Friday, August 19, 2016

Bringing one soldier’s experience to life

by Mary K. Tod

For the past six or seven years, I’ve been fascinated with World War One. So much so that I’ve written three novels centred on that horrifying world conflict. And still it haunts me.

Initially, I concentrated on understanding my grandfather’s experience and his role in the Signal Corps but I quickly broadened the scope to include other roles, military strategy, the chain of command, seminal battles, the causes of war, the home front and many other areas. I read fiction and non-fiction to augment online research and visited the war museum in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa.

My latest novel, Time and Regret, is a dual-time story with some action occurring in the early 1990s and other action in World War One. For this story I invented a character called Martin Devlin, his role as a lieutenant in the Canadian infantry and his battalion and brigade – 19th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 2nd Division to be precise – and I decided to follow that battalion during its entire service overseas. My objective was accuracy and authenticity.

The Canadian government has created an online repository for the battalion diaries from World War One. Should you be so inclined, you can discover where any group of soldiers were on any day of the war and read the notes about troop movements, casualties, weather, important visitors, training, battles, preparations for battle and other details the battalion commander chose to record. I read almost every entry for the 19th battalion including those written while they were training in England prior to embarking for France.

According to the battalion’s website: “The 19th Battalion (part of the 4th Infantry Brigade) was originally formed the 7th of November, 1914 at the Exhibition Park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Soon the battalion went from High Park to the shores of England on the USS Scandanavian on the 23rd of May, 1915. They trained in Shorncliffe, Kent at West Sandling camp. By September of that same year the 19th landed in Boulogne, France to begin over 4 years of service on the European continent. The 19th Battalion, CEF, was nicknamed “The Slicks” because they were mainly raised in Toronto and were seen as “city slickers”! This caused much good-natured rivalry and practical jokes between these two battalions [the 19th and 18th] throughout the war. During their service, the men of the 19th fought on the Vimy Ridge, in the environs of Transloy, endured Passchendaele, the German offensives "Michael" and "Georgette", Amiens, and many other battles to finally push the German Army into surrendering their arms in November of 1918.

During good times, the men often played soccer, had shooting contests, played their instruments, enjoyed church services, and challenged other battalions. During the bad times, they slept in dirty, smelly, infested holes, constantly wore gas protection, marched back and forth from trenches to reserve camps, were bombarded by shells, both gas and not, were exposed to sudden raids by Germans, and even had to shoot their own men who had deserted.”

Beyond the diaries, I found maps detailing troop deployments in advance of battle and intended targets during battle, detailed descriptions of the major battles on the western front involving Canadians, a description of the first deployment of tanks during action at Flers-Courcelette (part of the Somme), the names of those commanding the 4th infantry brigade and the 19th battalion, an entire book on the Canadian Expeditionary Force, various Division orders detailing battle orders and rules to be obeyed by soldiers, and a chart showing the composition of each division of the Canadian army. To add substance and a human face to these factual details, I read many diaries and letters written by soldiers in WWI.

Slowly Martin’s experience took shape.

In Time and Regret, Martin’s diary entries provide an opportunity for readers to hear his thoughts and appreciate how war affected him, while chapters dedicated to Martin’s story and that of his friends bring the sights, sounds and visceral experience of war to life. Hopefully, I’ve done justice to that terrible world conflict and in my own way, honoured those who fought.

Time and Regret is available on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Snows of Yorkshire

by Angela Waller

The Snows of Yorkshire is the fictional story, told in five parts, of the Snow family who live in Yorkshire in the northeast of England. The story begins in 1415, and the father of the family, Richard, is away in France, fighting in the Battle of Agincourt. He sends a brief message home to say that he is well, as are all his men, and not one has been injured.

The house in which the family lives is already old, and several generations of the Snow family have lived there. When Richard returns, his wife, Kate, has to break the sad news to him that while he was away their only child, a son, has died. When, later, another son is born to the couple, Richard says that he would like this child to be named Crispin "because the Battle of Agincourt was fought on St. Crispin's day, and I believe it was through the saint's benevolent watch over us that we all came home safely." Thus a family tradition began; from then on, through the centuries, every first born male was named Crispin.

The second part of the story is set in 1592; alterations are made to the house so that it's outline is shaped as an "E" to honour the great first Queen Elizabeth who was on the throne at that time. Further decoration is added to the house to commemorate England's victory over the Spanish Armada.

In the third part of the story, set in 1679, after a period of England being governed by Oliver Cromwell, the monarchy has been restored and King Charles II is on the throne. The Snow family are establishing a reputation as horse breeders -- the horses are all white, appropriately for a family named Snow. One of their younger sons decides that, as he will not inherit the house and estate in England and after talking to some people about the new colonies in the Americas, he would like to leave England, go to Virginia and hope to become a tobacco grower. Some letters from him are kept in the family archives; he enjoyed his life there, married and started his own family.

The family's story continues in 1848; Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, and the industrial revolution was beginning. The Snow family had established a school in the local village to provide a basic education for the children of the families that worked on the estate and in the house; one of the Snow daughters is an enthusiastic teacher at the school. The Snows also started to build almshouses so that when their servants and staff grew too old to continue working, they had a place to live.

Part 5 opens in 2006; the house and its estate continues to be home to the Snow family, and for several days each year the house is open to the public to visit. Among the visitors one day there is a young American man who tells a family member that his name is also Snow, and it has always been said in his family that one of his ancestors came from this very place in England. And for the rest of the story... you will have to read the book!

Angela's Website

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Crazy Customs Blog Hop and Book Release

by Debra Brown

To our modern way of thinking, people of the past had some crazy customs. Packing a lunch to attend and observe a hanging comes to mind. Or is that any different than a box of popcorn in the theater seats to see the blood in glorious color and the bodies larger than life?

We believe in doing things our way, as people did back Then. It comes with practice. I was always bewildered by the fact that ladies wore their dresses dragging in the mud. Surely all would have understood if just a bit of ankle showed to keep the expensive fabrics from becoming dirty and ragged? It was unfathomable to me until I attended a Renaissance Faire in Elizabethan dress (to the top of my foot, thank you) and watched the more resolute women dragging their trains in the dust. As I was required by contract to stay for the weekend, I readjusted my thinking and learned to accept it as if it were normal. I may go upper class for the next event and drag some acres of fabric.

Time traveling is great fun. One of the English Historical Fiction Authors mentioned the convenience of relieving oneself while attending a Regency banquet--since there were no private rooms for the purpose as we have now, a lord or lady might (well, would, actually) simply step behind a screen and use a chamber pot. Isn't that classy?

For those of you who prefer entering the past from the comfort of your sofa (just down the hall from your water-saving toilet), we proudly present Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume II, edited by myself and Sue Millard. Several of our contributing authors and friends have posted on various interesting customs. Following the book information are links to their blogs. We hope you enjoy reading about these customs in celebration of our new release.

An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.

Volume I
Volume II
          Amazon US
          Amazon UK

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Descent of Anne Boleyn and the Ascent of Jane Seymour

7th House
The Horizon
The descent of Anne Boleyn
the ascent of Jane Seymour

Anne Boleyn

We walk down the steps from the Queen's Apartments. Sir Kingston walks with me and the ladies walk behind us. The morning sun kisses my face. The daffodils are in bloom and the birds sing like any other radiant spring morning. Surely even Nature would know if the hour of death was approaching for an anointed Queen Regnant of England. It must be a sign of hope for me. I will be rescued at the last moment. This is all part of the public humiliation Henry wishes. He wants all to witness as I bow to his greatness, then he will pardon me for sins against the Crown and banish me to a nunnery, much as Cranmer promised. 

If not, then I face the morning with courage. If I am to be punished, it is for my own sins. The last few years swiftly pass before my mind's eye. What had caused the change? Certainly the miscarriage of a son had been a part of Henry's outrage. But what made him turn against me in such haste? Again, the unseen troubadour's voice pleads for the love of his lady; his song is as sweet as the one sung by the birds around me, yet as mournful as the questioning of my own heart. 

I see the crowd that awaits us as we move closer to the edge of the White Tower. One way or another, either death or escape await me. I am ready to face whatever God wishes for me. All I pray for is an answer that will serve the greater good of the King, and an end to my pain.

Jane Seymour

The maid woke me as she walked across the room to light the candle opposite my bed. Hearing me move underneath the cover, I see her silhouette curtsy in the outline against the backdrop of daylight peeking through the window.

"So sorry for waking you, my great and beautiful lady," she whispers. I hear the trembling of fear in her voice. 

"Oh, there is no need to worry yourself, my dear girl. This is the best of days to wake early. Thank you for waking me. I couldn't be more delighted. Today is the day for which we have longed! You do me a very great favour. I am to be fitted for my wedding dress on this very morning."

"Thank you, Lady Jane. May I bring you anything from the kitchens?" she asks.

The tapping on the door let me know my ladies had arrived to ready me for the fitting of the dress the King had ordered. My time has come. All I pray for is the ability that will serve the greater good of the King, and an end to his pain.


Available globally on Amazon via Kindle and in paperback, May 19, 2015


Deb Hunter writes fiction as Hunter Jones or Hunter S. Jones. Her best-selling poetic romance novel, September Ends, won awards for Best Independently Published Novel and Best Romance, based on its unique blending of poetry and prose. The Fortune Series received best-selling status on Amazon in the Cultural Heritage and Historical Fiction categories. She has been published by H3O Eco mag, LuxeCrush, Chattanooga Times-Free Press, and is now a freelance contributor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She has recently been accepted into the prestigious Rivendell Writers Colony. Her arts, music and culture blogs on are filled with eclectic stories regarding music, writing, the arts and climate awareness.  She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband. She graduated without honors from a university in Nashville, Tennessee but with a degree in History. 

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stendhal, Waterloo and a Forgotten Tale

by David Ebsworth

The classic French author who wrote under the pen name of Stendhal was born in Grenoble in 1783. His real name was Marie-Henri Beyle, and his star was joined irrevocably with that of Napoleon when he moved to Paris in 1799, literally on the day after Bonaparte’s coup d’état and appointment as First Consul of France. Beyle became a clerk in the War Ministry but subsequently accepted a commission in a French Dragoon regiment so that he could take part in Bonaparte’s invasion of the Italian states, then occupied by the Austrians. He came under fire during the campaign but also contracted syphilis, and eventually resigned his commission.

His association with the French army continued, however, when he was appointed a War Commissar. In this capacity, in 1809, he travelled through war-torn Germany and, in the town of Stendhal, was particularly affected by the horrific devastation he saw there. He returned to Paris and gained a promotion as the Emperor’s Inspector of Accounts, spending a couple of years moving among the highest echelons of French Imperial society. But in 1812, he chose to join Bonaparte’s ill-fated Russian Campaign and, though he fared much better than most others, he was lucky to return alive.

With Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, Beyle moved to Milan and stayed there until 1821, completing a biography of Napoleon during that period. He returned to Paris and began to write novels under the Stendhal pen name but became increasingly embittered, first, by the trend towards denigrating the legacy of both the Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte but, second, by the effects of his syphilis and its treatment. He died in 1842, just three years after publishing perhaps his most famous work, The Charterhouse of Parma.

It’s the story of young Italian aristocrat, Fabrice del Dongo, and several chapters follow Fabrice as he tries to join the French army on the Waterloo battlefield. Stendhal had not been at Waterloo, of course, but he was intimately familiar with its details. Despite this, he carefully avoided the temptation to write a blow-by-blow account and recalled, instead, his own experience of war. The confusion. The impossibility for the “common soldier” to know anything about what may be happening. An unusual tale. No real heroes. And much of Fabrice’s time at Waterloo is spent with a hard-nosed, nameless cantinière, giving us some unusual political viewpoints – as well as the inspiration for my own recent novel about the battle.

The cantinières were female sutlers (victuallers), three or four serving with every French battalion, and frequently to be seen in the very front lines, serving brandy to the soldiers and sometimes embroiled in the fighting itself. Many of them died brutal battlefield deaths and it wasn’t unusual for them to keep their children at their side, even at the bloodiest moments.

Remembering the Stendhal novel, and wanting to write my own story of Waterloo in time for this year’s bicentenary, I decided to tell the tale of cantinières as the core of The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour (David Ebsworth, 2015). Astonishing that no fiction authors have told this remarkable story since 1839 – well, at least, not until now! The result is, naturally, a real blood and thunder account of this famous battle but told, I hope, from an entirely fresh perspective.


David Ebsworth, has published four novels. The first, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, was a Finalist in our 2014 Indie Award. His fourth novel, The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour, was published on 1st January.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Elizabeth of York as Mother to Henry VIII

by Judith Arnopp

Elizabeth of York
The union of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII put an end to many years of civil unrest. It was a political match that proved affection can grow out of expediency. Although Henry’s reign suffered more rebellions than any other he left a stable and affluent realm and an heir that would prove to be the most memorable in British history.

The name Henry VIII conjures a vision of an obese, vindictive, embittered man but, as I have discussed on other blogs, he wasn’t always so. In his youth Henry was irrepressible; a tall, courtly, bright-haired prince whose appearance owed more to his Plantagenet grandfather, Edward IV, than his Tudor lineage.

Henry was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich on 28th June 1491, the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As second son he was never intended for the throne; that honour was to go to his older brother, Arthur.

Like most royal children Henry’s early life was governed by women. While Arthur, as heir to the throne, was given his own extravagant male-orientated household at Ludlow, Henry shared a nursery with his sister Margaret, and later his other siblings joined them. It was a world of women. Henry’s wet nurse, Anne Uxbridge, provided nourishment in his early years while his two rockers, Margaret Droughton and Frideswide Puttenham, saw to his other comforts. As the royal nursery continued to fill, the role of ‘lady mistress of our nursery’ was bestowed upon Elizabeth Denton who served in the Queen’s household long after the children had outgrown their need of her.

This team of women who cared for the royal infants should not suggest that Elizabeth kept her children at arm’s length. In fact Elizabeth seems to have been exceptionally close to her younger children. With Arthur far from court and growing up almost a stranger, she took an active role in the upbringing of his siblings. David Starkey believes Henry’s handwriting is so similar to his mother’s that she must have had a hand in their early education too. The nursery at Eltham was next door to Elizabeth’s favourite palace of Greenwich so it would have been a simple matter for her to visit regularly to oversee their upbringing and lessons.

At his mother’s knee Henry may have heard the tales of old stories of knights and battle, chivalry and romance which emphasised the importance of treating maidens gently and foes mercilessly. The stories he heard at this time would influence him for the remainder of his life. Despite his failings Henry always aspired to being a knight like the men of old. Even as late as 1542 when he was growing old and infirm, he gamely donned his armour, climbed onto to his charger, and rode off to war with France for his ‘second Agincourt.’ Where his father preferred to negotiate for a peaceful settlement, Henry VIII revelled in war.

As Henry grew from infancy into a small boy new siblings arrived, and some departed. When Henry was just four years old his sister, Elizabeth, who had blossomed briefly into his life died suddenly in September 1495 aged just three years old. What affect this loss of a playmate may have had is impossible to say. Childhood death was commonplace in Tudor England, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to bear. As humans we never get used to death. Henry would have missed her. He and Margaret may have found it lonely without her. She would have left a gap.

It was Henry’s first brush with death and the loss perhaps made him wonder and worry a little. In 1496 Elizabeth’s place in the nursery was filled by another sister, Mary, and a brother, Edmund, followed in 1499. Sadly, like Elizabeth, Edmund did not survive for long, but Mary survived and has long been regarded as Henry’s ‘favourite’ sister. It was a harsh lesson, but Henry learned early that childhood was dangerous – sons and daughters could be lost.

His father, the King, beset by rebellion, was made more insecure by the loss of each child; Henry would have noticed, and soon, as rebellion and unrest rattled at the doors of the royal palace, the lesson would become further ingrained.

Perkin Warbeck
When the King of the Scots gave shelter and support to the pretender Perkin Warbeck, war broke out between Scotland and England. The Cornish, unappreciative of the rise in taxes to pay for this war, decided to rebel, darkening and lengthening the threatening shadow bearing down on the Tudor king.

While the King called his men to arms, Elizabeth of York fled with her children to the safety of the Tower, the situation reminiscent of how in her youth during the wars of the roses she was forced to take refuge with her mother at Westminster. With the future yet unwritten, Elizabeth may have been afraid and vulnerable. There were no assurances that her husband would triumph or that her own children might shortly join the ranks of her missing brothers. The walls of the Tower were thick, impenetrable stone; she was as safe from physical danger as it was possible to be, but the memories, if not the ghosts of her brothers, must have cried out to her from the shadows. Fear is contagious, and her children, sensing their mother’s dread, would have been frightened too.

During the writing process of A Song of Sixpence, the infant Henry refused to remain in the back ground. The book isn’t about him but his character continually raised his head and demanded attention. He first appears as a fat, noisy baby, then later as a cuddly, argumentative toddler squabbling with his sisters in the nursery. He is loving, demanding and happy despite the shadows of fear that pervade his early childhood.

Once the pretender was put down and the throne secure again, the wedding between Arthur and Catherine of Aragon went ahead. Henry took a prominent role in the proceedings, leading Catherine of Aragon from the Bishops palace to the altar at St Pauls. Afterwards he danced with his aunt Cecily, and then with his sister, Margaret. He led her onto the floor, bowed to the audience and … David Starkey looks at the record and describes what happened next:

“But now Henry stepped out of the script. Finding that his heavy clothes got in the way of his fun, he ‘suddenly cast off his gown’ – which had been obtained at much expense – and ‘danced in his jacket’ with his sister. His parents looked on proudly and indulgently.”(Starkey: p.146)
Despite his failings as a king and a husband Henry VIII remains fascinating. What was it that changed the perfect chivalric prince into the king we love to hate?

Elizabeth of York is often by-passed, her political influence dismissed, but her influence on her son is easily discernible. As I put the finishing touches to the last heart-wrenching scenes of A Song of Sixpence when the twelve-year-old Henry’s heart was breaking over the loss of his mother, I could not help but contemplate the disappointment Elizabeth would have felt if she could have foreseen the future.


In the years after Bosworth, a small boy is ripped from his rightful place as future king of England. Years later when he reappears to take back his throne, his sister Elizabeth, now Queen to the invading King Henry Tudor, is torn between family loyalty and duty. As the final struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster is played out, Elizabeth is torn by conflicting loyalty, terror and unexpected love.

Set at the court of Henry VII A Song of Sixpence offers a unique perspective on the early years of Tudor rule. Elizabeth of York, often viewed as a meek and uninspiring queen, emerges as a resilient woman whose strengths lay in endurance rather than resistance.

Illustrations from Wikimedia commons
“Laughing child, possibly Henry VIII, c.1498. Possibly commissioned by or presented to Henry VII. Guido Mazzoni“from the royal collection.

Starkey,David. Henry: the prince who would become tyrant
Weir, Alison. Elizabeth of York: the first Tudor Queen
Licence, Amy. Elizabeth of York
Penn, Thomas. The Winter King
Hutchinson, Robert. Young Henry 
Wroe, Ann.  Perkin
Skidmore Chris. The Rise of the Tudors

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A New Biography for Lovers of All Things Georgian!

Prinny’s Taylor: The Life and Times of Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830) by Charles Bazalgette

About twenty years ago, Charles Bazalgette had mostly completed re-researching the history of the
family to which all anglophone Bazalgettes belong. He was then in a position to begin investigating
his great-great-great-great grandfather, the patriarch of this scion, Louis Bazalgette, who moved to London from his native France in 1775. Information about him was scanty but over these years he ran to ground firstly his bank ledgers and then – a major breakthrough – nine years of his tailoring accounts with the Prince of Wales. Having transcribed these it was possible to cross-refer them to accounts in the newspapers which described what Prinny wore to state occasions. By that time Charles realised that he had far more than a genealogical study, but a unique slice of Georgian royal and social history. He was also surprised to find that rather little had previously been written about gentlemen’s tailoring in these times, particularly prior to the arrival on the fashion scene of ‘Beau’ Brummell. In a way this could be regarded as a ‘prequel’ to Ian Kelly’s excellent biography of Brummell.

The resulting biography is extraordinarily detailed and contains a mine of information never previously seen.

The book has been published in Kindle format in order to give it an initial audience, but a printed version will hopefully emerge in the fullness of time.

The e-book can be downloaded at Amazon US, Amazon CA, and Amazon UK and is very reasonably priced at $6.00 USD.