Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In an Otter Dimension: A visit with Ailsa Abraham

So I hear a crash and bang from very close by... it's the roof! As I race outside into the breezy summer morning, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a enchanted carpet endeavoring to land, bearing a rather large, friendly but somewhat giddy-looking otter – no, It’s Ailsa Abraham, all the way from her lovely French village to visit with me today! And she’s so loaded down with goodies she’s having a little trouble managing her wand

MAAAGGGIIIEEE can you catch the edge of the carpet for me, please? I've just washed the darn thing and can't do a thing with it. I nearly collided with the Statue of Liberty but, being originally French, we both just went “bof” and laughed.

Got it! Come in, come it, and welcome back in! Tea and toast or coffee and cake? 

Thanks so much for inviting me back. I know you haven't been very well so I've brought you some “special well-juice” from home, grown within a mile of our house. Hope you don't mind me bringing Lily, she does so like flying on the carpet and it gives me space to have luggage. Here – little bro Cameron baked you a cake and said he's sorry he can't come but someone has to look after the Bingergread Cottage while I'm gallivanting around.

Phew! It's nice to sit down. Cross-legged at my age is a bit tiring. Oh yes, coffee would be fabulous. Come and give me a big hug MWUH!

MWAH, indeed! So tell me what you’ve been up to. Been busy lately?

Busy? You bet your ...whatever! Been on two holidays in the caravan already and got home to a pile of new work. The Bingergread Cottage is working overtime, which is a point, Mrs! When are you coming to see us?

As soon as I get my carpet fixed. In the  meantime, tell me the news! Give, girl!

The third book in the Alchemy series is still under construction which is sad
because so many people love the first two and are clamouring for it but.. yes that stupid motorcycle accident. I know, I know, Hell's Grannies never die, they only smell that way!

On top of that, people are finding me. Isn't that just the best? All you lovely folks coming by to chat on my blog has made it very popular and I recently got asked for an interview with a magazine which ended up with me writing weekly articles for two of them! Here are the links. France  UK (both in English language)

Suddenly everyone wants me to do short stories which is a relief as trying to get on with a complete manuscript is very hard work with my brain on short-time working. No, no, I'm not complaining but a stroke, followed by a couple of bangs on the head in quick succession do leave one a bit fuzzy. I love a magic-carpet ride as much as the next witch, but being helicoptered to hospital and then having my spleen removed wasn't very funny.

No, not funny at all.

Never mind, I can walk a bit better now. My feet still take off on their own and lead me into the furniture from time to time but that has always been a bit normal for me – clumsy! And you know me, Maggie, I just end up lying on the floor laughing hysterically because “large lady doing toddler impression” just kills me!

You’re such a loon. All right, what else are you working on. Something about a memoir?

What else? Oh yes! My memoirs. Having nearly died in that crash, I got aroun to thinking that while I have some of my faculties left and possibly a bit of time on this good Earth, I ought to write down all the funny stories with which I regale people. You remember when we had lunch and I had you rocking with laughter at my “ice cream seller” story?

Oh God, yes, I still giggle every time I think of it, which is often.

Well those! My French friends won't stop pestering me to do them in French too because I did a bit of stand-up in the local village hall and it was a hit. Having chatted with our lovely publishers Crooked Cat, we agreed that translation rights would be problematic and took the professional decision that I should self-publish the memoirs but they did offer any help they could, which was unspeakably kind of them. I did produce “Four Go Mad in Catalonia” not long ago, which is a memoir and self-published, so this isn't a new adventure, just a bigger one.

So that's me at the mo. WIP is Alchemy Book 3 plus memoirs in two languages (working title “Knitting With Eels”) plus trying to arrange covers etc. You know the drill, Maggie. So I'm kind of an otter rushed off my paws, but I like it like that. I never get bored. When I need a break I take a wander down by the river, yes, where the otter from my tales lives, and chat to my favourite Walnut Tree.

Being close to nature really is important to you, isn't it, Ailsa? You seem to draw so much from that relationship.

Someone remarked that my having ventured into all the alternative religions (Wicca, druidry, shamanism etc) was useful for my books but all I could think was, “Books! Books! It's essential for my daily life!”

Now give me your hands, Maggie and see if we can do some magic together. I want you well.

Goodness, I feel better already, Ailsa, dear. Thank you. Now you said something before about a present?

Pressie for your friends – oh yes, I nearly forgot! <dives into large rucksack on magic carpet>


“Ta daaaaaah!” Here is a copy of Four Go Mad in Catalonia which I'll donate as a prize to anyone reading your blog who can answer this question correctly:

Which two modern countries now contain the old Catalonia?

Easy peasy! You can random draw the winner and let me know their email addie/ebook format and I'll pop this copy over to them.

You’re a generous woman, and a delight to know. More coffee?

Must dash, honey. Cameron and Badger promised to cook supper, and with those two loose in my kitchen I can smell the smoke from here! I put a baby air-dragon on watch but you never know!

Well, I’m so very glad you dropped by. It’s been so lovely to sit and chat for a bit. Thanks so much for coming.

Thanks for having me, Maggie. It's been a blast, as always. Give me a shout when you have time to come to the Bingergread Cottage and I will send the carpet for you. Hop up, Lily, we're going home. (mad waving and barking)
Byeeeeeeeeeee. Hi Ho, Rug-weave.. AWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY

Links and everything

Ailsa's page at Crooked Cat Books(learn more about and buy Alchemy and Shaman's Drum)
Website (the actual Bingergread Cottage)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Courtly Magic in the Middle Ages

Courtly Magic in the Middle Ages

By Meaghan Zarb

The medieval court was the centre of political life during the Middle Ages, where officials of all ranks attended to governmental affairs. As a place of wealth, influence and power, intrigues were an ordinary suspicion within the medieval court. This was the ideal environment for popular magical practices to cultivate as the employment of magical practitioners provided great political advantages. This setting reflects the Arthurian romances written during this period and it is common belief that they provide at least an embellished version of the demand and practices found in courts. Astrologers delivered a calendar of ideal times for rulers to make political decisions and alchemists, the possibility of riches and prolonged life. A knowledge of chemicals and herbs would have proved useful in intrigues where poisons and love spells were in demand. As fear and usage of magic was ever present, courtiers engaged in the practice of possessing precious stones whose properties protected them from such inflictions. Wealth and power didn’t just produce the ideal environment for rivalries but also that of the best entertainment and latest technology. The court was home to illusionists and the latest mechanical feats of engineers of the day. They also possessed the valuable minstrel, whose services provide insight into the interest courtiers held in magic.

See the rest at ... Courtly Magic in the Middle Ages

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Author's Voice: Sue Barnard:

Starting up weekly guest blogs once again, here's Sue Barnard. She is not only a terrific author, but a fine editor too. I happen to know, because she was the copy editor for my most recent novel, The Mermaid Stair

Sue was gracious enough to give me an interview this week, and here it is for your delight.

SB: Thank you so much, Maggie, for inviting me to your blog!

MS: So tell me about your new book! 

SB: The Unkindest Cut of All, which is due for release on 9 June 2015, is my third novel. It originally began life as my NaNoWriMo novel in 2012, and I worked on it further in an online workshop early in 2013. But it took several more months of editing and rewriting before I felt capable of submitting it. A lot of the early text ended up on the cutting-room floor!

The story is set in a theatre, during an am-dram production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. 
It’s part mystery, part romance. I can’t say too much about it without giving the plot away, but here’s the blurb:

Beware the Ides of March...

Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it. So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role – even though Brian’s posturing ‘prima donna’ attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.

Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer. But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players’ backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.

Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar. The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March – the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed – only adds to the excitement.

But tragedy is waiting in the wings. And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah – with the help of Brian’s personable, and fascinating, nephew Martin Burns – to uncover the incredible truth about what really happened…

MS: Everyone has their own story to tell. When did you start writing and what got you started?

SB: I’ve always tinkered with writing, ever since I was at school. But it’s only during the past few years, following a life-changing event just over ten years ago, that I’ve been taking it more seriously. My first full-length novel (The Ghostly Father) started out as a response to the challenge: Write the Book You Want to Read.

I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet, but hated the ending. The book I’ve always wanted to read is the version where the star-crossed lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide. Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book? And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed? And if it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it.

I wrote the book mainly for myself. The fact that it was subsequently published, and that a lot of people were kind enough to say they enjoyed it, was a bonus. One friend said to me recently, “I will never feel sad in Verona again.”

My second novel, Nice Girls Don’t, is based on a search for family secrets. It’s set in 1982, and holds up a mirror to the attitudes and ideas of the day. It offers a trip down memory lane for anyone old enough to remember Britain in the 1980s, but also shows younger readers how much things have changed, hopefully for the better, over the course of a generation.

As for my own story, that would probably fill another book just on its own. I might write it one day, though very much I doubt that anybody would believe that it isn’t a work of fiction.

MS: How do you find the time to juggle work, family, writing, and/or everything else you do?

SB: If I were better organised I’d probably get a lot more done (on all fronts!), but I try to write at least one thing each day, even if it’s just a sentence or two. But I don’t think my writing brain ever really switches off, even when I’m doing other tasks. I’ve found that inspiration can strike at any time and under any circumstances. I’ve had some of my best ideas when I’ve been mowing the lawn. And on one occasion a whole stanza of a poem arrived, fully-formed, when I was sitting in a traffic jam. I had to keep repeating it to myself until I arrived home and could write it down.

MS: Do you have plans to release more books in the near future? If so, tell us about what you have in the works.

SB: At the moment I’m working (very slowly) on a time-slip novel based on an old French legend. I’ve also had an idea for a possible sequel to Nice Girls Don’t, but so far that hasn’t progressed beyond the concept stage, so don’t stay in specially waiting for it.

MS: What is your all-time favourite book or author?

SB: I wouldn’t say I have a particular favourite, but the novel which I can honestly say changed my whole outlook on life was That Devil Called Love by Lynda Chater. It’s based on the traditional Faust tale, but is brought up to date and told with great perception and humour. In the story, the heroine finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame do not necessarily hold the key to lasting happiness. After I’d read it, I felt much more able to appreciate – and be proud of – what I’ve managed to achieve.

MS: If you weren't a writer, and you could make a living at anything else, what would it be?

SB: I love food and I love travel, so if someone offered me a job as an all-expenses-paid restaurant critic and/or travel writer, I think I’d be very tempted!

MS: Tell me about your secret plan for taking over the world.

SB: If I told you that, it wouldn’t be a secret any more! But this much I will say: it involves books…

More about Sue

And that's all we have time for this week. For more about Sue, you can find here att hese links and all of your favorite online booksellers:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fine historical fiction

This week at Crooked Cat Books (my esteemed publisher)  is featuring three historical novels, all highlighting fascinating eras. Immersed with great stories and impeccable research, these are a must-read for lovers of historical fiction. There is romantic adventure, The Beltane Choice, by Nancy Jardine; Maggie Secara's fantastic The Dragon Ring; and the gripping An Accidental King by Mark Patton. 
Delve straight into the past!.

Available in paperback and ebook formats at all popular online booksellers around the world. 

Look for more from me this weekend!

The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine

AD 71. 

Banished from the nemeton, becoming a priestess is no longer the future for Nara, a princess of the Selgovae tribe. Now charged with choosing a suitable mate before Beltane, her plan is thwarted by Lorcan, an enemy Brigante prince, who captures her and takes her to his hill fort. Despite their tribes fighting each other, Nara feels drawn to her captor, but time runs out for her
secret quest.

As armies of the Roman Empire march relentlessly northwards, Lorcan intends to use Nara as a marriage bargain, knowing all Celtic tribes must unite to be strong enough to repel imminent Roman attack. Nara’s father, Callan, agrees to a marriage alliance between Selgovae and Brigante, but has impossible stipulations. Lorcan is torn between loyalty to his tribe and growing love for Nara. 

When danger and death arrive in the form of the mighty Roman forces, will Nara be able to choose her Beltane lover? 

An Accidental King by Mark Patton

79 AD. 

As he approaches the end of his life, Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, the native-born but loyally pro-Roman client king of Britain, looks back on the thirty-six years of his reign. 

He recalls how, as a young man, he was seduced by the grandeur of Rome and the beauty of the written word; how he was befriended by the Emperor Claudius, and by the Roman General, Vespasian, later to rule as Emperor himself. He remembers the difficulties he encountered whilst trying to mediate between the British aristocracy and Roman officials who were often cruel and frequently corrupt. 

Most significantly he reflects on the Boudiccan revolt of 60/61 AD, which he tried to prevent, and in the course of which Britain was almost lost to Rome.
Roman Britain. One man. His fate.


The Dragon Ring, by Maggie Secara (that would be me)

9th century. And 16th, 18th, and 21st centuries

Reality TV host Ben Harper has a problem: he owes the king of Faerie a favor. So now he has to
track down the three parts of a Viking arm-ring, and return them to their place in time. This takes him through the wolf-haunted forests of Viking Age Wessex, the rowdy back streets of Shakespeare’s London, and a derelict Georgian country house. Partnered with caustic, shape-changing Raven and guided by a slightly wacky goblin diary, Ben must rediscover his own gifts while facing his doubts and the queen of Faerie’s minions, who will do anything to stop him. 

The Dragon Ring, the first in the Harper Errant series, is a time travelling epic adventure of magic and music which takes you to Old England, and leaves you enchanted.