May, 1473: Two years after his victory at the Battle of Barnet, Edward IV's enemies are stepping up their attempts to bring about his downfall. Into this uneasy climate the King's loyal brother, Richard of Gloucester, despatches Francis Cranley and Sir James Tyrell to Beaulieu Abbey where his mother-in-law, the Countess of Warwick, has been in sanctuary since her husband's death at Barnet. Tasked with bringing the Countess to Middleham, they encounter difficulties when the Countess's young attendant disappears. As he sets out to find her, Cranley uncovers subterfuge, murder and a conspiracy with the potential to unleash mayhem across the land.
Why I wrote The Beaulieu Vanishing
My love affair with historical fiction stems from childhood when my sisters and I would pounce on the library books our mother brought home. Thanks to authors such as Jean Plaidy, Norah Lofts and Anya Seton, I was soon familiar with the kings and queens of medieval England and from an early age could recite the names and dates of key battles and other historic events. Fascinated by the rich tapestry of English and European history, I knew that one day I would sit down and write a historical novel of my own. Given my keen interest in the Wars of the Roses, that was always likely to be my starting point.
Several decades later, having relished the experience of writing The Woodville Connection, my debut novel featuring 15th century sleuth Francis Cranley, I felt encouraged to continue Cranley’s story. Set within the confines of a remote Lincolnshire manor, the bulk of the action in the first book unfolds over a few days in December 1472. It was a deliberately claustrophobic setup but for Cranley’s second outing, I wanted to mirror my hero’s personal development by broadening both the landscape and the timescale.
In order to do this, I went back to my treasured history books to remind myself what was happening in England in 1473. Since Cranley’s close friend and benefactor is Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III in due course), I paid particular attention to events that impacted on Gloucester’s life. When I discovered that this was the year his mother-in-law, the widowed Countess of Warwick, was allowed to leave sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey in order to live with Gloucester and his wife at Middleham Castle, a story idea took root.
I always find it easiest to write about places I know or have at least visited so I liked the fact that Beaulieu was not much more than an hour’s drive from my home. I was already familiar with the pretty village from previous visits but realised I knew virtually nothing about the history of the Abbey. To rectify that, I bought a rather wonderful book written by a learned Cistercian monk called Dom. Frederick Hockey, and spent several happy weekends poking about the New Forest, scribbling notes and taking pictures of anything with a connection to the Abbey.
At this point the novel’s plot was incomplete but a chance discovery in Hockey’s book gave me the key to the rest of it. Without giving away spoilers, I learned that Beaulieu Abbey was once closely associated with X, a place I happen to know quite well. By coincidence, in 1473 something happened at X which was important at the time although it is largely forgotten today. Picking up the strands that led from the Countess of Warwick to Beaulieu Abbey and then onwards to X, I triangulated a plot that mixed established fact with a smidgeon of conjecture and a hefty dollop of imagination. The result is a story that puts Francis Cranley and his comrades in the thick of the action, travelling hundreds of miles and putting their lives in danger as they seek out the truth about the disappearance of a young gentlewoman.
Although it’s never a good idea to plan too far ahead, ideally I would like to write another two Cranley novels in order to complete his story arc. Perhaps story arc is an overly grandiose term to use for my vague ideas. Nevertheless, when I began work on The Woodville Connection I already knew how the last book would play out. For me, the intriguing part is getting Cranley from the first situation to the last. Thus, while my primary aim in writing The Beaulieu Vanishing was to produce what I hope is an exciting and enjoyable read, my secondary motivation was to move Cranley closer towards his ultimate destiny.
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About the Author
Kathy Martin has been writing since she was a teenager. While historical fiction was always her goal, she honed her writing skills by working for a number of different publications before starting work on a novel. Her first real success came in 1987 when she was a runner-up in Cosmopolitan's ‘New Journalist’ competition. This was followed by a long stint writing for and editing various magazines, most of them relating to the antiques and collectables hobby. In 2007 Kathy was approached to write a book about the history of the teddy bear. She followed this up with biographies of two of the UK's best-loved soft toy manufacturers. In 2011 she was finally able to turn her attention from the world of collectables to focus on her first love, historical fiction. Her Who's Who in Women's Historical Fiction - a handy A to Z guide to some of the most interesting characters in female-penned historical fiction - was published in 2012 and one year later, The Woodville Connection, her first historical novel, was published under the name K. E. Martin. A murder mystery set in 15th century England, it introduces the character of Francis Cranley, an illegitimate young man raised as unofficial foster brother alongside Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Handsome, clever and handy in a fight, Cranley is sent by Gloucester to prove the innocence of an old soldier friend accused of murdering a child. As he investigates the crime in the claustrophobic atmosphere of Plaincourt Manor, Cranley’s safety is put in jeopardy as he discovers much more than he had bargained for. The Beaulieu Vanishing, the second Francis Cranley novel, was published in April 2015. This time Cranley is investigating the mysterious disappearance of Eleanor Vernon, a young gentlewoman living in sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey with the widowed Countess of Warwick. Find out more at kathy's website www.kemartin.co.uk and find her on Twitter @KathyMartin001.