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

Tag: Carol McGrath

Opening Lines with Carol McGrath: The Silken Rose

Today I’m delighted to welcome Carol McGrath to my blog, as she goes on tour with her brand new historical novel, The Silken Rose.

Why not sit and relax for five minutes, while you enjoy a little background to this, the first of The She Wolf Trilogy – as well as the first 500 words.

Over to you Carol…

The Silken Rose is the first novel in The She Wolf Trilogy, three standalone novels about three medieval queens set during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Ailenor of Provence, Eleanor of Castile and Isabella of France were considered she wolves by later writers but they were reviled by many barons during their reigns because of the influence the exercised over their husbands. Ailenor was guilty of nepotism, Eleanor grabbed lands and built up a property empire and, as for Isabella, say no more, she simply deposed her husband and set up her son Edward III as king in his stead. Their thrilling and intriguing stories are intersected with those of three ordinary women, ordinary in rank but independent and from the merchant class. The first appears in The Silken Rose. She is an embroiderer and Rosalind’s story intersects with that of Queen Ailenor.  Enjoy the short blub and extract. The book is published on 2nd April as an e book and as a paperback on 23rd July. The audio is currently available too.

It is 1236

Ailenor of Provence, cultured and intelligent, is thirteen when she marries Henry III. She is aware of the importance of providing heirs to secure the throne. She will protect England’s throne from those who would snatch it away. She is ruthless in her dealings with Henry’s barons.

Beautiful Ailenor’s shrewd and clever Savoyard uncles can support her, until her power is threatened when Henry’s half-siblings also arrive at court.

Henry and Ailenor become embroiled in an unpopular, expensive war to protect the last English territories in France, sparking conflict with warrior knight, Simon de Montfort, the King’s seneschal. It is the final straw.

Caught in a web of treachery and deceit, ‘she-wolf’ Ailenor’s courage is tested to the limit. Can she control her destiny and protect her family?

First 500 words…

Canterbury, January 1236

The road from Dover to Canterbury was mired with mud so progress was slow. Ailenor, Princess of Provence, had never seen such weather. She tugged back the oiled canvas and peered from her long, box-like carriage into the January landscape. A collection of gaunt faces stared back; figures huddled in heavy cloaks, watching the golden lions of Savoy and Provence pass through Canterbury’s gate into the cramped lanes of the city.

Domina Willelma’s rhythmic snores competed with the splashing of hooves moving laboriously through the gateway, the roll of wheels belonging to sumpter carts, the cracking of whips and the protesting snorts of an escort of three hundred horsemen. All the way from Dover, thirteen year-old Ailenor had listened to rain rattling on the curved roof of the carriage. With a hiss, it dripped through a minute crack onto the box of hot charcoal that warmed her feet.

She let the curtain drop and withdrew into her furs. It’s so different to my golden Provençal fields on which sun shines winter and summer.

A tear slid down her cheek. She instinctively drew her mantle closer. This was not what she imagined after Richard of Cornwall, King Henry’s brother, had visited their castle of Les Baux last year and she had listened to his thrilling tales of romance. England was not the magical land she visualised when she wrote her best poem ever, set in Cornwall, verse Prince Richard admired. Nor was it the green country filled with wild flowers she dreamed of when Henry, King of England, sent for her to become his bride.

She shivered in her damp gown. She had not wanted woollen gowns and underskirts. Rather, she desired velvets, silks and satins, and the finest linen for under-garments. But after two days’ travel over the Narrow Sea and on waterlogged roads she understood the need for warmth. She was now to dwell in a land where winter never ended and summer was but a distant prayer.

The carriage jolted to a halt. Uncle William, the Bishop, thrust his head through the heavy hanging.

‘We are approaching the palace. Prepare to descend.’ He almost fell off his horse as he pushed his neck further into the carriage to waggle a long finger at Ailenor’s senior lady. ‘Waken that woman at once. Order her to tidy your dress.’ With a grunt, he withdrew before Ailenor could reply.

‘Domina Willelma, wake up.’ Ailenor gently shook her lady’s shoulder. ‘Uncle William says ‑’

‘By our sainted Lady, my child, forgive me. Why have you permitted me to sleep?’ Lady Willelma sat straight up, her dark eyes wide awake.

‘Because, dear Willelma, you have hardly slept since we left Vienne and that was three weeks ago.’

‘I’m neglecting my duty to your mother.’ Willelma opened the tassels of a velvet bag. My mother, Ailenor thought. If only she were here. She would make jests and have me laugh at it all. How can I face this awful land alone?


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Make sure you don’t miss a single stop on this amazing blog tour!


Following her first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing at The Seamus Heaney Centre, Belfast, followed by an MPhil from University of London.  Her fifth historical novel, The Silken Rose, first in The Rose Trilogy, published by the Headline Group, is set during the High Middle Ages. It features Ailenor of Provence and will be published on April 2nd 2020. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels’ Society Conference, Oxford in September 2016.  Visit her website:

Carol’s links are all on her website:


You can join in with Carol’s ‘virtual’ book launch tomorrow, on Twitter, from 3pm!

Many thanks fro visiting today Carol.

Good luck with your new novel and the rest of your blog tour.

Jenny x






Carol Mcgrath’s Blog Tour: Historical Fact into Fiction and ‘The Woman in the Shadows’.

I’m delighted to welcome Carol McGrath today as part of her blog tour for her brand new release, The Woman in the Shadows.

Over to you Carol…

Historical Fact into Fiction and ‘The Woman in the Shadows’.

Thank you, Jenny, for hosting the second hop on The Woman in the Shadows Blog Tour.

There has always been an expectation for writers of Historical Fiction to provide the reading public with Historical Fact. In fact, the best we generally can do is provide convincing glimpses of the personalities we write, their conflicts and their world. In other words the reader often wants to accept everything written by historical novelists as ‘truth.’

I came to History very young, encouraged by television serials and novels by writers such as Jean Plaidy. I lived it and believed it all, though these writers never claimed to be Historians. We do not write the ‘truth’, nor do Historians much of the time either, but we do attempt, if we are any good, to recreate a believable historical world for the reader. We research, but we incorporate the research into the fabric of the historical lives we recreate. Our aim is to tell a good story and put flesh on the bones of history. We resurrect dead people and give them renewed life. We do not tell the ‘truth’ about these personalities, certainly not consistently, but we try to speculate in an informed way so that we come up with stories and characters that are plausible.

Writing about Elizabeth Cromwell was a huge challenge, my greatest to date. Much is known about her infamous husband, Henry VIII’s minister during the 1530s who found a solution to The King’s Great Matter, engineered Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his remarriage to Anne Boleyn. Thomas Cromwell closed monasteries and lined the King’s pockets with rich pickings, and then he brought Anne Boleyn down along with a group of her devoted courtiers, including her brother. What was Elizabeth Cromwell’s marriage really like? What was marriage to such a man? Who was Elizabeth Cromwell?

The events of the 1530s occur outside the remit of The Woman in the Shadows. Elizabeth Cromwell sadly died in 1529. All that is known about her is that she had been married before, had no living children from that marriage and came from a family involved in the cloth trade. We know a little about her mother, father, brother and sister. We know that she was well-off and was raised in Putney, as had been Thomas. The Cromwells owned a fulling mill, a brewery, land on which Walter Cromwell grazed sheep, a smithy and a brewery and pub. Walter Cromwell, the father, was not poor though he may well have been a drunk. Both Thomas and Elizabeth hailed from a trading middling class.

To bring Elizabeth to the page, I took these scant facts and padded them out. I used my knowledge of Thomas Cromwell’s early life, researching in primary and secondary source material. He had returned to England by 1513 after a period in France, Italy and Flanders. He married Elizabeth circa 1514. They had three children by 1520. Thomas was a cloth-man and a self-taught lawyer who worked for The Merchant Adventurers. By 1518 he was involved in land transactions for Cardinal Wolsey, possibly introduced by a relative to Wolsey. He was also, by 1522, drawing closer to court.

I had to look at this world from Elizabeth’s perspective, not that of a twenty-first century woman. I had to know and understand this world with all its warts and delights, misogamy, cruelty, bad smells and wonderful fragrances, its cut-throat poverty and rich merchants, colourful pageants and Saints’ Days. I had to consider the New Learning, Humanism,  that interested the Cromwells and their close friends.

Researching the Cloth Trade was fascinating too. Could Elizabeth have inherited her first husband’s business interests? Could she have been a cloth merchant? Widows could marry as they wished, so could she have married Thomas for love? He never remarried after her death, but could he have had an affair? I did find possible evidence of one, in that he referred to a possible daughter in a will he wrote in the early 1530s, a girl, Jane, who dwelled near Chester and was born around 1520. Did Elizabeth possess emotions as we have them today and if so did they play out differently to the way we react to betrayal in marriage nowadays?  These are a few of the questions I consider in the novel.

I hope I have succeeded in bringing Elizabeth out of the shadows and given her a renewed life, at least in fiction. I hope I have made us think about Thomas Cromwell as he may have been during the years of their marriage and before he climbed the greasy pole of ambition within the Tudor Court. Most of all, if you read it, I hope that you enjoy reading The Woman in the Shadows. Without you there would not be a book.


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Carol McGrath has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAs in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this best-selling trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a novel that considers Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, through the eyes of Elizabeth his wife, will be published on August 4th, 2017. Carol is working on a new medieval Trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, set in the High Middle Ages.  It subject matter is three linked medieval queens, sometimes considered ‘She Wolves’. She speaks at events and conferences on the subject of medieval women, writing Historical Fiction, The Bayeux Tapestry, and Fabrics, Tapestry and Embroidery as incorporated into fiction. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference, Oxford in September 2016 and reviews for the HNS.  Find Carol on her website:


Many thanks for visiting on your tour today Carol. Good luck with your new book. Happy touring!

Jenny xx


Guest Post from Carol McGrath: Stories that have Influenced my Writing

I love this guest post! Carol McGrath has given us a wonderful insight into some of the stories that set her on her own writing path. For me it was Robin Hood who made me pick up a pen, for Carol it was…Well why not grab a cuppa, put your feet up, and come and find out.

Over to you Carol…

The Handfasted WifeThe Betrothed Sister

I am delighted to be asked by Jenny to talk a little about books that I have loved in my youth and how these tales inspired me to write- even the novel that I amused myself writing, aged nine years old.

For those reading this, my novels are stories of real historical persons infused with a sense of adventure. I mix real historical characters who are researched with invented characters. The imagined personalities come from deep inside me, from the imaginative pool that grew out of my early reading tastes. Both The Handfasted Wife and The Betrothed Sister, historical novels about the noble women who survived the Battle of Hastings, contain a skald, poet and spy, as their most significant secondary character. His name is Padar.

Padar grew out of my youthful love of the Robin Hood legends, a passion I know that Jenny and I share. Padar owns rebellious characteristics, and becomes outlawed after The Battle of Hastings. Following the Norman Conquest he is constantly in danger. He is a small man in stature, clever, independent and resourceful. When Padar is charged by King Harold to watch over his wife and younger children, after the king’s defeat and death at Senlac, he travels with King Harold’s handfasted wife, Elditha (Edith Swan-Neck) to Ireland where she hopes to reach her sons, help them rebel against Norman rule and reclaim their lands. In The Betrothed Sister, Padar sails with Elditha’s daughter Thea (Gita) into Rus lands where her cousin, King Sweyn of Denmark, has arranged her marriage to a prince of Kiev. Padar, too, finds romance.

Five go to Treasure Island

The earliest novel I attempted to write was based on Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. I was nine years old, recovering from mumps, living with my family in a lonely home in the country. My childhood oeuvre was another adventure for George, Ann, Julian, Dick and Timmy the dog, set in a haunted house in Donegal- one we fantasised about on childhood holidays. The mountains lay behind and the sea in front so there was lots to imagine- lights flashing at night in the mountains, smugglers on the island we could see from the cottage we rented. I wrote in chapters and with pen and ink- laboriously in one of my Dad’s Ministry of Agriculture notebooks. Goodness knows what became of that valiant effort.

Jane Eyre

As an older child, I was influenced by writers such as Jane Lane and Geoffrey Treece. I had to read from my version of The Children’s Crusade out to an inspector who came to my school- another brave attempt to write a short novel. I loved The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff.  It is about Thomas Fairfax, a Parliamentarian military leader during The English Civil War and it gave me an interest in the period. I also read many classics. Jane Eyre was, and still remains my favourite.  During my teens, I read everything I could borrow from the library by Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton and Margaret Irwin. Probably Seton’s Katherine stands out as a long-time influence on my writing today.


Although my main degree is in English and Russian Studies, Medieval History was my subsidiary subject. It is such a strange world, accessible and inaccessible both, a truly foreign country, yet all around us. I have long enjoyed medieval romance as well as the history which reaches into the early Tudor period with its guilds, feast days, superstition, beautiful manuscript work and so on. I jump forward in time now, however because Thomas Hardy was my specialist English degree subject and he gave me a love for landscape and memorable female characters. Yet I also loved William Faulkner and E.M. Foster. Moreover, I read Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago over and over. It was just so romantic, a novel that contains the perfect mix of sweeping historical event and romance.

Far from the Maddening Crowd

Of course, my early stories were never published. Nor did I ever imagine I would one day be published. It was many, many years later that I began to write seriously. Mine was a long apprenticeship involving an MA in creative writing and an MPhil, short story writing, plays and poetry. Yet, I have never forgotten my very early writing experiences or all those wonderful novels I enjoyed reading in my youth. And so, if Padar has been an enduring secondary character in The Handfasted Wife, truthfully he grew out of my love for Robin Hood and stories of high adventure. I would say that my love of writing and for creativity has its foundations in my early reading and a fabulously imaginative childhood that allowed me so much time to read.

pregnant woman working***

Carol McGrath lives in Oxfordshire with her family. She has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her debut novel, The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 entitled The Daughters of Hastings, was shortlisted for the RoNAS, 2014 in the historical category. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister followed to complete this best-selling trilogy. Carol is the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference Oxford September 2016.  Find Carol on her website:

C McGrath twitter

Thank you Carol. It never ceases to amaze me the reach that some stories (in our cases, those of Robin Hood), have. Writing something that touches generations of people must be a truly magical feeling.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

Guest Post from Carol McGrath: My Writing Journey

I am delighted to welcome fellow Accent writer, medieval history lover, and Robin Hood fan, Carol McGrath to my site today!

Over to you Carol…

First of all thank you, Jenny, for hosting me on your blog today.

I always find authors’ writing journeys intriguing. Usually a writer’s expedition into the world of publication is a mix of very dedicated work mingled with that precious little bit of good fortune when it comes to finding the right agent and/ or publisher for your work.

C McGrath 026

My own writing history towards the golden globe of publication was the result of a dedicated effort to hone my writing skills and to an extent it was accidental. I’ve always scribbled. I wrote little books as a small child that were usually inspired by Enid Blyton’s adventure stories and the legends of Robin Hood. I also loved to write poems. My first published piece was more serious and poetic. It was about Vietnam’s terrible war and appeared in our school magazine. For the very first time, this month I am visiting Vietnam and Cambodia. It will be a fascinating trip.

I never thought anyone would seriously want to actually read anything I wrote. Whilst my children were growing up, I taught part-time in a High School. I attended day-school writing courses at Oxford Continuing Education. We were a close knit group that signed up year after year to the same tutor’s course. Some of my fellow writers came from writing families. I remember Eliza Packenham’s suffragettes fondly and Molly Keane’s daughter, Virginia, who was writing a children’s book set in the west of Ireland. Our tutor, Angela Hassell, encouraged me to send chapters of a novel I was working on to agents. This oeuvre was a saga set in Ireland in 1919 at the dawning of the Irish Civil War. I never did attempt to publish this novel because I had little free time to end the tale. However, writing it was a wonderful escape from a busy modern life. Now, so many years later, I often think of finishing it.

Handfasted Wife

I studied for a two year diploma course in creative writing at Oxford University’s Continuing Education. Again, I never considered publishing. The seeds of my first published novel The Handfasted Wife were sown at this time, after a trip to Bayeux in Normandy. I wanted to write a radio play for my portfolio and was fascinated by a story I came across then, that King Harold’s wife identified her husband’s body on the battlefield by marks only known to her. King Harold had been defeated by William of Normandy who famously invaded England in 1066. I wrote the play and for a time forgot all about it. Only today I have been listening to it on audible, thinking of those voices from history that came to me all those years ago when I first wrote the play. The narrator got those tough Anglo-Saxon noble women right. It is a pleasure to listen to them speak via my I pad. Who would ever have thought I would one day hear them?


Some years later, after completing an MA in Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast, I did consider that I was ready to send my work out to agents. Another Irish story set in 1910 was completed inspired by my MA. work. I called it The Damask Maker. A number of agents read the full manuscript. It clearly was not ready because they all suggested I did this or that to it. It is still waiting my attention and a possible name change.

Instead of reworking the spongy mid-section of that novel, I went on an MPhil course ( English and Creative Writing) at Royal Holloway, University of London, and fell utterly in love with the story I began to write there. My first published novel, The Handfasted Wife, inspired by that long ago trip to Bayeux, was written on this course along with a thesis on how Romance tempers Historical Fiction. The novel took me three years to write. Its protagonists haunted me and, equally, England, before and after The Norman Conquest intrigued me. This manuscript was picked up by my RNA New Writer’s Scheme reader, jay Dixon, who had just become a commissioning editor for Accent Press. When I told jay that I was thinking about a trilogy to continue the story I had begun in The Handfasted Wife, she commissioned all three for Accent Press. If I liked writing The Handfasted Wife, I liked writing The Swan-Daughter even more. This is the story of King Harold’s younger daughter Gunnhild and her fate after The Norman Conquest. I have just sent The Betrothed Sister, the final novel of this trilogy to Jay. I have not looked back. I am researching a new trilogy set in the thirteenth century, so Jenny, watch out because I shall be consulting you about ballads of the period, on which you are an expert.

The Swan Daughter

I have thoroughly enjoyed my road to publication. There was no angst and no stress. I think I gradually grew into my route to publication, and looking back it feels as if it was a natural progression for me. I have always loved writing and telling stories. Reading Historical fiction was ever a passion and writing it well, whilst challenging, has been a very satisfying experience. Nowadays, what was a once upon a time hobby is now a full time job and it is certainly one that I enjoy.

I have one obvious tip if you want to be published- enjoy what you write, write it well, hone it and stay with it. Make sure it is ready and be determined to publish it when it it.

I wish Jenny Kane every success with Cup of Champers. I have read her novels and love them.


Carol’s Links-


Twitter – @carolmcgrath




Scribbling in the Margins- 


Thank you Carol x

Great blog! I would be honoured to help out with your ballad research when the time comes- Ronin Hood fans unite! There is something very special about the stories from our medieval past. They had a magic that encapsulates the period.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx

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