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Tuesday 29 January 2019

Tuesday Talk from pirates to smugglers

pre-order from Amazon
On Thursday, 31st January, my latest book, another non-fiction, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction will be released. I was commissioned to write it after the exciting success of Pirates Truth and Tales. I admit I wasn't quite sure if I could manage another non-fiction book, and did I know enough about smugglers anyway? After all those rogues the pirates are my main interest...

Pen and Sword publishing are introducing a new Paperback* series and wanted Smugglers to be the opening gambit. Quite a responsibility, for the first in the series must show some sort of good impression.
*having literally just received my copies - it is in paperback, not hardback as shown on Amazon) 

It wasn't easy writing it though, as, being the first in a series, I had no template to guide me with what sort of format or how the publisher wanted it. There were quite a few re-writes to get it right, a sort of 'question and answer' style with a 'dip-in-and-out-of ' formula. Fingers crossed that it all works!

One of the things that I really enjoyed about producing this book was discovering new things that I did not know. A big one, as I was informed by a true Maid Of Kent, is that you should not refer to Romney Marsh as The Romney Marsh ... no 'the'. Well, I never knew that!

Romney Marsh 
(© purchased image)
Along with many people, I suspect, I assumed smugglers worked in small groups - seafaring village folk bringing in a few kegs of brandy or packets of tobacco to sell for profit to add to the meagre wages they earned. The scenes in Poldark where Ross does his share of smuggling runs, Moonfleet, and Kipling's poem: 'Brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk...Watch the wall my darling, while the Gentlemen go by...' We have an image, mostly from movies and novels, of a tall ship riding at anchor in a moonlit, secluded bay with the 'Gentleman' cheerfully hauling kegs of contraband ashore, then disappearing silently into the night shadows to hide their ill-gotten gains from the excise men in a dark cave or a secret cellar.

Lyme Bay, Dorset
where many a smuggler smuggled!
(photo © Tony Smith)
But I discovered that smuggling was big business - it still is - that yes, maybe in Cornwall and Devon the Free Trade was confined to quiet coves, brought ashore in fishing boats and dispatched through a few local families - all of it small-scale, local-based. It was very different in Dorset, Sussex and Kent. There the smuggling was organised by the leaders of huge gangs - gangs of maybe up to 100 men. This was Big Business and there was very little that the Excise Men could do to prevent it.

A Smuggler 
(technically, a 'tubman')
Drawing by ©Mia Pelletier
I enjoyed discovering who these derring-do rebels of the past were, why so many people went against paying taxes on the importation of goods - tea, salt, lace... I found it fascinating to discover who purchased the contraband - and what was smuggled. How the smugglers operated and where the most notorious locations were. And was smuggling profitable, or was it an inevitable path to arrest and the hangman's noose?

And I'm delighted to be able to share with you all these things  - and more - for the Life of a Smuggler, the Fact and the Fiction will be as interesting for you to read as it was for me to write it! Well, I hope it will!

(And for those who are wondering: yes, my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne will be involved in smuggling in a future Voyage! ) 

Buy from Amazon
(now in paperback)
all the names, from here and Facebook went into the hat
the winner was
Elizabeth Anne Millard

Saturday 26 January 2019

Watching The Wall ... no not THAT one...


Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ’Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Gentlemen’? Were smugglers really gentlemen? 

Smuggling. The very word conjures an image of a quiet moonlit night, a tall ship rocking gently at anchor out in a slightly wind-ruffled bay and men wearing three-cornered hats making their swift, but silent, way along remote West Country lanes that zigzag between high banks and thick, foxglove and cow-parsley-strewn hedgerows. The men are leading a string of pack ponies tied nose-to-tail, their hooves muffled by rough sacking. On the ponies’ backs are casks of brandy or kegs of tobacco… But is that how smuggling really happened?

©Fenatka Adobe stock purchase
In reality, smuggling is the illegal importation of goods, and unfortunately, the rogues and ruffians who were the real smugglers corrupted the subtle bending of the law to extremes of criminality. What started with the relatively harmless smuggling of everyday items by a small group of villagers and fisher-folk was swept aside by viciousness, bloody battles, torture and murder by the huge smuggling gangs of Kent, Sussex and Dorset. Alas, derring-do romantic rebels the majority of these smugglers were not.

Our imagined view of smuggling and smugglers, like most romantic illusions and ideals of the past (or even the present, come to that) originate from Hollywood, TV and novels. Fiction and poetry have heightened these myths: Moonfleet, Jamaica Inn and Rudyard Kipling’s A Smuggler’s Song, probably more well known as Watch The Wall My Darling, or As The Gentlemen Go By, have been much loved for many years. Kipling’s talent for turning emotion, imagination and the excitement of adventure into prose and poem comes to the fore in his poem. Despite its romantic lilt it sums up the more accurate truth of the smuggler and his secretive, nocturnal occupation. Its words and underlying meaning fit the facts behind smuggling far more than any Hollywood movie.

©Jackin Adobe stock purchase
Even so, the average smuggler of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was very far from Kipling’s poetic view or the perceived Big Screen hero. But we are as much fascinated by the idea of the eighteenth and nineteenth century smuggler as we are by their counterpart brethren, the pirates. And the facts are interesting, but the fiction can be more exciting... or maybe not...?

Want to read more about the fascinating facts 
(and the fiction) of smuggling?

Well then... 
my new book is out now ...

order on Amazon
or from your local bookshop

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Tuesday Talk: a tribute to my Dad, Frederick Richard Turner M.M.

born : West Ham, London, 22nd September 1917 
died  : 19th January 1992

Fred 'Toby' Turner
My Dad. To most people, their Dad is a hero, occasionally for undertaking a public heroic deed, more often because, well, he's Dad, so of course he is a hero. My Dad really was a hero of WWII, although unrecognised for it, and also a hero to me personally because he saved my life (or at least potential serious injury.)

Like many thousands of other young men Dad was captured as a prisoner of war. He joined up with the 1st Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps (the Rangers) in 1939. In 1941, as Corporal, he was the only officer who survived an air attack by the Germans on the island of Crete - and took it upon himself to lead the rest of the men to safety - unfortunately they were captured and interred as POWs. Based originally at a prison camp in Austria, many of the men were moved elsewhere, and during the transfer volunteers were sought to change their identity. Dad went into the transport train as Corp., F.R. Turner and left it as Flt. Lt. Rex Reynolds, a fighter pilot, an identity he kept until the Russians freed the prison on April 22nd 1945. (The switches were needed because officers did not go outside the camp on the labour rosters - the ordinary men did, so as Fred Turner, the real Rex Reynolds had a chance to attempt escape - which he did on many occasions.)

Dad could not risk writing to his parents at their home address in London, so wrote to his fiancee - Iris, (my Mum) instead, saying he had lost his address book and would she pass the letter on, and signed it as 'Rex'.

Mum took a while to cotton on, but eventually went to the War Office, where the change of identity was authenticated and explained. 

Meanwhile, Dad, as Rex Reynolds, had been transferred to Stalag Luft 3 near the Polish border, where he became involved with the famous 'Wooden Horse' escape attempt... the one where they concealed the entrance to tunnels beneath wooden vaulting horses and scattered the earth that was removed by drawstring bags hidden down their trouser legs ... except prior to this they hid bags full of earth in the rafters of their accommodation huts ... with the result being one of my Dad's sketched drawings that he had in his diary...

Christmas Day 1943

A water colour painting, by Dad,  of the US airforce
bombing the area around the prison camp
prior to the release of prisoners.
Dad rarely mentioned his wartime experiences, all I recall as a child is being puzzled about why he would never eat brown bread. (I later discovered that it reminded him of the coarse stuff they had in the camp).

Of course, it goes without saying that had Dad been found out he would have been shot.

* * *

For myself and that 'saving my life' episode, after the war Dad joined the Royal Marines Voluntary Reserve and I vaguely remember him in his uniform. We moved to Chingford, which was, then, in Essex, (now a part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest) in the summer of 1956 and our house was at the top of a steep hill overlooking the Lee Valley. It was a very hot afternoon, I was about five years old. We must have been going to a Royal Marine 'do', perhaps a summer fete, or party or something, for Dad was wearing full uniform. He was getting ready indoors, I was waiting in the car - a green Morris Minor. I was on the back seat playing with either a plastic telescope or recorder (I think the former,) when suddenly the car started rolling. Down the hill. I remember being terrified and leaning out the window and screaming while bashing the plastic toy on the door. The car got faster - Dad was indoors upstairs, saw what was happening and raced down, vaulted the gate and ran... the car had those old fashioned running boards on the outside, he managed to jump on, lean through the window and steer the car into the kerb.

What happened after that I have no idea - except Dad had severely sprained his ankle. Had he not been able to stop the car... well, like I said, it was a steep hill with several parked cars lower down  the road and a busy main road at the bottom. If Dad hadn't stopped the car I very much doubt that I would be sitting here now writing this.

There is a lot more information here: on my website, including an audio interview that Dad made for the Imperial War Museum, London, archives. I have never listened beyond the first few sentences as, well, I can't, it's too upsetting for me.

There are also page copies of his diary and other memorabilia ... you are more than welcome to browse or to use the information for research purposes, but please mention WWII F.R.Turner M.M

The last time I saw my Dad alive was on January 18th 1992 in A & E at Whipps Cross Hospital, NE London, where he had been taken by ambulance with a suspected heart attack. I was waiting outside (what I assume was the triage room?) the door opened, he saw me and we smiled and waved to each other. I never saw him alive again.

He passed away in the early hours of the 19th.

I miss you, Dad.

Saturday 19 January 2019

This Day in 2013

I heard from a few lovely people today who live in Canada, apparently the original Escape To The Country episode where we found our wonderful home here in Devon was aired there again yesterday.  Thank you so much to those people for emailing me, it is always exciting to hear from new friends around the world after 'our' episode has been broadcast.

'Windfall Farm' January 2013

And today (19th January) is especially significant because we moved into the first house we were shown on 18th January 2013 - in the snow! (Our removal men were fantastic!) That first night we went back to the hotel because we didn't have our beds or any bedding (still on the removal lorry) so Saturday 19th was our official 'here to stay' day... I remember half way through Saturday morning thinking that the house was cold, but with removal men tramping in and out and the doors open, didn't think much of it - until I realised that the radiators were stone cold. That sinking feeling of 'Oh heck the heating doesn't work'... We fiddled with the thermostat, pressed buttons on the boiler (all part of the aga in the kitchen)... nothing. Then one of the removal men said 'is there a switch somewhere to control the electrics, only nothing on the aga seems to be on?'

'If there is, no idea where it is' I answered. 
Then, a lightbulb moment! When I had plugged the 'fridge in I'd noticed that a second plug was switched on, so I'd switched it off. With fingers crossed I switched it on again - and the aga roared into life, the radiators gurgled and we've been warm and cosy ever since, except for when we have a power cut, but who cares, we have candles and that lovely log burner in the sitting room!

By contrast I am sitting here today, typing this, with birds singing outside, an almost perfect clear blue sky - my office and kitchen doors are wide open. I even saw a bumblebee out in the front garden! I reiterate... it is the 19th January!!!

Late November 2018
The house, by the way, was built circa 1769, and we added a self-contained annex extension for Kathy and her husband - she married in 2014, Adam followed us down from London. We now have three horses and four Exmoor ponies and a donkey. Two dogs, two cats, several hens,two geese, two ferrets and quite a few ducks (which Kathy breeds and sells as ideal garden pets - ducks are super for getting rid of slugs etc).

The front door and garden in summer
We absolutely love it here!

The same spot the day after we moved in!
Our first walk up the lane
with our dear old dog, Rum,
alas no longer with us.

My daughter and the two horses we had then (and the cats and my husband Ron's racing pigeons) however, did not join us until a week later: Kathy was supposed to have come down on the Saturday but was snowed in in London! 

There is a follow-up show to watch out for which was filmed on the last day of February 2018 and aired here in the UK in November: 'I Escaped To The Country' - watch out for a tag line of something like:  'Mother and daughter move to Devon'. This one was hosted by Alistair (who is lovely!) and when it's aired look out for the donkey who was shy and didn't want to be filmed!

Donk appeared as Alistair
walked away!

The ponies, on the other hand,
were most interested
'Cameraman ! Have you got my best side?'

I've a sort-of diary, although it isn't very up-to-date : 

The house and front garden summer 2013

January 19th has other, not so happy memories, as it is the day my Dad passed away in 1992. I'll be writing about him next Tuesday.

Friday 18 January 2019

Novel Conversations with Eileen Stephenson's character Anna Dalassena

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
every Friday

To be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character...
Anna Dalassena
Image result for Image Anna Dalassena

Cover of Imperial Passions

Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Eileen Stephenson’s novel Imperial Passions – The Porta Aurea. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: I’ll take a glass of that lovely wine, if I may, and a delicious chocolate or two. You know we didn’t have chocolates in my day and I can’t get enough of them when I’m visiting your time. Thank you so much.
I am the lead character of Eileen’s novel, Anna Dalassena. I come from a Byzantine family known for great soldiers and I married a soldier, John Comnenus, the younger brother of the Byzantine emperor, Isaac I Comnenus, and the mother of eight children.

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
A:  Imperial Passions – The Porta Aurea is a biographical historical novel about me. It starts when I am fifteen-years old, an orphan living with my grandparents among the most powerful men and women in the great city Constantinople. But the cutthroat imperial politics of the Great Palace sends my family into exile in a distant corner of the empire. My bleak situation finally turns promising after meeting the handsome young soldier, John Comnenus, and his brother Isaac, before we are all permitted to return home.
The vicious power struggles, uprisings, and betrayals at the highest levels of the empire push John and me unwillingly into its centre as we struggle to deal with our own tragedies. When rebellion puts my life and those of everyone I love at risk, is the reward – a throne for my family – too big a gamble?

Q: It certainly is not Anna, you sound very brave! No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’ though? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: I am a good Byzantine wife and mother, of course, but no pushover.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: Ooh, that would be my archenemy, that awful Constantine Ducas. He was my cousin Xene’s husband and he was absolutely terrible to her – horrible, greedy, selfish, and evil. I can tell you everyone knows how much I loathe that nasty man.

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: It is the first so far. But my life’s story is barely half told. The best part is coming in the next book.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: I need a handkerchief to hold back my tears, thinking about it. That scene would be the violent death of my cousin Xene. I will always blame that nasty Constantine Ducas for it. Have I mentioned how much I hate that man? I think I need another glass of wine.

Q: [Helen hastily pours more wine, offers the chocolates and a handkerchief] Let's change to your favourite scene shall we?
A: It was a risky thing for me to do, but it was when I offered John’s brother, Isaac, my inheritance to use to pay the soldiers he needed to support his bid for the throne. It was either that or there was a real chance that Ducas would win it. I would do anything to stop that awful man from becoming emperor.

Q: [nods] Again, very brave of you. Tell me a little about your author. Has she/he written any other books?
A: My author, Eileen Stephenson, has written another book, Tales of Byzantium, which contains short stories about Byzantines. One of them is about my husband John’s father, and another one is about my brilliant granddaughter, Europe’s first female historian, Anna Comnena. Eileen lives and breathes Byzantine history, an interest sparked when she picked up a book at the library one Saturday, John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium. She only recalled brief references to the Byzantines in world history classes, but after reading Norwich, she only wants to write books about them since it appears that few others have the same passionate interest in them as she has developed. I certainly don’t blame her for that; there are too many great Byzantine stories out there waiting to be told.

Eileen Stephenson
Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: Yes, she is working on two other books. Unfortunately, it appears that few people in your time know much about us Byzantines, and even fewer know much about what happened in the 11th century when I lived. So one of her books will be a brief introduction to all the excitement that went on in that century in Constantinople, the Queen of Cities.
Her other book is a novel about the next 25 years in my life, which were even more exciting than the years she wrote about in her first book.

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for him/her personally?
A: I think reviews on your favourite book websites – Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, BookBub – are the best way to support indie writers and get the word out about some of the truly good books that are out there. Readers and book clubs should also be open to reading books that aren’t traditionally published. The traditional publishing industry seems to be having a difficult time adjusting to your new digital age (so much more complicated that parchment books!) and won’t take a chance on books out of their comfort zone, such as ones taking place in the Byzantine era.
All those book websites have helped my author, but the best way she’s found to get the word out about her books is in the Byzantine history Facebook groups she participates in. Those group members love our history and often buy her books, and leave great reviews. They are really happy to see books written about their favourite characters in history. Her Twitter followers have also been enthusiastic supporters of Byzantine novels. True story – her favourite Facebook group, Roman & Byzantine History, was started by a then 17-year old boy in western England. Thank you Scott Rowland!

Q: Finally, before we bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else he/she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?
A: Yes, she does. The IndieBRAG Medallion validates all the hard work an author puts into writing a book. Readers who see that review on Goodreads or Amazon can know that it has passed a rigorous review by discerning readers. As for anything else Indie/BRAG could do, I’m not sure but any new marketing ideas are always welcome.

Helen: Thank you Anna Dalassena, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt below? While she does so would you like more wine? And another chocolate ... oh, please. do have the last one, I believe it is a coffee cream...Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!
Anna: Thank you, Helen, for inviting me and for this lovely wine and the chocolates. She does have an excerpt about the bad end of an emperor. Before you read it, let me just say that Byzantine history is not for the faint of heart!  
 Imperial Passions – The Porta Aurea, Chapter 7

  The mob poked and taunted Michael and his uncle, making ribald jokes about the old eunuch, nicking them with their swords, spinning them until they fell. Damp spots on their robes showed the fear they felt. Suddenly a beefy man appeared carrying a brazier with several pokers sticking out of it. 
  “Phillip, welcome, we have been waiting for you so this party can begin,” Cabasilas said with sick humor.
  It seemed Michael’s uncle recognized the man before Michael did, and let out a horrified moan before falling into an unnatural silence, resigned to his fate. Michael took a few more seconds before he, too, realized the inevitable. Yet he, instead of accepting the punishment as his uncle did, he fought frantically, if unsuccessfully, against it. Several men took pleasure in restraining him with the occasional fist.
  Phillip came up to the men with his instruments at the ready, the crowd closing in on them. The view from our vantage point was crystal clear.
  Suddenly I heard the eunuch speak, “You there,” to Cabasilas, “make the people stand back, so all can see how bravely I bear my punishment?”
  Cabasilas looked over the crowd before nodding and people spread back in anticipation of the gory show. The old uncle looked in vain for mercy, before lying down on the cold stones, ready for Phillip’s hot irons. Phillip started to bind his victim’s arms but Constantine stopped him.
  “If you see me flinch, then nail me down. Until then, leave me as I am.”
  With a shrug, Phillip took up the first of his hot pokers, touching close to first one eye of the man, and then the other. Constantine took his punishment bravely, not moving or screaming at all, despite the agony he must have felt. Michael, seeing his uncle’s now blind face, began wailing and struggling more. The grinning soldiers forced him to the ground and bound him more tightly. Still he writhed, trying to escape punishment, forcing more men to grab and hold him down. It was not long, though, before he shrieked like a wounded animal from the first touch.
  Voices in the crowd muttered. Most approved what happened, but a few of the women fell back in shock.
  Still they were not finished. Another anguished scream rose from the man who had been emperor, as the poker pierced his other eye.

Cover of Imperial Passions

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Wednesday 16 January 2019


Amazon Author Page

(and some other stuff!)

NOW AVAILABLE! Spring 1973: There’s a missing girl, annoying decorators, circus performers and a wanna-be rock star to deal with. But who remembers the brutal,cold case murder of a policeman?
OUT NOW as #Kindle e-book AND Paperback! Jan Christopher cosy mystery episode 5... A MEMORY OF MURDER
Kindle e-book:

Have you read the first four in the series? 1) A MIRROR MURDER, 2) A MYSTERY OF MURDER 3) A MISTAKE OF MURDER, 4) A MEADOW MURDER available in e-book and paperback from Amazon or order from a bookstore


start here with January 2024


The Ghosts of North Devon
non-fiction for Amberley Press

the seventh voyage of Jesamiah Acorne


I'm delighted to discover that A MEADOW MURDER (4th in my Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery Series) has been awarded an Honourable Mention from the Historical Fiction Company book of the year award! Buy the book (paperback or e-book & Kindle Unlimited)

THE KINGMAKING has been awarded a BRONZE medal by the Coffee Pot Book Club annual awards.

Latest Release (e-book and paperback)
Historical Stories of Exile 
by 13 top authors
(in order of appearance)
Annie Whitehead, J.G. Harlond, Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, Elizabeth Chadwick, Loretta Livingstone, Elizabeth St.John, Alison Morton, Charlene Newcomb, Marian L Thorpe, Amy Maroney, Cathie Dunn, Cryssa Bazos, with an introduction by Deborah Swift.

“Helen tells a great story & writes consistently readable books”
(Bernard Cornwell) Enjoy getting to know characters in a series? Try these for size! #HistoricalFiction  #KingArthur #NauticalAdventure #Pirates #CosyMystery #1970s  My Books on Amazon:
"If only all historical fiction could be this good." Historical Novels Review

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