Wednesday 28 February 2018

Author’s Inspiration ~ M.K. Tod #HistFic #WW1 @MKTodAuthor

Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to historical fiction author, Mary. K. Tod. 

Author’s Inspiration

Each author creates and writes in her or his own way. There is no best approach; what matters most is whether in the end the story is compelling from a reader’s point of view.

The idea for my latest novel, Time and Regret, came while travelling in France with my husband to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One.

On that trip, we went to Bailleul, Lille, Amiens, Ypres, Mont St. Eloi and other towns and villages, and to memorials at Vimy, Courcelette, Thiepval and Passchendaele. We visited the Musee de la Grande Guerre in Peronne. We stayed at a charming hotel that used to be a chateau and dined at its next-door restaurant. Those places and the landscape of the region engaged every sense and, along with the hundreds of pictures taken, have fuelled descriptions of meadows, villages, windows, tastes, gardens, restaurants, and other parts of Time and Regret.

Of most significance to this novel is the night we spent at a café in the small town of Honfleur across the mouth of the Seine from Le Havre. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a small notebook.

“What are you writing?” Ian said.

“An idea for a story,” I replied.

Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, he persisted. “What’s the idea?”

“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”

Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.

Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favorite genre. Indeed, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along. “What kind of mystery?”

And that was the birth of Time & Regret, as ideas tumbled out and the basic plot took shape. Needless to say, the bottle of wine was soon empty.

I’m drawn to the impact of war not just on individuals but also on marriages and families. I began writing my first novel, now called Unravelled, by investigating the lives of my maternal grandparents and as such, I came to see both sides – male and female – of a time with such dreadful consequences. Not only did men go to war, but women also ‘went to war’ on the home front and I wanted to share that perspective. Beyond that, I hope to tell stories that engage both men and women. Too much war and you lose the female audience; too much romance and you lose the men.

I was never a student of history and so I was startled to find researching WWI so fascinating. However, fascination was followed by anger, sorrow and bewilderment—anger at the incredible ineptitude of military and political leaders and sorrow for what soldiers and everyday citizens had to endure.

My bewilderment centered on questions of humanity. Why did soldiers put up with unspeakable conditions for so long? How could leaders use such appalling measures as poison gas? How could parents bear the loss of more than one son? How could officers send their men ‘over the top’ time after time when they knew death would greet so many? I shake my head even now. My novels honor the sacrifice, courage and endurance of the men and women who lived in those times.

M.K. Tod is an award-winning blogger and the author of three works of historical fiction. In 2004, Mary interrupted her business career to spend a few years as an expat in Hong Kong. That life-altering experience led to a new career and passion as a writer. Mary writes for the Historical Novel Society and the Washington Independent Review of Books. She is also known for her in-depth analysis of historical fiction and international reader surveys.

M.K.Tod loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Blog Facebook Goodreads Website

Time and Regret

Time and Regret by M.K. Tod - When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her…

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Elizabeth Cromwell and Female Cloth Merchants in the Late Medieval Period By Carol McGrath #History #Tudors @carolmcgrath

Elizabeth Cromwell and Female Cloth Merchants in the Late Medieval Period
By Carol McGrath

London Traders

The Woman in the Shadows
is set in London during the first three decades of the Tudor Era. Some historians, including myself, would consider this to be the last decades of what is known as the English Medieval period rather than this as 1485 and The Battle of Bosworth which heralded in the Tudors.
Elizabeth Cromwell, wife to Thomas Cromwell who later became King Henry VIII’s chief minister, is the protagonist and heroine of The Woman in the Shadows. The novel is her story, researched from whatever sources were available. Not much was written about Elizabeth. She really was the Woman in the Shadows. However, we are told that she was the daughter of a Putney Cloth Merchant, Henry Wykes, and that it is likely her first marriage was into another cloth merchant’s family. Her second marriage to Thomas Cromwell was similar and yet different since he was a cloth middleman. He was a self-taught lawyer and at this time he took on legal work for The Merchant Adventurers. Elizabeth and Thomas married in 1514, long before Thomas Cromwell became involved in the King’s Great Matter, the dissolution of King Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Drapers Sign

I suggest in The Woman in the Shadows that Elizabeth, by 1513/ 14, was a widowed female cloth merchant and compensate for the lack of specific knowledge about her life by researching Thomas Cromwell and the London Merchant Class, aiming to write a portrait of a woman who was firstly a widow, a merchant and wife to an ambitious man.

So what do we know about female traders during this era?
It is well-known that for women, and for men also, marriage throughout the medieval period and into Tudor times could see the beginning of a new professional life. Business was often based on a partnership. A town wife’s co-operation was as important to the success of that business as that of a peasant wife working in the fields was to the labouring family’s survival. The Ordinance of Founders in 1390 stipulated that each master could have only one apprentice unless he had no wife and therefore he could have two apprentices. A wife’s contribution to the family business was therefore significant. In Elizabeth’s case, since she had an education, within the context of the novel, she kept the books for her husband’s family business. As several centuries passed since the Ordinance of Founders, more apprentices were permitted to a business and girls were often apprenticed to trades in the same way as boys. Wills written by craftsmen often leave provision for their daughters as well as their sons to be apprenticed. Girls were apprenticed to men as well as to women, though more usually female apprentices were under the tuition of the master’s wife. This makes sense since they lived in the house as part of the family.
Wives and daughters were engaged in the work of the household, whatever this work was. Traditional roles did not exclude other roles. A woman could be an armourer, a merchant as is Elizabeth in my novel, a book-binder, a fletcher. Women were even found loading wool onto ships. Guild regulations which prohibited women from fully entering many trades did allow for the contribution of wives. It was her expertise that allowed her to continue her husband’s trade should she be widowed. Interestingly, sometimes women could follow a path of her own. For example, if she lived in London and some other towns such as Bath, Bristol, Lincoln, a single or married woman could become a femme sole. She would have full responsibility for managing her own business but, as such, a woman could face charges concerning her business. She could be charged, fined and go to prison, yet her husband remain untouched by law. He would not be accountable if his wife registered as a sole trader. If a business is shared, the property would by law belong to the woman’s husband who would face any charges incurred.
The widow who did not remarry fulfilled many masculine roles. She could take on her husband’s name as her own or revert to her maiden surname. I allowed Elizabeth to continue as Elizabeth Williams, her dead husband’s name. A new marriage could endanger her legacy so, within the novel’s context, she was reluctant to throw away her freedom when pressed by her father to remarry. That is, until she met Thomas Cromwell and made a marriage of her own choosing.
In London city law and common law combined to give the widow a good package. Legitim which usually applied to widowhood was a law of thirds, a third to the widow, a third to the children and a third part for the Church. This varied in London. In the City, by common law, legatim could be ignored. Also, Elizabeth had no children by her first husband and therefore inherited his business. Goods could be willed to the wife in the City by common law and this meant a London merchant widow could invest goods and property as she wished.
A potentially wealthy widow like Elizabeth would be wooed relentlessly. Business as usual was expected, so Elizabeth carries on her husband’s cloth business. Widows were entitled to take up the freedom of the City for themselves. This was a bonus as it gave a woman the right to carry on her trade, freedom from tolls throughout England (great if you were exporting cloth through a port other than London) and she had permission to maintain her husband’s apprentices and take on others. Widows were usually regarded as ‘goodwives’ in Medieval and Tudor England. It is a term used in the novel.
There was often male jealousy of the competition of female labour. No surprises there. Life could be tough for a female trader. Thus, barring women from trades (by the guilds) did happen. For example, as women’s wages were lower than a man’s for the same work men were afraid of being undercut by cheap labour. Female apprentices might not be permitted. There were women members of craft guilds, but these women were usually widows, not femmes soles, and women were rarely admitted as full members. We find women employed in all stages of cloth production from combing and carding wool, spinning of yarn, weaving though men often were found to be occupied as weavers, and female cloth merchants are, like Elizabeth Cromwell in my novel, and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath sometimes to be discovered amongst the big clothiers of England in this late medieval period. They had to be tough and frequently ruthless particularly in a competitive city such as late Medieval/early Tudor London.

The Wife of Bath, as portrayed by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales

If you are interested in further reading I suggest:
Eileen Power Medieval Women published by Cambridge University Press
Tudor Women by Allison Plowden published by Sutton Publishing
Medieval Women by Henrietta Leyser published by Phoenix Press
Carol McGrath

Carol McGrath
From a young age my passion was reading historical novels and biography. Now I am writing them. My debut novel, The Handfasted Wife was published by Accent Press in May 2013. The Handfasted Wife is the first novel in a trilogy about the Norman Conquest from the point of view of the royal women. Its subject is Edith Swan-Neck, King Harold’s common-law / handfasted wife. The Swan Daughter and The Betrothed Sister followed in 2014 and 2015.

I studied for an MA at Queens University Belfast’s Seamus Heaney Centre for Creative Writing. Later I worked on the MPhil in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Life is not all about academic pursuits and writing books. I travel extensively, enjoy photography and love spending time with my two children, husband and our home and garden. Moreover, visits to a location here and in Europe that features in my books is the greatest excuse of all to lose oneself in the past.

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

The Woman in the Shadows
(A standalone novel about Elizabeth Cromwell)

A powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows tells the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England's most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.
When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband.
Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London. The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.

Monday 26 February 2018

A Viking Age Mystery By Michael Wills #history #Vikings @MWillsofSarum

A Viking Age Mystery

By Michael Wills

Driving west from Stockholm, I found that I could leap-frog from island to island in the huge Lake Mälaren by using the free car ferries. However, when I came to the island of Adelsö, there was no alternative but to park my car and seek the well-hidden jetty from which a small passenger ferry would take me to my destination – the island of Björkö, the island of birches.

Today, Björkö is about 4 by 1.5 kilometres. In the Viking Age, the island was only half as large. This strange geographical phenomenon is caused by the fact that the land has risen. During the Ice Age, there was a 3-kilometre-thick ice sheet over this region. The weight of the ice depressed the land. As the ice melted, the land, no longer encumbered by the heavy ice, rose, and it is still doing so.

My journey was taking place in late September, well outside the tourist season. The only other passenger on the ferry, an elderly woman, told me that she and a few others lived on Björkö year-round, and that for much of the year, they were totally isolated and that this ferry provided their only transport to the outside world. Things were very different twelve hundred years ago.

Several market towns were established on the northern periphery of Europe in the eighth century. The first was Ribe in Denmark, thereafter Staraya Ladoga in Russia, Hedeby in what was Denmark, (now in Germany and called Haitabu), and the town of Birka on Björkö.

Birka was founded by an unidentified King in the first half of the eighth century. He was a powerful landowner who it is believed, resided in a mansion called Hovgården, (traces of which have been found), on the island of Adelsö, just a hundred yards from where I had parked my car. Powerful landowners had realised the value of commerce, and they commissioned the building and furnishing of ships for trading voyages. They could also equip men to protect their ships, for warfare and plundering raids.

There was a huge demand in southern Europe and later in the Middle East, for northern European hides and furs. In what is today Sweden, the ancestors of the Sami who lived in the high mountain regions far to the north and were known in the Viking Age as “Finns”, migrated seasonally between places of winter and summer residence. They were hunters and trappers, and they traded their goods with the farmers of the Mälaren region. The farmers, in turn, traded these with foreigners who visited the area.

The king of Adelsö sought to formalise this trading, and thus founded Birka, the most important commercial centre north of Denmark. The great attraction of Birka for merchants was that in a time of great insecurity and lawlessness, it was protected and provided a safe environment for them to do business. Outside of the harbour, there are signs that it was defended from attack by rows of poles sticking up vertically from the seabed. A high, 880-metre long rampart was built around the town with a wooden superstructure. There were six gates in the rampart and no doubt these were guarded. There is evidence of the presence of a large garrison of trained warriors. Traces of their barracks have been found. 

Urbanisation was something completely new in the Viking world, but the town appears to have grown very quickly. The Houses were built, most of them wattle and daub, but some with horizontal planking, according to a town plan. They were quite small, with combined living quarters and workshop areas, and all had access to jetties where trading ships could berth. It is estimated that at its peak, the population of the town was around 1,500. 

The prosperity of Birka grew and attracted a multitude of artisans who could make and trade their wares in safety. There were jewellers, silversmiths, glass bead makers. Comb makers, carpenters, bronze casters and blacksmiths, all making goods which found their way into southern Europe and beyond. Archaeological discoveries, including a hoard of 450 Islamic coins prove that there was a lively trade with the Middle East. During the early Birka period, until the mid-800’s, Arabic goods were imported along routes over the Caspian Sea and through the Caucasus, the kingdom of the Khazars. In the course of the ninth century, trade routes were opened further east to Tashkent and Samarkand. Merchants brought wine, spices, silks and polished beads to exchange for hides and furs. They also brought silver, in the form of coins – dirhams. The coins themselves did not have a face value, their worth was calculated according to weight.

In southern Europe, there was much concern that the inhabitants of this important town were not Christian. In autumn 829, Anskar, a Frankish missionary, landed at Birka and began an attempt to convert the followers of Tor, Odin and the other Norse gods. He was unsuccessful and left the island two years later. It is suggested that a small church was built, but its remains have never been found. Anskar made a second futile attempt in 852, but it would be another two hundred years before the inhabitants of this region were all Christian.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence showing that there were many pre-Christian religious rituals practised by the inhabitants. This is particularly so in the case of death. There are over 3000 graves near the ruins of Birka, 1600 of these in the form of mounds are clearly visible today. Excavation of some of these has revealed a lot about Viking Age beliefs regarding death. Many graves had articles which it was considered the dead would need in their after-life journey, these included axes, cooking utensils, knives, jewellery and combs. The most prominent chamber graves must have been those of wealthy men and women for these contained horses, dogs and bodies wearing richly decorated clothing.

Wandering around the remains of the once thriving commercial centre it is difficult to visualise how things once were. The bustling harbour would have been full of ships, merchants from all over the known world, dressed in the garb of their own countries, would have been selling and bartering in whatever common language they could use. The workshops attached to the houses would have been hives of activity as artisans were busy producing their wares. No doubt there were representatives of the king, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings and the garrison would have been deployed to keep order. It was clearly a very successful and prosperous town.

And then, within a very short period, at the end of the ninth century, Birka was abandoned. Why?

Archaeologists insist that there are no signs that the town was plundered or burnt, for there would otherwise be a layer of ash in the soil. Was there an epidemic? Did travellers from abroad bring some illness which decimated the population? Is it possible that the king ordered an evacuation of the town in favour of his new capital at nearby Sigtuna? Whatever the cause, by the beginning of the eleventh century the only humans left in Birka were those in the graves, the remains of whom, as they are excavated, are helping to piece together the story of the town and perhaps one day may reveal what really happened.
As the little ferry motored slowly back to Adelsö, I looked over the stern and watched as the high hill which was the garrison’s lookout post, disappeared into the mist. I knew that there were stories to be written about this mysterious place and I am pleased that researching for them took me back there four times.

Every July, Viking Age re-enactors from all over Northern Europe gather at Birka to commemorate the heritage of the town.

Michael Wills
Michael E Wills was born on the Isle of Wight and educated at the Priory Boys School and Carisbrooke Grammar. He trained as a teacher at St Peter’s College, Saltley, Birmingham, before working at a secondary school in Kent for two years.

After re-training to become a teacher of English as a Foreign Language he worked in Sweden for thirteen years. During this period, he wrote several English language teaching books. His teaching career has included time working in rural Sweden, a sojourn that first sparked his now enduring interest in Scandinavian history and culture – an interest that after many years of research, both academic and in the field, led him to write Finn’s Fate and the sequel novel, Three Kings – One Throne. His interest in teaching children led him to start writing stories for young readers and in 2015 he published the first two of a quartet of novels for 8 -13 year-olds in a series called “Children of the Chieftain”.

Today, Michael works part-time as Ombudsman for English UK, the national association of English language providers. Though a lot of his spare time is spent with grandchildren, he also has a wide range of interests including researching for future books, writing, playing the guitar, carpentry and electronics. He spends at least two months a year sailing his boat which is currently in Scandinavia.

You can find out more and stay up-to-date by visiting his website.  

Children of the Chieftain : Betrayed

When the town of Birka is raided by the most fearsome of Vikings, the Jomsviking, many of the people are captured. A pair of orphans are forced to take action and lead their friends in a desperate attempt to rescue the captives. But not all of their allies are as loyal as they should be. The brave children are betrayed and find themselves in grave danger of captivity, and risk of being sold into slavery.


Saturday 24 February 2018

#NewRelease ~ Misfortune of Vision (Book #4 in The Druid’s Brooch Series) #historicalfantasy #mustread @greendragon9

Misfortune of Vision
Book #4 in The Druid’s Brooch Series
by Christy Nicholas

Historical fantasy set in 12th century Ireland

~ Prophecy can be dangerous ~

In 12th century Ireland, Orlagh has been Seer to her king for forty years. He doesn’t want to hear her prophecies of war and destruction, and dismisses her efforts to warn him. Therefore, she is determined to fulfill her own quest: to find a worthy heir for her magical brooch.

In the course of events, she must pass judgment on a thief, escape a Norman war camp, and battle wits with a Fae lord. She receives some prophecy of her own and enlists the help of a grizzled old warrior, who happens to be a long–time friend.


As they entered the bustling market, many vendors and shoppers taking advantage of the rare bright winter day, Orlagh saw more soldiers than normal. Cu-Uladh went off on an errand of his own while she bought some items at the tanners. He returned shortly with a smug grin.

“I’ve something for you.” He rooted in the leather pouch on his belt and came up with something that shone in the sun.

Holding it up, Orlagh saw a gleaming green stone. He handed it to her and she peered closely at the swirling surface.

“It’s Connemara green marble, so the man says. I thought you used so many different things in your poultices and potions, a legendary stone might be of use to you.”

It was absolutely silly to feel tears burn behind her eyes. She swallowed them and nodded at him.

“Thank you for the gift, Cu-Uladh. It was a kind thought.”

He grinned, showing a missing canine. “I’m glad you like it. That’s not my only gift, though.”

She raised her brows. “Oh?”

“A gift of knowledge, as it were.”

“Do tell. Or do I have to beat it out of you?”

He laughed deep and long. “I’d love to see you try! No, no beating necessary. I have information related to what you’ve told the Chief.”

Orlagh looked around in alarm. “Cu-Uladh! This is not the place to be speaking of such things!”

“It’s no secret, truly. It’s common knowledge around here now. We’ve been away several days, but the gossip is everywhere. The Normans are coming north. Most bets are on them coming here.”

“Here? Blast it all to the deepest hell. Why did I have to be right?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you were. My Chief was in no mood to muster his soldiers without that particular Vision from you. At one point, he spoke of leaving, but between the rumors and your own words, he had no choice. He’s at least pulled in favors and has called on a few allies to help. With luck, they’ll be here before the Norman army.”

“Army? How many are marching then?”

“No one is certain, but the rumors say over four hundred men, but who knows.”

A glimpse of bright colors made her steady her gaze. Several well-dressed men had entered the market. One in particular she recognized when he stopped dead in front of her.

An Dunn Sléibhe stood with his arms crossed over his chest, with the Bishop looming behind him. “So you return, Orlagh. I’d wondered if you’d gone off forever.”

Links for Purchase

About the author

Celtic Fairies, Fables, and Folklore! Bestselling author (top #100 Amazon Canada, #1 in Paranormal Fantasy, Amazon Canada)

Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, is an author, artist and accountant. After she failed to become an airline pilot, she quit her ceaseless pursuit of careers that begin with 'A', and decided to concentrate on her writing. Since she has Project Completion Disorder, she is one of the few authors with NO unfinished novels.

Christy has her hands in many crafts, including digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she's a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were.

She wants to expose the incredible beauty in this world, hidden beneath the everyday grime of familiarity and habit, and share it with others. She uses characters out of time and places infused with magic and myth. 
Christy Nicholas loves to hear from readers. You can find her… Website  Blog  Facebook  Twitter  Publisher