Dennis Hamley – 50 years in publishing
Dennis Hamley has been a published author since before I was born (just)and to my mind that makes him worthy of a special feature. He’s published well over 60 books, mostly in the children’s market and this year he embraced e-publishing. Whereas some would have you believe that indie epublishing is only for those who cannot get books published ‘properly’, Dennis, like many other well published authors, has plenty of work that has gone out of print as fashions in publishing houses change (or as publishing houses change/go out of business). In the past this was at the very least annoying for an author, at the worse extremely depressing. With the advent of indie epublishing it’s possible for the writer to take their rights back, reclaim the work and re-publish it in ebook format. And that’s what Dennis has done. Being a sensible and cautious man, he first published a series of short stories (dipping his toe in this new fangled technology) and published COLONEL MUSTARD IN THE LIBRARY WITH THE CANDLESTICK. Now I ask you, irresistible title or what? That learning curve weathered and the sky not falling in, Dennis set about publishing the COMPLETE saga of Joslin de Lay. This was a series of 6 books (historical mystery for children/YA – and adults seem to like them too!) which was first published in the late 1990’s. You can still find but Dennis wanted to bring the stories to life for a new generation
Dennis won’t mind me saying that at times he struggles with technology (I’d like to know which of us engaged in indie epublishing hasn’t struggle to climb the steep learning curve in this emerging market) and he’s worked with K.D.Lathar who helps format/convert and publish the books. They’ve done it in less than 6 months and you can now download and read ALL the Joslin novels.
Collaborative partnerships such as this are becoming much more common in the new world of epublishing where writers feel they can pool their skills as they are no longer competing with each other for a limited number of publishing ‘deals’ but instead are able to work collaboratively. Remember readers don’t have a problem with ‘it’s a bit like…’ because however fast we work, they can read faster! So writers are discovering a camaraderie and working together in informal and more formal co-operative ventures on what might be termed ‘cross promotion’ but actually for most of us is something a lot less cynically market driven and much more – we’re all in this together and we all want to find readers who WANT to read our work. Dennis and I both blog for Authors Electric (which is where we ‘virtually’ found each other) which is one example of a disparate group of individual writers who have found common ground and share their thoughts and experiences of the new ‘epublishing’ world. There are many more such groups and in a way they become a progression of the concept of a writer’s group – with the emphasis now on publishing – we are all experienced, professional writers but are all finding our way through the epublishing ‘experience.’ And it really helps not to be alone.
For all the above reasons and for many more, today’s special feature is a tribute to Dennis Hamley and his ‘journey’ to bring Joslin back into the published world for a new generation. Dennis writes briefly about the work and then we offer some of the reviews Dennis has had for the print and ebook versions of the Joslin Saga. Which hopefully will send you off to investigate for yourself. (Ed)
THE LONG JOURNEY OF JOSLIN DE LAY
The Even Longer journey of Dennis Hamley!
MODERN MURDER HAS IT EASY – Dennis Hamley
It’s a pity about crime novels set in the present day. All this DNA, mobile phones, CCTV, laptops, emails, even fingerprints – it seems criminals nowadays shouldn’t stand a chance. Though of course they do. Crime stories set in the present day are good to read and great to write: I’ve done a few myself.
But if you want to write a murder mystery of the old sort, one which is solved with just your eyes, your ears and your commonsense, you’ve got to think differently. And that’s where setting crime stories in the past comes in. You’ve got to work out the solution to the mystery for yourself because there’s nothing to help you. You don’t know where people are because there are no phones, not even landlines, you can’t move faster than walking pace unless you’ve got a horse, a letter will take months, nobody has thought about fingerprints and DNA wasn’t even heard of. That’s why I turned to writing crime stories set way back in the past – and decided to set them in the Middle Ages.
The figure of a seventeen year-old French minstrel lost in England stole into my mind and the The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay (originally called The Joslin de Lay Mysteries) was the result. They were first published by Scholastic and came out between 1998 and 2002 – six novels set over six hundred years ago in about 1370, telling the story of Joslin’s quest from France to Wales to find his mother after his father was murdered. Being a minstrel, Joslin sings his way through the land because, even though England and France were at war, he’s welcome everywhere. He can sing in inns and taverns to ordinary people, he can sing in Oxford colleges, he can sing in castles to Earls. All of society is open to him. He has his own big mystery to solve, which finally comes clear in the last book. But on the way, in every town he comes to – London, Oxford, Coventry, Hereford – murder stalks him.
Of Dooms and Death,
A Pact with Death,
A Devil’s Judgement,
The False Father.
Six separate mysteries, lots of dead bodies – and Joslin solves them all.
But it’s not just murder which follows him. A forbidding, threatening character is hunting him across the land as well – and he possesses the key to the whole of Joslin’s story.
The Middle Ages really are another world. So much research to get everything right, all of it fascinating. Here are some ways in which I tried to make the facts come alive.
•At the time the novels are set, Europe was just getting over the Black Death. So one of the books concerns the villain using the bubonic plague for his own ends to kill his victims.
•The Hundred Years War, between England and France was on. It’s very important to the books. It sets off the first and is part of the solution of the last.
•The Church believed some things couldn’t even be thought of because they were so dangerous. That meant that some books were forbidden: it was mortal sin to read them. One of Joslin’s mysteries concerns a forbidden book about something the Church thought was about the most dangerous thing of all. But some people read it and murder follows.
I loved writing these books. I said I’d do just six, each one a separate standalone novel but with one larger story overarching them. My hero wouldn’t die at the end but I’d make sure there couldn’t be any more books about him. Although…well, you never know!
When they came to an end and I finally had to say goodbye to Joslin I felt really quite upset. We’d been through a lot together but I knew he would be happy and well-provided for and I often think of him still singing and living with his wife, a girl he meets on the way (whose name I won’t tell you because he meets quite a few) then loses her but finds her again at the last.. And now all six books are back as ebooks on Kindle and I’m so glad. And one day they’ll reappear as fairly sumptuous printed editions, with their new covers, as ‘books beautiful’ which should enhance anybody’s bookshelves.
Dennis Hamley (From CRIME CENTRAL blog, revised for the Edinburgh ebook festival)
Reviews of THE LONG JOURNEY OF JOSLIN DE LAY
A juicily macabre series of page turners Jan Mark (Carousel)
Some years ago I was asked to review The False Father, the last in Dennis Hamley’s series of six medieval murder mysteries linked by a quest story. I can’t now remember much about that story except that I enjoyed it and wished I’d read the other five first.
Now, I’m glad to say, I shall have the chance. The books have been out of print, but Dennis Hamley is gradually reissuing them as e-books under the title The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay.
The first two books are already available. They are Kindle editions – and the covers, by Anastasia Sichkarenko, are stunning.
The books are set in the mid-1300s, when England and France were at war, and concern a 17-year-old French minstrel, Joslin de Lay, who escapes to England after the murder of his father. England – an enemy country – might seem a bad choice, but Joslin is on a quest to find his lost mother, and his ultimate destination is Wales. However, not only is Joslin, as a Frenchman, feared and threatened in England, but he has been followed there by a mysterious stranger.
Joslin’s adventures begin in the East Anglian village of Stovenham, where two young artists from London are painting a Doom (a picture of the descent of dead souls into Hell). He is befriended by the artists, but the locals are hostile to him. And when a series of gruesome murders occurs, linked to the plague.
These fast-paced stories blend adventure, mystery, friendship and romance. There is just enough detail about medieval life and beliefs to bring the period to life without overwhelming the narrative. And, since Joslin is a minstrel, there are tantalising snatches of the songs he sings. I found myself wishing the series came with a CD. Ann Turnbull (An Awfully Big Blog Adventure)
A fine and unique take on crime fiction
When I first read this book, I was amazed to see it belonged in the child’s fiction catagory. Although the writing style is simple enough for children, some of the nuances of the story may be beyond them, and it is this that helps older readers enjoy it also.
Starting in a French castle, the story leaps almost immediately into the plot of this, and the coming series of books. Our hero, Joslin de Lay, finds himself on an epic quest, but finds many problems on the way, the first of which he encounters after landing himself in the south east of England.
The many characters that Joslin meets are some of the books finer points. Each one, with their little idiosyncrasies, play an important part in this, and the following books, and even small parts may turn out to be of great importance. I really enjoyed this book, especially during some of the later, heart pounding scenes. If any book can make you confused and frightened at one time, this is it.
Any fans of crime or horror fiction will love this book, and the following books in this series of six. Amazon 5-star review “oracle225”
A rattling good yarn.
Set in England of the 1300’s, if you can imagine a kind of junior Cadfael – but featuring a minstrel rather than a monk – you won’t be far wrong. It starts off a little slowly, but hang in there, as once Joslin actually sets foot in England the pace picks up nicely and continues at a good clip. There are a few unexpected plot twists at the end, but I won’t spoil it for you – read it and discover them for yourself. Be warned that there are a few gruesome moments too, although nothing is unduly dwelt on: this is the equivalent of a family film – a book which the whole family can pass around to read and enjoy. I’m now looking forward to reading the next in the series!
Amazon 5-star review By nogginthenog
I don’t suppose I’m the only lover of historical fiction and murder mysteries to feel excited when I discover a new series. I loved Cadfael and Dorothy Dunnet and CJ Sansom’s Tudor mysteries (except when they got too long). The Joslin de Lay series may have been written with children in mind but the complex plot, sense of menace and overarching mystery will work for readers of any age. I’m looking forward to all five volumes. Julia Jones (author of Strong Winds Trilogy and reviewer for IEBR)
The Joslin de Lay novels by Dennis Hamley are a real treat and I can’t get enough of them. Set in the 1360s, they invoke a tense, disease-ridden and shaky society which the author re-creates in loving and glancing detail as the protagonist faces his problems head-on. And Joslin’s problems are not minor ones. Always moving westward, from France through England, heading for answers he must find in Wales, he encounters treachery, murder, ill-spirited people seemingly out to stop him finding out the truths and answers he desperately needs to understand his life. But, more than that, Joslin comes face to face with evil, and this novel, like the others in this marvellous series, broadens out until we have both a classic quest tale, with all odds stacked against success, and a wide battle, which draws us inexorably into it, between good and evil. Joslin becomes, quietly but persuasively, our everyman, trying to save us from forces of the devil himself. This is an astonishing series, worthy of being put up with the Cadfael books. The books are exciting, provocative, beautifully written and the product of an author whose many other books demonstrate a keen intelligence and, above all, a deep capacity for emotion. Kids will love the cliff-hanging adventure. Adults will respond to the way the protagonist becomes the hope of the world and someone who must stand firm in order to protect civilisation from the chaos of evil. VERY strongly recommended indeed. Christopher Wiseman (poet, professor emeritus Calgary University, recipient of Order of Canada for services to poetry and creative writing education)
The way that children’s attitudes to learning history have changed is a constant delight and amazement to me. I sat in a pub in Cumbria a couple of months ago and listened to an eleven-year-old called Henry dispute some World War II ‘facts’ a friend was airing – and then put him right. It was an amazing moment. The speaker is a history fanatic, and not often wrong. But Henry – politely and calmly – suggested he might have misread, misremembered or (horror of horrors) misinterpreted
It was a weird moment, made weirder by the fact that Henry was absolutely correct, which the ‘expert’ munificently conceded (with delight, I must add). He wanted to know where Henry got his knowledge from, and was told ‘the horrible histories’ which he, being childless, had never heard of. ‘So do you like history?’ he asked. ‘Love it,’ Henry replied. ‘It’s so much more exciting than what goes on round here!’
When I was a boy, I hated history. It was indeed so boring, and I still can’t see much value in knowing the names of all the kings and queens who croaked hundreds of years ago. But Henry knew, in detail, the ins and out of plots to assassinate Hitler, and why, and when, and how. And loved it. He loved the nuts and bolts, the feeling that real people were involved. Which leads me on to Dennis Hamley’s Of Dooms and Death, the first part of ‘The Long Journey of Joslin de Lay.’
This book, these books, achieve the knack of ‘getting into’ history, and making you see, and feel, it through the lives and personalities of the protagonists. Joslin is the Gascon son of a Gascon troubadour, who has to flee to Britain after his father is mysteriously targeted by assassins. Dying, he leaves Joslin very little – his harp, his troubadour’s tunic, a locked metal box, and some money. A canny English mariner relieves him of the cash, but does take him to the east coast – not Wales, where Joslin has been told he has to go to find his mother and the answer to some knotty mysteries.
It is at a time of great political upheaval – the peasants are revolting, for want of a better rule of thumb – and it is not long after a major outbreak of the Black Death. Joslin, in fact, spends his first night in England in the ruins of a church. When he digs into the soft earth to hide his harp and his tiny residue of coin, he finds a rotting skull. He is in a burial pit. What’s more he’s being watched, and before very long he realises he is being hunted to the death.
The plot moves like wildfire, and Joslin’s troubles multiply at breathless speed. He meets a youth called Robin, a lovely girl called Alys (Joslin is quite susceptible to lovely girls), and at least one mysterious clergyman. There are lords and their hangers on as well, who have a habit of getting themselves serially murdered in the night. Poor Joslin, inevitably, is suspect number one. He is French, he is not a peasant…and he has absolutely no reason to be where he is. Rhyme, yes – he’s a troubadour. But not a reason in the world that the English can accept.
While the language avoids Middle Age mummery like the plague (forgive me), the whole thing has a wonderful authenticity of feel. Boys and girls get almost equal weight, and some of the dangers they must face are honestly exciting. My friend Henry up in Cumbria is going to get a copy, believe me. I’d be astonished if he didn’t lap it up. It’s history, with plague pustules and buckets of blood thrown in, and it’s not just the baddies who get most horribly hanged. There are five more in the series to come. I want them now! Jan Needle (Indie E-books Review)
I enjoyed the first volume of the Joslin de Lay series and this one even more. It gave me a real sense of the claustrophobic confusion of the mediaeval city of London in the years immediately following the Black Death. Hundreds of years later I think that Dickens would have recognised the lightermen fishing yet another body from the Thames and checking it for valuables before deciding how to deal with it with minimal bureaucratic fuss. Likewise the various officials – the casual, the prejudiced, the opinionated and the decent – were authentically portrayed and nicely differentiated from one another. What really made the story grip was the genuine bafflement of the plot, the macabre details and the unremitting pace. Highly recommended – especially for lovers of the Cadfael mysteries or CJ Sansom’s Tudor series, Julia Jones (author of Strong Winds Trilogy and reviewer for IEBR)
Fourteenth century London. The “city” is small and squalid, overcrowded and busy, surrounded by walls built in Roman times. Outside are the villages of Hackney and Tottenham. Waste runs in the streets, murder is commonplace and into this place arrive French minstrel Joslin de Lay and his close friend Alys, both grieving after the death of Alys’ beloved Robin. Joslin is escorting Alys to the home of her guardian – master painter Randolf Waygoode – before he travels on to Wales. But no sooner do they arrive at Randolf’s house, when Joslin is threatened several times. When one of Randolf’s apprentices goes missing, somehow it’s Joslin that is under suspicion and he sets out to find out what has happened. His search for the truth gives us a glimpse of life in medieval London. From the gravedigger to the local coroner, each has a part to play in the story.
But there is another thread in this tale, one that I suspect weaves through the entire series. Who – or rather what – is stalking Joslin? There are hints of strange encounters, pacts made with the Devil and promises of immortality. I admit to being concerned about reading book 2 of a 6-book series, without having read the first one. And I suspect that reading the books in sequence might make the wider series arc of the story more understandable, but book 2 is perfectly readable in its own right and I didn’t feel disadvantaged by not knowing what had gone before. There’s enough information fed into this story for it to make sense in its own right and be a complete stand-alone tale.
What I loved about this book was the richness of detail. The names of the streets, the journeys within the city and outside of it, the descriptions of the river and the depth of the lives of London’s inhabitants. The research is meticulous and brings the story alive. I felt like I was there in the city, with the sights, sounds and smells of a fourteenth century London, still in the grip of the plague. But this isn’t a story about the disease that wiped out so many people in medieval Britain and the plague is simply a part of everyday life.
This is a historical mystery for children/young adults. But the history is subtle, woven in so deep it’s not history at all – just reality. There’s a fantasy element for those who like that kind of thing, but not enough to spoil the story for those who don’t. Lots of action and adventure story. A great read for children or adults. Debbie Bennett (Indie E-books Review)
A riveting read. The Observer
Great, one of the best books yet
This one is the third in the series and probably the best one yet. Joslin has reached Oxford and has to sing at the college. Here he learns secrets he should not know. Along the way he meets new people and makes friends and enemies. The book contains a few surprising twists and you will not be able to put it down, I couldn’t!
Amazon 5-star review by A Customer
This time the hapless Joslin is in Oxford. Still being stalked. Still attracting the ladies, and the unwelcome attentions of a murderous cast of characters while making his sweet music. The whole novel is filled with darkly clad strangers and the pace is still breakneck. The descriptions of 14th Century Oxford are amusing and thought provoking but somehow one never feels them as less than accurate. The language is modern and the fine balancing of history and a modern feel is maintained.
What increasingly amused me was how the Fellows (who should be striving for knowledge and truth) are intent on hiding unpalatable realities (usually murder) or inconvenient truths (anatomy) which calls their very purpose into question. How little changes? That’s one thing I really enjoyed, making the leap of faith from present reality to fictional history, and seeing how closely the two melded. I laughed as I read ‘I should never have credited Fellows of Oxford Colleges with open minds.’ And there was many another chuckle in the course of my reading.
Hamley is an expert at giving us observations on so many things that today we find ordinary (transplants for example) and yet keeping the modernity of his characters and their fictional world to the fore. We do not see them as benighted people further down the scale of progressive history, but flawed people, just like those we might find today. Despite his comments at the end that most of the Oxford he described is no longer as it was, I felt I knew each street and district of Joslin’s Oxford as well as I know the present day town. (Obviously Joslin didn’t have the benefit of Blackwell’s to rest in which I do when I go there. But then I’m not usually careless enough to have my horse stolen either.)
I don’t read a lot of this sort of fiction and dare I say it, the concept of ‘Horrible Histories’ quite appals me (not that I’ve read any) and I admit to being completely flummoxed by the twists and turns of the complex plot, battered this way and that and continually wondering just ‘who dunnit?’ But I was never overwhelmed. Just led by the nose through a range of possibilities and of course the perpetrator was the last person I expected. It’ll give any young (or old) person with an interest in this kind of thing a run for their money. I’ll certainly go back (and forward) to experience the rest of the series. Cally Phillips (Indie E-books Review)
Dennis Hamley’s impressive new novel. Historical Novels Review
A Lot Of FunThese books are really enjoyable, they take you back to medieval England and throw in a mystery to boot. I can’t wait to see how the series finishes. Amazon 5-star review By A Customer
No reviews as yet available but YOUR review could be posted on IEBR if you enter our Joslin de Lay review competition.
The False Father
A gripping end to a gripping series
In the final book of the Joslin de Lay mystery series, we discover the real truth behind Joslin’s history, his father’s secret locket, and that odd man with the sallow, pock marked face who has been following our crime-solving minstrel.
Although in places the story may be a little slower and less heart racing than the other books, the plot contains many interesting twists, including the reappearance of one of Joslin’s old flames! But the main reason why you would want to buy this book is to find the answers to all the questions that we’ve thought up since reading the first book.
Dennis Hamley’s writing appeals to all ages, and this book is a fitting end to an impressive series of crime thrillers. Plus we finally get to see Joslin on the book’s cover. Amazon 4-star review By “oracle225”
(Sorry Oracle. You won’t see him on the Kindle cover. It doesn’t matter: Anastasia’s cover is much, much better than the old one so Joslin must live in your imagination only. DH))
Dennis Hamley appears at the Edinburgh ebook festival on August 22nd in Writers’ Pieces at 12.30pm
here is also a special Festival Review competition. Details of this will be in the Extras @ 8 section on August 21st.