Monday, 27 May 2013

Blog Interview with Author ROBYN YOUNG

Author Robyn Young broke onto the historical fiction scene in 2006 with the highly successful debut novel, Brethren. Published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and Dutton (Penguin Group) in the US she swiftly followed that book's outstanding sales figures with two more bestsellers in the Brethren Trilogy,  Crusade in 2007 and Requiem in 2008.

Robyn Young had arrived, and readers around the world - in 20 countries to date - welcomed this new author and her Knights Templar series with avarice. She not only cracked the competitive historical fiction market, she also cracked the key to gender marketing and was able to write a story that appealed to both men and women readers. But the journey goes on.

In 2010 along came the Insurrection Trilogy, proving that the Brethren Trilogy was no one hit wonder. This trilogy kicks off with the first book which shares the series' name, Insurrection.
When the book and movie world were only really interested in the feats of William Wallace, Robyn Young broke ranks and went after Robert the Bruce. A National hero in Scotland, he is usually sidelined on an international level, in books and movies, in favour of the more popular figure of Wallace. So Young gave him his spotlight in this series. Not as a support character, but as the main character, for he is no less of a colourful and intriguing real life character than Wallace. 
Insurrection hit its mark with the fans in the UK and Internationally and so, in 2012, came the next book in the the trilogy Renegade. In 2014, the final book in this trilogy will be released, Kingdom.

Fans should not despair however, you will not see the last of Robyn Young when her Insurrection trilogy is completed in 2014. There is much more to come from this International Bestselling author. Another trilogy called Renaissance. Set to the background of the War of the Roses, it is still a few years off, but at least readers will know that Robyn Young, as an historical fiction author, will be around for a long time to come.

With the help of Robyn's Literary Agent Rupert Heath, Robyn's PA and the nice folks over at Hodder & Stoughton (UK), I recently had the opportunity to organise a blog interview with Robyn Young and I hope you all enjoy the results.
Do you think it is important to be as historically accurate as possible in an historical fiction book?
I feel historical fiction should be as accurate as possible in the portrayal of its worlds – that is to say, the author should strive to use authentic period detail, avoid anachronisms and have as deep an understanding as reasonably possible of the time and place they are writing about. But, beyond that, things become rather grey.
For one thing, history can be far too convoluted or protracted to allow for an accurate retelling of events in what is supposed to be a page-turning novel. For example, during what came to be known as the Great Cause (the trial to choose Alexander III’s successor) there were endless councils and gatherings that would have weighed down the book tremendously had I been faithful to the chronology of events, so I amalgamated them into one. Besides this, the sources we take our material from are sometimes obscure or open to interpretation, often contradictory and frequently missing the vital information that would explain a person’s motivations for actions they have taken. 
Robert Bruce switched sides several times during the Wars of Independence and although we can speculate what led him to do so we still don’t know for certain what he was thinking, or hoping to achieve. This is where the author of historical fiction can move beyond the restrictions of historians – creating the motivations that lie behind the actions of characters and filling in the gaps in recorded history. But, of course, these are our own interpretations and you can’t say these will be accurate, any more than you can say a chronicler, often with their own, usually politically motivated agenda, writing decades, or even centuries after events occurred is accurate in their retelling. 
The more I research the Middle Ages, the more I realise just how much we don’t know. But, for me, therein lies the appeal. When I write I’m not an historian, I’m a detective. It is the novelist’s licence to question “what if?” which led me to take a controversial route in depicting the fate of Alexander III, whose death, although believed to be a tragic accident, was never actually witnessed.
One thing I do feel strongly about, though, is where the author deviates significantly from established fact, or fills in gaps with their own interpretations they should explain this in an author’s note. I also provide a bibliography so readers can read the “real” history if they want to know more.

If you could go back to 13th Century Scotland. To the courts, the battlefields, the private rooms and meet any of the real life characters. Stand face to face with them. Who would it be and what would you say to them or ask them?
As I’m in the thick of writing Kingdom, the final book in the Insurrection Trilogy, it would have to be Robert Bruce. There is so much we don’t know about him. His childhood isn’t documented; even his place of birth is still debated. We can only read between the lines to get the barest glimpse of his relationships with his family, his two wives and his friends. 
We don’t know why he chose to join the rebellion with William Wallace, in a move against his father and his ally, King Edward I, when he had so little to gain and so much to lose. Neither do we know (although this move is perhaps more understandable given his situation at the time) why he later submitted to Edward, two years before most of the other Scottish nobles. 
We don’t know how he met his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, nor do we have a true understanding of what happened that fateful night at the church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries when he faced John Comyn, or even a clear chronology of the events that led to that showdown. 
There are several points during the Wars of Independence where Robert disappears completely from recorded history, for months at a time, and his whereabouts during these periods has been the subject of centuries of debate and speculation.
  Ask most people to name one fact about Robert Bruce and they’ll mention the spider, but that comes from the fiction of Walter Scott. So, yes, I’d love to sit down, preferably with a goblet of Gascony wine, and ask him for the true story!
Who is your favourite historical figure and why him/her?
A tough one. I’m not sure I have a favourite as such. I’m interested in many figures from history, but particularly those whose lives have been defined, or shaped by conflict. 
I tend to gravitate towards those who experience great change or upheaval in their lives and those who instigate these things. I like to explore the human struggle within the epic narrative. Edward I fits these definitions very well (and has appeared in my 6 novels to date), as do Robert Bruce and Baybars Bundukdari, the slave warrior who became Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and features in the Brethren Trilogy.
You recently signed on with Hodder & Stoughton to start another series. Called Renaissance and set in Europe during the 15th century, can you tell us anything yet about what drew you to this era and new story?
This story has been bubbling away in me for some years now, so I’m hugely excited to get the chance to write it.   I can’t say too much yet about Renaissance, but I can tell you that my main character, Jack Vaughn, is a soldier of fortune swept up in the court dramas of the late 15th century, at the end of the Wars of the Roses and the birth of the Tudor dynasty: another period rich with discovery and convulsing with upheaval and change.
Is there an historic site (or more than one historic site), relevant to any of your books (Brethren or Insurrection or even the new series) that you have been to that you cannot get enough of and love going back to? And why?
I’ve had a bit of a love affair with Scotland since a childhood holiday spent on Mull, so one of the perks about writing the Insurrection Trilogy has been getting to spend so many weeks doing research there.  Following in the footsteps of Robert Bruce pretty much means visiting every inch of Scotland, but there are a few truly memorable sites I’d go back to in a heartbeat, just for myself - the isolated ruins of Finlaggan Castle on Islay and the haunting remains of Kildrummy, where the English caught up with one of Robert’s brothers; the twin peaks of Dumbarton Rock glowering over the Clyde, mysterious Glen Trool, the remote beauty of Barra and Lewis, and the ever-changing waters around the rugged west coast, gouged out by sea lochs. It really is a stunning country.
Which authors and books inspired you growing up to love history and want to write about it?
My interest in history came quite late in life. I didn’t particularly enjoy it at school – certainly not by the time it was GCSEs and subjects like WWII, which I think is too complex and grim for kids to be able to appreciate.  I next picked up a history book in my early 20s, after discovering the Knights Templar during a conversation in a bar. Malcolm Barber’s The Trial of the Templars, was a harrowing, but inspirational read; Barber taking me past my notion that history was all just facts and figures and showing me that it is actually a treasure trove of stories. 
From that moment, the Brethren Trilogy was born and history became my passion.
As a writer, what is the best advice you have ever been given?
Just do it!
Do you prefer to read ebooks or paper books?
I’m very old-fashioned when it comes to reading. I love books – the feel of them, the look of them and, yes, the smell of them. I can see the use of e-readers (for commuters, research work and holidays) but even then, I’d rather cram one paperback into my bag than a device filled with thousands. 
I like to be faithful to books – one at a time. I think I’d get overwhelmed by the choice on an e-reader and, possibly, rather fickle. I find this when listening to music; it’s too easy, when it’s all at your fingertips, to jump about, skip songs and not give an album time to grow on you. It all becomes somehow more disposable. 

Photo courtesy of Robyn Young 
Thanks to all those, including Robyn Young herself, involved in getting this interview to happen.
 Please NB* In JUNE the Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction Group on Goodreads is doing a Group Read of Robyn's book Insurrection (The Insurrection Trilogy #1) and Robyn will be swinging by to chat to us.
All are welcome to join in the read, even if you are not a member of the group. 
Feel free to drop by this Blog or the A&M Facebook Page with your comments if you are not a member of A&M Group, or of course you could join the Group and comment on the A&M  Insurrection Discussion Thread.

- MM 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Author Interviews Coming to Ancient & Medieval Mayhem Blog in June

Interview with Author, Robyn Young. In early June to kick off the Ancient & Medieval Historical Fiction Group's Medieval Group Read of Insurrection.


Interview with Author, Michael Jecks. Mid June. To help celebrate #32 in his series, Templar's Acre, and also the reissues (with new covers) of the first three books of his series, with potentially many more to come.

Volcanology Gets Cool - POMPEII by Robert Harris

Pompeii by Robert Harris
Geology meets Volcanology meets All Round Mr Nice Guy. That is Pompeii by Robert Harris.
Having read Imperium by Robert Harris few short months ago (and having reviewed it here on the Blog) I found that I quite enjoyed his uncomplicated writing style. I in no way mean unsophisticated or simplistic, for he is an author who can comfortably shoulder the mantle of an old fashioned storyteller.
Many authors try to be story tellers, but they over write or have not the skill and under write, or get caught up in too many tangents, thinking that everything they do has to be with the single intent of delivering the next great International Epic Bestseller.
Pompeii certainly became an International Bestseller, but it was not really an epic. It was a story of a man - an Aquarius - and was melded with a intriguing blend of geology, volcanology and precise Roman history. Very well done, in my opinion, but no epic.

I do not know if the geological and volcanological elements would put others off, whether others may prefer a story about people only, but I happened to find them extraordinarily fascinating.
I have a feeling the book was not what some may expect. Where you may have expected a Wilbur Smith type epic - multiple characters and their lives in the lead up to the Mt Vesuvius explosion - that is not what you got.

Robert Harris gave you instead, Attilius, an Aquarius who came to the Bay of Naples as a result of the mysterious disappearance of the former Aquarius, Exomnius, and took over the running of the Aqueducts. And for the most part, this is Attilius' story as he finds the water supply in disarray and bit by bit, clue by clue, he starts to unravel the causes. Will it be in time though? Obviously, since everyone knows what happened to Pompeii and Herculaneum, everyone will realise he cannot be in time to do anything about those disasters, but can he be in time to avert others?

I found the final third of the book to be the most compelling. The eruption and the various stages of the eruption and how it might be experienced from different places in the surrounding area. In the towns, at the base of the volcano, on the water, in the Bay. I was mesmerised by it all.
There was a moment where I thought the book perhaps could have finished and yet it went on. And there was a scene or two that seemed inserted to make the book longer as those scenes kind of tripped up the urgent momentum of the book during the eruption.
But I had to give the book 5 stars. It deserved it in my opinion. For despite its flaws, it had me at ave.

- MM

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Dog Seeks Archaeology - Only Old, Dusty Types Need Apply

The Australian military has often gone to animal refuge's looking for dogs with unique skill sets to train for rehoming in the military in jobs such as bomb sniffing, and there have been many 'rescues/adoptions' as a result of these visits. They test them in similar ways to how you might test a dog you were thinking of adopting as a family pet. Eagerness to sniff out treats, intensity or willingness to chase a ball or toy, enthusiasm to interact with humans. These are all behaviours that signify a dog that can be trained, but when Migaloo the black labrador cross mastiff was picked out at an animal rescue centre over 14 months ago due to her ball crazy attitude and special skill sets, it wasn't for the military that she was chosen. It was to find bones underground. But not just any bones underground. Old bones. Ancient bones.

Her finds to date? Human bones as old as 600 years old and fossils dated by palaeontologists to be  between 2.6million and 5.3million years old. She can find them up to and over 2 metres underground.

She is the best in the world at what she does (finding old bones).  Other dogs  have been trained to find bones for the police etc.. but to date, until Migaloo started work in her new position, the oldest bones found by a dog were 174 year old Civil War bones in the US.
Migaloo is also the only dedicated archaeology dog in the world and she has been such a success that no doubt she will be the first of many to come.

Migaloo found the 600 year old Aboriginal bones at a gravesite in South Australia, (she won't dig and damage archaeology until given the command to dig). Trainer Gary Jackson says of this Aboriginal grave find.
"We were given about an acre to search, the elders and museum officials knew where the graves were, but not us," Gary said. "But within two minutes, Migaloo was circling the spot and clawing at the ground and digging and it was exactly where the grave was."
"It was remarkable because bones that old don't have any flesh left on them, yet she still smells something!"

As I write this blog post, Migaloo and her trainer Gary are in the Roma district of Western Queensland - an area rich in fossil discoveries – to hunt out dinosaurs.
"I'd love to get the chance to search another dinosaur area but I think Migaloo is more concerned about getting to sink her teeth into her tennis ball," he said.

Next year Migaloo will travel to France and Belgium in search of the lost graves of WWII soldiers. “to be able to get closure for the families of Australian and American soldiers who died over there”.

- MM

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Have They Found The Lost City of Gold, Ciudad Blanca?

Is it possible that they have found one of the legendary lost cities of gold? La Ciudad Blanca? The White City? Archaeologists from the University of Houston in conjunction with filmmakers, Bill Beneson and Steven Elkins, think they may have, and have been discussing their findings in Cancun, at the American Geophysical Union Meeting of the Americas (May 14-17).

Last year, Archaeologists, and filmmakers Beneson and Elkins, set out to find this lengendary city of gold in Honduras' Mosquitia region. An area that can only be accessed with any ease, by air or water. It is the location of one of the greatest lungs of the planet, the Biosphere Reserve of Rio Platano. Dense rainforest that is home to rare and protected species and many isolated indigenous tribes.

In the 1500's, infamous conquistador Hernando Cortes led an expedition into the La Mosquitia
jungle with little more than rumours at his back and a greed for gold in his heart, to find the famed golden city of Ciudad Blanca. Obviously, he failed. Had he been sporting the latest in LiDAR technology, he might not have, but of course, he was quite a few centuries too early for that. Thankfully.

LiDAR(Light Detection and Radar) technology, which uses laser pulses directing downward, allows for the low flying plane of these archaeologists and film makers to penetrate the dense canopy in order to map the ground topography below.

During their initial project last year, they flew over a site covering 120sq/km, mapping the entire
rainforest floor in that gridded zone with their small laser pulses until they came upon these exciting results. Seemingly manmade lineal features and mounds. The kind you won't usually find in nature. An obvious site of human ground disturbance.

But is it one of Cortes' lost cities of gold? Is this feature hidden beneath and within some of the world's thickest and most impenetrable rainforest, the White City?
This will be up for some hot debate after the findings are presented to the scientific community in Cancun this week.
From here, if it is decided this site is something worth throwing resources at, and I think we all can see that it is, then they will send an expedition team into the rainforest to investigate the features at ground level this year.

- MM
Image Sources - 
First Image: University of Houston Second Image: UTL Scientific

Monday, 13 May 2013

Not Your Everyday Bishop's Seal

Called The Bishop's Seal, this is not your everyday run of the mill seal. Made of silver and three
centimetres in length, upon the surface you will see, if you look close enough, the image of two figures facing front on and holding their hands as if giving a blessing, whilst a third in the bottom of the image, kneels in prayer. Around the sides is an inscription in Latin, which translates to "Let the prayers to God of Germanus and Patricius help us". I am sure this is an inscription that stirs the imagination of all you history lovers out there. It stirs mine. When I first read it, my mind flew to a million places.

It is dated to the Fourteenth Century and as with so many of the greatest finds in Britain, it was found by metal detector enthusiasts (in this case Mr Andy Falconer and Mr Rob Farrer) in a field in the north of the Isle of Man.
Bless them, where would English history be without those 'honest' metal detector enthusiasts who seek items of wonder and share them with the world and museums, instead of those 'other types' who pocket their finds and sell them on to the antiquities market, where they are never to be seen again. But let's save that gripe for another day shall we?

Recently, The Bishop's Seal was not tucked away in a dusty rabbit warren archive by Manx National Heritage on the Isle of Man, luckily for the local peoples and for the tourists and lovers of history, due to its “incredible significance” it was on show and could be viewed by visitors to the island.
After all, as the curator of archaeology at MNH, Allison Fox, said: "It is a very rare find and an important part of Manx history” so these types of finds do need to be shared with the people and the local communities. There is nothing to be gained by cataloguing them in an archive. Not if the finds can be securely displayed in places where it can neither degrade nor be stolen.

To lend more clarity and emphasis to how truly important this find is for Manx History, Allison Fox also states that "Saints were very important people for the whole island. The Isle of Man has lots of artefacts from the Viking period and a few hundred years after but a find from this period is rare.
Most of our information for this period comes from manuscripts rather than artefacts."
I myself could present you with a dozen blog posts on the Viking finds made on these Isles. I would say the islands Viking heritage is its most renowned historic heritage, but this Bishop's seal, so rare and so dramatic in its design and wording, seems very special. Even to me, an amatuer in such matters.

Disappointingly, this is not one of those times where I can say that “If you are British, or travelling to Britain you can go see this Exhibition”. Because, sorry to say, the Exhibition has been and gone. The Bishop's Seal was a star piece recently in the Manx National Heritage's Forgotten Kingdoms Exhibition, which ran from November 2012 to March 2013.
It was an exhibition that profiled the history of the Kingdom of Man and the Isles from 1000AD - 1300AD.
If only I had found the story on the Bishop's Seal earlier, but, alas, life is full of little disappointments and this was one of them. All is not lost however. What you can still do is go visit the Manx Museum and see their other exhibitions. Or join up to one of their fascinating walking tours. One ship sails, another comes to port.

For more info on the Manx Museum:

- MM

Sunday, 12 May 2013

A Moody Bavarian Mystery - THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER by Oliver Potzsch

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
The Hangman's Daughter held a surprise in its pages for me. It was not an immediate surprise and it took some time for it to actually dawn on me. It came late in the book. About two thirds of the way through, and despite what you may be thinking, no, it had nothing to do with the mystery or the 'hook' or the whodunnit. The surprise came in the form of the history and how the author's research had been inserted within the story.
I knew how important the research was to this author, as I was lucky enough to interview Oliver Potzsch before I started the book, and I am glad that I knew that and had experienced his love for his research and his charatcers, because you truly can tell that he will do whatever it takes to build scene and create his world for the reader.

The book itself was not a flawless article for me. It had its flaws to be sure. But where a few things let it down (in my personal opinion) it was the way the author captured his research inside the story that made me not only think, but to seek out others to discuss my thoughts. The surprise of the book was, that it was entirely thought provoking.
It was not just another flacid historical mystery, with a quirky or morose protaganist, a cunning villain, a handful of suspects, a gruesome crime or two and a sinister motive.  It did have those of course, since it was a historical mystery in its essence - but this book was an education for someone like me who is not from the part of the world this book was set in. Bavaria, near Augsburger, at the end of the brutal Thirty Years' War.

The book made me think about this village and the dynamic of its people. Made me care about its future. I was interested in the way the society interacted with each other and with neighbouring villages, especially in light of the closing of the Thirty Years' War and the atrocities committed as part of it. Of note, the horrors attended most enthusiastically upon Magdeburg.
Then there was the witchcraft and the witch hunts of the Seventeenth century.  The fear of witches, religion, both having to coexist alongside cultures where medicines were still of the earth. Where one was likely to be asked to heal one day with plant roots and poultices and then accused of witchcraft for it the next.
They were frightening times in these areas of Germany and that comes through strongly in the book.

The flaws I mentioned. The translation started out excellently. Hard to believe I was even reading a translation. But it was not always to be this way and in the second half of the book I feel the translation was not as good, or the author was not writing as well as he had in the beginning. Without having a grasp of the German written word so that I can read the original non-translated version, I guess I will never know whether it was the author or the translator who weakened in the second half.

The book isn't really about The Hangman's Daughter, so you should not go into it expecting too much of that character. The book is mostly a book about the Hangman, Jakob Kuisl, and the Doctor, Simon Fronwieser.
A final complaint if I may without undermining the good rating I gave the book? The mystery was dragged out and the book could have done with some shortening.
Still, all said and done, I give this book a 4 star rating out of 5. Not neccessarily for the story or the writing itself, but for the magical job Oliver Potzsch did on creating this world and setting his scenes.

- MM

Saturday, 11 May 2013

History and Social Media Collide

When I made the decision to boot up this blog I was convinced that that was as far into the social media network water that I wanted to wade, but I suppose once you try something once and don't get bitten, you begin to feel more comfortable with it. To coin another phrase, feel less like a fish out of water.
So I surged ahead and set up a Facebook Page to tie in with the A&M Historical Fiction Group and this blog, Ancient & Medieval Mayhem. But that was it, thought I, oh so gullible. 
Then through interactions on A&M Historical Fiction Group I discovered that the only way to contact some authors to invite them to group reads of their books was to Tweet them.

Tweet them?  What's this? Can it be that some people won't check their email, but will notice a tweet? In the case of one author, yes, it can be. Some people are indeed ignoring their 'snail mail' email accounts and dealing with people through Twitter instead. That was how we reached this one author in time to invite him to partake of our book group discussion....which, by the way, turned out to be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Then I realised that here lay the next new world. A place where not only were we able to connect with authors and invite them to discuss their books, but a place where members of our Book Group may prefer to be kept abreast of latest updates.. ie Group Read Poll results, blog posts on this blog, news posted to the Facebook Page, Group Reads starting.
So that is what we have done. Branched out a little further into the new world of Social Media and set up an Ancient & Medieval Historical Fiction Group Twitter Page. Mercy me. What next!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Author Interview - OLIVER POTZSCH author of The Hangman's Daughter

Oliver P√∂tzsch has not been the kind of man to sit idly by while life whizzes past. He has taken it by the throat and made the most of it. Ever since he left highschool he has been aspiring and persevering in the world of journalism and it has dealt him many cool hands as just reward. Work in tv, in radio, in film, as a scriptwriter, and then of course as a husband and a father and now, an author of a bestselling series in Germany and around the world.
To most outside of Germany, he is best known as the author of the highly successful The Hangman's Daughter series of books, The Hangman's Daughter, The Dark Monk , The Beggar King,  and the most recent book, book four, released in Germany, but English translation not due for release until July 2013, The Poisoned Pilgrim.
This series has been embraced by readers on a worldwide scale. But many have done the same, been International Bestsellers. So what makes Oliver and his Hangman's Daughter series so special? What makes it a cut above? Well, I have thought about this long and hard and I think I have worked it out.

It does not matter if you are a man or woman, girl or boy. It does not matter what genre or sub genre of fiction you read, or in fact if you are a heavy reader or a 'once every now and then' reader.
The startling and macabre subject matter, excellent writing quality, brilliant translation from German to English, unique and captivating bookcovers and that dark Gothic feel that is so much a part of pop culture right now, has been the perfect blend of ingredients to attract readers from all walks of life and nearly all ages.
He has brought something different to the book marketplace. A book, and a series of books, that makes us all want to shut ourselves away in a quiet corner or at the back of the bus or in a private corner of a train on the way to work, and be transported, transfixed and hypnotised by a special cast of characters and an unforgettable Seventeeth Century Bavarian village setting.

I was lucky enough, with the help of an excellent translator on Oliver's end, to interview the author over the internet. It required a little back and forth over a week, but the results were worth it.
I have complete faith that you will enjoy this interview, especially if you are a fan of the Hangman's Daughter series.
Oliver has been kind enough to not only capture some of his Kuisl's world in his answers, but he has also let us see what the man behind the books is like. And I feel I can say without a shadow of doubt, that the man behind the books is a gentleman. A gentleman who has a mind filled to the brim with wonderful stories just waiting to get out and it was a real pleasure, and honour, to have this moment with him.

Do you think it is important to be as historically accurate as possible in an historical fiction book?

Yes, of course, historical novels should be dramatic summits of authentic events.
The reader should always have the idea that the historical fiction really might have taken place this way. And I hope that readers realise how intensively I am working on the research and inquiries for my stories.

The only exceptions are dialogues. We don't know how people at the time really talked. And even if we knew it would be difficult for us to read and understand it. The language has developed quite a lot and was completely different from ours. I think it is important to use a quite modern style of dialogue so that readers can get a realistic impression of the acting characters.

 Do you feel all executioners would have lived outside of society back then? Feared? Ignored? Spurned? Or do you think it would be accepted as just another job. Like the baker or the butcher.

Hangmen were outcasts in those days. Their children were not allowed to be christened; they had to live outside the cities and ordinary people tried to avoid their glances.
Nevertheless, people contacted them to be healed from diseases or to buy a magic potion, because a hangman knew a lot about the human body.
This contradiction makes hangmen very attractive as literary characters: good and bad, healing and killing, witchcraft and witch hunt – all in one person.
I think that this ambivalent impression of a hangman's profession is -even in our days – one of the reasons for the international success of my books.

All authors write in different ways. Since you have a career as a Screenwriter also, as you write does your story play out in your head like a movie? Or do you just type the words as they roll from your mind?

I think that most authors have pictures in mind when they write and develop their stories. Indeed critics say that my stories are like film descriptions. I am glad about this – maybe I really think much more as a film director (cuts, close ups, plot points or one liners) than other German authors.
When writing dialogues, I often play the scenes in my office and behave more or less like an actor: I make faces and gesticulate to find out how my characters act, argue, cry, kill – or die. When it's very intense, I close the curtains – otherwise my neighbours might think I am mad.

You have discovered some intriguing history about the Kuisl and your connection to them. What was your initial reaction when you found out you were related to a long line of executioners?

I know since my childhood that I descend from a hangman family. As I grew up with this knowledge it wasn't a shock for me. On long walks during our holidays my mother by and by told me about the cruel details. For my own children hangmen acted for a very long time more like police officers, so they did not fear them. In the meantime they know exactly how their ancestors acted. But I told them that they only executed the very bad criminals – and until now they believe it.
To be honest, I would like to believe it myself, though I know it is true. After all, among the victims there also were some supposed witches who in reality only were pitiful and anxious women.

Have you always wanted to write a novel? And do you see yourself ever giving up all your other careers (such as Screenwriting and radio work) just to write books only?

Indeed. I wanted to work as an author since my childhood. And I often went to bookshops imagining that my books would be there on the shelves.
To earn a living by telling stories is the most wonderful thing I can imagine! And last month I really canceled my job at the tv station with a heavy heart, but it was too much to work on both fields. Besides, after 20 years as a journalist it was time for a change. But I will continue singing in bands.
By the way: singing and writing are similar. Some words sound better than others.

If you could go back in time and meet a Kuisl relative. What would you most like to ask him?

Good question! There are so many things I would like to ask. For example: How would you act if you have to torture and execute someone although you are convinced that he is innocent. This, by the way, is the hangman's conflict in the first volume of my 'Hangman's Daughter' series.

Do you ever think that there were women executioners or that women commonly assisted executioners?

I only know about one single execution that took place in the Bavarian town Nordlingen in the Eighteenth Century. The Hangman was so drunk that he saw several heads instead of one. It was a very cruel and bloody execution and in the end, his wife had to do the job.
In general, the profession was too much strain for a woman. It takes a lot of strength to handle a sword so that the head is separated neatly from the body.

 Do you prefer to read ebooks or paper books?

Personally, I prefer paper books, but my wife already prefers eBooks.
We both read a lot and it makes things easier if you don'thave to pack a whole box of books for your holidays. But I love the smell of glue, dust and paper – I am a real book maniac and I like visiting second hand and antiquarian bookshops. A bit like the medicus Simon Fronwieser in my novels. Besides, I like – like Simon does – a good cup of coffee and old libraries.
In Germany we have a lot of small bookshops where they offer Cappucino and cakes on old leather couches. For me this feels like Heaven!

(Thankyou to translator: G. Rumler for help during the interview and it would also be remiss of me not to give credit to the translator who has done such an oustanding job on The Hangman's daughter Series, Lee Chadeayne. Who has done a remarkable job on the German to English translation of the books.)
- MM