M.J. Porter has developed an enthusiastic readership for her ninth century Saxon Chronicles set in the depths of a divided Britain. She writes action-packed and completely addictive Dark Ages historicals that have readers howling for more.
Hi there. I’m your host, Jenny Wheeler. And today on Binge Reading, M.J. talks about the books that critics describe as “Game of Thrones meets The Last Kingdom.”
Our Giveaway this week is called Is Your Library Fully Booked? It features a great range of stories from many different authors, all free to download, including Sadie’s Vow Book #1 in my Home At Last series.
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Things mentioned in this episode
First Viking Age: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Viking-people
Ceolwulf: Last King of Mercia: https://www.britannica.com/place/Wessex-historical-kingdom
The Battle of Brunanburh: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Brunanburh
Bernard Cornwell: https://www.bernardcornwell.net/
Queen Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians https://www.britannica.com/biography/Aethelflaed
The Last Kingdom BBC series: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08jnzwp
Ealdorman Athelwine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86thelwine,_Ealdorman_of_East_Anglia
M J Porter: Custard Corpses, https://mjporterauthor.blog/the-custard-corpses-a-delicious-1940s-mystery-is-on-tour-with-the-coffee-pot-book-club/
Michelles Salter: https://www.michellesalter.com/
Sarah Hawkswood: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Sarah-Hawkswood/author/B00MLCK41U
Theodore Brun: https://www.theodorebrun.com/
Simon Turney: https://simonturney.com/
Jane Adams: Murder On The Farm, https://www.amazon.com/MURDER-gripping-mystery-twists-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0BL86FQ9Q#:
Where to find MJ Porter online
Twitter or X: @coloursofunison
Introducing historical fiction author M.J. Porter
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s MJ. Hello there MJ and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
M.J. Porter: Hello, thank you so much for inviting me on today. I’m really looking forward to our chat.
Jenny Wheeler: MJ you’ve developed a terrific following of historical fiction readers fascinated by the stories of ancient Britain, and we’re talking basically ninth and tenth centuries, mainly Saxon Britain. Tell us first off, what is the appeal of this period for people who haven’t perhaps delved into it before?
M.J. Porter: The appeal of the period for me is that it’s quite exciting. We’re at the very beginning of what would become known as the First Viking Age. We’ve had our attack on Lindisfarne and then the records go a little bit quiet, we don’t hear a lot more, and then all of a sudden in about the 830s we start to get a little bit of a rumble, and therefore, it’s quite exciting.
We haven’t had the great heathen army yet of the 860s. We’ve got this king in Wessex who’s going to be King Alfred’s grandfather, and everybody knows about King Alfred. So, it’s about the buildup to it, what’s going on before, and my particular focus is always almost always Mercia and Mercia at that time.
They’re on the decline, there’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of politics. We’ve got the Vikings, we’ve got the politics, we’ve always got problems with the Welsh on the borders. There’s a lot going on and I think there’s a lot there that hasn’t been explored before. So that’s what I’m doing.
This is not the ‘Dark Age’ of Britain
Jenny Wheeler: Lovely. Now, I think I’m right. This is very much an amateur interpretation. I did do history at university, but not this period. But in popular historical understanding, it’s known as the Dark Ages in a way, isn’t it? I think that’s right. Seen as the interregnum between The Romans and the Normans in a very broad spectrum, but I rather suspect that might be an outdated view.
Tell me if I’m wrong in that. How do you view this period?
M.J. Porter: I’m going to be honest and I’m going to say I don’t necessarily view this as the Dark Ages. I know a lot of people do. And I know even historians latch on to the idea of it being the Dark Ages, especially in popular, historical nonfiction books.
But really, the Dark Age period is what happens after the end of Roman Britain, and before the Saxons come in and we get a flowering of historical writing again, thanks to the works of Bede.
I don’t call it the Dark Ages, but I know a lot of people do. I think once we get past about, ooh, about… the 700s, we’re into a period where we can’t call it the Dark Ages anymore, so I tend not to, but I know a lot of people do, so I used to get very cross about it, and now I try not to get quite so cross about it.
Jenny Wheeler: That we’re particularly talking about today is Book #5 in your Earls of Mercia Chronicles, The Protector Of Mercia. It’s just recently out for those who don’t really understand much about. The political situation in Britain at this point, I think it was more or less enclaves of warlords, all facing Viking attack in various ways, but not managing to unite against the Vikings at this stage.
M.J. Porter: Tell us, first of all, what was actually the Kingdom of Mercia and was it the strongest kingdom at this time or just one of many? So the Kingdom of Mercia at this time, When you look at Saxon England, there tends to be a pattern.
What we have is we have what’s called the Golden Age of Northumberland, and that is really the 7th century. Then we have what they classify as the Supremacy of Mercia, which is the 8th century. And then as we hit the 9th century, we’re coming into the flowering of Wessex, and then Wessex eventually becomes England.
The heart of Mercia is the Midlands
Mercia at this time, it’s essentially the Midlands of England. So, if you’ve heard the names of Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham, Lichfield, Tamworth, Repton, they’re smaller places now, but if you’re going back in time and you’re talking about the Kingdom of Mercia, they’re really important.
So that was Mercia, so we’ve got the Welsh to the west, and we’ve got the East Angles, which was another kingdom to the east, and then above it we’ve got Northumberland, and then you’ve got the River Thames, which is not always the boundary, but it’s often the boundary with Wessex, which is to the south.
There were points when Mercia was much bigger than the Midlands, but to as a a rule of thumb, if you want to know where Mercia was, have a look at Birmingham on your map and you’ll see the area around there. The Mercian name still persists. We’ve got things like the West Mercian police and every so often it will crop up in things as well.
So the name’s still there. You just have to search for it a little bit.
Jenny Wheeler: And I know in the Protector of Mercia, Londinium comes into it. Who actually was controlling Londinium at this time?
M.J. Porter: So Londinium’s a really interesting one. Essentially it should have been Mercia at this time because it was on the northern border of the Thames. Wessex always seems to have too much interest in what’s going on in Londinium, or Londonia, or there’s a number of names for it.
At this time it should have been Mercian, it was mostly Mercian, but then every so often we’ve got a Wessex king that likes to try their luck. and come into London. There’s loads and loads of research about London at the time. Whether it was as important as we perhaps think it was, it’s difficult to actually get your head around.
Isel – the hero of the Earls of Mercia series
What they do know is that we had. what they called Lundenwick, and that was a market settlement, not in the Roman ruins, it’s to the side of it because apparently the Roman ruins, the walls would have still been standing, so they wouldn’t have had access to the riverfront of the Thames, so they couldn’t have traded, and it was a wick, which means market, so that’s what they were doing.
It was just a big trading center and I did find out some quite interesting information about the Thames and there’s a lot of discussion, I don’t understand all of it, about how easy it would have been to get boats up and down the River Thames at this time because I think we just assumed that, oh yes, the Vikings would just sail up there but maybe not all the time, apparently it’s very seasonal.
It was easier to do when it was winter than when it was summer, so there’s assumptions that we make and they’re not always right.
Jenny Wheeler: Now the main character in the Earl of Mercia books is Icel. And he’s a very important character. We won’t tell too much about his background because it’ll spoil the process of the stories, but does he relate to any real historical character?
M.J. Porter: To be honest, he doesn’t. Icel is actually a much-loved character from a series that I’ve written that takes place about 40 years later. And when my publisher approached me and said, we really love this.
We want you to do something with it. I was a bit like, Ooh, I don’t know what to do.
Now I’ve written into this character of Icel, this really great, it was really great when I needed to think of a new series, little thing that he does where they have these big battles and they’re all going yeah we’ve won and he just comes over and he’s yeah if you think that’s good you should have seen what I did when I was younger.
I’ve written his backstory based on what he then tells these fellows when he’s an older man. I have since discovered that the name that I chose for him is very good because there is an Icel who’s in the genealogy for the Mercian kings.
The Last Kings series -Mercia in the ninth century
He’s there right at the top, so he’s got a good name and I made lots of good decisions when I created him, which I’m very grateful for.
Jenny Wheeler: Now that series that you’ve just mentioned, what was that series?
M.J. Porter: I call it the Last King series, but that’s actually what the first book is called. So it’s really called The Mercian Ninth Century.
It’s not a particularly exciting title, but it was supposed to be about Mercia’s last king, and it was supposed to be one book, and it became this series.
It got away with me, as my writing tends to do, so I refer to it as both, but yes, it’s, so it’s about Ceolwulf, which is not the right way to say it, I think you should call him Chullwulf, but I’ve got used to calling him Ceolwulf, and he was Mercia’s last king, so that was where the title came from.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve also got a second instalment in another series coming out this year, I noticed, and it’s set a hundred years further on, around about 934, and that one’s called The Kings of War, and in book two, England is now united as one kingdom, but they’re still facing off to Scotland in the north, and to the Dublin Norse people in Ireland. Tell us about that one.
M.J. Porter: Okay, this one’s about the Battle of Brunanburh, which took place in 937. So, yes, England is united. We’ve got our young King Athelstan, who is the grandson of King Alfred. His father was king after Alfred. And then he becomes king after his father and essentially the Viking Norse, the Dublin Norse, they’ve been in retreat.
They’ve not been causing problems for a long time. the period is often categorized as a time of peace, but it actually isn’t.
The idea behind the book was to look at not just England, but Britain as a whole. We’ve got the Welsh kingdoms, we’ve got the Scots kingdom, we’ve got the Irish as well, and what’s going on, what leads to this massive battle in 937 called Brunanburh, which a lot of people have never heard of or they hadn’t heard about it until Bernard Cornwell wrote his Uhtred books, and he took him to Brunanburh.
History scant on The Battle of Brunanburh
It’s becoming more and more well known, the idea of the book is we get the build up, then we get the battle, and then unfortunately, and I don’t think I’m going to be doing any spoilers here because people should know, Athelstan, almost at the height of his powers, he dies. And then everything seems to reset again.
This series is what happens to Athelstan and then what happens to his successor afterwards. It’s fascinating. It’s hard to do because we don’t have any historical records that tell us about what happened in Britain at the time. We have ones for Scotland and we have ones for Ireland.
We have ones for the Welsh and obviously we have the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, but nobody’s putting all the bits together and saying this happened because of that. It’s fascinating to play with it, and see what brought about this huge battle.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. So how does that part relate to the battle between Mercia and Wessex? Was Athelstan a successor of any of those kingdoms?
M.J. Porter: Well, Athelstan’s fascinating. He’s really interesting. You’re going to have to excuse me here. It might be a little bit of a long explanation. Athelstan, we are told was raised in Mercia by his aunt, Lady Athelflaed of Mercia, who’s very famous because his father remarried and for whatever reason, they didn’t want him around at that time.
So he goes to Mercia, he’s raised there. When the Lady Athelflaed dies, his father comes in and. essentially takes Mercia. And then his father dies, but Athelstan is very well known in Mercia. So when his father dies, it’s said that the Mercians said, actually, we want Athelstan as our king.
‘Action-packed and completely addictive’
And so that was good. And then in Wessex, one of his younger brothers was supposed to become king. But unfortunately he died. So then Athelstan came back from Mercia and claimed Wessex as well. So that’s how England was made. So the story is Mercia, then Wessex, and then he started gathering all together the five boroughs as well.
Jenny Wheeler: Now you’re writing, it’s described as “action packed and completely addictive.” And one reviewer described it as being “Game of Thrones meets The Last Kingdom.” Now, for those who may not be familiar with The Last Kingdom, that was a very successful British TV series. I gather it ran from 2015 to 2022, for five seasons.
So it obviously got a following, and based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, as you already mentioned his name. So it’s pretty amazing to be categorized in that kind of company. Do you feel that you live up to it?
M.J. Porter: Oh no, I think that’s really hard. I don’t know. I think because it’s a similar period and it’s a similar outlook on it. We’re looking at the wars and we’re looking at the fighting. I can understand why people do that. It’s great to be categorized there. I read all the Game of Thrones books.
Quite early on in my writing career and what appealed to me about them is he tells a story from different viewpoints all the way through and that’s something that I like doing as well so when I read his books I went oh someone else is doing it that’s all right I can get away with it so that was really good.
Game of Thrones meets The Last Kingdom
Jenny Wheeler: It’s interesting with Game Off Thrones though, because it’s as much fantasy as it is history, isn’t it? I didn’t get into the books and I also didn’t watch the TV series because when I tried to start with it, I found it too violent. I couldn’t watch it.
But when I tried to look it up, I see that opinion varies as to whether it’s the second century or early medieval which is a huge difference in timeframe so obviously, he didn’t stick to one period. Do you find that offensive as an academic historian?
M.J. Porter: I don’t know because I think that sometimes you look at the past and actually there’s a lot of great stories but they don’t join up together and joining them up together is difficult.
If you want to pick and choose and put a bit of the War of the Roses with a little bit of the end of the Roman Empire, then why not?
Because you’re writing fantasy so you can get away with it and it’s appealing. I really enjoyed it, but I would like to say I’ve started reading those books because I thought there were four of them. and I went that’s good I can read a nice fantasy series of four books and of course it’s not four books but it’s longer.
Jenny Wheeler: And I don’t think he’s ever got round to the actual final one, has he?
M.J. Porter: He’s been writing it apparently I think for at least 13 years or something so when Book Five came out I’ve read half of it and I’m not reading the other half until Book Six comes out, because otherwise I’ll forget who all the characters are.
Jenny Wheeler: How important is it for you to follow historical fact as we know it? And do we know much about this period?
M.J. Porter: That is the joy of it. So no, we don’t know much about it. There are more gaps than there are certain facts. It’s quite a complex series to understand. We’re told a certain narrative and that narrative has stuck. And then there’s a lot of academic historians who are unpicking the narrative and saying, this isn’t right.
M J Porter – telling the untold story
There’s other things that were going on. So I think. We don’t know much. I try and stick to historical fact where I know it. But I also want to tell the story, almost, of the underdogs. I want to tell the bit that people don’t know. As I was saying at the beginning, we know about the Golden Age in Northumberland.
We know about Mercia, when it was great. We know about Wessex. But what about all the other people? What about all the other kingdoms at those same periods? So that’s what I’m trying to do. So I don’t necessarily stick. To what some people might say is historical fact, but I would argue that it’s probably not fact to get around it.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. What set you to writing fiction in the beginning? I did pick up somewhere that you were studying history at university and you became captivated by a particular person, a real life person. Tell us about that.
M.J. Porter: I was studying for my master’s degree, and it’s not called a History Master’s, but I call it History Master. I was doing a slightly to the side of it. And I used to go and love walking down the aisle at the local university and picking up all the books and I read everything.
And then, yes, I discovered this character who’s called Ealdormaine Athel Wine. And he was Ealdormaine in Mercia at the end of the 10th century. And what appealed to me more than anything is he is the beginning of a dynasty that survived until the Norman conquest, and indeed slightly afterwards, but in captivity, unfortunately.
And when you look at the narrative again, this is me playing with the narrative. When we look at it, we’re told about the Godwine family and Earl Godwine, and his son ends up being king and his daughter ends up being queen.
But I was thinking, what about this other side? What about what they were doing.
How did he survive? Because he was there through a lot of kings. His family survived through the kingship of Ethelred the Second, through the Danish Kings on back to when we get Edward the Confessor back. So how did he do it? And that was what appealed to me. He’s a real person. We don’t know a lot about him, and obviously he’s Mercian and I’m a Mercian, so I wanted to write about him and bring him back to the fore.
Queen Elfrida – England’s first Queen
So that was how that started. I never intended to write about him, but I did.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve also written about the first queen of England, who probably nobody much has heard of, unless they’ve read your books, Elfrida. Now, you wrote a trilogy about her, and she’s described as the first queen of England, not only the first queen, but after Anne Boleyn, the only queen, perhaps, who fell for a married king.
Tell us about her.
M.J. Porter: Lady Elfrida led a fascinating life. She ends up marrying King Edgar, who, if I get this right, would have been Athelstan’s nephew. He’d already been married.
In fact, he has three marriages very quickly. And it’s quite difficult to fit all the children in with the marriages that he has.
But the story is he was married and he fell in love with this beautiful woman. And he broke off one marriage and then they got married and then this is the marriage that sticks.
She’s one known for the fact that she married an already married king. She won him. It was a love match. It’s the way it’s always portrayed.
And I thought why not? This is really interesting. She’s got a very difficult reputation after she dies because apparently, she may or may not have been, I don’t think she was, involved in the murder of her stepson who should have been king after her husband’s death so that her son could then become king.
There’s a lot going on at the time and I think reputation is very… difficult to unpick at this period because it’s all written by religious men.
They’re not going to think much of people being in love and people murdering everybody. I wanted to tell her story the way that I imagined it might have been told.
‘Get thee to a nunnery’
That’s what I did with Elfrida. It was a difficult trilogy because the first book is very much romance, but then they’re together and they’re in love and then all these politics take over. Then it became very political. There’s not much. war in it, but there is a lot of backstabbing.
Jenny Wheeler: And did they actually get a divorce? I guess in those days, they were technically Christian, were they,
M.J. Porter: They were Christian. What they used to do, essentially, was if they didn’t want to be married anymore, they would send their discarded wife off to a nunnery, and then she could live in the nunnery.
And our idea of what sort of life she might have had is perhaps swayed by what we think of as life in a nunnery and actually it may have been quite glamorous and very rich and very wealthy. There were royal nunneries that these women went to.
They wrote in a narrative afterwards, saying that she was very religious anyway and didn’t really want to get married and didn’t want to have any children.
She was happy to go and be an abbess of the nunnery and they have a daughter together and she becomes a saint as well, after her death.
She tragically dies quite young. They didn’t necessarily get divorced but there’s a charter that shows that he gave very wealthy gifts to her.
Essentially he bought her off and went “please go over there and behave.”
Jenny Wheeler: And they were almost a little bit of accepting of polygamy for that level of aristocracy?
‘Divorce’ in the ‘Dark Ages’
M.J. Porter: I don’t know, but it’s interesting because he’s not the only one to have been married three times.
There’s another king, his grandfather, Edward the Elder, he was married three times, Athelstan’s dad. That also causes problems.
The writers of the period and the monks, they were, depending on whether they liked the king or didn’t like the king, they worked very hard to gather a narrative that explained what had happened.
There’s a lot of academic discussion at the moment about concubinage and marriage and where the difference was and what it was, and essentially it seems to have been the church agreed with one and didn’t agree with the other.
And then it becomes more political and only if you’re born to a marriage between a King and Queen, can you become king in your time?
So it was all about, I think, just funneling it, making it more difficult to become king.
Jenny Wheeler: You chose a gender neutral name for your books, MJ Porter. And I did see a review quite recently that assumed you were a male author, “he did this very brilliantly” comment. Obviously, you chose that as a deliberate decision. Why did you do that?
M.J. Porter: I became M.J. Porter – the things that I wrote first were fantasy. So I was writing historical fantasy.
And I just thought it was a bit better to go with an M.J. than with my name. So that’s what I did. And I stuck with it. And again, and I don’t plan anything, but it became a good decision when I then started writing very action adventure historical fiction.
MJ likes the ‘Mr Porter’ reviews
So it’s done me well. I don’t object to being called Mr. Porter. It does make me chuckle a little bit, but equally I’m almost glad that people don’t make the connection. Sometimes I think that the topics that I cover will send out a light saying yes, this is definitely a woman.
This isn’t a man. I quite liked the Mr. Porter ones.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s funny because you’re published by Boldwood Books, aren’t you? Is that, am I right in that? Yeah. And the last person that I’ve spoken to for this show was also a Boldwood Books author, T. A. Williams. And he writes romance and he made the same decision for exactly the opposite reasons, because he felt women might be less likely to accept romance from a male author.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? I think it was quite a funny coincidence that you’re following on one after the other.
M.J. Porter: Yeah, it is quite interesting that you can make that assumption just looking at the name of the author about what the content of the book’s going to be. So yes, I like T. A. Williams books because he writes some crime as well. I’ve been reading his cosy crime.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, they’re great, actually. Look, turning away from the specific books to your wider career. Did you have any period as an academic historian or are you still working as an academic historian?
M.J. Porter: No, I’ve never been an academic historian. I did my degree, then I did my master’s, and one day I would very like to do my PhD, but I’ve got to fit that in amongst all the other things that I’m trying to do.
One of my favorite authors is Terry Pratchett. And when you read the beginning of his books, he lists all the jobs he did before he became an author and none of them are anything to do with writing.
Writing the books she wanted to read
And I’m a bit like that. I’ve had a lot of what’s the word I’m trying to say? Admin jobs and things like that. Nothing really, I’ve always been a reader. Since I was about 10 years old, my uncle gave me some books for my birthday, and I devoured them, and I’ve devoured lots of books ever since then.
I read a lot, and the reason that I first wanted to write is because I struggled to find the books I wanted to read. I just thought, oh I can write something better. I should just get on with it and didn’t realize quite how hard it was going to be. so nothing in my in my job roles has prepared me for this other than I love history and I love reading.
So that’s why I started doing it.
Jenny Wheeler: And you have done some 20th century mysteries as well. What was the very first book that you got published?
M.J. Porter: My very first book is what’s it called? This is the problem. It’s called The Earl of Mercia Father, but it’s an indie book. It’s not with a publisher. It’s one that I did myself and it’s been redone three times because I have to keep changing bits because I write other bits and they don’t fit in with it anymore.
My 20th century mysteries they’re indie published. They’re ones I’ve done. And they were lockdown projects and I think a lot of people during lockdown went, Oh, I’m going to, I’m going to just try something a little bit different. So it all started. It’s a very bizarre story. It all started.
My dad sent me some old magazines, which were called The Picture Post and they were published in the 1940s and the 1950s. One of the things in them were all the beautiful adverts and they were lovely.
One of them was for Bird’s Custard. All of these adverts showed a small child doing something like playing a sporting game or for the boys they’re always playing sports and for the girls they’re always helping mum in the kitchen.
The Custard Corpses – a lock down cosy
And I kept looking at them and kept looking at them and then I devised this narrative for a story so that’s what I did.
I thought I’m gonna write a mystery around these books. I wanted it to be lovely and cozy and I’ve got to be honest, it’s not that cozy because the resolution to the mystery is actually quite horrible.
But that was how it started. So I did the Custard Corpses and then I did the Automobile Assassination which is based around we’ve got a car recovery play organization called The Automobile Association. That’s it. I was getting all my words confused. They’re like the RAC and the AA.
And I just thought they used to have these they’re like telephone boxes. They used to call them sentry boxes and if your car broke down then you could ring somebody and they would come out on their little motorbikes and they would fix you by the side of the road if they could. So that’s where that one stemmed from as well.
So yes, very bizarre. I’ve never thought I would write a book based on an advert and on the AA.
Jenny Wheeler: No, what was, sorry, what was the name of the custard? I didn’t quite get the word, something custard. What was it? Was it a?
M.J. Porter: Oh, it’s called the Custard Corpses.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, the Custard Corpses. Oh gosh. Yeah. Yeah.
M.J. Porter: Doesn’t sound very cozy, does it?
Jenny Wheeler: Not two things you usually associate with one another. Look, turning to M.J. as reader, we like to always ask our guests about their taste in reading and if they’ve got things they’d like to recommend to our listeners.
What MJ is reading now
M.J. Porter: Okay, so I don’t tend to read in my genre all the time because it’s quite difficult to read and write the same thing. As I’ve said, I love a good cozy mystery. I like them if they’re historical. I also like any historical mystery. There’s a couple that I’ve been reading of late. I’m going to shout out to another fellow Boldwood author who’s called Michelle Salter and her series is set just after the First World War and a lot of it is around women’s rights and suffragettes and suffrage and things like that. I love that series.
There’s another series that I like written by Sarah Hawkswood, and it’s actually set way back in time in the 12th century. It tends to take place on the borderland with Wales and then she’s got a lovely way that the characters speak.
She’s made them sound historical, and the first one that I read, I thought, oh, not sure about this, but you get into it, and it’s, they’re really lovely stories, so I like that. I also like quite a lot of contemporary Cosy stuff. I’ll be reading that. I’ve just read something called Murder on the Farm, which is all about lambing season that I really enjoyed.
And then I step back into my genre sometimes, and I’ve got a couple of favorites. I love Simon Turney. He’s quite often more Roman than Saxon. He does do a bit of Vikings. I like him and he’s got a new one coming out on his in his Damned Emperor series, which I’m very excited to read. I like him. And then I’ve got the new Theo Brun book to read as well.
So I’m looking forward to that. So that’s my genre. So I read those when I tend not to be writing. And then when I’m writing, I tend to read a lot of cozy crime.
Jenny Wheeler: Actually, I did notice that on your website, you’ve got a page where you put up the front covers of a lot of the books you’re reading, which was quite a fascinating thing. I’d picked up Theodore Brun there and thought that there’s quite a few there that I thought, Oh, these look like great possibilities for interviews in the future.
M.J. Porter: Oh, absolutely. Yes. I like to keep my Goodreads up to date with what I’m reading so people can see what I’m doing, but they’ll also see that I’ll pick up a book and then I’ll not finish it. And then I’ll come back to it later, but it’s just what I’m feeling.
Looking down the time tunnel. What would MJ change?
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back down the tunnel of time, if there was one thing you’d change about your writing career, what would it be?
M.J. Porter: I find this one really hard cause I don’t know, cause there are lots of things that I wish I’d known, but also. If I didn’t learn them when I learned them, then I wouldn’t be where I am now. So it’s quite difficult. I think probably the main thing that I would say is I wish I’d. I’d invested more in my indie career to start with and not played a lot of the looking for an agent looking for a publisher game, I should have just got on with the things that I had some control over.
And when you indie publish obviously you have a lot more control so I think I should have just been better at that is about the most honest thing that I can say. But, equally, as I said, if I hadn’t done everything the way that I’ve done it, I don’t think I’d be where I am now.
Jenny Wheeler: Tell me what is next for M.J. as author looking ahead for this next 12 months, what have you got on your desk?
M.J. Porter: For the next 12 months, I do quite a lot of writing, so this list might become a bit long, but my intention is I’m currently working on Icel Book #6. So that’s the sequel to Protector Of Mercia.
And then. I want to go back to my Last King series. I’ve left my character in a right pickle. It’s taken me about a year to even start thinking about how I can get him out of it.
You always think, oh, it’s a great ending, but then the next bit I’m not too sure about. I’ve definitely got those two.
I’ve also got a nonfiction book that’s coming out in January, which I’m really excited about. It’s about The 10th century Women Who Made England is how I’m titling it.
I’m very excited about that. I’m considering doing another nonfiction book, but I’m torn. I’ve got two things that I’m thinking about. I think it will be where my research goes.
MJ is busy – Loaded with new projects
And then I want to start on a new project as well, which will be maybe more Dark Ages, as we were discussing earlier, the bit we don’t know so much about, so not the legend of Arthur. I don’t want to do that, but I do want to look at what’s going on.
And there’s a lot of research at the moment. All the archeology is contradicting everything that’s written down. There’s things there that I can definitely get on with.
So I’ll be busy, but I like to be busy.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. So how many books do you like to try and publish a year?
M.J. Porter: I can’t remember the answer to this one because I keep changing it. I think there was a point where I could maybe write six books a year, but I’m not doing that now. I think I’ve scaled it back a little bit. I think I like to try and do about four because there’s so much editing involved working with bold words.
It’s slowing me down a little bit. I’m not objecting to it. I’m just saying it’s slowing me down a little bit, but it’s also teaching me a lot I’m going to aim for four. I’ve got lots of series that I leave all my characters for about a year and then I always promise my readers I will get back to them.
And the worst thing that I’ve done is I’ve got another series, the one that started with Ealdorman Athelwine, and I didn’t write another book for three years. It was so hard to go back. In the end, I had to give up and read the previous book because I couldn’t remember what had happened.
I plan never to do that again.
Jenny Wheeler: Four books a year is still a very big mission when they’re the sort of books that you’re writing, which are fairly dense in content in terms of the, descriptions and the historical fact.
M.J. Porter: Yes, I think you, you probably right. I also feel that I’ve got to the stage now where I’ve written so much about this period in time that it’s almost becomes like my own little universe. So yes, there’s historical facts in there, but a lot of the characters, they might reference something that’s happened earlier in a different book or a different series.
Where you can find MJ online
Jenny Wheeler: Now the one question we always like to ask, do you enjoy interacting with your readers and where can they find you online?
M.J. Porter: I certainly do. I was thinking about this earlier as well because you used to be able to find me most often on Twitter, but obviously Twitter’s not quite what it used to be. But the worst thing about my Twitter is not that. It’s that I’ve got a quite a bizarre handle, which is at colors of unison, but it’s colors spelled the British way.
So it’s C O L O U R S O F U N I S O N, which is actually related to my fantasy book, so I’ve had that one for quite a long time. But you can find me on all the other social media channels and I tend to be either MJ Porter Author or M with dashes somewhere amongst there. So I would recommend people, the easiest thing to do is just put mjporterauthor.com into your browser and you’ll find my website and then you can find me wherever else you want to find me as well.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s great. Thank you, MJ. That’s wonderful. Thanks so much for joining us today and being on the show. It’s been fantastic to hear about the dark ages.
M.J. Porter: Thank you very much for inviting me. I’ve had such a wonderful time. Thank you.
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Jenny Wheeler: That’s it for today. Remember if you enjoy the show, leave us a review, so others will find us too. See you next time and happy reading.