The Silent Companions

It’s been a busy few months on the writing front! You may remember that around Christmas time I shared some links to websites about ‘silent companions’ – historical dummy boards used as tricks of the eye. Since about September 2014 I’ve been working on a ghost story involving these creepy figures, and I finally sent the manuscript out on submission to literary agents in January 2016.

I was lucky enough to catch the interest of three wonderful agents. After meeting them all and discussing our ideas for the book, I’m delighted to say that I signed up with Juliet Mushens of United Talent Agency. Juliet is a fun and inspiring agent, a real credit to her profession, and I feel remarkably fortunate to be working with her on this.

It’s an adventure to start out in a new genre. Switching between biographical and ‘spooky’ helps to keep my mind focused and heightens my writing enjoyment. Let’s hope I can find a publisher for these new projects! At the moment I’m preparing a new draft of THE SILENT COMPANIONS, unpicking some plot lines and redoing them in a new thread. I’m also a good way into my second ghostly/spooky Victorian novel, THE CORSET. I’m very, very excited about this one and can’t wait to share it with you all.

Between these two Victorian novels and Mrs Fitzherbert, there won’t be much time for blogging, but I’ll try to drop by whenever I can and keep you updated. In the meantime, stay well and God bless.

Recommended Reading

51rpBDQ+gwL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_

I haven’t been able to give you much to read on the blog in recent months, struggling as I am with my novels about George IV. With so many confused and confusing characters, posts have rather fallen by the wayside. However, I wanted to recommend some excellent Georgian-themed books I’ve read recently to keep you occupied while you await my next one!

The first is Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann. I am still thinking about this book and the characters, which is always the mark of a good read. It follows three very different characters: Sophia, the well-raised daughter of a country squire; Betsy-Ann, gypsy turned prostitute turned gin dealer; and Fortunate, a slave who seems to be anything but. On the surface these three have nothing in common, but their lives are linked by one man, Ned Hartry. By turns Ned appears as the Ace, the King and the Knave but we can’t tell what he is really up to – or indeed, who will pay the price of his games.

The real beauty of this novel is voice – McCann manages to capture a trio of distinct and compelling voices that carry the plot along. I liked the Hogarthian atmosphere and the use of historical language, however the cant was perhaps a little overdone. When it’s necessary to include a whole glossary in the back of the book to explain the historical words in the story, you can’t help feeling they should have been reduced. This was the only fault I found. Some reviews on Goodreads say that they didn’t like the end of the book, but I think it was believable with just the right mix of comeuppance and tragedy. Highly recommended.

hanoverians_3013441a

Next, a non-fiction, and one that has been sitting on my shelf for a while. Janice Hadlow’s The Strangest Family made me so happy with its balanced and insightful view into the lives of George III and Queen Charlotte. As you know, I’m rather hard to please on this topic! I really felt that Hadlow understood Charlotte and grasped her depression – something lacking in many other biographies. What’s more, she gave a good rounded view of George III, not trying to paint him either as a saint or a tyrant, but listing his virtues alongside explanations for his faults. A particularly helpful fact was that Hadlow chose to give an indepth summary of the events leading up to George’s birth and upbringing, something often overlooked but absolutely essential to understand the man and his actions. While I didn’t love it quite as much as Flora Fraser’s Princesses, it is one of the very best books I have read on the Hanoverians.

mary-anne-daphne-du-maurierI’m currently reading Mary Anne, a novel about the mistress of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. I was hugely excited to start this, being a massive fan of Du Maurier. I have to say, it’s not her best and feels a little disjointed. However, there are some fantastic scenes and insights into the life of a Georgian mistress. I particularly like the part of the story dealing with the young Mary Anne, a girl whose quick wits lifted her from the streets. To fully enjoy the book, I think you need to have at least a basic grasp of the period already and the celebrities of the time. It’s more one for established Georgian fans than beginners in historical fiction.

Posted in Reading | Comments Off on Recommended Reading

Holidays and Projects

d9f0306bc8258004b689d9203f9a4b24I wanted to take this brief breathing space between Christmas and New Year to wish all my blog readers the happiest of holidays! Here’s a cartoon from 1803 reminding us that many a Georgian Christmas was spent at war. However, if you were lucky enough to stay peacefully at home, you would be tucking into roast beef – not a turkey in sight!

I also wish to apologise for the lack of updates to the blog this year. I will be popping in from time to time and sharing new articles about the Hanoverians, but I’m trying to concentrate more on my actual writing for the moment. Whilst the blog gives me joy, it doesn’t do a great deal to sell books or push the series along. I’m currently working on my novel about Maria Fitzherbert and George IV, tentatively titled either A Forbidden Crown or Queen of Tides. I’ve also made a start on Queen of Misrule, about Caroline of Brunswick. These exciting and eccentric figures will keep me busy for some time!

On the side, I’ve branched out into some Victorian horror writing! It’s been a lot of fun and very different. For just over a year now I’ve been chiseling away at my book called The Silent Companions, based on a little known piece of historic decoration. If you’d like to find out more about the spooky silent companions, this National Trust post and the Pastmastery blog can give you an idea of what I’m doing.

With all my best wishes for a wonderful 2016.

Posted in Writing | Comments Off on Holidays and Projects

Dukes of Cumberland Part 1 – William

Names can be a tricky thing in historical fiction. While working on Mistress of the Court, I was faced with several name-related challenges. Firstly, nearly every male character was called George. I managed to get around this by using the German version of George I’s name, Georg Ludwig, and I felt this was appropriate as his heart always remained in Hanover. A later character, George Berkeley, was simply always referred to by his surname.

Then there were the changing titles. For example, at the beginning of my narrative, Lord Chesterfield would have been called Stanhope. But with so many characters at court, I didn’t feel my readers would be able to keep up with changes like these, so I just referred to him as Chesterfield from the very start. A cheat, but I hope a forgivable one.

Titles are tricky, because so many people end up holding them. Since I research a period ranging from 1714-1837, dukedoms and earldoms change hands many times. So when I’m reading a book and they mention the Duke of York, I have to do a quick double-think to remember who it actually was at that time.

One title, however, seems to crop up a lot, and it always means trouble. The title Duke of Cumberland came to be infamous, at least for the Georgian era. In the period of my research, three different princes held the dukedom – and all three of them were scandalous in their way!

Over the next few weeks, I will give you a run down of the dastardly dukes, in chronological order.

We start with William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, (1721-1765). William holds the distinction of being the first Hanoverian prince born on English soil. He was a precious child, a much wanted son for George II and Caroline, who had lost three babies before his birth and were separated from their only other boy.

William as a boy

William as a boy

Today we remember him as ‘Butcher’ Cumberland, due to the role he played in the battle of Culloden. This final decisive clash of the Jacobite rebellion resulted in the death of many Scots who, despite their inferior firepower, were shown no quarter. Wounded men on the battlefield were shot dead and even worse, the surrounding areas were pillaged and burnt. The King’s army were determined to show that treason would not be tolerated; raping, hanging and eradicating the Highland way of life. Great as the tragedy was, I think it is a little unfair to blame the entire thing on William. Instead of the Butcher of Culloden, I think he should be called a Butcher of Culloden – for there were certainly many other men involved in the atrocities. Indeed, William was originally hailed as a hero when he returned – it was only as details of the battle and its aftermath crept out that public opinion began to turn.

Refreshingly, when writing Mistress of the Court, I got to look at William from his doting mother’s point of view. She died some nine years before Culloden, so it could not figure in her assessment of him at all. What I found behind the soldier was a spoilt, rather precocious child of great physical courage.

Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor

Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor

From the start, his parents lavished attention on him. He had leather cushions for his dogs and and entire suite to himself in Hampton Court Palace. His mother took him everywhere with her, and he particularly like to throw silver coins from her carriage. His father encouraged him in a military life from an early age, giving him a troop of small boys to drill. Rather predictably, William began to get a sense of pride and answer his parents back back. He refused to fast on 30 January in remembrance of King Charles I’s death, saying he did not know that the people were wrong to execute Charles –  he hadn’t read that history book yet! But he also showed some signs of refinement, taking no food at his birthday ball because he ‘didn’t think it looked well to be pulling greasy bones about in a room full of princesses.’

It seems William was a handsome child and young man, although later on a battle wound to his leg would prevent him from exercising and make him extremely corpulent. Despite wishing to reform the army and introduce new discipline, he was not a very successful soldier. He certainly tried hard to serve his father the King, but after years of service the two quarreled. In his usual tempestuous way, George II heaped blame on William for misunderstanding his orders and greeted his son with the words, ‘Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself, ruined his country and his army, has spoiled everything and lost his own reputation.’ Having become very familiar with George II’s furious tirades, I must say I admire the way William responded to the outburst. He very calmly told the King’s mistress that he was tendering his resignation. When George II inevitably calmed down later and tried to make amends, William was firm. He would always show the greatest respect for his father the King, but he would never again serve under him as a soldier.

Soldier William

Soldier William

William’s career therefore ended at the age of thirty-eight. It was just as well, for in the coming years he fell prey to a series of strokes that left him partially paralysed. He amused himself by following horseracing and boxing and throwing himself into the office of Ranger of Windsor Forest. He constructed Virginia Water and a private zoo.

Whilst William had a few brief mistresses, there was no lasting romantic attachment in his life. He never married, living instead with his sister Emily (Amelia). After his elder brother’s death in 1751, William tried to gain influence with and advise his nephew the future King George III. However, George and his mother Augusta distrusted William, seeming to see him as another Richard III.

The old battle wound on William’s thigh continued to trouble his health. With more strokes and complications caused by his corpulence, he was not long for the world. He died aged only 44, in his chair – not the glorious end on a battlefield he might have envisaged for himself. But though his life was short and not, after childhood, particularly happy, the reputation he had earned in the Jacobite rebellion would see him go down in history as one of the great villains.

William in later years

William in later years

 

The Tour Begins

P1000108It’s been a busy few weeks with the launch of Mistress of the Court and the start of my Waterstones tour. Henrietta and Caroline got off to a cracking start with my signing at Bury St Edmund’s and a party for my family and friends at the beautiful historic Tymperley’s tea rooms.

I’ve guest posted on the English Historical Fiction Authors site about Marble Hill , where both Henrietta Howard and Maria Fitzherbert lived. I was also delighted to have my first magazine article appear in Historical Novels Review, the magazine for members of the Historical Novel Society. Hopefully my Hanoverian battle cry will inspire more readers to explore this amazing dynasty. For my own part, I’m deep in research for my next two novels, which will focus on Maria Fitzherbert and Caroline of Brunswick. The working titles are Queen of Tides (Maria) and Queen of Misrule (Caroline).

IMGYesterday I attended a talk by Philippa Gregory at the National Theatre, where she spoke about her latest novel The Taming of the Queen, centering on Katherine Parr. It sounds interesting and I will be keen to see how it compares to Elizabeth Fremantle’s Queen’s Gambit, which I adored. However, while The Taming of the Queen is still in hardback at £20, you might want to keep yourselves busy reading Mistress of the Court to fill the time until it comes out in paperback 😉 I will be signing copies at Waterstones Colchester from 12 noon on 15 August and at Waterstones Chelmsford from 11.30 to 1pm on 29 August. See you there!

P1000105

Posted in Writing | Comments Off on The Tour Begins

Launch Day!

postcard_front

Raise a glass of virtual champagne, it’s publication day! Mistress of the Court is out in UK paperback now.

There are plenty of exciting offers to kick off the launch. If you missed the Goodreads giveaway that closed today, do not fear. My publisher is offering a special pre-order price on the Kindle edition, which comes out on 25 September 2015. You can reserve yours now for just £1.99 ($3.10 US, $4.99 AUS). The price will go up after publication, so make sure you lock into this deal.

For UK readers, I’m delighted to announce I will be signing at Waterstones Bury St Edmunds on 8 August 2015 between 10:00 and 12:00 and Waterstones Colchester on 15 August 2015 between 12:00 and 13:00. The staff are wonderful and both shops are lovely, so please do come along and see us. If you can’t make it in person, they can take your reservation over the phone and post a signed copy to you.

Mistress of the Court will also be going on its own virtual blog tour with TLC. Watch this space for reviews and more!

Giveaway Time

Mistress of the Court

Make haste, there are only a few days left to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Mistress of the Court! An amazing 20 copies are up for grabs for UK readers. Entries close on 4 August 2015, so get in quick!

Enter Here

The Penny Heart

24378570It was perhaps inevitable that I would love Martine Bailey’s second novel, The Penny Heart. I was a huge fan of her debut, An Appetite for Violets and once again she has returned to my beloved Georgian period. What makes The Penny Heart even more exciting is the Gothic world in which it immerses the reader. In a nod to the popular novelists of the era, Bailey creates a neglected old house with dark secrets to unearth.

There are two heroines to this story. The first we meet is the indomitable Mary Jebb, a flame-haired beauty working the Manchester streets as part of a criminal gang. Alone in the world and reliant on her own resources, Mary soon realises she does not want to become a prostitute like the other poor drabs at her lodging house. Using her talent for crafting sweetmeats, she charms herself into the graces of the forger Charlie and becomes involved in his operations. However, when she is caught in a confidence trick, she soon learns that her friends are powerless to protect her. The gentleman she tried to defraud, Michael Croxon, gives a powerful testimony against her and she is sentenced to death. At the very last moment, Mary’s life is saved. But is it really a reprieve? When Mary learns she is being sent to the penal colony of Botany Bay due to a ‘shortage of women’ she begins to suspect her trials are just beginning.

When we next meet Mary, she is back home in England. With forged papers from her friends, she is trying to start a new life as a housekeeper, under the name of Peg Blissett, at Delafosse Hall. Her mistress is our second heroine, the new Mrs Grace Croxon.

I found the character of Grace compelling and extremely sympathetic. Bailey has done an excellent job of making her a woman of her time, whilst giving her just enough spirit to get the reader onside. Grace has lived a sheltered life after the death of her mother, trying to care for her drunken father. When her best friend marries and her father chases her sweetheart away, she realises the true misery of her situation. It is no surprise that when the opportunity to marry the handsome Michael comes along, with her father’s blessing, she is eager to take it. Like many women of the era, Grace is aware that Michael’s primary interest is the money she will bring to the marriage. But although she feels gauche and inexperienced in his presence, she trusts that love will come in time.

Despite these happy auspices, the union proves difficult. Grace’s marital home is the stately but dilapidated Delafosse Hall; uncomfortable, low on staff and positioned in the middle of nowhere. Local gentry do not come to call and her husband is more interested in his business and the local tavern than her company. Left alone, Grace begins to find strange rooms and stories about the house. Every detail of Delafosse is vividly created, from its winding passages to the overgrown trees that tap against the window panes. We begin to share Grace’s curiosity as she explores and gains a strange affection for the old place.

Deprived of friends, Grace becomes intimate with her servants. Peg Blissett, the confident and knowledgeable housekeeper, is just the companion Grace needs to combat her own timidity. With Peg’s help, she sets out to win her husband’s love with money, sumptuous apartments, fine food and a wardrobe full of fashionable clothes. Although she succeeds, Grace begins to suspect she has been foolish and allowed her servant too much freedom. Moreover, she is not sure that Peg is altogether what she seems . . .

The narrative switches between the two women as we sense a deadly trap closing about Grace. We do not know what Peg intends, but is clear from her narration that Grace is the object of her latest fraud. . .

Peg/Mary was a fascinating and skillfully drawn character. Through flashbacks, we begin to discover what she endured in the years at Botany Bay and how she arrived home. Teased out with perfect precision, the story reveals a more tortured and yet sympathetic character with every scene. Bailey balances condemnation with a brilliant pathos that really strikes at the heart of this woman and her need for revenge. While she is by no means a nice person, Peg’s reactions are believable given the life she has endured. And perhaps it’s just me, but I couldn’t help rooting for her a little – even if her plans were evil. She is one of those characters you just love to hate.

Through Peg, we encounter a variety of Georgian cant and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the criminal underworld. We sit on the dirty tumbrel to the gallows, we blister beneath the Australian sun. We also have a taste of some more period recipes, which was such a great feature of An Appetite for Violets. But Peg being Peg, these recipes have a dark twist, with many intended for nefarious means and others used to cheat customers out of money.

While both Grace and Peg are wonderful characters, it is clear that only one can survive. As the story begins to unravel, the women realise how they have underestimated each other. It all comes down to a thrilling battle of wits and nerve – I literally could not put the book down for the last quarter!

I would highly recommend The Penny Heart for a historic, disturbing and wonderfully exciting read!

Posted in Reading | Comments Off on The Penny Heart

Caroline’s Secret

Circa 1730, Portrait of Caroline of Ansbach (1683 - 1737). Queen of George II of England and Ireland, gathered distinguished circle including, Pope, Gay, and Chesterfield, kept Sir Robert Walpole in power, acted as regent during king's absences. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Circa 1730, Portrait of Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737). Queen of George II of England and Ireland, gathered distinguished circle including, Pope, Gay, and Chesterfield, kept Sir Robert Walpole in power, acted as regent during king’s absences. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Writing about real-life historical figures is difficult. Because if there’s one thing readers expect from a ‘character’, it’s consistency. Unfortunately, in the realm of the real world, things don’t always work like that. I’m sure we’ve all had an experience of a friend or colleague acting ‘out of character’. Real people are often contradictory – and this makes it extremely hard to craft them into a novel!

Beta-readers, critique partners and editors have often pulled me up on the ‘real-life’ elements of my novel. Actual quotes from correspondence have been marked as ‘sounding out of period’, so I have been obliged to change the ‘character’s’ own words. More recently, a reader was surprised by George II’s reaction to the news that he had become king. They didn’t think anyone would respond the way he did. I agree that George’s shout of, ‘That is one big lie!’ was an unusual response, but what can I do? More than one primary source quotes him – it just happened like that.

Similarly confusing is an episode involving George’s wife, Caroline. Caroline was a well-educated and intelligent woman with an inquisitive mind. She was interested in science and entertained ‘natural philosophers’ such as Isaac Newton to hear their ideas. Along with Lady Wortley Montagu, Caroline is credited with introducing the smallpox inoculation to Britain (this was different from Jenner’s later, safer vaccination).

Alongside her ideas of progress, Caroline had an earthy sense of humour. She was not ashamed to speak of sex or bodily functions. Nothing suggests she was ever squeamish. You would think that a Queen such as Caroline would be the first to turn to science in the case of her own illness. But in fact, when Caroline found an umbilical hernia after the birth of her last child, Louisa, she did . . . nothing.

Why exactly did Caroline not only ignore, but attempt to conceal, her illness? Lord Hervey states that she had ‘strong apprehensions of making her person distasteful to the king’. It is true that she exerted great sexual power of her husband. Moreover, George II was a man who showed impatience when others were ill. But I do not think we can blame him for this piece of folly on Caroline’s part. As we can see from George’s confession to Hervey, shortly before Caroline’s death from the hernia, he had actually been concerned and supportive.

The first symptoms I ever perceived of it were fourteen years ago, just after the Queen lay in of Louisa and she then told me . . that it was nothing more than what was common for almost every woman to have after a hard labour. . . it grew better and continued better afterwards for several years. When it grew worse again, I persuaded her to consult some surgeon, which she declined and was so uneasy . . . that I knew not how to press her . .. I again spoke to her, told her it was certainly a rupture and that she ran great risks in taking no care of it. . . [She] spoke so much more peevishly to me on this occasion than she had ever done in her life . . . every time I mentioned it, more and more hurt and angry

It is here I begin to suspect that Caroline, usual so astute, misjudged both the situation and her husband. While George was only concerned by the rupture she perceived that he was disgusted:

The Queen had received what he had said to her on the subject, upon his return from Hanover, as if she had reproached him with being grown wear of her person, and endeavouring to find blemishes in it that did not belong to her.

In short, her own fears preyed upon her mind, and she started to hear things the King was not actually saying. You cannot help but pity Caroline. To think that her devoted husband of many years would fail to love her because of an illness shows a touching vulnerability. Most of her life she had been commanding and assured. She used to be so confident in George’s love that she turned a blind eye to any mistresses he took. As one of the closest courtiers of her last years, Lord Hervey was also puzzled. ‘People may think this weakness little of a piece with the greatness of the rest of her character,’ he wrote.

Perhaps Caroline, so used to playing the all-ruling Queen, did not like to be reminded that she was mortal. She tried to face the hernia down with the same resilience as she endured her gout. Pride kept her silent, and she found it impossible to accept weakness. The shame she felt about her condition was so acute, that she would rather die under the symptoms than let another person examine it. Even in her last days, she was furious that George wanted the doctors to look at the hernia:

He whispered to her that he was afraid her illness proceeded from a thing he had promised never to speak of again; but that now his duty to her called upon him to tell the physician all he knew and all he apprehended. She begged and entreated him . . . and spoke with more warmth and peevishness than she showed at any other minute during her whole illness.

As it turns out, Caroline was probably right to try and elude the doctors. Their botched attempts at a cure rather prolonged the suffering of her last days. You can read a grizzly account of the facts here, or my short story here.

In writing Mistress of the Court, I tried to explore Caroline’s feelings and the extraordinary, elaborate cover-up of her illness. You might enjoy this deleted scene, where she and George argue over the hernia.

It was even better than Caroline had hoped. Only a single lamp lit the corridor between her window and Henrietta’s chamber, but she recognised the ill-formed shape of Chesterfield. He was a smear on the glass, Henrietta another. They did not appear to embrace or go near the bed. That was a disappointment, but Caroline still had ammunition. The mere fact that Chesterfield was in Henrietta’s room when she asked to be left alone spoke volumes. George would not need more evidence than this one imperfect sighting.

Ladies stood beside the bed, ready to unlace Caroline’s mantua and deliver her into a nightgown. She kept them waiting. She was full of a bitter glee. Mrs Howard thought she had won, did she? Spreading her poisonous poem, turning George against Caroline’s advice. Begging cap in hand. Soon enough, the whore would see who held the winning cards. She was not mistress of this court yet.

When George’s footsteps finally sounded on the stairs, Caroline was disappointed to hear them stop outside her own door. On the one night she would have him go his mistress, he came to her! ‘Leave us,’ she told the ladies as George knocked on her door. ‘I will speak to the King alone before I sleep.’

The ladies retreated, leaving a single candle burning upon her dressing table. Yellow light danced across the wood, glinting off her silver brush and comb. She opened the door. In the shadows, George spread his arms, letting Caroline slump into his embrace. His body felt softer these days, cushioned by fat, with no hard muscle beneath.

‘You are tired tonight, my love,’ he breathed into her hair as he pushed her gently back into the room and closed the door behind him.

‘I am always tired. There is much on my mind. Anne talks only of marriage, Carrie gains weight every day and Emily is running wild.’ She paused, weighing his reaction, listening to his body. Gently, she slipped in the fatal words. ‘Then there is this business with Mrs Howard and her husband.’

He tensed beneath her hands. She buried her face in his velvet waistcoat and held her tongue, allowing him time to simmer.

‘Henrietta is not your concern,’ George said at last. ‘I have raised her allowance to pay off that dog Howard. She will not trouble you again.’ He put his hands on her shoulders and tilted her back to gaze into her face. ‘It vexed me to hear she approached you for money. I’ve made my displeasure very clear.’

She painted on a grateful smile, but it hurt her cheeks. How long would that woman suck at the King’s funds? Even leeches dropped off when they had drunk their fill. ‘I’m glad of it. You are very kind, my dear.’

George’s face softened under the candlelight. She swallowed, feeling the chemistry between them. It was still there, the fizz of desire, after all these years. Amorously, he ran a hand over her curves, shaping her breast, her waist. After unpinning her stomacher, his warm fingers strayed to her petticoat, where he tugged at the waistband, searching for the ties. Pain scorched through her belly. Caroline gasped. Winded by agony, she stumbled back and leant on the bedpost.

‘What is it?’

She shook her head, unable to speak. Her vision flickered, split by undulating lines. In a moment, she would fall . . .

George moved behind her and dropped to his knees. Flicking up her heavy train, he rustled beneath it, unhooking first her petticoat and then her panniers. Relief swamped her as the weight fell away and landed on the floor with a hiss. The tender nub on her stomach throbbed like a pulse, but it was better without pressure on it.

George poked his head up. His face was red and his wig disheveled. ‘It’s that lump again, isn’t it?’

That lump. He had noticed, then. Caroline felt it on her body like a stain, a wretched fungus she could not uproot. ‘No,’ she lied. ‘It has nothing to do with that. I came over faint.’

Streaks of gold and black danced before her eyes; she realised they were full of tears. Her knees shook. After all that careful concealment, she had been exposed. He had seen the lump. Remembered it. What if he found her repulsive? What if she couldn’t make love to him, with the constant pain in her belly? She needed him in thrall to her. He was already suspicious of her guiding his policies. If he became weary of her person too, all her power was lost. A younger, able-bodied mistress would take her place.

George crawled out from beneath her skirts and stood. ‘You must consult a surgeon. It is a strange growth.’

Caroline felt disgusting, abhorrent. She twisted and turned from her shame like a child refusing food. ‘Nonsense! Nothing unusual. Many women acquire one after a hard labour.’

He shook his head. Shadows heightened the gravity in his face; the long nose and high cheekbones. ‘It is certainly a rupture. You run great risks, taking no care of it.’

A dark whisper told her he was right, but she couldn’t acknowledge it. She could not face her own body’s decay. ‘Oh, I see what this is!’ she cried, flinging away from him. Her unsupported skirts were too long and heavy; she tripped, causing a spurt of fresh pain. ‘You are tired of me. That ridiculous poem has turned you against me. You endeavour to find blemishes where there are none.’

‘Don’t be foolish. My concern is for your health – ’

‘So I am foolish now, too?’ Her voice quavered. ‘Well you need not stay with me if I am so ugly and stupid. Go and fawn over your mistress.’

‘Caroline . . .’

She pointed to the door, her throat raw with tears. ‘Go!’ she screamed.

Fury clouded his features. Picking up his hat, he cast her a glare and stomped from the room. He slammed the door, extinguishing her candle.

Caroline slumped to the floor. She knelt for a few moments, wetting the carpet with her tears. What had come over her? She feared losing George, yet here she was pushing him away. Awkwardly, she pulled off her mantua and threw a powdering gown over her shoulders. She would go after him and apologise. Where would he be? She stopped. Guilty pleasure stole up her spine. Henrietta’s apartments in Stone Gallery. He would want someone to shout at, and when he reached her rooms, he would find her ensconced with Lord Chesterfield . . .

Caroline pressed her face against her cool palms. Luck favoured her. The lump on her belly would soon pale into insignificance beside Henrietta’s sins.

The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins

9781444780499_p0_v1_s300x475Hodder and Stoughton must be my favourite publisher at the moment. Not only are they releasing books set in the Georgian era, but very good books at that! I’m currently reading Martine Bailey’s The Penny Heart and have just finished Antonia Hodgson’s The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins. Both are the authors’ second books, both dark and wonderful in different ways.

I read Hodgson’s debut The Devil in the Marshalsea last year and enjoyed it. The sensory details and grim reality of life for 18th century debtors were well captured. However, something was lacking for me, and I couldn’t really put my finger on it until I read The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins. It was pizazz, something extra that kept me turning the pages and holding my breath. And the good news is, The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins has this in droves.

Hawkins, a kind-hearted but fatally flawed young man, has recently won his freedom and a new girlfriend. He should be happy, but gradually he begins to slip into the old habits that landed him in debtor’s prison in the first place. What starts off as a harmless adventure soon embroils him in the world of criminal gangs in St Giles and vicious wife beaters.

Finding the lives of his loved ones at risk, Hawkins tries to wriggle out of his troubles. Yet he only puts himself in further danger. Not only does he owe a debt to the Queen, he has been wrongly accused of murder.

The victim’s family all hide dangerous secrets. But will Hawkins be able to discover them before the law catches up with him? The twists and turns just keep coming – right until the last few pages.

While the narrative is an enjoyable murder mystery in its own right, it is interspersed with present tense ‘snapshots’ of Hawkins in a cart on his way to Tyburn. For me, these little glimpses made the book extra special. They were immediate and extremely well written, driving the narrative forward and providing a hauntingly accurate account of the last journey made by so many to the ‘Tyburn tree’.

Another clever interruption to the narrative were the ‘press-cuttings’ of Hawkins’ case. We see a ballad written about his crimes and a court record of his trial. These snippets evoked the flavour of the time perfectly and came across as very authentic.

Amidst some heart-pounding action scenes and forays into the slums of St Giles, we also get a glimpse of life at the highest rank of society. I have to confess, I was a little nervous to read the parts where Queen Caroline and the King’s mistress, Henrietta Howard, featured in the book. I’m a bit of a hard customer to please when it comes to two historic figures I hold so dear. But not only was the depiction accurate, Hodgson’s portrayal of Queen Caroline was, to my mind, spot on. I even managed to guess which of the princesses Hawkins was talking to, merely from her speech, which shows what a good job was made of researching the family, despite their comparatively small bearing on the main action.

While Hawkins is not exactly my type of hero, I found myself rooting for the well-drawn characters and eager to return to the their world. A highly recommended book.

Posted in Reading | Comments Off on The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins

1 2 3 11