Author Interview: M J Porter


Welcome Readers, to a Tuesday edition of the Author Interview. Today we have the very prolific author MJ Porter. MJ talks about history, Vikings and their many books. 


JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, MJ. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

MJP- Thank you for hosting me today. I live in the north-east of the UK (in good castle-country) although I was born and lived in the Midlands as a child and young adult.

I enjoy watching films, reading historical fiction and fantasy, walking in the countryside and watching Formula 1 racing. I also have a couple of pet bunnies who keep me entertained with their antics.

A perfect day? That’s a tough one. I think probably a good book, a walk outside on one of the rare days when it’s just warm enough to be pleasant, but also not too hot or cold, with a beautiful view of the coast, or a castle, at the end of it, and with the added bonus of a clear sky and bright sunshine.

JMR-What’s your favorite historical time period? Why?

MJP-I love the period between about c.400 and 1066 in both the UK, but also the Scandinavian countries. I find it both fascinating and also intriguing because there are so many gaps in the record which can be interpreted or rather re-interpreted in so many ways. Nothing is quite set in stone, and there are very few ‘facts.’ I love the people, the places, the adventures, and also, and this sounds really dull, the sources and the way information has survived to the current day, and the journeys the manuscripts and books have taken. It just ticks all my boxes.

JMR-Who is your favorite historical figure? Why? If you could ask them one question, what would it be?

MJP-I just don’t know the answer to this one, so I’m going to swivel it a bit, and say that my first favourite historical figure was Elizabeth I. I was fascinated by her, and still am. If I could ask her a question, it would be something about the way she touted herself as a potential bride for so many years but never married. I think she was a clever stateswoman who kept her courtiers guessing.

JMR- How did you come to be a writer of historical fiction? How important is research and historical accuracy in your writing?

MJP-I began writing fantasy, or rather historical fantasy. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to achieve, and while I adore my first novels, set in an alternative Iceland during the Viking Age, they just didn’t appeal to a large audience. And then I began studying for my Masters, and I ‘found’ a character – Ealdorman Leofwine – who opened up the possibility of reimagining the last century of Early England up to 1066, through his eyes, and that of his descendants. Ealdorman Leofwine’s family remained influential for nearly a hundred years and no other family, apart from the royal families, can be said to have done the same before 1066. It was too good an opportunity to ignore, but still, I began the story and then put it aside, until a trip to the Orkney Islands in 2013 made me want to finish the story. Stepping through time, visiting the ancient monuments and places on Orkney, made it feel far more real than ever before.

Research is incredibly important to me, as is historical accuracy, but because of the time period I write in, there aren’t as many ‘facts’ as for later periods. I make decisions before I commence a project based on what I believe should be the basis for a story. For the Earls of Mercia books, I ‘built’ my story around entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as opposed to using huge amounts of secondary sources. For The Last King, there is very little information to construct any sort of story on, so a great deal of it is imagination, but I spend time trying to ensure I get places and roadways correct, and the peripheral characters.

JMR-You are a very prolific writer. How do you stay motivated?

MJP-I can’t stop. I think that’s a bigger problem for me than staying motivated. And there are just so many stories that I want to tell. But routine is important, and is setting goals, sometimes unrealistic ones, but it’s all part of the process.

JMR- Life was often short and brutal in the 9th century. What was the most surprising thing you’ve learned about that time? What is the biggest misconception?

MJP-I think what surprised me most was the discovery that Alfred the Great might not have been quite the hero he’s often portrayed to be. The basis for The Last King is a coin-discovery made quite recently, which has my hero, King Coelwulf of Mercia, and King Alfred of Wessex depicted on one coin, together. This makes it highly likely that they were ruling together, and this is not at all the impression given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where Coelwulf is effectively portrayed as a client-king of the Vikings or rather Raiders. It seems to me, and I’m sure others will have a view that contradicts mine, that Coelwulf’s portrayal has been subject to a little bit of propaganda by King Alfred, who, after all, was the person who ordered the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle should be written.

JMR- Tell us about your latest book.

MJP-The Last King is a bloody and brutal book, with a great deal of swearing throughout. It’s set in the year AD874, when the Raider army were encamped at a place called Repton, in the heart of Mercia, an ancient kingdom in the Midlands of England, and Mercia’s king has fled with his life rather than face the enemy. Mercia’s king just happens to be King Alfred’s brother in law.

The idea was to offer a new perspective on the ‘standard’ story of Mercia at the time, but I also wanted to ensure the characters were fascinating. Coelwulf grew from a desire to make him an effortless warrior, so skilled that he almost doesn’t understand why he succeeds where others don’t. I must confess, that after watching The Gentleman film by Guy Ritchie, it became much bloodier and focused on the running battles that take place, and gave me the idea for the ‘trick’ beginning which really hooks the reader.

JMR-What projects do you have in the pipeline?

MJP-I am currently working on a project that I’m calling The Custard Corpses. It’s a total change for me, a sort of murder mystery set in the 1920s-1940s in the UK, based on a series of advertisements produced by Bird’s Custard during the 1940s. It’s strange to be able to use ‘minutes’ as a source of time passing.

I am also writing the next book in the Earls of Mercia series, and will be getting back to my badly behaved ‘rogues’ from the Ninth Century series in the new year.

JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.

MJP-I am active on twitter @coloursofunison (which is the name of my fantasy series) and have two websites, and I am also on Instagram m_j_porter, but really can’t work out FacebookL

JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

MJP-I thought you might ask if I was a planner or a pantser (making it up as I go). I’m definitely a pantser – or at least, as much as I can be one when writing about historical ‘fact.’ It surprises me how many authors are.

JMR- Thank you MJ for stopping by and thank you for a very interesting chat. Readers, I know you'd like to get a look at MJ's books, so I've included a link below. 

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