Category Archives: Q & A’s

NOD by J.M. Stephen – Interview & Review!

So today I bring to you an interview with author J.M. Stephen along with a review for her wonderful, thought provoking book NOD!

Here’s the book blurb – 

“And Cain left the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” – Genesis 4:16

Nod is never mentioned again in the Bible. Where was it? Where did the people of Nod come from? What became of Cain? Now we have the story of Nod, as told through the eyes of Lailah, the first person to encounter Cain outside of his family. The story of Cain and Abel is brought alive, and the aftermath examined in a way never before told. But more than that we get the story of a primitive people becoming aware of the world around them.

Please enjoy the interview below and check out my review!


 

Hi Jessica,

First of all I’d like to thank you for being a guest on my blog. I hope you are keeping well in these uncertain times.

Your latest book, NOD, was released earlier this month, would you like to tell us a little bit about the book?

NOD explores the Land of Nod, the place the Biblical Cain went after he was banished from home when he killed his brother, Abel. Cain is a character in NOD but the protagonist is a woman named Lailah, she’s a strong, independent woman who wants to explore her larger world. The novel really focuses on this primordial land, the world just after it ceased to be “formless and void” when people were still figuring out what humanity was. It is in many ways an exploration of humanity and explores how we got to this place with our social constructs, our economic systems, our prejudices but also our celebrations of life.

What made you decide to write a book on this subject?

I’m not a religious person but I was raised in a fairly religious household and I’ve met some compelling people of faith in my life and work and that helped inform how I looked at the subject of Cain and Abel as an archetype. I also just wanted to examine and explore primitive people and how they might have looked at the larger world. (Where do we come from?)and (Is there more out there?) are questions that truly fascinate me and I wanted to tell a story that explores those ideas fully. I also really fell in love with the character of Lailah once I started writing about her. She’s so independent and she’s not like the other women in Nod. She marches to her own drummer but there’s something caring about her that fascinated me.

I must admit I was very curious to read the book. I’m not religious but know of Cain and Abel and I wanted to see how you would approach the subject. Did you worry at all about writing a book based on biblical characters?

I’ve written a couple of books based on stories before and so I had an idea of how it was done. My first novel Betwixt and Between (under the pen name Jessica Stilling) is a literary retelling of Peter Pan and my second literary novel The Beekeeper’s Daughter (also under the pen name Stilling) looks at the life of the poet Sylvia Plath. But The Bible was a whole other challenge and I wanted to explore those stories while also building on them and creating a unique world and a unique take. I think storytelling in general has moved away from the idea that there is just one villain and they are the bad guy and there’s no wiggle room and so I wanted to create sympathy for Cain while also keeping Abel good. I wanted us to like Cain and understand him, but to also see what evil lurks inside of a man even when they try to do good. That was a challenge not only because of the baggage the story of Cain and Abel carries but because I did want to create a fantasy world that was also based on some reality.

As I read the book I found myself reflecting on life as we know it. Did it have the same effect on you as the writer? I mean, life would be so much easier if we just shared things and a value was not placed on items. At some point in time humans have decided to create the concept and we’ve went with it ever since.. I can’t imagine how it all started but NOD really gives you an idea..you can see the evolution of the people of NOD.

It’s funny you should ask that because there is definitely a subtle sense of anti-Capitalism in the book. I live in America and something the Coronavirus has taught many of us is that Capitalism is harming the people here. I won’t go into a long lecture on that right now, but I wrote this book many years ago, and edited it and then spent some time looking for a publisher and so it’s gone through many drafts. In all the drafts there is a sense that sharing and cooperation is better than blatant Capitalism. And the end, when Capitalism seems to have taken over, it feels like a defeat to people like Lailah, who just want the world to be good. This came from my research, older societies had more cooperation and more trade and I wanted to reflect that but then, I wanted to show how this turned to something that looks more like Capitalism. But when I got the final edits for the book we were deep into the Coronavirus scare and I decided that I needed to push the cooperation vs. Capitalism angle a little harder because I was seeing what it was doing to so many people in the US.

I’m always keen to know where an author draws inspiration from. Has there been anyone out there that really inspired you or is it just something you have a passion for?

 

I definitely feel like it’s a little of both. I have wanted to be a writer since the third grade when I wrote a short story about a horse for class and everyone really liked it. That story came out of nowhere and since then, I’ve loved stories and I’ve loved telling them. There have been people who have helped me along the way. My parents were always very supportive, some of my professors in my MFA program, especially Linsey Abrams and Felicia Bonaparte. Virginia Woolf is my favorite author. I just love her work and her life story.

What’s currently on your own bookshelf?

I own many books. I have about seven overfilled bookshelves in my New York City apartment and I know I need one, maybe two, more. My to-be-read pile for the summer consists of Morton Cohen’s Lewis Carroll biography, The Bone People, Susan Minot’s Evening, Hermoine Lee’s Virginia Woolf biography (I have read about seven Woolf biographies, but last year I went to a lecture Hermoine Lee was giving on Woolf and got her book as well) and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I’ve read it many times before but I also love getting inside Woolf’s head.

What would you say to convince readers to give your book a go?

The novel is simple but it will make you think deeply. The characters are real and compelling in their realness but they are also consciously and unconsciously a part of something bigger and their search for more drives them. NOD explores what it means to be human and what it means to be living alongside those who are more than human.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on a dystopian sci-fi novel set in the future, maybe about 150 years from now. It explores issues of climate change, the theme of human thought and human consciousness (and just what it is and how it drives our human understanding)…and there are aliens. I’m also working on a literary novel called Between Before and After that examines themes of nostalgia and the relationship between a mother and son. The second novel in my YA series The Chronicles of Pan (Book I is called Into the Fairy Forest), which is also published under the pen name JM Stephen, will be coming out later this year as well.


 

Let’s get to the nitty gritty!!!

Review –

This a story based around the biblical characters Cain and Abel along with the people NOD.

I’m certainly not religious and I’m going to state straightaway that the book really didn’t seem to be aimed to solely those who hold a religious belief.. more it just felt like a tale of a primitive group of people learning their way in life.

The story shows the people of NOD grow.. and struggle as they emerge. At first value has no meaning but as they progress you see them change.. most are happy to see things progress.. others not so.

Lailah was a joy to read. She always seems to see what others could not. She could see the good in advancements but could also see the negative effects it had on her people.

Cain and Abel, brothers.. they very much want similar things but their differences mean they come to blows with an ugly end. It’s a catalyst for the people of NOD and paves the way for new rules.. laws.. changes that again are both good and bad depending how you look at it.

Being based around religious characters I did wonder how the writer would tackle the subject, but they did a fantastic job of not alienating any reader. We hear of Adam and Eve… I felt it was written in such a way the reader can take from it whatever fits their own ideals. Cain shows up and has an almost magical effect on the people of NOD but wouldn’t that naturally happen if someone turned up with new ideas.. at one point in time fire was created for the first time.. that must have seemed otherworldly to those around at the time regardless of how Cain came to be..it must have been a wonderful time but also very scary.

After reading this book the thing that struck me the most is how it really made me feel..it had parallels with today.. there’s those who wish to take advantage..those who always want more..when life would be so much simpler if we could just share and help each other..but it just wouldn’t be possible.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live at a time when things were unknown..and then suddenly commonplace.. the first time a shoe was made… the first time a shelter was built that protected from the wind and rain fully.. just even a time before toilets and baths..we take so much for granted but we’ve come so far… yet….

I can’t give any less than 5*, if you can take this subject on and make me love it you’ve earned it.

To find out more head to Goodreads, Amazon or D. X. Varos

Athour Spotlight – Steven. A. McKay plus review!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a little author spotlight..lets rectify that now as I welcome author Steven A. McKay to my blog. Keep reading for my lastest review as well!!

Steven is author of the brilliant Forest Lord series and now The Warrior Druid of Britain series. Not to forget if you are a fan of Audible you should check out his Roman slave tale Lucia!

Let’s get on with the Q&A.. Welcome!!

So I’ve a few questions I hope you won’t mind answering.

After the success of the Forest Lord series it must have been quite daunting starting a fresh new series. Did you worry at all and how has the new series been received?

Yes, it was a bit of a wrench to leave behind my Forest Lord series. Not just because I had really grown to know and love the characters, but because it had done so well for me in terms of sales and reviews. There’s always a chance any new series won’t garner as much interest so, yeah, I was a bit apprehensive of starting a new book with all new characters. But then I began writing The Druid and I realised I was enjoying it immensely – that’s always a good sign! If a book is fun to write, and the characters really entertain you as the author, well, readers might enjoy it too.

I’d say most of my readers like the druid books even more than they did the Forest Lord ones, although some, like you I believe, prefer the latter. As a writer you always want to improve, and create better stories, but it’s also nice to know your previous work has also really touched someone and given them a few hours of entertainment.

N.b – I love them both for very different reasons but without the Firest Lord series we may never have seen you develop and produce The Druid… 5* books every last one!

 

For those who don’t know about your latest series what would you say to entice them to pick up a copy?

I think it’s set in a period of history that isn’t really that well covered in fiction – post-Roman Britain. It was called the “dark ages” for a long time, but people are now beginning to realise that civilisation didn’t just completely collapse when the Romans left this island. Things changed, of course, and quite drastically, but everyone didn’t become a mad savage overnight – they still had culture and religion and so on and it’s interesting to explore all that. Then of course you add in my main characters like the giant warrior druid Bellicus, little princess Catia, the former centurion Duro, dangerous Saxons Horsa and Hengist, and all the various kings of the time (even Arthur makes a small appearance in the first book) and, well, they’re the perfect guides to Britain in the fifth century.

Apart from all that, the books are free on Kindle Unlimited so if you have a membership why not check them out? They are a great way to escape all the lockdown bleakness just now.

 

Now I can’t ignore the obvious going on around us. The dreaded COVID19. How are things for you? Many may think this is an ideal time for writing but I know you’ve an important day job.

Important day job? It depends on what you mean by important. It pays my mortgage, but even in these times when so-called “unskilled” workers are finally gaining recognition, I don’t know if a part-time gas and electric meter reader would be classed as that important, ha! But my company told us we weren’t to go out working about 5 weeks ago now, so me and the family have been staying home. Yeah, there’s lots of free time to write, but when there’s so much fear and uncertainty going around, it’s extremely hard to get into the right frame of mind to sit down and work on a novel.

Last week, I decided to write a new Warrior Druid of Britain short story to give away to my email list subscribers and, honestly, that was great. There was no real pressure, I just had to write something fun and entertaining with the specific idea of entertaining myself and my subscribers and the result was “Over The Wall”. My readers enjoyed it and I thought it was good too, so I’ve expanded and polished it and since it was set at Beltane, I’ve decided to make it available on Kindle this May 1st  – Beltane! Complete with a professional new cover.

It was really enjoyable to write and kinda focused my mind so I’ve been able to get back onto the novel writing again this week and book 3 in the druid series is coming along nicely.

N.b – All jobs are important if they pay the bills! Ha and look out for my review of Over The Wall… Keep scrolling!!!

over the wall medium

Giving the current situation I’ve seen authors have release dates pushed back by their publishers. What’s your take? Me personally I’ve been looking for more books than ever and really do see these luxuries a way to keep us indoors safe.. Ebooks even more so.

Yeah, I agree, it seems a bit strange NOT to publish a new book if it’s all ready to go. Personally, I’ve had a Kindle Unlimited subscription for a long time but I’ve only started to really use it in the last month. I’ve read lots of books on things like ghosts and the unexplained, purely to take my mind off all the scary stuff in real life just now. So, when everyone is stuck at home, looking to be entertained, why not give them new books to read? It seems like publishers are shooting themselves in the foot in that regard, but then hardly any of my sales come from actual print books. About 95% of my readers do it via Kindle so I’m thinking of it in that sense – maybe the big publishers would lose out on a lot of business if they couldn’t have a launch party for a hardback? I don’t know. I suppose, if there’s less books coming out, there’s more chance people will find my back catalog so…

Whats your plans for the next book.. Will we see Bellicus return? he’s got plenty fight left in him?

He’s still in his twenties, so I think he has many years left to kick ass. Duro is older, although, sadly, even though he’s the veteran centurion, he’s a few years younger than me! But yes, Bellicus and Duro are both back in the next book and they’re facing a very tough time. I don’t want to give away too much, but the plot so far has been influenced by what’s happening in the real world just now so it’s pretty bleak in places. But, as anyone who’s read my previous books will know, I always like my characters to live in hopes of prevailing, no matter how dark their circumstances. So, I’m about a third finished and I don’t know how it will end, but I’m sure the gods won’t abandon our heroes!

N.B – I’ve always felt Bellius as a little older… I guess it’s the respect he commands and his presence…certainly he’s far wiser than I was in my twenties! ha

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Any chance of any more Robin Hood themed short tales? You have quite a talent for the novella I must say?

Thank you! Yes, I like writing the shorter things as there’s not so much to keep track of, it can all be a bit more linear. My last one, Faces of Darkness was really well received – I think it has the highest average rating of any of my books on Amazon UK, so, although novellas and novelettes never sell as well as novels, it’s great to know that readers appreciate them. It spurs me on to create more in a similar vein so yes, there will be more Forest Lord novellas. I already have a basic outline for another Friar Tuck/Little John mystery, again, like Faces of Darkness based on a real criminal case which I heard about on a podcast. I would expect it to be published in the autumn or winter, all being well with the next druid novel coming out before it in the summer.

If you’re anything like me I’m sure you’ve not had much downtime since lockdown but what have you been doing to keep yourself and the family busy? I know you like your guitars? I’ve never learned to play… I really should.

Oh yes, my guitars have been a really good way for me to escape reality. There’s been a few times, particularly at the start of the lockdown, when I started to feel quite stressed and fearful, and I’d pick up one of my guitars and just start playing along to Metallica or some old death metal song and I’d completely lose myself in the music. Not for very long, but enough to let me relax and really chill out. I’d recommend you start learning an instrument given all this free time we have!
Other than that, my family keep me busy – there’s always another meal to cook, or clothes to be washed, or stories to be read, and there’s the home-schooling thing too just now. I’ve actually never been bored at all, which is pretty incredible. Any time I do feel like quiet time, like I say I’ve been reading stuff on Kindle or browsing the creepy  r/unresolvedmsyteries pages on Reddit.

This post is of course a way for me to highlight your awesome books but if you had to pick someone who you think is on fire at the moment in the book world who would it be?

Well, I don’t read much fiction anymore since I have to spend most of my reading time on research for my own books – even in lockdown I’ve been mostly reading non-fiction. I have been really impressed, and pleased, with Matthew Harffy’s rise though. His newest book, Wolf of Wessex, was a cracking read which I was happy to endorse and now he’s even got a TV series in the works which is probably every writer’s dream. I won’t deny I’m jealous of that success, but not in a bad way – he’s a good guy and supports other authors and he likes Iron Maiden so good luck to him!

 

Lastly, If Bellicus was here today.. would he have any words of wisdom?

I tend to think of Bellicus and Friar Tuck in a similar way, since they’re both hard, fighting men who represent a higher power. I think Tuck’s wise words to Robin in my second novel, The Wolf and the Raven are particularly appropriate for all of us in these frightening times. I wrote that book when I was going through a very tough period in my own life since our second child had just been stillborn, and this particular line of Tuck’s was as much for me as it was for Robin, who’d been beaten, imprisoned and was very close to breaking point:

His eyes welled up, but he angrily wiped them, not giving in to the self-pity that threatened to overwhelm him and he remembered Tuck’s words from not so long ago: “Never give up hope!”

He clenched his fists and forced a smile into the oppressive darkness. It would take more than this to break Robin Hood.

Never give up hope everyone, and stay safe.

If you’d like to sign up for my email list and receive a FREE Forest Lord short story, “The Rescue”, along with regular chances to win signed books, posters, mugs and Audible downloads click here: http://eepurl.com/bqatb5


 

I’d like to give a big thank you to Steven for appearing on my blog today and what better way can I do that then with a review for his lastest book Over The Wall..

Here’s the blurb

Beltane, AD425
Northern Britain

Midnight approaches and in Dun Breatann’s great hall the Beltane feasting continues, with stories and songs and as much meat and ale as anyone could wish for.
On the western side of the towering fortress however, ten small figures make their way up the shadowy rock. Armed to the teeth, and hand-picked for their particular, deadly skills, these warriors have travelled far across the sea from Dalriada and are utterly focused on their mission, despite the fact most – perhaps all – of them will die this night.
High above, guards patrol the fortress walls as usual, but they expect yet another quiet shift for, as everyone knows, Dun Breatann is impregnable.
Isn’t it?

Review

Over The Wall is a 31 page novella, part of the author’s Warrior Druid series. Written during the lockdown of 2020.

As night falls and drink is flowing King Coroticus’s enemies approach..

Will these dark assassins manage to carry out their plan? it’s almost certain death for them.

What they don’t know is that Bellicus and his trusty hound Eolas are in attendance in the great hall.

31 pages isn’t a lot to fit a story in to but McKay manged it perfectly leaving me eager for the next book in the series to come out.

The plot was fun and the story linking with the Trojan horse fit perfectly.

McKay always manages to give life to characters, even in such a short space of time and I loved the interactions with Gavo, the captain of the guard.. I love that guy.

A fun novella which any fan will be excited to read.. and if you are anything like me it will have you rereading the series.. I need another Bellicus fix and fast.

5* Novella!

To find out more head to Goodreads or Amazon

Q&A with Charlotte E. English!

Regular followers of my blog will know the name Charlotte E. English..quite probably my favourite author right now. The biggest thing I’ve enjoyed is how she manages to write books that are different but at the same time the same..Have I confused you? Well take the Malykant Mysteries series, currently 7 books strong. Each has the same basic idea.. Konrad Savast brings justice for those murdered but each tale is very different from the last but builds nicely on the foundations set in the previous tale.

Charlotte has kindly answered some questions for me 🙂

Thank you Charlotte!

Enjoy!


 

First I must ask, if you are willing to share, who does your covers? They are so eye-catching and for me fit with the tone of the tales perfectly.

I have a few different cover artists by now, but the ones for the Malykant Mysteries are done by Streetlight Graphics. They do terrific work every time, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with for the next batch of covers!

Covers for me are so so important, get it right and someone will buy the book..get it wrong and they won’t even look twice at it. Do you agree with a covers importance?

Yes, of course. As a buyer of books as well as a writer, I know that the cover is the first thing that catches my attention when I am shopping. It also sets the mood for the story, and creates expectations in the reader as to what they’ll be getting if they dive into the book, so it’s important to get it right. I think the Malykant Mysteries covers work well in both respects – they are eye-catching and also set the mood well.

Where has your inspiration for the series come from?

Well, funny story… the short answer is that I don’t know, because I never set out to write anything like it. There came a winter some years ago when I had just finished writing a long novel, and my mood at the time was as grey as the weather. I felt in need of a change of pace before I embarked upon the next long project, so I thought: I’ll write something shorter, and light-hearted, and funny.

I couldn’t write a word of any of this. I sat in a chair with a notebook and pen and tried… and what I got instead was Konrad Savast, grim as winter itself, chasing murderers through a frozen forest. Which I enjoyed, in spite of its being the very opposite of what I had planned to do. And so I learned that sometimes, it’s best to let my subconscious drive, because who knows where we might end up?

How do you manage to keep the series fresh?

I think it helps that the series has a lot of scope to begin with – the basic story is quite simple, in that somebody dies and Konrad has to figure it out. There’s infinite variation possible within that. Meanwhile, this is the only dark fantasy series that I write; my other projects are very different. This means that every dark and creepy idea that I get is Konrad’s by default. And there is a lot to draw on from popular mythology; Konrad has encountered my own take on vampires and werewolves, not to mention ghosts galore, and there’s so much more still left to work with.

7 books in, does Konrad have an expiration date looming?

Not at all! We are barely getting started here. In the last few titles, I’ve been laying the groundwork for some new story arcs which will take the series through many more books. I expect to be writing about Konrad and friends for some years to come.

I’ve said it before but for me you are Queen of the short story although I love your longer works too. Do you have a preference on which you prefer to write?

Once I would have said longer novels, without hesitation, but at the moment I’m finding that I prefer the shorter stories. I think it’s because I have always needed variety, as a writer – however much I love and enjoy each series that I write, I cannot stick with the same thing for too many months together without growing stale. Shorter books lend themselves well to this approach, as I can produce a complete title in a relatively short time and then swap to something else. I’ve just started a new series of shorter-length titles, Modern Magick, and like the Malykants, I’ll be writing these in between all the other things I do. Maybe it sounds a bit mad that way, but it works for me.

Do ever find yourself scrapping paragraphs to make the books fit a certain word count?

Strangely, no. I didn’t plan the length of the first Malykant Mystery, any more than I planned its content. The story took shape by itself, and I haven’t had any trouble keeping the later books to approximately the same word count (although, book by book, they are gradually getting longer…).

What’s next for you?

My next release will be the first story in the new Modern Magick series, and currently I am writing one of those colourful fairy tale things that I love so much. Later in the year, I have the next Tales of Aylfenhame book coming up, and of course, book 8 of the Malykant Mysteries.


I’m very happy to know there’s more to come from Charlotte! If you missed my recent review of her latest work click here – The House at Divoro

You can learn more about Charlotte via her website here – http://www.charlotteenglish.com/  . The site also links nicely to her social media accounts so you can connect with the author whichever way you like 🙂

I’d love to know if you’ve read Charlotte’s work before of if you indeed plan to.