Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for the State of Treason by Paul Walker

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 methodology for 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 Barberand 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.

London, 1578

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.

Buy Links:

Amazon

AudioAmazon UK • Amazon US  

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.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

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.

The Hue-and-Cry

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.

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Meet the Author

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.

Connect with Toni Mount

Website  Website  Twitter         

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Colour of Evil blog tour.

Happy Release Day to The Custard Corpses – a delicious 1940s mystery

Say what?

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.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Ropewalk by H D Coulter

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. 

Ulverston Canal entrance. Wikimedia. Author Jolmartyn. https://www.panoramio.com/photo/50320159

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. 

Bibliography:

“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.

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Book 2, Saving Grace; Deception. Obsession. Redemption. is now available for preorder.

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Meet 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.

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Don’t forget to stop by the other stops on the blog tour organised by The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Book Review – Blood Runs Thicker by Sarah Hawkswood – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

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.

Book Review – The Consequences of Fear (Maisie Dodds #16) by Jacqueline Winspear – 1940s Historical Mystery

Here’s the blurb;

It is September 1941 and young Freddie Hackett is a message runner – he collects messages from a government office and delivers them to various destinations around London. He sets off one day with a message, along a route of bombed-out houses, and witnesses a murder. Freddie instinctively wants to summon the police, but he has an envelope to deliver first – all communications during wartime could be urgent. When the man who answers the door appears to be the very same person he has just seen kill another, Freddie rushes to the police, but is summarily dismissed. However, he remembers an address in Fitzroy Square, belonging to a private investigator, Maisie Dobbs. Will she believe him and help solve the mystery?

The Consequences of Fear is the first Maisie Dodds book I’ve read (I know, it’s number 16 – but I’ve just ‘got’ into books from this time period). It won’t be the last.

For a first time reader, there were a few stumbling blocks now and then throughout this book, only to be expected, of course. There are clearly well-loved, repeat characters in this book, and the author does a great job of involving as many of Maisie’s friends and allies as possible. This allows the case to be quite complex as she attempts to solve it, running between London and Chelstone.

I really enjoyed how deeply embedded the story is in the history of the period, and I think Maisie will be a fascinating character to uncover in earlier books.

Thoroughly enjoyable, even for a newbie.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

The Consequences of Fear is released today, 18th March 2021, in hardback, and on 23rd March in ebook. Get it here.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Test of Gold by Renee Yancy

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Renee Yancy to the blog with a guest post on the historical research she undertook to write her new book, The Test of Gold.

The true story of Consuelo Vanderbilt inspired my new historical romance, The Test of Gold. Consuelo was a “Dollar Princess,” the nickname coined for heiresses in the late 20th century who possessed multi-million dollar dowries and married cash-poor British and French aristocrats. 

The Gilded Age occurred after the American Civil War, from 1870 to the early 1900s, a turbulent time of rapid economic growth in America. Captains of industry such as Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller amassed huge fortunes, but were considered nouveau riche by the patrician bluebloods of New York City. The exclusive list of people who could comfortably fit into the ballroom of the queen of high society, Caroline Astor, was called the famous “400.”

Social climber Alva Vanderbilt craved entrance into the 400, and schemed exactly how to achieve it. First, she built an extravagant “chateau” with one hundred and fifty rooms at 660 Fifth Avenue. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. Then she planned a huge costume ball, the cost of which by today’s standard was $6,000,000!

When young Carrie Astor, Caroline’s daughter, didn’t receive an invitation to the ball, Mrs. Astor was forced to “call” on Alva to receive an invitation, and Alva was in.

During the Gilded Age, European aristocrats flooded New York City to find a wealthy bride whose dowries could shore up their crumbling ancestral estates, trading titles for dowries. Have cash, will marry! Consuelo’s mother, our infamous Alva Vanderbilt, forced her daughter at the tender age of eighteen to marry the Duke of Marlborough to obtain a royal title for the Vanderbilt name.

It was a loveless marriage, and in time, Consuelo escaped it and achieved personal happiness with Jacques Balsan, a French aviator and industrialist.

For my research, I explored some amazing estates of the rich and famous, read books about the etiquette of that time, and studied the fabulous gowns of Charles Worth, who was the premier Paris designer of the Gilded Age. I searched out the jewelry designs of Tiffany, Cartier, and Marcus & Co. Such fun and so beautiful to look at!

A Season of Splendor: The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York by Greg King was my go-to book for the story as well as The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess—In Her Own Words, by Consuelo Vanderbilt. 

Doing the research took me into an era of incredible wealth and shocking poverty the likes of which will never be seen again.

My character, Lindy, has a happier ending!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s fascinating to find out how authors research their characters and chosen period.

Now, here’s the blurb for The Test of Gold.

Raised in the shadow of a mother who defied convention, but won’t allow her own daughter the right to make the same choices, heiress Evangeline Lindenmayer has been groomed since childhood to marry into the British aristocracy. 

When Lindy challenges her mother’s long-laid plans by falling in love with a poor seminary student, the explosion is bigger than the Brooklyn Bridge fireworks on Independence Day.

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Meet the Author

Renee Yancy is a history and archaeology nut who writes the kind of historical fiction she loves to read – stories filled with historical detail that immerse you in another place and time. When she isn’t writing historical fiction or traveling to see the places her characters have lived, she can be found in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband and two rescue mutts named Ellie and Charlie. 

Connect with Renee.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Test of Gold blog tour.

Book Review – Agata, Princess of Iberia by Emma C Buenen – historical fiction – recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Thrust out into the Wild, young Princess Agata has no skills to survive.

In the early dawn of what is modern Georgia, a kingdom once known as Iberia teeters between hordes of enemies. Byzantines eye the soaring mountains and lush, fertile valleys tucked between Asia and Europe. Turks and Arabs rattle sabres along her eastern borders, coveting the lucrative Silk Road and the growing power of the mysterious Khazars – a Marauder people – loom large.

Motherless young Princess Agata has only known the solid stone walls of the palace. As the fourth daughter of Vax’tang II, she is instructed in the basic skills expected of her station and otherwise ignored and left to her own devices until the day she is old enough to be a marriage pawn in her father’s hands.

As her 16th birthday draws ever nearer, Princess Agata hopes to join the convent led by the powerful Byzantine, Abbess Shingli, and escape her cruel father.

But on the night of her sister’s wedding, Marauder warriors led by cruel warlord, General Kazan, attack the city and breach the walls of the palace. Agata must choose to stay and perish or escape into the lonely mountains of the Wild.

Alone and hungry, cold and terrified, Agata longs for the safety she once knew.

As political powers vie for Iberia, the young princess is hunted by a cunning traitor as well as the fierce warrior, Kazan.

Reeling at the treachery and anguished at the death of her warrior women, the seeds of vengeance and rebellion stir in Agata’s young heart.

Agata, Princess of Iberia is such a good book. The first 10% entirely draws the reader in, investing them with a need to know what’s going to happen as the city is overrun by marauders. Agata is a character who develops throughout the story so that by the end, she’s almost unrecognisable from the character we’re first introduced.

And she’s not the only strong female character, this book is stuffed with them, and all of them are engaging and clearly defined.

There are twists and turns, double-crossing galore, and just a really well-told story. Loved it:) And the cover is beautiful.

Agata is available now, and can be purchased from here.

Connect with the author on Twitter and on her website.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for A Sword Among Ravens by Cynthia Ripley Miller

Today I’m delighted to welcome the author of A Sword Among Ravens to my blog, with a fantastic excerpt from the novel. But first, things first, here’s the blurb;

In a grave, on the edge of a Roman battlefield, an ancient sword has been discovered. Legend claims it belonged to King David of Israel and carries a curse—those who wield it will tragically die—but not the chosen.   

AD 455. Arria Felix and her husband, Garic the Frank, have safely delivered a sacred relic to Emperor Marcian in Constantinople. But now, Arria and Garic will accept a new mission. The emperor has asked them to carry the sword of King David of Israel to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where Arria will dedicate it in her murdered father’s memory.

As Arria and Garic travel into the heart of the Holy Land, they face many challenges and dangers. Their young daughter is missing then found in the company of a strange and suspicious old monk. A brutal killer stalks their path. And a band of cold-blooded thieves is determined to steal the sword for their own gains. But when Arria confronts the question of where the sword should truly rest—old friendships, loyalties, and her duty are put to the test like never before. At every turn, Arria and Garic find themselves caught in a treacherous mission wrapped in mystery, murder, and A Sword Among Ravens.

And here’s an excerpt from the novel,

**Caught in a storm at sea, Arria Felix and her young daughter Licia huddle together in their cabin while Arria hums a tune in an effort to calm Licia’s fears.

THE SHIP VENTUS: A Squall—Day 2, The 21st day of Maius  

Arria was not sure of the time or when the gale reached its height. She had lost the measure of it. But after a while, the wind lost its roar and receded to a moan. The ship rose on top of a huge watery billow and then slowly fell. The waves began to calm. Like a bored and impatient warrior in search of new vessels to torment or destroy, the storm sailed away—its anger peaked—the battle won.

An eerie quiet surrounded them. Light ebbed through the cracks in the cabin door. Arria stopped humming and kissed Licia’s cheek. “It’s over, my sweet. The storm is gone.”

Leo sighed and ran his good hand over his face. “Apollo’s balls, I need a drink,” he grumbled. “Excuse me, my lady.” His penitent glance veered toward Licia. “Sorry.” 

Licia appeared puzzled.

Arria gave him a stern look but added, “It falls on innocent ears, but say no more.”

Sudden footfalls sounded on the stairs outside the cabin. The door swung open.

Garic stood there, his hair and clothes soaked to the bone, but a tremendous relief shone on his face. “Thank Christus. It’s over. Are you, Licia, and the girl all right?” he directed toward Arria. She nodded, her smile weak. “Brother?” he added. The monk uncurled himself and took a breath. Garic gave Leo a sideways glance. “And you?” The centurion nodded, his face grim. 

Arria stood, unwrapping her arms from Licia. “I’m so grateful we’re safe. I need some air.”

“Come, I’ll help you and the girls to the deck. We can all dry out there.”

Garic led Licia and Catalina up the stairs with Arria behind them. Leo and Brother Bruno followed. Once on deck, they raised their faces to the sun and breathed deeply. Catalina found a place to sit. Arria wiped Licia’s brow again and then her own. “Shall we go to the railing and look for some dolphins?” Licia nodded, and they walked to the port side of the ship. A mild breeze floated past them. It seemed hard to believe that just a few minutes past, they huddled in the cabin in fear for their lives.

Their eyes scanned the water when Arria spied a rope hooked farther down the railing toward the stern and thrown over the side. Her eyes followed the line. A man dangled at the end, a hangman’s knot around his neck. His body bumped against the ship’s timbers. Arria covered her mouth. She grabbed Licia’s hand and turned her away. “Sweetheart, come and sit on this box and rest.”

“Can’t we see the dolphins, Mama?” 

“Perhaps later. I’ll send Leo to fetch your doll. Play with her for a bit while Mama works with Papa to get things ready for dinner and the night. Can you do this for me?”

“Yes.”

“Good girl.”

Arria called Leo over and whispered what she had seen. He looked surprised. “Tell Garic, and please bring Licia her doll,” she said. The soldier scampered off.

Garic returned and rushed to the railing. Several sailors had also seen the body and were attempting to lift it onto the deck. The guards, Telemachus and Justus, were close by. They had helped in the effort to save the ship as well. Arria brought Licia to Brother Bruno’s deck tent and settled her inside. Once her daughter had her doll and was engaged in play, she moved to the crowd of men surrounding the body and stood beside Garic. 

The sailors called him Paolino, a seaman from Hispania. Garic whispered to her that a sailor told him that Paolino had no family and sailed when it suited him or when he needed additional denarii for drinking and whoring. The crew only valued him because, on occasion, he carried drugs, made from juices and powders that brought on euphoria and helped with pain. 

Several bruises covered his face, and a bloody patch over his heart implied a stab wound, but what shocked Arria, even more, was the rough cross, carved on his forehead.

A few sailors scratched their heads. Some scowled while others mumbled prayerful words of protection. The ship’s captain looked dark. 

Arria understood that the captain knew it would not help their voyage if the men felt fear or let their superstitious minds run wild. 

The captain barked, “Get going! Wrap him up!” Finding the monk in the circle of onlookers, he added, “Brother, will you say a short prayer for our shipmate?” 

Brother Bruno nodded, stepped forward, and clasped his hands. The seamen followed and bowed their heads. “Lord, may Paolino’s soul find its way to Heaven and rest in eternal peace.” A moment of silence filled the crew, and in the ancient custom, the men repeated the word Vale, farewell, three times. 

The captain shouted, “Commit Paolino to the sea!” Two sailors slid him overboard. Afterward, the crew looked toward the captain, who placed his hands on his hips. With a stern gaze and gruff voice, he commanded, “Hear me—I’ll have no vengeance or disputes on my ship. One or maybe more of you murdered him. If anyone knows anything, come to me when you think it’s right. We just fought our way through a storm, and as long as I’m captain, there will be no dissension. Now get back to sailing, and God help you, don’t try anything else.

Amazon UK • Amazon US • Amazon CA • Amazon AU • Barnes and Noble • Kobo

Meet the author

Cynthia Ripley Miller is a first generation Italian-American writer with a love for history, languages, and books. She has lived in Europe and traveled world-wide, holds two degrees, and taught history and English. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, at Orchard Press Mysteries.com, and The Scriptor. She is a Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist with awards from Circle of Books-Rings of Honor and The Coffee Pot Book Club. She has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website, www.cynthiaripleymiller.com

Cynthia is the author of On the Edge of SunriseThe Quest for the Crown of Thorns, and A Sword Among Ravens,books 1-3 in her Long-Hair Saga series set in Late Ancient Rome, France, and Jerusalem. Cynthia lives outside of Chicago with her family, along with a cute but bossy cat. 

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Widow’s Lace by Lelita Baldock

Today I’m excited to welcome Lelita Baldock, and her book, Widow’s Lace, to the blog, with a post about her approach to research as an historical fiction writer; a process that fascinates me. Widow’s Lace is set in both Australia and England, in two different time periods, so I imagine there was a huge amount of research to complete.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you to MJ Porter for including me and Widow’s Lace on this fabulous blog. I am especially excited about this post as I rarely get to talk about my research process and the resources I used to inspire the descriptions of the historical settings in my novel.

I find my research roughly divides into two major approaches: feeling the location and learning the details. 

To do this I like to visit the locations I aim to write about. Even though my story will detail the past, walking the streets of today, whilst thinking of what came before, allows me into the fabric of a time and place. 

But visiting locations is only part of their history. I also need books to learn more about the time period. When you aim to write a story set in the past it is quite extraordinary how many little things you need to check up on. Details like what people wore, ate and drank; which train stations and parks existed; did they have electricity or glass windows and so on. I will confess that Google is an invaluable tool for me in exploring how people of the past lived the everyday. Traditionalists often scoff at the use of the internet, certainly when I majored in History at the University of Adelaide it would have been frowned upon, and I agree that it must be used carefully. But it is such a rich source of articles, academic papers, photos and more, that it would be a shame not to tap into this resource. It’s just important to check who wrote the article and cross-check information to ensure your facts are reliable. Google is a wonderful resource to find these smaller details, all of which help you to bring the past to life.

Widow’s Lace is set across multiple timelines and locations. We explore late 1880s South Australia and England as well as pre-WW1 London. The research required for these locations was, naturally, very different. London is a major historical city, much has been written about its history and development. My other UK based locations: Derbyshire and Gloucestershire are similarly well documented. But the remote townships of Finniss and Goolwa in South Australia are less well known. 

I think the best approach to detailing my research is to divide this post by location, so I can try and do justice to the individuality of each setting and the work it took to capture it.

Goolwa and the Finniss River

The historical township of Goolwa is located around 50 miles from Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia. The town was originally established as a river port. One of the major river systems of the country, the Murray River, meets the sea just down from Goolwa. The idea was that cargo could be transported to a port at Goolwa and swapped between the river boats, called paddle steamers, that could travel up river owing to their flat bottomed hulls, and the large trade vessels that sailed up and down the coast.

As part of this commerce the first rail line in South Australia was built between Adelaide and Goolwa and eventually extended to Victor Harbor further along the Fleurieu Peninsular.

Goolwa Map. A map of the main locations in Widow’s Lace. Sketched by Lelita Baldock

Unfortunately, several factors conspired to undermine this vision and thus the town and trade route did not reach its full potential. In the late 1800s, the time of my novel, the river was tidal. This meant that the waterway that lead to the port was notoriously difficult for ships to traverse. But more importantly, and somewhat ironically, the emergence of the rail network across Australia soon replaced the paddle steamer trade, as it was faster and more reliable. 

This history is well documented on plaques around the town of Goolwa. There is even a glass  viewing box on the main street that houses a replica of the first train to run between Goolwa and Victor Harbor. 

As a child my family holidayed in Goolwa, so much of this general history was something I grew up learning about as we walked the streets, enjoying the area. But to write a novel you need more than just an overall gist. That is where my father, Trevor Baldock, comes in. My dad is passionate about history, and makes it a priority to learn all he can about areas he loves. When I was in my early twenties he purchased a book about the history of the Murray River and paddle steamer trade called The Murray River Pilot by Ronald Baker, Margaret Baker, William Reschke. It detailed the history of the river trade out of the port of Goolwa and surrounds and helped to paint a distinct picture of life in the town in the late 1880s. This book became my research go-to as I pieced together the experiences of my main character Edward Barrington and his wife Rosalind after they moved from England to this remote part of South Australia

The Finniss River. A Photo from the banks of the Finniss River Photo Credit: Lelita Baldock

In addition to The Murray River Pilot and the general information on plaques around the town, I visited the Goolwa museum, which houses all manner of artefacts from the region, ranging from machinery used to winch boats from the river, to kettles used in the kitchens of neighbouring farmhouses. All this was invaluable as a visual resource, a glimpse into what people of the time would have seen and used as they went about their lives.

Though Goolwa has expanded in the intervening years, becoming a favoured holiday location for Adelaidians, many of the original sandstone houses and hotels still line the main street, so it’s not difficult to imagine how the town would have looked all those years ago. 

Hathrone Farm on the Finniss river is based on a real property. Along the banks of the river there is an old sandstone farmhouse and sheds. I first saw this beautiful property as a child when sailing the river with my family. But in my early twenties it took on more significance for me. As we wound our way through the patches of reeds that line the river, I watched the farmhouse pass by and was engulfed by the sense of isolation and solitude. It got me wondering about who might have lived there and why? This ruminating inspired the story that would become Widow’s Lace, so it was only natural that this property should form the inspiration for Hathrone Farm.

Sandstone Buildings. Sandstone buildings along the Finniss River. Photo Credit: Trevor Baldock

Of course, there is also the very rich and important history of Australia’s First People in the area. It would not have been right to publish a story of Goolwa and not acknowledge the Ngarrindjeri people who called the Lower Lakes home. The name Goolwa is in fact a Ngarrindjeri word, meaning River’s Elbow, owing to the natural curve of the river in which the town nestles. The local library in Goolwa has a wealth of information on the history of the Ngarrindjeri, which I tapped into to make these aspects of my novel as true and respectful as I could. Additionally, there remains a strong Ngarrindjeri presence in Goolwa and many tradition ceremonies, such as the ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony are still held, offering an invaluable experience of these living traditions.

London, Derbyshire and Gloucestershire

My research for the English locations of Widow’s Lace was similar in many ways. I always visit the locations I intend to use for my novels and have been fortunate enough to be able to move to the United Kingdom and travel widely here, which has exposed me to many beautiful locations that are perfect for historical novels.

In 2010 my husband and I explored the Cotswolds and Bath, and I found the setting for the early 1900s parts of my story. The tranquil beauty I experienced as we explored the windy, cobbled streets was the perfect juxtaposition to the tension and bustle of wartime London.

Cotswolds. Photo of Kingsbridge. Photo credit: Lelita Baldock

Journeying the Cheshire Ring on a narrow boat in 2016 allowed me to dive into the history of the industrial north which formed the backstory for Edward Barrington. Again, the research came naturally, visiting factories and reading about the experiences of workers. 

It was also on this trip that I visited Lyme Hall. I loved the feel of this old manor. It felt at once big and formal, but also intimate and homely, mirroring the twin experiences of Edward Barrington. It was the perfect location on which to model the manor house of Hathrone.

Lyme Hall. Lyme Hall, England, Pemberly in the BBC series of Pride and Prejudice. Photo Credit: Lelita Baldock

As these locations are widely visited tourist sites, it was easy to find information about everyday life in the past by reading the provided tourist information. Google was my main go to as a quick reference for important dates. 

My research for Widow’s Lace was both active and subconscious. Growing up exploring the Goolwa region and travelling parts of the UK,  I learnt much of the history I used passively. This formed a strong backdrop for my story, actively inspiring the storyline, and giving me a platform from which to launch into the more detailed research required to truly bring history to life.

Overall I think I prepare to write a novel through reading widely and by spending time in a location. Walking the streets and talking to the locals adds an authenticity and enables me to get a feel for the place. When combined with research on little details I believe this gives rise to the most effective and realistic portrayals of a different time and place and thus a richer reading experience. At least, that is my hope!

Thank you so much for sharing your research processes. It’s fascinating to discover what inspires people to write their stories. And I agree, the internet is an amazing resource for finding out those weird, and strange little obscure facts that you just can’t write a book without.

Here’s the blurb for Widow’s Lace.

A hundred year old mystery, the widow left behind, a fallen soldier, the abandoned fiancée, an unnamed body and the young student determined to find the truth.

In 1886 famous English poet Edward Barrington moves from Derbyshire, England to a farm on the Finniss River, in South Australia. Two years later he disappears.

25 years later Archie Hargraves abandons his fiancée Clara and travels from England to meet with Edward’s widow, Rosalind. He plans to write a biography and make a name for himself, independent from his wealthy father. Returning to England in 1914 he abandons his work to join the war in Europe. His journal of notes from Australia is never released.

Ellie Cannon, a young PhD candidate at Sydney University, is writing a thesis on one of Barrington’s last known poems, The Fall. It’s not going well. Struggling with her relationship with her mother and loss of her father, Ellie is on the brink of failure.

Then a body is found by the Finniss River, 130 years after Edward’s disappearance. Could it be the famous poet?

The discovery draws Ellie into the worlds of Edward, Archie and Clara, taking her across Australia and England in her search for the truth.

Covering life in remote South Australia, the social pressures of 1900s Britain and the historical role of women, Widow’s Lace is an historical fiction, mystery cross-over dealing with themes of obsession, fear, love, inner-secrets and regret. But also the hope that can come from despair.

Buy Links:

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Amazon CA • Amazon AU • 

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Widow’s Lace is also available on Kindle Unlimited.

Meet the Author

Lelita has a passion for stories, especially those with a dark undercurrent, or a twist to be revealed. 

She hopes to tell interesting stories that people will find themselves drawn into. Stories that are for entertainment and escape, and hopefully a little thrill of the unexpected. She truly enjoys the experience of writing, exploring human traits and reactions as well as the darkness that can lurk unexpectedly inside anyone.

Born and raised in Adelaide, Australia, Lelita holds a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and History from the University of Adelaide and a Bachelor of Education from The University of South Australia. During her twenties she worked as an English teacher in both Australia and the United Kingdom, working with the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Now Lelita and her husband run a web development business, and she makes time for writing after hours and on weekends. It can mean long days and late nights, but she doesn’t mind, stories are her passion.

Lelita’s long term goal as a writer is to be able to publish her stories regularly and hopefully appeal to a wide range of readers.

Lelita currently resides in the United Kingdom with her husband Ryan and beloved rescue-cat, Jasmine.

Connect with Lelita

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for Widow’s Lace.