Today on the blog, I am delighted to be hosting William Todd, one of my favourite authors. William’s new release, Murder in Keswick, a Sherlock Holmes mystery, is a great read.
You are very welcome, William, could you tell us a little bit about the background to the book?
I always enjoyed the stories of Sherlock Holmes when he left the confines of London. The Final Problem, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Devil’s Foot, and The Disappearance of Lady Carfax are some of my favorites, and the latter introduced me to the English Lake District. Ever since, that rugged and lovely setting has held a great fascination for me. I decided with this story to once again take the great detective and his raconteur to the Lake District.
The Worst Lord in London, Book 1 in Anna’s new series, Scoundrels of Mayfair.
Headlong into the unknown… Independent, willful Kate Starr has cherished a penchant for handsome Lord Shelburn since she was sixteen years old, but as a mill-owning industrialist, she moves in a different world from the libertine earl. Then one fateful day, Shelburn invites her to accompany him in a scandalous race, and immediate physical attraction swiftly turns into blazing passion.
The hunter caught… Leighton Anstey, Earl of Shelburn, glories in his reputation as the worst lord in London. His fame as an irresistible seducer is unrivaled, although his amours are notable for their explosive heat, not their longevity. The dashing lord has never met a woman who can hold his wandering attention, until he tumbles into a liaison with a mysterious woman who enthrals him, body and soul. A brief encounter or a forever love? Neither Kate nor Shelburn views their torrid affair as more than a shooting star, flaring red-hot for a brilliant instant, then destined to fade to nothing. But does the fiery desire raging between them blind them to the chance of finding lifelong happiness together?
Today in the Library we have Kathryn Gauci, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
You are very welcome, Kathryn, please introduce yourself:
Thank you for inviting me to the Library, Pam. It’s great to be here with you. I was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later specialised in carpet design and technology at Kidderminster College of Art and Design. After graduating, I spent a year in Vienna, Austria, before moving to Greece to work as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia, where, among other things, I ran my own textile design studio for over fifteen years. After thirty years in the textile industry, I wanted a change and began writing almost ten years ago.
Today, I am delighted to bring you news of a new release from the very talented Amy Maroney. Sea of Shadows is the second book in her Sea and Stone Chronicles.
Sea of Shadows by Amy Maroney
1459. A gifted woman artist. A ruthless Scottish privateer. And an audacious plan that throws them together—with dangerous consequences.
No one on the Greek island of Rhodes suspects Anica is responsible for her Venetian father’s exquisite portraits, least of all her wealthy fiancé. But her father’s vision is failing, and with every passing day it’s more difficult to conceal the truth.
Initially, I hesitated to write a story set during World War 2, unsure what I could bring to it that would be unique. And then it dawned on me that few had written about the war from a neutral Irish perspective. Luckily, all I had to do was delve into my family and local history and Her Secret War, the first novel in the Sarah Gillespie Series, was the result.
Essentially, the stories in the series are about spies and fifth columnists, a subject covered in some depth by Tim Tate in his book, Hitler’s British Traitors. This was the source for much of my background information and threw up a few plot ideas too (always a bonus!). [Buy Link: Hitler’s British Traitors]
My mother and her sisters left rural Ireland to work in Britain during WW2. One aunt followed her boyfriend, who had joined the RAF, and she worked in a munitions factory. Another aunt wanted to study nursing, and my mother was a ‘clippie’ (bus conductress) on the Birmingham buses. Neither book is their story, but there are glimpses of their experiences hidden throughout the fiction. The German attack on North Strand, which opens the first book, happened only a few miles from where I grew up. As a young child, I passed the bombed-out sites regularly, knowing nothing about them. I was in my late teens before I heard about the bombing and the relevant history.
For me, the greatest challenge was getting up to speed on day-to-day life. I knew a lot about the overall timeline and events of the war, but it was the nitty-gritty details of life on the Homefront which would ground the stories in reality. Thankfully, there is an enormous amount of material out there, from eyewitness accounts and books to newsreels.
My heroine, Sarah Gillespie, is Irish, and the first novel in the series begins with the infamous bombing of neutral Dublin by the Luftwaffe in May 1941. The opening chapters take place during the bombing and its aftermath before the story moves to England. Like many Irish, Sarah has family living in the UK. They welcome her to their home when her own family is killed. Without giving away the plot, Sarah’s nationality leads to complications, and she is forced to decide where her loyalties lie. The complex relationship between the Irish and their ex-colonial masters interests me, and I explore it to some extent in both novels.
Her Last Betrayal continues Sarah’s story. She is now employed by MI5 and must work with a new colleague, a US Naval Intelligence officer, who is hostile and suspicious of her motives. There mission is to track down IRA members who are facilitating British fifth columnists and Abwehr agents entering and leaving the UK. Just as they appear to be making progress, one of the MI5 team is revealed to be a German mole. Their mission thrown into chaos, Sarah and Tony must learn to trust each other if they are to survive.
Again, I referenced Mr Tate’s excellent book only to find that the port used by the IRA was only alluded to as being in South Wales. I knew the UK National Archives document reference number, but the text in question was only available to view in person, not online. Due to Covid, I could not travel to Kew to look at it. So, in the meantime, I had to make an educated guess (Fishguard seemed likely as it connected Cork and neutral Lisbon at the time—a possible route).
As the deadline for finalising the book approached, however, I panicked and took a chance and messaged Mr Tate directly through social media. A few weeks later, he responded and emailed all the information I needed. But, as it transpired, the identity of the port used by the IRA for smuggling people in and out of the UK, remains a mystery. The document Mr Tate had seen only mentioned South Wales. And then the bombshell: the British Secret Service had destroyed the other file which identified the exact location. Although disappointed, at least I had an answer. And let’s be honest, a bit of mystery is music to the ears of a writer of espionage tales!
Her Secret War was published in October 2021 and is available in all good bookstores and online. Her Last Betrayalis published today, 14th April 2022 and is available in all good book stores and online. I am currently working on the third novel in the series, as yet unnamed.
Today, I am delighted to host fellow Irish historical fiction author, Mary Clancy.
Pam thanks so much for inviting me to feature on your blog.
Let me tell you a little about myself. I live with my family in Co. Kildare just outside Naas, with Michael and two of our three sons. My youngest is eighteen, I don’t know where those years went to. I mustn’t forget to mention our treasured dog Coco who is still sprightly at the grand old age of fifteen.
I look forward to having my books in the book shops when I can have a real live launch. (Most important.)
Having retired from my job as a social worker, I took to writing, a hobby which I had enjoyed for much of my adult life. Being offered a three book deal from Poolbeg Press in 2020 was such a dream. And here I am.
This evening in the Library we have Marcia Clayton who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
Good evening, and thank you for inviting me for a chat, Pam. I live in North Devon in the South West of England, and I am a farmer’s daughter. I left school just before my sixteenth birthday, and worked for seven years in a bank before leaving to start a family. I held a variety of jobs for several years, working around looking after our three sons but then in 1990, I became an admin manager at our local college. It was at this time I decided to further my education by taking A levels in English and History, and went on to achieve a degree-equivalent qualification in management. In 2006, I moved to a job with the local authority as the Education Transport Manager, and I remained in that post until I retired in 2016. I am now enjoying retirement with my husband, Bryan.
This could not be more appropriate when describing what became known as ‘Blitzmas’. In December 1940, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was doing its best to wipe British cities off the map. But the British public were having none of it and were determined to have the best possible holiday they could. Time magazine reported that Christmas parties were being held in the larger air-raid shelters, which provided safety for over one million people. Even the London theatres put on the usual Christmas Pantomimes. However, everyone suffered. It was not a normal Christmas by any means.
Gifts were difficult to come by. However, the Evening Standard reported that the Oxford Street pavements were congested and had a pre-war atmosphere. Luxuries such as silk stockings or French perfume were not to be found, but there was still liqueur chocolates available, and if you were lucky, you might find some figs or Turkish delight. Wine and spirits were plentiful but brandy was rare. The most popular present that Christmas was soap!
It was a ‘recycle’ Christmas. At home, decorations for the most part, were handmade, often by the children. Due to a paper shortage, scraps of paper, old Christmas cards, old newspapers, and brown paper were used to make ornaments and decorations. Presents were often homemade gifts wrapped in brown paper or even small pieces of cloth. Hand knitted items, such as hats and scarves were made by unravelling old jumpers and war bonds were bought and given as gifts, which helped the war effort. Homemade food items, such as chutneys and jams were popular and practical presents, along with items associated with gardening, like wooden dibbers for planting.
There was little reprieve from the misery of Blitzkrieg. Greater Manchester bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s attacks that Christmas. On the night of 22/23 December 272 tons of high explosive were dropped, and another 195 tons the following night. Almost 2,000 incendiaries were also dropped on the city over the two nights. It became known as the Christmas Blitz. In total, 684 people died and a further 2,300 were wounded with districts to the north and east of the city badly affected. At least 8,000 homes were made uninhabitable.
The royal family had to spend the holiday at a secret location in case the Nazi airmen attacked while George VI was giving his Christmas broadcast. But as a mark of solidarity with the British public, the royal Christmas card was a picture of the king and queen in the grounds of the bombed Buckingham Palace. Traditional carol singing was cancelled due to the bombing and black-out, festive lights were not to be found on the streets, and many people had to work on the 26th of December, Boxing Day, which was a public holiday.
Due to rationing and high prices, most could not afford the traditional turkey or goose. Housewives had to use all their ingenuity to find substitutes. Luckily, the Ministry of Food provided lots of information (see recipe below) and even films on the subject. (The Imperial War Museum has many examples of these.) The only concession came in the week before Christmas in 1940; the tea ration was doubled and the sugar allowance increased to 12 ounces.
It can’t have been easy to celebrate a normal Christmas with many families separated by war and loved ones fighting overseas. Even though there was a small respite from the bombing in London on Christmas and Boxing Day, by 29th December, many families were rushing for the safety of air raid shelters once more. The King’s speech on Christmas Day must have been the highlight for many families but in December 1940. the outlook still looked bleak.
“The future will be hard, but our feet are planted on the path of victory, and with the help of God we shall make our way to justice and to peace.” King George VI (Christmas 1940)
In Her Last Betrayal, the sequel to Her Secret War, Sarah Gillespie spends Christmas with her family in Hampshire and is delighted to be involved in the Hursley Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of Hayfever, which they put on for the locals just before Christmas. However, it is to be a tragic Christmas that Sarah will never forget …
Her Last Betrayal will be released on 14th April. Cover reveal in the new year but pre-order now available: