Author Interview with Toni Mount

Toni Mount’s new novel The Colour of Shadows, the eighth instalment of her brilliant Seb Foxley Mysteries, is release tomorrow, 1 September 2020. At last, this year has a bit of good news! Toni has been on a blog tour this month preparing for the launch. You can catch up with her fascinating posts at any of her stops.

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Toni is a writer of fictional novels set in medieval London as well as several highly recommended non-fiction books on the period. Frequently giving talks as her alter ego, the medieval housewife, Toni is an expert on the aspects of day to day medieval life that too often go unnoticed, but which give her novels depth and offer readers an almost tangible medieval world to stroll through. I would say that you can almost smell the streets of London, but I’m not sure that would sound like the compliment I’d intend it to be!

The Colour of Shadows sees the intrepid Seb Foxley confronted by the body of a child found in his workshop, another missing boy, and a race against time that drags him into London’s grubby underbelly. All this while an old nemesis returns to add to his troubles. Can Seb and his growing family survive what The Colour of Shadows has in store?

I was lucky enough to catch up with Toni for an interview to celebrate the release of her latest novel.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction? Why?

Both require quite a bit of research which I always enjoy. Often, I’ll discover a gold nugget during my research and it will spark a story line for a new novel or another idea for a factual book, so sometimes, rather than researching material for a book, it works out that the research inspires a book. I enjoy the discipline of non-fiction writing but have to admit that the freedom to invent characters, situations and events, let my imagination fly – within reason – is a wonderful experience.

How do you go about researching the detail that makes your books feel so real?

Much of my daily life in medieval London research was done years ago, partly to set the tone for a Richard III trilogy of novels [originally saved on 30 floppy disks, if you can remember that far back, then saved on CD but otherwise never seen] and as background stuff for my Medieval Housewife persona. Then back in 2014 I wrote my most successful non-fiction book Everyday Life in Medieval London – I’ve become a bit of a specialist on everyday medieval life and I’m always adding new material as I discover it. Caroline Barron’s London in the Later Middle Ages is my bible with its lists of Lord Mayors, sheriffs, coroners, street maps etc. When I visit the modern city, I tend to find my way using my medieval mind map, thinking ‘the Panyer Inn was here, so Seb’s house would have been there’. Fortunately, the stinks have to be my invention. I have been known to get lost because many churches and other medieval buildings that once were there weren’t rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666.

Other than Seb, do you have a favourite character?

I love most of the good guys and Seb’s family feels almost part of my own. In fact, my sons commissioned a portrait of Seb for my big birthday recently and it hangs over the fireplace as if he was an ancestor. My favourite in previous stories was Jack but he’s growing-up and moving on now. Thaddeus Turner, the City Bailiff, is coming to the fore in more recent books and if readers want to know what he looks like, he’s based on Aiden Turner – hence the name – as he appears in TV’s Poldark series.

Seb Foxley by  Dmitry Yakhovsky

Is it fun writing the bad guys too?

Oh, yes, the bad guys are tremendous fun. I know Ricardians hate me for it but having Francis Lovell, Richard’s best mate, as a recurring villain and two-faced Janus is so enjoyable [see The Colour of Poison and The Colour of Shadows]. I apologise [a tiny bit] to his fans. Elizabeth Woodville and her brother Anthony appeared as the baddies in The Colour of Murder and that was huge fun. Others of my villains are entirely fictional, like the murderous priest in The Colour of Cold Blood and the new villains in the book I’m writing now [The Colour of Evil] give me so much pleasure.

If you were transported to Seb Foxley’s London, what would you miss the most about the present (2020 being a bad example!)

Coffee. How would I survive without it? I’ve never tasted genuine medieval ale. It was probably sweeter than modern beer, being made without hops, and less alcoholic, otherwise everyone would have lived permanently inebriated and woken with a hangover every day. Even so, I wouldn’t want to live on the stuff and where would I be without caffeine? Tea and chocolate are also vital. Hot showers and a washing machine – I like to be clean without too much effort. And without modern medicine, I wouldn’t be here… The list is a long one.

Seb is exposed to London’s grubby underbelly in The Colour of Shadows. How dodgy were places like Bankside?

Crime was rife there, south of the Thames, but I think the medieval perception of Bankside probably made it seem even worse than it was. It’s hard to gauge because crimes are recorded in numerous contemporary sources: Court Rolls, Plea & Memoranda Rolls, etc. but good deeds are rarely noted to balance the scales. Imagine the picture painted for future historians by modern newspapers. Full of crime, scandal and assorted misdeeds, good news is not regarded as worthwhile because it doesn’t sell but there are plenty of decent, kind people out there who don’t make the headlines – the marvellous Captain Sir Tom being a worthy exception.

If anyone hasn’t started the Seb Foxley Series yet, with The Colour of Poison, why should they join Seb’s adventures?

Historical novels are a brilliant way to get into our history. I failed my History GCSE (or ‘O’ Level exam as it was called centuries ago), that’s how little interest I had in the subject at school. Studying Corn Laws, acts of Parliament, treaties, the Franco Prussian War, entente cordiale… who cares about that? Then, in my twenties, a work colleague lent me a Jean Plaidy novel in her Plantagenet series. Suddenly, history was full of interesting people. [For the O level, Otto von Bismarck got a mention, I think, but Queen Victoria, Gladstone, Disraeli, etc. didn’t.] Characters bring history alive, whether real or fictitious. I began reading non-fiction history and I’m still going. As for Seb’s adventures, they bring a Sherlock Holmes element for readers to get involved with. A decent hero getting into scrapes in medieval London + a whodunnit mystery: what more could a reader want?

The Colour of Poison
The Colour of Poison: Book 1 in the Seb Foxley Mysteries

The Colour of Shadows is Seb Foxley’s eighth outing. Is he getting tired of all the mystery yet, or does he still have plenty left in the tank?

No, Seb’s not done yet. As I mentioned, The Colour of Evil [no.9] is well on its way and storylines are evolving for The Colour of Rubies [no.10], The Colour of Bone [no.11] and The Colour of Secrets [no.12]. For avid Ricardians, Secrets might throw light on that perennial mystery of the Princes in the Tower. Seb may well be involved and solve that one.

What does your desk look like when you write (if you write at a desk) – tidy and organised, or chaotic mountains of research?

A large pile of books, certainly, and often on wide ranging topics. At present, I’m writing an article on the Lisle Letters and Arthur Plantagenet, so there are a couple of relevant volumes on that. In The Colour of Evil, Seb is commissioned to write a copy of De Re Militari by Vegetius for the king. Richard III had a copy and the details of its content and format are in Sutton and Fuchs work Richard III’s Books, so that’s on the pile. Lots of volumes on medieval sex and marriage because that’s the next factual book I’ve been commissioned to write. It’s a teetering heap but there’s room for my coffee cup, so all is well.

Do you have a favourite medieval word that you’ve come across?

I found some super medieval insults recently – by accident while researching the medieval sex and marriage book but that’s how it often happens – in an academic collection The Trials and Joys of Marriage in the Middle English Texts Series. In ‘The Treatise of Two Married Women and a Widow’ by William Dunbar, a woman is describing her useless husband to her friends. Apparently, he is a wallidrag [a slovenly fellow], a waistit wolroun [lazy oaf], a bag full of flewme [phlegm], a skabbit skarth [a scabby monster (my personal favourite)] and more besides. Sounds like a real sweetheart, doesn’t he? I have just the character to use those words in The Colour of Evil so you’ll find them there in the next novel.

Who is a writer that you admire and think more people should read?

For medieval crime mysteries way back, Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series was full of gems. The TV series starred Derek Jacobi and was brilliant. Can’t imagine why it’s not been repeated. Mel Starr’s Hugh de Singleton novels are in the same vein and worth a look. And of course the master of the genre, C. J. Sansom.

Non-fiction authors I admire include Lucy Worsley, Ruth Goodman and Stephen Porter and, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him, but Matthew Lewis is to be recommended [There’s a rumour that he writes novels too].

Derek Jacobi as Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael – a fantastic series.

You and I are both Ricardians. What do you think is the enduring appeal of Richard III?

For me, it was always the mysteries surrounding him: was he a great man or a monster? Was he deformed? Was he a serial killer? Finding his skeleton in the car park was a disaster for my personal take on what happened post-Bosworth, the subject of my aforementioned unpublished trilogy. Thank goodness the Crown refuses to allow DNA testing to be done on the bones in the urn at Westminster: I don’t want another mystery solved. The less we know, the more we can imagine.


Thank you Toni for your fascinating answers. You can keep up to date with all Toni’s book news on her website at All of Toni’s novels and non-fiction books are available at Amazon from her Author Page. The Colour of Shadows is available from tomorrow, 1 September 2020, so enjoy a great late summer read with Seb.

Coming Soon……

I thought it was time to offer an update about forthcoming books. A lot has been going on behind the scenes and some things are still being discussed, but there are also a few things signed and sealed that I can tell you about now.

My second novel, Honour, is due to be released on Audible as an audiobook around May this year. It is being narrated by Rory Barnett and I’m really excited at hearing the story of the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth expertly read by Rory.

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower is due for release by The History Press in September this year. It will look at the various theories that one or both of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York survived past 1483 and beyond 1485. I’ve tried to approach the matter with an open mind and there is some interesting evidence that makes sense of otherwise inexplicable events if a reader sets aside their preconceptions. It’s safe to say I’m expecting a bit of a backlash from this one, but I’m looking forward to it!

Also due for release in Autumn 2017 is The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts, published by Amberley Publishing. This is part Amberley’s series of topics in 100 facts and aims to give an overview of the period using 100 facts, some well-known and some more obscure. These books are meant to be a bit of fun and hopefully this one will introduce some readers to the depths and complexities of the Wars of the Roses in an accessible way.

2018 will see Stephen and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy published by Pen and Sword. This book will examine the civil war known as the Anarchy in the wake of the death of Henry I. He left his daughter Matilda as his heir but instead his nephew Stephen grabbed the throne, sparking almost twenty years of civil war. The book will examine both points of view to try and understand the causes of the civil war and how it was fuelled for nearly two decades.

Okay. This is the biggie. September 2018 is the due date for a full, 200,000 word biography of Richard III published by Amberley. Man, I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this one! The intention is to take a balanced view of Richard’s life from beginning to end and provide an interpretation of him that seeks neither to present him as an infallible hero nor as an evil monster, but rather, as I have always tried to show him, as a real man, living in difficult times and faced with difficult circumstances. I’m expected a strong response to this one too, as with anything to do with Richard III, but I can’t tell you how excited I am to get to grips with it. 

September 2019 will see the release of a joint biography of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of medieval Europe’s original power couples. Together, they represented an immense block of power and created the huge Angevin Empire, but they would end up as bitter rivals, Eleanor encouraging their children to rebel against their father. Eleanor had been Queen of France, ridden to the Holy Land on Crusade, married a young nobleman and then become Queen of England. Henry II, grandson of Henry I, had failed to prove his military credentials during The Anarchy yet went on to become one of the most powerful warrior kings in European history. Their stories are incredible and fascinating, a passion that burned so hot it destroyed even them.

In September 2020, Amberley are scheduled to publish a full biography of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the man who revels in the epithet The Kingmaker. He came from one of the dominant families in northern England and helped drive the Nevilles to the highest heights of national politics. Intimately involved in the Wars of the Roses, his personal agenda is less well-understood, the reasons he fell out with his protégé Edward IV are not all they might seem to be and the lingering question is whether he deserves the towering title history has afforded him.

There are still a few things in the pipeline too, but I wanted to share those that are firmly planned now. I hope that some of these will be of interest to you. I’m really excited about all of these projects.

Was Henry III Autistic?

Embarking on a biography of Henry III was an exciting but daunting task. He is a king many might struggle to place in English history. Men like William Marshal and Simon de Montfort have made more of a mark on the history of Henry’s reign than the man himself. Sandwiched in an almost non-descript period between the disasters of John and the towering figure of Edward I, there were nevertheless immediate pointers that there might be more to this man and his period wearing the crown than is attributed to him. He remained king for 56 years, a record until George III in 1816, Queen Victoria in 1893 and more recently Elizabeth II hit that milestone. His rule saw the finest hour of one of Europe’s most famous knights, the last great Justiciar in England, a role almost forgotten today, but equivalent to a Prime Minister today and a role not to find a true parallel until Henry VIII relied so heavily on Thomas Wolsey and the Thomas Cromwell, the emergence of a body taking the name ‘parliament’, a Second Barons’ War and a man (wrongly) dubbed the father of parliamentary democracy.

As I researched this elusive man I made my notes and filed things ready to organise my thought. It wasn’t until I began to draw these disparate threads together that an intriguing but ultimately unprovable notion began to stand out from the page. Individually, the items meant little, beyond being interesting and sometimes confusing snippets, but as I began to string them together, a question began repeating itself, nagging away at the back of my mind. As much as I was unable to offer it as a proven fact or even a provable theory, I couldn’t stop it repeating away.

Was Henry III autistic?

King Henry III
King Henry III
A diagnosis of autism can be notoriously difficult today, with an individual stood in front of a specialist, so I am under no illusion that this question cannot be definitively answered. However, I am also convinced that it cannot be completely discounted. When drawn together, the snippets of evidence can make an intriguing case that this is possible.

Matthew Paris, a key recorder of this period of English history, though frequently diverted by his own monkish prejudices and agendas, met Henry during the king’s visit to St Albans Abbey at the time bones believed to belong Saint Alban himself had been found and were being reinterred. Matthew quite proudly notes that he was able to spend time in personal conversation with the king and in recalling their discussions he noted that he had been impressed by Henry’s ability to recall complete lists of things such as German electors and English saint-kings. The recall and reliance on lists of known information, called rote memory, is a well-known ability of those affected by autism. Sadly, I could not find other examples of this being recorded to corroborate it or demonstrate it being a prominent portion of his personality, but it may be telling that when placed in a social situation with a person he did not know, Henry fell back on reciting lists.

In 1258, as England began to slide towards what became the Second Barons’ War, Matthew Paris recorded an encounter between the king and his troublesome brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. The interesting portion of the story for the purposes if this discussion is that Henry was rowing down the Thames when a thunder storm erupted. The king was so terrified of the noisy storm that he ordered his barge to put in at the nearest dock. The house in which he took shelter happened to be being used by Simon at the time and Matthew placed prophetic words into the king’s mouth, having him tell his brother-in-law ‘I fear thunder and lightning greatly, but by God’s head I fear you more than all the thunder and lightning in the world.’ Nevertheless, Matthew might have struggled to write what he did if it was not the case that Henry was known to be scared by thunder and lightning. Perhaps Henry had a fear of storms unrelated to anything else. Perhaps Matthew even made up the story to allow his prophesy of trouble between the in-laws, but if sensory sensitivity is behind the episode it is another pointer to potential symptoms of autism. This might be supported by the fact that at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, although an old man, Henry was found curled into a ball shouting to be left alone, overwhelmed by the experience of being caught in the midst of the noise and chaos of the battle.

One thing that does reoccur is a trait that might point to a need to assert royal authority and keep unruly barons on their toes, but which could also contribute to increase the potential for a diagnosis of autism. When Henry’s first son, Prince Edward (later Edward I) was born in1239, gifts poured into the capital city to celebrate the momentous event. Henry made a point of asking who had sent each gift and if he didn’t think that the value reflected the wealth and position of the sender, he ordered it to be sent back and a more suitable replacement sent that met his expectations. Matthew Paris recorded that ‘the king deeply clouded his magnificence as a king’ and one joke reportedly doing the rounds in London quipped that ‘God gave us this child, but the king sells him to us’. Henry repeated this behaviour in 1254 when he returned from a rare successful venture to France. On his return to London, the city joyously gave the king a gift of £100 only to be dismayed when Henry told them flatly that it was not enough to recognise his achievements. There was much desperate scrabbling and Henry was only satisfied when a cup valued at £200 was added to the cash gift.

Henry did have a dire and deeply vested interest in establishing the authority and prestige of the crown, so these may have been displays designed to check and wrong-foot both the barons and a capital Henry always had an uneasy relationship with. However, high-functioning autism such as Asperger’s Syndrome is frequently accompanied by social awkwardness and a tendency to be honest and to say things those without autism might shy away from saying. Without understanding Henry’s true motive, it is hard to know whether this was a calculated strategy or an example of behaviour that might point further toward a degree of high-functioning autism.

King Henry III's Tomb Effigy
King Henry III’s Tomb Effigy
Henry’s long rule is notable for a complete lack of favourites. Several monarchs, particularly weaker ones, and Henry is frequently placed amongst their number, were plagued by favourites who were promoted to the chagrin of the nobility and caused immense problems within the kingdom. Henry’s rule, if anything, was marked by a lack of these close connections. He remained on the best of terms with his brother Richard and his wife and children throughout his life, but beyond that, there are no examples of lasting close favourites. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the failure to create lasting social connections might be another pointer suggesting autism. Henry’s relationship with his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort blew notoriously hot and cold, lurching from bosom buddies to arch enemies and back again with the changing of the wind. In September 1238, Henry was the target of an assassination attempt which is also quite revealing. Whilst staying at his palace at Woodstock, Henry was awoken in the night by a noise which turned out to be made by an armed intruder. Seemingly failing to equate the situation with any danger, Henry struck up a conversation with the would-be assassin. Their talking awoke Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor, who raised the alarm in panic. The man was arrested and admitted that he had been hired by some of Henry’s enemies to kill him in the night. The assassin was torn limb from limb, beheaded and once his limbs had been sent to major cities around England the remnants were hung from a gibbet usually used for thieves. The fact that Henry saw no danger in the situation points to a glaring lack of appreciation of a very dangerous situation and might suggest a degree of social awkwardness and an inability to discern the motives of others that is indicative of autism. Why else might that armed stranger have been in Henry’s bedchamber when he was asleep?

The final piece of suggestive evidence that I can offer is Henry’s often unhealthy obsession with Edward the Confessor. The saint-king fascinated Henry and drove many of his choices through his life. His first son was probably given the very Anglo-Saxon (and previously unused in Norman and Angevin royal circles) name of Edward most likely in homage to Henry’s hero. When Henry rebuilt the Confessor Abbey at Westminster with his gothic masterpiece, he had the Confessor’s bones moved to a central position of high honour and had his own tomb built over the exact spot on which Saint Edward had rested for two centuries. When Henry had the Painted Chamber at Westminster Palace redecorated to use as a private bedchamber, he had a portrait of Edward the Confessor painted over his bed. It was a lifelong and deep obsession that is again a potential symptom of a high-functioning form of autism, though as with each other piece of the puzzle, far from confirmation.

Each of these pieces individually would mean nothing. Taken together, they begin to build a suggestion of a form of high-functioning autism but, with a definitive diagnosis difficult enough to confirm face to face today, trying to construct anything beyond a suggestive set of symptoms that might add to up possible autism. It is therefore impossible to state that Henry III had any degree of autism, but it is fascinating to consider what it might mean if he did. Henry ruled England for 56 years, in spite of frequent problems. He handed over a kingdom rescued from the brink of disaster and ripe for the consolidation and expansion of his son’s reign. The lack of a favourite, if due to a difficulty in forming close social connections, possibly worked in his favour. Weak kings tended to be dominated by unpopular favourites but Henry never suffered in this respect. He was at odds with Simon de Montfort as much as they were best friends. Henry tended to flip flop in his policy, one moment swearing religious oaths to support the Charters and then denying their enforceability, perhaps demonstrating that he was easily influenced and unable to discern the motives of others in social situations.

Henry was referred to by contemporary chroniclers as ‘simplex’, which has been used to suggest that he was not a clever man and perhaps suffered from mental problems. The word ‘simplex’ is also often applied to saints to demonstrate their lack of guile and unworldliness and it has been suggested that this was what chroniclers meant, but the truth perhaps lies in the subtleties in between. Henry may have frequently appeared to lack the intellectual acumen of others, though been capable of memorising lists of information. He might also have seemed to lack the guile of a politician if he was unable to make out people’s true motives when others may have seen plainly what was going on.

Henry’s reign is often overlooked within English history. I wrote this new biography because I believed there must be more to a man who lived, and retained his throne, through such a long and eventful reign. There is some tantalising, but ultimately inconclusive evidence to suggest that he achieved all of this with a high-functioning form of autism, which would shed a new light on his achievements and his failures alike. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the possibility that ‘simplex’, which is a word that has caused debate on Henry for centuries, was in fact an early diagnosis of an as yet unknown condition. What if ‘simplex’ can be directly equated to autistic?

A new biography of Henry III: Son of Magna Carta is available now from Amberley Publishing, seeking to uncover the true story of a king all too often forgotten to history.

Matt’s book Richard, Duke of York, King By Right, reveals a very different man from the one who has passed into myth amongst the stories of the Wars of the Roses
Matthew Lewis has written The Wars of the Roses (Amberley Publishing), a detailed look at the key players of the civil war that tore England apart in the fifteenth century, and Medieval Britain in 100 Facts (Amberley Publishing), which offers a tour of the middle ages by explaining facts and putting the record straight on common misconceptions.

Matt is also the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor and Facebook.

Richard, Duke of York is here!


It’s here! Richard, Duke of York: King By Right is released in the UK today, 15th April,  and available to buy now.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest in this new examination of a man who has long fascinated me. The book will delve into the myths and reveal a complex man with wide ranging power and responsibilities to match.

Was he really a wildly ambitious man who sought to exploit a king’s weakness, or has he been painted in two dimensions, his true actions and motivations buried under myth?

If you read the book, and I hope some will find it on their doorstep today, I would love to hear what you think of it.

Kindle Countdown Offers for Re-Interment Week

Loyalty, my novel of Richard III, and the sequel Honour, which follows the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth, are both on a Kindle Countdown offer and are just 99p / 99c each on and

The offer is on now in the UK, will be live very soon in the US and lasts until next Sunday, 29th March to celebrate re-interment week.

Loyalty UK:

Loyalty US:

Honour UK:

Honour US:

Everyday Heroes, Heroes Everyday

This post is something of departure. It has nothing to do with history and is very personal. I am writing it because I made a promise over the last week or so. This is part of the fulfilment of that promise.

I won’t go into too much detail, but my son has been quite unwell for 11 years now. He had a brain tumour and seven spinal tumours aged 7. He had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. He has lived with the consequences of these things for a decade, but he has lived. He is at college now. My believe in God and His power to affect our lives has always been with me, a part of who I am. Eleven years ago it was put to the test, and it did not wither. It blossomed.

Having just spent a week in hospital with suspected viral meningitis, he is now on the mend. When he had three seizures in as many hours, my first instinct was panic, but it was closely followed by one to pray. Utterly desperate prayer, but I needed to pray.

The absolutely amazing doctors and nurses sprang into action all about. I was lost on a tiny, dark, island of helplessness. I could do nothing. I was unable to contribute anything to his physical care. That’s a horrible feeling, but then I began to pray. Just as I had hit the emergency button to call for help from the medics who poured into the room, I hit the emergency button in my soul and called upon more help. And I believe that too poured into the room.

I called our friends. No. Friends simply doesn’t do these two amazing people justice. They know who they are, but I don’t know a word to sufficiently describe what they mean to us. They prayed, and they asked others in their church for prayers too. This may be lost on some people, it was not on us.
My faith is strong. I feel it challenged too often for my liking, but it’s not about my liking. I’m weak enough to find doubt hammering at my faith like a wrecking ball sometimes. But my faith is stronger than any doubt, stronger than me, and it does not fall. Without it, I don’t know what the last decade would have been like, but I believe it would have been even worse than it was. I believe that God saved my son. I do not seek to demean or belittle the incredible work of the surgeons, doctors and nurses who treated him. I simply see God’s hand in their work. Mankind is obsessed with understanding every single detail of our world. We never will. It is in that percentage we cannot explain or quantify, however small it is and however it diminishes, that I believe God is.

I am surrounded by heroes. I think I am the extraordinary one for being ordinary. Doctors and nurses spring into action to fix the physical. Family, the best friends a man could hope for, and the community of a church who don’t really know us, but open their hearts and give their prayers for my son, heal every bit as much as the medicine and the care that surrounds him in the hospital. The two are never at odds in my mind. They complement each other perfectly.

My son never complains. He never refuses a treatment, however often and however unpleasant. He is beyond brave, he is beyond strong. He is a hero who approaches life with a joy and enthusiasm that defies the challenges it constantly levels at him.

My other children are a forgotten brand of hero. They keep life going. Their presence and love is nourishment and comfort. Their steadfast strength, care for their brother and ability to cope astounds me. They are the rock upon which I face a tidal wave, certain it cannot reach me. They have been deeply scared by all that has happened, those most terrible of scars that no one can see, but they remain perfect and precious. Their contribution is no less than the doctors and nurses who treat him. A cheeky message from a sibling is a morsel of normality when there is nothing familiar to reach for, a torch grasped by desperately seeking fingers in the terrifying darkness.

People are heroes. God is their superpower. You don’t have to believe that for it to be true. My faith doesn’t need validation or approval from anyone but God. Yet I know plenty will think it folly to believe in such things in this modern age of science and medicine, engineering and progress. There often seems to be a choice between God and the modern world, as though He has no place in it, as though He has to justify our belief in Him. Why can’t the two go hand in hand? Faith is an old fashioned concept, out of time. This couldn’t be father from the truth.

All of this leads me to ask a question: What is faith in the 21st century? For me, it’s personal, but defines the person people know me as. I don’t want to bash anyone with faith. It’s the wheels that keep me moving, not the bright paintwork. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. My faith steers me and the way I live my life is the demonstration of my faith. Ministry is important, vital even, but there is more than one way to achieve it.

I want people to think of faith as a soft cushion when life is uncomfortable. It’s jelly and ice cream when you’re feeling unwell. It is the reason I am. It is the reason I do. It is the reason I am thankful, because I do not see God at work when things go wrong, I see Him at work in how thinks turn out. My wife always says that all prayers are answered. The answer just isn’t always yes. That is when faith is hardest to have, when it is tested the most, and when it is most needed. I can’t explain why bad things happen. No one can. For every one that it is tempting to think God should have stopped, I wonder how many He did prevent without anyone even knowing. Who thanks Him for those?

Faith is different to religion. Religion is the group expression of faith, regulated by carefully structured and often fiercely guarded doctrine. Church is an amazing place, but I don’t buy any of the denominational doctrine. I know plenty do, and I respect that. I believe God can hear you, however you speak to Him and wherever you do it. I don’t believe there is a wrong way to worship Him. Worshipping Him is always right. I am often dismayed that doing the same thing in a different way can be a cause for argument and war. Jonathan Swift had it right in Gulliver’s Travels. It’s really like an argument over which end of an egg you should crack. It simply doesn’t matter. You still get egg. The furious argument is wholly manufactured. By whom, when, why and how are all forgotten. Just the argument remains, now self nourishing, set in perpetual motion, and deemed essential in spite of no one knowing why it should be necessary. However you name God, and however you worship Him, it only matters that you do so. This is the bridge that we should build to connect us, not the armed roadblock to be thrown up to keep us separate and desperate when neither are required. Faith should unify the world. Religion instead all too often divides it. We, as human beings, have focussed on, and continue to focus every day upon our differences, and ignore what draws us together.

I have no issue with people of different colour to me, different religion, different sexuality, different political views. I have no issue with these things because that would be to focus on what makes us different. The point many will make is that religious texts order us to despise these differences. Nonsense. Can you really say that you believe in a hateful, spiteful God? I fear Him, of course I do, but I have faith that he will love me as long as I am trying to do right. He doesn’t see success or failure, He sees your intentions. That is what exists only between you and God. And between every other person around you and God. That unites us. It is not my place, nor is it yours, to judge. That power and right is reserved for God. I will not spend my life determining who I am better than, who I am more entitled to God’s love than. That is between them and God. What is between me and God is the way I live my life. Do I choose to live it in hate and judgement, or in love and acceptance, deferring to God that which is His anyway?

I heard a sermon once that I found incredible in its simplicity. The Old Testament speaks of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It excuses, perhaps even encourages, vengeance to a level equal to the hurt inflicted upon us. Or does it? It is equally possible that this was the enforcement of a limit upon revenge rather than an encouragement to it. You may take an eye for an eye, but no more. The limit was required to prevent spirals of vengeance running out of control rather than to encourage the seeking of retribution. It was hope, that one day such a limit would no longer be required because there would be no hate. We still have that hope. It is a mark of human interpretation that we choose to see entitlement to bloody, gory revenge rather than a limitation upon it born of hope.

What is faith in the 21st century? It’s precisely what it was in every other century. It is belief in love over hate. It is hope in the victory of what connects us over what divides us. It is comfort in a hard world. As we push ever forward, what are we trying to reach? Truth? Knowledge? Power? Are we not reaching for God, even if we have forgotten that is what we are doing?

I believe in the power of prayer. I know what God can do. I pray. Because I am human, I worry that it isn’t enough. But I have faith and support. That, to me, is religion.

Meet My Main Character

Welcome to my “Meet My Main Character” blog hop. I was tagged by the fantastic Derek Birks, writer of the Feud series of Wars of the Roses novels. You can find his main character, Ned Elder, here,, waiting to meet you.

Sadly I couldn’t find anyone to tag to continue this hop, so in a fit of piqué I’ve decided to be greedy and introduce two characters from my books; main characters in different timelines.

Matt Photo BW 2

1) What are the names of your characters? Are they fictional or historical figures?

The first character is Francis, Viscount Lovell. He is a real historical figure, from a long established and respected baronial family.

The second person I would like you to meet is Hans Holbein the Younger, another real person, an artist whose work simply blows me away.

2) When and where are the stories set?

Francis Lovell’s story grows from my first novel, Loyalty and he becomes the central figure in his timeline during the second instalment, Honour. The stories take place at the end of the Wars of the Roses, as the House of York becomes ascendant, only to implode. Francis’s story is tied to that of his best friend, Richard, who becomes King Richard III. After Richard’s death he is driven into opposition and eventually to Burgundy where he must decide on his path forward.

Hans is also a minor, though vital, figure in Loyalty who steps into the limelight more in Honour. He arrives in London in the late 1520’s in Loyalty and returns in the early 1530’s in Honour, finding himself caught up in the intrigues of Henry VIII’s court as the country teeters on the brink of a brave catastrophe.

Loyalty Cover Kindle

3) What should we know about them?

Lovell? He sums it up best himself: “Loyalty is the gift that a man gives to another. Honour is the gift that he gives himself.” He cannot be bought and will not waver.

Holbein? He’s scared!

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up their lives?

For Francis, he spends Loyalty wanting to support his friend and believing in his cause. Richard’s death rocks his world to its core, destroying all that he has known all of his life. In Honour, he must find his place in a world that doesn’t want him.

Hans learns a secret that gives him such power it will put his life in danger. When Sir Thomas More, who imparts the secret in Loyalty, falls from favour with King Henry VIII, Hans is caught in the deadly crossfire.

Honour Cover Kindle

5) What are the personal goals of the characters?

Francis wants, or perhaps needs, revenge. Only the restoration of the House of York will begin to fill the gap that leaves his life hollow. How far will he go? And can he keep his own goals in check?

Hans Holbein is simply seeking to survive. The secret that he carries holds a threat over him at every turn and navigating the dangerous Tudor court at this delicate time is no mean task.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

Loyalty is available now on Amazon here: and

Honour can also be found at Amazon: and

The next book in the series will be entitled Faith.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

Faith should be on its way early in 2015.

As I mentioned, I haven’t been able to round anyone up to tag to continue this blog hop, so I’m afraid this stagecoach ends here. I hope you have enjoyed this, and that you will take a look at Derek Birks’ blog and his books.

Many thanks.


A Cuckoo In The Nest

So, J.K. Rowling has been unmasked as the real author behind Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and the tirade of abuse has begun. I find this disappointing, firstly because she is damned in the eyes of many whatever she does. If she publishes using her true identity she is trading off her name as the author of the Harry Potter series. If she uses a pen name and is then uncovered she is cynically attempting to boost sales. There will always be those looking for an angle to condemn and that in itself is a shame.

My real gripe with this situation is the insight that it offers into the condition of the publishing industry today and the difficulty of breaking into it. I have an interest to declare here. My books are self published on Amazon having had no joy sending manuscripts to agents and publishers for a while. I know, not much of an advert for my writing, but perhaps not the condemnation that you may expect either. More concerning, not the condemnation such rejections should be.

I am not trying to vent my bitter spleen here. I appreciate that agents and publishers are incredibly busy, are swamped with enquiries, have a genre or type of book that they look for and are sifting diamonds from a mine of coal. Yet I think that there is something valuable to be gleaned from this episode.

A number of scenarios present themselves if this incident is considered from the perspective of an aspiring author:

1. A Debut Author Made It!

Except that a new author didn’t make it. I have read that since publication in April 2013, The Cuckoo’s Calling sold around 1,500 copies and before its true pedigree was known it was hovering at 4,709 in the Amazon chart. By the end of the day of revelation, it was number 1. For those thinking that a debut author can still find a major publisher and editor willing to take a risk and invest in them, it is a bit of a comedown. Even worse is knowing that the work of J.K. Rowling and her publisher and editor can only fair reasonably well for a debut without her mighty and hard earned name behind it.

2. The Book Is Great But The Author Is Unknown!

What does this tell us? If the book is as good as the initial reviews suggest and is of the quality you may rightfully expect from J.K. Rowling and her team, then the fact that it didn’t storm the charts and gain attention shows just how hard it is to crack the industry. In this circumstance, the episode demonstrates that the only way to the top is with a big name, irrespective of the quality of your work. Even the best work struggles to make the faintest impact, so how does a debut author become the next J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown? The short answer is, I don’t know. If I was a publisher, I would be wanting to find these writers and perhaps the old ways are no longer fit for purpose. My suggestion (cynics, please take a sharp breath in); look at Amazon’s self-published authors and their sales. I know, that’s me right? But it is a serious suggestion with merit. In my case, since The Cuckoo’s Calling was published I have sold more copies of Loyalty than speculation suggests The Cuckoo’s Calling sold and, due to previous even higher sales, have sat within the top 2,000 in the chart for all of that time. No one is knocking on my door. It makes me wonder how my book might perform with some backing. I’m not trying to claim it would topple The Cuckoo’s Calling from its number 1 spot, but if I was an agent or a publisher, a quick look at the charts might offer me at least a reduction of the risk that presumably prevents me taking a chance on a new writer. If it is already selling and getting positive reviews without backing or support, that must make it worth a second look, mustn’t it? Amazon even kindly list the publisher on the book’s page, so it is easy to identify those lacking representation.

3. The Book Isn’t Great But The Author Is Known!

I haven’t read The Cuckoo’s Calling so I cannot comment on whether I think it is a good book or not, hence I am able to look at this from each perspective. If the book sat in its former chart position on merit, then its rocket to number 1 is equally disheartening. Not because I begrudge J.K. Rowling anything. She deserves every millimetre of her success. My entire family are Potter Potty. No, it is because if this were the case, then it only serves to prove that it is the author’s name that sells, not the quality of the book. This is an equally demoralizing state of affairs. You can get to number 1 with the right name irrespective of quality, begging the question asked earlier; what hope is there for unknown authors, however good their work is? I still don’t know!

As I write, I am aware that this sounds like an exercise in self-promotion but even if it is, the points considered above are still valid. Perhaps a part of the reason that it is so difficult to get noticed as an aspiring author seeking representation is because it is so easy to write something that you believe in and send it out to agents and publishers. I am sure that the slush pile is bigger than ever, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t riddled with talent screaming to be discovered. I am grateful for the opportunity that Amazon’s platform has given me. Perhaps it offers writers a way off the slush pile and offers agents and publishers a half-way house, mitigating some of their risk. Either way, the real winners are readers now able to make up their own minds.

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III and the novel of King Richard III’s life Loyalty. Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.