Review – Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and Their Victims – Crime/History/English History

Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and their Victims – by Katherine Watson


From Mary Ann Cotton, the Victorian serial murderess, to Dr Crippen, poisoners have attracted a celebrity unmatched by violent killers. Secretly administered, often during a family meal, arsenic (the most commonly-used poison) led to a slow and agonising death, while strychnine (with its characteristic bitter taste) killed very quickly. Poisoned Lives is the first history of the crime to examine poisoning and its consequences as a whole. Unwanted husbands, wives or lovers, illegitimate babies, children killed for the insurance money, relatives, rivals and employers were amongst the many victims of these calculating killers. Difficult to detect before 1800, poison undoubtedly had its heyday in the nineteenth century. In response to many suspected cases, forensic tests were developed that made detection increasingly likely, and the sale of poisons became more tightly controlled. Because of this, twentieth-century poisoning has become a crime largely associated with medical professionals including, most recently, Dr Harold Shipman, the world’s most prolific serial killer.

5 stars

Many of the true crime books focus solely on the murders themselves, as one would expect. Usually the same twenty or so crimes are discussed and not often in detail. This book is different. Over 500 cases from 19th century to the early 20th century are included, although many as comparisons and not in detail. That said the author does a great job of discussing the ‘whys and wherefores’ of the crimes – the societal aspects, how they changed, the rise of the police force, and the increased awareness of poisoning as a crime. Before the 1900s sanitary conditions amongst the poor were dire, life expectancy short and infant mortality high. Many of the cases discussed, and the situations covered reflect this – people poisoning as to not have another mouth to feed, to get a few pounds from the ‘burial clubs’ which sprang up, ostensibly to help the poor, and the new ‘life insurance’ schemes which abounded. Poisoning is viewed as the most despicable of crimes; usually it is a slow and very painful process, and often the perpetrator is well known to the victim – spouse, parent, servant, nurse/doctor. It’s easy to judge by the modern standards when life expectation is relatively high, health provision freely available (in the UK at least), a social security system, divorce attainable, much less stigma on illegitimacy and very few people are truly desperately poor. Oh and poison is much harder to get. But one must realise that sometimes disposal of an unwanted, violent spouse, was the only way out some people could see. There were simply no viable alternatives.

Watson discusses the changing views and social ideas – the emerging rights of women; ideas pertaining towards mental illness; religious and moral ideology and the rise of the forensic scientist, the role of the coroner and much more. It’s a potted history which changes vastly over time.  This, I think, is the most fascinating aspect. There is no sensationalisation of the cases – which sometimes appears in books on true crime – the subjects are dealt with in a sympathetic way. It’s a book of tragedy – lost lives, destroyed lives, desperation and the depths of human misery, but there is also hope. Murder by poison is rare now and more easily diagnosed. And society is not as brutish, or terrifying as once it was for the common person.

Well researched, well argued and highly interesting I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in true crime, 19th Century history, the rise of science and the social reasons for crime.


Review – Dynasty: The Stuarts John MacLeod (and a potted history of the Stuarts)

Dynasty – The Stuarts

By John MacLeod

2 stars

I rarely rate a book this low, and if I do I have usually stopped reading it.  I like history, and this was a turbulent time in British History. In fact, it was the only time Britain has been a republic (only for a few years), and it changed the British monarchy forever.

The Stuarts were far more interesting than this author makes out – and more varied so here’s a potted history.

Mary, Queen of Scots: infant queen regnant (most unusual as women rarely came to the throne on their own account); wife to the French Dauphin and would have been Queen of France had her young and sickly hubby not died; married a totally unsuitable nobleman – Lord Darnley (not royalty – shocking for the time); possibly complicit in his murder (which was shoddily done); watched her probable lover murdered in front of her eyes; third equally unsuitable husband Lord Bothwell (he kidnapped and raped her, forcing her into a marriage); deposed; exiled; executed by her cousin for being involved with a treasonous plot to bring back Catholism and usurp the English throne.

James I (and VI):  son of Mary and first husband Lord Darnley (probably); first king of England, Ireland and Scotland (sorry Wales you were already under the English then); King for 57 years in Scotland and 21 years in England. Also came to the throne as a baby – after his mother was deposed. Inherited a realm divided by religion and governed during his minority by 4 different regents; intelligent, and a good scholar he is perhaps best known for the King James Bible – which was translated and produced in English during his reign. He was obsessed with witches and witchcraft – but not in a good way and many people were executed for this ‘crime’ during his reign.

James was probably gay, or at least enjoyed gay relationships with various men at court – although he did his duty and married to produce an heir.  His ‘favourites’ were often rather unscrupulous (by today’s standards) and he was manipulated by them – much to the annoyance of parliament – who wanted to do it. He was married to a 14-year-old Danish Princess (Anne of Denmark). His eldest child died of typhoid, his daughter married to become the ill-fated Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia, and his son Charles succeeded him. Yes, that’s the Charles who annoyed parliament so much they chopped off his head….

Charles I:  Poor old Charles I. He wasn’t a bad man, but he wasn’t a good king. Or at least Parliament didn’t think so. He married a Catholic (and a bossy one) – which did not go down well in the largely Protestant Britain, and kept asking for money to fight costly and unpopular wars. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings – basically the King answered to no one but God Almighty. Parliament also had issues with this, funnily enough. The English Civil War went on for 9 awful years and the country was left rather in chaos during this time. Largely it was a religious war but it was also a conflict of a stubborn king who refused to concede any power and a miffed parliament who thought the king and his Catholic cronies had far too much.  It’s possible that over a 190000 died in England from a population of just 5 million from causes related to the war (sickness, wounds, death in battle) and many more were exiled.  In the end the Roundheads were victorious and the King was executed. I think this was the only time an English monarch has been executed by the state (excepting falling in battle, or by a foreign power, or dubious circumstances whilst in exile/imprisonment).  Charles managed to protect his family – they fled to the continent and had a difficult decade living in exile from the goodwell of various foreign lords and princes.

I will miss out Oliver Cromwell and the Commonweath – only because they weren’t Stuart blood but if you want to learn more this is a good place to start.Oliver Cromwell

Charles II : Charles II was handsome, charming and a darn sight smarter than his old man.  He made concessions when he had to and was smart enough to let Parliament have some power. He was also an inveterate womaniser – his official bastard progeny numbered 14 and there were probably lots more. Unfortunately, legitimate issue was 0 surviving – his Queen had a number of miscarriages and was unable to have a child. Despite legions of mistresses Charles stuck by his barren queen, even though he was urged to discard her.

Charles was keen on the arts, was a bit of a rogue but brought an air of jolity back after the rather dismal years of the protectorate.  He was also tolerant of religion but was careful in his dealings with Catholics (who were still deeply mistrusted). He converted on his deathbed.

He was succeeded by his brother James II, VII…. not a popular king. James was rather arrogant, an obvious Catholic, and probably suffered from some serious mental issues (not surprising really as his father was executed for treason). He married Anne Hyde (also not royalty) and then tried to shirk off the marriage. His two daughters would become Queens in their own right, but his second marriage to a Catholic Princess (Mary of Modena) was the final straw. James was far more intolerant than his brother, and less of a statesman. Eventually he was deposed in favour of his son-in-law and nephew, and his daughter (who married her cousin…) – they would jointly reign as Mary II and William III.

He survived rebellions, plots and although he was finally deposed (by his own daughters) he kept his head (unlike his father).

No one wanted civil war again and so when William and Mary were ‘invited’ to take the crown it was done surprisingly bloodlessly.  Trouble in Ireland (that was reflected to the present day) marred the reign, and they were sometimes held to be usurpers (James and his faction would try and regain the throne for James, and his heirs for many years to come, causing turmoil and bloodshed aplenty particularly in Scotland).

William fought the French (England was at war with our neighbours across the channel on and off for nearly a thousand years until the peace which came after the second world war) and was often absent. Wars were costly (and unpopular – nothing changes much).

He may also have had homosexual relationships with courtiers and favourites, but he was deeply upset when Mary died of smallpox. He died after a fall from his horse and the dubious medicine of the time.

Queen Anne was perhaps the most tragic of the Stuart monarchs, and she was the last (depending on who you ask… Jacobites looking at you). She had many health problems, including mental health (as did most of her line) and lost seventeen babies and infants. Which did nothing to help either her physical or mental wellbeing. She had problems with her sight, and later in life became obese (her coffin was nearly square), with the associated problems of being overweight. She also oversaw the Act of Settlement – which finally united Scotland, Ireland and England into Great Britain and not seperate countries. (Some would argue this wasn’t a good thing and the countries would be better off running themselves but that’s a debate for another day).

Anne was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier but she was, by many accounts, kind, dutiful and did her utmost to be a good queen. She was also passionate  and emotional- and her various intense friendships with women, including the Duchess of Marlborough (who was quite unkind about her later). She survived Jacobite plots to put a half-brother on the throne and the aftermath of the War of Spanish Succession.

So anyway… about the book….

I was quite disappointed by this book. Way too much of the author’s own opinion in this. I found it rather anti.. well everyone really.

No one came out of it well (although to be fair the history of the Stuarts is not the most glorious) but there was a rather anti-gay, anti-catholic, tone to the book.  In one place he described homosexuality as a ‘sin’. Technically it was then – but that was not the context of the sentence, or at least didn’t seem to be. There had been previous mentions about the various alleged and supported gay relationships of the monarchs but these were generally portrayed in a negative way. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be like that but it came across that way.

The subject matter is interesting, but it reads a bit like a sensationalist newspaper. I’d have liked more on Queen Anne, she was the last Stuart monarch and barely got much of a mention. What was said was basically she was stupid, dull a bit of a non-entity.

It wasn’t all bad – there was an element of amusement in some places, and the author is passionate about the subject (opinions aside). The chapter on Mary Queen of Scots was interesting. It was also interesting to see the history from the Scots perspective.

I’m sorry but I wouldn’t recommend this to history lovers – there are better and less biased books on the market.


Battlefield 1066 -Spotlights – Victoria Zigler

#SWauthors #History #Childrensauthor

Name: Victoria Zigler, or Tori for short.

Tell us a bit about yourself I’m a blind vegetarian poet and children’s author.  Born and raised near the foot of the Black Mountains of South-West Wales, UK, I now live very close to the town of Hastings on the South-East coast of England, UK.  I share my home with my Canadian husband, and our gang of rodents (which currently consists of 3 degus, 1 gerbil, 2 rats, and 2 chinchillas) and spend most of my time either reading or writing.

Set during the Battle of Hastings tell us a little more about your story

My Battle of Hastings story is about a young boy named Eadweard who, along with his best friend, Cerdic, thought it would be fun to join the ranks of men marching to fight in the battle, even though they officially aren’t old enough and had been forbidden to do so by their Fathers.  They have dreams of being great war heroes, but soon discover the reality of war is nothing like what they imagined it to be.

It’s a children’s historical fiction story, but I’ve put an “eight years and older” warning on the book’s blurb, because some of the scenes in the story really aren’t suitable for readers younger than that, in my opinion.  After all, it is a story about a battle, and I can’t show the reality of war without showing some violence and blood.

What prompted you to write this one?

I wanted to branch out and try other genres, and this year being the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings inspired me to write a story about the battle.  I quickly decided that I wanted to tell the story of the events of the battle reasonably accurately – as much as can be done without a time machine, which I don’t have access to, unfortunately.  But I also wanted the story to be from the point of view of someone who wasn’t some famous war hero.  Part of my preference for someone who wasn’t a great war hero was because I wanted the person to be a child, and part of it was because I wanted fighting to be new to him.  I wanted to tell the story of the battle, while at the same time showing that war isn’t the amazing adventure some people think it to be.  I also wanted the book to be suitable for middle grade readers, which is why it needed to be a young lad who was the main character.  After looking up everything I could find on the battle, and letting those thoughts simmer in my mind for a couple of months, I sat down to write the story, and “Eadweard – A Story Of 1066” is the result.  To my knowledge, Eadweard and Cerdic themselves never existed.  However, boys like them would have, and the battle itself was very real.

How much research was involved? I already knew some of the details of the battle, partially from doing an essay on it during the time I was homeschooled in my teens, and partially because I live not far from Hastings, and it’s almost impossible to live close to Hastings and not know one or two facts (especially when you have an interest in history, as well as random facts, so pay attention to those kinds of things).  However, I still made sure to spend plenty of time researching my facts as accurately as possible.  I also happen to be very close to someone who is a huge history buff, a fellow writer, and essentially a walking encyclopaedia, so I asked him if he’d be a beta reader for me.  Thankfully, he agreed, so was able to help me out with anything I wasn’t sure about.

What was the most fascinating thing you learned from this experience?

I’m really not sure how to answer this one.  I found the whole thing fascinating; I like history.

Who do you think is one of the most important historical figures in British history?

I think the most important person in history is whoever figured out how to create and manipulate fire, because fire is the most useful thing in the world.  It doesn’t matter if you benefit from the things fire does for us directly by sitting in front of a roaring blaze, or indirectly by benefiting from the power that’s caused by a chain reaction started by burning some kind of fuel, if you’re a human being, chances are you’ll be benefiting from fire in your daily life… Especially in extremely cold weather.  Although, not quite as much as you might have had Thomas Edison not figured out about electricity.

Who do you believe to be the rightful claimant – William or Harold Godwinson? Why?

I think Harold is the rightful claimant.  I know William believes Harold promised him the throne, but it’s William’s word against Harold’s on that one.  Besides, even if he did, Harold was given the crown by people who held enough authority that their choice to do so was accepted.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s that; once he’s king, he’s king.  If everyone thought that way though, the battle wouldn’t have happened, and neither would many others throughout history.

What other books have you written?

How long have you got? Haha! No, I really mean it! OK, I’ll summarize: to date, I’ve published seven poetry collections and 42 stories of various lengths (including “Eadweard – A Story Of 1066” and the story that was published in the “Wyrd Worlds II” anthology).  My “Kero’s World” and “Degu Days Duo” books are semi-fictionalized stories based on the lives of my actual pets, my “Magical Chapters Trilogy” and “Zeena Dragon Fae” books are fantasy stories, my “Toby’s Tales” books are based on my own adjustments after losing my sight, “My Friends Of Fur And Feather” and “Rodent Rhymes And Pussycat Poems” are pet themed poetry collections written for and about real pets I’ve owned or known, the rest of my poetry books are random collections of poetry, all my stand alone stories are aimed at children of middle grade reading level or younger and cover a few different genres (though they’re mainly fantasy stories, fairy tales, animal stories, or some combination of the three) and my story in “Wyrd Worlds II” is a fantasy story.  I have plans for plenty more in the near future.


Character Questions

Who are you? Tell us about yourself.

My name is Eadweard, and I’m nine years old, though I’m tall for my age, so look a little older.  My Father isn’t a rich lord, but we have enough money to live comfortably, and for my Father to have two sets of armour.  His new armour is much nicer than the old stuff, but the old armour is still  in good enough condition that he kept it for me; he says I’ll grow in to it properly one day.

What faith do you hold? Are you devout?

I’m no priest, nor do I plan to become one.  I believe in God though, of course, and say my prayers.

What is your moral code?

My Father always taught me that a warrior should be prepared to die to defend their leader and loved ones.

Would you die for your beliefs?

I don’t actually want to die.  I know I should be prepared to do so, but that doesn’t mean I want it to happen.  If I’m going to die though, I want it to be in a way that will bring honour to my family, and make my Father proud of me.

Would you kill for them?

I would try to.  Though that’s not as easy to do as it looks.  It turns out fighting with practice swords is a lot easier than fighting in a real battle.

How did you become embroiled in this battle for the crown?

Well… *Looks guilty* I wasn’t supposed to be involved.  My Father said I wasn’t ready for battle, and ordered me to stay home.  My best friend, Cerdic, was told the same by his Father.  We disobeyed though, and found a way to join the ranks of marching men.  You won’t tell our Fathers, will you?

Honestly – who do you think is the rightful claimant?

King Harold is the rightful claimant, of course.  The Witon said he should be King, and they wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true, would they?

Were you afraid during the battles?

I tried to pretend I wasn’t, so the others wouldn’t think me a coward, but I was afraid throughout most of the battle.  I’m pretty sure Cerdic was too.  Part of my fear was fear of what my Father would do if he found out I’d disobeyed him and found a way to join the battle after all, and part of it was the actual battle itself.

Have you a family?

I’m my parents’ eldest child.  I have three younger siblings.  My eldest sister is only a year younger than me, and often helps our Mother to keep an eye on our younger brother and sister, who are hardly more than babies.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope to have already shown my skill in battle, and gained enough notice as a great warrior that my heroic deeds are rewarded.  That would make my Father proud.  Then he won’t be quite so angry that I disobeyed him when he said I wasn’t ready to join a real battle.

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Battlefield 1066 – spotlights – Barbara G Tarn

Name: Barbara G.Tarn

Tell us a bit about yourself

I was born in the boot-shaped country dripping into the Mediterranean sea, but having lived abroad at a young age, I currently feel international, a woman with no country that sometimes is quite sick of the whole crazy planet. I love history, especially the Middle Ages (11th to 13th century), and making up stuff, although I learned the value of research even for the craziest idea – be it fantasy or science fiction. I write mostly SFF these days, having exhausted any will to talk about current events and today’s people.

Set during the Battle of Hastings tell us a little more about your story

Here’s the blurb: Nineteen-year-old Robert Malet followed William the Bastard to England to claim the English throne. The battle near the small town of Hastings is the beginning of the Norman conquest of England, but also of Robert’s second life.
A vampire in 12th century Europe traveling, fighting and meeting his siblings in darkness, changing names through the years when his mortal life is gone.
Follow Robert Malet, Brother Geoffrey, Robert Capuchon and Mercadier through the years. History and fantasy based on medieval chronicles for a Vampires Through the Centuries novella.

What prompted you to write this one?

When Steph Bennion suggested we write something around the Battle of Hastings, I thought it would be the prefect setting for one of my vampires stories. The original idea was about a Viking woman through the centuries who could be at the battle of Hastings. Just an episode of her long life – she pursues her love through the centuries without turning him into a vampire, simply looking for his next reincarnation! 😉

As the second novel developed, I decided it should be someone actually turned at the battle – with the Viking woman and the berserker passing through Kaylyn’s novel along with Bran the Raven, the maker of them all. You shall encounter Robert also in the novel Kaylyn the Sister-in-Darkness that will come out Nov.2, but this is his story from his point of view.

How much research was involved?

I had already studied the 11th and 12th centuries for a shelved historical novel, so I pulled out my old Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinnées (history of France in comic-book form from the late 1970s) and saw they had William the Conqueror and other interesting characters.

To make sure the battle itself was neatly done, I bought an Osprey Publishing book about that campaign – based on the two or three chronicles of the time.

For later times, I went back to my research on William Marshal and Richard Lionheart.

What was the most fascinating thing you learned from this experience?

That the Normans had ugly haircuts! 😉 My poor cover artist almost gave up drawing Robert, although I had sent her the images of how the French artist had drawn William the Conqueror…

Who do you think is one of the most important historical figures in British history?

History is written down and recorded by winners. And it gets rewritten through the centuries. Robin Hood, Roland or King Arthur – who knows who the actual people were? What were they actually called and what did they actually do?

That said, there are some chronicles left – to be taken with a grain of salt, since usually it’s copies of long lost originals (something that applies to the gospels as well, but I digress). I think that there was no real England as we know it today in the 11th century. The Danes, the Saxons, the Angles all mixed up – and then the Normans, who had managed to get a piece of land from the King of France, decided they wanted a piece of it too…

The Anglo-Norman nobility after the conquest spoke French, not English. Richard Lionheart spent only six months of his short reign in England – he was Norman, he couldn’t care less about what happened beyond the channel! He was too busy trying to keep his continental estates…

Who do you believe to be the rightful claimant – William or Harold Godwinson? Why?

I don’t really have an opinion on this. The great empires (Roman, Frank) had fallen to pieces, but there’s always someone who want to rebuild them, isn’t it?

What other books have you written?

Three more Vampires Through the Centuries (with more to come next year), a science fantasy series called Star Minds and then there’s my fantasy world of Silvery Earth… lots of titles, but also lots of collections and mostly standalone! Full list here.


Character Questions


Who are you? Tell us about yourself

I am Robert, son of William Malet, one of the few proven companions of Duke William. I was born in Gravelle-Saint-Honorine nineteen years ago.

What faith do you hold? Are you devout?

I am Christian, of course, and I’m as devout as the other knights around me. Bishop Odo celebrated mass and blessed us before joining us in the battle against the English. Yes, bishops can also be fearsome warriors in my time and great landholders as well. I know that Archbishop Baldwin took King Richard’s army to the Holy Land all by himself…

What is your moral code?

I am a knight and a man of honor. I kill only in battle.

Would you die for your beliefs?

I’d die for my lord and liege. I’d die to protect the land, my family and their estates.

Would you kill for them?

If my lord and liege asks me to. Or if someone threatens me or mine.

How did you become embroiled in this battle for the crown?

I followed my father and the Duke of Normandy, whom I admire greatly. It was actually my first real battle and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Honestly – who do you think is the rightful claimant?

Honestly, I can’t say. You see, my father is related to King Harold… but he still fights by Duke William’s side!

Were you afraid during the battle?

I’m part of the mighty Norman cavalry. No, I’m not afraid, even though the damn English had raised that wall of shields. But then the berserker attacked me…

Have you a family?

Parents, siblings and soon a Norman bride.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

As one of the dozen or so greatest landholders in England.



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Author Interview Number Thirty-Six – B.D Hawkey – Historical Romance

Welcome to B.D.Hawkey

Please tell us a little about yourself. I was brought up on a farm in rural Cornwall . When I was 17 I left home and started my nursing career, which lasted 25 years. I worked in an intensive care unit, minor injury unit and later as a health visitor. I had the privilege of being part of a person’s life during the most traumatic, frightening or uplifting time in their lives. After 25 years I changed career which has given me more time to write. I am married with two grown up children and two very happy dogs.

Please tell us a little about your writing – for example genre, title, etc. Old Sins, Long Shadows is a Victorian romance set in Cornwall, England. It is about a young woman who begins a journey of self discovery and falls in love for the first time. However there are people in her life who want to do her harm and their actions have far reaching effects. It’s about abuse of power and how jealousy and idle gossip can have devastating results.

Who or what are your inspirations/influences? I love Cornwall and I’m very proud to be Cornish. It is very easy to be inspired by the beautiful country side, historical buildings and the Cornish people themselves.

Research can be important in world-building, how much do you need to do for your books? Do you enjoy this aspect of creating a novel and what are your favourite resources? My father is a great source. He loves to talk about the past and he has given me many things that his mother used to have. I have a mangle, a cheese press, a butter churn and oil lamps including a Victorian horse plough! In my book there is a Victorian gaol, a Victorian Court House and a stately home. I have visited these buildings which are open to the public in Cornwall. I have seen the Victorian cells and walked through the Victorian kitchens. It makes writing about them very easy.

In what formats are your books available? Are you intending to expand these?Old Sins, Long Shadows is in print and kindle format. I’m interested in the audio version, I think my book would be good in that format but I don’t know how to achieve it.

Do you self-edit? If so why is that the case? Do you believe a book suffers without being professionally edited? I self-edited and then I passed it to two other people who also edited it. They were very good, but I did not pay them. I was advised by an agent to edit on paper and not just on the laptop. So I did, over and over again. It was amazing how many things you pick up. Next time I might have it professionally edited as it is not the part of writing I enjoy.

What are your opinions about authors commenting on reviews? I’m not sure. I think if the review is good it might be considered okay to say thank you. If it’s bad then perhaps I would maintain a dignified silence while I cry into a pillow.

Do you listen to music or watch TV whilst you write? No, I need silence. I like to walk the dogs while I am thinking about what I will write but when I am writing I need to be by myself in a quiet room.

What experiences can a book provide that a movie or video game cannot? The reader can experience what is going on in the character’s head; his/her thought processes, their insecurities, their understanding of the situation and their sensations. Personally I feel like I am in the story more than a film. I don’t play video games; I’m not quick enough on the controls and usually end up dying, crashing and losing.

What advice would you give new writers? Write about what you know. Write a little bit nearly every day. Write a story you would want to read and if you really believe it is a good story, be its advocate or your characters will never be free from your computer for others to meet.

What are your best marketing/networking tips? Facebook has been very helpful with support and marketing, particularly groups specifically for authors which can give advice to new authors.

Most authors also like to read, what books do you enjoy? I enjoy Winston Graham’s Poldark books. I enjoy historical romance the most which is why I chose to write it.

Can you give us a silly fact about yourself? When I was in my 30’s, and I thought no one was looking, I went on a tall children’s slide. My dress got caught on the slide at the top, by the time I reached the bottom my dress had torn all the way down the side seam. I had to walk home with one hand holding my daughter’s and the other holding my dress together. It was very embarrassing and I have not been on a slide since!

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Year of Wonders – Historical Fiction Review

Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks. 17th Century Historical Fiction.

This was a book I picked up for the Historical Fiction Coursera Course mentioned elsewhere and I can see why it was chosen.

This is a very emotive book and not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of tragedy and death but there is so much more – love, hope, fear, hate and pretty much every emotion one can think of. It was all the more moving as it is based on true events.

Set at the time of the Black Death in a small village called Eyam, in rural England, the author has done a lot of research to paint a vivid picture of the 17th Century, with all its religious turbulence, simplistic way of life and the fears of the inhabitants. Plague was a very real, very misunderstood disease which killed very many people and indeed in this microcosm of society the death count is high. The people of the village decide to shut themselves off in their village – no one is allowed in or out, in the hope they will not spread the Plague further. It is no light decision as this means they must help themselves, and as the death count rises find skills they did not know they possessed or go without.

Told from the point of view of an intelligent and resourceful widow it also shows the trials a woman might face, especially one with knowledge such as herb-lore or other teaching. Anna Frith is not your usual servant, nor is she content to be and the book is as much about her journey of self-discovery as it is about the plague itself.

There are some harrowing revelations and as Anna finds herself the male main character loses himself.

Well written the characters are engaging, poignant and varied. Some are likable and some are most certainly not.

Why not 5 stars? I was not entirely convinced by the ending, although it did wrap up well enough I thought it could have given a hint of what happened in Eyam. It also seemed a little rushed.

I would recommend this as an interesting and emotional read for those who like historical fiction, 17th Century history and books about resourceful women.