12 November 2018

Book Review: Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, by Sharon Bennett Connolly


Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Harold II of England had been with Edith Swanneck for twenty years but in 1066, in order to strengthen his hold on the throne, he married Ealdgyth, sister of two earls. William of Normandy’s Duchess, Matilda of Flanders, had supposedly only agreed to marry the Duke after he’d pulled her pigtails and thrown her in the mud. Harald Hardrada had two wives – apparently at the same time. So, who were these women? What was their real story? And what happened to them after 1066?


One of the many things I learned from Sharon Bennett Connolly’s new book is there are six hundred and twenty six people depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, but only three are women. One is Edward the Confessor’s queen, Edith of Wessex, one is a woman fleeing from a burning house - and the third is an intriguing ‘mystery woman’, who has been the subject of much debate by historians.

I mention this because it touches in the central theme of Silk and the Sword, which is how little is known about the women involved in the build-up to the Norman Conquest. It has taken much detective work to sort out the few known facts from the many myths. It hasn’t helped that even the names of these women are debated and records of the time (including the famous tapestry) focus on the men.

Sharon Bennett Connolly begins with what she calls ‘the triumvirate’ of remarkable women from before the Norman invasion. I knew about Emma of Normandy – but suspected that most of what I know about Lady Godiva was wrong. Although she is arguably the most famous of the Anglo-Saxon women, her name was probably Godgifu. As for her famous naked ride, it’s no surprise that every retelling becomes more embellished in the fashion of the time.

For me, the most fascinating story is that of Gytha of Wessex, mother of an ill-fated dynasty. (Her father, the wonderfully named Thorgils Sprakaleg, was said to have been descended from the union of a bear and a Swedish maiden.) Gytha's life seems to have been an amazing saga of wealth and war, privilege and tragedy. As with all these women, I have the feeling that Sharon could have written a whole book about each of them. I am certainly inspired to find out more. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was kindly provided by Amberley Publishing

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About the Author

Sharon Bennett Connolly was born in Yorkshire and studied at University in Northampton before working at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London. She has been fascinated by history for over thirty years and has worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle. Best known for her fascinating blog History ... the Interesting Bits she began focusing on medieval women and in 2016 her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World was published by Amberley Publishing. Sharon is now writing her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published by Amberley in late 2018. Follow Sharon on Facebook and Twitter @Thehistorybits


11 November 2018

Mary, Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure (Stewart Dynasty in Scotland), by Jenny Wormald


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, has long been portrayed as one of history’s romantically tragic figures. Devious, na├»ve, beautiful and sexually voracious, often highly principled, she secured the Scottish throne and bolstered the position of the Catholic Church in Scotland. 

Her plotting, including probable involvement in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, led to her flight from Scotland and imprisonment by her equally ambitious cousin and fellow queen, Elizabeth of England. 

Yet when Elizabeth ordered Mary’s execution in 1587 it was an act of exasperated frustration rather than political wrath.Unlike biographies of Mary predating this work, this masterly study set out to show Mary as she really was – not a romantic heroine, but the ruler of a European kingdom with far greater economic and political importance than its size or location would indicate. 

Wormald also showed that Mary's downfall was not simply because of the ‘crisis years’ of 1565–7, but because of her way of dealing, or failing to deal, with the problems facing her as a renaissance monarch. 

She was tragic because she was born to supreme power but was wholly incapable of coping with its responsibilities. Her extraordinary story has become one of the most colourful and emotionally searing tales of western history, and it is here fully reconsidered by a leading specialist of the period. Jenny Wormald's beautifully written biography will appeal to students and general readers alike.

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About the Author

Jenny Wormald was one of the most influential Scottish historians of her generation. She taught history at Glasgow University for 20 years, and was then appointed to a fellowship in Modern History at St Hilda's College, Oxford, for a further 20 years. After retirement to Edinburgh she became an Honorary Fellow in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. She wrote a number of significant books and articles, including Court, Kirk and Community: Scotland 1470-1625 (1981), 'James VI and I: Two Kings or One?' (1983) and 'Gunpowder, Treason and Scots' (1985).

9 November 2018

Special Book Launch Guest Post ~ The writing of Miss Marley, by Rebecca Mascull (In Memory of Author Vanessa Lafaye)


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Before A Christmas Carol there was… Miss Marley
A seasonal tale of kindness and goodwill
Orphans Clara and Jacob Marley live by their wits, scavenging for scraps in the poorest alleyways of London, in the shadow of the workhouse. Every night, Jake promises his little sister ‘tomorrow will be better’ and when the chance to escape poverty comes their way, he seizes it despite the terrible price.

The writing of Miss Marley

My friend Vanessa Lafaye was an historical novelist who loved Dickens, just like me. We bonded over reading each other’s first novels. We could see instantly that we both had the same feeling about history, that we loved the modern world of decent medical and social care, easy transport and communications, Twitter and Facebook and having hot cross buns all year round. But imaginatively we lived in the past and didn’t want to live anytime else, thanks very much.

We discovered a mutual love of Dickens. I’d read all of his novels when I was pregnant and he became my all-time number one novelist. In one of our first conversations Vanessa suggested (jokingly, kind of) that we begin an A Christmas Carol appreciation society.

Vanessa had cancer the whole time I knew her. It didn’t define her life though and she just got on, writing gorgeous books and making dear friends throughout the writing world. We lived at opposite ends of the country, so didn’t see each other much but we kept in touch regularly via Skype calls and messaging. Her condition became terminal. This year, it became clear that her time was running out and she only had a few months left. She’d just got a new deal with HarperCollins for a prequel to A Christmas Carol called Miss Marley. 

She was writing against the clock. She messaged me from a ship near New Zealand on a trip of a lifetime, asking me questions about Scrooge’s timeline and I sent her pictures of pages from the novel and talked it through. The writing was going really well and she was determined to finish it. In February 2018, we made a date to talk about her next book the following week. She died three days later. Miss Marley was two-thirds completed. Her time had run out. Too soon, too soon, for a thousand reasons.

In March 2018, HarperCollins asked me if I would consider writing the final chapters of Vanessa’s novella. I didn’t have to think about it for a second. Of course I wanted to do it. I was sent the 22,000 words Vanessa had already written and I read it with a pencil in hand, covering it in notes. I was looking for patterns in her style, such as the way she used figurative language, the details she liked to focus on and key phrases or ideas that should be reiterated and developed in the final section I was to write. 

As I read, my mind automatically began projecting forward into how these plot strands might play out and where I, as a reader as much as a writer, wanted these characters to end up. We had very little information on what Vanessa planned for the ending and so, after discussion with the publishers and those close to Vanessa, it was decided that I should write the ending as I felt it should naturally end. I had a clear picture in my head of what should happen and it was agreed by my editor Kate. I was ready to write.

The deadline was tight. It was May 2018 and they wanted the book published in November of this year, in time for Christmas. I sat down at my desk to write. I could have laboured over it and edited manically as I went along and agonised over every word – does this sound like Vanessa? Is this how she would have written it? I decided that way madness lay and also it would have created stilted prose. I realised I just had to get on with it. I had to write it how it came naturally, how it flowed. 

So I started writing, very fast, thousands of words a day. I got the whole thing finished in five days, around twelve thousand words. I didn’t think much as I wrote, I just let it flow. At points, it felt like a kind of channelling. Read into that what you will. That’s just how it felt at the time. It was a strange and beautiful experience. When I read what I’d written, I had no idea if it was similar to Vanessa’s style, if it worked as an ending or if people would approve of it. It’s like when you’ve been cooking a stew all day and you keep tasting it and it starts to taste of nothing. People close to Vanessa read it and they all liked it. 

No changes were called for. I’ve never had so little editing in my whole writing career. It was a lovely thing to do and a sad thing to do. It brought me closer to Vanessa and made me miss her presence even more. I’m so glad I was asked and I hope she would have liked it. I’ll never know, but I did the best I could. I hope Mr Dickens wouldn’t be too outraged with it either. It’s a lovely, touching story, all about goodwill and humanity. I hope you enjoy Vanessa’s last book and I heartily I recommend you read it on Christmas Eve! Thank you.

Rebecca Mascull

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About the Author

Rebecca Mascull is the author of three historical novels, all published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Her first novel, THE VISITORS, tells the story of Adeliza Golding, a deaf-blind child living on her father’s hop farm in Victorian Kent. Her second novel SONG OF THE SEA MAID is set in the C18th and concerns an orphan girl who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. Her third novel, THE WILD AIR, is about a shy Edwardian girl who learns to fly and becomes a celebrated aviatrix but the shadow of war is looming. After previously working in education, Rebecca is now a full-time writer. She has a Masters in Writing and lives by the sea in the East of England. Rebecca also writes sagas under the pen-name Mollie Walton. Find out more at Rebecca's website rebeccamascull.co.uk and find her on Facebook and Twitter @rebeccamascull



Vanessa Lafaye

7 November 2018

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Road to Newgate by Kate Braithwaite


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London 1678: Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real.  Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates. When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, 
the consequences threaten them all.

The Road to Newgate is my second novel set in the 17th Century - a fascinating time in Europe when society was making great advances in knowledge and literacy but was still fairly 'medieval' in its attitudes and medical understanding. The line between religion and superstition at times was paper-thin.

This is a story about a private marriage and friendships in a time of great public upheaval. Titus Oates rocked London with wild tales of Catholic plots, playing on the intense bigotry against Catholics that was felt by many at the time. The murder of the magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, appeared to prove that Oates' claims were true. The truth about this murder, still unsolved today, is at the heart of Nat Thompson's efforts to undermine Oates and end the terror crisis gripping London. But what will it cost him personally?

I hope the book will appeal in many ways. There's a murder mystery, a love story, an LGBT theme, and a wonderful villain. For those who love historical novels - as I do - I've tried to vividly bring to life the Popish Plot, a dramatic moment in British history, which also resonates with politics and society today.

Kate Braithwaite
“Moved me greatly and brought tears to my eyes. Gripping, moving and brilliantly captures this tense and sometimes brutal episode in late seventeenth-century English history.” - Andrea Zuvich, Author & Historian
“A real pleasure to read,” - Denis Bock, author of The Ash Garden & The Communist’s Daughter

“Meticulously researched, vividly imagined, and deftly plotted. Rich, resonating and relevant.” - Catherine Hokin, author of Blood & Roses, the story of Margaret of Anjou.
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About the Author

Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh but has lived in various parts of the UK, in Canada and the US. Her first novel, CHARLATAN, was long-listed for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award in 2015. Kate and her family live in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Find out more at Kate's website kate-braithwaite.com and find her on Twitter @KMBraithwaite  

4 November 2018

Book review: Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire, by Amy Licence


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Despite the huge amount written about Anne Boleyn, for me she remains an intriguingly elusive figure. Even the well-known portraits might not be of her, and her many enemies had good reason to darken her reputation, both during her short lifetime and afterwards.

This fascinating new book from Amy Licence is possibly the most comprehensive review of the life of Anne Boleyn to date. Amy opens with the admission that Anne has always been one of her favourite heroines, and sets out to show Anne as defiant, defining and brave, and her 'career' as the culmination of the ambitions of generations of her ancestors. 

Beginning with useful background on the rise of the Boleyn family, this book follows Anne's story from her birth to her sad end. Interestingly, almost everything we know about the last days of Anne Boleyn is filtered through the pen of Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, in his detailed reports to Cromwell. He is said to have told her the execution would not hurt, as it was to be 'cleverly' done. (His wife, Lady Mary Kingston, might have been his 'spy' when she attended on Anne Boleyn during the queen's 'doleful'  imprisonment in the Tower.)

I particularly liked the wealth of details of the court of Henry VIII, which show how some other writers might have over-simplified the complexity of Anne's situation. We still hope for answers to the many questions raised throughout this book, yet this epic account of Anne Boleyn's life is a perfect companion to Amy's excellent Catherine of Aragon. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

  
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About the Author

Amy Licence is an historian of women's lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also a fan of Modernism and Post-Impressionism, particularly Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Cubism. Amy has written for The Guardian, the BBC Website, The English Review, The London Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement and is a regular contributor to the New Statesman and The Huffington Post. She is frequently interviewed for BBC radio and made her TV debut in 2013, in a BBC documentary on The White Queen. You can follow Amy on twitter @PrufrocksPeach or like her facebook page In Bed With the Tudors. Her website is www.amylicence.weebly.com

2 November 2018

Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Different Kind of Fire by Suanne Schafer


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ruby Schmidt has the talent, the drive, even the guts to enroll in art school, leaving behind her childhood home and the beau she always expected to marry. Her life at the Academy seems heavenly at first, but she soon learns that societal norms in the East are as restrictive as those back home in West Texas. Rebelling against the insipid imagery woman are expected to produce, Ruby embraces bohemian life. Her burgeoning sexuality drives her into a life-long love affair with another woman and into the arms of an Italian baron.

With the Panic of 1893, the nation spirals into a depression, and Ruby’s career takes a similar downward trajectory. After thinking she could have it all, Ruby, now pregnant and broke, returns to Texas rather than join the queues at the neighborhood soup kitchen. She discovers her life back home is as challenging as that in Philadelphia.

A Different Kind of Fire depicts one woman’s battle to balance husband, family, career, and ambition. Torn between her childhood sweetheart, her forbidden passion for another woman, the nobleman she had to marry, and becoming a renowned painter, Ruby’s choices mold her in ways she could never have foreseen.

Praise
“Writer Suanne Schafer spins a unique tale of a turn of the 19th century Texas heroine and her way of artistic expression. Her paintings shock her contemporaries and the love she’s drawn to shocks herself. A Different Kind of Fire depicts the journey of a determined woman to meet life on her own terms.” –Pamela Morsi, USA Today Bestselling Author of 26 books including The Cotton Queen and Bitsy’s Bait & BBQ
“If you love historical novels about women who throw off the shackles of feminine convention, then this book is for you. In spare but sensuous prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy and E. Annie Proulx, Schafer brings Ruby Schmidt to life–a woman who doesn’t belong in the late nineteenth century but gradually finds her place in the twentieth. You can’t help but root for Ruby as she grows from Texas farm girl, to a freethinker and lover of men and women in Philadelphia, and finally into a consummate artist. This is a powerful and deeply satisfying read.” –Helena Echlin, co-author of Sparked and author of Gone 
“An exceptional first novel. Schafer has woven a cohesive tale from disparate elements–a stark life in the rugged countryside of 1890s Texas vs the gentility of an arts academy in the East; a traditional marriage and motherhood vs a secret and haunting sexuality. Unequivocally recommended!” –Michael R. Hardesty, Author of Amazon Best Seller, The Grace of the Ginkgo
“With rare artistry, Schafer paints a life both creative and cursed in A Different Kind of Fire.–Willa Blair, Award-winning Amazon and Barnes & Noble #1 bestselling author of His Highland Love, Highland Troth, Highland Seer, and ten other books 
“The saga of a young woman determined to follow her dream, whatever obstacles cross her path.” –MJ Fredrick, author of A Texas Kind of Love, Smitten in a Small Town, and twenty-five other books, a two-time Epic Awards winner and a four-time RWA Golden Heart finalist 
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About the Author

Suanne Schafer, born in West Texas at the height of the Cold War, finds it ironic that grade school drills for tornadoes and nuclear war were the same: hide beneath your desk and kiss your rear-end goodbye. Now a retired family-practice physician whose only child has fledged the nest, her pioneer ancestors and world travels fuel her imagination. She originally planned to write romances, but either as a consequence of a series of failed relationships or a genetic distrust of happily ever-after, her heroines are strong women who battle tough environments and intersect with men who might—or might not—love them. Suanne completed the Stanford University Creative Writing Certificate program. Her short works have been featured in print and on-line magazines and anthologies. Her debut women’s fiction novel, A Different Kind of Fire, explores the life of Ruby Schmidt, a nineteenth century artist who escapes—and returns—to West Texas. Suanne’s next book explores the heartbreak and healing of an American physician caught up in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Find out more at Suanne's website suanneschaferauthor.com and follow her on Twitter @SuanneSchafer

New Tudor Book: The Forgotten Tudor Women: Anne Seymour, Jane Dudley & Elisabeth Parr, by Sylvia Barbara Soberton


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Anne Seymour, Jane Dudley and Elisabeth Parr all have their own unique stories to tell. Born into the most turbulent period of England’s history, these women’s lives interplayed with the great dramas of the Tudor age, and their stories deserve to be told independently of their husbands. 

Anne Seymour served all of Henry VIII’s six wives and brushed with treason more than once, but she died in her bed as a wealthy old matriarch. Jane Dudley was a wife and mother who fought for her family until her last breath. 

Elisabeth Parr, sister-in-law of Queen Katherine Parr, married for love and became Elizabeth I’s favourite lady-in-waiting. The Tudor age was a hazardous time for ambitious women: courtly life exposed them to “pride, envy, indignation, scorning and derision”, executions were part of everyday life, death in childbirth was a real possibility and plagues sweeping regularly through the country could wipe out entire generations of families. 

Yet Anne, Jane and Elisabeth lived through all this and left their indelible marks on history. It’s high time for these women’s stories to be heard.

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About the Author

Sylvia Barbara Soberton is a writer and researcher specialising in the history of the Tudors. She debuted in 2015 with her bestselling book “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Mary Howard, Mary Shelton & Margaret Douglas”. Sylvia’s other best-sellers include “Golden Age Ladies: Women Who Shaped the courts of Henry VIII and Francis I” and “Great Ladies: The Forgotten Witnesses to the Lives of Tudor Queens”. You can find Sylvia on Goodreads and Twitter @SylviaBSo 

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