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Book Review – The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction. Highly recommended.

Here’s the blurb;

The inspirational story of the Pastons, a family who rose from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue during the Wars of the Roses.

England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…

King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.

Anne O’Brien is one of my favourite authors. Every year, I wait with high anticipation to read her newest book and to see which ‘new’ unknown woman of history she’s brought to life for her readers.

With The Royal Game, Anne O’Brien has chosen not a powerful royal/noblewoman but instead three women who hunger to be considered as such. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Margaret Paston, wife to John Paston, as property disputes amongst their landed estates escalate and are resolved only to escalate once more. This might sound a bit boring, but believe me, it’s not. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, by the level of violence that could be brought to bear against rival claimants and the state of lawlessness in East Anglia at the time is flabbergasting. It acts as a perfect way of showing just what the uncertainty of the Wars of the Roses brought about for those lower ‘noble’ families with the ebb and flow of prestige and royal denouncement as in the background, great battles are won and lost, and rival kings fall and rise.

Margaret is a wonderfully independently minded woman, and yet constrained by her position in life, and her sex so she can only do so much when trouble strikes, but she will do it to her upmost.

Alongside Margaret, we meet her sister in law, Eliza, who struggles to find a husband and emerge from beneath her mother’s less than motherly love. She manages to do just that only to find herself facing a life as beset with lawsuits as her brother and sister by marriage.

Our third Paston woman is Anne Haute, a cousin to Elizabeth Woodville. Her voice is that of a noblewoman without the dowry needed to hook herself a wonderful marriage, but who can tout her family connections to gain one.

This book is a stunning read – and more, an easy read – despite the vast number of Johns in it (I’ll leave that for you to discover because wow – that’s a weird thing to have done). I had to force myself to slow down and stop reading because I didn’t want it to be over. Now I have to wait for next year to read the second part of the story.

I highly recommend this book. If you know about the Wars of the Roses, all the better, but if you don’t, it will not lessen your enjoyment of the story of the three Paston women and their troublesome, and litigious family at a time of intense political unrest.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my review copy. I loved it:)

The Royal Game is released in ebook, hardback and audio today, 16th September 2021.

Connect with Anne via her website or Twitter.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Where Your Treasure Is by M C Bunn

Today, I’m delighted to welcome M C Bunn to the blog. She’s going to share the secrets of her research with us all.

I’m a story teller first and foremost, not a historian or a trained researcher. While I have a love for history, my college major and master’s degrees are in English. It was a great excuse to read the sorts of books I love. Recently I attended the Historical Novel Society’s North American conference. The conversation rooms on various historical eras and related topics were some of the event’s most exciting offerings because of the participants’ passion for their subjects and their wealth of knowledge. I’d love to contact some of them for more information, especially as I work on my next book, which is set at the end of the Edwardian period and during World War I. 

For advice about how to investigate a historical detail, I turn to knowledgeable friends for help, and librarians are goldmines for resource suggestions. I also do a lot of digging through bibliographies and end notes, and rely on contemporary texts. If they’re nonfiction, as opposed to literary, they’re mostly digital. Annotated books and older dictionaries are quite helpful. I try to avoid slang. It’s interesting how many expressions we use that Victorians didn’t, and vice versa.

My late father’s Clarkson N. Potter Annotated Sherlock Holmes and its notes never fail to lift my spirits when I think about the pitfalls awaiting writers. While Conan Doyle’s plots and dialogue are amazing, he made up London streets and includes all sorts of details in his stories that don’t hold up under the scholar’s close scrutiny. The Potter edition is full of references to research articles by other famous authors and fans that prove how some sort of chemical or cigar ash Holmes describes couldn’t have been used in such and such a way. But those intricacies aren’t the point of what Conan Doyle was doing. At least Dorothy L. Sayers won’t be looking over my shoulder. She minutely read Conan Doyle’s work! In the later drafts of Treasure, I tried to avoid glaring errors and anachronisms, but perhaps the ones that remain will amuse some reader or inspire another writer’s research. 

I didn’t set out to write Where Your Treasure Is. It wasn’t inspired by researching the late-Victorian era, though that’s a time period that has exerted its fascination over me since childhood. Writing the story felt—not exactly like automatic writing, but there was definitely an element of feeling propelled along. There was no outline or notes. It was only after I’d written the entire plot from beginning to end that I added more historical details and checked those that had emerged organically. 

I’d spent some time in London and Norfolk, and studied old and new maps of Treasure’s settings. What surprised me were details that, during the checking process, I thought I’d made up but hadn’t. I attribute some of that to the passage of time and forgetfulness. When you’ve read about a time period for as long as I have, you internalize a great deal. As for other details, I’ve no explanation. 

For instance, Mena House was a name that wouldn’t leave me alone when I wrote about the heroine’s uncle traveling to Egypt. I looked it up and was surprised to find the hotel is famous though it wasn’t mentioned in any of the reading I’d recently completed on Egypt. I ordered several 19th century travel guides to confirm a few more details about the hotel’s history and its golf course. Another eerie instance was the way I imagined the façade of the character George’s Norfolk home, Hereford Hall. In my early twenties I stayed with a family in Norfolk, but we fell out of touch. Several years after I wrote Treasure’s first draft, I learned that one of my host’s sisters had died. Her obituary includes a picture taken in front of a structure that looks almost identical to George’s house. I’d never seen that picture before or visited the place. Believe me or not, but that’s the truth. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me today. Good luck with your new book.

Here’s the blurb;

Feisty, independent heiress Winifred de la Coeur has never wanted to live according to someone else’s rules—but even she didn’t plan on falling in love with a bank robber.

Winifred is a wealthy, nontraditional beauty who bridles against the strict rules and conventions of Victorian London society. When she gets caught up in the chaos of a bungled bank robbery, she is thrust unwillingly into an encounter with Court Furor, a reluctant getaway driver and prizefighter.  In the bitter cold of a bleak London winter, sparks fly.

Winifred and Court are two misfits in their own circumscribed worlds—the fashionable beau monde with its rigorously upheld rules, and the gritty demimonde, where survival often means life-or-death choices.

Despite their conflicting backgrounds, they fall desperately in love while acknowledging the impossibility of remaining together. Returning to their own worlds, they try to make peace with their lives until a moment of unrestrained honesty and defiance threatens to topple the deceptions that they have carefully constructed to protect each other.

A story of the overlapping entanglements of Victorian London’s social classes, the strength of family bonds and true friendship, and the power of love to heal a broken spirit.

Buy Links:

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Meet the author

M. C. Bunn grew up in a house full of books, history, and music. “Daddy was a master storyteller. The past was another world, but one that seemed familiar because of him. He read aloud at the table, classics or whatever historical subject interested him. His idea of bedtime stories were passages from Dickens, Twain, and Stevenson. Mama told me I could write whatever I wanted. She put a dictionary in my hands and let me use her typewriter, or watch I, Claudius and Shoulder to Shoulder when they first aired on Masterpiece Theatre. She was the realist. He was the romantic. They were a great team.”

Where Your Treasure Is, a novel set in late-Victorian London and Norfolk, came together after the sudden death of the author’s father. “I’d been teaching high school English for over a decade and had spent the summer cleaning my parents’ house and their offices. It was August, time for classes to begin. The characters emerged out of nowhere, sort of like they knew I needed them. They took over.” 

She had worked on a novella as part of her master’s degree in English years before but set it aside, along with many other stories. “I was also writing songs for the band I’m in and had done a libretto for a sacred piece. All of that was completely different from Where Your Treasure Is. Before her health declined, my mother heard Treasure’s first draft and encouraged me to return to prose. The novel is a nod to all the wonderful books my father read to us, the old movies we stayed up to watch, a thank you to my parents, especially Mama for reminding me that nothing is wasted. Dreams don’t have to die. Neither does love.”  

When M. C. Bunn is not writing, she’s researching or reading. Her idea of a well-appointed room includes multiple bookshelves, a full pot of coffee, and a place to lie down with a big, old book. To further feed her soul, she and her husband take long walks with their dog, Emeril in North Carolina’s woods, or she makes music with friends. 

“I try to remember to look up at the sky and take some time each day to be thankful.” 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Where Your Treasure Is blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

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Welcome to today’s stop on The Wisdom of the Flock by Steve M Gnatz blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Steve M Gnatz to the blog with a post about the research he undertook for his new book, The Wisdom of the Flock.

My research process was truly a “labour of love”. It began in 2005 when I read an article about the interaction between Franklin and Mesmer in the late 1700’s. Specifically, the article mentioned Franklin being asked to head the French commission investigating Mesmerism – a quasi-medical process that we would now probably identify as hypnotism. That was fascinating to me because I knew nothing about how Franklin might approach such an endeavour. I knew that Franklin was an inventor (lightening rod, bifocal glasses, etc.) but I had never really thought of him as a scientist. He was, of course, and a good one.  Franklin, and the other French scientists involved, applied what we would now call the scientific method to his investigation of Mesmerism – some have even called his experiments the first “blinded study” partly because they used a real blindfold on their subjects.

However, I next learned that Franklin had invented a musical instrument called a glass armonica for a beautiful young musician (Marianne Davies) in England prior to his time in France. 

A Glass Armonica

Of particular interest to me was that I learned that Doctor Franz Mesmer was subsequently using a copy of Marianne’s glass armonica in France in his seances. That got me thinking that perhaps there was some sort of a love triangle going on. This is where the fiction enters into historical fiction. There are copious books that one can read about Ben Franklin, and a few about Mesmer, but none about Marianne Davies – so I was free to make up her character more than the others.

The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris is based on real people and events. If there is a specific date given in the book, the event happened on that date – perhaps not exactly as described – but it happened. I just filled in the blanks in the historical record.

Whatever the resources studied, my foremost objective as a historical fiction author is to try to bring the characters to life. The readers will have to decide if I am successful or not. However, I find that the easiest way to do this is by telling the story through conversations between the characters. Since we rarely know from the historical record what was actually said – especially in the 1700’s, well before the advent of audio recording equipment – this gives me some freedom and also allows me to flesh out my characters “personalities”. I envision and portray Ben Franklin as a virile, confident, occasionally pedantic, hedonistic socialite in Paris at the age of 70 plus. That image has gotten me into a little trouble with some critics who have found it hard to believe that he was not the corpulent, gouty, elder statesman they imagine – but I believe that the historical record bears me out on this. One need only read DuPont’s inscription to the 1779 painting by Duplessis (included here* and as a frontispiece in the book) as evidence. Or consider that he really did propose marriage to a French woman (and a major character in the book) Madame Helvetius near the end of his time in France.

I believe that the filter of time tends to oversimplify historical figures. I wrote about this on my own blog back in January and you can find that post here: https://stevegnatz.com/2021/01/why-do-we-stereotype-historical-characters/

We come to think of historical figures as good or bad, triumphant or tragic, famous or infamous – not the complex people that they most likely were. My book attempts to breathe a little life into these people who lived nearly 300 years ago.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

I included a bibliography at the end of The Wisdom of the Flock and would refer the interested reader to that resource as it represents my “go to” list for writing this book. It includes many published books but also journal articles and even a PhD dissertation. Because Franklin’s letters are all digitized and available for viewing on the web, it was easy to get access to his main form of communication – letter writing. 

The internet is a wonderful tool for researching a historical fiction novel. Just remember not to believe everything that you read!

As I’m sure is a fairly common practice for historical fiction writers, I create a spreadsheet as a resource with a timeline of important historical dates and events across the top and the characters names down the side. I can then make notes at the intersection of the two. For example, when were Marianne, Franklin, and Mesmer all known to be in Paris so that they could interact? When did Mesmer leave Paris, and did Marianne go with him?

I will also specifically recommend the books on Benjamin Franklin by Claude-Anne Lopez for anyone that really wants to get a feeling of what he was like. I believe that she developed a better understanding of his personality than anyone of our time. Unfortunately, Ms. Lopez passed away in 2012 and I never got to meet her. In her lifetime, she not only translated all of Franklin’s papers from French to English, but also wrote several key books that helped me understand Franklin as a man. I thank her for that.

In addition to reading any books that I could find on my main characters, I also found that books on “ancillary” characters were helpful. There are many famous characters portrayed in The Wisdom of the Flock – Marie Antoinette was the queen of France at the time, Pierre Beaumarchais (playwright), John Paul Jones (navy captain), even Casanova was circulating around. Books on these historical figures helped me flesh out their characters and hopefully avoid stereotyping them.

Getting to know as much as I can about the historical characters is fun and helps me form my own opinions about who they were. While we can, of course, never really know them, historical fiction allows the writer and the reader to almost feel that they do.

Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you really enjoyed the research process of writing the book (yay), and I wish you luck with it.

Book Trailer:

Here’s the blurb:

A WORLD OF ENLIGHTENMENT, REVOLUTION, AND INTRIGUE  

1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician. 

Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.

A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim. 

The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.

Trigger Warnings:

Mild sexual content

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the Author

Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Wisdom of the Flock blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

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Welcome to today’s stop on the Wall of Stone by Heather Robinson blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Heather Robinson to the blog with a post about her book, Wall of Stone and the historical research she undertook to write it.

The internet features widely in my initial research and I always start by scouring it to create a timeline of major events leading up to the start of the period I am writing in. For Wall of Stone I went back to the first invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 54BC despite it being 175 years earlier as it’s useful to have a grasp of the political influences that lead to the chosen period. Even a one line spoken reference to an historic event by a character can add a wonderful authenticity to a story I think. 

From the timeline, I’ll expand my notes around the main time focus of the book, in this case the year AD121 and see if I can find any mention of meteorological or geological events: a solar eclipse, volcanic eruption, flood, drought, plague…anything dramatic that can’t be ignored. If something particular is thrown up in the initial searches, more detailed research is undertaken across many different web pages and a specialised book purchased if necessary.

The same process is applied to any real historical characters that must be included for the story to work. Emperor Hadrian doesn’t feature anywhere near as much in Wall of Stone as my fictional characters, but my notes contain far more information on him, and far more than made it in to the book too, as I needed to learn about his life to understand the man. I always give a backstory to my fictional characters that doesn’t necessarily make it in to the book, but that’s all made up so doesn’t involve any research.

Once a framework of sorts is in place, I like to get writing and return to research as I go. For me, this is important as there is always more to learn and if I didn’t get writing I would continue researching forever! The research could overwhelm me too, it can be daunting, so I just get on with weaving the fiction around the framework of facts so far acquired, keeping in mind the end result is to produce an entertaining story and not give an historical lecture. My aim is to keep the facts accurate but hide them seamlessly within the fiction.

Not wishing to continually disrupt my writing flow, I will often highlight my working manuscript in red capital letters RESEARCH with a note of the topic, such as native flora, Roman gods, Brigante customs, and return to sort the facts out later. One such note was ‘RESEARCH –  how does a decayed head look after a year or so’!! Well, I needed to describe it and had no idea. My internet search history might raise some eyebrows!

Conversely, I turn to research to solve problems that occur in my plot, or to kick-start the story when the plot stalls. It’s a way of gleaning snippets of information to add to the framework. It can throw up some wonderful ideas. 

As well as the internet, another resource I could not do without is my trusty Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain. I have travelled from Northumberland to Wiltshire through the lands of the native tribes: Iceni, Trinovantes and Atrebates to name three, discovering forts, potteries, lead mines, salt mines, temple sites, aqueducts and villas. I love a good OS map at the best of times, this ancient one is just gold dust to me.

It’s packed with information and gives me a wonderful perspective on the land in Roman times, a cross between a picture, a text book and a place name translator all in one resource. I highly recommend it.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It sounds fascinating (maps are an amazing resource). Good luck with the book.

Here’s the blurb:

In AD121 the Twentieth Legion of Rome stands at the northern frontier of Britannia. Forgotten, neglected and dour in spirit, they must still do their duty for an Empire whose meaning is becoming lost to them.

As the lives of the local Teviot family intertwine with the legion, relationships of love and bitter anguish unfurl. Will the invading army push north? Will the disputing native tribes unite in an uprising? Can Marcus be with Jolinda?

When peace is fragile, friendships count for everything…

Universal Link:

This book is available on #KindleUnlimited.

Meet the Author

Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK.  Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree with most of her working life spent as an Administration Manager locally.  She is also a qualified and experienced radio presenter, hosting a weekly show for Warminster Community Radio.  Proud parents of two boys, Heather and her husband Graham share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling. 

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Welcome to today’s stop on Clement: The Green Ship by Craig R Hipkins blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Craig R Hipkins to the blog with a fascinating post about his new YA historical fiction novel, Clement.

First, I would like to thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. Clement: The Green Ship is the sequel to Clement: Boy Knight of Normandy. However, it stands alone and one does not have to read the first book in order to enjoy the second one. Clement is a 14-year-old boy who is a genius and happens to be a count who seems to always find himself in some sort of trouble. His character first appeared in my novel, Adalbert where he strikes up a friendship with a young servant girl, Dagena. The two youths become fast friends and despite coming from two vastly different economic classes they become devoted to one another.

I have always been a writer who strives to entertain but at the same time keep the flavor of the time period that I am writing about. Most of my work takes place during the 12th century. This is an interesting time period to write about. It was the time when the dark ages were ending and the age of exploration was beginning. I know a lot about this era but I did have to do some research regarding the type of vessel that I was writing about. The Green Ship is a cog. However, I can best describe it as a cog on steroids! One of the characters in the book is the carpenter of the Green Ship. He is a dwarf whose name is Baldwin. He first created a model of the vessel before building the real one. Cog ships of the 12thcentury were not equipped with castles on the bow or stern. Baldwin, however, is a master at his craft. He not only builds castles on the vessel, but also equips the ship with oars, so that it is a sort of hybrid. I guess that it would be considered a cog and a galley all mixed into one! I definitely use a little literary license here but I do believe that it helps set the setting and tone of the story. 

I used a few good resources while researching my book. I referred to a lot of maps. A great book that I found useful was New Found Lands by Peter Whitfield. This book is replete with useful maps and information. I also frequently referred to A Short History of Costume & Armour by Kelly and Schwabe. The book was written nearly a century ago, but it is chock full of good information. The Medieval Fortress by Kaufmann and Jurga is also a source that I used. I would be amiss to not mention two books that I read before writing about the kraken that Clement and company encounter off the coast of Greenland in chapters 10 & 11. The first book is called Curious Creatures in Zoology, by John Ashton. This book was written in the late 19th century. It is a fascinating work on cryptozoology. The second book is Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis. This book devotes a whole chapter to the kraken. An entertaining read while researching useful information for my book.

Clement’s goal is to find the fabled land of Vinland. He does not quite get there in this second book of the series (we will have to wait until the third installment!) However, he does manage to make it to Greenland. This book is set in the year 1161. At this time in history, Greenland had been settled by the Norse and Danes for almost two centuries but was a place so remote that contact with Europe was rare. In fact, eventually the two largest settlements were abandoned to their isolated fate. It was not until a Danish missionary named Hans Egede set out to rediscover them in 1723 that anything else was known about them. By the time that he arrived, a few centuries had passed and he found little evidence that his ancestors had ever settled there. I had read Egede’s book A Description of Greenland and decided that Clement needed to explore this interesting and beautiful place where the Aurora Borealis frequently visits. Although this book is considered YA, I hope that adults will also enjoy it.

Thank you so much for such a fascinating article. Good luck with the new book and I hope Clement makes it to Vinland soon.

Here’s the blurb:

Normandy. The year 1161. King Henry ll sends the 14-year-old Clement, Count of la Haye on a secret mission. The young count and his friends travel in the wake of the mysterious mariner known as Sir Humphrey Rochford. Their destination? The legendary land of Vinland, known only from the Norse sagas. The journey is full of adventure and intrigue. Clement battles with a tyrannical Irish king and then finds his vessel attacked by a massive monster from the deep. The Green Ship sails to the sparse and barren land of Greenland where more trouble awaits.

This novel is available to read on #KindleUnlimited 

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Meet the Author

Craig R. Hipkins grew up in Hubbardston Massachusetts. He is the author of medieval and gothic fiction. His novel, Adalbert is the sequel to Astrolabe written by his late twin brother Jay S. Hipkins (1968-2018)

He is an avid long-distance runner and enjoys astronomy in his spare time.

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It’s release day for The Last Shield

Today sees the release of The Last Shield, book 6, yes 6, in the Ninth Century Series.

Coelwulf and his fiercely loyal band of warriors must once more battle for Mercia.

Here’s the blurb:

Book 6 in the action-packed, bloody and brutal series about Coelwulf, Mercia’s forgotten ninth-century king.

Summoned back to Worcester by Bishop Wærferth, Coelwulf discovers that an old enemy has resurfaced on the border with the Welsh, but this time, an enemy demanding help.

Aware he can’t leave Mercia, Coelwulf must split his force, determined that his old enemy is more helpful as his ally.

But beset by an unexpected force of Raiders inside Mercia, Coelwulf and his small band of warriors find themselves trapped by winter storms, as well as Raiders who don’t yet know of Jarl Halfdan’s death and still hunger for Coelwulf’s blood.

Coelwulf faces his most difficult struggle of all as he fights for the future of his beloved Mercian kingdom, his warriors, old and new, at his side.

I hope you enjoy The Last Shield. I’ll keep you updated with news of the next release in the series when I know.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Down Salem Way by Meredith Allard

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Meredith Allard to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write her book Down Salem Way.

I’ve been reading, editing, and writing historical fiction for many years. As a matter of fact, I’ve even written a book about how to write historical fiction called Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction. Thank you to M.J. for allowing me space on the blog today to share my thoughts on one of my favorite subjects.

The way I research historical fiction has changed a lot over the years. When I first started writing historical fiction, I would check as many books as I could carry out of the library, take meticulous notes, color code my notes with highlighters (blue for food, pink for fashion, etc.), return those books and check out another pile, and so on until I felt I had enough knowledge to begin drafting my story. Sometimes it was months worth of research before I started writing anything. Once I started writing I knew exactly where to look in my notebook for what I needed. If I was writing a dinner scene, I could find my notes about food. Notes I referred to often, such as important dates or events that I kept mentioning, were written on index cards, also color-coded, for easier access.

I no longer complete my research before I start writing. As a fellow writer friend said to me, feeling like you have to do all of your research before you start writing slows down your process to the point where your story doesn’t get written. These days I do some preliminary research by reading generally around my topic, perhaps taking a few notes, just enough to keep things clear in my head, and then I begin the prewriting process. Usually, through the process of brainstorming, prewriting, and drafting my story, I recognize what specific bits of historical information I’ll need and then I’ll search for those bits. That’s when my note taking begins in earnest. I create digital folders to organize my notes, citations, and annotations, and I still keep categories of information together (food, clothing, political climate, and so on).  

One trick I learned from a history class I took years ago is to think about the historical world I’m creating through the acronym GRAPES. 

Geography—How does the climate and landscape affect the people who live there?

Religion—How does the society’s belief system and traditions affect the people who live there? 

Achievements—What are the achievements of this society—good and bad? 

Politics—What is the power structure in this society?

Economics—How are goods and resources used in this society?

Social Structure—How does this society organize people into classes? Who ends up in which class and why?

I love to travel to the place I’m writing about as well. I always get a lot of good ideas for my story from my travels. As I work to weave the information I learned into my story, one thing I keep in mind is that I want to carry my readers into my world by touching their senses. What do readers see, hear, taste, touch, and smell? Often it’s the smaller details, what people wore, what they ate, the houses they lived in, that brings historical fiction alive since these are details we can relate to, even if what we eat and drink and where we live is different today. 

Some dependable online research sources I’ve used over the years are Project Gutenberg, the Library of Congress, the Victorian WebV&A, and JSTORThe History Quill has a list of 50+ research sites for writers of historical fiction. I also love to go to the library to see what books I can find, and I’ve found that librarians are more than happy to help if I can’t find what I’m looking for. 

I love learning about history, so researching historical fiction is actually fun for me.

Thank you so much for sharing your post with us. Research can indeed be a rabbit hole from which you can’t return:)

Here’s the blurb;

How would you deal with the madness of the Salem witch hunts?

In 1690, James Wentworth arrives in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, John, hoping to continue the success of John’s mercantile business. While in Salem, James falls in love with Elizabeth Jones, a farmer’s daughter. Though they are virtually strangers when they marry, the love between James and Elizabeth grows quickly into a passion that will transcend time.

But something evil lurks down Salem way. Soon many in Salem, town and village, are accused of practicing witchcraft and sending their shapes to harm others. Despite the madness surrounding them, James and Elizabeth are determined to continue the peaceful, loving life they have created together. Will their love for one another carry them through the most difficult challenge of all?

Buy Links:

Down Salem Way:

Her Dear and Loving Husband

Her Loving Husband’s Curse

Her Loving Husband’s Return

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Meet the Author

Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her nonfiction book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 New Release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help by Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at http://www.meredithallard.com.

Connect with the author

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Don’t forget to stop by the other sites on the Down Salem Way blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Wolf at the Door by Sarah Hawkswood review and release day tour – historical mystery

Here’s the blurb:

1144. The body of Durand Wuduweard, the unpopular keeper of the King’s Forest of Feckenham, is discovered beside his hearth, his corpse rendered barely identifiable by sharp teeth. Hushed whispers of a man-wolf spread swiftly and Sheriff William de Beauchamp’s men, Bradecote and Catchpoll, have to find out who killed Durand and why, amidst superstitious villagers, raids upon manors and further grim deaths. Who commands the wolf, and where will its fangs strike next?

Wolf at the Door is my second Bradecote and Catchpoll book, and I was excited to receive an advanced copy of it. (I’m starting to collect the ‘back’ catalogue’ as well.)

This time, the pair, well the three of them including Wakelin, are sent to discover the truth about a particularly gruesome murder, where a wolf is suspected (hence the title). What follows is a tightly constructed story where the three follow leads, some dead ends, and interact with a deliciously mixed group of people living in Worcester and the environs in the 1100s.

I love the historical elements of the story, deeply rooted in the time, with King Stephen a spectre who could appear at any time, although he hasn’t, not yet. There is more from the Sheriff of Worcester, rather than the undersheriff than in the previous book I read, and he too is an excellent character. Hats off for the mixture of Old English and Norman names, aptly highlighting the split in society, and for deciding that ‘Foreign’ cursing isn’t quite as colourful as a bit of English cursing – (well, Catchpoll makes that observation).

An intriguing story, the mystery kept me intrigued and the ending was excellent. I look forward to the next in the series.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. A firm 5/5 from me.

Wolf at the Door is released today, 19th August and can be purchased here. And the publisher are running a fantastic giveaway which can be entered here to win a set of signed Bradecote and Catchpoll books.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Queen’s Spy by Clare Marchant

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Clare Marchant to the blog with a fascinating post about her new dual-timeline novel, The Queen’s Spy, partially set in Elizabethan England, a particular favourite of mine.

My Research Process

When I first have a concept for a book it always starts with the historical protagonist. I never have an idea that appears fully formed in my head (oh I wish I were that writer!) but instead I will have various small threads of suggestions and I need to start weaving them together until I have a strong enough outline to encompass a whole book. And at that point, the research – my favourite part of writing a book – really begins. I have always had a great love for history and I studied it for my degree, so reading historical textbooks as part of my job is perfect for me!

The problem with historical research as any writer will attest to, is that it is all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole – and I am as guilty as the next person of doing that! A name will be mentioned and I find myself looking that person up to see if they could be used in my book and then that leads to something else and before I know it, a whole day has passed and I haven’t got anything down on paper.

I definitely make a rod for my own back in that I like to include as much accuracy as possible and to use real people wherever I can, just threading my own protagonist in around actual events. Therefore it’s important that my information is spot on. For instance, in The Queen’s Spy I wrote about The Babington Plot and Sir Francis Walsingham’s spy network. I did extensive reading around this until I had accumulated quite a lot of information which we know to be true. Even if my readers don’t realise that I’m using real events and people, I think it’s important to get the facts right. For example Tom wears a blue coat because we know that Babington was brought a letter from a man wearing a blue coat who was believed to be one of Walsingham’s men. And when Babington is missed hiding upstairs in Pooley’s house – another true event.

In a similar way when I wrote The Secrets of Saffron Hall, I had to research a lot into the growing of saffron in Norfolk in the sixteenth century to make sure everything I wrote was accurate – I was delighted when I discovered that it’s still grown there today!

Over the years I have accumulated many research books, and every time I start to write another book I seem to buy more, whilst reassuring my husband that it is vital and part of my work as he sees another pile of packages arrive on the doormat! Usually they’re specialist ones that have information for a particular subject I need to know about in great detail, such as ‘The Queen’s Agent’ by John Cooper and ‘Elizabeth’s Spy Master’ by Robert Hutchinson for detailed accounts of the work that Walsingham did to stop Mary Queen of Scots toppling Queen Elizabeth and taking the throne.

I do of course use some more generic Tudor books for some of the details I may not know. I needed to research some of the herbal remedies during the writing of Saffron Hall, and sometimes I want to know specifics for items of clothing or tools they used. One of my favourite books is called ‘A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects’ by John Matusiak and as the title suggests it has photographs of Tudor artefacts, some of which are quite amazing.

Before I start writing a book I spend about eight weeks researching in depth around the timeline I am going to write about so that I am fully immersed in it when I begin to write. I don’t want to have to stop every thirty minutes to check a fact, although of course there are occasions when I have to put a marker in to go back and check something…although this can be dangerous as once again I am seen disappearing down that ubiquitous rabbit hole!

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post with me. I do love to find out how writers get to their characters, and how they learn about their time period. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

Buy Links:

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Meet the Author

Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Queen’s Spy blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Steampunk Cleopatra by Thaddeus Thomas

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Thaddeus Thomas to the blog to talk about his new book, Steampunk Cleopatra, a historical fantasy.

Your book, Steampunk Cleopatra sounds like a wonderful combination of history and fantasy. I usually ask authors to tell me about their research process because as a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories. But I think your book might be a little different. So, a few questions instead.

Was it the history or the lost science that attracted you to this story? Can you explain why?

I was attracted to the Library of Alexandria, and everything began there. Outside of deciding to focus the book on Cleopatra, the next greatest influence was Hero of Alexander who invented the world’s first steam engine in the first century CE. The draw was the enigmas of history, and the lost science of Egypt was a potential solution.

How did you create your ‘world?’ What aspects of the past were important for you to keep, and which were you happy to discard?

I never intentionally discarded history. The idea that I was writing fantasy gave me the courage to tackle the subject, but I intended to tell as historically accurate a story as possible, in one sense. If that’s all the book was, then the gaps in our knowledge would be filled with the most probable truths. I’ve simple filled many of those gaps with wonder.

The book covers many years and a lot of territory, from Egypt to Rome, Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Kush. Of my own life, I spent two years researching and writing Steampunk Cleopatra and had just come off of three years on Detective, 26 AD, which helped immensely with the Jerusalem sections. 

I enjoy a good steampunk novel, although most I’ve read are set in an alternative Victorian period. What challenges were there for you in using Egypt as your setting? (if you did use Egypt).

In the beginning of the book, I focus on a mostly grounded, historical Alexandria, although the spotlight is often cast on the surprising inventions of the time. For example, their hours were not constant in length. There were twelve daylight hours, no matter how short or how long the day. They invented water clocks that automatically counted out the hours in beautiful, artistic ways while remaining accurate, no matter the time of the year. That historical concern made the move into expanding the technology my greatest challenge.

For the steampunk aspect, think of stories like the movie National Treasure, but what if finding the hidden treasure was only half the story? If we have access to this great technology, how do we use it? Does it benefit the marginalized people who made it possible in the first place or does it become simply another tool of oppression? Is it the secret to taking over the world or is it the key to your downfall? These are some of the questions the book tackles.

I do not use fantasy to change the course of history but to fantastically explain aspects of it and through that, examine our nature, our failure, and our hope.

Was there anything you discovered during your research that made you change elements of your story, or which you found amazing?

There are so many moments of real-life scientific wonder that worked their way in, but the Ptolemaic political drama was the driving force. Of that, the largest single impact was Ptolemy’s slaughter of the hundred delegates sent by Berenice to speak before the Roman Senate. Much of this was new information to me, as the book focuses on the early years of Cleopatra, ending with Julius Caesar and the Alexandrian Civil War. When you study her life, that’s usually where you begin.

Did you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff got me started, but that’s not to say she made things easy for me. The years I focus on, she glossed over, and for that time period, she had a way of mentioning facts out of historical context. It worked for the opening picture she was drawing for her work, but I had much to unravel in those early days. I did a great deal of reading, and with so much focus on Egypt, I needed both a break for my eyes and an introduction to Roman history. For that, I have to mention the YouTube channel Historia Civilis. It gave me the context I needed as a foundation and was entertaining. 

Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you had a fantastic, if complex, time unravelling the history and the facts. Good luck with Steampunk Cleopatra.

Here’s the blurb:

Amani, a companion of Cleopatra, seeks to rediscover Egypt’s suppressed science and history. She is the beloved of her princess become queen, but that may not be enough to overcome the system they’ve inherited. If she fails, her country and Cleopatra, both, could fall. History meets fantasy, and together, they create something new. Experience an intelligent thriller about star-crossed lovers and an ancient science that might have been. 

Available on KindleUnlimited.

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Meet the Author

Thaddeus Thomas lives on the Mississippi River with his wife and three cats. Steampunk Cleopatra is his first novel, but he has a short story collection available at his website, ThaddeusThomas.com. There he also runs a book club where readers can receive indie book reviews and recommendation. His second book—Detective, 26 AD—releases July 9thand follows Doubting Thomas as he is conscripted to be an investigator for Pontius Pilate.

Connect with Thaddeus Thomas

Website: Twitter: Facebook: Book Club:

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Steampunk Cleopatra blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. You can find all the links here: https://www.coffeepotbookclub.com/post/blog-tour-steampunk-cleopatra-by-thaddeus-thomas-july-12th-september-13th-2021

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Kingfisher by D K Marley

Today, I’m delighted to welcome D K Marley to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Kingfisher.

Delving Into Worlds to Create Worlds

The idea of reading books to create a book, or perusing over endless amounts of websites, articles, dissertations, and more to write one historical novel appears daunting to most people; however, to me the task is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a historical fiction author. So much so that I have to stop myself from researching to remind myself that I have a book to write. That being said, I do spend at least a month researching and taking notes before writing the first line of any book; and then, I research as needed along the way, especially when I come across something that must be included. My first draft is always a continuous flow from beginning to end with very little stopping and starting. The idea is to get the initial story on the computer because more often than not, everything shifts and morphs from the very first line to the the last by the time all the research is done and I have gone through the story twenty more times.

In researching for the novel Kingfisher I began simply, as I do with most of my novels. I always find one poem to include in my work, something that speaks to the heart of the story as well as giving a clue to the time period ideals that my characters live within. My best source so far in finding great poems is, of course, with Shakespeare, as most of my other novels are based on his plays. Kingfisher is different. This story deals with the loss of an age of innocence before WW1, and the desperation many felt to reclaim the Victorian way of life, so when I came across Martin Donisthorpe Armstrong’s poem “Kingfisher” written in the late 1800s, I felt an instant connection and knew I had to use it as the opening to the book.

Under the bank, close-shadowed from the sun,
By winter freshets spun,
Dry tangled wreckage hung above the shallows
In the long roots of the sallows,
And underneath in cool twilight the stream
Lay calmed to a brown dream.

Then with the gleam and flash of a swift-blue flame
Out from the dusk he came,
And the heart and the breath stood still with delight and wonder,
While in the water under
Shot, swift as he, a streak of blue and green
From unseen to unseen.

O wonder, leaping with sudder flutter of wings
From the litter of common things,
Flash on the inward eye till the soul leaps higher
On the surge of a great desire,
And high in the dim-lit hall of earthly years
Another lamp appears. 

The flash of a swift-blue flame, out of the dusk he came… a streak of blue and green from unseen to unseen – sounds like a time traveler to me! And ‘from the litter of common things, flash on the inward eye till the soul leaps higher on the surge of a great desire, and high in the dim-lit hall of earthly years another lamp appears’ bespeaks of hope beyond the present circumstances; thus, hope beyond the dark storm of WW1, and beyond the fall of Camelot.

I must say, Wikipedia was a great help in general information about regions around Wales, specifically the Brecon forest, and Caernarfon. I spent a great deal of time just looking at pictures of the area, imagining my characters walking to the top of a tor, of the River Usk snaking through the valley, and lone Rowan trees growing from rocky crags. Since COVID prevented me from an actual trip to Wales, I had to use the pictures to absorb myself into the landscape (*sigh*). Also, I have to give a shout-out to Deborah Greenfield, an audiobook narrator who lives right near the area I wrote about, who was a great help in making sure my descriptions were accurate. 

As far as books and research material, the list is vast! I used JSTOR and Gutenberg.org quite a bit, especially when taking time to read the writings of Einstein and Freud. BBC Online was also a great avenue for videos and articles.

Also, my own copies of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Lady Charlotte Guest’s translated edition of The Mabinogion were essential in developing the story.

Here are just a few more of the research sites I used for the book but my list includes at least 150 to 200 articles, books, and more:

An overview of Arthurian literature: https://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/arthur_literature.shtml

The official page about the Welsh Bardic festival known as the Eisteddfod:

https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/Social/Eisteddfod

A historical blog article about Victorian-era debutantes:

http://www.katetattersall.com/coming-out-during-the-early-victorian-era-debutantes/

Book – “Ladies of the Manor: How Wives and Daughters Really Lived in Country Houses”

https://books.google.com/books?id=BEdpCAAAQBAJ

As far as an instrumental book on writing, the two I keep with me always are books I was introduced to at the Writer’s Retreat Workshop, a 10-day retreat founded by Gary Provost, and they are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King. Bird by Bird is honest, down-to-earth writing guide, and On Writing is an inspiring book showing how the link between writing and living spurred King’s recovery after trauma, something I can very well relate to. Both books I highly recommend to any aspiring writer.

Thank you for having me on the blog today and I hope you enjoy my story “Kingfisher”!

Thank you so much for sharing your research resources. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

The past, future, and Excalibur lie in her hands.

Wales, 1914. Vala Penrys and her four sisters find solace in their spinster life by story-telling, escaping the chaos of war by dreaming of the romantic days of Camelot. When the war hits close to home, Vala finds love with Taliesin Wren, a mysterious young Welsh Lieutenant, who shows her another world within the tangled roots of a Rowan tree, known to the Druids as ‘the portal’.

One night she falls through, and suddenly she is Vivyane, Lady of the Lake – the Kingfisher – in a divided Britain clamoring for a High King. What begins as an innocent pastime becomes the ultimate quest for peace in two worlds full of secrets, and Vala finds herself torn between the love of her life and the salvation of not only her family but of Britain, itself.

“It is, at the heart of it, a love story – the love between a man and a woman, between a woman and her country, and between the characters and their fates – but its appeal goes far beyond romance. It is a tale of fate, of power, and, ultimately, of sacrifice for a greater good.” – Riana Everly, author of Teaching Eliza and Death of a Clergyman

Buy Links:

Available on #KindleUnlimited.

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Meet D K Marley

D. K. Marley is a Historical Fiction author specializing in Shakespearean adaptations, Tudor era historicals, Colonial American historicals, alternate historicals, and historical time-travel. At a very early age she knew she wanted to be a writer. Inspired by her grandmother, an English Literature teacher, she dove into writing during her teenage years, winning short story awards for two years in local competitions. After setting aside her writing to raise a family and run her graphic design business, White Rabbit Arts, returning to writing became therapy to her after suffering immense tragedy, and she published her first novel “Blood and Ink” in 2018, which went on to win the Bronze Medal for Best Historical Fiction from The Coffee Pot Book Club, and the Silver Medal from the Golden Squirrel Book Awards. Within three years, she has published four more novels (two Shakespearean adaptations, one Colonial American historical, and a historical time travel).

When she is not writing, she is the founder and administrator of The Historical Fiction Club on Facebook, and the CEO of The Historical Fiction Company, a website dedicated to supporting the best in historical fiction for authors and readers. And for fun, she is an avid reader of the genre, loves to draw, is a conceptual photography hobbyist, and is passionate about spending time with her granddaughter. She lives in Middle Georgia U.S.A. with her husband of 35 years, an English Lab named Max, and an adorable Westie named Daisy.

Connect with the author

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Kingfisher blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Landscape of a Marriage by Gail Ward Olmsted

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Gail Ward Olmsted to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Landscape of a Marriage.

Separating Fact from Fiction

As a reader, I enjoy historical fiction that stimulates my interest to learn more about a person or a time from the past. Good historical fiction, in my humble opinion, needs to be balanced- a blend of historical facts and accuracy with a riveting storyline and well-developed characters who lived, or at least could have lived, during that time. I don’t believe there is any required ratio between the  levels of fact and fiction (maybe 60/40 in favor of facts if I had  to wager  a  guess?) but clearly a well-researched story is ultimately going to garner more attention and a larger number of satisfied readers than one that relies on interesting characters to make up for a historical backdrop that is too thin or inaccurate. But the real question is not how much ‘history’ do you need in your historical  fiction,  but rather how do you obtain that information?

When it comes to research, at some point you have to tell yourself that it’s time to stop, that enough is enough. Although it is tempting to continue down yet another rabbit hole of information (and there are so many different avenues to explore) a good writer knows when it’s time. Time to put down all those references and sources and actually start writing.

Researching a historical novel is a challenging and at least for me, an ultimately rewarding experience. I have previously written four contemporary novels and Landscape of a Marriage,  my first historical novel, was an eye-opener. I blame my public school education or more appropriately, my earlier lack of interest in most things historical for my struggles. Other than the dates I learned of all the major battles in a variety of wars that the U.S. participated in, I don’t recall  learning anything of interest to me in all of those history classes I sat through. I was a good student, but never developed a love of history until I started reading on my own. My early favorites are still classics in my mind- Gone with the Wind (Mitchell), The Thornbirds (McCullough) and Trinity (Uris).  Great characters and interesting storylines set in different times in the past. What a joy!

I was drawn to the story of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his late brother’s widow Mary for a  number of reasons. The primary one is that Olmsted is a distant relative of my husband’s. Way back when, there were two brothers- Aaron and Benjamin- one is Fred’s grandfather and the other, my husband’s great, great, great grandfather. 

Frederick Law Olmsted

But what really drew me into the story was the marriage of Fred and Mary, his former sister-in-law. Although ‘levirate’ marriages were fairly common in the 19th century in order to protect the  children and the family name, I felt there was an  interesting story lurking right below the surface and I set out to write it. My first step was to  find out everything I could about the lives of Fred and Mary. I reviewed many different resources while researching Landscape of a Marriage. There are a number of beautifully written books on Frederick Law  Olmsted and that was where I began,  including A Clearing in the Distance (Rybczynski) and Genius  of Place (Martin). I highly recommend them both.

Mary Cleveland Olmsted

These books helped me to understand quite a bit about the times and Olmsted’s professional accomplishments. I made careful notes and drafted an outline, filling in the  most significant events happening during the tumultuous years of  the second half of the 19th century in America- the Civil  War, Lincoln’s assassination, the  women’s suffrage movement, the Gold Rush and the Second Industrial Revolution.

Mrs Fred Olmsted

This  provided the backdrop or the overall foundation for Landscape. Then I moved on to the Olmsteds themselves. I began with their marriage, the births of their children and significant personal and professional milestones along the way, including Fred’s work on such notable projects as Central Park  in NYC, Mount Royal in Montreal, the  Chicago World’s Fair and the reopening of Niagara Falls. The Olmsteds moved from New York, to Washington, DC, to  California and back  to New York before dividing their time between Brookline, a Boston suburb and Deer Isle, Maine. Each location would have an impact on their lives together and needed to be researched carefully to identify exactly how.

From there, I continued my research and Google provided me with access to numerous articles, posts and images that added to my base of knowledge. Who knew how interesting it could be to learn about the culture, the lifestyles, the clothing and the hobbies enjoyed during the second half of the 19th century? I remembered very little about the Civil War (except for those all important dates!) but never took the time to imagine what it was like for the soldiers, their mothers, their families. Before committing  to  landscape architecture as a career, Fred worked for the  United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the American Red Cross) and his efforts revealed a caring, empathetic man who loved his country and fought to improve living conditions for the soldiers. This was a far cry from the critical and driven workaholic persona that frequently is assigned to Olmsted and it helped me to portray him as a loving and  passionate man dedicated to both his profession and his wife and  children. I hope readers who enjoy Landscape will be inspired to visit  Olmsted’s parks and learn more about this creative visionary who transformed  the  American landscape forever.

Do you have a story to tell about a real or fictional person or an important time in history? The more research you do, the more likely it is that you will craft a story that you will enjoy writing and  your readers will enjoy reading.

Here’s the blurb:

A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.

New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space. 

Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man. 

Buy Links: 

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Publisher

Meet the Author

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. 

For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com.

Connect with Gail Ward Omstead.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Landscape of a Marriage Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

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Welcome to today’s stop on the Queen of Blood by Sarah Kennedy blog tour

Today I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Kennedy to the blog to answer my questions about her fantastic new book, Queen of Blood.

Your book, Queen of Blood, is set during the tumultuous reign of Mary Tudor, a much maligned character. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

I’m afraid that I’m rather a magpie in my research—toddling along picking up the shiny bits along the way, not knowing whether I’ll want them later. I spent a long time studying Renaissance literature as a student and then a professor, and when I started my career as a writer I focused on poems. Poems, of course, are much shorter and more focused in their scope than fiction, and, in my historical poems, I was able to use tiny details and idioms that I had picked up mostly unconsciously from reading. As I moved into fiction, I found that those Early Modern cadences of language came to me very easily. I travel (or used to travel!) quite a bit, and part of my research involves going to the kinds of places that I set my fiction in—small towns and villages, castles, stately homes, and museums. I talk to people a lot, and I soak in atmosphere. That’s not the most scholarly way to do research, I realize, but it’s how I work. This probably drives a historian crazy!

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

My process is rather sloppy, I’m afraid! I do read history, as anyone who writes historical fiction must, but I find that reading the literature of the period—the poems, plays, stories, and letters—of the period do more to fill in gaps for me. Reading literature also provides me with first-hand knowledge of the words people used, the ways they expressed emotions and beliefs, and how they spelled things. Spelling wasn’t regularized in the English language during the Renaissance, so it’s very interesting for me to see how writers spelled words. I teach Renaissance literature and Shakespeare, so I’m constantly involved with Renaissance language and content.

As I said above, I also feel a strong need to be in physical spaces that I’m writing about. I love Yorkshire, Scotland, and Wales, and those landscapes still speak from their pasts directly into my imagination. London is my favorite city, and I’ve spent many weeks there, wandering the streets. It feels a bit like my second home, though I’ve never actually lived there.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

This may sound like a strange choice, but the Collected Works of Shakespeare is probably my go-to text. Shakespeare was brilliant at metaphor and image, but he also used many characters who are not noble or royal—and his ear for speech was unmatched in the period (in my opinion). I can always get my imagination fired up for characters talking by reading Shakespeare. I have to keep in mind as I read that Shakespeare was shameless with the historical record in his history plays. He moved characters around and put them in places that everyone knows they weren’t—and he keeps them alive or kills them off if his story requires it. I try not to take him too much as an example, though the temptation is strong.

If I had to list a second choice (and this might also be odd) it would probably be John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, just because he has so many stories (many of them highly propagandistic) about the tumultuous period of Mary Tudor’s reign.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s fascinating. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Queen of Blood, Book Four of the Cross and the Crown series, continues the story of Catherine Havens, a former nun in Tudor England. It is now 1553, and Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.

Universal Link: 

Amazon UK:  Amazon US: Amazon CA:  Amazon AU

Meet the Author

Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The AltarpieceCity of LadiesThe King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems.  A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Website:  Twitter:  Facebook: 

Amazon Author PageGoodreads: 

Don’t forget to pop by the other stops on the Queen of Blood blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

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The Custard Corpses – Goodreads ebook giveaway (US only)

Over on Goodreads, I’m running a giveaway throughout August for 10 ebook copies of The Custard Corpses (US only – sorry to the rest of the world). You can enter here, and good luck to everyone who enters.

For those who can’t enter, The Custard Corpses is available with Kindle Unlimited.

I also have exciting news, The Custard Corpses is soon to be released as an audiobook via Audible. I’d like to thank my fantastic producer for completing the project incredibly quickly, and I’ll get back to you by updating this page, as soon as it’s available.

Here’s the blurb:

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, UK, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them is uncertainty, impossible to ignore.

The Custard Corpses is available in ebook, paperback, hardback, and very soon, as an audiobook as well.

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Book Review – Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Here’s the blurb:

Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.

‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises

For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .

As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.

Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.

But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.

Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.

The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.

At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.

A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.

5 stars from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Daughters of Sparta is available now in ebook, hardback and audiobook.

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The Last Warrior is a year old today.

Today, 25th June 2021, is the one year anniversary of the release of The Last Warrior. The anniversary has come round quickly, (I promise not to start doing this with all of my books), and gives me the perfect opportunity to once more say a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who has read, enjoyed, rated or reviewed the book. I’m blown away by how much readers love Coelwulf and his motley collection of friends, enemies, and horses, and how you eagerly embrace each new episode in their story.

I thought I’d use this as an excuse to give a few updates on the series. Book 1-The Last King is now an audiobook available on Audible. Book 2-The Last Warrior is in the process of becoming one. (I think I worried my narrator so much with The Last Warrior he had to rush to the end to find out what was happening:)).

I am busy finishing off Book 6, The Last Shield, and in the meantime, the first five books are now available in a beautiful hardcase laminate edition from Amazon, and I have to say, they look amazing, especially all together. The hardcase laminate uses the new covers as designed by Flintlock Covers. Amazon doesn’t have the preview showing of the hardcase yet so here’s a few photos, inexpertly taken by me.

In association with The History Quill, on online site for readers and writers of historical fiction, I am running a give-away for a paperback copy The Last King, with some other fab Viking authors, which can be entered here. but the closing date is the 30th June, so be quick.

So, once more, thank you for reading, and I promise to keep on writing as long as you keep reading.

Take care everyone.

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Book Review – The Girl and The Mountain by Mark Lawrence – fantasy

Here’s the blurb:

On Abeth there is only the ice. And the Black Rock.
 
For generations the priests of the Black Rock have reached out from their mountain to steer the ice tribes’ fate. With their Hidden God, their magic and their iron, the priests’ rule has never been challenged.


But nobody has ever escaped the Pit of the Missing before.

Yaz has lost her friends and found her enemies. She has a mountain to climb and even if she can break the Hidden God’s power her dream of a green world lies impossibly far to the south across a vast emptiness of ice. Before the journey can even start she has to find out what happened to the ones she loves and save those that can be saved.

Abeth holds its secrets close, but the stars shine brighter for Yaz and she means to unlock the truth.

To touch the sky, be prepared to climb

This is the 14th book by Mark Lawrence that I’ve read. If you don’t know the story, I received Prince of Thorns free when I preordered Book 5 in The Game of Thrones series by GRRM. I’ve read 14 books by Mark Lawrence since, and I’m still only half way through that tome by GRRM (that’s because I’ve decided to wait for the next book before finishing it – I might be waiting for a while.)

I can’t say that I’ve loved everything that Mark Lawrence has ever written but the crafty bugger has a theme running through all the books (he jumped ship to a modern fantay/sci-fi for the Impossible Times Trilogy) – and like the fate of the wolves in The Game of Thrones – I need to know the answer – and that keeps me reading. (Damn you, Mr Lawrence.)

The Girl in the Mountain is the middle of the trilogy following Yaz and her friends. I found book 1, set in a cave system, claustrophobic, and at times, quite uncomfortable. Book 2 at least takes us out of the cave system, but it’s still not necessarily a comfortable read, even for someone who enjoys the starkness of landscapes. There’s no end of peril, and some horribly twisted ‘baddies’ but by the end, I do feel as though we might be ‘getting’ somewhere.

I’m quite sure that the final part of the trilogy won’t answer all of my questions, but all the same, I’m looking forward to the conclusion – and I can’t help but admire someone who can mastermind such a thread through 14 books, and at least three different ‘worlds,’ and an assortment of time periods. I miss the humour of Jalan from the Red Queen’s War trilogy because there’s little of that to be found in the story of Yaz, but the end is in sight. And it’s been quite a ride, and one I do highly recommend you take.

The Girl and the Mountain is available now on kindle, audiobook and hardback. I’m off to preorder Book 3.

(My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy. It goes without saying that I would have purchased it anyway.)

Connect with Mark Lawrence. Blog. Twitter. Website.

Just a little shout-out that without Mark Lawrence we wouldn’t have the hugely successful and influential – Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off – an author doing what he can to unearth the gems of e-publishing. Check out his blog for details.

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Today, I’m excited to welcome Anne O’Brien to the blog on tour with her fabulous book The Queen’s Rival

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Anne O’Brien to the blog to talk about her fantastic book, The Queen’s Rival, a real favourite of mine. (Find my review here).

I have read Queen’s Rival and I found it riveting. Yet, it is deliciously complex, and there’s a huge amount of both primary and secondary material available for study. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical characters to life? 

The complexity of the Wars of the Roses within the story of Cecily Neville was daunting when I first took it on.  Where to start, where to end.  Should I consolidate into one book, or write a sequel?  While I thought about it, all became clear to me.  Because I write about medieval women and form their point of view, many of the political events and battles must dealt with lightly, made only relevant when they had a bearing on Cecily’s experience, and then rarely in grat detail.  To begin: the day that she became a force in her own right – the events at Ludlow after the debacle at Ludford Bridge when she was left to face the rampaging mob of the Lancastrian army, alone with her three younger children.  To end: with the crowning of Richard III when Cecily must come to terms with the political forces that had removed her grandson Edward V from the throne.  

Who to include in Cecily’s story?

Some major figures would have to be short-changed because they did not develop the plot that was Cecily’s life, but were merely people on the periphery of Cecily’s story.  These included such notable characters as Margaret Beaufort,  Anne Neville,  Henry Tudor.  Even Margaret of Anjou might have demanded a more dynamic role although she is not entirely absent.  This may disappoint some readers but these are characters for another book.  There is a finite length to a novel as my editor is keen to tell me; Cecily and her family must take pre-eminence.

Cecily was the youngest of a large family.  To include all her brothers and sisters would definitely be a bad plan.  I deliberately made a choice of those who would be most useful to me   Her brother Richard of Salisbury of course and his son the Earl Warwick.  Two of her sisters, the eldest and the one closest to her in age.  The rest would sadly have to remain anonymous.

Why write in letter format?  I chose to do this to develop the family aspect of the Wars of the Roses.  These were real people who suffered and rejoiced within their families.  I decided that letters would make this a very personal account for Cecily, and thus make the emotion of her losses and achievements even stronger when faced with scandal and treachery.

Mostly when researching I refer to secondary sources.  I do not always find the need to return to primary sources.  For me this would be like re-inventing the wheel since the history of the Wars of the Roses has been magnificently researched by a number of historians, although I admit to being picky over whom I might use. I find myself returning to the works of  Matthew Lewis, Ian Mortimer, Nigel Saul, Anthony Goodman and Michael Jones.  For Cecily herself , when I was was half way through writing, a new long-awaited biography of Cecily was published:  Cecily Duchess of York by J L Laynesmith which proved endlessly useful for tying up a number of loose ends for me.

For primary sources, the chroniclers of the day are fascinating and encouraged me to write my own version of a Chronicle to help the plot to progress in The Queen’s Rival.  Accounts of Cecily’s pious lifestyle in her later years and the vast detail of her will were both excellent.

Taking the facts, together with the reactions of those who knew Cecily, it is then a matter of historical imagination to create an interpretation of her life as accurately as possible.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?

I don’t have a ‘go to’ book when writing because my medieval women span a number of reigns, but one I find myself referring to frequently is The Senses in Late Medieval England by C M Woolgar.  It opens up the medieval world and life in aristocratic households beautifully, from every possible angle.  I also have quite a collection of books on medieval armour and costume – an essential part of my research, as well as medieval poetry and chivalric tales.  And then there  are the general history reference books …  Altogether my bookshelves are groaning from the weight of medieval history books.

Thank you so much for sharing your process with me. It’s fascinating and I’m in awe of how you managed to fit so much into one novel!

(Isn’t the cover beautiful).

Here’s the blurb;

England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Barnes and NobleWaterstonesKobo

AudioBlackwellsWHSmith

Meet the author

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

Follow Anne

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Queen’s Rival blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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The Last King is available on audiobook

I’m really excited to announce that the audiobook for The Last King is now available. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has done a fantastic job of bringing Coelwulf and his allies, and enemies, to life.

To celebrate the release, I have 5 Audible download codes for the US and 5 for the UK. If you would like one, send me a quick email, specifying US or UK, and I’ll wing the code over to you, (as well as some instructions on how to redeem.)

For those in other parts of the world, apologies I don’t have codes for you, but you can listen to The Last King with a free trial for Audible, (just remember to cancel after the first month, or you will be charged). If you live in France, Germany, the UK or the US just click the links.

Here’s a little snippet for you. Remember, this is Coelwulf – it’ll be rife with foul language, blood and gore. Enjoy.

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Today sees the release of The Last Sword – get back in the saddle with Coelwulf

It’s finally here! The Last Sword is book 5 in the series featuring Coelwulf, and his warriors. (If you’ve not caught up just yet, book 2, The Last Warrior is on special offer for 99p/99c this week only in the UK and US).

Here’s the blurb;

“The three defeated jarls of Grantabridge might be hiding behind the walls of their settlement as winter storms ravage, but the weather is no deterrent for another adversary, and Coelwulf holds a far more personal grudge against Jarl Halfdan.

King Alfred hovers on the border with Wessex, his intentions impossible to determine; his relationship with the Raiders, problematic.

Exposed to the south, in jeopardy from the north; Coelwulf hasn’t fought his last battle yet.”

Taking Coelwulf into the year 875, The Last Sword will reunite my readers with some fan favourites, and not a little peril.

I hope you all enjoy, and thank you to everyone who’s supported the series so far. You’re all loyal Mercians, and he couldn’t do it without you.

(Check out the new covers for the first 4 books in the series).

Want to stay up to date with news about releases and reissues, sign up to my newsletter here.

(This post contains some Amazon Affiliate links – which means that at no cost to you, Amazon may pay me for referring you to their site).

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The Last King is a year old today – thank you to everyone who’s read and reviewed the book

I’m really quite bad at remembering all the publication dates of my books, but The Last King has certainly stuck in my mind. What started quite inauspiciously, with a few die-hard fans preordering the book, has become my most popular series, and most popular book to date.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I am. The book, a few years in development, burst from me in a flurry of excitement early in 2020, when I opted for a ‘harder’ character, a man who is simply so good at what he does, he doesn’t understand that others can’t do what he can. It’s not arrogance. It’s confidence.

So, why the hesitation? It takes a lot to stomp, and I mean, stomp all over a time period made so famous by another giant of the field – Bernard Cornwell with his Uhtred, or The Last Kingdom books. And yet, I couldn’t move away from the temptation of the little known Coelwulf, and the story of Mercia which has never been told.

Yet, I needed to do it in a different way to BC. I remember handing the first few chapters to my critique partner and editor and saying ‘is this edgier?’, ‘would a warrior speak like this?’ It came back with a ‘yes’ and also some pencil marks and a bit more swearing added in, and a comment that if I was going to cauterise a wound, then I needed to do it properly, gore and all.

I’d previously written what I thought would be an opening scene, while sitting in hospital for an appointment with lots of different bits to it – but while that gave me the characters, it didn’t give me quite what I was looking for. Still, you can read ‘A Meeting of Equals‘ over on my author platform on Aspects of History.

And that was almost it (apart from a dose of my own confidence drawn from watching The Gentlemen by Guy Ritchie – which truly made me think ‘anything goes,’ and gave me the idea for the opening scene – if you’ve read the book you’ll know what I mean.) Coelwulf reared his head, and so too did a cast of characters that are unique, complex, enjoyable to write about, and often, a bit pushy.

So, how to celebrate a year since book 1? Well, by bringing Coelwulf ‘to life’ of course.

The ‘new’ covers will be going live at points throughout today, and I’m so pleased with the way he’s turned out. Thank you so much to Shaun at Flintlock Covers for being able to bring Coelwulf to life. I especially love the detail on the sword, which shows the double-headed eagle of Mercia!

And that’s not it. Not only a visual Coelwulf, but also the ‘sound’ of Coelwulf. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has finished work on The Last King, and it will be released soon. There’s a sample below – remember, it’s Coelwulf, it’s going to be pretty full-on from the word go. (18 rated)

The Last Warrior is also about to start the journey to audio, and I’m considering producing some hardbacks as well, but I’ve not yet had the time to devote to that task.

And of course, the story hasn’t finished yet. The Last Sword is released on 29th April (preorder here) and I’ll be starting work on Book 6 even as you read this.

So thank you, to all my readers and reviewers, to my beta readers (you know who you are), to the people I’ve collaborated with on ensuring the word gets out there about Coelwulf.

Here’s to many more such anniversaries.

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Book Review – Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford – historical mystery – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“November 1929. A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?”

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is a wonderfully plotted novel, with a cast of unmissable characters that is an absolute delight to read. And the cover is fantastic too.

It made me laugh out loud on many an occasion, and the eclectic mix of cast and events, keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses, from the guinea pig to the motorcycle ‘bad-boy,’ from London to Leeds to Whitley Bay to Scotland. And oh, how I loved the letters from Cousin Alan.

It trundles along at a wonderful pace, filled with exquisite detail and I would struggle to decide on a favourite character because all of them, even the bit part characters, are so well sketched.

This is genuinely an absolute treat if you enjoy a mystery deeply steeped in the times (1929-1930) and with an unmissable cast. Looking forwards to Book 3. And, I have the joy of knowing I’ve not read Book 1 yet.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is released today, 22nd April, and is available from here.

Follow the publisher, Allison and Busby for more great mystery novels.

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Happy Release Day to The Custard Corpses – a delicious 1940s mystery

Say what?

I know, but there you have it. 2020 was a strange year and out of it grew The Custard Corpses. I really, really hope you will take a chance on it, and enjoy something a little (okay, a lot) different from this historical fiction author. (The advanced reviewers are loving it.)

Here’s the blurb;

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

I want to give a shout-out to my cover designer, Flintlock Covers. It is exactly what I wanted when I thought about the cover for the book.

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The Custard Corpses – cover reveal and First Chapter

Here is it, a book I never thought I’d write – not only a mystery, but one set nearly a thousand years after most of the books I write, and one which began with a series of adverts.

Here’s the blurb;

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

As this is something completely new to me, I’m going to share a snippet of the new book.

Chapter 1

Erdington, October 1943

Sam bit back the cry of pain, coming to an abrupt stop. The pavement was shaded with the colour of the advancing night, but even so, he knew where the uneven step was. He really shouldn’t have kicked it. Not again. Would he never learn?

He blinked the tears from his eye and lifted his right hand to rub it over the ache of his lower back. All these years, and still it hurt. It would never stop. He knew it, and yet sometimes, he forgot, all the same, only to be rudely reminded when he overbalanced or attempted to take a step that was just too wide.

There was a reason he was here and not on one of the many front lines of this terrible war, the second in his lifetime. There was a reason he was here while his son, John, fought in his place.

His breath rasped through his suddenly tight chest, and yet the thin shard of light from behind the tightly closed curtains encouraged him on. Inside, there was companionship, and it drove him onwards, made him quest to be a better man. Despite the fact he knew it wasn’t true.

“Come on,” he urged himself, and although it was going to ache, he forced his legs to move, left, then right, then left, and his hand reached up to push the welcoming door open.

Appetising smells greeted him, and he dredged a smile to his face, turning to hang his hat on the waiting peg and to shrug the overcoat from his thin shoulders, revealing his policeman’s uniform beneath. The blue so dark; it was almost black. He hooked his gas mask above his overcoat. There in case he should require it. But no bombs had fallen for half a year now. He hoped none ever would again. No voice was raised in greeting to his noisy arrival. It never was.

With the door closed and locked behind him, he slipped his feet from his black shoes, using one foot to force down the ankle and then doing the same in his socked-feet. It was better than being forced to bend when his back was so painful, even if it was destroying the back of his shoes, as his wife complained whenever she witnessed it. He’d taken to hiding his work shoes behind the boots he wore to the allotment. Better that Annie did not see them.

Opening the door that led into the heart of his home, he paused, just watching her for a heartbeat.

“Evening, love.” He bent to place a kiss on his wife’s head, refusing to notice the thinning brown hair, the streaks of grey making up more and more of it as the years passed. A skeletal hand reached up to grip his, and he squeezed tightly, settling beside her at the table.

A single lamp afforded the only light in the small kitchen, a warm fire burning in the hearth in the sitting room as he settled beside her. His wife didn’t so much as look at him. Sam considered that she didn’t want to see the ruin of her husband. 

Time hadn’t been kind to either of them and yet he couldn’t help but be grateful for the years they’d had together. It could have been so different. So many of his brothers-in-arms lost fighting over two decades ago. They would have loved to live long enough to see the ravages of time etched into their skin and characters, to grow weary with aches and pains, to learn the experiences that only time could afford.

A flurry of movement from Annie, and a plate was placed on the table before him, the lid swept aside. The steam took only a moment to clear, and he suppressed his rumbling stomach. It was a meal as any other day, not particularly appetising, and yet, food all the same. He was grateful for the potatoes, harvested from their garden, and the gleaming orange carrots, if not for the small sausages. Gravy pooled around the meat, and he closed his eyes, imagining a feast fit for a king, before meticulously cutting, eating and savouring every mouthful.

His wife didn’t speak, and neither did he. No doubt, she was as caught up in her thoughts as he was in his.

He considered reaching for his newspaper, but instead, his eyes were fixed by the bright image that lay open on the magazine discarded on the table before him. The Picture Post. Was there ever a magazine more filled with stories that titillated while offering little or no actual facts?

Not that he ever complained. Not anymore. If she enjoyed the stories and bright images of the adverts, then why should he? Anything that distracted her from the constant worry about their son. Anything.

Now, he found a smile tugging on his lips, and his mind cast him back to when his son had been a small boy. John had delighted in such simple antics as that on display. The custard advert enticed all parents to part with their hard-earned ration coupons. He couldn’t see that a liberal dollop of the sugary, creamy mixture would help any child become an athlete, professional cricket player or ballerina, but what did he know? He was just an old man, with a job that kept him busy and an ache in his heart where his youth had once been.

Sam reached for the folded newspaper, the smirk still playing on his lips.

“Don’t.” His wife’s voice shocked him, sounding more formidable than he’d heard for the last few years, ever since their son had left to fight Britain’s fresh battles against the might of Hitler and Germany.

He lifted his eyes to find hers boring into his.

“Don’t,” and now there was more softness, but it was too late. His eyes had alighted on what she’d been trying to keep from him.

Once more, he felt an unbidden tear form in the corner of his eye as he gazed at the hazy black and white photograph. Not that he didn’t know it intimately. He did. He’d stared at that image, and others besides, until they were emblazoned on his very soul, overriding even the final images of his lost comrades from the Great War, the war to end all wars. How wrong they’d been.

He swallowed, the burn making it feel as though it were cardboard and not the remnants of his dinner that he evacuated from his mouth.

“Again?” he felt the need to say something.

“Again,” she replied, and there was understanding and sorrow in that look, and he didn’t want any of it. He didn’t want to add to her fears and worries with his own.

“It was a long time ago,” he tried to reassure, reaching for her hand and encasing it within his. It was no longer soft but instead forged in iron, the wiry strength surprising him, even though it shouldn’t, not after all this time.

“It rolls around too quickly, these days,” a hint of a smile on her thin lips, blue eyes glistening with sorrow, and he realised that she was trying to reassure him. He hated it that she felt the necessity.

“And still, there’s no closure for the family.”

“No. But they’re not alone in that. Not anymore.” Her voice trailed off as she spoke, and he turned to gaze into the glow from the table lamp, allowing it to haze in front of him. She was right in that, as well. Many would never hold the knowledge of what exactly happened to their loved ones. Yet, there was a world of difference between adults and children. It was the fact he’d been a child that cut the deepest. 

His mind returned to that terrible day. How could it not? He’d been a young man, wounded and broken after his time at The Front, but at least he’d still breathed. Not like the splayed body found in the undergrowth close to the church hall, eyes forever staring. Somehow, the rigour mortis of a smile on that cherubic face, so that anyone could be forgiven for thinking the boy was merely caught in the act of playing hide and seek.

But the face had been blue and white, the eyeballs rimmed with the grey haze of death that he’d come to know so well during his time in the trenches before his injury had ensured he need never revisit the place.

In the faded light of the lamp, he watched the scene, as though he’d been a bird, able to watch from above. His eyes alighted, not on the corpse, but rather on his chief inspector, the man who’d made him who he was today, and yet who’d been broken by the failure to solve the death of the boy.

Sam found a soft smile playing around his lips. Fullerton had been a meticulous man, with his long mackintosh and tightly wedged police hat covering the tendrils of greying hair showing beneath it and in the sideburns that snaked down to meet the dark moustache quivering over his lips. Many would have been forgiven for thinking he had no compassion for the corpse. But no, he’d had more than most, but he had desired to solve the case, to bring the perpetrator to justice. It was a source of unending disquiet that it had never been possible.

It had marked him from that day he’d found Robert’s body to the day of his death.

It hadn’t been Sam’s first case, far from it, but it had felt like it. He’d learned so much, and yet it had never been enough. Not for young Robert McFarlane and his family.

He swallowed once more, his keen memory fastening on the scene. Or rather, on the way that the body had been presented. The murderer hadn’t killed young Robert beside the church hall behind the High Street. In fact, they’d never found the place the murder had truly taken place, only where the body had been found.

Sam thought of Mrs McFarlane, her tear-streaked face, her shaking shoulders. Her oldest son, taken from her, just as her husband had been by the enemy’s bullets during the Great War. There’d been so much grief and loss in the years during and after the war, if not dead on some far-flung battlefield, then carried away by the terrible Spanish influenza. It had all seemed never-ending. And then, the spark of an untainted future when all had seemed calmer, taken between one breath and the next.

Sam had never seen grief festoon someone so entirely. As Chief Inspector Fullerton had told her the news, she’d aged before their eyes. It had taken his quick reflexes to ensure she didn’t collapse to the floor on the bright red doorstep, her young daughters, wide-eyed and sobbing as they watched their mother, hands clasped tightly together, as though they could hold their mother up with such an act.

There’d been a time when Sam had wished Chief Inspector Fullerton hadn’t told Mrs McFarlane in such a way, his words hard and unfeeling, and yet, he’d come to appreciate that there was no right and wrong way to impart such terrible news. It was almost a kindness to say the words, ‘your son is dead,’ as quickly as possible. There was no need to use superfluous words, to offer sympathy, to say anything but the facts.

Her accusing eyes had followed him through the years. Why they’d said that day and many days since, is my son dead, while yours yet lives?

It was not Mrs McFarlane who’d marked the anniversary of her son’s death, each and every year for the last twenty years, but rather, her daughter. The older one, Rebecca, had taken on the responsibility for ensuring that no one ever forgot her brother when her mother sadly passed away, worn down by grief and loss, by the need to survive in a world turned upside down, with nothing but a war pension to ease the burdens. 

It was Rebecca who routinely sent letters asking for updates on the case. It was Rebecca that he tried to avoid at all costs when he saw her at church, on the tram or along the High Street. It was Rebecca who’d broken Chief Inspector Fullerton, in a rare show of emotion that shocked him to recall, even now. He’d never seen Fullerton like that. He’d never imagined Fullerton could be so very emotional that tears would run from his brown eyes, that he’d tear at what remained of his hair in frustration. 

Chief Inspector Fullerton had retired a few years ago, but he’d not lived long enough to enjoy it. Sam shook his head. One murder and so many lives destroyed, and still, the murderer was out there, perhaps hiding, perhaps luxuriating in what he’d managed to get away with, or maybe, he was dead as well, getting away with his crime for all time. Twenty years was a long time.

Sam was snapped from his reveries by a bowl appearing before him. Somehow, he’d become so lost in the past; he’d not even heard his wife stand at the stove for the last many minutes.

A cheeky smile from her, driving away the wrinkles and the grey streaks in her hair, making her look twenty years younger, and he looked down at the bowl before him.

“Custard?” he asked, enjoying the unusual light-hearted look on her face.

“I know it’s your favourite. There’s even some apple in there, somewhere, and some blackberries, picked from the country lane on my walk yesterday afternoon to Pipe Hayes Park.”

“How did you get it?” he asked, eagerly spooning the sweet mixture into his mouth.

“I’ve been saving my packets. I didn’t tell you. I know you wouldn’t be able to wait.”

“Then you have my thanks,” he grinned, fully returning to the present. He couldn’t do anything about the past. No matter how much he wished he could.

“This is delicious,” he complimented his wife, leaning back, hand on his full belly.

“Well, now you just need to wait another year, and then you can have more.” But there was a lightness to her voice when she spoke, and the flash of joy in her eyes cheered him. There was so much wrong with the world at the moment, and yet here, beside his wife, in their cosy front room, everything was well. Even if only for now.

Intrigued? The Custard Corpses is released on 25th March 2021, and you can preorder it here.

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The First Kingdom by Max Adams – New Release alert – historical non-fiction

Now, confession time, I’ve not quite finished reading yet, so my review is ‘pending,’ but it doesn’t matter. I’ve read enough to know this book is fantastic, and so I’m going to shout far and wide on its release day.

Here’s the blurb;

“The bestselling author of The King in the North turns his attention to the obscure era of British history known as ‘the age of Arthur’.

Somewhere in the dim void between the departure from Britain of the Roman legions at the start of the fifth century and the days of the venerable Bede, the kingdoms of Early Medieval Britain were formed. But by whom? And out of what?

Max Adams scrutinizes the narrative handed down to us by later historians and chronicles, stripping away the most lurid nonsense about Arthur and synthesizing the research of the last forty years to tease out strands of reality from myth. His central theme evolves from an apparently simple question: how, after the end of the Roman state, were people taxed? Rejecting ethnic and nationalist explanations for the emergence of the Early Medieval kingdoms, Adams shows how careful use of a wide range of perspectives from anthropology to geography can deliver a picture of the emergence of distinct polities in the sixth century that survive long enough to be embedded in the medieval landscape, recorded in the lines of river, road and watershed and in place names.”

To give you a taste of what you might find within the pages of The First Kingdom, I’m going to share my review for Ælfred’s Britain, another truly fantastic, and incredibly accessible and readable book.

“Aelfred’s Britain is an excellent book, not confining itself to the period of Alfred’s rule but comprehensively offering an account of England from the reign of Alfred’s grandfather to the end of the reign of his youngest grandson (King Eadred) in 955. This makes it much more than a book about Alfred and rather a book about Britain and the Vikings just before, after and during The First Viking Age.
Instead of focusing on England and the Vikings, the book covers the actvities of the Vikings in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, in a very similar vein to the wonderful book by Claire Downham ‘Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014’, along the way noting events on the Continent and in the homelands of the Vikings and Danes.
This is an important development in the history of the period and a step that should have been taken long, long ago. There is little point in knowing events in England in isolation during this period – a wider view point should and must be adopted.
The author also employs an enjoyable and enlightening look at the ‘map’ of Britain – offering something of a handy guide to the various ‘stopping-off’ points available to the men and women from Scandinavia along the coast and riverways.
Some may find the author’s naming conventions a little annoying – but it seems to me that all historians have a preferred naming convention and insist on sticking to it no matter what – and it is only a slight bug-bear but that is because I know much of the period well.
This is a far more ‘historical’ book than The King in The North (which I always felt was too much like a travel guide for comfort) but it is, at heart, a book by an archaeologist, and this means that the archaelogy is used to ‘clothe’ the ‘known’ historical facts and vice versa. Yet, and I must applaud this, the author, while relying on some slightly dubious ‘primary’ sources, does ensure that the reader is aware of this – and the reader would do well to heed the warnings.
Overall a very enjoyable book, filled with fascinating insights that adopts a view point that has been a long time in being applied to this time period.”

Hopefully, this sets the scene for the direction taken within the pages of The First Kingdom.

The First Kingdom is released today in ebook, hardback print book, and audio book, and you can purchase it here;

On a side note, I’ve just noticed that The King in the North is on special offer for just 99p as an ebook. You won’t be disappointed with this detailed analysis of the seventh century, and at times, you will truly be walking through the Northumbrian landscape.

Watch this space for my full review of The First Kingdom, which I’ll write as soon as I’ve finished reading. I’m savouring this one because it is just so good.

(This post contains some Amazon affiliate links)

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Welcome back to The Danish King’s Enemy – The Earls of Mercia Book II.

It’s taken a while, and the completely edited and slightly re-worked second book in The Earls of Mercia series has been available in paperback for about a year, but finally, I’ve had the ebook rights restored to me, and I’m able to share it with you all.

Now, I’ve changed the name again (I know, sorry) but it needed something to mark it as different from its two previous editions (Ealdormen and Viking Enemy) as it’s not quite the same book it used to be. It’s better – infinitely better – and more importantly for me, and hopefully for my readers, it now ‘fits’ much better with the stories I’ve written about Lady Elfrida. I’d made brief mention of her when I initially wrote the book, but I needed to bring her into it more, and indeed, I’ve done just that.

So, a new cover, a new title, and some additional bits and a few bits taken out, but still, Ealdorman Leofwine and his trusty allies, taking on King Æthelred, King Swein of Denmark and the rest of the ealdormen in England.

I hope you enjoy, and if you happen to fancy popping a review on the new edition, that would help me hugely. Thank you. Happy reading.

Here’s the blurb;

“Every story has a beginning.

Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.

With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.

In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.

With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?

The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen.”

The reworked and edited book 1 – The Earl of Mercia’s Father is available in paperback. Hopefully, I’ll get the ebook rights restored to me in 2021.

And book X, The English King, will release on 28th January 2021.

Until them, I am running lots of promotions on the Earls of Mercia books so have a look each week.

(This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links).

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To celebrate the release of The Last Enemy, my interviewer caught up with Lady Cyneswith.

I’m very honoured to have caught a few moments with Lady Cyneswith, the aunt of King Coelwulf. Thank you for finding the time to speak to me.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve discovered that my nephew is a very busy man, a bit rough around the edges some times, and so I’m delighted to speak with you on his behalf, smooth away any ruffles he might have caused.

Yes, I confess, I had noticed that he was short on time when I tried to speak with him earlier.

Short on time, and economical with his words. He is the king, you know, but of course, his priorities are with defeating the Raiders. I think there are those who don’t quite appreciate the persistence of the enemy. It takes a strong and decisive leader to defeat them, and we should be pleased to have one. Much better than our previous king, who gave up Mercia in exchange for his life. Shocking.

I speak for the whole of Mercia when I say we are so pleased to have such a man leading us. Some new, vigourous, blood was needed to ensure Mercia stayed together.

Our previous king, Burgred, was not blessed with the military requirements for the post. But then, I won’t be alone in believing that Burgred should never have been king. He only achieved what he did because of the manipulation of the natural right of succession.

So, you believe that all the kings since King Coelwulf, first of his name, were usurpers?

I make no bones about that. Mercia wouldn’t be in such peril if my family line had retained their hold on power, as they should have done. But, now is not the time to dwell on that. It’s important to think of the future, and of what is yet to be achieved, but which will be, and soon.

I asked King Coelwulf if had a few words to explain why people should read the latest book.

I imagine he said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t have time for reading, so I wouldn’t.’ And, of course, he means that, but it is difficult for him to appreciate the fascination others have with what he’s trying to achieve. So, I would say, read it and discover just what risks your king, and his warriors and ealdormen are making to ensure Mercia’s freedom. Read it, and understand the peril and take steps to ensure your freedom as well. 

And, have you read the latest book?

I have yes, and I’m pleased to say there’s a slightly bigger part for me in, than usual. Of course, it’s difficult with all the fighting to find room for the women of Mercia, but I’m sure that one day, in the not too distant future, Mercia will have female warriors to keep her safe. After all, anyone can learn to chop off someone’s head, or slice them through the neck, the skill, of course, is in staying alive afterwards.

Um, yes, quite. Thank you for that. I wondered if I could get a few words from you about King Alfred of Wessex.

No, not really. I don’t speak about neighbouring kings, and I’ve never met the man. Now, if you asked me about the king of Gwent, then I might have something to say about him, but you haven’t, and so, I don’t.

Could I ask you about the language used in the book? It’s quite strong in places.

While I have no particular need to hear such words, I can well appreciate that, on occasion, they might be warranted. After all, our king and his warriors are risking their lives every time they enter a battle against our enemy. I put it down to the rush of adrenaline, and hope everyone else does the same.

I asked King Coelwulf about his warriors, do you have any particular favourite amongst them?

I take pride in teaching all of the men some simple techniques to treat wounds received in battle. It’s important to know how to heal as well as to maim. My favourites are obviously those who listen carefully and learn what I teach them. 

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

It is of course, my pleasure, and my duty, as the king’s sole surviving relative. Under his leadership, Mercia will once more be great again.

And there you have it. An interesting interview with Lady Cyneswith, a most formidable woman. I should think she’d be as lethal on the battlefield as her nephew is proving to be.  If you haven’t read my earlier interview with King Coelwulf, then you can find it here.

The Last Enemy is available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon.

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Today is the release day for The Last Enemy, and my interviewer caught up with King Coelwulf to talk about it.

A few weeks ago, I was granted exclusive access to King Coelwulf, to talk about his new book, The Last Enemy. Here’s what the enigmatic king of Mercia had to say.

King Coelwulf, thanks for allowing me entry into your stronghold at Northampton. It’s quite interesting to be at the heart of the Mercian defence against the Raiders. Now, can you tell me why people should want to read the fourth book about you, The Last Enemy?

“Well, I’m not saying that they will. I mean, if they’re like me, then they probably don’t have time to be reading a story. I’ve got bodies to bury, Raiders to hunt down, and a kingdom to rule. I would tell anyone to spend their time more wisely than reading a book. That sort of thing is for the monks and the clerics, not warriors trying to defend a kingdom.”

Ah, well, in that case, thank you for finding the time to speak to me.

“I didn’t have much choice. Or rather, I was advised it would be a good use of my time, by my Aunt, Lady Cyneswith.”

Well, Lady Cyneswith is a wise woman, and I’m grateful that she’s encouraged you to speak to me.

“She is a highly intelligent woman. Braver than many men when it comes to the Raiders, and skilled when it comes to healing injuries of the body, as well as the mind.”

And her dogs have very interesting names, what was it again? Wiglaf and Berhtwulf, surely the names of old Mercian kings? Men who usurped the ruling line from your family?

“Oh really. I’d never realised. Funny, that.”

Ah, well, moving on, could you tell me about your new book? I’m sure my readers would love to hear about it.

“Nothing to say really. Same old, same old. Raiders to evade, Raiders to find, Raiders to kill, a kingdom to keep whole. It’s a grand old bloody mess. I swear, I’ve barely managed to scrub the grime and body fluids from my sword and seax. Or rather, Wulfhere has. He’s a good lad. Quick on his feet. He’s one of my squires. Couldn’t do it without him.

That’s interesting that you should mention your squire, did you say? I wouldn’t have expected you to even know the lad’s name. After all, you are the king of Mercia, surely your squire is beneath you. Are there any more of your warriors you’d like to mention by name?

“Of course there are. I’d name them all if I had the time, which I don’t, just to make you aware. I’ve got to go to a crown-wearing ceremony shortly. But, I’ll mention a few, just to keep you happy. And you should know that no man is ever above knowing the names of those who serve him. Remember that. 

But, I’ll mention some of my warriors by name. If only because it’ll infuriate some of them. Edmund, he’s my right-hand man, a skilled warrior, missing an eye these days, but it’s not stopped him, not at all. His brother, Hereman. Well, where do I start? Hereman does things no one would consider, in the heat of battle, and he’s a lucky b……. man, sorry, he’s a lucky man. And then there’s Icel. He’s lived through more battles than any of the rest of my warriors. I almost pity the Raiders who come against him. None of them live for much longer. 

And Pybba. You know, he fights one handed now, and the Raiders seem to think he’s easy picking, but he’s not. Not at all. And, I can’t not mention Rudolf. He’s the youngest of my warriors, but his skill is phenomenal, not that you can tell him that. Cheeky b……, sorry cheeky young man. But, all of my warriors are good men, and we mourn them when they fall in battle, but more importantly, we avenge them all. All of them. No Raider should take the life of a Mercian without realising they’ve just ensured their own death.

Yes, I’ve heard that you avenge your men, with quite bloody means. And Edmund, there’s a suggestion that he’s a scop, a man who commits the deeds of the fallen to words? That fascinates me, as someone who also makes a living from using words.

“Well, Edmund has some small skills with words, but he honours our fallen warriors by weaving them into the song of my warriors. In fifty years, when we’re all dead and gone, our legend will live on, thanks to Edmund, and his words.

Can I ask you about Alfred, in Wessex? Have you met him? Do you think he’s doing a good job in keeping the Raiders out of Wessex?

“I’ve never met him. Couldn’t say either way. It’s not for me to comment on a fellow king. We’re all after the same thing. Kill the f……, sorry, kill the b……., sorry, kill the enemy. All of them, until Mercia is safe once more. And Wessex, if you’re from there.”

Well, it looks like you’re needed. Is that your crown?

“Yes, and now I need to go and perform some ceremonial task. It’ll take a long time, no doubt. Make sure you have an escort when you leave here. I wouldn’t put it passed the f……, sorry, the Raiders, to be keeping a keen eye on the bridge over the Nene. 

Thank you for your concern, and yes, I’ll make sure I do. Good luck with the new book.

“I don’t need luck. I just need to kill all the b……., sorry, Raiders. 

As you can tell, King Coelwulf was a very busy man. But his new book, The Last Enemy, is well worth a read. Bloody, brutal, just like the man himself, but I found him to be honourable and worthy of leading the Mercians against our persistent enemy. Long live the king.

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Book Review – The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”

The Queen’s Rival is a stunning look at the ‘later’ life of Cecily Neville from 1459 until 1483. This is not a ‘quiet’ period of history and to cover the tumultuous events, the author adopts the technique of recording the letters of the main protagonists, either from the pen of Cecily or from those who write to her.

It does take a little while to get used to the technique, but the reader is quickly drawn into the story, not perhaps by the events taking place, but rather by the relationship between Cecily and her two sisters, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham and Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The words they share with each other are just what sisters might well say to each other, especially when they’re not likely to see each other soon.

More importantly, the sisters, while fiercely loyal to their Neville inheritance, are not of one mind about who should rule England, and who has the right to rule England. It highlights just how destructive the War of the Roses was, and is a genius way of quickly ensuring the reader appreciates that families were ripped apart by the protracted war.

This is the story of the women of the later 15th century. It’s their voices that we hear, as they try and come to terms with the rises and falls all of them experience. There are moments when the narrative is hard to read, either because you know what’s going to happen, or just because you really feel for Cecily and don’t want her to experience the tribulations than she does.

I am a huge fan of Anne O’Brien and the ‘forgotten’ women of the medieval period in England. While the author may stress that Cecily is not really a forgotten woman, I was not really aware of her before reading this book. The mother of two kings, the grandmother of future kings, and yet she could also have been queen herself. What an interesting life she led.

I highly recommend this book. And you can find my review here for A Tapestry of Treason.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

The Queen’s Rival is released in ebook and hardbook on 3rd September 2020. (What a stunning cover.) It is released in paperback today, 15th April 2021.

Book Review: The Last Shield, England: The First Viking Age (The Ninth Century Book 6) by MJ Porter

Genre: Historical fictionPublisher: M J PublishingPub date: 26 August 2021Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Summoned back to Worcester by Bishop Wærferth, Coelwulf discovers that an old enemy has resurfaced on the border with the Welsh, but this time, an enemy demanding help. Aware he can’t leave Mercia, Coelwulf must split his force, determined that his old enemy is […]

Book Review: The Last Shield, England: The First Viking Age (The Ninth Century Book 6) by MJ Porter

Book Review – Cecily by Annie Garthwaite – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb:

Rebellion?’
The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Cecily, the story of Cecily Neville up to, and including 1461, is a wonderful retelling of her story.

Having read Anne O’Brien’s The Queen’s Rival (see the review) last year, which offers Cecily’s story from the late 1450s onwards, I feel that this unknown woman has now been brought to life in wonderful detail. (If you have only read one of these two books then do please try the other one – you won’t be disappointed.)

Cecily is told from Cecily’s point of view, as such, there are some things that she can’t know or witness, and the author manages this incredibly skillfully. We know what Cecily does, and we know other events when she knows them. It’s a perfect way to ensure the reader, even if they know the history of the time period, doesn’t get ahead of themselves. 

Cecily is an engaging and headstrong woman. The author gives her a voice that we can understand, reflecting a quick intelligence and an ability to piece together events skillfully. Some scenes may feel rushed, and there is a refusal to dwell on the royal splendour of the court, but I think this added to the story. It is the interaction of the king, queen and the courtiers that’s important, not who was wearing what and eating what. This is absolutely my sort of historical fiction book.

I only wish I’d read it sooner.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

Cecily is available now as an ebook, audiobook and hardback and you can purchase it here.