Wednesday, 24 January 2018

An Actor's Guide to Romance, by Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead: a review by Diana Milne


The authors are giving away an e-pub or PDF of this delightful novella to one lucky winner. To enter, please comment on the blog itself or below in the comments on The Review or Review Blog page. The winner will be selected next week.

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The love that dare not speak its name ...


When long-time theatrical enemies are cast as lovers, their late-night rehearsal brings a whole new meaning to method acting.

For twenty years, Adam Fisher and Thomas Fox have been the best of enemies. From their first meeting at drama school to shared stages, shared bills and a competition to amass the most illustrious awards, they have been the names on every theatregoers’ lips. Separately they can sell out an entire run in an hour, so when they’re cast as lovers in London’s hottest new play, the tickets are gone in minutes.

But for rakish Adam and gentlemanly Thomas, the small matter of their first on-stage kiss is causing a headache for everyone. Over a bottle of wine on one rainy night in the city, these two acting legends will do whatever it takes to banish their first-night nerves. After all, as everyone knows, the show must go on!


A publication by Pride Publishing.


This novella, ''An Actor's Guide to Romance'' is by Catherine Curzon and Eleanor Harkstead, two great names in the book world, and takes romance writing to new levels of literary delight, each word carefully chosen for maximum impact to bring together a charming and delightful tale of two rival actors who have never realised that love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

The title suggests a love story and it does not disappoint! The story is written from the point of view of Thomas Fox, a careful man, who for the public and paparazzi has tried to minimise his homosexuality, unlike his rival, Adam Fisher, whose preferences and affairs are front page news in every tabloid. The premise and concepts of the book are well defined and the language is clear and convincing. Whilst no lengthy descriptions of people or places are given, I could picture everyone and everything, indeed every action, with utmost clarity. The longstanding feud between the two, eclipses even that of two other well known sparring partners, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis

Adam and Thomas (never Tom!) have known each other for twenty years and are both famous household names, but when working together on the latest production they reach a crisis point when being unable to master that all important on-stage kiss. The reader can feel the tension in them both and the barely concealed frustration of Gill, the long suffering director, as they try, but to no avail. The stiff, wooden performance and the verbal barbs each throws at the other ensures that the whole scene will be a disaster unless something dramatic takes place. 

Meet them having a heated exchange...
"For Christ’s sake, gents, this scene again! Can you not just plough through and pretend you might actually be in love? You’re supposed to be actors, so act!”
“It was a joke, darling!” Adam was all innocence now, of course, because he would be, wouldn’t he? He put his hands on his hips and addressed Thomas. “You dragged me out of character, Tom Fox. It’s a cheap way to steal a scene.”
“I dragged you out of character?” Thomas felt his face flush as he tried to rein in his frustration. “You keep breaking out of character to comment on my breath! Which, I might add, does not smell of onions. And don’t bloody call me Tom Fox. I’m not a character in Wind in the bloody Willows.”
“Look,” Gill addressed them as though they were naughty schoolboys. “This isn’t a play about being gay. Stop making it the fulcrum of the drama. Your characters being gay is just part of the fabric of their lives, just like your lives. It’s not as though your whole lives are spent camping about and being as gay as gay can be, are they?”
She looked at Adam and narrowed her eyes.
“Yours is, I know that, but as a whole, gay is part of life, not life itself.” Gill held up her hand before Adam could protest. “You have one kiss in the text. It’s not the end of the world. Let’s call it a day and come back tomorrow, lips puckered, ready to kiss and move bloody on, yes?”
“Tell him.” Adam shrugged, already turning to retrieve his coat. “I’m a professional, he’s an onion-eater.”
Thomas clenched his fists. “It was a shallot, Fisher! It was not an onion!”
Adam and Thomas know each other so well that each knows the other's weak place and where to poke so it hurts, but after Adam flounces off for the night, Thomas realises that they need to try and get this scene to work, the whole of the play and their reputation as actors depends on it. He decides to go to Adam's home, and try and talk this through and work out a strategy. His worry is palpable when he is photographed looking wet,miserable and clutching a bottle of wine, imagining the picture appearing all over the internet on the morrow.

At Adam's home, the atmosphere is tense and awkward to begin with, each sniping at the other with the ease of long term lovers or husband and wife. They do, however, agree to practice that dreaded kiss, and then suddenly find that they are kissing for real. What happens next is for you to read and judge, but I will say that for me it was the most intense and beautiful love scene I have ever read, very tender, nothing objectionable or 'smutty', just pure beauty.

This is a true triumph of a story, told with warmth, humour and veracity, a lot of compassion and a true understanding of the human psyche.

I totally loved it.

You may buy the book here Amazon UK
or here Amazon USA

Please see my interview with Catherine: Diana talks to Catherine Curzon



Catherine Curzon is a royal historian. She is the author of Life in the Georgian Court, Kings of Georgian Britain, and Queens of Georgian Britain. 

Her work has been featured on HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine and in publications such as Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has provided additional research for the sell-out show, An Evening with Jane Austen, at the V&A. Catherine has spoken at events and venues including the Hurlingham Club, the Bath Jane Austen Festival, Stamford Georgian Festival, Kenwood House, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and Dr Johnson’s House.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes historical fiction. Her novels, The Crown Spire, The Star of Versailles, and The Mistress of Blackstairs, are available now.

She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill with a rakish colonial gentleman, a boisterous hound and a tranquil feline.

Visit her online salon at www.madamegilflurt.com

Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the
mood takes her. She can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. 

Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens. Her large collection of vintage hats would rival Hedda Hopper's.

Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.


© Diana Milne January 2018

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Diana talks to Linda Ciletti




Hello Linda. I have known you on social media for ages, but we have never really had a chance to talk... I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
I saved it for last. J

What is the genre you are best known for?
I would say medieval. For whatever reason, I’m drawn to the medieval time period and love medieval characters, possibly due to one of my better past lives. So all of my published books have medieval characters or elements in them, whether they are medieval, time travel contemporary/medieval, or medi-fantasy.

If your latest book was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
Ben Barnes
I never envisioned my latest book, Lady Quest, as a film, but the one before it, Faerie Dust, I did and still do. When starting a book, I’ll often create a picture collage to hang on the wall with photos of how I imagine the characters and the setting. For Faerie Dust, I chose a photo of the actor Ben Barnes. Ben played Prince Caspian and also another medieval role in the movie The Seventh Son. He’s not your typical muscular, hunky, he-man hero. He’s tall and lean, but he has a strength about him that’s perfect for Alasdair, who is fae.

What made you choose this genre?
I love a medieval setting and medieval characterization, whether in books or in film. Putting aside the past lives remark, in this life it probably goes back to when I was a little girl reading classic medieval period fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty. Though in all honesty, I have written a couple of contemporary stories. I’ve just not published them (yet).

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
Sometimes I find them in my dreams. When I wake up, I immediately start writing down what I heard or saw... and viola the beginning of a plot and characters are born. Sometimes I find them in inspiring music. Faerie Dust came to me at a Ren Faire where I was listening to Cast in Bronze play the carillon. Dream of the Archer was inspired by a song of the same title. Sometimes all you need is a seed to get started. Miraculously it grows.

Favourite picture or work of art?
I have a work of fine art hanging in my home. It’s of a young medieval lady with long strawberry blonde hair (a teenager). The background is solid black. She is standing facing forward and wearing a light blue gown. Most of her body is in shade, but her upper chest, and the outer edges of her arms, face, and hair are lit up by a bright unseen source of light. She’s holding a small red book open in front of her, her fingers pinching a page as if she’s about to turn it over to read more; but her eyes are raised and focused coyly over the book at something in front of her (maybe the person looking at the painting... ooOOOoo). I’ve always wondered what she’s really thinking (as she’s obviously not reading) and who she’s watching. I imagine her look to be shyly flirtatious and focused on a young medieval knight or lord forbidden to her. (How absolutely lovely!)

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I’m already writing in the genre I love. What I would like to do (one day) is revise and finish the contemporaries I started and publish them.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?)
It was a conscious decision. One day while taking a walk, I found a romance book lying on the side of the road. It had just rained and it was sopping wet. I took the soaked book home and immediately began to read it (which was much easier to do once it dried). When done, I told myself that I could write one, and better.  And I did write one. The first draft, however, wasn’t better, but it sent me on a journey of learning the craft, and now it’s published.

 How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
I don’t recall the exact age, probably around 37. Before that I dabbled in poetry. I still do from time to time.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Never had it.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
No routines. There’s usually a cat on my lap though (like now). Music inspired two of my books, but when I’m actually writing, I like silence. I need to hear the voices and feel the environment. Noises distract me from that.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Always my family (don’t tell my characters). But my characters are a close second.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I wish I had pursued an acting career. I think I really would have enjoyed that because I like to dress up in period costume and roleplay whether on paper as I’m playing my characters or literally like when I belonged to the Society of Creative Anachronism and became medieval Alys Herstmonceux. Unfortunately, when I was younger (and maybe even now) I was too introverted to perform in front of people. A close second would be something in the fine arts field or book cover design which I dabble in now.

Coffee or tea?
I love the smell of coffee (hate the taste). So Tea. Chamomile for something light or Earl Grey when I want something stronger. I love a nice hot cup of tea and pastry in the evening when at the computer or watching a movie DVD.

Red or white?
I assume you’re referring to wine. I rarely drink alcoholic beverages, but when I do, I prefer blush or rose. Something semi-sweet. My favorite wine is called Isabella from a local winery.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
Before I start? Usually none. I don’t begin figuring things out until I’m in at least three chapters. Then I either find my way or let the characters work it out. Sometimes they lead me down a dead end street and I have to intervene, but for the most part, they know their story better than I do.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I know Times New Roman is overused, but it’s also one of the easiest fonts to read, so I would go with that. (Me too. D.I’m open to other fonts as well as long as they’re easy on the eyes.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The original written books of the bible. Of course, they would be in Hebrew so I wouldn’t be able to read them, but just touching them would take my breath away… and not just for the religious aspect of them but for the historical aspect as well. I love old things… vintage clothes, vintage furniture, antique pieces, or even just a nice hand me down. I love things that have a history, things that carry the essence of the previous owner with them. 

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
I’m sure one of them has at some time, but it wasn’t striking enough to stick in my head. I do recall that in my book, Draegon’s Lair, Diminimis and Leena were supposed to fall in love and get together; but as luck would have it, she and Alan fell in love. Who am I to stand in the way of true love?

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
I do very little research before I start. Usually I begin writing; then I research as I move along. I’ve never gone on a research trip. It’s just not in my budget. Thank God for the internet. I did go to Paris once and hope to use some of my experiences there as fodder for a book that I started years ago but haven’t yet finished. (a contemporary)

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
I’m not sure what you mean by ‘real characters’. I know a lot of authors will create a fictional character based on a not-so-nice real person they’d like payback on… and so kill them off. (laughs) I’ve not done that (yet).

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
What do you mean by ‘known facts’? If you mean am I prepared to stray from the “plan” to make the story better, then yes. The characters know what they’re doing (usually). I do recall my book, Dream of the Archer (that took place in Sherwood Forest), had cliffs. Of course after researching I discovered there are no cliffs in Sherwood. But as both cliffs and Sherwood were important to the story, I got around it by creating a witch who was able to alter the forest through enchantment. It’s a paranormal time travel, so it worked out perfectly.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
When are they ever not blurred? (laughs) All lines are blurred to me.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I fall in love with all of my heroes. Yes, I’m fickle that way. But if I don’t come to love them, who will? If I find myself in love with my hero, I know I’ve succeeded.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Romantic Fiction. Mainly in the genre of medieval, but also Regency, Renaissance, Fantasy, Soft Sci-Fi, and some Contemporary.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
My latest book is a humorous tale called Lady Quest. So I would suggest something warm and cozy like hot chocolate or tea. Or a glass of wine. Something relaxing so that you can really put yourself in the humor of the hero and heroine’s situation.

Last but not least... favourite author?
I really don’t have a favorite author. That said, For My Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale really stood out for me due to its authentic medieval theme and strong period language. Some people are turned off by strong period language, but going full circle, as I said in question one I’m drawn to the medieval time period and love medieval characters.

Now for the question I’ve longed to be asked…
Why would anyone in their right mind want to be a writer? Becoming famous or a best seller is usually far out of reach, the work is 24/7 as the characters just won’t leave you alone, and the pay often isn’t enough to live off of.
My answer is this; maybe we should say, in their ‘write’ mind because writers write because they have to. Because their heads are full of adventures and characters and the only way to set them free are to put them on paper. Because roleplaying is in their blood and writing is a great way to roleplay and have control over all the characters (or at least a fair amount of control). In the olden days, if I had said I heard voices in my head or saw people from past times or other worlds in my dreams, I’d have ended up in the looney ward. As a writer, I can just end that admission with “but I’m a writer”, and everyone will nod in understanding (or at least all the other writers in the room will). True writers write for the love of the art, the love of the adventures, the love of language, and the love of their characters.

I’d like to end this interview with a big thanks of appreciation to Diana for giving me the opportunity to express myself (and possibly make a fool of myself as well). But hey, why not! J

Thank YOU, Linda. It has been a lovely chance to get to know you.

About 'Lady Quest'

A feisty lady! A determined lord! A witty duel of will that will have you laughing out loud.
The plan seemed simple enough. Kidnap Lady Grey andtake her to his brother, Baron Conard, but simple turns complicated when Mikael kidnaps the wrong woman - a woman with a wit as sharp as his blade and the skill to use it.
Mistaken for Lady Grey, Liliane is kidnapped along with Lady Grey's infant son and his wetnurse. Afraid of what will happen to them should the Welshman discover his mistake, Liliane assumes her cousin's identity until she can come up with a plan of escape.
The attraction between Liliane and Mikael is undeniable. To act on it is forbidden, The only way to stay safe is to make him rue the day he ever set eyes on her...

Linda Ciletti


© Diana Milne January 2018 © Linda Ciletti, 1-1-18








Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Naked Witch, by Wendy Steele; a review by Diana Milne




Lizzie Martin’s new boss has asked her to ‘bare all’ and become more corporate.

For Lizzie, swapping paisley for pin stripe is like asking a parrot to wear pea hen.

She has to choose between her job and her integrity, cope with an unexpected stay in hospital, monitor her fourteen year old daughter’s latest crush, continue seeking the truth about her father’s death and juggle two new men in her life.

There is hope though.

At the bottom of the garden is a little wooden shed that Lizzie calls Sanctuary. Within its warm and welcoming walls, Lizzie surrounds herself with magic.


***

The Naked Witch is so far out of my usual genres of reading and interest that I genuinely wondered if I would be able to enjoy it, gain anything from it, or even be able to review it properly, but my fears were groundless. From the first page Wendy Steele welcomed me into the world of the protagonist Lizzie Martin  and her teenage daughter Rowan and, without even using any witchy magic, just exceptional use of words, enticed me to not just read, but to thoroughly enjoy this wonderful book.

Immediately one starts to read, one feels the fun and laughter and determination of Lizzie, struggling against daunting odds to pick up the pieces after a broken marriage, a new home and a new job. She is a vibrant, colourful woman, who is also a witch. By witch, I am not talking about pointy hats and dark magic, but someone who is really in tune with nature and the old ways and gods and uses her rituals as a way to calm herself and focus her mind - (we could all learn a lot from her!) - and her shed, where she goes to be herself, is a calming sanctuary.

As a heroine, she is human and flawed and any mother, any working woman, can surely relate to her struggles to be everything to everyone and still be a woman in her own right. Ms Steele's depictions of a woman watching her daughter grow from a child to a woman and back, (all on the same day sometimes, as is the wont of teenage girls,) describes the confusion, fear, pride, relief and some other ineffable feeling that I cannot name, so perfectly. So many of us have been there, seen that and survived (just!)

Conversation flows naturally and has the ring of veracity and flashes of humour, one example  being someone calling Lizzie being a vegetarian, a 'vegetablarian.' This conversation between Lizzie and her ex's girlfriend describes Lizzie's 'faith' as a witch, to a total sceptic:

Bryony met Lizzie's invitation with wide, unbelieving eyes. "You're a witch?" she whispered, checking over her shoulder for eavesdroppers.
"I live my life with the Wheel of the Year, connect with the natural world, offer up prayers to the amazing universe we live in and meditate, allowing me to learn and travel on the astral plane, so yes, I'm a witch."
"I'm not ure. I don't know if I want to summon demons."
"Bryony, did I mention demons?"
"No, but ..."
"Earth, rocks, plants, animals, the sea vibrate with energy, with life. The same life, if you like, that courses through our veins.Witchcraft gives me a spiritual connection to the world around me. Best of all, I am never alone."
"I'venever thought about the sea being alive."
"It depends how you look at it, but one thing is certain. Women and the sea are ruled by the moon."
"Wow!"


We see and empathise with Lizzie starting out again on the dating, mating game and watch her growing friendship with her daughter's boyfriend's widowed dad with sympathy and warmth, a friendship that the reader hopes will become more after the book is over.

Throughout the book, Lizzie struggles with the relationship with her own mother and with her lack of knowledge about the death of her adored father and during a visit to her ex mother in law in Spain, sees a photo that begins to unravel the mysteries.

I really could relate to the characters and feel that Ms Steele has a rare talent for bringing interest to the day by day life of your average suburban witch, turning the mundane into a fascinating and readable story that I enjoyed from cover to cover - I totally loved the book and was able to completely escape into it. It was effortless to read because of the clever writing and I will willingly, happily add Wendy Steele to my 'read again' author list.

What other people say:

Rhea's Broomstick: 5 stars. Amazon verified purchase.

Another triumph for Witch Lit! Wendy Steele's The Naked Witch is a fun, easy read with a good storyline. Lizzie, the main character, is easily identifiable with if you are one of those women who are a little bit on the eccentric side, love magic and have the life skills to get down and do what it takes to juggle work, a teenager, an ex-husband and still have time to find love. Finding her unique fashion look from the charity shops and her sanctuary in a shed, she is a woman of resource, yet life throws her more than her share of challenges. In her search for the truth about her father Lizzie finds herself partying in Spain woven into a web of family intrigue. A brilliant book to snuggle down to a bit of 'me time' with.


You may buy The Naked Witch and Wendy Steele's other books by clicking on this link: Wendy Steele's books.

About the author:

In 1972, Wendy Steele came home from the Tutankhamun exhibition and wrote about her experience, beginning a writing journey which she still travels. Since working in the City BC (Before Children), she has trained in alternative therapies, belly dance and writing. Wendy combines these three disciplines to give balance to her life.

Her first novel 'Destiny of Angels' was published in 2012, closely followed by two short story anthologies and a non-fiction book 'Wendy Woo's Year – A Pocketful of Smiles', an inspirational guide, offering ideas, meditations and recipes to make every precious day, a happy one.

Moving to Wales, the fulfilment of a 15 year dream, inspired her to write the Standing Stone book series, set in Wales in the countryside she loves.

Writing workshops in Wales widened her writing perspective and the resulting short stories have been published online and in anthologies.

Wendy writes fantasy, with a dollop of magic, exploring the 'what if...?' the starting point for all her stories. She lives with her partner and cats, restoring her farmhouse and immersing herself in the natural world on her doorstep.

Wendy Steele


© Diana Milne 2018

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Diana talks to Carol McGrath, author of one of my top three books for 2017, Woman in the Shadows



Hi Carol, good to talk to you.

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
Do you want publishers to pigeon hole you into a particular historical era as an author?
Absolutely not. I shall be writing a novel set in the seventeenth century after I complete the Rose novels of which I currently plan two. They are set during the ‘magnificent thirteenth century’.

What is the genre you are best known for?
Historical Fiction.

If your latest book The Woman in the Shadows was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
Carey Mulligan would make a lovely Elizabeth Cromwell. However, Elizabeth does have silvery hair! Will Carey dye hers?

What made you choose this genre?
I am passionate about History and always have been. I always have read Historical novels, growing up on a diet of Jean Plaidy and Ayna Seton.

 How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
Historical Research and paintings. It is good to read contemporary novels as they can provide universal themes and plots.

Favourite picture or work of art?
The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck 1434. The colours are vivid, the portrait has depth and there’s a story there.




If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I would like to write a contemporary woman’s story with a political edge, possibly with a photo journalist as my heroine and set in one of the countries I visit such as India or Japan.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
I have always loved writing. I love poetry and used to write it. I began to write seriously in my forties but was not published for another decade. I took an MA in Creative Writing at Queens Belfast and an MPhil at Royal Holloway. This involved thesis work and that held me up but was fulfilling.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? Hate it. Too salty.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I listen to Classical, Jazz and interesting Folk. I love piano music especially Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
My characters but I absolutely would leave them to resolve a family crisis.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Foreign Correspondent.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Tea and with a dash of milk. White wine is my tipple.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I plan characters carefully and use an overall three part structure to design a novel’s narrative. I write into it and plan further. I make lists for each section and use spider diagrams a lot as I write. It still can take its own life.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
Times New Roman. Clarity rules for me.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
I would like to see the original inventory for Cromwell’s house, Austin Friars. Possessions can reveal so much about a character. (Gosh!Yes! How I would love to see that too!|D)

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Elditha from The Handfasted Wife sadly refused the happy ending I had planned for her. I cannot say more as it would be a reveal.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
I endlessly research but all this must be seamlessly incorporated into the fabric of the novel. I aim to recreate the atmosphere of a period and the trappings of that particular Historical world. I do go on research trips and unfortunately was unable to visit Kiev as planned when writing The Betrothed Sister. The Ukraine became dangerous. However, I have a working knowledge of Russia. That helped. I visited Dublin to research the Irish Viking period whilst writing The Handfasted Wife. I had to visit Exeter to get the siege section right as well. I used Tudor maps of London when writing The Woman in the Shadows and visited The Museum of London as well as The British Museum and many Renaissance art works in various galleries.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Oh yes. Padar had to be contained as he was upstaging Elditha and thus distancing her for a reader. I realised I could not use his POV when she was present in a scene. Rosalind, an embroiderer, is in danger of stealing the show from Queen Ailenor in The Silken Rose. She is currently banished to a convent but she will emerge and her story line will conclude. (Big smile)

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
Generally I do not deviate but I invent extras to full in the dots and particularly to create interesting stories. I invented a fire in The Woman in the Shadows and the outcome of that to build tension, provide a story and highlight known aspects of character as regards Thomas Cromwell. I always try to be plausible.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Yes, of course, but for me keeping to known facts matter. I invent around these and create hypotheses. I guess this is blurring!

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I am still  utterly in love with Padar and I am rather fond of Thomas Cromwell as he was before The King’s Great Matter. I do admire his wife, Elizabeth who tells the story. (I am rather infatuated with the early Thomas Cromwell myself... D)

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I read widely. I currently am reading Anne Cleeves and highly recommend The Crow Trap. It helps me understand plotting.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
You would want a delicious posset with beaten egg, milk, honey and spices whilst reading The Woman in the Shadows. Keep it warm by an open fire and curl up in your favourite armchair. Follow it with a shot of Benedictine.

Last but not least... favourite author?I love and re read Charlotte Bronte, especially Jane Eyre. I think EM Foster is my joint favourite author. I adore his work, especially A Passage to India. 

About The Woman in the Shadows:

A powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows tells the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England's most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.

When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband.

Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London.

The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.

Read more about Carol McGrath here



© Diana Milne January 2018 © Carol McGrath, 1/1/18








Wednesday, 10 January 2018

FAITHFUL TRAITOR: The Story of Margaret Pole by Samantha Wilcoxson~ a review by Linda Fetterly Root


Today Linda Root reviews FaithfulTraitor, the fabulous novel by Samantha Wilcoxson. The author has kindly offered an ebook as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous story, simply leave a comment below of on our Facebook Page.
The winner will be drawn on 17th January 2018.
Good luck!





Margaret Pole's Coat-of-Arms
Writing a historical biographical novel is a challenge well met by American novelist Samantha Wilcoxson as she presents the intriguing life story of Margaret Pole, sometimes known as The Last Plantagenet.  Lady Pole, Countess of Salisbury, is familiar to most casual readers as the old woman who had run afoul of Henry VIII, ultimately to be chased around the scaffold by an incompetent headsman who took nine strokes to separate her head from her body.

Several well researched historical accounts of Countess Margaret’s life appear both in traditional histories and in historical fiction. Many of them  dwell upon the reported versions of her bizarre death. However, the glory of Ms. Wilcoxson's novel is its celebration of her life as a loving and cherished wife, a devoted mother, as well as a devout Catholic and reluctant courtier.  Her death, however it occurred, is but a footnote.  Another compelling feature of  Faithful Traitor is the  intriguing picture it presents of the countess's Cousin Henry VIII and other principals in the drama of his reign. One of my favorites is the appearance of Henry's young fifth wife Catherine Howard, who brings the imprisoned elderly countess warm clothes. 

The early pages set the stage upon which Margaret Pole’s life played out. The reader quickly discovers the protagonist is very much a Plantagenet princess, whose acceptance of the Tudors is an appeasement to the inevitable.  She is  keenly cognizant of the threat posed by any surviving Plantagenets to the nascent and fragile Tudor Dynasty. Good men had died for no more reason than their pedigree, her beloved brother Edward among them.  But the woman to whom we are introduced is a pragmatist.  She has children to raise.  Their futures depend upon her survival. From the beginning, the author lets us know that survival is the novel's theme.

Kinship:  Appreciation of her bloodline is a principal element in the novel.

Funeral effigy of Elizabeth of York
Wikimedia, via Creative Commons
  • Margaret Pole's story begins with the death of Queen Elizabeth of York, King Henry VII's consort, daughter of Edward IV and niece of Richard III, the king who lost his crown and his life to Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.  Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, took the throne as Henry VII, asserting himself as the Lancastrian claimant.  But it was his victory and not his heritage that placed Richard’s crown on Henry Tudor’s head. Many English considered him a usurper.  In a move that proved ingenious, the new king brought the patina of legitimacy to his reign by quickly marrying Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York, a hugely popular maneuver  in a nation fatigued of internecine warfare.  To the surprise of many, the politically astute marriage became an ideal match. Austere and frugal and not especially personable, Henry listened to his consort's advice and respected her opinions.  Among other admirable characteristics, Queen Elizabeth  sought amnesty for the surviving members of her family, of which their were precious few. Among those who survived the War of the Roses, Elizabeth's cousin Margaret Pole and her siblings, offspring of the queen's uncle George, Duke of Clarence, received the benefit of Elizabeth's protection, and hence, the king's good will. However, upon Elizabeth of York's death during a difficult childbirth which also claimed the life of the child, the surviving Plantagenets had need of caution. Thus,  with her cousin's Elizabeth's death in 1503, Margaret Pole begins to display the sound instinct and cunning which become her hallmark.  One joy of the novel is the clarity with which the author lets us see how fragile the balance between survival and death, and how well Margaret performs her balancing act.  Even when her fortunes seem the brightest, she is aware she is the last Plantagenet princess living in Tudor England, a dangerous place to be.  

Love and Friendship:  

Even Henry VII's friendly act in approving her marriage to Sir Richard Pole when a more politically beneficial union might have enriched the crown was no guarantee the king's good will would survive his consort's death. But Sir Richard was the king's friend, and the marriage was a happy one. It also neutralized the threat presented by the lady's bloodline. However,  Richard Pole was a soldier in the service of the king.  And while their marriage was a love match, it was one fraught with absences while Sir Richard marched to war. The marching season after the Queen's death brought a the lovers to a farewell which was permanent.  Thus, widowed the year after Elizabeth's death, and within days of her own delivery of a healthy son, Margaret found herself without her best friend and lover, her beloved Sir Richard Pole.  

With a daughter and four surviving sons in her care, and no money to ease the burden, Lady Margaret Pole had little time to grieve.  She borrowed money for her husband’s funeral from his friend the Duke of Somerset. Still in mourning, she left the solitude of her country home  behind and moved to Sion Abbey on the banks of the Thames for a period of recovery. As was appropriate in 16th Century England,  she sought placement of her older sons in the homes of noble families able to undertake the ward ship of the offspring of a princess. 

Catherine (Catalina) of Aragon,
{PD-Art}

During her early widowhood, Margaret made an important friend in Princess Catalina of Aragon, the adolescent Spanish wife of Arthur, Prince of Wales. Margaret encouraged Catalina to use her influence to free the husband of a friend and many other young nobles who had fought with the Plantagenets. However,  she concentrated her own efforts on the advancement of her children. As for her personal future, she was content to bide her time and  keep her head low.  It was not a long wait until circumstances changed..

Henry VIII ~  Margaret's Royal Cousin.

When Henry VII died, he was succeeded by his second- born son, Margaret‘s cousin Henry.  Princess Catalina's young husband Arthur had died.  The excitement pervading the kingdom upon the ascension of the beautiful youth who was in physical appearance the spitting image of his Plantagenet grandfather, Edward IV, still left Margaret ill at ease on her visit to the court.  When the man she regarded as ‘tall, handsome and charismatic’ approached her, she reminded herself that he was not a true Plantagenet, but a frightful Tudor.  When she fell to the floor in the deepest bow, she was as much in fear as she was in awe, until the golden man who towered over her spoke to her in a sonorous voice :

Rise, dear Margaret and give me a kiss.’[1]  

Henry VIII early in his reign.  ((PD-Art))

As the author takes us through the early days of Henry VIII’s reign, a period when Margaret Pole enjoyed her position in the household of Henry’s consort Catherine of Aragon, we glimpse signs of storm clouds gathering.  It is a well-worked and familiar story in which Margaret Pole finds herself aligned with the losing faction.  As the king tired of his wife and despaired of his lack of a male heir, Margaret Pole found her affiliation with Queen Catherine and their devout Catholicism more of a danger that her bloodline. Yet, until the king broke with the Roman Church, he held Margaret in high esteem, and appointed her to serve as his daughter Princess Mary's governess.  During this phase of the novel, we glimpse a Margaret who is not the least naive nor is she nonpartisan.  There is a movement afoot to marry the king's daughter Mary Tudor to Margaret's son Reginald Pole, who serves the Roman Church.

The author adds the intrigues of the Reformation at precisely the correct point to hold the reader's interest, introducing us to a whole new cast of characters. There is danger lurking in the shadows, in this case,  personified by the King's henchman Thomas Cromwell. When  Cromwell cannot dispose of the very Catholic Princess Mary,  he focuses on the Poles. I applaud  the author's decision to avoid rehashing the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, thus keeping this very much the Countess of Salisbury's story.  By the time of Anne's fall and Jane Seymour's rise, Lady Margaret Pole is ousted from Princess Mary's household and isolated from the Tudor Court. Use of the novel form permits the telling of the last chapters of Margaret Pole's story with the pathos of a women whose sees her world crumbling around her.  Albeit, this remains Margaret's story, and the political intrigue is reported from a pro-Catholic point of view, but it is presented fairly. While Ms. Wilcoxson takes license  with the ending of Margaret's saga by axing the traditional version of  her gory execution, she does so honestly.  In my view,  what sets this account above other literary works in which the Countess of Salisbury appears is her poignant portrayal as an ambitious parent, loving wife and  doting grandmother.  Arranging suitable marriages for her children were a priority in her life.  The aspirations of the Poles and other Catholics may have looked too high in plotting a marriage between the  Mary Tudor and  Reginald Pole, therefore bringing Margaret Pole to the final chapters of her stunning life.

Mary I, PD Art
Cardinal Pole, PD Art
When her youngest son is taken to the Tower and the family is linked to a plot to marry Henry Tudor’s Catholic daughter Mary to Margaret son Reginald Pole, who is in the Vatican in the service of the Church, Margaret begins to see the walls closing in upon her. Soon she is under house arrest and suffering from depression.  Perhaps her lowest moment in learning one of her sons has betrayed his brother and cousins to spare his own life. She had always coddled her youngest, Geoffrey.


The Countess's execution came with little preamble, with only an hour's notice given Lady Margaret to give her time to pray. It was carried out privately within the compound  on a scaffold erected  on Tower Green near the church of Saint Peter Advincula, where others headless nobles charged with treason had been buried.  Later, when a servant was sent to clear her room, the following words were discovered etched on a wall, and to me suggest she perhaps did attempt to outrun the headsman:

For traitors on the block should die; I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so, Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see; Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me![2]
The Execution of Margaret Pole,  courtesy of  Creative Commons 

Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole is not a book for everyone.  Readers who do not like their historical novels cluttered with too much history may not like it.  In my view, it  is more of the ilk of Alison Weir’s book about Lady Jane Grey, Innocent Traitor. I classify both works in a sub-genre known as fictionalized biography. Both books are written by  authors who know their topic well, and present them with clarity and charm.

 I cannot quarrel with the author’s decision to disclaim the scene in which Henry Tudor’s headsman chases the old lady around the scaffold as she seeks to escape the ax.  It was a private execution, and only two eyewitness accounts of the Countess’s beheading survive.  Those present at the execution would have been fully vetted, and their objectivity is suspect. Neither of them are sympathetic to the unrepentant lady and neither version is consistent with the Margaret Pole who graces the pages of Samantha Wilcoxson’s novel.  I invite those of you who read the book  to judge for yourselves. Should you conclude that the traditional version is Margaret Pole's execution is true, then also consider, if you will,  whether the last Plantagenet princess might have staged-managed her bizarre ending to garner sympathy for her cause?  While her name may not be as well known as Queen Anne Boleyn's, nor is it forgotten.

Scaffold site on Tower Green outside the Church of Saint Peter Advincula,
Wikimedia and Creative Commons


Reviewer's Note:

Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole, has been highly acclaimed since its publication in June, 2016. It has been a Historical Novel Society Editor’s choice and highly praised by the notable Helen Hollick at her Discovered Diamonds review site. The author has graciously offered an e-book to the winner of a drawing chosen from those who comment on this review.  








[1] [1](Wilcoxson, Samantha. Faithful Traitor {Kindle Location 423}.).  [2] (Wilcoxson, Samantha. Faithful Traitor (Kindle Locations 4812-4813). UNKNOWN, but believed by many to have been the words of Margaret Pole.

About the author:
Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Her novel, 'Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen', looks at the transition from the Plantagenet dynasty into the Tudor era through the eyes of Elizabeth of York. This book has been named an Editors' Choice by the Historical Novel Society. Samantha's next novel, 'Faithful Traitor', will continue to look at the Plantagenet remnant by featuring Margaret Pole.
During rare moments when Samantha is not reading or writing, she enjoys traveling and enjoying time at the lake with her husband and three children.
Links:


About the reviewer: Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and four books in The Legacy of the Queen of Scots series. The fifth, Deliverance of the Lamb, is coming in early 2016. She lives in the Southern California high desert community of Yucca Valley with her husband Chris and two giant woolly Alaskan Malamutes, Maxx and Maya. She is a retired major crimes prosecutor, a member of the Marie Stuart Society, and of the California State Bar and the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.  
Linda Root's books can be found on Amazon.