I’m really excited to announce that the audiobook for The Last King is now available. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has done a fantastic job of bringing Coelwulf and his allies, and enemies, to life.
To celebrate the release, I have 5 Audible download codes for the US and 5 for the UK. If you would like one, send me a quick email, specifying US or UK, and I’ll wing the code over to you, (as well as some instructions on how to redeem.)
For those in other parts of the world, apologies I don’t have codes for you, but you can listen to The Last King with a free trial for Audible, (just remember to cancel after the first month, or you will be charged). If you live in France, Germany, the UK or the US just click the links.
Here’s a little snippet for you. Remember, this is Coelwulf – it’ll be rife with foul language, blood and gore. Enjoy.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Paul Walker to the blog, with a guest post on the historical research he undertook to write State of Treason, set in Elizabethan England, a period that’s a particular favourite of mine.
Here’s what Paul had to say about his research methodologyfor the William Constable spy thrillers.
“I’m not a historian and had read very little history non-fiction in the years leading up to 2018. So, I was under no illusion that writing my first work of historical fiction was going to take a lot of research. It was going to be my second attempt at writing a novel. The first, a recently completed contemporary thriller, had been put to one side as an apprentice piece. It wasn’t very good, but I had learned a lot; enough to convince me that I was ready to tackle historical fiction. Mind you, I didn’t take much convincing. I had harboured that ambition for about 20 years, ever since reading the Patrick O’Brian series of books on the early nineteenth century English navy. I adored O’Brian’s use of language and the way his writing had produced a sharp sense of time and place.
I had selected the period and genre as an Elizabethan spy thriller. I’ll admit that the choice of period was influenced by my relative familiarity with characters and events, but that learning was gathered from reading fiction, watching films, TV series and docu-dramas. I didn’t have the depth of knowledge that would escape the attention of eagle-eyed readers ready to pounce on any error in the timeline of actual events or placement of a real character in the wrong town or country.
Like a game of donkey’s tail, I had stuck a pin in the chronology of English history – now what? I knew I had to do research, but there was no typical, documented way to research historical fiction. Of course, there’s also no standard route to writing a novel. Some plan meticulously with charts and spreadsheets for events, characters, sub-plots, locations, dialogue and action while others simply start tapping on the keyboard or put pen to paper and see where it takes them. I’m not a great planner, but understood that I had to create a structure from my research, which I would use to direct my writing. How that structure would manifest itself, I wasn’t sure.
We have an excellent independent bookshop nearby (David’s of Letchworth if I am allowed to name drop) with an extensive second-hand section on history. At the outset of my research, I purchased 17 books; 3 were biographies of Elizabeth; others covered major historical figures from the period including Sir Francis Walsingham, Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley, Doctor Dee and Francis Drake. I didn’t read every page of these books, but I became immersed in more than three months’ reading, note taking and expanding my research library by following up references in the original collection.
I’m fascinated by maps and charts. I purchased a wonderful book titled, London: A History in Maps by Peter Barber, and a large map of Tudor London, which I unfolded and pinned to the wall of my writing shed. I had London as the location and chose the year 1578 as the starting point for my first book. I picked that year as I could find nothing of great importance recorded in the literature, so I was free to invent intrigue and peril. On reflection, that was a strange decision, but as it was my first attempt at writing historical fiction, I probably lacked the confidence to weave the plot around real events. The second and third books in the series have actual historical episodes at the core of their stories.
I had done enough research to create a plot and begin writing. But research never stops and there wasn’t a day’s writing when I didn’t have to check facts, research new possibilities or unearth more detail on a generalisation. Of course, a lot of this research is on the Internet and Wikipedia provides a ‘quick and dirty’ source to check or validate information. There are many other useful websites and documents online, although veracity, objectivity and completeness should always be questioned. Unexpected, and valuable sources of information are held in unpublished academic theses, dissertations and lectures, not least because they can often contain surprising pearls of knowledge.
The first book in the series is titled, State of Treason. The plot developed in a way I didn’t anticipate, involving privateering and an adventure to the ‘New Lands’. For reasons I won’t divulge here, the scholar protagonist, William Constable, invents a device for improving the accuracy of ship navigation. This meant further research and a crash course on celestial navigation, as well as reading up on the explorers and adventurers, John Hawkins and Humphrey Gilbert. The shadow staff mentioned in the book as William’s invention, is an imagined forerunner of the backstaff or Davis Quadrant. Captain John Davis conceived this instrument during his voyage to search for the Northwest Passage and is described in his book Seaman’s Secrets, 1594.
A key incident referenced in the second book, A Necessary Killing, was the Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland. I was grateful for discovery of a dissertation by C Sasso at the University of Chicago on the Desmond Rebellions, as I regularly delved into its pages to help with the writing.
The third book, The Queen’s Devil, has probably the most complex plot incorporating threads of a number of real occurrences and characters. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking historical characters was Giordano Bruno, a defrocked Dominican Friar turned philosopher and proclaimer of an infinite universe. I was particularly indebted to John Bossy’s book, Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair; an enthralling read as well as a mine of information on plots and intrigues in 1580’s England.
So, there you have it; a rundown of the main elements of my research that led to writing the William Constable series of historical fiction. I understand this blog post would have been more interesting if I had taken the trouble to visit the sites in person, absorbed the sensation of time and place from historical objects and examined Walsingham’s original handwritten letters in the British Library. I regret, the truth is more mundane.”
What a fascinating journey into researching the time period. I’m always astounded by how the little pieces of information discovered while researching something else, ultimately worm their way into novels. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your experiences.I agree that a good second hand book shop is a must.
If this has you intrigued, as it does me, here are the details for State of Treason, available now as an audio book, as well as ebook.
William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.
His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.
Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.
Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?
Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life are forfeit.
This book can be read for free with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Meet the Author
Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.
Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.
So, it’s been a while, but both The Queen Dowager, and Always A Queen, are near to being released. I decided to write both books together, one after another, and to ensure that this second trilogy about Lady Elfrida truly did justice to the intriguing woman I believe she was. (It’s also involved a major overhaul of the first two books in The Earls of Mercia series, which will also be available in paperback soon).
The cover for The King’s Mother has been ready for a while, but the cover for Always A Queen is still under construction.
But, aside from that, I thought I’d share a bit of the ‘blurb” for The Queen Dowager.
“No woman had ever held so much power and lost it on the whim of her son, the king. Six years of political ostracism has brought Lady Elfrida low. Desperate to be welcomed back to Court, she risks all to make an ally of England’s Viking enemy. Failure risks exile. Forever.”
The First Queen of England has been available on Netgalley for the last month, and it’s garnered some fab reviews. I thought I’d bring them together here, both good and bad, as not all of them are over on Goodreads!
So, as with all book reviews, here’s the blurb;
“Before Anne Boleyn stole the heart of a king and demanded marriage, another woman strove to wed an already married king of England. This is the story of Elfrida, who would become the first crowned Queen of England.
England is united under Edgar, but twenty years of uncertainty and a dwindling royal nursery, have left the royal family vulnerable to extinction. Edgar, a king at only 15 years old, has an acknowledged daughter and wife, but the dying ealdorman, Æthelwald, has commanded his wife to seek out the king, now in his early twenties.
True to her husband’s wishes, Elfrida pursues the King, nervous of her husband’s intentions, but trusting them all the same. When the king tries to make her his concubine, Elfrida refuses and withdraws from the court, only to find herself dreaming of the King, desiring his touch and his presence.
When the King seeks her out once more, she willingly follows him back to his court and finds herself plunged into a world of politics and self-interest where her future happiness rests not only on the king loving her but also on the goodwill of others with much to play for at the King’s court.
Bringing alive the characters of tenth century England; its young king, Edgar; its Ealdormen, Byrhtnoth, Æthelwine, and Ælfhere; the great reforming religious figures of Archbishop Dunstan, Bishop Æthelwold and Oswald and the great women of the period, Lady Elfrida, Lady Æthelflæd and Lady Wulfthryn, The First Queen of England evokes tenth century England at its most enigmatic, shining a welcome light on England’s first crowned queen, a woman who would go on to accomplish much, but who must first steal the heart of an amorous King and earn her place at court, and overcome the obstacle of the outcome of not only the King’s second marriage, but also his first.
The Mercian Brexit can be read as an introduction to The First Queen of England – offering an account of the very early days of king Edgar’s reign form 955-957.
The First Queen of England Part 2 and Part 3 now available – telling the continuing story of Lady Elfrida in late tenth century England.
The King’s Mother is also now available, book 1 in a new trilogy continuing the story of Lady Elfrida.”
I’ll start with the 5/5 reviews, and there are four of them, which is fab!
“I received an ARC from NetGalley. I loved this book. Loved everything about it. Cant wait for part 2. I did get confused here and there because the character names are so similar but once I got that down, it was easy to follow. I love to read about history and a story where a woman is still valuable even after being married once before is even better. I will say I knew nothing about this King or Queen of England but i am glad to know them now.”
“This is the first time I have heard about Elfrida’s story so this as a pleasant surprise. This novel had romance, drama, and political intrigue! I’m definitely looking forward to purchasing the sequel!”
“Lady Elfrida has laid her husband to rest. He has died at a very young age. She also is widowed at a young age. Though they had been married for several years there are no living children. She is sent back to her fathers home. Just before her husband passed he had mentioned the King. She discovers that she was supposed to have married the king, but her husband was besotted with her and kept her for himself. It was a happy union. Now she discovers that the kings wife and small daughter are to go live in a nunnery. He will be without a wife. When she meets the king she is instantly beside herself with the strong attraction they feel for each other. She knows that to be Queen she will have to become his wife and not a concubine. With the help of strong ladies from the court, who will advise her on what needs to be done, she will do everything in her power to become the first Queen of England. Well written. Has actual persons in the storyline. Interesting!”
“A wonderful and very interesting story about King Edgar of England and his third wife, Elfrida. Highly enjoyable! I read it in one night. A must for Historical Fiction Fans! Will definitely be reading book two in this series. I received a copy of this book from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley! All opinions are my own.”
And then the 4/5 and 3/5 reviews.
“Extremely interesting and factual. Great insight to the culture that spawned the Tudor dynasty.. Will look forward to reading more by this author and will recommend.”
“I was disappointed in this book as I had thought it to be historical fiction…unfortunately, there was a lack of history. I feel King Edgar of England and Elfrida both hved stories of their own, but this book only centers on their passion, even that not very well. The writing felt uninspired, also. Only my opinion.”
The First Queen of England is still available on Netgalley for a few more days for anyone who fancies delving into tenth century England (until 25th May 2019), and I would like to thank all reviewers for reading and offering their opinions! I appreciate each and every one of them, (and yes, that does mean the not too enthused ones as well – not everyone can like everything – I certainly don’t.)
The First Queen of England is available on Amazon now (and also Audible), along with Book 2 and Book 3, and the first part of a second series, The King’s Mother. Books 2 and 3 of the second trilogy will be published soon.