“The King’s Jew: Book One – Changeling” by Darius Stransky took me into an era of British History that I knew next to nothing of. Detailed and well researched in the manner of a CJ Sansom novel the story is immediately gripping with its vivid descriptions and sense of autenthicity.
Court intrigue and mundane life are well illustrated in a plot rich and fascinating stories full of well chosen characters. This is just the beginning of the story of the King’s Jews and leaves us on the eve of further struggle.
Historically sound, competent and well written this should do very well.
Midnight, Westminster Abbey, Friday, October 27, 1307 and Lord Cristian Gilleson keeps vigil at the tomb of Edward I. Death stalks the Abbey as Edward II, Piers Gaveston and their supporters try to bring him down. Many years ago he vowed to spend this last night by the side of his dead friend and Cristian has never broken a promise. A long night beckons and many will not live to see the dawn. Plot and counter-plot at the king’s court as “The King’s Jew” reflects on a turbulent life with his king. His enemies are many and supporters few yet he will keep his promise to the greatest of England’s kings or die in the attempt.
Interview with Darius:
How did you come to writing?
Always been a lover of literature and writing – it’s a natural to me as breathing. Eventually I found myself working as a freelancer for various media groups in the UK and US, weekly columns ETC. One day I realised I’d written enough words in one year to fill two novels. Hmmm, I thought to myself, about time I wrote a ‘real’ book. The rest, as they say, is history. Or in my case Historical Faction.
What is your interest in history and the eras you write about? Do you have a preferred era?
To me history is about people. The only thing that stopped our ‘ancestors’ from thousands of years ago achieving what we ‘modern’ people do is technology. Once you realise that people from the past are exactly the same as us then you can understand them. Their loves, hopes and fears were the same as ours yet set in a harsher, more brutal, society. I chose the thirteenth century world of Cristian Gilleson and Edward the First because of the monumental events that took place in that time. The shaping of modern England and Europe began then.
How do you research?
Extensive reading and online sources. Only now has a writer the ability to access medieval texts and references with comparative ease. The research came before the story. I needed to know my historical world to immerse myself in it and to wonder at the fortitude of thirteenth century people. Most of the main characters are real. Look ‘em up!
How do you come up with your story?
‘The King’s Jew’ – the clue is in the title. Without spoiling the plot all I can say is that the medieval Jews were banished from England’s shores in 1290 by King Edward I. Indeed, the Jewish population of England was ‘owned’ by the king. Now imagine a man who is born out of wedlock and rises to walk beside the king – to be his friend – what if that man one day realised just who and what his mother had been? That he was ‘different’? The main person in my book arrived in my mind before I began the work. This is his story and the tale of a misunderstood minority.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
Strange to say this but I knew exactly where the plots and SPs would lead. I knew how the story ends in Book Three. What really amazed me was the way certain characters appeared in the narrative. Take Mathew for instance – he appears at the start and I had no thoughts of him playing a major role. Then when a group of men delivered a letter to Cristian Gilleson lo and behold Mathew was there! He ‘elbowed’ his way into the narrative and the work is all the better for him and his ilk.
I‘ve only read one of the books so far. What is the idea behind your series?
Yes, you read Book One. I’ve got be careful here lest I give too much away! We follow a man who rises to be companion to the king of England. Certain sectors of society were marginalised, abused and even, on occasions, massacred for their beliefs. Not every medieval Christian hated the Jews. Some tried to help them and ended up being persecuted themselves. Think twentieth century pogroms in a thirteenth century world. Think how an ‘insider’ at the centre of a king’s court must hide his true feelings to aid others less fortunate. Our MC has a dangerous path to tread between two opposing ideologies. If he is discovered he loses everything, even his life.
Do you prefer to stay in one era and genre or do you see yourself spreading out?
In my freelancer days I thought of myself as a (if you’ll pardon the expression) ‘literary prostitute’. I’d write anything for anybody so long as they paid me! For the time being I’ll stay in my medieval world.
You have created great characters. Which one is your favourite?
I can’t answer that. Can a father say he loves one child more than another? They are all my children, from the peasant who flits in and out in the space of a line to Cristian Gilleson and King Edward. The one could not exist without the others.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
We are one and the same just living in a different era.
Tell us about your other books?
Book One covered the period up to 1265 and ends with the Battle of Evesham. Book Two takes us up to 1290 and the banishment of the Jews. Book Three finishes on Saturday, October 28, 1307 when Cristian’s struggle ends and the opening conflict that started in Book One is resolved. Thus the circle is complete.
What is your advice to new writers?
Get through the first 30,000 words and you’re home free. Oh, and believe in the validity of your work yet listen to others who have your best interests at heart.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best? When you hold the finished book in your hand. The worst? Knowing when it’s finished. There comes a time when you have to walk away and let the readers be the judge.
What do you do when you don’t write?
Read and think. And maybe have a warm beer in a snug old fashioned bar. Sometimes more than one beer!
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
Lovely beta readers. Quality control? I take each and every suggestion / criticism seriously and act accordingly. Yet the final decisions are mine.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?
Taking that decision wasn’t easy. We all want the ‘Big Five’ to pick us up and run with us. Yet when you look at the financial considerations it’s best to be an independent and guess what? You get to meet some really interesting people. No highs or lows it just sort of worked for me.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
Book Two of ‘The King’s Jew’ is almost ready for publishing but I need to tie up a few things. I use social media first thing in the morning – I don’t overdo it – word of mouth is best. Then I write and edit for five hours.
Who are your favourite independent writers?
Best indie? Galen Watson whose book ‘The Psalter’ deserves more recognition. Look him up folks (and no we’ve never met).
Who are your favourite authors?
Cormac McCarthy. Hilary Mantel. Franz Kafka. Shakespeare.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
‘Dunkirk (fight to the last man)’ by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. Paperback. Second time of reading.
Tell us one odd thing about you and one really mundane thing.
Odd? I get up early with, or before, the sun. Mundane? Cats, their individuality, they don’t take any nonsense. Treat a cat badly and it moves on, bit like me really! I like cats.
Anything you want to add before we go down the pub?
Yes. A big vote of thanks to people like you who give people like me the opportunity to talk to our readers. Can we go now? It’s my round.