Piers Anthony and Eleanor of Aquitaine

They say that the mark of a true writer is to write. That might sound obvious, but plenty of authors don’t. They become sidetracked, dry up, give up, or are just too busy enjoying their royalties (though not many could say that last one). By this yardstick Piers Anthony is as writerly as they get, having authored over 150 books.

He has claimed that one of his greatest achievements has been to publish a book for every letter of the alphabet, from Anthonology to Zombie Lover. That’s a cool achievement, but one thing he has yet to achieve (probably) is to be mentioned in the same breath as Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Until now.

The reason I’m coming all Piers Anthony at you is because one of our Greyhart authors (Lola aka LJ Hasbrouck) drew inspiration from his ‘Xanth‘ series when writing her own ‘Lineage of Tellus‘ books. Piers was gracious enough to read the first Tellus book and wrote some very positive comments for the August 2014 (or ‘AwGhost’) newsletter on his website (here). I think Lola was thrilled and so was I (when I was a teenager, his Apprentice Adept series had a big impact on me). 

DaughtersofBabylon2Eleanor of Aquitaine doesn’t feature in Lola’s Tellus books but is one of the principal characters in Elaine Stirling’s literary historical mystery, Daughters of Babylon. We recently launched Elaine’s book at a special promotional price, which expires at the end of this week. So buy this book today!

While unexpectedly finding myself in downtown Toronto last week (practically on Elaine’s doorstep) I snapped this picture of our Ontario offices for the Tellus books. Some stern words were required when I saw the sign writer had missed off one of the ‘l’s!

Our downtown Toronto offices. Not at all connected with a Canadian telecoms corporation (honestly!)

Our downtown Toronto offices. Not at all connected with a Canadian telecoms corporation (honestly!)

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Why ‘Daughters of Babylon’ is like ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (but better)

DaughtersofBabylonI was thinking today about why I enjoyed reading Daughters of Babylon so much (a book we launched this week). The fact that I was doing so at all exemplifies the contradictory demands I place on fiction (in other words, I’m an awkward so-and-so). You see, I love to be thrilled by fabulous vistas and quirky little puzzles that I cannot quite explain. At the same time, my brain naturally wants to make sense of the pattern, to glimpse the big picture and understand.

I told you I was awkward.

Just enjoying the book isn’t enough. I want to understand why I enjoyed it.

You see, there are many examples of otherwise great fiction that don’t quite satisfy me – enjoyable enough, says my awkward brain – but still flawed.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler is one such example. It’s a superbly crafted book, and an uncomfortable read. I recommend it. But the fantastic element of the time slip (the protagonist – an African-American woman from the 1970s – slips back to the time of antebellum slavery) is contrived. It’s there to explore slavery first hand through (what was at the time of publication) modern-day eyes. That contrivance is employed several times. I wish it weren’t used so prominently. There are few books I’ve read twice. Kindred is one of that select group, but when the pattern-recognition part of my brain looks at why this time-slipping is happening, I don’t see a big picture, a glimpse of the universe from a new perspective, I only see the author tapping away at her typewriter, setting up the device allowing her to tell the story she want to tell.

Octavia E. Butler was a skilled writer, sorely missed. Not all of us are blessed by such talent. But that is no obstacle to lesser writers adding to the pantheon of literary historical mystery thrillers. Or maybe I should write split-time, split-narrative puzzle mysteries. Okay, let’s face it, there is no neat genre name for what is essentially a genre mashup. But awkward genre names should only ever stress out publishers and bookstore retailers wondering which shelf deserves the book. What I mean are books such as the ‘Languedoc’ series by Kate Mosse.

Trouble in Carcassonne

Trouble in Carcassonne

Mosse’s Languedoc’ series starts with Labyrinth, which features a contemporary mystery taking place in Carcassonne, a famously well-preserved medieval town in modern France. At the same time dramatic events center around Carcassonne eight centuries earlier during the Albigensian Crusade, a struggle in which around a million people were killed. The two echo. There is a connection.

There was also a TV series, which was well deserved because there was a good story in Labyrinth. In fact, Labyrinth was a great commercial success, possibly spurred on by the even greater success of Dan Brown’s  The Da Vinci Code, which, while more of a contemporary conspiracy-thriller, bears many similarities to the rash of split-time mysteries (for example, the contemporary mystery part of The Da Vinci Code can only be explained through the echoes from medieval times).

I’ve read several other recent contemporary/historical mysteries that I found considerably less impressive. When I look for the big picture, instead of a sense of wonder, I get a sense of an author ticking boxes.

* A contemporary setting infused with history (e.g. Carcassonne) … check!
* Ancient conspiracy/ hidden sect still functioning today … check!
* A parallel story set 700-1000 years earlier… check!
* A similarity between the contemporary and historical main character or their predicament… check!
* Unrequited love or lover’s grief that not only has parallels across the timelines, but is the force of nature that tunnels through time to create a physical connection between both plotlines… check!


Now, I happen to believe that fashioning your book to meet your target audience’s expectations is an example of a professional author using their common sense, not artistic sell-out. But the results can be truly awful when the author tries to force a story into a shape that is not right for it. I don’t mind common tropes taken in fresh new directions, but I wince at some of the clumsy excuses for why the narrative is split across two timelines. A broken heart? A terrible wrong that needs to be righted?

Possibly… if you can convince me. But too often we have two stories set in different times with the flimsiest of connections. Better to have written the two separate stories that they really are than attempt to glue them together with the literary equivalent of half-chewed gum, just to board the split-time genre gravy train before the axles come off.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine. An extremely well-traveled queen.

Mosse’s Labyrinth has Carcassonne in a contemporary and early medieval setting. Daughters of Babylon has Queen of Heaven – an area only a little to the west of Carcassonne – where the contemporary protagonist confronts a mystery embedded in the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine (also a medieval time, even earlier than in Mosse’s book).

So if you hurriedly skimmed the description of Daughters, you might think:“rehash of Labyrinth”. But it is not. While I have no doubt that Labyrinth lovers will also love Daughters of Babylon (in fact, I already know this to be so: several of our wonderful beta readers told me they enjoyed both books) there are many elements of style and narrative that differ. Markedly.

Exhibit A. Daughters has a Mexican strand set in the 1970s (as well as scenes in the Crusader Kingdoms of the Holy Lands, and elsewhere). Now, the French strands share a common location separated in time, making it easier to feel that they are connected. This Mexican strand is geographically divorced from Pyrenean France, but that doesn’t mean it is clumsily grafted on. Far from it. The linkage to the Mexican strand take more time to become evident. But, boy, is it there!

You see, returning to my brain’s awkwardness for a moment, what lets down many of the current rash of literary historical mysteries is that half-chewed gum sticking the split-time narratives together. I want to enjoy the mystery, but when I look for the big picture, the gum dries, and the split-narrative, well, splits.

And that’s one reason why I find Daughters of Babylon so satisfying. My sense of wonder is fed by the extraordinary-in-the-everyday mysticism of Gabo-style magical realism. We also experience mysterious visions, inexplicable deaths, and the talking dead. But ultimately the various strands are woven into a pattern I can see and understand for what it is. There are no contrivances here; no twee romantic time traveling due to a broken heart.

In normal life we think we know that time progresses in a safely linear fashion from past to future. Not so in Daughters of Babylon. I glimpse a deeper understanding of time’s deep cycles, and realize that it is not coincidence that connects the plot strands. They have been deliberately gathered together by one of the principal characters in a maniobra, a magical deep time maneuver of extraordinary complexity that has been ongoing since page 1. I just didn’t see it at the time for what it was, because the magic was hidden in the shadows of the narrative (which is about as good a definition of magical realism as you’re likely to get).

And that is why I enjoyed Daughters of Babylon so intensely.


 I have described Daughters of Babylon elsewhere as

 “A literary historical mystery spiced with Latin American magical realism.”

I haven’t done much in this post to explain the dark mysteries of magical realism.

The best introduction I can think of to magical realism is to first read Daughters of Babylon.

However (it’s shocking, I know) some might say that I am biased in that recommendation.

As an alternative try following the link below. It’s from Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. If you think the Oprah connection means it must be shallow, think again. This is an excellent introduction to the topic, with many free-to-read short pieces, and references to the totemic book of magical realism: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.



Enjoy good reading. You deserve it.


‘Daughters of Babylon’, a literary historical mystery spiced with Latin American magical realism.

“Sometimes, the only way to the future is through the present of someone else’s past.”

Confused? So is Silvina Kestral when she agrees to clear out the house of an eccentric dead actress amidst the ruins of a medieval priory in the French Pyrenees. Speaking of confusion, who were the Daughters of Babylon, and what does a tall dark stranger in the attic have to do with Creation’s mightiest secrets? To find out, you’d have to ask either a Mexican cane cutter with a party of witches and a sense of rhyme, or a 19-year-old, badly married queen named Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Problem is, where to start? And once started, what if the task never, ever ends…

Out now for Kindle (special launch price): getbook.at/babylon

Out now in paperback (special launch price)getbook.at/babylon_pb


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Flash Free Event! Fantasy adventure on Kindle

Tellus_Bk1_200px_96dpiFor fantastic Kindle adventure, download Memories & Murder, the first book in The Lineage of Tellus today. It’s a free Kindle download from Amazon  today and tomorrow (July 18th & 19th).

“The story and characters are so real and likeable…as they go from one crisis to another that you can’t help but get involved.”5-star Amazon review

Download now from Amazon by following this link.

Or find out more here.

It’s wonderful when authors you admired in your pre-writing days take notice of your work and offer genuine praise. And when your writing hero likes your first book… well! That’s special indeed. But that’s what happened to Lola, the author of Memories & Murder. More on that next month, when a major writing star gives Memories & Murder a thumbs up on his website. But for now… congratulations, Lola!


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Daughters of Babylon – out now at special launch price!

Lovers of Kate Mosse’s Carcassonne historical mysteries, and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, aren’t often linked but today they are. Devotees of both authors will rejoice in Daughters of Babylon, the spellbinding new novel by Elaine Stirling. Get it now while it’s at a special launch price. Hurry, this offer won’t last long!

‘Daughters of Babylon’, a literary historical mystery spiced with Latin American magical realism.

“Sometimes, the only way to the future is through the present of someone else’s past.”

Confused? So is Silvina Kestral when she agrees to clear out the house of an eccentric dead actress amidst the ruins of a medieval priory in the French Pyrenees. Speaking of confusion, who were the Daughters of Babylon, and what does a tall dark stranger in the attic have to do with Creation’s mightiest secrets? To find out, you’d have to ask either a Mexican cane cutter with a party of witches and a sense of rhyme, or a 19-year-old, badly married queen named Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Problem is, where to start? And once started, what if the task never, ever ends…

Out now for Kindle: getbook.at/babylon

Out now in paperback: getbook.at/babylon_pb

Literary historical mysteries, split-timeline puzzle mysteries: whatever term you choose to label them, the ability of these genre-blending books to trap the reader in a labyrinth of intrigue and wonder has won them many fans in recent years. With Daughters of Babylon, Elaine Stirling pushes to the front rank of literary mystery authors.

Crusader battles in the Holy Land, painful love affairs and courtly romance, a remote French community not far from Carcassonne where events in the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine still resonate powerfully today: some of the ingredients of Daughters of Babylon might appear familiar at first. But spiced with Gabo-style Mesoamerican magical realism courtesy of the Mexican nagual and his witches, the resulting brew has a rich flavor unique to this book.

Three timelines appear at first to be faint echoes of each other, but as we begin to learn from the understanding of cyclical deep time known to the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans, we see that at some level these times are not separated at all.

And the links between these times have been induced for a noble purpose; they are not coincidences, nor contrived ‘leakage’ across time due to a dramatic event. This book describes a maniobra, a magical deep time maneuver of extraordinary complexity.

One that continues to this day.

Out now for Kindle: getbook.at/babylon

Out now in paperback: getbook.at/babylon_pb

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Best wishes to our American readers on Independence Day

Happy 4th July from all of us at Greyhart Press!

Although we’re based in a little English village called Bromham, when you consider all the authors, editors, cover artists, and beta readers who contribute to our books, our wider team is also operating out of Switzerland, Jordan, the Gulf States, Scotland, Wales, and Canada. We’ve even had a little help from Zambia. But most of the Greyhart team is based in the USA.

Of course, the most important individuals in the entire Greyhart story are the readers. Around 90% of our readers are American. What Thomas Jefferson would make of this international setup 238 years after the Declaration of Independence, I don’t know. I suspect he would feel pleased.

And to our readers and contributors in the US, today we thank you for your support!



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How can the president stop terrorists from bombing the US mainland?

ToFreeASpy2Answer? By freeing black ops spy Cam Warfield to do what the FBI and CIA cannot.

Find out more in the kindle edition of author Nick Ganaway’s thriller ‘To Free a Spy‘, which is available at the bargain price of 99c / ~77p all this week from amazon.

Follow this link to find the Kindle edition on Amazon, or this link to read more about the book.

“This is one of the best I’ve read. Obviously well researched and well written. The surprises kept coming; really got my heart pumping.” — extract from one of the many 5-star reviews for Nick’s book on amazon.com

You don’t need a Kindle device to read the Kindle edition! For Android and iOS users, get the Kindle app in the app store. You can also get the free reader apps for Mac and Windows here 

The book is also available in paperback and other eBook editions.

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Daughters of Babylon… cover reveal

DaughtersofBabylon_ebook_final_smallArtist Karri Klawiter has delivered a perfect cover for our forthcoming mystery/ historical/ magical realism novel Daughters of Babylon. If you think of Kate Mosse’s bestseller, Labyrinth, add in Eleanor of Aquitaine and spice it up with Mexican mysticism, then… well, you’re starting to get mentally prepared for this treat by Elaine Stirling.

That symbol on the shield is one you will see in the book, linking the present to the distant past through a mystical place cradled by the Pyrenees called Reine du Ciel  ( Queen of Heaven). The squashed diamonds, by the way, are properly called ‘lozenges’, and were a common crusader symbol.

Expect to hear plenty more about Daughters of Babylon in the near future.


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