The seal of the confessional

The second of two guest posts this week (three if you count Tammy’s regular journal entry on Thursday). This time it’s Anna Legat talking about one of the key issues in her new novel, Broken.

Father Joseph is one of the two main protagonists of my domestic noir thriller, Broken. He is a catholic priest who receives disturbing confessions from a psychopathic killer he nicknames the Prophet. There is very little contrition in the Prophet’s confessions. Instead of remorse, there is triumph and self-righteousness. The Prophet is boasting about murdering innocent women, safe in the knowledge that his deeds will forever remain between him, Father Joseph and God, because that’s what the seal of confession is all about.

This is sheer torture for Father Joseph. He is bound to protect a secret so vile that it makes him re-evaluate his faith and question his calling. But his moral dilemmas and internal demons aside, will he be able to act – to actually stop the killer? That could mean breaking the holy seal of confession.

The institution of confession is as old as the Catholic Church. Its principle is straightforward: you confess your sins to God (via your priest), you regret them with all your heart, you are given a penance and finally – the cherry on top – you receive an absolution. That means that the slate is wiped clean and you are free to go and sin again, or preferably show self-restraint and resist the temptation of sin.

In the sixteenth century, the Reformation rejected the idea of confession. Historically, confession has been a fantastic tool for the Church to gather intelligence about the shady dealings of kings and nobles, and to use that knowledge to gain influence and wealth. Knowing other people’s secrets can be very useful indeed when one is not afraid to exploit that knowledge for one’s own ends. The absolution of sins was also a very profitable proposition as it often came at a hefty price to the penitent. To prevent the misappropriation of the knowledge acquired through the confessional box, the clergy was bound by the seal of confession. Thus, no priest (if he wishes to remain ordained) can break that seal and tell a living soul what he hears in confession. Even if it is a preventable crime.   

I would like to share a short extract from Broken to illustrate Father Joseph’s torment.

“I am not claustrophobic and am well accustomed to the confined space the confession box has to offer. It has been my second home for thirty-odd years. Sometimes I refer to it as my holiday home because I normally dwell here for hours on end in anticipation of holidays. Christmas and Easter are my high seasons. That’s when the penitents come to unburden themselves. They whisper their transgressions into my ear – God’s ear theoretically, but let’s not split hairs. I grant them absolution so that they can go out into the world with their consciences clear. They will sin again and be back to recite their wrongdoings in the privacy of my wooden box. I will be here for them and we will go the whole hog all over again: confession, contrition, absolution and a few Hail Marys for their penance. I will mumble my chant of absolution in Latin, as you do when you are a catholic priest. I will sing to them the melodious incantation of Et ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. It’s an uplifting moment – magical. It’s like the beating of the drums in the night. The penitents’ sins release their souls from darkness, and, so cleansed, my penitents walk away, light-hearted and hopeful, promising to be good, and meaning every word of it.

Except for that one man – the Prophet.

He doesn’t mean any of it.

I can’t absolve him without true remorse on his part, and he has none. He is proud of what he has done and what he will continue to do. He comes to me to brag about it. He knows I won’t give him absolution, but he keeps coming back. It isn’t absolution he is after. It’s something else. I fear his purpose is to torture me: to taint me with his insanity and seduce me to the side of evil. He has made me into his accomplice – a silent partner in crime. That’s because I cannot betray him. He knows he is protected by the seal of confession. I will sooner gag on what I know than speak of it to any living soul. It is between the monster and me. God is in on it too, I suppose. He is listening through me, and then He does nothing. I’d think it shouldn’t be hard for God to strike the man dead on the spot. But no. God chooses to love the man and lets him perpetuate his evil. Does God love the man’s victims less than He loves him? It’s a blasphemous idea and I banish it from my thoughts. I hope God knows something I don’t, and I submit to His will. We let the man walk away unscathed.

‘I’m only a humble tool in God’s hands, Father, doing His will.’ The man’s voice is no more than a low whisper, a tapping and hissing of consonants and only an intimation of vowels between them. He is careful not to raise his voice and give me an idea of his pitch and tone. He has bleached his speech free of accent. I may know him, but I wouldn’t recognise his voice if we spoke outside the confessional. He has made sure of that. His breath is infused with mint. He always chews gum so that I can’t smell his breath. He wears gloves and a beanie. It comes down to the bridge of his nose. I can’t see his eyes. His beard veils his lips. I don’t tell him this, but he doesn’t really have to go to such lengths to conceal his identity. I don’t want to know it. I am bound to secrecy and so I don’t wish to discover who he is. My resolve would be tested beyond endurance if I did.

‘I’ll be back,’ he says like he is the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an avenger of the innocent. He thinks he is. He definitely fancies himself a holy man. That is why I call him the Prophet. ‘You can sleep in peace, Father. Happy Easter.’ He crosses himself, pulls himself up to his feet and leaves.”

Broken by Anna Legat

http://viewbook.at/BrokenbyAnnaLegat

Broken was published by SpellBound Books on 15th April.

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.

To find out more: https://annalegatblog.wordpress.com/

A Medieval Love Triangle

A Medieval Love Triangle

A guest post this week from Carol McGrath whose latest novel, The Stone Rose, is published on 21 April.

Isabella of France, the protagonist of my new novel, The Stone Rose, left her homeland in 1308 on 7th February, aged twelve. She had married Edward II of England in Boulogne in January. Edward was twenty-three and certainly, despite a reputation given him by later Historians, was not adverse to women. He already had fathered a boy named Adam by a woman unknown to History. It has been thought, too, that later he had a sexual relationship with his eldest niece, Eleanor de Clare. This was suggested as possible by Historian, Kathryn Warner. Edward and Isabella did have a successful partnership for many years despite the fact Edward was predominantly a lover of men and probably bisexual.

Piers Gaveston, the third party in this love triangle, was a nobleman from South Western France, Gascony. In 1307 he was married to one of the King’s other nieces, Eleanor’s sister, Margaret. There are three Clare girls in this story. Edward had known Piers at least since he was sixteen and he was infatuated with the dashing Gaveston. Edward’s and Isabella’s marriage was a political match designed to consolidate peace between France and England and it never mattered what the personal desires of Edward and Isabella were. Edward scandalised his kingdom and his barons were furious when he appointed his best friend whom he called his ‘brother’ and who was possibly his lover as regent of England during his absence abroad. Edward’s first cousin, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, for instance, would have been more appropriate.

Edward might have been enchanted by the exceedingly pretty, educated Isabella who was exceptionally well-connected but for some years after their marriage he paid her little attention. She was, after all, very young and he was eccentric. He enjoyed the company of carpenters, blacksmiths and fishermen. He liked to thatch and dig ditches. His other hobbies were swimming and rowing. Isabella must have found these rather odd pursuits for a king. This was the medieval era after all. Equally, Edward was cultured and loved books, music and poetry as did Isabella. Writing this part of the book, I felt the Piers’, Edward’s and Isabella’s relationship was that of a young court, often extravagant and at odds with their elders. They were, within the pages of my novel, behaving as a charmed circle.  We do not actually know how Isabella really saw Piers Gaveston and the royal marriage may have been initially consummated once to make it legal and binding. Given Isabella’s youth it was unlikely they had much of a sex life. Most girls of the nobility did not produce children before they were sixteen. Yet, Edward and Isabella would have passed time in each other’s company hunting, feasting and during Christmas and Easter courts.

Isabella arrived in England into a swirling maelstrom of conflict between her husband, who was utterly infatuated with Piers, and his barons. This created a crisis that threatened to bring the country to the brink of civil war. Amongst those waiting for the royal wedding in Dover that February, amongst the great lords and ladies, was of course Piers. Edward had eyes for none other. Piers has been described by various contemporary chroniclers. He is said to have been ‘graceful and agile in body, sharp-witted, refined in manners and sufficiently well-versed in military matters.’ Others said he was ‘haughty and supercilious’ but also ‘very magnificent, liberal and well-bred.’ He was a man of ‘big ideas’ and he was ‘haughty and puffed up.’ Edward adored him and this clearly went to Piers’ head. Poor Isabella! When Edward arrived in Dover he hugged and kissed his friend but this was a tactile age when kissing was common as a greeting amongst men.

The real trouble was Edward ignored the other barons. It is assumed Isabella hated Gaveston but there is no actual evidence she did. Much later, Isabella did loath Hugh Despenser but this was a very different situation. Piers never threatened Isabella or her queenship. Nor was she ever insulted by him. However, Gaveston did poke fun at the nobility. It is hard to get a sense of Isabella’s personality in the early years of her marriage. She was young for politics and too young to begin a family. We have no glimpse of her correspondence from these years either. Edward was generous to Isabella without doubt and there is no evidence of neglect. Piers was prominent at her coronation. It was extravagant and it was written in the chronicles that at the banquet following the coronation Edward payed more attention to Piers than to Isabella.

 After the coronation almost all the English barons led by the Earl of Lincoln demanded Piers’ exile. Gaveston was banished but recalled after the Earl of Lincoln’s death. Edward made Piers Earl of Cornwall. The difficult situation continued with further banishments and further threats of civil war over Gaveston’s influence on Edward, until in 1312 Piers was captured by his enemies and taken from his castle of Scarborough to Wallingford. Edward thought the Earl of Pembroke would ensure his friend’s safety on this journey south and Parliament would make a decision about his future, probably exile again. Yet, when he reached Deddington, he was kidnapped by Guy Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, an enemy Piers had frequently mocked as the Black Dog of Arden. Piers was thrown into a dungeon at Warwick Castle, given a ridiculous trial and told he was to die. He was run though by a sword and beheaded on Blacklow Hill on the road to Kennilworth, his body left there to  be discovered later by travelling clerics.

Warwick Castle

Isabella was four months pregnant at this time and in the North with Edward. The royal couple heard the news near Hull. Edward never ever forgave Piers’ murder but how Isabella reacted cannot be known. She most likely did her best to comfort Edward.

I found it fascinating to translate these events into a novel, to play with their emotions, second guess these and create living, breathing historical persons and portray all three, Edward, Isabella and Piers fairly. Read The Stone Rose to find out how I wrote this first part of Isabella’s queenship, a love triangle, as a work of fiction which I hope has integrity.

About the Carol McGrath

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. Born in Northern Ireland, she fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, when exploring local castles, such as Carrickfergus, and nearby archaeological digs – and discovering some ancient bones herself. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in record, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.

For more news, exclusive content and competitions, sign up to Carol’s newsletter at: www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

Follow her on Facebook: /CarolMcGrathAuthor1
And Twitter: @CarolMcGrath

Writing in Different Genres

 I’ve never met Karen King, but she’s one of those people you meet online and come to see as a friend. She is always amazingly supportive and I would be happy to give her space on my blog to promote her next book, pretty much whatever she was writing about. But she’s chosen a subject close to my heart at the moment: writing across genres.

I came from a background in writing for business – not something that most people think of as “writing” but actually one of the easiest ways to make money in this business. Once I started writing fiction, though, I was encouraged to stick to one genre – in my case, historical novels. Just lately I’ve branched out into contemporary fantasy, with books like Something Wicked. It’s interesting moving into a new field and having to adapt the way you write. Karen has a lifetime’s experience of this and her thoughts are well worth reading if you are an author looking for new challenges.

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I’ve been a published writer for over thirty five years and whilst nowadays I mainly write romantic novels and psychological thrillers, I started my writing career working on teenage and children’s magazines. I was first published by the iconic Jackie teen magazine way back in the early eighties. I wrote several photo strip love stories and short articles and, as I had no experience on writing photo strips, I went about it by studying several issues and learning the format, how many frames per page, how many words per frame, etc. However, it was when I started writing for younger children’s magazines that I got my big break and was able to earn a living as a writer. I’ve written comic strips, short stories, activities and quizzes for a variety of magazines – Thomas the Tank Engine, My Little Pony, Winnie the Pooh, Barbie and Sindy – all things I had never done before, but each time I was asked to write something different I said yes and studied sample scripts to learn how it was done. And it paid off. Writing for children’s magazines earned me a regular income for several years.

Writing for a living sounds a dream come true to writers who are struggling to get published, but it comes with its own problems. Once writing becomes your job, your way of earning an income, then you stop writing for the fun of it and start writing what pays the bills. Which means that you accept – or try to accept – whatever work you are offered and focus on writing for the commercial market. One of my mantras is ‘never be scared to try something new’. I was always willing to have an attempt at anything, writing-wise. I’ve written picture books, story books, activity books, joke books, educational readers, young adult novels and even a folder of 27 plays – that was a tough one, especially the accompanying teacher’s notes, but I did it.

Whenever I write for a new market or genre my mantra is ‘know your market know your reader.’ I study the market, read other books in the genre I am writing to get a feel of the characters and story plots that are popular, and think about my reader. I ask myself questions such as: what are my readers expecting from the story? What age group are they? What are they interested in? This was especially important when I was writing for children, as the younger the age group the simpler the storyline and vocabulary, but it can also be applied when writing in different genres for adults because readers of crime thrillers, for example, will expect different things from the story than readers of fantasy. Nowadays I write romance novels, and more recently, psychological thrillers, but I still abide by the ‘know your market, know your reader’ mantra.

When I had my debut psychological thriller, The Stranger in my Bed, published last November, a lot of people were surprised at me going over to the ‘darkside’ after writing ‘sparkly’ romances for the last decade, but to me it isn’t that much different. The way I see it is that I write about relationships. My romance novels are stories of relationships that (eventually) go right and my psychological thrillers are about relationships that go drastically wrong, whether it be husband and wife, mother and child, siblings, etc. With a romance novel it’s all about the emotional journey of the heroine – and hero. The reader knows – and expects – a HEA (happy ever after)  – even if only for now) and they read the story to find out how the heroine and hero get there. The twists and turns are the obstacles that get thrown in the couple’s path which they have to overcome to be together. Whereas at the core of the psychological thriller there is usually a mystery to solve – who is the abuser, who has kidnapped the child, can you trust this woman/man? etc – and the story is full of twists and turns. The reader should be kept guessing right until the unexpected and, if possible, jaw dropping ending. The thing I found most difficult about writing The Stranger in my Bed was timing the twists and reveals to keep them going throughout the whole story, which often meant I had to change the order of chapters about so that events happened earlier, or later, than I had originally planned.  

My latest novel is once again a romance novel, One Summer in Cornwall, set in the gorgeous Cornish town of Port Medden where one of my earlier romance novels, The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, is set. The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an Amazon bestseller both in the UK and USA so I was delighted to write a sequel featuring some old favourites, and bringing in some new characters too.

Many people dismiss romance novels as being unrealistic escapism but I disagree. Romance novels are about the complexities of human relationships, the highs and lows of being in love, which most people can identify with. Most of us have been in love at least once in our lives so can relate to the experience. I wrote an article about this for Women Writers, Women’s Books called The Realism in Romance. You can read it here if you’re interested: https://booksbywomen.org/the-realism-in-romance-by-karen-king/

When I sold my article to Jackie magazine all those years ago I’d never have guessed that I’d have 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, several short stories, nine romance novels (with another two in the pipeline) and a psychological thriller published.  So if you fancy writing in a different genre, go for it. You never know what you can do until you try!

One Summer in Cornwall

Escape to Cornwall this summer…

A gorgeous feel-good read, perfect for fans of CATHY BRAMLEY and PHILLIPA ASHLEY.

When Hattie is made redundant and evicted from her flat in one horrible week, she needs time to rethink. Her Uncle Albert left her and her father each half of Fisherman’s Rest, his home in the Cornish town of Port Medden, so this seems the perfect place to escape to until she can figure things out.

As Hattie stays in the cottage, clearing it out, tidying it up and getting it ready to sell, she starts to find her feet in Port Medden and making a new home here begins to feel right. If only her dad didn’t need a quick sale and things weren’t complicated by her unwelcoming neighbour Marcus . . .

Buy Link
Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08N47LDQT/

Karen King

Karen King is a multi-published author of both adult and children’s books. She has had nine romantic novels published, one psychological thriller with another one out later this year, 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, and several short stories for women’s magazines. Her romantic novel The Cornish Hotel by the Sea became an international bestseller, reaching the top one hundred in the Kindle charts in both the UK and Australia. Karen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. 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

Website

Amazon Author Page

Facebook

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Eleanor of Castile’s Property Portfolio: a guest post by Carol McGrath

Eleanor of Castile’s Property Portfolio: a guest post by Carol McGrath

Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) lived during a period of great castle building particularly in Wales. However, what is not so widely known is that a reason she may have been considered a She-Wolf Queen is because her contemporaries often thought her greedy and accumulative. The truth is, Eleanor suffered greatly during the Barons’ War which opens The Damask Rose. Simon de Montfort, leader of the anti-royalist baronial faction, won the Battle of Lewes and took the King, Henry III, his son Edward and Eleanor prisoner amongst other royalist supporters. They were all held at separate locations and Earl Simon famously ruled England through the King for more than a year. Eleanor was impoverished and incarcerated at Westminster or in the Tower for the period prior to The Battle of Evesham which the Royalist faction won following Edward’s escape from captivity. Read The Damask Rose in which these events are dramatized to find out what happens next.

Once the monarchy was restored, encouraged by Edward, Eleanor began to accumulate property in her own name. Sara Cockerill, Historian, has written a superb non-fiction about Eleanor of Castile which has informed many of the events of The Damask Rose and which inspired me to write Eleanor’s story in fiction. Sara describes Eleanor’s property acquisitions which were accelerated once Eleanor was crowned Queen in 1274. She writes: ‘Eleanor, more or less uniquely among English queens, managed to combine her day job as queen carrying on another full time professional job as a business woman dealing in property.’

Eleanor worked incredibly hard with a well-selected team under her which she managed. She would not ever be flouted. This indicates her determination and indeed sometimes ruthlessness. She would never be poor again, so poor that during her nightmare year she had to borrow funds from her tailor to purchase firewood and pay her staff. Eleanor was  extremely intelligent, competent and a passionately hands-on business woman. She travelled around the countryside visiting her castles and manors choosing them with care.

On occasion she borrowed money from friends to finance castle building works and without doubt she needed large sums of money to finance her great household. This would cost her around eight thousand pounds a year. Her properties helped finance her lack of income. By 1290, the year of her death, her estates provided her with around two to three thousand pounds annually. A ditty from the time went like this:

The King would like to get our gold
The Queen our manors for to hold.

Another epitaph written by the Dunstable annalist after Eleanor’s death in November 1290 said ‘A Spaniard by birth, who obtained many fine manors.’ Her property acquisition was well-known during her lifetime. Sara Cockerill points out that Eleanor was associated directly with her estates in surviving correspondence. She made decisions and dealt with administrative detail, enclosures, land tract issues, confirmation of conveyances and even allocating wine from to vineyards for shipment. Letters show how staff were reporting to her. She was personally involved in her business empire and paid attention to detail.

During her time as Queen, her husband, Edward I ordered the royal apartments in the Tower of London redecorated. Today one can view the thirteenth century royal apartments in the Tower including the replica of Edward’s bedroom. The chamber appears to have been decorated in Eleanor’s favourite colours, red and green with a sprinkle of gold.  They give a sense of what Eleanor’s favourite manors would have looked like inside. Close to where I live, is the village of Brill, to which Eleanor had title. The palace at Brill, which she sometimes occupied, was situated in the middle of Borstall Woods, part of Bernwood, a forest covering much of this part of Oxfordshire. Now the woods have dramatically shrunk and the palace has vanished. Eleanor loved to hunt and I am convinced I sense her presence when I walk through our local Piddington wood, a remnant of the royal ancient hunting forest owned by Queen Eleanor.

Carol McGrath

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with the brand new The Damask Rose. She was born in Northern Ireland, and fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, reading  children’s classics and loving historical novels especially Henry Treece, The Children’s Crusade, and, as a teenager, Anya Seton’s Katherine and everything by Jean Plaidy. Visiting the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace aged eleven was thrilling for her. Exploring Irish castles such as Carrickfergus introduced her to wonderful stories. At only nine years old an archaeological dig in Donegal was inspirational. Carol came away with a few ancient mammal teeth. While completing a degree in history, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in records, and was inspired to start exploring their lives. Her first novel, The Handfasted Wife, was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards, and Mistress Cromwell was widely praised as a timely feminist retelling of Tudor court life. Her novels are known for their intricacy, depth of research and powerful stories.

For more news, exclusive content and competitions, sign up to Carol’s newsletter at: www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk. Follow her on Facebook: /CarolMcGrathAuthor1 and on Twitter: @CarolMcGrath

The Damask Rose

1266. Eleanor of Castile, adored wife of the Crown Prince of England, is still only a princess when she is held hostage in the brutal Baron’s Rebellion, and her baby daughter dies. Scarred by privation, a bitter Eleanor swears revenge on those who would harm her family – and vows never to let herself be vulnerable again.

As she rises to become Queen, Eleanor keeps Olwen – a trusted herbalist, who tried to save her daughter – by her side But it is dangerous to be friendless in a royal household, and as the court sets out on crusade, Olwen and Eleanor discover that the true battle for Europe may not be a matter of swords and lances, but one fanned by whispers and spies . . .

Buy it here: tinyurl.com/dk2att32

Bridgerton: a guest post by Penny Hampson

Bridgerton: a guest post by Penny Hampson

There can be very few people who by now have not heard of or viewed Bridgerton, the Netflix series based on Julia Quinn’s book, The Duke and I. Some people love it and some people hate it, certainly everyone seems to have an opinion on it.

As someone who read the book several years ago, I was looking forward to seeing what it would look like on screen, and I have to say that I was not disappointed. Like the book, it was a light, frothy, escapist romance with an undercurrent of more serious and darker matter. It was certainly not an historically accurate representation of the period generally known as the Regency. I’m amazed that anyone expected it to be.

Reading the book was my first foray into the modern and mostly American authored genre of Regency romance; that is, stories set in a Regency-type England. These are stories that are not generally historically accurate but which reference enough details of the social life of the time to pass as accurate by readers who are not bothered by such things. As a historian, and someone who regards Georgette Heyer’s stories as the pinnacle of the Regency genre, I was at first shocked by the liberties taken by the author in her depiction of British upper class life in the early 19th century. Her characters had modern thoughts, expressed themselves in modern ways, even when bound by the conventions of the time. But importantly, I did not stop reading; the story drew me in with its humour, witty dialogue, and clever plot. Yes, I enjoyed it – so much so that I went on to read the others in the series.

Much as I enjoy tales that accurately reflect the period, I think that there is room for stories that have only a veneer of history. People, especially in these trying times, are seeking escapism in literature, films, and television programmes, and I for one, can’t see anything wrong in that. If escapism of this sort helps people cope with the challenges of everyday life, surely that’s a good thing?

Other criticisms about Bridgerton concern the casting, costumes, and hairstyles… and I haven’t even mentioned the sex! Yes, the casting was colour blind, depicting a black Queen Caroline and black members of the aristocracy, but what does it matter? It is a fantasy past being depicted. Besides, it always annoys me when people claim that there were no black people living in Britain in the early 19th century… of course there were. People of all ethnicities have lived here for centuries, although usually not as members of the aristocracy. One exception to this is heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), natural daughter of Sir John Lindsay, who was brought up by Lindsay’s uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Although not fully accepted by society, Dido Elizabeth was brought up as part of this noble family.

Dido Elizabeth Belle from painting by David Martin

Back to the costumes…on screen they were colourful, flambuoyant, and constructed in fabrics probably not invented at the time the story is set. But again, what does it matter? They were a visual treat for the eye, conveying a sense of the styles of the time and not an accurate depiction.

I’ve even read a criticism of one of the sex scenes – where Lord Bridgerton is enjoying himself with a maid up against a tree – his rather nice bottom was on display, pumping up and down energetically. Not accurate, someone complained. His breeches wouldn’t need to come down, he would just unbutton the front falls to achieve congress. Yes, that’s right, but this is television and fantasy and titillation, so we get to see his bum.

Romance is so often denigrated, as if it’s something shameful or only for women. There aren’t as many complaints or snobbery about what I call ‘boys’ own’ stories, in which the hero defeats the villain, drives the fastest car, and the girls are always willing to jump into bed with him. Whenever the latest Bond film comes out, there is usually a flurry of fawning articles about the wonderful special effects and car chases. Why is it that when a romance fantasy aimed at women is released, there are snobbish and condescending articles about ‘bodice-rippers’ and historical accuracy? Double standards?

Well, I hope you might realise that I thoroughly enjoyed Bridgerton and I’m eagerly looking forward to the next series. If nothing else, it has generated interest and discussion about a genre of writing that I love. It’s not pretending to be history – it’s escapism, romance, and telling a good story. And for a short time, it took my mind off the dreadful state of the world today.

A Bachelor’s Pledge

If you enjoyed Bridgerton but might like to explore a more historically grounded (but still fun!) book set in the period, you might consider A Bachelor’s Pledge.

The woman who haunts his dreams

Secret agent Phil Cullen is upset when he discovers that the young woman he rescued from Mrs Newbody’s establishment has absconded from his housekeeper’s care without a word. Thinking he has been deceived, he resolves to forget about her… something easier said than done.

The man she wants to forget

Sophia Turner is horrified when she is duped into entering a notorious house of ill-repute. Then a handsome stranger comes to her aid. Desperate that no one learns of this scandalous episode, Sophia flees to the one friend she knows she can trust. With luck, she will never see her mysterious rescuer again.

But fate has other plans…

Months later, Phil is on the trail of an elusive French agent and Sophia is a respectable lady’s companion when fate again intervenes, taking their lives on a collision course.

Traitors, spies, and shameful family secrets – will these bring Sophia and Phil together… or drive them apart?

Heart-warming romance combined with action-filled adventure make this third book in Penny Hampson’s Gentleman Series a must-read for all lovers of classic Regency fiction.

Penny Hampson

Penny Hampson writes mysteries, and because she has a passion for history, you’ll find her stories also reflect that. A Gentleman’s Promise, a traditional Regency romance, was Penny’s debut novel, which was shortly followed by more in the same genre. Penny also enjoys writing contemporary mysteries with a hint of the paranormal, because where do ghosts come from but the past? The Unquiet Spirit, a spooky mystery/romance set in Cornwall, was published by Darkstroke in 2020.

Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).

For more on Penny’s writing, visit her blog: https://pennyhampson.co.uk/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/penny_hampson

Facebook: www.facebook.com/pennyhampsonauthor

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.

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