The Stanforth Secrets

Toysss Hi, here's Jo, blatantly promoting my book of the month — The Stanforth Secrets — but with, I hope, interesting stuff.

My first published book was Lord Wraybourne's Betrothed. (Still available.)

For my second, I decided to use my home area as a setting.

I was born and raised in Morecambe, Lancashire, but that's a Victorian sea-side town. Back in the early 19th century it was a fishing village called Poulton, and nearby Heysham was a bit larger and a great deal more historical. (That's pronounced Hee-sham, by the way, and Morecambe is Morcum.)

There's an excellent historical account here, going back to pre-historic times. As a child I was only aware of the Anglo-Saxon heritage, in particular the hog-back stone — a Norse burial stone, which used to be outside the very old church, available for climbing on. And yes, I confess, I did.

(You know, when I look at this picture again, it looks a lot like a penis to me…. )

The stone has now been moved into a more protected environment, but not everything can be. I liked this description from the above site about a New Stone Age burial site.

"The ancient race used the Long Barrows :- one
is in the allotments just to the North of Heysham School, and stretches
like a whale with its nose to the Pole Star right up to Crimewell Lane
opposite Mount Zion House. The only way to get to it lies through the
garden behind the fish shop."

Heyshamgraves More ancient remains.

There are also graves carved out of the rock. Even as a child that seemed a really hard way to form a grave, but they have the clear shape of a human body. This photo, from this site also shows the area's beauty.

In addition, you can see the ruins of Saint Patrick's chapel. Yes, one of Heysham's claims to fame is that St. Patrick established a mission there and built a church about 444 AD.

Let's return to that hog-back stone.

One version says it marked the burial place of  Thorold the Viking, killed in the Battle of Brunanberh in 937 AD. The important bit for The Stanforth Secrets, however, is that it was discovered and dug up in 1800, so it was still hot news in 1811, when my book is set. In fact, it weaves into the murder and mayhem that lie beneath the secrets there.

Sscov I think it was my editor's idea for this book to be a romantic suspense. Of course at that stage of my career I was a little engine who could. I think I did a reasonable job, but the process convinced me that my writing style and who-dunnit didn't mesh, especially with a setting involving servants. Not only did I have to figure out where the various family members were at suspicious moment, but where all the servants were too!

Let's look at covers.

The original edition was a hardcover from Walker Books, who were then using very plain dust jackets. That was preferable to this odd rendition on the Avon paperback. Yes, the rough character details are more or less right, but Chloe looksSsbare like a Japanese teenager suddenly overcome by a poisoned daisy!

The new one is much better even if she's going to catch a nasty cold going outside like that.

I hope you enjoy — or have enjoyed — the twists and turns as well as the romance. Forbidden love. Perhaps "survivor guilt." Passions that must be restrained, in part because of the decencies of the time, but also because back then I wouldn't have been allowed to let them get too heated.

Unlike in Chalice of Roses, out last month.

Or Tempting Fortune, out next month in the Tfuk UK. Brothel scene in that one.

And The Secret Duke, out in April.

By the way, I've just put up an excerpt. At the end, there's a period portrait which to me might be Ithorne in his more ducal mode. Sober, thoughtful, book in hand.


Oh, talking of character pictures, I found this one that I thought could be Chloe considering the predicament she finds herself in. You'll see that it's not wildly different to the woman on the cover except that her hair is up.

 So, what do you think of the character pictures?

Do you like to know that a setting has particular importance for an author, or doesn't that matter to you?

Anyone got spring yet? That's the scene from my kitchen window here in Whitby!

I'll give a copy of The Stanforth Secrets to one lucky comment-maker here.



About Chalice of Roses

Cor Jo here, talking about the anthology Chalice of Roses, which has stories about the Grail.

The reviews have been great, including this one from Library Journal. "Based on legends surrounding the mystical Holy Grail, this quartet
sweeps readers across time periods with emotionally compelling, often
lyrically written tales of courage, sacrifice, love—and roses. A young
woman of ancient lineage is destined to bring peace to 12th-century
England when she finds her protector, and together they call forth the
chalice in Beverley’s “The Raven and the Rose”; a Guardian must use her
powers to keep the Grail safe during World War II in Mary Jo Putney’s
“The White Rose of Scotland”; a debutante is charged with keeping the
Grail out of Napoleon’s grasp in Karen Harbaugh’s charming “The English
Rose: Miss Templar and the Holy Grail”; and an American grad student
studying in England becomes involved in a strange fey tale involving
the Grail in Barbara Samuel’s “Eternal Rose.” VERDICT: This beautifully
crafted anthology by some of the genre’s best is graced with flawless
writing, touches of humor, and magical, creative plots.

I'll start with a bit of history — business history. Most romance anthologies are put together by an in-house editor. There's a theme or link and she then looks for writers to do the novellas. (A novella is a story of about 10-20,000 words, though they can be longer.) I have to say that sometimes the blend of stories doesn't make a lot of sense, and sometimes the stories don't stick tightly to the theme.Ifmmpb

In SF&F, a writer or two invite submissions and select stories, and generally their vision of the collection is stronger, as with another anthology I'm involved with — Songs of Love and Death, edited by Gardner Dorzois and George R R Martin, whose names will be on the cover when it eventually comes out. The SF&F people are often bewildered by the romance genre system and keep asking why the editor isn't named. If you click on the cover of Irresistible Forces you'll see the editor, Catherine Asaro, named.

So, some years ago, four romance writers had an idea for a collection of linked novellas and decided to put it together themselves and then sell it. Thus was born Faery Magic. A few years later they did Dragon Lovers, and now, Chalice of Roses. The author are Barbara Samuel, Karen Harbaugh, and two of the Wenches — myself and Mary Jo.

I asked the other members of the Faery Four contributors to give me a short description of the historical basis for their story.

KarenHarbaugh Karen Harbaugh

Whose story is set in the Regency. "As with most conquerors, Napoleon Bonaparte sought to maximize his power in whatever way he could.  Whether he believed  the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny had actual powers or not is not precisely known, but what is certain is that the city fathers of Nuremburg, Germany were terrified that Napoleon would seize the Spear when he marched his armies toward that city in 1796, and so sent it out of his way, and that after the Battle of Austerlitz in the winter of 1805, Napoleon did indeed seek to get his hands on it, but it was smuggled out of the city and he did not succeed.  Napoleon's conquest of Italy actually brought the "emerald" grail (there is more than one, apparently) into his hands, but it turned out to be Egyptian glass and broke (could it be that someone substituted a glass cup for the real thing?)  I like to think that my hero, William Marstone, had a part in smuggling them into England, but the Spear and
the Grail seem to have a habit of appearing wherever it might affect the course of human events."

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

Maryjophotosm160 Mary Jo Putney

Whose story is set in WW II. "There is a metaphysical tradition that says Hitler was fascinated by  ancient artifacts of power, and that he sent his people to search for such  items so he could use that power.  INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE  LOST ARK uses that tradition, with the Ark of the Covenant as the object,  while INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE goes after the Grail itself.  

So, since we were doing a Grail themed anthology and the Nazis make such  resonant villains, I decided to use World War II as a setting.  Other  historical bits I threw in were Rosslyn Chapel; a Canadian tradition of  Grail connections in the area of Halifax (that courtesy of Jo!);–and why did  Rudolf
Hess, deputy fuhrer of the Third Reich, really fly  to Scotland, claiming he wanted to negotiate for peace with the Duke of  Hamilton?  History has such lovely material to play with! 

I used the world developed while I wrote my Guardian trilogy because I  wanted an excuse to return there.  The World War II research was  interesting, and also tricky because it's within living memory.  In fact,  after I turned the story in, I wrote a blog on the research:  It was great fun!"

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

Barbara Barbara Samuel

Whose story is set in the present day. "The historical pins in Eternal Rose came from my fascination with the old epic poem The Romance and the Rose, in which a rake is turned into a rose bya jealous fairy.  I've always loved the period of courtly poetry–forbidden love and bargains made by lovers, and secret trysts.  The setting of a small village in England comes from visits we make to my partner's mum's house in southern England, where there is a field I walk, and the tree that stands in the middle of it.  A white horse lives close by, and it all feels tremendously ancient and enchanted.  My story is contemporary, but in mood draws heavily from the period of courtly love."

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

And now me.

Whose story is set in the middle ages. "As the Grail is strongly connected with war and peace, I set my story among one of England's civil wars, the period in the 12th century called The Anarchy. Henry I, whose early reign features in some of my medievals, had a son and heir, but the young man was tragically lost in a shipwreck when returning from France. Despite his attempts to beget another son, in the end he compelled his barons to swear to support the succession of his daughter, Matilda. The trouble was, she was married to a foreign prince, so when the time came most of the barons supported the rival claimant, Stephen of Blois, who was at least a man. Thus began war, chaos, and suffering which in the end the Grail is summoned to end.

In my research I discovered that the term grail wasn't used for the
holy cup at this time — it was still a common word for a dish — and
so in my story it's the Graal, an interestingly pre-Christian term connected to the Horn of Plenty."

You can read an excerpt by clicking here.

So as you see, we all have a different take on this deeply rooted mythical story.

…four formidable authors stretch their imaginations…each unique voice
calls upon historical incidents and paranormal elements to contribute to an anthology
that lifts the human spirit.
” 4 1/4 stars, Top Pick! Kathe Robins Romantic Times Book Club

The book has been out for a few weeks, and if you've read it we'd love your comments.

What does "the Grail" mean to you? Do you connect it most strongly to the Christian element of the cup used at the Last Supper, or is it a more general mystical entity?

What are your favorite Grail-related stories, in print or screen?

Do you enjoy anthologies, and do you prefer them to have a fairly tight theme?

We'll be picking four winners from among the comments on this blog and each will get a copy of Chalice of Roses from one of us, so have at it!Davyhead

Jo — and Davy.