An action-led reimagining of the famous Greek myth, Jason and the Golden Fleece, brilliantly told by classicist Mark Knowles.
He has come to take what is yours…
Iolkos, Thessaly. 1230 BC. King Pelias has grown paranoid, tormented by his murderous past and a prophecy of the man who will one day destroy him.
When a stranger arrives to compete in the Games of Poseidon, Pelias is horried, for this young man should never have grown to manhood. He is Jason, Pelias’ nephew, who survived his uncle’s assassins as a child. Now Jason wants his revenge – and the kingdom.
But Pelias is cunning as well as powerful. He gives his foe an impossible challenge: to claim the throne, Jason must first steal the fabled Golden Fleece of Colchis.
Jason assembles a band of Greece’s finest warriors. They are the Argonauts, named for their trusty ship. But even with these mighty allies, Jason will have to overcome the brutal challenges hurled his way. His mission and many lives depend on his wits – and his sword.
PRAISE FOR ARGO AND MARK KNOWLES:
‘Mark Knowles has taken the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece, and stripped it down to its bare bones… What is left is a deeply researched historical epic, so brilliantly brought to life I could taste the salt air on my tongue… Epic battles, well- rounded characters sailing through a brilliantly described world’ Adam Lofthouse, author of The Centurion’s Son
‘What a spectacular triumph! Knowles has taken a reassuringly familiar legend and elevated it into a new, realistic and engrossing story’ Sam Taw
‘[Knowles] has teamed his love of learning classics and childhood love of sword-and- sandals epics to accomplish something remarkable’ Boarding Schools’ Association
The legends of Greece don’t often cross my mind when I’m thinking of stories to read, but I read a wonderful retelling of the legend of Troy last year, and so I was really intrigued to be invited to read Argo by Mark Knowles. And I’m so pleased I did.
Argo is a rich retelling of the journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece, populated with a cast of characters with names even I recognised. Some of them leap from the page more clearly than others, as is to be expected with such a large cast, and the ship, Argo itself, is one of the clearest, for even someone such as me to imagine. Reading the author’s bio, it’s easy to see why the ship is such an important part of the story.
I was swept away by the tale, and intrigued to know how it would all end. I should probably have known, but I didn’t.
The story is rich in detail, the journey told in great detail, as are the stops along the way, and the people the Argonauts interact with. It certainly builds in tension so that the last quarter of the book went by in a flash. This truly is a wonderful reimagining of the legends of Jason, the Argonauts and of course, Argo.
I’m lucky to have been given an advanced copy of the sequel Jason, and I’m powering my way through the book now, which, luckily, starts exactly where Argo stops, and I was so pleased I had book 2 straight to hand. Do check back for me review.
Mark Knowles took degrees in Classics and Management Studies at Downing College, Cambridge. After a decade working as a frontline officer and supervisor within the Metropolitan Police Service, he became Head of Classics at a school in Harrogate. He is a particular fan of experimental archaeology and rowed on the reconstructed ancient Athenian trireme Olympias during its last sea trials in Greece in 1994.
If you missed the introduction to Jason from Mark Knowles on Monday, here it is again.
Introduction to Jason by Mark Knowles
Getting Argo home in the process of writing JASON was great fun. In fact, once I’d got the route straight in my head, it gave me the most joy I’ll probably ever have in writing a story. It presented an opportunity to weave together as many strands of myth as I could without – I hope – stretching credibility. And what more could an unashamed Classics geek want? JASON features an all-star ancient Greek cast: Circe, Talos, the Sirens, King Minos, Ariadne, the Minotaur, and the Oracle, ranging over a vast landscape from as far north as the Danube to Crete in the south.
‘Sprouting wings and flying home would have been a more useful suggestion!’ So says Idas, a thorn in Jason’s side, as options are discussed to outwit the ships blockading the Black Sea straits. His comments are apposite when looking at the wackier ancient suggestions for the return leg of Jason’s voyage. In one surviving version of the myth, we see Argo traversing the Sahara; in another, sailing to Greece via Scandinavia. Needless to say, all these routes (but one) are physically impossible. But what an opportunity for a writer to stretch the imagination!
I even discovered a lost island when researching the route. An old map of the Anatolian coastline based on a Roman geographer’s work showed an island just off the Thracian coast (modern day Bulgaria), which some natural disaster or other seems to have swallowed in the Middle Ages. As soon as I saw it, I had to have it for Circe’s mysterious island of Aea. This sums up the spirit in which JASON was written. I hope, in joining this epic voyage, you make some discoveries of your own.
I’m sharing an excerpt from Jenny Knipfer’s new historical fiction novel, On Bur Oak Ridge. I hope you enjoy.
I remember the day Jacob asked me to dance, staring at me across the room in the hotel ballroom in Land O’ Lakes—the day we met.
“You should go talk to him. He’s handsome,” my friend Kitty French—a young woman as silly and feminine as her name suggests—whispered in my ear, her arm tucked around my elbow in a conspiratorial fashion.
The man with a dark complexion, trim beard, and mustache of umber-brown, met my gaze, our eyes strung together by an unseen cord. Dressed in a charcoal-toned suit, he stood opposite me, across the dancefloor, with a cup of punch cradled in his hand. His full, even lips curled upward in a slow progression, as if he just realized that he’d won a prize. I gulped and had a feeling the prize might be me. I dropped my gaze, smoothed down the deep-red, silk fabric of my skirt, and tucked my lips in, trying to avoid a blush, but the heat on my cheeks told me that I failed.
“Well,” Kitty prodded. “His smile is an open invitation, if you ask me.”
I fished for an excuse, so I didn’t have to be brave. “I can’t approach him. That would be improper.”
I disliked doing brazen things and being noticed.
“What is this, the 1860s?” Kitty leaned back and gulped down the rest of the contents of the cup she held in her right hand. “If you don’t, I will.”
She raised one eyebrow in a challenge.
But as it happened, Jacob made his way to me. The band had struck up a slow waltz.
With his dark eyes sparkling, he asked me, “May I have this dance?”
I hesitated. I didn’t even know his name. He must have read my thoughts, for he introduced himself, and I stuttered out a reply, giving him my name.
Then, as if on cue, he held out his hands to me, passing his cup off to waitstaff. I nodded and gulped, forcing my drink on Kitty, who pouted.
Jacob’s arm pressed around me, and his thick hand held mine firmly. As we twirled around the dancefloor, he asked me all manner of questions, which I answered in a near breathless blur.
To have the attention of a richly dressed, handsome man sent my head spinning. With each step, turn, and twirl, I lost a bit of my heart to him. Little did I know that, years later, he would hand it back to me, broken beyond repair.
My heart aches thinking about our past. “Oh, Jacob…”
Here’s the blurb:
“The plot has its twists and turns to keep readers intrigued…to the very end. A great comfort read that will soothe the spirit with renewed hope and faith.” Readers’ Favorite five-star review
A HISTORICAL NOVEL OF FINDING HEALING AND A SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE
In the early 1900s, quiet and reserved Molly Lund finds refuge from her past at the Nelsons’ farm in Minnesota. In an attempt to turn a new page in her life, Molly works at making peace with her losses and coming to terms with the disfiguring burns on her face.
Samuel Woodson, the Nelsons’ hired hand, carries his own cares. Split from his family and bearing a burden of misplaced guilt for an act that haunts him, Samuel–seeing past Molly’s scars–draws her out of her self-protective shell.
Molly and Samuel form a friendship, but just as their hearts lead them deeper, an unexpected guest comes calling, demanding what’s his.
Will Molly and Samuel find a way to be together or will they be separated, due to impediments beyond their control? Can they trust in God’s plan and travel a path that heals the hurts of the past?
Readers of historical fiction, Christian historical fiction, and Christian historical romance will delight in this beautifully wrought story of the healing power of love.
“A heartwarming story of healing from external and internal scars. Through some of life’s harder lessons the characters learn to trust, forgive, and find second chances out of the ashes of pain and loss.”
Anne Perreault, author of eighteen inspirational novels, including the Yellowstone series
Grief, trauma from burns, accidental death, time in an insane asylum
Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling.
Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions.
All of Jenny’s books have earned five-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, a book review and award contest company. She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association.
Jenny’s favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set.
She deems a cup of tea and a good book an essential part of every day. When not writing, Jenny can be found reading, tending to her many houseplants, or piecing quilt blocks at her sewing machine.
Her new historical fiction, four-part series entitled, Sheltering Trees, is set in the area Jenny grew up in, where she currently lives, and places along Minnesota’s Northern Shore, where she loves to visit. She is currently writing a four-part novella series entitled: Botanical Seasons and a three-part fantasy series entitled: Retold Fairy Tales.
A generation after Arthur Pendragon ruled, Briton lies fragmented into warring kingdoms and principalities.
Eighteen-year-old Alden du Lac ruled the tiny kingdom of Cerniw. Now he half-hangs from a wooden pole, his back lashed into a mass of bloody welts exposed to the cold of a cruel winter night. He’s to be executed come daybreak—should he survive that long.
When Alden notices the shadowy figure approaching, he assumes death has come to end his pain. Instead, the daughter of his enemy, Cerdic of Wessex, frees and hides him, her motives unclear.
Annis has loved Alden since his ill-fated marriage to her Saxon cousin—a marriage that ended in blood and guilt—and she would give anything to protect him. Annis’s rescue of Alden traps them between a brutal Saxon king and Alden’s remaining allies. Meanwhile, unknown forces are carefully manipulating the ruins of Arthur’s legacy.
Mary Anne Yarde is a multi-award winning and bestselling author of Historical Fiction, as well as an award-winning blogger. She studied History at Cardiff University and went on to study Equine Science at Warwickshire College.
Mary Anne is a passionate advocate for quality Historical Fiction and founded The Coffee Pot Book Club in 2015 and became a professional Editorial Reviewer in 2016.
Mary Anne’s award-winning series, The Du Lac Chronicles, is set a generation after the fall of King Arthur. The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Britain and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed
Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.
The champion of a dead king has nothing left to lose… And nothing more to fear.
Hastings, 1066. Styrkar the Dane stumbles wounded and delirious from the corpse-strewn battlefield of Senlac Hill. He has watched his king butchered at the hands of foreign knights, seen his countrymen defeated in battle, and he will not stop until there is a reckoning.
Styrkar embarks on a bloody quest to avenge his dead master, becoming an outlaw in the wilds and earning a fearsome reputation.
When a Breton knight seeks to track down this fugitive and make his own name, he can little envisage the task he has set himself. For Styrkar, the Red Wolf, last surviving housecarl to King Harold Godwinson, will carve the story of his vengeance in Frankish flesh… or die in the attempt.
My Review for Oathbound
Oathbound starts with a vivid and well-sketched scene in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Hastings. From there, we’re taken back in time, to Styrkar’s childhood in Denmark, and told how he came to England – an important detail as Styrkar is a Dane, housecarl to the half-Danish Harold Godwinson, and he should never have come to England’s shores. But it is to Harold Godwinson that Styrkar is oath bound at the battle of Hastings.
The following tale is well told, as we follow Styrkar in the aftermath of the English defeat at the battle of Hastings. It’s not long until he is butting heads with the Franks from Normandy, and making himself both a powerful enemy, and a less than friendly ally.
I’m intrigued by how this story will develop in book 2. Styrkar is a complex character, thrust into a world where nothing is at it was, and he’s not above fighting for what he feels is right, but equally, sometimes he just wants to fight and doesn’t consider the consequences. With the build-up for book 2 an important part of the ending to book 1, it’s very clear that our main character (I’m not sure he’s a hero) is really going to be placed in a compromising position throughout Shield Breaker.
Oath Bound is a fascinating start to a new series exploring England after the Norman Conquest, pitting Norman/Frank against a Danish/Saxon, essentially two men for whom England isn’t their home, and yet who must make their lives there, all the same.
And here’s the blurb for the sequel…..
Styrkar the warrior sails to dangerous lands in this thrilling new historical adventure from Richard Cullen. The sequel to Oath Bound, longlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize 2022.
England, 1068: a land gripped in the iron fist of Frankish invaders. But the Conqueror does not sit easily on his fledgling throne. Rebellion is rife, and the flames of uprising have been ignited in every corner of the kingdom.
Thrown back into this crucible is Styrkar the Dane, former housecarl of the slain King Harold. Forced to travel to Ireland by his deadliest enemy, he must risk the fates of his brothers-in-arms in order to protect the one thing he loves.
So begins a journey that will take Styrkar to the royal court of Dublin, and the frigid climes of the north of England, for loyalty, love and vengeance. He will be tested, beaten and broken, but can any man keep the Red Wolf chained for long?
Meet the Author
Richard Cullen originally hails from Leeds in the heartland of Yorkshire. Oath Bound, his debut historical adventure novel, was longlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize 2022. As well as being a writer of historical adventure, he has also written a number of epic fantasy series as R.S. Ford. If you’d like to learn more about Richard’s books, and read free exclusive content, you can visit his website at follow him on Twitter at, or join him on Instagram.
I’m delighted to welcome fellow historical fiction author (and avid reader and reviewer) Paul Bennett to the blog, to spotlight his series about The American Revolution.
Here’s the blurb for the series:
Follow the Mallory family as they attempt to live a peaceful life on the PA frontier in 1756. They face tragedy and loss as they become embroiled in The French and Indian War – Clash of Empires. In Paths to Freedom, the colonies are heading to open revolt against King George III, and the Mallory’s are once again facing the spectre of war. Crucible of Rebellion continues the Mallory story through the early years of The Revolutionary War. Book 4, A Nation is Born completes the Revolution and The Mallory’s have played their part in the victory. In book 5, A Turbulent Beginning, the nascent nation finds it hard going to establish a peaceful existence. The Natives of this land resist the westward expansion of white settlers.
Violence and battle scenes, mild sexual content, and profanity.
Here’s the blurb for Book 5 – A Turbulent Beginning
The Revolution is over, and a new nation has emerged from the ashes of war. The new government, leery of a powerful central government, learns quite quickly the folly of state legislatures controlling military operations, abandoning The Articles of Confederation to write The Constitution.
More lessons are learned by this second attempt when they discover that the indigenous tribes along the Ohio were more than a match for militia troops. It is time for President Washington and his War Secretary Henry Knox to come up with a better plan to pacify the warring tribes.
The Mallory clan is spread out from the Congaree River in South Carolina to the Wabash River in the Northwest Territory. The desire to be together again is stronger than the fear of traveling through a war zone. They are once again in the middle of the storm…Can they survive?…Can they make a difference?
This series is available to read for free with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Paul was born in Detroit when the Big Three ruled the automobile industry, and The Korean Conflict was in full swing. A lifelong interest in history and a love of reading eventually led him to Wayne State University where he majored in Ancient History, with a minor in Physical Anthropology. However, to make ends meet, those studies were left to the realm of dreams, and Paul found himself accidentally embarking on a 50 year career in computers. A career that he has recently retired from in order to spend more time with those dreams….7 grandchildren will help fill the time as well.
He now resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Daryl, just a few minutes’ walk from the North River, and the site where the Revolution almost began.
The Mallory Saga is the culmination of Paul’s love of history, and his creative drive to write stories. With Nightwish and Bruce Cockburn coming through his headphones, and many cups of excellent coffee, Paul hopes to carry the Saga into the late 19th century, bringing American History to life through the eyes and actions of the Mallory family.
At the beginning of the sultry 2003 English summer, Robyn Yates quits her job to photograph fifteen castles for a man she’s never met. A man who won’t tell her his real name.
What motivates her is an unusual ability she can’t explain nor understand. Somebody does though and is keen to exploit her secret.
But Robyn isn’t alone on her journey. An artist is painting pictures of the same castles. Wherever she goes, so does he, like a stalker. But is he dangerous? And could this man be the same person who wants her photographs?
She decides to challenge him, never anticipating that the confrontation will change the path of both of their lives.
The stifling summer will eventually end, but will Robyn find out the truth in time?
Joanna is approaching the end of her forties and the empty nest syndrome looms. She consoles herself with gin and chocolate, realising that apart from her son Jack, she has achieved absolutely nothing in her life.
Somewhat on the plus side of plump and barely five feet tall, she finds it difficult not to envy her younger, prettier sister. Such elevated elegance seems so unfair – as does Hannah’s successful marriage. Joanna, in contrast, has remained in a loveless marriage for the past thirty years, stuck in a rut with the most miserable man on the planet but not having the impetus to get out.
It takes an embarrassing but hilarious encounter in the supermarket to make her realise what she’s been missing. It’s exactly the push she needs to make her change her life. With a little encouragement, Joanna starts to regain her independence, finally leaving her grumpy husband to enjoy life as a single woman. As she attempts to rebuild her own future, her family and friends continually surprise her with their own revelations.
Life is never dull, laughter never far away; can Joanna finally find true happiness within herself at last?
For many years Susi Osborne worked in libraries, and later as a classroom assistant in a junior school. She currently runs a business selling all things vintage in an antiques centre. She also runs Northwich LitFest which she started ten years ago. Susi lives in Cheshire with her husband, her family and two dogs. Happiness is a Thing With Wings is her fifth novel. Her previous books are –
A Renaissance-era woman artist and an American scholar. Linked by a 500-year-old mystery…
The secrets of the past are irresistible—and treacherous.
1500: Born during a time wracked by war and plague, Renaissance-era artist Mira grows up in a Pyrenees convent believing she is an orphan. When tragedy strikes, Mira learns the devastating truth about her own origins. But does she have the strength to face those who would destroy her?
2015: Centuries later, art scholar Zari unearths traces of a mysterious young woman named Mira in two 16th-century portraits. Obsessed, Zari tracks Mira through the great cities of Europe to the pilgrim’s route of Camino de Santiago—and is stunned by what she finds. Will her discovery be enough to bring Mira’s story to life?
A powerful story and an intriguing mystery, The Girl from Oto is an unforgettable novel of obsession, passion, and human resilience.
Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Amy’s new series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, features ordinary people seeking their fortunes under the rule of the medieval Knights Hospitaller in Rhodes, Greece. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy Maroney’s readers’ group at www.amymaroney.com.
I’ve tasked Siobhan Saiko with a post about the inspiration for writing her new book, The Girl from Bologna. Welcome to the blog.
Thank you for inviting me to write a guest post for your blog about what gave me the inspiration to write “The Girl from Bologna”. It’s a standalone story and part of my “Girls from the Italian Resistance” series. The liberation of Bologna is mentioned, but not fully explored in the two other books, “The Girl from Venice” and “The Girl from Portofino”. It seemed opportune to conclude the series there.
When I visited the city recently with my husband and viewed the monument to the partisans in Piazza del Nettuno, I found the photos of the young men and women who had given their lives for the freedom of the city to be deeply moving. The memorial truly is the inspiration behind the novel. I could only photograph a small section of the ceramic images placed behind glass (there are over two thousand) but seeing the faces of those who’d died brought home to me the tragic loss of life.
I began to research events and discovered that the German occupation of Bologna began the day after the Italian prime minister announced that Italy had switched sides in the war. Enemy tanks rolled into the city. Nazi officials hung a swastika flag from the façade of the Hotel Baglioni—the best in Bologna—and commandeered part of the first floor and a large lounge to the right of the lobby, which they converted into their administrative headquarters. Not one Italian authority turned up for a formal handover. With total political chaos there weren’t any Italian authorities at hand.
Over the next several days, the Wehrmacht put their military occupation into action. Repression and intimidation began immediately with the confiscation of vehicles, limits to bicycle transport, a curfew from 11 pm to 4 am, and restrictions on gatherings of more than three people. Worst of all, the Nazis set up transit camps for deportations and slave labour, interning deserters from the Italian army—those they hadn’t already loaded onto cattle trucks and transported to Germany for their nefarious needs.
For the first week or so of the Nazi occupation, Bolognese fascists kept themselves out of political life. But when Hitler made Mussolini the puppet ruler of La Repubblica Sociale Italiana, i fascisti bolognesi became ardent members of the Duce’s reformed anti-monarchist Republican Fascist Party. The repubblichini, as antifascists scathingly called them, started working hand in glove with the Germans.
Consequently, the city became a hotbed of urban guerrilla warfare. The more I researched, the more immersed I became in the events. What happened to the partisans, fighting both against the Nazi occupation and against the fascists in Bologna, was truly harrowing. They grouped in the city when it appeared that the Allies were on the cusp of breaking through German lines in the autumn of 1944 and were caught like sitting ducks when the Anglo-Americans halted their advance. Making my characters go through the terrible repercussions brought tears to my eyes. The actions perpetrated by the fascists against the partisans were so violent, they even sickened the German command. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, war returned to Europe while I was writing the story, rendering my writing particularly poignant.
“The Girl from Bologna” is set during two historical time periods, however. Alongside the monument to the partisans in Piazza del Nettuno there is another monument, listing the names and ages of those killed by a terrorist bomb planted in the railway station on 2nd August 1980. The fact that Bologna had chosen, some years later, to honour the victims in the same location where so many partisans had given their lives, led me to construct the 1981 narrative around that heinous event.
Thank you so much for sharing such fascinating insight into your inspiration. What an amazing decision, to commemorate two such atrocities.
Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Bologna, Italy, 1944, and the streets are crawling with German soldiers. Nineteen-year-old Leila Venturi is shocked into joining the Resistance after her beloved best friend Rebecca, the daughter of a prominent Jewish businessman, is ruthlessly deported to a concentration camp.
In February 1981, exchange student Rhiannon Hughes arrives in Bologna to study at the university. There, she rents a room from Leila, who is now middle-aged and infirm. Leila’s nephew, Gianluca, offers to show Rhiannon around but Leila warns her off him.
Soon Rhiannon finds herself being drawn into a web of intrigue. What is Gianluca’s interest in a far-right group? And how is the nefarious head of this group connected to Leila? As dark secrets emerge from the past, Rhiannon is faced with a terrible choice. Will she take her courage into both hands and risk everything?
An evocative, compelling read, “The Girl from Bologna” is a story of love lost, daring exploits, and heart wrenching redemption.
Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a rescued cat. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time indulging her love of writing and enjoying her life near Venice.
I’m delighted to share with you an excerpt and my review for Penny Ingham’s new novel, Twelve Nights, set in the theatres of late Tudor London. Please read all the way to the end because there’s a lot going on in this blog post:)
Here’s the blurb:
When a player is murdered, suspicion falls on the wardrobe mistress, Magdalen Bisset, because everyone knows poison is a woman’s weapon. The scandal-pamphlets vilify her. The coroner is convinced of her guilt.
Magdalen is innocent, although few are willing to help her prove it. Her much-loved grandmother is too old and sick. Will Shakespeare is benignly detached, and her friend Christopher Marlowe is wholly unreliable. Only one man offers his assistance, but dare she trust him when nothing about him rings true?
With just two weeks until the inquest, Magdalen ignores anonymous threats to ‘leave it be’, and delves into the dangerous underworld of a city seething with religious and racial tension. As time runs out, she must risk everything in her search for the true killer – for all other roads lead to the gallows.
Thank you so much to MJ at mjporterauthor.blog for letting me share my latest novel.
Twelve Nights is set in 1592, at the imaginatively named The Theatre in Shoreditch, London. The players are the celebrities of their day, but one by one they begin to die in mysterious circumstances. Suspicion instantly falls on the wardrobe mistress, Magdalen Bisset, because everyone knows poison is a woman’s weapon.
Magdalen is innocent, although few are willing to help her prove it. With just two weeks until the inquest, she ignores anonymous threats to ‘leave it be’, and delves into the dangerous underworld of a city seething with religious and racial tension. As time runs out, she must risk everything in her search for the true killer – for all other roads lead to the gallows.
Here’s an excerpt from the book. To set the scene: The player John Wood has died a horrible death on stage during the first act of Twelve Nights. The constable, Edmund Stow, has told Magdalen he is convinced she is responsible for his murder, and is determined to prove her guilt. In shock, Magdalen and the players decamp to their favourite tavern to raise a cup to John’s memory.
‘I see you’re still paying that country-bumpkin to write speeches stuffed with far-fetched metaphors.’ Turning to Will Shakespeare, he announced mockingly, ‘If it isn’t the upstart crow, beautified by my feathers.’
Magdalen winced. Will had borrowed the plot of Greene’s Pandosto for The Winter’s Tale. In truth, the playwrights and poets all stole from each other, but Will took their ideas and made them a thousand times better, filling the Theatre and its coffers day after day, whilst Greene lived in back-street poverty.
‘The pot is calling the kettle black, or Greene, in your case,’ Will replied lightly, but Magdalen could see tension in his eyes.
Greene spat something brown and glistening onto the floor. Magdalen hoped it was tobacco. Sitting down on the bench beside her, he attempted to manhandle her onto his knee. ‘Weep not, darling, smile upon my knee, when thou art old, there’s grief enough for thee,’ he crooned.
Magdalen recognised the song. It was Greene’s own. Extricating herself from his arms, she shoved him hard. He fell off the bench and landed on his back, legs in the air like a deceased fly. Everyone cheered loudly and raised their glasses. Greene mumbled something. It sounded like ‘misshapen dick’.
Christopher Marlowe arrived next, and the tavern lit up as if the stars had fallen through the thatch. He greeted them all in turn, embracing some, kissing others on the lips. But he offered no kiss to Will. Instead, they simply shook hands like two fencers before a bout. It seemed fitting, for they were presently engaged in an increasingly spectacular play-writing dual, lobbing masterpieces at each other across the Thames. When Marlowe attacked with the gore-fest Tamburlaine, Will struck back with blood-soaked Titus Andronicus. Marlowe lunged with his study of a weak king, Edward the Second, so Will parried with Richard the Second. All of London was waiting to see how Will would respond to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.
‘William.’ Marlowe released Will’s hand, and moved on.
‘Christopher,’ Will replied and turned back to his beer.
Magdalen found their relationship hard to fathom, but hidden beneath the jealousy and rivalry, she often suspected a lurking mutual respect.
Stepping over Robert Greene, who had fallen asleep on the floor, Marlowe sat down beside her. ‘How now, Magdalen?’
She nodded absently. She had drunk a great deal of Rhenish, but she would never admit her inebriation, not even to Marlowe because it was not seemly. But he must have noticed her glazed expression because that familiar, half-smile was playing on his lips, as if he was enjoying his own private joke at the world’s expense. Although he was fast approaching thirty years of age, there was still a boyish charm to his features; the soft doe-eyes, the beard-less cheeks, the wisps of a moustache above full, generous lips.
‘I think you’ve had enough of this.’ He picked up her cup of Rhenish, and proceeded to drain it.
‘Hey!’ she exclaimed but it was a half-hearted protest, for her head was pounding like cannon fire.
‘You will have heard about the constable?’ she said quietly.
‘Edmund Stow is highly fed and lowly taught. Pay no heed to him,’ Marlowe replied airily.
‘But what if the Puritans bribe the coroner to convict me? We all know they are looking for an excuse to close us down.’
He shook his head. ‘I won’t let that happen.’
She wished she could believe him, but Marlowe was the most unreliable man on earth.
Wow! I love it when this happens. I was really keen to feature this book on my blog, but as I’ve severely over-committed myself of late, I wasn’t sure I’d have time to read the book first. But, I did, and just wow.
Sometimes a book is just an absolute delight to read, and this is one of those. Penny Ingham has written both a delightful murder mystery, but also an immersive story set in Tudor London. The smells, the sights, the political unrest, the politics, the religion, problems with the Scots, the theatre, Shakespeare, Marlowe and the underbelly of Tudor London. It is, somehow, all crammed into this novel, and none of it feels forced on the reader. This is total immersion into the London of late Tudor England, and given how I’ve grown weary of all the ‘Tudor’ stuff, this just reassures me that authors are still out there, conjuring up something new and fresh to delight the reader.
I can’t deny that my love of the BBC comedy, Upstart Crow, definitely played into the joy of reading the novel – a strong female lead being one of the most appealing features – but this isn’t a comedy, this is serious business, and it is such a well-told story with a motley cast of all levels of society, from the servants to the Tudor nobility, featuring all any of us could ever want to know about what it was truly like to live at such a time.
And the story doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the day, and our main character is sorely tested time and time again. I really don’t want to give any spoilers, but this novel nicely ties with all the bits of Tudor England that draws readers to it, the scandal and the dark underbelly, the glitz and glamour and the high echelon of society.
Twelve Nights is a veritable tour de force; a wonderful tale, deeply grounded in Tudor London, and quite frankly, absolutely brilliant!
Meet the author
I was born and raised in Yorkshire where my father inspired my love of history from an early age. He is a born story teller and would take us to the top of Iron Age hillforts, often as dusk was falling, and regale us with stirring tales of battles lost and won. Not surprisingly, I went on to study Classics at university, and still love spending my summers on archaeological digs. For me, there is nothing more thrilling than finding an artefact that has not seen the light of day for thousands of years. I find so much inspiration for my novels from archaeology.
I have had a variety of jobs over the years, including working for the British Forces newspaper in Germany, and at the BBC. When our family was little, the only available space for me to write was a small walk-in wardrobe. The children used to say, ‘oh, mum’s in the cupboard again’.
I have written four historical novels: The King’s Daughter explores the story of Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians. The Saxon Wolves and the Saxon Plague are both set in fifth century AD, a time of enormous upheaval and uncertainty in Britain as the Romans departed and the Saxon era began. My latest is something a bit different. Twelve Nights is a crime thriller set in sixteenth century London, and features William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.
I now live with my husband in the Hampshire countryside. Like many others during the pandemic, we decided to try growing our own fruit and vegetables – with mixed results! We can only get better!
Giveaway to Win a PB copy of Twelve Nights (Open to UK Only)
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