Monday 4 March 2024

London 1578 - A cauldron of conspiracy, intrigue and torture.

State of Treason
By Paul Walker

Publication Date: 20th May 2019
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Page Length: 289 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Thriller

London 1578
A cauldron of conspiracy, intrigue and torture.

The might of Spain and the growing influence of the Catholic League in France all threaten the stability of Queen Elizabeth and her state.
William Constable, a physician and astrologer, is summoned to the presence of the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. He is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

Constable must uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion.

A connection to his estranged mentor, Doctor Dee, comes under scrutiny.

Pressured into taking up a position as a court physician, Constable becomes a reluctant spy.

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

Constable becomes an unwitting pawn, in a complex game of thrones and power.

State of Treason is the first in a series of Elizabethan thrillers featuring William Constable.

Pick up your copy of
State of Treason

Paul Walker

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series - "State of Treason" and "A Necessary Killing" - were published in 2019. The third book, titled, "The Queen’s Devil", was published in the summer of 2020.

He took a diversion to the early 20th century and wrote a thriller based at the peace conference in Paris at the end of the First World War. "A Turbulent Peace" was published in 2022. Now, it's back to the sixteenth century and more Elizabethan intrigue for William Constable and his confederates.

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Sunday 3 March 2024

The fate of a profound and sacred object—Christ’s Crown of Thorns—rests in their hands.


The Quest for the Crown of Thorns 
(Book Two Of The Long-Hair Saga)
By Cynthia Ripley Miller

Publication Date: 29th October 2018
Page Length: 293 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Thriller

AD 454. Three years after the Roman victory over Attila the Hun at Catalaunum, Arria Felix and Garic the Frank are married and enjoying life on Garic’s farm in northern Gaul (France). Their happy life is interrupted when a cryptic message arrives from Arria’s father, the esteemed Senator Felix, calling them to Rome. At Arria’s insistence, but against Garic’s better judgment, they leave at once.

On their arrival at Villa Solis, they are confronted with a brutal murder and a dangerous mission. The fate of a profound and sacred object—Christ’s Crown of Thorns—rests in their hands. They must carry the holy relic to the safety of Constantinople, away from a corrupt emperor and old enemies determined to steal it for their own gain. But a greater force arises against them—a secret cult who will commit any atrocity to capture the Crown. All the while, the gruesome murder and the conspiracy behind it haunt Arria’s thoughts.

Arria and Garic’s marital bonds are tested but forged as they partner together to fulfill one of history’s most challenging missions, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns.


"In this thriller, set in fifth-century Rome, rivals race to possess Christ's crown of thorns. Ripley Miller (On the Edge of Sunrise 2015) astutely brings to life a Rome teetering precariously on the brink of collapse ... The plot advances energetically, and the combination of political and romantic drama--spiritual as well--is rousing. The reader should be glad to have read this volume and eager for a third. Intelligent and artfully crafted historical fiction ...

Kirkus Review

"From cover to cover a gripping read - in all senses of the word! Grips your interest and imagination, your held breath and your pounding heart! A thumping good novel!"

Helen Hollick USA Today bestselling author of the Sea Witch Voyages

"The Quest for the Crown of Thorns is an elegant masterpiece of historical fiction. This book totally ensnared me in its clasps, and it did not release me until I had read it all. The attention to detail was exquisite. The characterisation was sublime, and the romance was breathtakingly beautiful. I adored the world that Miller has created, as well as the characters in it. This is a sit-down and finish book and is one I would Highly Recommend."

Mary Anne Yarde

Pick up your copy of
On the The Quest for the Crown of Thorns 

Cynthia Ripley Miller

Cynthia Ripley Miller is a first-generation Italian-American writer with a love for history, languages, and books. She has lived, worked, and traveled in Europe, Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. As a girl, she often wondered what it would be like to journey through time (she still does), yet she knew it could only be through the imagination and words of writers and their stories. Today, she writes to bring the past to life. 

Cynthia holds two degrees and has taught history and teaches English. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry and The Scriptor. A Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist for her novel On the Edge of Sunrise, she has reviewed for UNRV Roman History and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus and on her website. 

Cynthia has four children and lives with her husband, twin cats, Romulus and Remus, and Jessie, a German Shepherd, in a suburb of Chicago. On the Edge of Sunrise is the first in the Long-Hair Sagas; a series set in late ancient Rome and France and published by Booklocker.

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Saturday 2 March 2024

Make me a better writer: Finding Character Voice Through Period Documents

Finding Character Voice 
Through Period Documents

Writing historical fiction is a challenging but rewarding endeavor and requires writers to handle a myriad of different historical elements on top of crafting an engaging story. One thing to consider is making sure the voice of your characters, whether you write in 1st or 3rd person POV, fits the time of the story and doesn’t jar your readers with words and speech patterns that don’t fit the era.

While you’re under no obligation to write exactly as people would have done in the 1860s, knowing how people spoke at that time, the popular slang, and the way they communicated can help you craft a deeper, more believable setting and help bring your characters to life, making them much more memorable for your readers and helping your work stand out, especially for the people most interested in the time period you’re writing in.

The best way to get a feel for how people spoke at a given time is through reading their own words in letters and diaries. While you can also turn to novels written at the time, in that case the words you’re getting are already going through the filter of another writer, who was obeying the writing and story conventions of their time, meaning that you will encounter more distortion than if you focused on unedited letters and diaries.

The Research Arsenal has thousands of letters and many diaries all written in the mid-19th century available to read and they can give you amazing insight into varied speaking and writing styles of the time. By browsing through this collection, you’ll quickly be able to hone in on a variety of insights on how people spoke and be able to incorporate those into your work.

Slang and Common Turns of Phrase

Every generation has its own slang and idioms that characterize it. For writers working in the era of the American Civil War, some of these terms, like “Rebs,” “Johnnies,” and “Secesh” (short for secessionists), to describe Confederate soldiers, may already be familiar. But there is a wealth of other slang and turns of phrase that are waiting to be discovered.

“Played Out”

It is hard to read more than five or ten letters before coming across one where the writer complains—or hopes—something is “played out.” In a letter written in 1863 by Corporal Albert Henry Bancroft of the 85th New York Infantry, he tells his brother, “The weather has been cool and pleasant for near [a] week although it has been wet most of the time and we can sleep nights and not hear the mosquitoes for they are a wicked set and swear dreadfully if they cannot taste of you. They have been plenty since the first of May. But I hope they are about played out.”

Another writer, Private Lloyd Willis Manning of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, wrote to his wife asking her to send him a new cap because his was about “played out.” Excerpt below:

“[…] will you please send the hat and socks in preference to a letter? My socks I have to take them off and wash them and wait until they get dry before I can have any to wear. My old cap is all played out and if I have to wait much longer, I shan’t have any.”

This excerpt also highlights the no longer common use of “shan’t” rather than the more modern sounding “won’t.”

“On Account of”

While not exactly slang, there are many sentence constructions that have changed over time and using versions more common to the mid-19th century is an easy way to create a voice that feels of that time, without using any slang that might leave your readers confused.

In mid-19th century texts, there is a tendency for writers to have a preference for words of French etymology rather than old English. For example, it’s more common for writers to talk about “commencing” something rather than “starting” it, which is in direct contrast to most writers’ preferences today. The Google Books Ngram data below shows how the use of “started” didn’t overtake “commenced” until sometime in the 1890s.

Another difference is a preference to use other phrases in place of “because,” though you will still see because used as well. One of the most common replacements for “because” is the phrase “on account of” which many writers make liberal use of. One example is from William Allen Wilcox writing to his cousin Emma Murray in 1857:

“I received your letter some time ago and have neglected writing partly on account of having so much of my time occupied in studying and partly on account of having no particular fondness for letter writing. I hope you will excuse me this time and I will promise not to be so dilatory again in writing.”

In his letter, Wilcox does not use the word “because” at all, instead employing either the phrase “on account of” or using “as” instead of “because” in the sentence “I had to forego studying this evening as I wished to write to you.”

The great advantage of working phrases like this into your writing is that you can be sure your readers will still perfectly understand your sentences while still gaining a feeling that the character speaking is of an earlier time. You’ll also be drawing on authentic speech patterns and creating greater and more immersive realism in your text.

Civil War Era Letter Writing

Letter writing has evolved over the centuries, and there are numerous small details in Civil War era letters that you can use to bring greater authenticity to your fiction, especially if one of your characters finds themselves putting pen to paper. These details include how people addressed each other in letters, their general narrative style, as well as how they used the paper itself and their expectations of when and how letters would reach their loved ones.

One of the most glaring differences between modern and mid-19th century letters is how differently letters are addressed to each other. It is not uncommon to find letters addressed to “Sister Mary” or “Friend John” whereas in modern times we would often leave off the relationship we shared with the addressee. Frequently, letters were meant to be shared with the whole family, or even the whole community, and would be addressed simply as “Dear Folks at Home.” 

If writers wished for the correspondence to be more secret, they would—somewhat unbelievably—write “private” at the top of the page to signal it wasn’t meant for everyone to see. There were other options such as using ciphers but in most cases a letter requiring that kind of secrecy did not survive long after being read and it was a common practice at the time to burn letters after reading them if they were of a private or intimate nature.

Another facet of letters that modern writers would find unusual is how they are often written in a style where the writer directly addresses the reader and narrates precisely when they start and stop writing a letter. This is common throughout letters but tends to occur more frequently when the writer comes from a background with less formal education. “Well” is also very common to see as a sentence starter with some writers using it nearly every sentence as seen in this letter by Edwin Whipple:

“Well mother, I have been to work all day down at the Landing handling lumber and have just got back to the tent and found your letter laying on my bed. Well, you want to know how I found my box.”

One of the most surprising aspects of letter writing during this era is how often extreme measures would be taken to conserve paper. While this is not a detail that relates directly to a character’s voice, it can give you insight into how people of the time conserved resources and learned to make do with what they had.

Most of us are no strangers to trying to squeeze in a few extra lines at the end of a page, but some people in the mid-19th century had a much more systematic approach to getting the most out of each sheet of paper. This involved turning the sheet sideways after they had filled it up and then writing over all of their original writing perpendicularly. It makes for slow reading but is usually still legible.


The examples above only skim the surface of the many ways you can improve character authenticity through studying period letters. The more letters you read, the better feel you’ll have for how people of the time thought and spoke. Through incorporating common slang like “played out” and using words like “commenced” instead of “started” you can incorporate the feel of the times without sacrificing readability of your stories for modern audiences.

By reading through period letters, you’ll be able to make further observations of your own and use those elements to strengthen your characters’ voices. Deciding how much of your discoveries you want to include in your characters’ voices is a personal choice, but the knowledge you gain from studying these letters will give you invaluable insight in crafting a more authentic experience for your readers.

Click HERE to check out the database.

This database really is a game changer and we have secured a special 15% discount on The Research Arsenal's annual membership.

Just type in YARDE at the checkout.

Friday 1 March 2024

After a devastating tragedy, Dorcas Moon faces brutal choices in the unforgiving wilderness.

Lighten the Load: A Pioneer Western Adventure
By David Fitz-Gerald

Publication Date: January 31, 2024. 
Publisher: David Fitz-Gerald. 
Page Length: 203 Pages, 
Genre: Western, Historical Fiction.

After a devastating tragedy, Dorcas Moon faces brutal choices in the unforgiving wilderness.

An unsolved hometown murder casts a foreboding shadow over the journey. Mounting responsibilities weigh heavy on Dorcas' shoulders while navigating the trail along the Platte River. Family, friends, and neighbors can't seem to get along without her help.

The gruesome trail exacts a heavy toll. A sweeping grass fire blazes across the prairie. A doomed wagon careens down a treacherous hill. A fellow traveler is gored to death while hunting buffalo. Each disaster pushes the pioneers to the brink. Amidst the chaos, Dorcas grapples with the realization that she must dump her precious cook stove and her husband's massive safe. The oxen can no longer haul the heavy weight of unnecessary cargo.

When her daughter mysteriously disappears while the wagons are at Fort Laramie, Dorcas Despairs. She is desperate to help her daughter when the troubled youth is found in the arms of a Brulé man in Spotted Tail's village.

Secure your copy of Lighten the Load and delve into an unforgettable saga of empowerment, sacrifice, and the haunting echoes of the American frontier. Rejoin Dorcas Moon on the adventure of a lifetime as she confronts the challenges that shape her destiny.

This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.

David Fitz-Gerald 

David Fitz-Gerald writes westerns and historical fiction. He is the author of twelve books, including the brand-new series, Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. Dave is a multiple Laramie Award, first place, best in category winner; a Blue Ribbon Chanticleerian; a member of Western Writers of America; and a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Alpine landscapes and flashy horses always catch Dave’s eye and turn his head. He is also an Adirondack 46-er, which means that he has hiked to the summit of the range’s highest peaks. As a mountaineer, he’s happiest at an elevation of over four thousand feet above sea level.

Dave is a lifelong fan of western fiction, landscapes, movies, and music. It should be no surprise that Dave delights in placing memorable characters on treacherous trails, mountain tops, and on the backs of wild horses.

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Life was wonderful, until the day I read a completely chilling and startling "Hit List" on his computer screen.


Christmas in Evergreen
By Mary L. Schmidt

Publication Date: 31st December 2023
Publisher: M. Schmidt Productions
Page Length: 165 Pages
Genre: Romance / Suspense

"My husband, Steve, and I have always had a great relationship, married, for the last five years. He's a private investigator, and I have my artwork. Much of his work involved using a special laptop, one that was rugged and lockable, in his home office and I had my art studio where I could lose myself in painting and creativity. Life was wonderful, until the day I read a completely chilling and startling "Hit List" on his computer screen. Confusion ran supreme in my brain and then it hit me. My name was at the top of that list! Wait! What? No! Never! Yet I read "Kim Daily" plain as day. What would you do if you found out you were the next target on your husband's hit list? Steve intentionally left his laptop open for me to read. He simply can't be an assassin! I would know. Or would I? No! That's impossible! Steve has been the kindest husband for five years and he was a crack ass private investigator; not an assassin. Yet why was my name at the top of his hit list? Why did he even have a hit list? My mind reeling in shock, I had to do something to stay alive! Think, Kim, think! Get your best game on right now as time is running out!" 


Christmas in Evergreen: Heart of Evergreen Book 1, by Mary L. Schmidt, an author who has a flair for detail and slowly building up to a stunning, unexpected, and life-changing occurrence. A story of how two women become friends through adversity, and how they progress in their lives. I cannot say more of what brought these two women together and how they fared after a tragedy without creating a spoiler. What I can say is that the character, Kim, flees for her life after inadvertently seeing something devastating on her husband’s laptop. I had high hopes this story would go another way but it did not and Kim and her friend become bonded forever as they bring together the shattered pieces of the puzzle of their new lives. These women are strong and determined to make the most of what they are left with.

Again, Schmidt’s flair for detail brings us into a scene as if we are present with the characters. Her writing also shows evidence that she researches her topics, or perhaps builds many of her scenes from knowledge she already possesses. Since this seems to be the start of a series, I believe it will be an exciting one. This certainly cannot be the only life changing occurrence in these characters lives, so I am looking forward to the next book to see what life throws at these to women.

Pick up your copy of 
Christmas in Evergreen

Mary L. Schmidt 

Mary L. Schmidt writes under the name of S. Jackson along with her husband Michael, pen name A Raymond. She grew up in a small Kansas (USA) town and I lived in more than one state since then. At this time, my husband and I split our time between Kansas and Colorado (we love the mountains and off road 4-wheeling). Traveling is one of our most favorite things to do and I always have a book or even three books that I read, in the same week. Books were really my thing. It seemed like every time I turned around I was obtaining a new library card due to the current one being stamped complete. Diving into a good book made any day perfect and you would be surprised at the number of books I read over and over. I drew paper dolls and clothes for them, and using watercolor as my medium when painting scenes, especially flowers. I continued with art in high school exploring a wide variety of arts and I loved it! The creative side of me loves to be an amateur "shutter-bug" and we actually have an online art gallery. In college I went into the sciences of all things and received a Bachelor's degree in the Science of Nursing. My nursing career was highly successful and I hung up my nursing hat in December 2012. 

S. Jackson is a retired registered nurse; a member of the Catholic Church, and has taught kindergarten Catechism; she has worked in various capacities for The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, (son, Gene, is an Eagle Scout), and sponsored trips for high school music children. She loves all forms of art but mostly focuses on the visual arts; such as amateur photography, traditional, and graphic art as her health allows.

She has written more than 30 books with five more in various stages of production, and she is included in four anthologies.

A. Raymond is a member of the Catholic Church, and has helped his wife with The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, and sponsored children alongside his wife on music trips. He devotes his spare time to fishing, reading, playing poker, Jeeping, and travel adventures with his wife. Both love spending time with their grandson, Austin, and granddaughter, Emma.

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Thursday 29 February 2024

Will she pay for her husband's mistakes, or will she manage to escape from a terrible fate?

Treason in the Mortimer Household 
A Betrayed Wife
By Anne O'Brien

Why would I write about Joan de Geneville, the little known wife of the notorious Roger Mortimer, Earl of March?  Why did I consider her to be the perfect protagonist for a medieval historical novel, centring on the role of women?  Because Joan's  life was an emotional one, dominated by treason, imprisonment and betrayal,  Her reaction to her fate was impressively resilient. 

Joan de Geneville was an heiress, inheriting extensive lands in Ireland, in France, as well as in the Welsh Marches, including  the magnificent fortress of Ludlow Castle.  Without doubt she was a valuable bride for any family with foresight and ambition; the perfect wife for Roger Mortimer, son and heir of the Mortimer marcher lords.  The dispatch of her two younger sisters to a convent ensured that her claim to the de Geneville inheritance would never be challenged.

Heraldic image of the Mortimer-de Geneville marriage: Mortimer on the left, de Geneville on the right.

The Mortimer-de Geneville marriage at first offered much satisfaction and even happiness.  Joan travelled extensively with her husband, to Wales, to Ireland, and within the Welsh Marches, while Roger escaped death in skirmish and battle.  They had twelve children all of whom grew to healthy adulthood, while Roger rebuilt Wigmore Castle as a palace as well as a fortress.

Remains of Wigmore Castle, once the pre-eminent Mortimer stronghold in the Welsh Marches.  

What could go wrong, after such a fortunate beginning?

Threats against the lands of the marcher lords along the Welsh Marches by the royal favourite Hugh Despenser, supported by the King, drove the area into insurrection.  When raising the Mortimer banners against Despenser was interpreted as treason by King Edward II, Roger was arrested and dispatched to the Tower of London with execution hanging over his head, while Joan and the Mortimer offspring were subjected to rigid and penurious confinement, Joan in Skipton Castle.  Would this be a lifelong penance for Joan?

All was not lost.  Roger escaped from the Tower of London, Joan and the young Mortimers were released, and Roger returned from exile with an invading force, intent on reclaiming his lands and his titles.  A matter, it seemed, for rejoicing.  Except that Roger returned to England intent on revenge against the King, with Queen Isabella at is side, in a close relationship with her that roused much comment and rumour.

How humiliating for the Mortimer wife, when she must welcome the Queen as her guest in Ludlow Castle.

Ludlow Castle: Roger and Joan would have known and lived in this main block of chambers.

For appearances' sake Joan had little choice but to work in tandem with her errant husband, to accomplish the prestigious marriages of their daughters.  Did she enjoy the experience, sharing her castles and her authority with the Queen at her husband's side? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! Even with the accession of a youthful King Edward III there was no suggestion of a change in this situation.  The reins of power were firmly held by Roger and Isabella.

But as King Edward grew into maturity, fired with a desire to recover what was his by right of inheritance, his first priority would be to take back those reins of  power into his own hands. All eyes turned to the Court and the inevitable Mortimer downfall.

What a denouement for this tale of treason.  What would be the outcome for Roger Mortimer and for Joan?  Would Joan be forced to pay the penalty for her husband becoming an over-mighty magnate, would she be punished for the treason that took him to the scaffold?

History hides Joan under the usual medieval shadow of female anonymity, but she was far more than an invisible and obedient wife, far more than a rejected lover.  Joan proved to be a woman of courage, both resourceful and resilient; a woman intent on keeping her family safe, fighting for the restoration of Mortimer land and power for future Mortimer descendents. 

As for Roger, in spite of everything, perhaps in the end Joan felt that she had a debt to pay to him.  

Joan de Geneville emerged as an irresistible protagonist in A Court of Betrayal.  How could I resist writing her story?

A Court of Betrayal 
By Anne O'Brien

Publication Date: 29th February 2024
Publisher: Orion
Page Length: 464 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

The Welsh Marches, 1301

Strong-willed heiress Johane de Geneville is married to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, at just fifteen years old.

Soon Johane finds herself swept up in a world of treacherous court politics and dangerous secrets as her husband deposes Edward II and rules England alongside Queen Isabella.

Yet when Roger is accused of treason, she is robbed of her freedom and must survive catastrophic events in her fight for justice - with her life, and her children's, hanging in the balance...

Will she pay for her husband's mistakes, or will she manage to escape from a terrible fate?

Pick up your copy of 
A Court of Betrayal 

Anne O’Brien

Anne O’Brien was born in West  Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life.

Anne loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Website, Facebook, Twitter

Tuesday 27 February 2024

One woman must sacrifice everything to uncover the truth in this enthralling historical novel, inspired by the true World War Two campaign Radio Aspidist


The Shadow Network 
By Deborah Swift

Publication Date: 13th February 2024
Publisher: HQ Digital
Page Length: 376 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / WW2

One woman must sacrifice everything to uncover the truth in this enthralling historical novel, inspired by the true World War Two campaign Radio Aspidistra…

England, 1942: Having fled Germany after her father was captured by the Nazis, Lilli Bergen is desperate to do something pro-active for the Allies. So when she’s approached by the Political Warfare Executive, Lilli jumps at the chance. She’s recruited as a singer for a radio station broadcasting propaganda to German soldiers – a shadow network.

But Lilli’s world is flipped upside down when her ex-boyfriend, Bren Murphy, appears at her workplace; the very man she thinks betrayed her father to the Nazis. Lilli always thought Bren was a Nazi sympathiser – so what is he doing in England supposedly working against the Germans?

Lilli knows Bren is up to something, and must put aside a blossoming new relationship in order to discover the truth. Can Lilli expose him, before it’s too late?

Set in the fascinating world of wartime radio, don’t miss The Shadow Network, a heart-stopping novel of betrayal, treachery, and courage against the odds.


England, 1941

It was all very mysterious, being summoned like this by letter. After all, he was no se to anyone, hobbling about with two smashed legs. These days it took him fifteen minutes to struggle up a flight of stairs. Neil hoped whatever it was would have something to do with coding, because that was what he did before – well, before that awful year when his life had gone off the rails. He shuddered. Just the thought of it had the power to make him sweat. If they were going to drag all that up again, he’d be in serious trouble.
He concentrated on the view through the dusty window. The car turned left between two sentries, and down a short drive to a country house with a church tower at the front. 
‘Wavendon Tower,’ Harrison said, as the wheels crunched to a halt on the gravel. ‘Isn’t it spectacular? I’ll take you in to meet Mr Delmer.’
Neil eased himself out onto a gravelled drive. So not Bletchley and coding after all. The plot thickened. 
He was led through a gloomy corridor and into a library where a coal fire gave out sooty smoke in the corner.
Delmer, bear-like and bespectacled, stood up with his hand out and a big smile. Neil leant his stick against a chair and grasped hold. Delmer’s handshake was firm and warm. He had that air of easy confidence born of getting what he wanted. 
‘Do sit,’ he said. ‘Harrison will bring us some tea.’
Neil was glad to get off his feet and into one of the leather armchairs. 
‘I expect you’re wondering what this is all about,’ Mr Delmer said, wedging himself into a too-small armchair. ‘Have you heard of the Political Warfare Executive?’
‘I’ve heard of it, yes, but I’m not really sure what they do.’ 
‘Ah. Exactly the position I was in a few weeks ago.’ Delmer laughed. He had a broad open face and eyes that were very alive. He was a little overweight, which was unusual in these times, and balding already, though he was only, Neil guessed, in his late thirties. ‘Basically,’ Delmer went on, ‘it’s psychological warfare we’ll be involved in. You know I was a journalist?’
The ‘we’ bothered him, as if his job was a foregone conclusion, but Neil nodded.
‘Well, now I’m going into broadcasting. Radio. We’re going to make a radio station that will spout our propaganda. With me so far?’ He didn’t wait for Neil’s answer. ‘The idea is to undermine Hitler – pretend to be his fanatical supporters, grow a base of his listeners, and then, once we’ve reeled them in, do everything we possibly can to damage German morale.’
‘If you’re looking at me to do this,’ Neil said, ‘I don’t think my spoken German’s good enough. Not for radio broadcasting.’
‘No, Mr Callaghan. We’re going to use captured prisoners of war, people who’ve fled Germany and have a grudge. They’ll all be native speakers. The thing is, we need someone listening in; someone who can make sure these people are following the script. A chap who can alert us if they say or do anything out of order. A minder, if you like. And of course I can’t be everywhere, so I need some German-speaking helpers. People who pick things up quickly. Are you willing to have a go? It’s a desk job. Beauclerk thought it might suit, since you’re . . . less mobile these days.’
Just at that moment, Harrison brought in a tray of tea. She gave him a wink before passing him the plate of biscuits.
Neil wondered if Beauclerk had told Delmer about his less-than-salubrious past. It seemed not, and he certainly wasn’t going to enlighten him. After last year, he wasn’t sure he could cope with any more Germans, even the thought was terrifying.
‘I’m not sure I’m really ready for it,’ he said, searching for an excuse. ‘The bomb really knocked my confidence. I have bad days, you know, when I can’t—’
‘I don’t think I’m being clear. We need you, Mr Callaghan. And MI5 said you would be glad to help, particularly as you made a few . . . how shall we say? A few faux pas in your last post.’
So Delmer did know. And now he was piling on the pressure. Guilt kicked in, as Delmer must have known it would. And shame. Neil straightened his tie and tried to think positively. Maybe this time it wouldn’t all go belly-up and he’d be able to do something positive for his country. Reparation for his wrongs, if you like. 
He had no choice. And somehow that was a relief. That he didn’t have to choose a side.
‘I’m in,’ he said. He grabbed a Marie biscuit from the plate and took a bite. 

Pick up your copy of
The Shadow Network 

Deborah Swift

Deborah Swift is the English author of eighteen historical novels, including Millennium Award winner Past Encounters, and The Lady’s Slipper, shortlisted for the Impress Prize. 

Her most recent books are the Renaissance trilogy based around the life of the poisoner Giulia Tofana, The Poison Keeper and its sequels, one of which won the Coffee Pot Book Club Gold Medal. Recently she has completed a secret agent series set in WW2, the first in the series being The Silk Code.

Deborah used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV and enjoys the research aspect of creating historical fiction, something she loved doing as a scenographer. She likes to write about extraordinary characters set against the background of real historical events. Deborah lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

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