Tudor and Georgian Treasures in Bath

The TudorsNicola here. It’s always a pleasure to visit the Holburne Museum in Bath (it’s always a pleasure to visit Bath!) and last week Baden and I hopped on the train to go and see the exhibition on The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics, which has had rave reviews and I’ve been desperate to see from the first. 

It’s quite a thing to come face to face with some of the most famous names in Tudor history, particularly as the exhibition room is smaller than most galleries and therefore more intimate. It wasn’t busy either, which meant I could stand for as long as I liked in front of the paintings simply lapping up all the details.

Read more

Eighteenth Century Party House

Strawberry Hill 1Nicola here. Back in the mid-18th century there was only one fashionable place to be if you wanted a “villa” on the River Thames (a villa in these terms being something roughly the size of a large country house to the rest of us.) That place was Twickenham, a village half-way between the two royal palaces of Richmond and Hampton Court and with the improvements in both roads and carriages, a mere two hours’ drive from Central London. It was here in 1747 that Horace Walpole, the son of England’s first Prime Minister, bought a house that he referred to as a “plaything” and a “bauble” that was to be his summer residence, Strawberry Hill House. Even the name suggests hot summer days and fruit growing wild on the hillsides!

These days Twickenham is a busy suburb and it takes less than an hour to drive between the town and the centre of London. Gone are many of the imposing villas beside the Thames, although a few are still around, and the old houses are often surrounded by the new. Horace Walpole’s little Gothic Castle is still there, though, even if we didn’t see any wild strawberries growing on the hill during our visit.

Read more

An Interview with Clare Marchant

Clare Marchant (002)Today it's my very great pleasure to welcome author Clare Marchant to the Word Wenches. Clare is a history addict and author of the USA Today bestseller The Secrets of Saffron Hall, a dual time historical mystery set in the present and the Tudor era. Clare joins us to talk about her new book, The Queen's Spy, history, research, writing and so much more!

Clare, welcome to the Word Wenches! Please tell us more about The Queen’s Spy – where did the genesis of the idea come from?

When I write a book I always do quite a detailed plan before I get started, I don’t like any surprises! But when I was writing The Secrets of Saffron Hall, one day Tom appeared in the still room with no prior warning and I instantly fell in love with him, this silent, solemn child. So when I started researching and planning The Queen’s Spy I knew that I wanted Tom to be the historical protagonist, to explore how his disability could then become his strength.

What drew you to write about the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth 1st?

I find Elizabeth and Mary fascinating. Cousins who never met and yet both with, to their eyes, a valid claim to the throne of England. If Henry VIII hadn’t split from the Catholic faith then the whole relationship between the two queens would have been quite different. But because he did so, the Catholic divisions of the nobility wouldn’t recognise either his marriage to Anne Boleyn nor Elizabeth as a legitimate heir. In their eyes Queen Mary was the successor to the English throne. With this warring backdrop there could only ever be one winner; so Mary was imprisoned for nineteen years, ultimately losing her head.

The hero of the historical thread of The Queen's Spy is Tom who is a deaf mute. It's a very interesting insight; how did you Queens spy research this in a Tudor setting?

Well of course Tom just appeared as a deaf mute, he was always just a shadow hiding in the corners and it was lovely to be able to continue his story and see him grow into a strong independent man who could use his disability as a talent. I was lucky that whilst researching I discovered a piece of a primary research describing the wedding of a deaf-mute man which was just wonderful and I was able to use the actions described for Tom when he married. This then gave me an insight into how he would have used hand signs and signals in the rest of his life. Also, as I knew that they used wax tablets in Tudor times this was very useful for Tom to communicate! I can’t deny though that when I first started writing The Queen’s Spy I did question my decision on more than one occasion because it meant having to find ways of describing how Tom experienced things by just using the senses he had which made life difficult for me as a writer!

There is a fascinating understanding and knowledge of herbs in your books. Is this one of your own interests?

Vanilla Flower (002)When I started planning Saffron Hall it was an article about the growing of saffron which first caught my interest and I realised it would be perfect for my story, and this then led on to other herbs and medicinal plants in the sixteenth century. And although I hadn’t known much about it at the time, I then became more fascinated and began to actively seek out monastic gardens where I could find the different herbs and how they were grown. I was delighted to discover that Hugh Morgan, the apothecary to Elizabeth 1st had introduced vanilla (pictured!) to the Tudor court and who better to have brought it to the palace originally than Tom Lutton?!

Tell us how you research your books.

When I first set about writing a new book, I only ever have a couple of tiny threads of ideas, and I start to weave these together so Castle_Acre_Priory (002)
they begin to form something akin to a plot. From this I usually have a long list of questions that need answering and I dive into the research books for about two months following rabbit holes as they lead me far away from the original subject! But whilst I am doing that, I slowly begin to piece together little snippets, events and people that form the backbone of the book, and then I can weave my own protagonist into the story. When I was researching The Queen’s Spy, as well as finding the lovely wedding report, I also discovered that during the Babington Plot there was a man in a blue coat who delivered a letter to Babington and is believed to have been one of Walsingham’s men – which is why I gave Tom a blue coat! And the part where Babington hid in Robert Pooley’s house and wasn’t discovered by the guards did indeed happen. For me, using all these real events help to bring the story alive.

Castle Acre priory, in the photo, is one of my favourite places to visit, (the castle at one end of the village and a wonderful monastic ruin at the other!) where they have a lot of information about the monks herbal medications and the ruins of an infirmary, and also a picture of the vanilla flower which has to be germinated by hand in this country because the bees that can germinate them are only found in certain hot parts of the world (hence why Tom couldn't ever manage to produce the pods himself – I really do find out all sorts of weird things whilst researching!).

What is it about writing dual timeline that appeals, and how do I weave the two together to make such a satisfying whole?

I really enjoy both writing and reading dual timeline. I love that the two stories begin with nothing in common but slowly they begin to reveal that even living five hundred years apart they are connected. I do this through both an object that is discovered and also a theme which connects the two timelines. Despite the years that separate the two protagonists, human relationships and emotions are still the same and I enjoy bringing this out in both story lines.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I joined the Romantic Novelist Association in 2016 under the amazing and supportive New Writers Scheme. I then proceeded to Saffron hall absorb all the incredible wisdom and help from the other members until in 2019 I had a 1-2-1 at the RNA conference with an agent who subsequently signed me. Whilst that was all happening, I had submitted The Secrets of Saffron Hall to Avon and four weeks after hitting ‘send’ on the email, I received an offer of a contract! So, I ended up with an agent and a publishing contract in the space of a couple of weeks, and eighteen months later I still have to pinch myself sometimes!

What is your writing process and what does a writing day looks like to you?

I’m very regimented when it comes to writing, it’s my job and I treat it that way. I sit down at my desk between eight and nine o’clock and (if I’m in the writing stage) write 1000 words, have a short break and then write another 1000 words. That usually takes me to about lunchtime, and after lunch there are always bits and bobs to do for social media and often some pieces of research to be done. I don’t like to stop mid flow to look details up, so I make a note and do the research later and add it in.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

The best advice I was ever given is the simple one of sitting down and writing, even if just a little every day. And to keep going even through the bits when you feel like giving up or you’ve had an idea for a new book which suddenly seems all shiny and exciting. By doing this you will eventually have a first draft and then you can start editing, knocking into shape. But you can’t edit a blank page so you need to keep getting those words down first!

Please tell us a little bit about your next book.

I’m now knee deep in writing the new book – what can I tell you about it? We’re back at the Elizabethan court, it’s another dual timeline this time set in both England and Holland. There’s sailing on the high seas, death, danger, and ultimately facing up to fears and truths.

We're looking forward to it very much! Thank you, Clare, for joining us on the Word Wenches today.

Buy links for The Queen's Spy are here:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3imzoaD

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3xRyGIU

Kobo: https://bit.ly/3ijDNLG 

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/36H2uvY

You can find Clare on social media here:

Facebook: ClareMarchantAuthor

Twitter: ClareMarchant1

Instagram: ClareMarchant1

If you have any questions for Clare about her books, history or writing, jump in and ask!

Clare is giving away a copy of The Queen's Spy to one lucky commenter between now and midnight on Tuesday. Her question for you is, "If you had to choose to support either Mary Queen of Scots or Elizabeth I in the struggle for the throne, which team would you be on? Or would you be the mediator, trying to bring peace to the divided kingdoms?"


Let There Be Light!

IMG_3920Nicola here. At this time of year when the evenings are long and dark and the days are short there is nothing that I enjoy more than seeing a light show. If there is snow (or at least a hard frost!) and stars sparkling overhead that’s an added bonus. Perhaps its’ a throwback to the distant ancestors who lit up this time of year with a number of fire festivals: Samhain, Halloween, All Souls and Guy Fawkes Night, all with bonfires and lanterns. The precursor of Christmas lights were the candles that German families would attach to the branches of trees with wax and pins as far back as the 17th century (fire hazard alert!) A hundred years later they had developed candle holders and glass balls for the candles and the tradition of the Christmas tree lights spread across Europe. The advent of electricity, of course, meant that we could all go wild with our lights if we wanted, both inside and outside!

It was a huge treat for me to go the Christmas Lights at Cotehele Manor gardens in Cornwall this year. Cotehele is a Tudor house with Cotehele Garland glorious gardens and a fascinating history. The Cotehele Christmas Garland is a tradition dating back to last century. Normally it adorns the Great Hall of the Manor House. The flowers for the garland are grown in the gardens from seeds sown in early spring. The plants include purple and blue statice and yellow helychrysum.

Garland close upThe flowers are picked in the summer, each individual stem is stripped of leaves and then they are hung up in the potting shed to dry. Construction of the garland begins in November using a sixty foot long rope which is first wrapped in evergreen foliage. Between 15 and 30 thousand flowers are then placed among the greenery and the huge garland is hung in swags across the Great Hall. It sounds an amazing creation and I wish I could have seen it but this year, of course, things are different. The house was closed and so the National Trust had had the brilliant idea to bring the decorations outside.

Read more

What the Wenches are Reading in April!

Christina here to tell you what the Wenches have been reading this month – an eclectic mix as always! With all of us being in isolation, we’ve had plenty of time to dive into our TBR piles and we hope you have too. Have a look and see if anything appeals to you!

The Forgotten SisterI’ll start off with my own April favourites: First and foremost I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Wench Nicola’s upcoming release, The Forgotten Sister – published tomorrow! – a Tudor mystery and time slip (dual time) novel. I can safely say that this is one of the best books I have read in a long time! It has everything you want from a time slip story and it was utterly, utterly brilliant!!! Nicola has managed to intertwine the story of Amy Robsart (wife of Robert Dudley in Tudor times) so cleverly with the characters in the present. Robert is part of Queen Elizabeth I’s court and Amy doesn’t seem to figure much in his plans. She needs a way out of their loveless marriage and thinks she’s hit on the perfect solution – but has she? The present day heroine Lizzie has her own problems to contend with and when her life begins to echo the happenings of the past, she has to uncover a centuries old secret in order to move forward. I couldn’t put this down and the characters will stay in my mind for a long time.

Read more