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 What originally made me sit up and take notice of it in a different way was a TV show hosted by Simon Schama, in which he described one famous image in the Tapestry, of a woman and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
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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

Interview with Author Nan Hawthorne

I would like to introduce Author Nan Hawthorne, 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

Nan thank you for the pleasure of this interview. You write about a period of time in our history that I’m fascinated with and would like to know more about. Please tell us about your book, An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England.

An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England had an unusual beginning.  The year was 1964 and the place the Southeast Alaska Methodist Youth Camp far “out the road” from the capital, Juneau.  I was twelve.  I met a girl named Laura Burr who was a year younger.  We started playing “Indian princess” with her as the princess and me as an Indian brave, the story quickly changing to something more to our liking, the queen and king of a mythic kingdom.    We got into it, held a wedding and wedding supper, then had to figure out how we would continue “The Story” as we came to call it once she had gone home to her town and I to mine.  It started out as letters between the royal couple, but after a couple years we realized these two needed to be where they need not have such a long distance relationship and started to write stories about them and many other characters we created.  We kept at this for a few years.

About 35 years later I started a storytelling group called Ghost letters and while trying to decide what historical or fictional character to play on it, m y husband suggested I resurrect the characters from “The Story”.  The stories and letters I now wrote were fun and showed me I could write fiction.  So I started putting the pieces together.  In the final draft I had a very grown up novel of love and betrayal, battle and friendship in an imaginary late 8th century Anglo Saxon kingdom, in the area and at about the time that the Vikings would soon start raids.

The 8th century was such a long time ago in our history. Were there any challenges you faced while researching for your book?

My first challenge was that Laura and I had pretty much created a generic medieval world based around castles and knights on horseback.  I had chosen as a teen to set the stories in a period before, I thought, much was known of England, the 8th century.  The first thing I learned when writing the book seriously was that there were no castles, no knights, nothing resembling the image of Arthur’s Britain.  I actually had to start over and change situations and settings to match the era I had now set the stories in.  I wound up adoring the Anglo Saxon period, so, as they say, it’s all good.

The second challenge was how to write realistic battle scenes.  I eventually discovered Bernard Cornwell’s work on just these needs, but in the meantime I put out a call in the Society for Creative Anachronism for someone who would help me “choreograph” Anglo Saxon battles.  That’s how I made the acquaintance of Jack graham, a high school teacher with whom I now have a mutual admiration society.  He tells me tactics for battles and I turn them into prose.  He is still with me, sad that my upcoming fourth novel has no battle in it.

I am severely visually impaired so cannot simply go to the library and do research the way most people can.  So I have relied heavily on the Internet, which, thanks to my own assistive technology, is about as accessible as a medium can be.  In the four years since An Involuntary King was published, the Amazon Kindle keyboard has come along with its text to speech feature and suddenly more books and other materials than I could ever have imagined are in a format I can read!

What is the most surprising thing you learned about Anglo Saxon England?

Besides the quite different architecture and battle I mentioned above, I discovered that in Anglo Saxon England women had more rights than they would have again until at least the 19th century.  They had marriage rights, property rights, and a lot of other opportunities we would recognize now.  They could also be warriors, as numerous burial finds of women buried in armor prove.  The Norman Invasion in 1066 is what brought the change, bring feudalism, more influence by the Roman Catholic Church than the original Celtic influence in Britain, and a complete dissolution of women’s status in all classes.

What interests you most in Historical Fiction?

First of all, history is usually itself fiction.  All we really know is what we find in the written record along with archaeological data.  Same sex desiring people, for instance, seem nonexistent or negatively portrayed in the Middle Ages because the only official records are arrest and punishment.  Whole populations were ignored or misrepresented, so you often have to read between the lines to come up with what might be taken as genuine facts.

Historical fiction, when it is done responsibly and accurately, brings a human face and heart to history.  A historical novelist can use his or her knowledge of human nature to extrapolate what life m ay have been like during, say, a great even in history.  One of my favorite examples of this is Anel Viz’s novel, The Memoirs of Col. Gerard Vreilhac.  In one section Gerard is a young man living in Paris during the evolution of 1789.  We all know about the storming of the Bastille. But do we know what it might have been like to live a few blocks away during the event, how one would find out about it, how one might react, how one’s daily life would change in the coming weeks, months and years.  To explore this you need the leeway afforded by fiction.  Otherwise all you have is dry facts.

What is your favourite time in History?

That is changing, but I think it always will be the Middle Ages.  My second novel takes place during the Crusade of 1101.  I plan under a pen name to write a series of novels that take place in the late 10th century in England, back with my beloved Anglo Saxons.  My alter ego, Christopher Moss, just finished an American Civil War era novel, however, so clearly I am broadening my interest.

What is your next book project?

An Involuntary King came out in 2008 and had a lovely reception, and now this honor from B.R.A.G.!  My next novel was Beloved Pilgrim; the story of a young woman who adopts her late twin brother’s identity to fight in what was the most influential of all the crusades and the most devastating.  It came out in 2011.  The book I just finished under my pen name is a gay love story that takes place on a Mississippi riverboat and in New Orleans before and during the 1860s.  I want to turn that into a mystery series later on and do the same with my next book, the first of a series called Wintanceaster Hauntings, paranormal mysteries set in 985 AD in Winchester, England.

What books have most influenced your life?

My life or my writing?  They probably are the same, actually.  I was very into Robin Hood as a young girl, and this led me into an interest in the Middle Ages.  I read Roger Lancelyn Greene’s King Arthur and the Knight of the Round Table.  I also fell in love with Ireland thanks to the movie the Fighting Prince of Donegal and the book The Proud Man by Elizabeth Linigton.  More recently I have become an avid fan of Bernard Cornwell’s novels, all of them, and in the area of GLBT fiction I admire Josh Lanyon greatly.

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

One has to look at the advantages having a commercial publisher offers, which is getting less and less, and make sure your book has those advantages from another source.  You need to write a terrific book, but you also need to get it edited, including everything from getting advice as you write and simple proofreading.  A professional cover will be vital even for ebooks.  And you will have to do your own marketing.  You would anyway.  To do your own marketing you need to get inside the head of your ideal reader and figure out how to reach them.  Since you probably won’t be on any bookshelves, you have to learn to use the Internet wisely and well.  This came more or less naturally to me, but it may be harder for others.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Write, write, write.  Listen to your own judgment and don’t bother with writing classes.  So many of them will ultimately stifle your own creativity and style.  Realize that editing and reediting will take more time than writing the novel.  When you are not writing, read, read, read.    When the time comes to sell books, do favors.  That’s my particular secret.  I naturally help others.  I just plain like to.  But some years ago I discovered there is a return benefit. People like to help people who helped them.  Finally, strive for historical accuracy but remember two things: we don’t really know what happened in the past, and the first priority of a novelist is to tell a jolly good story.  You can always include a historical note saying what you changed… like Bernard Cornwell does.

What do you as a writer, get from writing novels that means the most to you?

Friends.  Every time I start a new novel I know that by the time it is finished I will have a whole new bunch of imaginary friends.  After all, I always say that the best thing about my profession is that I get to live in a dream world for a living.

What is your favourite quote?
Monique Wittig: “There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember . . . You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”

Author Bio and Links:

Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and doted-upon cats.  She has been in love with history and historical fiction since, at four, she discovered the Richard Greene “The Adventures of Robin Hood” television series.  She wrote her first short story at seven, then launched into the letters and stories with a teen friend that ultimately became her first novel, AN INVOLUNTARY KING: A TALE OF ANGLE SAXON ENGLAND (2008).  The author of one nonfiction work on women and body image, she now concentrates primarily on historical novels set in the Middle Ages.  Her latest novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, looks at gender identity and self-realization during the chaotic and doomed Crusade of 1101.  She writes several blogs on historical themes, owns the catalog and also Internet radio station, Radio Dé Danann.

Nan Hawthorne’s website:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Nan Hawthorne who is the author of An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England, 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 An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you!


BRAG Medallion is owned and operated by indieBRAG LLC, a privately held organization that has brought together a large group of readers, throughout the United States, Canada, and the European Union. IndieBRAG’s mission is to recongnize quality on the part of authors who self-publish both in print and digital books.

IndieBRAG has a new and exciting project that is under way for our BRAG Medallion winners. More information coming soon.

For contact information please visit indieBRAG at You can also find indieBRAG on Facebook,!/Indiebrag , Twitter @IndieBRAG, & Goodreads

Your single source for quality self-publishing books.


Interview with Author Bill Harper

I would like to introduce Author Bill Harper, 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

Bill please tell us about your book, Second Thoughts.

Thanks to you, STEPHANIE..and your IndiBrag website and to Geri Clouston of B.R.A.G. Medallion for giving me this opportunity to do just that.

The full title of the book – Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations gives a pretty good idea of what’s between the covers. And, just like all the rest of us, Presidents of the United States do make mistakes and sometimes, just like all the rest of us, they too come to regret some of their actions.

The difference is, when you and I make a mistake, its effects are fairly marginal. But when the President makes a mistake, it can be monumental. For instance, what do you do when you’re Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the President of the United States, and you appoint and fight for and get a specific Supreme Court nomination? Then, you wake up a few months later to screaming newspaper headlines that your vaunted nominee – to the highest court in the land – has been discovered to be — a lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan!

Or, suppose you’re Ulysses S. Grant – Civil War hero and two-term American President. One of your Supreme Court nominees has just committed one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the history of jurisprudence. One of Grant’s nominees was sitting as judge in a New York State trial – which Supreme Court judges used to do back then when they had to “ride the circuit.”

After hearing all the evidence from the prosecution and an impassioned defense in Susan B. Anthony’s so-called “illegal voting” trial, your candidate dismisses the jury entirely, reaches into his robes, and pulls out a previously written of verdict of “Guilty!” Your man is Judge, Jury, and Executioner – in a highly publicized and volatile trial!

These are the kinds of stories we write about in Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations. And they’re all true.
Were there any challenges you faced while writing/researching your story?

One of the challenges was that most of the people therein that I write about are long-gone. Tough to get interviews in that case. Another challenge is what I’ve been calling some of the “salty” language used by these distinguished jurists and by our American Presidents.

There are in Second Thoughts any number of stories with comments that don’t need to be sanitized. For instance, Teddy Roosevelt later said of one of his appointees to the Supreme Court – the famed Oliver Wendell Holmes – that he – Teddy – could “find a banana with more backbone” than that Justice.
Then, there are the mild epithets. President Eisenhower said of his appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that – it was “the biggest damned fool thing I ever did in my life.” But, when a Supreme Court Justice calls the President of the United States “a crippled son of a (female dog, or a word to that affect)” – how is one to use that language?

When President Nixon says every single member of the Supreme Court is the “child of (unmarried parents – or, again, a word to that affect),” how do you clean it up? Or, in this day and age, do you?

I chose not to clean it up – and let me tell you why….

In my book Eleven Days in Hell – about the taking of hostages in a Texas prison in Huntsville in 1974 – one of my interviewees was the Catholic priest, Father Joseph O’Brien, who was among the hostages taken. In one of his early sentences, he said something like, “So I asked the guy who the Hell he thought he was?”

To hear a priest talk like shocked me a bit so I said something like, “Whoa, Father O’Brien. Isn’t that unusual language for a member of the cloth?” His answer was like a searchlight. It was that strong. “When you want to communicate in a prison, Bill,” he told me straight out, “You have to speak the language of the prison!” And in the words of famed TV newscaster Walter Cronkite, I feel when writing history, you have to let the reader know, “…that’s the way it is.” I’ve tried to keep that in mind for all my writings ever since.

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

I don’t know about a message, Stephanie. But what I have found in writing Second Thoughts is that it contains a whole raft of intriguing stories that many of our most learned members of the legal profession had never heard before. I constantly hear reports from judges and lawyers saying things like, “Gee, they never taught me that in law school!”

A lawyer who tried the predecessor Roe v. Wade case wrote to me and said, “I must confess that some of this history is just about unknown and so new to me.”

So to again try to answer your question, Stephanie, the “message” of Second Thoughts is a history lesson – trying to teach why we have some of the laws – and the law-makers – we’ve had over the years.

How long did it take you to write, Second Thoughts?

That’s a good question, Steph. I don’t have any idea of how long it took because I have no idea where its genesis began. Unlike my award-winning Eleven Days in Hell book for which I know exactly how, when and where that book was born, the only clue I have for Second Thoughts is that which is shown on one of my computer’s listing October 2009 as the earliest date the master file was created – and the book was published almost exactly two years later.

What is your next book project?

There’s a 60-year-old unsolved murder mystery up in Illinois with more twists and turns than a bag full of pretzels. And it’s just begging to be written. There’s a most influential person in the history of Texas about whom I can find exactly only one biography that has been written.
There’s the story about the Windham School District – which sends its teachers and librarians into prison classrooms in an effort to keep inmates from coming back in after they get out. How many teachers do you know that had to step over a dead body to leave her classroom?

The 60th anniversary of the start of the Nation’s Interstate Highway System is looming and in which I have a local interest in down here at Texas A&M University. I teach Memoir Writing and there are simply dozens of stories there that need amplification.

My problem is not finding stories to write about. My problem is choosing which stories to write about.

Who or what inspired you to become an author?

Many long years ago, I started my full-time working career with the then third largest newspaper in the nation – the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ve been writing in one form or another ever since.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

First and foremost – in this day of the emergence of self-publishing as the primary source for getting read – and because as an “aspiring” author – I’m guessing one wouldn’t have much of a platform, nor much of a following. That being the case, I’d say that aspiring author better learn more about marketing your work than you did in writing it!

What is your favourite quote?

There so many, Steph. One I truly like says a lot – about America’s conditions throughout its history. As another writer of some note put it – a penman named Mark Twain – “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

And one more, if I may, by a writer of lesser note – your humble scribe. There’s nothing significant about this one. It just comes from one of my books, We Three: Fred, the Ferry Boat, and Me. That’s the story of a 2,400-mile sailboat odyssey through the Great Lakes and in the Inland waterways when I “ran away from home” in Minnesota and ended up in Freeport, Texas. To get out of a horrific Lake Superior storm, I had to drive my 47-foot sailboat up what looked like little more than a stream. In the book, I called it: “A sliver of a river.” I like that!

Author Bio:

William T. (Bill) Harper completed a career as a newspaper and magazine reporter, writer, editor, and natural gas industry executive before “running away from home” on his sailboat. Second Thoughts is his fifth book, one of which is the award-winning Eleven Days in Hell: The 1974 Carrasco Prison Siege in Huntsville, Texas – honored by the Writers League of Texas as “the best in Texas non-fiction for 2005”.

He teaches Memoir Writing in College Station, Texas and was a Guest Lecturer at University of Houston and Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Twice-elected President of the Brazos Writers group, he is also the creator, writer, and co-host of the PBS radio program, “The Classics and Their Times,” broadcast weekly on Texas A&M University’s KAMU-FM station. He lives in Bryan, Texas with his wife, Joyce (Juntune, PhD, professor at Texas A&M University).

Bill’s e-mail address is:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Bill Harper who is the author of Second Thoughts, 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 Second Thoughts merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you,

Layered Pages


Layered Pages Wednesday Reviews

Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Grace Kelly

Vivaldi’s Muse is an eloquently told story of a young woman named Annina Giro who lives in the early eighteenth century, and who has aspirations of becoming an opera singer. A wealthy count becomes her sponsor and she travels to Vienna to study music. She quickly falls in love with Antonio Vivaldi, a priest who is a composer for the opera, and soon she becomes his protegee. They are inseparable and form a special bond that is so rare in this world–you will be captivated.

I am impressed with what can only be described as impeccable detail in this story. Sarah takes you back to the Renaissance period and gives you an enchanting picture. Her portrayal of the characters was so masterfully done that I felt a strong emotional tie to each of them. I was quickly drawn in and immersed in the opera life of that time and the relationship between Annina and Antonio. I was disappointed when the story came to an end.

Sarah truly is a talented author and she writes with such grace and style. I will continue to follow her work and I look forward to finding out what her next book project is. I highly recommend this story to all of those who are avid readers of historical fiction. This novel will not let you down.

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Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting

Sons of the Wolf tells the story of Wulfhere, a Sussex thegn, living during the reign of Edward the Great, in the years leading up to the Norman conquest. A landholder whose land holdings come directly from the King, Wulfhere also owes service go Harold Godwinson, the powerful Earl of Wessex. Wulfhere is a fierce warrior who is also devoted to his growing family, and when the book opens we meet him returning home from battle with the Scots in the year 1054.
After surviving the horrible battle at Dunsinane Hill, Wulfhere only wants to settle at home, tend to his lands and enjoy his family. Of course fate has other plans. Wulfhere and his family’s lives soon get quite complicated and Wulfhere is put in the position of trying to keep his family safe while also not compromising his honor or loyalty to Earl Harold or the King.
The author based Wulfhere on real person, recorded in the Domsday Book, as she did with Helghi, Wulfhere’s neighbor and sworn enemy whose fate seems to be tied to Wulfhere’s. Unfortunately, only the sketchiest details were recorded about Wulfhere and Helghi, so Paula Lofting used her imagination and her knowledge of history to fill in the blanks – creating a vivid, detailed and realistic world full of complex and interesting characters. I liked her characters – both the fictional ones and the non-fictional. I really liked the more personal scope of the story and its focus on Wulfhere and his family and their struggles to love each other amidst conflict and misunderstandings. Wulfhere also participates in major historical events, owing fyrd service to the King, but overall the story doesn’t have the sweeping feel of many historical novels set in Anglo Saxon England. And I find that a welcome change. Paula’s characters feel like real people, with complex human emotions, motivations and, sometimes, failings.

The book itself is beautifully packaged, with rich and colorful cover art, and drawings at the beginning of each section. The author also includes pronunciation and place names guides, as well as a glossary of unfamiliar terms, all of which was very helpful. I would have liked a map to reference as well.

Sons of the Wolf is the first in a series of novels about the Norman conquest of England, and I am very excited to read more about Wulfhere and his family – and their place in history. I enjoyed this novel very much and found it a quick and easy read, one that I will undoubtedly want to read again.

(Four and one-half stars)

Sarah Giacalone

Amber Treasure by Richard Denning

Right off, I was impressed with the extensive research done in preparing for this writing in order to remain true to the time period. The story takes you on a journey of the tumultuous travels of a great sword. While this story does indeed feature several great swords, it is the story within, of a boy growing into a man, which grips your heart. The characters of the villa and their allies are well developed and endearing. Descriptions of the countryside, towns, people and battles are detailed enough to transport the reader into battle, and inspire sympathy for the boys, without being overly gruesome. While at times the storyline was slow, Denning succeeds in attaching the reader’s curiosity to the character’s quest and fates in order to carry you through these slow spots.

I would recommend this book to those interested in the dark ages, important battles in history, and war stories in general. The ending makes clear that this is not intended to be a stand-alone volume and as such those looking for a new series to read will be satisfied as well.

Brandy Strake

Once A Priest by Ed Griffin-Cover unavailable

This book is a biography of a man brought up in a Catholic household. He goes on to become a priest with the goal of helping people, but with time, gets disillusioned with the practices and rituals of the Catholic Church. How he deals with leaving the priesthood, and finds a worthier way to help people is the premise of this book.

The beginning is choppy as the author chooses to give small snippets of information from his background. Instead of flowing smoothly, the text jars on you for a couple of chapters, but it gets much smoother after that. This is basically an autobiography of one man which runs through different themes, but in the end showcases a life well lived. The narrative is catchy and retains interest in spite of the choppy beginning, and has enough twists and turns to retain the reader’s interest.

The author describes in personal detail how the rules of the Catholic Church affected him, effectively showing all the problems of the Church. What really struck me about this book is that there is neither any venom directed towards the church nor is the church absolved of its many crimes. It is a very balanced account of the struggle of one man to see the light.
Another aspect discussed is the kind of brainwashing that takes place in religious societies. One of the strongest points made by this book is that right or wrong is relative. Religions have black and white rules, but the author realized that nothing was so simple. This gave him strength to make the right decision for himself.

There were some really poignant moments described beautifully, and a detailed look is taken at the civil rights movement in USA from the eyes of one man. But the ending chapters get a little less focused with discussion of his youth and going back and forth in time, which starts grating a little.

Overall, a good book and I give 3 out of 5 stars for this. It is really readable, and an excellent and inspirational book.


The Bond by Karen Magill- Cover unavailable

The Bond by Karen Magill is a paranormal love story that is neat, compact, and condensed into 88 fast paced pages. The Bond follows the story of two characters, Laura Neill and Julian Rule, who are both almost simultaneously struck by cars while crossing the street. Being far away from each other when tragedy strikes thy both experience out of body experiences, connecting their souls together. But, when danger enter Laura’s life it will be up to Julian to try to save her, will he be able too?

I enjoyed the way that The Bond was written. Karen Magill’s writing style in this short story is condensed and fast paced. The chapters are short and the plot is moved along with no nonsense. However, I do wish Magill would have expanded the story more to include more description and detail. Magill introduces us to some interesting characters in this story and I found myself wanting to know more about the characters and their backgrounds. I wanted the story to evolve slower than it did but I found myself still turning pages wanting to know what would happen to Laura, Julian, and their families.

I would give The Bond by Karen Magill 3 stars

Rachel Massaro

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Interview with Author Tim Vicary

I would like to introduce Author Tim Vicary, 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
Please tell us about your book, A Fatal Verdict.

A Fatal Verdict is the second in a series of three legal thrillers featuring a British barrister (trial lawyer) Sarah Newby. She’s a tough lady who left school when she became pregnant at fifteen and had a hard fight to get to where she is today. In all three of these books Sarah is confronted with trials in which she cannot be certain whether the clients she represents are guilty or innocent. The reader doesn’t know either, until the last minute. This means that although Sarah fights each case as hard as she can, there are difficult moral and emotional choices to be made, by her and the police and everyone else involved.

In the first book, A Game of Proof, Sarah’s own son, Simon, is accused of a series of dreadful rapes and murders. This is bad enough for any mother, but Sarah is not just Simon’s mother, she is also a lawyer, an officer of the court. So when she uncovers evidence which seems to prove her own son’s guilt, what should she do? Hide the evidence and risk her career, or tell the truth and betray her son? What would you do in that situation?

The same question comes back in A Fatal Verdict, in a different form. This time it is not Sarah who faces the difficult mother’s choice, but her client, Kathryn Walters. Kathryn’s daughter, Shelley, is murdered; a horrible experience for any parent. But what should a mother do, if the courts set her child’s killer free? How should the victim’s family – her mother, father, and sister – respond to that?

Should they accept the verdict, and try to forgive and forget? Or take the law into their own hands, and seek their own revenge? And if so, how – in practical terms – would they actually do it? Should they plan together or separately? And if one member of the family commits a crime, should the rest of the family lie to protect that person, or save themselves by telling the truth? This is why the book is called A Fatal Verdict; because the choices which confront the victim’s family are so terrible. So Sarah Newby finds herself defending a client for whom she feels great sympathy, but who seems, for reasons Sarah cannot understand, to actually want to be convicted of murder.

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

It wasn’t the scenes that I found difficult; it was the plot. All three of these books have quite complex plots; it’s part of the challenge of making a good thriller, I think. The reader should have enough information to guess where things are going, but be frequently surprised by what actually happens. Timing is important too; the events should seem to move swiftly, in the right order, so that the reader keeps turning the pages; whereas in a real legal case, things aren’t like that.

If a book’s easy to read, it was probably hard to write. And what really stumped me, halfway through this book, was a twist in the plot which I just couldn’t make work. I wrote scene after scene which were all fine in themselves, but which had to be discarded because they didn’t fit the plot. It was like doing a jigsaw where someone had deliberately substituted half-a-dozen wrong pieces. It was only when I worked out what was wrong, that I could carry on to the end and make it work.

The really dramatic scenes, though, are the ones I love doing. I get into the zone and they just flow.

How long did it take you to write A Fatal Verdict?

About a year, probably, with a longish break of several months in the middle, because of this plot business. I work at the university as well, so I don’t have that much time to write.

Is there a part of the day when you feel most inspired to write?

Mostly in the mornings, from about 9 to 12 if I’m free. I find if I haven’t got into it in the morning, it’s much harder to get started later.
But there’s another thing that’s more interesting than the time, perhaps. I think writing is a bit like exercise – running or swimming or whatever you do. I had a period when I trained to run marathons (very slowly, but still …) and when I was running regularly I felt the need to run every day; if I didn’t do it I felt bad. But when I gave up running for a month or two I found it very hard to get started again; there was too much TV to watch, too many books to read, anyway it was raining or too hot, and so on and so on. The excuses mounted up, time passed, and I lost all my fitness.
Writing is the same. When I’m doing it regularly, and have a plan for a book, then I feel a need to do it every day. But if I haven’t done it for a month or two, I find it impossible to start. I look out of the window, go for a walk, watch TV, whatever. And there’s another day gone.

What books have most influenced your life?

Heavens, that’s a hard question. I’ve read hundreds. Sometimes I think I’ve wasted my life reading instead of doing. But perhaps you could say that all those books have influenced my life, by showing me how to lose myself in an imaginary world, which is sometimes more satisfactory than the real world around us. I was the kid who read books when others wanted to play, quite often.

The novels I really enjoy are the ones you don’t want to end. Or when they end there’s another one in the same series. Books in which the same interesting characters have further adventures. For instance the sea stories of Patrick O’Brian – probably the best historical novelist ever. There are twenty-one of them, and I’ve read them all at least six times. Tolkien is similar. And recently my wife and I – and my mother – have immersed ourselves in Winston Graham’s Poldark series, which were once a great TV hit in the 1980s. There are ten or twelve of them, and they’re marvelous, especially if you’ve lived in Cornwall, as I have.

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

I wish I knew! I’m still trying to find out!

Apart from writing a series of good books (see below) I think many of the answers are the same as in traditional publishing: talent, hard work, determination, and luck. All three are equally important. The talent and determination go into writing the book in the first place. Then you need more hard work and determination for promotion and the marketing. This involves a steep learning curve, and hours and hours of time on the internet. (Time which could be used for other things, like writing)

Then at the end of it all you need luck. There are gazillions of other authors out there trying to do exactly the same thing, and we can’t all succeed. There are more books than there are readers.

Think of it this way. There is a type of birds in south-east Asia called bower birds. These birds are artists. Every mating season, the male bird spends all day collecting sticks and bright stones and feathers to make a bower to attract females. This bower is like your novel. The poor bird spends all his talent, hard work and determination making the most magnificent bower he can. Then he stands outside waiting. What happens?

Scientists tell us that the males who build the best bowers stand the best chance of getting a mate; that’s natural selection. (The girls choose the guys!) So the writer with the best novel and the best website and the most tweets ought to sell the most books, isn’t that right?

Well, maybe, but what if the fashion in bowers is changing? There are hundreds of birds in the forest who’ve made bowers like this, but a few have a different idea. Our bird’s neighbour is one of these. Instead of carefully woven grasses, bright feathers, and tastefully arranged pebbles, this bird has heaped together a lot of trash – crisp packets, Coke cans, sweet wrappers, broken bottles. Our bird is disgusted; he thinks it’s a tasteless shiny mess.

But guess what? The females love it. They think it’s cool and sexy. Why? Who knows? You have to be a female bower bird, I guess!

That’s luck. Luck plays a big role in natural selection, and in the success of books, too. That’s my theory, anyway. (It’s probably rubbish – but I’m off to find some Coke cans, right now!)

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

First, obviously, write a good book. Some bad books succeed, but I hope it’s true that the better a book is, the better chances it has. If there’s any justice in the world, that ought to help. (But – oh dear – see above!)

Second, write another one. If a reader likes your first book, what are they going to do? Look for the next one. If it’s not there, they’ll go somewhere else.

Third, make sure it’s perfectly edited and formatted with no typos or odd-looking paragraphs. When you think your manuscript’s perfect, read it again, line by line. You’ll find some more.

Fourth, get a good cover. Unless your own talents like that way, get someone professional to do it. I use Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics. She’s great!

And finally, be prepared to spend all that time and effort promoting your book, and hope you have some luck as well!

What is your favorite quote?

Another hard question. How about this: ‘When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. Characters are caricatures.’ Ernest Hemingway. That’s fairly ambitious but I think he’s right. That’s what I try to do when I’m writing; I don’t know if I succeed.

It goes with another Hemingway quote: ‘All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened, and after you have finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and belongs to you … if you can give that to people, then you are a writer.’

That’s a pretty high target, but it’s worth aiming for, I suppose.

Tim Vicary – short biography

Tim was born in London but spent much of his youth in Devon, in the south west of England. He studied History and English at Cambridge University, became a schoolteacher, a teacher of English as a foreign language, and a Teaching Fellow at the University of York. As well as the three legal thrillers in the ‘Trials of Sarah Newby’ series, he has published two children’s books, four historical novels, and about twenty graded readers for foreign learners of English, two of which recently won awards.

Tim lives with his wife in the English countryside near York. When he is not writing or playing with his grandchildren he still tries to keep fit by horse riding, cycling and jogging, though less than before. (The time for marathons is probably over)


Tim Vicary’s official website:
About the Sarah Newby books:
About historical thrillers:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Tim Vicary who is the author of A Fatal Verdict, 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 A Fatal Verdict merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you,

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