Review: Ladies of Magna Carta by Sharon Bennett Connolly

The perks of the writer's job include getting to read advance copies of new books and I recently had the absolute pleasure of reading Sh...

Monday, 22 June 2020

Review: Ladies of Magna Carta by Sharon Bennett Connolly

The perks of the writer's job include getting to read advance copies of new books and I recently had the absolute pleasure of reading Sharon Bennett Connolly's new release:

"Magna Carta clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. This clause in Magna Carta was in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Matilda de Braose, the wife of one of King John's barons. Matilda was not the only woman who influenced, or was influenced by, the 1215 Charter of Liberties, now known as Magna Carta. Women from many of the great families of England were affected by the far-reaching legacy of Magna Carta, from their experiences in the civil war and as hostages, to calling on its use to protect their property and rights as widows. _Ladies of Magna Carta_ looks into the relationships - through marriage and blood - of the various noble families and how they were affected by the Barons' Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. Including the royal families of England and Scotland, the Marshals, the Warennes, the Braoses and more, _Ladies of Magna Carta_ focuses on the roles played by the women of the great families whose influences and experiences have reached far beyond the thirteenth century."

I've read all three of the author's books and in this new one she has kept up her impeccable standard, examining the lives of the women who, largely, have been kept in the background of history. 

I've always thought of Magna Carta as being something which male barons imposed on a male king, and had not realised the implications for the women of the time, nor that some were directly responsible for certain clauses being included in the document.

The book begins with a potted but solid examination of John's journey to the throne, his place in the royal family and the ramifications thereof. Then it looks at the tumultuous times which led to the sealing of the influential charter.

We move then to the de Braose family and a particularly gruesome and tragic story. (I'll give no spoilers here for those who don't know what happened.) I was interested to learn of Matilda (Maud) de Braose's early life and I had completely forgotten that she is the Lady of Hay (for those who've read the Erskine novel of the same name). We also learn about Loretta, her daughter, and the fact that the fates of these women may may have inspired clauses in Magna Carta. Loretta became an anchoress and yet still retained influence.

Next, the author revisits the redoubtable Nicolaa de la Haye, defender of Lincoln, and her admiration for this courageous woman shines through. We then learn about Ela of Salisbury, the wife of John's half-brother. She also became a sheriff and then a powerful abbess.

Also included in this volume are the daughters of the 'greatest knight', William Marshal, who made good marriages:

Matilda (Mahelt) married Hugh Bigod of Norfolk;

Isabel's second husband was Henry III's half-brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall;

Sibyl married the earl of Derby;


Eva married a de Braose, the grandson of Lady of Hay.

After this we meet the princesses of Scotland, one of whom, Isabella, married Mahelt's son. As hostages at the English court, these princess were referred to in Magna Carta.

No study of this period would be complete without the inclusion of the de Warenne family, and here we meet Isabel d'Aubigny who fought for her tenant's rights against the king and won (albeit temporarily), using Magna Carta to assert her rights.

We also discover that Isabella of Gloucester, John's first wife, was remarried to a 'toyboy' 16 years her junior but managed to make the marriage work. Then, widowed, she revelled in her independence to an extent, although she was still subject to the whims of her first husband, King John. She had to play hostess to his new wife, too, Isabelle d'Angouleme, and here the author pauses to give insight: knowing what life was like as a wife of John, she may actually have felt protective of her. Even so, Bennett Connolly finds she has little sympathy for her, but this appraisal is evidence-based and even-handed.

The story of poor imprisoned Eleanor of Brittany, whose brother Arthur's murder ultimately caused Maud de Braose's downfall, brings us poignantly full circle. Throughout the book we are given a great view of what was going on in various parts of the country around the time of Magna Carta. Sadly there are many examples of how little say in affairs some of these women had, Magna Carta notwithstanding. The charter certainly didn't help poor Eleanor. 

Joan, illegitimate daughter of John, wife of Llewelyn Fawr of Gwynedd, is one of my favourite ladies and here we get fabulous detail of how she survived adultery, retaining her life and her married status. And then there is Eleanor Countess of Pembroke, Simon de Montford's wife, and her poor daughter who married Llewelyn Fawr's grandson, but not without years of  enforced separation and whose baby daughter had a tragic life.

As I said at the beginning of this review, I was aware of Magna Carta and I am familiar, too, with some of the women's stories. What I had not appreciated was that the suffering of Maud de Braose dictated a clause in the charter and the Scottish princesses who were hostages, are mentioned in it too.

The book is a well-researched and thorough examination of the lives of the people who were affected, directly or indirectly, by this great charter. Everything is laid out clearly and logically and the author has an easy, conversational style which really helps the book to flow. There's so much information here - the appendices are great and there is an extensive bibliography - but it all sinks in effortlessly because of her natural writing style.

A must-read for anyone interested in this pivotal moment in English and Scottish history.

Find Sharon at her Blog, and on Twitter

Buy Ladies of Magna Carta at Amazon  and at Pen & Sword Books

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Guest Post: Marian L Thorpe

I've had the great pleasure of reading all of Marian's books and so enjoy being immersed in her imaginary world which, in lots of ways, feels familiar.
I'm delighted that Marian has written for the blog today, explaining how she has built this world and focusing on one important aspect: The Ti’acha. Over to Marian:

My books – the Empire’s Legacy trilogy, the novella Oraiaphon, and my new release, Empire’s Reckoning, are ‘historic fiction of another world’. The setting bears a fair resemblance to northern Europe in the ‘dark ages’: between the decline of Rome and the Norman Conquest, roughly, but also many, many differences. There is no magic, though: they are simply stories of war and politics, love and loyalty, no different than historic fiction, except that it’s not our world. 
But one of the most frequent comments in reviews is how real my world, and I’m often asked to explain how I do that. I’m not sure I can: I simply write, with fifty years of reading about medieval Britain behind me. However, I’m going to try to analyze one important aspect of my world, and how I created that aspect: the Ti’acha, the schools that exist in the country north of the Wall, Linrathe.

In this scene, the narrator of my first trilogy, Lena, has been chosen to stand as hostage to a truce between her country and Linrathe. The Teannasach of Linrathe, Donnalch, is thinking about what to do with her for the months she’ll be his responsibility.

“Will you read? And write?” Donnalch asked.
"Of course I can,” I said, too startled to be more polite. 
"No, lassie, that's not what I asked,” he said, spreading his hands. “I asked if you will. Do you like to do such, I should perhaps have said.” 
"Yes,” I said slowly, with a quick glance at Casyn. “I have learned to like both; I have been reading the stories of our Empire, and I keep a journal, a private record of the happenings of my life.” 
“Then,” he said, with a confirming look to his advisors, “I know what to do with you. You were a bit of a puzzle, lassie, but now I have it: I will send you to a Ti’ach; a house of learning, as we do with one of our own sons or daughters who are drawn to the written word. Will that suit you?”

Ti’acha are boarding schools. Both boys and girls are sent to them for education: depending on which Ti’ach, the focus may be history and politics, or mathematics and science, or the healing arts, but music and  languages are always part of the learning, regardless of where. Children of the nobility mix with children of the peasantry: a keen mind, not status, gains you entrance.

Where did the idea come from? Like almost everything in my fictional world, the concept has some basis in history: the monastic and cathedral schools of Ireland, Scotland, and England. 

In Ireland, the monastic movement began in the mid-500s, possibly at the monastery of Clonard, and spread out across Ireland and into what is now Scotland. Most monasteries had a school attached, and not just for the young men who had a religious vocation, but for youth who would take their place in government or the military. Boys of the land-holding class, for the most part. Latin and Greek were part of their education, as was a study of not just religious texts, but classical authors such as Virgil and Socrates, as well as mathematics, astronomy, and music. The equivalents in my world are what are taught at the Ti’ach – actually, all I did was change the names of the Greek and Roman writers. I’ve used some classical writers – notably Marcus Aurelius, who becomes Catilius in my books – verbatim. 

When Lena arrives at the Ti’ach, she learns a man named Perras is the Comiádh, or head of school. This is another borrowed concept. In his 1906 book A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland, (which may be a rather romanticized view) Patrick Joyce tells us of the Fer-leginn, the ‘man of learning’ who was responsible for the educational direction of the school, in concert with the abbot, who was responsible for the religious aspects of the monastery. Christianity doesn’t exist in my invented world, so there is no abbot. However, there is the ‘Lady’ of the Ti’ach, Dagney, who is also the scáeli (bard) attached to the house. Her authority is equal to that of Perras, but whereas he teaches history and politics, and the language that corresponds to Latin, she teaches music and literature.

Dagney’s teaching and her specialities are based on the traditional bardic schools, which may have existed in pre-Christian Ireland, taught (perhaps) by Druids and likely by bards. They concentrated on the passing on of oral history and literature, continuing in some form into the 19th century. In my Ti’acha, I simply combined the two. Is it accurate? No. Does it feel familiar? Yes, and that’s what I was aiming for.

Not all education occurs at the Ti’acha, however. Younger children of landholders, or those not suited to the rigors of advanced study, are frequently taught by a travelling teacher. Taught themselves at the Ti’acha, these journeying teachers may stay for a season or a number of years. Here I drew on a long tradition throughout Europe of itinerant teachers, priests and otherwise, attached both to noble households and wealthier towns. 

But – including women in the Ti’acha? Well, women in the real early-medieval world weren’t all as badly educated as popular culture would have us believe, but neither were they included in mixed schools. Daughters of the nobility could be tutored in mathematics and sciences, languages and history; nuns in certain houses were taught Latin and Greek. I deviated quite a bit from real history, but I had my reasons: the exploration and challenging of gender roles is one of the themes of the series. 

The role of the Ti’acha in politics and diplomacy will become a central theme in the planned next trilogy, Empire’s Reprise, borrowing from one of the roles played by the English scholar Alcuin at the court of Charlemagne, in the mid-700s, and that of Columba of Iona two hundred years earlier, when he undertook diplomatic negotiations between the Kingdom of Dalriada and the Kingdom of Ireland. Diplomacy needs educated, agile minds, so I have little doubt those who acted as envoys and negotiators were taught well, either at the monastic schools or by teachers who themselves had learned there.

I also had a solid vision of what the school looked like, based not at all on the monastic schools and entirely on the farmhouse and related outbuildings near the Roman fort of Vindolanda. Completely the wrong era, but it gave me a structure to work with, and a geography of the school and its surrounding area.

The Ti'ach

This is the history behind one aspect of my world. I realize it doesn’t truly explain how I created the Ti’acha and their roles, but that’s a matter of taking these facts, mixing them together with the themes of my books, baking them in the creativity of my subconscious, and hoping what emerges is palatable. I cook like that, too.

Many thanks to Marian. If you want to read her books - and I heartily recommend them - you can find her website here:

Friday, 5 June 2020

Interview: Gwen Tuinman, author of The Last Hoffman

I recently had the pleasure of reading The Last Hoffman, a story of ordinary folk living in a mill town in Canada:

"In a floundering 1980s papermill town, awkward widower Floyd Hoffman holds a secret that draws contempt from his teenage son.

As tensions rise, Floyd retreats into the past, reliving his tumultuous marriage to Bonnie, a manically-depressed first love whose passion drew him out of his reclusiveness. When his son dies suddenly from the same environmental cancer that claimed Bonnie, Floyd’s life falls apart. He loses himself in the pursuit of justice against the reckless papermill responsible for his family’s demise.

In the midst of his grief, destitute teenager Tammy King appears on his doorstep along with her baby, the result of a clandestine affair with Floyd’s son. While Floyd dreams of family redemption through his grandson, Tammy forges her own plans for an independent future.

The Last Hoffman is a story about the reverberation of family secrets. It will renew your faith in second chances."

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is so atmospheric and the characters so believable. I had to know more about it, so I asked Gwen to join me on the blog to talk about it.

Welcome Gwen. How did the book come about: where did the idea come from and is any of the story based on real events?

I’d have to say this story chose me to write it, instead of the other way around. I attended school
 teacher workshop hosted by a local gallery where the instructor spoke about using artworks to inspire student writing. One of the exercises involved watching a video clip he’d produced of a teenage couple shyly holding hands as they walked along a 1970s small-town main street lined with shops and parked cars. He then asked us to write about whatever came to mind. The Note to Self journal entries in The Last Hoffman appear exactly as I wrote them that day. A few weeks after the workshop, ideas began popping into my head about who the couple was and the issues they faced. I’d always been a creative person—but never a writer. I dismissed the story and, because of my background, told myself “fancy people are writers and I’m not fancy people”. The characters nudged me relentlessly, so I finally began writing.
An Anglo-Canadian paper mill in the 1920s
Soon after, my husband and I travelled to Newfoundland on Canada’s east coast, and there I encountered an abandoned papermill. Upon seeing that place, story ideas continued mushrooming until I’d developed a cast of characters and layered their personal turmoil. As their dilemmas, needs and desires unfolded, so too did the story. That being said, The Last Hoffman references a fictional mill and town that I imagined based on impressions collected through primary and secondary research. 

Was there a particular reason for choosing those two time periods?

The early 1980s were interesting to explore as one of the two time periods in the novel. The Canadian public had begun expressing deep concerns about the release of carcinogenic pollutants by papermills. At the time, about 25% of mills were meeting the effluent release guidelines set in 1971. Environmental and community health suffered as a result. In the eighties, teen pregnancy was a media focus and, years later, many stories surfaced about maternity homes forcing adoptions. Sadly, during the time leading up to and including this era, mental health carried heavy shame and stigma. 
I dipped into the 1950s through 1970s to write a second timeline that revealed how the characters developed into who they ultimately became. In life, it’s easier to tolerate people’s poor choices or behaviours once we understand the life events that molded them. I feel the same way about vexing characters. It’s interesting to have our low opinion of them shaken up and challenged by a new revelation. People are complex, whether they exist in real life or between the pages of a book.

I think it added a richness to the book when we saw how characters and relationships had first formed. How did you write the two timelines – was it a continuous process or did you write Floyd’s earlier life as a separate draft?

I wrote the two timelines simultaneously. The process unfolded as if I was watching a movie, so flipping back and forth between eras felt natural. The present fed off the past and visa versa.  

Of course, this is not your first published work. Can you tell us about your other publications?

I’m the creator of a womxn-creative collective called The Wild Nellies. We gather to perform, exhibit, and speak in order to raise awareness and funds for charities that support women fleeing domestic violence. The proceeds of  
We Are Enough: A Story of Vanquishing Self-Doubt tells the story of my battle against profound self-doubt during more than a decade of domestic abuse and in the years following my escape. This account builds a bridge of understanding for our friends and loved ones, so they might gain insight into our experience and our sometimes-fragile hearts. It encourages readers to extinguish self-doubt and rediscover their voices. We each hold the power to shed self-doubt and to reclaim the true self we were on route to becoming before the chaos.

Portrait of an Escape: A Story of Fleeing Domestic Abuse shares the events leading up to my escape from domestic abuse, and challenges the all-too familiar question, How could she stay? The book is an opportunity to vicariously inhabit the experience of one woman’s flight from assault, control, and gaslighting by an abusive partner. It is my hope that messages within these pages may encourage someone suffering the crush of domestic abuse to take the leap of faith to a life she deserves. For her friends and family, I hope to provide some insight that sustains optimism and patience while she finds her way out. 

I am the creator of The Wild Nellies, a womxn’s creative collective that performs, exhibits and speaks in order to raise awareness and funds for charities that support women fleeing domestic abuse. The proceeds of these tiny books support The Wild Nellies Celebration of Women events.

A little bird tells me you are working on a new novel – can you let us have any details yet?

I’ve recently completed my second novel, set against the backdrop of the 1830s timber era in the Ottawa Valley. The story, which follows the struggles of an Irish family, is inspired by my own ancestral research which stretches from Cootehill, County Cavan in Ireland to Bytown, Upper Canada. Currently, I’m embarking on my third novel. A visit to a Nova Scotia lighthouse a few years ago left me with a twinkle of inspiration that’s been growing stronger over the past two years. Ideas are taking shape now and I’m very excited. 

It sounds like another great read. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Here's Gwen's bio, and some links where you can find out more about her and her work:

Gwen was born and raised in rural Ontario, and now resides on an urban homestead in Whitby, near Toronto, Ontario in Canada. She graduated from Trent University with a B.A. in Psychology and from Brock University with a B.A. in Education. Gwen is the creator of The Wild Nellies, a collective of diverse womxn creatives whose events raise awareness and funds for charities that help women escaping domestic abuse. In 2019, The Denise House/Sedna Women’s Shelter and Support Services recognized Gwen as a Woman of Courage. The Last Hoffman is her first novel.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Joint Interview: Sharon Bennett Connolly

Yesterday my book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was published by Pen & Sword Books. But it wasn't the only one they published yesterday. I'm delighted that Sharon Bennett Connolly's Ladies of Magna Carta was also released and we decided to interview each other, using the same questions. You'll find my answers on her BLOG. Meanwhile, here are Sharon's:

Welcome to the blog Sharon. Firstly, what motivated you to write the book?

I love writing and I love history. The 13th century and, in particular, the reign of King John, is a fascinating era. It is also a time when women stand out as being strong and influential on events. In my first book, Heroines of the Medieval World, I had included the stories of Nicholaa de la Haye and Matilda de Braose, both remarkable, independent women. Nicholaa successfully defended Lincoln Castle in no less than 3 sieges, the last against a joint army of English rebel barons and invading French.  Matilda had also held a castle under siege, but is remembered more as King John’s victim, starved to death in her cell, having chewed on her dead son’s cheek to survive just that bit longer – no one said medieval history was not gruesome! The lives of these two women deserved to be told. And as I looked into the era, the more remarkable women I found.

Runnymede, where Magna Carta was sealed
Photo: Jayne Smith
There are several women whose stories deserved telling, such as the Scottish princesses who were hostages of King John and John’s own wives and daughters. William Marshal was also a big part of the Magna Carta story, and the lives of his five daughters, who married some of the greatest barons of the age, were revealing – several found themselves married to men on the opposing side of the political spectrum to their father. 

I wanted to know how these women reacted to the events that was going on around them, how much influence – or not – they had on their men and history. And I wanted to tell their stories.

What were the research challenges?

As you know, Annie, it’s very hard to get much information on women in medieval history. Most of the chronicles talk about the men and only mention women in passing. So, you have to learn to read between the lines, work out, from the little information you have, where the women would have been and what they would have been up to. 

The 1215 Magna Carta (British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts)
Another challenge is that a lot of the chronicles are written in Latin – and I don’t read Latin. At least, I didn’t think I did. I am fluent in French, which seems to give me enough understanding of Latin to be able to summarise the texts, but not enough to do a thorough translation. And Google translate seems to have less understanding of Latin than I do.

On the plus side, research has never been easier. With the internet, even 1,000-year-old chronicles are at your fingertips. And the greats, such as Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury, are there to be read, from the comfort of your own laptop.

Do you have a particular favourite amongst the women you’ve written about?

I found all the women in the book fascinating. I loved the image of family in the stories of William Marshal’s daughters, how they were asked to sing at his bedside when the great knight was dying. I found Isabelle d’Angoulême particularly vexing. I wanted to feel sorry for her, married before she was even a teenager and thrust into King John’s bed and English politics. But then, she deserted her own children almost as soon as their father was buried, starting a new life and family in France, and only calling on her son, Henry III, when she wanted something. It was hard to feel any sympathy for her in the end!

Carving of Nicolaa de Haye at Lincoln
Castle - Sharon's own photo
My favourite is Nicholaa de la Haye. I have been researching her for about five years now. She is an incredible woman who managed to successfully defend Lincoln Castle against no less than three sieges; in the first one her attacks gave up and went home, in the second, she paid them to go away and in the third, the great William Marshal rode to her relief. 

Nicholaa was the first ever female sheriff in England and a staunch supporter of King John. And yet, four days after the 1217 Battle of Lincoln, which was the culmination of a six-week siege of the castle, she was relieved of her position as castellan of Lincoln Castle in favour of King Henry III’s uncle, William Longspee. 

I’m not sure what the men expected of a woman who had already proven that she would not surrender, but she rode straight to the ten-year-old king and asked for her castle back – and got it. 

Can you tell us briefly about your other books?

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England is my third book. My first was Heroines of the Medieval World, which was a series of short biographies of some of the most remarkable medieval women, from queens to nuns and from warriors to mistresses. My second, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest, was a study of the events of 1066, and the years either side, focusing on the women of the era.

What’s next?

I am working on my next book at the moment – it is due into the publishers at the end of the month. It is a biography of the Warenne earls of Surrey, from the Norman Conquest to the last earl’s death in 1347. The family were one of the most prominent in medieval England, marrying into the royal families of England, France and Scotland. They had extensive lands stretching from the south coast to West Yorkshire and were participants in most of the major events of medieval England, from the Conquest itself to the Magna Carta and the Scottish Wars of Independence. As with all medieval lords, their story is replete with high drama, politics and a little love.

Thanks so much for chatting today! Where can people find you on Social Media and where can they buy your books? 

BlogFacebookTwitter: @Thehistorybits
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Huge congratulations to Sharon - watch out for my review of her wonderful book, coming soon!

Friday, 1 May 2020

Characters and their occupations - 12 authors introduce

Today is traditionally 'Labour Day' in the UK. I asked 11 other authors to introduce one of their characters and their occupation. I hope you take instantly to this varied group and all the buy links are there if you want to read further. (If? Of course you do! 😉)

Pauline Barclay
Hello, I’m Dor, I’ve been asked what my occupation is, my girl says I’m a scrubber, she’s a cheeky mare! Ok, I’m a cleaner and have four jobs that have me rolling my sleeves up! Not glamorous, but it pays the bills, just! One of my cleans is an office, you wouldn’t believe how office folk leave the place, and the little bleeders like their morning joke! I’ll be putting my coat as there’re strolling in. “Lucky you, we’re starting and you’re off to put your feet up.’ I won’t say what I’d like to reply, but with three other places to muck out, it ain't polite! They might all look down their beaks at me, but at the end of the day I was the one who wiped the smile from their faces because sometimes it happens!

The Birthday Card
Web Site
Blog Site
Twitter: @paulinembarclay
Instagram @paulinebarclay

Cryssa Bazos
Elizabeth Seton comes from a long line of herbalists and has a talent for the healing arts. Ever since she was a little girl in Weymouth, she planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps and continue to care for the sick who came to their door. Until civil war reared its ugly head and a community was left divided. With her family destroyed, Elizabeth uproots herself to live with her widowed aunt, a healer in her own community. Under the guidance of her aunt, Elizabeth once more explores her art by creating simple syrups, tinctures, salves, and purges. Snakeweed for the ague, willow bark for pain, king’s claver for consumption, and take care not to trod on moonwort lest your horse cast a shoe. The tools of her trade, mortar and pestle, scales and stills, transform herbs and roots into medicine, while her aunt’s receipt book captures generations of experience. 

Traitor’s Knot buy link
Twitter (@CryssaBazos)

Anna Belfrage
Name: Adam de Guirande, protagonist of In The Shadow of the Storm. Occupation: Knight. Excels at the broadsword, is more than capable with a lance but will admit to being less of an expert with bow and arrow—he has archers to handle such. Recently wed to a lady who is not quite what she seems to be and is finding married life comes with numerous challenges, one of which is having a new person wiggle her way into his heart. Will do anything for his lord and master, Roger Mortimer, which does not necessarily endear him to King Edward II who considers Mortimer a rebel and his greatest enemy. But knights as loyal and honourable as Adam are hard to come by so hanging him may be a waste. Or maybe not—after all, WHO is he loyal to? That perfidious Mortimer or his king? 
Find out more about Anna on her website, check out her Amazon page and connect on FB and Twitter.

Buy In the Shadow of the Storm

Kathryn Gauci 
Sophia Laskaris is a couturier in Constantinople during the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Born into a family of professional embroiderers, she is a woman who is not only creative, but has a head for business too. Her grandmother, Dimitra, one of the first embroiderers to gain the patronage of the Sultan’s family and who took her business to great heights throughout the empire, was the guiding light in her life. Sophia opened up her couture house, La Maison du L’Orient, in Pera, the fashionable European district in the city, at a time when European fashion was becoming popular, but she continued to create designs based on the oriental look and was admired by Parisian designers such as Paul Poiret. She was highly educated, speaking several languages, and politically astute. With the outbreak of the Balkan Wars in 1912 and WWI, she used her work to not only aid Turks in distress, but to gather information for the Greeks who were seeking independence. When the situation deteriorated, she was forced to flee Turkey and reinvent herself as a seamstress in Athens. After the Germans occupied Greece, she drew on her previous background to aid the Resistance.

Buy The Embroiderer 

Susan Grossey
My narrator Sam Plank’s occupation – that of magistrates’ constable – is central to his life and to my books.  Magistrates’ constables existed for only a short period of policing history: they were used in London during the two decades or so after the Bow Street Runners and before the Metropolitan Police, which was the 1810s and 1820s.  At that time there was little concept of investigation of crime, and none at all of detection.  If you were the victim of a crime and had some idea who had done it, you took your complaint to the local magistrate.  If he thought your claim had merit, he would task one of his constables with executing a warrant to bring the accused in for questioning.  Of course, “my” Sam is much more curious than that and makes a great deal more of his role, taking a particular interest in financial crimes…

I tweet as @ConstablePlank
Monthly Newsletter (for updates & offers) 

Helen Hollick
I was elected King of England in January 1066. It was an honour I did not want, but who else is there able to protect this noble land from those who want to steal our wealth and the Crown for their own?
King Edward died without a son, the only other of royal blood is but a boy with no experience of battle or government. To be King I must ally with the Northern Earls, so I must take their sister to be my Queen. She is a comely lass, but I have a handfasted wife, my beloved Edyth, mother of my children. So, I set her aside for the good of England, for stability and prosperity. Hah! Being King is a privilege you say?  I swear it is not. But I will do my duty and all I can to protect you, my people from the  threatening tyranny of Normandy. Or die trying.

you tube trailer:
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Main Blog
Amazon Author Page 
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Charlene Newcomb 
I thank Mistress Annie from Westminster’s kitchens who invited me here today. I met her when nobles gathered to crown the new king. I was wearing my fancy clothes—stolen, of course—pretending to be a page. Mistress Annie knows I’m a thief living on the streets, sleeping in the eaves of St. Paul’s or here at Westminster many a night, but she doesn’t fault me. She feeds me and my friend now and again, best chicken in garlic and onion sauce served alongside the best gossip. We hear the king, the one called Lionheart, is gathering an army for a pilgrimage to Outremer. Streets of London or camp follower—not much different. Being good with dice, I can win a coin or two. We might pick up some work. I can brush down a palfrey, and Little John is handy with needle and thread. And if we cannot work, there’ll be pockets-a-plenty to pick. 
—meet young Allan and Little John in Men of the Cross

Find Char’s books on Amazon & connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Amy Maroney
Artist, healer: Miramonde de Oto was a woman of many skills. Raised in a convent in the medieval Pyrenees, she learned healing remedies from the “mountain folk” and worked during her adolescence in the convent’s infirmary. In her childhood, she used bits of charcoal to draw on the marble step of an old well. When she learned to write, she was tasked with copying and illuminating manuscripts in the convent’s library. Eventually she graduated to painting portraits, thanks to an exceptional art teacher. It wasn’t until catastrophe struck the convent that Miramonde would go on to use her talents in the wider world—and unlike most women artists of her time, she even got paid for it. 

The Girl from Oto is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US
Get a free prequel novella to The Girl from Oto and find Amy’s Blog here. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook

Alison Morton 
Jobs for the girls? Aurelia Mitela has always known she would serve her country in some way; she’s a bone-and-blood Roma Novan, member of a leading family with military commanders, diplomats and councillors among her ancestors. She becomes all three eventually, through AURELIA, NEXUS, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO, but is locked in bitter opposition with her lifelong enemy. Passionate and complex, she will do anything to protect both her daughter and her lover, but despite her innate strength she is crippled by self-doubt.

Soldering requires hard physical and mental training which needs persistence and a love of the life of camaraderie, tough decisions and quick and cool judgement in trying circumstances. In a softer way, so does a diplomat’s life! But being a councillor to a weak ruler requires the toughness of mind and an ability to suppress frustration, something that Aurelia doesn’t always achieve...

Amazon author page  
Buying link
Website link to Aurelia specifically

Elizabeth St John 
Nan Wilmot
aka Anne St.John Lee Wilmot
The Countess of Rochester

Job Title: 
Spymistress to Charles II

Ambitious multi-talented outgoing individual with wide-ranging contacts across both Parliamentarian and Royalist departments. Highly skilled in project management, sales, marketing and procurement. Exceptionally discreet, trustworthy and decorous.  Fluent in English and French, with proven communication skills, especially in translations and multi-media. Experienced in multiple coding languages. Good social skills, conversant with inter-departmental protocols and processes and an ability to integrate smoothly within existing teams. Successful problem-solver, works well under stress. A valuable addition to any organization. 

Land, rents, livestock, jewelry, titles, perquisites, patronage, manors, arranged marriages, gold.
Charles II, Oliver Cromwell

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Amazon and Here

Marian Thorpe 
Sorley (Lord Somhairle of Gundarstorp, to give him his full name) is a scáeli, in the language of Linrathe.
I adapted scáeli from scéalaí, Irish for storyteller. Like the skalds of Scandinavia and the bards of Celtic Britain, Sorley is a historian, a genealogist, a musician and a teacher. He and other scáeli’en hold the collective knowledge of their people. He studied long and hard to reach this position, learning songs and stories since childhood, followed by five years of study under a senior scáeli, then years of wandering, collecting songs and stories to add to his collection. Finally, he sat a formal exam of set pieces plus his own compositions, and built his own ladhar (a lyre) as well. Scáeli’en may wander for years, be attached to a noble house, or be appointed to a Ti’ach, a college, as Sorley is at the end of the series.

Buy Empire's Reckoning

Annie Whitehead
Æthelflæd - known to her family as Teasel - has quite an important job. She’s not only the daughter of Alfred the Great, she’s also destined to become ruler of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Not her father’s realm, but the neighbouring kingdom of Mercia. These two kingdoms are the only ones left in England still holding out against the Danish ‘Vikings’. Despite all expectations, Æthelflæd becomes a queen in all but name. And there’s the rub. Her job is that of queen, but she doesn’t have the official title. She has to learn to live with a husband for whom she doesn’t initially care, discover how to win over the people of Mercia, and, oh yes, protect Mercia not only from the ‘Vikings’, but, ultimately, her own brother. And all this without an official job contract.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape – one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…
Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

I was lucky to be offered an advance review copy of this, and accepted at a busy time of year only because there were some months to go before publication and on the agreement that I would read it much nearer to that publication date. Well, I cheated. I'd read it within a week of receipt because I simply couldn't put it down; when I took my mother to her chiropodist appointment, I popped the book in my bag because I couldn't bear not to finish it with only 20 pages to go.

Having read Ms Cornick's The Woman in the Lake I was already aware that she is an expert at inter-weaving story lines and twisty-turny plots. The Forgotten Sister is just as twisty, and left me guessing right up to the end. There were a couple of instances where I thought that a gap had opened up in the plot but no, all holes were filled in and all the threads were tied, although not necessarily in the predicted way.Amy is not an overly likeable character but I don't think she's meant to be. In the modern-day story, Lizzie appears not to be likeable but is, so these two counterbalance each other. The similarity of the characters' names was great fun, and not as obvious as first appeared. Those who share names don't always share similar fates and I enjoyed trying to work out who was and who wasn't like their historical namesake.

Ms Cornick's supreme skill as a story-teller carries you along. And then she sort of blind-sides you, because all the time you are looking for the big twist in the tale. It comes, but completely out of left field. I was so pleased to be taken utterly by surprise and found myself saying out loud, "Oh, that's good."! (Obviously, no spoilers here.)Initially I had a little difficulty suspending my disbelief, but that's always the case with me and such is the quality of the writing that I soon settled in and accepted the worlds as they are presented. All in all, a fabulous read and I look forward to reading more by this extremely talented author.

Buy The Forgotten Sister
Amazon UK
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Monday, 27 April 2020

Review: Liberation by Imogen Kealey

I've been reading an awful lot of books recently - and trying to move away from my usual preferred time period. Last weekend I read the new book from Imogen Kealey* and I'm glad to say that moving out of my 'comfort zone' was rewarding indeed.

"To the Allies she was a fearless freedom fighter, special operations super spy, a woman ahead of her time. To the Gestapo she was a ghost, a shadow, the most wanted person in the world with a five-million-Franc bounty on her head.
Her name was Nancy Wake.
Now, for the first time, the roots of her legend are told in a thriller about one woman's incredible quest to turn the tide of the war, save the man she loves and take brutal revenge on those who have wronged her."

I was vaguely aware of  Nancy Wake aka Madame Fiocca, but I didn't know enough about her life to know whether she even survived the war, so for me there was added drama and tension as I had no idea what was going to happen to her or her husband Henri. 

The book drops us straight into the action, and we meet Nancy trying to evade the Germans as she scoots across Marseille and witnesses a brutal murder. From then on, the pace barely lets up and this is a very fast-paced read indeed. It was hard to relax even for a moment as the tension never really eases off and the action scenes - of which there are many - were real page-turners. 

There's a good sense of time, place, and - always - danger. Reading it, I stayed constantly alert, which heightened the effect and gave perhaps just a glimpse of what life was really like for the resistance fighters. Just a glimpse, though, because the reality must have been even worse. You need a strong stomach to read it but that's an easy job compared with what these people went through.

The real Nancy Wake - public domain image

Throughout the book, Nancy is aware that her husband has been captured by the Gestapo but she doesn't know what's happened to him, and neither do we. Again, this device, of not letting the reader know his fate, ratchets up the tension, although, as I said, I wasn't aware of the real outcome and others might be.

On the other hand, the authors have taken some licence and altered the timeline and some key events. I suspect they had good reason for doing so and perhaps it allowed them to give better shape to the plot and story arc. It didn't bother me at all, and notes are given at the back of the book.

Some readers might be surprised at how 'sweary' Nancy can be, but I put that down to her being a New Zealander with none of the quintessential English reserve. 

Just below the blurb on the Amazon page it says: "Soon to be a major blockbuster film." I'm not surprised. I think this book will make a terrific film. Nancy, her friends and comrades, and her experiences as portrayed here, will stay with me for a long time.

Amazon Links   US   UK

*the authors are Darby Kealey & Imogen Robertson