HNS Indie Award 2014 Finalist, Linda Proud

This year, 2014, the Historical Novel Society has introduced for the first time, an annual award for the best Indie / Self-Published Historical Novel, with winner and runner-up prizes kindly sponsored by Orna Ross, bestselling literary novelist and director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G. There were eight eventual short-listed writers, from which four finalists were chosen by Orna Ross, with award-winning historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick selecting the winner and runner-up.

Our judges found it very difficult to make their selections as the quality of writing 
was excellent, and to thank the authors, I would like to feature them all here on my Blog

So please welcome Finalist
Linda Proud and her novel 
A Gift for the Magus


I began writing what turned out to be a trilogy set in the Florentine Renaissance back in 1974. The final volume was published in 2008. It was my life’s work. I’d dedicated everything to it, been a little obsessed, shall we say (on one embarrassing occasion I’d dated a cheque ‘1476’ and got a kindly note from Lloyds saying they were not the Medici bank). So what happens when you finish your life’s work? Do you retire? Die? In a slightly panicky fashion I didn’t dare take so much as a day off, but what was going to be next?

A friend supplied the answer. ‘How about a novel on Cosimo de’ Medici?’ Now that caught my interest, for he was the grandfather of Lorenzo the Magnificent, a major character of the trilogy, and so much of the glory of the second part of the fifteenth century was rooted in Cosimo’s age in the first half. The idea of a biographical novel did not appeal. Where’s the story? Where does it begin and end? But then I remembered another story of the time, one that had made a cameo appearance in the trilogy. One of the characters is Filippino Lippi, apprentice to Botticelli and bastard son of a liason between a friar and a nun. Now, there’s a story. And it could act as a prequel to the trilogy.

Naturally it has already been written, many times, most famously by Robert Browning in the poem, Lippi. He’s a loveable rogue, our Fra Filippo Lippi, and the Victorians enjoyed his naughtiness. But what was the real story here? After all, this gambling, womanising friar of the order of the Carmelites had painted some of the holiest, most beautiful images of the early Renaissance. The one I used on the cover, of the Madonna and Child, is so beloved by the Florentines they call it ‘la Lippiana’.

 Leon Battista Alberti, who wrote ‘On Painting’ (1436), said that to be a good painter you must be a good man. This is the kind of conundrum I enjoy solving. Either Alberti was wrong, or Lippi was good, because there is no denying the quality of his art.

Research was difficult. The life of Lippi has been written by art historians who, like all historians, only have to give you the facts and are not obliged to make sense of them. Almost immediately I learned that Lippi hadn’t abducted just one nun from her convent: he had abducted them all. Five nuns. All living in the house of a painter in the centre of a gossipy little town near Florence called Prato, a place where they liked to birch whores naked. On the same square, what is now the cathedral and its ecclesiastical administration. So Fra Filippo lived with five nuns under the eye of both church and town. How on earth did he get away with that?

On such questions, novels are built.

The relationship between Cosimo and Filippo, his favourite painter in an age which boasted such alpha males as Masaccio and Brunelleschi, is brought to life by Vasari in his Lives of the Painters. I only had to contextualise the stories, such as the one where Cosimo locked Filippo in a room in his house so that he would finish a painting, and Filippo escaped by knotting bedsheets together and climbing out of the window. I had to find out where in Lippi’s life these things happened and make a guess as to which painting he was being made to complete. A tradition that as a young man he was captured by pirates and spent two years as a slave in North Africa I made part of the story. Novelists can do that.

There are self-portraits of Filippo. He was not a handsome man. Pudgy-faced and portly. But he was beloved by the very beautiful Lucrezia Buti (to whom he was not faithful). I had to put this humpty dumpty of a story back together again and make all the contradictions in one character psychologically plausible. In the end Lippi made sense through the eyes of his apprentice, the fourteen year old Alessandro Botticelli, who loved his master while standing appalled at much of what he did.

Are good painters good men? If so, then perhaps our ideas of what constitutes goodness need examination. It is the philosopher, Marsilio Ficino, who in the story takes Filippo apart, examines the details, weighs his heart and does not find him wanting.



With  A Gift for the Magus my time in the Florentine Renaissance is over. I loved every moment of those thirty years of research and writing about Italy, but my research trip to Prato was probably the last. I am wearied now by air travel and, besides, the Tuscany of my imagination is a whole lot more wonderful than the real thing with its autostrade, valley industries, poverty, government corruption, triple-dip recession. In my writing life, I’m into injury time, and I’m spending it in Iron Age Britain where research trips can be done in a day, or even just walking out from where I live. It’s here, right here, under my feet. All I have to do is make sense of what facts are known and find the story.
It looks like it might be turning into a trilogy…


THE ART OF THE SPIRITUAL INTELLECT
Lindsay Clarke praises the remarkable work of a seriously under-rated novelist
[Review for Resurgence magazine]

A Gift for the Magus
Linda Proud
Godstow Press (www.godstowpress.co.uk) 2012
ISBN 978-1-907651-03-8

Since the monetary values of the corporate world began to dominate the mainstream publishing houses several fine novelists who are neither celebrities nor mass-market best-sellers have found it increasingly difficult either to get their work into print at all or for their books to receive much attention from the media. Fortunately a number of small independent publishers have found courage to do something about this unsatisfactory state of affairs. As both co-founder of Godstow Press and an excellent novelist whose work has largely been ignored by the literary establishment, Linda Proud is a significant figure in this development, and her strong, beautifully presented new novel demonstrates precisely why it matters.

A Gift for the Magus is a prequel to her Botticelli Trilogy of novels and this review wants to draw to all four books the serious attention they deserve. Mostly set in Renaissance Florence, the Trilogy follows the fortunes of a young scribe, Tommaso de’ Maffei, in his encounters with the friends and enemies of Lorenzo the Magnificent and the artists and thinkers who lent his court such glittering distinction. True both to the spirit and dramatic history of the Quattrocentro, these engaging narratives offer convincing portraits of such luminaries as Botticelli, Simonetta Vespucci, Poliziano, Leonardo da Vinci, Pico della Mirandola, Savonarola, Erasmus and the English Platonists and, behind them all, the intriguingly elusive figure of Marsilio Ficino, whose wisdom and scholarship inspired one of the most important evolutions of European culture. Yet all these formidable characters and themes are imagined with the confidence, fidelity and good humour of an author so deeply engrossed in her material that the novels almost read as an artistically satisfying act of channelling. One might equally well say as an act of love.

A great painting by Botticelli inspired each volume of the trilogy (La Primavera, Pallas and the Centaur and The Birth of Venus), and each of them sticks to the known facts of history supplemented by the vigorous activity of what the author calls the ‘rational imagination’, which is both highly intuitive and capable of deeply compassionate understanding. By the end of the third volume Lorenzo is dead and the glory of Florence has been scourged by Savonarola’s bonfire of the vanities; but Tomasso has recovered what he had lost - the courage to love - and his story affirms that ‘the divine world is here, now, but we clothe it in temporality, in desire, in misery, and know it not.’

 One might have thought the demanding task completed there, but Linda Proud’s questing imagination was drawn deep into her fascination with the morally complex character of Fra Filippo Lippi and a compelling new novel, A Gift for the Magus, emerged. Set earlier than the trilogy, it tells the story of an artist who combined an angelic vision and the skill of a master craftsman with a talent for procrastination and for frequently falling in and out of trouble. While offering masterful depictions of the worldly-wise Cosimo de Medici and the saintly Fra Angelico, the novel’s main concern is to interrogate the true nature of goodness through a humane appraisal of a man whose appetite for life rendered him incapable of fidelity to his monastic vows. Like the books of the Trilogy it’s a terrific read.

Novels which offer a beguiling narrative while exploring the ambiguities of experience, the rich symbology of great art and the claims of the spiritual intellect are rare these days. Linda Proud’s historical novels stand up well beside those of Mary Renault, Zoe Luxembourg and Marguerite Youcenar. They deserve much wider public attention than they have been afforded.



About the Author
Born in 1949 in Hertfordshire, UK, Linda Proud started writing historical fiction early, in school exercise books. Around the age of 14 she had discovered the novels of Mary Renault, set in ancient Greece, and fallen in love with the genre which brings the past to life.
 In 1971 she began a career in picture research in publishing and, after a few years, went freelance in order to devote more time to writing. The Botticelli Trilogy had seeded itself as an idea in 1974, but it was to take 11 years to do the research and develop writing skills. The first volume, A Tabernacle for the Sun, won a bursary award from Southern Arts and a month's residence at the writers' retreat of Hawthornden Castle. It was published by Allison and Busby in 1997. The publisher, however, refused the second volume, Pallas and the Centaur, forcing Linda to go independent. Pallas was the first publication of Godstow Press, which she founded with her husband David in 2003.
 Linda gave up picture research with the twentieth century, her skills and experience made redundant by the advent of the new technology. At that point she began a career in creative writing, teaching American students studying at Oxford University, working primarily for Sarah Lawrence College, Stanford University and, latterly, Shimer College.

Linda's website
Blog
Read the HNS review 
Here



HNS Indie Award 2014

HNS Indie Award Short List 2014

judged by Orna Ross

1. The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams by Bill Page

2. Blackmore’s Treasure by Derek Rogers (withdrawn, author deceased)
3. Jacobites' Apprentice by David Ebsworth
4. A Gift for the Magus by Linda Proud
5. The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage
6. The Bow of Heaven: Book 1: The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff
7. Khamsin: The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg
8. The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox
9. Samoa by J. Robert Shaffer

and the 2014 Four Finalists are:

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


full details and rules can be found here

Elizabeth Chadwick: website
Indie B.R.A.G. website





website
HNS Conference 2014



Details of how to submit an Indie / self-published historical novel for review can be found here 


HNS Indie Award 2014 - shortlisted author Anna Belfrage

This year, 2014, the Historical Novel Society has introduced for the first time, an annual award for the best Indie / Self-Published Historical Novel, with winner and runner-up prizes kindly sponsored by Orna Ross, bestselling literary novelist and director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G. There were eight eventual short-listed writers, from which four finalists were chosen by Orna Ross, with award-winning historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick selecting the winner and runner-up.
Our judges found it very difficult to make their selections as the quality of writing 
was excellent, and to thank the authors, I would like to feature them all here on my Blog

So please welcome  
Anna Belfrage author of The Prodigal Son



Religious persecution, love and time travel – perfect ingredients for a 17th century novel!
In an article I recently read, Mr Richard N Haass (former advisor to Colin Powell) draws parallels between what is happening today in the Middle East and the religious drama that afflicted Europe during the 17th century. Having someone put it like that makes that distant past somewhat more comprehensible – and fearsome. After all, how many of us would like to be stuck in the ongoing violence in Iraq or Syria, in Gaza or Israel?

I have always been something of a history buff – it was a traumatic day in my life when I sadly concluded that time travel was not possible, and ergo I would not be able to transport myself back in time to live first hand all those cataclysmic events I was so fascinated by. These days, I am rather happy that I remain safely ensconced in my armchair while reading about the gruesome events that have shaped our past, our present – and our future. 

This is especially true when looking at the 17th century. A fascinating period in time, this century straddles the vestiges of the old and the beginning of the new. At one end, we have the Renaissance, at the other the Age of Enlightenment, and in between a century of war, of religious persecution, of budding nations and global exploration. In Mr Haass words, a century of defined by the bloody conflicts between fundamentalism and modernism, between budding national states and within said states, with governments forced to relinquish control over parts of their territory to militant groups that wreak havoc and death, creating millions of refugees. Not, perhaps, the time and age one would chose for a vacation.

To properly understand the 17th century, one must, I believe, start by attempting to understand the religious landscape. And to do that, one needs to go back to the 16th century and dear old Luther and Calvin. The single most important event from an educational perspective was when these reformers of the Church insisted that people should have access to the Bible in vernacular – and be able to read it. In one fell swoop, the priest’s role as intermediary between the worshiper and God was eliminated, and even more importantly, the worshiper no longer listened to the priest retelling stories from the Bible, he/she (yup; ladies as well) could read them themselves – and interpret them.

Many readers lead to many interpretations – and the Protestant Reformation blew apart into multiple factions, soon just as much at each other’s throats as at the throats of the hated Catholics (A sentiment returned in full by the Catholics). Presbyterians considered Anglicans to be borderline papists. Quakers sighed over the whole lot of sectarian violence. Puritans wrinkled their nose at anyone not following their particular version of Calvinism. Baptists were latecomers to the party and viewed with mistrust. 
From a modern perspective, we don’t quite understand how religion could be such a big issue. People died for their beliefs? Seriously? We shake our head in astonishment – but all we have to do is to study the mess that is present day Middle East to realise people still die for their beliefs – violently. 

In the 17th century, religious preference became one of the first freedoms man was willing to fight and die for. People did not protest the horrendous inequalities in material wealth. Gender issues were not even invented yet – or rather they were considered utterly insignificant, as everyone knew a woman was inferior to man in most things. But both men and women (and female martyrs were held in as high regard as male ones) willingly went to their death for their beliefs. Some were chained to stakes and left to meet their fate in the rising tides. Some were burnt alive. Some were “simply” hanged. All of them had in common that they were not about to compromise when it came to their beliefs in God. 
This is the background to my book The Prodigal Son. To be more precise, it is set in the immediate aftermath of the Restoration, when Charles II’s advisors decided to implement a number of laws – collectively known as the Clarendon Code – that had as its purpose to bring all religious factions to heel and have them recognise the king as head of State and Church. Not the most popular move in Scotland, let me tell you – in fact, more or less anathema to the powerful Scottish Kirk.  And so yet another vicious cycle of persecution began, with the die-hard Presbyterians being the persecuted, the determined Anglicans/Episcopalians the pursuers.  

In conclusion, Restoration Scotland was not the most salubrious of environments if one was a convinced Presbyterian – something which my protagonists experience first-hand. In The Prodigal Son, Matthew Graham is at constant loggerheads with the powers that be, and more than once he places his life – and the life of his wife and children – at risk to save dissident minister Sandy Peden. At times, this leads to substantial strain in the Graham marriage. At others, it is through the strength of their love for each other that Alex and Matthew can escape the fears and concerns that colour their everyday life. 

While perfectly readable as a stand-alone, The Prodigal Son is actually the third book in The Graham Saga – the story of two people who should never have met. My male protagonist, Matthew Graham, is a devout Presbyterian, a veteran of the Commonwealth armies and a man who, initially at least, tends to see the world as black or white. Which is why I gifted him with Alex Lind, an opinionated modern woman who had the misfortune (or not)  of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thereby being dragged three centuries back in time to land concussed and badly singed at an astounded Matthew’s feet. 

Due to religious persecution and an adventurous life in general, Matthew Graham and his wife end up in the Colony of Maryland, there to build a new life for themselves and their children. Not an easy existence, and in the recently released sixth book of the saga, Revenge and Retribution, things will become excessively exciting and dangerous for both Matthew and Alex. 

***
All of Anna’s books are available on Amazon US and Amazon UK (links below)
For more information about Anna Belfrage and her books, visit her website or stop by her blog
For a somewhat more visual presentation of The Graham Saga, why not watch the book trailer?





Read the HNS review of  The  Prodigal Son
here

HNS Indie Award 2014

HNS Indie Award Short List 2014
judged by Orna Ross

1. The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams by Bill Page
2. Blackmore’s Treasure by Derek Rogers (withdrawn, author deceased)
3. Jacobites' Apprentice by David Ebsworth
4. A Gift for the Magus by Linda Proud
5. The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage
6. The Bow of Heaven: Book 1: The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff
7. Khamsin: The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg
8. The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox
9. Samoa by J. Robert Shaffer

and the 2014 Four Finalists are:
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


full details and rules can be found here

Elizabeth Chadwick: website
Indie B.R.A.G. website





website
HNS Conference 2014



Details of how to submit an Indie / self-published historical novel for review can be found here 

HNS Indie Award 2014 Finalist Author - Virginia Cox

This year, 2014, the Historical Novel Society has introduced for the first time, an annual award for the best Indie / Self-Published Historical Novel, with winner and runner-up prizes kindly sponsored by Orna Ross, bestselling literary novelist and director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G. There were eight eventual short-listed writers, from which four finalists were chosen by Orna Ross, with award-winning historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick selecting the winner and runner-up.

Our judges found it very difficult to make their selections 
as the quality of writing was excellent, and to thank the authors, 
I would like to feature them all here on my Blog

So please welcome Finalist author 
Virginia Cox and her novel
The Subtlest Soul



It’s a curious experience for someone like me, who has spent her entire adult life studying the culture of a particular historical period from an academic perspective, to turn to writing a fictional narrative set in that period. In some respects, it is all strangely familiar. Any scholar who works on literary history (or any form of history) necessarily becomes so immersed in the period she works on that she comes to feel almost as at home there as in the modern world—if not more! So, trying to get inside the heads of people who lived five hundred years ago was not a particularly novel exercise for me. It’s something I have spent every day of my life doing since the age of around twenty-one.

And yet, and yet, and yet … Writing a piece of fiction is a very different experience from writing an academic study. Most obviously, the creative freedom involved is vastly different, even if you’re aiming for a good degree of historical accuracy. The Subtlest Soul tracks a five-year period of Italian political history pretty closely, so much so that you could use it as a background primer for the study of Machiavelli’s Prince. The main political events succeed one another in the order that they happened, and I have made only minor deviations from the historical record, all of which are diligently registered in an endnote. That still leaves a considerable leeway for invention, however, in a way that was rather liberating for me after a professional life as a slave to fact! My protagonist is a fictional figure and I have woven in a fictional spy/love/coming-of-age plot, incorporating some fairly outrageous adventure elements, alongside my more sober historical material (not that the historical material is especially sober in this case—we are talking about the era of the Borgias, after all).

One great novelty for me was that writing a novel forced me to imagine the material conditions of life in the early sixteenth century in more detail than a literary or intellectual historian generally has to: how people dressed, what they ate, how they lit their rooms, how long it took to travel from one place to another in different seasons of the year. All this wasn’t exactly remote for me, as there has been a strong convergence between literary history and material history in recent years (one of the most interesting academic conferences I have attended recently was on Renaissance accessories, with talks on mirrors, scissors, fans, handkerchiefs, etc.—almost all delivered by people who first cut their academic teeth on literary studies). Still, however much time I have spent in sixteenth-century minds in my life, this was the first time I had really tried to place myself imaginatively inside a sixteenth-century skin. I found that aspect of writing the novel very interesting, and feel it may even have enriched my academic work.

The period I write about in the novel, the opening years of the sixteenth century, is one of the most dramatic and momentous of this whole period of Italian history. It’s a time when Leonardo da Vinci’s career was at its peak, when Raphael and Michelangelo were starting theirs; when the Borgias were astounding all observers with their audacious political scheming and military adventurism; and when Machiavelli was elaborating the explosive political thought that he would unleash on the world with The Prince. All this leaves a mark on the novel. The political plot tracks the rise and fall of Cesare Borgia, and Leonardo and Machiavelli both appear as characters (Leonardo in a cameo; Machiavelli in a more substantial role). Machiavelli’s writings also inform the plot of the novel in all kinds of ways. At a narrative level, the political plot of the novel tracks events that Machiavelli wrote about in The Prince and in some of his shorter essays and diplomatic dispatches.  Thematically, as well, the novel engages with one of Machiavelli’s core themes in The Prince: the need for the successful political actor to master ‘the ways of the lion and the fox’—force and fraud.

My narrative territory in the novel has been much explored in recent years. A few months before I published The Subtlest Soul, another, very different novel appeared that exploits some of the same historical material and also features Machiavelli as a character, Michael Ennis’s The Malice of Fortune (Anchor). There’s also an overlap, of course, with the HBO series The Borgias—a production about which I have rather mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel goodwill towards anything that popularizes ‘my’ period, and you would have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy the spectacle of Jeremy Irons hamming it up as Rodrigo Borgia. On the other hand, I wouldn’t say The Borgias was exactly outstanding in terms of historical accuracy. There’s a Euro-production on the same subject, called Borgia, which does a better job on that score.

I approached writing The Subtlest Soul in an entirely noncommercial manner. The recommended approach for genre novelists who want to make money by writing is to identify the genre they wish to write in; to gain an accurate idea of its conventions through analysis of successful examples; and finally to craft a successful example themselves. Bernard Cornwell has a very informative account on his website of his own formation, which followed these lines. I approached the task—or adventure—in a far more amateurish manner. I essentially set off to write the kind of historical novel I would personally like to have with me if I were embarking on a long-haul flight (something I do rather a lot). I wanted to write a novel crafted to a decent literary standard, but plot-driven and full of incident and colour; sufficiently accurate in historical terms for a reader to learn something about the period, but also true to fiction’s vocation of telling a good yarn. Other than that, I started with no real parameters or guidelines; I just started writing and watched what emerged.

I don’t know what a publisher would think of the formula I came up with, but the great thing about self-publishing is that it allows you to reach out to readers over publishers’ heads. I’ve been encouraged by the response to my novel so far, and it’s wonderful to have reached the finalists’ list for the HNS’s first Indie Award. Helen Hollick deserves a medal for having got this award going, and she and Steve Donoghue and their review teams deserve another for their tireless labours separating the wheat/chaff/sheep/goats among self-published historical novels. It’s hard work, but exactly what needs to be done if self-publishing is to earn its place at the literary table. 

Read the HNS Review of The Subtlest Soul



About the author 
Virginia Cox was born in Devon, England, and educated at Cambridge University, where she completed a PhD in Italian literature.
She taught at the universities of Edinburgh, London (UCL), and Cambridge before moving to the Department of Italian Studies at New York University in 2003. Her specialist fields are Italian Renaissance literature and intellectual history and the history of rhetoric. Her latest academic book (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) is a bilingual anthology of lyric verse by women poets of the Italian Renaissance 

The Subtlest Soul is available from
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

HNS Indie Award 2014

HNS Indie Award Short List 2014
judged by Orna Ross

1. The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams by Bill Page
2. Blackmore’s Treasure by Derek Rogers (withdrawn, author deceased)
3. Jacobites' Apprentice by David Ebsworth
4. A Gift for the Magus by Linda Proud
5. The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage
6. The Bow of Heaven: Book 1: The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff
7. Khamsin: The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg
8. The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox
9. Samoa by J. Robert Shaffer

and the 2014 Four Finalists are:
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


full details and rules can be found here

Elizabeth Chadwick: website
Indie B.R.A.G. website





website
HNS Conference 2014



Details of how to submit an Indie / self-published historical novel for review can be found here 

HNS Indie Award 2014 - Shortlisted author Bill Page

This year, 2014, the Historical Novel Society has introduced for the first time, an annual award for the best Indie / Self-Published Historical Novel, with winner and runner-up prizes kindly sponsored by Orna Ross, bestselling literary novelist and director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G. There were eight eventual short-listed writers, from which four finalists were chosen by Orna Ross, with award-winning historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick selecting the winner and runner-up.
Our judges found it very difficult to make their selections as the quality of writing was excellent, and to thank the authors, I would like to feature them all here on my Blog

So please welcome 
Bill Page, author of 
The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams



THE FOURTH CENTURY ROMAN COTSWOLDS  

Firstly, my thanks to Helen for giving me space on her blog. Secondly, my apologies for not providing a photograph of myself: inexplicably, I don’t seem to show up in photos (or mirrors).

The fourth century has rightly been called the Golden Age of Roman Britain. My first two novels, The Moon on the Hills and its stand-alone sequel, The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams (of which more on my website, www.billpageauthor.co.uk), are partly set in the Cotswolds of the late 360s AD, towards the end of that Golden Age, when the cracks in the fa├žade were only just beginning to appear. The (distant) background to both novels is the Barbarica Conspiratio – those seemingly co-ordinated invasions in 367 by Picts and other barbarian tribes from beyond the frontiers of the empire – and the depredations of the roaming bands of army deserters which followed in their wake.

Why set the novels in the Cotswolds? Three reasons. First, because unlike so much of lowland Britain, its landscapes, particularly those around the steep scarp edges of the north-west, have in essence altered very little since Roman times. Second, the Cotswolds were the centre of a materially rich villa culture, perhaps the richest in all Britain. And third, because even today, away from the chocolate-box villages, it can be a lonely, mysterious land. A land where it is possible to imagine, as the people of those times must have imagined, one or more of the Genii Cucullati – that triad of little hooded gods depicted in almost abstract form on a stone plaque now in Corinium Museum – drifting through a wood or crossing a hillside sheep pasture in the dying light of a summer dusk or winter evening.

But for all its material wealth, fourth century Roman Britain is something of an enigma: artefact rich but document poor, and the biographies and even the names of many of its people have vanished forever into the black hole of the fifth century Dark Age. Of the few documents that have come down to us, the most important is the history of the period 354 to 378 written by Ammianus Marcellinus, although he was an army officer whose home city was far-away Antioch and who had almost certainly never visited Britain when he wrote his account of the Conspiratio and subsequent events.

Although the fourth century saw the beginning of the slow transition from the Ancient to the Medieval world, in Britain evidence for Christianity is sparse and it would seem that, particularly in the countryside, belief in the multiplicity of dark old gods and goddesses of the Romano-Celtic pantheons remained strong.  
It was also an age where, empire-wide, individuals finally began to lose faith in the power of the state to defend them against the evils of the world (or perhaps came to regard the state as the greatest evil of all) and to search for a saviour god or gods – Christian or pagan – who they prayed would protect them, both in this life and the hoped-for better life that awaited them after death.  

WHY DID I SELF-PUBLISH?
Because I had no real choice. Some ten years ago I approached a number of literary agents with an earlier version of The Moon on the Hills. I received a (very) few encouraging replies, but nothing more.  So I re-wrote Moon (and re-wrote, and re-wrote), by which time several more years had gone by. Then, rather than again go through the interminable, soul-destroying (and probably futile) process of trying to get an agent, I decided to self-publish through Matador of Leicester.

After most re-writes I paid for a manuscript appraisal by one or other of the more prominent companies which offer such assessment services. Would it be heresy to suggest that the feedback was usually not worth the not inconsiderable sums required? Probably, but I’ll suggest it anyway.
Now well past 60, I am aware that my chances of landing a real publishing contract (ie. one where some optimist publishes your work for free, and even considers paying you for the privilege) are as near zero as makes no difference. So, no benevolent editor to encourage me, chivvy me along and steer me away from the rocks; but also no one (except myself) to steer me onto those rocks either. I tell myself (and sometimes even believe) that this is a curiously liberating situation, because it leaves me free to write whatever I choose and take as long as I need to do so. And if a few people actually like the end result, then hurrah!  

WORK IN PROGRESS
Is a third novel, provisionally titled One Summer in Arcadia, which I am in the process of re-writing (again). Set in 370, in the months following the crushing of Valentinus’s attempted rebellion, it opens with Canio living the life of a country gentleman in a villa he bought with the looted gold acquired in Sower. With the villa came the woman who is now his mistress, the beautiful, enigmatic Trifosa, who spent her childhood at the great Chedworth villa, only some ten miles away to the south. And there at Chedworth, newly returned home after seven traumatic years in the army on the German frontier, is Antoninus, a man who has unexpectedly inherited following the deaths of his estranged father and twin brother. And it seems that Antoninus and Trifosa were once very close.


Canio’s villa is based on the one in Spoonley Wood, a couple of miles south-east of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. Built around three sides of a large courtyard in a once-idyllic spot between two streams tumbling down from springs which rise on the high ground above, in its day it must have been an impressive sight and the centre of a great estate. Today it is little more than a few crumbling walls and a scatter of stones half-hidden among the rampant vegetation of the wood, a sad contrast to the beautifully preserved remains of Chedworth villa (which also plays a prominent role in the novel). Perhaps in some small way Arcadia will make it live again.

Links: website www.billpageauthor.co.uk

ROMAN BRITAIN: AD 368
The Sower of Seeds of Dreams:
In the aftermath of the devastating barbarian invasions which came to be known as the Barbarica Conspiratio there are:
• A soldier searching for a fortune in looted gold which a dying man told him lies hidden beneath the waters
of a lake on the far side of the Great Marshes, many miles to the south of the Cotswold Hills where the story
begins.
• A young priestess searching for a man who mysteriously disappeared a year before, hoping that by finding 
him she will restore her faith in the goddess she thought was protecting him.
• A small brass figurine of the sinister underworld goddess Hecate.
And linking all three is a story said to have begun with a girl picking flowers in a meadow in Sicily on a summer s day long, long ago when the Ancient World was young.

The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams is set in those parts of the Roman province of Britannia Prima which were later to become Gloucestershire and Somerset. It is a stand-alone sequel to The Moon on the Hills Matador 2009 . 

About the Author:
Bill Page has had a lifelong interest in Roman Britain, particularly the villas and settlements of the Cotswold Hills. He lives in South Worcestershire, within sight of the northern end of the Cotswolds where the novel begins and ends. 

Read the HNS review of  
The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams
here

HNS Indie Award 2014

HNS Indie Award Short List 2014
judged by Orna Ross

1. The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams by Bill Page
2. Blackmore’s Treasure by Derek Rogers (withdrawn, author deceased)
3. Jacobites' Apprentice by David Ebsworth
4. A Gift for the Magus by Linda Proud
5. The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage
6. The Bow of Heaven: Book 1: The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff
7. Khamsin: The Devil Wind of the Nile by Inge H. Borg
8. The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox
9. Samoa by J. Robert Shaffer

and the 2014 Four Finalists are:
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


full details and rules can be found here
Elizabeth Chadwick: website
Indie B.R.A.G. website





website
HNS Conference 2014



Details of how to submit an Indie / self-published historical novel for review can be found here