Review: the Anarchy by Teresa Cole

'The sun and the day darkened about the noon-tide. Men were very much struck with wonder ... they said openly that Christ and his saints...


Review/Interview: House of Shadows - Pamela Hartshorne

After a haphazard career working and travelling around the world Pamela Hartshorne first stumbled into writing as a way to fund a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at the University of York. Twenty years, 60 romances and one Ph.D. later, she stepped out of her comfort zone and began writing 'time slip' novels that drew on her research into the streets of Elizabethan York.

Time’s Echo, published by Pan Macmillan in 2012, was her first mainstream novel. It was followed by The Memory of Midnight, published in 2013, The Edge of Dark in 2014 and House of Shadows in 2016.  Her next book, The Cursed Wife, will be out in February 2018.

She still lives in York and continues to work on the local court records that formed the basis of her PhD research, juggling historical fact with historical fiction in her novels. She is also a freelance writer, editor and project editor. She's fascinated by the relationship between the past and the present and has always enjoyed 'time slip' novels and how they explore the possibility that it might be possible to go back in time and see what it was "really like". As a trained historian, she knows that could never be possible, but as a storyteller, she finds the premise irresistible ...

She is always delighted to make contact with readers and fellow history enthusiasts. You can find out more about her on her website or get in touch on Facebook or Twitter @PamHartshorne - She'd love to hear from you!

"What's your first memory? Mine is of darkness, of weightlessness, of waiting. A stir of awareness, a drifting up towards consciousness only to sink back into nothingness."
That opening line drew me in, and kept me hooked. Kate can't remember who she is, or where she is. But she dreams. She dreams another life, that she is another person. House of Shadows presents so many questions, not least of which is 'which house is the house with the shadows?' Kate can't remember her accident, but she gradually 'remembers' more and more about Isabel's life, even though Isabel lived and died in the Tudor period.

This book offers a little of everything: the modern day scenes are realistic, drawn using authentic dialogue, as are the scenes set in Tudor times. There is mystery, there is menace, and there is tender human emotion. I thought I had worked out the mystery, when right at the end the author wound another twist into the intricate plot.

As we gradually find out what happened to Isabel - and here the author uses a brilliant technique of letting us, the reader, in on the secrets before Isabel discovers the truth - we also join Kate as she unravels the truth about life in Askerby Hall in the present day, where here, too, all is not as it seems. Like Kate, we do not know who is to be trusted, and the author skilfully ratchets up the tension.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and can't wait to read more of Pamela's books. After I'd read it, I put a few questions to her:

Where did the idea for the Tudor part of the story come from? Is any of it based on real life events?

PH: No, it’s all made up!  After three novels set in Elizabethan York, I originally intended that my fourth book would be set in London, but for some reason the idea of a great house on the moors took hold and wouldn’t be shaken free. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a trauma causing a collision between the past and the present: in Time’s Echo, it’s near drowning; in The Memory of Midnight it’s suffocation; and in The Edge of Dark it’s fire.

So when it came to House of Shadows, I chose a different fear.  This time the traumatic event is a fall from a great height: what would be the highest one could fall in the sixteenth century? It seemed to me that I needed a tower, and then of course I had to ask what my character was doing on top of a tower. Did they fall or were they pushed? For me, plotting is all about asking questions, and letting the characters answer them …

Is Askerby Hall based on a real location? And if so, is it a house which is open to the public?

The house is based in part on beautiful Burton Agnes Hall, an Elizabethan mansion that has been in the same family for 400 years – although I hope that family bear no resemblance to the Vavasours! Burton Agnes is in the Yorkshire Wolds, not far from Bridlington, but one of the great things about writing fiction is that I was able to move it and drop it in the North York Moors, somewhere in the vicinity of Lastingham, and I endowed it with a couple of sinister towers remarkably like those at the weird and wonderful Chillingham Castle.

As for Crabbersett, the house where Isabel and Judith grew up, that’s based very much on Cotehele, a gorgeously atmospheric National Trust property in Cornwall.

If you’re interested, you can see photos of all these places on my blog

When readers have read and enjoyed this book, which of your others would you recommend they go to next?

Time’s Echo, The Memory of Midnight and The Edge of Dark are all ‘time slips’ set partly in the present and partly in the sixteenth century, and like House of Shadows, they all explore the relationship between the past and the present.

Buy House of Shadows

Review/Interview - Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: Samantha Wilcoxson

Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history, especially the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognised as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice. The Plantagenet Embers series continues with Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole and will conclude with Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.


There are two things I must say straight away: the first is that I know Samantha's writing through her blog, and through her contributions to EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) and I know that her research, and her deep knowledge of the period, are excellent. I don't need to question the 'historical' content because I know it to be sound. Thus, without giving away any spoilers, I can assert that any suppositions she makes are grounded firmly in historical certainties, and the novelist is always at liberty to fill in gaps, if done plausibly.

Secondly, I have to say that what drew me very strongly to this book was its novelty factor, the very subject matter itself. They must be out there, but I am not aware of any books about this period which concentrate on that somewhat shadowy figure Elizabeth of York, whom I have always been taught was the woman who brought the warring factions together, who legitimised the claims of the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. Beyond that, I didn't know much about her and now I feel that I do.

In this book, inevitably, we begin with the latter stages of the Wars of the Roses, but the author very quickly, and sensibly, moves on. She gives us just enough background information, without going over ground which is extremely well-trodden already. Briskly, she scoops us into Elizabeth's life, and tells the story very much from her point of view, and as such, she is a refreshing witness to events which can sometimes feel over-familiar. I was intrigued to know what Elizabeth might have thought about her role as 'peace-weaver'.

There are many references to God, and I found that refreshing, too. Often, novelists forget how strong was the faith of those living through such times, how central to their lives their religion was. The harsh realities of life at this time are also pointed out and we as readers are not shielded from this, nor should we be.

I particularly liked the way the author gives a version of events which I had never thought of and yet, when considered, seem obvious: the fact that Elizabeth sees Plantagenet features in her daughter, and in her son, the future Henry VIII; that her son Arthur behaves like one born to be king, in a way that Henry VII doesn't. And, most telling of all, that the pretender Perkin Warbeck would have threatened her own son's claims to the throne. I enjoyed the theory about what made Warbeck so convincing - the idea that his success, as far as it went, owed as much to his personal qualities as his bloodline. This idea clearly comes from an author who has studied what happened and thought about the possible realities, based on human nature.

There are not many secondary characters, but the author I think is deliberately keeping her cast small, never losing sight of the story she is telling, and really trying to hold Elizabeth of York under a microscope. It is easy, perhaps, to forget that Elizabeth lived on after her marriage, the point at which the focus usually shifts completely to the Tudors.

I struggled a little with the 'Americanisms' from time to time, but it is neither the author's fault nor mine that we hail from different sides of the Atlantic.

Ultimately for me, reviewing a book boils down to two things. Did it start well enough for me to continue reading, and did it end well enough for me to recommend it to others? Happily, I can answer yes to both these questions!

After reading the book, I put a couple of questions to Samantha:

How did the idea for the book come about: what was it that drew you to tell Elizabeth's story?

SW: I had decided that I was ready to take on historical fiction, not just something for younger readers but the kind of book that I would want to read. When I thought about the era that I knew the most about, the Wars of the Roses, I knew that I would have to be creative if I were going to do something that would be unique. It struck me that Elizabeth of York had connections to all the key players but few writers ever focused on her. As soon as she came into my mind, the story started writing itself. I had great appreciation for this woman who devoted herself to peace and raising her family rather than fighting for her own power. Strong women like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou tend to be popular figures, but I was drawn to Elizabeth of York's quiet strength.

Once readers have enjoyed this, what can they expect from the next book?

SW: Faithful Traitor picks up where Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen ends, with Margaret Pole receiving the news of her cousin's death. Margaret shares Elizabeth's royal bloodline but has an entirely different challenge as she raises her children under the new regime. The focus of this book is not on Henry VIII and his marital scandals, but upon Margaret's family and their difficulties in being recognized for their royal status without appearing as though they are reaching for the crown. Margaret is a mother first, but she is not as submissive as Elizabeth and she loses her husband at a relatively young age, so she is forging their future on her own. When Henry VIII becomes king, he raises up the Pole family since he is confident in his own power and does not feel threatened as his father did. It is not until too many years go by without the birth of a son that Margaret's family comes under suspicion once again with devastating effect. Margaret's story is a look at familiar events from a unique point of view.

The final book of the trilogy, Queen of Martyrs, is due out in spring 2017. It will carry on with Queen Mary's story, including her attempt at counter-reformation with the help of Margaret's son, Cardinal Reginald Pole.

Connect with Samantha: BLOG

The Jacobite Chronicles - Review, Interview, and More ...

I'm delighted to welcome author Julia Brannan back to the blog to announce the release of the fourth book in the Jacobite Chronicles. But first, a round-up of the story so far:

The Mask of Duplicity
Beth’s hopes of a quiet life are dashed when her brother Richard, dissatisfied with his meagre inheritance and desperate for promotion, decides to force her into a marriage for his military gain. And he will stop at nothing to get his way. A chance encounter with a gang of Jacobites led by the Highlander Alex McGregor, seems to be a dangerous but brief interlude in her life, but will have consequences she cannot foresee. Beth is thrown into the glittering social whirl of Georgian high society and struggles to conform. The effeminate but witty socialite Sir Anthony Peters offers to ease her passage into society but she finds herself plunged into a world where nothing is as it seems and everyone hides behind a mask...

The Mask Revealed
Britain moves ever closer to the 1745 rebellion and the impending attempt to restore the Stuarts to the British throne. With no other options available to her, Beth marries, but the ink on the marriage contract is hardly dry when she makes a shocking discovery. Will she opt for the safe but dreary life her husband wishes her to lead, or will she fight for a life of passion, adventure and excitement, knowing that in doing so, she risks not only her own life, but the lives of those she loves?

The Gathering Storm
The year is 1744, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart is stranded in France, his hopes temporarily frustrated, as the planned French invasion to restore his father to the British throne has had to be abandoned. The prince, frustrated beyond endurance, makes an impulsive decision that will change  the lives of the MacGregor family. Alex MacGregor is in Scotland, introducing his new wife to her new clan. In London, events take an unexpected turn, as a good deed by Beth has repercussions that she could never have envisaged, proving that the past is not easily forgiven or forgotten...

I've read all three of these books, and I have to say that I am eagerly awaiting Episode Four. Beth is an intelligent heroine; high-spirited, but not 'feisty' - her character is more nuanced. If I tell you that it's difficult to review the Jacobite Chronicles without peppering the page with spoilers, then you will get some idea of how intricately plotted these books are. In Sir Anthony, Julia has created a marvellous character who could have easily become a caricature, but doesn't. We are allowed to see inside his world, to see the face behind the clown's make-up, and it endears us to him. In Alex MacGregor, too, Julia gives us a man who has everything to fight for, and much to lose, and yet is so much more than a cardboard cut-out heroic figure. As readers we are permitted to know his thoughts, and this adds context and texture which fleshes out the story and makes us feel that we are not witnessing, but actually going along with him on his journey. Julia has the ability to whisk her readers from scene to scene, country to country, and not leave us feeling breathless. There is an immediacy which allows us to feel that we are not watching, but in the room with these very real people.

I put some questions to Julia:~

What was the inspiration for the series?
I was inspired to write the series when researching my family history. I came to a dead end with my Gordon ancestors, who appear to have moved to Ireland for a time and then back to Scotland in the 1830s. I found this a little odd, as the part of Ireland they came from was very poor, so they certainly didn’t emigrate for economic reasons. I started to research the period in an attempt to discover why, and then became obsessed with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, and the period in general. I’d never realised how fascinating the 18th Century was until then! I initially wrote out a flimsy plot for one short novel, and the series developed from there.

You obviously spend a great deal of time with these characters; do you listen to particular music tracks when you are writing? Or is there any music which is particularly associated with the period in which the books are set?
I don’t listen to music at all when I’m actually at the computer writing. I find it distracting at that time. But when I’m in the research process I immerse myself in the period as much as I can, and so listen to a lot of baroque music; composers such as Handel ( a great favourite of the Hanoverian king) Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Bach, etc when I’m writing about the aristocracy. I listened to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos several times, because this is the music that Beth is listening to in Chapter 12 of The Mask Revealed when Lord Winter drives her to distraction! If you want to listen to it, here’s a pretty good rendition on YouTube

When preparing to write about the Highlanders, I listen to Scottish folk music of the time, or Celtic folk music in general. Most of the songs I mention, including the ones that the MacGregors listen to and sing along with are real songs of the time (yes, including ‘Piss on the Grass’).

A particularly lovely album of songs about the ’45, is Glenfinnan, Songs of the ’45 by Capercaillie. This is absolutely gorgeous, and includes what has to be one of the most heartrending songs I’ve ever heard, Mo Run Geal Og (My fair young love), which was written by a woman whose husband was killed at Culloden. I can’t find an online version of it by Capercaillie, but here’s an instrumental

As for inspiration in general, an album I listen to regularly is actually by an extremely talented friend of mine, Rob Carroll, and is titled The Celtic Mirror. I particularly love his version of Christy Moore’s, The Fishermen Coneely.

Have you pinpointed a moment in your characters' futures when you, and we the readers, will leave them - in other words, do you know at which point you will end the story?
I have. I’ve always known how the series ends, but I’m now starting to think my readers won’t be happy if I leave my characters at that point in their lives, so I may continue the story past my original ending point. I’ll see how things unfold, and what my readers want.

Tell us about the upcoming instalment?
The Storm Breaks deals with the actual ’45 as it’s called, from the time when Prince Charles Stuart landed in Scotland to the end of the rebellion itself. Books Five and Six will deal with the aftermath of the uprising. I can’t really say any more without giving away the plot!

Thanks Julia - I can't wait to read the Storm Breaks.
Find Julia via the links below, and please come back to the blog in the New Year, when I will be posting more review/interviews, and inviting fellow authors to share their musical inspirations.

Find Julia On Amazon

Men with Great Hair, and Finding Nuggets in Footnotes - Cryssa Bazos shines light on the 17th Century

I'm delighted to welcome Cryssa Bazos as my guest today.
I began by asking her:
When did you first begin writing- and have you always written about history?

 I started writing on the forehead of my doll because I was too young to ask for paper. I still have that doll. My first story was written in grade 4, and it was a mystery in the style of Nancy Drew meets Scooby Doo called The Mystery of King Arthur’s Court. Spoiler: Merlin did it.

I went on to co-write a historical romance that, thankfully, is locked tight in a floppy disk, which no modern computer can access. But that trial manuscript taught me more than how not to write a book; it illuminated my passion for historical fiction. I had as much fun researching it as writing.

Can you tell us what draws you to the 17th century in general and the Civil War in particular?

I’ve always been drawn to periods of upheaval and great social change, and the English Civil War is all that. At the time, it was unthinkable that a faction of Parliament could try and execute a king. Earlier periods of civil war in England (the Anarchy and War of the Roses) were great dynastic struggles with someone wanting to seize the throne, not eliminate the position entirely. Breaking this tie to the king led people to question their place in the world.

The darkest moments in human history spawns periods of huge advances. The 17th century saw the beginning of the early modern age and the system of government that we, in Commonwealth countries, still have today. Thanks to the explosion of literacy and diary writing, we begin to hear from women about the matters that concerned them. This was also a time of exploration into the New World, of pushing frontiers. When readers become more familiar with this incredible era, it will surely rival the earlier Tudor period.

According to 1066 And All That, the Cavaliers were ‘Wrong but Wromantic’ and the Roundheads were ‘Right and Repulsive’ – care to give us your verdict?

There’s a great deal of romanticism attached to the Royalist side, thanks to how earlier historians and authors depicted the cavaliers. My first introduction to the civil war came from Alexandre Dumas’s Twenty Years After, when two of the famous Musketeers rush to rescue Charles I before he is executed. It’s a thrilling adventure and the romance of it stayed with me. I blame Dumas for fuelling my Royalist inclinations.

Putting aside the romantic, the Royalists were mainly trying to preserve the status quo and many saw this as an opportunity to climb the social ladder through royal favour. Given that we are social creatures, hierarchy tends to be hardwired into us. Therefore, it’s not surprising that we have a great tendency to protect this structure. I wouldn’t classify this as wrong, only one aspect of human nature.

Those who supported Parliament were driven by more diverse motivations. There were moderates who wanted the King to be more accountable to Parliament, not create a new system. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Levellers, who believed in the rights of all men, not only the landed gentry. If you could merge the beliefs of both these groups, you have modern democracy. I give them double checkmarks for being ‘right’.

Where the ‘repulsive’ kicks in, at least for me, is the military coup led by the Independents that resulted in Oliver Cromwell being named Lord Protector and de facto King. During this period, moderate MPs were prevented from holding their seat in Parliament and the Leveller movement was squashed. This was nothing more than a power grab. Add to this the extreme religious dogma prevalent within this faction, and I find it hard to find anything ‘right’ about this movement.

Two periods of history, which seem to be consistently overlooked, are the medieval period before 1066, and the 17th century. I was told that in the case of the Anglo-Saxons, it’s because they’re perceived to have worn sacks for clothes and lived in wooden huts—no match for Tudor fiction with the beautiful costumes. And yet a lot of dress in the 17th century was exquisite, so do you have any thoughts on why there isn’t more fiction/drama set in the period?

I’ve heard that before. So sad that a period is judged by the clothes that people wore. In the case of the Tudors, HBO gave them a huge promotional advantage. Suddenly Henry was elevated from a corpulent monarch with a serial wife problem to a sexy heartthrob. I’ve no doubt that the rich costumes sparked HBO’s interest in this era in the first place.

The early part of the 17th century was mired in war—first in Scotland and then in England and Ireland, so fashions were limited to pot helmets and buff coats, but the Restoration period (when Charles II reclaimed his throne) was brilliant for clothes. And the hair! Men of the Stuart age had great hair. HBO—are you listening? Charles II could do circles around Henry.

I’m puzzled as to why more people haven’t picked up on this period, at least the Restoration. Traditionally, most of the stories set during the 17th century tended to revolve around Charles’s mistresses, but I’d like to see more stories about Charles. There was so much more to this complex and intelligent man than who he was sleeping with.  Based on the flurry of books that have been released, the 17th century seems to be gaining momentum. There are good signs that we’re getting over this obscurity, and all for the right reasons.

How do you set about writing—does a piece of research give you an idea for a story, or does the story arrive first and compel you to research its background?

Research never fails to inspire my story ideas. There are many gaps in history, and this is where the gold can be found for fiction—it’s where the ‘what if’s’ flourish. I like to plot out the historical events, and as I’m trying to make sense of the history—the whys and wherefores, I start to see where my story lies. And footnotes! Incredible nuggets can be found in the footnotes.

Once, when scrolling through British History Online, I stumbled on an account in the House of Lords Journal about a former Parliamentary major, a man respected by his peers and once offered the mayorship of Coventry, who was arrested for conspiring with the Royalists. The man’s defection shook the officials at Whitehall. They sent someone to question him, but before they reached Coventry, he had already escaped from the gaol. This piqued my interest. What caused him to change sides? Who helped him escape, and where did he go? The incident ended up becoming an important subplot in my story.

Has there been anything on film or tv about the period that you admired or enjoyed? Or conversely, that you hated?

It isn’t without its flaws, but I did very much enjoy To Kill A King. Tim Roth’s portrayal of Oliver Cromwell was intense and showed the man’s progress from a brilliant and dedicated commander to someone corrupted by power.

Years ago, there was an A&E mini-series called Charles II: The Power and the Passion that focused on the complexities of the Restoration court which was also well done.

To veer away from film and TV for a moment, The Dolmen, a local band in Weymouth, created a concept album called the Crabchurch Conspiracy about a foiled Royalist uprising. Spoken word tracts, written by historian Mark Vine, combine with lively music to tell a thrilling story.

For anyone wanting to learn more about this period, where would you recommend they start?

Please visit my blog as a start. Besides sharing stories about the civil war, I have historical links to sources that give a good overview of the time.

The period is so diverse that it’s hard to find a source that covers the entire era well. Pick up anything by Antonia Fraser. For an excellent history of how the civil war affected the people, check out The English Civil War: A People’s History, by Diane Purkiss. Another terrific book is Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England, by Lita-Rose Betcherman. One of the sisters, Lucy, the Countess of Carlisle, was deeply involved in court intrigue, and at one point, flirted with both sides. Diary writing became popular during this age, and you can’t underestimate the value of these first hand accounts. People immediately think of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, but there are incredible accounts written by Brilliana Harley, Ann Fanshawe and Lucy Hutchinson. On my TBR list is Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War, by John Stubbs.

In fiction, one of my favourites is The King’s General, by Daphne du Maurier. A classic (if you can find it) is Wintercombe, by Pamela Belle. Other (new) English Civil War novels that I’ve recently discovered are M.J Logue’s Uncivil War (Babbitt) series and D.W Bradbridge’s Cheswis mysteries. On my TBR list is Jemahl Evans, The Last Roundhead.

Finally, what’s next—anything in the pipeline?

My novel, Traitor’s Knot, is currently making its way through the query/submission process. It’s the first in a series that spans from the last part of the civil war to the Restoration. Traitor’s Knot is the story of James Hart, a Royalist officer turned highwayman, and Elizabeth Seton, a healer, who defy the religious austerity of Cromwellian society to support the exiled King Charles II. This is about sacrifice and conflicting loyalties. To read an excerpt, or to see my latest book trailers, drop by my website.

As for what’s next, I’ve started researching and planning Book 2. I’ve recently been introduced to Aeon Timeline (a must-have program for any historical fiction writer!), and together with Scapple and Scrivener, I’m happily mapping out the next three stories.

Thanks to Cryssa for such illuminating answers and for being my guest today

Book Trailers:
Traitor’s Knot: Part 1
Traitor’s Knot: Part 2
Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW). She has published articles in the Word Weaver and the Canadian Authors Association e-zine. Short Stories include Confessions of a Tooth Fairy, Warwick Market, and The Dragon. Cryssa has recently completed a historical fiction novel, Traitor’s Knot, a romantic tale of adventure set during the English Civil War. Traitor’s Knot is the first in a series of adventures spanning from the ECW to the Restoration.

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