Monday, November 25, 2013

First Official Review of Birthright

This review appeared on Beattie's Book Blog this morning.

“Birthright”, by T. K. Roxborogh (Penguin NZ) is the final in Tania Roxborogh’s Shakespeare inspired Banquo’s Son Trilogy, which tells the story of Fleance, son of Banquo from Macbeth. In Birthright, Fleance is the now beleaguered king of Scotland, fighting to save his crown, his people, his family, and his love. It is a fitting conclusion to an excellent series and should leave all who have followed this story through feeling very satisfied.

The book is told from a variety of points of view, including Fleance (our hero), Rosie (his great love), Rachel (his queen), Robert Graham (his enemy), Bree (his disgruntled young sister-in-law) and the three witches (who link it strongly to the story of Macbeth.) In short, well written sections, each narrator helps unfold a tale of deceit, intrigue, war and love, to bring about a very satisfying immersion into the world of medieval Scotland.

The research is seamless and never gets in the way of the story, while the tone and multiple voices all feel very authentic and believable. There is a cleanness to the writing that allows emotions to rise to the surface and a frankness that makes it feel very real. People need to slip off for a pee in the story, or stink of toil and war. It doesn’t gloss over the trials of childbirth either, or the horror and waste of lives brought about by the power plays of the ruling class. Yet it’s never so gory or disgusting that it distracts, merely adds an extra narrative dimension that makes it a more memorable and fully immersed experience for the reader.

This is a world class book that deserves wide readership, both by its intended YA audience and for any adult who likes a well written and moving historical novel.

About the reviewer:
Mandy Hager  has written eight novels, as well as short stories, scripts, and non-fiction resources for young people. She won the Esther Glen Award for Fiction for her novel Smashed and Best Young Adult Book in the 2010 NZ Post Book Awards for The Crossing, the first book in the popular ‘Blood of the Lamb’ trilogy. Her 2012 novel, The Nature of Ash, was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in the Young Adult Fiction category, and won the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction award. Her latest book, Dear Vincent (2013), about painting, suicide and Vincent Van Gogh, was written with the support of the 2012 Beatson Fellowship.

Mandy has been awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship for 2014 and she is one of the best writers for YA I'd read. I urge you to read her work if you haven't already. I put her in the same category as John Green. Seriously. Smashed and Dear Vincent grabbed me, knocked me around and left me changed forever.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Birthright born!!

Last night, we launched Birthright officially out into the world.

Here is the evidence:
Me signing
My eldest, Mackenna and my hubby, Phillip

My youngest, Brianna and a friend

Flowers from my dept and school. Cupcakes made by Dunedin Cupcake Company.
You can watch the presentations here (Kay Mercer of Dunedin Public Libraries introducing me and then reading a letter from my publisher, Penguin. And then you can go here to listen to my daughter Mackenna launch the book and my response. I include the text of my speech below as well:

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā waka, e tau nei. tenā koutou, tenā koutou, tenā tātou katoa.

When I was at primary school, I remember watching a British children's TV series about an invalided girl who was confined to her bed. She could only see the world outside through her window.  However, her mother gave her a sketching set and that's when the trouble began: what she drew came into existence the next day: a lighthouse, a boy in that lighthouse, rocks which later became angry rocks with eyes and the ability to move and hunt. I also loved the illustrated childrens' book, Harold and the Magic Crayon: a wordless story about a curious four year old boy, who with his purple crayon, created a world of his own simply by drawing it.

Back then, I was fascinated by the idea that one could have power to make things happen even though one might be powerless in other ways. As a child who was often at a place of sadness and fear, the possibility of being able to create a better, happier world was as strong a desire as perhaps those of you who wished that you could fly.

The television programme and the book were also cautionary tales: and relevant today because the warning, careful what you wish for or careful what you say and think.... it might just come true, is, in some respects the blessing and curse of being a writer.

When I woke that morning way back in 2008 from a dream of a young boy hunting a deer in the forest, knowing that he was Banquo's Son and wondering where he'd been for ten years, I had no idea how big a story it was to become, how difficult it was going to be to write and how hard I and my family would find the road on which we had to travel for the next six years.

It has taken that long: from first inkling of an epic tale to the launch of this, the third and final book.

Banquo's Son was banged out most of one summer; Bloodlines took a year to write but Birthright has been a more reluctant issue: when I started it, I thought I knew what the characters would say and do and think but, who am I? I'm really just a mug who has all these people rattling around in my head trying to sort out their problems. And they were the big problems too: the ones we ask ourselves during those dark sleepless nights when we feel most alone; most isolated; most afraid. Questions like: why do bad things keep happening to me? Why should I be the one who has to carry the load? What's wrong with wanting to pull the duvet over my head and stay in bed? And, probably the toughest and most honest question of all: If God is all mighty and loving, where the bloody hell is he?

It felt, a lot of the time, that Fleance, Rachel, Rosie and, later, Bree, were looking to me to help them find the answers to these questions. All I could do, I confess, is think up the most awful situations to put them in and watch them deal with it - I think it's called tough love. It's what we writers do. Perhaps we are a little like the Boss in Katherine's The Fly or as Glouster says bitterly in King Lear: 'As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.'

But, I am also a person of hope. And I want happy endings. You can't appreciate a happy ending, I think, if you haven't suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune first. So, I apologise in advance for what you are about to experience in the reading of Birthright but I hope that, like me, you too will be left with a few tears among the smiles as you turn the last page.

Before I shut up and sit down, I want to publically acknowledge some people - many of whom are in the author's acknowledgment - the part that only other writers read:
I admit I'm not a bad storyteller but I could not have produced this without my publisher Penguin and my wonderful editor Katie Howarth and her team of intrepid editors and proof-readers. I spent so long in my head with this story and I had so many false starts that I did lose my way a bit. Katie, patient and astute, drew me back onto the straight and narrow - there will not be horses lost or misplaced in this book, I can guarantee you. I am so fortunate to have had Katie helping me these past few years and she should also be credited with how beautiful the story and the novel turned out. It's so purty!

This book is dedicated to the memory of Chloe Anson - a remarkable young woman and a talented writer who I met in 2006 and whose company I enjoyed for a number of years as she made her way up the secondary school. I am so glad I got to tell her how the trilogy ends. I want her parents and family to know that this is my way of keeping alive all that Chloe meant to me and I hope they will take some comfort in this, my meagre offering to honour her.

I also wish to publically thank and honour my husband Phillip who has (reluctantly I'm sure at times) stood steadfastly beside me and often behind me holding me up. Together we have navigated this tumultuous time of parenting teenagers, managing careers, studying at university and living with me, a writer who spends as much time in other places inside my head as I do in the real world. As much as I had a crush on Fleance, Phillip, he doesn't hold a candle to you.

My daughters, Mackenna and Brianna, have watched their mother battle with those questions I mentioned earlier - both in the writing of the books but also in my own life. But, like my main characters, they possess a indomitable spirit and absolutely goodness that can not be extinguished by the cruel and incomprehensible behaviour of others. I'm so proud of you two.

I have put away the purple crayon and I promise I won't get out the sketch pad for a while although how long I can hold at bay the other stories and characters who wait in the wings, I can not say.

Thank you to Kay Mercer and the Dunedin Public Libraries, our host and thanks also to UBS for always supporting local and NZ writers. I am glad you all could join me tonight as I kick - I mean - launch this final chapter of Flea's story into the big wide world.

Ko te mutanga tēnei
Kia ora

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Birthright picked third in list of top 50 books for children and young adults, 2013

50 best children’s books 2013

Ann Packer picks the year’s reading highlights for children and young adults.

THIRD Faithful to the spirit of Shakespeare, BIRTHRIGHT (Puffin, $35)concludes TK Roxborogh’s Banquo’s Son trilogy of life in Scotland following the murder of Macbeth. Fleance’s Queen Rachel, suffering from severe pregnancy sickness, insists on ministering to those struck down by a disease conjured up by the same weird sisters who foretold Macbeth’s demise. The resolution of the love triangle involving “Flea”, his queen and his childhood sweetheart Rosie makes for a satisfying conclusion to the Dunedin author’s magnificent obsession.

I like this all being described as my 'magnificent obsession'. Read the list here

Monday, September 30, 2013

Birthright has arrived - well my advance copy has!

Boy, it's been a long gestation, this trilogy. I'm glad it's finally over and am thankful for the team at Penguin NZ for making the book so purty. (Though I don't because I've just walked up from the University. But, what a treat to find this in my letter box).

And, because it's been a long time between drinks, I thought I'd give you:
The story so far
The story begins in 1053, when Fleance is living with his adoptive parents and sister in the woods of northern England. Despite knowing who he is – the son of the murdered Thane of Lochaber – Fleance keeps his identity secret for fear that those who killed his father Banquo, and tried to kill him, are still seeking his life. He is in love with Rosie, the daughter of a wainwright, and is on the verge of asking for her hand in marriage when the ghost of his father appears. This apparition and the nightmares that have plagued him since he fled Scotland spur Fleance to action – he must go back to the land of his birth and try to find out why his father died. He rides north, leaving behind a broken-hearted Rosie and her furious father.

In Scotland, Fleance finds the answer he is seeking: it was the tyrant Macbeth who had Banquo murdered. In his quest for the truth, Fleance is reunited with his boyhood friend, Blair, saves the life of Duncan, nephew of King Malcolm, and is introduced to Duncan’s sisters, Rachel and Bree.
During the months of Fleance’s absence Rosie’s parents have moved back to Scotland and settled in Perth as innkeepers. Fleance’s identity is revealed, and since he believes his life is no longer in danger, he sets out to return to Rosie as promised. But on the way to Perth he is attacked by a hired assassin. Fleance is badly wounded and lost in the forest for days. By the time he reaches the inn, Rosie has returned to England, believing that Fleance has broken his promise.

Within a matter of months the ailing King Malcolm dies, and his brother, the mad, witchcraft-obsessed Donalbain, suffers a fatal blow to the head when he tries to kill Fleance. Duncan is crowned king, just as Scotland’s royal army prepares for battle against a rebel army.

Meanwhile, Rosie arrives at the castle with Fleance’s adoptive sister, Keavy. Rosie has been in England nursing Fleance’s adoptive mother through a fatal illness, and now Keavy is without a guardian. Fleance agrees to take care of her and promises that when the battle is over, he will find Rosie and they will be together.

During the battle, the king’s army learn that the rebels are supported by Norway and its king, who for a number of years has been disguised as Calum, an aide to Duncan’s father, Donalbain. This is not the only truth revealed on the battlefield: Magness, Fleance’s adoptive father, is the leader of the rebel army that has come against the crown. Before either of these men can be killed or captured, they escape. Though his army is victorious, the newly crowned Duncan is fatally wounded. Because Duncan has no heir, Fleance is next in line to the throne, and before the young king dies he bestows the crown and the hand of his sister Rachel to Fleance.

Fleance must make a decision: to go back to Rosie and a life of peace and happiness or to honour the dying wishes of his friend. The King of Scotland cannot marry the daughter of an innkeeper, and so Fleance chooses to put aside his own desires and follow the path of honour and duty, thus becoming King of Scotland.

Shaken by the rebellion, Fleance’s advisors insist that he marry Rachel to strengthen the royal line. He and Rachel enjoy a close relationship, but it is without the passion each of them has felt for another.
Shortly before their wedding, Rachel is kidnapped by Calum’s men and taken to Norway, where she is stripped of all her dignity. But when Calum needs her skills as a healer she is sent to the palace hospital to tend Norway’s soldiers wounded from battle.

In Scotland, Fleance is unable to discover what has happened to Rachel, and agrees to a suggestion that Blair and Rosie travel around the east of the kingdom in search of her. Meanwhile the rebel armies have gathered strength and Fleance must prepare for a second battle.

Once again the king’s army is victorious, and the rebel leader Magness is captured. As a traitor, Magness must be executed and, despite Keavy’s pleas for the life of their father, Fleance has him hanged.

Rosie and Blair discover that Rachel is being held in Norway, so Fleance travels in disguise to Calum’s realm. The only person in Scotland he tells of his plan is Preston, his loyal advisor. In Norway Fleance is captured, tortured and left to die. He is saved by Preston, who tricks Calum and dies in Fleance’s place. Escaping Calum’s stronghold, Fleance makes his way to Normandy and the court of William. There he finds Rachel, who had escaped Norway days before his arrival. The two are reunited and agree that they must marry.

Before Fleance can wed Rachel he decides he must free Rosie. He tells her that he no longer loves her and that their love was young and foolish. Angry and bereft, she returns the necklace he gave her for her birthday and curses him. Soon afterward, Rosie takes Blair’s hand in marriage.
Behind all these tumultuous events and always on the edges of the action, are the evil-hearted witches who first snagged Macbeth over a decade before

And, now, the intro to Book Three:

‘There are many stories, Sire, but nothing explains why some people take sick, why some get better, and some go mad and die . . .’

Scotland, 1055, and the kingdom is on the verge of collapse. There is rebellion in the south, a mysterious illness sweeps the land and some say that dark, supernatural powers are responsible.

Fleance, the young king, and his wife, Rachel, await the birth of their first child, but the queen is very ill and rumours fly about that the royal family is cursed. Fleance and Rachel must try to hold the realm together in the face of disease and treachery, both within and without the castle walls. Only a few loyal friends can be trusted, including the Thane of Lochaber and his wife, Rosie, whose very presence stirs up painful memories for Fleance.

Trouble is brewing – and not all who participate in the struggle will survive.

Birthright is the heart-stopping conclusion to T. K. Roxborogh’s epic Banquo’s Son series.
Order your copy here or go into The Childrens Bookshop Wellington