Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Helen Hollick's Books of a Lifetime (includes a giveaway)

We are very pleased to welcome Helen Hollick to Historical Tapestry today to share her Books of a Lifetime! Read to the end of the post for details on how you can win one of two copies of her new book The Forever Queen. 

The first book has to be the Little Grey Rabbit by Alison Uttley. I have a clear image in my mind of leaving the children's library clutching one of her little books, thrilled because I had not “read” it. I was about 3½.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t absorbed in a book. I was a lonely child, very shy, and without many friends. My friends were all characters in books, especially the characters I could identify with. Like the one I met on my 10th birthday (I am now 57) I liked books, but assuming the one given as a present was going to be boring, I unwrapped the parcel rather half-heartedly. To my delight it was a pony story. I so wanted a pony of my own, but would not get one until I was 16. Ruby Fergusson’s Jill’s Gymkhana filled the gap. I still have the book, and I still enjoy reading it. Black Beauty and Monica Edwards’ Summer of the Great Secret and Wish for a Pony, were also special favourites.

From reading about ponies, I started writing my own pony stories when I was about 13. So that birthday present is, indeed, an inspirational treasure.

In my teenage years and early twenties fantasy influenced me a lot. Escapism, a way to blot out the loneliness and low self esteem. Characters in books are always there when you need them. They never let you down, call you names or make fun of you. The world of Imagination was a better place and the characters who lived there were my best friends. Many of them still are.

Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising remains a firm favourite. It is the second of a series, and best of the five I think. I was reading it late at night. At about 1 a.m. I finally turned out the light. Lay there wondering what happened next. Gave up. Put the light on again and read it all the way through. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight was another book I read straight through, non stop.

The first character I fell totally in love with was Sharon Penman’s Llewelyn ap Fawr in Here Be Dragons. I was searching for novels about King Arthur in my local library - I was trying to write my own novel about Guinevere at the time, and I noticed the spine had a sword on it. Ah, Arthurian, I thought. It wasn’t, but I read it anyway. Wow! What a read – what a man!

Sharon completely captivated me and I knew from reading her book that I wanted to write like she did.

A contrary book that I did not get on with was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, yet I owe it a great debt of gratitude. While it was a good read, I couldn’t stand her portrayal of Guinevere. I had been attempting to write about King Arthur since reading Mary Stewart’s Hollow Hills and Crystal Cave, but most of my scribblings ended up in the bin (well before the days of a delete button on a computer!) Bradley’s Guinevere irritated me. I just did not see Gwenhwyfar, as I called her, to be like that. Reading one scene I became so frustrated that I threw the book across the room. That was it, I decided. I will write my own. The Kingmaking, the first of my Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy was the result.

A close second to Llewelyn is Elizabeth Chadwick’s William Marshal in the Greatest Knight – boy is he a character to leap into a fictional bed with!

My overall author heroine, however, is Rosemary Sutcliff. If I can write half as good as her best fiction I will be content. Eagle of the Ninth. Frontier Wolf, Sun Horse, Moon Horse. I cannot read Mark of the Horse Lord without crying at the end – no matter how many times I read it. I have a letter from Rosemary written in her own hand, wishing me luck with my Arthurian series (I’d written to her to say how much I loved Sword at Sunset, her own Arthurian novel.) That letter is a treasured possession. When we had a fire in my home, several years ago, the first thing I checked were the pets. The second, my daughter’s very expensive saddles (yes horses are still important in my life) the third was Rosemary’s letter. I cherish it.

Do historical characters become so real in novels because their spirits linger here with us, waiting for their lives to be retold? Is that why they remain great men and women, I wonder?

And do the made-up characters exist in another, parallel world? One which we can occasionally access and which we rather quaintly call “Imagination”?

I think so.



What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?

Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom—and her crown—are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England’s shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.

Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent fifty-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.


Helen Hollick lives in northeast London with her husband, daughter and a variety of pets, which include several horses, cats and two dogs. She has two major interests: Roman / Saxon Britain and the Golden Age of Piracy--the early eighteenth century. Sourcebooks Landmark will release the next chapter on Helen’s 1066 saga, I Am the Chosen King, in Spring 2011. For more information, please visit

Giveaway Details

Thanks to Sourcebooks we have two copies of The Forever Queen to giveaway. The contest will close on 1 December


Giveaway open to US/Canada addresses only
One entry per person.
To enter leave a comment, including your email address so we can contact the winner.


  1. Ooh, ooh, pick me. I really want to read this!!! Thanks so much for the giveaway.


  2. Ooohhhhh please enter me in the giveaway! I just LOVE this cover! Thanks!'

    tiger_fan_1997 AT yahoo DOT com

  3. Enter me please, this looks great!!


  4. I would love a chance to win this book -- thank you!


  5. I second the cover lust! Count me in.

    marie1200 at gmail dot com

  6. I'd LOVE to win this book! Thanks so much.


  7. All of Helen's favorites were beloved in my family too, and although I have not read every Rosemary Sutcliff my mother also wrote to her and got a wonderful letter in return. It is fun to learn an author one likes enjoyed the same books (although I would recommend Alison Uttley's A Traveler in Time over those rabbit books).

  8. Enjoyed reading Ms. Hollick's post; I certainly agree with her choice of heroes: Llewelyn and William Marshall. Wow! Her novel The Kingmaking is a favorite, loved her take on Arthur, and esp. appreciated her author's note re. Ex Caliber. Thanks for the giveaway.

  9. I have been so anticipating the release of The Forever Queen. I would love to win a copy of my own! It is very interesting to see what books have influenced a writer.

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  10. I just loved Black Beauty as a kid -- ugh, even thinking about it now can bring tears to my eyes. Ms Hollick's post resonated with me -- I was a lonely girl who lived in her books too. I love this feature -- thank you for sharing.

  11. Please throw my name in the hat!


  12. sounds delicious! thanks!


  13. Thank you for inviting me on to your blog!

    CLM- yes I agreee, but I was only 4 when I read the rabbit books!

    Good luck to everyone - I wish you could all win, but then I wouldn't sell as many books would I? :-)

  14. Please enter me in the giveaway:

  15. This looks good. Please enter me!


  16. I would really love to win The Forever Queen'. I love English history,as ancient as it can get.


  17. This sounds fantastic! Thanks for doing a giveaway!

  18. Thanks for the offer!

  19. I'd love to play!


  20. thanks so much for the giveaway!

    dreamer7777 at gmail dot com

  21. Thanks for the great giveaway.

    icewoman96 at gmail dot com

  22. I so much want to read and win this book! I hope I'm still on time for the giveaway. Thanks.

    nunezbella at hotmail dotcom