We're happy to have today E.M. Powell, author of the medieval thriller The Fifth Knight, which was a #1 Amazon Bestseller. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in the northwest of England with her husband and daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society (HNS), International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America, as well as a reviewer of fiction and nonfiction for the HNS.
Her latest book is the historical mystery/thriller, THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT.
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Can you tell us what your book is about?
The Blood of the Fifth Knight is the sequel to my medieval thriller, The Fifth Knight. The infamous murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 provided the backdrop for that first book. History relates that there were four knights present at the murder, sent on the orders of King Henry II. I added a fictional fifth, Sir Benedict Palmer.
I had intended it to be a standalone novel. But it had huge success, becoming a #1 historical thriller on Amazon in the US, the UK and Australia. So Henry summons Palmer to fight for him again. It’s now 1176 and someone is trying to murder Rosamund Clifford, Henry’s beautiful young mistress. Henry trusts only Palmer to find out who’s responsible.
Why did you write your book?
Readers, agent and publisher were asking for a sequel to The Fifth Knight. That was wonderful motivation!
Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
Sir Benedict Palmer is of course my hero. His wife, Theodosia, is my heroine. She won Palmer’s heart in the first book, even though she was an anchoress, a cloistered nun, hidden in Canterbury Cathedral. The quick-tempered Henry II features again. He now has a mistress, Rosamund Clifford. She is young and beautiful and often goes by the name the Fair Rosamund in the history books. And although Palmer is summoned by Henry to protect Rosamund, she is very taken with her handsome guardian. As he loves his wife (and wants to keep his head on his shoulders), the feeling is not at all mutual.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
With historical fiction, there are of course the history books and records to take from. But of a novelist always brings their own interpretation. I’m fundamentally a bit of a magpie, in that I will takes bits and pieces from people in real life and use those to crate the people on my page.
Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?
I’m a plotter all the way! I think this is partly because of writing historical fiction. Certain facts/events just can’t be moved and so I have to write to those. It can be a real nightmare when the history doesn’t fit with what I want to happen. But it just means I have to be more creative!
Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
It does in that it is set over eight hundred years ago! So I have to (as far as possible) be true to what we know of life back then. It’s a real balancing act because of course I’m not writing a history book, I’m writing a story. But I have to look at every single scene to make sure the details are correct. That’s clothes, food, drink, weather, tools, accommodation, rooms, furniture: the list just goes on. Yet by bringing the right amount of this detail in, I can hopefully bring the reader into that world of long ago. One of the nicest reviews I’ve had was titled ‘Lost in the 1100s!’. I was so pleased when I saw that.
What is the most pivotal point of a writer’s life?
Every time you sit in that chair and put words down. Without that, nothing else follows. Not agents, not publication, not sales, not reviews, not readers. Nothing. Writing the story is it.
What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?
Keep writing! Don’t be despondent about what you think is lack of progress. This isn’t a race where it only matters that you’re the first person to pass the finishing line. Your only race is with yourself. So get the words on paper, learn everything you can, and never give up. Never, ever give up!