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Tuesday 25 March 2014

My Tuesday Talk Guest - Cue Music... the James Bond Theme...

It was with great sadness that I learnt, in late August 2014, that the wonderful M.M. Bennetts, author of this delightfull guest post below, had passed away. I had no idea, when working on this post with her that she was so ill. She was a wonderful, helpful, kind, and very funny lady. I wish I had known her as a friend beyond the pages of social media.

~ ~ ~ 

Today I have the wonderful M.M.Bennetts as my guest... and a couple of secret agents...

May I please, before I go any further, thank you for having me today, Helen. It's such a treat to be here with you. You know, when you invited me, I just thought, it's Helen, I have to do something special! What can I do? And because you are who you are, I really wanted to do something fun! But do I know anything fun? I'm such an old fossil and sober-sides...and I have this reputation of researching until the cows come home--which isn't inaccurate really.

And then I knew! Spies!
I mean, how cool and sexy is that?  Napoleonic spies!

The heart of my novel, "Of Honest Fame" and a little bit too a subplot in my earlier work, "May 1812."  Excellent! So not exactly tight black leather trousers, a Beretta and James Bond, but chaps in amazing frogged uniforms with great sideburns, ya? Still cool. And I had at the outset what I considered this irresistible catchy line going about in my noggin about "there are no rules..."

And then...well then, I came face to face with the real story. (One of the great things about history is, it's not what we think it never is in history, is it? There's always a surprise just waiting to pop out and say "Boo!")
What I found when I actually did the research, rather than conjuring it up, was that not only were there no rules, but the rule book hadn't even been imagined. And it wasn't so much rules/no rules/secret service who operated efficiently but undercover or anything like that.
It was, at best, a huge platter of scrambled eggs. Runny ones. Slopping all over the place.
I couldn't believe it! No one could! 
You cannot make this stuff up!

The first real spy I encountered as I got stuck into the research was one Scots physician who spied privately for Wellington in Spain and was paid privately by him. (Clearly one needs one's own private secret service. Why didn't I think of that?) Obviously, as a physician in an impoverished country he was welcome all sorts of places and he and his servant travelled miles and miles by donkey and learned lots of useful information. (I could so use this! I'm in heaven.)

Then he got captured by the French and escaped.
But then for reasons he didn't decide to communicate, he opted to do a spell in France, so he got himself some American papers (the Americans were French allies at the time) so that he could live safely there, which he did for a bit.
(Bearing in mind, that at this point, he had not deigned to let Wellington know where he was or what he was doing. Not even a postcard. He just decided to do it. And I'm looking at this and thinking, "You what?)

And then, he decided to trickle off home.
But, did he do so through London, so that he could Jamesey Bondy debrief before the contemporary M on the situation in France? 
No, he decided he wanted to go home; he wanted a rest. So he scarpered off home to Scotland and told nobody. They thought he was dead. He wasn't; he just didn't want to anymore, so he just trolley-lollied home.
(You what? You just went home? Okay... Are you kidding me?)

And when he did decide to let the authorities for whom he allegedly worked know, did they cut up stiff?  No, they didn't. It was all, "My dear chap, so glad to hear you're well...

And I'm sitting there reading this stuff and thinking, "Are you kidding me?"
They weren't. There it was in early 19th century copperplate.
You could not make it up.

Then there's this other chap. This fellow was a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy and like all officers in the Navy at this time, he has vowed to intercept the French and interrupt whatever they're doing at any point and at any price. And of course I know that one of the main sources of counter-intelligence against the French is being performed by the Royal Navy who stop every vessel they can, seeking information--and merchants and fishermen know lots.

Whoa! This is going to be great, I think. I am definitely onto something.
The problem with this guy is that, I think to put it mildly, he's an adrenaline junkie. Or maybe he just can't count.

The French have invented a telegraph system to send information about the Continent between Paris and all the troops everywhere and they've built all these telegraph towers along the coast and they're changing their code books regularly (their cyphers were excellent and mostly unbreakable and they didn't have computers either...)

So what does our man decide to do against these heavily guarded towers with cannons and troops all around them? He decides it would be fun if he carried out his own series of raids. Yes, he may have only had a schooner and somewhere between fourteen and twenty guys on board, but hey, let's have a go. Why not?

So off they go, raiding these towers, capturing the code books and destroying them and popping as many French troops as they can. And this somehow doesn't get them all killed.  He only had fourteen guys! Were they nuts? Don't answer that.
Obviously, when it all came out back home in Britain, he was a big hero. He was probably also bonkers.

The final sideplate of breakfast gone hideously wrong is a fellow--who I've come to admire beyond words--from Russia. Now this chap was so tall and beautiful that at 15, Tsar Alexander made him an imperial page. By the time he was in his twenties he was a colonel, looking very spiffing in his white, frogged uniform, and had been sent to the court of Emperor Napoleon in Paris. Where he charmed the silk stockings off of everyone. Literally.

He was embraced in the Bonaparte intimate circle. Napoleon loved him, really loved him.
Yet when he wasn't doing the kissy-kissy at court, he was charming and carousing his way about Paris, bribing the stuffing out of everyone, including the Minister of Secret Police, Joseph Fouche, as well as the Foreign Minister, Talleyrand.  (He what?)

He also chatted up--quite successfully it would seem--an officer in the heart of the war ministry who had previously worked for the Russians, and who every month printed a secret book detailing absolutely everything about every French regiment of Napoleon's army. And this Frenchie gave the thing to our Russian beauty who'd then spend the night copying the thing out before returning it in the morning.
Not only that, he got hold of their commissariat lists, he got an in with everyone at court who may or maybe does not like Napoleon.
(I'm not making this up!  I couldn't!)

And still our little Corsican emperor is enamoured.  (Is overt the new covert or what?)
So, by 1811, when Napoleon is casting about thinking what a cheery idea it would be to invade Russia--he likes a bit of challenge--the Russians know absobloominglutely everything! And from the get-go they're already planning how to defeat our French conquerors-to-be.

Anyway, off the vast Grande Armee staggers to mass all along the border of Russia, with Napoleon claiming he's having to do this because the Russians aren't being good friends, isn't that sad and naughty?  And back in Paris, they come up with a plan to prove that the Russians are perfidious four-flushers, so they hit on this lowly (probably not cute) clerk in the Russian embassy who they say has been stealing all these papers! Shock, horror! And which excuse they use as proof that the Russians are not true allies. The clerk was executed.
Our Russian Adonis waltzes back home and gets his title upped to Prince and General.

And still Napoleon believes that our gorgeous, tall, blond and blue-eyed boy is one of his dearest friends on earth. (Can anybody be that dumb?  I mean, you cannot make this stuff up! Which is probably why I write fiction--no one would believe the real stuff, would they?  Unbelievable!)

So that's the real story.
Lots of which obviously I couldn't use when I wrote "Of Honest Fame."
I was wanting to write something serious and tense and historical thrillery...Not Mr. Bean in breeches and top boots!
But I do love it all...Can't help myself really...

Helen: Oh I loved this post! My own character, ex-pirate Jesmiah Acorne of the Sea Witch Voyages often gets involved in undercover-type tricky situations. Reluctantly, I might add. It's his own fault though - he's good at getting in and out of trouble!

Both M.M. Bennetts' historical novels, May 1812 and Of Honest Fame are available through or

Website :

There is a wonderful tribute to M.M.Bennetts HERE 
(photograph below from this post)

M.M. Bennetts
29 July, 1957 - 25 August, 2014

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Tuesday (fun) Talk - Travel Plans for 2014 :-)

I've been thinking about my holidays and excursions for the forthcoming year...
and have had a few ideas -

I have been in many places during my sixty years of being Me, but I've never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can't go there alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone else, usually a shady sort of person who isn't quite straight. I've a couple of friends who have arthritis so are a bit bent, but they love sitting in the sunshine, so as they are not shady people I guess they don't count.

I tried to be in Accessible during one trip abroad, but I couldn't get there.

In Active was OK, but I didn't do much while I was there.

I've also never been in Cognito.  I hear no one recognizes you there, so what's the point of going?

I found myself in the wrong place when I was in Correct, so I visited in Dignant in Stead , but I ended up cross and somewhere else.

I have been in Sane. They don't have an airport; you have to be driven there. I've made several trips there already, thanks to the annoyances of Life, friends, family and work. But it is a tad stressful and not very relaxing, so I'll cross that one off the list.

I would like to be in Conclusions, but you have to jump to it, and several people I know have ended up in the wrong Conclusions, so perhaps another no.

I have been in Doubt. It is a somewhat sad and lonely place to go, and I try not to visit there too often.

I wondered about being in Advisable for a few days, but in the end I decided it wasn't a good idea.

In Flexible is another possibility, but it is the sort of place where you are obliged to stand firm, and I'm not too keen on all that rigidity.

Sometimes I've been in Capable. I've visited this resort more often now as I'm getting older, it's the sort of place you'd rather not go to, but seem to end up there like it or not..

One of my favourite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get!

I spent a day in Appreciative, but I didn't think much of it.

My week in Articulate was not too bad, but  no one said much, and the place next door, in Audible was a bit too quiet for my liking.

I think I have been in Continent once or twice, but I don't remember. I've been told it is an age thing, and it is very wet and damp there.

I had a great time in Between, although I must admit, it was a bit squashed

In Candescant was too bright, and my few days in Clement was spoilt by too much bad weather.

I would suggest going by plane to visit a while in Finite, but the journey goes on for ever.

In Dex is a lovely ordered place, but maybe it is a bit too orderly?

My journey in Quest was in Teresting, but searching for the truth only got me as far as being in Decisive, so I couldn't make up my mind about these places either.

I discovered that it was a little bit rocky in Stability and I had a brief time  in Terval, but it was half way between one part and another, and the public bar was a bit crowded.

So I'll probably stick to my usual place visiting in Dependent this year because I like doing things my way.

Monday 10 March 2014

The 19th Century Women Responsible for Questions about Womanhood

by Adrienne Morris - My Tuesday Talk Guest
please welcome Adrienne - her novel The House on Tenafly Road was selected as an Historical Novel Society Indie Review Editor's Choice :

A self-righteous and misguided 19th century missionary woman in the American West helps to destroy the Native American culture only to have her son die of lockjaw after stepping on a rusty nail while crossing the Mississippi on a barge to visit her—that was the first idea for my novel, The House on Tenafly Road.

I’m not sure who would have wanted to read such a cynical story and I can tell you that after the first ten pages I discovered I didn’t want to write it either. I knew many modern women are obsessed with the word “tough” but as I researched the post US Civil War period I discovered that it wasn’t a trait aspired to by many 19th century women.

Writing about an anomaly, a kick-boxing, wise-talking woman who didn’t need a man failed to interest me in the way the real women I began to read about did. Some were missionaries—though hardly misguided. They knew that without assimilation many tribes would be exterminated (we underestimate the impact Darwin’s theories had on people). Some women went West as officers’ wives.

The word STRENGTH interests me. It’s a word most often used now in modern idealized pictures of womanhood—so much so that I’d never questioned it. But different words were used in Gilded Age America. Words that are sneered at today. Words like “lady.” This is not to say that every woman could have claimed to be one, but as a society the notion of lady as keeper of culture, values and civilization wasn’t the pathetic and small thing we imagine it to be through our jaundiced eyes today. Did some women feel constricted by the societal demands of motherhood? Of course, but we often make an unfair comparison. All men are shown living lives of great fulfilment, sexual freedom and health. A private soldier in the army fighting Indians in the late 19th century lived on about $13 dollars a month at posts so remote that even whores were hard to come by. Sexual freedom came with the price of incurable venereal disease—and the guilt of passing them on to their wives (if they ever found one).

In an era of great change many women were frightened by the competing ideals of woman as helpmeet and keeper of the home and the outward looking and acting New Woman demanding entry into the professions. Many American women actually didn’t want the vote. They enjoyed the supposed moral elevation it gave them to stay above the dirty political fray. Some women became “hysterics” not because they were unhappy in their corsets and their wallpapered homes designed to enhance the attractiveness of family and tout the husband’s success, but because negotiating the fast new world threatened them. Imagine that since the beginning of recorded time most women kept house, reared children and expected men to care for their physical needs. We look down on this attitude but civilizations were built on these roles. Not everyone wanted to be a New Woman.

But these are the big ideas, the big debates we still face today. The women I really got to know and love were the women who despite their fears, packed up their trousseaux, waved goodbye to the civilized Eastern seaboard of the US and followed their officer husbands into a dangerous territory full of unhappy Indians. These women fretted over their waistlines and how they compared to the other officers’ wives, they scrounged up scant meals for their husbands and worried when their men went off to fight the Apache Indians. They showed the kind of quiet strength that women have illustrated since the beginning of recorded history.

No kick-boxing here, but a will to survive and make do on little to nothing. Loving a man and remaining devoted to him, no matter how great he looks in a uniform, takes a strength of character that many moderns don’t possess. It was amazing to me how many officers' wives wrote adoring memoirs about their husbands in the Indian fighting army. Of course all people tend to romanticize their past, but when reading these forgotten books, one comes away with a profound respect for the women who possessed such good-humored fortitude in the face of poverty (the army was and is notoriously negligent when it comes to paying its soldiers), isolation and devastating infant mortality rates.

Women held elevated and prominent roles as ladies—not as equally tough in the pistol-packing-mama way—but as stand-ins for the real families of young officers, many of whom were single and lonely. Officers’ wives were arbiters of taste, bitter rivals at times and even matchmakers. They were idolized by the men who often saw themselves as modern-day knights re-enacting a chivalry that outside of the army was already vanishing (if it had ever really existed). One might think women found all of this offensive and stultifying, but not so. Women bristle at the idea of playing supporting roles in life today, but for many women raised in the predominantly Christian society of the late 19th century US military, the adventure of following their officers into the field was the height of a well-lived life and the essence of strong womanhood.

The House on Tenafly Road is about a morphine-addicted  Civil War veteran officer seeking redemption and the family who loves him. The novel was featured as an EDITORS CHOICE by The Historical Novel Society.

You can read more about the book at 

And more about Gilded Age America and writing at

Buy from
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read the HNS Indie Review here: 

If you would like to write a guest post or article 
for Let's Talk Of Many Things - Tuesday Talk,
 then please e-mail me ( Helen Hollick e-mail )
 I'd be delighted to hear from you!

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Two Authors - One Queen

On March 6th 1052, an elderly Dowager Queen of England died in Winchester. She had been wife to two kings, the mother of two more, and great aunt to another. Her name was Emma – although in England she was known formally as Ælfgifu. And unfortunately not many people have heard of her, which is a shame because she was a remarkable woman. She was wed to King Æthelred in 1002, probably at around the age of thirteen-fifteen. She was to have at least two sons and two daughters by him, her eldest, Edward, becoming King of England in 1042 - later known as Edward the Confessor. Her second husband, Cnut of Denmark became King by Conquest, and became known as being ‘More English than the English’. He found eventual ‘fame’ through the (incorrect) story of proving his influence by trying to hold back the tide. And the Great Nephew?
This was Duke William of Normandy, for Emma was not English-born but Norman.

Some years ago now, I wrote a novel about the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, from the English point of view: Harold the King (UK title) / I am the Chosen King (US title). One of the characters I had the pleasure to ‘meet’ was Emma. I became intrigued by her life, and regretted that she was not to play a major part in my novel. I remedied this by writing a prequel, which was to be Emma’s story – A Hollow Crown (UK title) / The Forever Queen (US title).

The Forever Queen reached the USA Today Best-seller list and while I am, of course, thrilled at this accolade, I am more delighted because Emma’s story (or my interpretation of it) has been told, read, and (hopefully) enjoyed. She was a remarkable woman, and had the Norman Conquest not overshadowed the English royal household of the eleventh century, I firmly believe that Emma today would be as well-known as that later Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Patricia Bracewell

Helen Hollick

A while ago I was contacted by US author Patricia Bracewell who has also written Emma’s story, the first part of her trilogy is published as A Shadow on the Crown. Pat was concerned that I would mind another author writing on the same subject, but on the contrary I was delighted! After all, there are many novels written about the more familiar Heroines of History: Eleanor, Anne Boleyn, Victoria to name just a mere few. 

In my opinion it is about time we had many novels written about Emma. Historical Fiction readers are never content with just one view-point opinion; so read us both - and any future writers who discover that Emma is an historical figure worth writing about! Emma deserves the accolade!

To commemorate the 962nd anniversary of Emma’s death (and World Book Day!) Pat and I got together to hold an On-Line Interactive Interview.
We didn't know if the idea would work, but we gave it our best shot! And I think it was a success!
Below are six questions which we both answered and posted on our Blogs, although the 'live' bit of the event has now closed, please feel free to post comments or ask questions, Pat and I will do our best to answer.

What has been said:
Helen Hollick -
“A very talented writer” Sharon Kay Penman
“If only all historical fiction could be this good” Historical Novel Society Review

Obtain Helen's Books from: : Paperback  £12.99 or  Kindle e-book £6.02   : Paperback   $13.82  or on US Kindle e-book
Helen's WEBSITE 
Helen's Facebook
Twitter : @HelenHollick

What has been said:
Patricia Bracewell -
“Deftly and elegantly written.” Diana Gabaldon
“A real tour de force... A five star debut!” Historical Novel Society Review

Obtain Pat's Book from :  Paperback £7.19 : kindle e-book £6.02 : Paperback  $13.42 : Kindle e-book
Pat's Facebook     :   
Twitter - @patbracewell

You are welcome to leave a comment below or on Pat's US Blog 

Here are the Q & A from Pat and I

1. Why do you think that Emma of Normandy has been ignored by writers of historical fiction until now, and why has this changed?
Helen : Until recently, the majority of pre-conquest English history has been ignored, not just Emma. That is why I wrote my novel Harold the King (title I am the Chosen King in the US). I was so fed up with English history books starting at 1066. We have a rich, varied and interesting line of history that goes back many centuries before Duke William of Normandy stole the English throne for himself. I wanted to redress the balance - and discovered Emma while doing so. It is wonderful that more and more readers and writers have finally discovered that there was life before 1066!
Pat : I think writers just weren’t aware of her. I certainly wasn’t. Until fairly recently, even popular histories that dealt with English royalty started with William the Conqueror. It was as if England didn’t exist before 1066. Writers like Bernard Cornwell and Rob Low, though, have set some pretty remarkable novels in pre-Conquest England. I think that through them, writers – who are all avid readers – are discovering a whole new cast of characters with fascinating stories.

2. What line do you draw between fiction and fact in your novel?
Helen : I think it depends on what type of novel you are writing. If based on fact, then the facts that form the basic plot of the story should be as accurate as possible. If the story is pure fiction - especially if it contains an element of fantasy or alternate history, then it is not so essential to get the facts right. Having said that, it is the accuracy of a period that makes the book believable. Someone writing about the Battle of Hastings and placing it in 1067, not 1066, for instance, would not have their novel taken seriously.
Pat : Do Not Change History has been my rule of thumb. But there are so many gaps in the 11th century historical record that I had plenty of leeway to imagine motives, passions, relationships, and intriguing plot developments.

3. What is it about the historical Emma that you find most intriguing or inspiring?
Helen : She was a remarkable woman. Her strength of character, despite many knock-backs is something to be applauded. However, she abandoned her sons by her first husband in order to re-marry, resulting in conflict and almost hatred between herself and her eldest son, Edward. I wanted to explore why this was - what happened to make these two people loathe each other?
Pat : That in her maturity she commissioned the production of a book that essentially told her side of some of the events that occurred during her lifetime. Scholars call it the Encomium Emmae Reginae, and a copy exists today that dates back to Emma’s lifetime. That it would occur to a woman in the 11th century, even a queen, to do something like that is pretty impressive.

4. Were there any events in your novel that you reinterpreted to suit the story? Can you give an example?
Helen : Yes, one major event in particular. My grandmother's name was Emma and she also was a remarkable woman. When my father was a small baby, Grandma became cut off by the tide on a beach in Yorkshire. To save herself and her son from drowning she climbed the cliffs, holding him in her teeth. Keeping in mind that this would have been done in corsets and stiff Edwardian dress - not to mention the actual event, this was an incredible thing to do. I wanted to include my Grandma's heroism in my story, so I placed the event as Queen Emma's ordeal. 
Pat : The destruction of Exeter is a good example of this. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle blames Emma’s reeve, Hugh, for betraying the city to the Vikings. In my story Hugh is forced into doing this because the Danes have threatened harm to the queen if he doesn’t. He’s not a traitor, but everyone in Exeter thinks he is.
(note from Helen - I'm taking even more interest in the history of Exeter now that I've moved to Devon!)

5. What scene in the novel was the most difficult to write?
Helen : Several of the scenes with Æthelred were difficult as I discovered that I loathed the man (probably as much as Emma did!) As a writer it is really difficult writing a character you dislike sympathetically. I had the same problem with Duke William in the follow-on Novel Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) How I dislike that man! I remember Sharon Kay Penman giving me some sound advice for this sort of situation: 'Think of something good about the character. Hmm, I couldn't think of much that was good about Æthelred!
Pat A violent scene between the king and Emma. Anyone who’s read the book will know the one I mean. It was difficult having to imagine that scene. At the same time, given the characters that I’d created, I felt it was inevitable. It had to happen, so I had to write it.

6. Your titles are very different, given that your books have the same central character? Can you each talk about your titles?
Helen : My UK title is fairly similar A Hollow Crown, I found it a very fitting title because even though Emma held power and status during her second marriage, it was all taken from her by her son. My US title The Forever Queen, was mutually decided by myself and my US publishers, Sourcebooks Inc. I do prefer Forever Queen as a title - the US edition had an extensive re-edit which polished the novel quite considerably. 
Pat There are three viewpoint characters in my novel besides Emma, and I came up with Shadow on the Crown because for each of these characters there is a shadow that hovers over the crown and over the very concept of queenship or kingship. It is different for each of them.

if you would like to know more of the factual history of Queen Emma
I have an article on my website
click HERE  then scroll down until you come to the headline :
 Emma, Queen or Pawn
(it's a long article)

or I have a Bibliography of useful books
click here

You are welcome to leave a comment below - but the LIVE event and giveaway here and on Pat Bracewell's blog has now ended

The Four Giveaway winners who will receive copies of 
Pat and my books are: 
 Serena Cairn
Cindie Lovelace
Helen Hart
Leah Bergen