My Summer Recreating the Past

With Pen and Sword

tents and ropes

That picture is of the Torneo del Cigno Bianco, or the Tournament of the White Swan, held every year in Verona, Italy.  This year, the Torneo will be held from 3 June 2016 to June 2016.

I’ll be there.

I’ve spent a year recovering a shoulder injury, and also making my harness better; that is, upgrading my armour so that it is both more authentic to my chosen period (1385) and a better fit for my body and my fighting style.  I’ve worked with Andrey Galevsky and Jeffrey Hildebrandt and Aurora Simmons and Craig Sitch and perhaps most of all, Jiří Klepač to make all my armour and all my other kit as authentic and beautiful as could be done with the time and money at hand.  There will be pictures, once I have it all on…in Italy.

But the Torneo is not just a peak experience because of…

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Jack Lark v Sharpe….

Richard Sharpe and Jack Lark


Richard Sharpe 21 (11)

Jack Lark 8

What is the score for you might wonder? well since Paul Collard burst onto the scene only a short 3 years ago i have been unable to do anything but relate his fantastic character Jack Lark to anyone but Sharpe, not because he is a copy or parody of Sharpe, but its the closest genre comparison i can think of.

Jack Lark is a man from the ranks making his way as an officer, only unlike Sharpe who makes no pretense to being well bred and from the upper echelons of society, Jack must do so. He is a trickster a Loki character,  making his way by guile, deception and skill. This for me makes him a more subtle character than Sharpe who bludgeons his way through his escapades, his softer edges provided by his ancillary characters, Jack can’t have those blending tones provided by anyone but himself, to do so would be to admit to what he really is (which doesn’t come until more recently in the series), so Paul Collard needs to really expose and explore the soul of his character, making him someone the reader can really connect with, in comparison to Sharpe who you want to be because he is the rugged adventurer.

From a readers perspective i always have to play “which is my fave series” , its just one of those reading things, and its a hard thing to consider with these two series…. (lets face it Sharpe would wipe the floor with Jack in a one on one scrap…) but this is more subtle than that. Sharpe was a stand out book of its time, the character so iconic that it inspired a TV series, but then the TV series took on a stature greater than the books, Sean Bean became Sharpe. Can anyone honestly read or picture Sharpe as anyone but Sean Bean? that’s a huge testament to the production team and also to the actor himself. But this achievement also in my opinion also sounded the death knell for the quality of the books, i don’t know what it was, time? having to commit so much to the TV series  or just that the author didnt need to try so hard any more? but for me the books declined from about book 11 Waterloo (note the bracketed 11 above next to Cornwells name), maybe its just that a series ultimately has a lifespan and you have to kill people. This possibly is where Sharpe has some strengths that Jack Lark doesn’t, Sharpe has his Rifles, he has characters to build, to make you connect with and love, and then to kill in sudden startling realism, leaving behind a hole, a loss that cant help but have an impact on the reader (Lets face it Patrick Harper became almost as iconic as Sharpe). Jack Lark being a solitary character  with his only co-stars coming and going in a single book means that the readers don’t build that bond with anyone else, and Jack Lark cannot die, not without the death of the series, so there is certainly something to be said for a band of men v a solo character, maybe the longevity is provided by the variance of the group?

From a plot perspective, you want your man in all the big fights of their time, Sharpe was always constrained by the War he was in, and where his regiment was, and who he was, his rank etc. Jack Lark has never had those constraints, he is whomever he makes himself into. This means that Paul Collard can take him anywhere, any country any conflict, always one step ahead of the establishment, one step ahead of his past, and as such always in the thick of the worst that humanity can imagine on a battle field, where Jack doesn’t have a group dynamic for longevity i think he gains ground with the fact he has freedom to go and fight anywhere.

So ultimately while Sharpe is a few goals (books) ahead , there is lots of this game left to play and with the way the Jack Lark Series is growing and the intricacy and depth of the plot increasing i can see that 3 book deficit being closed down very fast…. hopefully the publishers will see the power of the series and we will have many more to come, as well as mixing it up for the writer with something else (cant beat a bit of diversity on series). Who knows, maybe Jack Lark will get his own outing on the screen, its certainly a very intriguing idea for a TV show.

If you have not read the books i hope this gives you pause to stop and go get one

Inspiration for Jack Lark


Jack Lark Novellas / Prequels:

Buy Rogue


book cover of Rogue

The first e-novella featuring the early life of Jack Lark, the boy who will one day become The Scarlet Thief.

As pot boy at his mother’s infamous London gin palace, Jack Lark is no stranger to trouble.
Between dog fights and street scuffles, if he’s not being set upon, he’s starting a brawl himself. But when an unlikely ally draws him from the dark alleys of the East End into the bright lights of a masked ball, he gets a glimpse of another life. That life, once seen, is impossible to forget.
Jack will do anything to outwit, outsmart and escape the cruelty in his own home. He is determined to get out, but what price will he be forced to pay for his freedom?

Buy Recruit

book cover of Recruit

Forced to leave London, young recruit Jack Lark is determined to make his way as a Redcoat. Despite the daily tirades of Sergeant Slater, a sadistic monster of a man who sees his new trainees as the scum of the earth, Jack holds on to his belief that the Army will give him a better life.

His comrades are a rough and ready bunch, and Jack falls in with Charlie Evans, a cheerful young clerk who quickly comes to regret joining up. But once you’ve taken the Queen’s Shilling, there is no way out: deserters always pay the highest price.

As Charlie schemes to escape, Jack, always a loyal friend, is forced into an impossible situation where the wrong move could leave him taking the long walk to the gallows…

Buy Redcoat

book cover of Redcoat

The third e-novella featuring young Jack Lark – now a young Redcoat yearning to rise above his lot in life – following Rogue and Recruit

Private Jack Lark wears his red coat with pride. Though life in Queen Victoria’s service is tough, he relishes the camaraderie of Aldershot barracks, and four years’ harsh discipline hasn’t blunted his desire to be more than just a Redcoat.

When he learns that Captain Sloames needs a new orderly, Jack is determined to prove his worth both to the officer and to Molly, the laundry girl who has caught his eye. But standing in his way is Colour Sergeant Slater, a cruel and vicious bull of a man who loathes Jack, and is longing for the chance to ruin his ambition…

The Jack Lark Series (full Novels)

Buy Scarlet Thief

Debut Review

The new Richard Sharpe bursts onto the historical adventure scene in a brilliant, action-packed debut of Redcoat battle and bloodshed.

1854: The banks of the Alma River, Crimean Peninsular. The Redcoats stagger to a bloody halt. The men of the King’s Royal Fusiliers are in terrible trouble, ducking and twisting as the storm of shot, shell and bullet tear through their ranks.

Officer Jack Lark has to act immediately and decisively. His life and the success of the campaign depend on it. But does he have the mettle, the officer qualities that are the life blood of the British Army? From a poor background Lark has risen through the ranks by stealth and guile and now he faces the ultimate test…

THE SCARLET THIEF introduces us to a formidable and compelling hero – brutally courageous, roguish, ambitious – in a historical novel as robust as it is thrillingly authentic by an author who brings history and battle vividly alive.

Buy The Maharajah’s General


A riveting tale of battle and adventure in a brutal land, where loyalty and courage are constantly challenged and the enemy is never far away.

Jack Lark barely survived the Battle of the Alma. As the brutal fight raged, he discovered the true duty that came with the officer’s commission he’d taken. In hospital, wounded, and with his stolen life left lying on the battlefield, he grasps a chance to prove himself a leader once more. Poor Captain Danbury is dead, but Jack will travel to his new regiment in India, under his name.

Jack soon finds more enemies, but this time they’re on his own side. Exposed as a fraud, he’s rescued by the chaplain’s beautiful daughter, who has her own reasons to escape. They seek desperate refuge with the Maharajah of Sawadh, the charismatic leader whom the British Army must subdue. He sees Jack as a curiosity, but recognises a fellow military mind. In return for his safety, Jack must train the very army the British may soon have to fight..

Buy The Devils Assassin

Book Review

The bold hero of THE SCARLET THIEF and THE MAHARAJAH’S GENERAL returns in an exhilarating and dangerous new adventure.

Bombay, 1857. Jack Lark is living precariously as an officer when his heroic but fraudulent past is discovered by the Devil – Major Ballard, the army’s intelligence officer. Ballard is gathering a web of information to defend the British Empire, and he needs a man like Jack on his side. Not far away, in Persia, the Shah is moving against British territory and, with the Russians whispering in his ear, seeks to conquer the crucial city of Herat. The Empire’s strength is under threat and the army must fight back.

As the British march to war, Jack learns that secrets crucial to the campaign’s success are leaking into their enemies’ hands. Ballard has brought him to the battlefield to end a spy’s deceit. But who is the traitor?

THE DEVIL’S ASSASSIN sweeps Jack Lark through a thrilling tale of explosive action as the British face the Persian army in the inky darkness of the desert night.

Buy The Lone Warrior

Review of Book

Jack Lark, once the Scarlet Thief, has fought hard for his freedom. But will he risk it all to do the right thing?

Bombay, 1857. India is simmering with discontent, and Jack Lark, honourably discharged from the British Army, aims to take the first ship back to England. But before he leaves, he cannot resist the adventure of helping a young woman escape imprisonment in a gaming house. He promises to escort Aamira home, but they arrive in Delhi just as the Indian Mutiny explodes.

As both sides commit horrific slaughter and the siege of Delhi begins, Jack realises that despite the danger he cannot stand by and watch. At heart, he is still a soldier…

Buy The Last Legionnaire

Book Review

Jack Lark has come a long way since his days as a gin palace pot boy. But can he surrender the thrill of freedom to return home?

London, 1859. After years fighting for Queen and country, Jack walks back into his mother’s East End gin palace a changed man. Haunted by the horrors of battle, and the constant fight for survival, he longs for a life to call his own. But the city – and its people – has altered almost beyond recognition, and Jack cannot see a place for himself there.

A desperate moment leaves him indebted to the Devil – intelligence officer Major John Ballard, who once again leads Jack to the battlefield with a task he can’t refuse. He tried to deny being a soldier once. He won’t make the same mistake again.

Europe is about to go to war. Jack Lark will march with them

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Paul Fraser Collard

Peter Newman (The Malice) + Extract

Peter Newman

Peter Newman's picture

Peter Newman co-writes the Hugo nominated Tea and Jeopardy podcast and is also the voice of the butler, Latimer. His debut fantasy novel, The Vagrant was published by Harper Voyager on April 23rd 2015.

(keep going… extract soon)

The Malice  (2016)
(The second book in the Vagrant series)
A novel by Peter Newman

book cover of The Malice

In the south, the Breach stirs. Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more. But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life, and so he turns his back, ignoring its call. The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers. Her name is Vesper.

(Extract soon i promise….)


When i received a review copy of The Malice i had not read the first book in the series and i considered the fact that i would want to, (i never read a book part way through a series), so instead i broke that rule. I wanted to truly see of a book in a series could work as a stand alone. I delighted to say that this book works beautifully as a standalone novel. Unlike many series the book isn’t riddled with allusions to previous books and occurrences a new reader knows nothing about.

I’m hugely impressed with the world building/ descriptive in a 2nd book, the author has taken time to ensure a new reader enjoys the experience as much as anyone who has read his previous book. As fantasy books go its a slow burn, a steady introduction to characters, the world and the mission. The timeslip between the cause of the worlds woes and the present day is the winner for me, the two threads helping to pull together the entire plot of the book.

The major characters don’t require major depth, in fact they seem to start out shells ready to be filled, and grow as the book progresses, as do the variations of creatures that now inhabit the world.

by the end of the book , and what and ending, i was left wanting more, wondering how soon i could fit in the first book in the series and understand Vespers father (The Vagrant) , and would book 3 include them both? and just what could be more dangerous than the yearning?… and i cant wait to find out.

Many new writers i hear about are so much hype and fail to measure up, but in the case of Peter Newman and The Malice I‘m really pleased to say the hype has substance and talent, this is a series not to be missed.




1. The Vagrant (2015)
2. The Malice (2016)
The Hammer and the Goat (2016)

Tales Of Albion
1. Landfall (2016)


On the other side of the world a man stands by a window, his amber eyes intent on a small figure outside. Her name is Vesper. She is doing nothing of note and yet the man smiles as he watches her, her very existence comforting, warming like the suns.

For a long time he was alone and lost, a vagrant. Now he has a home, a family and more goats than he knows what to do with. It is a good life.

And yet lately a shadow seems to loom around the corner, a hint of coming disquiet. His home is built outside the Shining City, a step removed from people and politics and the expectations of others. News has to battle to get to his door. This is no accident.

Behind him, the sword begins to tremble, rocking back and forth, folded wings tip-tapping on the wall, but the eye remains closed. For years it has slept, deeply, peacefully, a quiet companion.

He turns to it, smile sliding from his face. Absently, he scratches at old scars, on his thigh, his face, the side of his head. It has taken years to heal. Years of gentle work to make a new life, a safe space for those he loves.

His attention goes back to Vesper, who chats idly with the goats. Slowly, he returns to work but the tapping of the sword continues, like a thorn in his boot, needling, never quite out of mind. Lips form a line. At his sides, fists clench.

The sword is taken to his room, the door shut.

It is not enough.

He wraps the sword, making a thick bed of fabric for it, muffling the sounds it makes.

It is not enough.

Though it no longer bumps against the wall, the sword’s unease comes out in half made notes, little things that catch on the edges of his soul.

He finds himself standing at the door, staring, one hand starting to open it, to reach out to the sleeping sword. It would be a small matter to lift it, to wake it once more, to …

‘What are you doing?’

He starts, turns to find Vesper standing there, face bright. With her, every day is a marvel. How tall she has become! How reminiscent of her mother.

Her head tilts to one side, trying to see past him. ‘What are you doing?’

He musters a half-smile, shrugs.

‘Are you okay?’

He nods.

‘What’s in there? I thought I heard a noise. Can I have a look? Is it an animal? It sounded unhappy. Can I see?’

He waves the questions away and puts a gentle hand on her shoulder, moving away from the room and taking her with him.

Later, when other distractions have led the girl away, he returns to the room with tougher materials and a box.

But it is not enough.

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Reading Froissart in the Adirondacks

With Pen and Sword

Last weekend, I went to the Adirondacks to visit my dad.  His cabin is one of the most comfortable places in the world, despite the lack of running water and electricity, or perhaps because of it.  There’s no internet, and there’s time to read. I took Froissart, a very long, very tangled, and sometimes downright falsified Chronicle of the world of the later fourteenth century.

I first read Froissart in the Adirondacks, around campfires, when I was fourteen.  that same summer I also read James Fenimore Cooper‘s ‘Last of the Mohicans’ and then, like any Harry Potter fan, I gobbled my way though all the Leather Stocking tales, and then read ‘The Spy‘ and … on and on.  Froissart and Cooper.  I’m pretty sure, somewhere in my neural pathways, you can deconstruct the Red Knight in those campfire readings; I can only say that despite Cooper’s racism…

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TOUCHSTONE TUESDAYS: A writer finds inspiration in objects


ImageHello, my long-suffering followers. And welcome any lured by my tags. The newcomers will learn from those who’ve suffered – I am an inconsistent blogger. I have promised to be better, to post at least once a week. I’ve barely made once a month.

No Longer! Because I have hit upon a way of getting myself to my desk for the purpose: I have made it about telling stories which, let’s face it, is what I love to do. So I am initiating TOUCHSTONE TUESDAYS. And on that day every week I will write about one object that I keep near me in my writing space – the amazing cedar octagon in the forest where I do my work. These have been collected over the years and for years rested in boxes as I vagabonded my way about the world. But at last I found a place to lay them…

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Conn Iggulden : Ravenspur (Review)

Conn Iggulden

Author web site

Ravenspur  (2016)
Rise of the Tudors
(The fourth book in the Wars of the Roses series)
A novel by Conn Iggulden

book cover of Ravenspur


Ravenspur is the latest book in Conn Igguldens War of the Roses epic) series, a series that takes us through a hugely turbulent time for England and the monarchy. From Henry VI through to Richard III Conn Iggulden breathes life into a period of time we have all heard about, but many (inc myself) have never really explored in depth.

I have been fortunate enough to have followed Conn Iggulden since the very first book back in 2002 and even for a writer of his obvious skill and lets face it meteoric rise to the top of his genre right at the start of his career. There was always for him a drive for more, for excellence in every story, in every character, and every scene, there is no other explanation for the Genghis series and now this one. Its this that i think has brought us to this series and just how immersively absorbing it is. From the fear and uncertainty of those confined in sanctuary to the gut wrenching violence of battlefields like Towton, where the main characters are bathed in blood sweat and gore, held up only by armour and will power. Throughout it all the reader feels every emotion, every exhausting sweep of and bone crunching hit of sword or shield, and all of this wrapped up in something that educates the reader.

I always finish one of Conn’s books with a desire to know more, to delve into the life of one of the characters, or a particular aspect of the story, its this ability in his books that he brings from being an educator (he must have been a great teacher to have in the class room).

Ravenspur if anything is another step up, the book feels packed with emotion for so many characters, the weight of sorrow and loss is at times palpable, the pressing weight of depression that would sideline so many is shouldered aside for honour and duty. Men and women driven to the utter extremes both mentally and physically in their different arenas, all of this is captured so impressively and with a flow that feels effortless and yet exhausting for the reader, because  the reader has to experience each and every emotion and step.

As ever i am in awe of Conn’s writing prowess, and am left wanting more, always more.

Highly recommended


1. The Gates of Rome (2002)
2. The Death of Kings (2004)
3. The Field of Swords (2004)
4. The Gods of War (2006)
5. The Blood of Gods (2013)
Gates of Rome / Death of Kings (omnibus) (2009)
Emperor (omnibus) (2011)
The Emperor Series Books 1-5 (omnibus) (2013)

1. Wolf of the Plains (2007)
aka Genghis: Birth of an Empire
2. Lords of the Bow (2008)
aka Genghis: Lords of the Bow
3. Bones of the Hills (2008)
4. Empire of Silver (2010)
aka Khan: Empire of Silver
5. Conqueror (2011)
Conqueror and Lords of the Bow (omnibus) (2009)
The Khan Series (omnibus) (2012)
Conqueror Series 5-Book Bundle (omnibus) (2013)

1. Tollins (2009)
2. Dynamite Tales (2011) (with Lizzy Duncan)
Wars of the Roses
1. Stormbird (2013)
2. Trinity (2014)
aka Margaret of Anjou
3. Bloodline (2015)
4. Ravenspur (2016)
Blackwater (2006)
Fig Tree (2014)
Series contributed to
Quick Reads 2012
Quantum of Tweed (2012)
Non fiction
The Dangerous Book for Boys (2006) (with Hal Iggulden)
The Dangerous Book for Boys Yearbook (2007) (with Hal Iggulden)
The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Things to Do (2007)(with Hal Iggulden)
The Dangerous Book for Boys Kit: How to Get There(2008)
The Dangerous Book for Boys Kit: Nature Fun (2008)
The Dangerous Book for Boys: 2009 Day-to-Day Calendar (2008)
The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Facts, Figures and Fun (2008)
The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Things to Know(2008) (with Hal Iggulden)
The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys: Wonders of the World (2008) (with Hal Iggulden)
The Dangerous Book for Boys 2010 Day-to-Day Calendar (2009) (with Hal Iggulden)
The Dangerous Book of Heroes (2009) (with David Iggulden)


Filed under Conn Iggulden, Historical Fiction

Alex Scarrow: Re-made (Review)

Alex Scarrow used to be a rock guitarist.

After ten years in various unsuccessful bands, he ended up working in the computer games industry as a lead games designer.

In 2006 his first adult novel A THOUSAND SUNS was published by Orion. Since then he has been a full time writer. To date he’s had 5 thrillers published by Orion.

He is also the author of the bestselling TIMERIDERS series published by Puffin, which has been sold into over 30 foreign territories.

TIMERIDERS was a RedHouse Awards, Catalyst Awards, Hampshire Book winner and a finalist for Galaxy Children’s Book of the Year.

Alex lives in in Norwich with his family. In his spare time he snowboards, sails, writes music and walks his yappy jack russell, Max. He is also very active on twitter and Facebook.

Alex is represented by Veronique Baxter at David Higham Associates

Author web site

Remade (2016)
(The first book in the ReMade series)
A novel by Alex Scarrow


Leon and his younger sister, Grace, have recently moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa begin to fill the news. Within a week the virus hits London. The siblings witness people turning to liquid before their eyes, and they run for their lives. A month after touching Earth’s atmosphere the virus has assimilated the world’s biomass.

But the virus isn’t their only enemy, and survival is just the first step . . .



Re-Made the new title from Alex Scarrow, I for one have been looking forward to the next new book from this author. Not that i have not thoroughly enjoyed his fabulous TimeRiders series. But I’m a huge fan of his adult thrillers, so when I learned that this latest book would be the start of a new Young Adult series i didn’t know if i was disappointed or pleased. Alex Scarrow clearly has an affinity for writing Young Adult fiction so its not like its not going to be an excellent series, but would it work for both Adult and YA markets?

I was very intrigued with the concept of Re-Made, an extraterrestrial virus, one so aggressive it turns people to soup in hours. But the virus is so much more than that. Told around the attempted survival of one family trying to travel to a safety zone, to survive. We follow Leon and Grace and their mother as they encounter various stages of the virus, avoiding its attempts to take over the planet. The inevitable touch points with other survivors is where Alex can introduce his observations on society and its inevitable melt down in the face of adversity. This element of the book is very reminiscent of his Last Light series.

As ever Alex excels at his characters, these alone will keep the reader hooked, i do feel that the younger kids may have a few disturbed nights with this plot, but that’s the idea isn’t it?

For a first book in a series i think he does an excellent job of building the plot and dialing up the tension of the viruses planet wide assimilation and knowing Alex’s books some of the seemingly innocuous elements will come back later and turn out to be highly important, the end of the book is as ever where it gets really interesting, left on the edge of a cliff ready for book 2, as to be expected from this author.

I’m not sold on the book being an adult thriller, i felt that too many elements are toned down to meet the YA market, if he were to really write a grown up version of this then he could cause some very sleepless nights. But i know many teens (and some pre teens) who will love this, it very much has the appeal for the gamers who love the apocalyptic plot lines and the drive for survival.

Knowing the huge hit Timeriders was with the kids i have no doubt that this book will go down a storm as well, spreading among the YA population like a Re-made virus….

I’m looking forward to what happens next.



Last Light
1. Last Light (2007)
2. Afterlight (2010)
1. TimeRiders (2010)
2. Day of the Predator (2010)
3. The Doomsday Code (2011)
4. The Eternal War (2011)
5. Gates of Rome (2012)
6. City of Shadows (2012)
7. The Pirate Kings (2013)
8. The Mayan Prophecy (2013)
9. The Infinity Cage (2014)

Ellie Quin
1. The Legend of Ellie Quin (2012)
2. The World According to Ellie Quin (2012)
3. Beneath the Neon Sky (2013)
4. Ellie Quin in WonderLand (2014)
5. Girl Reborn (2015)

1. Remade (2016)
A Thousand Suns (2006)
October Skies (2008)
The Candle Man (2012)
Series contributed to
Doctor Who : Eighth Doctor
Spore (2013)
Doctor Who (with Holly Black, Malorie Blackman, Eoin Colfer, Neil Gaiman, Charlie Higson, Derek Landy,Richelle Mead, Patrick Ness, Philip Reeve, Michael Scott Rohan, Michael Scott and Marcus Sedgwick)
12 Doctors 12 Stories (2014)

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Filed under Alex Scarrow, Young Adult