The Stranger in My Bed: Take 2.

The Stranger in My Bed: Take 2.

Three weeks ago I reviewed Karen King’s latest, The Stranger in My Bed. While it is billed as a psychological thriller, the issues that underlie the story are important. Here Karen talks a little more about them.

Thank you, Tom, for your blog post about my new thriller, The Stranger in My Bed. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. As you mentioned, I normally write romance novels, where love wins in the end and everything goes right. Whereas The Stranger in My Bed, is a portrayal of a marriage gone badly wrong.

You commented in your blog that ‘Like many men, I had my suspicions that coercive control was mainly an invention of militant feminism and that, if it happened at all, it happened to weak women who were, to a degree, complicit in their abuse. Since then two separate friends of mine, both strong, confident women, have fallen victim to this sort of relationship.’ A lot of people think this, unless they are involved, or know someone involved, in this kind of destructive relationship and this is one of the reasons I wrote this story, to raise awareness of the issue.

Both women and men – although it’s mainly women – are affected by domestic abuse – over 2.4 million according to the 2019 Crime Survey for England and Wales, it’s a big problem that is often misunderstood and pushed under the carpet.  Someone who has never been in an abusive relationship, or never known anyone in one, can find it difficult to understand why the abused person doesn’t run for the door when the first incident occurs and say things such as ‘why didn’t she get out sooner?’ or ‘why  does he put up with it?’ These comments suggest that the victims of domestic abuse are partly to blame for it, that it’s their fault for ‘allowing’ it to happen. I wrote The Stranger in My Bed to try and dispel the myth that abused partners are weak doormats  and  to try and show how insidious the emotional impact of domestic abuse is, how the abuser gaslights their partner into believing that they are imaging the abuse, or that it is their own fault, they cause it to happen. Also, these kinds of abusers aren’t abusive all the time, they are sometimes kind, loving, the life and soul of the party. This can be confusing for their partner who hangs on in there waiting for the abuser to return to the person they know they can be, the one they fell in love with and who loves them.

In The Stranger in My Bed, both Freya and Phil have their faults – as all people do. Freya is no doormat. She is outgoing, strong, a career woman who fights her corner determined not to put up with the things her mother put up with from her father, who was a serial adulterer. Phil is intelligent, loving, kind, charming if a little overbearing, they seem the perfect couple.  One night Phil storms out and Freya packs her bag ready to leave him when he is involved in a serious car accident. When he comes out of his coma he can’t remember the past two years – all their married life – his last memory is of them returning from their happy honeymoon. Freya is faced with the dilemma of whether to still leave him or give their marriage another chance. It’s evident that some kind of abuse has gone on in the marriage, but the story changes POV so that the reader isn’t sure which one of the characters is the abuser and which one the abused.

It’s a story that, I hope, will make people think. That nice couple next door could be going through this, your sister, brother or friend. Did they really get that bruise on their arm by walking into the door frame? Do they always wear long sleeves for a reason? Would they tell you if something was wrong or cover it up? And when they finally do confess to you what’s going on will you believe them or say ‘but he/she seems so nice?’  As you say in your blog, Tom, ‘it can be difficult to believe that there can be a real threat lurking in an apparently normal home’.

No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.  Even the victims of domestic abuse often don’t realise what’s happening to them and question whether they are really the ones at fault, if they are causing the abuse. If my book helps just one of them to open their eyes and reach out for help then I’ll feel that I’ve achieved something.

The Stranger in My Bed

‘We have a patient who has been involved in a serious accident. We believe he’s your husband.’

When Freya first met Phil, she thought he was the man of her dreams. He bought her roses every week, booked surprise trips to sun-soaked destinations, and showed her affection like she’d never experienced before. But over time the dream had become a violent nightmare. And now Freya is packing her bags, knowing it’s time she escaped their increasingly broken marriage.

But then Freya gets a visit from the police. Phil’s been in a horrific car crash and – as he comes around – it becomes clear that he remembers nothing since their blissful honeymoon two years before, back when their relationship was perfect. All he wants is to be happily married again.

Freya knows giving him another chance could be dangerous. But now he’s the one who needs her, it’s a chance to turn the tables, and to change the outcome of their relationship once and for all. After all, he will only know what she chooses to tell him…

But what really happened during those two years of marriage? And as they start over again, who is safe? And whose life is in danger?

Fans of The Girl on the Train, Behind Closed Doors and Date Night who are looking for a dark, gripping psychological thriller, with a final twist that will leave their jaw on the floor, will love The Stranger in My Bed.

Karen King

Karen King was born in Birmingham and has always enjoyed reading and writing. She’s been published for over thirty years, in a variety of genres for both children and adults. She loves writing about the complexities of relationships. She is published by Bookouture and Headline. Her first three books for Bookouture were romances where relationships came right, she has turned to the darker side of relationships for her next two books, writing two psychological thrillers about relationships that go badly wrong. Karen now lives in Spain where she loves to spend her non-writing time exploring the quaint local towns with her husband, Dave, when she isn’t sunbathing or swimming in the pool, that is.

Contact links


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Jennifer Macaire’s latest

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know how much I enjoy. Jennifer Macaire’s writing. So I’m delighted to have her here talking about her next book.

A Remedy in Time

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog! I’m here to talk about my newest time travel book, ‘A Remedy in Time’, and what inspired me to write it.

I’ve had a passion for time travel ever since I found out about dinosaurs. I admit I’ve watched the Jurassic Park series about a hundred times. The dinosaurs never get boring for me. When I was in kindergarten, I stood at the blackboard and drew huge dinos. A t-rex chased a triceratops, a stegosaurus lumbered across a swamp, while a huge brontosaurus (now known as apatosaurus, which is a pity, given that brontosaurus meant “thunder lizard”) grazed on high tree tops. One of my teachers discovered my obsession, and she would take me from class to class so I could draw and give a talk about dinosaurs.

Then one day I happened on a Reader’s Digest that featured sabretooth tigers. In the illustration, the tigers are attacking a mammoth that has somehow gotten entrapped in a tar-pit. I stared at that illustration for hours, trying to imagine how the sabretooth tigers could hunt and eat their prey with such massive canines.

That was that for the dinosaurs. Suddenly I was fascinated by a time when woolly mammoths, huge cave bears, and even sloths the size of small houses, roamed the frigid plains of the ice-age tundra. The sabretooth tiger, with its out-sized canines became my spirit animal – I read everything I could about them, and spent my time drawing pictures of extinct mammals. Needless to say, the sabretooth tiger was the beast that really caught my interest.

Years and years later, I stumbled on a blogsite that featured fossils, and it amused me to try and guess the mystery photos the author posted. And then one day, lo and behold, there was a sabretooth tiger! I recognized it right away. In the blog post, the author admitted that scientists still argued about how the animal hunted its prey. I started imagining a trip to the past to film a documentary about sabretooth tigers.

Of course, the trip would start at Tempus U, where my time travel books all start from. And the heroine this time would be a single-minded young woman who not only specialized in paleolithic animals but infectious diseases as well, because when I started writing the book, there had been a breakout of an especially virulent form of typhus in California. And so I wove a story about corporate greed, vaccines, man-made diseases, and a trip to the far, far past. A Remedy in Time is available for preorder, and will be published January 7th, 2021!

And here is the fabulous cover my publisher, Headline Accent, made for it!

To save the future, she must turn to the past . . .

San Francisco, Year 3377. A deadly virus has taken the world by storm. Scientists are desperately working to develop a vaccine. And Robin Johnson – genius, high-functioning, and perhaps a little bit single-minded – is delighted. Because, to cure the disease, she’s given the chance to travel back in time.

But when Robin arrives at the last Ice Age hoping to stop the virus at its source, she finds more there than she bargained for. And just as her own chilly exterior is beginning to thaw, she realises it’s not only sabre-toothed tigers that are in danger of extinction . . .

Preorder from:  ; ; :  Hachhette UK ; 

Jennifer Macaire

Jennifer is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modelled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories.

Follow Jennifer on twitter & Facebook


I lay with my face in the grass. I hadn’t vomited, but that’s only because I couldn’t take a full breath. I knew that as soon as my diaphram started working again I’d spill my guts. It didn’t take long. “Why, oh why, did I agree to this,” I said, between bouts of retching and paralyzing pain. Finally, I managed to get to my knees. “What if a sabre tooth tiger had been here? We’d already be eaten, or worse.”

He shook his head. “See how the air around us is faintly blue? We’re protected by the tractor beam for a good hour. Nothing can get in.”

I reached out my hand and touched the blue-tinged air. It was a little like being surrounded by a very faint fog. I poked. My finger tingled and stung. “Wo cao!” I said. As I watched, the blue shivered and began to fade. “It’s almost gone. Let’s go. We should send some vidcams out and see if there are any spots that look like a good campsite.”

Donnell looked at his comlink.

“What time is it?” I asked. “Is time here different, I wonder? It was nearly noon when we left the, um, future.” I glanced at my own comlink. “It’s one minute to one. Amazing. We go back ten thousand years in little more than an hour. A-fucking-mazing. Look at this place!” Mouth open in amazement, I gazed around. We were on the side of a grassy hill, and we had a good view of the surrounding area. I forgot about my pain, I was in the past! I was here! I staggered to my feet and looked around. “Wa cao! We’re really here! There is a ta me da giant armadillo down there. Putain, a glyptodon! This is amazing. Look at that! It looks like a walking igloo except it’s brown, not white. Donnell, look!

Donnell didn’t look at the scenery. He looked at me, and said, “Robin, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m really very sorry. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” He looked truly upset.

I hastened to reassure him. “No need to apologise. Look, I know you didn’t want to have me as a partner. I overheard you talking to the dean. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just make this trip a success. We have many lives depending on us.”

He made a strange noise. Then his face turned ashen, and he gagged like he was about to be sick. I thought he was still feeling the effects of the trip. I bent to help him to his feet, but he gagged again, then screamed.

“What is it? Donnell? What is happening?” I didn’t understand what I was seeing. His leg, his leg was shrinking. He shrieked, grabbed his leg, and his hands sank into his, well, where his thigh should have been, and then he sort of slid and slumped to the ground, convulsing, his body moving as if waves were tossing it, as if he were made of liquid, and his clothes became wet, and the strongest, strangest smell assaulted my nose.

I think I started to scream then too. Then my breath ran out and all I could do was squeak, squeak, squeak, as I tried to drag air into my lungs.

He must have been in dreadful pain. He screamed until the end. Until all that was left was his chest and his head, then those too sank into themselves and all that was left were clothes and boots, and a pink, foamy gel.

I spun around and flailed at the air, at the faint wisp of blue that still lingered. I found my voice. “Help!” I screamed, “Help, help, help!”

No one came. Below me, in the valley, the glyptodon lifted its head and seemed to look in my direction.

I couldn’t stop shaking, and I couldn’t seem to be able to breathe. Black spots danced in front of my vision and I knelt down, bent over, and hit my head on the ground. “No. No. No! That didn’t just happen. It’s a hallucination. You’re still unconscious. You’ll wake up in a minute. Wake up, Robin. Wake the feck up.” I dug my fingers into the dirt and screamed again.

Covers (again)

Burke at Waterloo was republished last weekend. There are some minor changes in the text but the biggest change is the lovely new cover. This has naturally led to thinking about book covers again – a subject that has come up on my blog a few times lately.

One of my readers, Paul Benedyk, turns out to be a bibliophile and previous posts on covers made him think about the covers of books in his own collection. His response is far too interesting (and long) to hide away in the comments, so here it is shared with you.

Confessions of a bibliophile

Much to the frustration of my wife, I was collecting books in a minor way when we met, and have continued since we married (to the extent permitted!).  I now have something approaching 1200 books scattered around the house.  To be fair to my wife, she lived for a time in the house of a family who ran a bookselling business from home, so even the smell of older books brings back memories from the 1970s that she would have preferred to leave there!

Your blog piece made me reflect on the development of covers through some of the books I have, and I’ll mention three I have that might be of interest to you :

Josephus – published before 1930, I think 

I can’t lay my hands on this book at the moment, but I bought it only because of the book cover.  The spine had become loose and it was clear that, under a fairly normal looking bland plain hardcover, it had at some point been bound in old sheet music!  I’m unsure whether this was part of stiffening the original cover following a repair, or if using sheet music for this purpose was common at the time it was published.  Maybe one of your blog readers has come across this sort of thing ?

Charles Dickens “Specimen”

I was interested in this book, not because of this book cover but because of the ’story’ it tells about the time it was published. It’s stamped inside “Feb. 12. 1907  Louis Chaplais”, who I guess may have been an itinerant bookseller or perhaps the owner of a bookshop (but that’s just my speculation).  It’s not actually a Charles Dickens book, but a really nicely produced sales pitch by Cassell & Company for “the First Complete Edition of Dickens’s Works ever offered to the public by Subscription”. 

Its forty or so pages are bound in book format with examples of the proposed binding, typeface and illustrations of the series, making it very clear that the series would be produced to a high standard and available only by subscription.  On another page, not the one shown here, it reads – “Every care will be paid to the binding; the forwarding and finishing will combine good workmanship and taste.”

The covers of this special edition series, as illustrated within the specimen book, were clearly meant to impress from the bookshelf, rather than from the front cover itself.

Evan Evans – The Song of the Whip

This is the real link into your blog piece for me, as the cover of this paperback was produced by a distant relative of mine, who I never actually met. Abram Games (1914-1996) was a graphic designer, and became more widely known as a poster artist.  He designed some iconic posters to help the war effort during WW2, as well as a number after the war for London Transport, BOAC, The Festival Of Britain and The Financial Times.  He also designed postage stamps and was, in fact, featured on a stamp himself in 2014 in a series called ‘Remarkable Lives’.  I was amazed to learn that he also turned his hand to designing the occasional stained glass window and even a Cona coffee percolator. 

Going back to the book covers, as Art Director of Penguin Books, Abram Games ‘oversaw’ the first move into full colour covers for Penguin paperbacks, although only a few covers were his own work.  I believe the management of the time were not thrilled with this evolution into full colour covers for paperbacks and discontinued the experiment after a year or two.  I was inordinately proud, though, to find out that he himself designed the paperback cover for The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill ! 

His name appears on most of his work, printed in his own hand somewhere – in this case towards the bottom right hand corner of the cover, as opposed to the bottom left hand corner of the Evan Evans book.

So it’s interesting for me to see the evolution of book covers through books that I actually have on my bookshelves (barring one I can’t find at the moment !), and to know that the lovely new covers on your books follow a line of craftsmen with a number of skills going back several centuries. 

Keeping in touch

It was lovely to get this from Paul. Writing is an inherently lonely occupation and there’s little direct feedback from readers. It’s not just with books, but with a blog. Although I invite comments on the blog (there’s always a form at the bottom of each blog post), I don’t get that many. But, as you can see, I do read them and usually respond. If you feel you have something to say (that links to the subjects posted on the blog) do get in touch like Paul did.

Meanwhile …

All three of the previously published books about James Burke are now available in new editions (all with covers by the estimable Dave Slaney).

Burke in the Land of Silver features the British attack on Buenos Aires in 1806. Dastardly deeds, wicked women, sinister spies – all set against a vivid (and historically accurate) background of international intrigue.

Burke and the Bedouin finds James Burke in Egypt as Napoleon’s armies march on Cairo. Can one man change the course of the war? Oddly enough, it’s quite likely that one man did (though you’ll have to read the book to find out how). Was that man James Burke?

Burke at Waterloo starts with a little-known (though very real) attempt on the life of Wellington in 1814 in Paris. Bonaparte is in exile on Elba, but his supporters are preparing for his return. Burke is sent to infiltrate the Bonapartists and save Wellington. As the plot fails and the Bonapartist leader flees, Burke pursues him from the slums of Paris to the aristocratic salons of Brussels until the final showdown on the field of Waterloo, as French and British armies clash in the defining battle of the age.

Covers as art

Covers as art

I do hope you’re not getting bored about book covers. My essay last week didn’t get nearly the attention that was given to Anna Legat’s views on cover design back in May but maybe it was me rather than the subject matter. Let’s hope so, because this week with have Gilli Allan with her take on covers.

Book Covers are an Art in Themselves – A subjective view

There is only one book I recall buying because of its cover. I was twenty and browsing in Menzies, on the Strand in London. Black with a pale gaunt face looking out, the cover remains a strong visual memory. (Inexplicably I can find no trace of it online!) Intrigued, and entirely at a loss which name – Titus Groan or Mervyn Peake – was the title and which the author, I picked it up from the shelf. I’m not a fan of fantasy, but Mervyn Peake’s masterpiece, the Gormenghast trilogy, became an obsession and remains one of the stand-out literary experiences of my life.

Covers can be misleading, though. As a young woman I can easily recall my outrage when a novel adorned with a pretty blonde in a crinoline, turned out to be a Regency tale of a dark-haired heroine.  Or worse, when the hero proved to be a bearded redhead, but the handsome chap on the cover had been dark and clean shaven.  It was just WRONG!

Now I never choose a book because of its cover.  Which isn’t to say I don’t judge. There are covers I like and covers I definitely don’t. Those that make me pause and look twice are covers whose message is unclear. Anything enigmatic or atmospheric, or quirkily symbolic, or dominated by particularly magnetic colours, is far more likely to catch my eye. Will that be sufficient to make me buy?  No.  I have reached an age when I only read what I know I will like!

Am I lazy? Prejudiced? Intellectually unadventurous?  Blinkered?  Maybe all those things.   I pick my reading from a list of authors I already admire, or from reviews on Arts programmes and newspapers, from word of mouth and from award-winners in favourite genres.  I don’t even read blurbs because I prefer to be surprised!  I certainly pay no attention to the covers.

My all-consuming hobby as a teenager was writing, but I would not show my soppy ramblings to anyone other than the two friends I insisted listened to my stories. Art was my best subject at school, and though English came second in enjoyment, my returned homework rarely received more than a B and the quantity of red scribbled corrections convinced me I was no good.

I stopped writing when I went to art school. It was only after a career of more than ten years as an illustrator in advertising that I decided to try writing again. This was not in response to a sudden creative flowering. After becoming a mother, I didn’t want to return to the hassle and stress of work! Writing proved to be an occupation I could easily fit around being a stay-at-home-mum. The biggest bonus of that decision was the joy I discovered in revisiting my “soppy” hobby.

My first two novels swiftly found a publisher. The pre-digital Love Stories – characterized at the time as “The thinking woman’s Mills & Boon” – was a new enterprise, only too willing to take me up on my grandiose offer to provide the cover artwork. Though I knew precisely nothing about the discipline, I was undaunted. I came up with an illustrative water-colour image for both the covers of Just Before Dawn and Desires and Dreams.

From that high-point my expectations of a glittering career began a slide into a long and humbling period of lesson-learning.  Whether or not my covers bear any responsibility for my poor sales is unknowable, but Love Stories did not prosper and when they went out of business, I failed to find another publisher.

Perhaps I should have taught myself book cover design in those in-between years, but commercial art and design had moved away from the tools I was familiar with to computers. It was only when the digital revolution came for books as well as art, that I decided to self-publish the three novels I’d written in the interim. With a lot of trial and error, I managed to produce cover designs I was happy reflected the content of the books.  But the demands of constant marketing and promotion was a burden. When the opportunity arose to join the small publisher, Accent Press, I happily sold myself. 

For the first time I confronted the reality of my covers being out of my control.   I leave it to you to guess whether I was pleased with the covers I was given. TORN – about a woman living in a small end-of-terrace cottage on the side of a wooded hill. FLY or FALL – about a woman living a suburban life in a suburban town.  LIFE CLASS – designed using a stock image I found – is the only one of my Accent Press covers that I actually feel reflects the story.

On deciding to self-publish my next book, I was again faced with the “cover” dilemma. Unable to find suitable stock images, I came up with a graphic design which was symbolic of the themes of my book. (It’s the picture at the top of this piece.) Though based on archaeology, Buried Treasure is a story about much more than digging up valuable objects. But I was never entirely satisfied and after publication almost immediately set about the task of redesigning its cover so that I could have a mini relaunch when the book went into paperback.  I eventually managed to create a cover I was thrilled with but everyone in the business awarded it a thumbs-down. It looked less like a book about relationships (with a hint of mystery), and more like a thriller, apparently!

Back to the drawing board.  Only this time it wasn’t my drawing board.  I decided to accept the advice I was being given from all sides.  Just because I am not much influenced by cover design when I make a choice to buy, I can’t deny the evidence that a majority are. Good cover design is not just the ability to assemble a pleasing image alongside the necessary information. It is a skill that has more to do with advertising, with identifying a brand and selling a product, than it does with “Art”.  Though I did work in advertising, I was more of a workhorse than a visualizer or salesman. My ability to identify my buyer and hone my message to appeal to him or her is zero.  By handing the project over to a professional, Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics, I hope this time, I have got it right. 


Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration.

All of her recent books Torn, Life Class, Fly or Fall, and Buried Treasure have gained ‘Chill with a Book’ awards.

Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams, is now also a writer.

You can contact Gilli at:


Jane thinks he sees her as shallow and ill-educated. Theo thinks she sees him as a snob, stuffy and out of touch.
Within the ancient precincts of the university the first encounter between the conference planner and the academic is accidental and unpromising. Just as well there’s no reason for them ever to meet again. But behind the armour they’ve each constructed from old scars, they’ve more in common than divides them. Both have an archaeological puzzle they are driven to solve. As their stories intertwine, their quest to uncover the past unearths more than expected.

You can buy Buried Treasure at

Find Gilli’s other books TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL at

Sir Home Riggs Popham in fact and fiction

Sir Home Riggs Popham in fact and fiction

As promised last week, I bring you more on Sir Home Riggs Popham, the man who took it upon himself to take an army to South America in 1806 on the grounds that there was a city worth invading and he had some spare men to invade it with. (It’s the incident that Burke in the Land of Silver revolves around.)

Popham’s exploits are so implausible that I don’t expect you to take my word for it, so here is proper historian (and historical novelist) Lynn Bryant to tell you more about the man. Take it away, Lynn. That’s ‘Weigh anchor and cast off’ in Popham’s world.

The mad but glorious world of Home Riggs Popham

During a recent interview on a Napoleonic history blog, I was asked if I had come across any real historical character that I would never write in fiction, because he would be too unbelievable. I didn’t have to stop to think about this one – Sir Home Popham, who features as the antagonist in both books in my Manxman series, was a real person, which is just as well because I would never have had the nerve to make him up.

Popham was a naval officer, a controversial figure during his own time, who is best remembered for the system of naval signalling that he designed in around 1800, which was eventually adopted as the Admiralty standard in 1812. There was a lot more to Popham, however, than a naval officer with a scientific bent. During his forty two years in the navy, he was a prisoner of the French, was accused of being a smuggler, was promoted at the request of the army, gained and then lost the favour of Tsar Paul of Russia, was investigated for fraud, became an MP, and was court martialled for an apparently unauthorised invasion of South America. That is not an exhaustive list of Popham’s activities.

Nelson’s famous message at Trafalgar used Popham’s flag code

So how did a younger son of an unremarkable family come to play such a significant role in political and international spheres in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century? I suspect the key to Popham’s success lies in his usefulness. Popham was highly intelligent and a talented organiser, with a genius for logistics and this placed him in an excellent position to find favour not only with the navy, but with the army. During his career, he acquired a reputation for being the man to call on during joint operations and was frequently consulted in the planning of campaigns.

In 1794 Popham was appointed agent for transports at Ostend for the Flanders campaign. It was a job to which he was ideally suited and Popham made the most of it, winning the patronage of the Duke of York, who eventually wrote to the First Lord of the Admiralty requesting his promotion to post-captain. 1798 found him in Ostend during the invasion threat, and the following year he was sent to St Petersburg where he successfully persuaded Tsar Paul to provide troops for a proposed landing in the Netherlands. Later that year, Popham was once again in charge of an evacuation during the Helder campaign and while the expedition was unsuccessful, Popham came out of it with his reputation further enhanced. He was elected to Parliament in 1804 and sat for various constituencies until 1812.

The breadth of Popham’s assignments is astonishing and an apparently simple job often turned into something more complex. A straightforward command of a troop ship during the Egyptian campaign led to a commission by a secret committee of the East India Company to negotiate trade treaties with the sheriff of Mecca and other Arabian states as ambassador directly responsible to the governor-general of Bengal, Lord Wellesley. In 1804 he was involved in the extraordinary work of Robert Fulton in developing naval mines. And at the end of the year, he sailed as commodore and commander-in-chief of an expedition to take the Cape of Good Hope with a force under General Sir David Baird.

It should be no surprise by now, to find that with the Cape in British hands, Popham did not stick to his official orders to remain in Table Bay to guard against a possible French attack. Instead, he decided to take his forces to attack the River Plate in South America. There is no evidence that Popham had any authorisation for this invasion, but in 1806, he landed his troops near Buenos Aires. The city fell to English forces under Beresford, but this early success did not last, and in August the Spanish took back the city, imprisoned Beresford’s men and left Popham facing recall and a court martial.

Popham’s 1807 trial ended with an inevitable guilty verdict, but surprisingly he was let off with nothing worse than a reprimand, undoubtedly due to his friends in high places. Further postings followed; Popham was Captain of the Fleet during the Copenhagen campaign in 1807, and performed the same function although without the title, during the Walcheren campaign of 1809 when he was heavily involved in the planning of what turned out to be a disaster for the British forces.

Once again, Popham managed to negotiate the ensuing Parliamentary inquiry without formal censure, and with his reputation officially intact, but there is a sense that Popham was running out of friends. Prime Minister William Pitt died in 1806 and Lord Melville, Popham’s long-time patron, died in 1811. Melville’s son took over at the Admiralty in 1812 and Popham was sent to northern Spain to co-operate with the guerrillas and conduct a naval guerrilla warfare against the French in support of Wellington. He was highly successful at this, keeping an entire French army ‘distracted’, and capturing Santander.

Popham was keen to be sent back to Spain in 1813 to continue his work, but he was not. He was promoted to rear-admiral, but he was not employed on active service again, ending his days in a miserable posting as commander-in-chief in Jamaica, where he suffered from yellow fever, lost two of his children to illness and finally suffered a stroke. He died soon after his return to England in 1820.

So what went wrong for Popham? There is no doubt that along with his many talents, Popham had a genius for making enemies. Lord St Vincent, who was First Lord from 1801 to 1804 openly loathed him, and there are endless letters and memos from Popham describing his sense of persecution. Popham was also unpopular with many of his fellow naval officers. This may have stemmed from his early promotion to post-captain at the behest of the army, and there was a furious protest from several very senior captains in 1807 when Popham was appointed Captain of the Fleet ahead of them.

Popham was a relentless self-publicist. He was undoubtedly good at what he did, but his compulsive need to announce his successes in pamphlets, news reports and endless letters to the government and the Admiralty, seems to have infuriated even his supporters. Lord Wellington was genuinely pleased with Popham’s success in northern Spain in 1812 but was less impressed to find that Popham was sending direct reports to the English press and expressed it with typical Wellington candour in a letter to Lord Bathurst. 

“It might have been as well also if Sir H Popham’s exultation upon the success of his operations in diverting the attention of the enemy from me had not been published. I mention this, because I know that the French act a good deal upon any information from our papers which they deem at all authentic.”

Wellington’s dispatches 12 Sept 1812

By the end of 1812, Popham’s career was in decline. His expertise in planning was offset by his tendency to oversell his schemes, and he was quick to abdicate responsibility when things went wrong, as in Walcheren. His reputation for financial irregularity may or may not have been deserved, but accusations dogged him throughout his career, and there was a sense of “no smoke without fire” which made him appear untrustworthy. Popham was an intelligent and inventive officer who punched above his weight in terms of influence at the heart of government foreign, military and naval policy for many years, but he could be arrogant, self-important and disastrously indiscreet. I suspect by 1813 he had simply run out of influential friends.

There is so much more that I’d like to know about Popham. There is one biography of him, A Damned Cunning Fellow: Eventful Life of Rear Admiral Sir Home Popham, by Hugh Popham, which was published in 1991, and Dr Jacqueline Reiter is currently working on a new study, and has been generous in sharing her insights as I grapple with my fictional version of Popham. Popham appears in both books in the Manxman series and makes a very brief cameo appearance in my new book, An Unmerciful Incursion which will be published on July 31st 2020. Popham is pure gold for a novelist, and I love writing him, so he will definitely return in all his glory in book four of the Manxman series, which is set during his 1812 campaign in northern Spain.

Lynn Bryant

Lynn (with me)

Lynn Bryant was born and raised in London’s East End. She studied History at University and had dreams of being a writer from a young age. Since this was clearly not something a working class girl made good could aspire to, she had a variety of careers including a librarian, NHS administrator, relationship counsellor, manager of an art gallery and running an Irish dance school before she realised that most of these were just as unlikely as being a writer and took the step of publishing her first book.

She now lives in the Isle of Man and is married to a man who understands technology, which saves her a job, and has two grown-up children and a Labrador. History is still a passion, with a particular enthusiasm for the Napoleonic era and the sixteenth century. When not writing she spoils her dog, reads anything that’s put in front of her and makes periodic and unsuccessful attempts to keep a tidy house.

Lynn Bryant is the author of the five books of the Peninsular War Saga, set in Wellington’s army, and the two books of the linked Manxman series, which follows the fortunes of a Manx navy captain.

You can find Lynn on her website at or on social media at the following links.




Don’t forget …

Burke in the Land of Silver (featuring Popham) has been republished and is now available as an e-book and in paperback.

People do judge books by their covers: a guest post by Anna Legat

In our fast-paced world the conveyer belt of online bookshops zooms by at the speed of light. We writers and our books may only have one chance to catch a reader’s eye and make a good first impression. Browsing is not what it used to be. Readers don’t hang about in bookshops, sieving at their leisure through tomes of leather-bound sameness to discover the literary treasures that hide inside. They don’t pause by every volume, pull it out, blow off the cobwebs and read the first chapter to see if the story is to their liking. Those days are gone. Nowadays, our book’s debut on the literary catwalk may be no more than a flash of pixels, a click of a button, or a slip of a finger on the keyboard.

We have entered the era of fast food not only for our bodies but also for our minds. Book covers amount to the virtual sugar coating designed to whet readers’ appetites. The attraction to our book has to be generated before our potential reader contemplates reading the blurb on the back cover or on the Amazon web page. We have one shot at getting it right.

Our publishers and graphic designers rely on us to come up with ideas for the cover. We know our books intimately. If anyone can describe our books in one word – or in one image – it is us. When contriving a cover for our books we look for a symbolic expression that will best represent our book. We can’t go too far or too deep into the story. We don’t want to retell it on the cover, or even summarise it in wide strokes. A good book cover will only just hint at what is to come when the book is opened and read.

Below are three brilliant examples of conceptual book cover designs. The matchstick-house of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine hints at a burnout, at several false starts – prematurely extinguished, at an existence unfulfilled, at loneliness and emptiness. Slaughterhouse Five delivers an ingenious image of an alarm clock with missing hands and two unexploded bombs waiting to be struck – the time has come to an end and history has stopped in its tracks. The symbolism on the cover of Atwood’s The Testaments is effortless because we are already familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale, and what that lampshade-shaped wimple stands for. Colour is drained away from the woman’s face – she doesn’t need a face to express her feelings, she’s not allowed to feel.

Not all covers represent books using highly conceptualised symbolism. Different genres abide by different rules. Romance frequently features idyllic watercolours with flawless silhouettes of romantic heroines and heroes that melt your heart at first sight. Horror covers do the opposite – they make your blood run cold.

Below are examples of historical fiction covers. Again, apart from the obvious symbolism of 12 Years a Slave, they bear stylised references to the eras and locations the books are set in: The Interpretation of Murder in turn-of-the-century Manhattan, New York, and The Innocent in Cold-War Berlin. The reader is given a clear message: this is your destination if you choose to journey into this story.  

Crime fiction covers are the least predictable or standardised. There are only so many ways in which one can depict death. Crime fiction goes for diverse ways of intriguing the reader without betraying any of the plot. My new DI Marsh mystery, due to be published in October, features a grand old public-school edifice as its focal point. That’s because all the roads – or, as in this story, all the clues – lead to that school. Even the sky plays its part to perfection: the clouds are gathering and darkening the horizon. There lurks the present and imminent danger. The book cover is an invitation to come in and play with that danger.

When a body is found in the grounds of a prestigious Wiltshire private school, DI Gillian Marsh takes on the case. The young groundsman, Bradley Watson, has been shot dead, pierced through the heart with an arrow.

As the investigation gathers pace, DI Marsh is frustrated to find the Whalehurst staff and students united in silence. This scandal must not taint their reputation. But when Gillian discovers pictures of missing Whalehurst pupil, fifteen-year-old Rachel Snyder, on Bradley’s dead body – photos taken on the night she disappeared, and he was murdered – the link between the two is undeniable.

But what is Whalehurst refusing to reveal? And does Gillian have what it takes to bring about justice?

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Anna Legat

Anna Legat is a Wiltshire-based author, best known for her DI Gillian Marsh murder mystery series. A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She read law at the University of South Africa and Warsaw University, then gained teaching qualifications in New Zealand. She has lived in far-flung places all over the world where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. Anna writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.

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