Wednesday, 27 March 2019
Galileo’s Revenge is based upon the life of the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) when he was a young man. Eventually Galileo became the most famous scientist of his day, thanks to his revolutionary astronomical discoveries with the newly-invented telescope. But his success didn’t come easily, or early, and there are big gaps in the historical record of his early life. So Galileo’s Revenge fills in some of those gaps.
Galileo’s gap years
When Galileo left the university of Pisa in 1585, aged 21, he had no proper job to go to. Returning to his family home in Florence, he struggled to make a living from a portfolio of activities: part-time teaching, casting horoscopes, playing on the lute . . . and gambling. At the same time he was trying to make a name for himself at the cultured but extravagant and debauched court of the Medici Dukes who ruled Tuscany.
Grand Duke Francesco
The current head of the family was Francesco de’ Medici (1541-87): aloof, capricious and self-indulgent. Some ten years earlier, for example, upon the death of his first wife, the aristocratic Joanna of Austria, Francesco had scandalized his family and Florence by marrying his charismatic mistress, Bianca Cappello (1548-87). She was considered an unsuitable match because her parents were relatively humble merchants from Venice[CL1] . Otherwise Francesco devoted himself mainly to lavish entertainments, to hunting and alchemy (of a largely practical kind, e.g. explosives, poisons), and to collecting – coins, curiosities, antiquities . . . and gems. And therein lay an opportunity for the young Galileo.
At Pisa Galileo had been supposed to study the dominant Aristotelian philosophy of the day, with a view to further training to become a doctor. But he also became fascinated by mathematics, especially the mechanics of the ‘divine’ Archimedes (c.287-212 BCE). Archimedes had famously detected the fraudulent adulteration of a gold crown with silver by measuring its density – gold being heavier than silver. Now Galileo’s first published work, La bilancetta (1586), described his own invention of a neat ‘hydrostatic’ balance for quickly and accurately measuring the density of small objects. Such as gemstones.
The Medici jewels
Much of the Medici collection of jewellery had been lent to Catherine de’ Medici (1519-89) to wear at her marriage to the King of France in 1533. Catherine was a fairly distant cousin of Duke Francesco, but actually it was she who came from the senior line of the family that had made the family fortunes in the 15th century. Francesco came from a relatively minor branch. Catherine had been slow to return the jewels. When she did, could Francesco be sure that they were genuine? At this time there were no hard-and-fast criteria for identifying a ruby, say, as ‘genuine’, and not a garnet or merely cleverly coloured glass. At the end of Galileo’s Bilancetta there is a list of densities measured with his balance: specimens of gold and silver, of course, but also a lengthy list of the densities of some rather substantial gemstones. Where could Galileo have accessed such treasures to study?
Galileo lab assistant
It is my conceit (only in the old-fashioned sense, of course) that Duke Francesco engaged Galileo as his assayer, to help him identify any fakes among the family jewels. And perhaps that Galileo – very knowledgeable, ingenious and dextrous, amusing and charming if he needed to be – insinuated himself as an accomplice to the Duke in his alchemical investigations. In other words, Galileo became His Highness’ laboratorio assistant. In the basement of the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano – basically a huge hunting lodge some the miles outside Florence – the Duke maintained a small but well-equipped laboratory. So, in October 1587, Galileo might well have been summoned to attend the Duke during a lavish hunting holiday arranged by Bianca for the Duke and his brother, the Cardinal Ferdinando, and their entourages. With fatal consequences. As described in Galileo’s Revenge.
Galileo’s Revenge has a subtitle A Cure for the Itch. I am very fond of Jacobethan drama, when the plays often had such subtitles – Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, for example. The origins of modern crime writing may be traced to the sub-genre of ‘revenge tragedy’ hugely popular at the time, from Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (pre-1592) through Hamlet (c.1600) to Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1633).
In the middle of that series lies Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women (c. 1621?). This play is based on precisely the same events as form the backdrop to Galileo’s Revenge; it is a complex and moving story, but there is scarcely a member of the cast left alive at the end. Middleton got the story from his friend, the English traveller Fynes Moryson (1566-1630), who visited Florence in the mid-1590s, and recorded the story thus:
Then seeming to make conscience to live a Concubine, at last, (his wife Joanna now being dead,) she [Bianca] had the power to make him [Francesco] to take her to wife; which done she bent all her wits to have her son legitimate, and admitted to succeed in the Dukedom. And whilst Cardinal Ferdinand, brother to Duke Francesco, opposed this her design, it happened that he came to Florence to pass some days merrily with the Duke. And they being to go out hunting early in a morning, the Duchess sent the Cardinal a marzipan for his breakfast, which he returned with due ceremony saying that he did eat nothing but that was dressed by his own cook. But the Duke by ill happ meeting the messenger, did eat a piece thereof, and when the Duchess saw it broken, she smiled and spoke some words of joy. But the messenger telling her the Cardinal’s answer, and that the Duke had eaten that piece, she with an unchanged countenance took another piece, and having eaten it, locked herself in a closet. And hereupon the Duke and she died in one hour, and the Cardinal Ferdinand succeeded in the Dukedom.
Too neat by half, I say. You will find the true origins and significance of this story in Galileo’s Revenge, of course.
Galileo and me
Although theoretical physics was my first love, I subsequently became fascinated by the history of science. I especially like the medieval and early modern periods: roughly, that is, everything from the Venerable Bede (c.673-735) to the Honourable Boyle (1627-91) and a bit beyond. But Galileo was always my particular favourite: initially his work on falling bodies, projectiles, and pendulums and such, and then more broadly his character, life and the wider world in which he lived and worked.
A few years ago, therefore, I started work on a new, up-to-date biography of Galileo. Unfortunately (for me) a couple of other excellent scholars had already had the same idea. J.L.Heilbron’s brilliant Galileo, for example, came out in 2010 and I shelved my own project. But all was not lost. I have always loved crime fiction and historical fiction and above all historical crime fiction. (Yes, yes, I admit it, I adore Cadfael, even if he is the veritable white line down the middle of the road.) So I had already started working on an early draft of Galileo’s Revenge. How hard can creative writing be, I wondered? You just make it up as you go along. And I won’t have to check my references. A much older and slightly wiser man, I finally stopped writing last year.
Christopher J T Lewis
 Meaning of ‘laboratory’ etc.
 I.e. drama from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, 1559-1627 or thereabouts.
 Unpublished chapters of Fynes Moryson’s ‘Itinerary’, ed. Charles Hughes (London, 1903), p.94-5
Friday, 8 March 2019
by Dominic Fielder
Charles François Dumouriez is hardly the first name on anyone’s lips when having discussion of important figures in the wars of the coalitions against France, between 1793-1815. I had hoped to make it beyond the second sentence before saying the word ‘Napoleonic’ but so powerful is Napoleon Bonaparte’s stamp on the pages of history, that the wars of the First Coalition, the ‘Revolutionary Wars’, are often overlooked, dismissed with the status of BN, ‘before Napoleon!’ But in the early months of 1793, Dumouriez was centre stage, perhaps with even the control of France tantalisingly within his grasp.
The early career of Dumouriez was somewhat chequered. Born to a noble family and proving himself a very brave soldier in the Seven Years War, Dumouriez undertook a series of military roles which eventually drew him into the Secret du Roi, one of the inner circles of Louis XV. A downturn in fortune followed when Dumouriez was ordered on a diplomatic mission to Poland. Far from the mission remaining purely political, Dumouriez organised his own militia formation, only for those forces to be routed in battle by the great Russian General Alexander Suvorov, at the battle of Lanckorona (1771). Dumouriez’ forces were apparently caught off guard in the dawn attack and this has led some historians to conjecture whether Dumouriez, who had expressed some anti-Polish sentiments, had been in some form of collusion with Suvorov.
|Prayer of the Bar Confederates before the battle of Lanckorona – by Artur Grottger|
Returning to France and taking a post under the Secretary of State for War, a position he was briefly later to hold as his own, Dumouriez found himself thrown into the Bastille for six months in 1773, under charges of diverting money intending for bribery and spying, to pay his own spiralling debts. With the death of Louis XV, previous sins were forgiven and, recalled to court, Dumouriez served Louis XVI in a post under the new Secretary of War, the Count of Saint-Germain. Somewhere in this time, Dumouriez had married but by 1789, the marriage ended in separation. Fortescue in his History of the British Army in Flanders informs us that Dumouriez was a handsome and popular figure at court, a phrase that resounds of Hilary Clinton’s description of her errant husband, ‘a hard dog to keep on the porch’.
At the outbreak of the revolution, Dumouriez joined the Jacobin club, and took up a post as the military commander in the Nantes region. The was a change of political allegiance to the Girondins, a movement which believed in spreading the principles of revolution into Flanders and the countries beyond. This was no meeting of ideals. The Girondins needed a general in the army to improve their military clout and Dumouriez wanted voices in the assembly to further his career. August the 10th 1792 provided that another step up to power. The Tuileries Palace was stormed. Louis XIV, who had been rather hapless in operating within the constraints of the new constitutional monarchy, had ignored the will of the constituent National Assembly. His final act of indifference was to those most loyal to him, allowing his Swiss Royal Guard to fight outnumbered after he had fled the Tuileries.
Elsewhere, the Marquis de LaFayette, a hero from the American War of Independence and ardent monarchist, had attempted to lead his army over to the allied forces of Austria and Prussia, who waited on the French border. Responding to the crisis, Dumouriez was appointed to command the ‘Army of the Centre’ (soon to be the Army of the North), directing his subordinate Kellerman to defeat of the Prussians at Valmy, in September 1792, and then his own forces defeated an Austrian army at Jemappes three months later. Under Dumouriez, the Army of the North and the Army of the Ardennes, nominally under his direction, pushed into Flanders and were welcomed as liberators.
The next five months were the most critical in the life of Dumouriez; a life-time of acquired political skills, soldiery and personal flaws were about to converge.
The National Assembly, unable perhaps even unwilling to properly supply the Army of the North, the remembrance of Lafayette’s treachery still weighing heavy, declared that the people of Flanders and Walloon were not to be protected as French citizens. Soldiers were at liberty to take whatever was needed to order to survive, as an army of occupation. At the stroke of a pen, friendly provinces became hostile to hungry and marauding soldiers as discipline evaporated. Lynn, in his excellent Bayonets of the Republic, estimates that the whole army shrank from around 450,000 to 290,000 as soldiers absented themselves, in the harsh winter.
|Soldiers of the old royal army stood shoulder to shoulder with the new recruits of the Levée en Masse.|
Between November and early February, Dumouriez returned to Paris, quarrelling with the National Assembly and sharing a private council with the deposed King, now sentenced to death. Dumouriez was, according to Fortescue, the last person to have such an audience with Louis XVI, a point that must have alarmed those Jacobin members of the National Assembly.
Whatever Dumouriez planned to do next is open for discussion, his memoirs of the final weeks of his command put a bias on his actions, for a man who needed royal employment in the world of the late eighteenth century, a monarchist imperative: one not shared by J.W Fortescue. In Fortescue’s eyes, the lightning offensive that Dumouriez attempted was designed to seize Amsterdam and her deposits of gold. Nominally this objective was given to him by Paris but within a fortnight the National Assembly began stripping troops away from Dumouriez to reinforce the Army of Ardennes, now under the command of General Miranda, a friend and confident.
Ultimately Dumouriez’ offensive was called off and the Army of the North moved to counter the threat of the Austrians under Prince Josias. Fortescue says that the actions of Dumouriez were done under ‘bad grace’, perhaps it’s this tone that alerts Paris to a potential problem, but that reason feels unconvincing.
Two major actions were fought, one at Neerwinden on the 18th of March, where the Austrians were victorious against the Armies of the North and Ardennes, and another four days later, where the French fought a rear-guard action. Again, it was another defeat but the speed of the Austrian pursuit slowed.
By the 25th Dumouriez had entered into discussions with Colonel Mack, Prince Josias’ trusted advisor and two days later, there was agreement on a formal alliance, with Dumouriez seemly convinced that the army would follow him over to fight in conjunction with Austria, to march on Paris and restore the House of the Bourbons to the throne.
On the 1st of April, four members of the Convention in Paris arrive to arrest Dumouriez. Instead, he arrests them, surrounded by his loyal 1st Hussars, many of German extraction. Four days later Dumouriez rode into the Austrian camp. Five thousand men, around an eighth of his army followed him.
In exile, he drifted from capital to capital, watching the revolution continue to survive and by the time that Napoleon had seized power, Dumouriez was an unofficial advisor in London; a nearly-man without a nation to call home.
There is something in that narrative that troubles me. It’s a combination of the timings and just a hunch about the character of Dumouriez. Had he reached Amsterdam, Dumouriez would have been in a very strong bargaining position. Even if he had been forced to retreat, the army had shown itself adept at stripping the Belgian provinces of plate and just about anything else. The offensive feels more like a bank heist than a sound military manoeuvre. In William Hague ‘Pitt the Younger’ there is reference to British gold being involved in both the Dumouriez affair and the bribery of French officials; diverting money was an old skill of Dumouriez but now the stakes were much bigger. And then there is the arrival of the four men from Paris. There must have been something that alerted them to Dumouriez’ intentions days before the 25th March. Six days for secret negotiations to be discovered, Paris informed, a decision made and representatives dispatched is unworkable in the late eighteenth century.
So, what I am suggesting? Collusion, probably with Austria and Britain: Dumouriez, the man who would be king. Well, not king but at least a more palatable form of government than offering the people the immediate restoration of the House of Bourbon. The National Assembly was able to act because someone within the Dumouriez inner circle was informing them. The master politician would have found a way to start negotiations before battle, perhaps selling the idea to Prince Josias that the Army of the North needed to fight, in order to not feel as though it were betraying France. Furthermore, a victory at Neerwinden would have significantly strengthen Dumouriez’ position with Austria and perhaps made the lie easier to sell to his men?
Of course, none of that can be proved. That’s the beauty of fiction. And there is always that hope that one day, a note might surface, written in the days before the 18th of March 1793 to justify my faith in Dumouriez’ nature.
In the aftermath of his defection, France and the revolution changed for the worst. Girondins were chased from office and in the Terror, that occurred a few months later, their opposition to the Jacobins was ended as thousands of Girondin supporters were sent to the guillotine. Commanders of the Army of the North also paid a heavy price for the treachery of Dumouriez. Two were executed: one, Houchard, after delivering victory over the Duke of York’s German allies at Hondschoote. Political infiltration happened throughout the army with Representatives en Mission, carrying the authority of the National Assembly and often with no military experience, could force commanders to undertake military actions which defied any logic. France teetered until eventually a man named Napoleon could do what Charles François Dumouriez could only dream of.
About Dominic Fielder
The King’s Germans is a project that has been many years in the making. Currently I manage to juggle writing and research around a crowded work and family life. The Black Lions of Flanders (set in 1793) is the first in the King’s Germans’ series, which will follow an array of characters through to the final book in Waterloo. The King of Dunkirk will soon be released and I hope that the response to that is as encouraging as the reviews of Black Lions have been.
While I’m self-published now, I have an excellent support team that help me to produce what I hope is a story with professional feel, and that readers would want to read more than once. My family back-ground is in paperback book sales, so I’m very keen to ensure that the paperback design is something that I would be proud to put on my bookshelf.
I live just outside of Tavistock, Devon, where I enjoy walking on the moors and the occasional horse-riding excursion as both inspiration and relaxation.
From The Black Lions of Flanders
Antwerp: 16th February 1793
Rain, driven by bitter north-easterly winds, ushered the ‘Army of the North’ away from Antwerp’s Grande Place and on towards the Dutch border. Buildings wore sagging and weary tricolours and under these a handful of inhabitants had gathered, as glad to see the French leave as they had been to welcome them, weeks before. In the previous November, the southern provinces of the Austrian Netherlands had waited keenly to receive the victorious French army, a sentiment long since passed.
Serge Genet had watched the exodus from a partially frosted window for a few minutes before returning to a fastidiously tidy desk in one of the rooms of the Grand Palace, which formed part of the main square.
A gently steaming coffee pot awaited an imminent arrival. Parallel tables contained an undisturbed breakfast array of pastries and cold meats on one side and a series of maps and plans on the other. Genet surveyed the scene with a degree of satisfaction, before removing delicate silver framed glasses and cleaning them on the silken tricolour sash tied about his waistcoat.
“I’m not sure that’s the prescribed use for a sash of office, Serge?” said an assured voice.
The double doors to the room had burst open amidst the task of spectacle cleaning. A slender, sodden figure unchained a blue cloak and hurled it in the vague direction of a cloak stand, followed by an equally saturated bicorne which cart-wheeled ribbons of spray over the varnished mahogany floor.
General Dumouriez strode across the room, made for the silver coffee pot and poured himself a cup while a servant, wearing the livery of the household of King Louis, tidied the abandoned garments before retiring from the scene. The General drew back a chair and settled back with his feet on Genet's desk, rivulets of water running down the leather and threatening the neatly arranged correspondence.
The servant returned with the intent of removing the heavy riding boots but Dumouriez shooed him away, wagging a playful finger.
“No, no, leave that. I’m leaving soon and you should be packing.”
The servant bowed and left the two men. Dumouriez ran his hand through thinning silver hair; he had long since lost the pretention and taste for formal wigs. Having just turned fifty-four he retained a lean physique. Piercing dark brown eyes shone from a face that retained the vestiges of youthful charm that had made him a favourite at the Royal Court for thirty years. Allied to this was an air of command which drew unconditional loyalty. Men followed Dumouriez, but both he and Genet knew a test of loyalty for every soldier setting out towards the Dutch border might come sooner than either man might wish.
The man in clerk’s clothes moved sharply to rescue documents from a puddle forming on the green leather covering of the desk. Even though he found this intrusion into his world of order deeply disturbing, he was too respectful of the General to voice a rebuke.
Refreshed by the hot coffee, Dumouriez contemplated the choice of overdue breakfast but instead seized a quill from the desk and motioned Genet to pass the documents to him. In truth only the last two were of interest but he took his time to read each before scrawling his signature.
“You will have our best people on these?” Dumouriez asked, already knowing the answer but betraying just a hint of the gravity that each message contained.
“Yes, sir,” replied Genet.
“You will use the Countess for this?” Dumouriez asked, almost rhetorically, a relaxed smile returning to his face.
“Yes, sir. And Beauvais will carry the message to Dunkirk and then on to Paris with the dispatches. It will give us the time we need, I think.”
Genet’s words trailed away and Dumouriez looked at him but knew that pursuing the matter was of little value. Instead, he spoke with a reassuringly warm tone, “Don’t worry my friend, all will be well.”
Craning his neck, the General called out, “Julien, get your sorry backside in here!”
The door was flung open with a force that rattled ancient hinges, the void almost filled with the frame with of a man whose muscular torso was squeezed into a tightly fitted short green dragoon’s jacket. As the figure advanced Genet could see the grey, dead right eye and vivid vermilion scar that ran from chin to temple. Captain Julien Beauvais stood to attention.
Genet never failed to find the sight of Beauvais both imposing and galling. The clerk had winced whenever Dumouriez recounted the tale that lead to an Austrian bayonet tearing the right-hand side of the dragoon’s face apart. There was little doubt that Beauvais had saved Dumouriez’ life and become a favoured pet in the process.
“Prepare yourself and two men. You leave for Dunkirk as soon as these communications are ready.”
Beauvais nodded at Dumouriez’ order.
“But before you go, help yourself to some of that food Julien, you are starting to look like a bloody scarecrow; then Dunkirk. No stopping to ravage half the women in Northern France. And try not to kill any more villagers. The mayor of whatever shit-hole you slept in last week had the temerity to write and say that some demonic creature cut down half of the townsfolk before riding off into the morning.”
“It was two men, sir and they did seem intent on killing me first,” the dragoon hissed.
“Funnily enough the mayor forgot to mention that. These people already consider me the devil incarnate for the actions of the army. You are my emissary. Try and keep it to a maiming or two next time and you will make Genet’s task of drafting a suitably pliant reply a little easier.”
Beauvais’ faced twitched into an awkward, broken smile and Genet marvelled at the General’s skill. With a few well-chosen plaudits and a thoughtful act, men like Beauvais would follow their General time and again, whatever the personal cost. While both soldiers breakfasted, Genet sealed several documents handing Beauvais all of the communications bar one.
“You might find this useful in dealing with the Mayor of Dunkirk,” Genet paused. “Should his co-operation be less then complete, find the town’s garrison commander and have everyone on this list arrested.”
Genet knew Grison, Dunkirk's new mayor, would not buckle. Only by a display of naked power could Grison be brought to heel. Without proper leverage Grison would protect the man he and Dumouriez needed.
“His family and friends that I know of. Choose some and have them…” Genet waved his hand, the words dried in his mouth. Spying was Genet’s business, killing was Beauvais’.
The dragoon pouched the note in a waistcoat pocket, nodded and turned away, returning for a final sortie at the breakfast table. The chief of intelligence had found a skill in setting challenges that one might previously think were beneath the compass of a cavalry officer. But in the month since his posting to Dumouriez’ staff, Julien Beauvais was clearly enjoying the freedom and opportunities that life at headquarters provided.
Dumouriez had moved to examine a series of maps, gently drumming his fingers before looking at Genet, “How are you getting on with those diamonds? Paying the bills?”
Since the arrival of the French, what little trade there had been in the port appeared to have ceased. Most of Antwerp’s diamond trade had relocated to Amsterdam. Genet had struck a deal with those who remained, a protection tax, but it did not yield anywhere near the money that the army needed to make good a deliberate shortfall from Paris.
“Diamonds have been difficult, sir; to trade with I mean. We end up selling them back to the traders we had collected them from, who tell us the market is depressed because we have driven the buyers away. Gold would be more useful in that regard,” Genet offered.
“Diamonds, difficult? You have clearly never had a wife and a mistress, Serge!” Dumouriez chuckled and then coughed almost apologetically at seeing the face of his Chief of Intelligence, a hapless bachelor.
“You are right of course but in three weeks’ time none of that will matter. Amsterdam: that is all that matters.” Dumouriez returned to study the maps for a few moments.
“We are going to capture Amsterdam, collect half the gold of Europe sat in its banks and win the war! That should bring a smile to even your worried face, my friend.”
The General turned and swooped on an unmolested croissant on the breakfast table, polished it off and flashed a self-satisfied smile to his spy-master.
Saturday, 2 February 2019
In the Kindred Spirits series, we meet the ghosts of historical characters, in a range of contemporary settings. Have you ever wondered what Richard III and Anne Boleyn might have in common, what Mary, Queen of Scots is getting up to now, or what happens when the visitors leave some of the most popular attractions in the country? Well, here’s your chance!
In the fourth of the series, we’re heading to York, and a whole new community of ghosts are ready to greet us, including some visiting favourites, taking advantage of a much speedier transport system than they were ever used to…
Kindred Spirits: York
Release date: 31st January 2019
Publisher: Crooked Cat Books
Genre: Paranormal historical fiction
Blurb: In the ancient city of York, something sinister is stirring...
What do a highwayman, an infamous traitor, and two hardened soldiers have in common? Centuries of friendship, a duty to the town, and a sense of mischief – until they realise that someone is trying to bring chaos to their home.
Joining forces with local Vikings, the four friends keep an eye on the situation, but then, disaster strikes.
Can peace be restored both inside and out of the city walls?
Praise for the Kindred Spirits series
“A light hearted, humorous, and at times tender read which you'll enjoy whether you like history or not.”
“This light-hearted, imaginative read is a new take on historical fiction but make no mistake, this is not only a fun read but an educational tool.”
“A brilliantly unique idea from a distinctive new voice in fiction.”
“A darn good read.”
Praise for Kindred Spirits: York
Another joyous ghostly romp from the pen of Jennifer C. Wilson. The nightly ghost walks around the ancient city of York will never seem the same again after you read this – with its tales of kings and queens, saints and sinners (Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes anyone?), spending their afterlives among the iconic streets and sites of the town they frequented in life. But this is no sleepy existence: unruly spirits are disrupting the lives of both the living and the dead. With Romans, Vikings, medieval warriors and traitors to the Crown never the most natural of companions, it takes little to stir them up to wreak some light-hearted ghostly havoc – until, that is, events take a shocking turn....
With early special guest appearances from some of my own favourite Yorkists (and a less-agreeable Tudor hanger-on) visiting a city they once loved, the book offers another sparkling cast of the dearly (not-quite) departed. What’s not to like? Except thinking once again ‘I wish I’d had that idea!’ – Alex Marchant, author of The Order of the White Boar.
I love this series and it’s going from strength to strength. This one was great, the author has created a little gem. From Richard III taking a day trip to Harry Hotspur, Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes protecting their city, this is probably my favourite so far. Really looking forward to seeing where the author has us visiting next. – Amazon Reviewer.
Jennifer C. Wilson is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history and historical fiction whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots on childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east of England for work reignited her pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since.
In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and has been working on a number of projects since, including co-hosting the North Tyneside Writers’ Circle. Her Kindred Spirits novels are published by Crooked Cat Books and her timeslip novella, The Last Plantagenet?, by Ocelot Press.
She lives in North Tyneside, and is very proud of her approximately 2-inch sea view.
Thursday, 24 January 2019
I am from upstate New York and live in the mountains with my husband and two Bernese Mountain dogs, Max and Hansel. I went to college forever, getting a doctorate in health care. I am now retired, and started a hobby of genealogical research. While not writing or running after the dogs, we travel to Alaska, Canada and the southern US.
When I was little, my grandmother told me stories about the Italian immigrants who had come to America before the Depression. I learned to love her stories. And I began to write my own. While being in health care practice for years, I began to write my grandmother’s stories. My first published book, The Ragman Murders, is based on what I learned as a child. Now I have a chance to write. The stories I have found in my genealogical research have expanded my source of plots and characters. What struck me in all my research is that the men did things and the women stayed home, or at least, that is how history has been presented. I have learned differently.
Who is your favourite writer and why?
By the time I got into my teens, I was reading Jane Austen, Dickens, the Bronte sisters and Taylor Caldwell, my favorite writer for years. At first I read to learn history, since high school history I found very boring. Thomas Costain, and Brock and Bodie Thoene, all historical fiction writers, came later. Costain had the ability to take straight fact and make it read like a novel. The Thoenes have the techniques to make me cling to the book using the smallest of details to bring a scene to life. Currently, I have read my way through most of Anne Perry and Diana Gabaldon. Again all historical fiction. Now, I read for character development and writing style. For excitement, I have read Carmen Amato’s Emilia Cruz mystery series, a police procedural genre, not for the faint-hearted. I admit, I know Carmen.
What attracted you to your special genre?
I am sure it was my grandmother’s story-telling that got me interested in family and, then, history. My genealogical work simply cemented the interest.
Who is your favourite character you have created?
My characters are real. So far, my favorite character is Giuseppe Amato, the POV of “The Ragman Murders”. He is trying to do the best for his family. He is trying to be well-accepted in the community. He is trying to make money as fast as he can. But things get in the way. And his understanding of economics is not very good. He makes poor decisions, jumps into scenarios where he has no understanding. And in the end, he does not accomplish what he sets out to do. I like him because he is trying. I don’t like him because I disagree with his techniques and lack of patience.
How do you develop your story?
I like true stories. Most of the story line is researched. In The Ragman Murders, that meant looking at the old newspapers of the time, reading books on the Mafia in Italy and America of the early 20th century and doing research on the places where the story occurred. That means Calabria, Italy and New England. Since there are three timelines I had to follow for the book, this took a while. I interviewed people involved, peripherally, with the story to get an idea of the personalities of the characters. Then I had to put it all together. I started with the main event and worked backwards to find the causes of the final events.
In my new trilogy, Virginia Legacy, I am doing the reverse, starting at the beginning and working my way forward. This is the story of a very political family, so politics is center-stage. Research about early Virginia politics and families is sparse.
Upcoming project or advice?
My advice to authors is do anything you can to market. I give talks occasionally to groups about my book The Ragman Murders. It is interesting for many because I live in an area with many of Italian descent and stories about Italians intrigue them. Find a niche of interest and fill it.
Thank you so much for joining us, Elizabeth. I hope you will come back again soon and keep us updated on your progress with Virginia Legacy.
Monday, 14 January 2019
Before I begin, I would like to thank my friend and fellow author, Judith Arnopp for hosting me on her blog. We both appreciate how hard it is to find people who might be interested in reading our respective novels, so I value any opportunity to reach out to a potential new audience.
I’d like to think that I might find some new readers among Judith’s blog followers, despite that fact that my genre is fantasy, not historical fiction. Many of us read multiple genres, after all, and historical fiction and drama—more specifically the medieval, Dark Ages and eras beyond—have always fascinated me. I love reading about the Saxon and Roman periods, and am always attracted by characters such as Boudicca and King Arthur, and the many influential leaders who no doubt contributed to the myths and legends surrounding their times. It was this allure, I suspect, plus my own love of fantasy novels, that first led me to try my hand at writing.
I never intended to be an author, though. My initial scribblings were mainly to relieve boredom and stress, and later to satisfy a need for the kind of story I just couldn’t find among the shelves of my local bookstore. These were the days before the Internet made finding good novels easy, and before budding writers could find knowledgeable help and advice simply by posting a comment on Facebook. Oh – if only I’d known then what I know now! I made so many mistakes when I first started writing, and even more when I was finally convinced that my story could be good enough to submit to an agent. I’d have saved precious cash too, as I was far too trusting and naive. I would never have believed that an agent could abscond with someone’s reading fee (yes – I did once pay a reading fee. I know better now, of course!), and was devastated to learn that there were unscrupulous people who could pass themselves off as agents merely to charge a reading fee and then abscond with that naive person’s trustingly-paid money. Oh well. We live and learn.
So, having lived and learned through those trying experiences, which included the thrill of being offered publication by a small US publisher only to have said company disband three years later, setting me adrift as an indie author, I can still count many successes and highlights in my writing career. My first novel, King’s Envoy, gained the HarperCollins Authonomy Gold Medal award in 2008. That book, plus the second novel, King’s Champion, eventually became Amazon UK bestsellers. King’s Envoy was also short listed for the 2015 BookViral Book Awards. The entire first trilogy has been endorsed by one of my writing heroes, the US sci-fi, fantasy and non-fiction author Janet Morris, who has accepted two of my short stories, The Wyght Wyrm and Black Quill, for inclusion in her Perseid Press HEROIKA anthologies. Another of my shorts was included in the British Fantasy Society’s 40th anniversary anthology, Full Fathom Forty, published in 2011. I am still very proud of that achievement!
Yet despite that nice list of successes, my biggest thrill still comes from the comments and reviews of complete strangers who have picked up my novels and enjoyed reading them. I am often humbled and overwhelmed by the impact they tell me my novels have had. To me, that is the ultimate goal of the author, and was the reason I started writing in the first place: to connect with someone else’s heart and have them experience the excitement, trepidation, fear, anticipation and ultimate satisfaction of following my characters within a world I created out of my own imagination. I would be overjoyed should some of you decide to give my novels a try—please see the buying and social media links.
An excerpt from King’s Envoy
Taran circled the noble warily, searching for weak points. The sun’s heat was increasing, he was sweating profusely. He lunged at the noble, forcing him back across the dusty ground, but the man disengaged and came at Taran again, giving him no time to draw breath. We’re too evenly matched, thought Taran, there’s no advantage. Sunlight struck blindingly from steel as his blade clashed and rang on the noble’s, labored breaths grunting through his throat.
They struggled back and forth for half an hour or so. Taran was bleeding from many superficial cuts; he was bruised and sore, but so was his opponent. Neither, it seemed, could gain the upper hand. Now that Taran’s early anger had been forgotten in his struggle for survival, he began to despair. A strange heaviness was weighing his arm and he was having trouble holding his own. He was dismayed; his stamina was usually greater than this. But his concentration was centered on his opponent’s latest flurry of vicious cuts and it took him a while to figure out what was happening.
He couldn’t understand it. What he suspected should not be possible. He and the noble hadn’t learned each other’s pattern of psyche, there was no way the other man could be affecting Taran’s life force. But it was undeniable. Insidiously, and contrary to all the rules and codes, the noble was draining Taran’s metaforce and using it to empower himself.
Outraged and confused, Taran’s mind shut down like a steel trap, cutting off the other’s leaching force. In panic, he accessed his psyche, using his own Artesan skills to bolster his flagging strength.
“Foul,” yelled his opponent. “The use of metaforce is forbidden by the codes.”
Taran saw the watching huntsmen stir at this cry. Infuriated by its hypocrisy, he realized he had walked straight into a trap. He couldn’t impeach the noble though, it was too late. And anyway, there was no one to believe him.
As he automatically blocked a low swipe to his leg, Taran recalled a glance exchanged between the noble and someone among the huntsmen. Coupled with the strange eager light in his opponent’s eyes, these signs should have warned Taran that something was amiss. Yet it had passed him by and this new failure only increased his frustration.
Enraged by the deception, Taran attacked with a burst of vicious strokes. The noble gave way before him but there was a knowing look in his eye. Now Taran understood that he had planned this all along. He had never intended to honor the contract. With no witnesses to speak for him, Taran was totally unprotected. He would have cursed himself savagely if only he’d had the strength.
About Cas Peace:
Amazon UK Bestselling author Cas Peace lives in the lovely county of Hampshire, southern UK. On leaving school, she trained and qualified as a teacher of equitation. She also learned to carriage-drive. She then spent thirteen years in the British Civil Service before moving to Rome, Italy, where she and her husband Dave lived for three years.
As well as her love of horses, Cas is mad about dogs. She currently owns two rescue lurchers, Milly and Milo. Cas loves country walks, working in stained glass, growing cacti, and folk singing. She is also a songwriter and has written and recorded songs or music for five of her fantasy books. They are available to download (free!) from her website. You can also find Cas on www.reverbnation.com
Cas’s first novel, King’s Envoy, was awarded a HarperCollins Authonomy Gold Medal in 2008. The novel has since gone on to become an Amazon UK Bestseller, and was shortlisted for the 2015 BookViral Book Awards. Her Artesans series has also won the critical acclaim of US fantasy, sci-fi and non-fiction author, Janet Morris. Cas contributed to the 2015 Janet Morris-edited Perseid Press anthology HEROIKA 1: Dragon Eaters, and has another in the soon-to-be-published HEROIKA 2: Skirmishers. She also had a short story published in the British Fantasy Society’s 40th Anniversary anthology Full Fathom Forty.
As well as being a novelist, Cas is also a freelance editor and proofreader. Details of her Writers’ Services and other information can be found on her website: www.caspeace.com.
King's Envoy: http://geni.us/1o97
Artesans of Albia Kindle Box Set: http://geni.us/SpBptY4
King's Envoy on Audio Book: http://geni.us/kingsenvoy
Cas Peace on Reverbnation (for book songs): http://geni.us/1GBh
Cas Peace Writers' Services for editing/copyediting/proofreading): http://www.caspeace.com/cas-peace/writers-services/editing/9-copy-or-line-editing
Wednesday, 2 January 2019
I will probably remember 2018 as the year I had a breakdown and nobody noticed. On a personal level, it has been awful, on a business level it has been dire. The only brightness came toward the end of the year when I won a brace of awards for The Beaufort Bride and The Beaufort Woman, with The Beaufort Woman being chosen as The Coffee Pot Book Club's Book of the Year 2018. There was some dancing and smiling on that day. Thank you so much for that Mary Anne Yarde - you may have rescued me. It certainly persuaded me not to give up!
There are always positives, of course. Sisters of Arden was published in November and is already starting to gain some nice reviews and going some way to reviving flagging sales on my other books. The summer was good! It was warm and sunny for months, and I swam in the sea a lot this year. The garden looked fabulous, blooming marvellous in fact but the Book of the Year 2018 award, and spending a week in June with my son on the beach, were the highlights – the rest of the time was either stressful or tedious. I won’t make a lengthy list of resolutions I won’t stick to but some things (mostly exterior) have to change and since I cannot change the world (not on my own anyway) I shall have to change myself.
I shall continue to concentrate on my writing and try to find ways to reach new readers, and I have already begun research for the next book, I must also set aside time for the things I want to do rather than should do. I will endeavour to forget about Trump and Brexit and my dwindling bank account. I am going to bury my head in the sand.
I shall lie in the daisies and look at the sky, I will push myself to walk further and not hurry back to my desk to squeeze out another chapter by tea time. I will laugh more, I will kiss my grandsons and spend time with my family, quality time; I will stay on the beach until sunset even if my back hurts and I am craving my bed. I will sit on the floor and build lego spaceships, paint bad paintings of impossible things. I will switch on the lights and chase away darkness, dance in the garden, and not let sorrow strangle my music. I must learn to live again … if the world will let me.
A big thank you to all my readers and fellow authors without whom I'd have to get a proper job. Happy New Year Everyone! Let us hope it is a better one.
Wednesday, 19 December 2018
It is Christmas! and I am happy to offer two paperback copies of Sisters of Arden, hot off the presses. All you need do is comment below on why you'd like to be one of the winners and your name will be entered into a draw. Please share on social media.
Arden Priory has remained unchanged for almost four hundred years. When a nameless child is abandoned at the gatehouse door, the nuns take her in and raise her as one of their own.
As Henry VIII’s second queen dies on the scaffold, the embittered King strikes out, and unprecedented change sweeps across the country. The bells of the great abbeys fall silent, the church and the very foundation of the realm begins to crack.
Determined to preserve their way of life, novitiate nuns Margery and Grace join a pilgrimage thirty thousand strong to lead the heretic king back to grace.
Sisters of Arden is a story of valour, virtue and veritas.
Excerpt from Sisters of Arden
1537 - Yorkshire
We run, heads down through the darkness, away from the cries of our dying friends and the sickening thud of their falling bodies.
Ducking through a garden gate, I cast about for a hay store or a tangle of bushes that might conceal us. Grabbing her wrist, I pull Frances into a briar patch, the thorns snagging and tearing at our robes and limbs. As we crouch in the dark, she trembles and wipes her wet cheeks on my sleeve. I can just distinguish her bone-white face and the stark terror in her eyes, and I am sickened with guilt that I have led her to this. Her life is now forfeit to my mistaken conviction that simple folk can make a difference.
I grope for God in the faithless void of my mind, begging that the king’s men grow tired of the hunt and ride away, back to their warm hearths, their laden tables, and their fragrant, sinful wives. Frances’ teeth begin to rattle, her breath faltering as her courage dwindles. I give her a gentle shake and put a warning finger against her lips, beseeching her to be silent, to be brave for just a little longer.
As the stealthy hooves draw closer to our hiding place, we hold our breath, sinking deeper into the undergrowth when he halts just a little way above our heads. The dank aroma of rotting vegetation rises; the tang of frost tickles my nose and pinches my toes. Frances trembles so violently it is indistinguishable from the juddering of my own body. I fumble for prayer, nausea washing over me as I fail to recall a single one.
A creak of harness as the rider shifts in his saddle. I cannot see him but when the horse snorts, in my mind’s eye his breath mists the darkness, rising wraith-like in the night. I can feel the rake of the man’s gaze as he searches, seeking out our hiding place. My lungs strain fit to burst, my chest is aching, and I am ready to relinquish my freedom for just one blessed breath. The horse stirs, turns and moves away, and we fill our lungs with fresh damp air. We clutch hands as the vague hope of escape returns.
Then noise erupts with a harsh yelp. A hound is loosed and, with a furious growl, it crashes through the hedge. As I fall backward, I glimpse a lolling tongue, and yellow eyes stare briefly into mine; cold, murderous eyes. Frances’ scream shatters the night as the jaws clamp down upon her wrist.
“Let go! Let go!” I strike out with my bare feet, feeling the crack of bony ribs beneath a silken coat. The hound yelps but holds on fast, screaming aloud as I kick out again, hammering his head with my heels. The air fills with a confusion of hooves, screaming women, and triumphant male laughter as they lay hands upon us. As they drag me to my feet, Frances gives a loud unintelligible sound that breaks my heart.
“Please,” I beg, as my hands are wrenched behind me and roughly held. “We are nuns from Arden. My sister has done nothing. Take me, but … let Sister Frances go – she ... she doesn’t understand.”
A white dagger of agony flashes through my skull as my captor clouts me around the ear. My head rings and my vision blurs. Through a fog of pain, I realise they are hauling Frances from the ground, dragging us both rudely forward.
“Hold them,” the man on the horse orders, and their grip tightens as he slides from his saddle, hawks and spits on the ragged skirts of my habit before slowly unfurling a rope from his belt.
The knots are tight about my wrists; my hands are numb. I cry out as the horse jolts forward and, tethered to the saddle, all we can do is follow him. Agonisingly, we retrace our route back the way we have come, through the hamlets and homesteads that earlier offered us shelter.
Our cause is lost. Our peaceful mission to bring England back to the true church has failed; doomed by the promises of a false king. In the lightening dawn, the slack-limbed, sightless bodies of those who aided us sway as we pass. The voiceless, lifeless men, women and children who dared to share our questioning of the king’s wisdom gape blindly at our passing.
We will join them soon; our useless lives cut short, our fruitless existence ended in ignominy.
My throat grows tight. How have we come to this?
Paperback will be available on Amazon very soon. Also available on kindle
Merry Christmas Everybody!