Sunday, November 10, 2013

"The Tokaido Road" by Lucia St. Clair Robson, Historical Novelist.

This is an account of Japan's most famous revenge story set in 1702.

So lonely am I 
My soul is a floating weed 
Severed at the roots 

This is how Lady Asano has felt since the forced suicide of her father. Adrift in a dangerous world, she vows to avenge her father’s death and restore his name to honor. To do so, she will have to travel the Tokaido Road.

As the novel opens, Lady Asano has transformed herself into Cat, a high-ranking courtesan, to support her widowed mother. Yet Cat’s career is temporary; the powerful Lord Kira’s campaign against her family is continuing and she must find Oishi, leader of the samurai of the Asano clan, weapons master, philosopher, and Cat’s teacher. Cat believes he is three hundred miles to the southwest in the imperial city of Kyoto.

Disguising her loveliness in the humble garments of a traveling priest, Cat begins her quest. All she has is her samurai training—in Haiku and Tanka poetry, in the use of the deadly six-foot weapon, the naginata, and in Japanese Zen thought. And she will need them all, for a ronin, a lordless samurai—Tosa no Hanshiro, has been hired to trail her.

    Author Lucia Robson, who wrote "The Tokaido Road" has written a book about one of, if not the single most important tale to come out of medieval Japan,-The 47 Ronin. It should be noted Japan's medieval period lasted from roughly 1185 through the later part of the 1800's. Almost 700 hundred years of feudalism and medieval societal structure. Luckily for us, Robson agreed to talk about her remarkable book.

Q: Why did you write this book? I know this is a very wide and open ended sentence.

A: I lived in Japan for a year in 1970. I choose to live there because I was a huge Samurai movie fan... particularly the films featuring Toshiro Mifune. So when looking for the subject of my fourth book, The story of the 47 Ronin came to mind.

(The 47 Ronin is considered to be the Japanese national epic story of devotion and duty to one's lord.)

Q: Yet you choose to write your story from a female perspective. Why?

A: I always try to avoid the road most traveled. So many books, plays, movies, etc have been written about the 47 I wanted to give it a different POV. Some accounts say Lord Asano had an outside daughter, so I went with her.

(An outside daughter was a child that was born out of love and not through duty.)

Q: If you would tell us more about your main character Cat? And why the name Cat?-(As the father to a 12 year old daughter, I actively seek out authors, books, personalities for her to read up on, or even emulate. I want her to know there is a world for her where a strong woman can live in.)

A:You expressed exactly why I choose to write about strong women who can defend themselves. In a way the fictional character, Cat, inspired my own life. Now that I think of it, I started taking martial arts AFTER I wrote her story.

 My editor asked me why I decided to depart from stories about American Indians. I told her I wanted to write a story with a happy ending. She said, "Only you could consider an ending happy where 47 people disembowel themselves." I said, "But my heroine got to live."

I had a T-shirt with a Japanese woodblock print of a cat sitting in a window in the Pleasure District. Also, Neko-chans, cats, are independent, self-reliant, fast, agile, but also lovable. Seemed a good name for her, since women in the Pleasure District took new names.

Q: What was it called? The Flower and Willow world? A place for a woman to disappear into and remake herself...

A: It had a number of names. And yes, that was why it was better to make Cat Asano's "illegitimate" daughter, since she would be the object of spite from his widow. My friend Yoji Kondo pointed that out to me. Yoji suggested I make her the child by an "outside wife."

Q: Women born into Samurai families were they given or received martial arts training?

A: Women of the Samurai class were expected to be the last defense of their Lord's castle. Above each door hung a Naginata. Cat would have received training in any case.

Q: As far as influences go, did you read "The Tale of Genji?"

A: Can't write about old Japan without making the acquaintance of Genji. But with 187 other sources, I can't say it was a major influence. It is interesting that Japanese women were writing fiction in that era.

(The Tale of Genji was written by a woman courtier named Murasaki Shikibu in 1021. 45 years before William the Conqueror decided to invade England. 1021 Is early in any culture to write a novel. Again to me it shows spirit and determination will overcome just about any cultural bindings.)

A: Excellent point. On the other hand, Japanese culture has always encouraged poetry and the arts, certainly among the upper classes. And upper class women did have time on their hands. Being able to write elegant Kanji was a mark of breeding even then.

Q: It is this point in the conversation I turn the floor over to you... give us one last insight to your remarkable story of a strong willed daughter bent on avenging her father's death.

A: I will admit this about "The Tokaido Road. When asked what book of mine I favor I duck and dodge and say that's like asking which of your children you prefer. But the truth is, Tokaido Road will always be my favorite. My trips back to Japan were so full of wonder, and the book reseach was fascinating. In my office I have a photo of me taken at the graves of the 47 at Sengakuji in 1970... so the interest goes way back.

Lucia St. Clair Robson, thank you for your time, and willingness to share your work with myself, and my readers. This has been a wonderful.

DS Baker.

Here is the link to Lucia St. Clair Robson's official website:

Here is the link to her book, from her official website:

Lucia St. Clair Robson listing on Amazon:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Tales from Wales.-A Conversation with Judith Arnopp."

     I live on the East coast of the United States. Most of my on-line friends and connections however live on the other side of the pond, as writers sometimes refer to the Atlantic Ocean; which can often make for interesting sleep patterns. At the bright and shiny hour of  three AM in the morning I was lucky enough to catch my friend Judith Arnopp just as her day was beginning. Judith Arnopp has written four novels currently in the marketplace, with a fifth to be released shortly.

     Her works span quite a bit of English and Welsh history: Peaceweaver is set in the run up to the battle of Hastings, telling the story of Eadgyth who was married to Grufydd ap Llewellyn and Harold II. The Forest Dwellers is after the conquest and deals with the Norman occupation and who murdered King William Rufus. The Song of Heledd is set in 7th century Powys, with the story taken from fragments of a 9th century Welsh poem. The Winchester Goose and the soon to be released fifth novel, The Kiss of the Concubine are both set in the Tudor time period. It is her latest piece which sparked our early morning conversation this day.

Q: Who is Judith Arnopp?

A: I've no idea NO, sorry I will be serious. I was born in the south of England but always had a deep love for Wales. I've lived in rural Wales for almost twenty years now (that is a different country from England you understand?) and am more Welsh than English now. I must be, I even follow the rugby.  I've written stories and poems since I was little but didn't dream of doing it seriously until I went to University (aged, cough, cough, 40) and the lecturers there urged me to write professionally.

Q: What was it that drew you to historical fiction?

A: I've always loved history. When my children grew up, I went to University and took a degree in Creative Writing and English and then a Masters in Medieval History so it made sense to write history, and I don't think creative writing works unless you write about what you love.

Q: How much do you think Wales influences your writing?

A: The surroundings and the weather definitely have an effect, especially in my earlier novels that have Welsh settings. Sometimes I look out of the window at the rain drifting across the mountain and all I have to do is write what I see and imagine how my characters would feel if they were out there. I did have a reader comment once that 'rain doesn't 'billow in sheets' and I could only reply. ' It does in Wales!' But it doesn't always rain ...honest.

Q: What makes your writing different from other historical fiction writers?

A: I am not overly concerned about detail. I research thoroughly so I know the world my characters are moving through. I write in the first person and my character takes no more notice of her surroundings than you do of your kettle as you make a cup of tea. What matters is how she/he feels. My 4th novel The Winchester Goose is written mostly from the perspective of a prostitute from Southwark in London, I don't think there are any other books that give a possible opinion of the goings on at Henry VIII's court from that angle. I don't avoid the nastiness or try to pretty up the past. It was a harsh, difficult time, (especially for a girl like Joanie Toogood) and I portray that unflinchingly.

Q: So tells us about your latest effort...

A: My first novels were set in and around 1066 but I published a short, not very serious pamphlet of short stories on the Queens of Henry VIII, called Dear Henry. Some people hated it but the majority loved it and kept asking if I'd any full length novels set in the Tudor court - so I obliged.

My soon to be published novel, "The Kiss of the Concubine" is about Anne Boleyn, but unlike other very famous authors who have written about her, I have not made ​​her a witch or proud or ambitious for the sake of a good story. I've got inside her head (I hope) and tried to discover her motives. I feel she has been wrongly portrayed in the past and I wanted to try to put that right.

Q: When will The Kiss of the Concubine be released?

A: It is with the editor now, so as soon as I can get that sorted. It will be a kindle edition before Christmas. But we are in the middle of a major house move so the paperback will be a bit longer.

I would like to thank Judith Arnopp for taking the time out her day, when she is in the middle of a move. I think we can all sympathize with the upheaval and stress that moving can bring into our lives.

Here are links to Judith's efforts.

She writes a blog, so her readers can stay abreast of events in her world:

This is her official website:

This is her Amazon Author's Profile Page:

-DS Baker

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"The Literary Medievalist"

"Dearest David, we cannot simply continue to exist on a diet of Arms, and Armour."-A reader sent me this little note about a month ago.

     Which has prompted me to change or rather expand the horizons of my blog. I decided right then and there to search out interesting  persons and or personalities to profile on my blog. However on the heels of that particular thought,  another came storming the gates of the castle. Basically it involved publishing a new blog, as the original has its followers and its own culture so to speak. This meant something different had to happen, and it did,-Welcome to the Modern Medievalist Reader!

     I have cornered a new friend named Simon Stirling for a chat. Stirling has published two historical based books thus far. "The King Arthur Conspiracy, how a Scottish Prince Became a Mythical Hero." And his most recent works, for sale in the United States on November 1st, "Who Killed William Shakespeare?: The Murder, The Motive, The Means."

Q: Who is Simon Stirling? Where do you come from?

A: Good question! I was born in Birmingham, England just before the Summer of Love (1967), the very day before Mr John Winston Lennon recorded "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". My parents must have seen it coming because they gave me the initials L.S.D. When I started writing in my early teens, I adopted a pen-name which I have used ever since. Anything I have written (TV, theater, books) has always been as Simon Andrew Stirling

Q: What was it that decided for you, what genre you were going to write?

A: I started (in my teens) with novels, largely inspired by Ian Fleming's Bond books and the stories of Alan Garner (an English writer who invests his landscape with the material of ancient myths). I turned professional as a scriptwriter when I finished drama school in 1990, and after that it was mostly TV drama - some of it quite investigative - although I think I had most fun writing scripts for the Open University (a British institution which allows students to take university degrees at home). I wrote TV and radio scripts for their physics, cosmology and mathematics departments, and loved the combination of drama and education. The decision to write my history books probably grew out of all that. I love research, and has always been fascinated by the historical figures of William Shakespeare (a local boy!) and Arthur (who I always suspected must have been a historical character). When I found that I had enough to go on with both of those subjects, I got down to work on them full time. There was a huge amount of research required for both, largely because I believe that both subjects have been treated very badly by historians

Q: Tell us about your novel: "The King Arthur Conspiracy, How a Scottish Prince Became a Mythic Hero."

A: I'd long been fascinated by Arthur, although most of the legendary versions left me pretty cold. My wife and I were married on the little Scottish island of Iona in 2002. I love that place - I'd been there before and had built up quite a library about it. When we went back up there to celebrate our first anniversary, it struck me that there wasn't a really good guide book to the isle (it's famous for being the royal burial isle of the early Scottish kings, the place where St Columba established his mission, but the history of the island goes back much further than that). I started researching the island in more depth, and when I came across a historical king, who was ordained by St Columba in 574, and who had a son named Artur and a daughter named Muirgein, I got rather excited. There is no literary mention of anyone called "Arthur" before then, and I realised that if Artur mac Aedain was the original Arthur of the later legends, then he was almost certainly buried on Iona. So I set about studying that period in great detail. Of course, because later storytellers had insisted on shifting the stories southwards, there was a lot of demolition work to be done. The truth is that all the earliest references to Arthur come from North Britain. The "King Arthur" of southern Britain is a medieval invention.

Q: How has this book been received by the history reading public?

A: The reactions so far have ranged from hugely enthusiastic to sharply critical. To be honest, I've found that those who came to the book without too many preconceptions have loved it.

Q: Why Shakespeare?

A: I grew up near Stratford-upon-Avon and studied English Literature. I also had a love of acting, and went on to be a drama student before turning professional as a dramatist. So I had many connections with Shakespeare, and I wanted to know more about him - what made him tick, what kind of person he was, and what made him such a great poet and playwright.

Q: Now why such a salacious title?

A: Ha!! Well, I studied Shakespeare for many years (roundabout 25 years, in all) and began to feel that the standard biography was woefully inaccurate. A bit like Arthur, in a way: here you have a remarkable figure from history who has pretty much disappeared beneath layer upon layer of myth-mongering and speculation. None of what the typical biographies tell us explains what made him who he was. That can only really be explained by the times in which he lived - and they were terrible times in England. When I turned my attention to his retirement and death, I found all sorts of loose ends and things which didn't add up. I finally came to the conclusion that Shakespeare's sudden death was no accident. It had taken many years, but I had put together a theory that he was murdered - "stopped", in the parlance of the time. I had more or less figured out how it happened when I discovered that a skull exists which was described by a 19th century clergyman as "the veritable skull of William Shakespeare". Having analysed photos of that skull, alongside other images of Shakespeare, I think it probably is his skull - and the markings on it show us how he died.

Q: Has this cause some controversy amongst the Sir Francis Bacon and Duke of Oxford crowds?

A: I haven't yet heard their take on it. I argue in the book that the "Shakespeare couldn't have been Shakespeare" argument is partly understandable, because historians haven't given us an accurate portrait of Shakespeare: they've created a sort of politically correct version of his life, with no references to the religious conflicts in the country or his Warwickshire background. In those circumstances, it's not too silly to ask yourself, "Could this man really have written such fabulous works?" But I also argue that to go from there to "Somebody else must have written them" is a leap too far. It's not that Shakespeare wasn't capable of writing his tragedies and comedies - it's that who Shakespeare really was has been withheld from us.

DS Baker: Simon I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today.It has been a real pleasure and I hope that your books flourish in the market place. They have certainly given us several things to think about and reexamine what we think we know.

Simon Stirling: It's been an absolute pleasure! I wish you every success with your blog.

Here are the Amazon Links to Simon Stirling's books:

Simon Stirling also publishes a blog, You can catch up with his posts here at:

Once again I would like to thank Simon Andrew Stirling for his time, and allowing himself and his books to be our opening post!

-DS Baker.