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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Thoughts of the Day - The Legend of Robin Hood

Errol Flynn as Robin Hood
Richard Greene as Robin Hood
I have followed the legends of Robin Hood since childhood, from the gorgeous Errol Flynn (left) to the tv series starring Richard Greene (below). 

Richard had two Maid Mariannes, June Thorburn and Patricia Driscoll, but when their faces suddenly changed, he didn't seem to notice.  They say that love is blind!

I have to say that Kevin Costner was the one that most appealed to me, but then after the Bodyguard, he would appeal in anything! 

 The thing that stands out for me about those old films is the nice, clean, matching clothes, in expensive suede, with never a mark on it!  No wonder they felt the need to make the spoof film, Robin Hood Men in Tights!  Today's Robin is much more realistic clothing wise, even if Kevin Costner did have a telescope in the twelve century.

This new Robin Hood tv series I have been watching stars Jonas Armstrong as Robin, and he does look suitably scruffy and poverty stricken.  Having a muslim in attendance as a physician is highly unlikely, as is the fact that said muslim is a woman masquerading as a man.  The men must be a little lopsided if they cannot see at once that it is, in fact, a woman, or perhaps the men of the twelfth century thought that muslims were shaped differently to men.  But we cannot expect historical accuracy as well as great entertainment.

Yesterday's episode ended with Maid Marianne, who graduated to the Lady Marianne sometime about Kevin's time, if not earlier, actually dead.  Never have I seen that before, but lo and behold Jack, the muslim he/she physician gave her hemlock, which is a deadly poison, to send her back to sleep before she died and wow!  She returned to life.  I was so relieved! The legend always ends with the pair marrying in the presence of the ever grateful King Richard I, and I would want nothing to spoil that.  I was so pleased that they noticed before the burial, as well.

Of course, King Richard I, otherwise known as Richard the Lionheart, used England as a bank and was arguably one of the worst kings we ever had, but he was a great soldier.  He failed to leave any heirs, since nobody apparently told him that he had to consummate his marriage to the Princess Berengaria for that to happen, but rumours that he was homosexual are just that - rumours.  I have never believed that, since there is no evidence except his one sexual failure which could have had many causes.  I think he just got his sexual kicks from fighting wars and preferably winning them, which he usually did until he came up against Saladin in the third crusade.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Thoughts of the Day

I am loving BBC's new series, The Musketeers.  BBC used to be the place for costume drama, but they seem to have fallen by the wayside over the last few years.  This series is, obviously, from the book by Alexander Dumas and it is very well done.  I don't know where they found four such good looking actors of the same age group, but I could go for any one of them.  For anyone who has missed out, it is on at 9 pm on Sundays and I think we are on Episode 4.  I missed the first one myself, which I am really peed off about.
I am also loving Watch's new Robin Hood series, although there is a lot stolen from the Kevin Costner film, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.  It is still well worth watching if you like a good historical series.
So, someone told me this week that writing is all about drawing from the author's own life experiences, no imagination required.  By that token, Stephen King has a monster living in his local sewer who dresses up as a clown and steals little children.  That poor man has been through so much in his life, what with living in a town full of vampires and finding a cemetery that brings dead people and animals back to life without their souls.  It is a wonder he is not currently residing in the local funny farm!
I can tolerate most things, but not stupidity.
I have published an omnibus of The Summerville Journals which is a lot cheaper than buying them all separately.  I didn't want to part with the Summervilles, but they had to end somewhere.
This omnibus includes all four books in the series and will take the reader from the meeting and subsequent marriage of Lord Richard and his Countess, the succession to the throne of Mary Tudor, the persecution of the protestants all the way to 1585.  It includes the story of Rachel, Lord Summerville's beautiful mistress, and it tells of the struggle of a couple in love to put the past behind them and build a future together for themselves and their children.
I am leaving the family there for the time being and beginning on a new turbulent love story set during the fourteenth century when the Black Death devastated England and its way of life.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Sins of the Fathers

When the Summerville children grow up, their parents, Lord and Lady Summerville, believe that they have succeeded in rebuilding their love and their lives.  But the arduous business of finding marriage partners for their children, takes its toll.  The one thing they want more than anything for their children is that they find the sort of love that they themselves have known.
But this is an age where children have their marriages arranged in the cradle, where men do not love their wives and have set a similar example for their sons.  Finding a man who will love her is going to be a difficult thing for their daughter to achieve.
 Summerville Secrets is the story of what happened to those three children, how they found their own true loves, and how the sins of their parents' came back to haunt them.  Their daughter, Estelle, is intrigued by the things she learns.  What caused her parents to separate all those years ago?  What is the story behind her father's conviction for treason?  And who is Lady Rachel Stewart?  Was she really her father's mistress, as the servants believe, and if she was, how can her mother welcome her into her house?  But most of all, why does her father refuse consent to a marriage to the man with whom she has fallen in love?

I was browsing the premade covers and found a perfect one for this book.  It was designed by Linda Boulanger a very talented lady, who is fast and reasonably priced.  A pleasure to deal with.

This story is set in the time of Elizabeth I as she struggles to prove that a woman can rule England.  But while she keeps foreign suitors wondering whether she is going to marry, she has a fancy for keeping handsome courtiers close.

Her position was tested by catholic plots to murder her and put the Scottish Queen, Mary Stuart, on the throne of England despite Elizabeth having imprisoned her for many years.  Elizabeth was forced to sign Mary's death warrant and order the execution of her cousin, despite her own misgivings that the judicial murder of an anointed queen would weaken her own position.

She also had to cope with the Spanish Armada, an invasion by Philip II of Spain, another catholic plot to steal the throne of England and put his daughter, Isabella, on the throne.

Elizabeth reigned for 45 years from 1558 to 1603, when the throne passed to King James VI of Scotland, the son of Elizabeth's enemy, Mary Queen of Scots.

Now I am thinking about how the army would commandeer large country mansions during the two world wars to use as hospitals and convalescent homes for wounded soldiers.  Would Summerville Hall make a great convalescent home?  And would the ghosts of those well known lovers allow them to use it?  We shall see in my next book in the series, which I intend to call Summerville Ghosts.



The Tower of London

The Tower of London is one of the oldest and most frightening fortresses still standing in England.  The building was originally started in 1066 on the order of William the Conquerer, who built castles and fortresses all along the English coast to defend against invaders.  The Tower was the first of them and stands on the river Thames to protect London itself.
Over the years it has been added to and used for various things, mostly as a prison for traitors.  Even today someone convicted of high treason could be imprisoned in the Tower, though that has not happened for a very long time.  But a new monarch always stayed in the Tower until the coronation, probably as a defence against rivals trying to usurp the throne.
It is famous for the executions of many titled people, including Queen Anne Boleyn, and it was where the first zoo was set up by one of the early Kings who had a fancy for exotic animals.  When they became too numerous, they were moved to Regents' Park, where they still reside as London Zoo.
When Queen Mary I died, her half sister, Elizabeth, pardoned all the prisoners awaiting execution on her orders.  That is how my hero, Richard Summerville, escaped and arrived home just in time.
Having replaced his wife with his mistress at court, having raped her and imprisoned her to live as a peasant in a freezing cottage, he believed that she must now hate him.  Her arrival at the Tower of London, risking her own safety to say goodbye to him, gave him hope that she may still care for him after all.
But her betrayal and his treatment of her were difficult sins to overcome;  would their love be strong enough?  Or would the past keep rearing up to ruin every chance of happiness?
A happy ever after ending was not enough for the Judas Pledge.  There was too much bitterness between these two for them to simply ride off into the sunset;  their sins had to be explained and put carefully behind them.
Thus Transgressions' Ghosts was born, the ghosts of all those sins re-appearing and trying to ruin things.
Then there is Anthony, the cousin who Richard had raised since the age of twelve, a devout catholic who believes that his cousin should never have forgiven his wife.
This story is about their battle to build a future, about the birth of their children, about their struggle to keep on the right side of Queen Elizabeth in the face of Anthony's treachery.

Extract from Transgressions' Ghosts

I would never have expected I would end that day by coming face to face with that mistress, that breathtakingly beautiful woman who I had seen the day my sister died.  I had watched her riding in the park, in the Summerville carriage, using her considerable charm on my husband, stealing his love away bit by bit while I could do nothing but watch, helpless and desolate.

Now should we leave it there, or should we go on to discover the lives of those children, to see how their future was affected by some of the past sins of their parents?
I couldn't bear to leave it there.  The stories of those children had to be told, thus Summerville Secrets was born.


Tudor Wives and Daughters as property

When the Judas Pledge was finished and published, I started to wonder about Lord Summerville's beautiful mistress and what sort of life she had.  Why would a really beautiful woman like that end up as a mistress to an earl?  And I have to confess that I did not really want my hero to be unfaithful to the woman he loved, so Rachel had to have a unique story.
In an age when wives and daughters were considered property and had no rights whatsoever, it would be easy for a particularly beautiful child and woman to be exploited by wealthy men.  The wedding tradition of a father giving away the bride comes from a time when that daughter was his property and he not only gave her away, he paid someone a lot of money to take her by means of a dowry.  Ostensibly, a bride's dowry was to ensure her financial support should she be widowed and eventually support her children, but in reality it was more likely a husband would take charge of the dowry for his own.  Often, his only reason for marrying was to secure a generous dowry from a wealthy father if he found himself in financial difficulties.
Sometimes an impoverished titled gentleman would be happy to entitle his bride providing she was wealthy enough.
Sixteenth century fathers had little or no love for their daughters and thought of them only as a bargaining chip, to marry off for the right price.  This is clear in the attitude of King Henry VIII to his eldest daughter, Mary.  When he decided to annul his marriage to her mother, Queen Katherine of Aragon, therefore making Mary a bastard with no claim to the throne, he had no hesitation in banishing her and stripping her of her titles.  This was a royal princess whose life before that had been spent as such.  She would have had offers for her hand in marriage from European princes and she would have been treated as an important commodity.  Suddenly, she was nothing and nobody wanted her.
So, an unscrupulous and alcoholic father of a really beautiful little girl, might well decide to get himself out of a financial mess by hiring out his child to paedophiles.  Those sort of perverts were just as rife in the sixteenth century, just not so well known.
From these thoughts came The Flawed Mistress the beautiful woman well known as the favourite mistress of our hero, the sight of whom devastates his wife so much as to break her heart and add to the temptation to betray him.
This was the first book for which I bought a professionally designed cover and I have to admit the sight of the model on the cover leant inspiration to my story.  She is gorgeous! The designer was fast, reasonably priced and a pleasure to deal with.  I can highly recommend his services.
Rachel was the daughter of a drunken, impoverished earl whose life was ruined by his avarice.  Left with nothing but her beauty, she was forced to marry to avoid starvation until she met our hero, Richard Summerville, who rescued her and offered her friendship.  Having risked her life for him by impersonating his protestant wife at the catholic court of Mary I, she continues to play an important part in his life in future books in the series.
I had told the story of the beautiful mistress and I had revealed that my hero and his wife still loved each other, but I was not ready to say goodbye to them just yet. 
My next book in the series, Transgressions' Ghosts, concerns the attempts of the couple to put the bitter past behind them and build a future together.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Queen Mary I of England (Bloody Mary) and her attempt to restore England to Catholicism

After King Henry VIII broke away from the Church of Rome back in 1532 the country and its King were still catholic and still followed the catholic faith, although without  deference to the Pope or to Rome.  That in itself troubled a lot of people who firmly believed that the Pope was a direct descendant of St Peter, an illogical assumption since all the popes were supposed to be celibate, and that he was a divine figure.
Gradually, protestant ideals began to penetrate and nobody really knew what they were supposed to be.  Sir Thomas More famously lost his head rather than sign Henry's oath making him head of the catholic church in England.
Henry's only son, Edward VI, was only ten when he succeeded to the throne, but he had been raised by protestant uncles and now he ruled with the aid of a protestant Protector.  They set about outlawing catholicism, stripping catholics of their property and wealth and imprisoning them.  They allowed priests to marry, something which was unheard of. 
Mary I of England - Bloody Mary
Imagine living in this time, when religion was dictated by law.  Everyone was required by law to attend church, which is why even the tiniest village in England has a church, everyone was required by law and on penalty of imprisonment to be of the protestant faith.  Now imagine you had been raised in this land, with its protestant faith, and you were not old enough to remember anything else.  Further imagine that a new queen gained the throne and started to persecute protestants and tell them they were wrong, they had to be catholic, they had to revere the Pope and believe in purgatory, go to confession, hear mass in Latin and believe in transubstantiation, that the wine and bread of the communion really did become the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ.  Imagine what you would do if not believing in this catholic faith, that you had believed obsolete, held the threat of being burned alive, tied to a stake in a public place like Smithfield in London.

Now imagine what would be your answer if a wealthy and handsome catholic earl offered you marriage if you followed his beliefs.  What would you do?
From this puzzle was born The Judas Pledge

A story of the young, protestant daughter of a wealthy merchant, who pledged to give up her faith, among other things, to gain the wealth and title offered by a handsome, amiable earl who would become a chief advisor to the Catholic fanatic, Queen Mary I.
This is the story of how she fell in love with him, but betrayed him when her friends and family were condemned and persecuted on his orders.
This story has come from both my own imagination and my love of English history and the hero in my own mind bears a remarkable resemblance to the young Anthony Valentine.  If you have ever seen Raffles, an old tv series about the famous jewel thief, you might know what I mean.

Mary Tudor was the first Queen of England in her own right, since the Empress Maude(or Matilda) failed to secure her throne in the twelfth century despite a civil war with her cousin, King Stephen.  Mary had the opportunity to strike a blow, to prove that a woman was capable of ruling without a man to guide her.  Instead, she was so obsessed with religion, so completely consumed with bringing England back under the yoke of Rome, she thought of nothing else.
She reigned from 1553 to 1558 and during those five years she burned to death nearly four hundred protestants, including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, whose Book of Common Prayer is still in use today.  Indeed it was he who wrote the marriage service still spoken in Protestant churches.  She not only failed in her efforts to bring England back to catholicism, she ensured that no catholic would ever again sit securely on the throne of England.  James II was exiled to France when he declared himself a catholic and even today no catholic is allowed in the succession.  No heir to the throne, no matter how remote, is allowed to marry a catholic.  That is the legacy that she left while earning her nickname of 'Bloody Mary'.

Friday, 14 February 2014


Mirielle is a novella that I wrote some time ago.  I have tried to think if the idea came from anywhere outside my imagination, but I cannot recall.  I think it was imagining what had happened to some of those poor children that had disappeared without a trace, like little Genette Tate, who disappeared on the way to her paper round on 19th August 1978.  Genette was 13 at the time, and although her bicycle and newspapers were found shortly after, there has never been any trace of her to this day.

So my story evolved from the question of what had happened to her.  That is where the resemblance ends, though.

 It was Mirielle's thirteenth birthday when she walked out of her parents' home to go to the fish and chip shop at the end of the road.........and never came back. Mirielle could never have guessed at the destruction that was caused by that one action.

While Her father lost everything in his efforts to find his missing child, while her mother went mad with the guilt of it, where was Mirielle? Who had taken her and why was there never any trace of her whereabouts?

Tracing the Family Gypsies

My grandmother was Romany and when I set about finding my ancestors, I thought it would be difficult.  Being as they didn't settle anywhere until the last nineteenth century, and being as they had their own traditions and didn't comply with the legal ones, I thought they would be impossible.

I joined and found many of my Lee relatives had been there before me and already done most of the work.  I was fascinated by the way they lived, having each many children, sometimes as many as eighteen or nineteen, and they travelled about the country living in tents.  The romantic notion of a Romany Vardo, which is the traditional painted wooden caravan, was not for my family alas.  They were reserved for the wealthier romanies as far as I can work out.

I picked up a little booklet at the Public Records Office in London called "Tracing your Gypsy Ancestors" which said that throughout the nineteenth century, the church would pay the gypsies to have their children baptised.  So the Romanies would go about different parishes having the same child baptised!  Served the church right for trying to interfere with other traditions and cultures.

The word 'gypsy' comes from the early census records where nobody really knew where they originated and the census takers would put 'Egyptian'.  This got shortened to gypsy over the years, but it is far more likely that they originally came from India some time in the sixteenth century, although nobody knows for sure.

It seems that my great grandfather, Sampson Lee, and his brothers and sisters, of which there were many, were among the first of the family to settle in houses and they chose the Bethnal Green area of London.  This is where most of the census records take us but Sampson himself was probably born on Wimbledon Common - no, he wasn't a Womble!

The records show the whole family living in tents in places like the Common, Hampstead Heath, Wanstead Flats, and other such commons around the London area.  A direct ancestor, my great-great-grandfather's grandather, one Duke Lee, was hanged in 1766 at Maidstone Prison for horse theft, which is an interesting snippet to find in one's family tree.

It also appeared that many of the men among the tribes lived to be well into their nineties and died in workhouses.  I believe that was deliberate, that they were too old to travel and fancies dying in a bed.  We shall never know, but it is fascinating anyway.

Another fascinating fact, which would have horrified my very moral mother, was that many of them had children before they married.  Her own grandparents, Sampson and Jane Sophia Lee, had four children before their marriage, all of whom sadly died, and her great grandmother, Isabella, was pregnant when she married in 1827.

Isabella is a bit of a mystery, at least I think she is.  The last census entry for her appears to be the 1841 census and the birth of a son in the same year.  The next census record, in 1851 has her husband living with their children and a woman called Elizabeth, named as his wife.  There is no further mention of Isabella until a death registered in 1869 from another address.  I have no way of knowing if this is the same Isabella, if the couple separated, or if she is buried in the garden somewhere, now under an office building.  But she is nowhere to be found in the 1861 census, so it is something of a mystery.

I think it is a great shame that my mother died before the advent of the internet.  She would have loved all this, and I could have asked her about Isabella.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

London's East End, pre-First World War

My mother was born in Shoreditch, East London, in 1905.  Her father abandoned the family and my grandmother scrubbed doorsteps, took in washing and made lace to keep her children fed and out of the workhouse.  My mother still lived in fear of the workhouse up to the day she died in 1987.

I grew up hearing stories about her childhood, her family and the struggles they survived and I thought with a bit of imagination her reminiscences could be turned into a good story.  So I peopled my book with some of the characters she told me about as well as some new, invented ones and I published The Romany Princess

 Book Description

When Stella McKenzie is summoned to meet her Great Aunt Bess, her grandmother's sister, on the occasion of that lady's one hundredth birthday, she keeps the appointment with a great deal of trepidation. All her life she has been told about this mysterious lady, to whom her grandmother has not spoken since the first world war. She has been told that she is mean and spiteful, that she wrecked the engagement of her sister to the man she loved out of spite and jealousy. Stella could hardly have guessed the secrets the old lady was about to reveal, secrets she had kept for seventy five years, secrets she does not intend should die with her.

During one long and unforgettable day, Stella learns the real history of the family, not the version she has been taught. She learns about the lies and misconceptions of the past, she learns about a lost love and a passion which overruled everything else to end in tragedy.
This was the first book I published on Kindle.  I actually wrote it about thirty years ago, before the internet, before Kindle, when a writer had to send a chapter or two to a traditional publisher and hope they were willing to take a chance on an unknown author.  I had a couple of very nice letters, saying thanks, but no, thanks, but life got in the way and I shelved the whole thing. 
I only had a hard copy, so I had to type the whole thing out and my big mistake was in being in too much of a rush.  I published it with some typing errors, but I still got a 4 star review, so I thought I must have done something right.  I have corrected all the errors and it is doing quite well. 
The picture on the cover is of my mother taken in 1924, when she was nineteen years old.  She would have been thrilled.

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