THE LAST KING: Seven Questions for M.J. Porter [INTERVIEW]

Viking sword and armor
They may have been violent, but M.J. Porter shows that the Vikings weren’t what you may expect. (Photo courtesy Canva)

I love a great historical novel, particularly if it is equally immersive and winds up teaching me something new. M.J. Porter’s The Last King does just that. It transports us back to a part of early English history you may not be that familiar with, when Viking violence spread throughout the land. And while reading this story fueled my imagination, it also brought up some burning questions. We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview with the author. —J&H

J&H: Your new novel, The Last King, is set in 874 A.D. during the first Viking age of England. Why does this period of history speak to you and what are three things your readers should know about it before starting this book?

MJP: I am fascinated by the history of England before 1066. I think much of the appeal is that I was never taught about it at school (because English history seems to start after 1066), coupled with the fact I grew up in the shadow of a funny little building and was told from a young age it contained the bones of long-dead Mercian kings. (With hindsight I know it couldn’t have done because it was built out of brick). The Mercian name was used for all sorts of things – such as the police force – so it never felt as distant in time as it perhaps should have done.

Not sure if the three things are about the book or the time period, so I’ve done both.

Regarding the time period:

Firstly, readers should know that Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets – or at least, no examples of a helmet with horns on have yet been found.

Secondly, the term Viking is a job description – people went Viking, they weren’t Vikings – I call them Raiders throughout the book.

Thirdly, England at this time was divided into four main kingdoms, Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex and East Anglia. The Last King is about Mercia.

Regarding the book:

Firstly, readers need to know this book is very sweary and bloody. There are battle scenes all the way through it. It doesn’t let up. If you want something that’s less relentless, then please consider another of my books sent in the Early English period.

Secondly, readers should be aware that I’m not trying to write an alternative Uhtred, from the Bernard Cornwell books. The focus is on Mercia, not England. And Northumbria and King Alfred might not even get a mention in Book 1.

Thirdly, in devising this book, I’ve made use of the gaps in the historical record, and some new thinking about what was happening in England in this time. So, it might challenge the perception you already have.

J&H: Coelwulf is a warrior who fights because he is good at it, not because he likes it. What appeals to you most about him, and what challenges does his perplexity present while crafting his character?

MJP: Coelwulf is a character I’d considered writing about for a few years before setting pen to paper. It took that time to truly ‘find’ him so that when I finally started to write about him he was already fully formed. I wanted him to be so good at what he does (fighting) that for him it was difficult to understand why others weren’t like him – and yet without the cockiness that it might bring. I pictured him as an elite sportsperson – sure of himself, confident, prepared to test himself, yet with unfailing self-belief. I wanted him to be a hero, even if he doesn’t believe himself one. As the books are written in the first person and from his perspective, it’s difficult to show what others think about him, and so his actions needed to speak for his personality. He might be a deadly warrior, but he is a man of honour, with fierce ideals of what it means to be him. His interactions with his warriors, and his horses, and particularly his aunt, are the means of showing his complexity.

J&H: The battle scenes you write about in this novel are not for the faint of heart. They practically “rain blood” and are quite brutal. Was it difficult to bring these passages to life? Why or why not?

MJP: I’ve been slowly working myself up to battle scenes like this for a few years. One of the hardest parts is finding a varied enough vocabulary – there’s only so many times you can say blood and blade, weapon and shield. It’s also important to consider the variety of ways that warriors could be wounded, killed or attacked. I didn’t want to get stuck on any one way. In all honesty, I found it reasonably easy to visualize what was going to happen – but sometimes I did have to check I was using the correct hand, and that my characters hadn’t lost a weapon somewhere along the way.

J&H: How would you respond to readers who may ask if the story could have been told without all the violence?

MJP: I would say that it certainly could be, but the ferocity of the violence seems to appeal. I’ve written many books sent in a similar time period, but without the extreme violence and foul-language, and they haven’t sold as well as the books about Coelwulf and his allies. So yes, the story could be told in a much tamer way but I took a leaf out of a Guy Ritchie movie and went for the extreme. I cast aside the idea of what a book like this should be like and went for what I wanted it to be. It was an experiment that readers seem to love.

J&H: Readers will encounter weaponry and other items in this story that they will likely not be familiar with. What kind of research did you have to do to write about these things authoritatively and did you ever get to wield any of these items yourself? 

MJP: Great question. No, I’ve never handled any of these weapons. I don’t know if I’d like to. When I first began writing, I did have some toy swords and I used to practice the movements, but much of what happens is made up or influenced by books and films I’ve read or watched. I would say that the horses are all based on animals my daughter looks after at her local stables. I feel I can speak more authoritatively about horses than swords and seaxs.

J&H: Why do you think modern audiences are still fascinated by Vikings?

MJP: I think the period appeals because of their reputation as fierce warriors, mingled with their paganism, which seems very strange to us, and might, or might not be, overplayed.

Our fascination with them began long ago when the Christian scribes used to write of them attacking monasteries with such horror and revulsion. They couldn’t have made them more appealing if they’d tried.

Personally, I’m captivated by their skill, ingenuity and their reach – they went everywhere from the lands of the Rus, to Italy, to Iceland, Greenland and perhaps even the Americas. They devised their own systems of ruling and nothing seemed to terrify them. They were pioneers in all they did, and of course, the fact they didn’t lock their women up, and make them subject to the men, is a big factor as well.

J&H: What has delving deep into Viking history and lore taught you and do you think these ancient people still have lessons to teach us today?

MJP: The events of over a 1000 years ago are fascinating, and still relevant. We shouldn’t be surprised by what our ancestors managed to accomplish. Equally, it’s possible to see the same threads running through their stories as we encounter today – bias and political machinations aren’t new. From studying the past, we should also appreciate that no matter how well we believe we document our own life and times, in the future, people will misinterpret our actions, or, will be missing some vital piece of information that explains it all. That’s not specific to the events of AD874, but to all of history. Who know what we don’t know.

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M.J. Porter

They sent 300 warriors to kill one man. It was ever going to be 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 rumors 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.


M.J. Porter is an author of historical novels set in Seventh, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh-Century England, and now also a little further afield, in Viking Age Denmark, and Tenth-Century East and West Frankia.

M.J. Porter also writes fantasy based on Viking Age Iceland, and fantasy as J.E. Porter. M.J. Porter can also be found reviewing books and sometimes the odd film.

To learn more, visit or like the author on Facebook, follow the author on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and BookBub.

By M.J. Porter
314 pp. Independently Published. $14.99.

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Purchase The Last King from Amazon.

The Last King is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

6 Responses to THE LAST KING: Seven Questions for M.J. Porter [INTERVIEW]

  1. Now that interview was fabulous! Thank you for hosting MJ Porter!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  2. M J Porter says:

    Thank you so much for your great questions:)

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