"Fast-paced, deep character development, page-turning action, what more do you need." —Netgalley review
The Last King
They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough.
Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.
Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.
To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.
In the author's words
Q&A with MJ Porter
Were there alternative endings you considered for this book? What were they and why did you change them?
When I first decided to write The Last King, my initial idea was to make it a lengthy volume, covering the entire time period that King Coelwulf was king of Mercia. But, I quickly changed my mind, and considered turning it into a trilogy. If I’d written only one book, or just a trilogy, it would have resulted in a very different ending, and also a different story to the one the reader ultimately gets.
After finishing the first book, I realized it was fun to write about the characters and I changed all my expectations about how I was going to cover the time period. Readers now have four books all taking place very quickly, one after another, but still in AD874. It means that there’s more scope for future books, which is fantastic, because I don’t want to stop writing about Coelwulf, and I have nearly of decade of his life to cover.
What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?
The greatest challenge about being a writer is to stay motivated and positive. This is a hard business, and people will knock you, or try to knock you all the time, and it’s not always intentional.
There have been occasions, most notably four years ago, when I really didn’t think I could do it anymore following some niggles from a review website and a bad experience with a literary agent, on top of other things. It was so hard, and there was so much negativity, and obviously, financially, it can be a real burden when you’re starting out. I hope that I’ve managed to overcome it, even if only for now, and I’ve certainly learned resilience and that it’s okay to believe in yourself and your characters.
What special challenges did you face making your story stand out from others in the genre?
The Last King is set in AD874 in Mercia, and that’s prime Bernard Cornwell and the Last Kingdom territory. For many years, I stayed well away from covering the same historical period because it was firstly, daunting, and secondly, because I would need to do something different with the characters than have a running battle between Christianity and Paganism, kings and Raiders (Vikings), which isn’t that easy when that’s what people are expecting to happen.
Luckily, an archaeological find in 2015 (the Watlington horde), has already put a fresh spin on the time period, but I still needed to make it both different, and similar. I wanted to write a bloodier, more violent book, and one where the focus wasn’t all on politics and political one-upmanship.
I first had the idea of writing about King Coelwulf, in 2017 after finishing writing The Lady of Mercia’s Daughter, but although I picked up the idea a few times, it didn’t seem to quite work. And then I had a break through, where two of my characters came to me in a particular scene (not even a very exciting one), and from there, the rest grew. But I was still searching for something unique, and it was while watching The Gentleman film directed by Guy Ritchie, that I had the idea for giving a hook straight away, and then telling the story of how the characters came to be in that situation. I know that readers really enjoy it. I also think that the ‘potty mouths’ the warriors have make it standout from others, as does the humour.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
When I first began writing, it was a laborious process. I wanted everything to be perfect before I committed it to the laptop, and I fell into the trap of editing everything I’d written previously, before I could start writing afresh.
I don’t do this anymore. I’ve learned that my stories come together in the edits, of which there are three or four extensive ones before I count a project as ready to share with beta readers. For me, it’s about honing my characters and storyline once the outline story is written, and once I’ve determined how the story will develop. I am not a planner although I always have an end in mind, but it can change if the characters or the storyline evolve away from it, and I let them, or rather, they just do it without my say so.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have two half-finished books at the moment, the one I’m working on, and one that I started last year. Both of them are not my usual genre – one is historical fantasy and the other is a historical murder-mystery. The first one remains unfinished because The Last King and the follow-up books took over much of my writing time throughout 2020. I will get back to it, soon. I quite like knowing I’ve got something in the background that I could polish and publish if I ever needed to. The other story will, hopefully, be finished sooner. Both of them have been NaNoWriMo projects, when I allow myself a month off from my usual writing to try something a bit different. I find it refreshing and reinvigorating.
I also have some other projects that range from being just a title, to those where I’ve written maybe 10,000 words before putting them to one side, and at the moment I’m also working on the next Earls of Mercia book.
I’m an author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest). I was born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since 1066. Raised in the shadow of a strange little building, told from a very young age that it housed the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia and that our garden was littered with old pieces of pottery from a long-ago battle, it’s little wonder that my curiosity in Early England ran riot. I can only blame my parents!
I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!
Genre: Historical Thriller
Series: The Ninth Century, Book One
Release Date: April 23, 2020
Content Rating: R-2
Enter to win a copy of The Last King by M.J. Porter! Two paperbacks are up for grabs!
The giveaway is open to US only and ends on January 22, 2021. You must be 18 or older to enter. Void where prohibited by law. This giveaway is sponsored by the author and hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
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