Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Category: adventure

Tom Williams: Something Wicked

I’m delighted to welcome Tom Williams back to my blog today, with a look back over his recent novels, and a look forward to his latest release, Something Wicked.

Over to you Tom…

I’m very grateful to Jenny Kane for the chance to chat to you all on her blog, especially with a new book, Something Wicked on its way.

Until recently all the books I’ve written have been historical novels. I started with The White Rajah, which is set in the mid-19th century, at the height of Britain’s Age of Empire. I hadn’t actually intended to write a historical novel. I wanted to write the Great British Novel (forgive me: it was my first book) dealing with Good and Evil and how power corrupts. But then I was on a visit to Borneo (long story) and I learned about James Brooke who ran part of the island as his own private kingdom. It’s an amazing tale, full of Good and Evil and (at least arguably) the corruption of power, and so everything seemed to come together and I wrote that.

And then I was pigeon-holed as a historical novelist and I wrote more stories about the Age of Empire and they became steadily darker. (Long story short, the Empire did genuinely do a lot of good but its inherent contradictions meant it was pretty well doomed to end badly.) So I escaped into the Napoleonic Wars where the issues of Good and Evil were more straightforward. (Actually they weren’t at all, because depicting the French as Evil while the decadence of the monarchies fighting them has to be depicted as Good begs a whole heap of questions.) Still, the stories were exciting and involved an awful lot of killing Frenchmen, and my dashing hero was brave and women fell at his feet and all the proper tropes were observed. Sadly, as I waded through the gore of battles like the Nile and Talavera and, inevitably, Waterloo, even those stories became a tiny bit more ambiguous too. Also, historical fiction takes ages to write. The other day I wanted to write the beginning of a new story (for there will, in time, be more) and thought I could say, ‘He threw open the shutters and looked out. It was a brilliantly sunny day. Time to put on his uniform and get started.’ Something along those lines, anyway. And then I wondered, ‘What would he have seen when he looked out? Would there have been a view and, if so, of what? And what uniform was he wearing exactly.’ And there followed hours of checking Google street view of a small town in Spain and trying to imagine what it would have looked like 200 years ago, followed by more time spent trying to check out his uniform. Uniforms are one of those things that people who write about military history are expected to know, but their heroes tend to stick to the same regiment, whereas Burke is constantly moving about so he might be wearing any one of a number of British or foreign uniforms. There are some wonderful reference books for this but to collect the entire set to cover against all eventualities is beyond me and Google isn’t nearly as helpful as you would think.

You can see why the idea of writing something set in the here and now might appeal, can’t you? So one night I was sitting getting quietly drunk with a bunch of magicians (as you do) and I thought what fun it would be if these magicians somehow ended up using their skills to defeat another bunch of magicians who were using Black Magic in their stage act. (Yes, Good and Evil sneak into all my books. But isn’t that what most fiction is about in the end?)

Anyway, the story wouldn’t go away and (after changing all the people because I’m reliably informed that libel lawyers are expensive) I ended up writing a novella called Dark Magic. I loved it and lots of readers loved it. It was very light hearted, albeit in a rather gruesome way, and if it didn’t sell that well (nobody associates me with contemporary fiction so it was like starting over) it was much easier to write than the historical stuff, so I decided to do it again.

The latest, to be published in the next month or so, also grew out of an overseas trip. Several trips, actually, because I am an enthusiastic tango dancer so, in the days when these things were still possible, I made several visits to Argentina. I love Buenos Aires to the point of obsession. Besides the tango, there is so much cool stuff going on. And there are spectacular things to see, one of which is the cemeteries. These (the famous ones at any rate) are not rows of gravestones but proper necropolises with neat streets full of houses where the dead can make their homes.

Brompton Cemetery

Given that the tango world only wakes up when the sun goes down, the idea that these buildings were inhabited by vampires who came out to dance at night seemed quite obvious. And so, transferred to the almost equally eccentric Brompton Cemetery in London, Something Wicked was born. Fortunately there is (or was, pre-covid) a thriving tango scene in London, where the vampires can indulge themselves. Throw in a murder and a vampire policeman and there is everything you need for a police procedural/vampire mashup that certainly entertained me and I hope will entertain you too.

Don’t worry. I’m back to history later in spring with a story set in Ireland in the run-up to the Irish Revolt of 1798. Poor James Burke is going to have his work cut out steering between Good and Evil in that one!

 

BUY LINKS FOR ALL TOM’S BOOKS-

James Burke, Spy

Burke in the Land of Silver

Burke and the Bedouin

Burke at Waterloo

Burke in the Peninsula

Burke in Ireland: coming in Spring

Contemporary Urban Fantasy

Dark Magic

Something Wicked: to be published in February

BIO

Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes novels set in the 19th century and books about vampires that are generally described as fiction but which are often more realistic than the business books. The stories have given him the excuse to travel to Argentina, Egypt and Borneo and call it research.

The James Burke series are adventure stories about a spy in the age of Napoleon, while the John Williamson Papers are a rather more serious series looking at issues of colonialism in the age of Empire (though they do have quite a lot of adventure too).

Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well. In between he reads old books and spends far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.

LINKS

Tom’s blogs appear regularly on his website, https://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk where you can also find details of all his books. You can follow him on Twitter as @TomCW99 or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTomWilliams).

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Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

Criminal Inspiration: Folville Thinking

Although it cannot be categorically stated that the compilers of the Robin Hood ballads were influenced by the actual criminal gangs of the day, it is highly likely. Why wouldn’t the writers of the past be influenced by the political and local economic situation around them, just as we are today? If you study the literature and the criminal records of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries- as I did for five years- many similarities can be noted between the actions of gangs like the Folvilles, and those detailed in the ballads and political songs.

The earliest mention found (to date) of the name Robin Hood in literature appears in the poem The Vision of Piers Plowman, which was written by William Langland in c.1377. This was a protest poem complaining about the harsh conditions endured by the poor in the Fourteen Century. Not only did it mention Robin Hood, but it also makes reference to a real outlaw gang, the Folvilles.

“And some ryde and to recovere that unrightfully was wonne:

He wised hem wynne it ayein wightnesses of handes,

And fecchen it from false men with Folvyles lawes.”

In 1310, John de Folville, Lord of Ashby Folville, died, leaving his widow Alice and seven sons. The eldest son, also John, inherited the Ashby-Folville manor. Historical records show that John lived largely within the bounds of the law. However, his brothers, Eustace, Laurence, Richard, Robert, Thomas and Walter formed a criminal gang which became notorious. Between the mid 1320’s and 1330’s, the Folville brothers ran the town of Ashby Folville and its surrounds as a base for criminal activity.

The first crime that brought the Folvilles to the notice of the authorities was the murder of the Baron of the Exchequer, Roger Belers. Over the following decade, the Folville brothers’ travelled the countryside assaulting those they considered deserving of such treatment, and holding people and places to ransom. They hired themselves out as mercenaries, willing to commit crimes for the right price. In fact, if you look closely enough at the criminal activities of the Folville family and the Robin Hood ballads, you’ll see a great number of similarities. So many in fact, that I began to wonder if the ballad writers had been influenced by the actions of Folvilles – or if Folvilles had been influenced by the popularity of the ballads.

It was this latter theory that forms the inspiration behind The Folville Chronicles (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw, Edward’s Outlaw and Outlaw Justice).

These medieval murder mysteries show Robert de Folville and his brothers using the ballads of Robin and his outlaws as a code of behaviour. Be warned however- this isn’t the code of behaviour we associate with Robin Hood today. There’s no robbing the rich to give to the poor in the fourteenth century. The original ballads were all about punishing the greedy, lazy and the cruel. There was never any question of any money gained from such punishments being given away.

Perhaps it was inevitable that my doctoral research, combined with my love for the stories of Robin Hood, would eventually inspire my novels.

Writers, filmmakers and poets ever since the tales were first spoken, have all adapted the outlaw figure to fit their imagination, and to appeal to the audience of the age. The Robin Hood needed by the fourteenth century listener isn’t going to be the same one demanded of the Tudor population, and that version of the hero has been reinvented again and again ever since. From the wonderfully thigh slapping Errol Flynn, the mystical Robin’s portrayed by Michael Praed and Jason Connery in the 1980’s, to the pantomime figure presented in the late 90’s by Kevin Costner, and the PVC nightmare of the most recent incantation by Taron Egerton…perhaps each generation gets the Robin Hood it deserves?

In 1332 the Folville gang committed their most serious crime. They kidnapped the Justice of the Peace, Sir Richard Willoughby, on the road between Melton Mowbray and Grantham, near Waltham-on-the-Wolds. A ransom of 1,300 marks was demanded for his safe return. While the Folvilles’ waited for the ransom to be paid, they stole over a hundred pounds of goods from Willoughby, while they dragged him from wood to wood.

The implications of Willoughby’s kidnap were fair reaching. However, to go into them here would be to ruin the aforementioned fourth novel. I will say however, that the kidnap and ransom of nobles passing through their land, the targeting of corrupt officials, and the general gang activity employed by the Folvilles, echo similar incidents within the Robin Hood ballads, from The Lytell Geste to the later tales, such as Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

Rather than tell the story of the Folville brothers through their eyes, I introduced an outsider; a fictional protagonist to see their world with fresh eyes. Enter Mathilda of Twyford.

We first meet Mathilda in Book One of the Chronicles, The Outlaw’s Ransom.  A nineteen year old unmarried woman, Mathilda’s life revolves around looking after her father and brothers, running the home and the family pottery business since the death of her mother. Her life changes abruptly when she is forced to get to know the notorious Folville family rather better than she would have liked – and Mathilda finds herself surrounded by criminals and under a very frightening type of suspicion…

Blurb- The Outlaw’s Ransom

When potter’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life. Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for using crime to rule their lands—and for using any means necessary to deliver their distinctive brand of ‘justice’.

Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so, she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the betrothed of Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will send her to Bakewell in Derbyshire, and the home of Nicholas Coterel, one of the most villainous men in England.

With her life in the hands of more than one dangerous brigand, Mathilda must win the trust of the Folville’s housekeeper, Sarah, and Robert Folville himself if she has any chance of survival.

Never have the teachings gleaned from the tales of Robyn Hode been so useful…

Extract from The Outlaw’s Ransom

…The Folville didn’t say anything else, but satisfied himself with watching Mathilda as she stood, half bowed, before him. She wasn’t shaking now. He’d noticed how hard she had fought within herself to still her external reactions to his news of her change in circumstance and had admired her self-control. It was almost as if she had an offended dignity about her rather than terror; an unusual reaction from a prisoner in the presence of a Folville.

He wondered if she’d been taught her letters. Most families didn’t waste their time teaching their womenfolk such things, but Mathilda of Twyford was clearly sharp and capable. With her mother gone, she’d run the household, and he imagined she did that job well. He saw that his family’s plan for this girl might work, but only if she kept that nerve. Otherwise… well, she wouldn’t be the first to die during his family’s quest to maintain their position.

Breaking the silence that had stretched out between them he said, ‘I recall you have questions for me. I can see your head jarring with them.’

‘If I may, my Lord?’

‘You may, although I should caution you, I may not choose to offer a reply.’

Mathilda licked her lips and ran her clammy palms down her grubby belted surcoat, which largely hid her brother’s leather hose, and flexed her numb bare toes.

‘Please, my Lord, who are you?’

This produced a bark of laughter, ‘You are well-mannered despite the indignity of being thrust, if only for a short while, into our cell. I am Robert de Folville, one of seven brothers of this manor.’

Mathilda curtsied, more out of natural impulse than any feelings of reverence towards this man, whom she knew for certain, had been party to at least one murder. ‘You are kin to my Lord Eustace, my Lord?’

‘Yes, girl, I am.’ He cocked his head to one side. ‘That worries you?’

‘He is a man I have been taught to fear, forgive my impudence, my Lord.’

He snorted. ‘I would rather have honest impudence than bluff and lies. So, you have been instructed by your father to be wary of us?’

‘Not only my father, sir.’ Abruptly worried that her boldness might place her family in more danger, Mathilda clamped her mouth shut. Seeing, however, that the Folville wasn’t cross, but had an expression of acceptance on his face, Mathilda braved a further question.

‘Where is my father, my Lord, and Matthew and Oswin, my brothers?’

Robert de Folville paused and, after a moment’s consideration, gestured for the servant boy to bring her a chair. Mathilda was glad to be allowed to sit down, but was puzzled at the equal status she was being afforded after her earlier abuse, as Folville sat next to her, leaning uncomfortably close to her slight, tense frame….

***

I never dreamt, back when I was a medieval history student at the University of Leicester, that I’d be a writer one day. Nor did I think I’d use all the research I did back then to create fictional adventures based on historical events.

I honestly can’t believe my luck.

BUY LINKS

The Outlaw’s Ransom – The Folville Chronicles Book One

The Winter’s Outlaw – The Folville Chronicles Book Two

Edward’s Outlaw – The Folville Chronicles Book Three

Outlaw Justice – The Folville Chronicles Book Four

The first three novel are also available as an e-boxsethttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Folville-Chronicles-Box-Set-Books-ebook/dp/B07V387V3K/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Folville+Chronicles+Box+set&qid=1572970631&sr=8-1

You can also find the Robin of Sherwood audio scripts I’ve written here – www.spitefulpuppet.com

Happy reading,

Jen x

COVER REVEAL: Outlaw Justice

Today, I am delighted to be able to share the cover for the fourth novel in my medieval crime/ mystery series,

The Folville Chronicles

Outlaw Justice

Continuing the story of Mathilda of Twyford- now Lady Mathilda de Folville – Outlaw Justice takes another peep at the seven Folville brothers, from Ashby Folville in Leicestershire- and weaves a story around their real life crimes and adventures.

I hope you love the cover as much as I do. It fits so perfectly with the rest of the series!

I’m not going to give any spoilers… but here’s the blurb to whet the appetite…

Blurb – Outlaw Justice

England, 1331: Corrupt official, Sir Richard de Willoughby, has been appointed Justice of the Peace, with powers to hunt – and kill – those who oppose him. First on his list? The notorious Coterel brothers and their associates – the Folvilles…

The Folvilles must decide whether to flee into outlawry or take the law into their own hands – but is killing de Willoughby really the answer?

Robert de Folville is keen to dispose of the justice, but Robert’s ingenious wife, Mathilda, has a plan… one that could potentially rid them of Willoughby and yet see them escape the hangman’s noose. But these are tumultuous times and Mathilda must first put herself at great personal risk. Could the tale of a missing noblewoman, overheard by chance, be the key to solving a problem of life or death?

A gripping tale of real-life Robin Hoods, Outlaw Justice is the latest in the critically acclaimed ‘The Folville Chronicles’ series by Jennifer Ash.

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Following on from The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw and Edward’s OutlawOutlaw Justice can be read as part of the series, or as a standalone novel.

Publication date will be announced soon!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

Remedy in Time: Jennifer Macaire

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Macaire, with some information about her latest adventure/timeslip novel- A Remedy in Time- and a sabretooth tiger…

Over to you Jennifer…

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog! I’m here to talk about my newest time travel book, ‘A Remedy in Time’, and what inspired me to write it.

I’ve had a passion for time travel ever since I found out about dinosaurs. I admit, I’ve watched the Jurassic Park series about a hundred times. The dinosaurs never get boring for me. When I was in kindergarten, I stood at the blackboard and drew huge dinos. A t-rex chased a triceratops, a stegosaurus lumbered across a swamp, while a huge brontosaurus (now known as apatosaurus, which is a pity, given that brontosaurus meant “thunder lizard”) grazed on high tree tops. One of my teachers discovered my obsession, and she would take me from class to class so I could draw and give a talk about dinosaurs.

Then one day I happened on a Reader’s Digest that featured sabretooth tigers. In the illustration, the tigers are attacking a mammoth that has somehow gotten entrapped in a tar-pit. I stared at that illustration for hours, trying to imagine how the sabretooth tigers could hunt and eat their prey with such massive canines.

That was that for the dinosaurs. Suddenly I was fascinated by a time when woolly mammoths, huge cave bears, and even sloths the size of small houses, roamed the frigid plains of the ice-age tundra. The sabretooth tiger, with its out-sized canines became my spirit animal – I read everything I could about them, and spent my time drawing pictures of extinct mammals. Needless to say, the sabretooth tiger was the beast that really caught my interest.

Years and years later, I stumbled on a blogsite that featured fossils, and it amused me to try and guess the mystery photos the author posted. And then one day, lo and behold, there was a sabretooth tiger! I recognized it right away. In the blog post, the author admitted that scientists still argued about how the animal hunted its prey. I started imagining a trip to the past to film a documentary about sabretooth tigers.

Of course, the trip would start at Tempus U, where my time travel books all start from. And the heroine this time would be a single-minded young woman who not only specialized in paleolithic animals but infectious diseases as well, because when I started writing the book, there had been a breakout of an especially virulent form of typhus in California. And so I wove a story about corporate greed, vaccines, man-made diseases, and a trip to the far, far past. A Remedy in Time is available for preorder, and will be published January 7th, 2021!

And here is the fabulous cover my publisher, Headline Accent, made for it!

To save the future, she must turn to the past . . .

San Francisco, Year 3377. A deadly virus has taken the world by storm. Scientists are desperately working to develop a vaccine. And Robin Johnson – genius, high-functioning, and perhaps a little bit single-minded – is delighted. Because, to cure the disease, she’s given the chance to travel back in time.

But when Robin arrives at the last Ice Age hoping to stop the virus at its source, she finds more there than she bargained for. And just as her own chilly exterior is beginning to thaw, she realises it’s not only sabre-toothed tigers that are in danger of extinction . . .

Preorder from:

Amazon.com  ; Amazon.co.uk ; Amazon.com.au :  Hachhette UK

Excerpt:

I lay with my face in the grass. I hadn’t vomited, but that’s only because I couldn’t take a full breath. I knew that as soon as my diaphram started working again I’d spill my guts. It didn’t take long. “Why, oh why, did I agree to this,” I said, between bouts of retching and paralyzing pain. Finally, I managed to get to my knees. “What if a sabre tooth tiger had been here? We’d already be eaten, or worse.”

He shook his head. “See how the air around us is faintly blue? We’re protected by the tractor beam for a good hour. Nothing can get in.”

I reached out my hand and touched the blue-tinged air. It was a little like being surrounded by a very faint fog. I poked. My finger tingled and stung. “Wo cao!” I said. As I watched, the blue shivered and began to fade. “It’s almost gone. Let’s go. We should send some vidcams out and see if there are any spots that look like a good campsite.”

Donnell looked at his comlink.

“What time is it?” I asked. “Is time here different, I wonder? It was nearly noon when we left the, um, future.” I glanced at my own comlink. “It’s one minute to one. Amazing. We go back ten thousand years in little more than an hour. A-fucking-mazing. Look at this place!” Mouth open in amazement, I gazed around. We were on the side of a grassy hill, and we had a good view of the surrounding area. I forgot about my pain, I was in the past! I was here! I staggered to my feet and looked around. “Wa cao! We’re really here! There is a ta me da giant armadillo down there. Putain, a glyptodon! This is amazing. Look at that! It looks like a walking igloo except it’s brown, not white. Donnell, look!

Donnell didn’t look at the scenery. He looked at me, and said, “Robin, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m really very sorry. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” He looked truly upset.

I hastened to reassure him. “No need to apologise. Look, I know you didn’t want to have me as a partner. I overheard you talking to the dean. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just make this trip a success. We have many lives depending on us.”

He made a strange noise. Then his face turned ashen, and he gagged like he was about to be sick. I thought he was still feeling the effects of the trip. I bent to help him to his feet, but he gagged again, then screamed.

“What is it? Donnell? What is happening?” I didn’t understand what I was seeing. His leg, his leg was shrinking. He shrieked, grabbed his leg, and his hands sank into his, well, where his thigh should have been, and then he sort of slid and slumped to the ground, convulsing, his body moving as if waves were tossing it, as if he were made of liquid, and his clothes became wet, and the strongest, strangest smell assaulted my nose.

I think I started to scream then too. Then my breath ran out and all I could do was squeak, squeak, squeak, as I tried to drag air into my lungs.

He must have been in dreadful pain. He screamed until the end. Until all that was left was his chest and his head, then those too sank into themselves and all that was left were clothes and boots, and a pink, foamy gel.

I spun around and flailed at the air, at the faint wisp of blue that still lingered. I found my voice. “Help!” I screamed, “Help, help, help!”

No one came. Below me, in the valley, the glyptodon lifted its head and seemed to look in my direction.

I couldn’t stop shaking, and I couldn’t seem to be able to breathe. Black spots danced in front of my vision and I knelt down, bent over, and hit my head on the ground. “No. No. No! That didn’t just happen. It’s a hallucination. You’re still unconscious. You’ll wake up in a minute. Wake up, Robin. Wake the feck up.” I dug my fingers into the dirt and screamed again.

Bio

Jennifer Macaire lives in France with her husband, three children, & various dogs & horses. She loves reading, writing, and sultry summer nights. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St. Peter and Paul high school in St. Thomas and moved to NYC where she modeled for five years for Elite. She met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories.

Follow Jennifer on twitter & Facebook 

 

Many thanks for dropping by today Jennifer.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx

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