The inspirational story of the Pastons, a family who rose from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue during the Wars of the Roses.
England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…
King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.
Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.
Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…
An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.
Anne O’Brien is one of my favourite authors. Every year, I wait with high anticipation to read her newest book and to see which ‘new’ unknown woman of history she’s brought to life for her readers.
With The Royal Game, Anne O’Brien has chosen not a powerful royal/noblewoman but instead three women who hunger to be considered as such. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Margaret Paston, wife to John Paston, as property disputes amongst their landed estates escalate and are resolved only to escalate once more. This might sound a bit boring, but believe me, it’s not. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, by the level of violence that could be brought to bear against rival claimants and the state of lawlessness in East Anglia at the time is flabbergasting. It acts as a perfect way of showing just what the uncertainty of the Wars of the Roses brought about for those lower ‘noble’ families with the ebb and flow of prestige and royal denouncement as in the background, great battles are won and lost, and rival kings fall and rise.
Margaret is a wonderfully independently minded woman, and yet constrained by her position in life, and her sex so she can only do so much when trouble strikes, but she will do it to her upmost.
Alongside Margaret, we meet her sister in law, Eliza, who struggles to find a husband and emerge from beneath her mother’s less than motherly love. She manages to do just that only to find herself facing a life as beset with lawsuits as her brother and sister by marriage.
Our third Paston woman is Anne Haute, a cousin to Elizabeth Woodville. Her voice is that of a noblewoman without the dowry needed to hook herself a wonderful marriage, but who can tout her family connections to gain one.
This book is a stunning read – and more, an easy read – despite the vast number of Johns in it (I’ll leave that for you to discover because wow – that’s a weird thing to have done). I had to force myself to slow down and stop reading because I didn’t want it to be over. Now I have to wait for next year to read the second part of the story.
I highly recommend this book. If you know about the Wars of the Roses, all the better, but if you don’t, it will not lessen your enjoyment of the story of the three Paston women and their troublesome, and litigious family at a time of intense political unrest.
Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my review copy. I loved it:)
The Royal Game is released in ebook, hardback and audio today, 16th September 2021.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome M C Bunn to the blog. She’s going to share the secrets of her research with us all.
I’m a story teller first and foremost, not a historian or a trained researcher. While I have a love for history, my college major and master’s degrees are in English. It was a great excuse to read the sorts of books I love. Recently I attended the Historical Novel Society’s North American conference. The conversation rooms on various historical eras and related topics were some of the event’s most exciting offerings because of the participants’ passion for their subjects and their wealth of knowledge. I’d love to contact some of them for more information, especially as I work on my next book, which is set at the end of the Edwardian period and during World War I.
For advice about how to investigate a historical detail, I turn to knowledgeable friends for help, and librarians are goldmines for resource suggestions. I also do a lot of digging through bibliographies and end notes, and rely on contemporary texts. If they’re nonfiction, as opposed to literary, they’re mostly digital. Annotated books and older dictionaries are quite helpful. I try to avoid slang. It’s interesting how many expressions we use that Victorians didn’t, and vice versa.
My late father’s Clarkson N. Potter Annotated Sherlock Holmes and its notes never fail to lift my spirits when I think about the pitfalls awaiting writers. While Conan Doyle’s plots and dialogue are amazing, he made up London streets and includes all sorts of details in his stories that don’t hold up under the scholar’s close scrutiny. The Potter edition is full of references to research articles by other famous authors and fans that prove how some sort of chemical or cigar ash Holmes describes couldn’t have been used in such and such a way. But those intricacies aren’t the point of what Conan Doyle was doing. At least Dorothy L. Sayers won’t be looking over my shoulder. She minutely read Conan Doyle’s work! In the later drafts of Treasure, I tried to avoid glaring errors and anachronisms, but perhaps the ones that remain will amuse some reader or inspire another writer’s research.
I didn’t set out to write Where Your Treasure Is. It wasn’t inspired by researching the late-Victorian era, though that’s a time period that has exerted its fascination over me since childhood. Writing the story felt—not exactly like automatic writing, but there was definitely an element of feeling propelled along. There was no outline or notes. It was only after I’d written the entire plot from beginning to end that I added more historical details and checked those that had emerged organically.
I’d spent some time in London and Norfolk, and studied old and new maps of Treasure’s settings. What surprised me were details that, during the checking process, I thought I’d made up but hadn’t. I attribute some of that to the passage of time and forgetfulness. When you’ve read about a time period for as long as I have, you internalize a great deal. As for other details, I’ve no explanation.
For instance, Mena House was a name that wouldn’t leave me alone when I wrote about the heroine’s uncle traveling to Egypt. I looked it up and was surprised to find the hotel is famous though it wasn’t mentioned in any of the reading I’d recently completed on Egypt. I ordered several 19th century travel guides to confirm a few more details about the hotel’s history and its golf course. Another eerie instance was the way I imagined the façade of the character George’s Norfolk home, Hereford Hall. In my early twenties I stayed with a family in Norfolk, but we fell out of touch. Several years after I wrote Treasure’s first draft, I learned that one of my host’s sisters had died. Her obituary includes a picture taken in front of a structure that looks almost identical to George’s house. I’d never seen that picture before or visited the place. Believe me or not, but that’s the truth.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me today. Good luck with your new book.
Here’s the blurb;
Feisty, independent heiress Winifred de la Coeur has never wanted to live according to someone else’s rules—but even she didn’t plan on falling in love with a bank robber.
Winifred is a wealthy, nontraditional beauty who bridles against the strict rules and conventions of Victorian London society. When she gets caught up in the chaos of a bungled bank robbery, she is thrust unwillingly into an encounter with Court Furor, a reluctant getaway driver and prizefighter. In the bitter cold of a bleak London winter, sparks fly.
Winifred and Court are two misfits in their own circumscribed worlds—the fashionable beau monde with its rigorously upheld rules, and the gritty demimonde, where survival often means life-or-death choices.
Despite their conflicting backgrounds, they fall desperately in love while acknowledging the impossibility of remaining together. Returning to their own worlds, they try to make peace with their lives until a moment of unrestrained honesty and defiance threatens to topple the deceptions that they have carefully constructed to protect each other.
A story of the overlapping entanglements of Victorian London’s social classes, the strength of family bonds and true friendship, and the power of love to heal a broken spirit.
M. C. Bunn grew up in a house full of books, history, and music. “Daddy was a master storyteller. The past was another world, but one that seemed familiar because of him. He read aloud at the table, classics or whatever historical subject interested him. His idea of bedtime stories were passages from Dickens, Twain, and Stevenson. Mama told me I could write whatever I wanted. She put a dictionary in my hands and let me use her typewriter, or watch I, Claudius and Shoulder to Shoulder when they first aired on Masterpiece Theatre. She was the realist. He was the romantic. They were a great team.”
Where Your Treasure Is, a novel set in late-Victorian London and Norfolk, came together after the sudden death of the author’s father. “I’d been teaching high school English for over a decade and had spent the summer cleaning my parents’ house and their offices. It was August, time for classes to begin. The characters emerged out of nowhere, sort of like they knew I needed them. They took over.”
She had worked on a novella as part of her master’s degree in English years before but set it aside, along with many other stories. “I was also writing songs for the band I’m in and had done a libretto for a sacred piece. All of that was completely different from Where Your Treasure Is. Before her health declined, my mother heard Treasure’s first draft and encouraged me to return to prose. The novel is a nod to all the wonderful books my father read to us, the old movies we stayed up to watch, a thank you to my parents, especially Mama for reminding me that nothing is wasted. Dreams don’t have to die. Neither does love.”
When M. C. Bunn is not writing, she’s researching or reading. Her idea of a well-appointed room includes multiple bookshelves, a full pot of coffee, and a place to lie down with a big, old book. To further feed her soul, she and her husband take long walks with their dog, Emeril in North Carolina’s woods, or she makes music with friends.
“I try to remember to look up at the sky and take some time each day to be thankful.”
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Steve M Gnatz to the blog with a post about the research he undertook for his new book, The Wisdom of the Flock.
My research process was truly a “labour of love”. It began in 2005 when I read an article about the interaction between Franklin and Mesmer in the late 1700’s. Specifically, the article mentioned Franklin being asked to head the French commission investigating Mesmerism – a quasi-medical process that we would now probably identify as hypnotism. That was fascinating to me because I knew nothing about how Franklin might approach such an endeavour. I knew that Franklin was an inventor (lightening rod, bifocal glasses, etc.) but I had never really thought of him as a scientist. He was, of course, and a good one. Franklin, and the other French scientists involved, applied what we would now call the scientific method to his investigation of Mesmerism – some have even called his experiments the first “blinded study” partly because they used a real blindfold on their subjects.
However, I next learned that Franklin had invented a musical instrument called a glass armonica for a beautiful young musician (Marianne Davies) in England prior to his time in France.
Of particular interest to me was that I learned that Doctor Franz Mesmer was subsequently using a copy of Marianne’s glass armonica in France in his seances. That got me thinking that perhaps there was some sort of a love triangle going on. This is where the fiction enters into historical fiction. There are copious books that one can read about Ben Franklin, and a few about Mesmer, but none about Marianne Davies – so I was free to make up her character more than the others.
The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris is based on real people and events. If there is a specific date given in the book, the event happened on that date – perhaps not exactly as described – but it happened. I just filled in the blanks in the historical record.
Whatever the resources studied, my foremost objective as a historical fiction author is to try to bring the characters to life. The readers will have to decide if I am successful or not. However, I find that the easiest way to do this is by telling the story through conversations between the characters. Since we rarely know from the historical record what was actually said – especially in the 1700’s, well before the advent of audio recording equipment – this gives me some freedom and also allows me to flesh out my characters “personalities”. I envision and portray Ben Franklin as a virile, confident, occasionally pedantic, hedonistic socialite in Paris at the age of 70 plus. That image has gotten me into a little trouble with some critics who have found it hard to believe that he was not the corpulent, gouty, elder statesman they imagine – but I believe that the historical record bears me out on this. One need only read DuPont’s inscription to the 1779 painting by Duplessis (included here* and as a frontispiece in the book) as evidence. Or consider that he really did propose marriage to a French woman (and a major character in the book) Madame Helvetius near the end of his time in France.
We come to think of historical figures as good or bad, triumphant or tragic, famous or infamous – not the complex people that they most likely were. My book attempts to breathe a little life into these people who lived nearly 300 years ago.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
I included a bibliography at the end of The Wisdom of the Flock and would refer the interested reader to that resource as it represents my “go to” list for writing this book. It includes many published books but also journal articles and even a PhD dissertation. Because Franklin’s letters are all digitized and available for viewing on the web, it was easy to get access to his main form of communication – letter writing.
The internet is a wonderful tool for researching a historical fiction novel. Just remember not to believe everything that you read!
As I’m sure is a fairly common practice for historical fiction writers, I create a spreadsheet as a resource with a timeline of important historical dates and events across the top and the characters names down the side. I can then make notes at the intersection of the two. For example, when were Marianne, Franklin, and Mesmer all known to be in Paris so that they could interact? When did Mesmer leave Paris, and did Marianne go with him?
I will also specifically recommend the books on Benjamin Franklin by Claude-Anne Lopez for anyone that really wants to get a feeling of what he was like. I believe that she developed a better understanding of his personality than anyone of our time. Unfortunately, Ms. Lopez passed away in 2012 and I never got to meet her. In her lifetime, she not only translated all of Franklin’s papers from French to English, but also wrote several key books that helped me understand Franklin as a man. I thank her for that.
In addition to reading any books that I could find on my main characters, I also found that books on “ancillary” characters were helpful. There are many famous characters portrayed in The Wisdom of the Flock – Marie Antoinette was the queen of France at the time, Pierre Beaumarchais (playwright), John Paul Jones (navy captain), even Casanova was circulating around. Books on these historical figures helped me flesh out their characters and hopefully avoid stereotyping them.
Getting to know as much as I can about the historical characters is fun and helps me form my own opinions about who they were. While we can, of course, never really know them, historical fiction allows the writer and the reader to almost feel that they do.
Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you really enjoyed the research process of writing the book (yay), and I wish you luck with it.
Here’s the blurb:
A WORLD OF ENLIGHTENMENT, REVOLUTION, AND INTRIGUE
1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician.
Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.
A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim.
The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.
Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Heather Robinson to the blog with a post about her book, Wall of Stone and the historical research she undertook to write it.
The internet features widely in my initial research and I always start by scouring it to create a timeline of major events leading up to the start of the period I am writing in. For Wall of Stone I went back to the first invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 54BC despite it being 175 years earlier as it’s useful to have a grasp of the political influences that lead to the chosen period. Even a one line spoken reference to an historic event by a character can add a wonderful authenticity to a story I think.
From the timeline, I’ll expand my notes around the main time focus of the book, in this case the year AD121 and see if I can find any mention of meteorological or geological events: a solar eclipse, volcanic eruption, flood, drought, plague…anything dramatic that can’t be ignored. If something particular is thrown up in the initial searches, more detailed research is undertaken across many different web pages and a specialised book purchased if necessary.
The same process is applied to any real historical characters that must be included for the story to work. Emperor Hadrian doesn’t feature anywhere near as much in Wall of Stone as my fictional characters, but my notes contain far more information on him, and far more than made it in to the book too, as I needed to learn about his life to understand the man. I always give a backstory to my fictional characters that doesn’t necessarily make it in to the book, but that’s all made up so doesn’t involve any research.
Once a framework of sorts is in place, I like to get writing and return to research as I go. For me, this is important as there is always more to learn and if I didn’t get writing I would continue researching forever! The research could overwhelm me too, it can be daunting, so I just get on with weaving the fiction around the framework of facts so far acquired, keeping in mind the end result is to produce an entertaining story and not give an historical lecture. My aim is to keep the facts accurate but hide them seamlessly within the fiction.
Not wishing to continually disrupt my writing flow, I will often highlight my working manuscript in red capital letters RESEARCH with a note of the topic, such as native flora, Roman gods, Brigante customs, and return to sort the facts out later. One such note was ‘RESEARCH – how does a decayed head look after a year or so’!! Well, I needed to describe it and had no idea. My internet search history might raise some eyebrows!
Conversely, I turn to research to solve problems that occur in my plot, or to kick-start the story when the plot stalls. It’s a way of gleaning snippets of information to add to the framework. It can throw up some wonderful ideas.
As well as the internet, another resource I could not do without is my trusty Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain. I have travelled from Northumberland to Wiltshire through the lands of the native tribes: Iceni, Trinovantes and Atrebates to name three, discovering forts, potteries, lead mines, salt mines, temple sites, aqueducts and villas. I love a good OS map at the best of times, this ancient one is just gold dust to me.
It’s packed with information and gives me a wonderful perspective on the land in Roman times, a cross between a picture, a text book and a place name translator all in one resource. I highly recommend it.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It sounds fascinating (maps are an amazing resource). Good luck with the book.
Here’s the blurb:
In AD121 the Twentieth Legion of Rome stands at the northern frontier of Britannia. Forgotten, neglected and dour in spirit, they must still do their duty for an Empire whose meaning is becoming lost to them.
As the lives of the local Teviot family intertwine with the legion, relationships of love and bitter anguish unfurl. Will the invading army push north? Will the disputing native tribes unite in an uprising? Can Marcus be with Jolinda?
When peace is fragile, friendships count for everything…
Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree with most of her working life spent as an Administration Manager locally. She is also a qualified and experienced radio presenter, hosting a weekly show for Warminster Community Radio. Proud parents of two boys, Heather and her husband Graham share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling.
Rebellion?’ The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips. She chooses to start a fire.
You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.
You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.
You are Cecily.
But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?
Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.
Cecily, the story of Cecily Neville up to, and including 1461, is a wonderful retelling of her story.
Having read Anne O’Brien’s The Queen’s Rival (see the review) last year, which offers Cecily’s story from the late 1450s onwards, I feel that this unknown woman has now been brought to life in wonderful detail. (If you have only read one of these two books then do please try the other one – you won’t be disappointed.)
Cecily is told from Cecily’s point of view, as such, there are some things that she can’t know or witness, and the author manages this incredibly skillfully. We know what Cecily does, and we know other events when she knows them. It’s a perfect way to ensure the reader, even if they know the history of the time period, doesn’t get ahead of themselves.
Cecily is an engaging and headstrong woman. The author gives her a voice that we can understand, reflecting a quick intelligence and an ability to piece together events skillfully. Some scenes may feel rushed, and there is a refusal to dwell on the royal splendour of the court, but I think this added to the story. It is the interaction of the king, queen and the courtiers that’s important, not who was wearing what and eating what. This is absolutely my sort of historical fiction book.
I only wish I’d read it sooner.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.
Cecily is available now as an ebook, audiobook and hardback and you can purchase it here.
Today sees the release of The Last Shield, book 6, yes 6, in the Ninth Century Series.
Coelwulf and his fiercely loyal band of warriors must once more battle for Mercia.
Here’s the blurb:
Book 6 in the action-packed, bloody and brutal series about Coelwulf, Mercia’s forgotten ninth-century king.
Summoned back to Worcester by Bishop Wærferth, Coelwulf discovers that an old enemy has resurfaced on the border with the Welsh, but this time, an enemy demanding help.
Aware he can’t leave Mercia, Coelwulf must split his force, determined that his old enemy is more helpful as his ally.
But beset by an unexpected force of Raiders inside Mercia, Coelwulf and his small band of warriors find themselves trapped by winter storms, as well as Raiders who don’t yet know of Jarl Halfdan’s death and still hunger for Coelwulf’s blood.
Coelwulf faces his most difficult struggle of all as he fights for the future of his beloved Mercian kingdom, his warriors, old and new, at his side.
I hope you enjoy The Last Shield. I’ll keep you updated with news of the next release in the series when I know.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Meredith Allard to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write her book Down Salem Way.
I’ve been reading, editing, and writing historical fiction for many years. As a matter of fact, I’ve even written a book about how to write historical fiction called Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction. Thank you to M.J. for allowing me space on the blog today to share my thoughts on one of my favorite subjects.
The way I research historical fiction has changed a lot over the years. When I first started writing historical fiction, I would check as many books as I could carry out of the library, take meticulous notes, color code my notes with highlighters (blue for food, pink for fashion, etc.), return those books and check out another pile, and so on until I felt I had enough knowledge to begin drafting my story. Sometimes it was months worth of research before I started writing anything. Once I started writing I knew exactly where to look in my notebook for what I needed. If I was writing a dinner scene, I could find my notes about food. Notes I referred to often, such as important dates or events that I kept mentioning, were written on index cards, also color-coded, for easier access.
I no longer complete my research before I start writing. As a fellow writer friend said to me, feeling like you have to do all of your research before you start writing slows down your process to the point where your story doesn’t get written. These days I do some preliminary research by reading generally around my topic, perhaps taking a few notes, just enough to keep things clear in my head, and then I begin the prewriting process. Usually, through the process of brainstorming, prewriting, and drafting my story, I recognize what specific bits of historical information I’ll need and then I’ll search for those bits. That’s when my note taking begins in earnest. I create digital folders to organize my notes, citations, and annotations, and I still keep categories of information together (food, clothing, political climate, and so on).
One trick I learned from a history class I took years ago is to think about the historical world I’m creating through the acronym GRAPES.
Geography—How does the climate and landscape affect the people who live there?
Religion—How does the society’s belief system and traditions affect the people who live there?
Achievements—What are the achievements of this society—good and bad?
Politics—What is the power structure in this society?
Economics—How are goods and resources used in this society?
Social Structure—How does this society organize people into classes? Who ends up in which class and why?
I love to travel to the place I’m writing about as well. I always get a lot of good ideas for my story from my travels. As I work to weave the information I learned into my story, one thing I keep in mind is that I want to carry my readers into my world by touching their senses. What do readers see, hear, taste, touch, and smell? Often it’s the smaller details, what people wore, what they ate, the houses they lived in, that brings historical fiction alive since these are details we can relate to, even if what we eat and drink and where we live is different today.
Some dependable online research sources I’ve used over the years are Project Gutenberg, the Library of Congress, the Victorian Web, V&A, and JSTOR. The History Quill has a list of 50+ research sites for writers of historical fiction. I also love to go to the library to see what books I can find, and I’ve found that librarians are more than happy to help if I can’t find what I’m looking for.
I love learning about history, so researching historical fiction is actually fun for me.
Thank you so much for sharing your post with us. Research can indeed be a rabbit hole from which you can’t return:)
Here’s the blurb;
How would you deal with the madness of the Salem witch hunts?
In 1690, James Wentworth arrives in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, John, hoping to continue the success of John’s mercantile business. While in Salem, James falls in love with Elizabeth Jones, a farmer’s daughter. Though they are virtually strangers when they marry, the love between James and Elizabeth grows quickly into a passion that will transcend time.
But something evil lurks down Salem way. Soon many in Salem, town and village, are accused of practicing witchcraft and sending their shapes to harm others. Despite the madness surrounding them, James and Elizabeth are determined to continue the peaceful, loving life they have created together. Will their love for one another carry them through the most difficult challenge of all?
Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her nonfiction book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 New Release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help by Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at http://www.meredithallard.com.
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.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Clare Marchant to the blog with a fascinating post about her new dual-timeline novel, The Queen’s Spy, partially set in Elizabethan England, a particular favourite of mine.
My Research Process
When I first have a concept for a book it always starts with the historical protagonist. I never have an idea that appears fully formed in my head (oh I wish I were that writer!) but instead I will have various small threads of suggestions and I need to start weaving them together until I have a strong enough outline to encompass a whole book. And at that point, the research – my favourite part of writing a book – really begins. I have always had a great love for history and I studied it for my degree, so reading historical textbooks as part of my job is perfect for me!
The problem with historical research as any writer will attest to, is that it is all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole – and I am as guilty as the next person of doing that! A name will be mentioned and I find myself looking that person up to see if they could be used in my book and then that leads to something else and before I know it, a whole day has passed and I haven’t got anything down on paper.
I definitely make a rod for my own back in that I like to include as much accuracy as possible and to use real people wherever I can, just threading my own protagonist in around actual events. Therefore it’s important that my information is spot on. For instance, in The Queen’s Spy I wrote about The Babington Plot and Sir Francis Walsingham’s spy network. I did extensive reading around this until I had accumulated quite a lot of information which we know to be true. Even if my readers don’t realise that I’m using real events and people, I think it’s important to get the facts right. For example Tom wears a blue coat because we know that Babington was brought a letter from a man wearing a blue coat who was believed to be one of Walsingham’s men. And when Babington is missed hiding upstairs in Pooley’s house – another true event.
In a similar way when I wrote The Secrets of Saffron Hall, I had to research a lot into the growing of saffron in Norfolk in the sixteenth century to make sure everything I wrote was accurate – I was delighted when I discovered that it’s still grown there today!
Over the years I have accumulated many research books, and every time I start to write another book I seem to buy more, whilst reassuring my husband that it is vital and part of my work as he sees another pile of packages arrive on the doormat! Usually they’re specialist ones that have information for a particular subject I need to know about in great detail, such as ‘The Queen’s Agent’ by John Cooper and ‘Elizabeth’s Spy Master’ by Robert Hutchinson for detailed accounts of the work that Walsingham did to stop Mary Queen of Scots toppling Queen Elizabeth and taking the throne.
I do of course use some more generic Tudor books for some of the details I may not know. I needed to research some of the herbal remedies during the writing of Saffron Hall, and sometimes I want to know specifics for items of clothing or tools they used. One of my favourite books is called ‘A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects’ by John Matusiak and as the title suggests it has photographs of Tudor artefacts, some of which are quite amazing.
Before I start writing a book I spend about eight weeks researching in depth around the timeline I am going to write about so that I am fully immersed in it when I begin to write. I don’t want to have to stop every thirty minutes to check a fact, although of course there are occasions when I have to put a marker in to go back and check something…although this can be dangerous as once again I am seen disappearing down that ubiquitous rabbit hole!
Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post with me. I do love to find out how writers get to their characters, and how they learn about their time period. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Thaddeus Thomas to the blog to talk about his new book, Steampunk Cleopatra, a historical fantasy.
Your book, Steampunk Cleopatra sounds like a wonderful combination of history and fantasy. I usually ask authors to tell me about their research process because as a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories. But I think your book might be a little different. So, a few questions instead.
Was it the history or the lost science that attracted you to this story? Can you explain why?
I was attracted to the Library of Alexandria, and everything began there. Outside of deciding to focus the book on Cleopatra, the next greatest influence was Hero of Alexander who invented the world’s first steam engine in the first century CE. The draw was the enigmas of history, and the lost science of Egypt was a potential solution.
How did you create your ‘world?’ What aspects of the past were important for you to keep, and which were you happy to discard?
I never intentionally discarded history. The idea that I was writing fantasy gave me the courage to tackle the subject, but I intended to tell as historically accurate a story as possible, in one sense. If that’s all the book was, then the gaps in our knowledge would be filled with the most probable truths. I’ve simple filled many of those gaps with wonder.
The book covers many years and a lot of territory, from Egypt to Rome, Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Kush. Of my own life, I spent two years researching and writing Steampunk Cleopatra and had just come off of three years on Detective, 26 AD, which helped immensely with the Jerusalem sections.
I enjoy a good steampunk novel, although most I’ve read are set in an alternative Victorian period. What challenges were there for you in using Egypt as your setting? (if you did use Egypt).
In the beginning of the book, I focus on a mostly grounded, historical Alexandria, although the spotlight is often cast on the surprising inventions of the time. For example, their hours were not constant in length. There were twelve daylight hours, no matter how short or how long the day. They invented water clocks that automatically counted out the hours in beautiful, artistic ways while remaining accurate, no matter the time of the year. That historical concern made the move into expanding the technology my greatest challenge.
For the steampunk aspect, think of stories like the movie National Treasure, but what if finding the hidden treasure was only half the story? If we have access to this great technology, how do we use it? Does it benefit the marginalized people who made it possible in the first place or does it become simply another tool of oppression? Is it the secret to taking over the world or is it the key to your downfall? These are some of the questions the book tackles.
I do not use fantasy to change the course of history but to fantastically explain aspects of it and through that, examine our nature, our failure, and our hope.
Was there anything you discovered during your research that made you change elements of your story, or which you found amazing?
There are so many moments of real-life scientific wonder that worked their way in, but the Ptolemaic political drama was the driving force. Of that, the largest single impact was Ptolemy’s slaughter of the hundred delegates sent by Berenice to speak before the Roman Senate. Much of this was new information to me, as the book focuses on the early years of Cleopatra, ending with Julius Caesar and the Alexandrian Civil War. When you study her life, that’s usually where you begin.
Did you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff got me started, but that’s not to say she made things easy for me. The years I focus on, she glossed over, and for that time period, she had a way of mentioning facts out of historical context. It worked for the opening picture she was drawing for her work, but I had much to unravel in those early days. I did a great deal of reading, and with so much focus on Egypt, I needed both a break for my eyes and an introduction to Roman history. For that, I have to mention the YouTube channel Historia Civilis. It gave me the context I needed as a foundation and was entertaining.
Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you had a fantastic, if complex, time unravelling the history and the facts. Good luck with Steampunk Cleopatra.
Here’s the blurb:
Amani, a companion of Cleopatra, seeks to rediscover Egypt’s suppressed science and history. She is the beloved of her princess become queen, but that may not be enough to overcome the system they’ve inherited. If she fails, her country and Cleopatra, both, could fall. History meets fantasy, and together, they create something new. Experience an intelligent thriller about star-crossed lovers and an ancient science that might have been.
Thaddeus Thomas lives on the Mississippi River with his wife and three cats. Steampunk Cleopatra is his first novel, but he has a short story collection available at his website, ThaddeusThomas.com. There he also runs a book club where readers can receive indie book reviews and recommendation. His second book—Detective, 26 AD—releases July 9thand follows Doubting Thomas as he is conscripted to be an investigator for Pontius Pilate.