Today I have Author David Penny to talk with me about his B.R.A.G. Medallion book, The Red Hill. He is the author of 4 Science Fiction novels and several short stories published during the 1970’s. Near-starvation led him down the slippery slope of work, which distracted him from his true calling. He has now returned to writing and The Red Hill, a Moorish mystery thriller, was published in June 2014. He is currently working on two new books: the follow up to The Red Hill, and a thriller set in the world of industrial espionage.
Hello David! Thank you for chatting with me today about your book, The Red Hill! First, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.
Hi Stephanie, and thanks for asking me. I’m honored. I’m a committed networker, both online and in person, and love nothing more than talking to readers and other writers. I couldn’t say exactly when I first heard about IndieBRAG because it’s been in my awareness ever since I came back to writing and decided to go Indie. I suppose what triggered me to investigate further was the presence of the IndieBRAG Medallion on a lot of the books I was reading.
What has your experience been like with self-publishing thus far?
Pretty good! I used to be traditionally published many years ago with four novels in print in the 1970’s, but somehow I drifted away from writing for too many years. When I returned I had to decide whether to try to pick up my lapsed career or take matters into my own hands. I think what it came down to was two things. I’m too impatient to wait the 18 months between finishing a book and seeing it in print. I’ve also become too much of a control-freak, and I love the ability to take command of my own destiny, from covers to formatting to content.
Please tell me about your story?
The Red Hill is set in the last years of the Moorish Caliphate in southern Spain, and takes place in 1482. It features Thomas Berrington who left England at the age of 13 with his father to fight in the final battle of the 100 years war. When his father was killed Thomas found himself abandoned and alone in a foreign land. Eventually he found himself in Andalusia in Spain where he trained to become a surgeon.
The book centers around the Sultan’s request to track down a killer who is stalking the Alhambra palace in Granada. He enlists the help of his friend, the eunuch Jorge.
The Red Hill is a story of murder, mystery and betrayal set in a culture that has little written about it.
How did you come up with your title and who designed your book cover?
The title was the start of everything. Because the story is set in the Alhambra palace. The name comes from the Arabic al-Hamra, which translates as The Red Hill.
The cover was designed by Alisha of Damonza, and I’m incredibly pleased with what she did for me. The brief was a hooded figure, corridors, and Arabic script on ancient paper and she came up with something that met all those criteria.
As an avid reader of history and historical thrillers, I am thrilled with your premise and will be adding your book to my reading list for this year. Why did you chose last remnants of Moorish Spain as your setting for your story and what fascinates you about this period?
Great question, Stephanie, and I’m not sure I altogether know the answer to that. I think it chose me rather than the other way around. What I do recall is sitting at home one evening several years ago talking about nothing in particular with my wife and the kids when I suddenly sat up and said something like “Has anyone ever written a detective story set in Moorish Spain?”
And that was it!
Well—almost. Two more years of research followed while I searched for old source material, which was made more difficult because when Spain expelled the Moors they destroyed almost all of the original books in their libraries.
The more research I did the more I fell in love with the Moorish culture and this period in history. Between 790 and 1100 Spain was an Islamic nation, and regarded as the cultural beacon in a Europe rent by war, dissension and ignorance. The depth of knowledge developed over this period is remarkable, and they were acknowledged as the leading practitioners of medicine and surgery of the day. In fact many of the instruments and techniques they invented can be traced down to the present.
After 1100 their rule began to be eroded as Spain gathered its own forces, until eventually only a small enclave in the south of the country remained in Moorish hands. I set my book at that time because turbulent historical periods are always more fun to write about.
Please tell me a little about the political and religious history of this period your story is written in.
At the end of the 1400’s Andalusia was the last remaining foothold of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula. Until then, barring the occasional skirmish, the Spanish and the Moors had reached some kind of accommodation. Only when Isabel and Fernando married and united the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon was a fresh onslaught made on Andalusia, fueled primarily by a religious conviction that the whole of Spain must be Christian. This led not only to the final expulsion but to persecution of the Jews who ran most of the civic administration, and the setting up of the Inquisition.
So, a pretty vibrant period to write about. Another fascinating aspect was to discover the links between Queen Isabel and the English monarchy. It is known by many that her daughter married two English Kings – including Henry VIII, but perhaps less well known that we was the great-great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt.
Please tell me about Thomas Berrington and the challenges he faces as a surgeon of his time and how he came to investigate a series of murders…
As I mentioned briefly before, Thomas came to be a surgeon almost by accident, but when he did embrace the profession be became highly skilled. This skill is what ultimately leads to his involvement in the murders. At the time the Moorish physicians were skilled surgeons performing many procedures that were unknown in the rest of Europe. One example is they had already been removing cataracts for hundreds of years in a procedure that remained unchanged until the introduction of laser surgery. Prior to the start of the book Thomas saved the life of the Sultan’s youngest son, Yusuf, which led to a position as physician to the palace and harem. When an earlier investigation of the murders in the palace came to a dead end the Sultan asked Thomas to help – a request he felt unable to refuse.
What do you like most about writing historical thrillers?
When I was previously published I wrote science-fiction, but over the years stopped reading it and turned to history and mysteries and thrillers. When I returned to writing I naturally wanted to write what interested me, but I do in fact find a great deal of similarity between science-fiction and historical fiction. Both deal in world building and the description of places and people that no longer (or do not yet) exist. It is this sense of vanished worlds that fascinates me and keeps me coming back.
Are there any challenges writing in this genre?
Oh yes! The biggest one is the research. You can guarantee that however much research you do, and however much you know about a period, there will always be someone who knows more and will take great pleasure in pointing out your mistakes.
The Moorish period, as I alluded to before, presented particular challenges because very little remains of the documents and books that existed at that time. Most of the materials I found always had to be read through the filter of the prejudice of the writers of that time, and I needed to pick out truth from falsehood and fiction.
Where can readers buy your book?
The Red Hill is available in both print and eBook format through Amazon.
The follow up novel Breaker of Bones was published April 13th 2015, and I have a further eight books planned for the series. I have already written the final scene of book 10!
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview David Penny, who is the author of, The Red Hill, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, 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, The Red Hill, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.