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.