What can I say, I just love E.M. Powell. She’s a great writer and a wonderful person. A lot of research goes into her books! The third book in her medieval thriller series released recently so I caught up with her to talk about The Lord of Ireland. If you missed my review of this stellar book, you can read that HERE. Enjoy the interview! (P.S. Love this cover!!)
Hi Elaine, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I can’t believe it’s been a year since we visited, and invited Paddington Bear, but this year I think we will go a bit more Irish, since most of your third book, The Lord of Ireland, is placed there. Just like your roots! (And besides, my name is Erin…Ireland!) So welcome, come in and have a seat, I’ll put on the tea or coffee? Your choice today, just let me know your preference? And I’ve baked up some of my Irish soda bread as well so I’ll bring that in.
Elaine: Hi Erin—and yes, it feels like some very nice stars have aligned to have you talk to me about my book on Ireland. Coffee as always, please, though tea is the drink of choice in Ireland. And that bread smells so good!
Erin: Wonderful choice of course as I love coffee (but I also like tea hehe). I’ll pour and bring in a tray of soda bread fresh from the oven.
Let’s get started, as I have some interesting questions to ask you. How exciting is it to now have your third book in your series published?
Elaine: First, I must say, your soda bread is the best. You’ve passed the taste test with a genuine Irish person! As for exciting, having The Lord of Ireland out there in the world is hugely exciting but also deeply fulfilling. It’s been the book of my heart.
Erin: I really enjoy how you’ve switched the setting of this book to somewhere new, and to a place that doesn’t really seem to get as much historical fiction attention in the 12 century. Your details and descriptions were lovely. What gave you the idea to follow this track and how much research was involved?
Elaine: I had a launch of the first book in the series, The Fifth Knight, at the Irish world heritage Centre in Manchester in 2013. That book is set in 1170 England, featuring my fictional eponymous Sir Benedict Palmer, and it centers on the infamous murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. A member of the audience asked me if I would ever write a book about medieval Ireland. I said no, but even as the words came out of my mouth, I think that seed was planted.
In continuing the series, I wanted to stay with the theme of using a known historical event and providing my take on it. In the second book, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, Sir Benedict Palmer was charged with trying to figure out who was intent on murdering the Fair Rosamund, the young mistress of Henry II. This was set in 1176, again in England.
As I started to look for another hook (yes, the hook of a book!), I came across an account of Henry’s youngest son, John (he who would be Bad King John), going to Ireland at the age of eighteen and insulting the Irish chieftains who came to welcome him by pulling them by their beards and mocking them. This rang a bell. But further research told me John had an eight month campaign there. And that it was a disaster. And that he went there with his very first title: Lord of Ireland. I was in- and I was going back to Ireland, the land of my birth.
I have to confess, the research commitment to this book was huge. I had to research from the perspective of English/British history and of course Irish history. As you’ll appreciate, these don’t always agree on a consensus!
Erin: In deciding to feature Lackland in this novel, and his adventure to lead Ireland, you seem to have moved somewhat more away from a mystery element to more of an historical thriller. Would you say this is correct? Why did you decided to do so or did your muse and characters dictate the plot?
Elaine: In a way, it was a return to a thriller. The Fifth Knight was a thriller, The Blood of the Fifth Knight was more mystery and then I came back to thriller again. And both have elements of both! The mystery/crime/thriller genre(s) often has huge overlap between all three. I think ultimately The Lord of Ireland was more thriller because of the historical events that took place.
Erin: Yes, that’s true I can see that, reading all three. Speaking of Lackland, youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, you seemed to prove all the previous writings and rumors of him in history to be true and presented him as such in your novel—cruel and spiteful, and yet, modern historians have tried to paint him more as hard working and more able bodied as a leader. What are your thoughts and why/how did you prove enough to stand behind how you presented him as a character?
Elaine: I read many, many books and articles about John. While there are a few voices that paint him in a more positive light, most are still very much agreed that he was dreadful. One of the most recent biographies of King John is English historian Marc Morris’s 2015 King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta. As one might guess from the title, Morris is not a fan. It’s a wonderful read. As for John’s first trip to Ireland, the eminent Irish historian Seán Duffy sums it up thus: ‘If, as few would dispute, John’s 1185 expedition was a military failure, it was disastrous too in a political sense. ‘
Erin: I always enjoy your characters and you have superb character development that gets deeper with each novel, both your main characters becoming more complex and your newly introduced sub-characters being created with more depth. I’m always glad to see Palmer again, but I’m very glad you endeavor to give his wife more of a role now. Did you plan that or is her character speaking to you? Why is she becoming such an important asset to Palmer and to the books?
Elaine: I’m so pleased you should say that! Characterization was my Achilles Heel pre-publication and I’m always aware of that. Theodosia, Palmer’s wife, had a more active role in this book because I planned it. In the second book, she was the mother of very small children and I couldn’t allow her to step away from that role as I truly believe most women wouldn’t. And (no spoilers!), she actually had the final say in that book too. A shrinking violet, she ain’t!
Erin: Your series, The Fifth Knight, is in its third book now with The Lord of Ireland. Where will the series go from here? Do you have more planned?
Elaine: I have a Book #4 in the works, which will be the last in the series. I also have a very exciting project linked to Book #2, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, that I can’t discuss yet. Stay tuned!
Erin: What authors influence/influenced you in writing medieval thrillers and who do you enjoy reading?
Elaine: I love Robert Harris’s Pompeii above all else when it comes to historical thrillers. To me, it’s the gold standard. It’s got a wonderful hero- a water engineer (yes, you read that right!) and no one knows that the big old mountain is about to blow. Except the reader. It’s compelling and exciting and above all, you’re THERE.
Erin: What types of places have you visited in doing your research, either in person or by Internet, that you’ve loved? And why? And did they end up in your book(s)?
Elaine: Part of my research for the Lord of Ireland involved a research trip to Ireland. I know—a tough job, but someone had to do it. I had a clear itinerary as I had the good fortune that Henry II had sent his royal clerk, Gerald of Wales, with John. Gerald wrote an account of John’s campaign and mentioned many of the events that took place as well as the locations John visited. So I started at Waterford, scene of the beard pulling, where John landed. Much of what was present in 1185 still exists—even some of the buildings. Where buildings such as wooden fortresses had long gone, in parts of Co. Tipperary and Co. Kilkenny, I still had the lie of the land to go at. And then there were places that were ancient even when John arrived, like a Durrow in Co. Offaly. There’s a High Cross there that dates from 850 AD. Seeing things like that helped me to put the history into its correct perspective. It might have been a new land to John—but not to the Irish.
Erin: If not writing mysteries or thrillers, what other types of historical fiction, time periods, or genres would you attempt?
Elaine: I wouldn’t! The first version of The Fifth Knight was very heavily weighted on the romance side and it won several times in RWA contests. It still has romantic elements, as do the other two books. But I’m a thriller writer at heart.
Erin: If you could meet one woman from history, and then write a book about her, who would it be?
Elaine: It would have to be Emmeline Pankhurst, the leading British women’s rights activist, who led the movement to win the right for women to vote— the suffragettes. She fought tooth and nail and refused to give up. And she won.
Erin: Yes! Good choice. More coffee to go? I’ll wrap up some bread for you to take home. It’s been a pleasure to interview you again and you’re welcome anytime. Thanks for coming by, my friend, and for continually writing excellent books! Best wishes for a great year.
Elaine: Any chance you could make that two loaves? And it’s been an absolute privilege, as always—slánleatagus go raibhmaithagat!
THE LORD OF IRELAND (THE FIFTH KNIGHT, #3)
by E.M. Powell
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Thomas & Mercer
Kindle, Paperback, Audiobook; 370 Pages
Series: The Fifth Knight
Genre: Historical Thriller
England, 1185. John is a prince without prospect of a crown. As the youngest son of Henry II, he has long borne the hated nickname ‘Lackland’. When warring tribes and an ambitious Anglo-Norman lord threaten Henry’s reign in Ireland, John believes his time has finally come. Henry is dispatching him there with a mighty force to impose order.
Yet it is a thwarted young man who arrives on the troubled isle. John has not been granted its kingship—he is merely the Lord of Ireland, destined never to escape his father’s shadow. Unknown to John, Henry has also sent his right-hand man, Sir Benedict Palmer, to root out the traitors he fears are working to steal the land from him.
But Palmer is horrified when John disregards Henry’s orders and embarks on a campaign of bloodshed that could destroy the kingdom. Now Palmer has to battle the increasingly powerful Lord of Ireland. Power, in John’s hands, is a murderous force—and he is only just beginning to wield it.
Praise for The Fifth Knight Series
“With her fast-paced mysteries set in the tumultuous reign of Henry II, E.M. Powell takes readers on enthralling, and unforgettable, journeys.” -Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown
“Both Fifth Novels are terrific. Benedict and Theodosia are not merely attractive characters: they are intensely real people.” -Historical Novels Review
“From the get-go you know you are in an adventure when you enter the world of E.M. Powell’s 12th century. Peril pins you down like a knight’s lance to the chest”-Edward Ruadh Butler, author of Swordland
Author E. M. Powell, Biography
E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been number-one Amazon bestsellers and on the Bild bestseller list in Germany.
Born into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State) and raised in the Republic of Ireland, she lives in north-west England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.
She reviews fiction and non-fiction for the Historical Novel Society, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers’ The Big Thrill magazine.