Author Interview: Richard Anderton

richardToday I’m welcoming Richard Anderton to my series of author interviews. Richard is the author of The Devil’s Band and The Devil’s Lance, which are the first two books of The Devilstone Chronicles. The third installment, The Devil’s Pearl, is due out later this year.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Richard.

Richard: Thank you and thank you for inviting me to take part.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your series?

Richard: The Devilstone Chronicles are set in the early 16th Century, during the reign of Henry VIII, and tell the story of Thomas Devilstone, a disgraced alchemist and astrologer who escapes abroad after being sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft. Whilst in exile, he becomes a soldier of fortune, in the hope he can use his wits and his sword to win back both the king’s favour and his family’s lost estates. To help him in this ambition, he forms an unlikely alliance with three other mercenaries namely a Lutheran convert, a Portuguese adventurer and an escaped African galley slave.richard-devilstone-chronicles

At one level the stories are meant to be fun adventures, not to be taken too seriously, but I hope readers will be intrigued by the subtext which is the conflict between the superstition of the medieval world and the beginnings of modern science during the Renaissance. Thomas’ name is a deliberate reference to the biblical ‘Doubting Thomas’ because, after his constant failure to perform spells successfully, this onetime sorcerer has come to doubt his own, once unshakeable, belief in the supernatural. Thomas now understands that much of what appears to be magic can be produced by purely natural means and this knowledge allows him to dupe his enemies and thwart his rivals as he struggles to revive his fortunes.

Elizabeth: Do you and Thomas Devilstone have any of the same personality traits?

Richard: I think Thomas is the exact opposite of me but he is the sort of person I wish I was; he is much more of a swashbuckling hero than I am and much better looking! Thomas is also far more ready to embrace modernity whereas I struggle to cope with the 21st Century. To take just one example, I have passionate loathing of smart phones, because my huge sausage-shaped fingers are far too big for touch screens.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your story?

Richard: A lot! As an avid reader and fan of historical novels, especially Bernard Cornwell and George MacDonald Fraser, I love it when an author constructs their plots around actual events so I’ve tried to include as much historical fact as I can without slowing down the action or turning the stories into textbooks. Thomas is entirely fictional but he is closely modeled on a genuine Renaissance alchemist, named Cornelius Agrippa, who publicly renounced magic and became a doctor. He also meets plenty of genuine historical figures which range from the last Yorkist prince to challenge Henry VIII (The Devil’s Band) to the actual grandson of Vlad the Impaler ‘the real Dracula’ (The Devil’s Lance).

I also believe the whole point of reading historical novels is broaden one’s knowledge of history so Thomas fights in the pivotal battles which took place at this period (Pavia 1525 and Mohacs 1526) and the machines he constructs, which are important plot devices, follow real designs produced by Leonardo de Vinci. Similarly, the ineffectual spells he casts to confound his superstitious enemies are all taken from a popular medieval spellbook called The Munich Handbook of Demonic Magic.

Elizabeth: What drew you to this time period?

Richard: As a writer I’m always looking to tell ‘the untold story’ but most publishers want books about popular periods so there is a large existing audience for the title. As a compromise, I chose to write about the early Tudor Age because Henry VIII and his six wives are perennially popular but at the same time I moved the focus away from England to the rest of Europe in search of stories that will introduce readers to different, and lesser known, aspects of this period.

Apart from the origins of The Reformation, the history of the rest of Europe during the 16th Century is rarely taught in UK schools so few people on this side of The Channel have heard of Charles V (b.1500 d.1558) despite the fact that he was one of the most powerful monarchs ever to have lived. Whilst Henry VIII ruled England, this Hapsburg Emperor simultaneously ruled Spain, Germany, Italy, the Low Countries and most of Central Europe as well as the vast Spanish territories in the New World, but as far as we Brits are concerned Charles was nothing more than Catherine of Aragon’s nephew! Moreover, Charles V’s wars with the French King Francis and the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent created many of the fault lines which still divide Europe today so I thought his reign would be the perfect backdrop for Thomas’ journey from the medieval to the modern world.

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Richard: To construct the plots of The Devil’s Band, The Devil’s Lance and the forthcoming The Devil’s Pearl, I chose a genuine historical battle to be the climax of each story and worked backwards. Why would an Englishman be here? What would be his motivation to fight for a foreign king? Would he benefit from the outcome? And so on. I then try and weave my answers to these questions around known historical facts and my golden rule is that any historical figure who appears in the story has to act in accordance with these facts. I do allow myself a some license with fictional characters but Thomas and his companions’ thoughts and actions always have to remain true to the period.

Once I have a rough chapter plan, I write down everything in my head then edit and rewrite it again and again. I reckon each chapter is rewritten at least fifty times before I’m happy, so my method of writing is not very efficient but it does mean I have (mercifully) never suffered from writer’s block!

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Richard: Whilst researching the use of slaves in Mediterranean galleys for Volume III of The Devilstone Chronicles (incidentally one of my favourite films, Ben Hur, got it completely wrong!) I read the only autobiography of a real galley slave known to exist. It is the story of Jean Marteilhe, a French Protestant who tried to flee religious persecution in his homeland. He crossed into what he thought was the Protestant Netherlands but in fact he’d arrived in a French enclave just a few miles inside Dutch territory. He was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Later, he was transferred to the galleys and spent 6 years chained to an oar before he was rescued by an English fleet. All this did not happen in 16th or even the 17th Century but in the 18th Century, the so called Age of Enlightenment, so whenever I think my life is miserable I think of that poor Frenchman!

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Richard: I am 52 years old, married with four children and I’ve lived all my life in the north of England. Though I always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t put pen to paper until I was nearly 40. Before that I failed at a wide variety of careers including lawyer, police officer, cartoonist and book illustrator…

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Richard: Coffee first thing in the morning then tea, lots and lots of tea, for the rest of the day.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Richard: Tricky, I love both. Fortunately in England you are never more than 70 miles from the sea but as I live in the hills, and my favourite view is of the Cumbrian Mountains from the top of Hartside pass, I guess mountains have the edge.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Richard: I’m a complete and unrepentant couch potato but as I simply can’t abide shopping I’d choose hiking – provided there’s a cosy pub at the end of the trail.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Richard: actually neither. For some reason I don’t really like music. I never play records or CDs and my iPod is full of audiobooks! Perhaps it’s because my younger brother is an accomplished (amateur) musician and I was forced to listen to him practice when we were children…

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Richard: Having spent ten years as a police officer I find it hard to take murder mysteries or any crime fiction seriously, however well written such books might be, so I’d always choose fantasy.

Elizabeth: Scarlett O’Hara or Jane Eyre?

Richard: Scarlett without a doubt, probably because I am secretly in love with Vivien Leigh and we did too much Jane Austen at school!

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Richard: I prefer to experience the former and write about the latter…

The Devil’s Band and The Devil’s Lance are available as paperbacks (UK £8.99/£9.99 US $17.99) and eBooks (UK £0.99 US$1.22) via Amazon and Richard’s website.

To learn more about Richard and his books, you can find him at:

Web: www.thedevilstonechronicles.com

Twitter: @andertonTDC

Facebook Page: The Devil’s Band

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Best Books of 2016

best-books-2016

Anyone reading this blog probably agrees that 2016 was a totally sucky year. Thank goodness I found so many wonderful books. The best year of reading possibly ever! It has been difficult to choose this list. I’ve included books from a number of genres, for a variety of audiences, and I’ve left off some very good books to keep the list from getting too long. (Code in descriptions: MG= middle grade books, for children ages 9-12 or thereabouts; YA=young adult books, for teenagers.) The order is the order I read them this year.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (YA)

A planet is attacked and a few of its inhabitants manage to flee before the planet is mostly destroyed. Two ships make their way across space, but something mysterious happens on one of the ships. Have the passengers been hit by a deadly virus, or is the ship’s computer taking over? The protagonists are a teen girl and a teen boy on different ships, and the story is presented as a file of information: emails, notes, audio recordings, etc. A fast-paced, sci-fi thriller with sequels coming.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (MG)

A modern day version of Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, this story within a story will keep you guessing. The Marvelous Boy has been kept a prisoner for centuries. Only Ophelia can rescue him, but her dedication to science makes her skeptical of magic and the quest she is destined to complete. Great fun.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Widower A.J. Firky is a grumpy young-old man who owns a bookstore. When suicidal mother leaves her baby in his store before killing herself, A.J.’s life is turned upside down. Firky adopts the child, opening his life to love and much more. This is a funny, smart story with lots of literary references. Loved it!

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (YA)

When the beautiful Rosa disappears, nobody in Bone Gap is surprised because people often disappear from their rural community. Finn knows Ruby was kidnapped, but nobody believes him, not even his brother Sean who was in love with Ruby. This magical, folk-lore tale is exciting, scary, poignant and wonderful.

The Game of Thrones, whole series (well as much as has been published….) by George R. R. Martin

This past summer, I joined the world-wide, Game of Thrones-obsessed fan club. If I look back on my year of reading, this is the gravitational pull. My life after reading these books is different. I think about the characters and the events constantly. If you’ve watched and loved the television series, you should read the books. The first season and the first book are almost identical, but by season three, the stories have diverged. The books are better. By far. Like everyone else, I’m waiting for that next book.

Chalice by Robin McKinley (YA)

In this subtle and beautiful world, human communities are linked to the land, and both are kept whole and happy by a Master and a Chalice. One community is almost destroyed when its selfish Master and weak Chalice fail to perform their duties. The new Chalice must learn her job quickly, with little training, and is aided by a new Master who is barely human. The prose and plot are as beautiful and breath-taking as the world. Lovely, lovely story.

Playing the Part by Jen Turano

This light romantic comedy novel made me laugh when I needed to laugh. I wrote a review at the Historical Novels Review.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The entwined stories of an orphan German boy and a blind French girl trying to survive during World War II. Beautiful. Brilliant. Smart. What I like most about this book is how it is more than one thing. If you take the story at face value, it is a good story. Suspenseful. Engaging. Characters you care about. But if you study the story, you see that everything is more than what you first see. I read this twice last year and may read it again. Highly recommended.

Break the Spell by A.M. Bostwick (YA)

Allison has a terrible secret about her health that she hasn’t shared with anyone. Ethan is on the run from the police. The weekend after the last day of school, Ethan holds Allison hostage to keep her quiet about his whereabouts and both get more than they planned for. This is a delightful teen romance that handles real problems with grace. Read it!

Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

I had no idea what to expect when I started this book, which was left in my little free library. The voice and character of Mathilda are well written. She is a twelve-ish year old, grieving girl, dealing with the death of her sister and the disintegration of the family she once had. She is, in turns, nasty, sweet, cynical, innocent, comical and tragic. At first I wasn’t sure I liked her, but she grew on me. The way the author handles the idea of “story” is remarkable. This may not be a book for everyone. I think writers will enjoy it, as well as readers who like smart books that make you think. I loved it

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

I read all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance novels a few years ago in a whirlwind of giddiness. This was my favorite, but I couldn’t remember its name! I came upon it again this year. I love Heyer’s clever plot tangles and funny characters. This is one of the best. Light and enjoyable.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (MG)

This is the story of three girls who become friends while taking baton twirling lessons one summer. Each has a difficult family life. The book was medium-good until the end, when all elements of the story converged in such a surprising and satisfying way, that it became one of my favorite books of the year. Another great book by DiCamillo.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (YA)

Cath is starting her freshman year of college, but her twin sister Wren wants them to strike out on their own. Cath is afraid of her roommate, the dorm cafeteria, and for her father, who isn’t coping well with being without his girls. Cath’s place of refuge is her fan fiction world, where she is a highly-acclaimed writer. I read this at exactly the right time: when I, too, wanted to hide from the world. Rowell’s story was a great place to hide. Cath’s character is wonderfully drawn. The story is well paced, with romance, family drama, fun fanfic, and more. I wonder, is anyone writing fangirl fanfiction? Something to look into….

Pax by Sara Pennypacker (MG)

This is the story of a fox and his boy. It is a story of war and forgiveness. It is about survival in the wilderness and about self-sacrifice. It is about creating art. It is so beautiful, on so many levels. It is has a great shot at this year’s Newbery Award.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (MG)

This book hit all the right “cute” buttons in me. A solar-powered robot, programmed to take care of itself and learn from its environment, gets washed up on an island inhabited only by animals. The way the robot makes friends and improves the lives of those he meets is a well-hidden message for everyone. The illustrations are precious.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz (MG)

What I love most about this book is that it is like The Canterbury Tales for children. A group gathers in an inn in the middle ages to wait for the king who they believe will soon pass by. The king is about to arrest and condemn to death three children and a dog. The visitors to the inn take turns narrating the story, telling what they know about each child, the “holy dog” and the miracles they have performed. Gidwitz understands his middle-grade audience. The story is exciting, funny, and brings to life, for children, the middle ages.

Syncopation: a Memoir of Adele Hugo by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

Is it tacky to put my own book here? I love it like a mother loves her child. If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll hope you consider doing so. Information about buying Syncopation (print and e-book) is over here.

Welcome to 2017. I wish you a happy year of reading and #resistance. As tempting as it is, we can’t hide in books all the time.