Blog Tour: The Once and Future Queen by Nicole Evelina

The Once and Future Queen_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Once and Future Queen by Nicole Evelina.  Subtitled Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, the book traces the evolution of the character of Guinevere in Arthurian legend from her Celtic roots to the present day, showing how the character changed along with the period’s views of women. It’s described as ‘a must-read book for Arthurian enthusiasts of every knowledge level’.

Click to here to read Nicole’s interview with Amy at Passages to the Past.

WinFor US residents, there is a giveaway with a chance to win one of two paperback copies of The Once and Future Queen.  To view the giveaway terms and conditions and enter, visit the tour page here.  Entries close at 11:59pm EST on February 28th 2018.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the entry form.

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The Once and Future QueenAbout the Book

Guinevere’s journey from literary sinner to feminist icon took over one thousand years…and it’s not over yet.

Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

Format: eBook, paperback (281 pp.)  Publisher: Lawson Gartner

Published: 21st November 201           Genre: Literary Criticism, History

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com ǀ Barnes and Noble ǀ  Indiebound ǀ Kobo
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Once and Future Queen on Goodreads


Nicole EvelinaAbout the Author

Nicole Evelina is a multi-award-winning historical fiction, romantic comedy and non-fiction writer, whose four novels have collectively won over 20 awards, including two Book of the Year designations (Daughter of Destiny by Chanticleer Reviews and Camelot’s Queen by Author’s Circle).  Nicole is currently working on Mistress of Legend (2018), the final book in her Guinevere’s Tale trilogy.

As an armchair historian, Nicole researches her books extensively, consulting with biographers, historical societies and travelling to locations when possible. For example, she travelled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for The Historical Novel Society, as well as a member of the Historical Fiction Writers of America, International Arthurian Society – North American Branch, Romantic Novelists Association, Novelists, Inc., the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Alliance of Independent Authors, the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Midwest Publisher’s Association.

Connect with Nicole

Website  ǀ  Facebook  ǀ  Twitter  ǀ  Instagram  ǀ Goodreads

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Blog Tour: Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

Miss Boston and Miss H Blog Tour

I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik, published in paperback today.  Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves was one of my favourite books of 2017 and, since I read it, I haven’t stopped recommending it to other people.   I included the hardcover version in my list of favourite book covers and in my wishlist of novels I’d like to see make The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction longlist.  You get the picture; I’m a fan of this book!

I’m absolutely delighted to share with you my Q&A with Rachel in which she talks about the inspiration for the book, her research process and a serendipitous meeting!  Absolutely fascinating.

You can also read my review of Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves and find out just why I loved it so much.


Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves PbackAbout the Book

When Rene Hargreaves is billeted to Starlight Farm as a Land Girl, far from the city where she grew up, she finds farmer Elsie Boston and her country ways strange at first. Yet over the days and months Rene and Elsie come to understand and depend on each other. Soon they can no longer imagine a life apart.

But a visitor from Rene’s past threatens the life they have built together, a life that has always kept others at a careful distance. Soon they are involved in a war of their own that endangers everything and will finally expose them to the nation’s press and the full force of the law.

Format: Paperback (288 pp.)                                  Publisher: Penguin
Published in paperback: 1st February 2017      Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves on Goodreads


Interview with Rachel Malik, author of Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is inspired by your own family history.  When did you first learn about the story of your grandmother?

My mum told me about Rene (Hargreaves) when I was in my late twenties – a long time ago. Rene had left her and the family home in Manchester when she was a little girl and never returned. She also told me that Rene had got caught up in a murder trial many years later when she was living in Cornwall – she didn’t know much more than that. I had quite recently started an academic job and I remember thinking that I should try and find out more about the trial – I definitely had my researcher’s hat (or nose) on.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing the book?

I think the biggest challenge was working out exactly what I was writing – and that took time. When I first started researching the story, I don’t think I knew I was going to write anything.  I wrote notes about what I discovered, as I might about anything else I might read. I quickly became interested in how the press represented Rene and Elsie; there was definite sympathy but also a rather prurient interest in how they lived and looked. My notes started to turn into an essay at that point. As I started to find out more about the places where they lived, I began to think I should write a piece of creative non-fiction about how I tried to track Rene and Elsie down. And then one day, an incredibly strong image of them came into my head. There they were in the little kitchen at Wheal Rock in Cornwall – where much of the novel is set. And I think I realised then that I was starting to write a novel.

One reviewer has remarked that in the book there is ‘much left unsaid, and unexplored’.  This seems particularly true of the relationship between Rene and Elsie.  Was this deliberate on your part?

Yes, very deliberate.  There are a number of reasons. I wanted readers to get to know Rene and Elsie and feel close to them but I also wanted them kept slightly at a distance – just as Rene and Elsie keep other people at a distance. They become so close that they make their own universe but, as in many relationships, there are important things they don’t know about each other and don’t share. Rene and Elsie are not very ‘talky’ about their feelings; Elsie in particular isn’t somebody who talks much at all.  When Rene wants to tell Elsie her secret, she writes it in the form of a letter – that’s quite understandable I think for modern readers. But Elsie doesn’t say ‘I understand’ or ‘I won’t judge you’.  She tells a story about a comparable situation to reassure Rene.  I don’t think they’re longing for a language of feeling. This is their language and it works well for them – most of the time. There’s also the question of their sexuality. To me, it’s clear that theirs is a sexual relationship but that’s only a part of who they are and when the world judges them later in the novel, it isn’t only their sexuality that is presumed and judged.

The English countryside features strongly in the book.  How did you go about recreating the landscape of the 1940s and 1950s?

Yes, the countryside is incredibly important and because Rene and Elsie have to keep moving in the second part of the novel, some places had to be registered very quickly, lightly.  Some of the places in the book are well-known (the White Horse of Uffington for instance), some are tourist areas: the Lake District and Cornwall. Some aspects of these places have changed very little if at all – geography, geology – but others clearly had.  I didn’t want to create a ‘general’ English countryside of the period, but a countryside from various points of view, in particular Rene and Elsie’s. The countryside they see is attuned to boundaries and ownership, land-use and agricultural work and the possibilities of the long walks they love.  I read a lot: history but also fiction, memoirs, poetry; I also looked at old photographs and films.

How did you approach the research for the book? Do you enjoy the process of research?

I wasn’t as organised as I could have been.  I got a lot from the trial documents I read at the National Archives in Kew. That and the press coverage of the trial – local and national – were my main sources for Rene and Elsie.  Together this allowed me to plot a rough chronology but there were big gaps.  All I knew about Elsie was that she came from a large family (the 1911 census) and that she’d been born in Willesden – on the outskirts of London in the early 20th century. I found and read lots of other things as I went along.  Some things are just luck.  I read Akenfield by Ronald Blythe on a friend’s recommendation. It’s an oral history of a village in Suffolk from the early 20th century to the sixties – the book’s mood had a huge impact on me. I visited the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading which has some wonderful material about farming in the 1930s and 40s – I love research but it’s very easy to get distracted. I spent way too long deciding on the names of the Starlight cows after looking through their milking records!

What was the most surprising fact you came across during your research?

It wasn’t a fact but a living person! I was in Fowey at the festival there and I decided to go and see the village where Rene and Elsie lived (Rosenys in the novel).  When I arrived there was nobody about, I didn’t have a clue where Wheal Rock was.  A red car pulled up in the car park and when a woman got out I took my courage in both hands and asked if she knew anything about Rene Hargreaves and Wheal Rock. Before I knew it I was sitting in her kitchen with a coffee. It turned out that her grandmother had known Rene quite well and wrote to her in prison and sent her cigarettes.

What do you think is the key to creating an authentic picture of a particular historical period?

I’m not sure there’s a single key; writers are trying to achieve different things. Some want to transport you (I had that feeling in Wolf Hall or in a different way when I read the Poldark saga) – you’re almost behind the curtain listening. In my case, I needed to show how life was changing in the countryside over a twenty-year period (and there are flashbacks to much further back). I didn’t want readers to become too immersed in one particular historical moment, I wanted them to travel through this changing world with Rene and Elsie. Because of that I created a kind of shorthand to signal particular moment: the wartime information posters they adapt for themselves, the 1950s adverts that Rene has a problem identifying with and so on. I only hope that it works

Although you have written articles, essays and reviews, Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is your first published novel.  What advice would you offer to writers working on their own first novel?

I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask, seeing as it has taken me so long to do it! Writers work in such different ways so what works for me may not work for other people or for me – next time. Here goes:

  • Count all the work you do on your novel as work: thinking, reading, brooding, plotting and re-plotting, writing, editing. Don’t fetishize writing as the only work that counts.
  • Ignore all the people who say you must write this many words per day, every day or that they work 16 hours a day. If you pause for just a moment to think about it, this excludes so many people: parents, women particularly, but anyone with caring responsibilities, anyone who needs to earn money…
  • Try to do some work on your novel as often as you can – even if it’s a few minutes thinking about a setting on the bus. It keeps your ideas moving, developing. And, if you’re anxious like me, it helps keeps the worry a little more in control.

Which other writers do you admire?

There are so many and I keep adding to it. A lot of 19th writing, especially George Eliot and Emile Zola. The first half of the twentieth century has so many brilliant writers, at the moment it’s Jean Rhys and Katherine Mansfield.  I’ve been lucky enough to discover both Shirley Jackson and Barbara Comyns over the last year and they’re definitely in! Sybille Bedford, whom I wish people read and wrote about more. I’m also very keen on recent and contemporary Irish writing: Anne Enright, John McGahern and Colm Tóibín.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on another novel. I’m a bit superstitious about saying much about what I’m doing but it’s set in the 1920s and 1930s in Northern Italy…


My Review

The story is based on the life of Rachel Malik’s own grandmother but, as she states, the book is a fiction and not a speculation and it should be read as such’.  The author’s writing style has a rhythmic, almost poetic quality: ‘For they were all gone: two sisters married and third moved away; three brothers, dead such a long time ago – their names engraved on the memorial to prove it; her mother and her father as well’.  I quickly became immersed in the story and totally engaged with the two main characters, Rene and Elsie.

From the start, Elsie is an enigmatic character, cherishing her solitude and resisting intrusion from neighbours, seeing this as ‘encroachment’. At the same time, she has a ‘lonely power’ that proves strangely attractive to Rene: ‘Elsie wasn’t quite like other people, but that didn’t matter to Rene’.   Elsie’s strangeness is communicated in small ways, such as by gestures. When Rene first arrives at Starlight Farm: ‘She had offered her hand to Elsie, and Elsie had reached out hers but it wasn’t a greeting – Elsie had reached out as if she were trapped and needed to be pulled out, pulled free’. Gradually, they find each meets a kind of need in the other – Elsie, for companionship and a conduit to the outside world, and Rene, for refuge from her past: ‘Elsie knew that Rene fitted. A stranger to be sure, but one who didn’t make her feel strange.’

The development of Elsie and Rene’s relationship over time is tenderly observed without explicitly stating its nature.  Instead their growing mutual dependence is indicated by small things, like shared evenings listening to radio plays or the way they address each other: ‘A “we” was creeping into their talk, sometimes an “us”‘.  Eventually, Rene shares more details about her own history and the choices she has made. The war brings tumultuous change but also new beginnings for the pair. Then a figure from Rene’s past disrupts their way of life and brings with it grave consequences that puts their life together under an unwelcome and potentially life-changing spotlight.

This book is probably not everyone’s cup of tea (although there is plenty of tea drinking in it) but I absolutely fell in love with it.  I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Penguin Books UK, in return for an honest review.

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In three words: Moving, tender, engaging

Try something similar… Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day or Shelter by Sarah Franklin  (click on titles to read my review)


Rachel MalikAbout the Author

Rachel Malik was born in London in 1965 of mixed English and Pakistani parentage.  She studied English at Cambridge and Linguistics at Strathcylde.  For many years, Rachel taught English Literature at Middlesex University.  Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is her first novel, and is based on the extraordinary experiences of her grandmother.

Connect with Rachel

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Miss B & Miss H PB2
‘If the weather was fine, they would make the long-delayed trip to Gunwalloe – on the scooter – Elsie had agreed.’ (p.180)

 

Blog Tour: Beautiful Star & Other Stories by Andrew Swanston

Beautiful Star 2I’m thrilled to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Beautiful Star & Other Stories by Andrew Swanston.   Andrew is the author of the exciting Thomas Hill series (The King’s Spy, The King’s Exile and The King’s Return) set in the English Civil War.  Incendium, the first in a new series set in the 1570s featuring lawyer and spy Christopher Ratcliff, was published in February 2017 (as A. D. Swanston).

As well as my review of Beautiful Star & Other Stories, I’m delighted to bring you a fascinating interview with Andrew.  Among other things, he talks about the most productive time for writing, the importance of detail to create historical authenticity and the benefits of ‘feet on the ground’ research.


Beautiful StarAbout the Book

History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it.

In Beautiful Star we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles II, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; and Jane Wenham, the Witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her grand-daughter.  This moving and affecting journey through time brings a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of a fisherman’s life in 1875.

In Beautiful Star & Other Stories Andrew Swanston brings history to life, giving voices to the previously silent – the bystanders and observers, the poor and the peripheral – and bringing us a rich and refreshing perspective on the past.

Format: Paperback (256 pp.)         Publisher: The Dome Press
Published: 11th January 2018        Genre: Historical Fiction, Short Stories

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Beautiful Star & Other Stories on Goodreads


Interview with Andrew Swanston

The stories in Beautiful Star involve both real and imaginary characters.  Which do you find the more difficult to write?

Interesting question. Imaginary characters are easier in that, within the historical framework of the story, they can do and say and think and look like whatever one wants them to. Real characters are easier in that they bring their personalities and their stories with them.  Mixing the two is the most difficult task and what I like best.

What do you like about the short story format?  What are its challenges?

In Beautiful Star, Julia Paterson tells her friend Willy Miller that flowers are neither wild nor tame, they are just flowers. So it is, for me, with stories – some longer, others shorter, but all just stories with plots and characters, beginnings, middles and endings. As a boy I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories. Strong characters, fast-moving plots, atmospheric but not very descriptive.  Excellent examples of the art.

I’m sure that asking which of the stories in Beautiful Star you like best would be like asking you to choose a favourite child.  Instead, I’ll ask which was the ‘naughtiest child’- the story you found most challenging to write, and why?

I think ‘A Witch and a Bitch’ was the most difficult because in making Jane Wenham’s imaginary grand-daughter the narrator I had to try to imagine the feelings of a teenage girl seeing her grandmother absurdly condemned to death in cruel circumstances three hundred years ago.

If you could be transported back in time to a period of history when and where would it be?

The seventeenth century – a time of conflict and change – has always appealed to me, which is why I wrote the Thomas Hill stories.  During the War of the Three Kingdoms, I would have been a royalist and would have hoped to survive until the Restoration when the king and his court set a splendid example of debauchery and excess. Lovely.

You’ve written books set in the English Civil War (the Thomas Hill series), the Battle of Waterloo and, in your latest book Incendium, the reign of Elizabeth I.   What attracts you to a particular historical period?

I am most interested in how major events such as the massacre of the Huguenots, the execution of Charles I or the return of Napoleon from Elba would have affected the daily lives of the people of the time. What would they have been thinking?  Catholic retaliation in London, a republican tyranny, a French invasion? Poverty, starvation, disease?

What do you think is the key to creating an authentic picture of a particular historical period?

Detail, detail and more detail. Food, clothes, money, transport, anything and everything that enables the reader to ‘see’ a picture without its having to be described.

How do you approach the research for your books? Do you enjoy the process of research?

I love the research, especially meeting and talking to experts, who, without exception, I have found to be generous and supportive.  I also love libraries, most of all The British Library. Best of all, though, is what I call ‘tramping the streets’ – visits to Malmesbury, Romsey, Waterloo, Stationers’ Hall, St Monans and elsewhere, often accompanied by my willing assistant (wife).

Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?

I write in my little study, usually with the door closed. That tells everyone that I am working and should only be disturbed if war has been declared. I have no particular rituals but am most productive in the pre-drinks hours of three to six.

What other writers of historical fiction do you admire?

At the head of a long and distinguished list of ‘auto-buys’ are C J Sansom, Robert Harris and Rory Clements.  There are many others. [I agree.  Those are some of my favourites too!]

What are you working on next?

The sequel to Incendium, set in 1574.  I would very much like also to write another collection of shorter stories.

Thank you, Andrew, for those fascinating answers to my questions.  Now, read on for my review of Beautiful Star & Other Stories….

My Review

In Beautiful Star, the author has taken what might have been considered footnotes in history and fashioned them into compelling, character-driven stories.   I felt the stories really came alive when the author unleashed his writer’s imagination to conjure up the sights, sounds and smells of the period and to populate the historical fact with believable characters.

I simply devoured the stories in Beautiful Star and found something to enjoy, wonder at or be intrigued by in each of them.

In the title story, ‘Beautiful Star’, set in a Fife fishing village in 1875, the reader gets a wonderful insight into the lives of the fishermen and their families.  There is fascinating detail about the craft of ship building (including the local boats known as Fifies), the seasonal nature of life in the village driven by the movement of shoals of fish and the colourful itinerant workers who flock to St Monans during ‘the Drave’, when the herring shoals congregate in the Forth of Fife.   My favourite amongst these were the ‘fisher lassies’, who arrive to gut, sort and pack the herring.  Spending most of their time up to their elbows in fish guts and salt, the leisure time of these tough, hardworking women is spent knitting, often while going for an evening stroll.

The fisherman prove to be superstitious folk with intriguing customs like starting every voyage with dry feet (prepare to be amazed by how this is achieved).    But then, if you were setting sail in small boats for long periods of time then you’d probably be superstitious as well.  In fact, the dangers of the sea and the potential impact on individual families and the whole village of disaster become all too clearly revealed.  The story may be set in 1875, before satellite tracking and modern safety rules, but it still made me think of fisherman today and the perils they face on the open sea.

In ‘The Flying Monk’ we learn that experimentation with manned flight goes back further than you might think and did not start with the Wright Brothers.  The protagonist of this story, a monk called Eilmer, also witnesses two sightings of Halley’s Comet.  Such astronomical events were often viewed as harbingers of disaster. Observing the comet in 1066, the author has Eilmer remark, ‘It is a sign from God.  Mark it well and be prepared.  England’s enemies will come soon.’  He wasn’t wrong, was he?

A few highlights from other stories.  In ‘HMS Association’, set in 1708, instinctive, local knowledge of the sea is dismissed resulting in tragedy, emphasising the limitations of navigation in inclement weather at the time.  In ‘A Witch and a Bitch’, set in 1730, there is a reminder of how accusations of witchcraft were often directed at women viewed as ‘different’.  As the accused woman remarks, “If they want to hang me, they will.  An old woman on her own, they’ll find reasons enough if they choose.”   In ‘The Castle’, set in the latter part of the English Civil War, the chatelaine of Corfe Castle steadfastly tries to carry out a vow made to her dead husband to defend the castle from Parliament’s forces.  In the end, her future is determined by a man who thinks he knows better what’s good for her.  No change there then.    I particularly liked ‘A Tree’ set in 1651, probably the most impressionistic of the stories.  In it, events of the Restoration are seen through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy who has a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger whilst perched in a tree.

The book’s description states that ‘history is brought alive by the people it affects’.  I think the final story in the collection, ‘The Button Seller and the Drummer Boy’, set at the Battle of Waterloo, illustrates this really well.   It’s easy to forget that war, as well as bringing death and destruction, is also a source of business opportunity for some.  Such is the case for our button seller, whose travels through France and Belgium in search of orders for his company’s buttons for military uniforms, brings him to the site of the battle as it rages.  He is confronted by the realities of war; that smart uniforms bearing the correct regimental buttons mean nothing in the face of bullets, sabres and cannon fire and will ultimately end up being valued only by those plundering bodies.

I really loved Beautiful Star & Other Stories and would recommend the collection for any lover of history (I think it might even convert some people who think history is dull) and those for whom the lives of the people who fought in a battle are more interesting than the battle itself.  I really hope Andrew is true to his answer to my final interview question and writes another collection soon.

My grateful thanks to The Dome Press for my review copy, in return for my honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Fascinating, intimate, thought-provoking

Try something similar…The Path of the King by John Buchan


Andrew SwanstonAbout the Author

Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co and Chairman of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.  Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during the English Civil War and the early period of the Restoration.  Andrew’s novel Incendium was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in 1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.

Connect with Andrew

Website  ǀ  Facebook  ǀ  Twitter ǀ  Goodreads

Beautiful Star Blog Tour Poster

 

 

Blog Tour/Q&A: Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster

Blackmail Sex Lies Initial Banner

I’m thrilled to be co-hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Blackmail, Sex and Lies by Kathryn McMaster. The book is based on the true story of Madeleine Smith who was accused of murdering her lover.  Be sure to check out the other great book bloggers taking part in the tour.

Below I have a fascinating interview with Kathryn in which she talks about her research for the book, the need for multi-tasking, why Sunday is writing day and her childhood fascination with true crime stories.

WinWhy not enter my giveaway with a chance to win your own ebook copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies. To enter, click here. The winner will be selected at random. Entries must be received by 20th December 2017.

 

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Blackmail Sex Lies - CoverAbout the Book

Blackmail, Sex and Lies is a story of deception, scandal, and fractured traditional Victorian social values. It is the tale of a naïve, young woman caught up in a whirlwind romance with a much older man. However, both have personality flaws that result in poor choices, and ultimately lead to a tragic end.

This Victorian murder mystery, based on a true story, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, 1857. It explores the disastrous romance between the vivacious socialite, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, and her working class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier. After a two-year torrid, and forbidden relationship with L’Angelier, that takes place against her parents’ wishes, the situation changes dramatically when William Minnoch enters the scene. This new man in Madeleine’s life is handsome, rich, and of her social class. He is also a man of whom her family approve. Sadly, insane jealous rages, and threats of blackmail, are suddenly silenced by an untimely death.

For 160 years, people have believed Madeleine Smith to have been guilty of murder. But was she? Could she have been innocent after all?

Format: ebook, paperback (198 pp.) Publisher: Drama Llama Press Published: 30th August 2017         Genre: True Crime, Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk ǀ Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Blackmail, Sex and Lies on Goodreads


Interview: Kathryn McMaster, author of Blackmail, Sex and Lies

Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about Blackmail, Sex and Lies?

The book is based on a true story that took place in 1857. A young, naïve, Glaswegian socialite, Madeleine Smith is charmed and beguiled by an older man, Pierre Emile L’Anglier. He is a social climber, not of her class, who uses Madeleine in the worst possible way to improve himself in seducing her and then telling her that there is really no way out of the situation, as under Scottish law they are now married. The relationship becomes controlling and abusive, and eventually he dies, rather unexpectedly. For 160 years, Madeleine was suspected of murdering him. But did she? Evidence shows otherwise, but you will have to read the book and decide for yourself.

Blackmail, Sex and Lies is described as ‘creative non-fiction’. Why did you choose to write a fictionalised account of the story of Madeleine Smith?

There were already eight or nine books published as true accounts of the Madeleine Smith story, but nothing that showed us the terrible state of mind she must have been in. She was still a minor, she was forbidden by her family to see this man, but continued to do so, and therefore she had no one to unburden herself when the relationship turned toxic. Reading a dry, factual account does not bring the characters to life, shows their inner fears, nor do you get a feel for how society was in those days, and how the events affected all those involved, including her family. Fictionalising true crimes does this. However, you have to be still careful that you stick the facts and you don’t stray too far from what took place.

You’ve chosen an arresting title for the book. How did you come up with it?

Blackmail, Sex and Lies encapsulates the contents of the book perfectly. L’Angelier seduces her, Madeleine lies to him as she tries to extract herself from the relationship that has turned abusive, and then he blackmails her.

How did you approach the research for the book? Do you enjoy the process of research?

I love researching. For about ten years, I researched both my and my husband’s family trees, and so poring over old documents, court records, census records, and newspapers of the day is nothing new. I use all of these resources at my disposal before sifting through the facts, inconsistencies and opinions of others before writing. The research period can sometimes be as long as three or four months before I start outlining the book, and deciding whether the accused was innocent or guilty. Only then do I start writing.

What was the most surprising fact you uncovered during your research?

It would have to be the open use of arsenic in everyday living during the Victorian era. Yes, they impregnated flypaper to kill flies, fair enough, but they also used it in dyes for wallpaper, paint, and even fabrics. The users often complained to the manufacturers that these products made them ill, but their complaints were ignored. In addition to that, they used it as a beauty product to soften the face and skin when added to water. Right up until the late 18th century, and even the early 19th century arsenic soap and arsenic wafers were used as cosmetics both in Britain and America. In the book I have advertisements where they advocate the use of arsenic. L’Angelier himself was an arsenic eater, taking it for stamina and to improve his health. So you can see the dilemma now of his death and the accused’s position.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered when writing the book?

Time. I run several author Facebook groups and I also co-own the book marketing platform, One Stop Fiction. This takes a lot of time away from my writing, and it always a difficult balance to make sure one doesn’t suffer at the expense of the other.

You’ve written that what fascinates you is the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’ of crime. Where does this interest come from?

For about forty-five years I have been interested in crime and the criminal mind. My father had a large library of true crime books, and while others were reading Enid Blyton and other safer fiction for their age, I would sneak these books into my room and read them with the aid of a torch under the bedclothes. I was fascinated and horrified at the same time.

This interest never left me, and after a long career in secondary and adult education, I started taking courses on criminal profiling and a degree in Forensic Science, Criminal Investigation. It is definitely the most interesting part of the crime, because nine times we know how a crime has been committed. However, the motive behind such a killing is more interesting. What was the trigger that caused this person to turn to crime, and to commit heinous acts against others? What makes the mind of the criminal tick? How different would they have turned out if they had been brought up in a different environment? Are criminals born or are they created? These are the questions that I find the most interesting.

Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?

Because I am so busy, and at my computer every day, for a lot of the day, I write when I can. I now set Sunday aside as my writing day, but do try and write a few paragraphs each day, during the week. It is not ideal, and I get frustrated when I can’t find the time to write. If I am at a part in my writing where I cannot break off and leave it, it is not uncommon for me to be writing late into the early hours of the following morning, or even getting up at 3:00 a.m. to get a chapter written before my working day begins. My special writing place is usually either in bed or on the couch. As all my children are adults, and I am ‘retired’ I have very few interruptions within the home, for which I am grateful.

Which other writers do you admire?

I admire anyone who can spin a good, entertaining story that sucks you in from the first pages, and has you captivated until the last. There are some authors who are consistently good at doing that, and then there are others who write a ‘one hit wonder’ and seem to lose their mojo and never write anything great after that. While I love reading, I won’t pick up a book based on the author, but rather by the reviews that it has received, and the storyline to see if it will be of interest to me. With time being so precious, I don’t have the time to waste on authors who trade on their reputation they made with one or two novels, and then didn’t write anything great after that.

What are you working on next?

I am a little undisciplined in my writing as I have so many ideas for books that I may start one manuscript, and then something else pops up that grabs my attention, so I leave that book to research the next story. I think I have at least four manuscripts that I started recently, none of them finished, or even close to finished.

One deals with a very strange murder that took place in the late 1990s down in the south of England. Another, entitled Six Short Summers, is about Barbara Whitham Waterhouse who was murdered in 1891. Her murder needs to be told as it is related to my first book, Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?. John Gill’s murder and mutilation was so atrocious that it was thought to be the work of Jack the Ripper, however, when Barbara was murdered, her injuries were very similar to that of Johnny Gill’s, who had been murdered in Manningham, Bradford, three years earlier and just eight miles apart.

Barbara’s story is the one I need to finish after the one I am currently writing, entitled Triple Murder at Sea, about a murder that took place aboard the sailing vessel the Herbert Fuller in 1896. I started writing this after Johnny Gill, but then Madeleine Smith derailed me, and so I left it for a while. Triple Murder at Sea is a novella, offered free to subscribers to my website – when it is finished – which should be before Christmas, if all goes well!

Thank you, Kathryn, for those fascinating answers to my questions.


Kathryn mcmasterAbout the Author

Kathryn McMaster is a writer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and champion of good indie authors. She co-owns the book promotion company One Stop Fiction where readers can sign up to receive news of free and discounted 4 and 5 star reviewed books. She is also a bestselling author of historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her debut novel, Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? was well received. All her novels are based on true stories and she melds fact with fiction, writing in the creative non-fiction style. She lives on her 30 acre farm in the beautiful Casentino Valley, Italy for 6 months of the year, and during the other half of the year, on the small island of Gozo, Malta.

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Blog Tour/Q&A: The Tide Between Us by Olive Collins

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I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Tide Between Us by Olive Collins and to welcome Olive to What Cathy Read Next.   Below you can find a fascinating interview in which Olive talks about the inspiration for The Tide Between Us, the historical background to the events in the book and her view that we must examine the past in order to fully understand the present.

Be sure to check out the other bloggers taking part in the tour.

I’d like to thank Olive for providing me with a review copy of The Tide Between Us. I can’t wait for it to reach the top of my review pile. If you’re less patient than me, follow the purchase links below.

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The Tide Between UsAbout the Book

1821: After the landlord of Lugdale Estate in Kerry is assassinated, young Art O’Neill’s innocent father is hanged and Art is deported to the cane fields of Jamaica as an indentured servant. He gradually acclimatises to the exotic country and unfamiliar customs of the African slaves and achieves a kind of contentment. Then the new heirs to the plantation arrive. His new owner is Colonel Stratford-Rice from Lugdale Estate, the man who hanged his father. Art must overcome his hatred to survive the harsh life of a slave and live to see the eventual emancipation of his coloured children. Eventually he is promised seven gold coins when he finishes his service.

One hundred years later in Ireland, a skeleton is discovered beneath a fallen tree on the grounds of Lugdale Estate. By its side is a gold coin minted in 1870. Yseult, the owner of the estate, watches as events unfold, fearful of the long-buried truths that may emerge about her family’s past and its links to the slave trade. As the body gives up its secrets, Yseult realises she too can no longer hide.

Format: eBook, Paperback (400 pp.) Publisher: Poolbeg Press
Published: 7th September 2017           Genre: Historical Fiction

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Interview with Olive Collins, author of The Tide Between Us

Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about The Tide Between Us?

My novel is based between Jamaica and Ireland (1821 – 1991). It follows the story of Art O’Neill, an Irish boy deported to Jamaica at 10 years of age. He takes us through the decades of his life and the coarseness of Jamaica, a country that eventually allows him to progress from servant to overseer, to landowner. We see him become a father and watch as slave emancipation unfolds liberating his coloured children. His greatest battle is fought quietly as he struggles with his abhorrence at his Anglo-Jamaica oppressors, a mutual loathing that passes from father to son. Eventually Art is promised seven gold coins when he finishes his service, although he doubts the plantation owner will part with the coins. Part 1 ends in 1891 with Art going to the Big House to claim his gratuity.

Part 2 is based in Ireland (1921 – 1991). It opens with the discovery of a skeleton beneath a tree on the grounds of Lugdale Estate with a gold coin minted in 1870. Yseult, the owner of Ludgale Estate, watches events unfold fearful of the rumours that abound about her father’s beginnings in Jamaica, a county with 25% of the population claiming Irish descent.

What was the inspiration for the book?

In the 1990’s I met a man at a St. Patrick’s Day party in Israel. He was from Jamaica yet identified his heritage as Irish. He told me that vast numbers of Jamaicans were of Irish descent. At the time I didn’t believe him and only when Google became available did I research his story. I found so many accounts of exiled Irish to Jamaica, I was enthralled. One particular story about 2,000 exiled children tugged at me. My inspiration is those who survived and passed their stories onto the following generations; those who survived adversity to find their own sense of freedom.

How did you approach the research for the book? Do you enjoy the process of research?

I knew very little about the Caribbean so I had to start from scratch. Unlike a lot of colonies, there was little that survived on Jamaica. I used academic papers, memoirs, history books and some diaries from the southern American states to establish the role of an overseer and the attitudes of the time towards slavery. There was one valuable diary from Thomas Thistlewood, an English overseer and planter in Jamaica.

Only when my main character, Art O’Neill, began his journey did I begin to enjoy the research. Reading about the unnecessary cruelty and what the slaves and indentured servants endured was difficult yet it helped me establish how the slaves and servants were viewed. I became very involved in the characters. Writing about slave emancipation was wonderful; the great strides the ex-slaves made to ensure their days of whippings were finally over.

The Tide Between Us tells the story of a young Irish man deported to Jamaica as an indentured servant. Do you feel this is an aspect of Irish history that has been overlooked?

Yes, I think it’s overlooked. Most people who’ve read my novel never knew about the exiled Irish or how the masses of Irish left as indentured servants during the 18th century and until the mid-19th century. When I looked at the map of Jamaica and saw the amount of Irish place-names I was even more surprised that so many are not aware of our exiled history.

What was the most surprising fact you uncovered during your research?

The amount of Irish who emigrated to Jamaica. Initially I thought the number was much smaller. We don’t have accurate numbers; suffice to say, 25% of Jamaican’s claim Irish ancestry. I was equally surprised to see that some Irish owned slaves and could be as cruel as any other slave-owner.

Your previous novel, The Memory of Music, is partly set in Ireland during the Easter Rising of 1916. What is it you enjoy about writing historical fiction?

I write historical fiction because I’m curious about the unknown. The present is familiar to me whereas the atmosphere of times long gone is mysterious. Sometimes I simply want to explore how people survived. The novels and location interest me; if nothing else, it sates my curiosity. When I read certain histories, so much is explained about a nation’s outlook. To understand the present, we need to examine the past.

Both The Memory of Music and The Tide Between Us have dual time narratives. What is it that attracts you to this structure for your novels?

It’s the continuation that interests me. I like to explore how the following generation is impacted by the previous generation. Naturally as time passes we become more civilised and tolerant, yet each of us inhabit our own smaller histories, the little nuggets we pass onto the following generations. I’m interested in how families and we as individuals evolve and how much of the deep, dark past we pull into the present and pass on again and again.

Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?

I don’t have a special place, although I like to write at night. Most of the time I sit by a window with a lamp and the flickering lights from houses and cars in the distance. Writing at night removes layers and brings me closer to those I want to reach. There is a sense that it’s only me and them (my beloved characters) and the time they inhabit.

Which other writers do you admire?

I like Elizabeth Strout for her solid characters, Isabelle Allende for her sweeping sagas, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her prose bubbling on each page.

What are you working on next?

I’m researching the American Wild West and the pioneers who ventured into the prairies. A few years ago I visited Oregon. At one point I went for a drive into the desert and saw the remains of the Oregon Trail. Although it had been 130 years since the last pioneers used the same trail, the route they travelled was still evident in the desert. I remember looking across the arid landscape and further to the distant mountains. I’ve often thought of the trail I saw and thought about the men and women who packed up everything and chased a dream.

Thank you, Olive, for the fascinating answers. I’m sure we all hope those nights spent connecting with the characters of your next book will prove fruitful.


Olive CollinsAbout the Author

Olive Collins grew up in Thurles, Tipperary, and now lives in Kildare. For the last fifteen years, she has worked in advertising in print media and radio. She has always loved the diversity of books and people. She has travelled extensively and still enjoys exploring other cultures and countries. Her inspiration is the ordinary everyday people who feed her little snippets of their lives. It’s the unsaid and gaps in conversation that she finds most valuable.

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