Today sees the release of book 3 in my series about young Icel, a much-loved character from my The Ninth Century series featuring King Coelwulf, the last king of Mercia. And so, now that Icel as a young man, and Icel as a crotchety older man are both firmly in reader’s minds, I thought I’d share more about the idea for the Eagle of Mercia Chronicles series.
My characters in the Ninth Century series feel like they very much arrived in my head fully formed. Coelwulf was obviously the first, but others quickly followed, and Icel, with his derisive comments about any of their accomplishments, was an early fan favourite, and one of my favourites as well. Surly, and outspoken, while offering little of his life before the period that my characters knew him, he really did speak to me when I was deciding on a new series to write for Boldwood Books. All those little comments he makes. I think the below is our first introduction to his character;
“In the reign of King Wiglaf I first became a man,” he’s fond of saying, although he never explains what act made him a man. Again, I’ve stopped questioning him. Edmund likes to when he’s either drunk too much, or is trying to distract himself from whatever attack we’re about to begin. And of course Rudolf hangs on Icel’s every word. They’re an excellent match for each other, the boy who never runs out of questions, and the man who never answers them.’ (The Last King)
All these hints at what he might really have been like when he was perhaps no older than Rudolf, another firm fan favourite, made me want to tell his story. It did help that Mercia, at the time he would have been a boy was in political turmoil. It also helped that the Viking Raiders were making an appearance in Saxon England as well throughout the 830s. But Icel is a fictional character, and while fictionalising my Saxon characters, the men and women I normally write about did actually exist, even if we only have their names. But Mercia, in the 820s and 830s suffered a series of successive kingships, many of which failed, and so while Icel is fictitious, he does allow me to give a more rounded view of the entirety of events. He will live through these tumultuous times, and that’s important when I wanted to write about these events as well as all the kings.
It also helped that, in my contrary nature as a writer of historical fiction, that I always want to offer something a little different to the oft-taken paths when authors write about Saxon England – the Vikings, the reign of Alfred, Ethelred the Unready and the Norman Conquest, as well as the Golden Age of Northumbria, are often chosen but there is just so much more in these six hundred years to write about. So, no one else was writing about Mercia as it begins to falter in the 820s and 830s, and so I thought, why not:)
I really, really hope you’ll enjoy book 3, Warrior of Mercia, which follows Icel to the kingdom of the East Angles. I can also assure you that Book 4 is well underway as well.
Icel is a lone wolf no more…
Oath sworn to Wiglaf, King of Mercia and acknowledged as a member of Ealdorman Ælfstan’s warrior band, Icel continues to forge his own destiny on the path to becoming the Warrior of Mercia.
With King Ecgberht of Wessex defeated and Londonium back under Mercian control, the Wessex invasion of Mercia is over.
But the Wessex king was never Mercia’s only enemy. An unknown danger lurks in the form of merciless Viking raiders, who set their sights on infiltrating the waterways of the traitorous breakaway kingdom of the East Angles, within touching distance of Mercia’s eastern borders.
Icel must journey to the kingdom of the East Angles and unite against a common enemy to ensure Mercia’s hard-won freedom prevails.
Available now in ebook, paperback, large print paperback, hardback and audio.
Check out some blog posts I wrote for release day!
And you can follow the blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources too. I’ll be updating with links to reviews, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to my blog tour hosts and usual reviewers for going out of their way to make release day so special.
Carolyn Hughes is treating us to a fabulous blog post. Enjoy.
Writing what you don’t know…
One of the wonderful aspects of writing fiction – and perhaps especially writing historical fiction – is that your imagination will drive you to include scenes in which your characters engage in some activity or other that you know absolutely nothing about. So, you have to consult books, and the internet, and other resources, in order to fill in the yawning gaps in your knowledge.
In Squire’s Hazard, two such scenes involve my eponymous squire, Dickon de Bohun, in his struggle against a fellow squire, Edwin, who is making his life a misery with his bullying. Dickon knows he has to get the better of Edwin, but can’t bring himself to do anything dishonourable, or to snitch on Edwin and get him into trouble.
A wrestling scene arises when Edwin challenges Dickon to a match, to be held, in principle, away from the vigilant eyes of their masters. Edwin imagines he’ll trump Dickon easily, and make him look a fool in front of other squires. Though in the event it doesn’t go all his way. Dickon is somewhat caught off guard by Edwin’s challenge and, although he’s not keen to fight him, as he believes that clandestine wrestling would be frowned upon by their lord, he nonetheless agrees to the match, hoping that his own wrestling skills are good enough.
The second (extended) scene is that of a boar hunt. Hunting was something that the young squires engaged in, for entertainment, presumably, but also as part of their training. They learned about the process and ritual of the hunt, and practised skills that, as future knights, they might one day use in battle. I imagine they started out hunting small deer, and maybe foxes, but I wanted the hunting scene to have the potential for real danger. Thus I had the squires act as beaters in a hunt for boar – extremely dangerous animals. Powerful and fierce, and aggressive if cornered or protecting young, they could easily kill a dog and badly injure a man at the very least.
However, the purpose of the hunting scene is not simply to show this aspect of the squires’ life. It has a more sinister purpose: for Edwin intends to find a way of exploiting the danger of the hunt to deliver yet another of his “pranks” against Dickon. It is important to the progress of the story.
Needless to say, I knew nothing about either wrestling or boar hunting (or indeed hunting of any sort), and so I had somehow to discover enough about both to enable me to write reasonably convincing scenes. Of course, if I was a proper, “hands-on” researcher, I’d go out hunting boar, and challenge someone to a wrestling match, so that I could obtain first-hand experience. But I’m afraid I’m way past such energetic, not to say, risky, pursuits, so I confined myself to reading as much as I could about techniques, then using my imagination to round out the narrative.
In both cases I watched YouTube videos to see how things were done. I’ve done this for other activities I needed to know something about, such as charging at the quintain with a lance under your arm, and also the gentler pursuit of making cheese. YouTube is a wonderful resource: you might be surprised what you can learn from studying films produced by practitioners of all sorts of activities, and of course historical reenactors. It’s undoubtedly not quite as good as “doing-it-yourself”, but I hope I have made it work.
So, here are a couple of snippets of the result of my research and video-watching, the first a scene of the wrestling, the second, part of the boar hunt.
The wrestling match
Standing at the edge of the clearing, on the opposite side to Edwin, and some distance from the band of witnesses, he stripped off his belt and tunic and laid them carefully on the ground. Edwin then strode forward, his chest thrust out, to the grassy centre of the clearing. One or two of the onlookers cheered.
Dickon stepped forward too. Each of them took up a stance, legs tensed, arms out.
Then Edwin lunged, grasping Dickon’s wrist with one hand and his elbow with the other. He leered as he thrust a knee forward, clearly intending to unbalance Dickon. But Dickon flicked his free hand up and drove it hard against Edwin’s inner arm, making him let go. Unbalanced then himself, Edwin staggered, giving Dickon time to grab one of his flailing hands.
Squeezing it hard, he flipped it up and twisted it at the wrist, causing Edwin to cry out, then grabbed the rest of Edwin’s arm with his other hand. Quickly putting out a leg in front of Edwin’s and pushing hard against his arm, he threw Edwin over and he fell back onto the ground.
A collective groan rose from the group of bystanders, but Edwin recovered fast and, leaping up, he glowered at Dickon. ‘Right, de Bohun,’ he hissed, ‘now you’re really for it.’ He lunged again.
At first it felt an even match in terms of strength and skill. Dickon would trounce Edwin, then Edwin would do the same to him. But, as each of them tumbled onto the grass time and time again, Dickon realised that Edwin’s energy was waning: his grip was becoming weaker, and he was finding it harder to throw him over. Yet there was still power left in his own hands. When Edwin lurched towards him yet again, but with little vigour, Dickon threw up his hands to fend him off and caught him hard upon the nose.”
The boar hunt
At the outskirts of the wood, the master gathered the squires and dog handlers together.
‘Right,’ he said, ‘our master huntsman has already confirmed there’s a goodly number of boar here today, so it’s your job now to find them. You know the drill. Look for the signs: muddy wallowing hollows in the ground, areas of uprooted soil where the beasts have grubbed for food. And, of course, footprints: you know the shape you’re looking for, with the dewclaws at the back. When we’re confident we’ve found some, we free the dogs to scent them out. You follow on, fast but never recklessly, beating the animals forward towards the huntsmen.’
A mixture of exhilaration and anxiety set Dickon’s heart thumping. He knew what he had to do. But he’d not done it before and prayed he’d make no mistakes.
At first, it all went well. They found a number of fresh wallows, and trees nearby with muddy trunks, where the boars had scraped their mucky bodies clean. The ground was cratered with so many footprints, it seemed there might be several boar drifts in the forest. At length the hounds were set loose to pick up the scent. Quiet now, but with their tails still wagging, they scurried back and forth, sniffing at the tree bark and snuffling around the undergrowth. It wasn’t long before they were off, their handlers and the beaters chasing after them.
Thank you so much for sharing. It is a nightmare when you realise you want to write a scene and have no idea how it might actually have happened. Well done:)
Here’s the blurb:
How do you overcome the loathing, lust and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?
It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.
At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could never be his wife.
Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance, learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancour against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for retribution, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.
As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation, and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby, so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…
Beset by the hazards these powerful and dangerous emotions bring, can young Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?
Secrets, hatred and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE.
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
The paperback is available to buy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Waterstones.
Meet the Author
CAROLYN HUGHES has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Squire’s Hazard is the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, and more stories about the folk of Meonbridge will follow.
You can connect with Carolyn through her website www.carolynhughesauthor.com and on social media.
A haunting Anglo-Saxon time-slip of mystery and romance
Can echoes of the past threaten the present? They are 1500 years apart, but can they reach out to each other across the centuries? One woman faces a traumatic truth in the present day. The other is forced to marry the man she hates as the ‘dark ages’ unfold.
How can Dr Viv DuLac, medievalist and academic, unlock the secrets of the past? Traumatised by betrayal, she slips into 499 AD and into the body of Lady Vivianne, who is also battling treachery. Viv must uncover the mystery of the key that she unwittingly brings back with her to the present day, as echoes of the past resonate through time. But little does Viv realise just how much both their lives across the centuries will become so intertwined. And in the end, how can they help each other across the ages without changing the course of history?
For fans of Barbara Erskine, Pamela Hartshorne, Susanna Kearsley, Christina Courtenay.
Praise for Julia Ibbotson
Praise for A Shape on the Air:
“In the best Barbara Erskine tradition …I would highly recommend this novel” – Historical Novel Society
“Amazing …a really great book …I just couldn’t put it down” – Hazel Morgan
“Well-rounded characters and a wealth of historical research make this a real page-turner” – Amazon review
“Enthralling” – Amazon review
“Julia does an incredible job of setting up the idea of time-shift so that it’s believable and makes sense” – Amazon review
“Viv/Lady Vivianne … lovely identifiable heroine in both time periods … I love her strength and vulnerability. And Rory/Roland is simply gorgeous!” – Melissa Morgan
“gripping … a very real sense of threat and danger, an enthralling mystery … a wholly convincing romance, across both timelines” – Anne Williams
Julia Ibbotson is fascinated by the medieval world and the concept of resonances across time. She sees her author brand as a historical fiction writer of romantic mysteries that are character-driven, well-paced, evocative of time and place, well-researched and uplifting page-turners. Her current series focuses on early medieval dual-time/time-slip mysteries.
Julia read English at Keele University, England, specialising in medieval language/ literature/ history, and has a PhD in socio-linguistics. After a turbulent time in Ghana, West Africa, she became a school teacher, then a university academic and researcher.
Her break as an author came soon after she joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2015, with a three-book deal from Lume Books for a trilogy (Drumbeats) set in Ghana in the 1960s. She has also indie-published three other books, including A Shape on the Air, an Anglo-Saxon timeslip mystery, and its two sequels The Dragon Tree and The Rune Stone. Her latest, Daughter of Mercia, is the first of a new series of Anglo-Saxon dual time mystery/romances where echoes of the past resonate across the centuries.
Her books will appeal to fans of Barbara Erskine, Pamela Hartshorne, Susanna Kearsley, and Christina Courtenay. Her readers say: ‘compelling character-driven novels’, ‘a skilled story-teller’, ‘evocative and well-paced storylines’, ‘incredible writing style’, ‘intricately written’, ‘absorbing and captivating’, and ‘an absolute gem of a trilogy’.
I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Floats the Dark Shadow.
Protest Against Women Being Admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts—Floats the Dark Shadow
“Down with women! Down with women!”
The shouts of the male students clanged in Theo’s head, as she watched them march inside the huge iron gates of the École des Beaux Arts. She had woken groggy and wretched after crying late into the night, but determined to meet Carmine here, for Mélanie’s sake.
“They are yapping dogs.” Carmine didn’t yap, she snarled.
“Puppies with power,” Theo agreed unhappily. Her headache grew worse with each angry shout. She probably should have gone back with Averill yesterday, but she’d needed to be alone after seeing Alicia in the morgue.
“Out with the women! Out! Out! Out!”
“No!” “Stop!” “Cowards!” Cries rose from the crowd as a new pack of male students drove the two distraught women students across the vast courtyard, through the gate, and into the street. The protesters outside quickly drew them into the center of a protective circle. Theo had seen the same arrogance and brutality when she marched for the vote in San Francisco. Why had she expected Frenchmen to be any better, especially when they granted their women even less power than American men did? Her friends were the exception, and even they preferred the image of the perfect muse—a seductive, destructive Salomé who would rend their souls the better to inspire their poems.
“Go back to your embroidery!” a whey-faced student taunted.
“Go back to your diapers!” Another student surged to the front of the pack. He looked like a scruffy fox—a rabid fox. “You can use baby caca for your paints!”
“They are the ones full of caca,” Carmine fumed. “Only men can create le grand art! You remember Mélanie’s Cassandra.”
“It was beautiful!” Theo affirmed as insults pelted them like rocks. “It was everything they say art should be and it had soul. It had passion.”
“That’s why they didn’t give it an award. Too much life. Not posed pain—real pain. They need their art to be dead, like a rabbit strung up for a still life.”
The futility of Mélanie’s sacrifice tormented Theo, but Carmine brought back Mélanie’s hope for her art, her courage in fighting for what she believed. The demonstrating women shared that hope and that courage.
“Your brains are stuffed full of ruffles!” the whey-faced one sang out, winning hoots of laughter from his friends.
Theo thrust off the smothering misery of the morgue and stalked to the gates, looking into the paved quadrangle where the irate students marched and shouted. Men she presumed to be professors and administrators hovered anxiously in the background, but some of the male students and teachers squeezed through the gates to join the growing crowd supporting the women. Turning to look across the street, Theo saw a man who must be a journalist scribbling madly in a notebook. Behind him, half-hidden in the arch of a corner doorway, a young woman watched the protesters. Theo caught her eye and beckoned her to join them. She smiled a little but shook her head, looking anxiously from side to side.
“You’re ruining everything!” a petulant voice called out. “All sorts of stupid new rules and restrictions came trailing on your petticoats.”
“We don’t need new rules!” Theo shouted back, adding her voice to the other women. “We don’t want special treatment! We want the same treatment, the same classes, the same models!”
“And the same medals!” Carmine yelled. “That’s why you’re really afraid! You’ll have to compete with women for the prizes you’ve been keeping to yourselves.”
“Why should I be afraid of that!” another student taunted. “No woman is better than I am!”
Remembering Mélanie, Theo seethed with scorn. “These women got higher scores than you did.”
That brought a deluge of cries. “Liar!” “Bribery!” “You don’t belong here!” “You belong on your backs!”
The whey-faced student yelled out above the others. “Go find yourself a husband!”
The scruffy fox lifted his cane above his head, waving it furiously. “Yes! A husband will teach you to paint with your tongue!”
The men laughed and wagged their tongues at them. The crass insults gave Theo a surge of furious energy. “Did you swing the same cane at the Charity bazaar?” she yelled at the fox. “Did you beat your way through those women too?”
“I was never there!” he yelled back, though the whey-face one suddenly turned even paler and backed out of sight. The fox looked stunned, then shrugged off the defection.
Theo put a hand to her head, remembering the painful cut that some man had inflicted. Hot anger flowed through her. “You are just as much of a coward!” she accused the fox. “More of a coward. Your life’s not at risk—just your vanity!”
Suddenly, the woman she had seen half-hiding in the doorway darted from her haven and ran down the street. Perhaps because of their silent communication, she came straight to Theo and Carmine. She was quite petite, barely five feet. She had a gentle, shy countenance, lit by eyes full of steely determination.
“The police are coming,” she warned, pointing back down the cross street.. “I saw them at the end of the block.”
“Let’s hope they arrest these men!” Carmine said. “But with our luck, they’ll punish us for daring to protest.”
“Go now,” one of the women students said to the protesters. “But thank you for joining us.”
“We should leave,” Theo said to Carmine as the women began to disperse.
“I will walk with you to the corner and circle back around. I don’t want to be arrested!” the young woman said.
Quickly they walked down the rue Bonaparte toward the quai. “You’re American, aren’t you?” Theo asked their companion.
She nodded. “Yes, and you?”
“From Mill Valley, California. That’s near San Francisco. My name is Theodora Faraday.”
“And I am Julia Morgan. We were neighbors. I am from Oakland. I came to Paris last year because the École promised women would soon be admitted.”
“You see they will use any excuse to refuse you,” Carmine muttered, squaring her shoulders. She set her hat at a jauntier angle and plucked at her sleeves to puff them out.
“I want to study architecture,” Julia said firmly. “This is the most prestigious school in the world. There is no equivalent.”
“What are you doing meanwhile?” Carmine asked.
“I am working in the architecture atelier of Marcel de Monclos and submitting my designs to international competitions.”
“Have you won any?” Carmine asked.
“Indeed I have. I am gaining a reputation. Surely the École will admit me.”
“Surely they will,” Theo affirmed.
“Perhaps,” Carmine said gloomily.
Julia stopped when they turned the corner that brought the Seine into view. “I must go back to work.”
“Bonne chance,” Theo wished her good luck. Tiny and soft-spoken as she was, Julia obviously had the tenacity to triumph over the forces allied against her sex.
When children she knows vanish mysteriously, Theo confronts Inspecteur Michel Devaux who suspects the Revenants are involved. Theo refuses to believe the killer could be a friend—could be the man she loves. Classic detection and occult revelation lead Michel and Theo through the dark underbelly of Paris, from catacombs to asylums, to the obscene ritual of a Black Mass.
Following the maze of clues they discover the murderer believes he is the reincarnation of the most evil serial killer in the history of France—Gilles de Rais. Once Joan of Arc’s lieutenant, after her death he plunged into an orgy of evil. The Church burned him at the stake for heresy, sorcery, and the depraved murder of hundreds of peasant children.
Whether deranged mind or demonic passion incite him, the killer must be found before he strikes again.
Yves Fey has MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. Yves began drawing as soon as she could hold a crayon and writing at twelve.
She’s been a tie dye artist, go-go dancer, creator of ceramic beasties, writing teacher, illustrator, and has won prizes for her chocolate desserts. Her current obsession is creating perfumes inspired by her Parisian characters.
Yves lives in Albany with her mystery writer husband and their cats, Charlotte and Emily, the Flying Bronte Sisters.
Rome, AD 52. The Julio-Claudian dynasty is in its death throes. Over the next twenty years, chaos descends as Claudius then Nero are killed. The whole empire bucks and heaves with conspiracy, rebellion and civil war.
Out of the ashes and discord, a new imperial family emerges: the Flavians. Vespasian is crowned emperor, with his sons, Titus and Domitian, next in line.
Domitian, still only a teenager, has known only fear, death and treachery for as long as he has been alive. Suspicious of the senate as a breeding ground for treachery, and fiercely protective of his surviving family members, he uses a network of spies to stay one step ahead of any would-be conspirators.
When Titus unexpectedly falls gravely ill, the throne beckons for Domitian, something he never wanted or prepared for. As in all his darkest moments, Domitian’s childhood guardian, Nerva, is the man he turns to with his fears, and his secrets…
Domitian by S J A Turney is an engrossing story of political shenanigans in first-century AD Rome.
I’m not hugely well-read on Roman history, but through reading Turney’s books, I’ve come to appreciate just what a rich tapestry there is to weave tales of corruption, war and politics. And cor, doesn’t Domitian have it all? The narrative starts during the reign of Nero, and takes us through the year of the four emperors, when Vespasian comes out on top, through the brief rule of his son, and then onto Domitian. It’s not quite as whistlestop as it sounds, but the viewpoint Turney adopts, through the eyes of Nerva, allows the reader to stand back and watch it all happen, perhaps, like me, with an increasingly open mouth of disbelief.
This isn’t a fast read, as perhaps others of Turney’s more martial Roman stories might be, but it is absorbing. There isn’t a cast of thousands, but there are still many men who rise and fall (not so many women, but they are still included in the story), and events that we all might know more about, such as the eruption of Vesuvius and the continuing invasion of Britannia under Agricola (I see what you did there Mr Turney:)).
This is a story of politics, spies and corruption; of men who don’t want to fall into the same traps as those who went before. It is a fabulous story, and I highly, highly recommend it.
It’s not quite with us yet, but still, I want to share the wonderful audio for Pagan King, which should be available at some point in the next few weeks. It’s all uploaded, and now the waiting begins. I will share when it’s released into the wild. (I can’t even share a preorder link as it will just go live on Amazon, Audible and iTunes). Enjoy.
I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Harry Duffin’s new book, Island of Dreams.
Anna wasn’t there when Jose got back from the camp kitchen. He looked around. One of the rebels seated nearby nodded and pointed into the forest.
The sound of one of Batista’s helicopters broke the quiet of the camp. It was lowdown, nearby. They all looked up, but the foliage of the trees was so thick it was impossible to see it.
Jose waited until the sound of the helicopter faded away, then picked up his rifle and went into the trees to look for Anna. She hadn’t gone far. He found her sitting with her back against a large banyan tree, whose perpendicular roots, growing upwards, looked like the columns of a tiny cathedral.
When she saw him, she got up, and stared at him.
‘Are you alright?’ he said.
She had the opened note in her hand. ‘Is it true?’
‘Are you really a spy for the police?’
‘What?’ said Jose, shocked.
‘It’s what the note says.’
‘What? That’s crazy…! Crazy…! Let me see!’
Anna moved away as he came towards her. Her hand moved to the butt of the pistol in her belt.
Jose stopped. ‘Anna, this is crazy! You know that Freddie fancies you. You said that yourself. He even told your mother! He’s obviously just gone mad. He wants to break us up…Maybe he wants you to leave and go back to him. I just don’t know why he said that.’
‘Jose, the note was from my father. He got the information from Hans.’
‘Hans met someone in Miami. CIA, they think. He said it happened in prison. That they threatened to kidnap your sisters, and take them away to be prostitutes in America.’
Jose looked at the ground, and then this way and that.
‘Is that true, Jose?’
Finally, Jose looked at Anna. ‘I wanted to protect them, Anna. The police can do what they want. I couldn’t stop them…Clara is just eleven years-old!’
‘Jose, why didn’t you tell me?’
‘There was nothing you could have done! You were only safe because you were with me…I didn’t want to do it, Anna!’
Anna was breathing deeply now. At first, she didn’t believe the note. She had to read it several times, to see what her father said was true. But she knew her father would never lie to her. He must believe it, and Jose had just confirmed it.
‘Did you kill Nico?’
‘No…I just suggested it was him. To take suspicion from me. Because of the police raid at your house.’
‘When you hid the printing machine. You knew it was going to happen?’
She looked at Jose, whose head and shoulders had slumped.
‘Did you plant the bomb that nearly killed Hans?’
Jose looked up at Anna, with tears in his eyes. ‘He was the obvious choice…because he delivered the radio. The transmitter.’
‘You planted the bomb to kill my brother?’ She took her pistol from her belt.
‘You’re going to shoot me?’
‘No. I’m going to take you to the camp. And let Ché decide what to do.’
Jose slowly slipped the rifle from his shoulder. Anna raised her gun, and pointed it at Jose’s chest. As Jose swung the rifle up, Anna’s finger tightened on the trigger. He put the muzzle under his chin.
‘I love you, Anna.’
The crack of the rifle bullet, shattered the silence of the forest.
Anna stared at the prone figure of Jose. He had fallen backwards, so she couldn’t see the gaping hole that had scattered his brains up into the trees. Dropping to her knees, she put her hands to her face and began to cry.
‘Oh, Jose,’ she muttered. ‘Jose, why didn’t you tell me…? We could have done something!’ she said through her tears.
Slowly, she looked up. They would have heard the sound of the shot in the camp and would come looking for them. They might be watching her now from the undergrowth, seeing what had happened before approaching her. She’d show them her father’s letter, and they would understand. But Jose would have been shot anyway. There was no way they could guard and drag a prisoner around, as they moved from place to place, attacking the army, and then hiding from them. Maybe suicide was the best way for Jose.
She got up and put the note in the top pocket of her fatigues. There was no way she was going to leave Jose’s body where it was, to be eaten by the forest animals. She needed to go to the camp and get them to help burying him.
Suddenly, the roar of the helicopter crashed through the leaves. They must have heard the rifle shot and come back to investigate. Then, she heard rat-tat-tat of its machine gun, raining death through the foliage. She dived for cover beneath the banyan tree.
There was firing from the camp, aiming for a helicopter. She felt the ‘whoosh’ of a mortar landing close by. The pilot must have given an army unit the co-ordinates. She knew she had to get away from the attack. Crawling on her hands and knees along the ground, she felt a massive shock-wave lift her up, and hurl her through the ferns. Then she was falling. Huge, stinging leaves and jagged branches slapped and tore her skin. It was a long fall, through damp air and silence, except for the silent scream in her brain.
And then, blackness…
Here’s the blurb:
In May 1939, when Professor Carl Mueller, his wife, Esther, and their three children flee Nazi Germany, and find refuge on the paradise island of Cuba, they are all full of hopes and dreams for a safe and happy future.
But those dreams are shattered when Carl and Esther are confronted by a ghost from their past, and old betrayals return to haunt them.
The turbulent years of political corruption leading to Batista’s dictatorship, forces the older children to take very different paths to pursue their own dangerous dreams.
And – among the chaos and the conflict that finally leads to Castro’s revolution and victory in 1959, an unlikely love begins to grow – a love that threatens the whole family.
Having escaped a war-torn Europe, their Island of Dreams is to tear them apart forever.
Publication date: December 2022.
This title will be available on Amazon and on #KindleUnlimited.
Meet the author
Harry Duffin is an award-winning British screenwriter, who was on the first writing team of the BBC’s ‘Eastenders’ and won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best TV serial for ‘Coronation Street’.
He was Head of Development at Cloud 9 Screen Entertainment Group, producing seven major television series, including ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ starring Richard ‘John Boy’ Thomas, and ‘Twist in the Tale’, featuring William Shatner.
He was the co-creator of the UK Channel Five teen-cult drama series ‘The Tribe’, which ran for five series.
He has written three novels, Chicago May, Birth of the Mall Rats [an intro to the TV series ‘The Tribe’], and Island of Dreams, which will be published in December 2022.
I’m so excited to share that the first book in my Earls of Mercia series is once more available via Amazon Kindle. With the rerelease of the book, I wanted to share a little about what drew me to this story over a decade ago.
Ealdorman Leofwine , was the ealdorman of the Hwicce (c.994-1023), one of the ancient tribal regions in Mercia, which was a part of England, at the time the story begins. It is possible he may have been related to Ælfwine, who is named, and dies at the Battle of Maldon (more below).
Ealdorman Leofwine and his descendants, who would hold positions of power until the Norman Conquest of 1066, are a unique family in this tumultuous period. No other family, apart from the ruling family of Wessex (and even then there was a minor hiccup caused by those pesky Danish kings) held a position of such power and influence and for such a long period of time, as far as is currently known. The position of ealdorman was not hereditary. It was a position in the gift of the king, and Saxon kings ruled with a varying number of ealdormen. To understand Leofwine’s significance, it’s important to understand this. Unlike an earl – a term we are all perhaps far more familiar with – but specifically a medieval earl in this regard – that position was both more often than not hereditary AND meant that the person involved ‘owned’ significant properties in the area they were earls over. This is not how the ealdormanic system worked in Saxon England, as it’s currently understood.
It is difficult to track many of the ealdormanic families of this period, and the previous century, but there are a few notable individuals, all who bucked the usual trend, which no doubt accounts for why we know who they are.
Perhaps most well-known is Ealdorman Athelstan Half-King, who was the ealdorman of East Anglia from about 934 to 955/6 when he fell from favour at court during the reign of King Eadwig and retired to Glastonbury Abbey. Before he did so, he ensured that his son, Æthelwald, was elevated to the position of ealdorman in his place. This was most unusual, but then, he came from a powerful family, fiercely loyal to the ruling House of Wessex, if not actually a member of them. Athelstan Half-King is believed to have been the son of Ealdorman Æthelfrith, a Mercian ealdorman when Lady Æthelflæd was the Lady of Mercia. Athelstan was one of four brothers. His older brother seems to have either briefly retained the ealdordom after their father’s death in Mercia, or been accorded it a few years later, but when he died, Athelstan Half-King didn’t become ealdorman of Mercia in his place. No, he remained in East Anglia while his two brothers, Eahric and Æthelwald, held ealdordoms in Wessex (Eahric) and Kent (Æthelwald). They didn’t become the ealdorman of Mercia either. The ealdordom passed to a different individual.
When Ealdorman Æthelwald of the East Angles died a few short years later (Athelstan Half-King’s son), his place was taken by Ealdorman Æthelwine, the youngest of Athelstan Half-King’s children. But, the family failed to hold on to the position, despite Ealdorman Æthelwine being married three times, and fathering three sons, one of whom died at the battle of Assandun in 1016. The next to hold the ealdordom of the East Angles after the death of Æthelwine was Leofsige, who was the ealdorman until he fell foul of the king in 1002. In the early 1000s Ulfcytel emerges and may have been married to one of the king’s daughters, but is never officially accorded the title of ealdorman.
Another famous ealdorman was Byrhtnoth of Essex, who died at the Battle of Maldon in 991. But Byrhtnoth was not the son of the previous ealdorman, and indeed, he married the daughter of a very wealthy man and in turn was raised to an ealdordom in Essex at exactly the same time that Ealdorman Athelstan Half-King was being forced to retire from his position in East Anglia. (Byrhtnoth’s wife’s sister had briefly been married to King Edmund (939-946, before his murder). While there are some arguments that Byrhtnoth was from a well regarded family, his appointment was not because of an hereditary claim. It’s known that he was father to a daughter, but not to a son. As such his family did not retain the ealdordom on his death. Indeed, it seems as though Essex and the East Anglian earlordoms were united for a time under Leofsige.
The argument has been put forth that the position of ealdorman may have come with properties that were the king’s to gift to the individual to enable them to carry out their duties in a particular area. The Saxons had a number of types of land tenure, bookland, was land of which the ‘owners’ held the ‘book’ or ‘the title deed.’ (There are some wonderful charters where landed people had to ask for the king to reissue a charter as theirs was lost, often in a fire. There is a wonderful example where King Edgar has to reissue a charter for his grandmother, as he’d lost it while it was in his care). Other land tenure was ‘loan land,’ that is land that could be loaned out, often for a set number of ‘lives.’ Ealdormen might then have held bookland that was hereditary, and not in the area they were ealdorman of, and loan land that was in the king’s to gift to them within the area that they were the appointed ealdorman.
Many will be familiar with the family of Earl Godwin and his sons (thanks to the influence of the Danes, the term ealdorman was replaced by earl, which was the anglicised version of jarl). Much work has been done on the land that the Godwin family held when the great Domesday survey was undertaken during the reign of William the Conqueror. It will quickly become apparent that while they had areas where they held a great deal of land, these were not necessarily the areas over which first Godwin and then his sons Tostig, Harold, Gyrth, Leofwine and Sweyn held the position of earl. Most notably, Tostig was earl of Northumbria from 1055-1065, and yet the family had almost no landed possessions there.
And this is where we return to Ealdorman Leofwine and his family. While everyone knows about Earl Godwin and his sons, they didn’t hold their position for as long as Ealdorman Leofwine and his family. Earl Godwine is first named as an earl in charter S951 dated to 1018. By that period, Leofwine of the Twice had already held a position of importance since 994. The families of both men would converge as the events of 1066 drew nearer, and indeed, Godwine’s son, Harold, was married to Ealdorman Leofwine’s great-granddaughter when he was briefly king of England.
When Ealdorman Leofwine died, his son, Leofric, didn’t become ealdorman in his place. Leofric was a sheriff during the period between his father’s death and his own appointment. And indeed, Leofric’s son, Ælfgar was elevated to an earldom before his father’s death, and so was not initially the earl of Mercia. However, on this occasion, and because of a political situation that was rife with intrigue, Ælfgar did become the earl of Mercia after his father’s death, and after Ælfgar’s death, his young son also took the earldom of Mercia. The family survived the events of 1066, but they didn’t retain their hold on the earldom. The House of Leofwine were a family to not only rival that of Earl Godwine’s, as far as it’s known, but they were also the ONLY family to retain a position as an ealdorman/earl for over seventy years. And yet, very few know about them, and indeed, in many non-fiction books, they’re not even mentioned. And that was the perfect opportunity for me to write about the fabulous family, largely inspired by a non-fiction book, The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England by Stephen Baxter.
I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth St John to the blog to tell me a bit more about the research she undertook when writing The Godmother’s Secret.
If you knew the fate of the Princes in the Tower, would you tell? Or forever keep the secret?
In a complete moment of serendipity, I discovered that a 15th century ancestress, Elysabeth St.John, was the godmother to Edward V, the eldest brother of the missing Princes in the Tower. When I was looking for inspiration for my new book, The Godmother’s Secret, I literally entered my own name into our digitised family tree to see who else was recorded. I had just completed my 17th Century historical fiction trilogy “The Lydiard Chronicles” and was looking for a whole new generation to fall in love with. As a little background, my books are inspired by my own family stories that I have discovered through our ancestral records, diaries, letters, and the locations they lived in. I’m fortunate the St.John family was prominent in English history, and so we left quite a trail—which can be both good and bad!
So, back to Elysabeth St.John, Lady Scrope. In medieval times, a godmother was considered a blood relative, and was responsible for the spiritual wellbeing and security of their godchild. A serious commitment. Where the history gets interesting is Elysabeth St.John was also the half-sister to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Elysabeth’s husband, Lord John Scrope, was a close ally and relative of Richard III. Margaret was married to Thomas Stanley, a powerful northern lord an ally of Edward IV and Richard III. So not only was Elysabeth (a Lancastrian) godmother to the York heir, and married to a fervent York supporter, she was also aunt to the Tudor claimant. For anyone familiar with the Wars of the Roses, and the ultimate battle at Bosworth Field, you’ll know how that worked out. Talk about family feuds!
And remember, the princes went missing. Their bodies were never discovered, and no one was ever found guilty of murdering them. Even the bones that are claimed to be theirs in Westminster Abbey are not authenticated. Their disappearance is the biggest mystery in English history. As a historical fiction novelist, I could weave in genuine family facts and create my version of their story. About halfway through the first draft I came across a piece of research (basically a dynastic marriage) that made my story plausible, which was really exciting. As far as if my version is true? It’s historical fiction. As writers, we create narratives from the known facts, sift through rumours and gossip until we find the source – or can dismiss them.
Of course, wading into the biggest controversy in English history is bound to raise some eyebrows. Did Richard III kill his nephews? Was Margaret Beaufort to blame? Why did the Duke of Buckingham suddenly rebel after the princes disappeared? Or was the whole murder accusation Tudor propaganda? I hope readers enjoy the way I’ve presented the story of the Princes in the Tower.
Wow, what a fabulous story, and connection. Thank you so much for sharing. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
What if you knew what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?
November, 1470: Westminster Abbey. Lady Elysabeth Scrope faces a perilous royal duty when ordered into sanctuary with Elizabeth Woodville–witness the birth of Edward IV’s Yorkist son. Margaret Beaufort, Elysabeth’s sister, is desperately seeking a pardon for her exiled son Henry Tudor. Strategically, she coerces Lancastrian Elysabeth to be appointed godmother to Prince Edward, embedding her in the heart of the Plantagenets and uniting them in a destiny of impossible choices and heartbreaking conflict.
Bound by blood and torn by honour, when the king dies and Elysabeth delivers her young godson into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Margaret conspires with Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne. Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal and power of the last medieval court, defying her husband and her sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe.
Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Was the rebel Duke of Buckingham to blame? Or did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John, best-selling author of The Lydiard Chronicles, blends her own family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing alternative story illuminating the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.
Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them— in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.
Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.
Today, I’m welcoming Jane Davis to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Small Eden.
In England’s Green and Pleasant Land
In Victorian England, Carshalton and nearby Mitcham were known for their physic gardens, where plants were grown for medicinal and cosmetic use. Peppermint, lavender, camomile, aniseed, rhubarb, and liquorice were stable crops but today the name Carshalton is best associated with lavender growing. Of the many lavender farms that used to exist, only two remain. Mayfield Lavender is the larger of the two. In the summer months, people come a long way to see it. https://www.mayfieldlavender.com/
At a time when few women ran their own businesses, I was delighted to stumble across the story of Sarah Sprules. Sarah had worked alongside her father in his physic garden and took over his business after he died. Her produce was known worldwide. Her lavender water won medals at exhibitions in Jamaica and Chicago, but the highest accolade she held was her Royal Warrant to supply lavender oil to Queen Victoria, bestowed on her after the Queen and Princess Louise visited her during August 1886. The royal connection proved especially beneficial as Queen Victoria had so many European relatives.
But that wasn’t all. it was the discovery that Mitcham was once the opium-growing capital of the UK that made me decide my leading man, Robert Cooke, should be a physic gardener. This chapter has been written out of the history books, but in the nineteenth century, far from having a seedy reputation, opium use was respectable. Queen Victoria’s household ordered opium from the royal apothecary, and Prime Minister William Gladstone is said to have drunk opium tea before important speeches. It was used an anaesthetic, in sedatives, for the relief of headaches, migraines, sciatica, as a cough suppressant, to treat pneumonia, and for the relief of abdominal complaints and women’s cramps.
Mrs Beeton’s famous Book of Household Management recommended that no household should be without a supply of powdered opium and laudanum, and she included a recipe for laudanum. But awareness of its dangers was beginning to spread.
Short Matching Excerpt from Small Eden
It was Freya who first showed him Dr Bull’s Hints to Mothers, a pamphlet highlighting the dangers of opiates in the nursery. Of course he doesn’t agree with the practice of dosing up babies so that they sleep all day, he told his wife, but yes, he’s aware it goes on. Working mothers have little choice but to leave children for hours at a time, so they doctor their gripe-water. And it’s not just the poor. Mothers read the labels that say Infant Preservative and Soothing Syrup. They think that ‘purely herbal’ and ‘natural ingredients’ means that products are safe. Though it was chilling to read about case after case of infant deaths linked to over-use.
As many as a third of infant deaths in industrial cities.
And he, who has buried two sons.
But even Dr Bull didn’t condemn the use of opiates outright. They are medicines, he wrote, and like any medicine, ought to be prepared by pharmacists. The trouble is, Robert told Freya, that until recently any Tom, Dick or Harry could operate a pharmacy. And hasn’t he been vocal in his support for an overhaul of the system?
Why did it take so long for opium to be banned?
In the 19th Century, Great Britain fought two wars to crush Chinese efforts to restrict its importation. Why? Because opium was vital to the British economy. And then there was the thorny issue of class. The upper and middle classes saw the heavy use of laudanum among the lower classes as ‘misuse’; however they saw their own use of opiates was seen as necessary, and certainly no more than a ‘habit’. Addiction wasn’t yet recognised. That would come later.
“Indulge me if you will while I explain how the Indian trade operates – a system that the House of Commons condemned this April last. The East India Company – with whom I’m sure you are familiar – created the Opium Agency. Two thousand five hundred clerks working from one hundred offices administer the trade. The Agency offers farmers interest-free advances, in return for which they must deliver strict quotas. What’s so wrong with that? you may ask. What is wrong, my friends, is that the very same Agency sets the price farmers are paid for raw opium, and it isn’t enough to cover the cost of rent, manure and irrigation, let alone any labour the farmer needs to hire. And Indian producers don’t have the option of selling to higher bidders. Fail to deliver their allocated quota and they face the destruction of their crops, prosecution and imprisonment. What we have is two thousand five hundred quill-pushers forcing millions of peasants into growing a crop they would be better off without. And this, this, is the Indian Government’s second largest source of revenue. Only land tax brings in more.”
More muttering, louder. The shaking of heads and jowls.
“I propose a motion. That in the opinion of this meeting, traffic in opium is a bountiful source of degradation and a hindrance to the spread of the gospel.” Quakers are not the types to be whipped up into a frenzy of moral indignation, but their agreement is enthusiastic. “Furthermore, I contend that the Indian Government should cease to derive income from its production and sale.”
Robert looks about. Surely he can’t be the only one to wonder what is to replace the income the colonial government derives from opium? Ignoring this – and from a purely selfish perspective, provided discussion is limited to Indian production – his business will be unaffected. Seeing his neighbours raise their hands to vote, Robert lifts his own to half-mast. Beside him, Smithers does likewise.
The time comes when Robert Cooke must make a choice. He can either diversify, or he can gamble that the government will ban cheap foreign imports and that the price of domestic produce will rise. Robert Cooke is a risk-taker. He decides to specialise, and that decision will cost him dearly. It may even cost him his family.
Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with your new book.
Here’s the blurb:
A boy with his head in the clouds. A man with a head full of dreams.
1884. The symptoms of scarlet fever are easily mistaken for teething, as Robert Cooke and his pregnant wife Freya discover at the cost of their two infant sons. Freya immediately isolates for the safety of their unborn child. Cut off from each other, there is no opportunity for husband and wife to teach each other the language of their loss. By the time they meet again, the subject is taboo. But unspoken grief is a dangerous enemy. It bides its time.
A decade later and now a successful businessman, Robert decides to create a pleasure garden in memory of his sons, in the very same place he found refuge as a boy – a disused chalk quarry in Surrey’s Carshalton. But instead of sharing his vision with his wife, he widens the gulf between them by keeping her in the dark. It is another woman who translates his dreams. An obscure yet talented artist called Florence Hoddy, who lives alone with her unmarried brother, painting only what she sees from her window…
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis writes thought-provoking literary page turners.
She spent her twenties and the first half of her thirties chasing promotions in the business world but, frustrated by the lack of a creative outlet, she turned to writing.
Her first novel, ‘Half-Truths and White Lies’, won a national award established with the aim of finding the next Joanne Harris. Further recognition followed in 2016 with ‘An Unknown Woman’ being named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine/the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust, as well as being shortlisted in the IAN Awards, and in 2019 with ‘Smash all the Windows’ winning the inaugural Selfies Book Award. Her novel, ‘At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock’ was featured by The Lady Magazine as one of their favourite books set in the 1950s, selected as a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice, and shortlisted for the Selfies Book Awards 2021.
Interested in how people behave under pressure, Jane introduces her characters when they are in highly volatile situations and then, in her words, she throws them to the lions. The themes she explores are diverse, ranging from pioneering female photographers, to relatives seeking justice for the victims of a fictional disaster.
Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, in what was originally the ticket office for a Victorian pleasure gardens, known locally as ‘the gingerbread house’. Her house frequently features in her fiction. In fact, she burnt it to the ground in the opening chapter of ‘An Unknown Woman’. In her latest release, Small Eden, she asks the question why one man would choose to open a pleasure gardens at a time when so many others were facing bankruptcy?
When she isn’t writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.