“November 1929. A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.
With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.
Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?”
Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is a wonderfully plotted novel, with a cast of unmissable characters that is an absolute delight to read. And the cover is fantastic too.
It made me laugh out loud on many an occasion, and the eclectic mix of cast and events, keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses, from the guinea pig to the motorcycle ‘bad-boy,’ from London to Leeds to Whitley Bay to Scotland. And oh, how I loved the letters from Cousin Alan.
It trundles along at a wonderful pace, filled with exquisite detail and I would struggle to decide on a favourite character because all of them, even the bit part characters, are so well sketched.
This is genuinely an absolute treat if you enjoy a mystery deeply steeped in the times (1929-1930) and with an unmissable cast. Looking forwards to Book 3. And, I have the joy of knowing I’ve not read Book 1 yet.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.
Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is released today, 22nd April, and is available from here.
Today I’m delighted to welcome David Loux to the blog to talk about the research for his new book, Chateau Laux.
Your book, Chateau Laux, is set in a time period I wouldn’t even know how to start writing about. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
My research did not start out with a novel in mind. It began with an investigation of the Laux family surname in 2005. This research resulted in a lot of information related to the provenance of the name, which I presented in a paper addressed to a Laux family reunion in York, Pennsylvania, in 2010. It subsequently provided the foundational material for Chateau Laux.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
One of the challenges of historical research is that much valuable information is lost over the years—especially the good, warm-blooded stories of individual lives. Fortunately, interest in the Laux name goes back many years, and I was able to benefit from genealogical publications in 1910 that provided information which would have been increasingly difficult to access over time. Another very tangible benefit to my research was that the Laux name was of noble origin, which meant that I was able to discover information that went all the way back to the middle ages. Some of the information was in French and some was in Latin, and the wonderful research assistants at the Bibliothèque Nationale were a big help. I also benefited from connections made through the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada in Reno, which put me in touch with researchers familiar with Occitan names and pronunciations. Finally, and most importantly, family group members in southern France were able to provide information from archives that would have been unavailable from other sources.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
When I first started my research, I had very little idea of the milieu and other significant associations connected with the name, which means I had to keep an open mind and read anything I could get my hands on. There were many false starts and dead ends. As far as critical resources, I would have to say that Chateau Laux would not have been the same without the research assistance of the Bibliothèque Nationale, as they were able to provide context and authenticity that would otherwise have been elusive. But then again, every resource previously referred to was essential in its own way. It helps that I was able to read French, and to a lesser extent, Spanish, as some of the information was only available in those languages.
Thank you so much for sharing the research you undertook to write your book. It’s so fascinating to find out what makes people write the stories that they do.
Here’s the blurb;
A young entrepreneur from a youthful Philadelphia, chances upon a French aristocrat and his family living on the edge of the frontier. Born to an unwed mother and raised by a disapproving and judgmental grandfather, he is drawn to the close-knit family. As part of his courtship of one of the patriarch’s daughters, he builds a château for her, setting in motion a sequence of events he could not have anticipated.
David Loux is a short story writer who has published under pseudonym and served as past board member of California Poets in the Schools. Chateau Laux is his first novel. He lives in the Eastern Sierra with his wife, Lynn.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Andrea Matthews to the blog to answer my questions about her historical research for Thunder on the Moor.
Thunder on the Moor takes the main character to sixteenth century Scotland. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape and people of the period to life?
First, to explain how all this came about, I need to mention that Matthews is my pen name. My legal surname is Foster. Up to the early 1990s I had no idea who the Border Reivers were, but around that time, a friend handed me a book entitled The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser. They thought I might be interested since my husband was from the north of England and Foster/Forster was a fairly notorious Border surname.
The story intrigued me. Visions of my husband’s ancestors riding across the moors sparked my imagination. I had to know more about these rugged rogues who placed such value on a sense of honor and loyalty to their families, in spite of their nefarious preoccupation with cattle rustling and blackmail. I started formulating a story in my head, a tale of thunder across the moors and forbidden love.
That book became the basis for my research, my starting point as it were. I eagerly devoured it and anything else I could find about the Border Reivers. Materials were scarce at that time, so I ended up contacting a book seller in Scotland and ordering everything he had on the Border Reivers, including a small booklet of court records. Those records not only gave me an insight into the types of crimes the reivers committed, but also provided a peek at border nicknames. Names like Nebless Clem, Lang Sandy, and Kinmont Willie inspired me to choose nicknames of my own for a few of the characters, and so Bonnie Will Foster was born. All the while, the tale of blood feuds and forbidden love was taking form in my head.
As a librarian, I was able to locate other books from time to time and started to expand my research, and my book collection, to life in the sixteenth century, including food, clothing, and the infamous March Laws, which would ultimately cause a great deal of trouble for my characters.
After completing the basic outline, it was time to fill in specifics, including little customs and traditions that might influence the characters’ lives, as well as more significant events. Gradually, my sixteenth century border world began to emerge.
As I began to flesh out the characters, I realized I needed a way to keep the families straight. Being a genealogist, the easiest way for me to do that was with family trees, so I started building lineages around the main characters, including parents, siblings, nephews, nieces etc. generally covering three generations. Some characters grew in importance as the story progressed, while others stayed in the background, at least for now, but at least I could keep track of who was who.
During these early days, I was able to travel to the north of England a few times, but as it was to visit my husband’s relatives, I didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the way I would have liked. Still, I was able to get a sense of the place and transport myself back to earlier days, until my sons got bored and pulled me back to the twentieth century, that is. Nevertheless, the experience added to my narrative and description, painting Will and Maggie’s world in my mind.
I also wanted to include a hint of the Scottish accent. Listening to my English husband speak over the years had given me a sense of word usage and syntax, but I wanted to make sure certain words would have been used in the sixteenth century. To do this, I added a Scots dictionary and thesaurus to my collection. After Fraser’s book, these were probably the two books I referred to the most.
At this point, I had a shelf full of books and binders full of notes. Organizing them into categories became an important part of the process. As I wrote and questions arose, I wanted to have the answers at the tip of my fingers. There was conflicting information here and then, but I did my best to stay true to the history and try to build my characters’ worldview, so that I would have a general idea of how they would react in any given situation. That required character profile sheets or at least notes on their appearance and personalities.
Now, into the midst of all this came the Internet and instant access to records and papers hitherto difficult to attain. Fortunately, part of my education required I learn how to distinguish reliable websites and databases from those less dependable. One book I came across was The Lord Wardens of the Marches of England and Scotland by Howard Pease, which helped me understand the political and legal situation that existed at the time. Sites like Project Gutenberg offered access to older out of print books such as Border Raids and Reivers by Robert Borland, which was printed in 1898 and made for some interesting reading.
Am I done researching the Border Reivers? Not likely, as I can’t seem to pass by a book on the subject without picking it up. I hope Will, Maggie and company still have a lot of adventures ahead of them. Who knows what tidbit might add just that extra little bit of authenticity to the narrative? Did I romanticize it a bit here and there? Of course. After all, it is a historical romance, and I would have been remiss in my research if I didn’t read the poems of Sir Walter Scott on the subject. However, I did try to stay true to the period as much as possible. My hope is that it may even peak the reader’s interest enough for them to do some non-fiction reading on the subject.
The blood feud, however, was a deadly affair, and an affront to any member of your surname or allied family would be an affront to the whole surname.
And so my plot was taking form. These feuds could go on for years and be sparked by anything from a small slight to a full-blown disagreement. I turned back to my research. And as I learned more riding names, I realized how many famous and infamous people carried border names. Men like Lyndon Johnson and Neil Armstrong and Walter Scott. Which of course led me to the latter’s poetry. I admit, he may have romanticized the period a bit, but then I suppose I did as well. Time and distance gives us that luxury. And there was the final piece to my novel —Time.
Alas, I still haven’t traced the family back far enough to make a direct connection to a specific person, but they were from the North of England, and still today have that strong sense of honor and familial loyalty, so I know it’s there. And so, my quest continues. Who knows there may even be a Will Foster back there somewhere?
Thank you so much for sharing your research, and important books and resources with me. I love hearing how authors discover ‘their’ stories.
Here’s the blurb;
Maggie Armstrong grew up enchanted by her father’s tales of blood feuds and border raids. In fact, she could have easily fallen for the man portrayed in one particular image in his portrait collection. Yet when her father reveals he was himself an infamous Border reiver, she finds it a bit far-fetched—to say the least—especially when he announces his plans to return to his sixteenth century Scottish home with her in tow.
Suspecting it’s just his way of getting her to accompany him on yet another archaeological dig, Maggie agrees to the expedition, only to find herself transported four hundred and fifty years into the past. Though a bit disoriented at first, she discovers her father’s world to be every bit as exciting as his stories, particularly when she’s introduced to Ian Rutherford, the charming son of a neighboring laird. However, when her uncle announces her betrothal to Ian, Maggie’s twentieth-century sensibilities are outraged. She hardly even knows the man. But a refusal of his affections could ignite a blood feud.
Maggie’s worlds are colliding. Though she’s found the family she always wanted, the sixteenth century is a dangerous place. Betrayal, treachery, and a tragic murder have her questioning whether she should remain or try to make her way back to her own time.
To make matters worse, tensions escalate when she stumbles across Bonnie Will Foster, the dashing young man in her father’s portrait collection, only to learn he is a dreaded Englishman. But could he be the hero she’s always dreamed him to be? Or will his need for revenge against Ian shatter more than her heart?
Andrea Matthews is the pseudonym for Inez Foster, a historian and librarian who loves to read and write and search around for her roots, genealogical speaking. In fact, it was while doing some genealogical research that she stumbled across the history of the Border reivers. The idea for her first novel came to mind almost at once, gradually growing into the Thunder on the Moor series. And the rest, as they say, is history…
England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.
Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.
This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”
The Queen’s Rival is a stunning look at the ‘later’ life of Cecily Neville from 1459 until 1483. This is not a ‘quiet’ period of history and to cover the tumultuous events, the author adopts the technique of recording the letters of the main protagonists, either from the pen of Cecily or from those who write to her.
It does take a little while to get used to the technique, but the reader is quickly drawn into the story, not perhaps by the events taking place, but rather by the relationship between Cecily and her two sisters, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham and Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The words they share with each other are just what sisters might well say to each other, especially when they’re not likely to see each other soon.
More importantly, the sisters, while fiercely loyal to their Neville inheritance, are not of one mind about who should rule England, and who has the right to rule England. It highlights just how destructive the War of the Roses was, and is a genius way of quickly ensuring the reader appreciates that families were ripped apart by the protracted war.
This is the story of the women of the later 15th century. It’s their voices that we hear, as they try and come to terms with the rises and falls all of them experience. There are moments when the narrative is hard to read, either because you know what’s going to happen, or just because you really feel for Cecily and don’t want her to experience the tribulations than she does.
I am a huge fan of Anne O’Brien and the ‘forgotten’ women of the medieval period in England. While the author may stress that Cecily is not really a forgotten woman, I was not really aware of her before reading this book. The mother of two kings, the grandmother of future kings, and yet she could also have been queen herself. What an interesting life she led.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Virgina Crow to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write The Year We Lived.
Hello and thank you for hosting me and my book on your blog, and for inviting me to share such a fantastic topic with your readers!
I know the research process is slightly different for different writers. The first thing I have to say is that I love research! I would say that, for every statement of historical significance in my book there is about ten-times more research which has gone into the writing of it. In fact, my editor does occasionally point out to me that my readers don’t always need quite so much historiographical details!
Researching so far back in time was quite new to me. Most of the historical fiction I’ve written before has a lot more primary sources to excavate and delve into, especially in those pre-Covid days when a trip to a museum was easily available!
The first thing I had to familiarise myself with was the landscape. I’ve always been surrounded by maps – my dad has a collection of hundreds of them – and some of my favourite books as a child were a massive geography book and the Weetabix atlas! Since my dad is an out-and-out Lincolnshire yellowbelly, I have always known the changing landscape of that particular county! To look at a map of the eleventh century fenlands my characters would have known, it is startlingly different to the lay of the land in the twenty-first century!
This landscape was full of islands, which were often indistinguishable from the rest of the boggy marshes, something which made the hidden Hall in The Year We Lived a very believable concept! When I delved deeper into the case of Hereward, I realised how paranoid William the Conqueror was about the Fens and the threat they posed. It made sense to have the brutal lordship of Henry De Bois situated here in an attempt to crush what William was led to believe were a group of Saxons ready for insurrection.
Next came the characters. For this, I knew I wanted people outside the conventional image of the Normans so, on flicking through various websites and pages about the number of non-Normans on William’s side in the Battle of Hastings, I settled on the possibility of making my French characters Burgundian instead. I loved the headstrong and stubborn trait which seemed to come hand in hand with being from Burgundy, and it’s something I tucked into each of those characters. But the French court at this time was a topic which was totally new to me. When I was studying for my MLitt, I remember my lecturer saying that it was totally acceptable to use Wikipedia as a first port of call providing you checked out everything which was on there, so this was what I did as I researched the major players.
One of the things I love the most about writing historical fiction is how, providing you read around the family and situation, you can convince your audience – and sometimes yourself – of the existence of your characters. Every single one of my Burgundians came from a real family, all of which are referenced in some sneaky way or another. I love weaving little clues into my writing, and I think doing it in a historical setting just makes it all the more fun (but then I could be biased!).
The final thing, which I found perhaps the most fascinating of all, was exploring the superstitions of the time. These were often localised but some things were pretty generally accepted. Having been raised on a diet of myths and legends, this was something I absolutely loved exploring. Something I discovered was that many of these superstitions made sense. A lot of them have their roots in logic, but they were without the understanding of science which we have now. There is no shortage of these words of wisdom, many of which are still in existence today in some shape or form. Perhaps because of the oral nature of these hand-me-downs and the weirdness they relate, these were easier to place in the map and chronology of my research. I tucked into books and theses to uncover some of the most bizarre anecdotes imaginable, and nestling them into The Year We Lived – I hope – helps the plot and characters come to life.
After all, it’s our idiosyncrasies which make us unique!
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s always fascinating to discover what prompts people to write the books they do.
Here’s the blurb;
It is 1074, 8 years after the fateful Battle of Hastings. Lord Henry De Bois is determined to find the secret community of Robert, an Anglo-Saxon thane. Despite his fervour, all his attempts are met with failure.
When he captures Robert’s young sister, Edith, events are set in motion, affecting everyone involved. Edith is forced into a terrible world of cruelty and deceit, but finds friendship there too.
Will Robert ever learn why Henry hates him so much? Will Edith’s new-found friendships be enough to save her from De Bois? And who is the mysterious stranger in the reedbed who can disappear at will?
A gripping historical fiction with an astonishing twist!
Virginia grew up in Orkney, using the breath-taking scenery to fuel her imagination and the writing fire within her. Her favourite genres to write are fantasy and historical fiction, sometimes mixing the two together such as her newly-published book “Caledon”. She enjoys swashbuckling stories such as the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and is still waiting for a screen adaption that lives up to the book!
When she’s not writing, Virginia is usually to be found teaching music, and obtained her MLitt in “History of the Highlands and Islands” last year. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of music, especially as a tool of inspiration. She also helps out with the John O’Groats Book Festival which is celebrating its 3rd year this April.
She now lives in the far flung corner of Scotland, soaking in inspiration from the rugged cliffs and miles of sandy beaches. She loves cheese, music and films, but hates mushrooms.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Paul Walker to the blog, with a guest post on the historical research he undertook to write State of Treason, set in Elizabethan England, a period that’s a particular favourite of mine.
Here’s what Paul had to say about his research methodologyfor the William Constable spy thrillers.
“I’m not a historian and had read very little history non-fiction in the years leading up to 2018. So, I was under no illusion that writing my first work of historical fiction was going to take a lot of research. It was going to be my second attempt at writing a novel. The first, a recently completed contemporary thriller, had been put to one side as an apprentice piece. It wasn’t very good, but I had learned a lot; enough to convince me that I was ready to tackle historical fiction. Mind you, I didn’t take much convincing. I had harboured that ambition for about 20 years, ever since reading the Patrick O’Brian series of books on the early nineteenth century English navy. I adored O’Brian’s use of language and the way his writing had produced a sharp sense of time and place.
I had selected the period and genre as an Elizabethan spy thriller. I’ll admit that the choice of period was influenced by my relative familiarity with characters and events, but that learning was gathered from reading fiction, watching films, TV series and docu-dramas. I didn’t have the depth of knowledge that would escape the attention of eagle-eyed readers ready to pounce on any error in the timeline of actual events or placement of a real character in the wrong town or country.
Like a game of donkey’s tail, I had stuck a pin in the chronology of English history – now what? I knew I had to do research, but there was no typical, documented way to research historical fiction. Of course, there’s also no standard route to writing a novel. Some plan meticulously with charts and spreadsheets for events, characters, sub-plots, locations, dialogue and action while others simply start tapping on the keyboard or put pen to paper and see where it takes them. I’m not a great planner, but understood that I had to create a structure from my research, which I would use to direct my writing. How that structure would manifest itself, I wasn’t sure.
We have an excellent independent bookshop nearby (David’s of Letchworth if I am allowed to name drop) with an extensive second-hand section on history. At the outset of my research, I purchased 17 books; 3 were biographies of Elizabeth; others covered major historical figures from the period including Sir Francis Walsingham, Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley, Doctor Dee and Francis Drake. I didn’t read every page of these books, but I became immersed in more than three months’ reading, note taking and expanding my research library by following up references in the original collection.
I’m fascinated by maps and charts. I purchased a wonderful book titled, London: A History in Maps by Peter Barber, and a large map of Tudor London, which I unfolded and pinned to the wall of my writing shed. I had London as the location and chose the year 1578 as the starting point for my first book. I picked that year as I could find nothing of great importance recorded in the literature, so I was free to invent intrigue and peril. On reflection, that was a strange decision, but as it was my first attempt at writing historical fiction, I probably lacked the confidence to weave the plot around real events. The second and third books in the series have actual historical episodes at the core of their stories.
I had done enough research to create a plot and begin writing. But research never stops and there wasn’t a day’s writing when I didn’t have to check facts, research new possibilities or unearth more detail on a generalisation. Of course, a lot of this research is on the Internet and Wikipedia provides a ‘quick and dirty’ source to check or validate information. There are many other useful websites and documents online, although veracity, objectivity and completeness should always be questioned. Unexpected, and valuable sources of information are held in unpublished academic theses, dissertations and lectures, not least because they can often contain surprising pearls of knowledge.
The first book in the series is titled, State of Treason. The plot developed in a way I didn’t anticipate, involving privateering and an adventure to the ‘New Lands’. For reasons I won’t divulge here, the scholar protagonist, William Constable, invents a device for improving the accuracy of ship navigation. This meant further research and a crash course on celestial navigation, as well as reading up on the explorers and adventurers, John Hawkins and Humphrey Gilbert. The shadow staff mentioned in the book as William’s invention, is an imagined forerunner of the backstaff or Davis Quadrant. Captain John Davis conceived this instrument during his voyage to search for the Northwest Passage and is described in his book Seaman’s Secrets, 1594.
A key incident referenced in the second book, A Necessary Killing, was the Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland. I was grateful for discovery of a dissertation by C Sasso at the University of Chicago on the Desmond Rebellions, as I regularly delved into its pages to help with the writing.
The third book, The Queen’s Devil, has probably the most complex plot incorporating threads of a number of real occurrences and characters. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking historical characters was Giordano Bruno, a defrocked Dominican Friar turned philosopher and proclaimer of an infinite universe. I was particularly indebted to John Bossy’s book, Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair; an enthralling read as well as a mine of information on plots and intrigues in 1580’s England.
So, there you have it; a rundown of the main elements of my research that led to writing the William Constable series of historical fiction. I understand this blog post would have been more interesting if I had taken the trouble to visit the sites in person, absorbed the sensation of time and place from historical objects and examined Walsingham’s original handwritten letters in the British Library. I regret, the truth is more mundane.”
What a fascinating journey into researching the time period. I’m always astounded by how the little pieces of information discovered while researching something else, ultimately worm their way into novels. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your experiences.I agree that a good second hand book shop is a must.
If this has you intrigued, as it does me, here are the details for State of Treason, available now as an audio book, as well as ebook.
William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.
His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.
Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.
Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?
Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life are forfeit.
This book can be read for free with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Meet the Author
Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.
Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Toni Mount to the blog with an excerpt from her new novel, The Colour of Evil.
Here’s the blurb;
Every Londoner has money worries, and talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception. When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities. Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply. From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners. From mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds? Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.
Of a sudden, there came a shout of ‘Stop thief!’ from farther along Bladder Street. That set off the hubbub of the hue-and-cry. Neighbours hastened onto the street, sounding horns, clattering spoons on pots and pans, adding to the din. It meant Adam and I were obliged to join the chase, pursuing the miscreant, whoever he might be. Adam sprinted ahead, fleet of foot, with Gawain running at full speed, thinking this a fine game. They turned up Noble Street, betwixt the precinct of St Martin-le-Grand and the Goldsmiths’ Hall, disappearing from my sight, along with the crowd of others who ran, hoping to apprehend the villain.
Never much of a runner myself, I soon lagged behind, keeping company with a breathless old man and a woman encumbered with a sleeping infant on her shoulder and armed with a hefty ladle. We would ne’er catch the most sluggardly criminal but the law demanded we make the effort, or else be fined for aiding and abetting the same. My hip was hindering my progress, slow as it was, and by the time we reached St Vedast’s Church at the lower end of Noble Street, I had to pause to ease my protesting bones. The old man stopped beside me to catch his breath; the woman too.
It was then that I glanced up the alleyway beside the church. A pile of rubbish half-blocked the narrow passage. All was filth and grime and stank of stale piss. Yet there was just light sufficient to see a flash of red: a good shoe, I realised, protruding from behind the unsavoury heap of detritus.
I pointed it out to the old man, then put my finger to my lips.
The old man nodded his understanding. He and I crept forth, into the alley. Like so many such passages around the city, this one seemed to end in a blank wall beyond the rubbish. There would be no escape for the vermilion-shod thief – if it was he. I stepped around a broken, handle-less bucket and then a collection of rusted metal odds and ends so as not to alert our quarry. When we drew within a yard or two, we both dashed forward, shouting ‘Hold! Hold, villain!’
A middle-aged fellow leaped from his place of concealment and attempted to push us aside. I shoved him in one direction and the old man tripped him. As the culprit staggered back along the alley, into Noble Street, the woman with the infant awaited him. Her skilful use of the ladle without rousing the child was remarkable. She brought it down upon his head, then whacked him across his middle. He went sprawling in the dirt. The clang of metal as he hit the ground revealed his ill-gotten gains, hidden ’neath his jerkin. A gilded candlestick rolled aside, its partner lay sorely dented – mayhap by the ladle blow – beside the fallen fellow. We had caught our thief.
We dragged him to his feet and shook him awake, marching him back to Bladder Street. I had the stolen candlesticks tucked under my arm. The rascal began complaining and attempted to pull free as his senses rallied but the woman threatened him with the ladle and he came quietly, resigned to his fate.
The householder he had robbed greeted us as heroes, the more so when I returned the candlesticks, though he sorrowed at the damage done. We said naught concerning the ladle as the possible cause of the dents.
‘Ale! Ale for all!’ the householder cried as those who had spent their strength in the hue-and-cry began to trickle back, to report that the thief had got clean away. Most seemed delighted that we had apprehended the culprit but a few were annoyed to have gone to so much effort for no purpose. Others – including Adam – were disappointed to have missed out on the moment of capture.
‘There was naught exciting about it, cousin,’ I assured him.
‘Did he put up much of a fight?’ someone else asked.
I was about to tell him ‘nay’ but the old man – Todd by name, as I learned – made answer for me.
‘I’ll say. The devil fought us like… like a devil. Kicking and flailing and yelling filthy words at me, young Seb here, oh, and Alice… her with the babe-in-arms. So we pummelled him and took him by force, didn’t we Seb? He was lashing out, all to no avail. We was too much for him, wasn’t we?’
The event grew in the telling, Todd elaborating and inventing new details to each new listener who asked. He and I became more heroic in our actions as the evening wore on; the woman, Alice, the true heroine with her ladle, became relegated to the role of a mere on-looker. By the time the City Bailiff, my friend Thaddeus Turner, arrived to take the thief into custody, Todd’s tale had become one of knights errant upon some holy quest. He told Thaddeus how we had wrestled the sword-wielding scoundrel of unsurpassed strength to the ground, despite his casting of evil charms upon us, taking many a cut and buffet in exchange – no matter that we bore not a solitary mark from our encounter.
I shook my head behind Todd’s back, such that Thaddeus should see me.
‘I shall make a true report on the morrow,’ I mouthed to him, not wishing to spoil Todd’s hour of glory.
Praise for The Colour of Evil
Samantha Willcoxson,author & historian:
“Toni Mount is simply brilliant. If you love CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake – and I do – you will love Toni’s Sebastian Foxley. From learning how a 15th century scrivener created illuminated manuscripts to venturing within the dank tunnels beneath the Tower of London, Toni is an artist who completely immerses the reader in another time and place and always leaves one eager for the next book.”
Stephanie Churchill, author of historical fiction and epic fantasy:
“Leave it to Seb to unravel another international spiderweb of intrigue, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Our flawed, loveable hero has done it again. And at the end of it all, his future is looking brighter than ever. I cannot wait to find out what happens to him next!”
Sharon Bennet Connoly,author and medieval historian:
“A beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.”
Kathryn Warner,medieval historian and author of numerous books about the fourteenth century, including biographies of Edward II and Isabella of France:
“The ninth instalment of Toni Mount’s popular Seb Foxley series is sure to delight Seb’s many fans. Mount puts her deep knowledge of late medieval England to good use once again, and takes us on another exciting adventure, this time with Seb’s older brother Jude, returned from Italy, in tow. Mount’s detailed world-building, as always, brings fifteenth-century London to life.”
The Colour of Evil is available to read on Kindle Unlimited.
Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.
I know, but there you have it. 2020 was a strange year and out of it grew The Custard Corpses. I really, really hope you will take a chance on it, and enjoy something a little (okay, a lot) different from this historical fiction author. (The advanced reviewers are loving it.)
Here’s the blurb;
A delicious 1940s mystery.
Birmingham, England, 1943.
While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.
Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.
But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.
I want to give a shout-out to my cover designer, Flintlock Covers. It is exactly what I wanted when I thought about the cover for the book.
I am delighted to welcome H D Coulter to the blog, with a guest post about the research undertaken when writing Ropewalk (isn’t the cover beautiful?) Here we go;
I would like to thank M. J. Porter for allowing to guest post on her blog as I discuss the research process of creating Ropewalk: Rebellion. Love. Survival.
Ropewalk has been the exception. Most of the time I have an idea of characters and then a location would come to mind, which would have a knock-on effect on the character’s background, social situation, living conditions and so on. It would be a domino effect until 70-80% of the plot has formed in my head. For Ropewalk, however, I lived in Ulverston at time and to be honest; I don’t know what came first, the characters or the plot, but I knew the location was an ideal setting.
Once I knew the characters and their basic background, then I start researching where they could live, their finance and the social impact that was happening in the town or country. I would normally end up heading down the research rabbit hole for a while before focusing on the fine details that relate directly to the plot. However, I have found details which have changed the plot entirely or shifting the narrative.
For Ropewalk, I wanted the start of book 1 in the series to be under a spotlight. Then, as the thread of the story knit together, the bigger picture reveals itself. Leading the reader on an adventure with the principal characters, not knowing where they might take them.
Another aspect of researching for a historical novel is discovering all the tiny details. Some historical writers like to give a broad sense of the period but not go into details when I would rather go into the atmosphere and give the reader a sense of walking down Market Street alongside Beatrice Lightfoot, so describe the smell, sights, sound making sure that it all stays true to the time.
“After twenty minutes of walking along the bleak, muddy track with the biting wind on her back, Bea arrived at The Ellers, a narrow street off the primary hub of town. The clean air had turned thick with soot and grime, spilling out of the tall chimneys. She placed her scarf over her mouth and stepped further up the road. It consisted of a row of cottages and two mills. It was also home to another, smaller rope-making business, which had popped up after they built the canal.
Passing the raucous sound issuing from the Corn Mill at the bottom of the street, Bea ambled upwards. The thin street seemed to be vacant of life; the tenants either in the mills or working down at the canal. The only sounds came from the washing billowing on the lines behind the houses and the monotonous ticking from the cotton mill ahead. Bea paused for a moment, staring at the large overbearing building with its foreboding wooden gate. The one thing she was always grateful for was the fact she had never needed to work in the mills. She had heard stories around town of the conditions there, how they employed the forgotten children from the workhouse to run the looms and trapped destitute families into service.”Chapter 2, Ropewalk.
That is one aspect I love about writing historical fiction is the research element. When I researched the process of rope making, it drew me towards the canal which still dominates the area of Ulverston today. How it came about and the difference it made. Bit by bit, characters emerged in my mind. A young woman who lived in a small hamlet on the outskirts of Ulverston, who knew of hardship, family, money issues but who was also naïve to the social conflict happening around her. Stories of adventure and discovering unknown lands issuing from novels and town gossip from a local explorer, Sir John Barrow; created a yearning to change her fate. But when secrets and rebellion are exposed, it causes a dangerous chain of events.
Living in the area, I heard stories passed down through the generation, local historians sharing their knowledge and a treasure quest in discovering the historical plaques on the buildings. Ulverston itself is a character in Ropewalk with cobbles still lining the roads of the town centre. Georgian town houses and narrow alleyways create the maze you become lost in. The small, pokey bookshop crammed with local knowledge or the smell of the freshly brewed coffee coming from the teashop that had been there since the 1800s. It wasn’t hard to imagine the characters I had formed walk the streets beside me. To study the old maps and emerge myself in their world. With researching Ropewalk, it wasn’t one area to look at, rather a blend of elements. Weaver cottage industry overtaken by the Industrial revolution and social conflict during the early reign of William IV with the Reform crisis, all taking place in this once quiet town.
Each of the principal characters represents an element that was happening in the country. Bob Lightfoot, the ropemaker, which was seen as a cottage industry; fought for his rights, like so many of his childhood friends working the mills, shipyards, canal. Beatrice Lightfoot, having her father’s spirit, dreamt of change but is oppressed by the conformity of the time and societal class division. Joshua Mason, the son of a local merchant who became gentry and part of the family who built the canal, sees the plight of the workers thanks to Beatrice. Captain Hanley is a complex character, a sailor like so many men passing through Ulverston and effected from past trading routes including the slave trade, becomes obsessed with Beatrice. Whilst Ulverston itself, the nucleus for change but unable to cope with the demand. All of these threads come together during a volatile period and form the complex tapestry of Ropewalk.
Some of the book resources that might be of interest.
“Ulverston (Images of England)” by Carol Bennett, Peter Lowe. The History Press Ltd 2008.
A local Ulverston Historian, Jennifer Snell, who has recently written a book on the Ulverston Canal. “Ulverston Canal. Its ships, shipbuilders and seamen.” 2020
“The story of rope: The history and the modern development of ropemaking.” Plymouth Cordage Company 2011
“Electoral Reform at work: Local politics and National Parties, 1832 – 1841.” Philip Salmon. 2002.
J.M.W Turner (1825) shows the coach and foot passengers arriving at Hest Bank. Humphrey Head in the background. N.b. the bunches of twigs with which the guide marks the route. The dogs would have had to swim for some of the way.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s so fascinating to discover the inspiration behind the books and characters that author’s conjure from their imagination and the historical record.
Here’s the blurb;
The North of England, 1831.
The working class are gathering. Rebellion is stirring, and the people are divided.
Beatrice Lightfoot, a young woman fighting her own personal rebellion, is looking for an opportunity to change her luck. When she gains the attention of the enigmatic Captain Hanley, he offers her a tantalising deal to attend the May Day dance. She accepts, unaware of the true price of her own free will.
Her subsequent entanglement with Joshua Mason, the son of a local merchant, draws all three into a destructive and dangerous relationship, which threatens to drag Beatrice, and all she knows into darkness.
Now, Beatrice must choose between rebellion, love and survival before all is lost, and the Northern uprising changes her world forever.
Ropewalk is just 99p/99c at the moment. Take advantage of this fantastic offer.
Signed copies of the paperback can be ordered directly from the author.
Hayley was born and raised in the Lake District and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets.
As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn’t until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story.
August 1144. Osbern de Lench is known far and wide as a hard master, whose temper is perpetually frayed. After riding to survey his land and the incoming harvest from the top of the nearby hill, his horse returns to the hall riderless and the lifeless body of the lord is found soon after.
Was it the work of thieves, or something closer to home? With an heir who is cast in the same hot-tempered mould, sworn enemies for neighbours, and something amiss in the relationship between Osbern and his wife, undersheriff Hugh Bradecote, the wily Serjeant Catchpoll and apprentice Walkelin have suspects aplenty.
Blood Runs Thicker is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Hawkswood, although this is a long established series that somehow, I’ve missed before.
I confess, I struggled a little with the ‘ye olde wordy’ language and speech but soon became accustomed to it, and could settle into the carefully crafted reconstruction of the period.
The story quickly gathers pace, and I was drawn into the mystery. The characters are well-sketched, and the interactions between Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin lighten the narrative. I think Walkelin will be a character that develops moving forward in the series.
And the resolution of the mystery is deliciously complex and thoroughly enjoyable. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series, a firm 4/5 from me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.
Blood Runs Thicker is released 18th March 2021, and can be purchased here.
And if you’re curious, please do check out the other review on the Blood Runs Thicker Book Blast.