Mastodon The Writing Desk: July 2023

31 July 2023

Special Guest Post by Nicky Shearsby, Author of Beyond The Veil – Book one in a new psychological thriller series, The Flanigan Files

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

When David Mallory confesses to murder, no one assumes the body is two hundred years old. Clinical psychologist, Newton Flanigan, is subsequently drawn into a sinister path unravelling a series of murders spanning two centuries. David is hiding secrets of death and betrayal, triggering a journey that could be Newton's last.

Inspiration for Beyond The Veil began from a concept of writing a book that didn’t follow your typical ‘who-dunnit’ genre. I have grown tired of reading novels (and watching movies) that follow the same path - a dead body in the beginning, a trail that leads to the killer in the end. I found myself wanting to know the reasons behind why people kill, what goes through their minds and what drives their ultimate decisions. 

My debut novel ‘To The Bitter End’ told the story of how circumstance and revenge can ultimate turn a good person bad, and from that moment on, I wanted to delve deeper into this theory. After all, we are not black and white caricatures, nothing is either good or evil but resides in grey areas of uncertainly, our actions driven by pain and suffering.

Beyond The Veil is told in the first person, from both the mindsets of the main character, protagonist Newton Flanigan, and David Mallory, our antagonist. From the first page the reader gets to see the killer in action, setting the scene and the darkness of the series. 

We know straight away who David is and what he is doing, yet what the reader does not know, of course, is why David has become a killer in the first place, his pain, his suffering. The crux of The Flanigan Files is to create a series that changes what readers expect from a thriller, showing them things from the other side of normality, whilst still following a detailed thriller plot, building tension and suspense.

Being told in the first person allows the reader to live inside the antagonistic mind, their conscience directly overtaken by someone else’s dark thoughts. The reader is not overseeing events, but is thrust deep inside the head of the monster. Only by seeing things from another point of view do we ever understand others, and my aim is for The Flanigan Files to stay with readers long after they finish the books, to appreciate what it is like to be someone else.

There are always reasons behind every murder, every unforgiveable action, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. Yet never is an explanation provided for such actions, be it on the news, in documentaries, or in books or films. 

We have come to expect an explanation of WHO did what, wanting confirmation that they were caught, sent to prison, forgotten. But never do we get an explanation of WHY. Maybe because in accepted society, we do not want to understand the actions of a murderer. Maybe we believe such things are beyond our limited comfort zones.

In David Mallory’s case, he lived beyond normal society, hidden behind a veil of his own making. His story is tragic, his actions terrible. But in the end, we see a man, not a monster, someone who was never accepted for who he was, his pain becoming his actions, his fear becoming his downfall. I know many readers will relate to this. After all, we are all human, we all suffer. None of us are perfect.

The Flanigan Files dares to delve into the damaged mind, dissecting and uncovering hidden, often uncomfortable mental health issues that exist in real life, the lives of the characters something that can be found in reality. David Mallory was diagnosied with paranoid schizophrenia, but his problems went far deeper.

It becomes the main characters job to understand these people, what drives them, and how he can help them. Newton Flanigan is a clinical psychologist who works with the police. At the end of each novel, he records his findings on each character, initially for his own personal appreciation and then to create a set of files that can be assessed at a later date, hence the series title, The Flanigan Files. 

Newton himself has a complex personal life, his pain and suffering helping him empathise with those he meets, the plot lines dark and twisted, sometimes disturbing. The series falls within the realm of the psychological thriller, but with a touch of horror thrown in. Humans are complex, often incomprehensible. The Flanigan Files is set to dissect them all.

Nicky Shearsby

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About the Author

Nicky Shearsby is fascinated by the human mind, how we think, those nonsensical things we do, including the struggles life too often throws our way. Because of this, her writing reflects the questions not asked often enough, hoping to push boundaries, challenging reader perspective by tackling complex issues through powerful characterisation and twisted plot structure. Her debut novel set the precedence for her writing, asking serious questions that promote deeper and more profound thinking, with challenging mental health issues at the core of each plotline. Her aim is simple. To open up emotional and inspirational thinking that guides others within their own lives, helping them to see things differently, appreciating those around them. We all struggle, and escaping into fiction is the perfect way to unburden a busy mind whilst hopefully learning valued life lessons along the way. Nicky’s novels are targeted for the adult reader market due to the sensitive, often triggering content included. Those who enjoy a dark psychological thriller, told from a first person viewpoint that dives directly into the troubled, emotional mindset of the main character, will hopefully find her books intriguing and enjoyable. As a trained psychologist and life coach herself, writing about mental health was a natural progression. Nicky lives in England with her husband. Beyond The Veil is her fourth novel. Find out more from Nicky Shearsby on her website –  and on Twitter @Nickyshearsby22

27 July 2023

The Many Faces of Mary Tudor (Queen of France)

Available on Amazon UKAmazon US

I chose to write about Mary because I’d researched her birth and early life for my previous book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother when he became King Henry VIII.

There are several well-known portraits of Mary and I’d assumed that one of them would be suitable for use on the cover. Then I began researching them and found, that as with most things in life, it’s not as simple as it seems. The best known is the ‘wedding portrait’ with her second husband, Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk:

When I began to look at other portraits, however, I realised all is not as it seems. The image of Mary in the wedding portrait is stylised, wearing the French crown jewels and possibly has overpainting, and in the many copies Mary’s face gradually becomes more bland and generic. ln the pencil drawing of her time as Queen of France she looks quite different:

Although Tudor portraits are sometimes hard to attribute, we can be reasonably confident this is Mary, as the drawing has her French title at the bottom.

Similarly, another pencil drawing of Mary’s time in France has been helpfully annotated in what is thought to have been the hand of her ‘stepson’ King Francis I ‘plus sale que royne‘ which means ‘more dirty than queenly.’

Another controversial portrait, (which was Mary’s main picture on Wikipedia until I changed it). This portrait is used on the cover of at least two books about Mary, yet experts say it is of a quite different princess. The jewels worn in the portrait are the Crown Jewels of Castile and a more likely candidate for the sitter would be Isabella I of Castile.

There is also another well-known portrait of Mary which doesn’t fit well with any of the above, and doesn’t have the French hood, which she was said to prefer:

I wanted to explore Mary’s vulnerability as well as her strengths for the cover of Mary - Tudor Princess, and needed the cover portrait to reflect this. After trying several ideas, I contacted a professional photographer, Lisa Lucas ( who works with historical re-enactors, the Cavalry of Heroes. The brief was to recreate the ‘wedding portrait’ but with Mary looking suitably vulnerable yet still with the confidence of a Tudor princess.

The companion books to Mary - Tudor Princesstell the story of Mary Tudor's husband, Charles Brandon, who was King Henry VIII's lifelong friend. Brandon - Tudor Knightas well as the story of Brandon's last wife, Katherine Willoughby, Katherine - Tudor Duchess, are available on Amazon as the Brandon trilogy.

Tony Riches

25 July 2023

Blog Tour: The Godmother's Secret Audiobook by Elizabeth St.John

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

What if you knew what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?


Autumn 1470 | Westminster Sanctuary

A secret has been conceived . . .

“Entry, in the name of God and King Henry!” My guard clouts the iron-clad door of Cheyneygates, challenging the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. “The Lady Elysabeth Scrope demands entry!”
    A murther of crows startles from the gables, cawing and whirling around my head and circling up into the clouded heavens. I join three fingers in the holy trinity and cross myself; head, chest, sinister and dexter. These ancient purveyors of death do not disturb me, for I have not survived this war to be hindered by a superstition. If there were a crow for every dead soldier, England would be a huge raucous rookery. But it never hurts to invoke God’s protection. The crows swoop and squabble and alight singly among the gargoyles on the parapets of the soot-stained Abbey. Like the granite tors of my Yorkshire home, these walls are impenetrable and inaccessible. And just as hostile. God offers protection to all who claim sanctuary. And men erect walls to keep them safe.
    No stirring from within. I sigh. Not unexpected. “Knock again,” I command the guard. “Let them know their visitors will not leave.”
    The waning October afternoon trickles shadows into the well of the courtyard. I pull my cloak closer, thankful I had chosen my finest weave to keep the warmth in and the damp out. The sun had shone golden when we rode out from London, but upon reaching Westminster we collided with the rain clouds streaming in from the west.
      Fallen mulberry leaves clog the stone steps rising before me, rotting unswept in the hollows. Someone isn’t taking care of the abbot’s house. It is clear that no one has left nor entered for a while. The guard’s hammering is unanswered, and yet to the right of the door a candle flame glimmers through a browed window and a shadow flits elusively.
    I push back my hood, and a spatter of rain needles my face. Here, gatekeeper. Here's reassurance I bear your fugitive no threat. I am of middling age, graceful, fair of face, my countenance pleasing, I’ve heard say. Hardly a threat.
    The rain unfurls in sheets. I raise my voice. “I am not asking the queen to break sanctuary.” God knows the wretched woman would make it easier on all of us if she did. I motion the guard aside and edge up the slippery steps to the door. “I am here to join her.”

 Elizabeth St.John

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About the Author

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England, lives in California, and spends most of her time in the 17th Century. To inspire her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story... Find out more at Elizabeth's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @ElizStJohn

13 July 2023

Special Guest Post by Barbara Lennox, Author of The Wolf in Winter: An epic retelling of the Tristan and Isolde legend, set in dark age Scotland (Volume 1 of The Trystan Trilogy)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Pupil or rival? Ally or enemy? Brother or son?

Seventeen years ago, Corwynal sacrificed everything to become his half-brother Trystan's guardian and tutor. He's determined to turn him into everything he'd dreamed of being himself – a charismatic warrior and a king in waiting. But Trystan doesn't want to be a king; he just wants to be a hero. So when war erupts in the Lands between the Walls, he throws himself into the conflict, so if Corwynal is to protect the boy he loves like a son, he’ll have to emerge from the shadows, take up the sword once more, and win a war he doesn’t want to fight.

I have a theory about myths and legends – that buried beneath the accretions and mis-tellings, the shifting locations and times, lies a true story about genuine people who lived real lives.

So when I set out to write my own version of the Tristan and Isolde story, that was the tale I wanted to tell – the ‘Ur-story’ if you will, the one that might have given rise to all later versions of the tale, a story that was set firmly in the history and culture of the time, and influenced by the landscape in which it took place. 

So why did I choose to set my story in dark-age Scotland when the legend is most closely associated with mediaeval Cornwall and Brittany?

The first reason was the ‘write what you know’ ‘rule’. I know Scotland. I was born in Scotland and still live there, and I understand its history and landscape. I don’t know Cornwall and have never been to Brittany.

The second reason came from researching the Tristan and Isolde legend. Inevitably I got caught up in the ‘historicity of King Arthur’ question. There are many theories about who inspired the Arthurian canon (of which the Tristan and Isolde legend is a part), and where the stories originated – places that ranged from Brittany to Cornwall, Wales to the Midlands, and as far north as Lowland Scotland. In Alastair Moffat’s hugely entertaining book Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms he makes a compelling case for the base of Arthur’s operations being somewhere in the Scottish borders. 

Another textual influence was Sigmund Eisner’s book The Tristan Legend: A Study in Sources, in which he argues that the Tristan and Isolde legend evolved by absorbing and modifying a number of tales from a variety of sources, mainly from Ireland and the Brythonic Kingdoms of Scotland. I’ve always been interested in how stories form and change as they move through time and distance, acquiring local references along the way, and having new elements grafted on while older parts of the story might be abandoned or altered to suit a different audience. 

When I decided to set my story in dark age Scotland, I already knew this was a period about which little is known. This had the disadvantage of few historical ‘facts’ on which to hang my story, but the advantage of allowing me to bend historical speculation to suit my story. The Irish Dal Riata tribe probably didn’t move into Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula until the middle of the 6th century but who knows for certain?

 Incursions by the Angles on the east coast was probably later than my story, but who’s to say there weren’t a few early raids? I also took liberties with some of the place-names when I couldn’t find original 5th century names. Atholl, for example, almost certainly dates from much later than the 5th century, but I wanted to use a name that a certain historical resonance rather than make something up.

As for the characters in the trilogy, most come from the original legend, although some have been ‘welshified’ to reflect the Brythonic language of the time. Others are semi-mythical figures who are part of the traditional Arthurian stories, such as King Lot and his sons. A few minor characters may actually have been real people.  Dumnagual, King of Strathclyde, and Drust Gurthinmoch, High King of Pictland, are two examples.

But the setting in both time and place is just the framework on which I built a story about a man. And that man isn’t the Tristan of the legend, despite the title of my trilogy. I’ve always been interested in the story of the side characters in the great legends, and how the course of their lives is changed by the main hero or heroine. So the story I wanted to tell was that of Gorvenal (‘welshified’ to Corwynal), a shadowy figure in the traditional tale, tutor and companion to Trystan. Who was he? Why did he stick with Trystan through thick and thin? What happened to him at the end? 

And so The Trystan Trilogy is the story of a man whose life is changed forever by Trystan’s birth when he’s forced to accept the roles of tutor and guardian, a man who struggles to protect a boy determined to become a hero, and whose own life is influenced by Trystan’s choices and mistakes, particularly that doomed love affair with another man’s wife. 

It’s a story which takes the various elements of the Tristan and Isolde legend and mixes them up, changes their order, throws some away, adds a few new ones, rationalises the fantasies (the dragon!) and changes the ending. It’s the story I like to imagine was first told in the Brythonic Kingdoms of Lowland Scotland in the 5th century and which, over the centuries, as war and invasion forced the Britons south to join their kinsmen in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, gradually morphed into the story we now know so well.

The last word has to go to Ferdiad, one of my principal characters, whom I envisage as the first narrator of the original ‘true’ story of Tristan and Isolde:

Years will pass, and those who remember the truth will die. Wars will be fought, countries rise and fall, and people will flee violence or hunger, taking nothing with them but their stories, the last flicker of a waning Imbolc lamp. But my tale will live on as it moves through the world, as it’s told in foreign tongues in distant courts, is set to music or laid down in ink, changing as it does so. A man who taught me more than how to fight will become a winged beast, the poison on his blade the fire in the creature’s jaws. A glance on a sunlit morning to the echo of a harp will turn into a love potion. The sign of the black ship will become a ship with black sails, and no-one will remember who wielded the notched sword. The Morholt, whom I loved, will be transformed into a loveless giant, and the ending will change, though death will be part of it, as death always is.

Barbara Lennox

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About the Author

Barbara Lennox was born and still lives in Scotland, on the shores of a river between the mountains and the sea. Educated at the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews, she spent most of her working life as a postdoctoral research scientist and science administrator, but her first love was always the history and landscape of her native land. A keen hillwalker and Munro-‘compleatist’, she took early retirement to pursue her writing passion, and finally, more than 20 years after writing the first sentence, has completed her epic reimagining of the legend of Tristan and Isolde, The Trystan Trilogy. She’s hoping her next project, set in Roman Scotland in the first century, won’t take another 20 years! Find out more about Barbara and her writing on her websites and and follow her on Twitter @BarbaraLennox4

9 July 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Viking Hostage, by Tracey Warr

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

972. Tallinn. Sigrid, a Norwegian girl, is sold in the slave market and separated from her brothers. As a slave in the French Limousin, she stubbornly clings to her pagan identity. Audebert is imprisoned in a grim dungeon for his brother's crime. 

If Audebert is ever released, he has a life to lead, a great destiny to fulfil. Guy will soon be viscount of Limoges but fears exposure of his near-blindness and challenge to his authority. Adalmode and Aina are great heiresses attempting to resist the unwelcome pressures of the marriage market. 

Their stories tangle with questions of nobility, freedom, friendship and courage in the highly stratified and often brutal society of early medieval Europe. Amid Viking raids, fears of The End of Time and turbulent power struggles, The Viking Hostage tells these interweaving stories in late 10th century France and Wales.

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About the Author

Tracey Warr was born in London, lived in southwest Wales and now lives in southern France. The castles and landscapes of Wales and France inspire her historical fiction. She is the author of five historical novels set in medieval Europe and centred on strong female leads. Her writing awards include an Author’s Foundation Award and a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary. Before becoming a full-time writer she worked as a contemporary art curator and art history academic. Tracey manages author launch interviews for the Historical Novel Society website. She is part of the team organising the next Historical Novel Society UK conference at Dartington Hall, Devon 6–8 September 2024.   For more information see and find Tracey on Facebook and Twitter @TraceyWarr1

8 July 2023

Special Guest Post by Alexandra Walsh, Author of The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy (The Marquess House Saga Book 2)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nonsuch Palace, England, 1586: Elizabeth I has been queen for 28 years. She has survived hundreds of plots against her but now she faces the revelation of a secret she thought would remain hidden forever…

The hidden connection between Catherine Howard and one of Queen Elizabeth’s favoured ladies-in-waiting Lady Katherine (Paston) Newton

One of my favourite parts of research is finding unexpected links between characters. When I began writing The Marquess House Saga, the first person I investigated was Queen Elizabeth I. She is my favourite historical figure and there was never any doubt she would be an important person in the series. However, she had to wait until book two for her voice to be heard and when I returned to research her, I was surprised to find an unexpected connection between Catherine Howard, from Book One of the Marquess House Saga: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and Elizabeth Tudor. 

It is well-known that Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were cousins. Anne’s mother Elizabeth Howard was the elder sister of Catherine’s father, Edmund Howard. Queen Elizabeth, therefore, would have many relations in common with Catherine’s Howard bloodline. 

However, I was more interested in discovering the less well-known connections. Catherine Howard had a number of half-siblings from her mother’s first marriage. One of these was John Leigh, a man who was often in trouble and for whose life Catherine once had to plea from her husband, Henry VIII. It was from John that I made one of my favourite character discoveries for the second part of the saga The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy and this was Lady Katherine Paston. 

Katherine provided me with a both a female blood link between Catherine Howard and Elizabeth I through not only the Howards but the Culpeper and Leigh line, from Catherine Howard’s mother, Jocasta Culpeper. Further digging provided a more unexpected link and this was through the Boleyn family.

Born around 1547, Katherine’s mother was Agnes Leigh, the daughter of Catherine Howard’s troublesome half-brother, John Leigh and, his wife, Elizabeth Darcy. John and Elizabeth rather unusually divorced sometime before he made his will in 1563. 

There is no further information concerning Agnes’s birth, although by 1544 she had married Sir Thomas Paston. He was a gentleman of the privy chamber and part of the powerful Paston family from Norfolk. Agnes and Thomas had three children: Henry (b. 1545), Katherine (c. 1547 – 1605) and Edward (1550 – 24 March 1630).

As well as his position in the privy chamber, Katherine’s father, Sir Thomas Paston, was also an MP for Norfolk. He was respectable, powerful and well-connected. His father, William Paston had married Bridget Heydon, the daughter of Henry Heydon and Anne Boleyn (senior) who was the paternal aunt of the future Queen Anne Boleyn. The Pastons and the Boleyns were both wealthy and influential families and Katherine could claim kinship to them both. 

Katherine’s father died on 4 September 1550. After this, Agnes married Edward Fitzgerald MP, giving young Katherine a host of half-siblings, including Douglas Aungier (a sister), Thomas Fitzgerald, Lettice Fitzgerald and Gerald Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Kildare. Yet despite Katherine’s impeccable connections, these days she is unknown. 

In The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy, I used Katherine’s connections to the Paston family, who were voracious letter writers, to place her at the heart of Elizabeth’s network of informers, the Ladies of Melusine. Whether she was literate is not clear and despite extensive searching, I have been unable to discover any surviving documents written by her. There is another Katherine Paston whose words have been preserved but these are not written by the correct Katherine. However, the Pastons were famous letter writers and I would hope our Katherine was taught to write. 

One contemporary comment about Katherine was that she was supposed to suffer from ill health, which caused her absence from court. I liked the idea and used her ‘illnesses’ as a cover for her being able to disappear for days at a time in order to write letters on behalf of Elizabeth and to deal with the correspondence of the Ladies of Melusine. In reality, it is possible these absences were due to childbirth. Katherine and her husband, Henry, had six children: Frances, Margaret, Theodore, John, Anne and Elizabeth with their birth dates running from c. 1570 to 1584. 

The first mention of Katherine, is in Henry Clifford’s book, The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, suggesting that in 1559, Katherine was in Spain. Jane Dormer had been a lady-in-waiting for Queen Mary Tudor but on her death in 1558 and Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, Jane had married Gómez Suárez de Figueroa y Córdoba, 1st Duke of Feria. Both were staunch Catholics and they returned to Spain. Clifford believes that Katherine was the Mistress Paston who was named as part of the duchess’s household. This would have made her 12 years old, however, she was from an important family and being abroad did not hinder her marriage prospects. 

In 1560, when Katherine was 13 years old she married Sir Henry Newton (1535 – 2 May 1599. As Katherine was in Spain it would have taken place by proxy. Henry Newton was 25 years old but as the Newtons first child was not born until ten years later, the marriage was in name-only until Katherine reached maturity.   

Katherine’s husband, Henry Newton, was the eldest son of Sir John Newton of East Harptree and his first wife, Margaret Poyntz. He would have been 25 when the marriage to Katherine took place. They lived at Barr’s Court in East Harptree, Somerset, the family seat of the Newton family. Nothing of the house remains but there are records that the ancient mansion once looked out over Kingswood Chase, a royal hunting forest on the outskirts of Longwell Green. The mansion is discussed by the historian John Leland in 1540 when he describes it as a ‘fayre old mannar place of stone’. There are also records stating the property boasted a moat, more for decoration than defence, two fishponds, a dam and a vast parkland.

Katherine is first listed as being a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I in 1576. A sought-after position with status attached. It is well-known that Elizabeth favoured her mother’s family, the Boleyns. The offspring of Mary Boleyn were prevalent at her court and were given the not altogether flattering nickname of The Tribe of Dan, a Biblical reference to one of the powerful tribes of Israel. Katherine, with her direct bloodline to Queen Catherine Howard and a link to the Boleyns was definitely part of the family, By 1598, Katherine was one of the senior ladies of the court. 

Family life ran alongside court life and as Katherine and Henry’s brood grew, they divided their time between Henry’s estates in Somerset and Gloucester and the glittering life of court. However, tragedy struck when their eldest son, John, died. Katherine and Henry created an impressive tomb for him at their family church of East Harptree. In Henry’s will, his youngest son, Theodore, is listed as his heir, stating the child was 15 years old when his father died in 1599, giving him a birth date 1584. 

Henry was an important man at court and Queen Elizabeth expressed a fondness for Katherine’s husband, showing him favour by bestowing a coveted and lucrative wardship upon him. She also sent him a note expressing her condolences when his son-in-law, Giles Strangeways died in 1596. Katherine remained at Elizabeth’s court throughout her marriage and when Henry died on 2 May 1599 at East Harptree, he left a lengthy will with many Latin quotations. He was a loving and caring father, as he created healthy dowries for his daughters and instructed Katherine’s brother, Edward Paston, to be executor. While there are no details of Katherine’s share, it is likely she was left with a sizeable dower. 

After Henry’s death, Katherine and Henry’s eldest son, Sir Theodore Newton inherited his father’s estate. Theodore married Penelope Rodney and it was their son, Sir John Newton who would rise to the aristocracy when he was made 1st Baronet of Barr's Court. This title was bestowed upon him by Charles II on 16 August 1660 as thanks for providing troops to defend the plantation of Ulster. However, as John had no heir, when he died, it passed out of the Gloucestershire Newton family to the Lincolnshire Newtons. Strangely, there was no blood link between them. 

The widow, Katherine, created a large dresser tomb for Henry at Bristol Cathedral, where several years later, she too was interred. The tomb survives and is in the Newton Chapel at Bristol Cathedral between the Chapter House and the south choir aisle. It is elaborate and elegant, demonstrating their blood links to many important families. Below the recumbent effigy of a serene and bearded Henry, their children are shown kneeling, with their hands in prayer, facing the scriptures to represent piety and obedience.

Henry Newton’s effigy on his tomb
Newton Chapel in Bristol Cathedral

Katherine’s date of death is recorded as 1605, two years after Elizabeth I’s demise. In 1603, Elizabeth was replaced on the throne by James I, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. The new king’s court swept away the old hierarchy and Katherine, a widow of 56, would have been dismissed along with Elizabeth’s other women, with only a few bright stars from the Tudor court remaining at the heart of events. 

Lady Katherine Paston was born into the privileged classes of Tudor England, that period of great change in British history. She was connected by blood to two queen consorts of Henry VIII and she married a respected and successful man. Five of her six children survived into adulthood and through her son, the family was raised to the levels of Baronet. During her life she witnessed four Tudor monarchs, three of whom were queens: Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth. Each reign, no matter how brief, making its mark on history. 

As a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, Katherine was at the beating heart of the Tudor court. She witnessed the subterfuge, the brilliance, the rise of the arts, the skulduggery, the terror of threatened wars and the power of a queen when she had to fight to save her country from the Spanish Armada. Katherine was there. She witnessed these events and while she may have been pushed into the shadows of history for centuries, this brief glimpse of her life, proves that no matter who you are, where you were born or when you lived, hers was a life lived and this is my tribute to her. 

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. For updates and more information visit her website: and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @purplemermaid25

7 July 2023

Book Review: Daughter of Éireann (An Irish Famine Trilogy Book 3) by Bridget Walsh

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Jane Keating returns to Ireland in the summer of 1847 and finds the Famine is still raging. She vows to secure justice for lost family members and seeks to create a home for her orphaned cousins. Despite attempts to forget her past, she is drawn into the political troubles of her country. Will the forces of the British Empire and the Famine prove too great for Jane and her compatriots?

This is the last in the Irish Famine Trilogy featuring Jane Keating and Annie Power, two young Irish women who embark on epic journeys spanning three continents (see my reviews of the first two books in the series at the end of this post.)

One of the benefits of writing a trilogy is the author has the space and scope to show how characters develop over time.  Jane Keating is an excellent example, as she begins the first book as an innocent young girl, but we know to expect something special from her by the time she becomes a daughter of Éireann.

Set during one of the most challenging times of Ireland's troubled and turbulent history this often harrowing story is evocative and compelling. Although this book would work as a stand-alone, I strongly recommend starting with the first book of the series, Daughters of the Famine Road.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Bridget Walsh is descended from Irish immigrants in Leicester, England, and says,  "I was steeped in Irish Catholicism and surrounded by my Irish uncles and aunts, my father’s siblings, who had followed him over to find work in England when there was non to be had in Ireland. As a second generation Irish woman, I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between Ireland and Britain over many hundreds of years. I read about Democracy, Empires and Colonialism. I read lots of non-fiction about An Gorta Mór, the Irish Famine, but I was particularly interested in how women and their families managed in this terrible time.' When Bridget retired from full-time work in Further Education, she gained a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and began her Irish Famine Trilogy. Find out more from Bridget's website and find her on Twitter @bridgetw1807

See also: 

6 July 2023

Book Launch Spotlight: The Housekeepers, by Alex Hay: They come from nothing. But they'll leave with everything...

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Mrs King, housekeeper to the most illustrious home in Mayfair, is suddenly dismissed after years of loyal service, she knows just who to recruit to help her take revenge.

A black-market queen out to settle her scores. An actress desperate for a magnificent part. A seamstress dreaming of a better life. And Mrs King's predecessor, who has been keeping the dark secrets of Park Lane far too long.

Mrs King has an audacious plan in mind, one that will reunite her women in the depths of the house on the night of a magnificent ball - and play out right under the noses of her former employers...  They come from nothing. But they'll leave with everything... 

Dazzling, stylish and wildly entertaining, The Housekeepers lets loose an outlandish alliance of women you'll never forget...

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About the Author

Alex Hay grew up in Cambridge and Cardiff in the United Kingdom. He studied History at the University of York and wrote his dissertation on female power at royal courts, combing the archives for every scrap of drama and skulduggery he could find. He has worked in magazine publishing and the charity sector and lives with his husband in London.  Find out more from his website and find him on Twitter @AlexHayBooks

4 July 2023

Blog Tour: Turning the World to Stone – The Life of Caterina Sforza, Part One 1472 to 1488, by Kelly Evans

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

“Could I write all, the world would turn to stone.”

Vilified by history, Caterina Sforza learned early that her life was not her own. Married at age ten, she was a pawn in the ever-changing political environment of Renaissance Italy. Resigned to her life as a fifteenth-century wife, Caterina adapted to the role she was expected to play: raising and educating her children, helping the poor in her new home, and turning a blind eye to her husband’s increasingly shameful behaviour. But Fate had other plans for her, and soon Caterina’s path would be plagued by murder, betrayal, and heartbreak.

Turning the World To Stone (excerpt):

    “There are rooms set aside for you and your retainers. At the top of the stairs, to the right.”
Caterina took a deep breath. “And the count?”
    Cardinal Giovanni patted her hand kindly. “He will not be staying tonight. His uncle has decreed that a blessing of your vows be performed by him before you join your husband in your home across the river.”
    Squeezing the old man’s frail hand carefully and gratefully, Caterina made her way up the broad staircase, marvelling at the whiteness of the marble and its sheer size. She felt someone at her side and was relieved to find Luisa climbing the steps with her. Together they stared in wonder at the frescoes and tapestries covering every room they passed until they reached Caterina’s. Upon entering, they found the same lavish decorations as the rest of the palace.
    “This man is like no churchman I’ve ever seen,” Luisa said.
    “Shh, don’t say such things,” Caterina frowned. “At least not so loudly.” She walked over to a wall hanging depicting a hunting scene. Lords and ladies in bright colours rode horses while dogs chased deer through a green forest. Running her finger over one of the ladies’ dresses, she felt the roughness of the gold thread used to make the outfit shine. Turning back to her friend, she nodded. “You’re right. Such wealth for a holy man, and a cardinal too.”
    “Perhaps this is the way cardinals in Rome live.”

Kelly Evans

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About the Author

Kelly Evans was born in Canada of Scottish extraction, graduated in History and English then moved to England where she worked in the financial sector. While in London Kelly continued her studies in history, concentrating on Medieval History, and travelled extensively through Eastern and Western Europe. Kelly is now back in Canada with her husband Max and a rescue cat. She writes full-time, focussing on illuminating little-known women in history with fascinating stories. When not working on her novels, Kelly writes Described Video scripts for visually impaired individuals, plays oboe, and enjoys old sci-fi movies. Find out more from Kelly's website: and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @ChaucerBabe

1 July 2023

Special Guest Post by Alexandra Walsh, Author of The Catherine Howard Conspiracy: Book One in The Marquess House Saga

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Whitehall Palace, England, 1539: When Catherine Howard arrives at the court of King Henry VIII to be a maid of honour in the household of the new queen, Anne of Cleves, she has no idea of the fate that awaits her.

The Queen in Isolation

When I began the story that has become The Marquess House Saga, my first plan was to write it as one tale. However, as the plot grew and the amount of historical detail required to make the story flow became apparent, I realised it was going to be a series. The hardest part, however, was knowing where it should begin. 

My original starting point with this series was not Catherine Howard, it was Elizabeth Tudor, who is my favourite historical person. In the early days of research, I had thought Catherine would be a minor character. Catherine Howard, however, was having none of it and stepped forward from the myriad historical women wandering around my head to make it clear that book one was all about her – The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. Who was I to argue? Queen Elizabeth would have to wait for book two. 

As Catherine became the focus of my research, my protectiveness of this once-maligned young woman grew. It was not until I was immersed in her world though, that one thing struck me, a discovery which I have my main protagonist, Dr Perdita Rivers, highlight: Catherine Howard is always portrayed as being alone. However, as I learned more about the teenage queen, I found this was a problematic historical presentation of her. 

The perpetual image of Catherine Howard is of a naïve orphan who was led astray. You can almost feel the moustache-twirling, Victorian-esque villain hovering just off the page waiting to lead the poor fainting damsel into disaster. These days we have a less pleasant term: grooming. It cannot be denied that the teenage Catherine was coerced into many difficult situations, the myth that she was alone and fending for herself is wrong. Around her were people trying to protect her but when the powerful Duke of Norfolk is your uncle and he has earmarked you as the next queen, there is very little anyone can do to help. 

Is this Catherine Howard - or an unknown woman?
(Wikimedia Commons)

It is true that Catherine was an orphan. Her mother, Jocasta Culpeper died in 1528 and her father, Lord Edmund Howard, 11 years later in 1539, only eight months before Catherine was summoned to court to be a Maid of Honour to Anne of Cleves. However, Catherine Howard was one of 11 children. Five of her siblings were full brothers and sisters: Henry Howard, Sir Charles Howard, Sir George Howard, Margaret Howard and Mary Howard. While five were half-siblings from her mother’s, first marriage to Sir Ralph Leigh: John Leigh, Ralph Leigh, Isabel Leigh, Joyce Leigh and Margaret Leigh. 

Even more surprising are her step-siblings: Edmund Howard married twice more, giving Catherine two step-mothers. His second wife was Dorothy Troyes and after her death in 1530 he married Margaret Mundy. Both women were widows with children. Dorothy Troyes was mother to eight: Arthur, John, William, Richard, Francis, Agnes, Anne and another unnamed daughter, while Margaret had three children: Bernard, Juliana and Anna. A total of 11 step-siblings. Not quite the isolation suggested in most biographies.

It must also be remembered that Catherine was a Howard. This vast family had connections to most noble families so there was an abundance of first and second cousins, aunts and uncles, and an assortment of connections through multiple family marriages. 

The reason I have chosen to highlight this point is because while I was considering how best to portray Catherine, the discovery of siblings gave me a clue to her personality. To be surrounded by so many relations destroys the Victorian suggestion of the vulnerable orphan, all alone, making her way in the world with no one to turn too. 

With such a large family, particularly siblings, – people with whom you can always be yourself – there is usually someone to turn to in times of trouble. You may not always get on with your siblings but when times are hard, no matter how much you have squabbled there is usually someone who is willing to fight your corner.

Being part of a large family also teaches you skills which would have been invaluable at the Tudor court. You learn to develop a thick skin, you understand about power plays, you learn how to, both, stand out and blend in with the crowd depending on which is going to protect you from the most trouble, you learn how to defend yourself and you know when to back down and forgive. 

While the broadness of the age range between the siblings suggests Catherine did not live with the entire 22 at any one time, she would certainly have spent a portion of her childhood with a varying crowd of brothers, sisters, half-brothers, half-sisters, step-brothers and step-sisters. Life was probably noisy, chaotic and fun, even with the limitations placed on women in Tudor times. 

When she became Henry VIII’s fifth queen, at least two of her sisters were with her as ladies-in-waiting: Lady Isabel Baynton née Leigh and Margaret Arundell née Howard. One of her brothers Charles Howard became engaged to Lady Margaret Douglas, the king’s niece. Charles was a member of the king’s bedchamber, while another brother, George, was also at court. It is likely more of the extended Howard, Leigh, Troyes and Mundy families were there, too. They may not have been in positions of power but would have enjoyed the reflected glory of Catherine’s reign. 

Catherine’s tenure as queen was short but as disaster loomed, her family would not all have abandoned her. The evidence I found suggests the people questioned about Catherine’s behaviour were either those guaranteed to give a derogatory report or they were threatened into revealing sordid secrets, whether or not they were true. It is probable her sisters would have done their best to help, even if their power was limited. When Catherine was held at Syon Abbey, her sister Isabel Leigh, by then Lady Baynton was with her. 

The joy of writing historical fiction is that I can take these facts and spin them around to create a differently interpreted version of events using emotional reaction to fill in the many gaps in the evidence against Catherine during her downfall. I can guess her reactions, I can imagine myself into Catherine’s world and try to see things from her perspective. It also helped that at the time of writing one of my nieces was 15 years old and I imagined her reaction to Catherine’s situation: a top show of bravado as she is thrown into a situation way above her capabilities, followed by extreme behaviour as a cover for her fear and doubt. 

We will never know what really happened or what Catherine felt and how she managed to face her death with such courage. We can only guess from the documents that have been left behind, examine the clues and the reactions of the people around her. By putting her back into the context of her family, Catherine becomes more human, no longer the isolated child or abandoned orphan making her a figure or pity. I hope that in my re-imagining of her personality and her tale, that I have done her story justice. 

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. For updates and more information visit her website: or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @purplemermaid25