Tuesday 30 June 2020

Join me in conversation with actor and #HistoricalFiction author, Richard James @RichardNJames @SharpeBooks


A Conversation with actor and Historical Fiction author, Richard James


Please give a warm Coffee Pot Welcome to Historical Fiction author, Richard James.

‘Richard James as Sherlock Holmes’ photograph by Joanna Yates.

Mary Anne: Hi Richard, it is so wonderful that you could join us today. Many people will recognise you from the stage, film and television, but you are also an award-winning playwright and author. Did your experience as an actor help you create the amazing historical settings and cast that can be found in your books?


Richard James: That’s a very good question! I suppose, as an actor, I’m always asking myself ‘why is my character doing this?’, which really helped me get under the skin of the characters in my books. I’m always looking for subtext, the currents beneath the water that I find so interesting.


Above all, though, the two strands of my career - being an actor and a writer - have both been about telling stories, whether on the stage or the page. Many readers have told me my novels are very filmic, very visual, and I suppose that’s because I can almost see them in front of me as I write, like looking through a camera. As an actor, I’m used to reading scripts, marking their beats and how to begin and end a scene. I even think of my books in terms of scenes rather than chapters and cast my characters from actors I know or have worked with!


Finally, acting is all about imagination. As a performer, I am tasked with imagining how my character might react in certain circumstances and relating that to the audience. The perfect training for writing a book, I’d say!


Mary Anne: The Head in the Ice is the first book in your fabulous Bowman Of The Yard series, could you tell us a little about your series and what inspired you to write it?


Richard James: The series is set throughout the year 1892, following Inspector Bowman’s discharge from a lunatic asylum. He is undergoing treatment for extreme melancholia following the death of his wife, a death for which he holds himself responsible. As the series progresses, we see him plunged back into some brutal investigations – including the discovery of a frozen head in the river Thames. Before long, he falls victim to his own fragile mental state.


A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be on a very long theatre tour. Despite performing in two shows a day, I managed to find the time to write the first book in the series, ‘The Head In The Ice.’ After almost five hundred performances, I needed something to break the feeling of Groundhog Day! Almost every chapter was written either on a train or in a dressing room. I knew at once it had to be a series and relished the idea of following the same cast of characters throughout one decisive year.


Mary Anne: What drew you to set your series in the Victorian era?


Richard James: I have long had a fascination with the Victorian era – or rather the literary version of it, which may not be quite the same thing. No one really believes that Conan Doyle’s London, for example, ever really existed but it’s a myth that we’ve all bought into; the foggy streets, the dark, forbidding alleyways. I think it’s almost like a folk memory and it’s one I really wanted to play with. I’ve long been a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories (I’ve even played the great detective on stage) but wanted my central character to be more vulnerable, less sure of himself and, crucially, to evolve throughout the books.


It’s a period that lends itself to larger than life characters. I’m always drawn to them as an actor (for example, playing David Walliams’ ‘Awful Auntie’) and, now, as a writer. It was also an age of incredible industrialisation in which, it could be argued, a few people profited off the backs of the many poor. This seemed the perfect backdrop against which to set a detective series!

Awful Auntie cast with David Walliams, photograph by Roberta Bellekom.

Mary Anne: What were the challenges you faced in researching this period of history and were there any unexpected surprises?


Richard James: Because I’m not writing about the dim and distant past but an era that only drew to an end a little over a hundred years ago, there are plenty of resources to turn to. I discovered an online map published by the National Library of Scotland featuring maps from the period. Helpfully, it includes a transparency feature which enables you to look through the Victorian map to the streets as they look today. Certainly as far as London is concerned, I was amazed to see how little has changed. The street patterns remain the same in many places and even many buildings are still in place. I’m also lucky to live close enough to London that, if all else fails, I can easily hop on a train and take a look myself!

In the course of my research for the first book, I learned that my idea of how the Victorians treated their mentally ill was not quite as things had been. In fact, following the Lunacy Act of 1845, steps were taken to ensure their treatment was humane and based on a scientific approach. I had to deal with the fact that, whilst this was good news, it’s not narratively that interesting! However, I reasoned, for a man like Bowman, even the most progressive regime would be difficult to bear.


Mary Anne: What advice do you have for aspiring Historical Fiction authors?


Richard James: Create a world that people want to spend time in and a cast of characters they want to spend time with. Compose a compelling story that will force them onto the next chapter rather than put the book down.


Don’t be put off by writers who seem to write a book every month. Take your own time. But remember, finding the discipline to write is a common problem. It will take many hours of effort. As celebrated comedy screenwriter, Brian Clemens, would say, ‘Arse to chair, pen to paper!’


Mary Anne: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to chat with us about your wonderful series!


If you would like to find out more about The Head in the Ice and read an excerpt, then you know what to do — SCROLL DOWN!!



The Head In The Ice

A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation

By Richard James


Winter, 1892.


A woman’s head found in the River Thames.


Battling with feelings of guilt over his wife’s death - and having spent time recovering in an asylum - Detective Inspector George Bowman must join his colleagues, Sergeant Graves and Inspector Hicks, to discover the woman’s identity.


A deal struck with the editor of the Evening Standard to follow the investigation from within turns sour following a botched ambush on a suspect’s lair.


A false identification, a doomed visit to a Spiritualist Meeting and Graves' investigations into a ship called Nimrod all serve to bring Bowman closer to a revelation.


The investigation unfolds, but Graves and Hicks grow increasingly concerned at Bowman’s mental state.


A chase across the frozen streets of London leads to a final confrontation on the waters of The Thames, where Bowman must face the demons that haunt him to catch the killer


Praise for The Head In The Ice.


‘Wonderfully atmospheric, full of the thrills of Victorian London.’

 Adam Croft.


'A genuinely impressive debut.' 

Andrew Cartmel, The Vinyl Detective.


'Crime fiction with wit and twists.' 

Richard Foreman, Raffles: The Complete Innings.






“It’s an obvious but unfortunate case of suicide.” Inspector Ignatius Hicks of Scotland Yard stood upon an upturned crate he had found beside the river and declaimed from a lofty height to anyone who cared to listen. As it happened, the crowd was sizable for so early in the morning. They had been drawn by the sight of a team of men, stripped to their shirtsleeves despite the cold, sawing and chiselling their way through the ice near the shore. With occasional shouts and curses, they ordered more tools be brought from the cart they had pulled down to the river’s edge. It was a curious spectacle in the harsh morning light, and one that attracted the attention of many on their way to work. Even the vagrants beneath Westminster Bridge had risen early to investigate.


The roofs and chimneys around them stood in sharp relief against a piercing blue sky where the rooks and pigeons wheeled. The sun, still low on the horizon, cast long shadows in the streets but even where it reached the ground unhindered, was of insufficient strength to offer any warmth.


Inspector Hicks was a large, bearded man muffled against the cold in a giant, calf length coat. He held a smoking pipe in a gloved hand the size of a large ham, and used it to punctuate his pronouncements as if this very action would lend them credulity. The motley gathering about him regarded him as nothing more than a circus turn.


Such was the scene that greeted Inspector George Bowman. His dark brows, jammed beneath a bowler hat, were knotted into a frown and his thin mouth was drawn down in an expression of concentration as he tried to keep his footing on the ice. The cold did not agree with him. Despite the application of several layers, a thick scarf and an extra muffler, Inspector Bowman felt frozen to his core. And he could no longer feel his feet.


“Happy New Year, sir.”


He was joined, squinting into the sun, by Sergeant Anthony Graves, a man whose surname was quite at odds with his naturally cheery disposition. A curly mop of blond hair framed his handsome, youthful face and he seemed not to mind the cold at all. He wore no hat and no gloves.


Bowman grunted in reply and nodded across to the gangly young man and his pretty girlfriend who stood shivering by the river’s edge. “Not for them, it isn’t,” he growled. “They found the body last night and raised the alarm. They just can’t tear themselves away.”


Graves followed his gaze. “Poor devils,” he said. “I’ve ordered some hot soup for the men. I dare say they won’t mind sharing it with them.”


“I’ve never known it so cold,” said Bowman, puffing on his hands in a futile attempt to restore feeling. “Will you take their statements?”


“I will. But I’ve no doubt Inspector Hicks has got the whole thing wrapped up by now.”


Bowman could tell Graves felt awkward in his presence. It was there in the little sideways glances he had afforded him during their conversation. Finally, his tall companion cleared his throat.


“Are you feeling quite well, sir?”


Bowman felt the skin on his neck begin to burn beneath his scarf. “I am well, thank you.”


It occurred to Bowman that this was the first time he had seen Sergeant Graves since the night of the incident. The mundanity of their conversation was a world away from their last meeting. Looking at Graves, Bowman could see that he had not changed a bit. His face still had the flush of youth, his eyes bright and inquisitive. For Bowman, however, a lifetime had passed. He felt he had aged ten years. Anthony Graves had seen it all. Indeed, he had held Bowman back as his wife lay trampled in the dirt. If he had been left alone to intervene as he had wished, Bowman would surely have died too. He had often wished it so.


“Well,” Graves stammered, clearly eager to put an end to the exchange as quickly as he could, “It’s nice to see you back, sir.”


As they talked, the men had reached the little audience that surrounded Hicks and, seeing them approach, the bearded inspector broke off from his performance.


“Ah, Bowman, so glad you could join us again.”


The implication in Hicks’ choice of words was harsh, thought Graves, and he winced at their cruelty. Unabashed, Hicks drew from his pipe then held it aloft in a dramatic fashion. “Listen and learn.” Bowman rolled his eyes and looked down to his feet as Hicks continued, opening his arms wide in an expansive gesture. His great voice boomed over the crowd. He would, thought Inspector Bowman, have made an impressive actor.



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Richard James

Richard James,
photograph by Steve Ullathorne.

Richard James has been an actor for almost thirty years. He is most well known to viewers of a certain age for playing various regular and recurring roles on chidren’s television, including The Mysti Show, My Parents Are Aliens and MI High. He has also appeared on the big screen with the likes of Burt Reynolds and Helena Bonham Carter and toured the country in stage adaptations of David Walliams’ most popular books.


As a playwright, he has written almost thirty plays that are performed the world over, frequently winning awards at festivals and competitions.


The Bowman Of The Yard novels and short stories are his first as an author.


Find out more at his website, where you can also read his latest blogs and listen to the latest Bowman Of The Yard podcast. You can also follow Richard on Twitter or ‘like’ his page on Facebook.

Monday 29 June 2020

Check out Maggie Richell-Davies fabulous book — The Servant #HistoricalFiction #mustread @maggiedavieswr1@SharpeBooks

The Servant

By Maggie Richell-Davies



Young Hannah Hubert may be the granddaughter of a French merchant and the daughter of a Spitalfields silk weaver, but she has come down in the world.

Sent one spring day as maidservant to a disgraced aristocrat, she finds herself in a house full of mysteries - with a locked room and strange auctions being held behind closed doors.

As a servant, she has little power but - unknown to her employers - she can read. And it is only when she uses her education to uncover the secrets of the house, that she realises the peril she is in.

Hannah is unable to turn to the other servant, Peg, who is clearly terrified of their employers and keeps warning her to find alternative work.

But help might come from Thomas, the taciturn farmer delivering milk to the neighbourhood, or from Jack Twyford, a friendly young man apprenticed to his uncle’s bookselling business. Yet Thomas is still grieving for his late wife – and can she trust Jack, since his uncle is one of her master’s associates?

Hannah soon discovers damning evidence she cannot ignore.

She must act alone, but at what price?

Praise for The Servant

"A gripping immersive crime drama with a heroine you'll be rooting for from the first line. Highly recommended."

 Imogen Robertson, author of Instruments of Darkness




‘Let’s have a proper look at you.’

I step within touching distance. The visitor has eaten something strong-smelling. Fragments are lodged between her teeth. And her breath, and what is happening, jolt me back to being ten years old.

Toasted cheese. The mouth-watering odour hit us as we were hustled into the room. Mary and I had been dragged from bed by one of the older girls and hurried, barefoot, to the overseer’s quarters. There was a stranger with her, in a satin gown too bright and young for her face. From the plates and porter bottles on the table, they had just shared a meal.

‘The dark haired one is the looker, with those striking green eyes,’ said the visitor. ‘Hannah Hubert, did you say?’

‘Yes. A handful, though.’

The stranger yanked at my shift and, when I resisted, gave me a slap.

‘Keep still.’

Fingers searched, and I bared my teeth.

The blow from the overseer knocked me to the hearthrug. Inches from my face was a brass toasting fork and I lunged for it.

‘Don’t!’ A foot stamped on my wrist. ‘Troublesome little tyke.’

I froze, the taste in my mouth bitter. Knowing I could be handled by strangers, like a donkey at a horse fair, and do nothing.

‘I’ll take the other one.’ The stranger shoved a tattered shawl at the whimpering Mary, sounding bored. ‘Can’t be doing with trouble.’

‘Want me to send for her boots?’

‘We are not going far. Stones and filth under those bare feet will fix her mind on what running off would mean.’


‘The parents are dead?’ The voice is curt, dragging me back to Mistress Buttermere’s elegant parlour. ‘You are sure?’

In the chair opposite my mistress, the visitor is ramrod-straight. Hands twisting like snakes in the lap of her black gown. A figure fashioned from whalebone and iron. She means me harm, I know it. The eyes studying me are sharp as a skinning knife.

Pick up your copy of

The Servant

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 ‘to-read’ list



Maggie Richell-Davies

Maggie was born in Newcastle and has a first-class honours degree from the Open University.

In March, her debut novel, The Servant, won the Historical Writers’ Association 2020 Unpublished Novel Award, together with a publishing contract from Sharpe Books.

The story was inspired by a visit to London’s Foundling Hospital Museum, with its emotive displays of bits of ribbon or lace left as tokens by desperate mothers in the hope that they might, one day, be able to retrieve their precious child.

Maggie has had short stories published and been shortlisted and longlisted for a number of awards. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

She currently lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells with her husband, but also spent a number of years in Peru, Africa and the United States.

Maggie has a passion for historic houses, having lived for twenty years in a timbered farmhouse built around the time of the English Civil War which provided the inspiration for the home of the dairy farmer in her story.

When not tending their garden, she and her husband enjoy exploring historic sites and houses in the south of England.

Connect with Maggie: WebsiteTwitter.







Friday 26 June 2020

Join me in conversation with Historical Fiction author, Richard Foreman. Grab your copy of Richard's fabulous book —Besieged, for only 0.99 on Kindle for a Limited Time. #HistoricalFiction #Crusades #interview @SharpeBooks

A Conversation with Historical Fiction author, Richard Foreman


Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to Richard Foreman.


Mary Anne: Congratulations on your new book release, Richard, and welcome back to The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog.


Besieged is the second book in your fabulous The First Crusade series, could you tell us a little about your series and what inspired you to write it?


Richard Foreman: After finishing of the Spies of Rome series I decided to return to the medieval period, having enjoyed writing The Band of Brothers books, about Henry V.


The First Crusade – and particularly the events surrounding the siege of Antioch – are sufficiently dramatic, without having to fictionalise them too much. You could say I was inspired by the attraction of being lazy. The story contains a clash of civilisations, suffering, heroism, reversals of fortune and a victory against all odds. History provided a great plot and cast of characters, so I didn’t have to.


The Battle of Antioch should be as iconic as Agincourt and Rourke’s Drift, in some ways. The First Crusade is a story of God and war, fear and faith. Although the story of Antioch can often be dark and depressing, as a writer it’s interesting - and even fun - to address the interplay between such subjects.


I wanted to shine a light on the epochal moment in history, which still has a legacy in Europe and the Middle East today, and introduce readers to figures such as Bohemond of Taranto and Bishop Adhemar. But as much as I may have given myself a slight educational brief when producing Besieged, far more importantly I have aimed to entertain.


Thankfully the first book, Siege, was a great success. The novel hit the highs of being in the top 100 of Amazon and was number one in the Medieval History Chart. Part of the inspiration of writing second book is that people enjoyed the first one in series.


Mary Anne: I adored Siege (if you missed it, you can read The Coffee Pot Review HERE!) and I am not at all surprised by its success. But a huge congratulations, anyway.

What were the challenges you faced in researching this period of history and were there any unexpected surprises?

Richard Foreman: I am fortunate enough to know a number of medieval historians, who I chatted with first before commencing the project in earnest. They helped me to focus on certain themes and events. There are several excellent history books published, such as The First Crusade by Thomas Asbridge and Steven Runciman’s series on the crusades, which served as a source of information and inspiration too. The challenge, if it can be called one, was deciding what to leave out. I could have written a novel twice as long, but less is sometimes more. In terms of unexpected surprises, I was grateful that the sources provided so much insight and colour. For instance, such was the degree of starvation in Antioch that pilgrims would pick through manure for pieces of grain to eat. I am not sure I would have been able to make that up. Or have wanted to have made that up, without having to poke out my mind’s eye afterwards.

Mary Anne: It is those little insights, such as picking through manure to find gain, which I think really gives a book authenticity.

Can you describe what a typical writing day look like for you?

Richard Foreman: I do not really have a typical day, for good or ill. I certainly get more writing done over the weekends, as the day job of running a publishing house takes up most of my time during the week. I tend to write first thing when the sun comes up during the summer months though. It’s also the smallest of small consolations, but lockdown has meant I have been able to write more and comfortably hit deadlines.


Mary Anne: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing Historical Fiction?

Richard Foreman: It’s not a challenge, but it’s important to ensure you choose the right project to move forward with. If you do, you will be more engaged with the book and therefore more likely to finish any novel and engage readers too. When I initially started writing historical fiction, I think I was guilty of over researching books. History should rarely be at the expense of story – although the trick is to marry up both. The best historians will duly admit to being storytellers too. There are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but if you aspire to be a professional writer nowadays you need to write at least one novel a year – and meet the challenge of being prolific.

Mary Anne: What advice do you have for aspiring Historical Fiction authors?

The most important thing an aspiring historical writer can do is read. The likes of Bernard Cornwell, George Macdonald Fraser and Hilary Mantel can teach a novelist far more about their craft than any creative writing tutor. As well as enjoying reading, read with a trade eye in relation to structure and style. Be aware of what the market wants. Most first books take a while to write. I would say to aspiring novelists however that it does get easier. You will learn to focus your research, find a voice and edit yourself – so eventually you should become a better and more prolific writer. There is light at the end of the tunnel, or at the very least a lighter shade of grey.

Wearing my publisher’s hat, I would stress to aspiring novelists to make sure you read submission requirements when approaching agents and publishers. It’s incredibly difficult to secure an agent and publisher in the current climate, but it’s also far from impossible. Be polite and professional in your dealings. Do not give up if you exhaust the options of finding an agent or publisher too. Lots of writers make money and produce good books via self-publishing. If you have written a manuscript that you are pleased with, then it shouldn’t just remain in the drawer.

Sharpe Books specialises in publishing historical fiction, by debut and established writers. I would recommend getting in touch if you have written in similar periods and genres to the titles on our list.

In short, keep on keeping on – like the crusaders.

Mary Anne: That is such great advice, thank you! And thank you also for coming onto the blog and chatting with us today.

If you would like to find out more about Richard and his books, then you know what to do — SCROLL DOWN!

Richard Foreman's new bestselling series on the First Crusade provides an entertaining insight into history - and the significant players in the armed pilgrimage, including Bohemond of Taranto and Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy. Foreman shines a light on the epochal moment, with humour and humanity, which still shapes the story of Europe and the Middle East today.


(The First Crusade Book 2)

By Richard Foreman



The besiegers have become the besieged.

Kerbogha the Dreadful and his grand army intend to surround and starve their enemies.

The crusaders need a miracle. But they may have found one in the shape of the Holy Lance.

Bohemond of Taranto realises that the pilgrims must fight or die.

But to fight they must know their enemy. Bohemond instructs Edward Kemp, an English knight, to gather intelligence on Kerbogha and the Muslim army. But in attempting to save the crusaders, Edward may damn himself.

Triumph and tragedy await on the plains of Antioch, where the course of the crusade - and history - will be altered forever.

Praise for Besieged: The First Crusade

"Richard Foreman is a writer who is as happy in Roman Britain as he is in Medieval Antioch, as this story shows... Richard Foreman has a real skill at depicting men at arms and their fighting."

Michael Jecks, Pilgrim's War.


Richard Foreman’s latest book, Besieged, is currently available on Special Promotion for 99c/p

Grab your copy today!

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Add Besieged to your 

"to-read" list 



Catch up with Book 1 of The First Crusade series


(The First Crusade, Book One)

By Richard Foreman


The crusader army still stands outside Antioch. Starving. Deserting.


An enemy force, led by Kerbogha of Mosul, is days away from relieving the walled city.


Bohemond of Taranto calls upon the English knight, Edward Kemp, to meet with an agent, who is willing to provide the Norman prince with access to Antioch.


But Bohemond is not alone in wishing to capture and lay claim to the prize. Edward must contend with enemies in his own camp.

Should the knight's mission fail, then so may the entire campaign.

Antioch must fall.


The Coffee Pot Book Club


Highly Recommended

Read the full review HERE!

Check out Richard’s backlist for more great deals HERE!


 Richard Foreman

Richard Foreman is the bestselling author of numerous historical series set during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, including the Augustus Caesar books, Sword of Empire and Sword of Rome. He is also the author Warsaw, Raffles: The Complete Innings and Band of Brothers, a series charting the story of Henry V and the Agincourt campaign. He lives in London.

Praise for Richard Foreman's Books


(The First Crusade Book #1)

"A really good read for anyone interested in the First Crusade. Tight and fast-paced, the author's beguiling sense of setting combines with strong characterisation to make Siege a rollicking yarn." 

Richard Woodman, Sword of State.

"Siege is a very human story, set amongst the mess and destruction of a mad war. The author tells a swift, enthralling tale, enriched with historical detail and believable, engaging characters. Highly recommend."

J. A. Ironside, The King's Knight.

Spies of Rome

"A masterful and evocative depiction of a fledgling imperial Rome fraught with intrigue and at war with itself. The story and characters are as striking as the graffiti that adorns the violent city’s walls during Augustus' rise."
Steven Veerapen, author of The Abbey Close.
"An arresting opening that leads into a thoroughly gripping story. Impressive research and understanding of the period allows Richard Foreman to move so seamlessly and effectively from historical epic to historical detective thriller. A must read for fans of Steven Saylor." 
 Peter Tonkin, author of The Ides.

Augustus: Son of Rome

'Augustus: Son of Rome forges action and adventure with politics and philosophy. This superb story is drenched in both blood and wisdom - and puts Foreman on the map as the coming man of historical fiction’.
Saul David, Author of the Zulu Hart series.


The Complete Innings

‘Classy, humorous and surprisingly touching tales of cricket, friendship and crime.’
David Blackburn, The Spectator.

Band of Brothers:

The Complete Campaigns

'Escapism at its best... A great read that tells much about the style of war and how the individuals fought.'
Michael Jecks.
'A rattling good yarn, requiring only the minimum of suspension of belief, and leaves one eagerly anticipating the next instalment of the adventures of the team as they accompany the King to Harfleur.' 
Major Gordon Corrigan, author of A Great and Glorious Adventure: A Military History of the Hundred Years War.


"Warsaw is a work of power. It has the authentic feeling that pulses from an important book. The meticulous research and psychological insights light up one of the most ghastly episodes in the history of man's inhumanity to man."
Patrick Bishop, author of Fighter Boys and A Good War.