I was fortunate to be able to read a PDF of the book in advance. I also preordered a copy of the book to have signed and was notified by Amazon that it will arrive tomorrow. (Yay!) For those of you in the Sacramento area, he will be signing books at the Avid Reader at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, September 2nd.
Mark was kind enough to answer some interview questions about his book and his writing process, so I hope you will enjoy learning more about both. After the interview you can read more information from the publisher and also get order information and Mark's contact information. And now . . . here's Mark
1. Between Two Fires is set in sixth-century Wales. How did you get interested in this period?
I’m always interested in any “dark age” period on history. Not just some technologically backward time or an era where civilization collapses, but an epoch that has left very little trace for modern historians and archaeologists. As an author, historical fiction allows me to bridge the gap and extrapolate a little further than a historian might feel comfortable doing. I love giving life to these time periods, such as early medieval Wales, where we’ve literally lost the names of some of the kings and kingdoms, let alone what the common people were doing. My novel is a small attempt to shed light on the supposed “darkness” of this age.
2. Did you have to do much research for your story? What kind of sources were available?
I certainly did plenty of research, but the clues left behind are few indeed. The longest piece of text to survive the time period is only a few dozen pages! Couple that with a few ruins and some oral legends and the trail can go very cold very quickly indeed. But I find that applying some common sense with what makes for a good narrative often turns into a complimentary process. Legends definitely provided plenty of inspiration!
3. Are there any legends of a strong woman leader in the Celtic Wales of that era?
There are hints, for instance, references to a queen who ruled like a man in one kingdom long after the Romans were gone. Also, many tribal Celtic customs survived in places like Wales and Cornwall, and they definitely had a matriarchal bent to them. Goddess worship mixed with concepts of the Holy Virgin and the Saints, and voila older forms of thought suddenly become Christianized, but still very much existed. Also the actual Mabinogion legend of Branwen is set without any firm date in antiquity, simply supposing to have occurred sometime in the distant past. So as an author, you get a lot of leeway considering the vagueness of dates and times in the oral legends.
4. Your settings were full of rich details so that the landscape came alive. Have you been to some of the locations your story mentions?
I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the UK and Ireland, but I found that not as useful in this novel, mainly because the landscape and sometimes even the culture itself has changed so dramatically in the last millennium-and-a-half. Deforestation, alterations of laws or customs, and subsequent invaders have given us a modern Wales that looks pretty different. The visualizations for me came more from the legends themselves, which paint a picture of a very wild landscape with people as untamed as the land they inhabit.
5. Between Two Fires is both history novel and a puzzle mystery, both with lots of plot twists, and a dynamic protagonist. Tell a little bit about your writing process: Do you start with the plot or with the character?
For me they’re a bit of the same thing. That being said, I definitely start with the character. If I know the protagonist inside and out, I know what they’ll do and what their story will be. For me it all started with that first line, “Today I will marry a man I have never met.” From that point on I knew Branwen and had to tell her story.
6. Can we expect to see any more of Branwen in future novels?
Definitely! I already have the sequel with the publisher, although no firm release date as of yet. The Long Defeat will showcase the Welsh dealing with a new threat, the Picts, and a very different set of circumstances than when they dealt with the Saxons.
7. Any hints about what you are presently working on?
I’ve always got something going, although I admit that with all the marketing efforts for Between Two Fires, I haven’t been writing as much as I prefer. I write contemporary short stories, and even sometimes Sci Fi or fan fiction. I’ve also written a draft of a Viking story that follows a female warrior amongst the Norse. But mostly, I just let inspiration lead me where it wants. Even I don’t know what I’ll write next!
Thanks again for having me here, Elizabeth!
What others are saying, where to buy the book, and how to contact Mark:
Praise from Bestselling Authors for Between Two Fires
“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter
“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin
Synopsis of Between Two Fires
Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King.
But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.
Places to Order Between Two Fires
Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family.
His debut novel, Between Two Fires, is being published by Thomas Dunne Books (an imprint of St. Martin's Press and Macmillan). It is the first in a series of historical fiction novels set in medieval Wales.
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For those of you stopping by today, can you recommend other books set in a historical period in Wales? (I have a thing about Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and love to find novels with those settings.)