a note to read my review of  "The Sower of The Seeds of Dreams" by Bill Page which I will be publishing on Monday .

I hope you have all had a great weekend!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

I am now holding Court on Facebook!

Good day!

As a forward thinking and inventive Knight of the Net, I have just launched my very own Facebook Page!
I would dearly love you all to spread the word amongst your households, retinues and acquaintances as I would love to have you join me.

Sir Read-A-Lot's Facebook Page

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Review: Eagle by Jack Hight

There are times when you come across a book that piques your interest, especially when its subject is one you are very interested in learning about.  You know there will be some artistic licence, but you want the story to as factual as it possibly can and also entertain you.

Jack Hight has done all of that with a truly majestic account of the early life of Saladin, the Muslim leader who nearly united the whole of Outremer and nemesis of Richard the Lionheart.

The author has researched the era and locations with extreme detail and, in his notes, demonstrates the amount of time and care he has taken to make the book as historically accurate as he can.  He admits to merging two incidents into one and I admire the way he weaves the fictional characters around the true life figures.

I have to say, the book surprised me.  Being very keen on this period in history, I have been extremely disappointed by some books that make claims of historical accuracy and extensive research, when it is blatantly apparent that facts have been manipulated to tell a story.  Now, I think any fan of HF will accept that to a certain extent but so many poor stories have been written that separating the wheat from the chaff can be very difficult.

Jack Hight has done a marvellous job with this work. the characters come to life, the descriptions of the locations and tensions that occur due to the perpetual turmoil of war are nothing short of genius.  This is one story I highly recommend, I do not give 5 stars unless a book grabs me by the short and curlies and doesn't let go.  It is close to that, but not quite.

A worthy 4 Crosses - I cannot wait for the second instalment!