Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.
As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?
But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can the Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?
First things first, I’ve not read book 1, but I was curious to see what all the hype was about. It didn’t disappoint, but I did struggle to ‘get into’ the book. There’s some funny tenses and I don’t like books that haven’t decided what tense to write in:) I did get used to it, eventually, but I am curious to know if anyone else felt the same way I did.
The Man Who Died Twice is a well-told modern-day mystery featuring four friends in their 70s as they try and solve three interlinked mysteries surrounding some missing diamonds.
It is a good tale with characters that are well-drawn, although, on occasion, it is the ‘bit’ part players that speak more to the reader. (This may be because it’s a second book and everyone already knows them from book 1).
It is filled with twists and turns, although the reader does get to a part of the mystery long before the characters do, but with a nice little twist at the end.
An engaging story, which I read very quickly
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.
The Man Who Died Twice is out now in hardback, audio and ebook. You will enjoy it if you like a modern day, light hearted mystery.
1144. The body of Durand Wuduweard, the unpopular keeper of the King’s Forest of Feckenham, is discovered beside his hearth, his corpse rendered barely identifiable by sharp teeth. Hushed whispers of a man-wolf spread swiftly and Sheriff William de Beauchamp’s men, Bradecote and Catchpoll, have to find out who killed Durand and why, amidst superstitious villagers, raids upon manors and further grim deaths. Who commands the wolf, and where will its fangs strike next?
Wolf at the Door is my second Bradecote and Catchpoll book, and I was excited to receive an advanced copy of it. (I’m starting to collect the ‘back’ catalogue’ as well.)
This time, the pair, well the three of them including Wakelin, are sent to discover the truth about a particularly gruesome murder, where a wolf is suspected (hence the title). What follows is a tightly constructed story where the three follow leads, some dead ends, and interact with a deliciously mixed group of people living in Worcester and the environs in the 1100s.
I love the historical elements of the story, deeply rooted in the time, with King Stephen a spectre who could appear at any time, although he hasn’t, not yet. There is more from the Sheriff of Worcester, rather than the undersheriff than in the previous book I read, and he too is an excellent character. Hats off for the mixture of Old English and Norman names, aptly highlighting the split in society, and for deciding that ‘Foreign’ cursing isn’t quite as colourful as a bit of English cursing – (well, Catchpoll makes that observation).
An intriguing story, the mystery kept me intrigued and the ending was excellent. I look forward to the next in the series.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. A firm 5/5 from me.
Wolf at the Door is released today, 19th August and can be purchased here. And the publisher are running a fantastic giveaway which can be entered here to win a set of signed Bradecote and Catchpoll books.
I’m really pleased to be able to share with you that the audio version of The Custard Corpses is now available from Audible and Amazon, and can be read as part of an Audible membership subscription. If you don’t have one yet, you can sign up here, or it is available to purchase without a subscription
Matt Coles has produced a fantastic narration for Mason, O’Rourke, Smythe and Hamish. I hope you enjoy it. There’s a sample below the cover image.
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.
And don’t forget, it’s also available as an ebook, paperback and hardback from Amazon.
Today, I’m really excited to spotlight Death at the Mint by Christine Hancock. Christine writes the Byrhtnoth Chronicles set in the middle of the tenth century, but in Death at the Mint, she has taken one of our favourite characters and allowed him to solve an intriguing mystery.
Here’s the blurb:
“When Wulfstan swore revenge on his enemy, he expected to die. Now that man is dead. Far to the south, another body is found in an Essex wood. Abbot Dunstan of Glastonbury is concerned. The victim ran the mint. Is the king’s coinage in danger of corruption? Dunstan sends Wulfstan to Maldon to investigate. Can Wulfstan discover the truth? Is there a connection with his own past? Having lost everything he held dear; can he learn to live again?”
“Finally, Wulfstan – my favourite character in the Byrhtnoth Chronicles – has been given his own story. Read and enjoy!” Ruth Downie, author of the Gaius Petreius Ruso Mysteries.
(The cover is fantastic)
I was lucky enough to get to read an early draft of Death at the Mint, and also the finished product. Firstly, an assurance, yes, Wulfstan is a character from the previous books but if you haven’t read them (which you might want to do after this one) it won’t detract from your enjoyment. Not at all. This is an excellent standalone Saxon mystery.
Wulfstan, his hound and his horse, make an intriguing team and what I particularly enjoyed was the reimagining of life in a Saxon settlement. This is something I’ve always been a bit terrified of doing in my own books, and Christine Hancock does it incredibly well. Added to which, the mystery will really draw you in.
This was a wonderful book, the mystery has a satisfying ending, which I don’t think readers will guess.
Death at the Mint is released today, 1st July, in ebook, and it’s well worth a read if you enjoy the time period and a good old mystery.
London, 1896. Madame Tussauds opens to find one of its nightwatchmen decapitated and his colleague nowhere to be found. To the police, the case seems simple: one killed the other and fled, but workers at the museum aren’t convinced. Although forbidden contact by his superior officer, Scotland Yard detective John Feather secretly enlists ‘The Museum Detectives’ Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton to aid the police investigation.
When the body of the missing nightwatchman is discovered encased within a wax figure, the case suddenly becomes more complex. With questions over rival museums, the dead men’s pasts and a series of bank raids plaguing the city, Wilson and Fenton face their most intriguing and dangerous case yet.
Murder at Madame Tussauds is the first of Jim Eldridge’s Museum Detective series, but it won’t be the last.
This is a very evocative portrayal of late Victorian London, complete with Hansoms and fog, and a terrible crime that needs solving.
A thoroughly enjoyable read with a fantastic conclusion.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. I’ll be hunting down the earlier books in the series now.
Una wants nothing more than to teach, but she has been unable to secure steady employment in Reykjavík. Her savings are depleted, her love life is nonexistent, and she cannot face another winter staring at the four walls of her shabby apartment. Celebrating Christmas and ringing in 1986 in the remote fishing hamlet of Skálar seems like a small price to pay for a chance to earn some teaching credentials and get her life back on track.
But Skálar isn’t just one of Iceland’s most isolated villages, it is home to less than a dozen people. Una’s only students are two girls aged seven and nine. Teaching them only occupies so many hours in a day and the few adults she interacts with are civil but distant. She only seems to connect with Thór, a man she shares an attraction with but who is determined to keep her at arm’s length.
As darkness descends throughout the bleak winter, Una finds herself more often than not in her rented attic space – the site of a local legendary haunting – drinking her loneliness away. She is plagued by nightmares of a little girl in a white dress singing a lullaby. And when a sudden tragedy echoes an event long buried in Skálar’s past, the villagers become even more guarded, leaving a suspicious Una seeking to uncover a shocking truth that’s been kept secret for generations.
I’m fascinated by Iceland’s history and that’s why I chose this book (even though it’s not strictly historical at all).I read The Girl Who Died some months ago, and it struck me as a particularly good winter read. Here’s what I had to say at the time.
The Girl Who Died toys with the reader – is it a murder mystery, a ghost story or the story of a woman before her murder? At one point, all of these seem to be possible.
I really enjoyed the story, it kept me up reading, under the covers, long into the night until I had to stop because I was a bit terrified. For a short book, it certainly packs a punch.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.
The Girl Who Dies is released today, 10th June 2021, and is available from here.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Alan Bardos to the blog with a post about the historical research he undertook to write The Assassins.
My main research process is to start by reading every book I can on the subject I’m writing about in order to get an overview of the period and an understanding of the events in the story. My aim is to write a work of fiction based on historical events so I try to remind myself that I’m not writing a textbook every so often. However, there is a lot of background information in The Assassins which was needed to put the events into context.
The first book I read on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was David James Smith’s, ‘One Morning in Sarajevo’, which proved to be a great place to start; providing a detailed introduction to the assassins, what motivated them and the volatile political situation in the Balkans at the time.
It also had an extensive bibliography that led me to Vadmire Dedijer’s, ‘The Road To Sarajevo’, which is the definitive books on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. These two books were the foundation for my research. With other books providing more specialist information.
‘The Archduke and the Assassin’, by Lavender Cassels, is a particularly good biography of Gavrilo Princip and Franz Ferdinand and a gold mine of information about the Young Bosnia movement that produced the assassins and Austro-Hungarian intelligence’s failure to detect them; which is a major storyline in my novel. ‘Archduke of Sarajevo: The Romance & Tragedy of Franz Ferdinand of Austria’, by Gordon Brook-Shepherd, is specifically about Franz Ferdinand and Sophie’s relationship which formed the heart of the novel.
In terms of the events that led to the outbreak of the First World War: ‘Thirteen Days: The Road to the First World War’, by Clive Ponting, was my main book giving a day by day account of the diplomatic crises that led to the outbreak of the war, from the perspective of all the protagonists. There were other books that helped add detail, but these were my principal go to books in writing The Assassins.
Once I have a clear idea of a story I like to try and find first hand accounts. In my most recent books I’ve gone to the reading room of the Imperial War Museum and the National Archive. Unfortunately I did not have access to these type of resource when writing The Assassins, but the wealth of books on the subject do provide excerpts from primary sources. For example ‘The Road To Sarajevo’, gave extensive firsthand accounts. Including parts of Gavrilo Princip’s interview with the Police after carrying out the assassination.
The main problem I had when researching The Assassins was that some of the books often contradicted each other and repeated mistakes. So my mantra was, when in doubt do what was best for the story.
This was particularly prevalent when trying to work out where the Assassins were standing when they made their first attempt on Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. This is largely because the assassins themselves gave varying accounts and changed positions.
Once I have a clear idea of the story and where it is set I carry out research trips, to get a flavour of places and to pick up details you could never get from a book.
The centre piece of my research was a trip to Sarajevo, which helped me get a feel for the city and imagine how it would have felt in 1914. It was very humbling to stand in the place where Princip would have stood when he assassinated Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. The main thing that the trip brought home was how close everything was to each other. The boarding house where Princip lived is about 5 minutes walk from the corner where he assassinated Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.
However many of the streets and buildings had changed in the cities turbulent history. So I had to make educated guesses as to where some of the buildings would have been by studying maps, old postcards and photographs of the time.
1. Graf & Stift car
The Museum of Military History in Vienna, was also a fascinating place to visit, it has the Graf & Stift car in which Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were in when they were shot, as part of an exhibit about the assassination. This includes three of the assassins’ guns, some of the bombs recovered after their arrest, the chaise longue Franz Ferdinand died on and his blood-stained uniform.
Artstetten Castle in Austria, where Sophie and Franz Ferdinand are buried, is an incredible place to see. It has a museum established by Sophie and Franz Ferdinand’s great-granddaughter and has the feel of walking through a family scrapbook. It has a very good display on the assassination, including the official programme of events for the Archduke’s visit to Sarajevo which was useful when putting together those chapters.
Sophie and Franz Ferdinand’s favourite country seat, Konopiste Castle, is also a beguiling place to visit with a tour of Sophie and Franz Ferdinand’s private apartments. It features a few artefacts from the assassination including the ermine stole and bodice that Sophie was wearing on the 28th June 1914 and the bullet that killed her.
These trips helped to give colour and perspective to the novel, as well as brining home the terrible family tragedy the assassination was, as well as a world shattering event.
Thank you so much for sharing your research. It sounds as though there was a huge amount of source material to wade through.
Here’s the blurb;
Tensions are reaching boiling point in Europe and the threat of war is imminent.
Johnny Swift, a young and brash diplomatic clerk employed by the British embassy is sent to infiltrate the ‘Young Bosnians’, a group of idealistic conspirators planning to murder Franz Ferdinand. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in a bid to liberate their country from the monarchy’s grip.
Swift has been having an affair with his employer’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Smyth. Sir George Smyth dispatches the agent on the dangerous mission, believing that it will be the last he will see of his young rival.
The agent manages to infiltrate the Young Bosnian conspirators’ cell, helped by Lazlo Breitner, a Hungarian Civil Servant.
However, Swift soon realises that he may be in over his head. His gambling debts and taste for beautiful women prove the least of his problems as he struggles to survive on his wits in the increasingly complex – and perilous – world of politics and espionage.
Desperate to advance himself and with the lives of a royal couple unexpectedly in his hands, Swift tries to avert catastrophe.
Praise for The Assassins
‘A cracking read, highly recommended’ – Roger A Price
‘Written with polished panache, it kept me gripped from the first to last. Five stars from me!’ – A.A. Chaudhuri
‘Part historical fiction, part thriller and part love story, this is a compelling and entertaining read’ – Gary Haynes
This book is available to read for free with KindleUnlimited subscription.
Alan Bardos is a graduate of the MA in TV Script Writing at De Montfort University, he also has a degree in Politics and History from Brunel University. Writing historical fiction combines the first great love of his life, making up stories, with the second, researching historical events and characters. Alan currently live in Oxfordshire with his wife… the other great love of his life.
Despite the amount of material that has been written about the twentieth century there is still a great deal of mystery and debate surrounding many of its events, which Alan explores in his historical fiction series using a certain amount of artistic license to fill in the gaps, while remaining historically accurate. The series will chronicle the first half of the twentieth century from the perspective of Johnny Swift, a disgraced and degenerate diplomat and soldier; starting with the pivotal event of the twentieth century, the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in ‘The Assassins’.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Cathie Dunn to the blog, with a fascinating post about her new book, The Shadows of Versailles.
Your book, The Shadows of Versailles, sounds fantastic. As a historian first and foremost (I studied Louis XIV for my A Levels), and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
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?
Thank you very much for hosting me today. I’m thrilled to be here, and to chat about research. And I’m particularly delighted that we share a common interest – the Sun King!
Although normally a medievalist, I’ve been fascinated by 17th century France since I was young. I’m originally from Heidelberg, where Louis’ sister-in-law, Elisabeth Charlotte, hailed from, and our castle was repeatedly attacked by Louis’ forces in the 1680s and 1690s as he sought to claim the Palatinate for himself.
We’ve since forgiven the French for destroying our once magnificent castle (which is now a magnificent, and hugely popular, ruin), and my hometown is now twinned with Montpellier, only an hour’s drive away from where I live now, in Carcassonne, in the south of France. I do love how history tends to come full circle.
But let me get back to the 17th century. As a teenager, I loved reading The Three Musketeers and Anne Golon’s Angelique novels, and watching their incarnations on screen. But only when I read Judith Merkle Riley’s brilliant novel, The Oracle Glass, did I really discover the Affair of the Poisons.
The Affair of the Poisons was an event that stretched over several years. In fact, it really began in the 1660s when the first suspicious deaths were recorded – yet they were not investigated. Over time, a network of fortune-tellers, alchemists, and midwives turned into poisoners, a hugely lucrative business. Having previously sold harmless potions (to gain someone’s love or a coveted position in court, for example), people became more ambitious, and devious. Soon, it wasn’t enough to use a potion; that person had to die!
Authorities slowly began to take notice, but only after the king’s own life deemed under threat did investigations finally get under way. But to the horror of the king, the trail led straight to his own bedroom door – to his mistress of many years, Madame de Montespan.
And whilst the Affair of the Poisons has always intrigued me, my writing first took me in other directions: Scotland, England, Normandy, and here to Carcassonne. I explored different eras: the early Middle Ages here on the Mediterranean as Charlemagne expanded the Kingdom of the Franks southwards; the high Middle Ages during the Anarchy; and Jacobite Scotland. All utterly fascinating times and places.
But then, after reading Kate Braithwaite’s gripping novel, Charlatan, the Affair of the Poisons called me, and I couldn’t resist any longer.
Soon, the idea of a series of loosely interlinking novels took shape, and The Shadows of Versailles was the first to emerge. I’m currently working on the second title, The Alchemist’s Daughter. Both books are very different in tone and setting. This is intentional, as I want the series to be not only about ladies at court, and not only about the scheming poisoners in Paris, but how both worlds intertwined.
In August 2019, I met with relatives in Paris, and we visited Versailles; my first visit since the late 1980s. It was very crowded, and I couldn’t really relish the time inside the palace. I also didn’t have a chance to see all the rooms, so my photos are more of the 18th century chambers where Marie Antoinette whiled away her days. But I brought a wonderful catalogue back home, with great details inside.
In the 1670s, Versailles was still a building site. The former hunting lodge had already been extended, but rooms like the Hall of Mirrors were not in place yet. Online, I found old maps of the palace construction and the gardens – also still not quite finished – which was wonderful as I was careful not to include features that arrived later. These maps were great in helping me to visualise the place through my protagonists’ eyes, including muddy grounds where construction was still ongoing!
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)?
As regards books, I’ve long had a copy of Anne Somerset’s book about The Affair of the Poisons, and she is still an eminent authority on the subject. I often dive into the pages to retrieve details about some of the persons involved. But apart from hers, there weren’t many sources published in English.
Images. Françoise de Rochechouart, Marquise de Montespan, public domain, Wikimedia Commons. Other images by Cathie Dunn.
The published letters of Madame de Sévigné, a lady whose letters to her married daughter showed intriguing glimpses into life at court, the scandals and rumours, and the king’s business, are a wonderful source for tidbits to use in a novel. Her tone is very much of the times, which gives you a truly authentic view of life in the late 17th century.
Visiting local bookshops, I discovered books in French, some rather fictionalised accounts, and others strictly non-fiction, which have helped me create a fuller picture. I read about life in Paris under Louis XIV – it was pretty tough for ordinary people. With people flocking to the city from the partly war-ravaged countryside, there wasn’t enough work going round. Starvation was rife, as were crime and prostitution. In contrast, life at Versailles was a glittering ball of luxuries, but often maintained through loans and pretence. It was easy to fall from grace…
I’m also signed up to educational resources, where you can find copies of theses exploring various aspects of Louis’ reign, his policies and wars. These, whilst rather dry, are useful additions to my research hub.
In my approach to a new novel, I conduct some basic research in advance – about the timing and general state of play. Then, as I write, do bits of research about the aspects relevant by chapter. That could be checking for dates of when the king was in Versailles, which he started to use as a base during the 1670s, moving away from the Louvre (and Paris), and when he was with his troops in the north or east, for example.
Although Louis doesn’t (yet) feature much in my novels, I know there’s an abundance of sources out there showing his movements, so I’m careful not to invent too much. At the end of the day, I write fiction, but I want to be as accurate as possible in my setting.
I love researching. There’s never a dull moment. I could spend hours looking up certain events or reading about people’s lives. Louis’ courtiers are as fascinating as he was, especially those linked to the Affair of the Poisons. And I enjoy bringing them, with all their ambitions and scheming, to life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray into historical research. Thank you again for hosting me on your fabulous blog.
Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the book.
Here’s the blurb:
Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.
When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.
Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.
Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.
Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.
La Voisin dabbles in poisons.
Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?
Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!
The Shadows of Versailles is available with Kindle Unlimited.
Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.
Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.
Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.
Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog.
“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 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.