Mastodon The Writing Desk: November 2021

29 November 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Class Coveted: A sweeping Irish historical romance saga (A Matter of Class Book 4) by Susie Murphy

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Their choices have shackled her dreams…

It’s 1836, and Bridget and Cormac have arrived, full of hope, to the city of Boston with their growing family. However, as they adjust to domestic life together for the first time, they face anti-Irish sentiment from the local Americans, as well as a threat to their happiness from a much closer source.

Cormac undertakes the challenging search for his missing sister, Bronagh. He is determined to do all he can to put the broken pieces of his family back together, but the appalling truth he uncovers will shake him to his core.

Meanwhile, as Emily grows up in this new country, she realises how her parents’ past actions will affect her entire future and she begins to covet that which is no longer within her reach. When she receives an unexpected proposition, will she be able to resist its temptation, despite the untrustworthy nature of the person behind it?

A Class Coveted is the fourth book in Susie Murphy's historical fiction series A Matter of Class. The story will continue in the fifth book, A Class Reunited.

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About the Author

Susie Murphy is an Irish historical fiction author. She loves historical fiction so much that she often wishes she had been born two hundred years ago. Still, she remains grateful for many aspects of the modern age, including women’s suffrage, electric showers and pizza.
You can find out more at, and you can connect with Susie on Facebook, and Twitter @susiemwrites

27 November 2021

Special Guest Interview with David Pilling, Author of The Champion (III): Blood and Faith

Available for pre-order

from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1297 AD: the kings of England and France have struck a truce, but elsewhere conflict still rages. In Scotland, the armies of Edward Longshanks have been driven out by a mysterious champion named William Wallace. Meanwhile, on the continent, the the Holy Roman Empire is torn apart by civil war.

I'm pleased to welcome author David Pilling to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

My latest is the third in The Champion series, a series of tales loosely based on a real-life 13th century Spanish knight called En Pascal de Valencia. We know the real Pascal was a mercenary who fought for Edward I in Scotland and probably elsewhere. He was called the 'Adalid', which translates as 'the champion', hence the title of the series. This was a traditional military rank awarded to especially skilled fighters in the kingdoms of Aragon and Navarre.

I have used the bare details of the historical Pascal's career as the basis for a series of fictional stories, in which the character is transported all over Christendom. In this, his latest adventure, he is dispatched on a secret diplomatic mission to Rome, where he encounters a certain famous Scottish hero. He also meets the Pope, and has several close shaves in Scotland and France. It's quite a packed story!

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I am at my best in the morning, when I am fresh and full of energy and ideas (and caffeine). In the afternoons I prefer to concentrate on my blog and social media.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

The main thing – unless one is exceptionally lucky – is to be prolific. Unless you are fortunate enough to write a hit bestseller, or get snapped up by one of the handful of major publishers, the only realistic path is to churn out material on a regular basis. It also has to be of high quality, of course. Work hard, do your research, and employ decent graphic designers and editors/proofreaders!

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books? 

I started writing full-time in 2013 and throughout have discovered that the most efficient way is to keep producing quality, well-presented content. Everything else – social media, blogging, online promotion etc – is helpful, though I do sometimes wonder how necessary it is. There are so many authors competing for attention now, there is a danger of creating a 'white noise' effect, whereby we all cancel each other out. On the other hand, readers are now spoiled for choice and the market is not restricted to a handful of publishing houses. These trends can only be a good thing, since they allow more opportunity and freedom of expression.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

I am constantly surprised by the sheer volume of surviving source material for this era. The details of Pascal's own career are quite bare – which enables me to fill in the gaps – but in general there are stacks of surviving documentation, so one can pluck out all kinds of juicy details to add colour and conviction to the story.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

For this book, it was the death of a particular supporting character. I was in two minds about the scene at first, but it definitely added an edge to the narrative. Obviously I won't reveal the details...

What are you planning to write next? 

I have several projects in the pipeline. These include a short 'novelette'  that fleshes out some of the background and context to the Champion series, and a nonfiction book on Edward I and the Anglo-French war of 1298-1303. I am also engaged to write the second and third parts of a series for Sharpe Books, based on the English condottiere in Italy in the time of Sir John Hawkwood. Busy, busy!

David Pilling 

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About the Author

David Pilling is a writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as he can remember. The medieval era has always held a fascination for him, perhaps because he spent much of his childhood exploring the misted ruins of castles in Wales. David also has a keen interest in the Byzantine Empire, the post-Roman period in Britain and the British & Irish Civil Wars. Find out more at David's website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @RobeH2

26 November 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Castilian Pomegranate (The Castilian Saga Book 2) by Anna Belfrage

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return.

Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.

Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . . 

Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts. 

Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant. 

Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger. 

Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?  

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About the author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk, has her returning to medieval times. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time, is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands. All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards Find out more about Anna, her books and her eclectic historical blog on her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

18 November 2021

Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II, by Tracy Borman

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The British monarchy is the one of the most iconic and enduring institutions in the world. It has weathered the storms of rebellion, revolution and war that brought many of Europe's royal families to an abrupt and bloody end. 

Its unique survival owes much to the fact that, for all its ancient traditions and protocol, the royal family has proved remarkably responsive to change, evolving to reflect the times. But for much of its history, it also spearheaded seismic change, shaping our religious, political and cultural identity and establishing the British monarchy as the envy of the world.

There has never been a more apposite moment to consider the history of this extraordinary survivor. Within the next decade, there is likely to be a change of monarch, sparking renewed global interest on a scale not seen since Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. 

Even the media and popular frenzy evoked by recent royal events such as royal weddings and births will not compare to that generated by the accession of a new king. In the lead up to this pivotal moment in Britain's history, Crown & Sceptre explores the history and evolution of the monarchy from 1066 to the present day, feeding the renewed interest not just in the modern royals but in the predecessors who helped shape the institution into what it is today.

"Crown and Sceptre shows an astonishing command of a thousand years of the British monarchy, its traditions, roles and realities beyond the pageantry and romance. Beautifully crafted, insightful, and a genuine pleasure to read, it underscores the royal heritage at the heart of a nation." - Lauren Mackay

"Crown and Sceptre" combines an eminently accessible narrative with a lucid scholarly lens. Tracy Borman skilfully unravels the trials and triumphs of this ever-shifting institution. By charting both the majesty and mechanics of monarchy, we get a vivid understanding of why its glittering gears shifted over time, and by whom the levers of change were pulled. A triumph.' - Owen Emmerson, Curator at Hever Castle

'Tracy Borman's passion for the British monarch and the crown is infectious and compelling!' - Estelle Paranque

Enlightening, gripping and skilfully composed, Tracy Borman navigates the twists and turns of the British monarchy with an expert hand. A pacy narrative that's simply bursting with colour and intrigue, Crown and Sceptre is both powerful and compulsively readable. A masterpiece. - Nicola Tallis

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About the Author

Tracy Borman is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust. She studied and taught history at the University of Hull and was awarded a PhD in 1997.  Tracy is the author of a number of highly acclaimed books, including Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant, Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England, Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. Tracy is also a regular broadcaster and public speaker, giving talks on her books across the UK and abroad. She lives in Surrey with her daughter. Find out more at and follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyBorman

12 November 2021

Description of England, by William Harrison (1535-1593), an Essex clergyman, in Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577)

Of Palaces belonging to the Prince

What shall I need to take upon me to repeat all and tell what houses the Queen’s Majesty hath? since all is hers, and when it pleaseth her in the summer season to recreate herself abroad and view the estate of the country and hear the complaints of her poor commons injured by her unjust officers or their substitutes, every nobleman’s house is her palace, where she continueth during pleasure and till she return again to some of her own, in which she remaineth so long as it pleaseth her.

The court of England, which necessarily is held always where the prince lieth, is in these days one of the most renowned and magnificent courts that are to be found in Europe. 

I might here make a large discourse of such...grave councillors and noble personages as give their daily attendance upon the Queen’s Majesty there. I could in like sort set forth a singular commendation of the virtuous beauty or beautiful virtues of such ladies and gentlewomen as wait upon her person.

It is a rare thing with us now to hear of a courtier which hath but his own language. many gentlewomen and ladies there are that, beside sound knowledge of the Greek and Latin tongues, are thereto no less skilful in the Spanish, Italian, and French, or in some one of them.

Our ancient ladies of the court do shun and avoid idleness, some of them exercising their fingers with the needle...divers in spinning of silk, some in continual reading either of the Holy Scriptures or histories of our own or foreign nations about us, and divers in writing volumes of their own or translating of other men’s into our English and Latin tongue, whilst the youngest sort in the meantime apply their lutes, citterns...and all kinds of music, which they use only for recreation sake when they have leisure and are free from attendance upon the Queen’s Majesty or such as they belong unto.

Many of the eldest sort also are skilful in surgery and distillation of waters. As each of them are cunning in something whereby they keep themselves occupied in the court, so there is in manner none of them but when they be at home can help to supply the ordinary want of the kitchen with a number of delicate dishes of their own devising.

In some great princes’ courts beyond the is a world to see what lewd behaviour is used among divers of those that resort unto the same, and what whoredom, swearing, ribaldry, atheism, dicing, carding, carousing, drunkenness, gluttony, quarrelling, and such-like inconveniences do daily take hold...all which enormities are either utterly expelled out of the court of England or else so qualified by the diligent endeavour of the chief officers of her Grace’s household that seldom are any of these things apparently seen there without due reprehension and such severe correction as belongeth to those trespasses.

Finally, to avoid idleness and prevent sundry transgressions...such order is taken that every office [of the household] hath either a Bible or the books of the Acts and Monuments of the Church of England [by John Foxe] or both, beside some histories and chronicles lying therein for the exercise of such as come into the same, whereby the stranger that entereth into the court of England upon the sudden shall rather imagine himself to come into some public school of the universities, where many give ear to one that readeth, than into a prince’s palace.

I might speak here of the great trains and troops of serving men also, which attend upon the nobility of England in their several liveries and with differences of cognizances [badges] on their sleeves whereby it is known to whom they appertain. I could also set down what a goodly sight it is to see them muster in the court...much like to the show of the peacock’s tail in the full beauty or of some meadow garnished with infinite kinds and diversity of pleasant flowers.

William Harrison, 1577 

11 November 2021

Elizabethan Ladies: Katheryn of Berain

Katheryn of Berain, sometimes called Mam Cymru ("mother of Wales"), or Katheryn Tudor, (her father being Tudor ap Robert Vychan). Katheryn, was a ward of Queen Elizabeth, and heiress to the Berain and Penymynydd estates in Denbighshire and Anglesey.

Her maternal grandfather Sir Roland de Velville (1474 – 25 June 1535), is said to have been a natural son of King Henry VII of England by a Breton lady, during his long exile in Brittany.

In her portrait, Katheryn of Berain clutches a prayer-book and caresses a human skull. The skull often occurs in sixteenth-century portraits; the contrast between flesh and bone reminds us of the frailty of life. She appears to be in mourning, but in fact had recently married the royal agent Richard Clough.

She is presented as a fitting wife for a wealthy merchant. Her elaborate costume, pale skin and plucked brows were highly fashionable, and the prayer-book confirms her piety.

It is thought this portrait was painted in the Northern Netherlands by the Friesian artist van Cronenburgh.

Tony Riches

9 November 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Rebel's Knot (Quest for the Three Kingdoms) by Cryssa Bazos

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion . . .

A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O'Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary.

Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours follow her everywhere. The English cut off support to the brigade, and a traitor undermines the Irish cause, turning Niall from hunter to hunted.

When someone from Áine's past arrives, her secrets boil to the surface—and she must slay her demons once and for all.

As the web of violence and treachery grows, Áine and Niall find solace in each other's arms—but can their love survive long-buried secrets and the darkness of vengeance?

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About the Author

Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and a seventeenth century enthusi-ast. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot is the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award for Historical Fiction, a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards for Historical Romance. Her second novel, Severed Knot, is a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree and a finalist for the 2019 Chau-cer Award. For more information visit Cryssa's website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @CryssaBazos

8 November 2021

Special Guest Post By Christina Young, founder of Gloucester Book Club

Hello,  my name is Christina Young and I’m the founder and organiser of Gloucester Book Club.  I’ve  always loved reading. I’d spend hours as a child curled up in an armchair with adventure stories, ignoring everything going on around me in my fervour to get to the end of a book.

Book groups looked like fun and a great place to meet a few new friends, whilst sharing my love of books.  My frustration at not finding one in my local area, grew to the point where I took matters into my own hands and Gloucester Book Club was born in January 2014.  

It turned out I wasn’t the only one looking for a book group, and numbers quickly grew so large that one meeting a month was no longer enough to satisfy the appetites of Gloucestershire readers.  We have over sixty members and schedule five meetings a month to cater for our members.  We’ve made some great friends, with the social aspect being one of the most important opportunities a book club offers.

Book Club was a life saver over lockdown! When we could no longer meet face to face, our meetings took place online and our strong foundation kept our connections going over those difficult months.  We are now back to face to face groups, but we will continue to hold two online meetings a month because they have proved a popular choice for some.

Book Lounge Podcasts 

During a light bulb moment, about six months ago, I decided to try producing a few group podcast discussions about some of our most popular reads. It’s been a huge learning curve, but so much fun getting to grips with editing and producing.  We’ve still got lots to learn, but we are really enjoying sharing our discussions with a wider audience.  If you’d like to listen, you’ll find Gloucester Book Club on Spotify, Google and Apple podcasts, and AnchorFm.

We read across a wide variety of genres, including contemporary and historical fiction, with some non-fiction and memoir, philosophy and science.  As far as our favourite books are concerned, it’s been extremely hard to choose but here are a few of our most popular, over the years we’ve been reading together.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, Days without End by Sebastian Barry, Normal People by Sally Rooney, and last but not least Disgrace by JM Coetzee.

What do we love most about books and reading?

It’s escapism and emotional engagement. Books challenge attitudes and views, they allow the reader to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  They provide diversion and distraction, which is like a form of therapy. They transport the reader to another time and place.  Most of all, they can bring people together to share a common experience which is what makes a book club a joy. 

Find us on, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Christina Young

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About the Author

Christina Young is a passionate reader who also happens to be the founder and organiser of Gloucester Book Club. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book she’s producing podcasts with her book group and writing flash fiction. A retired nurse, she spends time volunteering and is the occasional co-host on local radio. She has two grown up daughters, a grandson and a much-loved pug. Christina lives in Gloucestershire. You can find out more on Instagram gloucesterbookclub, at https://linktree/gloucesterbookclub and follow Christina on Twitter @lbookclub1 and @christinay1958

Gloucester Book Club discuss Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie:

6 November 2021

Special Guest Post by Alexandra Walsh, Author of The Music Makers (Timeshift Victorian Mysteries Book 2)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2020Serious illness has forced Eleanor Wilder to leave her life in London, close her antique shop, and return to the family farm in Pembrokeshire. Her instinct is to hide from the world but when her parents bring her to a family reunion at the nearby house, Cliffside, she is transfixed by a set of old family photographs.

London, England, 1875Born to a teenage mother who couldn’t cope, Esme Blood is adopted by the ebullient Cornelius and Rosie Hardy into a touring theatrical troupe, along with her friend Aaron. When Aaron’s grandparents return to claim him, Esme is devastated and the two promise they will find each other.

The Music Makers takes us from present day Pembrokeshire to the world of the Victorian theatre as two stories entwine. In 2020, Eleanor Wilder is recovering from a serious illness. It has forced her to make drastic changes in her life, one of which is leaving her much-loved vintage emporium in Richmond, Surrey to return to her family home in Newgale, Pembrokeshire. Moving into an annexe attached to her parents’ farmhouse, Eleanor feels as though her life has slipped out of her control as she reacts and copes to her new situation, rather than being able to make her own choices.

After attending a family reunion at Cliffside, a large Victorian house a few miles away, Eleanor is inspired to search into her own family tree. Her mother shows her some old Victorian photographs and one in particular draws Eleanor’s attention: a woman in a spectacular dress made from peacock feathers. The woman’s irreverent grin seems to call to Eleanor across time. On the back of the photograph is the name Esme Blood. Eleanor decides to investigate further, especially as she has heard the name before, and is sure, somewhere in her antiques emporium, she owns items that once belonged to the mysterious Esme Blood.

And so, the scene is set for The Music Makers. As Eleanor reads Esme’s diaries a world of Victorian theatre opens before her. It is glamorous, it is dangerous but above all, in this era where women’s lives were often restricted, it was a world where women from all backgrounds could succeed and triumph. It was this in particular that drew me to the idea of writing something set in this world.

I first discovered these women and their role in the history of theatre many years ago when I was studying for my Theatre Studies A-levels. The Victorian actor-managers and the changing world of the theatre were fascinating, particularly as women were as much a part of this revolution as men. They became stars and were able to earn their own money, giving them autonomy.

In The Music Makers, Esme Blood, my protagonist, grew up as part of The Hardy Troupe of Theatrical Players, run by her adopted parents, Cornelius and Rosie Hardy. As with many entertainers in this era, they began their careers touring the goose fairs and other events around the country. Rosie would tell fortunes before joining her husband on stage as they sang, danced and turned Shakespeare plays into musicals. Until the day, Cornelius and Rosie hired The Firebird Theatre in Soho, London and their troupe of players found a permanent home and respectability.

Growing up with Esme was her adopted sister, Cassandra (Cassie) Smith; Lynette Mason who is Esme’s best friend and partner on stage, as well as Aaron Maclean, Cassie’s cousin and Jeremiah Hardy, the son of Rosie and Cornelius. All the children performed from the moment they were able to toddle across the stage. Esme soon revealed a pitch-perfect singing voice and became a star in her own right.

To ensure the Hardy Troupe did not descend into caricature, my characters, particularly the women, were all inspired by real performers. One was Bessie Bellwood.

Bessie Bellwood (Wikimedia Commons)

Bessie was born Catherine Mahoney, in London, to Patrick Mahoney and his wife, Catherine Ready, who both originated from County Cork, Ireland. Bessie was one of five siblings: Mary, Ellen, Catherine, Ann and James. In 1876, aged 20, Catherine assumed the stage name Bessie Bellwood and made her music hall debut in Bermondsey.

From the beginning, Bessie’s cockney charm and cheeky manner drew in the crowds. Her most popular song was What Cheer Ria?. It tells the tale of a woman who decides to treat herself to a new dress and a fancy seat at the music hall, rather than sitting with her friends in the cheap seats and how disaster strikes. Other songs in her repertoire included He’s Going to Marry Mary Ann, Woa Emma and Aubrey Plantagenet; all of which followed the same fine line, somewhere between cheeky and rude.

On 24 September 1884, she married John Nicholson, a commission agent. Little is known about him and he seems to have been content to remain in the background as Bessie toured prolifically. Described by author, Peter Davison as, “the kind of woman who epitomised the spirit of the halls”, she was one of the great pioneers of music hall.

Yet, despite being known for her ability to shout down her hecklers and her bawdy songs, Bessie was admired by the public for being a devout Roman Catholic who did a great deal to help the poor. She died on 24 September 1896, aged 40, of a heart condition and thousands of people lined the route of her funeral as it passed along Whitechapel Road. She was buried in St Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone.

While Bessie provided me with inspiration for Esme and Lynette’s sparky, cheeky act called The Skylark Sisters, another music hall star provided me with the source of Cassie’s desire to ‘catch an earl’.

Cassie is Esme’s adopted sister and they have a complicated and combative relationship. From the beginning of the story, Cassie Smith, is determined to marry into the aristocracy, a storyline inspired by the real-life actress, Dorothea Jordan, who became the mistress and companion of the future king, William IV. They met while he was the Duke of Clarence and were together for 20 years, having ten illegitimate children who were given the surname, Fitzclarence, and were acknowledged by their father.

Throughout the Victorian sections, I refer to real events featuring other key women of the era. Lynette Mason, best friend and co-star of Esme, has her heart set on acting rather than singing. She is inspired by Henry Irving, one of the more famous actor-managers from this era, who was building a good reputation at the Lyric Theatre. Alongside Irving, was Ellen Terry, who became one of the most sought after actors of her generation.

When Esme and Lynette set out on their adventures, Lynette is invited to appear in the pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Brighton. While, these days, the pantomime is seen as a slightly downmarket but entertaining event to enliven Christmas, in the Victorian era they were seen as legitimate theatre and to star in one was a huge honour. I chose this particular performance for Lynette to enable me to mention another female pioneer of Victorian theatre, Mrs Ellen Elizabeth Nye Chart née Rollason.

Born in Islington, Ellen Rollason was the daughter of a builder but her ambitions lay elsewhere. Working hard to establish herself as an actor, she arrived in Brighton in 1865 where she joined the company of Henry Nye Chart the owner and actor-manager of the Theatre Royal. Two years later, in 1867, they were married, an event which was quickly followed by the birth of their only a child, a son.

Ellen and Henry continued to act together, however, Ellen became increasingly interested in the management side and when her husband died in 1876, she took over the theatre, presenting her first season of plays only weeks after Henry’s death.

Her eye for spotting, and then leading, trends; for making bold choices and her inclusivity of all strata’s of society soon saw her rise to be one of the most successful actor-managers of the era. Ellen was the first actor-manager to extend the traditional ‘season’ of plays, allowing the theatre to remain open all-year round. As the years went by, she replaced the resident cast with touring companies, ensuring a steady stream of successful shows. She pioneered the matinee, and in particular, what became known as ‘flying matiness’. These saw a popular London production, including cast, scenery and props, coming to Brighton to perform the afternoon show before returning to London for the evening performance.

The pantomimes were the most profitable shows and Ellen spared no expense, staging such classics as Aladdin, Dick Wittington and Jack and the Beanstalk. Shows ran from Christmas Eve until February, with at least one performance where the theatre was opened to the staff and inmates of the Brighton Workhouse. More than a thousand people were invited to this free show, offering an afternoon of wonder and excitement, and making Ellen hugely popular in her hometown.

Her bold choices and fearless risks made Ellen a fortune, as well as, cementing her position as one of the greatest theatrical impresarios of the era.

These women were feisty, strong-minded individuals who lived life by their own rules. My characters are a small tribute to the pioneering women of Victorian theatre who helped to pave the way for future generations.

Alexandra Walsh

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About the Author

Alexandra Walsh is a bestselling author of the dual timeline women’s fiction. Her books range from the 15th and 16th centuries to the Victorian era and are inspired by the hidden voices of women that have been lost over the centuries. The Marquess House Saga offers an alternative view of the Tudor and early Stuart eras, while The Wind Chime and The Music Makers explore different aspects of Victorian society. Formerly, a journalist for over 25 years, writing for many national newspapers and magazines; Alexandra also worked in the TV and film industries as an associate producer, director, script writer and mentor for the MA Screen Writing course at the prestigious London Film School. She is a member of The Society of Authors and The Historical Writers Association. Alexandra is currently writing the fourth book in The Marquess House Saga, The Jane Seymour Conspiracy, which will be published in July 2022 by Sapere Books. For blogs, updates and more information visit her website: or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @purplemermaid25

5 November 2021

Special Guest Post by Heidi Eljarbo, Author of Hidden Masterpiece (Soli Hansen Mysteries, Book 3)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Antwerp 1639. Fabiola Ruber’s daughter, Annarosa, wants to honor her mother’s last wish and have her portrait done by a master artist who specializes in the art of chiaroscuro. Her uncle writes to an accomplished painter in Amsterdam and commissions him to paint his beloved niece.

Someone who chooses to write historical fiction must love history, right? And a way to have double the fun when plotting and writing the novel is doing dual timelines.

The main story of the Soli Hansen Mystery Series takes place in 1944. It’s the last months of WWII, and people are tired, desperate, and hungry. They are hoping and praying for change. Many have lost their homes, their livelihood, and their loved ones.

Soli has joined the resistance. She has gone undercover to preserve valuable paintings and keep them from falling into the hands of Nazi thieves.

Art was important to Hitler. As a young man his dream was to become an artist. Twice, he applied for the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, but he was rejected both times. He kept painting, and many years later—when his focus was far less romantic—he decided to build the world’s biggest and most extensive art museum in his hometown Linz. Already in 1939, a great and horrible art plunder began.

Rumors about the Nazi art thefts reached curators in Oslo, Norway even before the Germans occupied the country. The National Gallery in Oslo started evacuating their priceless artwork in 1939.

In Hidden Masterpiece, our protagonist works with a resistance group who specializes in finding and preserving art treasures. But the road there is both mysterious and dangerous. Seventeenth century paintings are hidden, and clues and riddles must be solved to find secret places. 

Clandestine operations are organized to keep the enemy from discovering the artwork. With the occupying forces all around, Soli and her friends are constantly looking over their shoulders.

The second storyline happens more than three hundred years earlier. The main character is Annarosa, a Jewish heiress. We join her on a perilous journey from Antwerp to Amsterdam where she is to have her portrait done by a master artist.

In 1639, Amsterdam was a prosperous and growing center of commerce. This period is called the “Golden Age” of Dutch painting. From artists’ studios around the country, unprecedented quality artwork emerged, and Annarosa is there in the middle of it.

In mysterious ways, Annarosa’s and Soli’s stories are woven together. And although Hidden Masterpiece can be read as a standalone novel, it connects with the previous books in the series.

We follow Soli as she walks the streets of Oslo and flees on skis through the snow-covered mountains. Annarosa’s life is quite different, but the two courageous women—separated by three centuries—are united through their love of art.

With a lifelong passion for history, I am happy to share my excitement and joy of the past with you. I hope to show how people handle life's ups and downs. I love historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love, and others you don't want to go near. If the story has elements of hope, magic, and romance in the midst of challenging times, the better.

I hope you'll enjoy Hidden Masterpiece. I certainly loved writing it.

Heidi Eljarbo

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About the Author

Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don't want to go near. Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter. After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier. Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter. Heidi’s favorites are family, God's beautiful nature, and the word whimsical. Find out more at Heidi's website: and find her on Facebook and  Twitter: @HeidiEljarbo