Rome, AD 52. The Julio-Claudian dynasty is in its death throes. Over the next twenty years, chaos descends as Claudius then Nero are killed. The whole empire bucks and heaves with conspiracy, rebellion and civil war.
Out of the ashes and discord, a new imperial family emerges: the Flavians. Vespasian is crowned emperor, with his sons, Titus and Domitian, next in line.
Domitian, still only a teenager, has known only fear, death and treachery for as long as he has been alive. Suspicious of the senate as a breeding ground for treachery, and fiercely protective of his surviving family members, he uses a network of spies to stay one step ahead of any would-be conspirators.
When Titus unexpectedly falls gravely ill, the throne beckons for Domitian, something he never wanted or prepared for. As in all his darkest moments, Domitian’s childhood guardian, Nerva, is the man he turns to with his fears, and his secrets…
Domitian by S J A Turney is an engrossing story of political shenanigans in first-century AD Rome.
I’m not hugely well-read on Roman history, but through reading Turney’s books, I’ve come to appreciate just what a rich tapestry there is to weave tales of corruption, war and politics. And cor, doesn’t Domitian have it all? The narrative starts during the reign of Nero, and takes us through the year of the four emperors, when Vespasian comes out on top, through the brief rule of his son, and then onto Domitian. It’s not quite as whistlestop as it sounds, but the viewpoint Turney adopts, through the eyes of Nerva, allows the reader to stand back and watch it all happen, perhaps, like me, with an increasingly open mouth of disbelief.
This isn’t a fast read, as perhaps others of Turney’s more martial Roman stories might be, but it is absorbing. There isn’t a cast of thousands, but there are still many men who rise and fall (not so many women, but they are still included in the story), and events that we all might know more about, such as the eruption of Vesuvius and the continuing invasion of Britannia under Agricola (I see what you did there Mr Turney:)).
This is a story of politics, spies and corruption; of men who don’t want to fall into the same traps as those who went before. It is a fabulous story, and I highly, highly recommend it.
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to grill Linnea Tanner about her new book, Skull’s Vengeance.
Thank you, MJ, for hosting my blog tour of Skull’s Vengeance (Curse of Clansmen and Kings, Book 4) and for giving me the opportunity to discuss some of the resources I used to research the history and mythology of Celts in Roman Britain.
Is there a book that first inspired your passion for the era of Roman Britain?
Although the setting of the book is toward the end of the era of Roman Britain, I was first inspired about the time period with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, The Mists of Avalon. The novel explored pagan beliefs and rituals of the Celts which were being replaced by the Christian religion. This novel introduced me to the concept of a “sovereignty goddess” who confers sovereignty on a mortal king in a ritual union. The key element of their sacred marriage—his kingship—is the consummation between the king and the Goddess of the territory he is to rule over. There is a scene in The Mists of Avalon in which Arthur sleeps with his sister, Morgaine—a priestess of the Goddess—as part of the ritual to confer his kingship.
Do you have non-fiction book recommendations for people who might just be discovering this period in time?
Several books about ancient Celts have been written by Professor Barry Cunliffe that describe the rise and fall of the Celtic civilization spanning from Ireland, across northern Europe, and as far as Turkey. Two of his books that I keep on my bookshelf are: The Ancient Celts and Britain Begins.
Is there a resource that you wouldn’t be without when you’re writing your books?
I often refer to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces for elements of the hero’s journey. Also, I keep reference books such as a thesaurus and dictionary handy. Other resources include The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation and The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.
How did you go about researching the more fantastical elements of your stories?
I use a variety of resources including Greek, Roman, and medieval historical accounts; various books about Celtic mythology; and archaeological books. Some of my favourite books include: The Celtic Heroic Age edited by John T. Koch in collaboration with John Carey; The History of the Kingsof Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth; The Religion of the Ancient Celts by J. A. MacCulloch; and The Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis.
Who are your favourite authors who write similar stories?
My favourite authors are Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxon for the Roman Britain time period. However, I’ve recently enjoyed reading novels set in the Saxon/Viking Middle Ages. One author I follow is Eric Schumacher and his character-driven, action-packed Viking series: Olaf’s Saga and Hakon’s Saga.
Do you have a favourite place to visit in Britain?
Oh…this is like trying to choose your favourite child. I’ve had the opportunity to explore London, Hadrian’s Wall, Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Canterbury, and Wales. However, I keep returning to Dover and exploring the grounds around the historical castle in which there is a well-preserved Roman lighthouse.
One of my biggest thrills was to hike eleven miles from Deal to Dover in 2012. Right before our hike, a large wall of the Dover Cliffs collapsed into the sea of which I took a photo.
Five years after that, my husband and I brought our granddaughter with us to hike the trails around Dover. Some of the scenes in Skull’s Vengeance take place on the hilltop overlooking the city.
Thank you so much for sharing such great answers. Marion Zimmer Bradley was definitely an influence for me as well, as was Patricia Kenneally Morrison:)
Here’s the blurb:
A Celtic warrior queen must do the impossible—defeat her sorcerer half-brother and claim the throne. But to do so, she must learn how to strike vengeance from her father’s skull.
AS FORETOLD BY HER FATHER in a vision, Catrin has become a battle-hardened warrior after her trials in the Roman legion and gladiatorial games. She must return to Britannia and pull the cursed dagger out of the serpent’s stone to fulfill her destiny. Only then can she unleash the vengeance from the ancient druids to destroy her evil half-brother, the powerful sorcerer, King Marrock. Always two steps ahead and seemingly unstoppable, Marrock can summon destructive natural forces to crush any rival trying to stop him and has charged his deadliest assassin to bring back Catrin’s head.
To have the slightest chance of beating Marrock, Catrin must forge alliances with former enemies, but she needs someone she can trust. Her only option is to seek military aid from Marcellus—her secret Roman husband. They rekindle their burning passion, but he is playing a deadly game in the political firestorm of the Julio-Claudian dynasty to support Catrin’s cause.
Ultimately, in order to defeat Marrock, Catrin must align herself with a dark druidess and learn how to summon forces from skulls to exact vengeance. But can she and Marcellus outmaneuver political enemies from Rome and Britannia in their quest to vanquish Marrock?
Sex, Slave trafficking and abuse, Violence, Childbirth
Acclaim for other books in the Curse of Clansmen and Kings series:
“[An] epic tale of love, betrayal and political intrigue.” —InD’tale Magazine
“The requisite fantasy elements of magic and mystery abound…Tanner also does an admirable job weaving in the politics and mythology of a bygone people.” —Kirkus
“Part fantasy, part historical fiction, Linnea Tanner has woven together a wonderful tale of romance, intrigue, mystery, and legend to create an entertaining and complex story.” —The International Review of Books
“[A] captivating tale of triangles; love, lust and espionage; friend, foe, and spies; barbarians, civilized Rome and spiritual-supernatural beings.” —2019 Pencraft Book of the Year Award
Award-winning author, Linnea Tanner, weaves Celtic tales of love, magical adventure, and political intrigue in Ancient Rome and Britannia. Since childhood, she has passionately read about ancient civilizations and mythology. Of particular interest are the enigmatic Celts, who were reputed as fierce warriors and mystical druids.
Linnea has extensively researched ancient and medieval history, mythology, and archaeology and has traveled to sites described within each of her books in the Curse of Clansmen and Kings series. Books released in her series includeApollo’s Raven (Book 1), Dagger’s Destiny (Book 2), Amulet’s Rapture (Book 3), and Skull’s Vengeance (Book 4).
A Colorado native, Linnea attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. She lives in Fort Collins with her husband and has two children and six grandchildren.
The start of a brand NEW series – an unputdownable fast paced adventure, filled with unforgettable characters.
Alfred the Great’s dream of a united England has been forged by his daughter Aethelfaed and grandson, King Aethelstan.
The Vikings have been expelled from York following the death of Erik Bloodaxe, and for two generations there has been peace between Saxon and Dane.
A new Viking warlord Olaf Tryggvason seeks revenge for Bloodaxe’s death and the slaughter that followed, and has set his sights on a fresh assault on England’s shores. With Skarde Wartooth they set sail for Saxon lands, hungry for glory, conquest and vengeance.
Beornoth, a brutal and battle-hardened Saxon Thegn, is called to arms to fight and protect the Saxon people from the savage Norse invaders. On a personal crusade, he joins the army of Byrthnoth, Lord of the east Saxons in a desperate fight against the bloodthirsty Vikings.
Beornoth must lay his own demons to bed, survive vicious attacks and find redemption for his tragic past.
If you like Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden, and David Gemmell you will love this epic Saxon adventure packed with battles, Vikings, and adventure.
Warrior and Protector takes the reader to England in the late 980s.
While England may have been largely peaceful and free from attacks from the Viking raiders for the last thirty years, Beornoth, once a respected thegn, is tormented by his own failings as a husband, warrior and father. Only the return of his despised enemy can rouse him from his drunken stupor. And luckily for Beornoth, but not for the English, the Viking raiders are about to make an unwelcome return to the eastern shores of England. Beornoth is forced to face his enemy and his past and, in the process, make a few new enemies as well.
This tale of England in the 980s resounds with the fierceness of battle-hardened men, both the English and the Viking raiders, and the concluding battle is portrayed in fierce and bloody detail.
I’m looking forward to following this series that will take readers to one of the best-known battles in Saxon England.
Meet the Author
Peter Gibbons is a financial advisor and author of the highly acclaimed Viking Blood and Blade trilogy. He comes to Boldwood with his new Saxon Warrior series, set around the 900 AD Viking invasion during the reign of King Athelred the Unready. The first title of the new series, Warrior and Protector, will be published in October 2022. He originates from Liverpool and now lives with his family in County Kildare.
It’s not quite with us yet, but still, I want to share the wonderful audio for Pagan King, which should be available at some point in the next few weeks. It’s all uploaded, and now the waiting begins. I will share when it’s released into the wild. (I can’t even share a preorder link as it will just go live on Amazon, Audible and iTunes). Enjoy.
I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Harry Duffin’s new book, Island of Dreams.
Anna wasn’t there when Jose got back from the camp kitchen. He looked around. One of the rebels seated nearby nodded and pointed into the forest.
The sound of one of Batista’s helicopters broke the quiet of the camp. It was lowdown, nearby. They all looked up, but the foliage of the trees was so thick it was impossible to see it.
Jose waited until the sound of the helicopter faded away, then picked up his rifle and went into the trees to look for Anna. She hadn’t gone far. He found her sitting with her back against a large banyan tree, whose perpendicular roots, growing upwards, looked like the columns of a tiny cathedral.
When she saw him, she got up, and stared at him.
‘Are you alright?’ he said.
She had the opened note in her hand. ‘Is it true?’
‘Are you really a spy for the police?’
‘What?’ said Jose, shocked.
‘It’s what the note says.’
‘What? That’s crazy…! Crazy…! Let me see!’
Anna moved away as he came towards her. Her hand moved to the butt of the pistol in her belt.
Jose stopped. ‘Anna, this is crazy! You know that Freddie fancies you. You said that yourself. He even told your mother! He’s obviously just gone mad. He wants to break us up…Maybe he wants you to leave and go back to him. I just don’t know why he said that.’
‘Jose, the note was from my father. He got the information from Hans.’
‘Hans met someone in Miami. CIA, they think. He said it happened in prison. That they threatened to kidnap your sisters, and take them away to be prostitutes in America.’
Jose looked at the ground, and then this way and that.
‘Is that true, Jose?’
Finally, Jose looked at Anna. ‘I wanted to protect them, Anna. The police can do what they want. I couldn’t stop them…Clara is just eleven years-old!’
‘Jose, why didn’t you tell me?’
‘There was nothing you could have done! You were only safe because you were with me…I didn’t want to do it, Anna!’
Anna was breathing deeply now. At first, she didn’t believe the note. She had to read it several times, to see what her father said was true. But she knew her father would never lie to her. He must believe it, and Jose had just confirmed it.
‘Did you kill Nico?’
‘No…I just suggested it was him. To take suspicion from me. Because of the police raid at your house.’
‘When you hid the printing machine. You knew it was going to happen?’
She looked at Jose, whose head and shoulders had slumped.
‘Did you plant the bomb that nearly killed Hans?’
Jose looked up at Anna, with tears in his eyes. ‘He was the obvious choice…because he delivered the radio. The transmitter.’
‘You planted the bomb to kill my brother?’ She took her pistol from her belt.
‘You’re going to shoot me?’
‘No. I’m going to take you to the camp. And let Ché decide what to do.’
Jose slowly slipped the rifle from his shoulder. Anna raised her gun, and pointed it at Jose’s chest. As Jose swung the rifle up, Anna’s finger tightened on the trigger. He put the muzzle under his chin.
‘I love you, Anna.’
The crack of the rifle bullet, shattered the silence of the forest.
Anna stared at the prone figure of Jose. He had fallen backwards, so she couldn’t see the gaping hole that had scattered his brains up into the trees. Dropping to her knees, she put her hands to her face and began to cry.
‘Oh, Jose,’ she muttered. ‘Jose, why didn’t you tell me…? We could have done something!’ she said through her tears.
Slowly, she looked up. They would have heard the sound of the shot in the camp and would come looking for them. They might be watching her now from the undergrowth, seeing what had happened before approaching her. She’d show them her father’s letter, and they would understand. But Jose would have been shot anyway. There was no way they could guard and drag a prisoner around, as they moved from place to place, attacking the army, and then hiding from them. Maybe suicide was the best way for Jose.
She got up and put the note in the top pocket of her fatigues. There was no way she was going to leave Jose’s body where it was, to be eaten by the forest animals. She needed to go to the camp and get them to help burying him.
Suddenly, the roar of the helicopter crashed through the leaves. They must have heard the rifle shot and come back to investigate. Then, she heard rat-tat-tat of its machine gun, raining death through the foliage. She dived for cover beneath the banyan tree.
There was firing from the camp, aiming for a helicopter. She felt the ‘whoosh’ of a mortar landing close by. The pilot must have given an army unit the co-ordinates. She knew she had to get away from the attack. Crawling on her hands and knees along the ground, she felt a massive shock-wave lift her up, and hurl her through the ferns. Then she was falling. Huge, stinging leaves and jagged branches slapped and tore her skin. It was a long fall, through damp air and silence, except for the silent scream in her brain.
And then, blackness…
Here’s the blurb:
In May 1939, when Professor Carl Mueller, his wife, Esther, and their three children flee Nazi Germany, and find refuge on the paradise island of Cuba, they are all full of hopes and dreams for a safe and happy future.
But those dreams are shattered when Carl and Esther are confronted by a ghost from their past, and old betrayals return to haunt them.
The turbulent years of political corruption leading to Batista’s dictatorship, forces the older children to take very different paths to pursue their own dangerous dreams.
And – among the chaos and the conflict that finally leads to Castro’s revolution and victory in 1959, an unlikely love begins to grow – a love that threatens the whole family.
Having escaped a war-torn Europe, their Island of Dreams is to tear them apart forever.
Publication date: December 2022.
This title will be available on Amazon and on #KindleUnlimited.
Meet the author
Harry Duffin is an award-winning British screenwriter, who was on the first writing team of the BBC’s ‘Eastenders’ and won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best TV serial for ‘Coronation Street’.
He was Head of Development at Cloud 9 Screen Entertainment Group, producing seven major television series, including ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ starring Richard ‘John Boy’ Thomas, and ‘Twist in the Tale’, featuring William Shatner.
He was the co-creator of the UK Channel Five teen-cult drama series ‘The Tribe’, which ran for five series.
He has written three novels, Chicago May, Birth of the Mall Rats [an intro to the TV series ‘The Tribe’], and Island of Dreams, which will be published in December 2022.
I’m so excited to share that the first book in my Earls of Mercia series is once more available via Amazon Kindle. With the rerelease of the book, I wanted to share a little about what drew me to this story over a decade ago.
Ealdorman Leofwine , was the ealdorman of the Hwicce (c.994-1023), one of the ancient tribal regions in Mercia, which was a part of England, at the time the story begins. It is possible he may have been related to Ælfwine, who is named, and dies at the Battle of Maldon (more below).
Ealdorman Leofwine and his descendants, who would hold positions of power until the Norman Conquest of 1066, are a unique family in this tumultuous period. No other family, apart from the ruling family of Wessex (and even then there was a minor hiccup caused by those pesky Danish kings) held a position of such power and influence and for such a long period of time, as far as is currently known. The position of ealdorman was not hereditary. It was a position in the gift of the king, and Saxon kings ruled with a varying number of ealdormen. To understand Leofwine’s significance, it’s important to understand this. Unlike an earl – a term we are all perhaps far more familiar with – but specifically a medieval earl in this regard – that position was both more often than not hereditary AND meant that the person involved ‘owned’ significant properties in the area they were earls over. This is not how the ealdormanic system worked in Saxon England, as it’s currently understood.
It is difficult to track many of the ealdormanic families of this period, and the previous century, but there are a few notable individuals, all who bucked the usual trend, which no doubt accounts for why we know who they are.
Perhaps most well-known is Ealdorman Athelstan Half-King, who was the ealdorman of East Anglia from about 934 to 955/6 when he fell from favour at court during the reign of King Eadwig and retired to Glastonbury Abbey. Before he did so, he ensured that his son, Æthelwald, was elevated to the position of ealdorman in his place. This was most unusual, but then, he came from a powerful family, fiercely loyal to the ruling House of Wessex, if not actually a member of them. Athelstan Half-King is believed to have been the son of Ealdorman Æthelfrith, a Mercian ealdorman when Lady Æthelflæd was the Lady of Mercia. Athelstan was one of four brothers. His older brother seems to have either briefly retained the ealdordom after their father’s death in Mercia, or been accorded it a few years later, but when he died, Athelstan Half-King didn’t become ealdorman of Mercia in his place. No, he remained in East Anglia while his two brothers, Eahric and Æthelwald, held ealdordoms in Wessex (Eahric) and Kent (Æthelwald). They didn’t become the ealdorman of Mercia either. The ealdordom passed to a different individual.
When Ealdorman Æthelwald of the East Angles died a few short years later (Athelstan Half-King’s son), his place was taken by Ealdorman Æthelwine, the youngest of Athelstan Half-King’s children. But, the family failed to hold on to the position, despite Ealdorman Æthelwine being married three times, and fathering three sons, one of whom died at the battle of Assandun in 1016. The next to hold the ealdordom of the East Angles after the death of Æthelwine was Leofsige, who was the ealdorman until he fell foul of the king in 1002. In the early 1000s Ulfcytel emerges and may have been married to one of the king’s daughters, but is never officially accorded the title of ealdorman.
Another famous ealdorman was Byrhtnoth of Essex, who died at the Battle of Maldon in 991. But Byrhtnoth was not the son of the previous ealdorman, and indeed, he married the daughter of a very wealthy man and in turn was raised to an ealdordom in Essex at exactly the same time that Ealdorman Athelstan Half-King was being forced to retire from his position in East Anglia. (Byrhtnoth’s wife’s sister had briefly been married to King Edmund (939-946, before his murder). While there are some arguments that Byrhtnoth was from a well regarded family, his appointment was not because of an hereditary claim. It’s known that he was father to a daughter, but not to a son. As such his family did not retain the ealdordom on his death. Indeed, it seems as though Essex and the East Anglian earlordoms were united for a time under Leofsige.
The argument has been put forth that the position of ealdorman may have come with properties that were the king’s to gift to the individual to enable them to carry out their duties in a particular area. The Saxons had a number of types of land tenure, bookland, was land of which the ‘owners’ held the ‘book’ or ‘the title deed.’ (There are some wonderful charters where landed people had to ask for the king to reissue a charter as theirs was lost, often in a fire. There is a wonderful example where King Edgar has to reissue a charter for his grandmother, as he’d lost it while it was in his care). Other land tenure was ‘loan land,’ that is land that could be loaned out, often for a set number of ‘lives.’ Ealdormen might then have held bookland that was hereditary, and not in the area they were ealdorman of, and loan land that was in the king’s to gift to them within the area that they were the appointed ealdorman.
Many will be familiar with the family of Earl Godwin and his sons (thanks to the influence of the Danes, the term ealdorman was replaced by earl, which was the anglicised version of jarl). Much work has been done on the land that the Godwin family held when the great Domesday survey was undertaken during the reign of William the Conqueror. It will quickly become apparent that while they had areas where they held a great deal of land, these were not necessarily the areas over which first Godwin and then his sons Tostig, Harold, Gyrth, Leofwine and Sweyn held the position of earl. Most notably, Tostig was earl of Northumbria from 1055-1065, and yet the family had almost no landed possessions there.
And this is where we return to Ealdorman Leofwine and his family. While everyone knows about Earl Godwin and his sons, they didn’t hold their position for as long as Ealdorman Leofwine and his family. Earl Godwine is first named as an earl in charter S951 dated to 1018. By that period, Leofwine of the Twice had already held a position of importance since 994. The families of both men would converge as the events of 1066 drew nearer, and indeed, Godwine’s son, Harold, was married to Ealdorman Leofwine’s great-granddaughter when he was briefly king of England.
When Ealdorman Leofwine died, his son, Leofric, didn’t become ealdorman in his place. Leofric was a sheriff during the period between his father’s death and his own appointment. And indeed, Leofric’s son, Ælfgar was elevated to an earldom before his father’s death, and so was not initially the earl of Mercia. However, on this occasion, and because of a political situation that was rife with intrigue, Ælfgar did become the earl of Mercia after his father’s death, and after Ælfgar’s death, his young son also took the earldom of Mercia. The family survived the events of 1066, but they didn’t retain their hold on the earldom. The House of Leofwine were a family to not only rival that of Earl Godwine’s, as far as it’s known, but they were also the ONLY family to retain a position as an ealdorman/earl for over seventy years. And yet, very few know about them, and indeed, in many non-fiction books, they’re not even mentioned. And that was the perfect opportunity for me to write about the fabulous family, largely inspired by a non-fiction book, The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England by Stephen Baxter.
Speculation is rife that the victim, estate manager Alex Sterling (44), was found by Lady Beatrice (35), the Countess of Rossex, niece of King James. Lady Beatrice, who has finally come out of hiding following her son’s departure to boarding school, has been managing the project to refurbish and redesign the Events Suite at Francis Court, alongside Perry Juke.
Heading up the murder investigation is Detective Chief Inspector Richard Fitzwilliam. Rumour has it that he and Lady Beatrice have a fractious history…
Awful man! How dare Fitzwilliam suggest Lady Beatrice’s sister is the number one suspect for Alex’s murder. It could be any one of the staff who were on-site that morning. Well, she’ll show Mr High and Mighty Fitzwilliam! With her attention to detail, her clever dog Daisy, Perry’s imagination, and his partner’s contacts at Fenshire CID, they’ll find the murderer before him.
Spruced up for Murder is a really enjoyable cosy mystery with just the right amount of action and suspense, and I confess, it was one that kept me guessing until almost the end.
Lady Beatrice has been living in semi-seclusion since the death of her husband, some years earlier in mysterious circumstances, concentrating on raising her son. But, now that he’s away to boarding school, her mother and sister have plans afoot to get her out of her seclusion. Only while busily refurbishing one of the event rooms at her family home (open to the public and complete with a cafe – which is very important to this story, as is the local pub) a body is discovered.
The mystery that follows is well thought out, and the author does a really good job of making it quite complex, with a number of really well-fleshed-out characters along the way. There is a skeleton in the closet, which soon worms its way into this investigation, and there are more than enough shady characters for the reader to suspect. As well as a slightly too straight-laced cop who gets right under Lady Beatrice’s skin for reasons that will soon become clear.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so much so that I’ve already nabbed books 2 and 3 in the series and will be reviewing them over the next few months. This gets one of my, so I’ve been told, quite rare 5/5 stars over on Goodreads. I really loved the little news snippets the author weaves into the story from the local society rag. If you love a cosy mystery, then you will really enjoy this one:)
Meet the author
Hello. I’m Helen Golden. I write British contemporary cozy whodunnits with a hint of humour. I live in small village in Lincolnshire in the UK with my husband, my step-daughter, her two cats, our two dogs, sometimes my step-son, and our tortoise.
I used to work in senior management, but after my recent job came to a natural end I had the opportunity to follow my dreams and start writing. It’s very early in my life as an author, but so far I’m loving it.
It’s crazy busy at our house, so when I’m writing I retreat to our caravan (an impulsive lockdown purchase) which is mostly parked on our drive. When I really need total peace and quiet, I take it to a lovely site about 15 minutes away and hide there until my family runs out of food or clean clothes
I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth St John to the blog to tell me a bit more about the research she undertook when writing The Godmother’s Secret.
If you knew the fate of the Princes in the Tower, would you tell? Or forever keep the secret?
In a complete moment of serendipity, I discovered that a 15th century ancestress, Elysabeth St.John, was the godmother to Edward V, the eldest brother of the missing Princes in the Tower. When I was looking for inspiration for my new book, The Godmother’s Secret, I literally entered my own name into our digitised family tree to see who else was recorded. I had just completed my 17th Century historical fiction trilogy “The Lydiard Chronicles” and was looking for a whole new generation to fall in love with. As a little background, my books are inspired by my own family stories that I have discovered through our ancestral records, diaries, letters, and the locations they lived in. I’m fortunate the St.John family was prominent in English history, and so we left quite a trail—which can be both good and bad!
So, back to Elysabeth St.John, Lady Scrope. In medieval times, a godmother was considered a blood relative, and was responsible for the spiritual wellbeing and security of their godchild. A serious commitment. Where the history gets interesting is Elysabeth St.John was also the half-sister to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Elysabeth’s husband, Lord John Scrope, was a close ally and relative of Richard III. Margaret was married to Thomas Stanley, a powerful northern lord an ally of Edward IV and Richard III. So not only was Elysabeth (a Lancastrian) godmother to the York heir, and married to a fervent York supporter, she was also aunt to the Tudor claimant. For anyone familiar with the Wars of the Roses, and the ultimate battle at Bosworth Field, you’ll know how that worked out. Talk about family feuds!
And remember, the princes went missing. Their bodies were never discovered, and no one was ever found guilty of murdering them. Even the bones that are claimed to be theirs in Westminster Abbey are not authenticated. Their disappearance is the biggest mystery in English history. As a historical fiction novelist, I could weave in genuine family facts and create my version of their story. About halfway through the first draft I came across a piece of research (basically a dynastic marriage) that made my story plausible, which was really exciting. As far as if my version is true? It’s historical fiction. As writers, we create narratives from the known facts, sift through rumours and gossip until we find the source – or can dismiss them.
Of course, wading into the biggest controversy in English history is bound to raise some eyebrows. Did Richard III kill his nephews? Was Margaret Beaufort to blame? Why did the Duke of Buckingham suddenly rebel after the princes disappeared? Or was the whole murder accusation Tudor propaganda? I hope readers enjoy the way I’ve presented the story of the Princes in the Tower.
Wow, what a fabulous story, and connection. Thank you so much for sharing. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
What if you knew what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?
November, 1470: Westminster Abbey. Lady Elysabeth Scrope faces a perilous royal duty when ordered into sanctuary with Elizabeth Woodville–witness the birth of Edward IV’s Yorkist son. Margaret Beaufort, Elysabeth’s sister, is desperately seeking a pardon for her exiled son Henry Tudor. Strategically, she coerces Lancastrian Elysabeth to be appointed godmother to Prince Edward, embedding her in the heart of the Plantagenets and uniting them in a destiny of impossible choices and heartbreaking conflict.
Bound by blood and torn by honour, when the king dies and Elysabeth delivers her young godson into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Margaret conspires with Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne. Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal and power of the last medieval court, defying her husband and her sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe.
Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Was the rebel Duke of Buckingham to blame? Or did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John, best-selling author of The Lydiard Chronicles, blends her own family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing alternative story illuminating the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.
Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them— in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.
Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.
Nestled high in the Tuscan hills lies Villa Volpone, home to renowned crime writer Jonah Moore and his creative writing course. It’s also the last place retired DCI Dan Armstrong expected to spend his retirement! Dan’s no writer, but maybe this break will help him to think about the next chapter in his own life story?
A gruesome murder…
But only days into the course, Jonah Moore is found stabbed to death with his award-winning silver dagger! And Dan finds himself pulled out of retirement with a killer to catch.
Eleven possible suspects.
The other guests all seem shocked by Jonah’s death, but Dan knows that one of them must be lying. And as he and Italian Commissario Virgilio Pisano begin to investigate it quickly becomes clear that everyone at Villa Volpone has secrets to hide…
But can Dan discover who the murderer is before they strike again?
Murder in Tuscany is a sun-drenched tale of an erotic writer’s retreat marred by the murder of the alleged ‘bestselling’ author running the event.
Retired DCI Dan Armstrong, dreaming of writing that bestseller, has been set up by his ‘mates’ in the police force with the unusual retirement gift of a 2-week writing course in Tuscany. The only catch is that it’s for writing erotic fiction when Dan dreams of writing historical fiction about the Medici. What follows is a gentle and engaging tale of writers, would-be-writers, and course leaders, all mixed up with a touch of intrigue, and then, at about 30% through the book, the murder, which Dan ends up feeling honour-bound to help solve, and not just because his Italian counterpart in the police is missing his English speaking deputy. And it is quite a strange murder when the true facts slowly start to reveal themselves.
This is a tale that will amuse writers, but there’s also more than enough in here for fans of cosy mysteries. There’s a lot of eating and descriptions of Italian food as Dan begins to fall in love with the place so that by the end of the book, the soon-to-be-divorced ex-police inspector is making some big changes in his life.
Much of Murder in Tuscany is certainly setting up this character and place for future investigations, but the story still has a very much ‘closed-room’ feel of a country house murder mystery, with some surprisingly modern takes.
I thoroughly enjoyed Murder in Tuscany, and I look forward to reading more in the series.
Meet the author
T A Williams is the author of over twenty bestselling romances for HQ and Canelo and is now turning his hand to cosy crime, set in his beloved Italy, for Boldwood. The series will introduce us to retired DCI Armstrong and his labrador Oscar and the first book, entitled Murder in Tuscany, will be published in October 2022. Trevor lives in Devon with his Italian wife.
Today, I’m welcoming Jane Davis to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Small Eden.
In England’s Green and Pleasant Land
In Victorian England, Carshalton and nearby Mitcham were known for their physic gardens, where plants were grown for medicinal and cosmetic use. Peppermint, lavender, camomile, aniseed, rhubarb, and liquorice were stable crops but today the name Carshalton is best associated with lavender growing. Of the many lavender farms that used to exist, only two remain. Mayfield Lavender is the larger of the two. In the summer months, people come a long way to see it. https://www.mayfieldlavender.com/
At a time when few women ran their own businesses, I was delighted to stumble across the story of Sarah Sprules. Sarah had worked alongside her father in his physic garden and took over his business after he died. Her produce was known worldwide. Her lavender water won medals at exhibitions in Jamaica and Chicago, but the highest accolade she held was her Royal Warrant to supply lavender oil to Queen Victoria, bestowed on her after the Queen and Princess Louise visited her during August 1886. The royal connection proved especially beneficial as Queen Victoria had so many European relatives.
But that wasn’t all. it was the discovery that Mitcham was once the opium-growing capital of the UK that made me decide my leading man, Robert Cooke, should be a physic gardener. This chapter has been written out of the history books, but in the nineteenth century, far from having a seedy reputation, opium use was respectable. Queen Victoria’s household ordered opium from the royal apothecary, and Prime Minister William Gladstone is said to have drunk opium tea before important speeches. It was used an anaesthetic, in sedatives, for the relief of headaches, migraines, sciatica, as a cough suppressant, to treat pneumonia, and for the relief of abdominal complaints and women’s cramps.
Mrs Beeton’s famous Book of Household Management recommended that no household should be without a supply of powdered opium and laudanum, and she included a recipe for laudanum. But awareness of its dangers was beginning to spread.
Short Matching Excerpt from Small Eden
It was Freya who first showed him Dr Bull’s Hints to Mothers, a pamphlet highlighting the dangers of opiates in the nursery. Of course he doesn’t agree with the practice of dosing up babies so that they sleep all day, he told his wife, but yes, he’s aware it goes on. Working mothers have little choice but to leave children for hours at a time, so they doctor their gripe-water. And it’s not just the poor. Mothers read the labels that say Infant Preservative and Soothing Syrup. They think that ‘purely herbal’ and ‘natural ingredients’ means that products are safe. Though it was chilling to read about case after case of infant deaths linked to over-use.
As many as a third of infant deaths in industrial cities.
And he, who has buried two sons.
But even Dr Bull didn’t condemn the use of opiates outright. They are medicines, he wrote, and like any medicine, ought to be prepared by pharmacists. The trouble is, Robert told Freya, that until recently any Tom, Dick or Harry could operate a pharmacy. And hasn’t he been vocal in his support for an overhaul of the system?
Why did it take so long for opium to be banned?
In the 19th Century, Great Britain fought two wars to crush Chinese efforts to restrict its importation. Why? Because opium was vital to the British economy. And then there was the thorny issue of class. The upper and middle classes saw the heavy use of laudanum among the lower classes as ‘misuse’; however they saw their own use of opiates was seen as necessary, and certainly no more than a ‘habit’. Addiction wasn’t yet recognised. That would come later.
“Indulge me if you will while I explain how the Indian trade operates – a system that the House of Commons condemned this April last. The East India Company – with whom I’m sure you are familiar – created the Opium Agency. Two thousand five hundred clerks working from one hundred offices administer the trade. The Agency offers farmers interest-free advances, in return for which they must deliver strict quotas. What’s so wrong with that? you may ask. What is wrong, my friends, is that the very same Agency sets the price farmers are paid for raw opium, and it isn’t enough to cover the cost of rent, manure and irrigation, let alone any labour the farmer needs to hire. And Indian producers don’t have the option of selling to higher bidders. Fail to deliver their allocated quota and they face the destruction of their crops, prosecution and imprisonment. What we have is two thousand five hundred quill-pushers forcing millions of peasants into growing a crop they would be better off without. And this, this, is the Indian Government’s second largest source of revenue. Only land tax brings in more.”
More muttering, louder. The shaking of heads and jowls.
“I propose a motion. That in the opinion of this meeting, traffic in opium is a bountiful source of degradation and a hindrance to the spread of the gospel.” Quakers are not the types to be whipped up into a frenzy of moral indignation, but their agreement is enthusiastic. “Furthermore, I contend that the Indian Government should cease to derive income from its production and sale.”
Robert looks about. Surely he can’t be the only one to wonder what is to replace the income the colonial government derives from opium? Ignoring this – and from a purely selfish perspective, provided discussion is limited to Indian production – his business will be unaffected. Seeing his neighbours raise their hands to vote, Robert lifts his own to half-mast. Beside him, Smithers does likewise.
The time comes when Robert Cooke must make a choice. He can either diversify, or he can gamble that the government will ban cheap foreign imports and that the price of domestic produce will rise. Robert Cooke is a risk-taker. He decides to specialise, and that decision will cost him dearly. It may even cost him his family.
Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with your new book.
Here’s the blurb:
A boy with his head in the clouds. A man with a head full of dreams.
1884. The symptoms of scarlet fever are easily mistaken for teething, as Robert Cooke and his pregnant wife Freya discover at the cost of their two infant sons. Freya immediately isolates for the safety of their unborn child. Cut off from each other, there is no opportunity for husband and wife to teach each other the language of their loss. By the time they meet again, the subject is taboo. But unspoken grief is a dangerous enemy. It bides its time.
A decade later and now a successful businessman, Robert decides to create a pleasure garden in memory of his sons, in the very same place he found refuge as a boy – a disused chalk quarry in Surrey’s Carshalton. But instead of sharing his vision with his wife, he widens the gulf between them by keeping her in the dark. It is another woman who translates his dreams. An obscure yet talented artist called Florence Hoddy, who lives alone with her unmarried brother, painting only what she sees from her window…
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis writes thought-provoking literary page turners.
She spent her twenties and the first half of her thirties chasing promotions in the business world but, frustrated by the lack of a creative outlet, she turned to writing.
Her first novel, ‘Half-Truths and White Lies’, won a national award established with the aim of finding the next Joanne Harris. Further recognition followed in 2016 with ‘An Unknown Woman’ being named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine/the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust, as well as being shortlisted in the IAN Awards, and in 2019 with ‘Smash all the Windows’ winning the inaugural Selfies Book Award. Her novel, ‘At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock’ was featured by The Lady Magazine as one of their favourite books set in the 1950s, selected as a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice, and shortlisted for the Selfies Book Awards 2021.
Interested in how people behave under pressure, Jane introduces her characters when they are in highly volatile situations and then, in her words, she throws them to the lions. The themes she explores are diverse, ranging from pioneering female photographers, to relatives seeking justice for the victims of a fictional disaster.
Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, in what was originally the ticket office for a Victorian pleasure gardens, known locally as ‘the gingerbread house’. Her house frequently features in her fiction. In fact, she burnt it to the ground in the opening chapter of ‘An Unknown Woman’. In her latest release, Small Eden, she asks the question why one man would choose to open a pleasure gardens at a time when so many others were facing bankruptcy?
When she isn’t writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.