Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young barrister forced home from London by encroaching blindness, has begun work as the acting coroner of Teifi Valley with solicitor’s clerk John Davies as his assistant.
When a faceless body is found on an isolated beach, Harry must lead the inquest. But his dogged pursuit of the truth begins to ruffle feathers. Especially when he decides to work alongside a local doctor with a dubious reputation and experimental theories considered radical and dangerous.
Refusing to accept easy answers might not only jeopardise Harry’s chance to be elected coroner permanently but could, it seems, implicate his own family in a crime.
| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |
Newly widowed and the father of an infant son, Henry VIII realizes he must marry again to insure the royal succession. Now forty-six, overweight and unwell, Henry is soundly rejected by some of Europe’s most eligible princesses, but Anna of Kleve—a small German duchy—is twenty-four and eager to wed.
Henry requests Anna’s portrait from his court painter, who enhances her looks, painting her straight-on in order not to emphasize her rather long nose. Henry is entranced by the lovely image, only to be bitterly surprised when Anna arrives in England and he sees her in the flesh. She is pleasant looking, just not the lady that Henry had expected.
What follows is a fascinating story of this awkward royal union that had to somehow be terminated tactfully. Alison Weir takes a fresh and surprising look at this remarkable royal marriage by describing it from the point of view of Queen Anna, a young woman with hopes and dreams of her own, alone in a royal court that rejected her from the day she arrived.
| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |
Renée Ballard is working the night beat again, and returns to Hollywood Station in the early hours only to find a stranger rifling through old file cabinets. The intruder is retired detective Harry Bosch, working a cold case that has gotten under his skin. Ballard kicks him out, but then checks into the case herself and it brings a deep tug of empathy and anger.
Bosch is investigating the death of fifteen-year-old Daisy Clayton, a runaway on the streets of Hollywood who was brutally murdered and her body left in a dumpster like so much trash. Now, Ballard joins forces with Bosch to find out what happened to Daisy and finally bring her killer to justice.
Not entirely sure why all the books I’m reading lately are so long. These are all over 400 pages, one even 485. It’s not that I mind. I like big books (and I can not lie) but it makes staying ahead of my schedule just that little bit harder. 😄
What are you reading this week? Let me know! Happy reading! xx
Delighted to host a stop on publication day for The Garden of Lost and Found by Harriet Evans. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join and to the publisher for my beautiful review copy.
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
Nightingale House, 1919. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting The Garden of Lost and Found days before his sudden death.
Nightingale House was the Horner family’s beloved home – a gem of design created to inspire happiness – and it was here Ned painted ‘The Garden of Lost and Found’, capturing his children on a perfect day, playing in the rambling Eden he and Liddy made for them.
One magical moment. Before it all came tumbling down…
When Ned and Liddy’s great-granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House, she opens the door onto a forgotten world. The house holds its mysteries close but she is in search of answers. For who would choose to destroy what they love most? Whether Ned’s masterpiece – or, in Juliet’s case, her own children’s happiness.
Something shattered this corner of paradise. But what?
| MY THOUGHTS |
It’s been a while since I read a family saga but I was quickly reminded of why they make such engrossing stories. Especially when they are as brilliantly written as this one. It took just a few pages for me to be swept along and become absolutely captivated.
The Garden of Lost and Found is centred around the Horner family and a painting. Ned Horner used to be quite the well-known artist and “The Garden of Lost and Found” was his masterpiece. It captured his children on a beautiful day, playing in the garden of their beloved home, Nightingale House. But in 1919, a few days before his death, Ned destroys the painting.
Now, Ned’s great-granddaughter Juliet returns to Nightingale House for the first time since her grandmother died. True to form, there are a lot of family secrets to discover but most importantly, there is a mystery to be solved. Because what could possibly have driven Ned to destroy his most famous painting?
The Garden of Lost and Found is full of complex characters, some a bit more flawed and unlikeable than others, yet all incredibly realistic and believable. For most of the novel, I was mostly drawn to the chapters set in the past. I suspect that’s the crime fiction lover in me, who was desperately trying to figure out the answers before Juliet did in the modern day setting. And to be quite fair, her children drove me up the wall. Yet it also brought home how different things were generations back when the kind of behaviour they display wouldn’t have been tolerated for a second.
Despite having had The Wildflowers on my shelf for the longest time, this was my first introduction to Harriet Evans. I really enjoyed her writing style as it’s beautifully descriptive. At times it felt as if I was right there at Nightingale House, hearing the rain patter on the windows, smelling the glorious scents from the garden, maybe even hear a mouse skitter across the floorboards.
At almost 500 pages, this isn’t exactly a quick read but at no point did it drag or become boring. It never felt like a long book as I became completely immersed and invested in these characters’ lives, losing myself within the pages. The Garden of Lost and Found is an engrossing, enchanting and sometimes emotional story about family, love and secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these characters and I will definitely be reading more by Harriet Evans.
Harriet Evans is the author, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic, The Love of Her Life, I Remember You, Love Always, Happily Ever After and Not Without You. Before becoming a full time writer Harriet was a successful editor for a London publishing house. She lives in London with her family.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe. My thanks to Tracy Fenton for the opportunity to join and to the publisher for my review copy.
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.
But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…
| MY THOUGHTS |
Decades after the second World War has ended, so many stories remain untold and this is one of them. The Librarian of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Dita Kraus. At the age of fourteen, she and her parents find themselves in Auschwitz and Dita will become the secret librarian. Block 31 is where the children gather and one way or another, eight precious books have been accumulated. But books are dangerous because they make people think and if the Nazi’s were to find out about them, it would put everyone in danger. It’s up to Dita to make sure the books are kept safe at all cost.
No matter how many books you read about this incredibly disturbing era, it remains highly unsettling and heartbreaking. Life in the camp is harsh and almost impossible to fathom. Yet in the midst of all this despair, many held their heads up high, fought for survival, held on to hope and even tried to give children some kind of education. Obviously this was not allowed but the children kept this secret to themselves, singing silly songs when German soldiers were near and they even put on a show for the vile and despicable Josef Mengele.
This wasn’t the easiest of books to read. Apart from the topic, it jumps around quite a bit between different characters and time frames so it requires your full attention. The line between fiction and non-fiction is quite blurry but I enjoyed that the author added dates and facts throughout the story. Dita is an amazing young girl. She’s determined, brave and perceptive and sometimes makes you forget she was barely fourteen years old. But the character that stood out for me to most was Fredy Hirsh but you’ll have to read the novel to learn more about him.
I love a novel that makes me think and makes me google. Because despite having read quite a few WWII stories over the years, I had never heard of Block 31. Although it’s not quite clear what the reasoning from the Nazi’s was to have a family camp and this particular Block 31, it did “good things”. Many children were somewhat more protected from the even more severe realities of the rest of the camp and they were given slightly more food which meant not one child died from malnutrition.
Sadly, it’s not surprising to know many of them will not live to see the end of the war. As Dita’s story about life in Auschwitz reaches its conclusion, it becomes increasingly more devastating. Do make sure you also read the author’s afterword and learn more about what became of some of the other characters/people. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a powerful, unforgettable and touching novel and Dita’s story will stay with me forever.
Antonio Iturbe lives in Spain, where he is both a novelist and a journalist. In researching The Librarian of Auschwitz, he interviewed Dita Kraus, the real-life librarian of Auschwitz.
Lilit Zekulin Thwaites is an award-winning literary translator. After thirty years as an academic at La Trobe University in Australia, she retired from teaching and now focuses primarily on her ongoing translation and research projects.
Today is publication day for the wonderful Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts! Huge thanks to Quercus and Ella Patel for my stunning review copy!
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy–especially when Maud heard her sing “Over the Rainbow,” a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living–until Frank Baum’s book became a national sensation.
This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud’s youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people–especially young Dorothy–who would inspire Frank’s masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.
| MY THOUGHTS |
Sometimes you pick up a book and like magic, everything seems to fall into place. For me, Finding Dorothy is one of those books. It’s extremely hard for me to put into words exactly why that is but I completely fell in love with everything about it. The era, the characters, the writing itself … it all came together and created such a wonderful reading experience.
1939, Hollywood. Filming has started on The Wizard of Oz, based on the book by L. Frank Baum. His seventy-eight year old widow, Maud, feels fiercely protective of her husband’s story. After all, she knows all its secrets and she’s determined to make the sure the film will do her husband’s story justice. But she soon realises she may need to protect the film’s star Judy Garland as well.
Maud’s story is a fascinating one. Growing up as the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, it seemed her life had been entirely planned out. Matilda was a fierce and determined woman who battled for women’s right to vote and for girls to be allowed a higher education. Maud ends up being one of the first female coeds at Cornell University. But her mother’s shadow follows her everywhere and Maud never really quite finds her place there. Then she meets Frank. An actor, a weaver of stories and words, a dreamer and he completely sweeps her off her feet. And me right alongside with it.
Both Maud and Frank captured my heart from the moment I met them. From traveling throughout the country with theatre shows, to living in the harsh prairies of the Dakota Territory where they struggled to make a living, to that moment where the stars align and Frank creates his masterpiece, I became utterly invested and engrossed.
Even though Frank, who’s incredibly fickle and apparently unable to settle down, got on my nerves sometimes; even though I sometimes felt Maud needed a bit more of a backbone; and even though at times I much more enjoyed the chapters about their lives than the ones set in 1939, I found this novel immensely immersive. At some points it even brought a lump to my throat and throughout it all there’s Maud, this energetic and passionate woman whom I absolutely adored.
“Magic isn’t things materializing out of nowhere. Magic is when a lot of people all believe in the same thing at the same time, and somehow we all escape ourselves a little bit and we meet up somewhere, and just for a moment, we taste the sublime.”
This quote sums up my reading experience entirely. I have tasted the sublime. This review doesn’t do this novel justice at all but I hope it does bring across how much I love it and that you decide to give it a go and hopefully have the same enchanting and magical experience I had.
Delighted to join the blog tour for The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber today! Huge thanks to Ellis Keene at Pan MacMillan for the invitation to join and for the gorgeous review copy!
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
In the inhospitable lands of the Utah Territory, during the winter of 1888, thirty-seven-year-old Deborah Tyler waits for her husband, Samuel, to return home from his travels as a wheelwright. It is now the depths of winter, Samuel is weeks overdue, and Deborah is getting worried.
Deborah lives in Junction, a tiny town of seven Mormon families scattered along the floor of a canyon, and she earns her living by tending orchards and making work gloves. Isolated by the red-rock cliffs that surround the town, she and her neighbors live apart from the outside world, even regarded with suspicion by the Mormon faithful who question the depth of their belief.
When a desperate stranger who is pursued by a Federal Marshal shows up on her doorstep seeking refuge, it sets in motion a chain of events that will turn her life upside down. The man, a devout Mormon, is on the run from the US government, which has ruled the practice of polygamy to be a felony. Although Deborah is not devout and doesn’t subscribe to polygamy, she is distrustful of non-Mormons with their long tradition of persecuting believers of her wider faith.
But all is not what it seems, and when the Marshal is critically injured, Deborah and her husband’s best friend, Nels Anderson, are faced with life and death decisions that question their faith, humanity, and both of their futures.
| MY THOUGHTS |
In the late 1880’s, the federal government of America declared polygamy a felony. Bad news for the Mormons then. Men with multiple wives suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the law and with warrants out for their arrest, many fled not just to save themselves but also to protect their families.
In the small town of Junction, we meet Deborah. She is the odd one out in this town. Married, but to a husband who is away for months at a time and with no children, the other villagers don’t quite know what to make of her. I, on the other hand, warmed to her from the moment I was introduced to her. When Deborah’s husband doesn’t make it back home on the date he should have returned, little does she know her life will be turned upside down even more.
Deborah is used to strangers showing up at her door, seeking help. She, her husband and his stepbrother run some sort of underground network and try to get men guilty of polygamy to safety. But when someone knocks on Deborah’s door, she instinctively knows trouble has arrived. Because no stranger ever comes calling in January. This unforgiving stretch of land deep in Utah territory is far too dangerous this time of year. Yet, Deborah sees no option but to help this stranger. That decision will change the lives of all the residents in Junction.
The Glovemaker is historical fiction from the top shelf. A lot of it is steeped in facts, which is always a bonus to me. This period in history was completely new to me. I learned quite a bit and am rather determined to find out more. Not every Mormon is a polygamist and the people in Junction much prefer to practice their faith in their own way. Nevertheless they will never turn their backs on their own.
The setting almost acts as a character on its own. It’s harsh and I have nothing but admiration for the people who tried to carve a life out in that place. They make it work somehow and there’s something quite comforting about knowing you can always rely on your little community, no matter what.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Glovemaker. It was easy to understand how hard it was for Deborah to make certain decisions. The wintery conditions added to the sense of isolation and throughout the story I felt quite unsettled, feeling something was coming but never really sure what that something would be. The Glovemaker is an utterly immersive story of love, faith and survival. My first introduction to Ann Weisgarber was an immense success and I look forward to reading more by her!
Ann is the author of “The Glovemaker,” “The Promise,” and “The Personal History of Rachel DuPree.” She was nominated for the UK’s Orange Prize, the Orange Award for New Writers, and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. In the United States, she won the Stephen Turner Award for New Fiction and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. She was shortlisted for the Ohioana Book Award and was a Barnes and Noble Discover New Writer. Ann was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters.
She was born in Kettering, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton. She graduated from Wright State University in Dayton with a BA in Social Work and earned a MA in Sociology from the University of Houston. She has been a social worker in psychiatric and nursing home facilities, and taught sociology at Wharton County Junior College in Texas.
In addition to Ohio and Texas, Ann has lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Des Moines, Iowa. She lives in Galveston, Texas, where she’s working on a novel about a World War II German POW camp in Hearne, Texas.
Absolutely delighted to host a stop on the blog tour for The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea today! My thanks to Jenny Platt for the invitation to join and the stunning review copy!
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
Betrothed unexpectedly to Jón Eiríksson, Rósa is sent to join her new husband in the remote village of Stykkishólmur. Here, the villagers are wary of outsiders.
But Rósa harbours her own suspicions. Her husband buried his first wife alone in the dead of night. He will not talk of it. Instead he gives her a small glass figurine. She does not know what it signifies.
The villagers mistrust them both. Dark threats are whispered. There is an evil here – Rósa can feel it. Is it her husband, the villagers – or the land itself?
Alone and far from home, Rósa sees the darkness coming. She fears she will be its next victim.
| MY THOUGHTS |
Oh, be still my beating historical-fiction-loving heart. This novel right here is exactly why I enjoy this genre so much! It reminded me a bit of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, which you should also most definitely read if you haven’t done so already.
The Glass Woman tells the story of Rósa in 1686 Iceland. Struggling with poverty and a poorly mother, Rósa finds herself rather unexpectedly betrothed to Jón. He is the wealthy chief of another settlement and marrying him will make sure Rósa’s mother and the other villagers will be taken care of. But when Rósa joins her new husband in the remote village of Stykkishólmur, there is no sign of a fairytale romance. Jón isn’t exactly the most loving husband and Rósa starts to wonder about his first wife. What happened to her anyway? There is a darkness hanging over this settlement and Rósa’s new home. Is she in danger?
With its short days and long nights, darkness is all around in this novel. When the snow begins to fall and you’re acutely aware of how remote this settlement actually is, you are left with an immensely chilling sense of isolation. The Glass Woman oozes atmosphere from start to finish. This story about forbidden love, fear and pretending to be someone you’re not is utterly immersive and brilliantly written. Full of superstition and suspicion, it’s perfectly paced and extremely compelling.
While there is the mystery of what happened to Jón’s first wife to solve, it was the characters who drew me in. Few of them came across as particularly likeable but this only added to the feeling of discomfort and general creepiness that runs through this novel. Just like Rósa, I wondered why the villagers were so wary of her and it was a struggle for me to figure out who to trust, if anyone. The fate of these characters was impossible to predict and while I felt the conclusion was satisfying, it almost left me a little saddened.
Haunting, beautifully atmospheric and full of complex characters, Caroline Lea’s novel captured my heart. If you enjoy historical fiction, I’m convinced it will do the same to you. I will without a doubt be keeping a firm eye on her in future.
Caroline Lea was born and raised in Jersey. She gained a First in English Literature and Creative Writing from Warwick University and has had poetry published in The Phoenix Anthology and An Aston Anthology, which she also co-edited.
When Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.
Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.
It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.
| MY THOUGHTS |
As someone who has recently rediscovered her love for historical fiction, I’ve truly been spoilt lately. Sure, a nice gruesome murder or a bunch psychological games is fun to read about but there is something about being transported to ages long ago that totally captures my imagination.
Upon arriving in Spitalfields, Sara Kemp immediately lands herself in a whole heap of trouble. She is rescued by Esther Thorel, the wife of a prominent silk weaver, who offers Sara the position of being her maid. Not quite Sara’s dream job but definitely a step up from where she found herself. This marks the start of a rather uneasy relationship that will affect their lives.
I must say this didn’t at all turn out the way I expected it to and I was pleasantly surprised. Some of the silk weaving technicalities went completely over my head but as that wasn’t the be all and end all of the story, that didn’t really bother me. Because what matters far most is the divide between the upper and the lower classes and the battle a woman faces when she wants to do something men don’t think she’s meant for.
There’s a whole cast of extremely unlikeable characters. So much so that I’m hard pressed to decide which one I actually disliked the most. Yet, that too didn’t bother me because all the lies, deceit and betrayal made for one immersive story. And let’s not forget to mention the rich and vivid descriptions of 1860’s London that create the most wonderful atmosphere.
There is much to enjoy about this historical fiction novel and I went through a whole range of emotions, from anger to frustration to a touch of sadness at how unfair life can be. I learned quite a bit along the way too, which is always a bonus. Make sure to read the author’s notes, by the way. Blackberry & Wild Rose is a remarkable debut by Sonia Velton and I will most definitely be keeping my eye on her in future.
I’m delighted to join the blog tour for The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst today! My thanks to Kirsty Doole at Atlantic for the invitation to join and for the beautiful review copy!
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
On the 15th day of December in the year of our Lord 1664, a great light bloomed in the dark sky and crept slowly and silently across the blackness: a comet. Every evening afterwards, though snow lay on the ground and the air bit with frost, men across the land threw open their windows and went out of their doors in cloaks and mufflers to gaze at the heavens, necks stretched up, hands shielding eyes, crooking long fingers to trace the burning thing that flamed across the night, while dogs moaned in their kennels and wise women chanted incantations against bright malignant spirits.
Born on the night of an ill-auguring comet just before Charles II’s Restoration, Ursula Flight has a difficult future written in the stars. Against the custom of the age she begins an education with her father, who fosters in her a love of reading, writing and astrology.
Following a surprising meeting with an actress, Ursula’s dreams turn to the theatre and thus begins her quest to become a playwright despite scoundrels, bounders, bad luck and heartbreak.
| MY THOUGHTS |
December 15th, 1664. The dark night is lit up by a comet, something that wasn’t particularly seen as a good omen in those days. While this comet travels along, Ursula Flight is born and this is how her story starts and the reader is taken on the most delightful journey through her life.
Ursula is one of those characters you just fall in love with the second you meet her. Born into a well to-do family, she’s fun, fierce, determined, inquisitive, imaginative, wise for her age and for the times. She’s most definitely someone to sympathise with and root for. Despite the fact her father, against the custom of the age, begins educating her, life in those days was quite preordained. Ursula will have to marry, willing or not, and all her hopes and dreams might just be crushed.
I found The Illumination of Ursula Flight a most remarkably refreshing and enchanting story. It is exquisitely written, full of complex and intriguing characters and often quite humorous. Ursula’s love for all things theatre shines through via chapters from her diary and plays she’s written during the good times from her childhood but also the hardships she faces later on on in life. I was worried these would put me off but ended up truly enjoying them and found they added just that little bit extra and an even greater insight into the kind of person Ursula is.
I do so love historical fiction and this novel was brilliantly written. It kept me captivated for hours. Maybe some things are a little predictable and maybe some readers might find the story takes a while to pick up but for me, I found myself so immersed that I wondered where the time and the pages had gone. I couldn’t have picked a better novel to kickstart the new year with. Ursula utterly captured my heart and I thoroughly enjoyed going on this journey with her. I loved it so much that it may just be a novel I’ll pick up again some time.
Well researched and hugely entertaining, The Illumination of Ursula Flight is an impressive debut by Anna-Marie Crowhurst and I very much look forward to reading more by her in future.
The Illumination of Ursula Flight is available to buy!
ANNA-MARIE CROWHURST has worked as a freelance journalist and columnist for more than 15 years, contributing to The Times, The Guardian, Time Out, Newsweek, Emerald Street and Stylist. In 2016 she studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where her debut novel The Illumination of Ursula Flight was born. She lives in London.
Happy Sunday and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Merest Loss by Steven Neil. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation to join. Author Steven Neil joins me on the blog today to talk about researching and writing historical fiction. But first, here is what The Merest Loss is all about.
A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.
When Harriet Howard becomes Louis Napoleon’s mistress and financial backer and appears at his side in Paris in 1848, it is as if she has emerged from nowhere. How did the English daughter of a Norfolk boot-maker meet the future Emperor? Who is the mysterious Nicholas Sly and what is his hold over Harriet?
Can Harriet meet her obligations and return to her former life and the man she left behind? What is her involvement with British Government secret services? Can Harriet’s friend, jockey Tom Olliver, help her son Martin solve his own mystery: the identity of his father?
The central character is Harriet Howard and the action takes place between 1836 and 1873. The plot centres on Harriet’s relationships with Louis Napoleon and famous Grand National winning jockey, Jem Mason. The backdrop to the action includes significant characters from the age, including Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and the Duke of Grafton, as well as Emperor Napoleon III. The worlds of horse racing, hunting and government provide the scope for rural settings to contrast with the city scenes of London and Paris and for racing skulduggery to vie with political chicanery.
In many ways, writing historical fiction is no different to writing any other fiction. The author still has to think about the five key elements of novel writing i.e.
Point of view
In addition to these consideration however, there are particular issues which need to be borne in mind if the historical fiction novel is to come across as a credible representation of the period being described.
In writing 19th century historical fiction, as well as specific research in reference books, I always read widely the dominant fiction of the time e.g. Trollope, Dickens, Hardy, Thackeray, to assimilate the sound and feel of the age. I have also developed a number of questions I pose to myself whilst I am researching and planning my novel and I share some of them with you here.
Point of view
What point of view best suits the story you are telling? This seems a rather obvious question but there is a reason why Trollope and Hardy used the omniscient narrator: they wanted to be in complete control of the characters and to manage the reader by knowing everything, by contrast with their characters, who don’t. In this way there is almost a conspiracy between writer and reader at the expense of the characters.
Of course, Trollope and Hardy were living in the 19th century and could sustain an all knowing perspective with reasonable ease. What the contemporary writer has to ask, if they are to write credibly in a 19th century setting, is whether they have done the research necessary to replicate an omniscient narrator. It took me a long time researching to satisfy myself on that point.
Is this turn of events plausible and credible for the time?
What assumptions are being made about the law, the state of politics, the monarchy, the church, the class system?
Do the events fit with what is happening in the historical timeline and background to events e.g. war, peace, political turmoil, the economy, religion.
Readers will suspend disbelief up to a point (albeit different points for different readers), it is, after all, fiction but if it doesn’t ‘ring true’ you may lose your reader.
Did that park, that building, that street, that room actually exist at that time?
Would it have looked like that?
Would the flora and fauna have looked like that?
Would the clothing have been worn in that way?
Would the lighting, heating, glazing, transport means have looked like that?
There is a famous story told by Ian McEwan, who was assiduous in his medical research for the novel Saturday, who was berated by a reader because he had a driver easing his particular Mercedes 500 SEL into first gear, when, according to the complainant, this particular version only came in automatic, so the correct phrase would have been to put it into drive. Some people!
Is it likely that someone would behave like that at that time?
What cultural norms and standards of behaviour existed and are the characters conforming to them?
Does the way someone is behaving fit with what you have already described about their education, social class, sex, prejudices, opinions?
Is there continuity of character; is the character suddenly and inexplicably behaving in a way that the reader will struggle to accept?
Characters can be complex and may sometimes behave unusually, but I am told that one of the most common phrases amongst book club members is along the lines of ‘I didn’t think he/she would have done that and that spoiled the story for me.’ Beware!
Is this how people really spoke at that time?
Would they have used those words?
Are modern idioms creeping into your draft?
Is the way someone is speaking consistent with a character from the 19th century and from chapter to chapter?
As a rule, speakers in the 19th century did not preface their statements with ‘Do you know what’ and other ubiquitous, meaningless phrases but they are so wired in to modern expression that it can sometimes be hard to keep them out.
This is far from an exhaustive set of questions but asking these sorts of questions early in the research period and at the planning stage will save work later on when you are editing. It is very easy to become ‘snow blind’ during the editing phase and I find it much harder to catch glaring errors at a late stage than it is to filter them out at an early stage.
Steven Neil has a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. In his working life he has been a bookmaker’s clerk, management tutor, management consultant, bloodstock agent and racehorse breeder. He is married and lives in rural Northamptonshire.
Author : Alis Hawkins
Title : None So Blind
Series : The Teifi Valley Coroner #1
Pages : 460
Publisher : Dome Press
Publication date : November 15, 2018
West Wales, 1850.
When an old tree root is dug up, the remains of a young woman are found. Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young barrister forced home from London by encroaching blindness, has been dreading this discovery.
He knows exactly whose bones they are.
Working with his clerk, John Davies, Harry is determined to expose the guilty, but the investigation turns up more questions than answers.
The search for the truth will prove costly. Will Harry and John be the ones to pay the highest price?
There’s none so blind as those that will not see.
I seem to have found a (sub)genre to get increasingly excited about and that’s historical crime fiction. It has the crime element I love so much but its historical setting offers possibilities that the modern setting just doesn’t have. The author starts the book with a brief historic note on law and order in nineteenth century West Wales, concerning inquests and coroners and the like and I found it immensely interesting.
When an old tree root is dug up, the remains of a young woman are discovered. Harry Probert-Lloyd knows exactly whose bones they are. Together with his clerk, John Davies, he sets out to investigate what happened to this young woman and he’s determined to expose her killer.
Set in Wales, a few years after the Rebecca Riots, the influence of those involved still lingers to this day. People will do or say anything to avoid the wrath of the Rebeccaites. I knew nothing about this period and while some of it is explained throughout the story, it never turned into one of those boring history lessons we all hated. I got a really good feeling of what had happened in those days and I’m thankful to the author for keeping the longer explanation for the author’s notes. Because already at almost 460 pages, this isn’t exactly the kind of book you race through in one sitting and it’s a credit to the author for never making me feel like the story was too elaborate or dragged on too much, making me wonder if it couldn’t have been just that little bit shorter.
Harry Probert-Lloyd makes for one incredibly fascinating main character, one I must say is highly original. As the son of a magistrate but raised by a maid, the line between the privileged and the poor is slightly blurred to him. Forced to leave behind his career as a barrister in London, he returns home due to encroaching blindness. During his investigation into the past, he relies heavily on his clerk, John Davies. Here too, the divide between the gentry and its servants plays a huge part. These two characters were a joy to get to know and watching their relationship develop along the way felt incredibly natural.
A town and its residents in fear of repercussions results in quite the frustrating search for the truth for Harry and John. There are secrets and skeletons in closets that many don’t want to be revealed. I did have a good idea of what had happened and why but that didn’t ruin my enjoyment at all. The journey to discover the truth was twisty, gripping, full of brilliantly intriguing characters and I loved every minute of it. I can’t wait for more from Harry and John!
My thanks to Emily Glenister at Dome Press for my fabulous review copy!