Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Meet My Main Character

This post is part of a blog tour started by Debra Brown, and passed to me by Deborah Swift

Elizabeth Murray Countess Dysart 1626-1698

What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or an historic person?

Elizabeth Murray was born in 1628, the daughter of William Murray, 1st Earl Dysart and Catherine Bruce.  Her father was brought up with Charles I, reputedly his ‘whipping boy’, the child who accepted punishment for the prince’s transgressions.

Being from a family of staunch Royalists, Elizabeth, her mother and three sisters paid for their loyalty with confiscation of their income, fines, restrictions and having Parliamentarian soldiers billeted on them while their father remained in the exiled court at Oxford with King Charles I.

When and where is the story set?

Between 1642 and 1653, the years of the English Civil Wars, mostly at Ham House, the Murray’s family home on the Thames at Richmond, but also at the exiled Royal Court at Oxford and the home of Elizabeth’s first husband, Helmingham.

What should we know about your character?

That Elizabeth was educated as well as any boy in Stuart England, as her father’s heir she was made conscious that the fate of hers and her sister’s inheritance lay in her hands. When she was only in her teens, Elizabeth was conscious of the fact that the only way she could secure the Murray’s future was to make an advantageous marriage.

What is the main conflict she must face?

William Murray was arrested for spying in early 1646, so the Murray women had to endure the uncertainty of his imprisonment and trial. He was acquitted, with help from their Scottish Covenanter friends. However further fears existed in that his continued imprisonment in the Tower of Londdon during a plague city during a hot summer would undo all their efforts.  This was also not the only time William was hauled before the Lords and the army for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, until finally he was forbidden to be in the king's service altogether and fled to Paris to hide in the court of Queen Henrietta Maria.

Catherine Murray was a strong, persistent woman and appealed to the authorities to have him released.  William, however then went straight to Newcastle where King Charles I was at the time where he continued as a spy and envoy, and not back to his family.

What is the personal goal of this character?

Elizabeth knew the best way to keep the Murray's home, lands and therefore income out of the hands of the Parliamentarians, was for her future husband  to be wealthy, from a respectable family and non-political to take the spotlight off the Murrays and protect them.

Catherine Murray finally managed to secure an engagement for Elizabeth with Sir Lionel Tollemache, who had inherited a title and vast wealth, was single and only nineteen. Perfect - until Lionel was sent to the North to be held as a hostage against the King's good behaviour in their
negitiations with the Scots.

He wasn't held more than a few days, but Elizabeth must have been frantic until he was released, thinking all their carefully laid plans had been for nothing..

Where is this book available?

Royalist Rebel is available from Pen and Sword Books in e-book and paperback

I have passed this on to three excellent authors who write historical novels set in very different eras.

Lisa Yarde – writes about the last rule of the Moors in Medieval Spain 
Alison Stuart - whose latest release is a novel of English Civil Wars
Katherine Pym – writes about the ordinary lives of people in 17th Century London

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Perfect Game by Stephen Paul - Review

With my voracious appetite for murder mysteries as I gather research for my historical cozy mysteries, I came across this rather unusual novel which combines mystery, suspense and some supernatural elements on a very modern mystery.

Book Blurb

In a dark Manhattan alley, a young woman suddenly collapses from a brain hemorrhage. The statistics say it’s rare to have happened to someone so young and healthy, yet all signs point to natural causes. But when Kyle Vine, the man she was supposed to meet that night, learns she wasn’t the only victim, he knows there’s something more going on and soon discovers a mysterious link to the sudden success of a journeyman pitcher for the New York Yankees. 
As the lethal brain bleeds continue to strike, Kyle and the woman’s eccentric uncle work together to unravel a mystery unlike any the world has ever seen in order to stop a ruthless killer from striking again. 

Stephen Paul’s debut supernatural suspense thriller, The Perfect Game, is a fast-paced gripping ride that will continue to keep readers on the edge of their seats while trying to figure out who’s behind the deadly episodes, how they’re doing it and, perhaps most shocking of all, why.


I thought I had a good idea of what I was getting when I began reading this book –  and brought with me a certain suspension of belief – however I was wrong. The main character, Kyle, a psychologist who got it tragically wrong with a client and is thus under investigation, who has been divorced by his wealthy wife and now lives in a three story walk-up - isn’t nearly as self-pitying or damaged as one would expect.

Kyle is flawed, yes, but he has a positive, non-mercenary attitude to life, so when a chance to flirt with a pretty student goes terribly wrong and she ends up in a coma, he doesn’t just thank his luck for having dodged a bullet – but is genuinely ashamed at having encouraged her. His guilt draws him into finding out how she was injured, despite that his involvement could be discovered.

Kyle’s relationship with his daughter Bree is lovely, so as a reader I didn’t want him to be caught out or blamed when the coma victim’s Uncle Liam decides there is a dangerous killer targeting young people with a weapon that is impossible to detect, or prove, and he needs Kyle to help him.

For a debut novel this is excellently structured, with engaging characterisation and a plot where the sense of menace and various twists and turns as the story moves into the supernatural are expertly portrayed. The clues are there but never do they slap you in the face. Despite the off-the-wall premise, I found myself believing in how the antagonist was killing his victims without too much of the ‘as if that could happen’ element this might have given.

I was even left at the end wondering if, at some stage of our evolution, the human mind may just evolve to this level, engendered by the theories Kyle and Liam throw out – for instance that people know on some higher level when they are being stared at – Creepy!

I will admit that I skipped through the descriptions of the Yankees games - but can honestly say I’m looking forward to Stephen Paul’s next novel.

I received an e-book copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

April Fools Day

Today is definitely a duvet day, until noon anyway - designated by me to avoid those pranks which were once such fun to play when I was a child. At school, we locked a perfectly nice art teacher in a cupboard once because we didn't have the nerve to do it to the Physics mistress. Now I have no patience for them and if anyone puts salt in my morning coffee or apple pie's my bed- they will experience the wrath of moi!

Some cultures say a day of foolishness signifies the beginning of spring, others that during ‘The Deluge’ Noah sent a dove to find land on April 1. Also that Jesus was sent from Pontius Pilate to Herod and back again - a fool's errand.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar designed to replace the Julian Calendar, and called for New Year's Day to be Jan. 1 and not the Feast of Annunciation at the end of March. Apparently many Europeans refused to accept the new date, and continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1. Others made fun of the traditionalists, sending them on "fool's errands" a practice that spread throughout Europe.

This explanation doesn’t quite work as The Gregorian calendar wasn’t adopted in England until 1752, and April Fools' Day was already well established there by that point.

In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, [1392] Chaucer writes the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox. In 1508, French poet Eloy d'Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril [April fish], and in modern France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Canada, fish come into play in many pranks played. The main one being to attach a paper fish to someone’s back. Napoleon earned the nickname ‘Poisson d'Avril’ when he married Marie-Louise of Austria on April 1, 1810.

On April 1, 1698 in London, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to "see the Lions washed".

1770 Prank-Tying a kite to old man's wig
The playing of a joke is followed by calling out ‘April fool!’ at the recipient, seconds before the pranksters run for their lives to avoid the anger of the humiliated one. This only applies until noon, after which the prank reverts on the instigator and they become the April Fool – though in cases of ritual humiliation, dripping water or other substances I don’t see how that works!

Historically, in Scotland, pranks took a more structured form, in that the prankster asks someone to deliver a written and sealed message to someone else. When read, the note includes: "Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile". The Gowk [cuckoo] being the poor soul being sent round town showing the same message to everyone.

This morning the repeat of the 1957 prank known as the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest was broadcast showing a film of Swiss farmers picking freshly-grown spaghetti. The BBC were inundated with requests for suppliers of the spaghetti plant. This started a tradition of clever pranks played on this day each year by the wits at the BBC and the press – so that’s my task for today – watching TV and reading the papers to see if I can spot this year’s offering.