Guest Post - Helen Hollick

Today I am delighted to hand over the blog to guest Helen Hollick, author of - among other things - the Jan Christopher Cosy Murder Mystery ...

Thursday 24 August 2023

Guest Post - Helen Hollick

Today I am delighted to hand over the blog to guest Helen Hollick, author of - among other things - the Jan Christopher Cosy Murder Mystery Series. Book 4, A Meadow Murder, has just been published. Over to Helen:


Make hay while the sun shines?

Summer 1972. Young library assistant Jan Christopher and her fiancé, DS Lawrence Walker, are on holiday in North Devon. There are country walks and a day at the races to enjoy, along with Sunday lunch at the village pub, and the hay to help bring in for the neighbouring farmer.

But when a body is found the holiday plans are to change into an investigation of murder, hampered by a resting actor, a woman convinced she’s met a leprechaun and a scarecrow on walkabout...

A Meadow Murder is the fourth tale in the Jan Christopher cosy murder mystery series, the first three being A Mirror Murder, A Mystery of Murder and A Mistake of Murder... see what I’ve done there? Yes, I’ve created a proper puzzle for myself because now every tale in the series will have to follow the same title pattern of ‘A M-something- of Murder’ (Suggestions welcome!) 

Fancy a fictional holiday in Devon?

By Helen Hollick

There are several advantages to having a fictional holiday via the pages of a novel. It’s a lot cheaper for one thing, (even sort-of free if you are signed up for membership with Kindle Unlimited). No packing or travelling, unless you count wandering into the back garden and settling in your favourite deckchair. You can also avoid the rain. With A Meadow Murder, you can sit back, glass of wine and bowl of strawberries or raspberries to hand to tuck into whether you’re indoors or out, and immerse yourself with Jan Christopher and fiancé DS Laurie Walker in the hot Devonshire  sunshine. You can wander up the lane with them, spend a day at the races and enjoy haymaking all from the comfort of home.

Based on my years of working as a library assistant during the 1970s, the Jan Christopher mysteries alternate between the location of Chingford, north-east London, where the real library I worked in used to be, (the building is still there, but is, alas, now offices,) and I’ve loosely used my own Devon village. But the fictional ‘Chappletawton’ is a fictional version, larger than my rural community and has far more quirky characters.

The main characters in the series, however, remain the same: Jan Christopher is the niece, and ward, of Detective Chief Inspector Toby Christopher and his wife, her Aunt Madge. In A Mirror Murder, Jan (short for January, a name she hates) meets her uncle’s new driver, Detective Constable Lawrence Walker. Naturally, it is love at first sight... but will an investigation into a murder affect their budding romance?

We find out as the series continues: Episode Two takes the young couple to spend Christmas at Laurie’s parents’ old farmhouse in Devon, while Episode Three sees us back at work at Chingford library. We again travel to Devon for the summer of 1972 in Episode Four - A Meadow Murder. And no spoilers, but the title is a little bit of a giveaway!

I had the idea for A Meadow Murder during the summer of 2022, while watching our top field being cut for hay. The cover photograph is my field – a real Devonshire hay meadow, and the scenes in the story are based on my everyday life, including walks up the lane and climbing up small waterfalls. 

"As delicious as a Devon Cream Tea!” author Elizabeth St John

"Every sentence pulls you back into the early 1970s... The Darling Buds of May, only not Kent, but Devon. The countryside itself is a character and Hollick imbues it with plenty of emotion." author Alison Morton


Interlude – written by Laurie Walker

Reaching home, Jan and Aunt Madge went indoors to make cocoa. I went on down the lane for a few yards to check that Dad had shut and locked the garage door. It had originally been the smaller of the two old barns on the other side of the lane, opposite the house. Bess came with me, her nose sniffing out all the delightful doggie smells along the hedge, her tail wagging as it always did. I found that the garage padlock was firmly secured and stood a while, looking down across the moonlit valley. The last train to Barnstaple clattered over a bridge, the lights from its carriages winking and blinking as it snaked around the curve of the track, trundled up an incline and was gone from sight, though not sound, as I could hear it chugging and clattering for another couple of minutes.

An owl hooted close by, answered by its mate. Somewhere down in the valley, possibly the training yard at Four Horseshoes, a dog was barking. I mused on how Ruairi O’Connor had fared this evening. Not well I would hazard, for Jack Woollen was not known for mincing his words when disappointed by poor results. Why he employed O’Connor I couldn’t fathom. He was not a particularly good rider, let alone a good jockey. Dad had told me that he’d heard rumours that Mr Woollen was not doing as well as he used to – rumours certainly backed up by today’s performances. Perhaps he couldn’t afford a decent jockey to ride for him now?

There was something more about that jockey that Jan was keeping from me. I’d noticed her grim expression when first seeing him in the parade ring, then her quiet smile of satisfaction when he and his horse had parted company. Had she the same feeling of unease about this guy as I had? That there was something not quite right about his ability and attitude? Or maybe I was imagining things, my policeman’s mind working overtime. Seeing shadows where there were none.

I stood, breathing in the damp, night air. I loved Devon, was not keen on London, but then I also loved my job – and that meant London. In London you could not see many stars, too much interference from street lighting, houses, cars, industrial estates. Here, the sky was full of stars, although they were not as brilliant because of the moon. On moonless nights the Milky Way was visible arcing like a distant, misted rainbow – a starbow? – across the back garden. Something bright was fairly low, hovering and twinkling above the hills. The wrong time of year and position for Sirius, the Dog Star. Venus maybe? Too bright for anything else.

Bess nudged my hand as if to tell me she was ready for bed. I put my hand down to fondle her soft, Labrador ears. It had been a good day. I was a lucky man. Kind, supportive parents, a rewarding, mostly enjoyable job, and a beautiful young woman who would, soon, be my wife. I couldn’t believe my luck that I had found Jan, although I did occasionally wonder what on earth she saw in me, an ordinary, nothing special guy. Yes, I was a policeman, but that didn’t make me Batman or Superman, did it?

The dog down in the valley had stopped barking. Apart from the wind rustling through the trees, all was quiet. Tomorrow – I had a quick look at my watch, no, today – was Mum’s birthday. Nothing special, she was forty-something, (I’ll not be indelicate enough to reveal a lady’s age), but whatever her age she was special to me and Dad, and, I hoped, Jan also. 

One last glance at the sky and a shooting star flared across the heavens. I made a wish, and no, I’ll not reveal that, either.

Tucked up in bed, I took a while to fall asleep. Partly because Jan was at the other end of the house, alone in her bed and I rather wished we could be together, but discretion meant otherwise, and partly, I couldn’t sleep because my mind wouldn’t let go of that torchlight in the woods. I must have succumbed at some point, though, because I awoke muzzily, with a vague, early morning mist-bound greyness beyond the window, and Bess downstairs, barking.

I groaned and was tempted to bury my head under the pillow, but the barking continued, and I realised that someone was frantically knocking at our front door.

READ ON IN A Meadow Murder, and immerse yourself in country life during the summer of 1972 ... and maybe solve a murder along the way?

Buy Links - Paperback or e-book, including Kindle Unlimited

Amazon Universal Link: this link should take you direct to your own local Amazon online store

Also available worldwide, or order from any reliable bookstore

All Helen’s books are available on Amazon:


First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/supernatural series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler.

She lives with her husband and daughter in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, enjoys hosting author guests on her own blog ‘Let Us Talk Of Many Things’ and occasionally gets time to write...


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Twitter: @HelenHollick

Tuesday 18 July 2023

New Release: Rogue by Charlene Newcomb

I'm delighted to welcome Charlene Newcomb to the blog today, to talk about her new release, Rogue:

Tell us about your new book…
Rogue is a tale of Robin Hood, but one that will offer a different take on the origins of the legend most know as Robin Hood and the Merry Men. In my tale, Allan a Dale has been leading the outlaw gang I call The Hood, since King Richard’s death in 1199. 

After years of knightly service to Richard, Robin who-is-not-yet-Hood has [mostly] led a quiet life with Marian in Yorkshire. Both Robin and Allan are old enemies of King John - they helped thwart John’s attempt to usurp the throne when Richard was king. 

The year is now 1216.  Allan is captured and thrown in Nottingham Castle’s dungeons to await execution upon the king’s arrival. Robin will not leave his former squire to the noose. But when your estranged son Robert is in the Sheriff of Nottingham’s household, a rescue attempt could get ugly. If you like stories of fathers and sons, knights and outlaws, spies, and a bit of romance, then Rogue may be right up your alley. 

Does the new book fit in with your other books? Are they related or linked?
Rogue is a standalone but is related to my Battle Scars trilogy where many of the characters were introduced as secondary players. Rogue’s main character Sir Robert, son of of Marian and Robin, was 12 years old in For King and Country (Battle Scars II). Now, in 1216, he is 34… which makes his da Robin 53. 

Let’s go back a minute… you said Robin has mostly led a quiet life with Marian. Can you elaborate?
Ah yes, so I did. Robin went into self-imposed exile after King Richard’s death because he knew that John, once crowned king, would seek revenge. Many assume he is long dead. He spends his days training squires at Castle l’Aigle. But Allan’s Hood gang gets help from him. Robert recalls Robin’s regular trips to Nottingham supposedly on business for the lord of l’Aigle. As Rogue opens, he has no idea Robin’s extracurricular activities included pilfering supplies from the castle undercroft with Allan for those in need. 

In the original ballads,  Robin and Marian did not have children. In Rogue, they are married. You’ve noted their son Robert is a main character, but do they have other children?
Two more: their daughter Lucy is 19, and son Richard is age 15 (and yes, named in honor of King Richard). Young Richard managed to talk me into giving him a bigger role in the novel.

How and/or when did you get hooked on history? What role has history played in your personal life?
I was the kid in school who always liked to study history when everyone else found it boring, well, and honestly, the way it is taught - dates, event, a person - yeah, boring. But I would hear something and want to know more. Back in the dark ages (the 1960s), my parents had a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I would pull a volume out and dive into it. 

Most summers when we traveled hundreds of miles from South Carolina to visit relatives in New York or Iowa, my Dad would make a point of stopping along the way (or slightly out of the way). We visited Lincoln’s birthplace, Amish country, famous Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields, Washington, DC, Williamsburg, VA, and dozens more places of historic interest. 

I wanted to teach high school history until I learned I needed more college credits in education/how to teach rather than in history. (How can you teach a subject when you haven’t been immersed in it?)  So I majored in US History. Never have written that 1776 time-travel novel… 

Where do you get ideas for your books?
I wish ideas just sprang from my brain to the keyboard without effort, but that isn’t the case. I guess most have come from an event - like the Third Crusade, which I studied up intently on after seeing it referenced in the television series Robin Hood (BBC). There is such rich material about the crusades, Lionheart, King Philip of France, Prince John - translations of contemporary chronicles were priceless gems. Rather than write about the well-known real people, I decided to focus on two fictional knights who served King Richard. I followed those knights and their close friends through 3 novels until the end of Richard’s reign. 


Enjoy this excerpt from the opening chapter of Rogue:

Chapter 1
Sherwood Forest
September 1216

Wooded hillsides hugged the holloway along the Old North Road. Sir Robert Fitzwilliam eyed the steep slopes soaring to ridges as high as the stone curtain surrounding Nottingham Castle. A prime spot for an ambush, barely wide enough for a wagon.

Robert rode knee-to-knee with a mail-clad knight in the rearguard of Sheriff Marc’s mesnie. The men and their ten companions carried swords, maces, and shields, outfitted for war. Pounding hooves and clinking mail masked the sounds of birds and tree branches swaying overhead. The remainder of the troop shadowed them a few miles back.

The road narrowed, barely a trail, and the horses slowed. The knight beside Robert ran his hand along the scabbard attached to his sword belt. “God willing, Allan and his Hood gang are clever enough not to rob the sheriff again.”

Robert glanced over his shoulder, and then towards the ridge. If it’s the Allan a Dale I remember, you don’t know him well. The chance of an outlaw attack could explain Marc’s tactic of splitting his troop. An ambush. But for whom?

Sweat soaked into Robert’s short-cropped beard, and not from the heat of the day. He dreaded the thought of crossing swords with Allan.

He’d a grudging respect for the man, and that long before stories of Allan of the Hood and his gang in Sherwood Forest became near legend. From king to peasants, everyone had heard them told in great halls or around campfires.

They’d met twenty-some years ago when Robert was a boy, Allan barely one himself. It had been ages since their paths crossed. 

Allan had served the late King Richard as squire to Robin du Louviers—Robert’s father.

Robert’s jaw tightened. Father? The man hadn’t bothered to meet his son until Robert was twelve summers…

But his connections to Robin and Allan could never be shared. It would place people he cared for—family and friends—in danger.

But here he was now, part of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s household. The sheriff who answered to King John. The king who would see Robin dangle from a gibbet…if he knew he still lived.

What had he been thinking when he joined the sheriff’s troop?

He should have known better.

A knight sworn to keep a family secret.
A king who seeks revenge.
A daring plan to save one life…or condemn many.
England 1216AD. Sir Robert Fitzwilliam faithfully serves the English crown, but when the outlaw Allan a Dale, a childhood friend, is captured and thrown in the sheriff’s dungeons beneath Nottingham Castle, trouble is certain to follow.
Allan’s days are numbered. Nothing would please King John more than to see an old nemesis hanged. Nothing except watching Robert’s estranged father, Robin, dangling dead from a rope beside him.
When his father joins forces with the Hood gang to rescue Allan, enlisting the aid of friends and even the girl he loves, Robert must decide where his loyalties lie.
Before there was Robin Hood, there was Allan of the Hood. You know their story – in Sherwood Forest, they rob from the rich and give to the poor. Rogue is a retelling of the origins of the Robin Hood legends set during a time of a rebellion and invasion near the end of King John’s reign. It’s a thrilling adventure of loyalty, love, sacrifice, spies, and intrigue.

Available on Amazon 

About the Author:

Charlene Newcomb, aka Char, writes historical fiction and science fiction. Her Battle Scars trilogy is set in the 12th century during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. It’s filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love. All 3 books are indieBRAG Medallion honorees; Book II is a Historical Novel Society Editors Choice, a finalist in the Chaucer Awards for pre-1750 Historical Fiction, and received an Honorable Mention from Writer's Digest. 

While medieval historical fiction has her under its spell at the moment, her writing roots are in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now known as Legends) where she published her first short story in 1994 in the Star Wars Adventure Journal. She published a scifi/space opera, Echoes of the Storm, which was awarded 1st in category in the Chanticleer International Book Awards in 2021.

Librarian (retired).
US Navy veteran. 
Mom to 3 grown, amazing people, grandma to 3 adorable boys.
She spends most of the year in Louisiana, but escapes summer heat and humidity visiting family in Washington and Colorado.

Social Media Links: 

Monday 3 July 2023

The Godmother's Secret - Out now in Audio Book

The Godmother's Secret is out in audio book now:

And author Elizabeth St John has an extra connection with her characters, beyond the usual relationship that authors have with their 'people'. She explains: 

"Writing about my ancestors has always given me an extra level of immersion when researching the places they knew and loved. Visiting Bolton Castle during the Medieval Music Festival was a highlight of my journey with The Godmother's Secret, and I'll never forget standing in the castle gardens watching a full moon rise over the valley, hearing the music of a hurdy-gurdy and drums drifting from the candlelit windows. I used that experience in several scenes as I wrote the novel, and when I came to narrate it, I stepped into my heroine's life and my words became hers. Reading the audiobook was an amazing experience; as a writer we strive to place ourselves within the words; narration gave me an unexpected deeper connection that I hope listeners will enjoy."

Book Title: The Godmother’s Secret

Author:  Elizabeth St.John

Narrator: Elizabeth St.John

Publication Date: 4th October, 2022 (print)

Publication Date: 27th June, 2023 (audio)

Publisher: Falcon Historical (print)

Publisher: Tantor Media (audio)

Page Length: 361 pages

Audio Length: 11 hours 59 minutes

Genre: Historical Fiction

Availability: EBook, Paperback, Audio Book


Praise for The Godmother’s Secret

"An extremely well-written book with depth and complexity to the main characters. The author says she wanted to write a book about family love and tolerance, and a woman's loyalty and courage. She has done so. This is the best book I've read in ages!"

The Ricardian Bulletin, Richard III Society

"The authenticity and historical research displayed within this story is immense and exquisite. Ms. St. John is sure to be a newfound favorite for fans of not only this fractious time in English history, but of all historical fans who adore rich, immersive prose."

Historical Fiction Company 2022 Book of the Year

"A very enjoyable read. The historical veracity is impeccable, and Elysabeth is a likeable, admirable character who faces interesting dilemmas with love and courage."

Historical Novel Society


If you knew the fate of the Princes in the Tower, would you tell? Or forever keep the secret?

May 1483: The Tower of London. When King Edward IV dies and Lady Elysabeth Scrope delivers her young godson, Edward V, into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Elysabeth’s sister Margaret Beaufort conspires with her son Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne.

Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal, and power of the last medieval court, defying her Yorkist husband and her Lancastrian sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe. Bound by blood and rent by honour, Elysabeth is torn between King Richard and Margaret Beaufort, knowing that if her loyalty is questioned, she is in peril of losing everything—including her life.

Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Or did the young boys vanish for their own safety? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John blends her family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing story about what happened to the Princes in the Tower.

Buy Links:


Available on Kindle Unlimited

Universal Link:

Author Bio:

Elizabeth St.John’s critically acclaimed historical fiction novels tell the stories of her ancestors: extraordinary women whose intriguing kinship with England's kings and queens brings an intimately unique perspective to Medieval, Tudor, and Stuart times.

Inspired by family archives and residences from Lydiard Park to the Tower of London, Elizabeth spends much of her time exploring ancestral portraits, diaries, and lost gardens. And encountering the occasional ghost. But that’s another story.

Living between California, England, and the past, Elizabeth is the International Ambassador for The Friends of Lydiard Park, an English charity dedicated to conserving and enhancing this beautiful centuries-old country house and park. As a curator for The Lydiard Archives, she is constantly looking for an undiscovered treasure to inspire her next novel.

Elizabeth's books include her trilogy, The Lydiard Chronicles, set in 17th Century England during the Civil War, and her newest release, The Godmother's Secret, which explores the medieval mystery of the missing Princes in the Tower of London.

Social Media Links:






Book Bub:

Amazon Author Page:


You can read a guest post from Elizabeth St John, where she talks about the story behind the book, HERE

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Guest Post by Heather Darsie

Today I'm delighted to hand over the blog to a fellow Amberley Books author, Heather Darsie, whose new book, Children of the House of Cleves, Anna and Her Siblings, is out today:

Religion in the House of Cleves

by Heather R. Darsie, J.D.

Ah, religion. That sticky subject at dinner parties! The subject of religion was a very tense one in 16th century Germany. Anna of Cleves’ father Johann III of Cleves-Mark and mother Maria of Jülich-Berg did what they could to uphold Catholicism within the United Duhies in the wake of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the reforms it spawned,

“Johann III was against the spread of Lutheranism within the United Duchies. To … stop the spread of Lutheranism, an edict was issued in March 1525. This strategy worked for the most part, and Lutheranism was put down within Jülich-Cleves-Berg. Johann followed-up with an ordinance in July 1525, demonstrating his desire for reform of the Catholic church within his lands. Although Johann wished to remain on [Holy Roman Emperor] Charles V’s good side, he did not wish to aggressively eradicate Lutheranism. This strategy might be evidence of [Desiderius] Erasmus’s influence. It was not that the Catholic church was perfect, but rather that Luther and his followers were dangerous. …

…The same year as her marriage, 1527, Sybylla’[of Cleves’]s father-in-law John the Steadfast established the Evangelical-Lutheran State Church of Saxony after the Diet of Speyer. John was extremely active in establishing the principles of Reformation within Saxony, much to the chagrin of Charles V.”

The oldest and youngest Cleves siblings, Sybylla and Amalia, wound up being devoted to Lutheranism. Amalia was reportedly so faithful to Lutheranism that it was deemed impossible to find her a husband. Anna was Catholic, although how strong her actual faith was is unknown. Wilhelm, for his part, was Catholic when it suited him.

Even more confusingly, Wilhelm’s daughters were raised as Lutherans due to the influence of their aunt Amalia. Wilhelm reportedly flew into rages more than once at Amalia over her vehement support. Despite this rift in the family, Wilhelm had his poetic revenge on Amalia.

Image from Anna's prayer book: Trogen, Kantonsbibliothek Appenzell Ausserrhoden, CM Ms. 9, f. 12r – Gebetbuch der Anna von Kleve.

If this excerpt piqued your interest, consider reading Children of the House of Cleves: Anna and Her Siblings, set for release in the UK on 15 June 2023 and in the US/Internationally on 12 September 2023. Can’t wait until September? The US Kindle version is released on 15 June, too! 

Amazon UK (15th June 2023):



Amazon US :

Hardback (12th September 2023)

Kindle (15th June 2023)

You might also like to read Heather R. Darsie’s biography on Anna of Cleves, the first researched and written from the German perspective, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister

Amazon UK

Amazon US

[You can read Annie's review of Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's beloved Sister HERE]

Heather R. Darsie works as an attorney in the US. Along with her Juris Doctorate she has a BA in German, which was of great value in her research. She completed multiple graduate-level courses in Early Modern History, with her primary focus being the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V. She runs the website, and is a co-host of Tudors Dynasty podcast.

Sources & Suggested Reading

1. Darsie, Heather R. Children of the House of Cleves: Anna and Her Siblings. Stroud: Amberley (2023).

2. Darsie, Heather R. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister. Stroud: Amberley (2019).

Catch the rest of Heather's Blog tour:

Friday 2 June 2023

Review: The King's Only Champion, by Dominic Pearce

 One of the perks of being an author published by Amberley Books is the opportunity to receive review copies of their new books. Recently I was lucky to receive an advance review copy of The King's Only Champion: James Graham, First Marquess of Montrose by Dominic Pearce. 

I knew a little about James Graham, later Marquess of Montrose, and knew him to be a champion of Charles I, i.e. a Royalist. What I did not realise was that he started his political career as a Covenanter and was not initially especially impressed by Charles I, king of England and Scotland.

This very readable book explains how all that changed, how Montrose began to disagree with the hardline stance of his fellow Covenanters and the events that led to his (almost) changing sides, and fighting for Charles in the Civil War in Scotland. I say 'almost' because there were aspects of Montrose's beliefs and aims which never changed, and he often sought to stress that he was not wholly opposed to everything his fellow countrymen were fighting for. Nor did he always have an easy relationship with the king, who constantly failed to keep his promises to send support.

Dominic Pearce has done a sterling job of piecing together everything that is known about Montrose's life (even apologising that he couldn't bring us more detail about Montrose's wife, but she remains a shadowy figure, barely documented). 

What emerges is a portrait of a man, well-connected, rich, youthful, who follows his conscience, never behaves in an unnecessarily brutal way, attempts negotiation wherever possible, saves towns from sacking when and where he can, and remains highly principled. We also see, in great but accessible detail, how he outsmarted his enemies on the battlefield time and again.

One might argue that his last foray into battle was the result of hubris and which led to his downfall, but loyalty and a highly-refined sense of duty impelled him to return to Scotland and attempt to fight to avenge the death of his king.

Even in defeat, he seems to have kept calm, courteous, and courageous. Whichever side you root for in this most turbulent period of Scottish and English (and indeed Irish) history, you can't fail to be impressed by this man.

It was interesting to read more about the Scottish events than ever was taught in school, where modules on the Civil Wars focused almost exclusively on events in England. These are touched upon, but only when necessary to round out the narrative or provide context where events south of the border influenced what was happening further north.

I've had a couple of books on this period (One on Montrose himself, one on his ally Alasdair MacColla/Alexander Macdonald) for some years but found them both quite hard reads. This new biography of Montrose has given me greater insight and understanding and left me feeling that I have got to know this extraordinary pair of military leaders.

I was also profoundly shocked to learn of the brutality meted out by both sides on the so-called camp followers. This was not something I'd been aware of and these details were sobering. The author recounts these events in an unsensational way, nevertheless adding plenty of peripheral detail and showing how these wars affected everyone, not just the uppermost tiers of society.

We learn what happens to various other players, and though there is quite a sizeable cast, characters are introduced well, and while I struggle sometimes to make sense of the various ranks and names of the Scottish nobility, I was never left confused and knew at all times who featured in which part of the story.

There is a lot of documentary evidence for this period, there are many names to learn, and a lot of political and military action. That the author has managed to convey all this in such a readable way is a triumph. Highly recommended.

Sunday 14 May 2023

Guest Post: Amy Maroney Introduces Queen Charlotta

Last time, I had the pleasure of reviewing The Queen's Scribe by Amy Maroney. Now she's here on the blog to introduce a remarkable women of history whom few might know:

The Queen’s Scribe by Amy Maroney

A broken promise. A bitter conflict. And a woman’s elusive chance to love or die.

I discovered Queen Charlotta of Cyprus while doing research for the Sea and Stone Chronicles, a collection of novels about ordinary people living under the rule of the Knights Hospitaller in medieval Rhodes, Greece. As I studied books and articles about the knights, I learned they had a long history in Cyprus, too. In fact, one of the historical figures who intrigued me most, Grand Master Jacques de Milly, had spent part of his career in Cyprus. Curious, I dug deeper.

Archbishop's Palace, Nicosia

I was astonished to learn a teenaged, widowed queen had ruled Cyprus for a moment in time during the exact era of my research. In 1458, Queen Charlotta took the throne alone, held off her power-hungry half-brother’s massive siege and—when her second husband Louis of Savoy proved a weak leader—sailed around the Mediterranean entreating allies to help save her crown. Furthermore, she was in Rhodes visiting Jacques de Milly when he died in the summer of 1461.

When I learned that Queen Charlotta had her infant son interred in Jacques de Milly’s tomb several years later, I became even more intrigued. Though the histories don’t reveal much about either of these leaders’ personal lives, this detail resonated with me. Whatever their relationship had been like, she chose to bury her only child alongside him. I imagine her husband, King Louis, had no say in the matter. He was not in Rhodes at the time.

I was amazed by this courageous queen’s story, and I resolved to bring her to life.

Queen Eleni and her Daughters

Though King Jean and Queen Eleni’s daughter Charlotta grew up for all intents and purposes a Greek girl in her mother’s apartments, she had to communicate with her husbands and potential allies in French. By all accounts, her French was terrible. The need for trusted interpreters only grew stronger as civil war loomed between the queen and her half-brother. This is why I developed the concept of a fictional French heroine who serves the queen as a trusted scribe and interpreter.

Kyrenia Fortress

After the murder of her husband, Prince João of Portugal, Charlotta faced a new betrothal. This time, her fiancé was her first cousin, Louis of Savoy. In the Greek Orthodox tradition of the era, the marriage of first cousins doomed the bride and groom to hell. Charlotta’s mother, a proud Greek, naturally opposed the union with every fiber of her being. But as soon as she died, the marriage was on. 

To everyone’s surprise, King Jean died just a few months after his wife (the sheer number of mysterious deaths and outright murders in the Lusignan Court was staggering). Thus, at fifteen, Charlotta ascended the throne. Her half-brother, Jacco, vowed he would seize it from her. His plan: gain the favor of the Sultan of Egypt, raise an army, and attack his sister’s kingdom.

I chose to tell Queen Charlotta’s tale through the eyes of fictional Estelle de Montavon, daughter of a falconer. I first wrote a story starring her in an anthology a few years ago, and she plays a minor role in my novel Island of Gold

Estelle, a talented scribe, develops a knack for languages once she arrives in Rhodes from France with her family. As a French-born person, she offers unique value to the Lusignan court of Cyprus, which steadily lost touch with its French roots all through the late medieval era. This became especially apparent in the mid-fifteenth century after King Jean married Queen Eleni Palaiologina, who turned the court rapidly Greek.

In The Queen’s Scribe, Estelle’s language skills become as valuable as gold when the royal court retreats to Kyrenia Fortress and a civil war looms between the queen and Jacco. When the queen crosses the Mediterranean Sea beseeching allies for help, Estelle is at her side, witnessing every triumph and disaster along the way. 

I hope that by illuminating this extraordinary queen whose ambition and courage burned bright for a few short years in the fifteenth century, The Queen’s Scribe builds awareness of a woman of power whose story has been lost in the mists of time.

[You can read Annie's review HERE]

Author Bio:

Amy Maroney studied English Literature at Boston University and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series, an award-winning historical fiction trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Her new historical suspense series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus.

The Queen’s Scribe is available from Amazon UK: 

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Monday 24 April 2023

Review: The Queen's Scribe by Amy Maroney

1458. Young Frenchwoman Estelle de Montavon sails to Cyprus imagining a bright future as tutor to a princess. Instead, she is betrayed by those she loves most—and forced into a dangerous new world of scheming courtiers, vicious power struggles, and the terrifying threat of war.

Determined to flee, Estelle enlists the help of an attractive and mysterious falconer. But on the eve of her escape, fortune’s wheel turns again. She gains entry to Queen Charlotta’s inner circle as a trusted scribe and interpreter, fighting her way to dizzying heights of influence.

Enemies old and new rise from the shadows as Estelle navigates a royal game of cat and mouse between the queen and her powerful half-brother, who wants the throne for himself.

When war comes to the island, she faces a brutal reckoning for her loyalty to the queen. Will the impossible choice looming ahead be Estelle’s doom—or her salvation?

Being a writer means getting to know other writers, and that means getting the chance to read books before they are published. It's an immense privilege and an honour that I do not take lightly. Letting your book go out into the big wide world is one thing, but letting other writers look at it first? That can be scary. Amy Maroney need not worry though, for once again she brings an intoxicating historical drama that, frankly, I resented having to put down to tackle mundane tasks such as eating and sleeping.

I say 'once again' because this is the third in the Sea and Stone Chronicles and, having read the other two in the series, I was delighted to renew my acquaintance with characters who feature in Books I & II. That said, this works completely as a standalone so, if you haven't read the other books, fear not (but do read them - they are fabulous).

In this new adventure we've moved - mainly - away from Rhodes to medieval Cyprus but, whilst I've never been there, I feel like I have now. Again, because I'm a writer, I know it's not easy to build an historical world that the reader can almost taste and smell, but here the author makes it look so easy, so effortless. Sometimes I stop reading and wonder just exactly how she does it - it's like a maths sum where you can't see all the 'working out' that's gone on beforehand. Whether we're at the bustling harbour where we feel the heat of the sun and the sea breeze, or high up in a mountain castle, we're somehow right there, alongside the characters, watching their every move.

And oh my, those moves are complicated. The Cypriot court teems with treacherous, ambitious folk who will stop at nothing to get what they want, using people as pawns in their power play, careless of what happens to them, and violent towards anyone who stands in their way. Estelle is an innocent when she arrives in this veritable next of vipers and she makes mistakes, she's not confident, and she is, understandably, homesick. What I particularly enjoyed was watching her learn, growing in confidence and stature, and seeing her become adept in navigating her own way through this strange and shocking world. She's an admirable character - loyal, loving, and fierce - but she has doubts, and insecurities, and she's all the more human for it.

The mysterious falconer remains pretty mysterious throughout, and the twists and turns of the plot ensure that we are never entirely confident about how the relationship between him and Estelle will develop. In fact, I am in admiration of the skilful plotting which finds so many characters in such tight spaces it seems impossible that they will find a way out. When such situations are resolved it is always plausible and never forced, or left to unbelievable coincidence.

This is world-building at its best: sights, sounds, smells, clothing, politics, social customs, are all vividly brought to life. The drama is breath-taking, edge of the seat stuff and yet, at the heart of this book is a young woman, dare we say heroine, about whom we worry, and for whom we care deeply. The phrase 'page-turner' is maybe bandied about a bit lightly sometimes, but this novel utterly deserves the description.

The Queen's Scribe is available now. Click here