All posts by Alexandra Walsh

Interview with author, Simon Michael

Simon Michael

Simon Michael is the author of the best-selling Charles Holborne series. Set in 1960s London, they feature his antihero barrister as he navigates his way through the criminal underworld. Inspired by his own 37-year career as a barrister, when he defended and prosecuted a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy, Simon was published here and in America in the 1980s. He returned to writing when he retired from the law in 2016. The sixth book in the Charles Holborne series: Force of Evil will released by Sapere Books on 3 November 2020.

 

 

AW: You were a barrister and use your years of experience in the law as inspiration for your series featuring, Charles Holborne. How do you decide which cases to use? You must have a huge amount to draw on.

 

SM: That’s a really interesting question, one which no one has asked before. Some cases are so extraordinary, they’ll stay with me forever, like the one that formed the story of The Waxwork Corpse. It’s pretty unusual for a quiet respected professional man to kill his wife and dump her body in Wastwater, a lake in Wasdale and the deepest body of water in the Lake District National Park. He was not charged at the time, then over a decade later, while the lake was being searched during an entirely different case, the body was found in a perfectly preserved condition.

 

Similarly, I’ll never forget the case behind An Honest Man because much of the background material actually happened to me. So, some cases just jump out and demand to be the subject of a story. Others are not based on a single case but are compilations of several. Even the most interesting cases, like murder, are boring in parts. In the new Charles Holborne adventure, Force of Evil, there was a line of cross-examination which was so astonishingly successful in reality, I still remember it (as do other barristers who heard it). It’s a case of keeping the excitement up, and cutting out all the boring, procedural or legalistic parts of the case. I try not to take liberties with how the courts actually work, but simply cut from one good bit to the next!

 

It’s also helpful that I’m following the story of the Krays throughout the 1960s, which was a very eventful time in British history. Everyone has heard of the Profumo affair, but no one has heard of the event, which I think is much worse, retold in Corrupted. That was a much worse cover-up, also involving politicians and sex, because as a result at least two people died. It was a political and legal story crying out to be told, into which I wove the murder plot.

 

AW: Sounds fascinating. Is this what drew you to setting your books are set in London, during the 1960s?

 

SM: I wanted to tell the story of what it felt like to be an outsider at the Bar at the time when I started in practice. There was rampant class, race and religious prejudice, both at the Bar and indeed on the Bench. I came from a working-class Jewish family, no money, state educated. I paid my way through university and pupillage by working as a labourer. You can imagine how well I fitted into the establishment, very traditional, Bar. I also wanted to tell the story of the corruption at the time, particularly in the Met. The year I was called, 1978, was the beginning of Operation Countryman in which the Home Office drafted in honest coppers from the provincial forces to try and weed out the corruption in the Metropolitan Police. The government has never published the report into Operation Countryman, but it was still imprisoning senior police officers until the mid-80s.

 

The two decades before then were like the Wild West of British justice, with gangs like the Krays and the Richardsons fighting to control the profits from illegal enterprises including protection, prostitution, gambling and pornography, and large swathes of Met officers were completely corrupt. The corruption went beyond taking a cut of the profits like many in the Sweeney did, or being paid for information and influence by major criminals. It also included tampering with evidence, fitting up innocent people and using strong-arm techniques.

 

The 60s was also a time of enormous societal change. People forget that London at the beginning of the decade was not flower power, the Beatles and Carnaby Street. Until the mid-60s it was grey and drab, with rationing and bomb sites. The post-War deference broke down slowly with the tide of sex, drugs and rock and roll coming over the Atlantic until London found itself the centre of the universe for music, fashion and the arts. I still find it a fascinating time in British history.

 

AW: What inspired you to start writing? And what advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

 

SM: I’ve always loved telling stories, and I’ve been writing since I was at school. I suspect that most writers feel impelled — to a greater or lesser degree — to write. Although I wrote some books which did quite well in the 1980s I didn’t really have time to focus on it until I retired, and although I loved my career at the Bar and it brought obvious rewards, I sometimes wish I’d had the courage of my convictions to start writing in earnest sooner. Now, I find myself at the start of a writing career in my mid-60s. I want it to be more than a hobby, and I don’t have much time left. On the other hand my parents both lasted until the 90s, so if I retain my marbles I could have another quarter of a century.

 

The only advice I would give to other aspiring writers is: Get on with it! A “writer” is someone who writes. As I’m sure you know, you can’t wait for the muse to arrive. It’s a matter of hard work and discipline. I knew Brian Clemens, the writer of many of the Avengers and Professionals scripts (he also wrote some very good short stories by the way) and he used to say: “Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard.” I don’t think you can put it better.

 

Thanks Simon, it’s been great talking to you.

 

The new Charles Holborne thriller, Force of Evil, will be published on 3 November 2020 by Sapere Books.

 

 

For more information about Simon Michael and his Charles Holborne thrillers, visit:

www.simonmichael.uk


Twitter: @simonmichaeluk

FACEBOOK |  https://www.facebook.com/simonmichael.uk

 

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Tudor!

#OTD Elizabeth I was born, today would be 487th birthday! Elizabeth has always been the woman I’ve most admired in history. She was fearless in the face of adversity and never wavered in the endless challenge of ruling during a time where women were often viewed as less important than a good hunting dog. Her privy council regularly rebelled against her and if she made a proposal they disliked, they would bicker like children. As queen, she would use dignity, diplomacy, tact and guile to make them understand she was the person in charge and not them.

Elizabeth was unique and incredible.

All power Elizabeth! Happy birthday! #herstory #womensvoices #theothersideofhistory

 

Review of Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by Jame DiBiasio

Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth

 

Words: Jame DiBiasio

Illustrations: Harry Harrison

Published by OANDA

Available on Amazon from September 2020

Review:

Money, it’s a commodity that is intrinsic to our existence: whether we have it or don’t, or we’re striving for more, its presence is something we all feel and we need it to survive. The fascinating Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by award-winning financial journalist Jame DiBiasio will have you looking at the money in your pocket in a very different way. This light-hearted but thoroughly researched walk through time takes you on a trail from the development of cowry shells in China as a way to pay for barley to the rise of e-money technology. Illustrated by Harry Harrison, this is a must-have for anyone interested in money, social history, trivia and the hidden world of finance.

 

Each of the 12 chapters peels back the traditional take on history to offer a new interpretation of events showing how money has helped to shape our past. DiBiasio’s approachable writing style transforms a potentially complicated subject into one that is both entertaining and enlightening, as well as presenting an enticing and eye-opening story of a hidden piece of history. He leads us through the influences of how world currencies have played a part in the development of religion, politics and wars, including the introduction of the gold standard. While Harrison’s illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment.

 

From my own historical research, I knew about the Knights’ Templar being early bankers, however, this was my one fact about the history of finance, so I was fascinated to discover the origins of the word money. It is derived from the Roman cult of the goddess, Juno Moneta. Her name, Moneta, was derived from the Latin monere (to warn) and she was the patroness of the city of Rome. However, her role soon changed as she became the guardian of the city funds, it is from her name, we have the words money and mint.

 

At the end of most chapters, there is a panel of trivia including everything from the most expensive collectable coins available to sci-fi money to the works of art on the bank notes. The two which most intrigued me were not only the descriptions of the way many banknotes have become works of art but also how in Japan, the artist Genpei Akasegawa copied the JPY1,000 note in order to use it as an artistic representation. His notes were printed on one-side, therefore, were clearly worthless. The Japanese authorities were less than impressed and eventually, Akasegawa, was charged with creating imitation banknotes in violation of the 1894 law controlling The Imitation of Currency and Securities. He was found guilty and given a three-month suspended sentence.

 

DiBiasio’s meticulous research makes this a book that is not only fun to dip in and out of in order to find fascinating facts but also a page-turning read on a commodity that is so common but about which most of us know very little.

 

5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

The East End Matriarchy – Interview with Kate Thompson

On this month’s Interview with an Author, I chat to Sunday Times bestseller, Kate Thompson. Author of The Stepney Doorstep Society – a detailed and important history of the matriarchal society of the East End of London – as well as six novels set in the East End during World War II. Kate explains why women’s history is vital in our understanding not only of the past but in how we live today.

   

AW: Hi Kate, thanks for speaking to me this month. For those who don’t your work, you specialise in the female experience of WWII, what particularly drew you to this subject?

Kate Thompson: At first, it was an interest sparked by the history of the Second World War and in particular, the East End, a place I had always been endlessly fascinated by, but it quickly evolved into something much more complex.

The more women I interviewed, the more intrigued I became about the power of the matriarchy in East London. My interest became far more focussed on a narrative that examined and celebrated the contribution of women to the rich social, economic and political history of East London in the days before the Welfare State existed.

The East End, in common with all working-class communities, was a matriarchal society. Women in crossover aprons and turbans were the beating heart of their neighbourhoods. The matriarch, or auntie, was the go-to woman, responsible for birthing the babies of the street, laying out its dead and a plethora of other roles. As chief female of her neighbourhood, she was a social worker, midwife, citizens advice worker, funeral parlour, nurse, hairdresser, childminder, moneylender and abortionist, all rolled up in a starched apron.

It began to dawn on me that these are the women missing from the history books, and their unfiltered gush of history deserves our scrutiny. These women might not have held any power in an official sense, taken part in military campaigns, made laws or started wars, but they were forced to react to them. History, when viewed up close and personal through their eyes, is so much more revealing and takes the true temperature of the times.

AW: You’re right, women are so often missing from the pages of history, particularly working class women, yet they tell a fascinating tale of survival and fortitude.  All your books are based on real-life events; how do you decide which stories to use and what are your most useful research tools?

KT: It’s a very organic and fluid process. I tend to hear about things as I’m on my travels interviewing women, then I go to archives and see what more I can uncover. For example, the book I’m researching now about Bethnal Green’s wartime shelter library built over the tracks of the westbound tunnel at Bethnal Green Underground was sparked when a lovely wartime survivor and cockney, Pat Spicer, told me she used to borrow Milly Molly Mandy from the shelter library when she was a child and it sparked a lifelong love of reading.

I remember thinking, how peculiar and curious: was there really a library built over the tracks? She was young, perhaps she was mistaken? I went off to the local history library archives and sure enough, I should never have doubted an East End matriarch (they never forget) there it was, a perfect wood-panelled little library with 4,000 volumes, built 78 feet underground. This library offered a lifeline to thousands of weary wartime shelters, offering escape, solace and a blessed respite from the war waging overhead. I had heard of Dig for Victory but never Read for Victory.

AW: How interesting! It must have been a relief to escape from the difficulties of war for a few hours in the safety of the library. Your new book, Secrets of the Lavender Girls, is the sequel to Secrets of the Homefront Girls and are both set in the Yardley factory. The books focus on female friendships and the support women give each other. What did you find most inspiring about the real-life stories you gathered during your research?

KT: I think the ingenuity of the way women support one another, and their resilience. Women back then definitely placed female solidarity ahead of all else, and truly believed you had a duty to help those in your community, because you never knew when it was your turn to rely on that help: what little we had we shared. Neighbours were as close as friends. We lived collectively, not individually – are sentiments I have heard shared over again from Hoxton to Hackney.

Gladys, 92, puts it this way:

‘The problem is, once you reach a certain age, people think you’re not important,’ she frowns. ‘You cease to exist as a valid member of society. You’re a “dear”, not a person. There’s such a lack of understanding. We need to be teaching manners, morals and respect to our younger generation. Attitudes towards older people must change. We have lived through so much. We have stories to tell, and advice to offer.

‘After all, when you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future. We’re missing a trick by not utilising the skills and wisdom of our older generation.’

92-year-old Irene agrees: ‘I may have snow on the roof, but I’m not old, I have stories to tell.’

Women like Gladys and Irene don’t leave a paper trail, which makes it all the more rewarding when you do find them and listen to those stories. Because after all, aren’t we all in the business of storytelling?

These women and their generation are irreverent, subversive, politically aware, resourceful, cunning and wickedly funny. They got the job done and kept communities functioning.

AW: Never a truer word, Kate. These women are as important to history as the men who are also, quite rightly celebrated. They all fought the war, the men with guns, the women with their guts and ingenuity. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

Thank you, Kate, it’s been a wonderful insight.

Secrets of the Lavender Girls (Hodder & Stoughton) is available on Kindle and will be released in paperback on 21 January 2021.

 

 

Interview with author, Jane Cable

This is a new segment for the blog. Over the next few months, I will be talking to other authors about their writing, the inspirations behind their books and many other things.

To launch this new segment, I caught up with fellow Sapere Books author, Jane Cable.

Jane Cable

 

Jane’s first book with Sapere Books, Another You, was published in 2019 and her new book, Endless Skies, is out on 27 July 2020. Prior to this, Jane wrote the award winning The Cheesemaker’s House and the evocative, The Faerie Tree.




Hi Jane, congratulations on the publication of Endless Skies. Both this and your previous title, Another You, are novels featuring echoes from World War Two. What drew you to this particular time period?

 Jane Cable: I fell into World War Two by accident when I was researching the history of Studland Bay where Another You is set. This story began as a modern ghost story but then I discovered Studland was where most of the live ammunition practices for the D-Day landings (Operation Smash) were held. On the first day of the exercises, there was a tragic accident killing seven men. It spoke to me so loudly that I decided to keep my original characters, the Johnson family, but rewrite the plot to incorporate this historic event.

It had always been my intention for my first two books with Sapere Books to be a pair, but again, most of Endless Skies was written by the time I unlocked its World War Two element. My main character, Rachel Ward, is an archaeologist and I had her digging up Romans but it wasn’t working. During a visit to Lincolnshire, where the book is set, I visited Hemswell, a former Second World War RAF base, and suddenly, I knew why the Romans weren’t working, Rachel needed to be digging up the war. As soon as I realised this, everything fell into place.

 

AW: Isn’t it strange how the solutions to plot puzzles often find us! This seems even more pertinent to you as your characters are visited by shadows from the past. What was the inspiration behind your main character, archaeologist, Rachel Ward?

JC: Archaeology has always fascinated me and I thought it would be fun to have someone in that line of work as a character. Rachel is a career academic who, in many ways, has never reached emotional maturity; something she will never admit. Her inability to move forward is because of a trauma in her teenage past. She needs to be able to grow away from her comfort zone for the story to progress.

I also wanted to write about a highly intelligent woman who didn’t feel she had to hide her brightness to attract a man. In fact, she uses men and not always in a very pleasant way. Once I started to write, it surprised me how acerbic and difficult she was but I grew to love and respect her. It was an adventure for us both as I accompanied her on this journey of change.

 

AW: She sounds intriguing. With Rachel having such a specific job, did you find you had to do a lot of research into her career, as well as researching your WWII storyline? Which sources did you find most useful?

JC: Researching Rachel’s career was a labour of love! I disappeared down so many rabbit holes doing it. I spent a long time poring over Lincoln university’s website, visiting the campus, going to the local museums and reading dig reports from the area. These were time consuming but fascinating.

I first discovered these reports in Scunthorpe library, then found the online treasure trove that is the Archaeology Data Service. Not only could I read about digs in the locations Rachel was working, but I could also research the era and types of artefacts she would be digging up. I struck absolute gold with one extensive report into a field approximately two hundred metres away from Rachel’s fictional excavation.

The more research I did, the greater my desire to wield my own trowel and feel what it was like working in a trench. I volunteered for Dig Ventures and both my other half and I helped to excavate an Iron Age settlement on Bodmin Moor. It was the best experience and we’ve joined the Cornwall Archaeological Society. We’re longing to do it again.

Sounds great fun, Jane. Thank you so much for talking to me today.

 

Endless Skies is published on 27 July 2020, by Sapere Books, £2.99: available at: http://getbook.at/EndlessSkies

 

 

How do you choose a new book?

Morning all, it’s Friday and I’ve just posted on Twitter about the book I’m reading at the moment: At Risk by Stella Rimington, the
former head of Security Services.

It’s a new genre for me but espionage has always been a subject of interest, so it seemed time to give it a try, which  made me wonder, how other people choose their books? What draws you to a new read? Is it the cover? Recommendations? Favourite authors? Genre? Price? Instinct?

 

All these have affected my choices over the years. Some books you know from the moment you read the first line that you’re going to love the story, others are more of slow burn and creep up on you, suddenly enveloping you in their plot. But, what is it that makes you pick it up in the first place?

 

I’m going to post this link on social media (Twitter, Instagram, FaceBook and LinkedIn), let me know on whichever of these you prefer what it is that leads you to make your book choices.

 

Take care and have a great weekend.

 

Alexandra.

 

 

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy – Meeting Arbella

Throughout the Marquess House series, I’ve mentioned Arbella Stuart. She has been a shadow flitting across the plot and on Monday 25 May 2020, you’ll be able to read the final instalment of the trilogy and discover more about her in The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy (Sapere Books).

In The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy, Arbella appears as a character for the first time. She is a child and her heritage is explained but as a recap here’s where Arbella fits into the Tudor family tree, despite having the surname Stuart.

Her mother was Elizabeth Cavendish, who was the daughter of Bess of Hardwick, whose title was Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury. Elizabeth was Bess’s daughter from her second marriage to Sir William Cavendish, Treasurer of the King’s Chamber. They had eight children, with two dying in infancy.

By the time Elizabeth Cavendish was of marriageable age Bess had been married twice more, first to William St Loe, then to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury who is most well-known for being host or gaoler, depending on your perspective, to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary had escaped to England after the death of her husband Henry, Lord Darnley and her subsequent ill-judged marriage or elopement at knife-point – again depending on how you interpret events – to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. This is where things begin to curl around each other and demonstrates the intricacies of these families.

Henry, Lord Darnley

Henry, Lord Darnley was the eldest son of Lady Margaret Douglas. For those who have read it, Margaret was a character in The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. In this book, Margaret was in her early 20s and had recently survived a stint in the Tower of London, thanks to an ill-advised marriage to Thomas Howard, the younger half-brother of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. When we met her as a companion to Catherine Howard, she was involved with Catherine’s brother, Charles. While it is historically accurate Margaret and Charles were engaged, after his sister’s fall, Charles disappears from the historical records. Whether he died or fled abroad and died there, a stranger in an unknown land in an unmarked grave – history does not tell us. Two years later, in 1544, Margaret married Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox.

Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox, Arbella’s father

Margaret Douglas was a Tudor princess in all but name, being the daughter of Henry VIII’s elder sister, Margaret Tudor and her second husband, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. With Matthew Stewart, Margaret had two sons who lived to adulthood: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley who married Mary, Queen of Scots and Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox who married Elizabeth Cavendish and they had a daughter, Arbella Stuart. Charles, who never enjoyed the most robust health, died while Arbella was a baby. His mother, Margaret Douglas died in 1578 when Arbella was three and, her mother, Elizabeth died when Arbella was seven. After this, she was brought up by her grandmother, Bess of Hardwick.

(thought to be) Lady Margaret Douglas

It was through Margaret Douglas that Arbella had a claim to thethrone of England and Bess raised her in the manner befitting a princess of the blood royal. Many thought Arbella should have succeeded Elizabeth I but her rise to the throne was never to be and instead, her cousin, James VI of Scotland inherited the crown to become James I of England. Arbella was side-lined until she eloped and made a disastrous marriage to William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Through his grandmother, Lady Katherine Grey, who was herself a granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary, Seymour also had a blood claim to the throne. With their joint blood link, if Arbella had delivered a living son, King James would have been in trouble. To try and prevent this possibility, James had Arbella and William imprisoned in the Tower of London for treason.

 

The Tower of London

However, Arbella still had loyal friends who tried to help them escape. Disguised as a page, she fled the Tower, the plan being to meet her husband further down the river where they would escape to France. However, things went awry and while Seymour escaped, Arbella’s ship was apprehended by the Royal Navy not far from the French coast and she was returned to the Tower. She remained here until her death where in 1615.

I first discovered Arbella when I read Sarah Gristwood’s brilliant biography: Arbella – England’s Lost Queen (Bantam Books) in the early 2000s. Before this, I had never heard of her and this unexpected possibility that she could have followed Elizabeth on to the throne intrigued me. If this had been the case, then the Tudor legacy would have been a quartet of female monarchs: Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I and then Arbella, which is perhaps what worked against her and was the reason the Privy Council was so keen to invite a man to take the crown.
When a woman is monarch, it is other women who are close to her, men cannot assume the intimate roles that make them indispensable to a ruler, they always have to work through an intermediary. To have another unspecified amount of time with a woman holding power would have been anathema to the senior men in the court.

They were eager to have a man at the helm, so they could get the boys’ club going again with favours, jobs and land exchanges being made with a king. As James VI had a claim through both his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a granddaughter of Margaret Tudor from her marriage to her first husband, James IV, and his father, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who was the eldest son of Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Margaret Tudor from her second marriage. He was seen as the stronger claimant and on Elizabeth’s death, he was declared king.

James I

However, he may not have been Elizabeth’s choice. There is a tale suggesting that on her death bed when her Privy Councillors were asking her to name her successor, she supposedly made the shape of a crown above her head when James was named. In his book, Elizabeth – The Forgotten Years (pgs. 380-3), historian John Guy, suggests that while Elizabeth may have touched her head, she could simply have been touching her head and this detailed story of her supposed choice of monarch, were even in 1603, described as ‘false lies’. Elizabeth had left no written proclamation of her successor and in order to bolster the claim of the Scottish king, there were many versions of the supposed written testimonies of what happened at the Queen’s bedside, including one tale of her making an eloquent speech naming James but as she had been unable to speak for several days prior to this, it seems unlikely.

In which ever manner the Privy Council managed this coup, they were successful and James became king of England, while his cousin, Arbella was shunted into obscurity. For years, history was not kind to Arbella Stuart. She was painted as troublesome, difficult, argumentative and grasping, as well as potentially, mad. It has been suggested she suffered from the illness porphyria, a condition that has been variously prescribed to her relatives: Margaret Tudor, Mary, Queen of Scots and George III. She certainly seemed to have some form of condition but no conclusive evidence has ever proved a diagnosis.
Arbella, like her equally as defamed grandmother Bess, knew her worth and was prepared to fight for what she believed was rightfully hers – the throne of England. In doing this, she created enemies and, as with most powerful women of the time, earned a reputation for being a tyrant. However, from the extensive research I did on Arbella, the underlying sense that came across to me was a woman who was aware of her place in society but who, because of her gender, was thwarted at every turn. Had she been born a man, it’s possible she would have been given the crown, instead, she had to watch her cousin take the life she felt should have been hers.

Bess of Hardwick

No doubt she was often frustrated, who wouldn’t be? Yet, when reading her correspondence and taking into account the number of plots and schemes into which she threw herself, there was always a large and loyal entourage around Arbella. While some people remain loyal for their own personal gain, these are usually in the minority. Most supporters are their because they care about and, often, admire the person.

Many letters show Arbella’s caring nature, she wrote to friends and family prolifically, although many of her early letters have vanished. Friends helped her again and again and there were many sonnets, books, poems and ballads dedicated to her. Someone who can inspire such loyalty must have had a softer, more caring side, although this is rarely discussed.


In The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy, I have stuck to the facts where I can but there is a certain amount of re-imagining in Arbella’s story. She was a warrior princess who fought for her rights, only to die a prisoner in the Tower of London. She was strong, feisty, fearless and determined. I hope she would have enjoyed the alternate journey I have sent her on.

 

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy published on 25 May 2020 by Sapere Books.

 

The Marquess House Trilogy

Part One: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy

Part Two: The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy

Part Three: The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy

 

 

 

 

 

New Publication Date for The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy

Yesterday, due to events and issues concerning the Coronavirus, Amy Durant from Sapere Books and I agreed to change  the publication of The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy to 25 May 2020. This was not a decision we took easily but with publication date fast approaching and illness (everyone is OK now) delaying matters, we felt there was no option. We want to ensure the book is at its absolute best and didn’t want to rush the final edit. We hope you’ll understand our decision and hold your excitement in for another few weeks.

In the meantime, here are two things to take your minds off the strangeness of lockdown and the delay in the publication of book three of The Marquess House Trilogy.

The first is the competition currently running on Twitter to win signed copies of The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy (I’m @purplemermaid25, if you want to get involved). All you have to do is retweet the competition tweet and if you feel like following me at the same time, then that would be great too! A winner will be selected at random after the closing date of 22 April 2020. UK entries only, please. Sorry worldwide readers, but it’s all a bit tricky at the moment!

The other is this: a scene that had to be edited out of The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy because it was a bit long. There are no spoilers, so don’t worry if you’re still reading book two or are yet to get that far in the adventure. It involves a conversation  where Perdita and Piper learn more about Kit and his siblings while they were growing up.

 

Thanks as ever for all your support and I’ll keep you posted on The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. Hope you enjoy the extra scene.

 

Take care and stay safe.

 

xx

 

Deleted scene from The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy in which
Perdita and Piper learn Kit’s teenage nickname

 

Kit was shovelling down a huge fried breakfast and Perdita was not the only person watching him, aghast, at the sheer amount of food on his plate.

“How do you stay so skinny?” asked Pablo, sitting next to Perdita and pouring her a cup of thick, strong, fragrant coffee.

“I’ve been snowboarding this morning,” explained Kit, pushing his mug towards his soon-to-be brother-in-law for a refill, “I’m starving.”

A moment later, Piper arrived with Megan and Deborah Black. Megan glanced at Kit’s plate and raised her eyebrows.

“Your suit had better still fit you, Piglet,” she said. “You’re going to be our usher in a week and there isn’t time to get you another one.”

Kit rolled his eyes but did not respond to this sisterly jibe, instead he turned to Dr Black.

“How’s Sir Columbus Goldfinch this morning?”

Deborah laughed.

“You haven’t called him that for years,” she said.

“Elliot reminded me of it last night,” said Kit, “and how he was Midnight Black.”

Perdita and Piper exchanged bemused glances.

“They were the rather grandiose nicknames they all gave each other when they were children,” supplied Megan. “Sir Columbus Goldfinch, which was your maiden name, wasn’t it, Deborah?”

Dr Black nodded, grinning.

“Fabulous name,” said Perdita.

“Elliot was Sir Midnight Black,” Megan continued, “Stuart was Sir Panther Stowe-in-the-Wold, Mum’s maiden was Stowe and little Kitten here was…”

“Don’t you dare!” admonished Kit but his eyes were dancing with laughter.

“And little Kitten, here as the youngest, was Sir Catfish Kensie Burger.”

Perdita and Piper burst out laughing.

“Kensie Burger?” questioned Piper.

“The last part of Mackensie, which leaves ‘Mac’,” said Megan and Piper nodded in comprehension.

“Elliot wins in the nickname stakes,” Perdita giggled. “Although, Sir Catfish Kensie Burger is quite something. You should use it more often, Kit.”

“If I had my trusty knights with me, you sniggering damsels would…

“Laugh even more probably,” interrupted Megan.

The laughing and banter continued as they finished their breakfast, then Perdita rose, ready complete her list of allotted wedding tasks. Piper followed and the two of them stood for a moment staring out at the crisp white snow that had fallen over night.

“I was so excited when I first saw the snow,” said Piper, “now I’m very blasé about it!”

Perdita laughed. Despite the late night, the excitement in the castle was carrying everyone through any morning bleariness.

“We can test our new snow boots in it while we’re running all those errands for Megan,” said Perdita.

She broke off as there was a flurry of noise at the door and Elliot walked in followed by a tall, chestnut-haired man who was obviously his younger brother, Callum. Deborah and Kit both leapt to their feet and hurried over. Dark rings under Callum’s eyes and his slightly sickly pallor were all evidence of the recent illnesses he had been suffering. Kit gave a cry of joy and pulled the man into a huge hug. Perdita grinned and turned to her sister, ready for the two of them to be introduced but when she looked at Piper, she was horrified.

“Piper, what is it…?”

All, the colour had drained from Piper’s face and fury filled her eyes.

“Callum Black!” she snarled, barely able to speak such was her rage. “What the hell is he doing here?”

 

Find out what happens next by reading The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy

International Women’s Day 2020

Women in the Shadows

 

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, here’s a review of book written by an inspiring woman about brave, daring, bold and incredible women, most of whom have been ignored by historians and whose voices have been silenced: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth Century Britain by Nadine Akkerman redresses the balance.

Akkerman’s robust research in archives, libraries and private collections has allowed these remarkable women to find their voices again and, in studying their words and deeds, she has created an important, must-read book of a long-forgotten slice of women’s history.

At a time when it was almost impossible for men of rank to travel, women – who were viewed as being too weak and feeble to be a threat – rose to the challenge, carrying documents, letters and arranging for the moving of important political prisoners. Each study challenges preconceptions, taking the reader on an adventure as an entirely new and fresh perspective of women and the role they played in the development of spy-craft is revealed. From the mistress of Charles I to women willing to risk their lives to further political causes, Akkerman’s meticulous research presents a revelatory version of the politics and espionage throughout the English Civil War. Previously ignored, the contribution of these women is finally lauded and analysed from a scholarly but eminently readable perspective.

Two of the women discussed have a higher profile than others: Aphra Behn and Anne, Lady Halkett. Behn is routinely studied and it has long since been suggested she was a spy. Akkerman revisits the theories with precise and unbiased analysis, giving a new perspective on a formerly well-known version of events. Meanwhile Anne, Lady Halkett has been compared with Charlotte Brontë, Daniel Defoe, Walter Scott and Jane Austen, yet she is remembered more for her romantic attachments. Akkerman’s thorough analysis of Lady Halkett’s work reveals a politically astute woman aware of how to manipulate words to her own advantage.

Women may not have shouted about their involvement but in a world where women and men often existed in largely separate spheres, Akkerman highlights the need for a reinvestigation of the contribution to espionage made by other generations of women. Invisible Agents will grip and astound you from the first page. Treat yourself, this International Women’s Day and be inspired by Akkerman and the women she has brought into the spotlight.

5/5 Stars

Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth Century Britain by Nadine Akkerman

Published by Oxford University Press

Available in paperback from 5 March 2020, RRP £12.99

 

 

 

Sneak Preview!

There’s not much longer to wait now before I can reveal some news about the final instalment of The Marquess House Trilogy:
The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. As a little tease, I thought I’d choose a paragraph from the present day section and one from the historical story to whet your appetites.

There are no spoilers, only a tiny tiny glimpse of what is coming your way very soon.

Hope you enjoy the preview.

 

Perdita and Kit

After a few moments of fiddling, the strap holding the trunk shut moved. Perdita held her breath as, with care, Kit inched the leather through the toggle. When it was free, he turned to her and grinned. Her heart was beating in excitement. This reminded her of being on a dig, when every trowel full of earth might offer up a secret. Kneeling in front of the trunk, as though she were praying at an altar, Perdita pulled a mask across her face, the others mirrored her, then she gripped the edges of the lid and eased it open.

Arbella Stuart

Shaking her head to rid it of such dispiriting thoughts, Arbella resumed her pacing, reviewing her plans and evaluating their continuing viability. She had grown up surrounded by strong women and had learned from the nursery that in order to protect oneself in the uncertain world of the court, it was essential to remain forever alert and to build around oneself a trusted network of friends, spies and informers. This was even more important when royal blood flowed through your veins, as it did through hers, making her a potential heir to the throne of England.

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