What happened after 'Zulu'? David Ebsworth fills in the gap

So you enjoyed the movie Zulu (you know that famous one with Michael Caine and the amazing sound effects) Have you ever wondered "What happened after that battle at Rorke's drift?"

Well, now you can find out with David Ebsworth's most recent novel The Kraals of Ulundi

Interesting that on this poster from 50 years ago
Michael Caine is listed low and in smaller letters!
Dave, can you tell my Blog visitors a bit about the book?
Yes, of course. It’s set in 1879 and tells the story of the unprovoked invasion of Zululand in a South African land-grab that British history likes to call the Anglo-Zulu War. In the middle of the conflict, the British forces were joined by an unusual observer, the French Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon. He fell into an ambush and tragically died there. It was a story that I’d known for a long time but hadn’t been covered, so far as I could tell, in any work of fiction. So I decided to use this incident as the catalyst around which my three main characters are linked.


I see that it’s fifty years since the release of the Michael Caine film, Zulu. Is it just coincidence that you’ve published Kraals now?
I have to be honest about this. When I was writing Kraals, I hadn’t thought very much about this being the film’s 50th anniversary. It was a couple of colleagues from the Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society who brought this aspect to my attention. But it’s been very helpful with the publicity. So more coincidence than clever marketing – or maybe it was just fate, eh?

And you think there’s still an interest in the Zulu War?
Not as much as the conflict deserves, really. It’s definitely neglected badly by fiction writers. Yet it still generates quite a few non-fiction books every year, and there are several Zulu War societies that are all flourishing. Besides this, the various Battlefield Tour companies in KwaZulu-Natal attract phenomenal numbers of visitors all the time.

Zulu is an iconic movie for the British film industry, but it gets panned a lot for not being historically very accurate. Do you agree with its critics?
Only to a certain extent. The film tells the story of the defence of the mission station at Rorke’s Drift on 22nd-23rd January 1879. The garrison consisted of 104 men from ‘B’ Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Warwickshire Regiment plus a small number of sick and injured – no more than 140 defenders in total. And they held out against an attacking force of 4,000 Zulus. The film was co-produced by Cy Enfield and Stanley Baker (who also played the starring role, of course, as Lieutenant John Chard). Baker, a staunch Welshman, decided to give the Rorke’s Drift defenders a much stronger Welsh presence than was factual – including having tenor Ivor Emmanuel sing Men of Harlech. But its worst crime was to turn the character of Henry Hook – one of the bravest and most revered of those awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions – into a malingering anti-hero. There are lots of lesser inaccuracies too, naturally. But, in the end, this was never intended as a documentary, but as a piece of lavish entertainment. And there can be few ‘war’ movies in the entire history of cinema that have done it better. It’s spectacular, and captures the ‘spirit” of Rorke’s Drift beautifully. In addition, the film gave countless thousands of people an abiding passion for the Anglo-Zulu War that has never been diminished by our eventual realisation that Zulu may have had one or two flaws, after all.

So where do you stand on the whole issue of accuracy in historical fiction?
Basically, I believe that Historical Fiction should be as factually accurate as possible. Apart from anything else, our readers won’t tolerate too much sloppiness in that regard. On the other hand, we’re writing fiction. Against a historical background, granted, but fiction all the same. And, like the co-producers of Zulu, our job is to entertain. So I think it’s OK to consolidate huge numbers of historical figures into a smaller number of representative characters; or to slot imaginary characters into historical scenes; or to composite repetitive events into a shortened series of actions; or to use our imagination to fill gaps where there are no definitive ‘facts’ – but only ever on the basis that, where I may have tweaked such things, I always explain them carefully in my author’s notes.

And your main characters, are they fictitious or based on real people?
Kraals picks up the story from the perspective of three main characters.  The Zulu warrior, Shaba, is based on the real-life Xabanga, who struck the fatal blow that killed Louis Napoleon. The Englishman, Jahleel Brenton Carey, is a mostly accurate depiction of the lieutenant who led the fateful patrol. But the renegade trader, William McTeague, is a purely fictitious character, though based more broadly on the personality of John Robert Dunn (who also makes a brief appearance in the novel).


In your author’s notes, you make a direct link between the Zulu War and the whole story of modern South Africa. Can you explain this?
Let’s go back to Zulu for a minute. You’ll remember all those hundreds of real-life men and women who portrayed Cetshwayo’s warriors and their new brides? Well, when the film was released, in 1964, none of those folk were permitted by the South African government to either be paid, nor to see the finished film – for fear that it would spark a wave of revolt against the Apartheid regime. As it happens, they were paid by the producers ‘in kind’ so that they received all the cattle that also appeared in the relevant scenes. But that repression of the Zulus, and all other Black South Africans, began with the British invasion of their independent kingdom, the total destruction of their economy and way of life, in 1879. It was disastrous British foreign policy that marginalised the Zulus and directly paved the way to Afrikaaner domination and Apartheid.

And you went to South Africa itself while you were writing Kraals. Can you tell readers why you went and give them a flavour of the trip?
Yes, the best trip we’ve ever made, I think. My original intention was to check out the locations and also, maybe, to make contact with folk who could help me with some of the Zulu language and culture issues in the book. So we followed the same route that the story takes, more or less. We visited the dramatic and moving battlefield sites – and you have to bear in mind that the war continued for another six months after Rorke’s Drift. But we also spent a lot of time with the fabulous wildlife of KwaZulu-Natal. It’s a most beautiful region of South Africa, and the Zulus themselves are still astonishing people. So I owe a huge debt of thanks to Mabusi Kgwete in Durban for all the time she spent in correcting my isiZulu.

So, to finish, can you summarise the book in about a dozen words?

What about this? The Kraals of Ulundi picks up the story of the Zulu War where Michael Caine left off.



David Ebsworth's first novel Jacobites' Apprentice was a finalist for the Historical Novel Society's Indie Award 2014 

Dave's Website

HNS Review of Kraals of Ulundi (awarded Editor's Choice)


David is an HNS Indie Award Finalist





Let's Talk of Pirates...



Listen up you scurvy knaves - 
Why ain't ye be joinin' our  Pirate Plunder Blog Hop?



Here there be Pirates!
Giveaway and Q&A Bloghop

 Today I've been boarded by that notorious pirate-writer 
(and Blog Hop organiser) 
Justin Aucoin and his pirate companion 
Jake Hawking


Justin, what made you want to write about pirates in the first place? What is it about them that intrigued you as a writer?
I’ve been a huge fan of swashbucklers and historical adventure tales since I was a like eight or ten years old. I used to watch reruns of Guy William’s Zorro and even went dressed up as Zorro for Halloween about five years in a row (and sometimes I still do!), and I also fell in love with The Three Musketeers thanks to Disney’s 1993 adaption…
…so maybe we can really just blame Disney for my love of swashbucklers…
So, yea, it wasn’t a far leap from those stories and characters to pirates. With Zorro and the Musketeers, I fell in love with the idea of fighting for justice with just a sword at one’s side. It really spoke to me, as a young kid.
As for pirates, you still have that sense of adventure and swordplay, but now you have folks that are living on the edge at best, and at worst, they’re living outside the law. It’s a whole new dynamic. Throw the addition of a ship and now you have a base for exciting adventures and a whole new world of possibilities.


Tell us a little about your book, JAKE HAWKING & THE BOUNTY HUNTERS,  that you’re giving away for this event.
Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters is a collection of three short-stories about Jake Hawking and his pirate crew of the Broad-Wing. I published each short story as solo-adventures in the summer of 2013 as eBooks, and then this past spring I compiled them together as an omnibus collection as a paperback and eBook. The collection also includes some bonus material, including the first short-story I ever got published, a flash-fiction piratical tale, and two swashbuckling poems.
But getting back to the plot of the three Hawking stories: Jake Hawking is known for his quick blade and cunning wit. It’s earned him some friends in the Caribbean, but it’s also earned him his fair share of enemies, too. The governor of Havana has hired three of the most dangerous bounty hunters in the West Indies to track and capture Hawking and his crew. So life is already dangerous for Hawking, Little Queen, and the rest of the Broad-Wing crew as soon as we meet them.


In reality, pirates were awful people that most of us wouldn’t want to run across if we were sailing a ship, but in our culture they’ve been romanticized so often that it’s almost expected by some folk. Do you have trouble balancing reality with the romanticized aura of the pirate, or do you not worry too much about that when crafting your tales?
Yes and no. I don’t think too much about it when writing stories. I fell in love with the classic swashbuckler tales of Rafael Sabatini and Alexandre Dumas, and that sense of high adventure is what I aim for when working on the Jake Hawking Adventures. But at the same time, I do like the realism of stories like Captain Alatriste, so I go for a balance between the romanticized aura of the pirate with the gritty realism of what their life is like.
So with the Hawking stories, you’ll still get that sense of high adventure that you’d find in a classic swashbuckler, but with real-world outcomes. Everything these characters do have consequences. There’s no reset button like in a lot of those classic stories. No fairy tale happy endings all the time. But expect to have fun reading the stories!


How often do you turn to real-life pirates for inspiration in creating your characters or plot?
In other stories, I turn to real-life events to help mold plots (a la Dumas/Musketeers), but with my Hawking stories I don’t (or haven’t anyways). I want the Hawking Adventures to be happening in its own world and version of the 18th Century Caribbean.  It’s very much like the real Caribbean, but don’t expect Hawking and Little Queen to interact with the likes of Blackbeard, Anne Bonny & Mary Read, and William Kidd.
I will say that Jake Hawking is influenced a bit by Rafael Sabatini’s pirate, Captain Blood. Blood was an able swordsman, but he greatest weapon was his brain. He would try to out-think his way out of problems before drawing his sword. I wanted to write a character like that — a cerebral pirate. So that’s what Hawking is. He’s an able swordsman but a man who prefers to use his wit above his sword if he can. That plays a lot into the Hawking adventures.
As for Little Queen, Hawking’s right hand woman, she’s also not based on a real-life character. But after inventing her and writing Little Queen’s Gambit, I came across a real-life black, woman pirate who’s life and demeanor is pretty similar to Little Queen. I wrote all about “William Brown” on my blog. If I ever get stuck, I can always refer back to her!
And for those who really like stories that mix fictional characters with historical people, they might enjoy Ye Be Oak; True as Oak. It’s one of the bonus short stories in the collection and has a lot to do with Blackbeard. It’s actually the first fiction piece I ever got published.

What makes your series (or book) different from other piratical adventures out there? What’s your main goal with your pirate stories?
A lot of it goes back to Hawking. He’s a thinking man’s pirate. There’s still plenty of swordplay, but for readers who want more than that, I think they’ll get a kick out of Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters. It’s not all hack and slash.
But fight scenes that the genre is known for are still present in my Hawking stories. Hawking’s right hand woman, Little Queen, is very much a shoot first, as questions later type character. One reader described her as being Xena-esque, and another reader described her as having a “wild card nature”, so her and Hawking have an interesting dynamic. It plays out in Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters and I know I’m just scratching the surface of their relationship, too.


Bonus Question: If you had to design a pirate flag for yourself, what would it look like?
Ooooh, good question. I’ve been trying to think of what Hawking’s flag could be, but haven’t come up with anything concrete yet. Maybe something with a hawk?

As for myself, it might be a fleur-de-lis with crossed swords. It’s sort of my unofficial logo as it is, so I think it’d work as a flag, too.


Short Bio: Author. Fencer. Sometimes actor. Full-time nerd. J.M. AUCOIN is the product of when a ten-year-old boy who fell in love with reruns of Guy William’s Zorro grows into a mostly functional adult. He now spends his time writing swashbucklers and historical adventure stories, and has an (un)healthy obsession with The Three Musketeers. To learn more, visit his website: http://www.JMAucoin.com.



Now take yer chances t'win some prizes!
The contest began on Monday, September 8th 
and runs through to September 19th 
(Talk Like a Pirate Day)
Visit these Blogs and make yer claim!
(and don't forget t'enter below an' all!)

September 8th: Christine Steendam posted Dan Eldredge's Q&A 
September 9th :  Lisa Jensen posted Christine Steendam's Q&A
September 9th : J.M. Aucoin posted SK Keogh's Q&A
September 10th : Nick Smith posted Lisa Jensen's Q&A
September 11th : Dan Eldredge posted Nick Smith's Q&A
September 11th : SK Keogh posted Helen Hollick's Q&A
September 12th : Helen Hollick posted J.M. Aucoin's Q&A above

To celebrate this fun annual event, myself and six other historical fiction authors are giving away seven pirate novels. Sea Witch will be one of them, along with S.K. Keogh's The Alliance,  Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters by J.M. Aucoin, Heart Like an Ocean by Christine Steendam, The Witch from the Sea by Lisa Jensen, The Pirates of Alnari by Dan Eldredge, 
and Gentleman of Fortune by Nick Smith.
To enter, just sign in below. 
You can earn additional entries by
 liking the authors’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. 
The more of our social media accounts you follow, the more entries you get. 
The more entries you get, the better your chances are of winning. 
Simple as that.
enter here:




Fancy some more pirate fun?
Step aboard the MH Pirate Pleasure
for a few quizzes and games
click HERE 

My Guest: Judith Starkston and A Suitable Job for a Woman

... Powerful ancient women where you don’t expect them :


When I studied Classics in college several millennia ago, I was taught that Greek women were powerless and marginalized. By extension, that conclusion seemed to apply to any ancient woman I might encounter in my studies. There were those mythological exceptions like Medea, but such violent women merely revealed the inner fears of men toward women, or so the scholarship claimed.

Refreshingly, this understanding of ancient women is changing in the face of a wider range of evidence and scholarly perspectives. When I began to explore who the historical Briseis, whom we meet in Homer’s Iliad, might actually have been for my novel Hand of Fire, I found an abundance of powerful women. They lived on the far side of the Aegean from Greece in what is modern Turkey, both in the area on the western coast around Troy and in the dominant Hittite empire to the east, to which Troy was bound culturally and politically.

Briseis, the captive woman who sparks the bitter conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon in the Iliad, seems like an unlikely candidate for a powerful woman. Homer gives her only a handful of lines despite her major role in the plot and she’s a slave, but Briseis, it turns out, had serious clout in her world. 

Judith Starkston
While Homer stays mostly mum about Briseis, contemporary archaeology has brought to light thousands of clay cuneiform tablets from Hittite sites. These tablets have a lot to say about a likely job for Briseis. Briseis could have been a Hittite hasawa—an impossible word to translate, but for convenience, a healing priestess. Such women, literate and highly trained, held sway in the royal courts as well as more mundane environments. Hittites believed that these priestesses had the power to keep the divine and human worlds in harmony. Without their intervention, infertility and famine would ravage the population and even the gods would go hungry without the animal sacrifices offered by man. They also cured illnesses, delivered babies, performed divinations and served as therapists. 

I enjoyed creating this ancient woman in her environment before Achilles came along and enslaved her. On a personal level she has many doubts and fears to overcome, but her society views her as a leader and protector. For a teenager, as she is at the opening of my novel, that’s a lot to rise to, especially in the middle of a war, and it’s lucky she’s had some major preparation. That she is also headstrong and passionate is perhaps less helpful, but makes her a more intriguing character.

But even once Briseis is a captive, I could continue to portray her as a powerful person with an important social role to play. No self-respecting Mycenaean Greek warrior would have shown disrespect to a priestess with such a strong divine connection. We sometimes forget how receptive ancient civilizations were toward each other’s religious traditions. They all had many gods; welcoming in some new god seemed like smart policy. You never knew how powerful the next guy’s god might be. Only with the rise of monotheistic religions, each of which assumed a lock on the one correct approach to divine power, did religious strife become a dominant thread in human history. 

Finding the historical role of hasawa gave me access to a far stronger character than I had imagined I’d find in this Late Bronze Age context of the Trojan War. Thank you, contemporary archaeology and scholarship. 

Briseis’s job as a healing priestess is too complex to analyze in all its variety here (although if you’re interested, on my website there’s a long article called “The Hittite Hasawa: priestess, therapist, healer, diviner and midwife”), but one of the most remarkable aspects of her job was her training as the person who recited the sacred tales. 

Hittites believed the gods had to be present in their lives for prosperity to flourish. If things were bad, one or more key gods must have abandoned them, and a rite must be performed to bring the god back. The healing priestess was called in. She invited the missing god with sacrifices and other rituals, but primarily she brought about the god’s return by telling a story, a myth. 

We think of myths as quaint stories. To the Hittites they were powerful, sacred magic. Within the context of a ritual festival, the healing priestess would tell how a particular god in one of the sacred stories had been brought back from anger and isolation into proper relationship with the other gods and man. By magical analogy, these words, which were viewed as infinitely powerful, would bring about the return of whatever god or gods had caused the drought or crop failure or whatever the problem might have been. These festivals involving recited myths were performed to ward off trouble before it happened, and also to maintain harmony between the human and divine worlds. There is a Hittite proverb, “the tongue is the bridge”: that is, the bridge between man and gods. And the bridge builder was the healing priestess. Her words worked the magic. 

Is there a more exciting job to portray for a writer than a woman who can change the fate of her people through her stories?


About Hand of Fire: The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis. 

About Judith: Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on Judith  Starkston’s website

Follow Judith Starkston on  Facebook   and Twitter   

Follow Judith's Tour ScheduleHand of Fire Fireship Press Virtual Tour

Advance Praise:

"In Hand of Fire, Starkston's careful research brings ancient Greece and Troy to life with passion and grace. This haunting and insightful novel makes you ache for a mortal woman, Briseis, in love with a half-god, Achilles, as she fights to make her own destiny in a world of capricious gods and warriors. I devoured this page-turning escape from the modern world!" -- Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath

“Suspenseful, tragic, surprising and sexy” –Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice

In Hand of Fire, Judith Starkston frees Briseis from the actions of Achilles and Agamemnon and gives her the power to become the heroine of her own story. … Starkston does a lovely job of bringing the characters to life, and her descriptions of the religious rites, the scenery of Mount Ida, and life as a woman of privilege in the ancient world put me firmly in the story. The love story between Briseis and Achilles is well-rendered, as are Briseis’ relationships with her father and brothers, her nurse, and the other women in the city and in the camp. A wonderful new take on a timeless story. –Historical Novels Review

"Briseis steps out from the handful of lines she gets in Homer's epic, and fearlessly tells her own story as healer, war prize, and partner to the famous Achilles--here a godlike hero who manages to be all too human. Recommended!"–Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills


“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad's most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell and 9 other Prioress Eleanor mysteries

“Starkston breathes new life into an age-old tale in this masterful retelling of the Iliad. The reader experiences the terror, bravery and heartbreak of Briseis who now takes center stage in one of the most famous love triangles of all time.” Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice

“Absolutely loved the book. Couldn’t put it down. Wonderful writing. And, I see no errors whatsoever as regards the history.” –Professor Eric Cline, Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, George Washington University

"What makes a good historical novel? The writing, of course, has to be well done – a good pace, that “page turner” quality where the reader is hooked into the story from the first paragraph to the last. The plot has to keep going, no sagging bits in the middle where the reader starts skipping pages.
Characters? Ah yes, good characters that are believable as real people – even when they are clearly “made up”. They don’t necessarily have to be likeable characters, the  baddies can be just as entertaining as the goodies.
What else? What about research? A poor historical novel gets all the facts wrong, or so muddled so the background believability is ruined.
There also needs to be suspense, tragedy, maybe it can be  a little bit sexy in places. Romance, hatreds,  fights, tension…. 
A good historical novel leaps to life, it should be almost as if you have travelled back in time and you are watching the characters’ story unroll before your eyes. You laugh, cry, get angry with them when they do. You ache to know what happens next…
But what is the difference between a _good_ historical novel and a _brilliant_ one?
I suggest you read Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire and you’ll discover the answer." Helen Hollick




HNS Indie Award 2014 - The Results

I'm back from a wonderful weekend at the Historical Novel Society's London UK Conference


I met some lovely people, talked a lot, stood up a lot,
 listened a lot - and...
we had the announcement of the 2014 Indie Awards!
(full report from Elizabeth Chadwick here)

The Four Finalists Were:
judged by Elizabeth Chadwick

1. Jacobites' Apprentice by David Ebsworth

2. A Gift for the Magus by Linda Proud 
3. The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox
4  Samoa by J. Robert Shaffer

and the winners:

Winner : Virginia Cox
The Subtlest Soul



Runner up : Linda Proud
A Gift for the Magus




To the two finalists who were not selected - it is a huge achievement 
to make the finalist list as the standard was very high


Thank you to our judges, 
Elizabeth Chadwick and Orna Ross
and to 
Orna Ross and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G. 
for sponsoring our prizes

and thank you to the HNS for supporting Indie writers

full report on Elizabeth's Blog HERE