Tag Archives: historical fiction author

BLOG TOUR – “Saving Grace” by H. D. Coulter

I am welcoming H. D. Coulter to the blog today on her blog tour for “Saving Grace”! Scroll down for details, for a book excerpt, and my review!

Book Title: Saving Grace: Deception. Obsession. Redemption.

Series: The Ropewalk series, Book 2

Author: H D Coulter

Publication Date: 11th May 2021

Publisher: Independently Published 

Page Length: 330 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Book Blurb:

Beacon Hill, Boston. 1832.

“You are innocent. You are loved. You are mine.”

After surviving the brutal attack and barely escaping death at Lancaster Castle, Beatrice Mason attempts to build a new life with her husband Joshua across the Atlantic in Beacon Hill. But, as Beatrice struggles to cope with the pregnancy and vivid nightmares, she questions whether she is worthy of redemption.

Determined to put the past behind her after the birth of her daughter Grace, Bea embraces her newfound roles of motherhood and being a wife. Nevertheless, when she meets Sarah Bateman, their friendship draws Bea towards the underground railroad and the hidden abolitionist movement, despite the dangerous secrets it poses. Whilst concealed in the shadows, Captain Victor Hanley returns, obsessed with revenge and the desire to lay claim to what is his, exposes deceptions and doubts as he threatens their newly established happiness.

Now, Beatrice must find the strength to fight once more and save Grace, even if it costs her life.

Buy Links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08YWBZRQY

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08YWBZRQY

Universal Link to other bookshops: https://books2read.com/u/38QrBV

Ropewalk; Rebellion. Love. Survival (The Ropewalk Series, Book 1) is only 0.99 on ebook during the tour. Here are the buy links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08MKZW4S5

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08MKZW4S5

Universal Link to other bookshops: https://books2read.com/u/bxjlQd

Author Bio:

H D Coulter

Hayley was born and raised in the lake district and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets.

As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn’t until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story.

Social Media Links:

Website: https://hdcoulter.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/coulter_hd

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hd.coulter/?hl=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hdcoulter

Sign up to Hayley’s newsletter between now and May 30th to be placed into a giveaway raffle for a personalised BookBox, including a signed copy of Ropewalk and Saving Grace.

http://eepurl.com/hjgxYf

BOOK EXCERPT

Chapter 15

The following day, Beth collected the new emerald dress from Miss Julie’s and Sarah helped Bea prepare for the gala. There were so many questions she still had after her experience of the meeting house, but now was not the time. Instead, Bea was more concerned with convincing a group of social-climbers that she was as much one of them as it was possible to be.

“May I come in?” Beth peered around the door.

“Of course, come and sit next to me, and help calm my nerves.” Bea reached out a hand for Beth to take. “I wish we could have secured a place for you to come too. I do not know what I am going to say to these people…”

“You’ll have Joshua there; I am sure he will look after you.”

“We saw it before at the May Day dance, men go off in one corner to talk about work and politics, whilst the women gossip in another.”

She feigned a moustache with one of her curls and pretended to take a puff of a cigar. The three women burst out laughing.

On the other side of the room, Grace stirred from her sleep at the sudden commotion in the room. Instinctively Bea rose from her seat but felt the pressure from Sarah’s hands on her head.

“I’ll get her. You stay and make ready.” Sarah turned her head towards Beth. “Do you mind finishing?”

“It would be my pleasure, like the old days.”

Beth waited for Sarah to exit the room with a now-grumpy Grace in her hands. “I am sure you’ll be fine – you have had time to accustom yourself to things here now, and you are in a better place… in your head. You have a stunning gown which I’m sure Joshua will approve of. Besides: it is just one night, if you find yourself in a huddle of gossipy wives, well – allow them to talk, and simply nod your head like so…” Beth lifted her nose up high and pulled a familiar face, causing Bea to burst out laughing, followed by Beth. 

“I have missed that, laughing. It has been like living in a fog, clouding every thought or action. But recently it seems to have been dissipating, finding I can smile once more. Enjoy the small things; laughing and playing with Grace.” 

“There, done! I haven’t done your hair since the last dance we had in Ulverston, the night you made Joshua fall in love with you.” Beth gave Bea a wink in the mirror.

“I think we both knew there was something there. But so much has happened since. I wonder sometimes if I am the same woman as I was then.”

“A year ago you were still a girl in many ways. Now you are a woman and have lived through so much more. It would make sense you have changed, how could you not? Now you are stronger; you are a wife, a mother and living in a new world.”

Bea shook her hands, as if ridding herself of a wave of emotions. “You are right, I am just being silly.”

“Bea, are you ready?” Joshua shouted from downstairs.

“Am I?”

Beth finished pinning the last braid into the sweeping bun and loose curls. “Yes, all done.” She declared, sealing the hair with a kiss.

Bea stood up, smoothed down her dress and looked at herself in the free-standing mirror. She failed to recognise the woman staring back at her, in a glowing green dress that shone in the candlelight, setting off her warm skin and auburn hair. It gave a curve to her body and an elegance to her frame. “I look like one of them.”

“You look as beautiful as you always do – now go down to your husband.” Beth pushed Bea towards the open door.

Bea could see him standing handsomely at the bottom of the stairs, gazing upwards. He seemed not to have changed since the last dance. How elated she had felt seeing him again there, the daring touch of his hand upon hers – and now they were going together to a gala halfway across the world as husband and wife. Standing at the top of the stairs, she saw his expression change to a delighted smile at the sight of her. One hand on the skirt and the other on the banister. She glided down the stairs towards him. In one move, he grabbed hold of her and pressed her against his body.

“You look radiant. I am a lucky man to be presenting you as my wife this evening,” he whispered into her ear. Something changed in him. Suddenly, they were how they used to be. His mouth met hers as though it were their first kiss all over again, pulling her tight against him, and they both felt a sense of yearning stirring between them that hadn’t been there for a very long while.

Bea skimmed her lips against his. “Do you remember the ball in Ulverston?”

“The night I fell in love with you? How could I forget?” He stole another quick kiss.

“It felt like an unreachable dream – that one day you would be my husband, standing here, holding me. I hope you know how much I love you.” He leaned in and kissed her again. She felt his fingers press into her back, urging their bodies into one. His hands travelled over her. One slid downwards while the other went north. Her skin became hot and flushed under the dress as a new yearning surged inside of her. Reluctantly, he paused.

“I love you too, more that you’ll ever know – and now I almost don’t want to go to the gala.”

Bea felt her cheeks become hotter at his implication. She pulled herself away from his grip.

“We had better say goodnight to Grace.” She lead the way into the sitting room, and with a disappointed sigh, he followed behind her.

They had positioned themselves on a chair, Grace leaning in as Sarah hummed one of her tunes, rocking her back and forth.

Bea quietly crept up and crouched down beside them. “Sweet dreams my darling, I will see you soon.” Grace, on hearing her mama’s voice, turned and smiled at Bea, but her eyes widened in awe at the sight of the magnificent green dress.

“She will be fine. You go and enjoy yourselves. I will keep her in with me tonight.”

“If she needs a feed, bring her in.” Sarah smiled, seeing Bea’s anxiety at leaving her child for the first time.

“Of course.”

“Sarah and Beth will take good care of her.” Joshua leaned in a little closer, placed a kiss on his hand, and gently laid it upon Grace’s head. “Good night, my sweetheart.”

Bea could hear Grace moaning as she walked towards Beth, holding out Bea’s cloak. 

“If we need you, I will send word to you.” Beth replied, reading Bea’s face, and the question written all over it. 

“Thank you.”

“Now – you go and dance the night away.”

Joshua smiled at Beth as he grabbed hold of Bea’s hand, drawing her towards the carriage waiting outside.

*

The house was lavish, a real spectacle of Mr Goldstein’s wealth and power within the community, sitting proudly on the northern side of Beacon Hill. Carriages waited their turn to deposit strings of guests in front of the two front pillars, made up of the crème de la crème of the city money-makers, amongst them all, a former Ropemaker’s daughter. But tonight, Bea was not just her Da’s daughter; she was the wife of a successful business manager; she reminded herself. She noticed Joshua tilting his head at certain men as they passed by in the hallway. He strolled into the principal room as though he had always belonged there, tall and proud, comfortable in his own birth-class once more.

“Don’t look so nervous,” he whispered into her ear, “you belong here too.”

Bea nodded. Her throat had become dry and her hands were sweaty as she noticed some women staring at the new arrival in their midst.  

Joshua felt her body tense against his and guided her towards the refreshment table. “This should help.” He handed her a glass of champagne and took one for himself.

The bubbles popped in her mouth and caused a fizzy sensation on her tongue. She couldn’t help but giggle. “That’s better.” He lent forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

She smiled. As the champagne disappeared, so did the fear.

“Shall we dance, Mrs Mason?”

“I think we shall, Mr Mason.”

Joshua guided her onto the dance floor as the music began. It was a quadrille. Joshua beamed at her, seeing how much of her old self had returned. Then they both remembered: they still didn’t know the steps confidently to a quadrille! A laugh slipped out from Bea, and she tried to cover it with a dainty cough. They watched the other couples do their steps first, and with their turn, in the middle, Joshua took her hand and leaned in close so that no one else could hear: “I love you.”

A passionate happiness surged through her body, and for the first time since their courting days, she wished they were alone. Instead, she waited for their next turn and whispered the same sentiment. She stared at him with wonder. How did she deserve such a man? 

“Are you alright?” Joshua whispered, observing a wave of emotions flashing across Bea’s expressions.

“More than, this is wonderful.” She smiled up at him as he placed his arm around her waist, pulling her closer.

“Come with me.” He took her hand in his and weaved them away through the crowd, issuing small nods to anyone he knew.

“Where are we going?” He replied with only a mischievous glance. One of the side doors to the now-empty hall stood ajar, and he pulled her through quickly.

“What- I don’t think they’ll allow us to be in here.” Her eyes darting around the room, making sure they were alone.

It had a musky smell, with a fire crackling in the stuffy air, and worn leather books lining the walls. He let go of her hand and closed the door behind them. Then, in a single movement, he pressed her back against the door and kissed her. It was deep and passionate, reawakening the earlier sensation in her body at the foot of the stairs. She wanted to give in to the moment, to allow all the past inhibitions and trauma behind.

“I’m perfectly happy.” She stroked the side of his face, staring into his sea-blue eyes.

There was a moment of relief and joy reflected in his expression. “I know.”

©H D Coulter

BOOK REVIEW

I received an ARC copy of Saving Grace from the author for an honest review.

Having not read the first installment of this series, which I think is a must for this story, I, at first, felt a little off with the backstory of Bea and all that happened to her in Ropewalk. First and foremost, I do think it is necessary to read Ropewalk first.

That being said, the author does a good job of leading you into the lives of Bea and her husband as they embark on a new life in Boston, away from the former tragedies they left behind in England… or at least, they think. I felt for a long time this was more a story of a husband and wife trying to reconnect after tragedy instead of a story about the little girl, Grace, who lends her name to the title. There was a lot of back and forth, a struggle of reaching out, and of hesitation, between the couple for a long time into the story.

Where I felt the story really really blossomed was the introduction of Sarah’s backstory. I truly wished there was a book all on its own for her voice, and the words leapt from the page with passion and emotion. Her story was necessary to Bea’s story in the end, though, and drew them together in a mutual understanding; all with the goal of saving Grace, literally and figuratively.

What I loved about the story? Everything about Sarah and her struggles. What I didn’t love about the story? I felt a little disconnected to Bea for a long time into the book, but I soon discovered the reasons for her disconnect from those around her and the author skilfully has the reader feeling the same detachment. If that was what she was going for, then bravo!

I give this book four stars and look forward to catching up in reading Ropewalk and finding out what happens next in the third book.

FEATURED SPOTLIGHT – Liz St. John – author of The Lydiard Chronicles

In conjunction with the Author Takeover at The Historical Fiction Club, I’d like to welcome to the blog today, Elizabeth St. John, the author of the fabulous Lydiard Chronicles.

If you would like to join the author takeover on May 10th, please visit The Historical Fiction Club, join the group and the discussion!! Also, you might get the chance to win some prizes!!

Elizabeth St. John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them– in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.

Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St. John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.

Here is a list of her books to buy!!

What is Historical Fiction?

A repost from a while back, since this discussion keeps popping back up!!

I recently got entrenched in a discussion about the true nature of historical fiction, i.e. what is it? what is the true definition? how does an author keep the integrity of history while maintaining a creative license? and so forth….

So, here are my thoughts, as well as some of the comments from the discussion. In definition, the Google definition of historical fiction, it reads: is defined as movies and novels in which a story is made up but is set in the past and sometimes borrows true characteristics of the time period in which it is set. A novel that makes up a story about a Civil War battle that really happened is an example of historical fiction.

Sometimes, I feel, it is hard to define the difference between being a FICTION author and holding true to history. We are, after all, not historians, but we want to represent history as true, or at least to the extent that is commonly accepted as truth in our society. But, to be fair, even some historians who research and research history often have conflicting accounts about what is true and what is not true. How should this affect the historical fiction author? ‘Tis a quandary….

Here is where I will share some of the comments in the discussion. Please read and share your thoughts in the comment section below:

Paula Lofting, moderator of the Historical Writer’s Forum, opened the discussion with this:

“What is the best definition of historical fiction and does it mean that it should be as accurate an depiction of a time and its events, or should there be a free for all with the facts, after all its fiction isn’t it type attitude?

Personally this is my view – I like my historical fiction to be as true to the time, events, and environmental settings as possible. I am more bothered about the atmosphere, costumery, architecture, and landscape than I am by the language and events, however I prefer to write these as accurately as possible when I am writing myself. If I am reading historical fiction then the story must come first because there is no point in having an accurate read if the plot or story line is boring and dull. and story is dull. Secondly I want the characters to ‘look’ like someone of that time, what they wear etc, daily life, what buildings they lived in etc, creating an atmosphere that makes me feel i’m in the for example 15thc, Lastly, if it is about fictional characters then of course the story is a made up one and this goes without saying, but where the facts are changed to suit the story, I would prefer they weren’t but I don’t mind if they are as long as the author leaves a historical note explaining where they have used their author’s licence. Where the facts are missing, I’m happy to allow the author to fill in the facts with plausible explanations.”

To which, led to some of these comments:

Rachel McDonough: Try to be as accurate as you can, otherwise what is the point of it being historical fiction. Inaccuracies can take the reader out of the story. The history is part of the experience, so get it right!

Julie Newman: Historical fiction is a story within a story, but you have to do your research and make sure you know as many of the historical facts as possible. The reader will discard your work if there are any discrepancies. Given that history is always changing the more we unearth but we need to be true to the facts of the time.

Rachel V Knox: It depends a little bit on what you’re writing. If it’s fiction set in a time there’s more freedom so maybe the story comes first. I’ve just written one based on real people, so the story was restricted to facts, making researching facts foremost to the story which developed based on that.

Kate Jewell: I like to be as accurate as I can be with the historic events, politics etc. And the social history side especially travelling times. (Fun to research that stuff!)

Language is a bit more of a problem. I want the reader to get a flavour of the period through the language used by my characters but not being so pedantic that I loose them. I’ve been surprised several times when looking up an alternative word or phrase that would fit the 15th C better to find that what I thought of first was actually in use during my period. Something to do with being immersed in the period maybe!

Of course, the writer of Historical Fiction lays him/herself open to all sorts of dangers, not least the discovery of facts unknown at the time of writing that could make a nonsense of their original plot. The archeology that has been done to determine the exact site of the Bosworth battle field for example. And the dIscovery of Richard III and the analysis of his dna. How many books describe him as having dark eyes and black hair?

Kerry Lynne Smith: How do we (both reader and writer) know what the “facts” really are? Anyone who has studied history for long comes to realize that it’s an ever-evolving, constantly changing. What was thought of as “fact” forty or even twenty years ago is now laughed at as folly. The more adamant one insists that they know what “really happened” the more they show their ignorance. All the HF writer can do is use what “facts” are satisfying to them and their purpose. It’s then up to the reader to decide if it is or isn’t pleasing, satisfactory to whatever their perceptions and expectations are.

My Interview with Karla M. Jay, author of “It Happened in Silence” and “When We Were Brave”

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-ur73e-1012734

I am welcoming today’s guest, Karla M. Jay, the prolific award-winning author of When We Were Brave and It Happened in Silence.

To purchase Karla’s award-winning books, please click here: Karla M. Jay’s Amazon Author Page

Featured Spotlight – Mark McLaughlin, Author of “Throne of Darius”

In conjunction with the author takeover on my group, The Historical Fiction Club, I am welcoming to the blog and podcast, Mark McLaughlin, the author of “The Throne of Darius” and “Princess of Persia”.

If you would like to listen to his author interview on the Hist Fic Chickie podcast, click on the link below:

PODCAST https://wordpress.com/post/histficchickie.com/1428 OR https://histficchickie.podbean.com/e/my-interview-with-mark-mclaughlin-historical-fiction-author-of-throne-of-darius/

If you would like to join Mark for his author takeover of the group on April 12, 2021, please click HERE to join the group (answer all the questions) and you will have the opportunity to read his posts, ask him questions, and enter possible giveaways!!

ABOUT MARK

“Someday, you make a game for me, Daddy?” is what little Ryan McLaughlin asked her father, Mark, many years ago. He designed not one but two games for his daughter, and then wrote a novel based on the later of those: Princess Ryan’s Star Marines. Now he has written another novel – a work of historical fiction: Throne of Darius. It is the first in a series about characters (real and imagined) who fought against Alexander the Great.

A free-lance journalist, Mark is the author of two novels and two books on military history and is the designer of 24 published games – most recent of which is Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea by GMT games. Mark also writes for many clients and publications. Although his principal work as a journalist over the last 40 years has been in foreign affairs, he also writes on everything from travel and entertainment to serious position papers.

For more on Mark, his books and his games, please visit: http://www.markgmclaughlin.com/

FEATURED BOOKS

“THRONE OF DARIUS”

Ancient Thebes, 335BC. Alexander savagely crushes the Theban revolt against his rule. Swearing revenge for their once glorious city, Dimitrios, a captain of the Theban army, physician Klemes, and soldier Ari, join General Memnon in Asia Minor to fight against Alexander as he sets off to conquer the Persian Empire.

An irreverent portrait of Alexander the Great

Throne of Darius is a story of high adventure, romance and war – especially war, told with heart and a sense of humor. Mark McLaughlin paints a unique and irreverent portrait of Alexander the Great, who certainly was not “great” to everyone. Unlike the majority of historical and literary works, this novel does not glorify the Macedonian king but instead tells the tale of the young conqueror from the point of view of those who fought against him.

What readers say about Throne of Darius

“The description of the Battle of the Granicos River is among the clearest I have ever read. The author knows his history and presents it in a facile style that explains the essentials of the strategy of the campaign and the tactics in skirmishes and battles.” – Christopher Vorder Bruegge

“Military historical fiction is often all about male warriors, complex strategies and vicious battles. There is all of that in this book, but there are also strong female characters in Throne of Darius, like the noble princess Barsine and the brave horsegirl, Halime. Narrating the story from the point of view of Alexander’s opponents is a refreshing take that brings a new understanding of Alexander’s campaign without diminishing historical accuracy. There is humor, fierce battle scenes but also deeply emotional moments – everything to make Throne of Darius an enthralling read that will keep you hooked”. – Krystallia Papadimitriou, editor

“PRINCESS OF PERSIA”

Alexander the Great would have been furious at the disrespect shown to him in this novel. His mother, Olympias, would have surely cursed the author for depicting her son as a blood-thirsty glory-hound with delusions of godhood. On the other hand, Darius, the king whose throne Alexander lusted for, and Memnon, the general who was for a time the young Macedonian’s greatest foe, are likely smiling in their graves, relieved that someone west of the Bosphorus has finally told their side of the story.
Princess of Persia is the second book in the series which began with Throne of Darius: A Captain of Thebes. It continues the story of the Greek and Persian men and women – and one woman in particular – to whom Alexander was anything but “great,” and tells the tale of the young world conqueror from the perspective not of those who worshipped him – but of those who fought against him.

Princess of Persia is the second in the series which began with Throne of Darius: A Captain of Thebes. It continues the story of the Greek and Persian men and women – and one woman in particular – to whom Alexander was anything but “great,” and tells the tale of the young world conqueror from the perspective not of those who worshipped him – but of those who fought against him.

Thank you to Mark for being a part of The Hist Fic Chickie blog and podcast today, I truly appreciate it!

D. K. Marley

The Hist Fic Chickie

My Interview with Michael Ross – Author of “Across the Great Divide”

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-e7tex-fffe1a

Today’s episode is an author interview with Michael Ross, the author of “Across the Great Divide” and “The Search”, books dealing with some of the same issues as today – immigration, sanctuary cities, racial injustice, and social divisions – yet, set in the mid-1800s as his character (and real-life person), Will Crump, deals with a world on the brink of Civil War.

Please purchase his books here:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PXQQ36C

My Interview with Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger, Author of “The Girl from the Mountains”

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-g5ajn-ffcd34

I am welcoming to the show today, Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger, the author of “The Girl from the Mountains” and the Reschen Valley Series of books, such as the award-winning collection “Souvenirs from Kiev”, to discuss her thoughts on her writing life.

You can buy her new books on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Chrystyna-Lucyk-Berger/e/B0764M2XSY

Take With a Grain of Salt

Wikipedia defines the expression “to take with a grain of salt” as this: “(With) a grain of salt“, (or “a pinch of salt“) is an idiom of the English language, which means to view something with skepticism or not to interpret something literally.

Sometimes as a writer this is a hard thing to wrap your mind around. Writing is art, the creative process of developing something from your own brain and hands, so when someone outside of your little space treads on your words, well, sometimes the critique, whether warranted or not, does not set well.

To me, salt is a source of seasoning. Such is the origin of the phrase:

The idea comes from the fact that food is more easily swallowed if taken with a small amount of salt. Pliny the Elder translated an ancient text, which some have suggested was an antidote to poison, with the words ‘be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt’.

Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, 77 A.D. translates into modern English thus:

After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.

The suggestion is that injurious effects can be moderated by the taking of a grain of salt. Thus, I write this post as advice for any writers (especially new writers) who suffer from self-doubt after receiving a one-star review or a bad blog post about their book or writing. It is a scary thing to present your “baby” to the world and have someone say, “Wow, that is one ugly baby!” But, to be fair, not everyone will like your writing. Not everyone likes my writing, otherwise, I would have far more reviews and far more followers on my blog.

But to take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt, you are, in fact, swallowing the poison along with your own antidote to alleviate the effects of the words. You will not die, and please, do not let criticism keep you from pushing forward to accomplish your art. Only you can speak your words, only you can write what is in your brain.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a difference between constructive criticism and unwarranted criticism. I have found when other writers who are comfortable in their own art, others who sincerely want to see others succeed offer genuine advice to help you improve your writing, how refreshing this is to a young aspiring writer. Actually, to any writer, no matter how old you are and how long you have been writing. I welcome the advice of those who I admire and respect, I mean seriously, art is a continual process of improving and learning, so anyone who thinks they have it down pat I think is fooling themselves. We are always changing and so we need those who will give us a boost.

Unwarranted criticism, well…. do I need to even say anything about this? I did a post earlier in this blog about “Haters Gonna Hate” (which is still on my Goodreads scroll, if you want to check it out) and I think if you scroll back and read that post you will get the gist of what I mean and who I mean.

To sum up, keep writing. Writers have to write, not just that they do write, they HAVE to write. Pick up your sword, slay that blank page, and never let the evil red queen threaten to chop off your head if you say or do something she doesn’t like.

Your words are you…. keep creating!!

Thanks for reading.

D. K. Marley

… AND THE CLICK BAIT WORKED ON ME!

So, I was scrolling through the feed and came across this cute little French Bulldog being hushed by a human finger. Well, anyone who knows me knows that I am easily distracted by dogs. I had to click . . . and I’m glad I did. Turns out, the blog post was by Aaron at Sword and Spectres, another book blogger who was challenged in this game. Even though he did not tag me in the game, I thought, hey, since I am starting author interviews on my podcast, why not start with me?

The rules are apparently: Nominate 10 other bloggers and that you should keep the same questions. Aaron said he would reward himself with a hot cup of tea and a few biscuits afterwards, which was the ultimate in English rewards and stereotypes . . . well, I’m all for that!! As an Anglophile, I will heartily partake of that type of reward.

So, here it goes, and afterwards I will tag 10 other book bloggers to follow suit if you wish.

1) Who is your all-time favourite book character?

Yikes, this is really really hard…. hmmm, I think I’m going to have to go with the character that has stuck in my memory the longest, and that is, Anjuli-Bai from The Far Pavilions. The reason? Well, this book is the book that started me LOVING historical fiction. I read this while in high school. On one of my trips to the local library I decided to randomly pick a book from a shelf and read it. Yes, I randomly picked The Far Pavilions, having never heard of M. M. Kaye from any of my teachers.

Her struggle against prejudice from both sides, from Indians and British, as well as Ashok’s (Ashton Pelham-Martin) struggle felt so authentic and real. Her strength and beauty made me think of India, of Kashmir, of the Himalayas, all encompassed in her eyes. I still think of her character to this day, some 40 years later.

2) If you were stranded on a desert island, which book would you take with you? (Survival books do not count)

A Bible. (Does that count as a survival book?)

3) What’s your most unpopular book opinion?

Not sure how unpopular it is (maybe after this post) but I am not a fan of any of Toni Morrison’s books, especially “Paradise“. Don’t get me wrong, I get it, some truly love her writing style. I admire her as a woman writer and success. Yet, I struggled with the cadence and sometimes felt lost in her words. I’m not sure why because I truly wanted to love her books, after all, everyone else does. I guess it comes down to taste… which, after reading Aaron’s take on The Lord of the Rings (which I adored) I guess it makes sense that that is the reason for so many different genres and literary selections.

4) What’s your weirdest bookish habit?
Hmmm, smelling the pages before I read? Of course, I think a lot of readers do this, so I think I might be in the majority.

5) What character would you bring to a family event as your fake partner?

LOL, not sure this would sit well with my husband but just for fun . . . maybe, well, Mr Darcy is a shoe-in . . . but, then again, how about Hamlet? Or maybe he might be a little too brood-y. I know, Sherlock Holmes!! Especially if he looked and acted like Benedict Cumberbatch. I love the bookish intellectual types and it would be a hoot to see him around my Southern family!!

6) What made you decide to start a book blog?

First and foremost, my love of books, especially historical fiction. There are so many out there to choose from and so many underrepresented authors that I wanted to do what I can to put in my two-cents, for whatever it is worth among the thousands of book bloggers out there.

7) What about reading and books do you love the most?
Escapism. As most people know about me, I adore Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland stories. I’ve been falling down rabbit holes since I was a little girl, creating stories in my head, and LOVING books with a passion. It never fails, if you are having a bad day in dealing with this mess of a world, a good Jane Austen or Bronte book can help you to escape!

8) What is your field of study/desired profession/current profession?
My current profession is as a full-time writer and being the best Nana in the world to my amazing granddaughter who helps me to remember Wonderland. I never went to college or a University since life propelled me down the path of marriage and motherhood. But through the years, I’ve immersed myself in the task of reading and studying as much as I can about the subjects I adore (i.e. Shakespeare, the Tudor era, and writing)

9) What are some book recommendations that became your favourites/obsessions?
I am obsessed with East of Eden by John Steinbeck; and I am obsessed with anything written by Carlos Ruis Zafon. Also, Outlander and The Mists of Avalon, actually all the books by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Zafon’s books are the most recent books that had me just rereading passages for the sheer beauty of the words. Right now, I am also enjoying the new works by Ellie Midwood about Auschwitz.

10) What is the book you shove down everyone’s throat?
My own, of course . . . and definitely, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon.

So, these are my ten things about me. And since I voluntarily accepting this challenge, I am going to opt for not nominating anyone else. However, I’d love for some of my followers who have blogs to do the same so I can get to know you a bit. How about it? Anybody up for following the click bait like I did?

Thanks for reading!

D. K. Marley – The Hist Fic Chickie

OUTLANDER X MISTS OF AVALON – MY NEW W.I.P. “KINGFISHER”

My new work-in-progress “Kingfisher” is now out into the world of querying and agent-seeking!!

This is my first venture into historical time-travel after having published four books in the standard historical and alternate historical field. I must say, it was a challenge and continues to be as I delve into the second and third novels in the series. Keeping timelines and ages and eras separate and linked involves a lot of note taking and organizing this brain of mine, which is not an easy feat!

But, after all is said and done, I am super proud of this book. The characters and storyline has taken me into depths I never imagined and I hope that when fans have the opportunity to read it that they will be as swept away as I was in writing it. After all, the stories are for you!

Here is a synopsis and an excerpt of “Kingfisher”:

While the chaos of WW1 overshadows Wales, Vala Penrys discovers a secret linking her family to the story of Camelot, fuelling her obsession with the legend. She craves escape. Yet, with a father gone to war and a mother going mad, she takes the lead in supporting the war effort and finds an unexpected attraction to Taliesin Wren, a mysterious young Welsh Lieutenant. Adding to the intrigue of her ancestry, a whispering voice beckons her in Merlyn’s Cave while on holiday in Cornwall.

After returning home, she investigates the same voice near a rowan tree on her estate, stumbles through the roots and falls into what she thinks is a well. Suddenly, she is transformed into Vivyane, Lady of the Lake ― the Kingfisher ― in ancient Britain clamouring for a High King. Taliesin awakens her and reveals himself as the Merlyn; then, takes her to Avalon and teaches her the magic and science of time travel. A quest for peace sparks in Vala’s heart when she discovers Morgayne le Fae is her sister, and she links with two powerful allies, one in each era ― Uther Pendragon, the High King; and H. G. Wells, the author of The Time Machine and a member of The Round Table Society of 1914. Wells reveals a hidden truth about Vala’s mother and the legend of the Kingfisher.

As the story behind her mother’s insanity emerges, each of Vala’s sisters melds into their roles as the other powerful women of the Kingdom. Vala’s twin, Isla/Igrayne, gives birth to Arthur, but who is the father? Gwynna/Gwynevere marries a German deserter, yet loves a handsome knight. Eilwyn/Elayne teeters on the edge of instability but hides a secret about Gwynna’s lover. Maegen/Morgayne le Fae weaves a spiderweb of lies, revealing her hatred for her sisters and her lust for power. Vala/Vivyane embarks on a journey to rewrite history, one spanning across the past, thru WW1, and onward to WW2.

WHO AM I?

My name is D. K. Marley (Dee) and I specialize in historical fiction, as well as alternate historicals, Shakespearean-themed, and time travel novels. After working on my first novel, Blood and Ink, for fifteen years, and taking three research trips to England, I joined the Shakespeare Fellowship and started writing blog posts for the Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, with the intent of finding an agent. I attended a 10-day intensive writing retreat founded by Gary Provost to hone my skills and make connections. Then, tragedy struck my family. I lost my daughter, son-in-law and grandbaby to a drunk driver in 2015. In an attempt to regain my lost power and self, I used writing to heal, writing three more novels and self-publishing all four. My first novel won a Bronze Medal in 2018 and a Silver Medal in 2019 for Best Historical Fiction from two top book blogger/reviewers. The experience strengthened me in ways beyond words. Now, with my current novel and the four following in this time travel series, I hope this generational time travel story will do for Wales what Diana Gabaldon did for Scotland, and what Poldark did for Cornwall. I am ready to traverse the traditional route of publishing, knowing that sometimes adversity moulds you into a better writer with a stronger voice. I have an active FB page, FB group of over 1500, a growing Twitter account, and my own blog where I review books for Netgalley and Goodreads.

www.facebook.com/therealdkmarley.author

www.facebook.com/groups/historicalfictionbookclub

Twitter: @histficcchickie

www.histficchickie.com

Email: histficchickie@gmail.com

SAMPLE PAGES

In the beginning, a madwoman created Camelot; and in the fall of 1914, at the violent convulsion of the Great War, the legendary story sucked me into the past through the roots of an ordinary tree. I say ordinary, but sometimes first appearances deceive. Oft-times alluring with awkward beauty, yet hiding a vacuous secret in the depths.

People and trees, how very similar in form. At first glance, nothing special to gawk at, such as the lonely Rowan overlooking our manor home, Tyalwyn; save for the gnarled trunk twisted to one side, a cluster of white berries brightening the grey branches, and a tangle of roots spreading over the ragged rocks. At the base, oozing from the depths, a slight bubbling spring etched a path down the cliff face, connecting with the River Usk snaking though the Brecon forest. The tell-tale liquid indicated the watery heart pumping deep below the entwining roots; and yet, as with most people, the signs passed unnoticed. Except by me.

And how do I know this tale? I sometimes wonder if I am the insane orchestrator . . . or did I inherit the story from my mother . . . or even, my grandmother? Who was this madwoman obsessed with King Arthur?

Isla, my identical twin, and I celebrated our twenty-eighth birthday on the 28th of June 1914, the same day as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo, as ordinary girls hiding an echo in our rooted souls.

Our father, Ian, gifted us a new gown, each, on that day. Mine, a flowing tea gown in white voile with sheer inserts across the breast, puffed sleeves to the elbow and narrowing to the wrist, tiny mother-of-pearl buttons cascading down from the nape of the neck to the waist and French lace edging the high neckline, the prevailing fashion of the day. Isla danced round the drawing-room with her white eyelet lawn dress, and we made plans to wear them to Ascot come springtime, along with appropriate straw hats and parasols. Those innocent pastimes we devised the month hell vomited across Europe, spilling all the way to our once bright home boasting over the rolling Welsh moors. The details of a simpler, languid time; a time we expected to continue. How wrong we were and, dare I say, how naïve.

One month and a few days after our celebration, my father sat at the breakfast table on August 5th, performing his familiar ritual of reading aloud the headlines from a freshly ironed page of the London Times, while my mother scanned over the society column of the Glamorgan Gazette. My sisters and I waited, church mouse quiet, as the minute sounds of routine accented his words like tiny accompaniments—my mother’s breathy sighs, Maegan scraping a spoon along the side of her teacup, Eilwyn muffling a giggle as Gwynna hummed, Isla whispering a hush with a finger against her coral lips, and then, the rustle of the newspaper as Father silenced us with a firm cough.

I must admit, my mind drifted. Talk of battles on the European continent made me yawn, as well as the fact that my head pounded after a restless night’s sleep. Another incessant dream, the same since childhood—an aggressive raven and courageous kingfisher locked in battle; flapping wings, bloody beaks, and the ever-present suffocating sensation of crashing waves over my head, which always woke me with a start.

Two iridescent blue tit birds fluffed their wings on a holly branch outside the opened window, and my eyes followed my mother’s stare towards them. Their sweet chirping and hopping from one limb to another enlivened the dull words of impending war, yet my father’s voice sparked, almost hopeful, upon the news. The brief and strained conversation or rather, performance, followed the daily script. Father’s curt remarks. Mother’s drained replies.

“The Times announces we are at war,” he announced. “The buggers soundly rejected the ultimatum, can you believe it? This aggressive attack from Germany, first against the royalty of Austria and now against Europe, should strike a chord through the noble houses of England. Russia is supporting Serbia, so who knows what else may develop. War is upon us, and we must prepare to support in any way we can.”

“Surely, this will pass,” I said with another yawn.

“No, Vala, this is quite different,” he replied, sternly.

“What does the politics of Europe have to do with us here in Wales anyway?” My mother questioned in her faint distracted words.

Father folded the paper, tucking it underneath the lip of the gold-edged Crown Derby saucer in front of him. He crooked his finger in the handle of the teacup and held the edge to his lips, pausing to answer before he sipped.

“A significant amount, unfortunately. Countries are taking sides in this strife. Great Britain remains a loyal ally of France and Russia, and though she sustained diplomatic relations with Germany, she chooses to side against the Kaiser. We have a civic and patriotic fidelity to the Crown, and since my former service in the Boer conflict in South Africa, I must return to active duty,” he said.

Mother sighed, once more, and touched her fingertips to her forehead. “No more talk of war, Ian. Please,” she said. As she covered her face with her hands, small teardrops slid down her wrists along with her unmistakable whisper. “O, for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts . . . “

I knew the remark, so often I had heard her quote the line from Keats. She lived forever looking out windows to the horizon as if in search of some lost secret in the past. Father usually ignored her words but this time, he slapped the rolled newspaper against the table top causing all of us to jump in succession, all six pairs of eyes fixing on his reddened face.

“Isla, fix your mother some of her medicine.” He snarled.

My sister rose and stepped over to the long burled walnut sideboard, popped the cork on a squat green bottle, and poured a dram of brown liquid into a jigger, then walked round to hand her the glass. Mother threw back the “liquor” as if she slugged Scottish whiskey, although I knew better. When younger, perhaps twelve or so, I received a swift slap across my face after touching my tongue to the edge of the bottle, so I learned the bitter gall of ‘mother’s medicine,’ as well as the daily, almost hourly, odour of laudanum on her breath.

Father took a deep breath, steadying himself as he drank his tea and then, motioned for Eilwyn, Maegan, and Gwynna’s dismissal. “You may leave, girls. “

All three stood in a hurry, curtsied, and left us. Mother rose, as well, and placed her palm against her tight, corseted stomach. With her other hand, she fingered the black pleated edging round the scooped neck of her simple grey silk day dress.

“I will be in the orangery. I think the orchids are dying,” Mother said, as she meandered out of the room leaning on Isla and leaving my father and me alone in the dining room.

Father stared out the window, the sun breaking in brilliant streaks through the mullioned glass. I sensed the anxious thoughts weighing upon him, darkening the shadows beneath his eyes and thickening the air, but I remained quiet. We played out the circadian pattern in the Penrys household—silent understanding, silent knowing, but no deep discussion at or beyond the breakfast table.

Daring to tear down the impenetrable wall, I reached across and brushed my fingers on his sleeve.

“Father?” He grunted a ‘yes’ but did not greet my inquiring stare. “Are you all right?”

He answered my question with silence, to which I continued. “I had another one of those dreams last night, the one of the raven and the kingfisher. Do you suppose it is still from when you saved me from drowning in the Usk when I was eight?”

“Yes, most like,” he answered, abruptly.

“But, Father . . . this time there was more. This time I saw a wondrous island in the mist and a sword rising from the waters . . . as clear as day. More like a memory than a dream.”

He gruffed in his throat, finished off the remainder of his tea, tucked the paper under his arm, and strode towards his private study. As his hand gripped the handle, he looked over his shoulder, working his jaw as he searched for the proper answer to give me.

“Vala, I’ve told you before that you must stop this silly dreaming nonsense. Leave it alone or else you will end up like your mother.” He held up the newspaper. “Don’t we all have more important things to focus on than flights of fancy about birds and swords?”

The door slammed, leaving me alone, and the two tit birds startled into the sky. I sighed and poured another cup, drawing the edge to my lips and blowing the steam across the surface with my breath.

Father disliked me, or perhaps disliked the burden he saw looking into my face. He lived in a house full of marriageable girls still sitting at his table and supping his bread. The two of us, my twin and I, at our age teetered on the spinster life, a substantial weight to our parents with no prospects in sight for fifty miles in any direction, especially with the onslaught of this war. After spending several seasons in London from the age of seventeen, we vied for the attention of every viable young gentleman with a worthwhile income and estate, fighting an impenetrable queue of suitable and elegant young ladies backed with their strong-willed mothers.

Regrettably, we lacked the necessary sort of mother and, according to the gossip which reached our ears, Isla and I both lacked those flourishing adjectives: suitable and elegant, with disparaging comments such as:

“. . . too freckled . . . unruly mousy curls the likes of a bird’s nest . . .” and the final blow, “. . . the gloomiest blue eyes . . . so much like their sad father . . . and no wonder his sadness for happens every time a Welsh boy marries an English girl.” (It was true—while my mother was half-Welsh, half-English, she leaned more towards her London-bred father in looks and in disposition; a sort of highbrow arrogance acquired while rubbing shoulders with the swells of Grosvenor Square.)

And then, there were the words whispered behind Maegen, Gwynna, and Eilwyn, such as:

“. . . their white skin and golden hair is their only saving grace . . .“

and the clincher, “. . . pale as a ghost with soulless eyes . . . like that unhinged mother of theirs.”

In truth, we all favoured her in different aspects, Isla and me, most of all, the same face save for our dark hair and freckles. The other girls all leaned more towards the dangerous unstable personality rather than acquiring Mother’s features.

Our unhinged mother, Isobel Penrys, was a blonde will-o’-the-wisp with nary any of the will, portraying the ever ailing tragic Victorian woman on the verge of collapse at any moment.

And as we all grew older and more aware, the knowledge of our mother’s sickly ways made us realise that she leaned more towards madness than desuetude. Her turmoil led to the negligence of not only her daughters but of her husband and herself.

In truth, I detested the word, the label, vowing to safeguard her from the rumours murmuring through the nearby villages of Crickhowell, Abergavenny, and Llanginadyr, and praying not to notice any signs of the trait in myself or my sisters. Yet, even in my vowing and praying, I could not change the fierce rage coming upon Britain or our house, however much I prayed.

I looked over to the closed study door. My father’s neglect affected us differently. He abandoned all emotion when he lost his wife to the depths of her mind; and now, with the start of the war, he vacated us physically, as well.

A hand squeezed over my right shoulder and my sister, Isla, sat down in Father’s chair. In rote, I poured her a cup. She smiled and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.

“Your hair never wants to stay in place,” she whispered, sipping the Darjeeling.

I snickered. “Perhaps if I used twenty pins as you do.” We giggled and clasped our hands together.

“You seem distracted this morning, Vala,” she noted.

I lifted my right eyebrow, a habit Isla revealed to me one day as she plucked the tiny hairs into an arch. “Distracted? Well, I suppose I am with all the war talk.”

“Is that all? I know you better than anyone, Vala, and something else occupies your mind. Am I wrong?”

I squeezed her hand. “No, I mean . . . yes and no. I am discovering the nearer I approach thirty, the more I long for escape from . . . well, everything.”

Isla sighed and rested her chin on her opened palm. “Understandably, sister. By now, we should be married with children of our own. The security of a husband and motherhood keeps a woman’s mind grounded, I suppose.”

I huffed through my nose. “Not according to Mother’s actions and words. Nothing about her life here grounds her mind. Distracted is her forté, and ‘give me my medicine’ is her mantra. Perhaps I am jealous of her escaping mechanism, or maybe I am searching for a way to run away, or desperate for things to stay the same.”

She wrinkled her pert nose and I wondered if I looked the same when she spouted nonsense.

“I know how it sounds, Isla, a complete contradiction of sorts. I want escape but I want things to stay the same. Odd, is it not? I think the only way to explain it is . . . “

She tilted her head in a combination of understanding and sympathy, patting my hand. “You don’t have to explain it to me, Vala, I understand all too well. Our minds were set on simple things such as attending Ascot in the spring, or the new window displays at Harrods . . .” she took a sip of tea and giggled. “Do you remember, we were only three or four, I think, when Mother took us for a ride on the moving staircase there? Such a treat!”

“Yes,” I replied. “We made faces in the plate-glass balustrade.”

“I remember!” Her smiled disappeared, returning to the previous conversation. “Vala, I’m afraid those idyllic days will never return, especially with this war. And then, what shall we do about our situation?”

Our situation. I knew what she meant. Ascot and the Queen Charlotte’s Ball had been the best chance of finding a suitable husband since attending from the age of seventeen. Approaching thirty, our chances faded with each passing year. Now, I wondered if the ravishments of the war ripped away all the excitement of a new Selfridge gown or the awkward virginal introductions at Buckingham Palace. How might one reclaim innocence lost?

I must admit I will not miss the painful moments of standing alone and rejected at the edge of the ballroom, or fanning my flushed cheeks as my ribs ached from the ever-restricting corset. And yet, there is one thing I will miss—the sheer delight of sudden independence from the imprisoning walls of our home, Tyalwyn, . . . from Father’s disapproving glare, and Mother’s hollow stare.

I poured out the remaining tea into my cup, the droplets dripping from the spout edge and popping on the surface. Like a mirror, both Isla and I sipped at the same time. She was right. More inundated my mind than whether or not we might attend another London Season.

“Isla?”

“Yes,” she replied, setting her cup on the table.

“Do you remember when Mother used to tell us the story of Camelot?”

“Of course, she was obsessed with the story,” she answered, her gaze drifting off towards the window captured by a long-ago memory. I followed her eyes with my own and the tit birds returned, chirping merrily.

“Sometimes,” I said, closing my eyes to recall the dream. “I wish we could hide away in some faraway land. Imagine, you and I, on our own, independent and self-reliant, without any care of wedding days, or corsets, or absent parents, or wars; watching the rustling Autumn leaves dance against the gentle breeze blowing across the Usk.”

Isla turned her head towards me. “I will say the same thing Elinor Dashwood says to her sister, Marianne—‘it is not everyone who has your passion for dead leaves’.” We both snickered and Isla patted my arm.

“Please, dearest, do not let your fanciful daydreaming morph into Mother’s likeness,” she said.

Reaching across, I pinched my sister’s cheek and smiled. “Never mind, me, Isla, dear. Your sensible view keeps me in check. Queen Victoria and Father would be proud of you.” A thought seized me and I grabbed hold of her arm, lowering my voice to a whisper. “Isla, but, what if? I know you as well as I know myself, and I’ve seen your romantic performances in the attic room. Your fairy-tale notions run as deep as mine even if you try to hide it behind a conventional demeanour. What if we escaped, you and I, together?”

Isla’s eyes widened and she pressed her hand against her heart. “Escape? Whatever do you mean, Vala? Leave Tyalwyn?”

“Yes,” I said, breathlessly, half-hoping she might reply with a quick ‘let’s go’. Instead, she placed her palm across my forehead and clicked her tongue to gauge the heat rising in my cheeks.

“Well, you feel all right; no fever. And where do you propose we go, sister, dear? India? Jamaica? Or America?”

Narrowing my eyes, I answered a reply she did not expect.

“Avalon.”

The word silenced her and her eyelashes fluttered as she searched for the correct response to my outlandish whim. She cleared her throat, imitating Father, and tilted her head intimating her worry and fear. Wrapping both her hands round mine, she shook her head.

“Vala, listen to yourself. Avalon? We really must curtail our play-acting in the attic. If you don’t collect yourself, how in heaven will any of us get along with Father gone and Mother, well, essentially gone, as well? Please, Vala, you know how we all rely on your strength. Now is certainly not the time for fantasizing about mythical worlds when our own world is falling into chaos.”

I gripped her hands in return. “Now is the perfect time. How else can we brave the day ahead of us than to fall down rabbit holes?”

“Stop it, Vala.”

“No,” I pressed. She rose up from her chair to leave, but I held her fingers fast. “Wait, please, Isla . . . I promise to stop if you indulge me for a moment. Will you?”

She lowered herself back onto the chair and gnawed on her lip. “When have I ever been able to deny you anything, my dear sister. Of course, I will listen.”

I stood and offered her my arm, which she took, and I steered her out of the dining room towards the library at the end of the hall beyond the staircase.

“Where are we going,” she whispered as a conspiratorial accomplice, accompanied by a nervous giggle.

Touching my finger to my lip, I opened the door and ushered her inside, pausing for a moment to suck in the inspiring aroma of leather and ink. Isla did the same, both of us incurable bibliophiles. Father’s library, his second sanctuary, was a sight to behold, a two-storied wonder with a spiralling ornate staircase in mahogany. Shelves stretched from floor to ceiling with every yard packed with books on every subject, some more favoured than others, such as: atlases and geography, archaeology, and two cases full of books about India, Sanskrit, and Rudyard Kipling. The pads of my fingertips tingled as I ran my hands along the spines, finally resting on the certain one I wanted to find.

“We aren’t suppose to be here,” Isla whispered.

I said nothing, but she was right. Father sternly demanded his sanctuaries off-limits unless invited. Only once in my lifetime had he extended a welcomed invitation. On my sixteenth birthday, he allowed me to select a book of my own from his libraryand without hesitation, I withdrew Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. He baulked at first, asking me to choose something different, with a spark of anger in his eyes I did not understand, nor did he offer an explanation. After much pleading, he relented but made me promise to never ask him about the “damnable story”.

The second unwelcomed invitation included a reprimand before the desk in his study after he discovered one of his Kipling books missing from the collection. Still, even after the scolding and a night without supper, the spell of books and stories lured me again and again. The game of stealth and of snitching the books without discovery thrilled me.

Wrapping my fingers round Isla’s dainty wrist, I urged her towards the centre oak table and the stack of books adorning the top.

“Look,” I directed, and her eyes followed my fingers tracing across the gold embossed lettering on three large leather-bound manuals of sorts.

“What is it?” She leaned forwards and read. “Mabinogion . . . I am sure I’m suppose to know what this is, Vala, but unfortunately, I do not.”

Opening the front cover, I pointed to the cover page. “The Mabinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest. This first one is Volume One, consisting of the Arthurian romance of Geriant and Enid; and then, this one,” I fanned open the third volume, “holds the stories Four Branches of the Mabinogion and and the Book of Taliesin.”

Isla crossed her arms and crinkled her nose. “Again, what am I suppose to understand?”

“Well,” I replied, “Mother used to tell us the stories of Camelot, don’t you remember? Beneath the rowan tree? And now, here Father owns the Mabinogion, the translation of the earliest Welsh legends of King Arthur, the stories Tennyson himself based his Idylls of the King on.”

Isla waved her hands outwards, encompassing all the books in the room. “If you haven’t noticed, Father owns books of all sorts. Why do you think are these so special amongst his collection?”

I tapped my toes against the parquet floor, the irritation rising in my stomach. “Surely, you recall, Isla. You cannot be so daft . . .” I waited as she searched her mind, then continued as she shrugged. “Lady Charlotte Guest? You don’t remember her grandson, Oscar Guest, five years ago at Ascot? The one with the flourishing moustache and puppy-dog eyes who followed you round for most of the day?”

Isla gasped, touching her fingers to her chin. “Of course, I remember him. And this is his grandmother, the author?”

“The translator,” I answered. “The original works are in Welsh, which were mostly just outlines since the stories were never written down, only passed down by word of mouth by Bards who travelled from village to village, swapping tales for food and lodging. Most of the stories were embellished as they spoke them, the details flowing from their imaginations.”

“They were cyfarwyddiaid, just like us,” she added as she flipped through the pages, stopping a moment at an elaborate illustration of a man handing over a baby boy to another seated on a horse.

“Yes, exactly,” I replied.

Our mother prided herself on insisting that while her own father was a very English commander with the British Raj, her mother was as Welsh as the waters of the Wye, and a storyteller, or cyfarwyddiaid, to boot. While she never directly admitted, I suspected my grandmother, Illya, was a sort of gipsy, or traveller of some kind, dispensing fortunes and stories as the ancient Bards, until the day she caught the eye of Lord James Thackeray. In short time, they married and left for India, living near Lahore along the Ganges River. This small bit of knowledge of my grandparents was all I possessed of either of them, collecting with the other things not discussed in our family.

Isla closed the book and eyed me with curiosity. “And what, pray tell, is your interest in these particular volumes?”

“Well, curious, is it not, that Mother used to tell us the stories all of the time, that Father owns these books, and we live only a half a day’s horse-ride away from Caerleon, the supposed site of Camelot?”

Isla shrugged. “What of it, Vala? We live in Wales, dearest, we cannot help being surrounded by all things Arthurian. I think you are making more out of this than is there. Perhaps your desire for escape is luring you down this rabbit hole.”

She turned and set off towards the door but I stopped her with a small passage from The Book of Taliesin.

“Wait . . . before you go. Listen—

A coiling serpent,
Proud and merciless,
On her golden wings,
From Germany.

She will overrun
England and Scotland,
From Lychlyn sea-shore
To the Severn.

Then will the Brython
Be as prisoners,
By strangers swayed,
From Saxony.

Their Lord they will praise,
Their speech they will keep,
Their land they will lose,
Except wild Walia.

Till some change shall come,
After long penance,
When equally rife
The two crimes come.

Britons then shall have
Their land and their crown,
And the strangers swarm
Shall disappear.

All the angel’s words,
As to peace and war,
Will be fulfilled
To Britain’s race.”

Isla stopped and looked over her shoulder. “That sounds like a prophecy.”

“Yes, a prophecy,” I said, arching my eyebrow. “A bard spoke these words centuries ago, and Lady Guest translated them in the mid-1800s, a long while before any hint of this war, this coiled serpent from Germany.”

I set the book down and urged her towards the cushioned seat beneath the large arched window. “Isla, you and I both know there are secrets in this house, do we not? What if some of the secrets relate to the stories of Camelot? What if we are all linked in some way? I feel it in my bones; there is something more to this story.”

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