Historical Fiction Author of the Month: Stella Riley

Welcome to my new Blog Series, Historical Fiction Author of the Month.

Each month, I will showcase a different historical fiction author. Their books will range from romance to mystery and adventure to crime, and will be from many different eras. I hope you discover a new author and their work to enjoy. Happy reading!

In this post, I am delighted to feature author Stella Riley.

Stella Riley

Stella Riley

Winner of four gold medals for historical romance (Readers’ Favourite in 2019, Book Excellence Awards in 2020, Global Book Awards in 2022 and Book Excellence Award in 2023) and fourteen B.R.A.G. Medallions, Stella Riley lives in the beautiful medieval town of Sandwich in Kent.

She is fascinated by the English Civil Wars and has written six books set in that period. These, like the 7 book Rockliffe series  (recommended in The Times newspaper!) and the Brandon Brothers trilogy, are all available in audio, narrated by Alex Wyndham.

Stella enjoys travel, reading, theatre, Baroque music and playing the harpsichord. She also has a fondness for men with long hair – hence her 17th and 18th century heroes.

I’m sure readers are curious to know what enticed you to write in this genre in particular, Stella?

What drew me to the 17th century?

Looking way, way back, my interest began when I was about ten years old and I was given a copy of The Children of the New Forest by Captain Maryatt – and loved it. A few years later, I discovered and enjoyed other titles set in that period; Margaret Irwin’s Stuart quartet, beginning with The Stranger Prince, Georgette Heyer’s Royal Escape and Daphne du Maurier’s The King’s General, for example.

But it wasn’t until after my first novel had been published that my fascination for the English Civil Wars became serious.

It began like this. I was on a train back to Banbury after a meeting in London with my publisher when I found myself thinking of the Great Siege of Banbury Castle in 1644 – and suddenly realised it offered, not just the perfect back-drop, but a story all of its own. In addition to being geographically important, Banbury’s main task was to supply the Royalist capital at Oxford. The castle, taken by the Cavaliers at the start of the war in 1642, stood cheek-by-jowl with the intensely Puritan town. It was the ideal tapestry on which to weave political, military and religious conflict. All it needed, was an impossible love across a divide of class and loyalties. Better still, it was an aspect of the Civil War that had been largely ignored.  It had everything!

A great idea – but there was just one problem. At that point, all I knew about the siege was that it had lasted fourteen weeks and that, by the end of it, the starving garrison had eaten all but two of the horses. I told myself not to worry about that – there would be books telling me everything I needed to know. I could research it.

Ah. Problem number two. We’re talking pre-internet here; and there weren’t books, plural. Only one book – A History of Banbury by Alfred Beesley, published in 1841 had what I needed. Nothing daunted, I asked my local branch library to get a copy of it – and they did. Problem number three was that it was a first edition sent up from the Bodleian Library in Oxford which, understandably, I wasn’t allowed to take home. I therefore spent every morning of the next few weeks in the library copying out page after page of Mr. Beesley; and every afternoon researching the progress of the war in general from books of my own at home … until I was finally ready to start writing and A Splendid Defiance was born.

(A footnote to this: A History of Banbury is now available to read on-line and there are a handful of very brief references to the siege on the internet.)

A Splendid Defiance was and still is very close to my heart for several reasons. The background story is a true one and I told it as it happened. It gave me the opportunity to feature well-known historical figures such as Rupert of the Rhine … but, along the way, I also met and grew fond of some of the ordinary soldiers garrisoning Banbury.  They were real people too, but the ordinary folk who rarely find a place in the history books. Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Greene, died of influenza just after the siege; Will Tyrwhitt who was sent to Banbury after losing an arm at Brentford; Colonel John Fiennes who had the thankless task of reclaiming the castle for the Parliament. Just three examples of many. 

And one other who appears, not just in A Splendid Defiance but also in Garland of Straw and Lords of Misrule.

Sir William Compton; Governor of Banbury from 1642 at the age of seventeen, besieged at Colchester in 1648 and a founder member of the Sealed Knot in 1655. Quite a career for a gentleman most folk have never heard of … and one of many reasons this period of history is so rewarding.

Explore Stella’s Books

You can find all of Stella’s books here: Amazon

You can find out more about Stella and her work by checking out her social media links below:

One thought on “Historical Fiction Author of the Month: Stella Riley

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  1. I do love your Civil War books, and one of the things I like about it is the even-handed way you deal with the two sides. None of your characters, good or bad, are stereotypes. When I read the books, I am truly immersed in the period.

    Liked by 1 person

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