Birthday Books

Before moving to Poland, I began downloading free books in case I had a hard time finding English language books here in Gdansk. I follow Bookbub which sends a daily email alerting me to a list of free or inexpensive books. Early this month (March is my birthday month), I was in need of a new read and started one of these books, A Brazen Curiosity by Lynn Messina.

In Regency England, Beatrice Hyde Clare is a shy, drab, bookish spinster of twenty-six. On a visit to friends in the Lake District, she cannot sleep and goes to the library to find a book. Instead, she finds a dead body, with the handsome, pedantic Duke of Kesgrave standing over it. Fearing for her life, she becomes brazen, arguing with the Duke and then trying to solve the murder case. Beatrice is clever and witty, and the Duke is a marvel of a love interest. The books are so funny! The romance builds and is maintained in a way of which I verily approve! I was hooked–and lucky too, because there are eleven (Yes! Eleven! Hooray!) books in this series. And they are all amazing!!

If you counted, you’ll notice the picture has only eight books. I assure you, there are currently eleven, and I’m hoping the author writes more.

Spendthrift that I am, I rarely purchase books, but it was my birthday month, so I read and bought, read and bought, all through my birthday month, treating myself to all eleven delightful books for my birthday.

If you liked Wilde Wagers, you will love this series. It is silly, for sure, and engaging and so smart, and lovely. Positively lovely!

I’ve discovered that there are two books related to the series as well, A Lark’s Tale, and A Lark’s Flight (pre-order) which look like a new series, related to the Beatrice Hyde-Clare series. As I googled A Lark’s Tale to find a link for above, I discovered that it is on sale. I’ve now bought and downloaded it. (It is still March!) More for me to read! Hooray!

If you pick up A Brazen Curiosity, I hope you’ll let me know what you think.

Happy Reading!

A Trip to Wejherowo

Sarah, a friend of mine who lives in Gdansk, suggested that she, her infant son Karol, and I go to Wejherowo for the day. We went on Friday, and I thought I’d share our trip with you. I’d heard of this town, because its name is the last stop on the regional train I’ve taken several times. So, we got on the train and took it to the end! The map below can give you an idea of where the town is in relation to Gdansk. The train trip was a little more than an hour.

Wejherowo is a cute town. Being “the end of the line” I somehow expected something very small and rural, but Wejherowo is charming. Take a look:

So, why Wejherowo? This small town is home to a 400-year-old, outdoor, Stations of the Cross park. If you aren’t Catholic (as I am not) and want to learn more, in general, about Stations of the Cross, visit this general-info page. The Stations of the Cross in Wejherowo, or Kalwaria Wejherowska, is impressive. Below is a map of the whole complex. As you can see, there are more than the traditional 14 stations. We entered the park near the palace (picture below and below). As it was an icy, snowy day and we had an infant with us, we decided to go right and only visit a few of the stations.

Palace Przebendowski

Here is my first glimpse of two of the stations. You can see the path leading to the chapels. I’m not sure which stations they are; we didn’t follow this path.

Instead, we took a path that led us to a station depicting Mother Mary visiting Jesus, and then, the station in which Simon helps to carry Jesus’ cross:

As we continued, we discovered that a large group was ahead of us, with a priest and loudspeakers. The priest spoke in Polish, saying prayers or giving instructions. People chanted in a sort of Gregorian chant way (again, I’m not Catholic, and maybe this is no big deal, but it was really cool for me.). At different times, people genuflected, on the ice and snow. I bowed my head and scrunched a little. Sarah helped translate some of what the priest was saying. It was quite an amazing experience.

We’d eaten lunch before our walking about (Karol got to eat too!), and then we got on the train to head home. It was a wonderful experience. Thank you Sarah and Karol!

I look forward to more adventures with this crew!

A Day Trip to Malbork Castle

The town of Malbork and Malbork Castle (the largest castle in the world) are an easy, 30-minute train ride from Gdansk.

The castle was established by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order in the early 1300s. There are three parts to the castle. The High Castle, surrounded by moats and high walls is where the Grand Master lived and also housed the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Middle Castle housed monks, knights, guests, a hospital, and the Grand Refectory, for large feasts and ceremonies. The Low Castle housed the granary, an armory, a brewery, stables, a chapel, blacksmiths, and other outbuildings and service-type work places, all surrounded by moats, walls, towers, and defensive constructions. In all its history, the castle was never over-taken in battle. However, several sieges did cause the castle to be surrendered or sold. For more history, visit the Malbork Castle Museum website.

We started our day by stopping by a post office and mailing our absentee ballots for the U.S. November election. (Vote!) We’d heard bad things about the Polish postal system, that we might have to wait in line for a long time, so we set out early. The rumors were wrong. It didn’t take more than five minutes to buy stamps and send our ballots on their way. That gave us extra time before our train left. We spent it in an Ukrainian Cafe. The “smoking train” was the train before our train.

Admission to the castle included an audio tour that lasted about 3 hours. It was informative and enjoyable and offered times to take breaks. We ate apples in one of the courtyards about half-way through. Although I have fatigue issues, I had good energy this day. It was so much fun walking through all the small passageways, over drawbridges, under portcullises, through inner gardens.

The Great Refectory was impressively large. The holes on the floor allowed hot air from fires below to heat upper rooms.

Parts of the castle were destroyed during WWII and then reconstructed with great care. An exhibit explained in great detail with many photographs and plans of how the reconstruction took place. Other areas in the castle included museum-type exhibitions on amber, weapons and armory, tapestry and sashes, famous guests of the castle, and more.

After all that walking, we were exhausted. Malbork has an easy self-guided tour of its Old Town, which we we too tired to explore. As we still had a couple of hours before our return train, we found a nice restaurant in town, Panorama, at the top of a sort of vertical mall. It had a view of the castle and town, and because it was about 2:30, we had the place to ourselves. A great way to end our visit.

The Best Books of 2021

Here are my favorite reads of the past year, in the order I read them. First are the books for adults and then the list of books for children.

Novels for Grown Ups:

History of the Rain by Niall Williams

A bed-ridden Irish teenage girl recounts her family’s past and her town’s present, while the rain falls and the river Shannon rises. The narrator’s voice is brilliant, and the varying importance of water in her stories will keep your thoughts returning to this book.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

A childless couple living in the Alaskan wilderness build a snow child, and the next day a real little girl shows up. Where has she come from and is she real? Year after year, she comes in the winter and leaves in the spring, until love tries to bind her to a civilized life. A beautiful, fairy-tale-like story.

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

An epic story set in a fantasy world very similar to the middle ages in Iberia. Competing tribes and religions try to maintain and/or conquer the land each believes should be theirs. This is the El Cid story, although that character has a different name and isn’t immediately recognizable. An amazing story. I plan to read much more by Kay.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

A murder mystery / fantasy? in rural Poland. The narrator is a middle aged / elderly woman who believes that the murders are being committed by deer and other animals to avenge the hunting deaths of their kin. This is a bizarre story, and perhaps not for everyone. I, however, was mesmerized by the narrator’s voice and her way of seeing the world.

Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Need a light, romantic-comedy-type novel? I discovered Kate Clayborn this year (thanks, Rikki!), and this is my favorite of her books that I’ve read so far. Although light and romantic, this book is also quite clever, using art and signs and numbers and letters. The characters are well developed and (as an English teacher married to a math professor) reminded me of my own romance.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Two best friends are ripped apart by an event that happened many years ago, and you don’t find out what that event is until near the end. When this happens in novels, I am often upset that the event wasn’t really that kind of event, but it is in this story. Young-sook and Mi-ja grow up on the Korean island of Jeju where they learn to dive great depths for food. The story spans WWII with the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, up to current times. A fascinating story with incredible historical detail.

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

I like The Parable of the Talents better, but I think you should read them both and The Parable of the Sower comes first. Butler’s vision of America in the future is terrifying, yet similar to other places in the world when governments collapse. I found the main character’s “discovery” of the Earthseed religion, God-as-change, intriguing.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Another romantic comedy. When Tiffy must move out of her boyfriend’s flat, she can’t afford any place in London except this strange, flat-share arrangement. She gets the flat (and bed) in the evenings, nights, and weekends, and Leon, a nurse who works nights and spends the weekend away, gets it the rest of the time. The two don’t meet for a long time, but get to know each other through the notes they leave for each other. Alternate chapters are narrated by Tiffy and Leon and O’Leary does a great job with their very different first-person styles. A fun read which also handles the serious topic of gaslighting/emotional abuse.

Novels for Kids:

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs

I was lucky to get a copy of this to review for the Historical Novels Society.

A story of the Mexican revolution told through the eyes of a 12-year-old, parent-less girl trying to care for her elderly grandmother and two young siblings. Fleeing the Federales, Petra and her family travel through villages, the desert, meet up with some courageous rebels, then continue on, hoping they will be allowed entry into the United States.

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

11-year-old Bell has grown up in the US colony on Mars, where they live underground and have no contact with the other Mars colonies. He’s a normal kid with friends and school and chores and lots of curiosity. When a virus causes all the adults to get sick, what can the kids to do keep the colony alive? This book takes a turn and handles questions that you don’t see coming. A great read.

Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz

Rhaskos (clay) is a young slave boy in Thessaly who is fascinated by paintings and art. Melisto is a young aristocratic girl (amber) living in Athens whose nurse just happens to be Rhasko’s mother. The story is told in various formats: illustrations of artifacts with guesses to use and identity; verse from the gods about what will happen; prose of the characters’ stories. As usual, Schlitz has created a masterpiece. Will it win the Newbery? It has some stiff competition.

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly

Marisol Rainey’s backyard contains the most perfect climbing tree ever. But Marisol Rainey is afraid to climb it. Marisol is eight years old and suffers from anxiety. This is a book for the time—I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins the Newbery. In an entertaining book for young readers, Kelly handles the problem of anxiety in a patient, supportive way.

Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen

Paulsen’s autobiography details the brief (but wonderful) time Paulsen spent with relatives in a cabin in northern Minnesota, to his years living in poverty with alcoholic parents, both in the Philippines and in Chicago. This might be Paulsen’s best book of all. The courage of young Gary, the drive that kept him safe and sane, and the importance of books and the wilderness, make for a powerful story. Another possible Newbery winner.

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold

Gabrielle grew up poor in Haiti but gets the opportunity to move to New York City when she is ten to live with her uncle and his family. Her family is counting on her to be successful in America, so she can eventually send home money and possibly help to bring her family to the US. But, living in the United States, where she doesn’t speak the language and is constantly bullied, is difficult. So, Gabrielle turns to a witch to help her fit in—but is she ready to pay the cost of the witch’s spells? Arnold’s story is magical, exciting, and thought-provoking. Another potential Newbery Award winner?

Let me know what your favorite books of the year were in the comments below. Happy 2022!

Readings for Children’s Literature, Spring 2017

We are several weeks into the semester, so I guess it is time to post my readings! These are for the children’s literature class I teach at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

Students are required to read seven books in my class. The first, which all students read, is The Wizard of Oz by L.Frank Baum. They will read two choice books, one based on an author and one based on a theme.

About mid-semester, my students participate in literature circles. Each group picks a book from each genre:


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Historical Fiction

The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

Mixed Genre Novels

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

The intended audience for these books is between third grade and sixth  grade. But, adults, don’t let that stop you from reading them. They are all wonderful stories!

Author Interview: Jeff Lyons

jeff-lyonsToday I welcome Jeff Lyons to my series of author interviews.  Jeff is a consultant on the craft of storytelling and has written two books on that topic:  Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success and Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller. His fiction includes the sci-fi-horror novella, 13 Minutes, and the mystery-thriller series Jack Be Dead, which Jeff is writing with Stephen David Brooks.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Jeff.   The first book in your Jack Be Dead series, Revelation, was recently released. Tell us about that book.

jack-be-dead Jeff: Jack Be Dead was co-written with my writing partner Stephen David Brooks. Stephen is a film director and screenwriter, and the idea for Jack Be Dead was originally from a script he wrote years ago. We worked together, over time, to rework his script into a TV pilot but weren’t able to get any traction. Then I came up with the harebrained scheme to write the pilot as a series of novellas, and then maybe we could sell the books to a production company and get a deal that way. This strategy, by the way, is one that is being used by lots of screenwriters trying to get movie and TV deals. Leveraging the  self-publishing revolution is a powerful tool now for screenwriters trying to turn their old screenplays into novels (but that’s a whole other interview). Anyway, we wrote the first book last year and published it online under my publishing imprint, Storygeeks Press. It got a pretty good response, good reviews on and off of Amazon, but hasn’t taken off the way we’d hoped. But, we’re going to do the other two novellas in the series and then see what happens. Personally, I don’t really care what happens with any TV deal, the novellas are great to have published and will help me (and us) get a stronger footprint in the publishing world as authors of genre fiction. That’s really where the action is for writers anyway, not film or TV. If you want a career as a writer today you have to be writing in multiple arenas, on multiple genres, on multiple platforms, and for multiple audiences. The days of saying “I only write screenplays” or “I only write novels” are over. You have to diversify and be everywhere to be successful now. Just the reality of being a working writer in the 21st century.

Elizabeth:  When will the next book in the series be released?

anatomy-of-a-premise-line Jeff: Not until next year. Stephen and I are too busy with other projects, and I have another writing book I have to get finished for my publisher: Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller. It’s the only book that’s ever been written that teaches how to use the Enneagram system as a story development tool. It will be quite an event when it comes out in late 2017. The publisher is Focal Press. My other book with Focal Press is Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success and it is the only book available that teaches how to build a story from the ground up BEFORE you start writing pages, and can help writers cut their development time literally in half and save them a lot of wasted pages as they ramble on writing with no clue where they’re going. The worst advice people learn about creative writing in MFA programs is to “just do it.” Horrible advice for 99.9% of writers. My book can help save you from that bad advice and give you a solid alternative that will be productive and creatively alive.

Elizabeth: How difficult is co-writing a story? How does that process differ from solo endeavors?

Jeff:  The process is very different. I prefer writing alone, but Stephen and I have a great synergy. We complete each other’s sentences.  It’s kind of scary. Our collaboration is also very old, more than a decade, so we know how the other thinks and writes. We trade off breaking out story (development) and then take turns writing actual pages and then keep kicking things back and forth until we agree it’s done—enough. Because it’s never done.  It’s a great collaboration and works well with our mutual ambitions to get more film and TV work, though I am more and more focused on the book-writing world and self-publishing. That’s really where I want my career to go, because that’s where the real opportunities lie for writers.  Film and TV are nice, but the industry sucks, and it’s impossible to sell anything. Not so in the book world. As someone has already said, “The publishing problem has been solved.”  Not so much the getting-produced problem.

Elizabeth: Tell us about your “novelette” 13 Minutes.

13-minutesJeff: I decided to self-publish 13 Minutes this year. I’m getting more and more into self-publishing. This story is smart people’s sci-fi, meaning, it is not just sci-fi high concept, but rather a strongly character-based story that focuses on dramatic human relationships. 13 Minutes takes place over a short period of story-time, is set in one room, and has a great twist ending most people never see coming. It was great fun to write, and I’ll probably get it produced into a short film for film festivals next year. I have a director interested. It’ll be a great short film for the sci-fi community and for the web watchers.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about Storygeeks Press?

Jeff:  Storygeeks is a story consulting and story development services company I started in 2006 to brand myself in the story consulting world. While I still consult, have some clients, and teach, my focus now is on writing (novels, screenplays). Consequently, I’m moving away from the Storygeeks brand and focusing more on my own name and my author site. Storygeeks is still kind of “here” in the form of my self-publishing brand, Storygeeks Press, but otherwise I’m pretty much retiring that name and branding myself under my own name. People can still consult with me, but the best place to find me now is at

Elizabeth: How did you get into the business of being a “story teller consultant?’

Jeff:  That’s a very long story, but it started in the late 1980s. I slowly discovered that I had a talent for story. I didn’t know if I was a good writer yet, but I started to get the feeling I had good storytelling senses. You see, story development and writing are two different things. They have nothing to do with one another. They’re two different talents, and two different skill sets. You don’t have to be anywhere near a pencil and a piece of paper to tell a story. You can dance a story, mime a story, paint a story, writing is just one more way of conveying a story. Stories don’t need writers, they only need story tellers, and storytellers can tell stories in lots of different ways.  Writing is just one of those ways. The problem is that most writers think they can tell stories and they can’t. Most writers are good with writing, but weak with story.  Some people have what I call the “story gene” and they just “get” story. They have a natural talent for storytelling. I’m one of those people. I can also write (not great, but good), and it’s taken me many years to develop that talent into a craft skill that I can teach to others. That’s what story development is all about for me, teaching other writers how to develop stories and give them tools they can use for their entire careers to shore up their weak story stills. I do this for students, like through my Stanford University classes, privately, and I consult with film and TV production companies. You may not be a great storyteller, but you can learn the craft of storytelling and so become a better writer.  I’m convinced of that, and have seen literally thousands of writers improve their story skills, and so become stronger in all areas of their writing. I’m a writer first, but story consulting is the next best thing. There are lots of “story gurus” out there teaching all manner of tips and tricks and story snake oil. You have to find what resonates with you and then use whatever tools make sense. My mantra is:  Listen to everyone. Try everything. Follow no one. You are your own guru. It’s a story jungle out there.

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

Jeff: Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin) Caroline Leavitt. Caroline is a friend of mine and this is like her 10th book or something, and she’s on fire. I love her writing and want to grow up to be her. Her book comes out in October 2016, so buy it.

Elizabeth: Great recommendation! I’m adding Caroline Leavitt to my TBR list.  Can you tell us more about yourself?

Jeff: I like puppies, and double rainbows on rainy days, and long walks on the beach … and pulling wings off flies. Let’s leave it there, for now.

Elizabeth: Ha! We’ve 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?


Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Jeff: Ocean

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Jeff: Ugh—both require you to have to move, right?

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Jeff:  Violin. No, piano. No, violin. No, piano … damn.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Jeff: Fantasy

Elizabeth: Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander?

Jeff: Jessica Rabbit

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Jeff: Hmmm—aren’t they the same thing?

For more  information about Jeff Lyons and his work, follow the links below.

Anatomy of Premise Line

13 Minutes

Jack Be Dead: Revelation


Twitter:  @storygeeks

Who Will I Be at the SCBWI-Wi Masquerade Ball?

In late October, I will be attending the fall retreat of the Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’ve been to several of this group’s workshops and retreats, and they’ve always been fun.

This year’s fall retreat includes a Masquerade Ball, and we are encouraged to dress up as characters from children’s stories. I love dressing up! I still haven’t decided who I’ll be. Several months ago, I asked my Facebook friends for some ideas. Here are my favorite:

I may be too stout to be Amelia Bedelia amelia-bedelia

and not stout enough to be Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. mrs-piggle-wiggle

As Mary Poppins I might be practically perfect….mary-poppins


Being the White Witch would be fun. I could drape my wedding dress with icicles; I wonder if it still fits….


To be the Wicked Witch of the East, I would need to find striped socks and ruby slippers (or silver, from the book). I could wear a house, OR I could be creative with the rest of the costume. According to the book, all witches wear white. Again, if I could just squeeze into my wedding gown….

One of my favorite suggestions is the Paper Bag Princess. Who remembered that the bag was so short? I think I’d make my bag a little longer.paper-bag-princess

If I want to rent a costume, I could leave the human race behind.  I absolutely adore the One and Only Ivan.


And as my cousin said, being Celeste would be a hoot, although it might make conversation and dancing and just about anything else a challenge.


If you have any additional ideas for me, leave them below. After the fall retreat, I’ll post pictures of the event, and you can see who I chose to be!



Author Interview: Helen Hollick


Today I’m welcoming Helen Hollick to my series of author interviews. Helen is the author of numerous historical novels, including a trilogy about King Arthur, the Sea Witch pirate series, novels of Saxon England, and a nonfiction book for aspiring novelists. Helen’s most recent publications are two short stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternate history stories in celebration of the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

helen-1066Elizabeth: Welcome, Helen. Tell us about your story in 1066 Turned Upside Down.

Helen: Hello! How lovely to be here, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I have two stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down and both are adapted from my novel Harold the King (the US title of which is I Am The Chosen King – same book different publisher and title). I was delighted to have this opportunity to alter these two scenes as I obviously could not write them as I wanted to in the ‘serious’ novel because I had to stick to the facts. My first alternate story, To Crown A King, opens 1066 Turned Upside Down in January 1066 when King Edward has just died and a successor is being elected. (Yes a king was chosen in the 11th century by the Council of England, the Witan; what we would now call Parliament!) The candidates are Harold, Earl of Wessex, Edgar, the grandson of Edmund Ironside (who would have been King if he had not died, and in consequence Cnut of Denmark took the throne,) and Duke William of Normandy. The latter was instantly dismissed as a possibility, so the decision was between the older and more experienced Harold, and the young lad, still only a boy, Edgar.

My other story, In The Wake of the Dolphin, is an event of 1066 that I am passionate about: were the Normans initially defeated at sea in the summer of 1066? I believe they were, for England had a powerful and competent navy (the schypfyrd) which King Harold II would have deployed, and William’s fleet was devastatingly depleted. Norman sources claim this was because of a storm, I believe this is propaganda to hide the truth of defeat. I thoroughly enjoyed going back to alter my original scene for this ‘different’ one. Incidentally, both this version of the encounter at sea and the original were dedicated to author Rosemary Sutcliff, whose wonderful books steered me in the direction of historical fiction and still remain my favourites. The Saxon longship in the story, the Dolphin, was named in her honour.

I’ll not say more – spoilers – except these are ‘alternative’ stories which do not follow the facts as we know them.

Elizabeth: Your historical novels have been called “meticulously researched.” How different is writing alternate history to writing history-accurate historical fiction?

Helen: Well I try my best to be accurate, although all authors make inevitable mistakes, especially when new information comes to light. (Who would have expected Richard III to have been buried where he was?) The important thing about writing fiction – any fiction, be it historical, a thriller, romance or even fantasy is to entice the reader into believing it is all true. If the reader keeps thinking ‘oh this is far-fetched,’ or ‘that couldn’t possibly have happened’ then the whole story could fall apart because the reader does not believe in it. So the known facts must be correct. Who would enjoy a story about the most famous battle in English history, the Battle of Hastings, if it was set in 1065 or 1067? Unless of course it was deliberately written as an alternative story! But even then there has to be a sense of reality and belief for the background detail. So the skill of ‘making things up’ comes from getting the rest of it spot-on right.

The fun comes with knowing you can make up the other imagined bits as much as you like!

Elizabeth: How did the collaboration of historical novelists in 1066 Turned Upside Down come to be?

Helen: I was with author Joanna Courtney at the Battle of Hastings re-enactment in October 2015, and in between book signings and author talks we briefly discussed a few ‘what if’ scenarios: what if Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? what if William had lost the fight that October day? Then, a few months later Joanna contacted me to say ‘What if we created an e-book of short stories for the year 1066 exploring the what if concept?’ I jumped at the chance!

Elizabeth: Tell us about your King Arthur series.

Helen: My first published novels were a trilogy. (I’d had no idea that I had written enough for three books – I thought I was writing just one, somewhat long novel. Such is the naivety of novice writers! *laugh*) I wanted to write a story about King Arthur as events might have really happened. IF Arthur had existed (and that is a big if!) he would have been a warlord in the 5th/6th centuries between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo-Saxons. There would have been no knights in armour, no holy grail, no Lancelot and no Merlin. I also wanted to re-write Guinevere’s story. I call her Gwenhwyfar, which is an earlier Welsh spelling of her name, and according to these Welsh legends she and Arthur had three sons with no hint of her adultery. I saw Gwen as a feisty, capable woman who loved Arthur dearly, but as they were both strong characters their tempers often clashed. My Arthur is a warts-and-all military commander. He is not the Godly goody-goody king of Medieval tales; in my trilogy he has to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and fight even harder to keep it.


The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy: The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner, and Shadow of the King

Elizabeth: You’ve written five novels about Captain Acorne. Was he a real historical figure?

Helen: Captain Acorne is entirely made-up. He is a pirate (well, ex-pirate) who gets into all sorts of scrapes – my tag line is ‘Trouble follows Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake.’ I have just published the fifth Voyage in the series, and these are nautical adventures written for adult, or older teenagers as they have adult content. The stories also have an element of fantasy in that Jesamiah’s ‘love interest’ Tiola, his girlfriend (and then wife), is a White Witch, and there are supernatural elements running through each adventure: Tethys, the elemental spirit of the sea, a ghost, a Night-Walker etc. All written for fun and meant to be read for fun. I think of the Sea Witch Voyages as sailor’s yarns – not meant to be taken seriously!

If you enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you will enjoy the Sea Witch Voyages.


Sea Witch Voyages: Sea Witch (Voyage One), Pirate Code (Voyage Two), Bring It Close (Voyage Three), Ripples In The Sand (Voyage Four), On The Account (Voyage Five)

Elizabeth: What drew you to these time periods and characters?

Helen: For Arthur it was a fascination with post-Roman Britain, and a realisation that if there was an Arthur he would not have been a knight in armour and sitting there almost oblivious to being cuckolded by his wife and best friend. (He would have done something about it. A quite dramatic something!). I was also fed-up with Gwenhwyfar always being the one blamed for everything falling apart, I could not see her as betraying Arthur, at least, not deliberately. And what about these three sons that were mentioned in the early legends? I wanted to explore their existence.

Harold and 1066 drew me because I then lived near Waltham Abbey, which was Harold’s territory when he was Earl of Essex. It was nice to be able to do research on my own doorstep! I also dislike English history as being portrayed as starting at 1066 with the Norman Conquest. I thought it about time that someone wrote the story from the English point of view. (This was back in 1999 when there were very few 11th Century novels about 1066.)

Jesamiah? I had no idea I would become so passionate about the Golden Age of Piracy, or that I would be so consumed by an imagined character, but well, I adore Jesamiah! I think the phrase is, ‘he is the love of my life’!

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Helen: Stare out the window at the fabulous Taw River Valley that I can see from my study window here in Devon. Write a line or two. Stare out the window again. Write a bit more. Get up to see what all the noise the geese are making is about. Have lunch. Write another sentence. Pat Eddie the dog who is nudging me… Tea break… *laugh*. Get the picture? Devon life in an 18th century farmhouse can be somewhat distracting!

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Helen: I have been commissioned to write a non-fiction book about pirates, which is good fun but very demanding (not quite so much staring out of the window for this one!) I’m writing it to explore the facts about piracy in the early 18th century and our fascination with fiction about pirates, so blending the fact in with the fiction.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Helen: I am now officially a pensioner having reached the ‘mature’ age of sixty-three. I lived in the London Suburb of Walthamstow until 2013 when my family and I moved to a thirteen acre farm here in Devon (and we love it). I started writing stories when I was about thirteen, was accepted for publication a week after my 40th birthday, and I wish someone could invent a 36 hour day so I could write all the stories I still want to write!

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?

Helen: Both actually. Tea first thing in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening; coffee during the day.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Helen: Ocean!

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Helen: Hiking in my younger days, but arthritic knees and fading sight have scuppered the long walks now. I hate shopping!

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Helen: Piano. I wish I’d learnt to play it.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Helen: Mystery.

Elizabeth: Hermione or Katniss?

Helen: Hermione

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Helen: Darcy

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Helen: um…. (need to think about this one) Death I think.

Learn more about Helen and her novels at Helen Hollick’s World of Books




Twitter: @HelenHollick

Her Author Page on an Amazon near you :

Children’s Literature, Fall 2016

wiz of ozI’ve chosen the books for this semester!

Students will read seven books in my Children’s Literature class at UWSP. First, we’ll all read The Wizard of Oz. (I love the movie, and the book is better!)

For literature circles, my students will choose and read one book from each genre:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Historical Fiction
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Contemporary Realistic Fiction
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davis
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Report Card by Andrew Clements
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

Mixed Genre
Holes by Louis Sachar
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith
Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Their last two books will be choice books, based on an author and a theme.

It’s going to be a fun semester!

My Bicycle Bell

I used my bicycle bell today.
I’d forgotten its lovely chime.
A soft gentle alarm,
to warn people of my pedaling presence.

My bell rang, and the woman in front of me turned.
Our eyes met. She smiled and I smiled back.
The day brightened.
She stepped to the side, and I slowly rolled by.

A shared moment of kinship,
brought about by the sweet song of my bicycle bell