The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Sealwoman's gift by Sally Magnusson cover

This story is based on what is (to non-Icelanders) a little-known piece of history: Turkish pirates raided Iceland in the 17th century to capture slaves – slaves for sale in the open markets.
Slavery was big business at the time. Many colonial powers were raiding Africa and any poorly-defended island or beach they could find to capture people for the slave market. Horrifying but true. Exploitation that was open and ‘fair game’ to the slave traders who thought nothing of capturing humans for sale. Slavery continues in many places and across many societies, and I wonder whether we are more civilised or less civilised than our predecessors just because we push it out of sight. But back to the book!

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The evocation of Icelandic life is wonderful, and I was fully immersed in the characters (who are based on historical figures hinted at in old records) and their reactions to the raid. Asta, the preacher’s wife who is our main interest, is quite complex and not always as obedient and hard-working as she ‘could/should’ be, according to the standards of the village and the time. She is a bit of a dreamer, and that helps her survive the horrific events of the raid, the repulsive sea journey, birthing a child onboard, the slave market and her life in captivity (which is not as grim as it might have been).

There is a also a bit about the politics of Iceland and a fair bit about seafaring. I didn’t find the sea pirates very sympathetic although it is clear that we get many sides of the story. I didn’t quite feel Asta’s attraction to her captor, who had sold off her son and kept her young daughter in his harem, but the scenes of her inner struggles with her circumstances were intriguing.

A lot remains unresolved at the end of this story, but this is a great way into Icelandic history. Highly recommended.

Stone Circle by Kate Murdoch

stone circle by Kate Murdoch

Historical fiction with some fantasy for added spice: I am tempted to say it’s the 16th century Italian version of Camelot, complete with Savinus as the Renaissance Merlin. But there is quite a different vision to this story, and hereditary kingship is not among the qualities to be celebrated.
Kate Murdoch’s Stone Circle follows the story of Antonius, a poor lad in Pesaro who works as a servant in the local palazzo’s kitchen to help support his widowed mother and his siblings. Antonius gets the chance to audition to be the new apprentice to the town’s aging seer Savinus, and his mind-reading abilities set him well above the other talent on offer.
Complicated by Savinus’ social obligation to add the Conte’s slightly-talented son as second apprentice, the story gathers emotional depth as the antipathy between the two young men grows to dangerous proportions. At stake is not only the future post as a fully-fledged seer, but also the love of the seer’s clever, self-reliant and talented daughter Giulia.
I’m resisting spoilers here, as usual, but I think readers will enjoy this fully-imagined historical fantasy. There is sumptuous detail and breathless action, mind-reading and shape-shifting, bullying by the church and the rich, and a wonderful rounded finale. Plus a beautiful cover. If you enjoy the likes Juliet Marillier, Mary Stewart, and Katherine Kerr, transport yourself immediately to Pesaro!

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Save the date! March 20th

The Stars in the Night launch event is confirmed: Wednesday March 20th 2019 at Readings Carlton, 6.30pm. All welcome!

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Last Word of the Week: Steven Neil

Today I am very happy to be interviewing Steven Neil, an English author who writes historical fiction with a twist of intrigue and mystery.

LWOTW: Welcome, Steven! Tell us, when did you write your first story?

I wrote my first story when I was seventeen. I thought I would study English Literature at university and become an author. In fact I studied Economics instead and didn’t write another story for thirty-five years. When I retired I studied English Literature at the Open University and my writing began again.

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LWOTW: We’re very glad that you got back to it! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?

Dreams and imagination are the creative spark for any writer but it is planning and the ability to implement a plan that takes a writer through to publication. I always thought I could only write short stories, but if you can write one 2000 word short story, you can probably write ten 2000 word short stories. Once you understand that, it is only a question of having the persistence to write, say, thirty-five linked 2000 word short stories and you have written a novel! That is the way I did it.

LWOTW: That’s an interesting way to go about it. Thanks for that. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

Writing and publishing my first historical fiction novel The Merest Loss in December 2017. In doing so, I achieved something I never thought I could do. It took three years of research, during which time I completed a Masters in Creative Writing.

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The Merest Loss is a story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.

LWOTW: It sounds wonderful. Another one for the TBR pile. What are you most busy with at the moment?

In some ways writing a novel is the easy part! It doesn’t feel like it at the time but once you embark on the process of trying to market your book, you realise how difficult it is to achieve recognition in a very crowded marketplace. However good your novel is, and however many 5* reviews you garner, you need to work at it to make sales. I’m currently busy creating my social media profile, developing my network of independent booksellers and building a programme of speaking engagements. Books don’t sell themselves on their own when you are a first-time author!

LWOTW: With luck your background in Economics will help! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Never give up. If there is a book in you, it has to come out.

And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?

Brown.

Here is Steven’s independent author network profile, containing twitter and facebook links and buy links:

http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/steven-neil.html

THE MEREST LOSS #HistoricalFiction #Romance

A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.

Available in paperback and ebook in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Merest-Loss-Steven-Neil-ebook/dp/B077D9SHB5

https://www.amazon.com/Merest-Loss-Steven-Neil-ebook/dp/B077D9SHB5

https://www.amazon.ca/Merest-Loss-Steven-Neil-ebook/dp/B077D9SHB5

https://www.amazon.com.au/Merest-Loss-Steven-Neil-ebook/dp/B077D9SHB5