New Release - The Betrayal by Terry Lynn Thomas

  Terry Lynn Thomas has a new release, published today. Terry has kindly sent me the opening lines and if these don't whet your appetite...

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

New Release - The Betrayal by Terry Lynn Thomas

 Terry Lynn Thomas has a new release, published today.

Terry has kindly sent me the opening lines and if these don't whet your appetite, then nothing will:


Sunday, October 5

When the alarm blared the Sunday financial recap, the woman woke with a start. She didn’t care about the Dow Jones Industrial Average, nor did she care about market volatility. Fumbling, she unplugged the old-fashioned clock radio and tossed it under the bed. Her thoughts, as they often did, went to her lover. She rolled over and pressed her face into his pillow, taking in the scent of him, that strange concoction of vanilla and citrus that made her senses reel.

Rolling over on her back, she took a deep breath, and cradled her belly, thinking of the baby that grew inside her. The positive pregnancy test lay on the table next to her, its vertical pink line a source of unimaginable joy. She snuggled under the duvet as the automatic coffeemaker kicked into gear, filling her apartment with the aroma of the dark roast coffee her lover preferred.

She saw the card on the doormat just as she poured her first cup of coffee.

I’ve rented a beach house for us tonight. I’ll send a key and the address by messenger. Meet you there around ten?

Leaning back against the counter, the woman closed her eyes, anticipating their rendezvous. Dear God, she craved him.

She did not know she had less than fifteen hours to live.


TERRY LYNN THOMAS grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which explains her love of foggy beaches and Gothic mysteries. Terry Lynn writes the Sarah Bennett Mysteries, set on the California coast during the 1940s, which feature a misunderstood medium in love with a spy. The Drowned Woman is a recipient of the IndieBRAG Medallion. She also writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, came out in April 2018 and has since become a USA TODAY bestseller. The Family Secret released to critical acclaim in March 2019. When she's not writing, you can find Terry Lynn walking in the woods with her dogs or visiting old cemeteries in search of story ideas.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

The Battle Begins... by Helen Hollick

We're almost on the last leg of our tour and today it's all about the date - 14th October. Over to Helen:

On this day, 14th October 1066, there was a unique, for its time, battle at a place that, then, had no name. The battle raged from around 9a.m. until dusk and was bitter and bloody. Since that day the location has been known by various names – Senlac Hill, the Battle of Hastings, and just Battle, which is the name of the present town which came into existence when Battle Abbey was built by order of the victor, Duke William of Normandy. Was it built to commemorate a victory... or to pay penance for the murder of England’s rightful king? Harold II died defending his kingdom against an arrogant, psychopathic  tyrant who had no right to the English throne. Who invaded England with the intention of taking what he wanted, by force. Unfortunately, he won.

looking across where, it is believed,
one wing of the Battle of Hastings took place
Excerpt from 
Harold the King (UK edition title) / I am the Chosen King (US edition title) 
the story of the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings

Harold reached London late in the evening of the ninth day of October. The news was bad. His brother Leofwine, awaited him at Westminster, was first down the Hall steps into the torch-lit courtyard as the King rode in.
    “Well?” Harold demanded as Leofwine ran up.
   “He has fortified himself within that area of marsh-edged land known as the Hastings Peninsula. It would be difficult to take our army in there    boundaries of marsh and river are as effective as any palisade wall. For the moment he has no lack of supplies, is living off the land, looting all he can and destroying what remains.”
    Harold tossed the reins of his stallion to the nearest servant, unbuckled and removed his war cap as he strode up the wooden steps leading into his Hall. Alditha, his wife, stood at the top, the cup of welcome in her hand. She offered it to him, he took a quick gulp and passed it back, pressing a light but inattentive kiss to her cheek. “I have no time for formal welcome, lass, but would appreciate a tankard of ale and something to eat, cheese will do.” He kissed her a second time, more fondly. “You look tired. Does the child bring discomfort?”
     “No, my lord, the child is well,” Alditha answered him, her hand on the bulge of her belly. But he did not hear, for he was talking again to Leofwine and others of his command who were gathering around the table set beside the eastern wall, already cluttered with maps and parchments. His queen, for want of something to do to help, went to fetch ale and cheese.
     “I have been studying the route south, and the entire Hastings area,” Leofwine said, pointing to one map unrolled and spread, a salt box, tankard, ink pot and wooden fruit bowl anchoring the four persistently curling corners. “From what we have already learned, these villages” – he indicated three – “have been burnt, razed to the ground.”
     “Casualties?” Harold snapped.
    Leofwine cleared his throat, glanced at his own captain of housecarls, knowing Harold would not be pleased at the answer. “Several.”
     “Aye, I would expect the Bastard to butcher the menfolk.”
     “’Tis not just the men. There are bodies of women and children – bairns, some of them still at the breast.” Leofwine swallowed hard, reluctant to continue. The brutality of the battlefield was no stranger to any of the warrior kind, but this, this was sickening. Quietly, his voice hoarse, he said, “Many are only charred remains, they burnt with their houses. Nothing has been left standing. No one left alive. It seems he has not come merely to conquer England, but to destroy everyone and everything in the process.”
    Harold was standing with his palms resting flat on either side of the map, looking at the markings of river, coast, settlement and hill. He set his jaw, said nothing. He dared not. The words that were sticking in his throat would have erupted into fury had he released them. He swallowed down his anger with a gulp of ale from the tankard that Alditha fetched him, his mind turning to campaigning in Brittany... William’s determination to succeed, whatever the cost in human life or suffering. His manic obsession with winning. Too clearly could Harold see in his mind the past, that smouldering ruin of Dinan. The senseless killing of the innocent. Of women and babes. Heard in his ears the screaming as women and their daughters, innocent of men, were violated. Now it was happening to his own; to English people. People he knew – and knew well, for he held estates in that coastal area, had hunted there often as boy and man grown. He had a stud of fine breeding horses at Whatlington, and Crowhurst held a mews with some of the best hawks in the country. His hawksman there was a loyal and good-humoured man, his wife and four daughters all exceptionally pretty. Crowhurst had been one of the places Leofwine had pointed to.

After a while, when his breathing had calmed, Harold asked, “Do we know the extent of his supplies? The Hastings land will not feed him for ever.”
     “With the number of ships he has brought with him, I would say he is capable of withstanding a siege through the winter at least.”
     William could devastate the area in that time, and aye, it would be difficult to flush him out. The Hastings Peninsula might be no stone-built fortress, but it mattered not. A siege was a siege, whatever the defensive circumstances, and Duke William was well versed in siege warfare. Nor, Harold reflected grimly, was he likely to make fatal mistakes through arrogance, as had the Hardrada up there in the north.
     “I say leave him to rot!” That was Gyrth, who had just entered the Hall, stripping off his riding gloves as he did so. Like his elder brother Harold, his beard-stubbled face was grimed with white dust, his clothes sweat-stained, eyes tired. Twice, in a matter of weeks, had they made the journey between London and York in six days. Once in itself was feat enough for any man, but twice? Surely this king deserved the respect and loyalty of his subjects!
     “We shall ensure he cannot get reinforcements; therefore he will run out of food eventually – perhaps his men will not stand firm if we starve them out,” Leofwine suggested.
     Harold pushed his weight from the table, hooked a stool forward, sat. He was so weary. His body felt a dead, limp weight, but he could not afford the luxury of paying mind to it. “We need to consider this carefully,” he said. “I know Duke William. Know some of his vile tactics. He hopes to goad me into hasty action through what he has ordered done to my people in Sussex.”
     “He intends to draw us into the arena, do you think?” Leofwine spoke his thoughts out loud. “Is waiting for us to go in after him, lure us into an ambush?”
     “Or, once he has burnt and plundered everything in sight, will he march out towards the Weald?” a housecarl captain asked, indicating a possible route with a grimed nail. “Could he have designs on Winchester, or Dover?”
     “That we must wait and see.” Harold selected a chunk of soft goat’s cheese and bit into it, not tasting its tangy saltiness. “I do not care to let him run riot in the Weald. With only one narrow road in through dense woodland and impassable marsh he is safe from any land-based attack, but equally, that makes only the one route out for him. Within Hastings, we have him contained, can choose our own time to attack.” He ruffled his hair then brought his hand down over his nose, across his chin. “It is easier to spear a boar while it is trapped. Only a fool would prod such a creature out into the open.”
      “How long do we wait?” Leofwine queried. “A few days, weeks?”
     Harold answered him with a vague shrug. His mind was too tired to think, to make decisions. He forced the drowsiness aside. “We wait as long as we can. We are all tired, many of the men are wounded and are still straggling south – we were too short of horses for us all to ride with haste. My poxed brother’s treachery has placed us at a disadvantage. Let us just hope William is as uncertain what to do next – he cannot have made plans, for he would not have expected us to be occupied in the North.”
     Not for the first time during the dash south did Harold wonder at that. Had William known? What if Tostig had made an ally of Normandy as well as Norway? There was no reason, save that of family honour, to have prevented him from doing so. And honour was a quality the exiled and shamed, now dead, Tostig had been grotesquely lacking. But there was no way, now, to ask him.
      “The fyrd, I assume, is alerted?” Harold asked of Leofwine.
      His brother nodded. “The war horns await your orders for their blowing.”
    All summer had the fyrds of the south and eastern counties been on alert, alternating their patrolling of the coastlines. Now they were to be called out again. They were not obliged to come, for already they had served their compulsory time. Before Stamford Bridge, Harold might have doubted their eagerness, but not now. They would join together under his banner, for no warrior would miss the chance of a good fight, a good victory. Especially when their own homes, lives and families, their freedom, depended upon it.

© Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick is the author of Harold the King (UK edition title) / I am the Chosen King (US edition title) the story of the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings, and one of the authors included in 1066 Turned Upside Down an anthology of short stores exploring the 'what if' alternative versions of the year 1066

Available via Helen’s Amazon AuthorPage

* * *

 Follow the tour - a joint venture with 
Annie Whitehead 
 Helen Hollick

 1st October Annie Whitehead - hosted by Helen Hollick
Lady Godiva – Who Was She, and Did She Really?

2nd October Helen Hollick - hosted by Nicola Cornick
Why Do We Do It?

3rd October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Lisl Zlitni
Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?

4th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Tony Riches
Undoing The Facts For The Benefit Of Fiction?
The Writing Desk

5th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Pam Lecky
Murder in Saxon England

6th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Derek Birks
King Arthur? From Roman Britain To Saxon England
7th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson
Æthelflæd's Daughter 

8th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Cryssa Bazos
An Anthology Of Authors

9th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Elizabeth St John 
Anglo-Saxon Family Connections

10th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Judith Arnopp
Alditha: Wife. Widow. Mother.

11th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Brook Allen
Roman Remains - Did the Saxons Use Them?

12th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Amy Maroney
Emma Of Normandy, Queen Of Anglo-Saxon England – Twice

13th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Simon Turney
Penda: Fictional and Historical 'Hero' 

14th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Annie Whitehead
The Battle Begins...
Reads Writes Reviews

15th October : Annie - Casting Light Upon The Shadow
and HelenLet Us Talk Of Many Things
joint post hosted by both of us 

We hope you will enjoy 'Stepping Back Into Saxon England' 
with us!

Friday, 21 August 2020

Feature/Review: Echoes of the Storm by Charlene Newcomb

Today on Reads, Writes, Reviews, my review of Echoes of the Storm my Charlene Newcomb. But first, a few words from the author herself:

Hurtling from the 12th century to the 24th - by Charlene Newcomb

Echoes of the Storm marks my debut novel in science fiction/space opera after more than a decade with fingers in both contemporary and medieval historical fiction. But my writing career actually began in the mid ‘90s in the Star Wars universe, where I contributed more than 10 short stories to the Lucasfilm-licensed Star Wars Adventure Journal

I always dreamed of writing a Star Wars novel, but knew that path was closed to me unless I was 1) a successful writer with a proven track record; 2) numerous published science fiction novels, and 3) agented. Real life - the demanding day job and single parenthood - curtailed my writing for years. When I finally began writing again, I took a fork in my writing road and turned to my first love: historical fiction. Three medieval novels later, I dusted off Echoes and finished the manuscript I had started in 1998.  I’m still un-agented, and don’t have numerous sci fi tales under my belt, but I’ll still dream about Star Wars

Find Echoes at major online retailers in print and ebook formats:

Charlene Newcomb lives, works, and writes in Kansas. She is an academic librarian (retired) by trade, a U.S. Navy veteran, and has three grown children. When not at the library, she is still surrounded by books trying to fill her head with all things medieval and galaxies far, far away. She loves to travel and enjoys quiet places in the mountains or on rocky coasts. But even in Kansas she can let her imagination soar. 
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Facebook: CharleneNewcombAuthor
Twitter: @charnewcomb
Instagram: @charnewc


As Charlene says, she has written three novels set in the medieval period. This was my introduction to her writing; I read the first of those books, Men of the Cross, and simply loved it. I've also read some of her short stories, featured on Discovering Diamonds, and I loved those too. So when I heard that she'd written a new novel which encompassed her other great passion, Sci-Fi, I had to take a look, despite its not being my usual preferred genre.
A good writer is a good writer. And a good book is a good book.
Echoes of the Storm begins by throwing the reader right into some high-octane action. In a way, it doesn't let up afterwards because the plot is so ingenious, the fates and fortunes of the characters so many and varied, that the book is a definite page-turner.
Yet there are also scenes of calm, of pause, so that the book is well paced. 

Here's the blurb:

Jack Gamble’s lover Ari Norse is a double agent. He betrayed the resistance and now commands Galilei's military operations.

Jack is shattered by the betrayal, and rallying what remains of the resistance and their galactic allies wasn’t part of his plans. His contacts are scattered, maybe dead.

Streams are broadcasting Jack's face from one end of the galaxy to the other. In a harrowing escape, his ship is intercepted by mercenaries under the command of Captain Ben Stone.

Space pirates, friendly interrogators, security grunts, and Norse stand in Jack’s way. Stone could turn him in, but the intriguing captain has his own problems with the empire - and an interest in Jack. But can he trust Stone?

Jack can't afford any emotional entanglements now. He has a rebellion to win and a world to take back. Failure means his people will never break the empire’s chains, and his homeworld is screwed.

Norse already did that to him.

Jack won’t let it happen again.

Yes, we are definitely a long way from our known world! One tiny touch which I loved was that few explanations are given. We are simply immersed in this other place. The author does this effectively by, for example, presenting plates of food with unfamiliar names but rather than explaining what they are, she makes it clear by what the characters say, and how they react. Minimal exposition like this has the effect of putting us right in the scenes and, indeed, the whole time I was reading I felt like I was watching. No spoilers, but a particularly tense scene towards the end of the book had me feeling as if I was turning from one character to another as they moved, spoke, and fought. I could 'see' everything.

It's not necessary to be a Sci-fi fan to enjoy this book. The setting is skilfully drawn, so it made sense even to a non-techie like me. But the setting is also important. Could this story be told in another way, another time, another universe? No. Is it just explosions and lasers and fancy gadgets? Also no.

Jack Gamble has been betrayed, on a personal level, and in terms of what this betrayal now means to the resistance. This is so much more than a simple tale of revenge, however. Jack knows he needs to learn how to put his feelings aside in order not to compromise the rebellion, and he struggles. Human emotions aren't so easy to put into little boxes, and the author knows this.

Nor is this just Jack's story. It's told from multiple viewpoints and every character is presented as a rounded human being, with faults, frailties, insecurities, intelligence and strength.

What I particularly liked was that there are genuine surprises. The reader is kept on their toes, as it were, because it's just never clear how things will work out. Had I placed a bet on what one member of Norse's staff was going to do towards the end of the book, I'd have lost my money.

The action scenes are written superbly, the dialogue felt natural and the frankly audacious stunts pulled off by the resistance were beautifully choreographed.

If you're not a Sci-fi fan, don't be put off. This book is simply a fantastic read. The plot is strong, so are the characters, and they perform in their world. A bit like good historical fiction, only with blaster weapons.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Drawing Anglo-Saxon and Viking Treasure: Guest Post by Gilli Allan

To tie in with the release of the gorgeous new cover for Buried Treasure, I'm delighted to hand the blog over to author Gilli Allan:

Drawing Anglo-Saxon and Viking Treasure

One of the reasons I chose to write my book, BURIED TREASURE, is because I have always had a fascination with archaeology. I grew up in the knowledge that my great uncle, Sydney Ford, ‘unearthed the Mildenhall Treasure on his farm’. I put this in quotation marks because the story is actually a lot more complicated and mysterious than I knew as a child. To find out more go to

Maybe our family history also influenced my son, Thomas Williams. He is now a Medievalist and an Archaeologist, and the author of Viking Britain and Viking London. His interest has always been focused, not on the Roman occupation (and finds like the silver tableware his great great Uncle Syd discovered), but on the traces left in the landscape during the early medieval period often referred to as the Dark Ages, the half century between the Romans and the Normans. 

Growing up, Tom always claimed he wanted to be a writer. And aged four, produced his first dictated ‘book’ about ghosts and ghouls. I claim all the credit as his early influencer because as far back as Tom can remember I was forever scribbling in notebooks or tapping away at a ‘sit-up-and-beg’ typewriter. And he was just six when I became a published author. 

Before I had Tom and began writing, my career was as an illustrator in advertising.  So, for a few years when Tom was trying to find his feet after graduating, he talked about our doing some kind of project together. He flirted with the idea of rewriting some classic legends or fairy-stories, for which I would supply the illustrations.  

His first outing as an author did indeed turn out to be a children’s book, although not a fairy story. It was an account of the life of Harald ‘Hardrada’ Sigurdsson, the Viking King who launched an attack on the north of England in 1066 (ahead of William the Conqueror’s invasion in the South East), but he was defeated by our own King Harold Godwinson, at Stamford Bridge. ‘The Tale of King Harald – The Last Viking Adventure’ was written to accompany the ‘Vikings-Life and Legend’ exhibition, at the British Museum in 2014, for which my son was the project curator. True to his word, he asked me to illustrate the narrative, the map and the cover art. 

King Harald in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Praying for Forgiveness

After this, my first ever book illustration commission, my son’s writing career continued in a more adult direction. He contributed to and edited, an academic tome, Representing Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia.
Two artefacts from ‘Representing Beasts……’ The Clocmacnoise Plaque (above)
and The Lejre Throne (below)
One of the other contributors was unable to secure the rights (at a reasonable cost) to reproduce copy-righted images to illustrate her text. Tom suggested his mum could draw the artefacts for her.  Thus, my second book illustration commission came about. It was the kind of work I had never previously attempted (a British Museum artist undertook the depictions of the ‘real’ artefacts, which interleave the story of the ‘The Tale of King Harald’), but I found I really loved it. There is a certain security and comfort in drawing something that actually exists, something you can simply copy, rather than dreaming up what tenth century Constantinople, or the aftermath of a battle between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, might have looked like!   

When Tom gained his original two-book contract with William Collins we were very proud and happy parents. It did not initially occur to me that I might be called upon yet again to illustrate anything.  But quite close to the deadline for delivery of his book, ‘Viking Britain’, guess who was on the phone. “Mu…um?” 

Northumbrian Coin of the 920s
For this book I produced ‘raven’ and ‘crossed-axe’ section dividers, and also ‘knotted snake’ chapter endings.  And I also produced the illustrations of two coins.  It may not be much, but it gave me enormous pleasure to be involved in some small way in our son’s career as a writer. And, when I came to write my own book, BURIED TREASURE, Tom was on hand to help me enormously both with the plausibility of my plot and the research required.  His expertise was invaluable. 
Coin of Cnut of Northumbria 900-5


About Gilli:

Gilli Allan began to write in childhood - a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the imaginary kind.  
After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as an illustrator in advertising and only began writing again when she became a mother.  
Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration. 
All of her recent books TORN, LIFE CLASS, FLY or FALL and BURIED TREASURE have gained ‘Chill with a Book’ awards. 

Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams, is now also a writer. 

About Buried Treasure:

“I found Buried Treasure a compelling read. It was so many things: a love story, a hunt for clues to lost secrets, and a fascinating look at how our past experiences shape us, and how we can heal even after damage. The characters were wonderfully well drawn. ”

Jane thinks he sees her as shallow and ill-educated. Theo thinks she sees him as a snob, stuffy and out of touch.

Within the ancient precincts of the university the first encounter between the conference planner and the academic is accidental and unpromising. Just as well there’s no reason for them ever to meet again. But behind the armour they’ve each constructed from old scars, they’ve more in common than divides them. Both have an archaeological puzzle they are driven to solve. As their stories intertwine, their quest to uncover the past unearths more than expected.

Find Gilli:

Find Gilli’s other books TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL at

Contact Gilli at

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.