The Maids of Biddenden is inspired by the real-life story of conjoined twins Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst, born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small Kent village.
Joined at the hip, the sisters overcome fear and hostility to grow into gifted and much-loved women – one a talented musician and song-writer, the other a caring healer and grower of medicinal plants. Entangled in the struggles for power and influence of the great Kent nobles of the time, they achieve much in their lifetimes and leave behind a legacy in Biddenden that survives to this day.
This is the heart-warming and inspirational story of two remarkable women leading one joint life, challenging adversity to become the best they can be.
The Maids of Biddenden is that rare beast which entirely absorbs the reader from page one. Helped by a flowing style of writing, and the immediate and impending danger that the twins find themselves in as six-year-olds, the reader is entirely absorbed in the story, and their fate, so much so that it’s difficult to put the book down. That said, it is not just the twins themselves that drive the story – the people they interact with, those with their best and worst interests at heart – are all believable and well written, and there are occasions when the reader will be left frustrated and angered that some seem to face little punishment for their actions. The story has a number of points of view, and I found that they all worked very well – offering a view of the twins as they think of themselves, and also as others perceived them.
The story is effectively split in two; the first 45% tells the story of the Maids as young children. This element of the story is filled with a deep sense of foreboding that drives the story onward and makes the reader fearful for the future of the Maids. The narrative then moves forward a few years, and we see them as young women, trying to make a name for themselves and use their talents for good. At this point, the immediate landscape that the Maids encounter broadens considerably, and we move away from the nunnery and the settlement of Biddenden, into the politics and events of the early twelfth century, that almost consume the lives of the Maids for the remainder of their years – they lived during the time of the tragedy of the White Ship.
The story doesn’t so much lose focus here, but because the impending danger has passed, the reader is instead absorbed in how the twins accomplish all that they do. There is a great deal of attention to detail here – both medical knowledge and music – and it’s fascinating to see how the Maids’ lives interact with known events from the period.
This is a delightful story. I was entirely engrossed and found myself snatching what time I could to carry on reading it – something that doesn’t happen all that often. I highly, highly recommend The Maids of Biddenden for fans of historical fiction, and also for those who don’t normally read the genre. The challenges that the twins face are well told, and the reaction their appearance sparks are conveyed well, although as the reader you will be offended by the prevailing belief that they are Godless and a monstrosity, and the fact that they were a ‘sight to see’ as opposed to always being appreciated for who they were and what they could accomplish. The historical notes at the back of the novel are also fascinating.
I became a full-time author in 2016, publishing three novels under the pen name GD Harper. I have been both a Wishing Shelf Book Award finalist and Red Ribbon winner, been shortlisted for the Lightship Prize, longlisted for the UK Novel Writing Award and longlisted for the Page Turner Writer Award. The Maids of Biddenden was a finalist in this year’s Page Turner Book Award for unpublished manuscripts, longlisted for the Exeter Book Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and shortlisted for the Impress Prize.
Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has beencalled the last true Elizabethan.
This journey began when I was researching for an historical novel about Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the town of Pembroke, Wales. I eventually uncovered enough original material to write three books, with Henry being born in the first, coming of age in the second and becoming King of England in the third.
The result was my best-selling Tudor Trilogy, and I decided to continue the stories of the Tudors in a continuous line. I also made a conscious decision to tell the stories through those surrounding King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, so we see different facets of these complex rulers through the eyes of others.
For my Elizabethan series I chose three very different favourites of the queen, who each saw different sides of her personality. Sir Francis Drake showered her with gold and jewels, stolen from the Spanish, in return for the status he longed for. The Earl of Essex was like the errant son she never had, but Raleigh became her protector, Captain of the Guard, and lived to see the last days of the Tudor dynasty.
Many of the things I thought I knew about Walter Raleigh proved to be wrong. Raleigh is credited with introducing the potato and tobacco to Britain, but I’ve seen no evidence for either, or for the popular tale of a servant throwing water over him when he mistook the smoke from Raleigh’s pipe for a fire!
I followed Raleigh across the Irish Sea to the sleepy harbour at Youghal, where he had a house and became Mayor, as well as to the bustling city of Cork, where he served in the English Army of occupation. I also visited Raleigh’s house at Sherborne in Dorset, which still has many original features.
My research uncovered a comprehensive collection of original letters and poetry written by Raleigh. As well as helping me understand his motivation, and the timeline of complex events, they also gave me a sense of his ‘voice’, and how he spoke to the queen and others of her court.
I relied on the comprehensive records of the Elizabethan Court, which set out events in fascinating detail. I was also lucky to read ‘A Woman of Noble Wit’, a new novel by Rosemary Griggs, about Raleigh’s mother. This led me to explore Walter Raleigh’s relationship with his father, as well as his mother, an aspect of him largely ignored by historical biographers.
My hope is that Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.
Thank you so much for sharing. Your research sounds fabulous, and I too am reading A Woman of Noble Wit. Good luck with the new release.
Here’s the blurb:
Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.
He didn’t dance or joust, didn’t come from a noble family, or marry into one. So how did an impoverished law student become a favourite of the queen, and Captain of the Guard?
The story which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy follows Walter Raleigh from his first days at the Elizabethan Court to the end of the Tudor dynasty.
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the Tudors. He also runs the popular ‘Stories of the Tudors’ podcast, and posts book reviews, author interviews and guest posts at his blog, The Writing Desk. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches
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.
Maintaining order in Roman Britannia’s vast militarised zone
The original vision for my ‘Edge of Empire’ series of novels was to write stories that focussed on the lives and adventures of two protagonists from a single Roman auxiliary infantry unit. It was to be set in the north of the province of Britannia and in the wilder, unconquered lands beyond its boundaries. But as I buried myself in the research phase I was continually surprised by what I discovered. Ultimately I gained a greater understanding of the Roman way of doing things and quite fundamentally changed the approach to my stories.
For much of its first 300 years of use Hadrian’s Wall marked the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. In movies such as The Eagle or Centurion we see Roman foot soldiers astride its battlements looking north, spear and shield in hand. But the Wall was not the-be-all-and-end-all of the north’s defence. What is less understood, at least to me, is that the Wall was really a focal point for a much larger militarised zone that stretched from Lancaster in the south to forts like Blatobulgium and Trimontium well into what is now modern day southern Scotland (I’m ignoring the period of the Antonine wall for simplicity).
It seems evident that the lands both north and south of Hadrian’s Wall were at times restive, if not in down right conflict, with the Roman administration. Whilst auxiliary infantry troops had an important role in keeping the peace, their deployment became increasingly localised in nature, especially in the later centuries of the empire. It was the mounted troops that had the pivotal role in commanding the north.
When researching for my historical adventure novel ‘Siege’, that focuses on the lives of the men of a Germanic cohort, a real life regiment with a mixture of infantry and cavalry. I was surprised by the amount of detail we now have on the everyday life of a Roman cavalryman. In the story I have worked hard to be faithful to that knowledge and attempted to bring it to life for the present day reader.
Most forts in the militarised zone included a cavalry force within their garrisons.
It has been calculated that sustaining a cavalryman with his kit and horse cost 5 times that of an infantryman. Why would the Romans invest so much if they were not an important and valuable asset? The answer surely must, at least in part, lie in both its symbolic and strategic roles.
Cavalry could move at a rapid pace and cover great distances quickly. They were highly mobile, making them effective on patrols and as scouts both north and south of the Wall. They made speedy messengers, giving warning of sudden threats and incursions. They also ensured food security, protecting local farmland and guarding supply trains to the Wall’s outlying forts. But, probably as importantly, they projected the image of power and renown of Rome and its imperial might. If you have ever seen the Household Cavalry in London or mounted police outside of a football (soccer) stadium you will get an idea of what a Roman turma must have looked like to an Iron Age population.
Outlying forts, north of the Wall, such as at Birrens and Netherby housed specialist, double strength, mixed infantry and cavalry cohorts (milliaria equitata) as well as specialist scouts (exploratores) enabling them to command a significant geographic area and suppress any uprising of local tribes. The effect on the populace must have been as much psychological as physical.
But who were these cavalrymen? Well they certainly weren’t drawn from the Roman aristocracy as they often were in the time of the Republic. No, the names of their units give a clear indication that the Romans recruited from all over the empire from the homelands of its conquered peoples. Germanic and celtic Gaulish units were prevalent, such as the I Nervana Germanorum and the cohors II Tungrorum that garrisoned the fort of Birrens at different times. But regiments from as far away as Spain and modern day Bulgaria and Croatia have also been identified. But as the needs of the empire changed over time individual units would mainly have recruited from the local populations. With sons moving into the family business by joining the cohorts of their fathers and grandfathers.
So what was life like for the cavalryman? Well each troop, known as a turma (typically 30 men), were housed in a single barrack block. Trios of men lived at the back of the building with their horses stabled at the front. There were surely few nights that troopers fell asleep without the sound of the snorts of their mounts accompanied by the smell of hay and dung. Each room had a hearth set against the stable-side wall for warmth and cooking. The decurion, who commanded the turma, lived in rooms at the end of the block along with his family.Troopers ate, slept and kept their weapons and tack in these small rooms. It is also thought that grooms and slaves may have slept in the roof space above.
Training for cavalrymen and their mounts was extensive and intense. If you have seen horses being drilled for modern day dressage you will get the idea, with each trained initially on a long rein to teach the horse basic skills as well as special steps. It is likely that horses were broken and prepared by specialists before being assigned to its rider. They learned to overcome their instinct to flee when startled and to cope in the noise and fervour of combat. The early instruction of the cavalryman would have focussed on the basic skills of controlling and riding the horse whilst holding a sword or spear in the right hand and the shield and rein in the left. From there they would have progressed to training to fight as a turma, with unit drills enabling large numbers of men to manoeuvre in battle.
The average cavalryman was well armed and armoured. He typically wore chainmail armour that allows greater movement whilst on horseback. Their weapons consisted of the long cavalry sword often referred to as the spatha. They also had a fighting lance and two shorter throwing javelins. Their shields were a variety of shapes including square and oval, but were usually flat with a steel rim and a rounded metal boss to enable it to be used as a weapon.
It is not hard to imagine the damage the charge of even a small unit of auxiliary cavalry could inflict on the largely unprotected bodies of the tribal warriors of the north of Britain.
Alistair lived in the Dumfriesshire countryside for most of his childhood. A region of Scotland filled with ancient place names such as Torthorwald and Caerlaverock. But it was his history teacher’s telling of the tale of Burnswark and the Roman siege of the Iron Age hillfort that fired his love of Roman and Dark Ages history. From there the kernel of the stories for the Edge of Empire series took root.
On leaving school he began a 35-year communications career, firstly with the Royal Navy, that included covert riverine and seaborne operations during the height of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, before moving into the corporate world. Military life is unique, and Alistair aims to reflect an authentic view of that experience and its language in his stories. When not writing or spending time with family, Alistair, his wife Jenny and Hurley the cockerpoo love to walk in the hills of both the UK and Andalucia.
Thank you for such a fabulous guest post. Good luck with the new book.
Today, I’m excited to share an excerpt from The Admiral’s Wife by M K Tod.
August 1912 – The next hour passed in a blur as Flannigan unrolled and rerolled various bolts of cloth. Her selections made and the account tallied, Isabel gathered her things. “It looks rather stormy,” she said.
“We’re sure to get a big blow today, Mrs. Taylor. You might want to get home as soon as you can.”
Outside the wind was stronger and the sky was thick and menacing. Waves churned the harbor. Sampans lining the shore pitched up and down. The air smelled of lightning. An explosion sounded, the blast echoing in her ears.
Suddenly, the mood of the Praya changed. Chinese workers hurried away; some abandoned the tools of their trade—rickshaws, brooms, wheelbarrows, long poles, rickety chairs and tables—while others pushed, pulled, or carried their belongings with them. Those who made their homes and living on the sampans swarmed the decks of their vessels grabbing this and that, hurrying nimbly along the gunnels, and scrambling up the ladders connecting them to long-fingered piers.
The wind grew stronger. Isabel’s hat blew off, rolling along the Praya like a runaway wheel. Without thinking, she chased after it. Hampered by the bulk of her purchases, she weaved this way and that. Every time she got close, the wind picked her hat up again. It’s gone, she finally admitted as the blue concoction sailed off over the water and rain pelted down—big, fat drops that smacked her skin. I should return to Murphy’s and wait out the storm.
She swiveled around. The Praya was deserted. Several sampans were precariously close to capsizing. The wind that had previously been at her back now buffeted her with such force, she could barely keep her balance. Isabel braced herself against the gale. Murphy’s seemed a long way away.
The wind howled like an animal in distress. The rain grew in intensity. “One step at a time,” she muttered aloud. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. She caught a glimpse of a man falling from a sampan into the water. Should she try to rescue him? Would her skirts weigh her down so that she would only drown trying? The sky closed in. Day felt like night.
Isabel continued to push forward. Without warning, someone grabbed her arm. She struggled to break free.
“I’m trying to help you, Mrs. Taylor,” Li Tao-Kai said, his voice gruff. “Don’t you realize this is a typhoon?”
A typhoon. She’d heard about typhoons—the Asian equivalent to hurricanes—and had even heard about the devastation caused by one that hit Hong Kong in 1906, but she had no idea what such an event would be like. “How was I supposed to know?” she said.
“The typhoon signal went off.”
“Was that the explosion I heard?”
He jerked his head in a quick nod and she thought he might be a little exasperated with her, although it was difficult to tell. They were both shouting to be heard. Li Tao-Kai held her arm firmly and a few minutes later, pulled her inside the shop.
“I saw a man fall into the water,” she said, as soon as she caught her breath. “He needs help.”
“We can’t go out again,” he said. “It’s dangerous. If you don’t believe me, look out the window to see for yourself.”
With the sun totally obscured and only one narrow window in Murphy’s Fine Silks and Linens, the interior was dim. Isabel hadn’t noticed the men milling about the room when she and Mr. Li had entered, but now she saw that there were about fifteen of them, a mix of Chinese and European. Isabel nodded in their direction, then crossed over to look out the window. Debris skittered along the Praya: bits of wood, sheets of paper, a straw hat, a broom. A table had fallen over and now scraped along the asphalt. She looked for the place where she’d seen the man fall, but everything was so topsy-turvy she could find no trace of him. A crash sounded as something smashed against the building.
“Step away from the window, Mrs. Taylor,” George Flannigan said. “It’s not safe.”
Isabel was so startled that she obeyed without question and took a spot standing next to Li Tao-Kai. Since his role brought him into frequent contact with the British community, she’d seen him on a few occasions following the opera and at times there’d been a chance to talk. He was an interesting man who, to her surprise, didn’t treat her as many men did: an attractive woman worthy of a flirtatious glance or two but unworthy of weighty conversation. She was just musing about whether he spoke to all women in the same fashion, when a bamboo pole shattered the window, flinging glass across the room.
“Good heavens!” she exclaimed. Her eyes wide with shock.
“Are you all right?” Li Tao-Kai asked.
“I think so.” Isabel spoke slowly. Nothing in her life had prepared her for a storm so fierce it left the surroundings looking like a bundle of jackstraws.
“Careful, I see something on your clothes.” He reached over and plucked a shard of glass from the sleeve of her dress.
The howls of the storm were deafening—like a train charging through a tunnel. Beyond the wind was the thumping and banging of debris tumbling past the warehouse. Without thinking, Isabel crossed to the window once more and peered out. Pellets of rain whipped her face.
“We have to help,” she said. “I can see women on the dock trying to save their children. They can barely stand. Look at them,” she urged.
“It’s too dangerous outside,” George Flannigan said.
“But we can’t just think of ourselves. Surely there are enough of us here to help.”
“You don’t understand how deadly typhoons can be,” Mr. Li said. “I’ve seen men blown down the street and trees uprooted by the force of the wind.” He shook his head. “It’s dangerous outside.”
“But those people could die without our help. If we were to form a human chain, each person standing close to the next person in line, we could rescue them. Whoever heads the line will help these people off their boats and hand them over to the next person in line and so on. Surely we can at least try.”
“It could work, Mr. Li,” George Flannigan said. “The wind has eased a bit, so we may have a few minutes before it strengthens again. Now might be the perfect time.”
“All right. We can try. But Mrs. Taylor remains in the shop.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” Isabel declared.
Li Tao-Kai drew his lips into a tight grimace. “If you’re determined to help, perhaps you will agree to be at the end closest to the shop.”
Isabel debated the benefit of further argument. “All right,” she said.
One by one, they stepped outside. When it was her turn, the wind tore at her clothes and rain pummeled her face. From all around she heard the clang, clatter, and smash of items hurled by the wind.
Here’s the blurb:
The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.
In 2016, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.
In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.
As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.
Trigger Warnings: Brief sex scenes
“Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel.” — Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of THE LAST ROSE OF SHANGHAI
“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS
M.K. (Mary) Tod’s interest in historical fiction began as a teenager immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer. In 2004, her husband’s career took them to Hong Kong where, with no job and few prospects, Mary began what became Unravelled, her first novel. The Admiral’s Wife is her fifth novel.
Mary’s award-winning blog, www.awriterofhistory.com, focuses on reading and writing historical fiction. She’s an active member of the historical fiction community and has conducted five unique reader surveys on topics from readers’ habits and preferences to favorite historical fiction authors. Mary is happily married to her high-school sweetheart. They have two adult children and two delightful grandsons.
I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Ann Bennett’s new book, The Lake Pagoda.
They moved on beyond the prayer hall to another square where the great red-brick pagoda soared above them, its eleven roofs jutting out from the walls at regular intervals, with the still, white Buddhas looking down impassively at them from each level. Arielle leaned back and stared up to the top of the pagoda where a marble lotus soared even higher into the sky.
‘Come, let us meditate and pay our respects to the Buddha,’ said Ba Noi, laying her lotus flower on the altar, stepping back and sitting down on the stone floor, lotus style. Arielle followed suit, laying her incense, candles and flower on the altar, then sitting down beside her grandmother. It was hard to force her unaccustomed legs into the lotus position, even though she was several generations younger than Ba Noi who managed it with ease.
Arielle closed her eyes and tried to settle her mind, allowing the chanting of the monks in the monastery, the discordant clang of the temple bells and the gentle voices of other worshippers to calm her down. They sat for ten or fifteen minutes and during that time, try as she might, Arielle couldn’t empty her mind of thoughts. It kept returning to Etienne again and again. What was he doing now? Where was he? Had she been wrong about him and wrong to trust his assurances about his business? What did the future hold for the two of them? At last she heard Ba Noi getting to her feet, so she gave up the struggle to meditate, but she vowed to return to the temple. It felt good being here, connecting with her mother’s faith, letting the calm of this spiritual place permeate her soul.
‘Come, I need to go home now,’ said Ba Noi. ‘I am tired and I need my bed.’
‘Me too,’ said Arielle, a feeling of trepidation creeping through her at the thought of the huge, empty house she must go back to, alone but for the reticent servants.
They returned along the walkways to the yellow gateway where they put on their shoes and bowed their heads to the monk as they went through the gates. As they did so, a man stepped out from the shadows beyond the gate. He was dressed all in black and he came forward bowing his head respectfully to Ba Noi.
‘Good evening, phu nhan – madame,’ he said. Ba Noi stopped, a smile spreading across her face.
‘Good evening, Xan. Nice to see you here on this beautiful evening. I hope you are well. This is my granddaughter, Arielle. Madame Garnier, in fact.’
The man turned his attention to Arielle, and she felt his serious, dark eyes sweep down her body, scrutinising her from head to toe, like the beam from a searchlight. He held out his hand and she took it, feeling the warmth and strength of his as she shook it.
‘Good to make your acquaintance, Madame Garnier. I read about your wedding in the newspaper the other day. Your husband is … an important man,’ he trailed off but still he held her gaze. She looked away, the honesty in his look felt intrusive somehow.
‘He is just a businessman,’ she said, wondering how and why this man knew about Etienne or was interested in their marriage.
‘Of course. Well, phu nhan, Madame Garnier, very nice to see you. I must go and do my devotions now. But perhaps I will see you here again one evening soon?’
‘You will, of course,’ said Ba Noi, putting her hand on Arielle’s back to usher her to the gate. As they walked away, Arielle felt those black eyes boring into her back.
‘Who’s that?’ she asked. ‘He’s a bit intense, isn’t he?’
‘Oh, I often see him here,’ said Ba Noi. ‘He is a very nice man. But he has every reason to be serious. He is a communist. Fighting the corner of exploited workers all over Indochina. He is very passionate and serious about his cause.’
Here’s the blurb:
Indochina 1945: Arielle, who is half-French, half-Vietnamese, is working as a secretary for the French colonial government when the Japanese storm Hanoi. Although her Asian blood spares her from imprisonment, she is forced to work for the occupiers. The Viet Minh threaten to reveal dark secrets from her past if she won’t pass them information from her new masters.
Drawn ever deeper into the rebels’ dangerous world, will Arielle ever escape the torment of her past? Or will she find love amidst the turmoil of war?
A novel of love, loss, war, and survival against all odds.
Ann Bennett was born in Pury End, a small village in Northamptonshire, UK and now lives in Surrey. Her first book, A Daughter’s Quest, originally published as Bamboo Heart, was inspired by her father’s experience as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway. The Planter’s Wife (originally Bamboo Island) a Daughter’s Promise and The Homecoming, (formerly Bamboo Road), The Tea Panter’s Club and The Amulet are also about the war in South East Asia, all six making up the Echoes of Empire Collection.
Ann is also author of The Runaway Sisters, The Orphan House, and The Child Without a Home, published by Bookouture.
The Lake Pavilion and The Lake Palace are both set in British India in the 1930s and 40s. Her latest book, The Lake Pagoda, set in French Indochina in the 30s and 40s, will be published in April 2022.
Ann is married with three grown up sons and a granddaughter and works as a lawyer. For more details please visit http://www.bambooheart.co.uk
It’s not very often that I actually get to visit the places I write about. Very little of Saxon England remains as it would have been. But for Cragside, I could visit as often as I liked, and I did. I’m going to share some images of the interior of the house with you. These were either taken during December 2021, so might be a bit Christmasy, or were taken in August 2021. (apologises to people I’ve accidentally snapped).
Cragside: A 1930s murder mystery is now available in ebook, hardback, paperback and audio.
Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from The Professor’s Lady by Holly Bush.
The long ride through New Jersey toward Philadelphia was done quietly as Miss Thompson looked out the window, her hands folded in her lap, humming a tune he heard from her occasionally. He was soon engrossed in a medical article written by Joseph Lister on the subject of cleaning surgical instruments and the dramatic decrease of deaths after surgery.
He lifted his head when that lovely young lady beside him pinched his hand enough to leave a bruise. “Ouch!”
“I have been trying to get your attention, Mr. Watson,” she said in a breathy voice, her eyes darting the length of the train car. “I think the man who was drunk in the hallway of the hotel just walked past us.”
“Are you certain?”
“Not completely, but I’m fairly sure. He is wearing a minister’s collar today.”
“We are not far from Philadelphia. We will depart the station as quickly as possible and hire a carriage to take you home.”
She looked at him then, her face wreathed in worry. “We will be no match for them, I’m afraid.”
“I intend to guard you, Miss Thompson. I will not let anyone harm you. I promise.”
She shuddered a breath and laid her head on his shoulder. “I’ve been imagining what would have happened if you hadn’t found me on the Maybelle.”
“Do not make yourself uneasy. And there is no use dreaming of tragic endings. We are closer to your family with every turn of the train’s wheels, and then you will be safe. In the interim, I will have to do as your protector. Mr. Clawson and I.”
“I feel so much better when you talk sensibly to me,” she whispered and clutched his arm. “You will come into the house with me? Explain what has happened?”
“Your family will be so glad to have you back in their arms, any anger will be short-lived. And I wouldn’t want to impose on a family reunion.”
She harrumphed. “Short-lived? You do not know my family.”
The train was on time, a near miracle in Albert’s estimation, when they rolled into the Philadelphia station. They had not been delayed by broken tracks or a herd of pigs or any other obstacle that so often made train travel less than timely. Miss Thompson was still leaning against his arm, although she was not sleeping, and had long ago slipped her hand into his. He’d spent much of the last hour looking at one of the marvels of the human body, the hand, and observing the differences between his and hers. Those twenty-seven individual bones, allowing humans to grip and fist and caress, were dainty and dwarfed by his. He rubbed his thumb over her knuckle as its tendons and muscles tightened, bending her finger against his with soft pressure.
As the train slowed into the station, Clawson took his bag, as they had discussed, intending to go directly to the home Albert shared with his mother to deposit his belongings and check to see if his trunks had been delivered. He would have both hands and the gun in his pocket to protect Miss Thompson until he could hand her over to the safekeeping of her relatives. The train chugged to a stop and he stood, offering his hand to her to rise, guiding her to step in front of him. He kept his hand on her shoulder as they slowly walked down the aisle, waiting to depart the train onto the crowded platform. He bent down and looked out a window and saw Clawson, who nodded and turned into the crowd.
Albert took her hand as she stepped down and slipped his arm around her shoulders, keeping her tight against him as they moved toward the street, away from the house that served as the train station, now a tavern and inn. There were carriages for hire, and he quickly hailed one and gave the address to the driver. He glanced over his shoulder as he helped her climb in and saw two men heading their way that could have been the hotel drunk and the man behind the planter, one wearing the collar of the church.
“Make haste, please,” he said to the driver. “There’ll be extra for you if you get us moving immediately.”
Albert was not quite in his seat when the carriage driver maneuvered out of the line of carriages and into the street, weaving in and out of slower vehicles, and causing him to drop hastily down next to Miss Thompson. He risked a glance back and saw no one following.
“They were there, weren’t they?” she whispered, tightening her grip on his hand.
“They were, but we are on our way now. Everything will be fine.”
“But you don’t know that.”
“Your family will keep you safe,” he said and squeezed her hand.
She was silent for a long moment, staring out at the passing businesses, turning back to him with wide eyes and a trembling lip.
“What is it, Miss Thompson?”
“I prefer you, Mr. Watson. I prefer you to keep me safe.”
He stared at her, willing himself not to gather her in his arms and kiss her. And then she turned away from him and pointed as the carriage slowed down. He stepped down quickly, helped her alight, and reached to pay the driver and ask him to wait to see him home as well. As he turned, a fist connected with his chin.
Here’s the blurb:
Meet the Thompsons of Locust Street, an unconventional family taking Philadelphia high society by storm…
1870 Kirsty Thompson is determined to begin her own business bringing beloved Scottish fabrics and yarns to Philadelphia but first she must meet the men and women who weave the plaids and spin the wool. How will she ever escape her protective older siblings and sail to Scotland?
Albert Watson is a medical doctor focusing on research, especially that of Joseph Lister and his sterilization techniques. He speaks at universities in America and in England while visiting his London relatives. As he prepares to sail for just such an engagement, Kirsty Thompson boards his ship to beg him to take her with him. What’s a gentleman to do? Albert cancels his trip across the ocean to escort Miss Thompson back to Philadelphia and finds there is danger afoot for her and her family.
Soon he comes to realize there is also danger for his heart, even for a man who rarely pulls his nose from a medical journal. He finds himself unable to put Miss Kirsty Thompson out of his thoughts, where they belonged, because certainly a beautiful, ambitious, and charming young woman could have no interest in him. Or could she?
Holly Bush writes historical romance set in the U.S.in the late 1800’s, in Victorian England, and an occasional Women’s Fiction title. Her books are described as emotional, with heartfelt, sexy romance. She makes her home with her husband in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Connect with Holly at www.hollybushbooks.com and on Twitter @hollybushbooks and on Facebook at Holly Bush
I’m excited to share an excerpt from Heidi Eljarbo’s new historical mystery. Enjoy.
The pendulum on the grandfather clock next to the grand piano swung rhythmically back and forth, back and forth. The hour hand was approaching two. She should leave. The lawyer had asked her to stop by his office before she left town, and the train ride home would take three quarters of an hour.
What was she to do? Lilly leaned back into the soft pillows. Was it all true? Had she inherited a fortune, and could she picture herself living here? What about Father? She’d moved into her own place a while back, but would he insist on living at Rosenli with her? His daily pessimistic outbursts and derogatory comments had taken their toll on her, but what would her father say if she moved away? Who would calm him when his temper steered his mood? Maybe more than anything, was she capable of taking care of Aunt Agatha’s estate?
She stopped by the casket one last time then grabbed her handbag and walked into the hallway.
The butler stood by the wardrobe as she came out. It was as if he expected her.
“Mr. Bing, I need a word with you.”
“You may call me John, miss. Now that we’ll be seeing more of each other, you should know we go by first names in this house. Agatha insisted on it.”
“Very well. Then I would like you to call me Lilly.” She showed him the photograph. “Please tell me about this man. Who is he?”
John smiled. “Oh, so you found the picture. Good. Agatha placed it there for you to find. She had much to tell you, and now it’s up to you to discover what. Find her story, and you’ll understand who that man is.”
Lilly widened her eyes. “That sounds intriguing, but I must warn you; I’m usually not very patient. At least show me where to look?”
“You’ll understand. Just follow your heart.”
John handed her a miniature box tied with a red silk ribbon. “She wanted you to have this.”
Lilly gingerly unfastened the ribbon and opened the lid. Inside was a small silver amulet. She picked it up. Half a heart. She lifted her gaze to John, but he said nothing. The old man stood there with a stoic but friendly look on his face.
“What does this mean, John? How can I follow my heart if I only have half of it?”
The butler smiled but didn’t answer her question. He didn’t even ask her if she planned to move in. Lilly narrowed her brow, confused at such limited information. She’d grown used to working with numbers, patterns, and orderly schedules. How did one learn something new by merely listening to their heart? She pulled her shoulders back. “I will try, John, but I hope for some help along the way. I truly want to understand who Agatha was. Even if it might seem late now that she has passed, I’d like to become acquainted with her.”
John touched her shoulder. “That’s the spirit.”
Here’s the blurb:
Betrayal and trust go hand in hand in the first book of Heidi Eljarbo’s new turn-of-the-century series.
It’s 1898, and Lilly has spent most of her life motherless and living with a father who never looks for a silver lining. When her great-aunt Agatha passes, Lilly’s existence takes a drastic turn. She packs her few belongings and moves into the old lady’s magnificent estate, Rosenli Manor.
In the days that follow, Lilly tries to understand who Agatha really was, and hidden secrets slowly rise to the surface. Her great-aunt’s glamorous legacy is not quite what Lilly had imagined. She must trust in newly forged friendships, and to her surprise, she discovers what it means to truly fall in love. But not everyone is happy about the new mistress of Rosenli.
Intrigue, mystery, and a touch of romance in the Norwegian countryside fill the pages of Secrets of Rosenli Manor.
Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don’t want to go near.
Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter.
After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier.
Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter.
Heidi’s favorites are family, God’s beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.