Sunday, 28 July 2013

Summer Reads for my Garden

Now that summer's here, I thought that I would sort out some books to enjoy in the garden. It's easy to keep buying them and end up with a pile gathering dust and no time to read them, but we writers are always being advised to Read, Read, Read, so here are my choices:

  • Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes. I love her novels, but I haven't read this one, published in 2007, and republished this year. It's set in New South Wales, and is also a story about Liza who protects whales, and the man who comes into her life and turns it upside down.
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.  This book looks really exciting. Set in America, it's about Julia and her family who wake up one ordinary Saturday to find that the rotation of the earth has begun to slow, making the days get longer! I love sci-fi stories that are founded in reality, rather than fantasy ones, so this one sounds just right.
  • The Beach Hut by Veronica Henry. Coming back down to earth and home to North Devon, this story follows the families who visit the seaside at Everdene each year, their love life and their memories of summers past. I think it may be a little like In the Summertime by Judy Astley, which I also hope to read, (if only I could read faster!)
  • The Italian Wedding by Nicky Pellegrino. Off to Italy now. I'm going to read this book because I loved  her Recipe for Life which I reviewed last July. This one is about two feuding Italian families, and two love stories, (sounds a bit familiar!) but if it's anything like the last, I  know I'm going to love it.
  • A Cornish Affair by Liz Fenwick. This is Liz's second novel, and like the first one, The Cornish House, I was able to buy it and get it signed by her at the RNA Conference. Originally from Boston, she now lives in Cornwall, and her love for the county shines through in her writing. This story is again about a Cornish house, and Jude, who leaves her fiancĂ© at the altar, and ends up uncovering the secrets of the house's past. I can't wait!
  • My last book, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, was actually on the bottom of my pile because it was the biggest, but I had began to read it on my Kindle on the train to the conference, and was lucky to get a hardback copy in my goody bag. Wow! It follows the story of Laurel who witnessed a terrible event one summer afternoon, fifty years ago, when she was sixteen, and the secret that her mother has kept throughout her life about why it happened. Will Laurel find the answer before it's too late?
These books are definitely going to keep me busy, and I will review them for you as I finish each one.
What have you got in your pile to read?

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Heart-rending Read: The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

There have been so many excellent books around this year, and here's another!
I bought The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman because the story's premise is the same as The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (you can read about it in my blog here): a childless Alaskan couple find a child in the snow and claim it as their own. However, you're kept guessing as to whether it's a real child or not. In The Light Between Oceans the child that's washed up on the beach of the Janus lighthouse is not only real, but it also belongs to someone else. . .
The strength of the book is in its characters: Tom, a troubled hero from the First World War, now a lighthouse keeper and Isabel, his wife who suffers three miscarriages, Isabel's family, Hannah's family, their friends and the police in this close knit community and, little Lucy.
ML Steadman tells the story from each one's point of view, and as I read it my heart was tugged in all directions as they tried to sort out the right solution for everyone.
As it says on the cover:
This is a story about right and wrong and how sometimes they look the same...
It is a truly captivating, gripping story, beautifully told and one you must not miss! There's also a film coming shortly, I can't wait!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Melting at the RNA Conference Sheffield 2013!

We all had a great time at the RNA conference in Sheffield, even though the temperature outside was approaching 30° C, and the air conditioning was broken! The best bit was standing next to the mobile units that pushed out cooled air, but avoiding the super hot air being discharged at the back! I've never seen my feet swell up so much; I could hardly put on my shoes for the evening, let alone walk in them, and mine were modest compared with some!

It was great to meet up with people that had only existed online so far, and to meet new people too.

The conference sessions were excellent. One I particularly enjoyed was Jan Gover's 'Accessorizing for Microphones' -  the dos and don'ts of TV and radio interviews. It might come in useful if I have the chance to do one some time!
Some of the others also enjoyed were: Jenny Barden: 'Weaving romance around a historical mystery', and jay Dixon: 'What an editor brings to the table'.

It was wonderful, but it was all too soon, time to go home!
PS The air conditioning broke down on the train as well!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Guest Blog: Carol McGrath and The Handfasted Wife

Hello, Carol, and welcome to my blog to talk about your new novel, The Handfasted Wife, an exciting adventure story of love, loss, survival and reconciliation, set in the time of the Norman Conquest.

Harold loves Elditha, his beautiful handfasted wife for many years, and she loves him back. It is Christmas 1065. When King Edward dies, Elditha’s husband is elected king.

To her horror she is set aside for a marriage that will unite north and south against a Norman threat. But the Conqueror swoops over the channel, burns their lands and destroys King Harold.

Can Elditha protect her family from the Conqueror’s wrath?

Firstly, I would like to ask you what ‘handfasted’ means.

Handfasting was a traditional form of marriage whereby partners exchanged their vows in the Hall usually without a priest present. It was binding and accompanied by the passing of goods or lands into the marriage. Their hands were tied together during the ceremony beside the whetstone at the Hall entrance. This form of marriage was known as more danico (in the Danish Way). It was frowned on as Augustine reforms reached England during the eleventh century. By then the church had taken control of marriage which became religious and blessed by a priest. After this change a ceremony occurred in the Church porch followed by a wedding mass. Handfasting allowed Harold II a let out when he was crowned king. He was able to set Edith Swan-Neck aside for a politically expedient marriage. He was not the first English king to do so either.

The Battle of Hastings was between the armies of two powerful men, King Harold and William, Duke of Normandy; why did you choose to write the story about a woman?

Elditha and Ulf fleeing from the fire
Edith Swan-Neck’s story interested me after I visited The Bayeux Tapestry on a trip to Normandy. The Tapestry is an amazing and intriguing work of early medieval embroidery. The video that accompanies the Tapestry where it is exhibited in Bayeux suggests that Edith Swan-Neck, Harold’s handfasted wife, identified his body on the battlefield by marks only known to her. I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I was also fascinated by the fact that there are only three women depicted on The Bayeux Tapestry. When I researched these women I discovered that at least one Tapestry Historian (Andrew Bridgeford) thought them to be royal women and that the vignette which especially interested me, depicting a burning house from which a women and child are fleeing, may, in fact, represent Edith (Elditha), King Harold’s first wife and her child Ulf. She had five living children with Harold who all were considered royal and who are recorded on the historical record. Ulf was taken as a child hostage into Normandy and not released for over twenty years! By then he was a Norman knight!

Apart from the story of Elditha, what else is it about the time of the Norman Conquest that intrigues you so much?

The Battle of Hastings
It is one of the greatest periods of change in English history, and the invasion and take over occurred relatively quickly. Within twenty years the Norman conquerors controlled England and had utterly changed the landscape with castle building and Cathedrals. They intermarried with English heiresses and consequently gained a degree of legitimacy for the seizure of land. The Pope was increasing control during this period, challenging the notion of a ‘royal church’ patronised and controlled by wealthy nobility. The Normans used much of the older system of English law and developed an already emergent feudal system within England. I am fascinated by this earlier medieval period, its sophisticated art and its literature. I tried to integrate this rich culture into the story. Fictionalising the period as a narrative of how women survived is not an angle generally taken on the period of Conquest. It is a gift for the novelist, because when women are threatened they can behave in ways that reach outside the norm. They are thrown on their own resources, and of course, they could and did enter the sanctuary of the convent or marry with the enemy.

How difficult was it to research about people who lived nearly a millennium ago?

A Famous Example of Eleventh Century Embroidery
I was fortunate in that I was on an MPhil in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway.  I learned the language, read the poetry and immersed myself in research in the Bodleian Library. I looked at chronicles, calendars, poetry and scholarly writing about the period. Gradually, I pieced together a picture of England during this dramatic time. I studied embroidery and researched architecture, attended conferences and studied the religious nuances during this time. There are excellent books written about queens and, importantly, about medieval women who are always marginalised in historical accounts. One I am particularly grateful for is Henrietta Leyser’s Medieval Women. Equally, there were snippets documented about Edith Swan-Neck in contemporary writing, just the odd footnote to an historical account, but these were enough to work with.

The Handfasted Wife is the first of a trilogy. Can you tell us what your next book is about?

St Edith to whom Wilton Abbey was dedicated 
I am writing about Gunnhild, King Harold’s daughter. She was secured in Wilton Abbey during the Conquest. Yet, it is recorded in Oderic Vitalis’s Chronicle and in Edmar’s Chronicles (both written close to the times they describe) that she eloped from Wilton with an infamous Breton who was seeking a noble English wife. This story is about the disintegration of this marriage. It is a real tease of an historical story since following Count Alan of Richmond’s death in the late 1080s she ‘took up’ with his heir, a half-brother. Letters written in 1092 from Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury to Gunnhild advise her to return to Wilton but will she follow his advice? This novel is a love story that explores a woman’s life and her adventures during thirty years following the Conquest in a castle in Yorkshire which I consider as Gothic in atmosphere before Gothic was, in actual fact, an architectural form.

History is obviously very important to you. What sparked your interest in the first place?

I loved the stories of history as a child. I was always reading historical fiction such as Anya Seton’s novels as a teenager. Historical fiction aroused my curiosity about the past. I was nosey so, of course, I studied History as well as English and Russian Studies at University.

If you could travel back in time, would you visit the eleventh century?

An Eleventh Century Coffer for Keeping Valuables
Of course I would travel back in time to the eleventh century! I love the detail of life in the past, what they ate, what they wore, the secrets in their coffers, their hygiene arrangements, all of that.  
Women wearing the traditional Veil and Fillet
Though I wonder if the stories I return with might be different to those that come down to us through chronicles. I think, though, that what fascinates me most of all about the past is that human nature is a constant even if circumstances are so different. It is those different circumstances that create tension within the historical novel and also a tension between the reader and the past.

Thank you very much, Carol, for taking part today.  I've learnt so much about writing a book set in the eleventh century!

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog, Jean. It is a delight to talk about history, the historical novel and The Handfasted Wife here.

The Handfasted Wife is available here on Amazon, and is also available for all e readers.

To discover more about Carol and her writing, visit: