Interview with Author R.A.R Clouston & Giveaway

Bob, thank you for the pleasure of an interview. I would like to begin by asking you about your reading interests. What is your favorite literary genre?

There are several fiction genres that I enjoy reading including historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers; however, if I had to choose only one it would be the latter, especially political thrillers. In non-fiction, I like military history with a focus on the U.S. Civil War and World War II, as well as books about wildlife, notably those that deal with the plight of whales and dolphins.
A few of your literary favorites are among mine as well. What are you currently reading?

I usually read several books at one time across a wide range of genres. Currently, I am reading the following books; The Winter Chaser by Christopher Holt, The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat, and Mapping Human History by Steve Olson.

What do you plan on reading next?

The next books to be added to my reading list are Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell and John Bruning, and When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy.

Of the books you have written, which is your favorite?

That is a difficult question to answer because whenever I finish a book I am so deeply involved with the story and characters that it is my favorite; at least until I start the next one. Having said that, although it is not my most recent work, I would have to say that The Covenant Within is my favorite because of my strong personal ties to Orkney and my Viking ancestry. At the risk of sounding maudlin, as I sat before my computer keyboard, I felt as if someone else’s hands were guiding mine.

I was delighted to read and review your book “The Covenant Within”. Could you please tell your audience a little bit about your story.

This is the perfect story for anyone who has ever had a riveting but disturbing dream that haunted them for days afterwards; or who have experienced a déjà vu incident that was so vivid, so powerful that it sent chills down their spine; or perhaps even more extraordinary, who are convinced that they have had past lives. Indeed, any of these may be signals that the person who experienced them is one of those special few who are capable of reliving the lives of their ancestors. Controversial? Yes. Improbable? Perhaps. Impossible? No. Not at all.

The reason can be found in epigenetics, which is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by changes in the underlying DNA sequence. Since the 1960s, scientists have known that it only takes a tiny percentage of our DNA to build the human body with all its precision and complexity. But now there is growing evidence that the genetic code contains a vast memory bank of our ancestral past that can affect more than simply our physical being. This may play a critical role in our disposition to certain diseases such as cancer; or affect our behavior, our attitudes, and the way we live our lives. But there is another controversial aspect of this ‘genetic memory’ that is more intriguing than its physiological or behavioral counterparts; and this forms the basis of my story.
Specifically, some researchers believe that there is an inherent genetic recollection of the memories and experiences of our ancestors buried deep within our DNA. The Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung, proposed these were memories common to everyone, which he called the collective unconscious. However, my story suggests that the significant life events of our ancestors are stored in our DNA and some people can, and do, relive snippets of the past lives of their distant relatives via these unique genetic memories. In effect, they experience time travel! 

There are very few books that grab me from the very beginning but your story did. How did you come up for the idea of “The Covenant Within”?

Several years ago, my wife and I visited my ancestral home in the Orkney Islands, a remote archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. I had never been there before but as I walked the narrow streets of Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital, or stood in awe inside the nine hundred year old St. Magnus Cathedral, or touched the weathered tombstones of my ancestors in a tiny cemetery in Orphir overlooking the wind-swept waters of Scapa Flow, I was overcome with a feeling that I had been there before: that I had lived and loved, laughed and cried, and fought and died there in a that wild and lonely land of my Viking fore bearers.
It was a profoundly moving experience. The feeling was compounded several days later, when my wife and I traveled to Edinburgh and I happened to read an article in the newspaper about the work being done in the field of epigenetics at the University of Edinburgh. It didn’t take long for my imagination to be unleashed, and as soon as we returned to the United States The Covenant Within began to take shape.

Were there any scenes in the book you found more challenging to write than others?

There were several: first, were the scenes that embody the negative effect upon my protagonist’s mental well-being as he relives events from his ancestors’ lives. The force of evil, which pursues him throughout the story, manifests itself in the beast of his onrushing insanity, and I found writing these scenes both challenging and unnerving.

And second was the final scene of the book, which as you know, presents a surprise ending that I believe will stun the readers and give them something to think about long after the story ends.

I loved the Historical aspects of your story. Please tell us about the research you did for that.

As you might suspect from my earlier comments about my trip to Orkney, I drew heavily upon the history of my ancestors, blending fact with fiction, to create the genetic memory incidents, or GMIs as I call them in my story. To do this, I was assisted by a comprehensive history and genealogy of the Clouston family that was prepared by a distant relative of mine. Through it, I was able to trace our family’s history in a virtually unbroken line all the way back to the first recorded Earl of Orkney, Rognvald the Powerful, a Norseman who lived in the 9th Century A.D.

Another source that helped me create the GMIs is a book titled The Orkneying Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, written around 1200 A.D. by an unknown Icelandic author, and translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. The book represents the only medieval chronicle written about Orkney and it is replete with the history of events where my ancestors actually were present or might have been.

And finally, as with other authors of historical fiction, I immersed myself in the history of the time and place of my story, which in my case were the actual events in Viking and Scottish history that that appear in my GMIs. In every case I tried to be as historically accurate as my sources, both print and digital, would permit.

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

Yes. Simply this: there is more to who we are and where we come from than science can explain, and the human mind represents a vast, uncharted territory where heroes live and monsters dwell.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

My imagination. It is my greatest strength and perhaps my greatest weakness because it knows no bounds.

What is your next book project?

Building upon my answer to the previous question, my imagination has taken me on a journey across a sprawling landscape of genres and storylines. The five books I have self-published―the fourth of which is The Covenant Within―cover such highly-charged topics as gun control (the Where Freedom Reigns series), ocean conservation (The Tempest’s Roar), and rancorous, partisan politics that jeopardizes the security of our nation (No Greater Evil).

A common theme throughout all my work is the eternal struggle between good and evil. How and where this will lead me in my next book is not yet clear.

What books have most influenced your life?

I don’t know that I can point out any books that have most influenced my life, beyond the Bible, a copy of which my grandmother gave me on my seventh birthday and which I still have today.

However, I can tell you that there have been several books that have most influenced my writing: they are Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway; The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk; The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald; and last but certainly not least, On Writing by Stephen King.

What do you think contributes to making a writer successful in self-publishing?

Although there are exceptions, as evidenced by several top-selling books currently listed in the New York Times Book Review, I believe that to be successful an author must be a good writer. And to be a good writer you must do three things; 1) read, 2) read, and 3) read. It is only by reading the work of others that you can learn how to write well.

If you do not do this, you are doomed to be a bad writer. One only has to look at the vast majority of poorly-written self-published books available today to see that most indie authors take the easy way out.

Finally, to be a truly great writer, like the authors I mentioned above, is a God-given gift that few of us possess or can ever hope to achieve.

What do you think of this immediate age of self-publishing?

I think it is a great time to be a writer―arguably the best of times―because we are finally, and forever, freed from the narrow-minded, mercenary, and self-serving arrogance of traditional publishers.

What is your favorite quote?

I have so many that I am hesitant to pick just one. However, the quote that applies best to being a self-published author in a world where everyone is a critic is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act II, scene ii, line 1)

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?


Author Bio:

R.A.R. Clouston is a retired corporate executive whose career as a business professional has included roles as the president and CEO of several international consumer products companies. He has also been a guest lecturer at a number of graduate business schools in the US and Canada; however, his passion has always been writing. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from McGill University, and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. He is a member of the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance and also holds a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.


His website can be found at

R.A.R. Clouston is offering his novel, “The Covenant Within”, forFREE on Amazon for five days! Make sure you get your copy!

Review: The Covenant Within

An inheritance is passed down through DNA and comes in dreams-deja vu-of the past. The protagonist, Jack, is tormented by this family inheritance and begins to think he is going insane. At the same time his estranged brother has committed suicide. So Jack travels to Scotland to attend his brother’s funeral and discovers troubling circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. He feels compelled to find out the truth and as he does his life and the people helping him, becomes in danger. He discovers a secret about his family that goes all the way back to Christ’s Crucifixion.

Jack is a complex character and at one moment I felt drawn to him and the next I was infuriated and irritated with him and the decisions he was making. He could be so caring and sympathetic, then the next, he was uncaring and withdrawn. When his life or the people’s life that he cares about are in danger, he would become strong and courageous.

There are some developments in the story that I did not see coming and that is what makes for a good thriller novel. Not knowing what is going to happen next. I felt Clouston did an excellent job tying the events of the past and present together and Jacks, “dreams” of the past is a believable and solid foundation for the plot. I’m really impressed with the concept of this story and as a avid reader of historical fiction, I enjoyed the historical aspects of it.

An enjoyable and intriguing read that I recommend to anyone!
By Stephanie

Layered Pages

Interview with Author Jane Gray

I would like to introduce Author Jane Gray, the winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion. If you have any enquiries about IndieBRAG and you are a self-publishing author please visit our website at


 Jane, please tell us about your book, “The Bitti Chai.”

The Bitti Chai is basically a story about an endless love between two teenagers from very different cultures. It explores family emotions and ties, loyalty and love. It deals with bereavement and the grieving process and how the family pulls together to support and cherish their loved ones. I hope it portrays an accurate and positive image of Romany culture rather than the negative stereotypical image often portrayed by the press and some television programmes. There is an occult element which runs through the story and this is something I have always been fascinated by.

Was there any research you did for your story? If so, please explain.

The research for my book was limited with regard to the Romany aspect as I was brought up by my Romany grandfather and our culture and family values are central to the background of the book. Being heavily involved with horses myself this aspect of the story was second nature to me. However I have had to carry out research on Traditional Witchcraft and folklore but this relates more to the follow up novel as the story expands.

How long did it take to write Bitti Chai?

Not long really perhaps I had the bones of the book down in a few months, learning to hone it into a readable book without continuity errors and head hopping was a different story. I am basically a storyteller not yet a writer.

Is there a character in your story you feel connected too?

Yes undoubtedly Reigneth. She is named after my great aunt who was born on the road side at Rainworth (pronounced Renath). I feel very drawn to her character in all ways, she epitomises what I myself value in a young woman, strong and determined with good values.

Who is your least favorite character?

Initially Grace as she is such a cold fish but she is getting better and improving thanks to Reigneth but Jed Cummings is so obviously the most vile character, a wife beater and generally not a pleasant fellow.

What is your next book project?

The follow up to The Bitti Chai called The Lost Souls, it’s pretty much complete and just needs the finishing touches. Minimising head hopping is a problem for me I want to tell the reader everything and from everyone’s viewpoint. My editor Jo Field is amazing I’d be lost without her.

What books have most influenced your life?

Aside from the obvious classics like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Rebecca etc. I tend to like books with a strong female lead. Plays – Taming of the Shrew again strong female character. I like what my friends jokingly call “boys books” Conn Iggledon Conquerer Series (Ghengis Khan), Lian Hearne Tales of the Otori (Samurai) etc. Generally though my taste is very varied with the exception of spy thrillers I’m not too keen on them.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Be tenacious! Short and sweet I know but the writing is the heavenly part when for a short time you can be anyone you want to be. The marketing that’s a whole different ball game and not one I am particularly good at. You need to learn to network though whether you like it or not and that is time consuming in itself. If you’re not good at it, learn quick.

What is your favorite quote?

I’m still waiting to discover it! Although Winston Churchill takes some beating with: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”



Jane Gray Bio & Links:

The Bitti Chai, a love story for young adults, is my first novel and the first in a trilogy. The second, The Lost Souls, will be coming out later this year.  The novels are based on the cultural background and Romany heritage of my own family.  It has long been a tradition in Romany families to story-tell and my family were no exception.  I just see myself as carrying on that tradition.

The youngest of a family of ten I was brought up by my Romany grandfather and Gauja(non-Romany) grandmother. I live and work in Nottinghamshire.  Besides working part time, I ride and breed Native ponies, so my writing provides a less active pastime for me. I am married and have three grownup children.

I am a keen family historian and have had a number of factual articles on genealogy and tracing family history published in the Romany Routes journals.

I draw a great deal of inspiration from music while I’m writing. Much of my literary interest revolves around areas of the occult and spirituality, so it seemed natural for me to introduce this element into Johnny’s and Reigneth’s story. Often when I am working in the fields or with my ponies an idea will develop and sometimes, when the house is quiet or I am unable to sleep, ideas come to me so I keep a notebook next to my bed. 

As yet I consider myself to be more of a storyteller than a writer and am conscious that in developing my writing technique I still have much to learn, but I hope that eventually I will have enough confidence to think of myself as a fully-fledged author!

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jane Gray who is the author of Bitti Chai, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Bitti Chai merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you!

Interview & Giveaway with Author Traci E. Hall

I would like to introduce Author Traci E. Hall.

Traci, please tell us about your book, “The Queen’s Guard.”

The Queen’s Guard: Violet is the first in my medieval romance series about women spies for Queen Eleanor during the crusade. Each woman brings something a little different to the table, and each would willingly lie, cheat, steal or die for Eleanor.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing about the past?

Language. I can stay within bounds of what happened, and how they travel and eat etc. but what is always hard for me is how they talk. The truth of the matter is that what is written probably wasn’t how they spoke in casual day to day conversation. I imagine they had slang and contractions too. A lot of words we use weren’t invented yet, either, so I just do the best I can while keeping the story flowing for the modern reader – and add an author’s note explaining what I’ve done, and why.

What is your favorite/least favorite character you have written about and why?

They are all my favorites at the time! Just like a mother can’t have a favorite child, I like all my characters, and want the best for them. During the writing process, they become family, best friends, confidants.

How long did it take you to write The Queen’s Guard?

I am a prolific writer with a supportive family. They understand when the story keeps me in a different room. I plot, and do character sheets so that when I sit down, I really know what is going on. Prep time cuts down at least two months writing for me, and I can then finish my story in three or four months.

Who designed your book cover?

Medallion Press has a wonderful Art department!

Who is your publisher?

Medallion Press. They’ve been really great to work with, and published my Boadicea series. Love’s Magic, Beauty’s Curse and Boadicea’s Legacy

Who or what inspired you to become an author?

I’ve always told stories to myself, or my cousins and little brother. I read to escape. It seemed a good fit!

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Never give up. My publishing journey has been filled with ups and downs. If you have a burning desire to write a story, then do it. Find a way to make it happen. Publishing right now is intense and crazy, and a lot of interesting projects have come from the chaos. Don’t be afraid.

What is your favorite quote?

“to write is human, to edit is divine”
― Stephen King, On Writing

Only because I didn’t use to think this, I dreaded revisions ad edits, but really, edits are smoothing the work to a shiny finish, knowing you’ve done your best. Thank you so much Stephanie


Author Bio & Links:


Award winning author Traci Hall writes paranormal romances for teens as well as historical romances for adults. She’s co authored a non-fiction book about adoption, and written a coming of age story. Traci has been interviewed on the radio, web tv, and Fox and Friends. She lives in South Florida with her husband and children, reading, researching and writing.

Traci is graciously giving a e-book of the Queen’s Guard for a lucky winner. Please leave a comment below and your email address and a winner will be chosen. The giveaway ends on September 4th.

My review for, The Queens’ Guard is here:


Review: The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith

A refreshingly original piece of literature, The Miracle Inspector will spur you to think in new ways. Helen Smith has created a world where women are so marginalized in futuristic London that they cannot leave their homes without full body coverings. Although the setting is in the future, the story is not set so far in the future as to be unbelievable or unrecognizable which only serves to further invest the reader in the journey.

While weaving the separate strands of this story into a cohesive tapestry Smith endears us to the main couple through her descriptions of their everyday lives, thoughts, and dreams. Simultaneously, an understanding of Lucas’s family history evolves among the pages revealing a tumultuous, if slightly scandalous, past. The details of Lucas and Angela’s planned escape from this new London smacks of accounts of refugee outflows from war torn third world countries. It is this rendering of a modern western society reduced to “an oppressive place where poetry has been forced underground, theatres and schools are shut, and women are not allowed to work outside the home” which spurs thoughts on how life could change in an instant if we allow fear to overcome rationality.

Smith has won a well-deserved Arts Council Award for The Miracle Inspector. I would recommend this book to readers looking for an unconventional love story, or those interested in themes about overcoming oppression. Also, for the descriptions of poetry and art, this book would appeal to those with an interested in performing and activist arts.

Brandy Strake
Layered Pages Review Team Member

Interview with Author Mary Louisa Locke

I would like to introduce Mary Louisa Locke, the winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion

Mary, please tell us about your book, Maids of Misfortune.

Maids of Misfortune is the first in a series of historical mysteries and short stories I have written set in Victorian San Francisco. Maids of Misfortune introduces Annie Fuller, a San Francisco widow who owns a boarding house and supplements her income as Madam Sibyl, a clairvoyant, giving business and domestic advice. As the book opens in the summer of 1879, a creditor threatens to take away her home, and one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, Mr. Voss, dies suddenly. Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson, the Voss family lawyer and romantic interest, try to find out the truth about Voss’s death in order to save his family and Annie from financial ruin. In order to do so, Annie goes undercover as a domestic servant in the murdered man’s house. This is a light, romantic, cozy mystery that takes the protagonists from formal parlors to a Charity Ball and a buggy ride through Golden Gate Park to the sea shore, but it also deals with some of the more serious social and economic problems people faced in San Francisco in the late Victorian era.

Was there any research involved for your story? Please explain.

From the beginning, one of my goals in writing, besides providing an entertaining series of mysteries, was to examine the kinds of jobs that women held in the late 19th century. I am fortunate in that I have a dissertation that I researched and wrote for my doctorate in history entitled “‘Like a Machine or an Animal’: Working Women of the Far West at the end of the Nineteenth Century” to fall back on when I need details about my time period or San Francisco. I also have the books I accumulated while writing that dissertation and later when I began to teach U. S. Women’s history as a college professor. However, what I love about writing now is the resources that exist on the internet. Materials that I had had to get through inter-library loan, or go to archives to read in person (1880 San Francisco Chronicle, memoirs and diaries, historical maps, etc) are now often accessible on line. I also love being able to call up Google’s “street view” for modern day San Francisco so I can zip up and down the city’s hills, recreating the terrain of the city in the past.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing novels set in the past?

I think the biggest challenge is weaving the historical details so thoroughly into the storyline that it just enhances rather than distracts. People usually read historical fiction because they want to learn about the past, but they also want to be entertained, and too much detail for the sake of demonstrating that the author knows his or her stuff can bring a reader out of the reading experience, which you never want to do.

In addition, readers bring their own ideas about that past to the book, and those ideas don’t always fit the reality of the past. For example, because I am a professional historian who has thoroughly researched my subject, I know that women like Annie Fuller existed, widows who worked as clairvoyants, women who chafed against the constraints of Victorian gender roles. Yet someone who believes that Annie’s ideas are “too modern” and therefore historically inaccurate is going to be taken out of that story, whether they are correct in their notions or not. In my second book in the series, Uneasy Spirits, I actually included chapter quotes from ads for mediums and clairvoyants from the 1880 San Francisco Chronicle as a subtle way of reassuring readers that my fictional character was grounded in real fact.

One of the ways I have tried to handle these problems is also to develop a series of posts to my blog that provide historical details about the people and places found in my books. This way a reader who wants to know more about places like Golden Gate Park in the 1870s, or the economic and social structure of the city, or the relationship between the Irish immigrant and Halloween as an American holiday can do so in my Victorian San Francisco posts.

Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book?

I think that in terms of basic personality, my protagonist, Annie Fuller, reflects my sense of self. Obviously our life histories are completely different, but out general outlook in life is similar. What I find amusing is that when I conceived of the plot for Maids of Misfortune (while working on my dissertation), I was just a few years older than my protagonist, but when I completed the book, so much time had passed that I was now older than Mrs. O’Rourke, Annie’s cook and housekeeper, who I had thought of as quite old when I first created her.

How long did it take you to write Maids of Misfortune?

I wrote the first draft in 1989 in a brief period between teaching jobs, but then I got a very demanding full-time position teaching at a community college, and, except for occasional rewrites, it lay unpublished for 20 years. Once I had semi-retired in 2009, I did a final rewrite and self-published the book as a paperback and an ebook. At the time I just wanted to give the story I had lived with so long a chance to be read beyond my close circle of friends. Since then I have sold over 40,000 copies of the book, making enough income to retire completely and write full-time, a level of success I never expected.

Who designed your book cover?

Michelle Huffaker, who is a personal friend and a graphic designer. She has designed the covers for both of my novels and my two short stories. I loved working with her because I had a very distinct vision for my covers. I wanted authentic Victorian wallpaper as the background and 19th century illustrations for the centerpieces. Michelle gave me exactly what I wanted.

What is your next book project?

I am working on the third book of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, entitled Bloody Lessons. Maids of Misfortune featured domestic service, probably the most prevalent occupation for women in the 19th century, Uneasy Spirits featured Spiritualists, one of the most exotic occupations, and Bloody Lessons will feature teaching, one of the few white-collar professions open to women of the period.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

My main advice is to write the stories you would want to read because you are going to have to live with the world and characters you create for a long time and because if you don’t care about your characters it is a good bet that your readers won’t either.

Second, read. Read in the genre you want to write in, and out of it. Read books about writing and the writer’s life, read blogs about the publishing industry so that you can make informed decisions about your career. There never have been so many options available to writers before, and the business of publishing is changing so rapidly that you need to keep up. If I hadn’t done my research, read the blogs of people like J.A. Konrath, or followed the self-publishing website, I would never have taken the plunge to be a self-published author.

Third, make sure you develop a team of people (and if possible they should include other professional writers-perhaps as part of a writers group) who will be willing to read your work and comment on it honestly as you begin the process of rewriting and editing. Whether you are planning on submitting to an agent or editor to go the traditional publishing route or you are planning to self-publish, your work is going to have to be a mature and polished as it can if it is going to bring you success.

What is your favorite quote?

”Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
 The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
 Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
 The frumious Bandersnatch!” Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 1872.

You asked, and this is what immediately sprang to mind!

Author Bio:

M. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer. The first two published books in her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits,feature Annie Fuller, a boardinghouse owner and clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes, while her short stories, Dandy Detects and The Miss Moffets Mend a Marriage, give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries. Dr. Locke is currently living in San Diego, where she is working on Bloody Lessons, the next full-length installment of her Annie Fuller/Nate Dawson series. For more about M. Louisa Locke and her work, see follow her on twitter and facebook.

Maids of Misfortune is free on the Kindle today and tomorrow, August 20 &21.

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Mary Louisa Locke who is the author of Maids of Misfortune, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Maids of Misfortune merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you!

Interview with Author Sarah Bower

What a honor it is to interview Author Sarah Bower. Sarah is an International Best Selling Author of, The Needle in the Blood & The Sins of the House of Borgia.
Sarah, I really enjoyed reading your novel, The Needle in the Blood. Could you please tell us a little about your book and what interested you the most about this story?

I’m glad you enjoyed reading NEEDLE, Stephanie, and thanks again for the lovely review you posted on Layered Pages. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Bayeux Tapestry is something we take very much for granted in the UK. It’s like the wallpaper to our history, if you like. What originally made me sit up and take notice of it in a different way was a TV show hosted by Simon Schama, in which he described one famous image in the Tapestry, of a woman and child fleeing a burning house, as being the first image in western art of what war does to civilians. That was the starting point for my novel. It then began to take more concrete form when I discovered that, although very little is known for certain about the Tapestry (making it fertile ground for the fiction writer!), current thinking suggests it was made in England, by English embroiderers, but for a Norman patron. It seemed to me that this created interesting tensions for me to explore.

Were there any challenges in researching for your novel?

I studied medieval history at university, so the historical research wasn’t quite so much of a challenge as finding out about the mechanics of how the Tapestry was made. I can scarcely sew on a button, so learning about medieval embroidery (because Tapestry is a misnomer – the work is, in fact, an embroidery) was a steep learning curve for me! That said, researching the life of Odo was also problematic because he is quite a shadowy figure in history despite his high profile at the time of the Norman Conquest. There are no full-length biographies of him, and little of his correspondence survives, just one or two letters between him and Archbishop Lanfranc. We don’t even know for sure when he was born or where he grew up. In another way, however, this made him a perfect protagonist for the novel because it enabled me to invent far more freely than if he had been a better documented historical figure.

Were there any scenes you found more difficult to write than others?

Oh, the sex scenes! They are always the hardest for me. I recently heard an interview with John Banville, in which he described the difficulty of writing sex scenes as being the bridging of the gap between noble sentiments and absurd actions. I don’t think I could put it better myself. I’m relieved, and flattered, that readers have, on the whole, been kind about this aspect of the novel because, with a hero and heroine like Odo and Gytha, sex was clearly going to play a central role in their relationship, even though I struggled, at first, to force them into a more abstemious mould. On average, I think each sex scene took me about two weeks to write – and that was just the first draft! I guess they take about two minutes to read. Nor do I find that aspect of writing gets any easier with practice.

Did writing this story teach you anything and what is it?

Although published after SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA in the US, NEEDLE is my first novel, and in that respect, it taught me a lot about the need for resilience, patience and self-belief if you are to complete a novel successfully, and then find a publisher for it. I had no idea how tough both these things are until I embarked on the process!

Regarding the specific subject matter of this book, it served to remind me that we have been a multicultural society here in the UK for well over a thousand years. If only more medieval history was taught in our schools, perhaps people would be less anxious about and more welcoming of those who still come here from all the different corners of the world and contribute so much to making us who we are. That is one reason why I chose to write the book in a way which tries to be even-handed to both conquered and conquerors, acknowledging that both sides were traumatised by the experience, and both have contributed hugely to our language, culture, law, politics and social structure.

Who designed the book cover?

The US edition cover was designed in-house, I believe, by my publishers. I think it’s gorgeous and am absolutely delighted with it.

Who is your publisher?

Sourcebooks Landmark, who also published SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel or about writing in general?

As I have indicated in an earlier reply, I think the biggest challenge of writing a novel is the time it takes. Each of my novels has taken me, on average, three years to complete, from beginning the background reading and planning to having a final draft I think is good enough to be shared with readers. This knowledge makes getting started quite a difficult and nerve-wracking experience. I do rather envy writers I know who can complete a book in months rather than years. I’m afraid I rarely write in the white heat of inspiration but creep along at a snail’s pace, groping in the dark and hoping I find the right way. A tutor on my creative writing MA course once said, ‘Only write a novel if everything else fails,’ a sentiment with which I am in total accord! Writing novels is incredibly difficult. On the other hand, there is great reward and excitement to be had from engaging with readers who always find things in your work you didn’t know were there and thus give your book a kind of life of its own which is so much more than you can give it yourself as the author.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

I’m not sure I really believe in writer’s block. Writing is my job. Do lawyers or nurses or refuse collectors get blocked? No. So why should professional writers be any different? Of course, it’s not always easy to gear oneself up for the imaginative effort involved in novel writing, but if that’s the case, I generally find I have some other kind of writing to do, or writing-related work such as teaching and mentoring other writers. For the imaginative work, I do think one has to be attuned to one’s emotional and mental state, even one’s physical health, in order to be prepared for the obstacles these things can throw up. One has to be aware that on a good day one might write a thousand words or more, but on a less good day it might be just a sentence.
That said, I know some writers do experience blocks in a very real sense, so perhaps I’ve just been lucky so far!

What is your next book project?

I have a contemporary thriller in the pipeline, and have just begun work on a companion piece to it. Although the new book will be more of a love story than a thriller, they have in common the fact that both are about people whose identity is different to the one they were born with and how this affects their lives. Both are also set on the east coast of England, the new one near Whitby, where Dracula landed of course!

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Well, if everything has failed and you find you have no option, you need patience, resilience and bloody-mindedness if you are going to keep going and succeed. You also need to be able to divide yourself into the writer, working in private, possibly not washing or even getting dressed for days, and the public persona who has to get out there, don the killer heels and lipstick, and sell her wares. In this regard, I find it helps to think of myself as a small marketing company set up to sell the novels of Sarah Bower. That way I can put some psychological distance between myself as writer and myself as a public figure. The business side of writing is assuming more and more importance for most of us as the publishing industry fragments and fewer and fewer novelists can expect to be published via the traditional route, by a big publishing house with a team of editors and marketing staff to put behind the book. We are increasingly having to become our own editors, proof readers and salespeople.

What is your favourite quote?

Oh dear, this is a difficult one, there are so many good ones and I have so many different favourites. So let’s go with the quote from Olive Schreiner’sFrom Man to Man which I use as an epigraph to THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD: ‘Has the pen or pencil dipped so deep in the blood of the human race as the needle?’


Sarah Bower is a prize-winning novelist and short story writer. She is a regular contributor to the Historical Novels , Ink, Sweat and, andWords With She works as a mentor to other writers, and teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia, the Open University and the Unthank School of Writing. She holds an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia where she is now based in her role as co-ordinator of the mentorship scheme for literary translators run by the British Centre for Literary Translation.

Sarah is the author of THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD and SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA (originally published in the UK as THE BOOK OF LOVE) Her work has been published in eight countries. She lives in Suffolk, in Eastern England.

Sarah tweets @SarahBower and you also may find her on Facebook.

Thank you Sarah for the pleasure of an interview! It was an honor! 


Thank you, Stephanie, for asking me. It’s been a pleasure to answer your questions.


Wednesday Book Reviews

The Queen’s Pleasure by Brandy Purdy
Brandy Purdy writes a story about Robert Dudley who meets Amy Robsart-a daughter of a squire-and falls in love with her. Despite his family’s misgivings of the match he soon marries her. Not long after, Robert’s love for Amy fades and he wants to return to court. When Elizabeth becomes Queen of England, Robert’s ambition grows and so does his resentment towards his marriage to Amy. Roberts’s loyalties seem to move to whoever is in power at the moment and throughout the story he shows no quilt or remorse for his actions. When Amy turns up dead, suspicion falls on Dudley and people question whether the Queen was involved.

This story focuses on Robert’s wife, Amy & Queen Elizabeth’s point of view. Even though Roberts view is lacking, Purdy writes in great detail of Roberts emotional, physical and mental abuse to Amy and his constant demands of Elizabeth. Robert completely disgusted me and what sadden me the most was that he left Amy shut up in various manners across the countryside for long periods of time-alone- not caring for her well-being while he was at court living the royal life and misleading Elizabeth about his relationship he has with his wife.

The lack of dialog in the beginning of the story made it difficult to read and I felt parts of it was getting a little repetitive and could have been shortened. However, Purdy does a superb job exploring the mind of an abused wife.

In-spite of already knowing about Amy’s mysterious death, it wasn’t any easier reading about it again. The circumstances surrounding her death is still a mystery and we know very little about Amy and her marriage to Robert. Purdy gives us a clear and painful perspective of how it could have been for her. I applaud Purdy for strong character building and even though I was mentally exhausted after reading this story… it was a gripping & emotional read. I recommend this story to readers who enjoy reading about the Tudors and wanting to explore more of Amy’s life.

3.5 Stars


What She Knew by K.R. Hughes
(Picture Unavailable) 

Wow! Just wow! What She Knew by K.R. Hughes and T.L. Burns has left me speechless and wanting more! What She Knew is a story that based on what would happen if on that fateful night in August of 1962 if Marilyn would have lived. There are so many famous names in this book from the entire Kennedy family to Frank Sinatra and the rat pack. K.R. Hughes and T.L. Burns do an excellent job of spinning a story and keeping the reader in suspense while they read about all of these famous characters. The reader will really feel as if they have stepped into the middle of the Camelot. The story will keep you guessing right until the very end…right until the day of November 22, 1963.

I was excited to receive this book to review, I am such a big Marilyn Monroe girl and any book that I could read about her I do. This story was written based entirely off of a “What if” question and boy does it pull every conspiracy theory over the night the Marilyn Monroe died, how she died, and why she died into light. It was no secret that she had an affair with president and it was no secret that many different people wanted her out of the way but why? What did she know that made her such a liability? K.R. Hughes and T.L Burns had created a story that leaves the reader wondering just how much of what they have written is true or how much of it is make believe.

I give this book 4.5 stars!
Rachel Massaro