Sharon Kay Penman's Blog

September 25, 2017

I just wanted to assure everyone again that I have not been abducted by aliens or entered the Witness Protection Program. I still have to severely limit my computer time, which is beyond frustrating, and the world’s tragedies continue to be overwhelming. So many people in pain—the latest victims of monster hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean nations, those whose lives were turned upside down by the earthquake in Mexico City, and the residents of Texas and Florida, for they are still suffering from the damage done by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I am so proud of the way people have responded to these crises, total strangers risking their own lives to save others. There is so much hatred out there that at times it seems to drown out the other voices, but if we listen, we can hear them. We need to remember that most of us are good people, that this, too, shall pass, and one of the greatest gifts any nation has ever received was bestowed upon the United States by the men known as our Founding Fathers---our Bill of Rights.
I hope you will be patient with my rerun posts until my injury permits me to spend more time at the computer. This one is five years old, so I am hoping no one remembers it! September 25, 1066 was the date of the highly significant battle of Stamford Bridge, in which the last Saxon king, Harold Godwinson, defeated a force led by the Norwegian king, Harald Hardraga, and the Saxon Harold’s brother Tostig. Harold marched his army an astonishing 180 miles in just four days to catch the Norwegians by surprise. In a very bloody and lengthy battle, both the Norwegian king and Tostig were slain on the field. It was a total triumph for Harold, but it may be one of the most costly victories in history, for three days later, a Norman force led by William the Bastard landed at Pevensey and Harold was forced to race his battered army south to repel this new invasion. Less than three weeks later, both armies met at Hastings and the history of England was forever changed. As many of you already know, Helen Hollick has written an excellent novel about Harold, titled I am the Chosen King in the US and Harold the King in the UK. And here is a good link to the battle of Stamford Bridge.
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Published on September 25, 2017 10:12 • 31 views

September 12, 2017

Let’s hope and pray that Irma will be the last major hurricane of the season. Please help the residents of Florida and let’s not forget the people in the Caribbean islands that suffered, too, from Irma.
For Americans, September 11th will always call to mind the most devastating terrorist assault upon our country. I find it hard to believe that sixteen years have passed since then, for those are memories that will never fade.
In medieval history, September 11th, 1161 was the date of death of a very interesting woman who is not very well known today—Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem in her own right, strong-willed widow of Fulk of Anjou, our Henry II’s grandfather. For anyone who’d like to learn more of her unusual history, I recommend Sharan Newman’s biography, Defending the City of God. September 11th was also the date in 1297 of the battle of Stirling Bridge, in which William Wallace defeated an English army. It was dramatized in Braveheart—well, except for the bridge and the battle tactics.
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Published on September 12, 2017 10:55 • 143 views

September 9, 2017

I know all our hopes and prayers are with the people of Florida today. They do seem to have heeded the warnings of their governor and local officials and many, if not most, have evacuated, so that may keep the death toll from this monster storm down. As I have said before, we are so fortunate to get advance warnings of hurricanes. The most horrific example of a stealth storm is the one that destroyed Galveston in September of 1900, killing between six and ten thousand people. It is still possible for a hurricane to hit without warning; I was in one in England, of all places, in October of 1987. But thankfully, they are very rare.

Here is a story that brought tears to my eyes. A woman had gone to a Lowes storm, desperate to buy a generator for her elderly father, who needs oxygen to survive. She’d waited in line for hours, only to have the supplies run out just as it was her turn. She was weeping when a stranger tried to comfort her and when he learned why she was crying, he put the generator he’d just bought in her shopping cart, saying she needed it more than he did. A local reporter was on the scene, looking for hurricane stories, and they captured it on video. The woman was overwhelmed, calling him her angel. The next day Lowes received an unexpected generator and the manager remembered the Good Samaritan; the store contacted him and gave him the generator free of charge.

It feels like forever since I’ve posted about anything historic, so this is long overdue.
Yesterday was the birthdate 857 years ago, September 8th, 1157, of the most famous of the Devil’s Brood, Eleanor’s favorite son, Richard. I couldn’t resist posting from a scene in Time and Chance, a scene frozen in amber, in which Henry and Eleanor’s marriage was still whole and happy and they still thought the world was theirs for the taking.
Time and Chance, page 53
* * *
Somewhere along the way from the castle, Henry had found a garden to raid, for he was carrying an armful of Michaelmas daisies. These he handed to Petronilla, rather sheepishly, for romantic gestures did not come easily to him. Crossing the chamber in several strides, he leaned over the bed to give his wife a kiss. (omission)
“Are you hurting, love?”
Eleanor’s smile was tired, but happy. “Not at all,” she lied. “By now the babes just pop right out, like a cork from a bottle.”
Henry laughed. “Well….where is the little cork?”
A wet nurse came forward from the shadows, bobbing a shy curtsy before holding out a swaddled form for his inspection. Henry touched the ringlets of reddish-gold hair, the exact shade of his own, and grinned when the baby’s hand closed around his finger. “Look at the size of him,” he marveled, and as his eyes met Eleanor’s, the same thought was in both their minds: heartfelt relief that God had given them such a robust, sturdy son. No parent who’d lost a child could ever take health or survival for granted again.
“We still have not decided what to name him,” Henry reminded his wife. “I fancy Geoffrey, after my father.”
“The next one,” she promised. “I have a name already in mind for this little lad.”
He cocked a brow. “Need I remind you that it is unseemly to name a child after a former husband?”
Eleanor’s lashes were drooping and her smile turned into a sleepy yawn. “I would not name a stray dog after Louis,” she declared, holding out her arms for her new baby. She was surprised by the intensity of emotion she felt as she gazed down into that small, flushed face. Had God sent him to fill the aching void left by Will’s death? “I want,” she said, “to name him Richard.”
* * *
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Published on September 09, 2017 14:31 • 136 views

September 7, 2017

First Harvey and now Irma. This may turn out to be one of our worst hurricane seasons ever, a very scary thought. I hope and pray that Floridians will heed the warnings, especially the mandatory evacuation orders in some places. This is not a storm to take lightly and most certainly is not one to be dismissed as “fake news” as certain despicable radio personalities are doing. I have friends who suffered through another category five hurricane in Florida, Hurricane Andrew, and even after twenty-five years, those memories still haunt their nightmares.
I went to college in Texas, getting a history degree from UT at Austin, so I have a personal interest in the welfare of Texans and I am so proud of the way they have responded to that tragedy. Very little looting has been reported; instead, people continue to volunteer to help friends, neighbors, and total strangers. I can even offer a story of a canine hurricane survivor named Otis that is sure to make you all smile.
Many of you may have already heard of Otis, who was photographed carrying home a bag of dog food in the aftermath of the storm. It turns out that Otis was accustomed to strolling around town and visiting places where he knew he’d get a warm welcome and a treat. So when he somehow escaped his family’s porch, he decided to follow his usual routine, including a stop at a lumber yard where they kept a bag of dog food for him. When he got there, it was closed, but hey, he knew where the dog food was kept, so why not help himself? And he did, carrying the bag home in case he got hungry later, I guess. When the photo was posted on-line, naturally it went viral, and when the back-story came out, that made it even better. Some tongue-in-cheek posters pointed out, of course, that Otis was not really a hurricane victim; he was a looter. But he gave us all a reason to smile and for that alone, he deserves all the treats he can steal….er, borrow. He has an interesting family story, too; he was adopted by his family eight years ago when a stranger offered him to them, saying he was going to dump the puppy if they did not take him. So they did and the rest is history.
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Published on September 07, 2017 12:12 • 89 views

September 4, 2017

I am so pleased to announce that I have a new blog up; I'd begun to despair this would ever happen again. This one is an interview with Stephanie Churchill, whose new novel, The King's Daughter, is now available on Amazon. The interview is also a book giveaway; you need only post a comment on the blog and you are automatically eligible to win.
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Published on September 04, 2017 13:57 • 81 views


I need to start with an apology for the long, long delay since my last blog was posted.  You are getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a writer’s life when that writer is cornered by a voracious Deadline Dragon; survival takes first priority and all else falls by the wayside.  But since I only have four more chapters now to do, I feel that I can afford to surface for air.

I am delighted to relaunch my blog with this interview with my friend and fellow writer, Stephanie Churchill.  Those of you who visit my blog and Facebook pages on a regular basis know how much I enjoyed Stephanie’s first novel, The Scribe’s Daughter.  I tease Stephanie that she has created a new genre—fantasy that reads like historical fiction.  My readers will feel very comfortable in Stephanie’s fictional world, for her novels are rooted in a gritty medieval reality.  They are considered fantasy because you cannot find this kingdom on any map, just in Stephanie’s head.  But there are no supernatural elements; no vampires or ghosts or monsters, although I personally would not have minded a dragon or two.     Her novels are character-driven, but they offer action and suspense, too.

I was hooked from the first sentence of The Scribe’s Daughter: “I never imagined my life would end this way.”    Kassia is an intriguing character and so well-drawn that readers immediately care about her.   For those of you who have not yet read The Scribe’s Daughter, the e-book is being offered on Amazon at a bargain price, just $2.99.   It is also available in paperback, but I confess I have become addicted to e-books for pleasure reading, seduced by the convenience, the ability to increase the font size, and the instant gratification, of course.

Because I found Kassia’s story so compelling, I am eagerly anticipating reading The King’s Daughter, in which her older sister, Irisa, takes center stage.  My game plan is to tackle my To Be Read List within moments of evicting the Deadline Dragon and applauding as he sulks off down the road to haunt some other unfortunate writer.   Today, though, I get to spend some time with Kassia and Irisa’s creator.  Before we begin the interview, Stephanie is offering a book giveaway for The King’s Daughter; anyone who posts a comment to this blog will automatically be eligible to win a personalized copy.

SKP:  You have just released your second book, The King’s Daughter, which is a sequel to The Scribe’s Daughter.  There may be readers who haven’t read the first book yet, so why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about it.

The Scribe’s Daughter is fantasy, though it will appeal to historical fiction readers because everything about it echoes the historical without actually being historical.  I used my comfort and familiarity with history and historical novels to recreate a world that would be similar in feel.

At the beginning of the novel, we meet Kassia, a seventeen year-old orphan who is faced with a tough decision in her daily quest for survival.  She is a younger sister but finds herself in the position of providing for both herself and her older sister, Irisa.  The sisters cannot afford to pay rent, and when their landlord gives them an ultimatum — pay up or become whores — Kassia must decide what to do.  Very soon after, a stranger enters the scene, hiring Kassia for a job that is ridiculously outside her skill set.  Not seeing much other choice, she takes him on.  Before long, Kassia finds herself embroiled in a fast-paced journey, sometimes treacherous, other times humorous.  Everything about the plot involves mysteries of Kassia and Irisa’s family history, a history they never knew existed.

SKP:  Tell us a little bit about The King’s Daughter.

The King’s Daughter is a sequel of sorts to The Scribe’s Daughter, though much of this book overlaps the timeline of the first one as the sisters’ perspectives weave together to form a more complete view from what was learned earlier.  Kassia and Irisa part ways early on in The Scribe’s Daughter.  The first few chapters of The King’s Daughter follow that overlapping timeline as Irisa learns much of the same information Kassia learns.  However, Irisa’s story continues on from there, and she discovers more truths.  The original mysteries from The Scribe’s Daughter are deepened, even twisted sideways so that they take on new life again.  Ultimately it is a character-driven book.  Irisa grows and develops as a person, but in her strength, she helps the development of the other significant protagonist in the story as well.

SKP:  One thing that is immediately noticeable is that even though they are sisters, Irisa and Kassia are very unlike one another.  Physically they are different, but also in the way they approach the world.  Can you talk about this?

Yes!  I am a sister; I have a sister.  And while I can’t say that Irisa and Kassia are necessarily modeled after my sister and I, at least not consciously, the idea of writing about two sisters was definitely inspired by the fact that I have a sister.  I see Irisa and Kassia as two sides to the same coin.  Both sisters are strong, though neither of them knows it at first.  One of the themes of both books is the journey to discover internal strength.  Each sister just comes at this from a different direction.

Kassia is sort of like a caged tiger.  She is emotionally ragged and lashes out at the world in response to trouble.  At the beginning of her story, she is very fragile and therefore acts recklessly.  Her defense mechanism is anger.  Irisa, on the other hand, is softer, gentler.  She is quiet and observant.  She has less emotional turmoil inside her even if she is also fragile at the beginning.  Irisa approaches the world with a more measured, thoughtful manner and is exceedingly practical.  She already has a quiet strength, but as the book progresses, she learns to spread her wings a bit.  By the end of their respective stories, both sisters have arrived at a similar place despite the dissimilar methods of getting there.

SKP:   Your book reads like historical fiction.  Did you base any of the plot or characters on any real figures from history?

Without giving too much away for the sake of the plot, I’ll say that Edward IV and his daughter Elizabeth of York, who married Henry Tudor, were probably the biggest influences on two of my characters, though only loosely.

SKP:   Did you plan to write multiple books when you started The Scribe’s Daughter?

When I began work on The Scribe’s Daughter, I had no long-range plan.  It was simply an experiment in writing first person, and I hadn’t even intended the experiment to turn into a book in the first place.  Once I started writing Kassia however, I fell in love with her character and couldn’t stop.  Kassia kept whispering in my ear, telling me about her life and the realities of her world.  When the first mystery took shape on the page, I had to see where it led.  Once I got nearly half way through writing the first draft, I realized that Irisa had a tale of her own to tell, and it was going to be very compelling.  I was intrigued by the idea of perspective and the differing views multiple people can have of the same events.  This was really the seed idea for the second book.  Once I got writing it, I discovered another selfish perk: I found that I missed Kassia terribly, and creating a book for Irisa allowed me to revisit the same world while taking off in a new direction even while inventing new people and places.  I can totally understand now why so many authors write a series!

SKP:   Should readers read The Scribe’s Daughter first, or can The King’s Daughter be enjoyed alone?

One of my advanced readers thought The King’s Daughter could be read as a stand-alone.  It’s hard for me to judge that as the author since I can never read the book with new eyes.  I would say however, that if a person wants to read it without having read the first one, it’s probably doable.  My caution to them would be that they would miss out on a lot of depth.  The second book weaves many tiny details from the first book: characters, places, mysteries, back stories, etc.  In fact, there are so many connections that many of the details may even be missed by most readers!

SKP:   Who should read your books?

I have found that my audience is more women than men, but both audiences have very dedicated fans.  The books were written for adults, though I tried to be sensitive to a wide audience so wrote it with that in mind, including teens.  Genre is difficult to pin down.  As I said earlier, the books read like historical fiction but are no doubt fantasy, even if not traditional fantasy.  There is no magic, no dragons or other fantastical beasts.  Everything is based in reality.  Readers of historical fiction should feel right at home with the books however, because I love history and historical fiction and attempted to inject the feel of that genre into my writing.  I often tell people that my books echo historical fiction even if they aren’t history.  More than that though, if you love deep characters, evocative settings, and a good plot, it doesn’t matter what genre you read.  You’ll enjoy the books!

SKP:   What’s next for you?

I have a plan for a third book, the story of Naria, Irisa and Kassia’s mother.  I left some dangling threads at the end of The King’s Daughter, and I really want to tie those up for readers.  This third book will have even more connections, ties, and connections to characters and events from the first two books.  I could take the story in many different directions, so I intend to take my time developing it, wanting to be as thoughtful and thorough as possible.

After that I have a completely new series in mind, one that will be much more traditional fantasy.  I’ve actually been researching the background material for several years now, and I’ve got a significant amount of the initial draft of the first book finished, though it still needs a lot of work!

The King’s Daughter released on September 1 and can be ordered from Amazon.  It is available both in the e-book and paperback format.

SKP:  Stephanie, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.  I know there is an overlap between our readers and I know, too, that they are in for a treat.

September 4, 2017

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Published on September 04, 2017 13:41 • 80 views

September 3, 2017

We’ve all witnessed natural disasters and many of us have experienced them, too; two of my family members lost their houses in Hurricane Sandy. I will never forget the scenes of suffering that courageous journalists brought to us as Hurricane Katrina destroyed so much of New Orleans, a city very dear to my heart. And now we had to watch again as destruction unfolded on an almost Biblical scale in Houston and surrounding towns. It is beyond heartbreaking and so many of the stories will haunt us for years to come: the family of six swept away, including four young children; the Houston police officer who died trying to report for duty; the woman who drowned trying to save her three-year-old daughter, who was rescued as she clung to her mother’s body. Who could ever forget stories like that?
But as always in times like this, heroes emerge. The torrential rain had not yet stopped before Houstonians were setting out to rescue their friends, their neighbors, and total strangers, using boats, canoes, even jet skis. It reminded me of Dunkirk. First responders reacted as they always do, risking their lives to save people in dire need. Volunteers drove for hundreds of miles to offer their help. Animal rescue groups arrived to rescue pets stranded by the storm. We owe a debt of deep gratitude to so many—the police and fire fighters and medical personnel, the Good Samaritans who responded to desperate pleas for help they saw on Facebook or Twitter, the Texans who opened their own homes to those who have nowhere to go.
Nor should we forget to acknowledge the journalists who have been working around the clock to cover this tragedy; just think for a moment how much greater the death toll would have been if there were no reporters to tell us how great the need was. The stories that have been playing out on television and on-line and in the newspapers have touched the hearts of Americans from coast to coast and evoked sympathy in people around the globe, for compassion knows no borders. We should thank the millions who have donated so generously to the Red Cross and other rescue groups, to those who have launched fund-raising drives and opened their checkbooks and their hearts to help their fellow citizens. To mention just one example, the NFL star, J.J. Watt immediately launched a fund-raising drive, hoping to raise at least two hundred thousand dollars. To date, he has raised sixteen million dollars.
We can help, too. We can make donations of our own, not just today but in the months to come. We can pledge not to vote again for any politician of whatever political persuasion who continues to deny that climate change is occurring throughout the world and at a rate far faster than the most pessimistic predictions of climatologists. We can collect toys for children and books for libraries inundated by flood waters. We can give to special needs charities like the Texas Diaper Bank. We can volunteer at animal shelters that are taking in dogs and cats from Houston shelters so that they will have room for all the pet victims of Harvey, animals that need to stay in the area so they can be reunited with their families. We can offer our prayers for those in such need of them. And we can be grateful for these glimpses of human nature at its best, for these reminders that most people are good at heart, for we tend to forget that in hard times.
Sadly, after a natural catastrophe, scams pop up like mushrooms and shameless con artists set up sham organizations to take advantage of our generous urges. So I try to donate to reliable charities like The Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity or Doctors without Borders. When I post about these tragedies on-line, I include a link to my go-to charity, the Red Cross. So I was rather shaken when I read that some questions had been raised about how much of their donated dollars go those in greatest need, in this case, the people of Texas. I would not tell anyone not to donate via the Red Cross, and I will continue to do so, but some of you might want to read the story in one of the links below.
Here is a very useful article about how to help in the wake of Harvey’s devastation, focusing upon local agencies.
Here is a listing of the charities considered the “best” by Charity Navigator.
Here is a link to my own favorite animal rescue charity, Best Friends.
And here is the link to the controversy about the Red Cross.
Lastly, people will be in need of assistance for many months to come. So rather than donating now, you might want to consider waiting a bit. I saw what Sandy did to my state and years later, there are people and towns that have not fully recovered from the devastation. That is true for New Orleans, too. So we need to be in it for the long haul.
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Published on September 03, 2017 14:17 • 60 views

August 25, 2017

Hurricane Harvey has now been classified as a Category 4 storm, more powerful than Katrina. Please pray for the millions of people in its path. And for those along the Texas coast, please evacuate. It truly is Life or Death.
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Published on August 25, 2017 17:20 • 91 views

August 22, 2017

I had a very good day, a long lunch with my friend Mary Glassman Jones and her sister, Kass; we somehow managed to eat a hearty meal while talking and laughing nonstop. I see my chiropractor tomorrow as he makes another attempt to get my rogue knee under control, and tonight I am in the middle of staging my coup. I think this is a first for me, unless we look upon Henry Tudor’s assumption of power as a coup of sorts. But I had to suspend the conspiracy briefly to acknowledge the two significant battles that were fought on this date.

On August 22, 1138, King David of Scotland suffered a defeat at Cowton Moor in Yorkshire. David was the uncle of the Empress Maude and he was attempting to advance her claim while grabbing some prime Yorkshire real estate for Scotland. He was defeated by William le Gros, the Count of Aumale. The count’s daughter Hawisa was a character in Devil’s Brood and Lionheart, wed first to Henry’s friend, the Earl of Essex, and then reluctantly to one of Richard’s vassals, William Forz. I liked that sharp-tongued lady enough to give her some screen time in A King’s Ransom, too.

And of course today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. I’ve been told by some readers that when they reread Sunne, they always stop before the battle. It was not fun for me to write, either; it took me three weeks to get Richard out of his tent and onto the field. (The reluctance was mine, not his.) I think Richard’s most memorable epitaph is the one he was given by the city of York, by the people who knew him best. They very courageously inscribed in the city records: “It was showed by John Sponer that King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was through great treason piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this City.”
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Published on August 22, 2017 19:17 • 145 views

August 19, 2017

I wanted to thank all of you who provided such eloquent and heartfelt responses to my post yesterday about terrorism, domestic and foreign, and W.B. Yeats’s haunting poem, The Second Coming. I found it very heartening that so many of you share my sentiments.
I have been recommending Stephanie Churchill’s The Scribe’s Daughter, which is technically fantasy but without supernatural elements and set in a medieval-style gritty reality. A number of you have read it and enjoyed it as much as I did. Stephanie has a sequel coming out on September 1st, The King’s Daughter; I’ll be interviewing her later about that book. But I wanted to alert those who’ve not yet read The Scribe’s Daughter that this is the time to try it, for it is currently being offered in the e-book format on Amazon for only 99 cents. It is also available for British readers at 99 pence and Down Under for $1.24 in Australian dollars. Definitely a bargain! It has one of the best opening lines I’ve read: “I never imaged my life would end this way.” How could anyone not want to keep reading?
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Published on August 19, 2017 14:21 • 136 views