Imagining life beyond the ruins | A novelist’s journey

Exploring castles, houses, churches, lost gardens and hidden follies is all part of the fun of being a historical fiction author. England is full of such finds, and one of the times I love most about planning a novel, before getting down to the hard grind of writing, is discovering the places where your characters lived. There is also that moment where you pause in your adventures, draw breath in the quietness, and let your imagination populate the scene. Once, this was not a ruined chamber, but was full of music and dance and the aroma of roasting meats. Once, someone tended this garden, gathered the herbs for a curative to treat a sick child.
It is my job to bring these glorious remnants of the past to life again. Sometimes, we are fortunate that someone has preserved the past, reconstructing rooms and walkways, putting furniture back, replanting lost flowerbeds. Other times, we just have the company of the wind and birdsong, and the light of a rising full moon to connect with the past, think of the people who lived here, and remind us that we too are just passing through.

Bolton Castle, Wensleydale, Yorkshire

 

Her Castilian Heart | Beautiful and Lyrical Historical Fiction by Anna Belfrage

Today I have a real treat – a visit from Anna Belfrage, a brilliant – and prolific – historical fiction novelist. I first read Anna’s fabulous “Graham Saga” when she was awarded the prestigious HNS Indie Award by the Historical Novelists Society. I love how Anna combines intricate research with heart-warming fiction, creating unforgettable stories. And, her latest release, Her Castilian Heart does just that. If you’d like to jump right to my review, it’s here. Otherwise, learn more about the novel and the fascinating historical background of 13th-century Europe in her guest post today.

Fabulous New Release | Her Castilian Heart | Anna Belfrage

A Memento Mori in an English Church | A Mysterious Family Connection

Originally thought to symbolize the Black Death, this 15thC wall painting of skeleton posing as a sexton, complete with pick and shovel, is now identified as a Memento Mori. With the other half of the memorial still yet to be restored, this life-size painting is by the door in the Church of the Blessed Virgin and St. Leodegarius, Ashby St. Ledger. I came face-to-face with him after I’d just discovered the concealed brasses of William Catesby and his wife Margaret Zouche, ancestors to me and kin to Elysabeth St.John Scrope, the main character in The Godmother’s Secret. Already feeling a bit guilty for (very carefully) pulling up the carpet by the altar to find their brasses, Mr Bones here reminded me of the inevitability of death.
Where the mystery lies is that William Catesby, who was Richard III’s right-hand man, was executed by Henry VII on this day in 1485, after being captured at the Battle of Bosworth. They had already killed Richard, the battle won by Henry, aided by Sir Thomas Stanley. Stay with me on this…Elysabeth’s half-sister Margaret Beaufort was married to Sir Thomas Stanley – and was also the mother of Henry VII. William left a cryptic clause in his hastily written will, which some scholars have interpreted as saying that he expected Stanley to spare him. And with his wife and mother-in-law so closely related to Henry VII, it’s not surprising poor William thought blood would be thicker than water. The other twist? There are a number of wall paintings, yet to be fully restored, indicating connections with the Battle of Bosworth – including one that carries the Beaufort portcullis, the emblem of both Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII. Perhaps Margaret Beaufort took pity on William Cateseby and wanted him to be at least be memorialised in his church, if she couldn’t spare his life.

August 22: The anniversary of the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth

A few weeks ago I was walking through the woods that lay between the Bosworth Battleground Memorial and the land where the battle was fought, where Richard III died and Henry Tudor was proclaimed King of England. The woods were hushed except for birdsong and the wind rustling through the leaves, and I came upon this stone memorial to Richard, covering a spring where legend has it he drank before the battle. Today, the surrounding white roses create a sanctuary, and I paused to remember the men who may have also stopped here to refresh themselves before bracing for the slaughter that lay ahead.
After leaving the footpaths that criss-cross close to the estimated site of battlefield, I headed to Leicester and the Richard III Visitor Centre, a fascinating multi-media interactive experience telling Richard’s story, as well as touching on other characters in my book – the Scropes, Margaret Beaufort, William Catesby, Francis Lovell, and, of course, Richard’s nephews, the missing Princes in the Tower. I stayed until closing time, engrossed in the displays, the archeological dig, and the fascinating story of the finding of Richard’s remains. Most of all I enjoyed sitting with the docent in the area over Richard’s grave, where through a glass floor you can see a hologram of his remains. I was the only one there for about an hour, and we chatted all things Richard, exchanging ideas and stories. It was memorable, and after a day full of such emotional experiences, I knew I could now finish the book and tell my story. The Godmother’s Secret is my version of what happened to the missing princes, written in the words of my ancestress, Prince Edward’s godmother, Elysabeth St.John Scrope.
The Godmother’s Secret is available for pre-order and publishes worldwide on 4th October, 2022.

Now Available on Pre-Order | The Godmother’s Secret

So, after three years of researching archives, reading thousands of pages, exploring ruined castles, retracing my ancestors’ footsteps, and then the really hard work of drafting, re-drafting, editing, re-editing, my newest novel goes on pre-order today. I felt like I’d fought in the Wars of the Roses myself some days, wrestling this book to the finish. But I fell in love with the characters, am intrigued by the history and family connections, and now am so excited about sharing my new book with you! And yes, the heroine is my 15th-Century ancestress, Elysabeth St.John, the Lady Scrope and Godmother to Edward V, one of the “Princes in the Tower”. More about her later.
Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited

Discovering Lydiard’s Lost Gardens | Parch Marks Reveal 17th Century Landscape

Who else is fascinated by lost cities, hidden doorways and secret gardens? Parch marks reveal the lost #17thC gardens of Lydiard after being swept away 250 years ago! Suspecting that the prolonged dry weather might reveal garden archaeology, The Friends of Lydiard Park were delighted when local resident Phil Jefferies agreed to take some aerial photographs. Lucy Apsley and Lady Johanna St.John from my books would have known this landscape well and walked on these paths. #englishgardens #garden #history 
https://www.friendsoflydiardpark.org.uk/news/lost-gardens-of-lydiard-revealed/

 

COVER REVEAL | The Godmother’s Secret

I am SO excited about this gorgeous cover for The Godmother’s Secret, created by Jenny Toney Quinlan at Historical Editorial. Full of symbolism and mystery, she captures the book perfectly in one beautiful piece of art!

If you knew the fate of the Princes in the Tower would you tell? Or forever keep the secret?

Pre-orders August 22, Launch October 4. 

 

The Dreaded Blurb | What Writers Hate the Most

We absolutely dread writing blurbs – those 250 words that summarise years of research, countless hours of pounding the keyboard, sleepless nights, tears, laughter, the depths of despair and the “aha” moments that go into writing a book. If we’re not already exhausted and elated about finishing, now we have to reduce it all to one page! Aaargh. Anyhow, enough whining. Here’s my take on my new novel – this week! 

If you knew the fate of the Princes in the Tower would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?
November, 1470: Westminster Abbey. Lady Elysabeth Scrope faces a perilous royal duty when ordered into sanctuary with Elizabeth Woodville–witness the birth of Edward IV’s Yorkist son. Margaret Beaufort, Elysabeth’s sister, is desperately seeking a pardon for her exiled son Henry Tudor. Strategically, she coerces Lancastrian Elysabeth to be appointed godmother to Prince Edward, embedding her in the heart of the Plantagenets and uniting them in a destiny of impossible choices and heartbreaking conflict.
Bound by blood and torn by honour, when the king dies and Elysabeth delivers her young godson into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Margaret conspires with Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne. Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal and power of the last medieval court, defying her husband and her sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe.
Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Was the rebel Duke of Buckingham to blame? Or did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John, best-selling author of The Lydiard Chronicles, blends her own family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing story about what happened to the Princes in the Tower.