Sometimes, when I’m writing a scene, I just have to write something to go with it, a side story, a prequel, just something that ties up loose ends between one book series, and another, and so, Coelwulf’s Company, a collection of short stories from before the beginning of The Last King. Have you wondered what all our fierce warriors were up to before The Last King? How Coelwulf came to command his warriors? Hopefully, you’ll find some of the answers here in my first collection of short stories featuring the characters from The Last King, and also one character from Son of Mercia!
And, if you’ve read the Chronicles of the English, and are wondering where to go next, then The Mercian Brexit, is an attempt to bridge some of the gap between that trilogy and the Lady Elfrida books. At 15,000 words, The Mercian Brexit is one of my longer short stories, but equally, not as long as some of them have ended up (Cnut was supposed to only ever be 50,000 words but ended up over 100,000 – so not so very short after all.)
Both books are also available to read with a Kindle Unlimited Subscription.
These aren’t my only short stories. You can also find one in The Historical Times magazine from July 2022, and there are also a couple on my author platform with Aspects of History, and I plan on writing many more as well.
Hi, I’m Kate Shanahan, author of Tangled Spirits, a time-slip historical fantasy set in medieval Japan before shogun, samurai, and sushi were a thing. I’m blogging today about the cultural environment in 10th-11th centuries Japan that fostered the highest level of female literacy in the world at this time (among the aristocratic elite, that is.)
The world’s first full-length novel is usually considered to be Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikubu, a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court of Japan at the beginning of the 11th century. She wrote this long, complex novel in an era when nearly all women everywhere in the world (and most men too) could neither read nor write. And not only did she write it, but enough people enjoyed reading it to ensure it was copied, shared, sold, borrowed, studied, illustrated, filmed, and gamified over the next 1000+ years.
I read Tale of Genji when I taught English in Japan. That same year, I read The Pillow Book, a journal written by lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon, a contemporary of Murasaki’s. Sei invented a new form of journal called zuihitsu or ‘miscellany.’ In today’s terms, it’s more like the world’s first blog.
Both Sei and Murasaki were ladies-in-waiting in the court of Emperor Ichijo, and they both could read and write Chinese as well as Japanese, rare skills for women even in their erudite sphere. How is it that these two women in medieval Japan both managed to create new forms of literature that are still studied today?
In the course of my research, I learned that women held many positions of high rank and even power in Japan’s early history. In fact, eight of Japan’s emperors have been women, six of them before the year 770. The Heian Period (794 to 1185) is known as the ‘golden age of Japan’ for its flowering of the arts and literature, and much of this flowering came from girl-power.
(Before I go further, let me be clear that I’m only referring to the tiny elite at the top of the food chain who led a life of luxury and leisure far, far removed from the hardships of the unranked.)
I’ve noticed that Westerners are often surprised at some of the rights and privileges women enjoyed in this era in Japan. In the Heian Period, married noblewomen often continued to live with their parents after marriage, with the husband stopping by from time to time to see her. The wife’s father or uncles influenced the education and development of her children. This is called a ‘uxorial’ form of marriage, and it not only gave a woman more control and influence over raising her children, it also meant that if she weren’t happy with her husband’s behavior, she could send him away without seeing him. Women also could initiate a divorce and remarry. Men often had several wives and consorts, and women just one (at a time), but love affairs were not frowned upon as long as discreetly managed.
The most important element of the environment that eventually produced Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book was the Fujiwara Regency. The emperor’s role was a sacred one with a focus on the rituals and prayers needed to keep divinities happy, so the regent’s role was a political, secular one. There were 21 regents from the Fujiwara clan between 804 and 1238, and the most famous was Michinaga, who was regent during both Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu’s tenure at court. In the course of my research for Tangled Spirits, I learned this proverb: “if one must have a child, let it be a girl.” Fujiwara clan members gained power and access to the emperor by marrying their daughters to him. Those daughters produced children who often became Crown Prince and Emperor, and because of the uxorial tradition, Fujiwara regents kept their power by their influence over their imperial grandchildren. And that made daughters more valuable to a Fujiwara regent (or regent wanna-be) than a son.
And literacy comes into play because it was important for these Fujiwara daughters to be able to entice the emperor with their beautiful calligraphy, their skill with writing poetry, and with reading out loud to him. Beauty and elegance were of utmost importance at court in this era, and calligraphy could make or break a love affair. Thus a high priority was placed on the education of potential imperial consorts.
And then once a Fujiwara daughter was at court, whether as a concubine, an official consort, or a Royal Consort (Empress), it was important for that consort to have women around her with skills in calligraphy, poetry, witty repartee, and story-telling, both to make the salon attractive to the Emperor and to entertain the consort. Women in this elite class lived lives of comparative leisure, and they stayed indoors most of the time. Reading, writing, and story-telling flourished as entertainment.
And that created a sort of domino effect. Parents might not be of a high-enough rank for their daughters to be selected for the Emperor, but they educated their daughters to make them attractive to the consort’s salon, and that is how both Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu came to court.
It’s clear from the diaries of Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu that they both could read Chinese writing as well as the native ‘onnade’ and that such learning was considered masculine. Murasaki wrote that Sei was a show-off for not hiding her knowledge of Chinese, while Sei wrote that male courtiers sent poems in Chinese as a sort of prank, hoping to force her to reveal her knowledge (but she was too clever for that.) However, recent research indicates that a nobleman might teach his daughter to read and write Chinese as well as Japanese to improve her chance to obtain a position as an official in the Imperial Handmaid’s Office. Murasaki Shikibu writes in her diary that she learned Chinese by eavesdropping on her brother’s lessons, but it’s possible that both Murasaki and Sei Shonagon were taught Chinese reading and writing for that reason, as neither family was in the top ranks of nobility. Some high-ranking men even sought to marry women who could read Chinese as a skill that could help their own careers in government bureaucracy.
If you’d like to read more blog posts about Heian Japan or find out more about Tangled Spirits, you can find mine at kvshanahan.com.
If you’d like to read more about literacy in this era, here’s an interesting article that I found in jstor.org.
Heldt, G. (2005). Writing like a Man: Poetic Literacy, Textual Property, and Gender in the “Tosa Diary.” The Journal of Asian Studies, 64(1), 7–34. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25075675
Here’s the blurb for Tangled Spirits.
Journey to the imperial court of Japan as Kate Shanahan skillfully blends fictional and historical figures and events into a time-slip tale of intrigue, personal sacrifice, and a friendship that spans a thousand years.
Two spirits. One body. It’s harder than it looks.
2019: Anxious and insecure, Mina Cooper wants to change her life, to change herself, but she gets more change than she bargains for when her spirit is pulled into the past and into someone else’ body – in 10th century Japan. And now she has a lot more to be anxious about. Like exorcism. And bandits. And chaotic magic by an inexperienced shaman.
999: Desperately lonely after her mother and sister die in an epidemic, aspiring shaman Lady Masako attempts to call her mother back from the spirit world, but gets possessed by Mina instead.
After a struggle for control and a failed exorcism, the two spirits agree to cooperate long enough to get help from the Royal Astrologer, the only person powerful enough to send Mina home.
But his help comes at a cost, and Mina’s imperfect knowledge of history offers little to negotiate with. And the longer he waits to help her, the greater the risk her spirit will fuse with Masako’s, and she’ll never get home.
Meet the author
Kate grew up in Massachusetts, but spent 4th, 8th, and 11th grades living in England, and speaks both languages (British and American) fluently. After graduating from University of Michigan with a BA in Political Science (East Asia Concentration), Kate taught English in Sapporo, Japan for two years. She enjoyed the experience so much that she returned to U of M for an MA in Asian Studies (Japan Specialization), and while there, worked part-time for the Center for Japanese Studies. Fortunately for Kate, Honda was expanding operations in Ohio around the time she finished, and she spent an entire career at Honda in project, business, and people management, thrilled to be able to travel to Japan and speak Japanese for work. Then she retired to work on that book about Sei Shonagon that she always had in the back of her mind to write, and that book evolved into Tangled Spirits.
After all those years in northern latitudes, Kate and her husband recently moved to Florida’s Gulf Coast where the sunshine makes it difficult to focus on writing. But she’s determined to do it anyway. After a bike ride.
Tangled Spirits is on special offer until 19th July 2022, for 99p/99c on Amazon UK/US and is also included in a Kindle Unlimited Subscription
Good luck with the new book, Kate. Thank you so much for such an interesting post about Japan. I can see why you were drawn to the period.
Here’s my review
I was lucky enough to read an early version of Tangled Spirits, and I flew through it in two days. It’s a fantastic and really intriguing story.
I liked the whole story – the idea of a 21st-century woman’s mind in a 10th-century woman’s body, seeing everything through new eyes, putting both current interpretations on etiquette and prevailing thoughts, as well as the 10th-century justification for it all. It was just tongue in cheek, and court politics enough, to ensure the reader always wants to know what’s going to happen.
Masako and Mina are both intriguing characters. As the story is told through Mina we know more about her thoughts and more about Masako’s actions. I could understand both of their viewpoints well enough, even if like Masako, I found it a bit frustrating that Mina wouldn’t share more of her knowledge of the future. I enjoyed that as time went on, they acted more and more like one another.
A really enjoyable read and one I highly recommend.
The Maids of Biddenden is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small Kent village.
Joined at the hip, the sisters overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women – one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants. Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy in Biddenden that survives to this day.
This is the heart-warming and inspirational story of two remarkable women leading one joint life, challenging adversity to become the best they can be.
The Maids of Biddenden is that rare beast which entirely absorbs the reader from page one. Helped by a flowing style of writing, and the immediate and impending danger that the twins find themselves in as six-year-olds, the reader is entirely absorbed in the story, and their fate, so much so that it’s difficult to put the book down. That said, it is not just the twins themselves that drive the story – the people they interact with, those with their best and worst interests at heart – are all believable and well written, and there are occasions when the reader will be left frustrated and angered that some seem to face little punishment for their actions. The story has a number of points of view, and I found that they all worked very well – offering a view of the twins as they think of themselves, and also as others perceived them.
The story is effectively split in two; the first 45% tells the story of the Maids as young children. This element of the story is filled with a deep sense of foreboding that drives the story onward and makes the reader fearful for the future of the Maids. The narrative then moves forward a few years, and we see them as young women, trying to make a name for themselves and use their talents for good. At this point, the immediate landscape that the Maids encounter broadens considerably, and we move away from the nunnery and the settlement of Biddenden, into the politics and events of the early twelfth century, that almost consume the lives of the Maids for the remainder of their years – they lived during the time of the tragedy of the White Ship.
The story doesn’t so much lose focus here, but because the impending danger has passed, the reader is instead absorbed in how the twins accomplish all that they do. There is a great deal of attention to detail here – both medical knowledge and music – and it’s fascinating to see how the Maids’ lives interact with known events from the period.
This is a delightful story. I was entirely engrossed and found myself snatching what time I could to carry on reading it – something that doesn’t happen all that often. I highly, highly recommend The Maids of Biddenden for fans of historical fiction, and also for those who don’t normally read the genre. The challenges that the twins face are well told, and the reaction their appearance sparks are conveyed well, although as the reader you will be offended by the prevailing belief that they are Godless and a monstrosity, and the fact that they were a ‘sight to see’ as opposed to always being appreciated for who they were and what they could accomplish. The historical notes at the back of the novel are also fascinating.
I became a full-time author in 2016, publishing three novels under the pen name GD Harper. I have been both a Wishing Shelf Book Award finalist and Red Ribbon winner, been shortlisted for the Lightship Prize, longlisted for the UK Novel Writing Award and longlisted for the Page Turner Writer Award. The Maids of Biddenden was a finalist in this year’s Page Turner Book Award for unpublished manuscripts, longlisted for the Exeter Book Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and shortlisted for the Impress Prize.
Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has beencalled the last true Elizabethan.
This journey began when I was researching for an historical novel about Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the town of Pembroke, Wales. I eventually uncovered enough original material to write three books, with Henry being born in the first, coming of age in the second and becoming King of England in the third.
The result was my best-selling Tudor Trilogy, and I decided to continue the stories of the Tudors in a continuous line. I also made a conscious decision to tell the stories through those surrounding King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, so we see different facets of these complex rulers through the eyes of others.
For my Elizabethan series I chose three very different favourites of the queen, who each saw different sides of her personality. Sir Francis Drake showered her with gold and jewels, stolen from the Spanish, in return for the status he longed for. The Earl of Essex was like the errant son she never had, but Raleigh became her protector, Captain of the Guard, and lived to see the last days of the Tudor dynasty.
Many of the things I thought I knew about Walter Raleigh proved to be wrong. Raleigh is credited with introducing the potato and tobacco to Britain, but I’ve seen no evidence for either, or for the popular tale of a servant throwing water over him when he mistook the smoke from Raleigh’s pipe for a fire!
I followed Raleigh across the Irish Sea to the sleepy harbour at Youghal, where he had a house and became Mayor, as well as to the bustling city of Cork, where he served in the English Army of occupation. I also visited Raleigh’s house at Sherborne in Dorset, which still has many original features.
My research uncovered a comprehensive collection of original letters and poetry written by Raleigh. As well as helping me understand his motivation, and the timeline of complex events, they also gave me a sense of his ‘voice’, and how he spoke to the queen and others of her court.
I relied on the comprehensive records of the Elizabethan Court, which set out events in fascinating detail. I was also lucky to read ‘A Woman of Noble Wit’, a new novel by Rosemary Griggs, about Raleigh’s mother. This led me to explore Walter Raleigh’s relationship with his father, as well as his mother, an aspect of him largely ignored by historical biographers.
My hope is that Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.
Thank you so much for sharing. Your research sounds fabulous, and I too am reading A Woman of Noble Wit. Good luck with the new release.
Here’s the blurb:
Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.
He didn’t dance or joust, didn’t come from a noble family, or marry into one. So how did an impoverished law student become a favourite of the queen, and Captain of the Guard?
The story which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy follows Walter Raleigh from his first days at the Elizabethan Court to the end of the Tudor dynasty.
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the Tudors. He also runs the popular ‘Stories of the Tudors’ podcast, and posts book reviews, author interviews and guest posts at his blog, The Writing Desk. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches
What happens when a king loses his prowess? The day Henry IV could finally declare he had vanquished his enemies, he threw it all away with an infamous deed. No English king had executed an archbishop before. And divine judgment was quick to follow. Many thought he was struck with leprosy—God’s greatest punishment for sinners. From that point on, Henry’s health was cursed and he fought doggedly on as his body continued to betray him—reducing this once great warrior to an invalid. Fortunately for England, his heir was ready and eager to take over. But Henry wasn’t willing to relinquish what he had worked so hard to preserve. No one was going to take away his royal prerogative—not even Prince Hal. But Henry didn’t count on Hal’s dauntless nature, which threatened to tear the royal family apart.
This book is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription
Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
Getting Argo home in the process of writing JASON was great fun. In fact, once I’d got the route straight in my head, it gave me the most joy I’ll probably ever have in writing a story. It presented an opportunity to weave together as many strands of myth as I could without – I hope – stretching credibility. And what more could an unashamed Classics geek want? JASON features an all-star ancient Greek cast: Circe, Talos, the Sirens, King Minos, Ariadne, the Minotaur, and the Oracle, ranging over a vast landscape from as far north as the Danube to Crete in the south.
‘Sprouting wings and flying home would have been a more useful suggestion!’ So says Idas, a thorn in Jason’s side, as options are discussed to outwit the ships blockading the Black Sea straits. His comments are apposite when looking at the wackier ancient suggestions for the return leg of Jason’s voyage. In one surviving version of the myth, we see Argo traversing the Sahara; in another, sailing to Greece via Scandinavia. Needless to say, all these routes (but one) are physically impossible. But what an opportunity for a writer to stretch the imagination!
I even discovered a lost island when researching the route. An old map of the Anatolian coastline based on a Roman geographer’s work showed an island just off the Thracian coast (modern day Bulgaria), which some natural disaster or other seems to have swallowed in the Middle Ages. As soon as I saw it, I had to have it for Circe’s mysterious island of Aea. This sums up the spirit in which JASON was written. I hope, in joining this epic voyage, you make some discoveries of your own.
Maintaining order in Roman Britannia’s vast militarised zone
The original vision for my ‘Edge of Empire’ series of novels was to write stories that focussed on the lives and adventures of two protagonists from a single Roman auxiliary infantry unit. It was to be set in the north of the province of Britannia and in the wilder, unconquered lands beyond its boundaries. But as I buried myself in the research phase I was continually surprised by what I discovered. Ultimately I gained a greater understanding of the Roman way of doing things and quite fundamentally changed the approach to my stories.
For much of its first 300 years of use Hadrian’s Wall marked the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. In movies such as The Eagle or Centurion we see Roman foot soldiers astride its battlements looking north, spear and shield in hand. But the Wall was not the-be-all-and-end-all of the north’s defence. What is less understood, at least to me, is that the Wall was really a focal point for a much larger militarised zone that stretched from Lancaster in the south to forts like Blatobulgium and Trimontium well into what is now modern day southern Scotland (I’m ignoring the period of the Antonine wall for simplicity).
It seems evident that the lands both north and south of Hadrian’s Wall were at times restive, if not in down right conflict, with the Roman administration. Whilst auxiliary infantry troops had an important role in keeping the peace, their deployment became increasingly localised in nature, especially in the later centuries of the empire. It was the mounted troops that had the pivotal role in commanding the north.
When researching for my historical adventure novel ‘Siege’, that focuses on the lives of the men of a Germanic cohort, a real life regiment with a mixture of infantry and cavalry. I was surprised by the amount of detail we now have on the everyday life of a Roman cavalryman. In the story I have worked hard to be faithful to that knowledge and attempted to bring it to life for the present day reader.
Most forts in the militarised zone included a cavalry force within their garrisons.
It has been calculated that sustaining a cavalryman with his kit and horse cost 5 times that of an infantryman. Why would the Romans invest so much if they were not an important and valuable asset? The answer surely must, at least in part, lie in both its symbolic and strategic roles.
Cavalry could move at a rapid pace and cover great distances quickly. They were highly mobile, making them effective on patrols and as scouts both north and south of the Wall. They made speedy messengers, giving warning of sudden threats and incursions. They also ensured food security, protecting local farmland and guarding supply trains to the Wall’s outlying forts. But, probably as importantly, they projected the image of power and renown of Rome and its imperial might. If you have ever seen the Household Cavalry in London or mounted police outside of a football (soccer) stadium you will get an idea of what a Roman turma must have looked like to an Iron Age population.
Outlying forts, north of the Wall, such as at Birrens and Netherby housed specialist, double strength, mixed infantry and cavalry cohorts (milliaria equitata) as well as specialist scouts (exploratores) enabling them to command a significant geographic area and suppress any uprising of local tribes. The effect on the populace must have been as much psychological as physical.
But who were these cavalrymen? Well they certainly weren’t drawn from the Roman aristocracy as they often were in the time of the Republic. No, the names of their units give a clear indication that the Romans recruited from all over the empire from the homelands of its conquered peoples. Germanic and celtic Gaulish units were prevalent, such as the I Nervana Germanorum and the cohors II Tungrorum that garrisoned the fort of Birrens at different times. But regiments from as far away as Spain and modern day Bulgaria and Croatia have also been identified. But as the needs of the empire changed over time individual units would mainly have recruited from the local populations. With sons moving into the family business by joining the cohorts of their fathers and grandfathers.
So what was life like for the cavalryman? Well each troop, known as a turma (typically 30 men), were housed in a single barrack block. Trios of men lived at the back of the building with their horses stabled at the front. There were surely few nights that troopers fell asleep without the sound of the snorts of their mounts accompanied by the smell of hay and dung. Each room had a hearth set against the stable-side wall for warmth and cooking. The decurion, who commanded the turma, lived in rooms at the end of the block along with his family.Troopers ate, slept and kept their weapons and tack in these small rooms. It is also thought that grooms and slaves may have slept in the roof space above.
Training for cavalrymen and their mounts was extensive and intense. If you have seen horses being drilled for modern day dressage you will get the idea, with each trained initially on a long rein to teach the horse basic skills as well as special steps. It is likely that horses were broken and prepared by specialists before being assigned to its rider. They learned to overcome their instinct to flee when startled and to cope in the noise and fervour of combat. The early instruction of the cavalryman would have focussed on the basic skills of controlling and riding the horse whilst holding a sword or spear in the right hand and the shield and rein in the left. From there they would have progressed to training to fight as a turma, with unit drills enabling large numbers of men to manoeuvre in battle.
The average cavalryman was well armed and armoured. He typically wore chainmail armour that allows greater movement whilst on horseback. Their weapons consisted of the long cavalry sword often referred to as the spatha. They also had a fighting lance and two shorter throwing javelins. Their shields were a variety of shapes including square and oval, but were usually flat with a steel rim and a rounded metal boss to enable it to be used as a weapon.
It is not hard to imagine the damage the charge of even a small unit of auxiliary cavalry could inflict on the largely unprotected bodies of the tribal warriors of the north of Britain.
Alistair lived in the Dumfriesshire countryside for most of his childhood. A region of Scotland filled with ancient place names such as Torthorwald and Caerlaverock. But it was his history teacher’s telling of the tale of Burnswark and the Roman siege of the Iron Age hillfort that fired his love of Roman and Dark Ages history. From there the kernel of the stories for the Edge of Empire series took root.
On leaving school he began a 35-year communications career, firstly with the Royal Navy, that included covert riverine and seaborne operations during the height of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, before moving into the corporate world. Military life is unique, and Alistair aims to reflect an authentic view of that experience and its language in his stories. When not writing or spending time with family, Alistair, his wife Jenny and Hurley the cockerpoo love to walk in the hills of both the UK and Andalucia.
Thank you for such a fabulous guest post. Good luck with the new book.
Today, I’m taking part in The Storm Girl by Kathleen McGurl blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources.
Here’s the blurb:
The gripping new historical novel from the USA Today bestselling author of The Girl from Bletchley Park and The Forgotten Secret.
A heartbreaking choice. A secret kept for centuries.
1784. When Esther Harris’s father hurts his back, she takes over his role helping smugglers hide contraband in the secret cellar in their pub. But when the free traders’ ships are trapped in the harbour, a battle between the smugglers and the revenue officers leads to murder and betrayal – and Esther is forced to choose between the love of her life and protecting her family…
Present day. Fresh from her divorce, Millie Galton moves into a former inn overlooking the harbour in Mudeford and plans to create her dream home. When a chance discovery behind an old fireplace reveals the house’s secret history as a haven for smugglers and the devastating story of its former residents, could the mystery of a disappearance from centuries ago finally be solved?
Sweeping historical fiction perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley, Kathryn Hughes and Tracy Rees.
The Storm Girl is a dual timeline novel, and as a reader and writer of historical fiction, it was the historical storyline that captivated me far more than the modern-day tale of divorce and starting afresh.
Coming at this from a ‘newb’ point of view, I expected both storylines to have some connection, other than the most tenuous one, of them simply taking place in the same space although at different times. That wasn’t what happened, and I did encounter some problems, whereby the one storyline gave away events in the other – which was a little frustrating.
With all that said, I did enjoy this book. The historical storyline, while a little too wholesome for me, did capture my imagination and The Storm Girl is very much a competent and go-getting type of gal that a modern audience will thrill to discover.
Will I try a dual timeline novel again, that remains to be seen? I confess I would have been happy to have the story revolve only around the historical elements, and not worry about the modern-day setting at all, but I more than understand that a dual timeline narrative is extremely popular, and I’m sure fans of this genre will be captivated by this tale of a place in two different timelines, over two hundred years apart, and will, hopefully, consider learning more about their own local history as a result of reading the book.
A firm 4/5 from me – I did appreciate the historical notes at the back of the novel.
Kathleen McGurl lives near the coast in Christchurch, England. She writes dual timeline novels in which a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. She is married to an Irishman and has two adult sons. She enjoys travelling, especially in her motorhome around Europe but home is Mudeford, where this novel is set.
Today, I’m excited to share an excerpt from The Admiral’s Wife by M K Tod.
August 1912 – The next hour passed in a blur as Flannigan unrolled and rerolled various bolts of cloth. Her selections made and the account tallied, Isabel gathered her things. “It looks rather stormy,” she said.
“We’re sure to get a big blow today, Mrs. Taylor. You might want to get home as soon as you can.”
Outside the wind was stronger and the sky was thick and menacing. Waves churned the harbor. Sampans lining the shore pitched up and down. The air smelled of lightning. An explosion sounded, the blast echoing in her ears.
Suddenly, the mood of the Praya changed. Chinese workers hurried away; some abandoned the tools of their trade—rickshaws, brooms, wheelbarrows, long poles, rickety chairs and tables—while others pushed, pulled, or carried their belongings with them. Those who made their homes and living on the sampans swarmed the decks of their vessels grabbing this and that, hurrying nimbly along the gunnels, and scrambling up the ladders connecting them to long-fingered piers.
The wind grew stronger. Isabel’s hat blew off, rolling along the Praya like a runaway wheel. Without thinking, she chased after it. Hampered by the bulk of her purchases, she weaved this way and that. Every time she got close, the wind picked her hat up again. It’s gone, she finally admitted as the blue concoction sailed off over the water and rain pelted down—big, fat drops that smacked her skin. I should return to Murphy’s and wait out the storm.
She swiveled around. The Praya was deserted. Several sampans were precariously close to capsizing. The wind that had previously been at her back now buffeted her with such force, she could barely keep her balance. Isabel braced herself against the gale. Murphy’s seemed a long way away.
The wind howled like an animal in distress. The rain grew in intensity. “One step at a time,” she muttered aloud. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. She caught a glimpse of a man falling from a sampan into the water. Should she try to rescue him? Would her skirts weigh her down so that she would only drown trying? The sky closed in. Day felt like night.
Isabel continued to push forward. Without warning, someone grabbed her arm. She struggled to break free.
“I’m trying to help you, Mrs. Taylor,” Li Tao-Kai said, his voice gruff. “Don’t you realize this is a typhoon?”
A typhoon. She’d heard about typhoons—the Asian equivalent to hurricanes—and had even heard about the devastation caused by one that hit Hong Kong in 1906, but she had no idea what such an event would be like. “How was I supposed to know?” she said.
“The typhoon signal went off.”
“Was that the explosion I heard?”
He jerked his head in a quick nod and she thought he might be a little exasperated with her, although it was difficult to tell. They were both shouting to be heard. Li Tao-Kai held her arm firmly and a few minutes later, pulled her inside the shop.
“I saw a man fall into the water,” she said, as soon as she caught her breath. “He needs help.”
“We can’t go out again,” he said. “It’s dangerous. If you don’t believe me, look out the window to see for yourself.”
With the sun totally obscured and only one narrow window in Murphy’s Fine Silks and Linens, the interior was dim. Isabel hadn’t noticed the men milling about the room when she and Mr. Li had entered, but now she saw that there were about fifteen of them, a mix of Chinese and European. Isabel nodded in their direction, then crossed over to look out the window. Debris skittered along the Praya: bits of wood, sheets of paper, a straw hat, a broom. A table had fallen over and now scraped along the asphalt. She looked for the place where she’d seen the man fall, but everything was so topsy-turvy she could find no trace of him. A crash sounded as something smashed against the building.
“Step away from the window, Mrs. Taylor,” George Flannigan said. “It’s not safe.”
Isabel was so startled that she obeyed without question and took a spot standing next to Li Tao-Kai. Since his role brought him into frequent contact with the British community, she’d seen him on a few occasions following the opera and at times there’d been a chance to talk. He was an interesting man who, to her surprise, didn’t treat her as many men did: an attractive woman worthy of a flirtatious glance or two but unworthy of weighty conversation. She was just musing about whether he spoke to all women in the same fashion, when a bamboo pole shattered the window, flinging glass across the room.
“Good heavens!” she exclaimed. Her eyes wide with shock.
“Are you all right?” Li Tao-Kai asked.
“I think so.” Isabel spoke slowly. Nothing in her life had prepared her for a storm so fierce it left the surroundings looking like a bundle of jackstraws.
“Careful, I see something on your clothes.” He reached over and plucked a shard of glass from the sleeve of her dress.
The howls of the storm were deafening—like a train charging through a tunnel. Beyond the wind was the thumping and banging of debris tumbling past the warehouse. Without thinking, Isabel crossed to the window once more and peered out. Pellets of rain whipped her face.
“We have to help,” she said. “I can see women on the dock trying to save their children. They can barely stand. Look at them,” she urged.
“It’s too dangerous outside,” George Flannigan said.
“But we can’t just think of ourselves. Surely there are enough of us here to help.”
“You don’t understand how deadly typhoons can be,” Mr. Li said. “I’ve seen men blown down the street and trees uprooted by the force of the wind.” He shook his head. “It’s dangerous outside.”
“But those people could die without our help. If we were to form a human chain, each person standing close to the next person in line, we could rescue them. Whoever heads the line will help these people off their boats and hand them over to the next person in line and so on. Surely we can at least try.”
“It could work, Mr. Li,” George Flannigan said. “The wind has eased a bit, so we may have a few minutes before it strengthens again. Now might be the perfect time.”
“All right. We can try. But Mrs. Taylor remains in the shop.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” Isabel declared.
Li Tao-Kai drew his lips into a tight grimace. “If you’re determined to help, perhaps you will agree to be at the end closest to the shop.”
Isabel debated the benefit of further argument. “All right,” she said.
One by one, they stepped outside. When it was her turn, the wind tore at her clothes and rain pummeled her face. From all around she heard the clang, clatter, and smash of items hurled by the wind.
Here’s the blurb:
The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.
In 2016, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.
In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.
As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.
Trigger Warnings: Brief sex scenes
“Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel.” — Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of THE LAST ROSE OF SHANGHAI
“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS
M.K. (Mary) Tod’s interest in historical fiction began as a teenager immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer. In 2004, her husband’s career took them to Hong Kong where, with no job and few prospects, Mary began what became Unravelled, her first novel. The Admiral’s Wife is her fifth novel.
Mary’s award-winning blog, www.awriterofhistory.com, focuses on reading and writing historical fiction. She’s an active member of the historical fiction community and has conducted five unique reader surveys on topics from readers’ habits and preferences to favorite historical fiction authors. Mary is happily married to her high-school sweetheart. They have two adult children and two delightful grandsons.
Today, David Fitz-Gerald is going to share with me the process he went through to write Waking Up Lost.
Brainstorming Waking Up Lost
The idea for Waking Up Lost came from a brainstorming process. It’s kind of like planting a row of seeds in the garden. They don’t all germinate. Some get pulled out to leave room for the ones that have a better chance of surviving. As they grow, a lot of weeds have to be pulled.
I don’t recall the premise for Waking Up Lost coming in a single, cataclysmic inspirational moment, but rather as a wondrous evolution. I made a list of supernatural, paranormal, and otherworldly premises, then after eliminating other possibilities, selected this one. I thought it would be fun for readers to imagine what they would do if they found themselves transported to some perilous place.
I like to write fiction that is grounded in history and soars with the spirits. I use that phrase like a mission statement. My Adirondack Spirit Series is an epic, multi-generational family saga. Each book stands alone. What they have in common are ancestry, the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, surviving in nature, and supernatural tendencies that just seem to run in the family. The common ancestry includes the Native American people that inhabited New York state before colonization.
When I finished writing She Sees Ghosts, I thought about what should follow that book, featuring an empathic medium named, Mehitable, set in 1799-1816. As that book ended, the recently widowed mother of a toddler was expecting a second child. What supernatural tendencies should her children possess? That’s where my brainstorming list came in.
Waking Up Lost is the story of a young man raised by a single mother in a newly formed woodland town in 1833. One morning, he wakes up miles from home at an isolated lake where his mother once met his father. A few nights later, he is transported in his sleep to the bedroom of the meanest man in town’s daughter. Another night, Noah awakens in a storm on the peak of a mountain. Just when Noah thinks that he has found a solution to his problem, he awakens on a depraved scow, and its captain forces him to lead mules along the banks of the Erie Canal. Will he find a way to break free from captivity and escape the horrible plans the captain has for him at the end of their journey?
Caught in a Trance, set in 1849, is the story of Noah’s brother, Moses. He has the ability to blast through the air, from one location to another, and yet nobody notices when he does so, even when it happens right before their eyes. Moses also discovers that he can hypnotize people. What happens when Moses becomes addicted to hypnosis and mesmerizes himself? I hope to publish this story in the summer of 2022.
Some ideas are so good, it is hard not to return to them. It is tempting to imagine more adventures for Noah. Maybe I should make a list of different places I’d like to jettison him off to and see if he can make his way home, yet again.
Or maybe I’ll go in a completely different direction. I wonder whether I’ll pull anything else from that list of ideas.
I’d like to think I could just work on one thing at a time, but these little book babies all seem to have their own needs. One needs to be planned, another needs to be written, a third requires editing, this one is setting off to find its way in the world, and the ones that came before still require attention now and then. But I think my favorite part is planning and plotting new stories to develop.
So, I’ll keep brainstorming and see what else I can come up with. Thank you for your interest in Waking Up Lost!
Thank you so much for sharing and good luck with all your writing plans.
Here’s the blurb:
Traveling without warning. Nights lost to supernatural journeys. Is one young man fated to wander far from safety?
New York State, 1833. Noah Munch longs to fit in. Living with a mother who communes with ghosts and a brother with a knack for heroics, the seventeen-year-old wishes he were fearless enough to discover an extraordinary purpose of his own. But when he mysteriously awakens in the bedroom of the two beautiful daughters of the meanest man in town, he realizes his odd sleepwalking ability could potentially be deadly.
Convinced that leaving civilization is the only way to keep himself and others safe, Noah pursues his dream of becoming a mountain man and slips away into the primeval woods. But after a strong summer storm devastates his camp, the troubled lad finds his mystical wanderings have only just begun.
Can Noah find his place before he’s destroyed by a ruthless world?
Waking Up Lost is the immersive fourth book in the Adirondack Spirit Series of historical fiction. If you like coming-of-age adventures, magical realism, and stories of life on the American frontier, then you’ll love David Fitz-Gerald’s compelling chronicle.
David Fitz-Gerald writes fiction that is grounded in history and soars with the spirits. Dave enjoys getting lost in the settings he imagines and spending time with the characters he creates. Writing historical fiction is like making paintings of the past. He loves to weave fact and fiction together, stirring in action, adventure, romance, and a heavy dose of the supernatural with the hope of transporting the reader to another time and place. He is an Adirondack 46-er, which means he has hiked all of the highest peaks in New York State, so it should not be surprising when Dave attempts to glorify hikers as swashbuckling superheroes in his writing.