Please give a warm welcome to L M Ironside (Libbie), author of The Crook and Flail. I love books about Ancient Egypt, and Hatshepsut is one of my very favorite historical figures, so I am excited to have Libbie in the virtual offices to chat about her book.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[L M Ironside] Very tall history nerd, hikes obsessively.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Crook and Flail?
[L M Ironside] I love what one reader said about The Crook and Flail in her review: “If The Sekhmet Bed (the first book in the series) is the ‘Origins of Hatshepsut’ story, then The Crook and Flail is the ‘Hatshepsut: Before She was King’ story.”
It follows the early life of Hatshepsut, the first confirmed woman to rule Egypt as Pharaoh in her own right, not as a queen.
In my novel, she goes from a hot-headed fourteen-year-old to a strong, confident young woman, just beginning to understand the complexities of relationships and barely gaining a handle on the political demands she faces. There are some battles (emotional and physical), a few romantic entanglements, and a little bit of mysticism, and it all culminates in a daring bid for Egypt’s throne.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What drew you to Hatshepsut and made you want to tell her story?
[L M Ironside] I first learned about the female Pharaoh in my high school history class. I think anybody who learns about Hatshepsut becomes a little obsessed with her. She was just so fascinating, and a surprising amount of information about her reign is known, or known to be probable.
She had one of the most successful reigns in Egyptian history – it was a time of wealth, peace, and security unlike anything else Egypt had seen for many, many generations. It was obviously so unusual for a woman to proclaim herself Pharaoh, and any rule that lasted so long (22 years, by most calculations) and was such a success it couldn’t have happened without the support of many people throughout Egypt – the wealthy nobility, the commanders of the army, and most of all the various priesthoods, especially the Cult of Amun, which was the most dominant during Hatshepsut’s reign.
Wondering how all those factions of Egyptian politics were brought together to support the reign of a very unusual king really made me want to turn the idea into a novel.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Did you feel any apprehension when you decided to tackle this project?
[L M Ironside] No; I’ve always loved writing and have been a confident writer since my early days. When I really got serious about “being a writer,” I knew right away I wanted to do a novel about Hatshepsut. It turned into four novels about Hatshepsut, but who’s counting?
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
[L M Ironside] Waiting to hear back from my test-readers! Two friends who are also historical novelists volunteered to read it when it was done and give me feedback. I wrote The Crook and Flail in three weeks while I was between day jobs (it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have nothing to do all day, every day!) and The Sekhmet Bed was received so positively by readers that I was very antsy to get Crook published. But I’m glad I let them talk me into patience. The book didn’t need much reworking, but it’s better for the extra time I put into it.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Why do you think interest in Hatshepsut has endured over the centuries?
[L M Ironside] Well, I think Egypt itself holds so much fascination for people. The incredible monuments that have endured for thousands of years, and still inspire awe…the exotic nature of the Nile Valley, so green and fertile even though it’s surrounded by desert on both sides…and of course the beautiful Pharaonic artifacts and mysterious art. Hatshepsut was an outlier in an already exotic and intoxicating setting, so naturally, she will always be one of those figures who captures the imagination.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Hatshepsut?
[L M Ironside] Bold, confident, and fearless! She’s the ultimate heroine.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?
[L M Ironside] I have so many historical novelists whose work I really admire, and their achievements make me want to push myself as far as I can go with my own historical writing. I love Hilary Mantel, Anita Diamant, George R. R. Martin, Richard Adams…the latter two aren’t technically historical novelists, but Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series feels like it could be medieval fiction, and Richard Adams’ novel Maia is one of my all-time favorites in terms of world-building. Maia has an atmosphere and culture to it that feels not only believable all by itself, as a fantasy…but feels as if it came from actual history. It’s a truly spectacular book! What a shame that it’s out of print and hasn’t yet been re-issued as an ebook. I hoard hardback copies with halfway decent dust jackets whenever I find them. It’s the only book of which I own multiple copies in print! It’s just such a treasure, and it pains me that it’s so hard to find.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?
[L M Ironside] 1) My noise-cancelling Bose headphones. 2) Total silence (see #1). 3) A good, long hike once in a while. I get my best ideas for my writing out on the trail!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect about working on The Crook and Flail?
[L M Ironside] I really went back and forth on whether to include the “circumcision” scene. People who have read the book will know why I put it in quotes. I wasn’t sure it would accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish…I thought it would just be seen as too weird and maybe even disturbing. But in the end, I trusted my gut, and I’m glad I did.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?
[L M Ironside] I just finished The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. It’s YA, and not historical. I don’t typically enjoy YA, but this one just blew me away. The writing was near-flawless, and absolutely beautiful!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[L M Ironside] I have an older sister, and when she learned how to read she was very eager to teach me, too. So I learned early. The first book I read aloud to my mother was Charlotte’s Web, a chapter at a time. My mom kept a journal detailing each chapter I read, and after I finished each one, she took me to a farm to “meet” the animals featured in each chapter. That journal is dated 1983…I was three years old. I still can’t believe it when I look back at the journal!
But the book that really showed me how good writing could be – the kind of magic with image and atmosphere an excellent writer can create – was Watership Down by Richard Adams, which I read at the age of eight. (It’s a novel that is usually taught in college, so…VERY early reader here.) I still love Watership Down so much that I have a tattoo inspired by the book! I named my self-publishing endeavor (which includes my own books and limited services offered to other writers) Running Rabbit Press, in honor of my special relationship with Watership Down.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[L M Ironside] Hike, hike, hike! Unless I’m actually on a longer trip, and then we call it backpacking. I live in one of the most beautiful places in North America: western Washington State. There are some unbelievable trails out here, and our get-outdoors season is very short, so it’s hard to keep myself off the trails when I should be writing.
I also love painting and canning, and do both whenever I am able, but truthfully, right now I spend almost all my free time writing. I am planning to begin writing full-time either late this year or early next year, and I anticipate having a lot more free time then. I’m really looking forward to it. I view everything that happens under the umbrella of Running Rabbit Press as a second job, including writing new books — so I am working two full-time jobs right now and can’t wait to get back to a more normal schedule. I’m practically pulling my hair out now!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?
[L M Ironside] My web site is the best place: LMIronside.com
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!
About the book:
About the author:
L. M. Ironside is passionate about history — especially those obscure parts of history which become overshadowed by more familiar stories. L. M. (you can call her Libbie) generates her best ideas by hiking, and makes time for the trail whenever she can. She attributes her passion for the outdoors to a childhood spent near the Teton Mountains in Idaho, where her father and grandfather, both artists, lived. She enjoys painting with watercolors and pastels, when she finds the time, and tending her carnivorous plant terrariums.She also writes contemporary literary fiction under the pen name Libbie Hawker.