Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Guest blog: David Wesley Hill - 'At Drake's Command'

At Drake's Command
The Adventures of Peregrine James during the Second Circumnavigation of the World
Author: David Wesley Hill
Publisher: Temurlone Press | New York |
Pages: 424
Price: $14.95
ISBN-10: 0983611726
ISBN-13: 978-0-9836117-2-1
Publication Date: November 15, 2012
Cover Art: "The Golden Hinde off New Albion" by Simon Kozhin

Available from Amazon US.

About the Book

It was as fine a day to be whipped as any he'd ever seen but the good weather didn't make Peregrine James any happier with the situation he was in. Unfairly convicted of a crime he had not committed, the young cook was strung from the whipping post on the Plymouth quay side when he caught the eye of Francis Drake and managed to convince the charismatic sea captain to accept him among his crew. 

Soon England was receding in their wake and Perry was serving an unsavory collection of sea dogs as the small fleet of fragile wood ships sailed across the brine. Their destination was secret, known to Drake alone. Few sailors believed the public avowal that the expedition was headed for Alexandria to trade in currants. Some men suspected Drake planned a raid across Panama to attack the Spanish in the Pacific. Others were sure the real plan was to round the Cape of Storms to break the Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade. The only thing Perry knew for certain was that they were bound for danger and that he must live by his wits if he were to survive serving at Drake's command.

Excerpt from Chapter 11: Parrots of the Cape Verdes

January 17, 1578
Cape Blank, Africa

We were to remain at Cape Blank somewhat less than a week, until the 21st of January. Most of this time I worked alongside my crew mates aboard the pinnace, cleaning the small ship and making her seaworthy, but on the third morning I was assigned to a fishing party going out in a longboat into the channel, which abounded with mackerel and herring and the larger predators that hunted them. We pushed off just at dawn, rowing across water that was absolutely flat except for the ripples caused by the dipping of our oars. Then we let the boat drift as we readied our gear. My angle was a springy piece of ash seven feet long to which was attached a reel holding a hundred yards of line. We speared whole sprats and chunks of clam on our hooks but neither of these baits interested fish and after several hours we had taken aboard only one nondescript tunny.

I was sharing a bench with Peter Corder, who held his angle with his feet rather than with his hands, twitching his line with his toes in order to animate the bait.

Powell Jemes, an armorer, was another of those who had sailed with Drake during the famous raid on Nombre de Dios six years previously. He tarred his beard in two stiff spikes beneath his jaw and shaved his skull in order to display the design inked on the skin of his crown, the head of a serpent whose tail twisted down his neck onto his shoulders. Giving his angle a bored shake, Jemes said:

“I heard from Mr. Cuttill we will soon be throwing back our catch of Spaniards and Portugals.”

“It was a waste of effort to take such small vessels in the first place,” said Bill Lege.

“There you are wrong,” replied Peter Corder. “Do you not see? By taking the Spanish captive, we prevented advance word of our presence getting out along the coast. No matter how brisk the wind, a sailing ship will always be outrun by men on horseback.”

“Even so,” muttered Lege, “they are all poor craft and barely seaworthy. Nor can we crew them all.”

“Too many ships, too few sailors. That is often the problem,” Powell Jemes concurred. He curled his left spike of beard around a finger. “I remember we had the same situation in the Gulf of Darien back in seventy-two,” he mused. “After a month of raiding we had captured two Spanish coastal barks, one off Cartagena city and the other off Santa Marta. Both prizes were seaworthy and well furnished but neither was a fighter. The general wanted to sink one and to make the other into a storehouse, which would free their crews to reinforce our important ships, but he knew the men would object to mistreating such pretty vessels. So Drake called Tom Moone to his cabin.”

“Aye, I know this story,” said Lege.

“Do not reveal the ending since I have not heard it,” said Corder. “Go on, Jemes.”

“Where is the Gulf of Darien?” I asked.

“It is in the crook of the elbow between the Isthmus of Panama and the Spanish Main,” explained Bill Lege. 
“‘Tis a hellish maze of swamp and reef, lad. Pray to Christ you never visit.”

“As I was saying,” Jemes continued after I had received this geographical advice, “the general sent for Tom Moone, who at the time was the carpenter of the Swan, which was one of the ships in question. ‘Tom,’ said Drake, ‘go down secretly into the well in the middle of the second watch. Bore three holes with a spike-gimlet as near the keel as you can. Then lay something against it, that the force of the water entering the ship might make no noise nor be discovered by boiling up.’

“As you may imagine, gentlemen, Moone did not enjoy receiving these instructions. ‘Captain,’ he said with dismay, ‘the Swan is strong and has many voyages left in her. Besides, the rest of the company will be unhappy with me should they learn of my role in her sinking.’

“But there was no arguing with the general—“

“Aye, is there ever?” laughed Luke Adden.

“—and Moone did as he was bid. Drake waited until morning to let the ship fill somewhat and then ordered me to ferry him over to her from the admiral in a pinnace. Have I mentioned that Drake’s brother, John, was the Swan’s master?”

“The master?” said Peter Corder. “The general drowned his own brother’s ship? That was cold.”

“What happened next was colder.” Powell Jemes began winding both spikes of beard together while reflecting how best to tell the tale. “Drake invited John to come fishing—“

“No, he did not!”

“God’s truth, Mr. Corder. But his brother was too busy to join us so Drake had me row a little distance from the ship and we fished a quarter hour while waiting for John to get ready. Then the general pretended to notice that the Swan was riding low in the water. He turned to me and asked very casually, as if to make little of the question: ‘Powell, why do you think the bark is so deep?’

“‘I cannot hazard a guess, captain,’ I answered, since I was as much in the dark about what was going on as everyone except for Drake and Tom Moone. ‘She is a sound ship and empty of cargo,’ I said.

“There was no denying, however, the Swan’s gunwales were almost awash. So the general called to his brother, who sent a steward below to investigate. The man returned wet to the waist and crying that the scuttle was flooded. ‘I do not understand it,’ said John Drake. ‘We have not pumped twice in six weeks but now there is six feet of water in the hold.’

“‘It is indeed strange,’ agreed the general, feigning perplexity so well that we were all deceived. ‘Come, Powell,’ he told me, ‘let us go aboard the Swan and provide what assistance we may.’

“‘No, stay,’ said John. ‘We have enough men for our needs. Continue fishing, that we might have some part of your catch for dinner.’

“‘So be it,’ said Drake and we dropped our lines over the side and resumed angling as the Swan’s crew tried to save her. Every once in a while the general called out encouragement to the men, telling them to work the pump harder and offering suggestions as to where the leak might be found. But by three in the afternoon they had not freed above a foot and a half of water, nor had anyone discovered the holes drilled by Tom Moone. Finally it became clear the ship must be abandoned.

“‘Damned bad luck to lose so sweet a bark!’ the general said, clapping an arm around his brother in counterfeit sympathy. ‘Perhaps it would be best to start unloading her now before she goes under. Let everyone take what they lack or like and find berths on the other vessels. As for you, John, you may have my place as captain of the flagship until we capture a better prize for you to master.’”

“Why, that was a kind offer,” observed Peter Corder.

“Aye, was it not.” Powell Jemes shook his head appreciatively. “The general got exactly what he wanted and no one was the wiser. I stood right beside him in these very boots, and we watched that sweet ship settle to the bottom, and I did not think for a second he was gaming us. You have to respect the man.”

“Aye, no one surpasses the general in cunning,” agreed Bill Lege.

“Thank God for that,” said Corder. “A fool will not make us rich.”

“Aye, a fool will get us murdered or blown against a lee shore.”

“Christ save us from all evil destiny!” prayed Luke Adden.

I gave my angle an upward jerk and discovered that my bait had been stolen while I was absorbed in Powell Jemes’s anecdote. I had not liked the story, which seemed to demonstrate an implacable self interest more worthy of Thomas Doughty than Francis Drake. Perhaps I was as naive as Lackland claimed but it did not seem proper justice to use your own men and family with the same ease that you would use an enemy.

“How did the truth come out?” I asked when I had replaced my bait and returned my line to the depths.

“Oh, the trick was too good to keep secret. The general told the story himself although he waited until his brother was dead, which was not long afterward, God rest the poor bastard. Fever, I think. Or was that Drake’s other brother, Joseph? They both died on that deplorable coast—watch your angle, Perry!”

I stopped the pole just before it went into the water.


About the Author

David Wesley Hill is an award-winning fiction writer with more than thirty stories published in the U.S. and internationally. In 1997 he was presented with the Golden Bridge award at the International Conference on Science Fiction in Beijing, and in 1999 he placed second in the Writers of the Future contest. In 2007, 2009, and 2011 Mr. Hill was awarded residencies at the Blue Mountain Center, a writers and artists retreat in the Adirondacks. He studied under Joseph Heller and Jack Cady and received a Masters in creative writing from the City University of New York, as well as the De Jur Award, the school's highest literary honor. 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Valley of the Shadow

THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW is the third in the Cornish Mystery series, after Manna from Hades and A Colourful Death, by Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries . It will be out December 11th in hardcover and ebook, from St. Martin's Minotaur. It is on the Independent Bookstores forthcoming Great Reads list for December


 The series is set in about 1970 on the North Coast of Cornwall, in SW England (the bit that sticks out into the Atlantic, between the Bristol Channel and the English Channel). It's a wild stretch of coast, with high, sheer, rocky cliffs and small fishing ports battered by Atlantic storms . The cover of the book is a bit misleading--it's more like Falmouth harbour in the south, where the denouement of the story takes place.

My protagonist is Eleanor Trewynn, a widow in her 60s. After working all over the world, she retires to the small fishing village of Port Mabyn, looking forward to a life of peace and quiet with her West Highland terrier, Teazle. However, peace and quiet elude her.

Here, she and her next-door neighbour Nick, an artist, and her niece Megan, a police detective, go for a walk down a narrow, rocky valley (more pics) to the sea:

The stony path climbed the hillside. Here and there bedrock protruded, making natural steps, awkward because of their odd sizes and shapes. Twice Eleanor stumbled and nearly fell, but her Aikido training helped her regain her balance.
Ahead, the valley widened, and soon the inlet came into view. The air was so still that there were no whitecaps, just an edging of creamy froth along the base of the cliff. The dark green swells rolled in with soothing regularity.
"The Isle of the Dead," said Nick.
"What?" exclaimed Megan, startled.
"Rachmaninov. The opening describes the sea's present motion perfectly, restless yet monotonous. But he was writing music about a painting, so I don't see quite how I can reverse the process..." He was momentarily silent, occupied with an inner vision. "Damn! I was hoping for waves crashing against the sheer headland over there in sheets of spray. I should have checked the tide. Or maybe it’s just that we haven’t had much wind recently. Oh well, it'll have to do."
They walked on until the path petered out into terraces and steps of slate. The abrupt edge was two or three feet above the smooth tops of the swells that surged onward to meet the stream in swirls of foam. Clumps of thrift, the flowerheads brown now, clung in crevices here and there. A grey and white herring gull launched itself into the air and joined its fellows circling overhead, their raucous screams cutting through the constant yet ever-changing sounds of moving water. High above floated a buzzard.
"Gorgeous," said Megan.
"Good enough." Nick fiddled with his camera's settings, peered through, and fiddled some more.
Megan jumped down a slate step. Eleanor sat on it, the sun warm on her back.
"What's that?" Nick lowered the camera and pointed.
Eleanor peered, wishing she had brought binoculars. Something dark bobbed in the water. "A seal?"
"No." Megan's voice rang harsh. "It's a man. And if he's not already dead, he soon will be."

Chapter Two
How the hell was she to get the poor bugger out? Megan took a rapid inventory of her resources.
"Hang on, we're coming!" Nick bellowed through cupped hands.
A good start. "Aunt Nell, go for help." As she spoke, she pulled off her sandals and untied the bow of her skirt. "Doctor, ambulance, rope, rugs, hot drinks, anything else you can think of."
Her aunt hurried away up the path, white curls bobbing, Teazle at her heels. Megan turned to find that Nick had already stripped off his shirt.
"Pity I didn't wear long trousers." He knotted Teazle's lead together with one sleeve of the shirt.
Megan tossed her skirt to him. "On the diagonal."
As he tied the other sleeve of his shirt to one corner of the skirt, she slipped out of her shoes and ripped off her blouse, buttons flying, glad she was wearing a black bra and knickers. Just like a bikini, she assured herself.
"No need for that," Nick protested, tightening the knots. "I'm going in."
Megan shook her head firmly. "I'm a certified lifeguard. I'll need your weight and your reach to pull us out, if I manage to get him. " Without further words, she leapt down the shelves of slate and, mindful of hidden rocks underwater, did a shallow racing dive towards the floating figure.
With a shock of cold, the sea enveloped her.
Surfacing in a trough, she swam to meet the next swell. From the crest she couldn't see the body. Had it been a seal after all? She glanced back at Nick, who waved and pointed.
Thank heaven he had his wits about him. She corrected her course slightly and ploughed on.
Down, and up, and down, and up... Was she actually moving forward, or was a current stalling her in one place while the swells passed beneath her, lifting, dropping, lifting— But the current was moving her target, too. Towards the rocks? She must be getting closer.
There he was! A brown-skinned man, limp, floating on his back. Dead men float face down after first sinking. The dark patch she had taken for hair was his face, unshaven, eyes closed. He was alive!
"I'm coming!"
Opening black eyes, he turned his head to look at her. As though the effort exhausted his last reserve of strength, he started to sink.
Megan would have said she was swimming as fast as she was able, but she put on a spurt. She caught him under the arms and raised his head above the surface. He neither struggled nor made any attempt to help. He hadn't choked on emerging. A bad sign?

She decided hopefully that his buoyancy meant his lungs must be full of air, not water. With one arm under his and across his chest, she swam backstroke, straining to hear Nick's shouted directions as single-armed swimming made her veer from her course.
"You're getting close!"
Megan changed tactics. One hand holding up the victim's chin, she twisted sideways and started a scissors kick. At the top of each swell she glanced backwards. As she neared the sheer rock face, she slowed, unsure what to do next.
Nick knelt down. "I'm throwing a loop of rope," he called. "Try to hook it under his arms."
Teazle's lead flew towards her. The weight of the leather and the metal clip carried the makeshift rope within reach, and the leather floated. Megan grabbed it with her free hand.
Hooking it under the arms of the flaccid body, while staying afloat and keeping his face out of the water, was easier said than done. She was growing tired by the time she accomplished it, but now Nick took the strain. He drew them slowly nearer. Megan was able to put out a hand to fend them off from the rock.
Unlike the smooth concrete edge of the swimming-bath she'd trained in, this edge was sharp. The sea's action flaked the slate rather than smoothing it. Getting out—and especially getting the helpless man out—without nasty grazes was not going to be easy.
Nick was lying full length now, awkwardly, on the shelving rock, his shoulders and arms over the edge. "Can you lift him at all?"
"Don't think so. Can't feel anything to stand on."
"Never mind." He reached down. "I'll hold him. Can you get yourself up?"
"I'll manage." She moved over a couple of feet and waited for a swell to lift her, then grabbed the edge above her head. There were plenty of toe-holds. Somehow, with the loss of some skin, she hauled herself over. For a brief moment she let herself flop, all muscles relaxed.
"Let's get him out. Is he breathing? I don't like the look of him."
"Hypothermic." She pulled herself together and shuffled crabwise to Nick's side.
He had draped his shorts over the edge as some protection against scrapes. What a pair, she thought, her in sodden black bra and knickers, him in white Y-fronts and string vest!
Turning his head, he caught her eye and gave her a crooked grin. "Needs must when the devil drives. Come on, we can do it. On three."
She leant down. He shifted his grip and she hooked her hands beneath the brown man's armpit. As another swell raised him towards them, Nick counted, "One. Two—"
"Hey, hang on!"
Heavy footsteps hurried across the rock. Megan glanced back to see a young couple in hiking boots and shorts, shrugging off rucksacks as they came.
"We saw from the cliff path," the girl explained breathlessly. "Sorry it took us so long to get here. We were way up at the top."
"I'll take over," the shaggy-haired youth said to Megan, kneeling down. "Super job, but you must be done in."
She was happy to relinquish her place. Her arms were beginning to feel like jelly.
As she sat up, Nick said, "Megan, be ready to support his head. All right, mate, at the top of the swell... One, two, heave!"
Megan managed to field his head before it struck the rock. She laid it down gently and brushed the straggling black hair from his face.
"A wog, eh?" said the stranger. "Indian, looks like. Stupid git, swimming in there. Starkers, too."
"Don't talk like that, Chaz," his companion remonstrated. "You don't know what happened. Is he breathing?"
Her hand on his chest, Megan put her ear to his mouth, which had fallen slightly open. "Can't feel any movement but there's a faint wheeze."


Carola will be talking about Valley of the Shadow and signing copies at Murder by the Book in Portland OR at 2 pm December 9th (at their holiday party) and at Seattle Mystery Bookshop at 12 noon December 11. Signed books can be ordered from either.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Guest blog: Marie Laval - 'Angel Heart'

Angel Heart

Devonshire, January 1815.
Marie-Ange, the young widow of an English officer, accepts an inheritance in France only to find that everything in Beauregard is not as it seems. Why is the sinister Malleval so obsessed with her family? And could her darling Christopher still be alive? Marie-Ange finds herself trapped in a dangerous web of lies, intrigue, and mystical possession, and the only person to whom she can turn for help is Capitaine Hugo Saintclair. Yet the enigmatic Hugo represents a danger of a different kind …

Angel Heart is a lavish mix of romance, adventure, and a hint of the supernatural, largely set in France against the turbulent background of Napoleon’s return from Elba.


The cutter was sailing too close to the cliffs, heading straight for the Devil's Tooth. Marie-Ange's cloak billowed in the blustery wind, the hood blew back and her hair swirled like a golden veil around her. From the cliff top, she watched the small French ship dancing wildly on the waves, its tricolour and white ensigns flapping at the top of the mast.  If it carried on its course the ship would be ripped open by the reef… She unfastened her cloak, pulled her black shawl from her shoulders, and waved it above her head in the direction of the Devil's Tooth.

Damn this ship. Damn this weather. And damn Malleval. Hugo Saintclair clapped his hands together a few times and blew on them to keep them warm. Around him, the crew shouted orders and heaved on ropes in order to switch sails and change course before they hit the rocks.  The Angel warned them, the sailors said, heaven was on their side. Shaking his head with impatience, he listened to their nonsensical chatter. Angels didn't exist, but the woman who waved at them from the cliff top had saved them from a certain death.


Who did the woman think he was to summon him to her room like that? A lackey, probably. His lips twisted in an angry snarl as he climbed the stairs two by two. Madame Norton might live in a ramshackle manor house on the bleak, windswept Devonshire moorland, but she was still a Beauregard on her mother’s side and a member of the English gentry by marriage. He should have followed Martin’s advice and stayed at the club a while longer.
He walked down the draughty corridor and drummed impatient fingers on her door.
“Who’s there?”  A timid voice answered from behind the door.
“Saintclair. Did you want to talk to me?” His tone was short.
The door opened just enough for Madame Norton to peer through.
He exhaled sharply to control his rising temper. “Are you going to let me in or shall we talk in the corridor?”
She opened the door wider and he strode in.
“Is there a problem?” He looked down at her. Barefoot and swamped in an old dressing gown, the woman hardly reached his shoulder. He wondered what she wore underneath, if anything. His pulse quickened and a sudden rush of heat coursed through his veins. He stuck his hands in his coat pockets to hide the direction his thoughts had taken.
She stepped back and folded her arms on her chest.
 “You said you would be back early. I have been waiting here all day for you,” she said, her voice cold and haughty.
Her icy tone did nothing to cool his desires, in fact it had just the opposite effect. He took a deep breath and walked to the fireplace to put some distance between them. His lips stretched in a thin smile.
“Sorry. I got…distracted.” He shrugged.  “I did arrange a carriage and a driver for us. We’re leaving for Lyon on Saturday.”
She looked at him again in the way a queen might look at a mangy dog.
“Why wait until Saturday? Your instructions are to take me straight to Beauregard. Monsieur Malleval won’t be pleased.”
 If she meant to intimidate him, she had failed. She was starting to amuse him greatly—in more ways than one. 
“I have things to do. Anyway, what’s the rush? I thought you might like to come to town with me tomorrow and see a play in the evening.”
Her eyes flashed in anger.
“I do not go to the theatre, Capitaine. I am in mourning.”
He arched his eyebrows. “After six years?”
“My husband was a wonderful man. I will mourn him all my life.” Her eyes filled with tears, she bit her lip.
He didn’t answer. There was one thing to be said for her. She was convincing—a first-class actress. He had almost been taken in by her wistful sighs and tearful eyes, by her drab mourning dresses and the almost virginal blushing on her cheeks every time he looked her way. He had almost believed her grief-stricken widow act…until he saw young Norton leave her room in the middle of the night with a wide grin on his face. He knew better than to be fooled by a woman, especially a pretty one. 
Still, the way her voice quivered with emotion, her pale blue eyes shone with tears, and her lips trembled did have a strange effect on him. His throat went dry and he swallowed hard, so strong was the urge to crush her mouth under his, rake his fingers in her soft blond curls, and pull her close. The memory of her soft, pliable flesh quickened his pulse and made his body throb and grow hard.
As if she could sense the heat of his desire, a very becoming pink blush covered her cheeks and throat.  
* * * *
Why did he stare at her in this way? His eyes had gone dark. The red glow from the fire cast a sinister, almost evil light across his face. He walked toward her, looking like a wolf about to pounce on his prey. Uneasy, and very conscious of her state of dishabillé, Marie-Ange stepped backward until her back touched the dressing table.
“I bid you good night, Capitaine,” she said, striving to keep her voice calm despite the thumping of her heart. It was thundering so loudly she was sure he could hear it.
He seemed to snap back to reality and took a deep breath. “Of course…I have a few errands to run tomorrow morning,” he said, walking to the door and opening it. “Be ready for ten o’clock if you want to come with me.”
Once alone, she breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment, something in his expression had made her very uncomfortable. He had come so close the stubble on his cheeks, the outline of his mouth, and the rugged line of the scar had been clearly evident. She could have touched the rough fabric of his jacket. A shiver rippled the skin on her arms and she wrapped herself more tightly in Christopher’s dressing gown. She would have to be very careful where the capitaine was concerned. Despite what Uxeloup Malleval had written, she wasn’t sure she could trust him. But who was there to trust here? She was on her own, in a foreign land. France might have been her mother’s country, it wasn’t hers.

About Marie Laval

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie Laval studied French History and Law at university there. Marie now lives in Lancashire, in Northern England, where she tries to balance her busy family life with her passion for writing and her occupation as a teacher.
ANGEL HEART is Marie Laval’s first novel.

You can find Marie Laval at

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Returning to Mystery - 'An Older Evil' by Lindsay Townsend

When I first started writing for publication, I wrote in one of my favourite genres, historical romance. Since then I have also written both romantic suspense and historical mystery, and the three genres have the following in common for me:

High stakes
A ticking clock
A heroine under pressure who responds
A protective hero
A setting that has an impact on the characters.

With my most recent novel, I have returned to the Middle Ages and to Historical Mystery. An Older Evil is the first of a series of stories featuring the heroine Alyson Weaver. Alyson is older than my romance heroines and experienced in life and love, a widow of Bath who loves life and who hates injustice. In the times when she lived there was no formal police force, so when a stranger is murdered close to her home, Alyson feels compelled to investigate, especially when her family and household come under threat.

Alyson is also happy to play Cupid whenever she can and there is a romantic subplot in this novel... an unusual romantic subplot.

Here is  an excerpt:

 April 25th, 1386.

Sweeping into her airy workshop, Alyson had no inkling of the murder she would witness outside Bath that morning. Head busy with accounts, forearms aching from her weaving, she ducked from her sunny, tidy buttery into the whitewashed old hall, bearing a huge red-glazed pitcher and cups. Slipping past her weaving frame under the big square window and the trestle loaded with carding boards and piles of freshly washed wool, she handed each of the maids who spun for her today a foaming beaker of ale.

Dropping their spindles onto the rush matting, all three set off for the open door. Clustered in the threshold, giggling and pointing with their tankards, Emily, Kate and Bela had time for nothing but the man working in the nearby meadow. “He’s an angel!” cried Bela, smacking her lips.

Laughing, Alyson filled two more cups and joined them at the back door. “That’ll be the new woodman Felise mentioned. Let’s welcome him, shall we? No, Bela.” She caught the youngest girl back. “I’d best go first. I need to warn your angel to keep to the path whilst he tends the abbey’s trees.” Threading between Kate and Emily, Alyson stepped down into the yard. “I’ll find out his name for you. You can take him bread and ale at noon. Just be sensible.”

Impossible advice. Aware of the excited whispering behind her, she struck out across the beaten earth yard, past the shadow of her new timbered hall, to where her plump laundress was doubled over a cauldron of hot water, scouring linen with a scrubbing board. After leaving the sweating Willelma her ale, Alyson dipped through the yard gate and trod amongst the damp meadow primroses, daisies, and fresh grass. Clambering the steep chalk track toward Beacon Hill, the spring sun warm on her strong, high-coloured face, she had a splendid view of the young man working in the ash copse at the far side of her small hillside meadow, his back to her as he sawed fallen branches.

Alyson stopped dead, her free hand making the sign of the cross. By the rood, he was like Jankin! Those crisp blond curls and long shapely legs made the woodman a mirror of her fifth and youngest husband. Jankin’s luminous eyes and teasing mouth had charmed her more than spiced wine, music, or dance. But Jankin was two years dead, murdered in a tavern brawl.

Suddenly, Alyson felt the weight of her forty-five years. She trembled, her breathing quickening, though not from the climb. Ahead, the woodman sawed on, the bite of metal on wood louder than the raucous twitter of nesting birds and the bawling of street vendors down below in nearby Bath. Waiting for her grief to subside, Alyson looked back, thinking of her home, lonely at the edge of meadows. She had fragile memories of running as a tiny child through that rectangular block of cramped kitchen, old hall, and little buttery, then up an outside stair to a small private chamber—Mother’s sun-room, called a solar.

Alyson sighed, conscious of a dropping chill in her belly although the day was bright. The old house fronted the road, its main windows and doors facing down into Bath. Her fourth husband, Peter, had demanded more privacy, and a second crook-gabled dwelling had been built on at right angles to the first, so now the house was an L-shaped block. Peter had approved the handsome brown and white cross-beamed timbered long hall. He had chosen the three lancet windows in the new hall with their top quatrefoils done in expensive glass—showy but cold. It had been Peter, too, who had determined where the hall dais should go and the hearth. Inside the house, there were many pieces of furniture and plate to be polished, for Peter had aspired to be a country worthy as well as a wool merchant.

Alyson was a city child. After the great pestilence of 1349 had carried off her parents from this country suburb, Alyson had been brought up inside Bath at her brother Adam’s house. Her daughter, Margery, and grandchild, Benedict, still lived within its lively streets. Her keen sight took in the small city, snug in its setting of limestone cliffs and wooded hills, the pale bulk of the abbey church and its grounds filling most of the city walls and dominating the narrow streets with their thatched houses and thermal baths, famous for cures throughout Christendom. Lucky Mag and Ben, to dwell so close to so much company and gossip! Yet Bath was where Peter’s long-term mistress lived, and Alyson would have walked farther than Jerusalem to avoid Isabel.

Catching a scent of cowslips on the breeze stirring the tips of her veil, she shaded her eyes. Beyond her field ran the London road, threading to the left past her church of St. Michael and into the north gate of the city. Where that road narrowed and became lined with tall, timber-framed houses, Felise Brewster lived, baker of the best date slices in Bath. She called in most days. Felise was sickly now and could no longer gad about. Recalling her friend’s listless limbs and stricken face, Alyson turned again, eager to be on her way.

The stranger must have heard the rustle of her skirts. Fast as a cleric’s angel dancing on a pinhead, he spun about, the saw raised like a club. Or a sword, ready to slash at an enemy, thought Alyson, hoisting her flagon. “Forgive me if I startled you. I’m your neighbour, Mistress Weaver. You’re working in my field.” Alyson blazed her engaging gap-toothed smile and held out the ale. “For you.”

The saw lowered, and a white hand removed the wooden beaker from her fingers. Crisp gold curls rolled forward as the young man nodded thanks, his dark eyes swarming over her shapely figure. He grinned, but Alyson was uneasy. Something was wrong here. “You’re here from the north?” she asked in Midlands speech.

No recognition. Alyson tried Cornish, Yorkshire, and Canterbury dialects, but the young man drank on with no more understanding than an ape. Pretty manners, though: when he’d finished he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, not his sleeve. Such a patched, honest sleeve, thought Alyson. Tight round his arm, but with clothes being so often passed on in families, that wasn’t to be wondered at. His smooth new hose were a different matter.

“Your stockings are very fine,” she murmured in Latin.

The woodman glanced down the front of his short homespun tunic, and she seized the chance to walk on, leaving the flagon behind. Whatever was going on here, Felise was more important than this mystery.

* * * *

Trapped in her friend’s stifling back parlour before a spitting birch wood fire and nursing a goblet of mead, Alyson squirmed on the high-backed bench. Excessive heat always made her queasy, but Felise needed the warmth. “You are well today?” she asked, concerned.

“Not bad.” Felise stirred into her posset a spoonful of the herbs Alyson had brought. She tapped her goblet. “Thanks for these.”

Alyson dragged the vermilion veil off her head and raked hot fingers along one of her darkening blonde plaits. “It’s nothing.”

“You know that’s not true. Your mixtures always help, especially after the apothecary.”

Alyson scowled. “I trust you didn’t let him bleed you.” Felise, who was around the same age as her, was not strong and lost too much blood already through abnormal monthly courses.

“I told him no this time.”

Alyson looked up and saw the blush on her friend’s delicate oval face, the glint of fire in the wide black eyes. Delighted, she whistled at a pet finch chirruping in its wicker cage in one corner of the cosy room and squeezed the small hand lying on the bench next to hers. “Good!”

Starting to her feet, Alyson leaned round the yellow and blue striped wall hanging to peer through the half-opened shutters of the lancet window. “Your Gilbert must be pleased. Where is he this morning?”

Felise shrugged narrow shoulders. “Off somewhere as usual. Alyson, this strange young man you mentioned earlier—how did you guess it wasn’t the new woodman?”

“Because his clothes were wrong. The tunic he was wearing had been made for a shorter, leaner man, and it wasn’t a hand-me-down. Not with those fancy hose. And the abbey wouldn’t hire a forester round Bath who understood Latin but not a word of our dialect.” Alyson tutted. “This was a quick deception, for what reason I’ve no notion. The man’s a squire, still training in arms, or a clerk.” She nodded, long blonde and hazel plaits bobbing against her hips. “He didn’t come at me with that saw. Probably a clerk.”

“Like Jankin. Or your son, William, as he might have been,” Felise added.

“As you say.” Alyson slowly resumed her place on the wooden bench. Her eyes had begun to smart, maybe from the curling wisps of wood smoke.

The pet finch fell silent. In the small pause that followed, Alyson heard someone scream in the kitchen. A shower of crockery hit stone flags on the floor below theirs, and a pair of heels pounded off in the direction of the scullery. She started to her feet again, her tall figure protectively in front of Felise. “What’s happening?”

There were sounds of a scuffle, then a yell and a rush of savoury smells as the kitchen door slammed open and shut. A tumult of kitchen steam and bickering drifted up the steep staircase outside the parlour.

“What is it?” Alison asked.

“Oliver, raiding off the spits again.” Tiny Felise slumped on the bench, clutching a cushion. “Alyson, he’s dreadful! He was sent back to us last night. Gilbert had to pay the potter a fortune for his wicked damage.”

Alyson said nothing. Oliver would never have lasted as an apprentice potter. The boy was too full of energy to be penned indoors.

“What am I going to do with him?” Felise weakly pummelled her cushion. “He wrecks everything he touches! Gilbert complains he does nothing but stuff himself with food.”

“Ten-years-old is a starving time. I remember eating a whole loaf at the same age and being beaten for it.” Alyson set her empty goblet down into the hearth. “He’ll grow out of it.”

“Last night he set fire to his bedding!”

This was new, and worse, even for Oliver. Forcing an easy tone, Alyson remarked, “How many broken apprenticeships is it? Tailor, goldsmith, lantern-maker? He’s a bright child. Could you ask him what he wants to do?”

“We’re his parents. We know what’s best for our son.”

Glad to escape the fireside again, Alyson stepped over the sheepskin hearthrug and stalked to the casement, squinting through the shutters for the sight of a squat, barrel-chested, flame-haired boy, the youngest of Felise’s brood of nine and the quickest in legs and wit. She felt pity and sadness for her friend and sympathy for Oliver, having been a tearaway herself.

“Why not send the young scamp to me? I’ll make him my page. He can sweat over sheep shearing, use up some of that fire.” Gilbert might condemn her as a bad influence, but at Alyson’s house, Oliver would be settled close to his mother’s, and Alyson would allow him to visit home often.

Poor, blind Gilbert, for not seeing how his youngest cared! Nor noticing how Oliver blamed himself for his mother’s shattered health, being clever enough to know how much Felise had been worn down by childbirth.

Smarting at life’s injustice, Alyson banged open a shutter and hollered down at the seemingly deserted herb garden, “I see you, Oliver, lounging by the lavender. You come out of there before you trample everything!”

A stifled sigh from the bench had her turning swiftly to kneel by her friend. “Sorry, Felise, that was ill-mannered! I forget myself. It’s the influence of Mars: it makes me too impetuous.”

Felise clasped the pleading hands. “Alyson, dear, I would not have you different. As for my boy—” Her fine black eyes swelled with tears.

Alyson leaned closer. “What is it? Not Oliver; you know he’s a good lad.”

The dry hands tightened their grip. “Alyson…has Gilbert a mistress?”

“Never! He dotes on you.”

“He’s going on pilgrimage. To the new shrine of the Virgin at Walsingham. He’s never wanted to go before, and I’m too feeble to accompany him.”

“So you assume he’s taking along a substitute wife? On a holy journey?”

“I know what happens between men and women on pilgrimages. You told me!” Felise released her friend and took up the posset again. “Alyson, could you go along? You love to travel, and you’ve never been to Walsingham. You could keep an eye on Gilbert for me.” She coughed dryly, clutching her chest, but smiling all the same. “You might even find yourself another husband!”

Alyson could still not believe it. “Tell me why you believe Gilbert’s unfaithful. Spare me no details!” The mystery of the false woodman she dismissed completely from her mind.

* * * *

The angelus was ringing all over Bath when Alyson left the smoky thatched house in Walcot Street. Nothing had been settled; not Oliver’s present place, nor Gilbert’s possible infidelity. Felise had certain pointers. Gilbert bathing regularly in the healing spring of the King’s Bath while not complaining of being ill. Gilbert bringing home a mirror one day and keeping it for his own use. Yet he showed no lessening in affection to his wife, so Alyson smiled comfortingly and said Felise must be mistaken.

But Felise had begged again for Alyson to go to Walsingham. A group of pilgrims were due to set out from Bath in five days’ time, Gilbert included, and Alyson promised to consider joining them.

Relieved to be out of doors after the baking heat of an invalid’s chamber, she strode out, swinging her aching arms, head up as she attacked the steeply rising path through the meadow. She wanted to be home before St. Michael’s noon bell sounded, and Bela hustled her more timid companions up the hill with the stranger’s food. A man in disguise might not be a threat to her girls, but it was best she be wary.

Ahead of her the squire-forester sawed slowly, clearly unused to the work. Puzzling again as to why he was doing it, Alyson called out, “Good morning!”

He stopped sawing, turned, and stared through her, not at her. He shouted something, words drowned by the noon bell, and Alyson jerked her head round, wondering what he had seen.

There was nothing below her but the nodding yellow cowslips of the meadow, the gate into Felise’s garden, and beyond that, the ochre dust of the London road and shimmer of distant houses. Disappointed, Alyson turned again, wondering what might have startled the youth into breaking his silence.

She saw him stagger and fall, try to crawl toward her, then slump face down into the grass. Alyson shouted and ran to him, but she was already too late. The sleek young body, curled over as though in sleep, was still and breathless, the golden curls dimmed by dust and blood. The stone that had shattered his skull had smashed open his right eye; he was beautiful no longer. He was dead.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Where is it set?

One of my books, The Gentle Wind's Caress, is set in an area of Yorkshire known as Calderdale. The villages that feature in the book are Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall.

Hebden Bridge is the little bustling village that the heroine of the book, Isabelle, visits to shop and sell her wares on a market stall, but it is the farming countryside around Heptonstall, high up on the moors above Hebden Bride, where Isabelle lives on a run down farm which she tries to keep from going under despite the odds being against her.

Hebden Bridge

The area is naturally beautiful and running through the valley is the Calder River. This part of Yorkshire, like most areas, is steeped in history, and you can enjoy many local attractions, whether that be sipping coffee in Hebden Bridge, hiking along the many walking trails throughout the valley, learning the villages' history at places like Gibson's Mill (this is also Isabelle's surname, as I've made her a fictional distant relative of the mill owners), or visiting natural beauty spots like Hardcastle Crags.

For more information on Hebden Bridge:
For more information on Heptonstall:

A snippet from The Gentle Wind's Caress:

The cartwheel fell into a hole, jerking her back to the present. She forced herself to relax. Yes, she had married a stranger, but what had been the alternative? Living on the streets would have been much worse and she had to think of Hughie’s future too.
Isabelle raised her chin and concentrated on her surroundings. They’d left Halifax immediately after the wedding tea and driven straight to Hebden Bridge, where Len stopped to purchase goods, which for some reason, he grumbled about. Now, they drove up the steep, winding Heptonstall Road and her new husband had barely spoken to them. She couldn’t blame him really. Obviously, the situation wasn’t easy for him either. She expected that men become equally nervous as women when they married.
Craning to look past Hughie, Isabelle marvelled at the magnificent scenery of the valley below. The grey stone terrace houses of Hebden Bridge hugged the slopes as though they had been hewn from the valley sides. The silver ribbon of the River Calder coiled through the town like a lazy snake. Beside it, caught in glimpses between trees and buildings, lay the Rochdale Canal.
Familiar names in a new and unfamiliar life.  
The muted noise of the small village of Heptonstall greeted them like a soft caress on the wind. The narrow, quiet streets reflected the lateness of the day; many would be inside enjoying their tea. Isabelle took eager interest in the Old Church and Weaver’s Square, and counted seven public houses, but all too soon they left the stone thoroughfare of Towngate and headed northwest on Smithwell Lane and out of the village. She would have to investigate the village properly at a later date.
Isabelle stifled a yawn, she had been awake since before dawn. The day’s toll flagged her strength. She still couldn’t believe she was now married. Opening her eyes wide to keep alert, she surveyed the countryside as it opened up on both sides of the road. The higher they rose, the cooler the weather became and the bleaker their environment. This was moor country. The crisp autumn air awoke her senses. Her gaze lingered on the hues of the heather covered moor. How beautiful it is. Maybe being married and living in the country would be an enjoyable experience. Surely, nothing could be worse than living by Matron’s rules and spending her time hiding from Neville?

To learn more about The Gentle Wind's Caress, which is available in paperback and ebook, visit online sellers such as Amazon, and my Facebook author page.