Sharon Penman, author of A King’s Ransom, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sharon Penman

author of A King’s Ransom, The Sunne in Splendour, Prince of Darkness and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in New York City and grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey in its pre-casino days. I have a B.A. in history from the University of Texas and a J.D. degree from Rutgers School of Law. I practiced law in New Jersey  and California for about four years, although it felt much longer; I considered it penance for my sins, past, present, and future!

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I always wanted to be a writer, but I never expected to be able to make a living as one.   When you hear those stories about artists starving in garrets, they usually have writers as roommates.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Sharon Penman

That life was black or white with few shades of grey in-between.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

I find music very inspirational and soothing, too, if I am struggling with the dreaded Writer’s Block.  I usually have classical music playing in the background as I write and sometimes medieval music.  For my last novel, A King’s Ransom, I often listened to the haunting lament that Richard Coeur de Lion wrote while he was held prisoner in Germany; it can be found on YouTube here: Greensleeves is another song that is often heard at my house. I think photography is an art form, too, and my home is decorated with many stunning photos of Wales done by a Welsh photographer friend of mine, Dave O’Shea.  I often found myself gazing at them as I worked on my trilogy set in medieval Wales during the thirteenth century.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I am definitely not a Renaissance woman; I cannot sing, dance, paint, etc. But I have always felt the urge—the need—to write. I wrote my first short story at age six or seven, about a horse named Queen. I wrote my first novel in my early teens; thankfully that one has long since vanished, for I suspect it would be highly embarrassing to read it today.

Wanting to write was only half of the equation, though. I also needed something I wanted to write about. I did not find that until I was in college, when I stumbled onto the story of Richard III. I was interested enough to want to find out more about him and discovered, to my surprise, that there was no proof that his nephews had been murdered, much less that he had done the deed. I was so indignant that I began telling my friends about this terrible injustice done this long-dead medieval king. They had a uniform response; they said, “Richard who?” and then their eyes began to glaze over. So it was then that I had my epiphany—that this was the story I was supposed to write. Twelve years later, it would be published as The Sunne in Splendour and I was no longer a reluctant lawyer; I was a very happy author.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

My latest published novel was A King’s Ransom, the sequel to Lionheart and my final book in my series about the first Plantagenets, Henry II and his controversial queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, sometimes known as the Devil’s Brood.  I’d initially intended to end their history with the third book,  but they had other ideas and so I found myself writing a five book trilogy about them!  I am currently working on a novel set in the kingdom of Jerusalem in the twelfth century, Outremer—the  Land Beyond the Sea.  After that, I hope to resurrect the career of the hero of my medieval mysteries, Justin de Quincy, who first appeared in The Queen’s Man, the queen in question being the above-mentioned Eleanor of Aquitaine. I love doing the mysteries, for they give me greater freedom to exercise my imagination than the historicals do, and I am delighted that they are finally available as e-books in Australia and the United Kingdom, thanks to the diligence of my new publisher, Head of Zeus.

Grab a copy of Sharon Penman’s novel A King’s Ransom here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope that my novels awaken in readers an interest in history in general and medieval history in particular. I am always so pleased when readers tell me that one of my novels inspired them to want to learn more about the characters or the era itself. History matters. We can learn from it if we are lucky.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

There are so many writers whom I admire. Mark Twain for being Mark Twain.  The Bronte sisters for defying a world in which women were not expected or allowed to be creative.  Harper Lee for writing a novel that I consider well-nigh perfect, To Kill a Mockingbird.   Geraldine Brooks for taking me back in time to seventeenth century New England in Caleb’s Crossing, and Alice Hoffman for doing the same in her novel of Masada, The Dovekeepers.   Bernard Cornwell for writing the best battle scenes I’ve ever read.  I am an avid reader as well as a writer, and am grateful that there are so many good writers out there.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

World peace? No, I do not think I’ve ever set very ambitious goals for myself as a writer; I was willing to settle for reasonable ones.  I want to entertain and inform readers, to share my love of history.  I think historical novels are a form of time-travel, so writers of that genre have a responsibility to their readers be as accurate as possible.  I write of people who once lived and I feel a sense of responsibility to them, too, since their lives are the clay that I use to create my books. A fellow writer, Laurel Corona, said it perfectly: Do not defame the dead.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Persevere. Remember that writing is as subjective as it is solitary, so reviewers and critics and editors are not always right, but pick your battles, especially with editors. Bear in mind that there has not been a writer ever born whose book could not benefit from editing. Take comfort from the knowledge that writing is a skill that can be honed by practice, rather like polishing a diamond. And be thankful that you are writing now in an age where you are not totally dependent upon the good will or judgment of publishers; for the first time, writers have options, among them the opportunity to reach out directly to readers via social media. I see that as a very good thing   Facebook has allowed me to become friends with so many of my Australian readers in a way that would not have been possible even ten years ago, and they have done more to promote my books Down Under than an army of agents or publicists.

Sharon, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of A King’s Ransom here

A King’s Ransom

by Sharon Penman

Travelling home from the crusades, Richard was shipwrecked off the coast of Austria, after an encounter with pirates. Richard should have been under the Church’s protection, but in Outremer he had given the Duke of Austria good reason to loathe him and he was captured. He was immediately claimed by the Holy Roman Emperor, who also bore a grudge against the captive English king. Richard was to spend fifteen months imprisoned.

For a man of his fiery nature, it was truly shameful. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, began to move heaven and earth to raise a staggering ransom, travelling to Germany herself to buy the release of her favourite son. But it was not to be that easy. At the eleventh hour, Heinrich announced that he had had a better offer from the French king, Philippe, and Richard’s own treacherous brother, John, offering Heinrich an even larger sum to continue Richard’s captivity – or to turn him over to their tender mercies.

Grab a copy of A King’s Ransom here

Have you won a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker? How about a Divergent DVD Pack?

We love giving away stuff at Booktopia, and with a little help from our friends we’ve always got some exciting comps and promos happening.

During August we gave you the chance to win 1 of 3 Divergent DVD Packs and a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker valued at $699!!!


A Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

Thanks to our friends at HarperCollins Australia, all you had to do to enter the draw to win a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Valued at $699 was buy Tex-Mex from Scratch and Texas BBQ!

And the lucky winner is:

O.D.Rosa, Stratford, QLD

Grab a copy of Tex-Mex from Scratch or Texas BBQ here


Divergent DVD Packs

To celebrate the August 27 release of Divergent on DVD, our friends at Entertainment One gave you the chance to win a Divergent DVD Pack by buying any of the books in the Divergent series (Adult Editions)!

And the lucky winners are:

J.Chen, Earlwood, NSW
S.Howarth, Stonyfell, SA
J.Rados, Inglewood, WA

Congratulations to the winners!
For your chance to enter a Booktopia Competition click here

Official Trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 released

Seriously, do we need to say anything? Roll the tape.

We learnt this…

1) Jennifer Lawrence is awesome.

2) Liam Hemsworth is doing pretty well without Miley.

2) Donald Sutherland is the creepiest guy in The Capitol.

3) We miss Philip Seymour Hoffman.

4) In the future, either planes become exceedingly easy to be brought down, or arrows are the most powerful weapon known to man.

But wait, you want to learn more? We have a in depth analysis of the plot, characters and themes, with spoilers.

Here it is…

the-hunger-gamesThe Hunger Games

Hunger Games Special Edition Slipcase

by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing each of them to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteenyear- old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games.

Grab a copy of The Hunger Games Special Edition Slipcase here


Exclusive video: Kate Forsyth chats to John Purcell about her new series The Impossible Quest

Kate Forsyth is one of Australia’s favourite authors and one of the most successful working today, thanks to a rather large royalty cheque from Russia. She chats with John Purcell about that cheque and book 1 of her new series for children The Impossible Quest: Escape from Wolfhaven Castle.

Grab a copy of Escape from Wolfhaven Castle here

escape-from-wolfhaven-castleEscape from Wolfhaven Castle

by Kate Fosyth

Tell your lord to beware, the wolves smell danger in the wind.

Wolfhaven Castle has been attacked, and only four escape capture … Tom, trained to scrub pots, not fight; Elanor, the Lords daughter; Sebastian, a knight in training and Quinn, the witchs apprentice.

Somehow, if they are to save their people, these unlikely heroes must find four magical beasts from legend. But first, they have to make it out of the castle alive…

Best-selling, award-winning storyteller, Kate Forsyth, weaves battles, beasts and bravery in this epic new five-book series.

Grab a copy of Escape from Wolfhaven Castle here

Tune into the ABC tonight for Brilliant Creatures

The cultural cringe will be closely examined on the ABC tonight in Brilliant Creatures, a documentary on Australia’s propensity to send its intellectuals packing.

Hosted and largely conceived by British novelist Howard Jacobson, Brilliant Creatures is a two-part look at the endowments to and departures from Australia by four of its very best minds: Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Barry Humphries, Clive James.


Germaine Greer

The Female Eunich
by Germaine Greerthe-female-eunuch

A worldwide bestseller, translated into over twelve languages, The Female Eunuch is a landmark in the history of the women’s movement.

Drawing liberally from history, literature and popular culture, past and present, Germaine Greer’s searing examination of women’s oppression is at once an important social commentary and a passionately argued masterpiece of polemic.

Probably the most famous, most widely read book on feminism ever.


Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes

The Fatal Shore
by Robert Hughesthe-fatal-shore

In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonize Australia…

An epic description of the brutal transportation of men, women and children out of Georgian Britain into a horrific penal system which was to be the precursor to the Gulag and was the origin of Australia.

The Fatal Shore is the prize-winning, scholarly, brilliantly entertaining narrative that has given its true history to Australia.



Barry Humphries

Handling Edna
by Barry Humphries

An intimate and penetrating examination of the world’s most famous woman, Dame Edna Everage, by the man who knows her best.


In this unauthorised biography, acquired for an unprecedented advance and in spectacular secrecy, long-time manager and the man who was there from the very beginning, Barry Humphries takes a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred look at an icon of our times – Dame Edna Everage.

Superstar, swami, confidante and advisor to royalty, Hollywood stars and international political leaders, Dame Edna s life has catapulted her far from her humble Moonee Ponds beginnings as a suburban housewife to the most elite social and artistic circles in the world. Who would have thought that this modest Australian woman could achieve so much from London to Louisiana to New York to Tokyo? Who could have anticipated her global fame? Barry Humphries certainly didn’t.



Clive James

Unreliable Memoirs
by Clive James

The first volume of Clive James’s autobiography.

‘I was born in 1939. The other big event of that year was the outbreak of the Second World War, but for the moment, that did not affect me.’unreliable-memoirs

In the first instalment of Clive James’s memoirs, we meet the young Clive, dressed in short trousers, and wrestling with the demands of school, various relatives and the occasional snake, in the suburbs of post-war Sydney. His adventures are hilarious, his recounting of them even more so, in this – the book that started it all…





Howard Jacobson

by Howard Jacobson

A life-changing novel by one of Britain’s greatest novelists, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2010.

Set in the future, a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited, J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying.

Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn’t know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn’t jthen, and isn’t now, the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn’t ask who hurt her. Brutality has grown commonplace. They aren’t sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they’ve been pushed into each other’s arms. But who would have pushed them, and why?

Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe – a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened.

Were you a winner during our Kids Month celebrations?

Kids Month_PromoLarge_Mobile

In August we gave you the chance to enter our Kids Month promotions! Lots and lots of goodies were up for grabs!

And the lucky winners are…

The Peppa Pig Competition - S. Moors, Mosman Park, WA

The Walker Picture Book Showcase Competition – E. Serisier, New Farm, QLD

Clementine Rose Competition - Y. Tanuwidjaja, Melbourne, VIC

Slaves of Socorro Competition – M. Mahmood, Williams Landing, VIC

The DK Non-Fiction Range Competition – B.Duffy, Conder, ACT

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Competition – S. M. Lambert, Oyster Bay, NSW

Silver Shadows  Competition – M. Morley, Mordialloc, VIC

*The winners of the Where’s Wally Competition will be announced as soon as possible.

Congratulations to the winners!
For your chance to enter a Booktopia Competition click here

Graeme Simsion chats to us about The Rosie Effect and an update on The Rosie Project – The Movie!

Grab a copy of The Rosie Effect here

The Rosie Effect

by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are back. If you were swept away by Graeme Simsion’s international smash hit The Rosie Project, you will love The Rosie Effect.

The Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge.

Rosie is pregnant.

Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie.

As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia back together, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him most.

Get ready to fall in love all over again.

Grab a copy of The Rosie Effect here


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