Shadows in the Ashes

Christina here, and I’m very excited because tomorrow it’s publication day at last for my new dual time novel SHADOWS IN THE ASHES! It is set partly in Roman times, in Pompeii 79 AD, just before and during the fateful eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This event really fired my imagination and I’ve wanted to use it in a story for quite some time. It was also a great excuse to finally visit the ruins of the city and the surrounding area in the Bay of Naples – you can read my blog post about that here if you haven’t seen it already.

I’ve been writing about Vikings for quite a while now, so it was great fun to switch to another era for a while. But I didn’t go completely Roman as Raedwald, the hero of the story, is a ‘barbarian’ from Frisia (north-western Netherlands), who has been captured and enslaved. He eventually ends up as a gladiator, and is plotting to regain his freedom, as well as revenge on the younger half-brother and step-mother who betrayed him. Was it possible for slaves to escape? Ordinarily, it would have been very difficult, but with a volcano covering your tracks – quite literally – I figured anything could happen!

The heroine in the present also longs to escape, but in a different way. She’s trapped in an abusive marriage, held hostage by the fact that she has a three-year-old daughter whom her husband wouldn’t hesitate to use as leverage against her. Domestic abuse, both mental and physical, is unfortunately all too common, and it was a subject I wanted to highlight. It takes great courage and determination to break free from a relationship like that!

Here’s the blurb to tell you what SHADOWS IN THE ASHES is about:-

Can you forge a new path from the ashes of your old life?

Present Day – Finally escaping an abusive marriage, Caterina Rossi takes her three-year-old daughter and flees to Italy. There she’s drawn to research scientist Connor, who needs her translation help for his work on volcanology. Together they visit the ruins of Pompeii and, standing where Mount Vesuvius unleashed its fire on the city centuries before, Cat begins to see startling visions. Visions that appear to come from the antique bracelet handed down through her family’s generations…

AD 79 – Sold by his half-brother and enslaved as a gladiator in Roman Pompeii, Raedwald dreams only of surviving each fight, making the coin needed to return to his homeland and taking his revenge. That is, until he is hired to guard beautiful Aemilia. As their forbidden love grows, Raedwald’s dreams shift like the ever more violent tremors of the earth beneath his feet.

The present starts eerily to mirror the past as Cat must fight to protect her safety, and to forge a new path from the ashes of her old life…

And here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story when the heroine in the present begins to realise that perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for her on the horizon:-

North London, 10 April 2022

‘You really should leave him, you know.’

The quiet voice coming from across the hedge made Cat jump, and she forgot to cover her face as she swung round to see who was talking to her. Her neighbour, Suzanne, a woman in her late fifties or early sixties, was peering over the clipped yew. Her expression of quiet compassion turned into one of concern when she caught sight of Cat’s rapidly swelling eye and cheek.

‘The utter bastard!’ she hissed. ‘Honestly, what is it that makes some men think they can act however they like?’

‘No, no, I . . . tripped. It was my own fault,’ Cat whispered, putting up a hand to protect her face from view. ‘Really, it was nothing.’

She’d had worse, but she’d never admit that, especially not to the only person in the neighbourhood who ever talked to her. They’d chatted occasionally across the fence, just small talk about the weather and such, but it made Cat feel slightly less isolated.

‘Hmm.’ The non-committal noise conveyed the woman’s scepticism, and Cat cringed inwardly.

How had it come to this? Why was she lying to protect a man who mistreated her? But she had no choice if she wanted to keep Bella from harm. If she wanted to keep her, full stop. So far, he had never hurt their daughter, but should she try to divorce him, he would be given shared custody of the little girl. Knowing him, he would use that to torment Cat endlessly. Perhaps even turn the child against her through bribery and lies as she grew up. She simply couldn’t risk it.

‘I’d better go inside. If I put some ice on it, the swelling will soon go down.’ She turned away, wanting nothing more than to escape now. The embarrassment of being caught looking like this was more than she could bear.

‘No, wait! Please, let me take a photo. It might help … one day, when you’re ready to walk away. And I’d be happy to testify on your behalf any time you need me.’ Suzanne shrugged and gesticulated towards their adjoining semi-detached properties, modern and purpose-built. ‘These houses weren’t made with thick walls, so I’m afraid I hear a thing or two …’

Cat swallowed hard. This was getting worse and worse. ‘Oh God,’ she muttered, but then a small spark of defiance lit up inside her and she turned back towards Suzanne, lifting her chin a fraction.

‘OK, then, take a photo if you want, but I doubt I’ll use it. I can’t. My daughter …’

Suzanne snapped a couple of quick pictures with her phone camera and nodded in sympathy. ‘I understand. What’s her name again? I’ve seen you with her in the garden, of course.’

‘Isabel, but we call her Bella. She’s, um, named after her grandmother, so we don’t want to confuse the two.’

She shuddered at the thought, and sincerely hoped her daughter would be nothing like her mother-in-law when she grew up. The woman was as cold as a hoar frost; a control freak who had raised her son with an iron fist. It was no wonder Derek thought violence was acceptable, really, although it was still no excuse. From what Cat had gathered, he’d been subjected to corporal punishment from an early age. He had been just ten when his father had died, and from that moment on his mother had expected him to ‘be a man’. No excessive emotions allowed. No weakness either. In fact, she’d done a fine job of turning him into an insensitive brute. It was a shame Cat hadn’t realised that until it was too late.

Suzanne put her phone in her pocket. ‘Now, please, will you do me a favour? Whenever something like this happens, come out here and call for me and I’ll take a photo. I’m usually in the kitchen or living room, so I’ll hear you. I’ll download the photos to my computer and date them, then if you ever want to, er … break free, I’ll send them to you. Deal?’

She held out her hand across the low hedge and Cat felt compelled to shake it. There was something firm and reassuring in Suzanne’s grip, giving her a tiny spark of encouragement. And an even smaller flicker of hope.

‘Deal,’ she whispered.

‘And just in case you were wondering, you’re not alone. I was in a similar situation some years back. It might feel hopeless right now, but it is possible to get away, trust me.’

Cat blinked away a sudden rush of tears. She’d probably never have the courage to leave Derek, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared. Perhaps she could do it. Break free. One day. But not just yet.

‘OK,’ she murmured. ‘Th- thank you, Suzanne.’

I enjoyed switching eras and writing about the Romans. Is there a period in history you would like to learn more about?

Please leave a comment below for a chance to win a giveaway – a signed copy of the book and a small Roman reproduction coin pendant.

(SHADOWS IN THE ASHES buy link:- https://geni.us/STACC )

From Chicks to Hens

Purple_Fedora_hatChristina here. I’ve been thinking about so called “hen lit” recently, as I read some books that could be put in that category. It’s usually defined as stories with older heroines, and Wikipedia also calls it “matron lit”, a term I vehemently dislike! I mean, just because you’ve hit a certain age doesn’t mean you automatically turn into a “matron”, does it? I’m of the mindset of the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph, about breaking the rules when you get old, wearing purple and doing things you shouldn’t just because you can – that is the way I want to age, not conforming to any mould.

FredericaWhat do we consider an older heroine? I’m guessing women from the age of about forty/forty-five and upwards, although to me forty now seems fairly young. (Yes, I’m already that old!) It’s all very subjective, but the actual age doesn’t really matter – it’s the fact that they are not pretty young things any more, waiting for their big love story and Happy-Ever-After with a gorgeous man, two point five children, and a lovely house with a picket fence. Instead they are older and (hopefully) wiser than the average romance heroine, and may already have been there and done that. Also got the T-shirt and discarded it.

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Feelgood Fiction

Feelgood balloonChristina here. I recently attended a writers'/readers' conference in Sweden called the FEELGOOD FESTIVAL. 200 readers congregated in the very picturesque town of Sigtuna (founded by Vikings in the 10th century and full of runestones so paradise for me!) to hear a day-long series of chats/discussions about various aspects of feelgood fiction. To me that term means romance, but as I listened to the authors being interviewed it quickly became clear that to Swedes it has a much broader meaning.

Sigtuna townRomance as a genre is severely under-represented in Sweden, where the largest sections of the book stores are devoted to crime/thrillers/Scandi Noir and more literary oeuvres. The upswing in popularity of what they call feelgood books is a recent (and to readers like me a very welcome) development that seems to be growing in strength every day. And yet, when I visited the biggest book store in Stockholm afterwards, they didn’t have a dedicated section for such stories – not even a table with recommendations. Not good!

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What We’re Reading!

Christina here and it’s time for our monthly roundup of what we’ve been reading! As always, we have a very varied selection and hope you will find something you like the sound of. And please add to our must-have lists in the comments below by letting us know what you have enjoyed as well. We’ve got our credit cards at the ready!

We’re starting off with Patricia:-

Space JunkSPACE JUNK: HOUSTON, WE HAVE A HOTTIE by Sara L. Hudson. I wasn’t going to report on this one because it’s half hot sex, so I skimmed a whole lot. The sex scenes were fine. I’m just not interested. But the book’s premise and some of the scenes stuck with me, so I thought maybe there are others out there who might be as amused as I was. Jackie is a genius PhD working for NASA. She was always too young for the people around her and the only time she got into the dating scene, she got burned. So she wears her geek glasses and Chucks and pays no attention to where she lives or what she drives. Until she meets Flynn. He’s a college graduate millionaire who decided to be a mechanic, and her geekiness completely turns him on. She doesn’t know who he is and doesn’t care, but she loves that he teaches her to hot wire cars. She loves his mid-century modern house and his cool muscle cars. What is really fascinating is the detail the book goes into about NASA and astronauts—in a romcom! The characterization is entertaining, and there is obviously room for lots more books in the series. Excellent writing, good humor, hot sex … if that’s your bag, go for it!

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Guest Author Amanda McCabe dishes on Paris, Jazz . . . and Love!

ManhattanHeiress2Andrea here, and today I'm delighted to welcome my good friend Amanda McCabe to the Word Wenches to dish about A Manhattan Heiress in Paris, her new historical romance set in the 1920s. (fluttery sigh.) Amanda and I met many moons ago when we were both writing traditional Regency romances for Signet. She had since branched out into a variety of fabulously interesting time periods . . . so without further ado, let's hear what she has to say about how history inspires her writing!

You’ve started in Regency romance but have also written in a number of other time periods—Renaissance, Elizabethan, Victorian, Gilded Age Edwardian and the 1920s! Tell us a little bit about what draws you to exploring different eras.
 
I admit, I’m Amanda and I’m a history junkie!!  I’ve always been fascinated by the past, ever since I found a stash of Jane Austen and various Gothic romances/Heyer titles on my grandmother’s bookshelf.  (she was a history/book junkie, too!).  One author she collected especially was Barbara Cartland, and while even as a ten year old I had scorn for her whispery, stammering, wide-eyed heroines, I loved the historical settings she used.  Elizabethan, Regency, Victorian India, the theatrical world, Monaco casinos, smugglers in Cornwall, she had a bit of everything, and talked about them in author’s notes I devoured.  They sent me to the library to find non-fiction works where I could learn more.  So, strangely, I owe my love of history to—Barbara Cartland!

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