Tom Williams's Blog

December 15, 2014

We're definitely coming up to Christmas now and I guess it's Christmas card season. This may well be my last blog of the year, so a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Round Robin letters seem to have become practically a Christmas institution, so here's mine. This time last year, I was desperately looking for somebody to publish my book set around the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. The news that Accent were going to take it up came while we were away for the holidays and made it my best Christmas ever. Burke in the Land of Silver (originally titled His Majesty’s Confidential Agent) was published in April, followed by Burke and the Bedouin in October. I've just finished Burke at Waterlooand that should be published in time for the 200th anniversary of the battle next June.
Accent have also republished The White Rajah , my story based on the life of James Brooke of Sarawak.
It’s made it a special year. Besides writing, research trips took me to Portsmouth and Paris. We also went to Iceland, because it’s an amazing country and we hadn’t been there before.
Good times!
I hope your year was as much fun.

(The photo shows Ham House in Surrey. I took it in 2009.)
 •  flag
like  • 
Published on December 15, 2014 01:45 • 2 views

December 8, 2014

Last week I posted about some books which, while well written and definitely a good choice for some people, really didn't appeal to me because of the genre they were written in. One of them was Crosscurrents by Jane Jackson. I actually wanted to be nice about this book because it is well written and well researched and does have a lot of enthusiastic readers. But I was, undoubtedly, a bit snide about Historical Romance, because I just struggle to read books in that genre. Jane has, quite rightly, taken me to task for this. We shouldn't dismiss any genre out of hand (and Jane listed some of her favourites and she certainly practices what she preaches). So I'm very happy to have her guesting on my blog this week about why we should give her genre the respect it is due.


On Monday 1st December Tom posted a cover image of my book ‘Crosscurrents,’ a historical romance he’d read and reviewed even though he doesn’t like the genre.  (At least he managed to finish it. The other two authors were abandoned.)
I fully accept that taste in books - as in everything else - is very much a personal matter.    But what snagged like a thorn about Tom’s review – and he has generously offered me this opportunity to respond - is the patronising manner men adopt – perhaps unconsciously, perhaps not - when reviewing historical romance. 
(If men asked their lovers, wives, partners, why they enjoy reading romance, historical or contemporary, and took on board the answers, might there be more contented women and fewer frustrated men? Just saying.)
Back to the review:  Those of us who spend months researching the period in which our stories are set, studying the social customs of the day, wars, politics, ship accommodation and sail plans, the effects of wind speed on sea conditions, details of dress, household hierarchy, coach travel, small arms, gaming houses etc, might be forgiven a sigh when reading a review that focuses on clichéd stereotypes such as: bosom-heaving, calf-turning, suitable for granny.Oh please!    (Though to give credit where it’s due, he did say it was well-written.)
But more irksome were errors in the review.  For the record:  1. The new type of engine featured in the story is not powered by steam, but by hot air. This is revolutionary and an attempt to develop a safe alternative because exploding high-pressure steam boilers are causing hundreds of deaths.  2. There are two couples in this story, and the review wrongly links the girl from one with the man from the other.
All that aside, Tom does have a point regarding a section of the historical romance genre.  On-line publishing means that anyone can write a book, source a cover image and ISBN number then upload their work for sale without any of the screens and checks imposed by publishing companies, such as editing for factual accuracy, anachronisms, etc. 
Professional self-published authors use beta-readers, employ a qualified and experienced freelance editor, pay for an individually designed cover, and go to great lengths to ensure their book is the best it can be before publication. A far greater number don’t.
So books marketed under the heading of ‘historical romance’ range from stories by authors who try to create a realistic setting for their characters, to those featuring situations that in real life could not have happened: marquises marrying servant girls, dukes renouncing their inheritance for love. 
Such books reveal the author’s lack of (research?) understanding of a class system in which breaking the rules resulted in losing your place in society; being shunned by family and friends; and for a married mother the likelihood of being permanently separated from her children.  They are contemporary attitudes in fancy dress.  That an avid readership exists for these books says much for the enduring power of the ‘Cinderella’ story.  But it may also explain the perception of historical romance as ‘fiction lite’ compared to crime or mystery or suspense genres. Yet I have used all those elements to great effect in historically accurate stories that also feature a powerful romance. (And have been short listed three times for major awards) 
With 28 books published in multiple languages worldwide, 13 of which are historical romances, I am proud that they appeal both sexes and all ages. Yes, the majority of readers are women because more women read for pleasure. One chap I know buys each new one for his wife for her birthday or Christmas, but he reads it first. I’m not sure how she feels about that.  He told me he always gets lost in the story, not wanting to put it down yet not wanting it to end.  
Feedback shows that women enjoy the depth and complexity of the love story evolving between people who are the product of their background and upbringing and events that have shaped their lives and personalities. Men identify with the male characters’ problems and struggles set against the historically accurate background. In ‘Crosscurrents’ this involves brewing, development of a revolutionary engine to power a ship, revelation of shocking family secrets and the gritty reality of early C19th life in the port of Falmouth.  
Why not try it for yourself? Or give a copy as a gift?

Crosscurrents by Jane Jackson, published by Accent Press as an ebook and paperback.  Available on Amazon or at any independent bookseller.
 •  flag
like  • 
Published on December 08, 2014 01:38 • 3 views

December 1, 2014

I have friends who will never read my books. Some come up with rather sweeping statements like ‘I don’t read fiction’ or ‘I don’t read historical fiction’ but others have specific problems. Some, for example, don’t like books with explicit violence in and I’m afraid that all my books have some reasonably graphic violence. Anyway, I’m not going to try to persuade them to read them. If you hate historical novels, or books set during wars, or stories that take place outside the UK, then you’re not going to love my books. That’s just how life is. It would be boring (and bookshops would be very small) if we all liked the same things.

That goes for me too. I once caused offence by saying that I just couldn’t read a book which featured too many rippling biceps and shapely calves. The person I was talking to thought I was suggesting it wasn’t a well-written book. Actually, it was a very well-written book: it’s just that I can’t stomach historical romances. Sorry.

So here are some books that should have made my list of great books for Christmas, except that I don’t like the genre they’re written for. One or two of them, I couldn’t even finish. But I’ve read enough of all of them to be able to whole-heartedly recommend them to people who like the kind of book they are.

One for Granny?

Historical romance at its bosom-swelling, calf-turning best, Crosscurrents
(Jane Jackson) combines an interesting story about the development of a new type of steam engine (we’re in the early 19th century) with a romance between the handsome young inventor and the illegitimate daughter of the local businessman who is backing his idea. Lots of period detail, which rings true, a pleasant writing style, and not an unheaved bosom in the house. The sort of thing you will really enjoy, if that’s your sort of thing.

One for someone who likes a good long read
I had never read a family saga until I read The Tsar’s Dragons (Catrin Collier). Strictly speaking, I only read a third of the saga, as the 552 pages I got through was only the first of three volumes. I could see the appeal, but the commitment that these things take seems overwhelming. Still, if you are going to dedicate several days of your life to reading the story of a huge group of inter-related people as they go through an epic adventure, you could do a lot worse than go with this one. It revolves around the founding of what is now Donetsk in the Ukraine. The town was built as part of Tsar Nicholas’s attempts to bring his country into the modern age. He had most of the work done by Welsh miners and steel workers who brought industrial skills to Russia. This is their story. It’s an interesting tale, with masses of convincing historical background, though the heart of the book is the tangle of love affairs that will take another two volumes to sort out. If you know a woman of a certain age who you want to keep out of the way for a couple of weeks, buy her this and enjoy a peaceful Christmas.

One for a teenage girl
The Soul Seekers (Amy Saia) is a really lovely book. It’s beautifully written, catching the mood of a quiet mid-American town in a way that makes me feel I’ve been to a quiet mid-American town. The characterisation of the teenage girl heroine seems entirely credible too. It’s a ghost story and even the ghost is credible. If I were a teenage girl, I honestly think I would love this book to death. As it is, I didn’t finish it – but I’m happy to recommend it nonetheless.

 •  flag
like  • 
Published on December 01, 2014 02:26 • 3 views

November 26, 2014

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was researching the Duchess of Richmond's ball - the famous party that she gave on the eve of Waterloo. I mentioned that it is one of the most famous parties ever given, and that I was nervous of getting the details wrong.

After reading modern accounts and a description by someone who was there, I at least know what the room looked like and what entertainment was offered, so I've gone ahead and produced my fictional account. While I was writing I watched two well-known film versions and you may notice that my description doesn't look at all like the scenes that you may have seen in the cinema or on TV. If you want to do the research, you can decide which ones are right.

Here's my attempt at recreating the famous ball, which my hero, James Burke, attends with the girl he has fallen in love with, Lily Marchmont. There's a certain amount of conjecture and I'm sure it can't have been exactly like this, but if anyone picks up anything they absolutely, certainly know to be wrong, please tell me in the comments - or email me at

In the end, their setting out on the early side proved advantageous. The roads to the east of the Place St Michel were little more than lanes and the throng of carriages – and even the occasional coach – that the Richmond's ball had attracted meant that the drivers were reduced to jostling for position and they travelled well below walking pace. Indeed, had the road not been so dirty, Burke might well have suggested that they walk the last quarter mile, but Lily's dress was very fine and it seemed wiser to wait. The occupants of the other carriages had obviously come to the same conclusion and they sat, more or less impatiently, the ladies fluttering their fans and the gentleman staring ahead impassively as the lower orders gathered at the side of the road to gawp at this unwonted spectacle
It was not until eight that their carriage finally rolled up at the gate in the Rue de la Blanchisserie. A liveried gatekeeper took one look at Burke’s uniform and Lily’s splendid dress and barely glanced at the invitation before bowing them through.
Other servants lined the carriage drive that swept to the rear of the house, directing them away from the main entrance that faced onto the road. Looking at the parade of vehicles ahead of them, Burke could see why they were being sent this way. There would be more space for the carriages to manoeuvre around the back. The Richmonds had a large garden and Burke expected much of it to be trampled into mud by the morning, but they could afford gardeners and such inconvenience was part of the cost of entertaining on a lavish scale.
The arrangements for the carriages meant that guests entered the house through the doors at the rear, but these were every bit as grand as those at the front, normally allowing the Richmonds and their friends to walk as a group into the gardens. Now, with a canopy to protect guests in case of rain and a positive army of servants to hand ladies down from carriages and direct drivers, the entrance was as imposing as the Duchess might have wished.
The doors opened into a hall that ran right through the house. Burke could see other servants waiting by the front doors, presumably ready for the guests of honour who would be speeded to that entrance without having to jostle with those being admitted from the garden. There was, he understood, a hierarchy of privilege even amongst those singled out as suitable to obtain tickets to the Duchess’s entertainment. Indeed, his own invitation was discreetly scrutinised in the hallway to see whether it was on the list of those who should be formally announced on their entrance to the ballroom or if he was even amongst those so specially privileged as to be guided first to one of the other rooms of the house, where they might be greeted in person by the Duke or Duchess. Being, though, a mere mortal, he was directed toward a passage off on the right, which led to an anteroom which, in turn, opened out into the ballroom.
Given the excitement that gripped Brussels society over the evening, Burke was surprised that the room was by no means grand. It was long and low, and made to appear still lower by a gallery that ran around it. The gallery was crowded, as the floor was far too small to allow for more than a fraction of the guests to be dancing. Not that this seems to be worrying anyone. There was a constant buzz of conversation, more animated than usual at such occasions. Besides the inevitable gossip about Lady John Campbell and the various other unsuitable companions that the Duke of Wellington had been seen with, Burke heard, unusually for such occasions, remarks about the deployment of troops or the likely plans of the French.
Normally, he would listen carefully to any conversation bearing on matters military. It was unlikely that he would learn anything about troop movements that he didn't already know, but his job included assessing the morale of both civilians and soldiers. He understood Wellington’s concern that social life in Brussels should go on as usual, if not even more frenetically, and he watched the behaviour and concerns of civilians almost as carefully as he monitored the movement of troops. His main mission, as far as British went, remained the capture of Legrand, but he would report on anything else he thought Wellington should know. Tonight, though, he would forget about spying. He would forget about the war altogether. Tonight, all that mattered would be Lily.
They edged their way through the crowd and found space on the dance floor. To Lily’s delight, they were playing a cotillion. Burke suspected that she had their hostess to thank for that. The Duchess of Richmond was quite old-fashioned in her tastes and had probably insisted on some more traditional English dances. The cotillion was soon over, though, and it was back to quadrilles. Burke remembered the quadrilles that had played on the first time he had met Lily. He could hardly believe he had not that much cared for her then. Now she seemed the most important thing in his life.
Another cotillion and then, as if to make up for such unfashionable music, the band started a waltz. Burke, like every other man in the place, had practiced the steps so that if he ever found a girl daring enough to dance it, he would not be found wanting. To his delight, Lily had obviously practiced it as well. The two of them whirled around the room until the music stopped, cheeks red with excitement, and half dizzy from turning so enthusiastically with the music.
Burke thought this might be an ideal time to take Lily aside and declare his love, but there was no obvious place that they could be private together. The arrangement of the house meant that there was no terrace adjoining the ballroom and venturing into the garden would have meant fighting their way past the carriages that clogged the rear of the building. At the end of the room, screened from the dance floor, was an alcove that might normally have formed a quiet place for conversation, but the press of the crowd meant that it was as busy as anywhere else. Burke wondered if they might try the front door, for there was some open ground with shrubs and trees at the front of the house, but before he could suggest this the master of ceremonies took to the floor and asked that everybody should clear a space there. Burke and Lily found themselves pressed back toward the wall. At least they had the advantage of being close to a window, which allowed some much needed air.
Above them, the gallery creaked alarmingly as more guests gathered there to see the spectacle below, but any creaking was soon drowned out as the sound of bagpipes announced the entry of a body of Highlanders into the room.
Burke's own, brief, experience of serving alongside the Highlanders had not endeared them to him, but, unlike many Englishmen, he admired their music and enjoyed the spectacle of the kilted figures, as they marched onto the dance floor. The Duchess herself was in the first rank of the spectators and the enthusiasm betrayed on her face suggested that she was happy with the selection of the troops who made up this band. It was clear that they had been carefully chosen, for, even in a regiment noted for the size and strength of its soldiers, these men stood out. Marching in in their bearskins, they seemed as much like heroes of antiquity as soldiers in the British Army.

As the cream of Brussels society looked on, the Highlanders performed a string of reels one after the other to the accompaniment of their traditional instruments. The reels were followed by a strathspey and then swords were laid on the floor so that the four handsomest of the company could demonstrate their skill in the sword dance. At the conclusion of the display, the men formed back into columns and followed their piper out of the room, to the applause of the crowd. It occurred to Burke that, if any of the rumours he had heard were true, they could well be marching directly from the ball to the battlefield.

 •  flag
like  • 
Published on November 26, 2014 02:12 • 1 view

November 24, 2014

The Christmas cactus is coming into flower, so it must be time to give my suggestions for books you might like to read this Christmas.

Let's get the obvious over with first. Accent publish my books in both Kindle and paperback. People usually prefer to give paperback books as gifts, and it's true that the paperbacks are a little (but not much) more expensive than paperbacks produced in large print runs by bigger publishers. They're still pretty inexpensive, though, and I still think that books make good gifts. If you ever run into me – and a lot of people who read this blog may do that – I'm happy to sign them for you.

Moving on to other authors, I'm going to concentrate on writers who are published by independent publishers. There are a lot of good writers who are published by mainstream publishers, but mainstream publishers have huge marketing and distribution departments and don't need my help to shift books.
Over the last few years I've been reading a lot of books published by tiny presses. Not that long ago, I was published by a tiny press myself. Let's be blunt and admit what everyone knows already: many of these books are badly presented, badly written, sometimes barely literate rubbish. However, many are perfectly good books and a few are really excellent. The best book I read in 2014 was published by a very small publisher in Australia. It was Unforgivable . I've written about it HERE. It's a stunning novel that I am going to keep plugging in the hope that one day it will get the recognition it deserves.

When you are looking at books from independent publishers, the name of the publisher does become rather important. I am published by Accent Press. I am not going to pretend that every book that Accent publishes is absolutely wonderful. I've looked at some and really not been that impressed. But everything they publish has been read by an editor who did like it – and who is to say that they are not right and I am not wrong. All Accent's books have been properly edited and proofread and are presented with the words in the right order on the page. (This should be a given, but trust me, I have been given books to review where it was not.) If you buy a book from a professional publisher like Accent – however small they are – you will have some basic guarantee of quality.
I'm reading an Accent book right now: Just One Damn Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor. I'm only a third of the way through, so I'm not in a position to give a proper review, but yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I sat in the bath reading until the water went cold. It's a story about time travel but, with its beautifully believable female main character, its eccentric English setting and its delightful sense of humour, it's far more Doctor Who than a traditional po-faced piece of science fiction. I suppose I could be disappointed, but I'm prepared to recommend this on what I've read so far.

Another Accent author I have read and enjoyed is Jean Goodhind. Something in the Blood is a traditional murder mystery, though as a whodunnit it leaves something to be desired. What it offers instead is smooth and witty writing, an attractive and entertaining heroine, rounded characters and a wonderful sense of place – in this case Bath. It's not Agatha Christie, but if you are looking for a book that will offer the reader undemanding entertainment on a winter's evening, you could do a very great deal worse.

Public Battles,Private Wars by Laura Wilkinson (Accent again) is a more serious and considered work that has, deservedly, received positive critical attention. A politically committed look at the miners' strike, with a strong feminist perspective, it does not let its ideology get in the way of telling a good story. Definitely a worthwhile read.

Let's finish with a couple of books from other publishers. Drawn to Perfection by Victoria Owens is published by Hookline Books. It was published in 2013, but it has a Regency setting and the style is straight out of Jane Austen's notebooks. There is a plot – actually rather a good plot – but I would recommend this book anyway. The characterisation and the sheer elegance of the writing blew me away. This is a fine example of why we should not dismiss books from smaller publishers. Given the amount of rubbish that mainstream houses push out into WHSmith every month, it's a shame and disgrace that something as beautifully written as this is unlikely to find a mass-market.

Finally, I'll mention Ticket to Paradise by Elizabeth Morgan. This is a novel, closely based on historical events, about the movement of Welsh settlers to Argentina in 1865.It’s a fascinating story, well told. Morgan writes well and with a great ear for the cadences of Welsh, which enlivens her dialogue. The history is riveting, and particularly interesting to anyone with an interest in Argentine history, as I know many of you have.

So there you are: half a dozen books from four different independent publishers, none of which you are going to see promoted in your local Waterstones, but all of which are, in their own ways, well worth reading. John Grisham is a great author, but he really doesn't need the money any more. This Christmas, why not give some consideration to books by authors you've never heard of from publishers you didn't know existed?
 •  flag
like  • 
Published on November 24, 2014 04:06 • 2 views

November 17, 2014

It's been an exciting few days.
This weekend, Carol McGrath has hosted an article of mine about Waterloo on her blog. It suggests that Waterloo might not have been the British victory it is usually presented as. Why not nip over and have a look at it?
Meanwhile the latest Historical Novel Society reviews are out. These are published once a quarter and simply getting a review means that the book is taken seriously as a historical novel. I had already been very excited by the review of Burke in the Land of Silver (reviewed as His Majesty's Confidential Agent) but I only just realised that the latest reviews also included TheWhite Rajah.If you want to see the full reviews, click on the links. The highlights are:"An involving tale of adventure, intrigue and unlikely love," (White Rajah) and  "a well-crafted adventure yarn with exotic settings and plenty of suspense." (Land of Silver).
Besides reviews of my books, there's a few reviews that I've written. Given that I blogged on 19th-century history elsewhere this week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to use this post to promote some other authors’ books. Here are the reviews.
The Tsar's Dragons by Catherine Collier
[After I had been given the book to review I discovered that Catherine Collier is also published by Accent. This does not mean I can't review her book honestly.]
In 1869 Tsar Nicholas invited a Welshman to develop mining and ironworks in Ukraine. John Hughes brought with him Welsh miners and iron-workers. They built a new city on the Ukrainian steppe: Hughesovka (now Donetsk).It was a huge project, and Collier’s account is on a similarly mammoth scale. The Tsar’s Dragons has 552 pages and is the first volume of a trilogy. It is more family saga than history, although there is a lot of historical detail, which certainly reads convincingly. There were some points where I stumbled (could a photographer then have taken a candid “snap” without the subjects being aware?), but I was more worried about social attitudes. Whilst anti-Semitism and the abuse of women are realistically (and sometimes graphically) portrayed, almost all the characters are noble and liberal, with just a couple of ‘baddies’ for contrast. Theirs seem 21st-century attitudes transplanted to 19th-century Russia. The repressive nature of the regime is not mentioned, although we are reminded that the serfs had recently been emancipated. Whilst Nicholas did start to liberalise Russia, things here are progressing so well that the Russian Revolution seems unnecessary.The modern attitudes of the characters make the primitive conditions of life in the Welsh mining villages and the cruel realities of living and mining in Ukraine both even more horrifying by contrast. Collier is unsparing in her descriptions of beatings and rapes, and her account of a mine collapse is gripping. Like all family sagas, this has its share of passionate love and illicit liaisons, much of it setting up a situation which should make the second volume satisfyingly dramatic.If you like family sagas and want to learn more about an unexplored bit of 19th-century history, this is for you.
Ticket to Paradise by Elizabeth Morgan
In 1865, the English were giving the Welsh a hard time. (Nothing changes.) Desperate to preserve their language and way of life, some emigrated to Patagonia. This story follows those who founded the town of Rawson, on the Argentine coast. It follows their struggles as they finally make a viable settlement but, at the same time, see their identity subsumed into the wider Argentine society.It’s a fascinating story, well told. Morgan writes well and with a great ear for the cadences of Welsh, which enlivens her dialogue. The history is riveting, and I was interested enough to find Rawson on the map. The map does confirm my suspicion that the area is not surrounded by grassland, as described in the book. That was always incompatible with the problems that the settlers had in growing crops. It’s a shame that Morgan’s geography isn’t as good as her history.The story-telling is let down by some neat moralising (the Reverend is a pious and unpleasant man, put in his place by the atheist hero), an unnecessary (and unhistorical) aside involving Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and an unconvincing battle between the Welsh and a band of bloodthirsty Indians. There is also an unfortunate epilogue set in the Falklands War, in which the language and attitudes of 2013 civilians are written unconvincingly into the dialogue of 1982 soldiers. These failures, though, are trivial when set against the gripping accounts of daily life and the relationships between the characters. The book provides a useful introduction to an important period of both Welsh and Argentine history. Strongly recommended.
The Art of Killing Well by Howard Curtis (trans.), Marco Malvaldi
It’s 1895. The famous cookery writer, Pellegrino Artusi, has been invited to spend the weekend with a baron and his family. At the castle, there is a murder. (At least we know the butler didn’t do it: he’s the victim.) It was carried out by one of the house party or one of the household servants. A policeman arrives. Suspects are interviewed, the policeman solves the crime. It’s a classic country house murder mystery in the English style, but set in Italy. There’s no real sense of period. I’m not sure that the concept of the weekend was even around in 1895 Italy (the phrase only became common in England in the 20th century). The style is (as the author post-modernly points out) late 19th century, except for the frequent post-modern intrusions. The historical Pellegrino Artusi is not particularly rounded, except in girth, and the other characters have the two‑dimensionality of most country-house murder suspects. The recipes, though, are convincing. All-in-all it’s a pleasant read for Agatha Christie fans, but hardcore historical novel enthusiasts should look elsewhere.
I'll post again soon with recommendations for books for Christmas. Until then, happy reading!

 •  flag
like  • 
Published on November 17, 2014 02:43 • 3 views

November 10, 2014

I think it's time for a post about history. This week, we're going way further back than the Napoleonic Wars that feature in my books about James Burke, or the mid-19th century of The White Rajah. Instead, my guest blogger, Carol McGrath, takes us back to 1066 and the Norman Conquest.

Two Noble Women of 1066

As we know women are often the footnotes of history. When a writer sets about telling their stories she has set herself a demanding investigative task. My thought is that for a writer of serious historical fiction it is necessary to excavate the facts where these exist and then embed these within the story she is telling.  I wanted to bring these women’s lives to life and to recreate a semblance of the world in which they dwelled. What did they eat? How did they clean their teeth, where did they go to the loo, how did they raise their children, to what spiritual beliefs did they adhere and, importantly, how did they cope with dramatic change. The Norman Conquest did bring turmoil and change to England. How did noble women cope not only with the loss of their men but with changes imposed on them in the immediate aftermath of Conquest? After all, the noble women were the survivors. They were also, importantly, heiresses.

As I wrote The Handfasted Wife and latterly The Swan-Daughter, I had to do much research in chronicles to find snippets about these noble women’s actual lives. I also had to reconstruct the day to day realities of women’s lives through much further reading to disperse any big sense anachronism creeping into the novels. Of course, I am a modern woman looking back to the eleventh century so modern sensibility some must creep in. I also hoped that these heroines would be feisty enough to appeal to today’s women. I was taking them out of their domestic comfort zone in a world that had been turned upside down by conflict.

By creating both a pacey adventure narrative and female personalities whose story a reader wants to follow, I hoped to hoodwink that reader into believing that that he/she was immersed in the experience of the eleventh century. I do care about historical integrity but admit that where fiction is concerned there will be imaginative invention.
The Handfasted Wife takes place in the year 1066. Edith Swanneck is set aside for a political marriage when her husband Harold is crowned king. According to Chronicle it is she who recognises his broken body after the battle according to marks only known to her. We all know the story of the Battle of Hastings but little is known about Harold’s true love and mother of his six surviving children, four boys and two girls. Researching this book enabled me to discover that women, before The Norman Conquest, owned property separately from their husbands and that they made wills. They could, in theory, do what they liked with their own possessions. When this came to land, in reality, pressure was often put on women by male relatives. After the Norman Conquest a woman’s property became his property. If she became a widow she received a third of their possessions as the widow’s portion until she remarried. Edith Swan-Neck, called so because to possess white skin and a long neck like a swan’s neck was a sign of great beauty, had title to lands in Kent, Essex and Cambridgeshire. She owned properties in Canterbury. We know all this because it is recorded in The Domesday Book of 1086.
Although this novel stands alone, The Swan-Daughter picks up the theme of land ownership by women which was introduced in The Handfasted Wife

Gunnhild, King Harold’s daughter, was in Wilton Abbey for her education at the time of Conquest, 1066. After the Conquest, many heiresses took refuge in abbeys as King William encouraged inter-marriage between English and Normans. It was one way to make the take-over easier. It provided reward as it gave unmarried Norman knights the opportunity to claim legal tenure to English lands.

Gunnhild was a child in 1066, but as her aunt, Edith Godwin, had been the wife of Edward the Confessor, thus a queen, and also the patron of Wilton Abbey, it may have been that Aunt Edith hoped that one day Gunnhild would become a novice, take vows and rise in time to the top job , that of Abbess. Gunnhild clearly had other ideas. She did apparently elope with Alan of Richmond, a Breton cousin of King William, who may have through his marriage gained title to her mother, Edith’s lands. When Count Alan married Gunnhild the fact is that the lands came into his possession. I posit in the story, that Wilton Abbey also claimed some of Gunnhild’s wealth. It makes for an interesting historical fiction. The story becomes even more fascinating because after Alan’s death Gunnhild took up with his younger brother. The evidence for this comes from a correspondence between Gunnhild and Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury dating to 1092/3. She would have been in her mid-thirties by then.
We do not really know what happened but Anselm clearly disapproved of her relationship with Alan’s brother. The Anglo-Saxon heiress was a valuable woman, a woman of substance in her own right and after the Battle of Hastings there were many of them, widows and daughters to whom land rights reverted as well as what they may have already had title to.
All this is great material for stories and an important inspiration for The Daughters of Hastings Trilogy. 
Finally, I would like to thank Tom for hosting me on his blog. It is a wonderful opportunity to explain the history behind my novels. Well, as far as I could unearth it! The novels are stories of historical adventure and if you read them I hope you enjoy them.

Follow me on Twitter @carolmcgrath
 •  flag
like  • 
Published on November 10, 2014 02:10 • 28 views

November 6, 2014

With Xmas on the way (aaargghhhh!) I'm already beginning to see posts on Facebook calling on people to support local retailers rather than large chains. In a similar vein, could I ask that you support writers who are published by independent publishers rather than those from mainstream publishers? Dan Brown doesn't need a bigger audience, but some books from independent publishers struggle to be seen in the mass of pre-Christmas book marketing.

I was thinking of posting here with a list of possible 'independently published books for Christmas' but it seems a bit on the early side. When would you like to see this?

 •  flag
like  • 
Published on November 06, 2014 11:11 • 3 views

November 3, 2014

Saturday was, as all my younger friends would say, a pretty awesome day.
It started with the paperback of Burke and the Bedouinarriving in the post, so the book is now definitely officially out there. I think Accent are doing a lovely job with the covers. Don’t they look impressive?

Then I saw that the Historical Novel Society's review of Burke in the Land of Silver (reviewed under its original title of His Majesty’s Confidential Agent) had come out.  HNS reviews matter: they are selective about what they review so just getting a review from them means that your book is taken seriously as a historical novel.
Here’s what they said.
This tale of espionage is set against one of the lesser-known fields of conflict in the Napoleonic Wars – South America – with the real-life British secret agent, James Burke, as a dashing protagonist. In the early years of the 19th century, Burke and his servant, Private William Brown, are dispatched to the Spanish province of La Plata in South America in order to find a way to prevent its riches finding their way into Napoleon’s coffers – but once in La Plata, “our man in Buenos Aires” finds himself becoming drawn to the idea of the province’s independence and to the lovely (and married) Ana O’Gorman. He makes a very dangerous enemy and discovers to his cost that idealism has no place in politics.
The action gallops along, taking us with Burke from the Caribbean, through the capitals of the Europe, to the colonies of the New World. Burke holds the narrative together. He is the most strongly realised character – an ambitious, ruthless man, committed to kill, deceive and seduce in order to promote Britain’s interests – but who sometimes makes errors of judgment, who can let his emotions sway him but who is steadfastly loyal to those close to him.
There are occasional jumps in viewpoint, which can jar the flow of the narrative and a couple of characters are rather one-dimensional (Molly, the patriotic “tart with a heart” comes to mind), but overall this is a well-crafted adventure yarn with exotic settings and plenty of suspense. I wonder if Tom Williams has any more adventures lined up for James Burke.

Then there was the Halloween skate to round off the day. Hundreds of people in fancy dress skated through the centre of London and on to a truly horrifying party. I didn’t take many photos myself, but here’s a tiny sample of the costumes on display.

All in all, this has to have been one of the most comprehensively excellent Saturdays I’ve seen in a while. I hope your weekends were even half as much fun.
 •  flag
like  • 
Published on November 03, 2014 03:22 • 4 views

October 29, 2014

I wasn't going to post until next week, but I've just learned that to celebrate the arrival of Burke's second adventure, Amazon are giving copies away on Kindle from now until Sunday. Given that by next week this offer will be over, I thought that it was worth posting a quick note to tell you to grab it while you can.

According to my computer, this offer is available in the US as well as the UK.
 •  flag
like  • 
Published on October 29, 2014 04:15 • 4 views