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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Historical Fiction

Nick Cisco (of Father Divine’s Bikes, by Steve Bassett)

38730511Dear readers, tonight with me is a police lieutenant from 1945 Newark, New Jersey. He’s here to tell us of the dark underbelly of a city that boomed during World War II but finds itself unable to cope with the peace that brings joblessness, despair and crime.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey. The sole child of first generation Italian immigrants, Angelo and Angelica Cisco. My father was a stevedore working the Port Newark docks, having turned his back on the easy money offered by an Italian mafia that began to strangle the city.

Like most immigrants’ kids, I got to know the city’s streets, empty lots and back alleys very well. They were our playground.

Did you have any favorite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I love the street sports, stickball and stoopball were my favorites. And they were cheap, we could all come up with the loose change needed for pink high-bouncers which were really the inner lining of tennis balls. You could find broom handles anywhere. I had a strong left arm and could really wing a bouncer off a stoop. I hardly ever lost a stoopball game.

What do you do now?

I’m a newly minted homicide detective moving over from the burglary detail during a shake-up of the police department by Mayor Vincent Murphy. I’m a cop, not by choice, but by circumstances including my marriage to Constance Margotta. This killed any chance to pursue the career I really wanted, art critic or curator. Continue reading “Nick Cisco (of Father Divine’s Bikes, by Steve Bassett)”

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Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis (of Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, by Jennifer C Wilson)

Dear readers, tonight with me is the ghost of the trusted lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots. She is here to tell us of royal life in in sixteenth century Scotland.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Ah, Scotland. We were a mobile household, but that’s what life was like in sixteenth century Scotland. I was one of seven, so they were lively times. That’s the thing about a good castle; what’s designed to protect and defend in times of siege and attack is great fun for children, left unsupervised by busy and worried parents. We ran riot. You ask about a favourite toy, but really, I wasn’t that keen on playing with toys; I preferred to lose myself in my thoughts, or play with my brothers and sisters. We practiced our courtly behaviour, making sure we were ready to take our places in society. You grew up fast in those days, especially when your brother was stepfather to the King of Scotland; we were practically royalty.

What do you do now?

It’s ironic, really, now, to be the trusted lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots, after what happened between her father and I. Happily, she believes that I never truly tried to kill him, and I was certainly never a witch. Queen Mary, she understands how times were, and is glad to have somebody by her side who can truly support her, with an empathy as to what she went through herself.

My days are largely my own, especially when the Queen is not in town. I don’t accompany her out of town, although I hope if she ever goes on a progress, that I would be able to attend her. When she is in town, I greet her each morning, we agree her itinerary for the day, and whether she needs any support from myself or Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, her right-hand-man these days. He’s such a good man; we make quite the team.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

Her Grace Queen Mary’s latest visit. She comes every year, at least once, usually during August, so she can enjoy what the festival has to offer. This year has been, interesting. She cares about her court, truly, but this year, the problems have been closer to home, what with her father’s mood lowering so badly, and then, well, other matters. We have all had to pull together, the ghosts of the Royal Mile. But then, that’s what we are good at. Whether it’s consoling the poor lad down in the tunnels, or keeping Greyfriar’s Bobby out of trouble, we know our roles, and we carry them out. Even the Covenanters know their place, once they are reminded of it.

And don’t forget the haunting. There’s nothing like a good haunting to lift the mood around here. They make it easy for us, with all the ghost tours; we can have our pick of victims, either the guides or the guided, depending on how we feel. Continue reading “Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis (of Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, by Jennifer C Wilson)”

Shawn Kleiner (of The Blue Bells Chronicles, by Laura Vosika)

Dear readers, tonight with me is the world famous trombonist, Shawn Kleiner. He is here to tell us of his recent trip to Scotland with his girlfriend Amy – and what happened when she stranded him in a Scottish castle tower overnight.


Tell us about your life—back before this whole story started.

At the time, I had it all. Or I thought I did, anyway. I was rich. Well, I still am. More money than I know what to do with—except of course, provide for James—that’s my son, he’s just over a year old now—and make sure he’s well prepared for what’s coming if I can’t stop it.

But look, I’m already thinking ahead. You’re asking about the past. At least, the recent past, not the past I’m talking about. Yeah, before this whole thing started—it seems like centuries ago. I was the featured soloist in this small Midwestern orchestra, and I made them great. Not bragging, just saying how it is.

So we were playing all over the country and all over the world, you know? I was onstage, girls loved me. And I was throwing these great parties and women were throwing themselves at me, I was having a great time and I had this reputation for incredible luck. Until I gambled my trombone away, just before a major concert on our tour in Scotland. I thought I couldn’t lose. And somehow I did. And Conrad was going to have a fit if I didn’t get it back and it just went downhill from there.

I lied to Amy—that’s my girlfriend—or was, it’s hard to say now—to get the trombone back and cover up and one thing and another, we ended up in the half-ruined tower of Glenmirril. I was going to completely win her over with a midnight picnic and instead, she got all pissed and took off, left me there in all this mist. And I woke up—well, I woke up in the wrong century.

You know most people don’t believe that. They know you have a reputation for making up stories. But if we did believe you—what century?

Yeah, well, God’s got a sense of humor, doesn’t He? One time I ever tell the truth is the one time no one will believe me. I woke up in 1314. June, to be exact, about two weeks before the Battle of Bannockburn. Continue reading “Shawn Kleiner (of The Blue Bells Chronicles, by Laura Vosika)”

Matthew Wansford (of The Order of the White Boar, by Alex Marchant)

Dear readers, tonight with me is boy of twelve years, a merchant’s son who always dreamt of being a knight. His chance came in the summer of 1482, when he joined Richard, Duke of Gloucester – the future King Richard III.

He’s here to tell us about his life at court and the deadly games of the Wars of the Roses.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I was born, and lived all my life until last summer, in my father’s house on Stonegate, one of the finest streets of my home town of York. My father may not be one of the wealthiest merchants in the city, but to me, it’s a beautiful house. It even has glass-paned casements that you can open in some of the front windows. If you open the one in our second-floor jetty (where I used to share a room with my brother Peter) and lean out as far as possible, you can just see the topmost tips of the towers of our great Minster – the cathedral of our city. Its bells you can hear resounding through the whole house at all hours of the day and night. Perhaps it seems strange, but that’s one of the things I miss most about being away. That and my family, of course, and my friends from the Minster song school.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

My most precious memories are of my mother – caring for my sister, brothers and me before… before she died. She was always a loving mother, even when our father was stern and seemed unyielding. When we did anything wrong, she would always talk him round so he was less harsh with his punishment. I think he welcomed that. He is quick to anger – and often regretted his swift actions. She would allow him a way out. His grief at her death after the birth of our little sister was painful to witness.

What do you do now?

Since my disgrace last summer, and my expulsion from the choir school, I have been honoured to serve as a page in the household of His Grace, Duke Richard of Gloucester, brother to our sovereign King Edward IV, at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale. As my father says, I have fallen on my feet. Undeservedly perhaps, given the shame I brought upon my family – and I never thought to have such luck.

I have always dreamed of becoming a knight – ever since I first could read the courtly romances and tales of chivalry in the books my father imports from the Low Countries and France. But I thought it would only ever be a dream – that I would live out my days as a clerk in my father’s business, or at best become a cantor at the Minster like my brother John. Yet now I am on the first step to becoming a knight and warrior like my esteemed master. Continue reading “Matthew Wansford (of The Order of the White Boar, by Alex Marchant)”

Tilla (of the Medicus Roman Mysteries series, by Ruth Downie)

Dear readers, tonight with me is the wife of an officer in Hadrian’s legions. We have interviewed her husband before, but we thought it only fair that we give her a voice too.

Born as Darlughdacha of the Corionotatae (really, she’s not quite sure why people prefer ‘Tilla’), on the furthest reaches of the Roman empire. Though married to a Roman officer, she is a healer (and now a Roman citizen) in her own right.

She is here to tell us about life bridging the British and Roman worlds.

This interview celebrates the release of Memento Mori, the 8th volume in the acclaimed Medicus series, which we’re just nuts about.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Well, it was NOT “some flea-bitten outpost beyond the last supply depot”, no matter what my husband’s friend might tell you.  One of the things I’ve learned about Romans is that they’re very good at having opinions on things they know nothing about.

Our farm used to overlook a beautiful wide river valley. I say ‘used to’ because there’s hardly a trace of any buildings there now. Sometimes when I listen to our old neighbours complaining about the emperor’s Great Wall across the land, I want to say to them, well at least you’ll never have to worry about the northerners coming in the night to steal your cattle and burn your house down, will you? But I‘ve learned to keep quiet.  Roman soldiers have a nasty habit of setting light to things, too. Which can be very awkward when you’re married to one of them.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I try not to think about when I was a child, because then I think about my brothers, and I start to wonder about the men they would have grown into and the girls they would have married and all the nieces and nephews that will never be, and as our Mam used to say, Nobody likes a girl who feels sorry for herself. I used to find that very annoying at the time, but it’s true.

What do you do now?

Ah. Even though I was the one who wanted the baby, I didn’t mean I wanted to have to look after her all day and all night, all the time. Sometimes it’s nice to think about something else. Sometimes it’s nice to get all the way to the end of a conversation without having to stop and wipe up somebody’s dribble or pat them on the bottom. So it’s much better now we have a babyminder.  I can go out and earn some money helping deliver other people’s babies, and when I’m not doing that I’m free to help my husband when he gets himself into trouble. Which he’s quite good at.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

We were asked to rush south to the spa town of Aquae Sulis, because my husband’s best friend was accused of murder. Really I think it was just my husband who was asked, but I guessed he would need some help, and I couldn’t leave the baby behind, so we all went.

What did you first think when you heard that Valens was accused of murdering his wife?

At first I thought, that’s impossible. Then I thought, but Valens was always a useless husband, and then I thought, surely being a useless husband and having opinions on things you know nothing about does not make you kill your wife.  But then my own husband found out more, and we both began to wonder.

What was the scariest thing in your adventures?

I would like to say it was the terrible thing that happened when my husband went missing, and that was indeed very frightening. But so was being tied up in a shed and lying awake listening to the rats. Of course I didn’t know my husband was going to go missing at the time. Perhaps that’s just as well. Is it possible to die of fright? I don’t want to find out.

What is the worst thing about being married to a doctor?

Usually it would be the people calling on him at strange hours, or the peculiar smells when he boils up medicines, or the disgusting topics of conversation. But the worst thing about being married to this doctor is the constant moving house. I thought things would improve when he left the Army, but we still don’t have a cow or even a vegetable patch.

What is the best thing about it?

I have seen parts of the world none of my own people will ever see. That is how I know that Britannia is best.

What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?

Beer, blue sky (rare and precious in my homeland) and singing songs about the great victories of my ancestors. My husband complains that the songs are very long, but my people have a lot of ancestors. We also had a lot of victories—until the Romans turned up. That is why we keep the memories alive: our children need to know where they come from, and that our land has not always been occupied by men from Rome.

What does the future hold for you?

I’d like to say a cow, a sunny vegetable patch and perhaps another baby. But I expect it will just be more packing and unpacking and getting my husband out of trouble.

Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?

I could, but once something is written down you never know who will find it and read it. That is why my people only pass on their secrets by word of mouth. So, do you promise not to write anything? Good. Come and sit beside me and I’ll whisper…


Ruth Downie read far too much Jane Austen at University, and ended up with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She took up writing fiction when she realized that she could make absolutely anything happen using only a piece of paper and a biro.

Her murder mysteries are mostly set in Roman Britain, because she’s fascinated by the idea of her ancestors living in the wild west of someone else’s empire. MEMENTO MORI, her eighth novel about a Roman army medic called Ruso and his British partner Tilla, is published in March 2018.

Join us next week to meet a the captain of a mercenary team. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.

Tom Islip (of Shadows of the Lost Child by Ellie Stevenson)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a boy from Victorian Curdizan, a fictional version of York, England.

He’s here to tell us about his life, and how it changed when he met Alice. Alice, you see, is from our own time – though she can visit the past, and interact with Tom and his mates.

Read on to find out about Tom’s life and time-crossing adventures.


Tell us a little about where you live. What’s it like?

Curdizan Low? Well, I like it, but I doubt you would. If I say, back street pubs, narrow lanes and open drains, you get the idea? Being just a lad, I’ve never known anything else, of course, but Louise, my mate, she told me once she couldn’t wait to get out of the place. But, then, she lives in Curdizan High, it might sound posh, but it’s definitely not  – she lives in a place called Pearson’s Tenements, five stories high. I once saw a woman jump from the top. She didn’t die, but she never walked the same after that. The rats in the High are the best thing about it. I didn’t even see Louise – she’s vanished from sight.

So what makes Haversham Road in the Low better?

It’s a house not a room, although our house does back onto the mill. That’s why it’s dark, there aren’t any windows at the back and not much light at the front either, the mill’s silo blocks it out. My da, Scotty, works at the mill, or that’s what he calls it, when he’s not drinking, and I go to school, they feed us there! The school’s not far from the tenements. When I can, I bunk off for a bit and visit my mate, Ben Tencell, he’s the man who makes the coffins and buries the dead. It’s a bit creepy in his workshop, with all those coffin lids on the walls. Even Norah, the horse is scared. Ben’s house has a secret tunnel, under the workshop, that leads to the church. That’s how we had our adventure… Continue reading “Tom Islip (of Shadows of the Lost Child by Ellie Stevenson)”

Aemilia (of In Numina, by Assaph Mehr)

Dear readers, with the forthcoming release of In Numina, the second novel by our fearless leaders, we are proud to present an interview with one of the novels’ most charming characters.

This young lady is here to tell us about life in Egretia, that wonderful fantasy city based on Ancient Rome and Alexandria, from a point of view other the Felix’s. The interview is set at a time between the books, and reveals things that might surprise you.

(Note that this interview first appeared on D. Lieber’s blog. Our many thanks for her prompting to write it.


Welcome to Ink & Magick. I’m your friendly neighborhood witch. What kind of spell can I get for you today?

You do incantations? Right here? What branch of magic? Can I watch you do it? Will you show me how you do it? Oh, you want something specific? Anything really, just so long as it’s not permanent and I can see you perform it. Maybe light a fire? It’s rather chilly this time of year.

Please introduce yourself, and the book you are from.

My name is Aemilia, and my first appearance is in Murder In Absentia.

Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I grew up in the Clivi Ulterior, in my family’s domus. If you’re not familiar with our city, the Clivi Ulterior are the highest reaches still within city limits on mount Vergu. It’s a neighborhood of rich men’s mansions. My father was Tiberius Aemilius Mamercus, a consul and a direct descendant of the T. Aemilius Mamercus.

My life, I know, was better than for the vast majority of people in our city. In matter of fact, I knew little about how most Egretian live their lives. I grew up with friends of the same social circle – sons and daughters of the Senate’s elite. My elder brother died young, but my family kept his tutor. I thus benefited for a scholarly education beyond that of most women.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

My brother had a couple of wooden toy soldiers, that one of the slaves made for him. One was an Egretian legionary, the other an Arbari barbarian. When Tiberius died from the ague, I kept those soldiers. I hid them under my pillow, and I imagined my brother’s spirit was still in them, that he – and they – were guarding me. I treasured them more than anything else I owned. I still have them.

What do you do now?

Trying to delay the inevitable… I’m nineteen. My mother is busy planning my wedding. I may have some little say in who I marry – or at least absolutely refuse to marry – but the outcome would be the same. Some young scion of a well-respected, old family. Probably a lawyer or a promising career military man, on his way to the senate. Me, I’d just like to experience life a little bit, before I become a show wife, sitting quietly behind the loom. Continue reading “Aemilia (of In Numina, by Assaph Mehr)”

George Washington (of A Time of Need, by Brent A. Harris)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a fighting for king and country.

In an alternative time-line to ours, Colonel George Washington fights on the side of the Crown, against upstarts such as Benedict Arnold, who seek to seize power and lead the colonies on a rebellious path.

The interview is conducted by a reporter native to his own time-line, and reprinted here. Read on to hear about the struggles of war, about torn loyalties, and painful decisions.


James Rivington reporting with the Royal Gazette, based in British-controlled Long Island, New York. I’m honoured to feature Colonel George Washington of the King’s Foot.

[Washington doesn’t smile. He nods, but seems agitated, perhaps he feels an urgent need to return to his ranks. Maybe he’s nervous about something else. Something I might uncover.]

Thank you, Colonel. Could you tell us about yourself? You were born here in the colonies, weren’t you? Virginia, was it?

Indeed. I own large tracts of land in Virginia and an estate off the Potomac — Mt. Vernon. I’d rather not say where precisely. You understand? My home is my life, my connection to this land. Just as the King safeguards his Colonies, I wish to safeguard my home and the people there under my care, with particular attention to my wife, Martha. Continue reading “George Washington (of A Time of Need, by Brent A. Harris)”

Captain Jack Boone and Miss Katherine Ashe (of Captain’s Lady, by Jamaila Brinkley)

Dear readers, tonight with me are two enchanting characters out of the Regency era. Captain Boone would like nothing more than to – legally – plunder the seas. When he finds himself made a viscount, his friends and family insist he needs a wife.

Katherine Ashe wants only to help her sister, who’s caught in an unpleasant predicament. When marriage to Boone seems to be the only solution, she takes the opportunity to have her own household, escaping her overbearing aunt’s house once and for all and helping her sister in the bargain.

But before their convenient marriage can settle in, there’s a flight to Scotland to arrange; a budding sorceress to soothe—and oh, yes—a baby. 

They are here to tell us about their somewhat chaotic lives.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Jack: I spent the bulk of my formative years as a ward of the Duke of Edgebourne, a distant relation. His Grace took me in when my parents died at sea, and the entire Edgebourne family welcomed me. The Duke did his best to give me a proper education, but I’m afraid I was far more interested in when I might be able to get my own ship.

Kate: I grew up on my grandfather’s estate. He was the Earl of Ashewell. I helped him manage his estates for years. Unfortunately, my family has had a string of sad occasions, I’m afraid, and so the earldom passed to a distant cousin recently.

What are your fondest memories of your childhood?

Jack: Running rampant over the estate with Lords Westfield and Kilgoran, my two closest friends. I’m afraid we terrorized virtually everybody.

Kate: You still do.

Jack: We’re practically tame now.

Kate: That’s not what I heard after Lady Mountmatten’s ball. Continue reading “Captain Jack Boone and Miss Katherine Ashe (of Captain’s Lady, by Jamaila Brinkley)”

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