Today I’m absolutely delighted to host the lovely Prue Batten on my blog.
Prue and I met on Facebook a year ago. We share the same awesome editor, John Hudspith, and it was through his recommendation that I read Gisborne: Book of Pawns, a book I love. Wecome, Prue. Please tell us about yourself and your writing!
‘She lives too far away…’
That’s the one milestone moment I remember most about my early journey as a writer.
I had been selected by a consultancy to be shopped around London as a writer of promise. The agent most interested took a week to make up her mind and finally said: ‘She lives too far away. I know I shall probably regret this, but on the grounds of physical distance, I have to say no.’
Not writing ability, not story quality. But distance…
I was gobsmacked – we had email at the time, even video-conferencing. Now of course we have all manner of digital communication and I am stunned the agent could not see beyond her desk to what was happening with technology in the real world.
However, she did me a favour…
That same week, the UK peer review site to which I belonged (YouWriteOn.com) sent an email saying they were venturing into POD publishing, was I interested? I thought about it over lunch with the writer, GS Johnston, and decided I had nothing left to lose because I lived 42 Degrees South Latitude, would always do so, and thus it was best to take my fate into my own hands and become an independent writer.
My first book was print published by YWO.com in 2008. It was Book One of The Chronicles of Eirie – The Stumpwork Robe. Since then I’ve written three more books to close that historical fantasy chronicle. After concluding that series, I wrote a historical fiction trilogy about Guy of Gisborne – The Gisborne Saga. And I have just finished my eighth book – Tobias, the first of The Triptych Chronicles.
Eight books in seven years. For me, a huge achievement!
I’m a notoriously slow writer. Other indies pump them out but I am unable to. I have a demanding private life of farms, gardens, aged mothers and dogs. In addition, writing historical fiction requires that every fact must checked and crosschecked, and time drifts by. Added to that is the fact that I always pick something difficult, or something difficult picks me – my chosen timeframe is the twelfth century verging on the thirteenth and academic research changes its opinion as often as the weather changes!
But I’m never daunted. I plug on and fall in love with my characters and we trudge down the muddy tracks of Europe, sail across the Middle and Adriatic Seas and fight with guile and pure madness whilst all around us, genuine historical personages make our lives hell.
Through my indie career, I’ve been very lucky – I’ve won medals, been mentioned by the Huffington Post and talked about on Australian national radio. Most importantly, since 2012 all my books have ranked unbroken in Amazon UK’s Top 100 in various e-book categories.
So just occasionally I wonder if that makes the whole ‘living too far away’ thing just a little laughable.
My latest book, Tobias, to be published soon, is about a minstrel by the same name. For me it was a compelling story to write on two levels – one because I LOVE the avaricious and murderous history of trade and secondly because Toby is a dwarf, and for Toby to survive the rigorous Middle Ages, I had to learn a lot about the condition called achondroplasia.
But then, did Toby survive?
I have a reputation for killing off my favourite characters, you see, so it may be a valid question but you’ll have to purchase the story to find out. But just to entice you – here’s a short piece from the novel – I hope you enjoy it:
Scene: Constantinople 1195. Inside Sancta Sophia which we now know as Sancta Sophia:
Dana pulled Toby behind a great porphyry pillar and shook her head.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know. Something…’
The porphyry chilled Toby’s back as he leaned hard against it. ‘Did you hear the sound of booted feet as well?’
‘Not novices then. Jesu wept!’ His heartbeat began to bolt and his hand leaped for his sword hilt, but Dana grabbed his arm, shook her head and held a finger to her lips. The sun had almost disappeared from the west-facing windows below the cupola and the many mosaics were now lit gold upon gold by flame. The smell of burning candles, a thousand upon a thousand, blended with the smell of olibanum from the ornate gold thymiateria.
Perhaps the emperor was to grace the basilica and that was why the priests were anxious that all be peaceful and respectful. Tobias leaned out and examined the galleries but they were empty of candlelight and dark with shadow.
‘Toby, keep back!’ Dana hissed.
But before Dana could answer, Toby heard a woman’s cry funnelling along the passage from the atrium.
‘It’s Zoë!’ He leaped forward. ‘Tomas is…’
But Dana grabbed the back of his tunic, hauling him back, holding his arm in a grip tighter than a wild boar’s bite. ‘No! Do not, Toby. We have to get out of here.’
Toby tried to shake her off.
‘Listen, you fool,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘Something has gone very wrong and we can be of no help if we are taken as well. Understand?’
Of course he understood but it infuriated him. The noise of heavy feet echoed amongst the porphyry forest and he and Dana slipped swiftly from one pillar to the next in the unlit shadows, moving toward the south end of the narthex. The whole place reminded Toby of a cave – dark on the edges, echoing, speaking of mystery and danger, and icy cold despite the warmth of a summer dusk outside.
He sidled round the pillar and gasped as six guards marched along the narthex with Tomas bound and gagged between them. Worshippers gathered in whispering clusters and one close to Dana growled, ‘A thief is what he is. Stole a saintly icon.’
Toby cast an anguished look at Dana.
‘Heed me, ‘ she whispered. ‘Is that Zoë?’
A woman with the face of the Theotokos walked out between four guards – upright, graceful but pale as the driven snow, fear rich in her eyes. Toby could bear it no longer and with thoughts in his head of a vulnerable English knight so long ago, he called into the reverend space, keeping out of sight.
‘Sanctuary, Zoë,’ he shouted in Greek. ‘Cry sanctuary!’
Siobhan, thank you so much for allowing me to guest on your blog. It’s been a true pleasure!
Prue, the pleasure has been all mine. I love your work and wish you every success with your new series. I can’t wait to read it. Readers, if you would like to connect with Prue, here are her social media details: