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!
Author : Elizabeth Haynes
Title : The Murder of Harriet Monckton
Pages : 485
Publisher : Myriad Editions
Publication date : September 27, 2018
The Murder of Harriet Monckton is based on a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation.
On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the dissenting chapel she had regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. The community was appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the autopsy revealed that Harriet was six months pregnant.
Drawing on the coroner’s reports and witness testimonies, the novel unfolds from the viewpoints of each of the main characters, each of whom have a reason to want her dead. Harriet Monckton had at least three lovers and several people were suspected of her murder, including her close companion and fellow teacher, Miss Frances Williams. The scandal ripped through the community, the murderer was never found and for years the inhabitants of Bromley slept less soundly.
This rich, robust novel is full of suggestion and suspicion, with the innocent looking guilty and the guilty hiding behind their piety. It is also a novel that exposes the perilous position of unmarried women, the scandal of sex out of wedlock and the hypocrisy of upstanding, church-going folk.
Wow, wow, wow! What an incredible novel this is!
This is one of those books I saw pass by on Twitter one day and, despite knowing very little about it, promptly decided I’d buy myself a copy. It took exactly one page for me to absolutely fall in love with the Victorian era atmosphere and the wonderful writing.
The Murder of Harriet Monckton is based on a true story. In 1843, 23 year old Harriet Monckton was found murdered in a privy behind a chapel she had attended regularly. The autopsy revealed Harriet was six months pregnant and died due to ingesting prussic acid. Elizabeth Haynes compiled coroner’s reports and witness testimonies to tell Harriet’s story. The novel is told from various points of view by characters who all may have had reason to want Harriet gone from their lives. A former lover, a current lover, a wanna-be lover and a vile, despicable man hiding behind the cloak of piety.
This novel oozes atmosphere from the start, bringing not only the Victorian era to life but also delivering characters that are so realistic they almost jump from the page. It had me completely enthralled from start to finish and not only made me remember why I love historical fiction as much as I do but also re-awakened my sheer passion for reading. This is just plainly the kind of novel my inner bookworm dreams of and it delivered on every level.
My only tiny niggle is that I knew from the start that Harriet’s murder has never been solved. Like with any other murder mystery, I would have liked to have had the opportunity to figure things out on my own and decide on a suspect. It felt rather weird not to be quite able to do that since the killer was never caught. However, as luck would have it, I did actually end up with the same conclusion as the author came up with in her story so it’s not all bad. And none of it ruined my enjoyment of this wonderful novel. I have absolute no doubt this novel will end up in my list of favourite books of the year!
The Murder of Harriet Monckton is available to buy!
Author : Sandy Taylor
Title : The Little Orphan Girl
Pages : 358
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : September 24, 2018
Ireland, 1901: For as long as six-year-old Cissy Ryan can remember, she has been a workhouse girl. Living amongst the other orphan boys and girls, dreaming of a family that might come and choose her for their own.
But the day her real mammy finally comes to claim her is not how Cissy imagined. An unfamiliar woman takes her to a tumbledown cottage in the rural Irish countryside to meet her gruff granddaddy. Settling into the isolated and poverty-stricken village is tough. But Cissy’s blossoming friendship with Colm Doyle and his horse Blue show Cissy the kindness and laughter is possible, even in the hardest of times.
As Cissy grows up, she finds that the world around her is ever changing. When she goes to work at prestigious Bretton Hall, she begins to realise that not everyone has an honest heart…
We first meet Cissy Ryan when, at the age of six, she leaves a workhouse holding the hand of a woman claiming to be her mammy. The workhouse for orphans is the only home Cissy has ever known and her mammy isn’t quite the kind of mother she expected. In fact Cissy was sure her name was Martha and she didn’t even have a mammy. Nevertheless, Cissy moves in with her mammy and her grandfather, a grumpy old man, in a tiny cottage. Life is suddenly very different but there is a silver lining and his name is Colm Doyle.
From these humble beginnings, we follow Cissy as she grows up and goes out into the world to work at prestigious Breton Hall. Here Cissy learns all about the divide between the poor and the rich and that some people aren’t honest or even nice. Their sense of entitlement is remarkable as they go through life without a care in the world for the people who work for them or their circumstances.
Cissy is an absolutely delightful character and I warmed to her immediately, even though she sometimes came across as a little too good to be true and quite naive. Growing up in early 1900’s Ireland was tough and I feel the author really brought that era to life. From poverty to prejudice to the stigma attached to unwed mothers, these weren’t exactly happy times.
The Little Orphan Girl is a beautifully written, though not entirely surprising, historical fiction story about family, love and friendship. Full of wonderful characters, it will have you rooting for them all the way and wishing for a happy ending. Despite the certain level of predictability and the fact that I quite prefer my historical fiction with a bit more depth to it, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Cissy and following her on her journey.
I am beyond delighted and extremely honoured to kick off the blog tour for The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul today! Huge thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation to join and to the publisher for my review copy!
Author : Gill Paul
Title : The Lost Daughter
Pages : 440
Publisher : Headline
Publication date : October 18, 2018 (UK paperback)
1918. With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of the Romanov family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria captures the attention of two of the guards, it will lead to the ultimate choice between right and wrong….
Fifty-five years later…
‘I didn’t want to kill her’. With these cryptic words Val’s father dies, leaving her to unravel a mystery which unites two families who have faced unspeakable tragedy and perhaps to finally offer an explanation which has been long overdue.
Gosh, I don’t think I can put into words how much I loved The Lost Daughter. As soon as I finished the final page, I wanted to talk to someone about it, say “Oh my god, this novel, you have to read this now!”. Then I sat down to write my review, and poof, all my words were gone. I couldn’t seem to get past “amazing”, “awesome”, “brilliant” … which are all true but I’m guessing a review should have a few more words, right?
There are a few authors for whom I’d happily drop whatever it is I’m doing or reading and Gill Paul is, without a doubt, one of them. I knew that from the second I discovered her work. Picking up one of her novels always fills me with joy and excitement because I know she will take me on the most delightful journey. High anticipations, you ask? Check! But all of them were met and then some.
In The Secret Wife, Gill Paul already introduced us to the Romanov family and their dramatic circumstances. That story was centred around Tatiana Romanova and if you haven’t yet read it, you most definitely should as it is a brilliant novel. This time around, in The Lost Daughter, the focus is on the middle child of the family, Maria. And it’s an even more brilliant novel! Yes, that’s right, I said it. And used the “brilliant” word again. I must add that I loved how Gill Paul tied these two novels together with little references to Tatiana’s story.
We meet Maria in 1918, a most turbulent time in Russia. There’s been a revolution and people have turned on the royal family. Tsar Nicholas, his wife and children are prisoners of the new regime. Their circumstances are very different from what they’re used to. Maria is nineteen years old and a lovely, bubbly chatterbox who seems to be able to make friends with just about anyone. I warmed to her from the start as she’s a truly likeable character. But what will become of her?
The other thread of The Lost Daughter has us traveling all the way to Australia, where we meet Val. When she gets a phone call from the nursing home where her father is a resident, she decides to visit him although it’s been years since they last talked. But his words “I didn’t want to kill her” leave Val with a mystery to solve and set in motion a lot of changes in her life. Who was her father really? What secrets was he hiding?
From the first page, I found myself transported into the lives of Maria and Val, both extremely realistic and believable characters. I couldn’t quite see how the two threads of the story would come together but the road to get there was just marvellous.
This exquisitely written novel had me utterly engrossed and throughout the story, I often found myself with a lump in my throat. The Lost Daughter is a story across the ages and country borders about love, family, war, loss, survival and hope. But also about the strength of women, in sometimes horrifying circumstances. It is immensely absorbing, moving and powerful and I couldn’t tear myself away. When I flipped the final page, there was a happy sigh, a “wow” and then a little bit of sadness that I had come to the end.
I can’t even begin to imagine the painstaking amount of research Gill Paul must have gone through to come up with this incredibly captivating tale. If you are a fan of this genre, I can honestly not recommend her books enough. This is undoubtedly historical fiction from the top shelf and whenever Gill Paul publishes her next novel, I will be first in line!
The Lost Daughter will be available in paperback on October 18th.
Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in relatively recent history.
She was born in Glasgow and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. She started her own company producing books for publishers, along the way editing such luminaries as Griff Rhys Jones, John Suchet, John Julius Norwich, Ray Mears and Eartha Kitt. She also writes on health, nutrition and relationships.
Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and is a devotee of Pilates. She also particularly enjoys travelling on what she calls “research trips” and attempting to match-make for friends.
Delighted to join the blog blitz for The Paris Secret by Lily Graham today! My thanks to Kim Nash at Bookouture for the invitation to join and my review copy!
Author : Lily Graham
Title : The Paris Secret
Pages : 214
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : October 4, 2018
The last time Valerie was in Paris, she was three-years-old, running from the Nazis, away from the only home she had ever known.
Now as a young woman, Valerie must return to Paris, to the bookshop and her only surviving relative, her grandfather Vincent, to find out what really happened to those she loved. As she gets to know Vincent again, she hears a tragic story of Nazi occupied Paris, a doomed love affair and a mother willing to sacrifice everything for her beloved daughter.
Can Valerie and Vincent help each other to mend the wounds of the past? Valerie isn’t after a fairy-tale ending, she only wants the truth. But what is the one devastating secret that Vincent is determined to keep from his granddaughter?
On a train journey from Moscow to Paris, Annie meets Valerie. The two ladies get along really well, despite their age difference, and soon Valerie tells Annie the most heartbreaking story.
Valerie was born during the second World War in Paris. When she was three years old, she was sent to live in England with a family member she didn’t know after her parents died. But why did her grandfather, Vincent, send her away? Didn’t he want her?
As a young woman in the 1960’s, Valerie returns to Paris to find her grandfather in order to maybe strike up some sort of relationship with him but more so, to discover what happened to her parents and why she was sent away.
The Paris Secret lays bare events set during the war I never really thought about. Despite wanting to say much more on that subject, I really can’t because it would ruin everything for you, the reader. Suffice to say I found it truly thought-provoking and immensely sad.
While Valerie is a most likeable character, it was Vincent, the curmudgeonly and grumpy grandfather, who stole my heart from the beginning. He runs a bookshop but the way he treats his customers is far from ideal. Yet they keep coming back for more and I often found myself chuckling at Vincent’s ideas about the books in his shop. Which made what I learned about him afterwards even more heartbreaking and I really felt for him.
This story had me engrossed from start to finish. The setting in Paris oozes atmosphere and the threat of the Germans invading every aspect of daily life while the French government had all but deserted their citizens felt all too harrowing. It’s always so easy to forget that there were many different casualties of war, but also that not all Germans were bad. This is something that always hits close to home for me as my grandmother was German. She suffered just as much, although few people understood that.
The Paris Secret is a story about love, family and bravery in the darkest of times. Sometimes emotional, sometimes rather witty with characters that will find their way into your heart from the start. An absolutely beautifully written and wonderfully captivating story about one of the darkest periods in our history.
Former journalist, Lily Graham grew up in South Africa, and spent much of her childhood buried inside the covers of a book. Her adulthood has passed no differently. Except that now she occasionally gets to make up some of the stories for a living. She is happy to report that most of her neighbours think of her as a cheerful layabout and no amount of protesting that lazing about in her pyjamas is actually ‘work’ she is never taken seriously. She lives in West Sussex with her husband and her beloved bulldog, Fudge.
Lily is the author of five novels, including THE ISLAND VILLA. All her books have entered the Amazon Top 100 bestseller list. THE PARIS SECRET is published on 4th October 2018.
It’s a real pleasure to host a stop on the blog tour for The Angel’s Mark by S.W. Perry today! My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join and to the publisher for my review copy.
Author : S.W. Perry
Title : The Angel’s Mark
Pages : 414
Publisher : Corvus
Publication date : September 6, 2018
LONDON, 1590. Queen Elizabeth I’s control over her kingdom is wavering. Amidst a tumultuous backdrop of Spanish plotters, Catholic heretics and foreign wars threatening the country’s fragile stability, the body of a small boy is found in the City of London, with strange marks that no one can explain.
When idealistic physician Nicholas Shelby finds another body displaying the same marks only days later, he becomes convinced that a killer is at work, preying on the weak and destitute of London.
Determined to find out who is behind these terrible murders, Nicholas is joined in his investigations by Bianca, a mysterious tavern keeper. As more bodies are discovered, the pair find themselves caught in the middle of a sinister plot. With the killer still at large, and Bianca in terrible danger, Nicholas’s choice seems impossible – to save Bianca, or save himself…
The Angel’s Mark takes us from the dirty and grimy streets of London in the late 1500’s to the opulence of Nonsuch Palace, on a quest to find a serial killer.
A young boy’s body is pulled from the river Thames. With deformed lower limbs, it looks as if he was merely discarded. Nobody seems to know who he is, nor care about what happened to him. Except for physician Nicholas Shelby, an expectant father, who notices a mark on the young boy’s leg during an anatomy lecture. Nicholas is determined to investigate. Until a bereavement casts doubt on everything he thought he knew and he falls into a deep pit of despair.
Then he meets Bianca, a tavern keeper, although she is far more than that. And when more bodies with the same mark on their leg start to show up, Nicholas and Bianca find themselves in the middle of a dark and sinister plot. Can they find the killer before they claim another victim? And will they escape with their lives?
I do love me some historical fiction and this is done particularly well. Set during a rather tumultuous time in the Elizabethan era, The Angel’s Mark oozes atmosphere. S.W. Perry has very clearly done his research and with vivid descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of the streets of London, I quickly felt myself completely transported.
For us modern readers, it’s not always easy to understand what life was like in those days. Not only is there the relentless hunt for catholic heretics and people hiding their true religion, but there are also a lot of misconceptions. Physicians draw up astrological charts, for instance, to help with a diagnosis. What we know now about the human body, was awfully incomplete at the time, including how blood travels around the body. Despite the fact a woman held an incredibly prestigious position at the university of Padua years earlier, women were not allowed in the field of medicine and any use of even herbal concoctions would quickly earn them the label of witch.
Despite finding the beginning of the novel a bit on the slow side, I found myself utterly captivated. Full of deceit and conspiracies and with no idea who to trust, the author kept me guessing until the end as I couldn’t at all figure out the who or the why. The Angel’s Mark is brilliantly written, cleverly plotted and an absolutely wonderful historical fiction serial killer mystery. This is S.W. Perry’s debut novel and it promises a whole lot of good things in the future.
Today, it is my pleasure to host a stop on the blog tour for Daisy Belle by Caitlin Davies! My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join. Author Caitlin Davies visits the blog to talk about the two inspirational women this novel is a tribute to, but first here is what Daisy Belle is all about.
Author : Caitlin Davies
Title : Daisy Belle
Pages : 241
Publisher : Unbound Digital
Publication date : September 1, 2018
Summer 1867: four-year-old Daisy Belle is about to make her debut at the Lambeth Baths in London. Her father, swimming professor Jeffery Belle, is introducing his Family of Frogs – and Daisy is the star attraction. By the end of that day, she has only one ambition in life: she will be the greatest female swimmer in the world.
She will race down the Thames, float in a whale tank, and challenge a man to a 70-foot high dive. And then she will set sail for America to swim across New York Harbour.
But Victorian women weren’t supposed to swim, and Daisy Belle will have to fight every stroke of the way if she wants her dreams to come true.
Inspired by the careers of Victorian champions Agnes Beckwith and Annie Luker, Daisy Belle is a story of courage and survival and a tribute to the swimmers of yesteryear.
There are two inspirational women behind the story of Daisy Belle: Swimming Champion of the World, and the first is Agnes Beckwith.
I first came across her about eight years ago. I was researching a book on the history of outdoor swimming on Hampstead Heath in north London, when I saw a Victorian poster held by the British Library.
It was advertising an aquatic performance at the Royal Aquarium in 1885 and it showed Agnes Beckwith resplendent in a white satin costume, stockings and boots, one arm resting casually on a rock. Just behind her in the water a man had both arms raised in the air, his mouth open in alarm, presumably in the process of drowning.
Then I read a brief reference to a swim Agnes had completed in September 1875, when at the tender age of 14 she had plunged into the Thames at London Bridge and swum all the way to Greenwich. When I then went on to write Downstream, a history of Thames swimming, I had the chance to further explore her career.
That’s when I realised just what a trailblazer she had been – no one had ever made a public swim of this length in the River Thames before, not even the great Channel champion Captain Matthew Webb. Yet virtually no one has heard of Agnes Beckwith today. So I decided to write a novel, a fictionalized life story inspired by her incredible career.
Agnes Beckwith was born in Lambeth, south London, in 1861. Her father Frederick is believed to have come from Ramsgate in Kent, and he was a leading swimming professor and English professional champion. By the time of Agnes’ birth, he was swimming master at the Lambeth Baths and his ‘Family of Frogs’ started giving public displays in the early 1860s.
At the age of nine Agnes was performing with her brother Willie, himself a champion swimmer, as ‘Les Enfants Poissons’ in a plate-glass aquarium at the Porcherons Music Hall in Paris. All seven of Frederick’s children were involved in his aquatic galas; his second wife Elizabeth (whom he married in 1876 after Agnes’ mother died) played the piano during shows, while his daughter Lizzie went on to became a renowned swimmer and performer.
Agnes Beckwith completed several record-breaking swims in the River Thames, including 20 miles in 1878. She then formed her own ‘talented troupe of lady swimmers’ and travelled the country giving exhibitions. In September 1880 she spent 100 hours submerged in a whale tank at the Royal Aquarium, eating her meals in the water and reading daily accounts of her swim in the press.
Two years later she was being billed as ‘the premier lady swimmer of the world’ before setting off on a tour of the United States. In June 1883 she declared her intention to swim from Sandy Hook in New Jersey to Rockaway Pier in New York.
Returning to England, Agnes continued to take part in shows with her family and was still holding exhibition swims in the early 1900s, now married to theatrical agent William Taylor. Their son William performed alongside his mother as ‘the youngest swimmer in the world’.
Daisy Belle: Swimming Champion of the World was also inspired by another forgotten Victorian superstar – Annie Luker. She was born in 1870 in Oxfordshire, and she too was the daughter of a swimming professor. Annie started out as a river swimmer and in 1892 she attempted to swim nearly 19 miles from Kew to Greenwich to establish a claim to ‘the female championship of the world’.
Two years later she was ‘World Champion High Diver’, performing at the Royal Aquarium where she plunged 70 feet into a tank containing just eight feet of water. Annie Luker successfully challenged a male diver, Professor O’Rourke, and remained at the Royal Aquarium for six years, as well as training female divers.
According to family lore, Annie Luker was later arrested as a suffragette after a protest dive off a bridge in London and imprisoned in Holloway, under the name Annie Parker.
I wanted to write this novel as a tribute to women like Agnes Beckwith and Annie Luker because they are yet to be properly recognised. There has been no induction into any swimming Hall of Fame, and yet what they did and the prejudice they overcame made it possible for women to swim and dive today.
[They really are the most amazing inspirational ladies and they deserve this tribute. Thank you so much for visiting and telling us their stories, Caitlin!]
Caitlin Davies was born in London in 1964. She spent 12 years in Botswana as a teacher and journalist and many of her books are set in the Okavango Delta, including a memoir Place of Reeds, described by Hilary Mantel as ‘candid and unsentimental’.
Her novels include The Ghost of Lily Painter, a fictional account of the arrest and execution of two Edwardian baby farmers, and Family Likeness about the fate of ‘war babies’ born to African American GI fathers in England during World War Two.
Her non-fiction books include Taking the Waters: A Swim Around Hampstead Heath, a celebration of 200 years of outdoor bathing, an illustrated history of the world famous Camden Lock Market, and Downstream: a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames.
Her latest non-fiction is Bad Girls, and her latest novel is Daisy Belle: Swimming Champion of the World, based on the lives of several Victorian aquatic stars, to be published by Unbound on September 1, 2018.
She is also a teacher and journalist, and was a regular feature writer for The Independent’s education and careers supplement. From 2014-17 she was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Westminster, Harrow, in the faculty of Media, Arts & Design.