Wednesday, 25 July 2012

An Interview with Zoe Saadia

Zoe Saadia is an Israeli author with a passion for history.  Her Pre-Aztec era stories have captured a time in history that many overlook, yet her writing has really brought the period to life.  I interviewed Zoe after reading her book "At Road's End", and you can read my review here.

  1. How did you become interested in the pre-Aztec period of history? 
When I decided to pursue the writing career, close to ten years ago, after spending years researching pre-Columbian North America, I knew what parts of the world history I’m going to feature in my books. The misinterpreted centuries of pre-contact North America haunted me for decades and I was excited to be able to do something about it.

I didn’t spare a side-glance to Mesoamerica back then. I thought that, compared to the neglected North, the Central and South Americas were represented well. After all, when you say the word “Aztec” people, at least, recognize this word and think of something grand pyramids, even if sprinkled with generous amount of blood. To my estimation the Aztecs didn’t need me.

So, my goal was to represent North America, to change people’s perception on the various Native American nations, to make the average reader discover this continent prior to its famous discovery.
I wanted to write a novel per culture, one by one covering the most prominent of the historical events and cultures, and this way to let people know that this continent was anything but what they were taught by popular books for teens and Westerns.

At first it all went according to the plan. My first novel dealt with the Mississippians vs Iroquois, but then, while writing my second novel that dealt with the Anasazi and the Southwest, fully intending to move back to the north and the Iroquois with my third book, I suddenly found myself drawn into the boiling-at-these-same-times Mesoamerica by the forced I was literary unable to resist. The side character of the Mesoamerican warrior that was supposed to reflect on the Anasazi’s fall, pushed himself into the centre of the book in this forceful, arrogant way of the elite warriors, becoming the main character.

From that point on, I was lost in Mesoamerica, immersed in the frenzied writing of the next three books covering the times before the Aztecs came to the power in the middle of the 14th century.  Apparently, Mesoamerican pre-contact history was not represented in historical fiction as well as I thought. There are plenty of great books dealing with the invasion of Cortes, some from the local point of view, well-researched and well-written. Yet, none seems to deal with the earlier centuries of this place, which was so full of interesting politics and amazing martial and engineering feats, that might make Medieval Europe of the same period to look almost peaceful and tranquil.    

  1. What made you want to become a writer?
Well, I used to make up stories since I remember myself, writing them down when I learned how to write J
But the decision to pursue the real writing career came only ten years ago, when I knew what I wanted to write about J

  1. How do you research your stories?  What sources do you find useful?

Oh, this is a difficult question.  First of all, I’m not picky and I use every source I can lay my hands on.
When I lived in USA I had an access to their wonderful libraries, city libraries and some of the universities like Berkley. Luckily I had also an opportunity to spend days on end in those libraries for a couple of years.

These days, back in Israel (my home country), I’m forced to conduct my research via internet only. It makes the task harder, the need to filter every source thoroughly and carefully slowing the research down considerably. On the other hand, I’m very lucky to live in this digital era, when almost every good textbook can be found in a digital format. I was able to lay my hands on quite a few Aztec codexes and recorded Spanish sources of the earlier colonial times. Also, thanks to that same internet, I’m able to communicate with amazingly helpful people from the relevant areas.

  1. How do you find your characters?  Are you someone who draws them as a blank canvas or do you base them on real people?

I learned not to base my characters on the real people. Due to many considerations, real people don’t make good story characters, as one want to stick to the historical traits of a person and so can’t throw them into all sorts of situations that is required to make a good book full of action.  So I make my characters up, then place them alongside the real historical persons, in the real historical events (not always though. Sometimes, when the history period is not well-documented, I have to make up some events too). 

However, now, that I’m working on my next series, “The Rise of the Aztecs”, I’m dealing with so well-documented history, I can’t get away from ‘messing’ with some of the real-life characters.  

  1. You’ve written further stories in the series, how many and how do they compliment “At Roads End”?

Oh, yes. “At Road’s End” is the first book in the “Pre-Aztec Series”, which is followed by three more books. Those sequels, set in Mesoamerica this time, are sitting a little apart, geographically and otherwise. They are written from multiple points of view and generally more complicated, dealing with a much better recorded history.  The mutual trait to all four books though, aside from some of the characters, is that all those books are full of action. I’m very careful not to scare people away by too much history J

  1. Fun Question – Which three people from history would you like to invite to a dinner party?
I love that question!

Well, of course I have to give my due to the forgotten heroes, so the first person to be invited and seated at the place of honour would be Gaius Julius Caesar (I spend years reading everything I could find about this man and his martial exploits, appreciating his deeds greatly).

Second, I would invite the Great Peacemaker of the Iroquois, a brilliant mind, indirectly responsible for more than a few clauses of the American constitution (it’s a recorded fact that Benjamin Franklin had studied the Iroquois constitution and probably had taken a few examples out of it).

And, as to not leave two brilliant politicians, the Roman and the Iroquoian, to discuss the differences in their government systems alone, I would bring the third guest, another talented warrior and politician - how could I not? - Tlacaelel, the architect of the famous Aztec Empire. He had never made it to be an Emperor, but most say that as a great general and the main counsellor of three emperors in a row, he was the man to make the Great Aztec Empire work.

And so the Great Roman general and politician, well versed in the Roman sort of democracy, the Great Iroquoian politician, the founder of the most prominent democracy of his time (13th-16th centuries) and the Great Aztec general and politician, with no hint of democracy whatsoever, would be forced to sample my poor cooking. Oh, I would enjoy hosting that dinner J    

  1. Fun Question – Which event in history would you like to be a fly on the wall at?
Only one? I would pick so many, it would turn me into a fly for good J

I would adore checking what really happened when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, what really made him to do this.  Also I would love to see how Tenochtitlan (the Aztec capital) looked like when its first Emperor tried to make something out of it against the neighbouring Empire’s oppression. Or how it looked like at the pick of its glory, before the Spanish conquistadors had arrived. 

And this is not even beginning to make the list of the events I would love to witness as a fly on the wall J

Thank you so much, Stuart! I had a wonderful time answering your questions. It was a great fun J     

Review & eBook Giveaway - "At Road's End" by Zoe Saadia

Every once in a while, if you are like me, you like to read something that is outside of your comfort zone.  My favourite period in history is the 11th to 13th Centuries, especially the Crusades, the Knights Templar and the battle for religious supremacy in The Holy Land.  But there are times when you seek something that you know is going to be challenging, set in an era or place in time that you know little about.

At Road’s End is a breath of fresh air.  It tells the story of native peoples in Mesoamerica and this is the first in a series telling the story of a tribe in close proximity to the emerging Aztec nation.  This novella tells the story of Tecpatl, a warrior who has been charged with protecting a group of traders.  He is a proud, arrogant man with a fierce temper and little respect for people who he feels are of a lower class than himself; like traders for example!  He also has a dark secret, he is ashamed of something and longs for the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.  As they travel through the country, the party come across a village where all the residents have been massacred.  There is one survivor, a woman who was given in marriage to a man who lived there.  She convinces Tecpatl to travel with the traders to her fathers home “The Great Houses” where they would be welcomed.  Of course, things do not go according to plan and the story is very well paced and laden with excitement and intrigue.
Zoe Saadia has written a breathtaking story.  Her use of prose and language is excellent, her descriptions invoke your imagination to picture the scenes and you really get drawn in to the storyline.  Her research is impeccable, her characters jump off the page and you cannot fail but become thoroughly engrossed in her work.  I never publish a review if a book doesn’t reach a minimum four star rating, and I have to say this is not a four star book.

Sir Read-A-Lot gives Zoe Saadia’s “At Road’s End”  5 Crosses and is awarded The Golden Hammer & Anvil Shield in recognition of her extraordinary talent.


Win "At Road's End" - eBook Giveaway

Zoe has kindly provided an eBook copy of "At  Road's End" to be given away to one lucky reader of Sir Read-A-Lot!  To enter, please do one of the following:

1.  Email with AT ROAD'S END GIVEAWAY as a subject header.
2.  Send me a direct message on Twitter (@SirReadalotUK) or on my Facebook page.
3.  Leave a comment underneath my review of At World's End.
4.  You can get extra entries by sharing/retweeting/promoting the competition on whichever social media platforms you use, up to a maximum of 3 entry tickets per person.  You must email me and tell me how you have promoted the giveaway to receive your extra entries.  Closing date midday Wednesday 1st August 2012.
5.  Due to an agreement with the author, this competition is open to EVERYONE WORLDWIDE!

Thank you and good luck!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Coming next week & "Betrayal" Giveaway Announcement

Congratulations to Louise Manzione, who has won my latest competition - a Kindle copy of Michele Kallio's "Betrayal".  Thank you to everyone who took part, but there can I am afraid, only be one winner.

Next week, I will be reviewing Zoe Saadia's novella "At Roads End" a story set in the South American jungle in the time before the Aztecs.  I will also be interviewing Zoe and giving away a copy of her eBook in a competition open to both UK & US followers!

Have a great week everyone & congratulations to Louise!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

An Interview with Michele Kallio, author of "Betrayal"

Betrayal by Michele Kalio has received critical acclaim over the last few months and has been recommended by the HNS and, on July 9th, was awarded the indie BRAG Medallion!  She very kindly agreed to be interviewed and has also given one lucky UK follower the opportunity to win their very own copy of "Betrayal"!  

1.  The unique selling point of Betrayal is unusual, how did the idea of developing the story come about?
            I have been fascinated by time-slip or dual time stories ever since I read  KINGDOM OF SHADOWS by Barbara Erskine.  I wanted very much to write a novel about the betrayal of Anne Boleyn, but it seemed the story had been told and retold so many times that I didn’t want to write a straight historical novel.  I became obsessed with telling the story as a time-slip, and Betrayal was born.  Historians almost casually mention that a maid-servant gave evidence that was not used in Anne’s trial, but no one knows her name.  I became intrigued with telling her story through the eyes of a modern woman who begins to have nightmares of the maid-servant’s life. But then I realized that Elisabeth had her own story to tell, so I began alternating chapters, first of modern day Lydia and her search for the reason behind her terrifying nightmares, and Elisabeth, Anne Boleyn’s body-servant.  And the rest as they say is history.

2. You took a long time to write the story, what challenges did you face?

            Yes, Betrayal took more than fifteen years to complete.  The most serious challenge I faced was my lack of confidence that I could tell the story.  In the early years I frequently laid the manuscript (and it was  a manuscript, written in longhand) aside for many reasons: lack of confidence in myself and a serious lack of reference books.  But, I believe I was meant to tell this story as the reference books came to me often, just at the moment I needed them.  I live in a very rural area where library resources are few, so I had to purchase my reference books.  I now have a personal library of some two hundred plus books of English history, of which more than one hundred are on The Tudors alone.

3. How did you research the story? Have you visited Devon, where the second part of Betrayal takes place?
            A writer needs more than reference books and maps, she needs the experience of travel to the places she wants to write about.  I have traveled to all of the places I mention in my book several times in an effort to make sure my geography is correct, during which I fell hopelessly in love with Devon, and especially Totnes and its surrounding area.  These trips and the help of my dear friend Christine Ware helped me to learn how to portray places and people correctly, a must for Betrayal’s correct “English” feel.

4. What made you decide to write historical fiction bearing in mind the research can be overwhelming?
            I don’t think I so much decided to write historical fiction as try to tell the story that was within me.  If I had thought about the amount of research, writing, and re-writing involved I probably wouldn’t have attempted it.  To be honest, I feel this book chose me to write it instead of the other way around.  I began writing in the early 1990’s but put it away many times feeling unworthy to the task.  But, then a new book would come into my hands and it seemed The Muse would not let it rest.  I felt driven to learn all I could to be able to tell the story properly.
            There is nothing worse as far as I am concerned than historical novels where the history is incorrect.  It is a disservice to future generations to ‘make-up’ history.  There is ample fact to be used to make the story interesting. I enjoyed the research, it has become a part of who I am.

5.  Are you planning to continue the story of Lydia and her female ancestors?
            Yes,  I am now researching a sequel to Betrayal, tentatively entitled Beyond Betrayal, which will follow the next generation, Lydia’s daughter, Kate, as she searches for Elisabeth’s missing daughter (missing from the family records, that is).  Like Betrayal, this new book will be told in alternating chapters following both women’s lives: Kate in twenty-first century England and Mary-Elisabeth at the Court of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots.

6. What advice would you give to someone ploughing through their first manuscript, or trying to write?
            NEVER GIVE UP!  I believe that everybody has a book inside, but, only a few will listen to The Muse as she whispers in their ear.  In our insecurity we often allow others to steal our dream.  People chuckle when we say we are writing a book and the dream slips away. Or we reach an impasse in the story, begin to feel unworthy, and the dream slips away.  Don’t give up - if you are stuck, lay the manuscript aside for a while, new ideas will come to you. Writing your book will be the most frustrating thing you will ever do, but, it will also be the most fulfilling.  Go for it!

7. Fun question - which three historical figures would you like to have dinner with and why?
            Only three?  Oh my, there are so many historical figures I would love to have dinner with.  There is Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt , two people I admire intensely for their stand on human dignity.  They had, and in fact, still have a lot to teach us.  Of course, there is Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn: I would love to know the truth about them. I would love to know if he really was the villain historians have made him out to be.  No one is truly all bad or all good.  But I can think of so many others: Albert Einstein, Mozart, Nicholas II, and Queen Victoria amongst many others. So perhaps you had better plan a banquet and I’ll get started on the guest list.

8. Fun question - which incident in history would you like to be a fly on the wall at, and why?
            Again there are so many choices.  I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Beethoven premiered his Ninth Symphony in Vienna on May 7, 1824.  It is, for me, a truly amazing piece of music.  To be in Vienna’s Karntnertortheater (we once stood outside this beautiful building) and hear his music performed under his baton would be an experience I would never forget.  To know that Beethoven was completely deaf at the time and could only feel the vibration of the instruments is truly amazing. Yes, I would want to be there.

Thank you Stuart, for the opportunity to do this interview with you. 

Read my review of Michele's "Betrayal" here.

"Betrayal" Giveaway

Michele has kindly provided an eBook copy of "Betrayal" to be given away to one lucky reader of Sir Read-A-Lot!  To enter, please do one of the following:

1.  Email with BETRAYAL GIVEAWAY as a subject header.
2.  Send me a direct message on Twitter (@SirReadalotUK) or on my Facebook page.
3.  Leave a comment on my review of Betrayal wich can be found here (insert link).
4.  You can get extra entries by sharing/retweeting/promoting the competition on whichever social media platforms you use, up to a maximum of 3 entry tickets per person.  You must email me and tell me how you have promoted the giveaway to receive your extra entries.  Closing date midday Friday 20th July.
5.  Due to an agreement with the author, this competition is open to residents of the UK & Ireland only.

Thank you and good luck!

Review - "Betrayal" by Michele Kallio

Novels surrounding the lives of Henry VIII and his six wives are plentiful and, dare I say it, predictable and rather monotonous.  It takes something special to pique my interest in this particular historical period and Michele Kallio has delivered in spades.  Using a unique and complex time-slip element, Michele has created a truly ground-breaking novel in this sub-set genre of historical fiction which is saturated with poor quality, repetitive stories.

The story unfolds using two parallel plotlines, one written in the 21st Century, the other in the 16thLydia is a 21st century medical secretary, married to a rather unpleasant doctor and suffers from disturbing dreams that begin to affect her sanity.  She dreams of a girl, of a prison cell, of a beheading.  A friend of her husband is a psychologist who specializes in dream interpretation and past life regression.  Elisabeth Beeton is a 16th Century woman noticed by King Henry VIII who picks her to be hand-maiden to his new wife, Anne Boleyn.  These two plotlines collide as Lydia tries to discover why these dreams plague her and, inadvertently, uncovers a family secret that has been hidden for generations.

Michele Kallio certainly knows how to write a story, but I do have concerns about the present day storyline.  The characters need to develop further so they complement the strong storylines.  There are times when you want to get a deeper insight into their emotions and history, but you end up guessing what their motivations are rather than glimpsing their real intentions.  Also there are scenes which could be removed as they play no real part in the story.  I can see the author has used them to try and give the reader a sense of empathy with the characters; however they actually serve no purpose and end up confusing you.  In contrast, the 16th Century element is tightly written, plotted superbly and you immediately feel a connection with the characters and the heightened sense of fear and desperation as Henry tries to beget a male heir.   

Michele Kallio has written a novel that, in my opinion, with some further work stands a good chance of being picked up by a literary agent.  As a whole, the work is above average but with a professional copy-edit and some rewriting it could be exceptional.  The negative aspects I have pointed out though, do not detract from the work as a whole and I am pleased to give “Betrayal” 4 stars.

Friday, 6 July 2012

"The Crown" Giveaway Announcement & Coming next week!

"THE CROWN" by Nancy Bilyeau was nominated for the prestigious CWA Ellis Peters Silver Dagger Award and the ceremony was held last night in London.  Unfortunately Nancy was unsuccessful but to be nominated with your debut novel is an astounding achievement and I am sure she will win an award or two in the future.

My competition to win a copy of "The Crown" has now ended and I am pleased to announce Paula Lofting-Wilcox is the lucky winner!  Congratulations Paula, I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy it.

NEXT week I will be reviewing another Tudor novel, again an excellent story written by a debut author.  "Betrayal" by Mchele Kallio is an intriguing, timeslip novel with a gripping storyline.  I will also be posting an interview with Michele and she has kindly offered to provide a copy of her book as a prize, so we have another giveaway!

Have a great weekend everybody, with the wettest Summer in England since Noah's Ark was launched what more of an excuse do you need than to stay in and read an amazing book?