Review of Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine – 5 stars

Sleeper’s CastleSleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Andy has been shunned from the home of the man she loved by his estranged wife and seeks somewhere that she can mourn her lost love in peace and begin to put her life back together when her friend offers her Sleeper’s Castle a remote dwelling near the town of Hay it seems like the ideal place. However, Sleeper’s Castle has its own problems and soon through her dreams, Andy becomes caught up in the lives of bard Daffy dap Hywel and his talented daughter Catrin and the part they play in the Welsh Marches rebellion against Henry. Both frightened and addicted to the dreams Andy cannot help returning time and again to the world of Catrin. Soon, Andy finds someone in her present life also means her harm. Both her worlds are now dangerous and threatening, but she is so close to finding out the truth, can she resist the urge to see the story to the end?

This is Barbara Erskine’s second novel set in Hay. Her first one “Lady of Hay” (which recently celebrated its 30th birthday) is one of my all-time favourite books and I would recommend it to everyone to read. The characters just leapt off the page and I immediately got caught up in the historical world. For me, this is Erskine’s signature style; strong and complicated characters who won’t run away from the challenge in front (or should that be behind) of them. It was through reading Erskine’s novels that I fell in love with the historical fiction/time-slip genre.
Sleeper’s Castle doesn’t feel quite as good as those stories. There is very little hint of psychological fears in this book that you find in some of her others such as “House of Shadows”. However, the story-telling is still superb in this book – I just missed these little moments of tension which do appear more vividly in her other books.

I really want to give this book a 4.5 out of 5, as I think there are other books Erskine has written which will outshine this one, but that is probably mostly down to personal enjoyment of the story and if I had read this book on its own without having read her earlier work I would definitely have given it a 5 without concern.

So:
To new readers – this book is excellent and I’m sure you will love it.
To returning readers – this book is excellent and I’m sure you will love it but it doesn’t really feature the darker elements found in Erskine’s other works.

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My visit to Hay Festival 2016 to see Barbara ErskineBarbara Erskine
With 30 years novel-writing experience under her belt, Barbara’s talk was actually really inspiring as a novice writer so I thought I’d share a few of her thoughts on here with you (written from my notes).

Hope you enjoy. KL ❤

Happiness at Hay Festival 2016 – Barbara Erskine talks with Peter Florence

I am a book geek but I can honestly say I was very excited to attend the launch of the new novel by the bestselling author, Barbara Erskine who returned to Hay Festival in the year that marks the 30th anniversary of her sensational debut bestseller, Lady of Hay.Barbara Erskine

Not only did Barbara return but she launched her brand new book, that is also set in Hay, Sleeper’s Castle. The book isn’t scheduled for release until June 30, 2016, but those that attended the festival were lucky enough to buy an early copy and for Barbara to personally sign each copy. Being an addicted fan and also in the throes of writing my own novel I couldn’t help but also ask her to sign a blank page of my own personal writing notebook that I carry everywhere in my handbag. Kindly Barbara happily obliged and I’m hoping that little bit of inspiration will keep me going at times when I need it.

With 30 years novel-writing experience under her belt, Barbara’s talk was actually really inspiring as a novice writer so I thought I’d share a few of her thoughts on here with you (written from my notes):

When writing about historical characters, what do you owe them?

Difficult question. So many historical records contradict themselves on when something happens, how something happened, sometimes even, if something happened. I always try to look for sources written by academics, professors, etc. I also try to remember it’s a story I am writing, it has to be an enjoyable story for the reader, not just filled with historical information.

Do you have an example of Historic Differences?

Speech. I try not to use an historic voice in my writing. At the same time, I try not to put in any modern slang, habits or references. I want the reader to identify with the characters easily, even those in another time period.

Do you start with a character?

With Lady of Hay, it was the character that first caught my attention. I kept seeing Matilda everywhere and knew I had to research her and find out more. This is often the case, sometimes other characters that I have read about and never intended to use worm their way in and tell their own stories. Sometimes a character is just too good to miss.

Where do your ideas from the past come from?

The past is all around us and there are so many places that have these strong links to the past (Hay being one of them). So many little towns have their own castle or fortified houses and their own history. Sometimes the history of these places is unknown even to the local community.Barbara Erskine - Sleepers Castle

One of the golden rules of fiction is “Never Write Dreams”, yet dreams often feature in one form or another in your novels.

Firstly, I had no idea that was a golden rule. I don’t always write dreams there are so many ways a link to the past can happen, dreams, written accounts, re-incarnation, sleep-walking, etc. Mystical places like the borders often feel that the veil to the past is so thin you could almost reach out and touch it. I guess, if it feels right – write it.

What is your ratio of research-to-writing?

Well, it took me 10 years of research and writing for Lady of Hay but that was because it was just a hobby, something I loved doing and found interesting. With time, this habit has changed. I would say now I spend about a third of the time doing research then just start writing. I write my first draft quite quickly and leave little markers saying fill in detail so that I can go back and add the historical details as I need to.

How do you plot your stories?

I start with a mind map, I then do my research and I then create a linear plot to slot everything together. This gives me a good plan and a clear synopsis of my novels.

Does sitting down to write get easier?

No, you just have to do it, you have to sit down to write. The more you do it the more addictive it becomes. Just keep reading and writing, reading and writing. I think of it as a movie where you get to be the script-writer, director, producer, cast manager, costume designer and more. Only writing a novel lets you do all that and gives you that level of control. You’ve just got to write it.

Who do you enjoy reading?

I try not to read historical fiction novels or time-slip novels they are sometimes called now. I have read Daphne Du Maurier’s House By The Strand and enjoyed it immensely but my favourite genre to read is crime

Any inaccuracies above are from my notes (or memory), my admiration of Barbara’s writing talent is indescribable and I wanted to capture a little bit of her talk here, I later realised I captured Barbara’s answers but not always the questions asked, so I have tried to remember what I could.

Barbara doesn’t have a particularly large online presence so learning from her wouldn’t be an easy thing, seeing her speak so passionately about writing, and noting these little hints and tips has increased my appreciation of her work even more. I hope you enjoyed my notes and got a little glimpse into the talk.

Much Love

KL ❤

Know Your History – 10th August – Barbara Erskine

know your history - writingThe Darkest HourOn this day… 10th August, 1944 – Barbara Erskine born

KL Caley: I have been looking forward to today’s post and introducing today’s writer for a while. Barbara Erskine is one of my favourite novelists. I regard her novel Lady of Hay (first published in 1986) as a modern classic. A novel I like to re-read every few years.I was so pleased to be able to visit it’s setting Hay-On-Wye earlier this year. Read my review of Erskine’s latest novel “The Darkest Hour” here.

Barbara Erskine (born 10 August 1944 in Nottingham) is an English novelist. A historian by training, Barbara Erskine is the author of many bestselling novels that demonstrate her interest in both history and the supernatural, plus three collections of short stories. Her books have appeared in at least twenty-six languages. Her first novel, Lady of Hay, has sold over two million copies worldwide. She lives with her family in an ancient manor house near Colchester and in a cottage near Hay-on-Wye.

Did you know?

Erskine’s father flew a spitfire during the Battle of Britain. This was the inspiration behind Erskine’s latest novel.

On Writing

The Darkest HourThe Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

Review of The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

The Darkest HourThe Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a long-time fan of Barbara Erskine I would struggle to give any of her novels anything other than five stars and this novel is no exception.
Lucy is an art critic desperate to know the story of a famous female war artists, her research leads her to discover the artist was ensnared in a tragic love triangle. With the war going on in the background we meet the lovelorn Evie (an exceptional female artist trying to make her fame in the artworld), her on again off again boyfriend Eddie (a basic bland individual but with entrepreneurial connections he could offer Evie her art dreams), and the handsome stranger Tony (with boyish good looks, classic charm and the promise to make her his wife, he instantly steals Evie’s heart). Together they face a dangerous world, were young men lose their lives every second, so who will Evie choose? Lucy is desperate to find out.
Barbara Erskine is a historian by trade and you can truly sense this in her novels, the details and dedication to historical facts she manages to include is incredible. She manages to depict timelines, places, characters and their attitudes to the historical events taking place so creatively. The fact that she manages to weave a little of her own family history into this novel makes it all the more endearing.
2015 is the 70th anniversary of the Second World War, making it the perfect year to read and celebrate with this fictional novel that manages to capture a glimpse into what life was like for those farming families left behind.

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