Monthly Archives: May 2015

Antonia Hodgson Q&A (THE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS)

 

Biography

I was born in Derby in 1971, the same year David Bowie released Hunky Dory. (This is not significant. I just happen to like Hunky Dory.) I studied English at the University of Leeds from 1991-4, majoring in medieval literature, road movies, Icelandic sagas and cheap red wine. One of these proved useful in my chosen career of publishing.
My first novel is called The Devil in the Marshalsea. It’s out in March 2014 in the UK and June 2014 in the US. I’m currently writing my author biography, which I have just finished.

 

Author Website

last confessions

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THE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS

Spring, 1728. A young, well-dressed man is dragged through the streets of London to the gallows at Tyburn. The crowds jeer and curse as he passes, calling him a murderer. He tries to remain calm. His name is Tom Hawkins and he is innocent. Somehow he has to prove it, before the rope squeezes the life out of him.

It is, of course, all his own fault. He was happy with Kitty Sparks. Life was good. He should never have told the most dangerous criminal in London that he was ‘bored and looking for adventure’. He should never have offered to help Henrietta Howard, the king’s mistress, in her desperate struggles with a brutal husband. And most of all, he should never have trusted the witty, calculating Queen Caroline. She has promised him a royal pardon if he holds his tongue but then again, there is nothing more silent than a hanged man.

Based loosely on actual events, Antonia Hodgson’s new novel is both a sequel to The Devil in the Marshalsea and a standalone historical mystery. From the gilded cage of the Court to the wicked freedoms of the slums, it reveals a world both seductive and deadly. And it continues the rake’s progress of Tom Hawkins – assuming he can find a way to survive the noose…

 

Im afraid I’m yet to read this book, the curse of the prolific TBR book pile, but im very much looking forward to it…..Thank you for agreeing to this small Q&A session:

1)      When I write a review I always like to give some background on the author, So who is Antonia Hodgson And why did she become a writer?

Reading was always a great passion of mine – my mum could never send me to my room as punishment as that was where I spent most of my time, surrounded by books. I grew up in a suburb of Derby, and there was a small village library at the bottom of my road. I would head down there every Saturday morning and select a new pile of books to take home. I’d often finished them by the end of the weekend. Then I’d read whatever my mum had taken out as well – usually Agatha Christie. And then I’d re-read favourite books such as Tales of Greek Heroes, or The Hobbit, or The Magic Faraway Tree. I’d read my sisters old Jackie annuals. Or my dad’s science fiction collection, authors such as Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

 When I was small – up until I was about nine years old, I was very shy. Books were a sanctuary and an escape. But they also helped me to better understand and connect with the world. I’m not especially shy as a grown up, but I write for the same reasons. Plus – I enjoy it.

  2)    Why Historical Fiction? And why the early 1700’s London rather than the more explosive war time periods?(eg War with Spain is not far off)

I just happened to fall in love with the period. I was intrigued by the fact that it was neglected and so often misrepresented. Every moment of history is interesting for the people who live in it. I understand why writers are drawn to stories of war, or to glamorous monarchs like Henry VIII. I like reading about them.

 But there are other stories – particularly if you’re focusing on lives beyond the court, the military, the government. London in the 1720s was a thrilling and dangerous place to live – with a population of 600,000 but no police force. There was a constitutional monarchy, pre-publication censorship had been abolished and (as one Swiss traveller complained), people valued their liberty over their religion. But it could also be a very cruel place – especially for the poor.  Later generations thought the early Georgians were an absolute disgrace. That’s reason enough to get to know them.

 3)      Who are the writers that have influenced you most, from making you want to be a writer, through to style?

I don’t think individual writers made me want to become a writer – I think it was more that I loved inhabiting a whole range of fictional worlds. As for style, my novels are written in the first person, and I think it’s really important that Tom Hawkins voice is his own. But if we’re just talking about love and admiration rather than influence, my favourite authors include Dickens, Austen, Ursula K Le Guin, John Le Carre, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel, George R R Martin, Alan Moore. And then there are individual books that I just love to bits: Frankenstein, Catch 22, The Woman in White, Gormenghast, Cold Comfort Farm, The Name of the Rose, Neuromancer. To name just a few.

 4)      Tom Hawkins , what was the influence behind him as a main character?

I wrote a previous novel that didn’t really work, but had a small section set in the early 1700s. There was a character in it who was supposed to become a country parson, but who rebelled against his father’s wishes. He was quite a different character from Tom, but something about that situation stuck in my mind. One of the things that intrigues me about Tom is that he is still working out who he is and what he stands for. (When he’s sober enough to stand, that is.) He’s still young, and a lot remains uncertain.

5) The Devil in the Marshalsea contains more than a whiff of the atmospheric, a real sense of the time period, so barring a time machine stashed under the stairs where does the inspiration come from for the sights sounds and smells of the period?

Well, thank you! A lot of it comes from research, filtered through my imagination. For example, the Gaol Committee report into prisons (1729) is full of really upsetting descriptions of starving prisoners, dressed in rags, infested with lice. And sketches, too. The commissioners were absolutely horrified by what they discovered. We all know that sanitation was not perfect in the eighteenth century, so if people said the conditions were shocking well, then they really were shocking.

 Beyond that, it’s often a case of drawing on my own experience and comparing it to the contemporary sources. I think we all know what rotten meat smells like, for instance, or filthy, matted hair. I live in London – I’ve seen a rat before. There’s a line in chapter two of The Devil in the Marshalsea: ‘I was lying in a dank, deserted side passage that stank of piss and vomit and other fluids, as all such places do and no doubt always will to the end of time.  Some things are not period-specific.

 6)      Book 2 in the bag, often classed as the tough one, especially following a successful one, what’s next

 I’m writing my third book at the moment. It’s set in 1728 up in Yorkshire, around Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. I don’t want to say anything more than that just for now. Spoilers!

7)      If you had the choice of any other Genre to write in, what would it be and why?
I do love science fiction and fantasy, so I
’d love to try something within the SFF genre one day, if the right idea/character came along. But I’m very happy where I am.

8)      What / who do you read for fun?

Lots of non-fiction. I love books on psychology, like Susan Cain’s Quiet and The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz. Also – Lee Child! He’s such a fantastic storyteller and you always know you’re going to have a good time with his books. But saying that I read him for fun is not to suggest I don’t take him seriously as a writer. He makes something very difficult look ridiculously easy.  

9)      If you could invite any four people from throughout history or fictional writing to dinner, whom would it be and why?
Oh god, I
’m a terrible cook. I’d probably poison them. They’re best off staying where they are.

10)   Finally, the bit most authors would shy away from. You have a soap box and the publisher has asked you to stand outside Kings cross and pitch your latest book to the passers buy… what would your pitch be to make the public buy this book/ series?

I’d tell them it’s a historical crime series set in the filthy streets of eighteenth-century London, filled with vice, drink, gambling and murder. And then I’d fire my publishers for maki

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Simon Scarrow: Hearts of Stone (review)

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author. His bestsellers include his novels featuring Roman soldiers Macro and Cato, most recently THE BLOOD CROWS, PRAETORIAN and THE LEGION, as well as SWORD AND SCIMITAR, about the 1565 Siege of Malta, and four novels about the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte. He is the author with T. J. Andrews of the bestselling ARENA, introducing the gladiator hero Pavo, and the new ebook novella series INVADER.

Simon’s novels have been published in the USA and in translation all around the world.

Author website

Book Description

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Hearts of Stone

The fierce courage of the men and women of the Greek Resistance is brought to vivid life in Sunday Times bestseller Simon Scarrow’s powerful new novel of World War II. 1938. A perfect summer on the Greek island of Lefkas for three young people untroubled by the simmering politics of Europe. Peter, visiting from Germany while his father leads an archaeological dig, has become close friends with locals Andreas and Eleni. As the world slides towards conflict and Peter is forced to leave, they swear to meet again. 1943: Andreas and Eleni have joined the partisan forces resisting the German invasion. Peter has returned – now a dangerously well-informed enemy intelligence officer. A friendship formed in peace will turn into a desperate battle between enemies sworn to sacrifice everything for the countries that they love…

Review

I have been waiting for this book from Simon Scarrow since 2012, because when ever he steps away from the Roman world he manages to produce something special. The last time was Sword and Scimitar , a fantastic view of one of histories great turning points.

This latest book is set during a much more recent, more sensitive era, both pre WW2, during and post WW2. An era filled with so many atrocities and horrors that don’t often translate to a book and yet with so many tales of courage and sacrifice that should be remembered.

For me that’s what this book has at its core, a retelling of the type of heroism and sacrifice that existed in Greece during the war, a remembrance of the level of horror visited down  to the level of one small group of friends in one small community on one small island. The backdrop of youthful friendship is a fantastic foil for the war-time age of the characters, the change caused by war and impact it has had on each of the core group of friends and family, how they are all irrecoverably changed by circumstance and situation. The setting and device of the search for the tomb of Odysseus adds a level of romanticism to the plot that’s coupled with the young love of Eleni and Andreas and the bitter-sweet sense of missed opportunity for Peter. How many of us have had grandparents / Great Grandparents lost in the wars, or returned but with painful memories? how many of them have shared those stories even a little bit, sanitised to protect us from the enormity that was war? Simon delivers that experience in a realistic and emotive fashion, showing the power of those memories and the importance of not forgetting, and learning from our collective pasts, and how much brighter the flame burned because of the simpler yet harsher times.

Simon as always has managed to bring all of the plot elements and characters together into a well researched, sympathetically told tale, add to this his usual impeccable research and awareness of the landscape and the end result is a highly engaging, very personal account of War torn Greece. The element that drives the story forward without it being “just another war story” is the time-slip device, the plot told from present day, Eleni looking back and retelling her experiences to her granddaughter, sharing that glimmer of the past, the hardships, the life lived, against the modern world of her granddaughter determined to not let the past slip away. It’s the constant drift back and forth in time that drives the reader to want to turn just one more page… and then suddenly the book is gone, finished.

If i had one niggle with the book its at the start, there are some very jarring, for want of a better phrase ” digs” at modern society, modern devices etc, the social commentary of modern times.. and i have to say i agree with just about every single one of them, i just didn’t feel they added to the book, in fact i didn’t think they worked in the book, they felt a little like a soap box moment before the book. (sorry Simon, agreed with pretty much every word though), they pulled me away from the story. When i wanted to be drifting into the world Simon had created i kept jarring back to reality, for me the points would have worked much better in the afterword, at this point the poignant finish of the book leaving the reader reflective and open to reading about why the world needs history, why we should learn from it, why we need to switch off from the internet etc..But this was a small quibble in what is another really good book, one where every character is someone, and you care what happens to them. 

I’m very interested to see what stand alone novel Simon produces next. and recommend that you buy this one immediately

(Parm)

Series
Cato & Macro
1. Under the Eagle (2000)
2. The Eagle’s Conquest (2001)
3. When the Eagle Hunts (2002)
4. The Eagle and the Wolves (2003)
5. The Eagle’s Prey (2004)
6. The Eagle’s Prophecy (2005)
7. The Eagle in the Sand (2006)
aka The Zealot
8. Centurion (2007)
9. The Gladiator (2009)
10. The Legion (2010)
11. Praetorian (2011)
12. The Blood Crows (2013)
13. Brothers in Blood (2014)



Revolution
1. Young Bloods (2006)
2. The Generals (2007)
3. Fire and Sword (2007)
4. The Fields of Death (2010)
The Wellington and Napoleon Quartet: Young Bloods / The Generals / Fire and Sword / Fields of Death(omnibus) (2015)

Gladiator
1. Fight for Freedom (2011)
2. Street Fighter (2012)
3. Son of Spartacus (2013)
4. Vengeance (2014)
Roman Arena
1. Barbarian (2012)
2. Challenger (2012)
3. First Sword (2013)
4. Revenge (2013)
5. Champion (2013)
Arena (omnibus) (2013)

Invader
1. Death Beach (2014)
2. Blood Enemy (2014)
3. Dark Blade (2014)
4. Imperial Agent (2015)
5. Sacrifice (2015)

Novels
The Sword and the Scimitar (2012)
Hearts of Stone (2015)
Britannia (2015)

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Writing about history–and trying to live it, too

Latest blog from Mr Cameron… A very interesting video blog

With Pen and Sword

I thought I’d try a different media.  This video was made by my friend Allan Joyner of Allan Joyner Productions.  The music is by Schola Magdalena .  The thoughts are almost entirely my own.

And by the way, I’m all to aware of the many inaccuracies the camera catches, despite all of our best efforts.  Reenacting is always, at best, a compromise.  But there’s a lot we can learn from it, anyway.

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Writing about Craftspeople — Aurora Simmons

Aurora is wonderful, I have several pieces she has made. It’s wonderful to have unique hand made things in this cardboard cutout age.

With Pen and Sword

Iphone late May 2015 005

Aurora SImmons

It is not all about weapons and armour.

Alright, I know a few of you are reeling in shock, but honestly, the recreation of the past doesn’t actually require weapons and armour at all, and fascinating as some of us may find martial arts, tactics and strategies and the material culture of conflict, really, there’s so much more.  People lived, loved, ran races, lounged on couches, and wore clothing and jewelry and ate food.

Lived, as I said.

I happen to have the pleasure of knowing a great many craftspeople.  Rather like the blog I wrote about Hannah Lowe and people who train and practice hard, craftspeople are often very different.  They have very rugged and sometimes stubborn personalities.  They can focus–incredibly–for long stretches without boredom.  I know a few craftspeople, and I suspect J.R.R. Tolkien did too… the dwarves may represent a stereotype, but it is also…

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Mark Lawrence: Liars Key (Review)

Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. His day job is as a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say ‘this isn’t rocket science … oh wait, it actually is’.

Between work and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time writing, playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

The Prince of Thorns is his first published novel. It is the beginning of a projected trilogy following the fortunes of Honorous Jorg Ancrath.

Author Website

The Liar’s Key

(2015)
(The second book in the Red Queen’s War series)
A novel by Mark Lawrence

Liars key

 

From the critically-acclaimed author of PRINCE OF FOOLS comes the second volume of the brilliant new epic fantasy series, THE RED QUEEN’S WAR. ‘If you like dark you will love Mark Lawrence. And when the light breaks through and it all makes sense, the contrast is gorgeous’ ROBIN HOBB The Red Queen has set her players on the board…Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the longed-for luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave. For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hell to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door. As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.

Review:

For those who have not read it, the Broken Empire series is an excellent fantasy series, one that take the reader right to the edge, page after page…. and yet i have found myself enjoying the Red Queens War much more, i cant quite pin down why, it may be the more general appeal of the series. I feel it spans a broader age spectrum? It may be the utter Britishness of the of the humour on the book? either way the characters rapidly win you over in this book, and then drag you along on a wild ride.

This is no fantasy that sets out to to give you a muscle bound hero or the slightly flawed hero, this series gives you an out and out unabashed coward, in the form of Prince Jalan, a character who while a coward has many redeeming characteristics. He is funny, heroic when there is absolutely no way out of it, and ultimately a friend to his direct opposite Snorri (well as long as the friendship doesn’t put him in danger), Snorri, a Viking, Huge muscle bound, deadly, and with courage enough for all, is the perfect foil for all that nervous cowardliness.

Liars Key isn’t as dark as Prince of Fools, we still face a race against the undead/ unborn. But we start to unravel and learn more about the past that has led our two protagonists to this point, which great wheels are in motion, how the great politics work, and we get to enjoy the growth of Jalan and his friendship with Snorri and the rest of their group. This time the group travel south, back to and through Vermillion. Jalan learns about the red Queen, the silent sister and more of his family, and more than anything he gets angry, he learns about his mothers death, and this ignites a desire for revenge, all this tempered with his individual style of self preservation.

The more books i read by Mark Lawrence the more hooked i become on his style. Another wonderful comparison has been the ability to read this series alongside Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series. Both very different in style to their own other work, and from each other but both wonderfully compelling and absorbing. I cant decide who has the better series here…. but i think Mark is leading by pure dint of the dry humour of Jalan.

This is a series i very very highly recommend to readers of all books, don’t be tied by genre, this is exceptional writing, so pick up and oar and row the whale road with Snorri and Jalan, everything is set up for a fantastic book three.

(Parm)

Series

 

Broken Empire
1. Prince of Thorns (2011)
2. King of Thorns (2012)
3. Emperor of Thorns (2013)
Mark Lawrence 2-Book Bundle (omnibus) (2013)
Sleeping Beauty (2014)
The Complete Broken Empire Trilogy (omnibus) (2014)

 

Red Queen’s War
1. Prince of Fools (2014)
2. The Liar’s Key (2015)

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Episodic Books (a bit of a brain dump)

Episodic Books

There has been something going around and around my head for the last few months with regards to books, publishing and the future of books.

Modern society seems to have a demand for vastly increased speed that far outstrips standard publication, a demand that is hard to keep up with especially when you think in terms of the average of 1 book per year from most authors.

If you ask most book lovers, they want and need the feel of a hardback book, and that tangible connection to the author, one that they can get signed, they can keep on a shelf and go back to again and again when it’s an author they love, this is the oil that keeps the publishing machine going. Now we also have a new audience that desire eBooks, they want cheap, they want faster. They don’t feel the need for that tangible connection to the author, for them the transient nature of the eReader gives them what they need.

In 2001 Kiefer Sutherland made the move from high paid film actor to TV actor, why? When interviewed he saw the writing on the wall, the number of companies making new films per year had reduced dramatically, this meant that the number of opportunities to lead a film would also reduce dramatically. So he switched medium to TV, and with the birth of the hit series 24 came the birth of something totally new, highly addictive episodic TV that left you wanting, demanding the next episode. The DVD release phase of this led to the new phrase “box set binging”.

24_Season_1_poster

Box Set binging, is something that highly appeals to the time starved modern person, and is something that from its inception with 24, then lost and many other series has grown into a new medium of consuming TV.

Netflix, Lovefilm, amazonPrime, all allow you to download entire series in one go and watch back to back, no adverts and no waiting for the next week’s episode. So popular is this new medium that these companies have branched out into commissioning these programs and releasing them as entire box sets before they even hit the TV and get slowly spun out week after week by the normal TV channels.

So how can this medium be shifted to the literary world? Serials! A series written in the author’s world against side characters or new characters just set in a similar or different time period location, explore more of the writer’s world. Many published authors have a key series with their publisher, the one that they are known for, the one that the readers look forward to and the reviewers hope will drop through the letter box, but the wait for that book is a year, and with good reason. I have been lucky enough to be very involved in the process of creating the final print ready book and it has so many fine details that need to be looked at and considered, be they for the printing set up, the cover art, the editing or any part of the creation. But even with all of those it’s possible to speed up the production, especially if you remove the need for printing.

So something that I have seen starting to grow, but by no means given the credence yet that it deserves is the eBook series. There are many Short stories out then from writers, a quick 50-100 pages set in around their world and characters, but many are just stand alone tales. These however are in my view eclipsed by the few trailblazers going beyond that, my favorite being Christian Cameron and his series Tom Swan. A series written in its own time period, not an advert for any other books he writes but a story that can stand on its own merits, each segment approx. 50 -100 pages long and set for a 24 book series at least (more if we beg I’m sure). The installments come out at regular intervals and as such really appeal to the new box set binge desire to have regular updates from your favorite writer. The great thing is that these serials can even then be released in tangible Hardback or paperback format at some future date as a compilation, 6-8 stories equaling your average hardback book, for the true box set binge experience. Depending on the sale-ability of the series the release could be small run, high quality or large volume standard format, which ever meets the needs of that writer’s audience and the publisher.

w548283

The final question really is can the author run this series parallel to anything being released by the publisher?

Why not? This is something that can be run through the publisher or separate from the publisher, either way benefits both the author and the publisher. If you tie readers into a regular purchase, a regular read, the latest episode of a story and they become hooked. Then they come back time after time, as long as the story stays fresh and new. All of this creates new readers, and retains existing readers. These readers then buy the full novels. So the only real limit is the writing time of the author.

Does it work for specific genres? I don’t really think this type of publishing is genre tied, I can’t see any subject that would not work in an episodic release basis. There are some I can see working better than others. Historical Fiction, Action adventure, Fantasy and Dystopian. Just because they lend themselves to the shorter cliff hanger, they don’t need the full misdirect of a crime novel or the gentle build of the literary novel.

This really leaves one key issue, is it good for the author? any authors living comes from books and book sales, those sales need to give a proportionate return to the outlay in time and effort on their part. This is of course on taking into account self publishing, as traditional publishing also needs to factor in the publisher making a profit also, this profit will inevitably take from the authors cut. Which returns us to the question, should the author self publish a serial to self promote their larger works via traditional publishing? or can the 2 meet an equitable compromise? Then you need to factor price.

Amazon do a 70% royalty option as well as a 35% one. But the minimum you can sell a book at on the 70% is $2.99 (approx £1.30) , which takes us back to expectation and the consumer demand. Consumers tend to want things cheaper and cheaper and often with artistic material for free. If you take the average price for short stories $0.99 (or maybe 99p) but that puts you in the 35% Royalty bracket. This means that for every 99p issue I sell I will book sold the author takes home with about 25p. quite a difference when you factor in that a 100 page novella is a quarter of a full book in terms of actual writing and takes the same time to publish after writing is finished (it still needs to be proof read, edited and formatted and to have cover art). Ultimately an author can write 3 of those novellas (maybe 2.5) in the same time as one novel. That would mean making only 75p instead of £1.30. It then becomes a gamble on volume to make the same if not more, which is always the gamble of the author, can they find the next big seller, the Harry Potter / Dan Brown volume seller. Is the publicity also a factor for the full novels? (takes a greater mind than me to know).

I hope we see more of this style of read….. as long as it is not at the expense of the tangible book, and not at the expense of the author. Who knows, maybe it will further increase people’s desire to read and the authors income? And if handled correctly via traditional publishers maybe they could move away from Amazon dominance of the eBook market and host their own selling sites for this mainly eBook driven market?

…none of this is new by the way…. think back to the Penny Dreadful for example, weekly stories that were hugely popular.

anyway…. now i have scribbled this down and bounced it off someone else it may stop being a nagging thought. (hope you enjoyed a tour of my brain.. and its latest nagging book thought).

(Parm)

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Good History Writing — In Praise of Ben Kane

Great blog about a fantastic author written by another splendid author … (Some great insights)

With Pen and Sword

BEN KANE BOOKS

http://www.benkane.net/

I love Ben Kane’s books.  I look forward to them eagerly; I get them in hardcover; I’ll eventually meet him and get some of them signed.  (Getting all of them signed seems unlikely, given the decline in international baggage allowance and my near-constant need to get armour into my baggage.  A problem that I suspect Ben Kane shares.)

Why?

Because he is as devoted to authenticity as anyone who writes in our sub-genre of military historical fiction.

ben

That’s Ben, in Roman Legionary kit, pinched from my friend Robin Carter’s blog.  In fact, Robin will provide a guest post this Friday, as I’ll be in the Adnacrags–er, the Adirondacks.

But… why does authenticity matter?

Well, at least for me as a reader, it’s like this.  Ever see an episode of ‘Sherlock’ on BBC?  When I’m reading Historical Fiction (or fantasy, to be honest) and I come to something I…

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