This evening I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for the latest novel by Harriet Evans, The Garden of Lost and Found. From the moment I held it in my hands I knew I was in for a wonderful journey.
I adore a novel that features a house that is almost a character in itself. They have such presence and there is something there, something that sucks me in, captures my imagination and whisks me away. I am a homebody and I totally get the way we can become ingrained in a building. Every memory clinging to bricks and mortar, every inch bringing new life and memories. Of course the memories can’t always be good and even Nightingale House has had it’s share of tragedy. This is a wonderful epic tale of love lost and saved, betrayal and trust, all wrapped up in a families history and even it’s future. The house plays a big part but it is in the garden where memories are forged and generations come together. The Garden of Lost and Found.
We begin in 1918 with Ned burning a painting, but not just any painting, his most famous painting. A painting whose story is ingrained throughout the pages of the book. Why did he burn it? What madness possessed him. It was all that remained of them. The children lost to them. But how, when and where? It was incredibly enticing, I couldn’t stop reading, at times with tears, also anger but also with hope. What a wonderful tale Harriet has created, almost as artfully as a painter bringing a canvas to life. I could see each character in my minds eye. They whispered their story through her words so I couldn’t turn away until I reached the very end.
Pure, wonderful escapism. Harriet wonderfully merges the difficulties faced by each of the women in this story. From the 19th century right through to present day we watch the story of this family unfold. Juliet, our modern day mum is going through a time of great change and upset. As she tries to cope with all that it thrown at her she returns to the home of her grandmother and a house that holds many secrets; secrets that are now ready to be known. At times I read in horror at what was endured by the characters, and it was heartbreaking yet wonderfully moving. A tale filled with love, courage, hate and bitterness but more than all of that it is a story of the importance of those who came before us and the hope that love can save the day.
This was a wonderful read that I consumed in a long weekend and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.
Nightingale House, 1919. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting The Garden of Lost and Found days before his sudden death.
Nightingale House was the Horner family’s beloved home – a gem of design created to inspire happiness – and it was here Ned painted The Garden of Lost and Found, capturing his children on a perfect day. One magical moment. Before it all came tumbling down…
When Ned and Liddy’s great-granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House, she starts a new life with her three children, and opens the door onto a forgotten world. The house holds its mysteries close but she is in search of answers. For who would choose to destroy what they love most? Whether Ned’s masterpiece – or, in Juliet’s case, her own children’s happiness. Something shattered this corner of paradise. But what?
About the author
Harriet Evans is the author, Going Home, A Hopeless Romantic, The Love of Her Life, I Remember You, Love Always, Happily Ever After and Not Without You. Before becoming a full time writer Harriet was a successful editor for a London publishing house. She lives in London with her family.
Emma is one of the best authors in historical fiction for children. Her first novel, Frost Hollow Hall, was published in 2013 and she has been inspiring children (and adults) to read ever since. I absolutely adore her books and it makes me incredibly happy that she is such a prolific writer as I am never particularly patient when waiting for the next. Her most recent novel, Secrets of a Sun King, is detailed below but do check out her backlist as they are ALL marvellous.
A discovery from ancient Egypt . . . A cursed package . . . The untold story of a young pharaoh . . .
When Lilian Kaye finds a parcel on her grandad’s doorstep, she is shocked to see who sent it: a famous Egyptologist, found dead that very morning, according to every newspaper in England!
The mysterious package holds the key to a story . . . about a king whose tomb archaeologists are desperately hunting for.
Lil and her friends must embark on an incredible journey – to return the package to its resting place, to protect those they love, and to break the deadly pharaoh’s curse . . .
Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner, a story that is especially poignant in this, the 100th anniversary since the end of the First World War.
The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner
Margate 1920 The Great War is over but Britain is still to find peace and its spirit is not yet mended. Edward and William have returned from the front as changed men. Together they have survived grotesque horrors and remain haunted by memories of comrades who did not come home. The summer season in Margate is a chance for them to rebuild their lives and reconcile the past. Evelyn and Catherine are young women ready to live to live life to the full. Their independence has been hard won and, with little knowledge of the cost of their freedom, they are ready to face new challenges side by side. Can they define their own future and open their hearts to the prospect of finding love? Will the summer of 1920 be a turning point for thesenew friends and the country?
Historical fiction can encourage us to think about the past by going beyond fact bringing alive time and place by making us care about the character, making them relatable in unforgettable. They were, after all, ordinary people living through extreme hardship and suffering. I do feel that Paul has written a wonderful novel here. At 601 pages long it is quite a lengthy read but the characters and subject matter draw you in and you become invested in their story even though at times it could be utterly heartbreaking.
There are some difficult subject matters addressed but Paul brings a gentleness to the story with his writing. The story is set after the First World War and focuses on lives forever affected by the horrors experienced. It reminds us that even after the fighting has ceased, the pain, guilt and heartache carry on. These events can never be forgotten and his amalgamation of both fact and fiction give us a powerful read with characters that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
Paul grew up in a west London suburb and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two children. He is passionate about music, sport and, most of all, writing, on which he now concentrates full-time. Paul has written four novels and his primary literary
ambition is that you enjoy reading them while he is hard at work on the next one (but still finding
time to play drums with Redlands and Rags 2 Riches).
Some years ago I came across Thomas de Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. It was a fleeting moment within my studies but he has lingered somewhere in the depths of my mind and I thought that one day I would like to discover a little more about the man who not only shared such an intimate and scandalous memoir but was also friends with William Wordsworth. I was therefore greatly delighted when Holland House publishers sent me a novel by the name of The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire by Brian Keany.
This is a novel born from true events in de Quincey’s life but it is a gloriously imagined work of fiction. When de Quincey was only 17 years old he ran away from his family and their expectations of what his future should be and spent some time in London. In Confessions of an English Opium-Eater de Quincey recounts how he met a young street girl (Ann of Oxford Street) and it was this passage that lit the spark for Keaney’s novel. I must say I thought the novel rather wonderful and it has reignited my desire to explore de Quincey further.
‘I am nobody of consequence,’ the stanger replies. ‘I am only here to give you this.’ He holds out his hand and in his open palm there nestles a small silver locket upon a chain. ‘She asked me to return it to you, at the very end.’
A visitor calls with a gift and a message from the past…
In 1802 Thomas de Quincey, a young man from a comfortable middle-class background who would go on to become one of the most celebrated writers of his day, collapsed on Oxford Street and was discovered by a teenage prostitute who brought him back to her room and nursed him to health. It was the beginning of a relationship that would introduce Thomas to a world just below the surface of London’s polite society, where pleasure was a tradeable commodity and opium could seem the only relief from poverty. Yet it is also a world where love might blossom, and goodness survive.
The lives of a street girl, an aspiring writer, and a freed slave cross and re-cross the slums of London in this novel about the birth of passion, the burden of addiction, and the consolations of literature.
A young man taken far away from everything and everyone he has ever known and sold to the highest bidder; a young girl living in squalor, who chooses to run away to a brothel rather than endure the abuse of her mother’s lover; and a young man desperate to find his own path and not be bullied into a life without passion or creativity. Through the lives of each of these characters we are taken back through the mist and fog to early 19th century London. A London where death came early to many through illness or violence. This is a richly woven story with some wonderful characters. It is incredibly vivid and beautifully written and I felt it a celebration of the written word not only in the way Brian Keaney shares the story with us, but as an underlying theme that runs through the novel.
He lived extremely frugally, spending nothing on his own attire or his appearance beyond what was necessary to preserve a degree of respectability, or on furnishings for the house or shop. Reading was his sole recreation. He brought books and he read them. In time, I came to appreciate the wisdom of this way of living, and to make it my own. Between us we sought to work our way through the great pile of books that littered the upstairs of the house. But we never came anywhere near exhausting the volumes in Archie’s makeshift library for their number was always growing.
The novel is incredibly dark at times and I can fully understand why these characters would need the written word to escape their reality. Harsh and unkind as it quite often was, yet amongst the darkness there was kindness, hope and love. Something that can be difficult to see in times of hardship. The London that Keaney brings to us is corrupt and filled with crime and selfishness. It brings to mind Wordsworth’s sonnet London, 1802 in which he laments the capital and how it has lost its way.
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
An excerpt from London, 1802 by William Wordsworth
I feel that Keaney has captured the tone of the city at this time. The despair and darkness that many lived with and the effects of drug addiction. A thought provoking, interesting novel and one that I thoroughly recommend.
This is the first time I have read anything by Brian Keaney although he had written many books for children, YA and The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire is his first book for adults. I very much look forward to reading more from him in the future.
You can find out more about Brian Keaney by visiting his website here.
Last Letter from Istanbul is the latest offering from Sunday Times bestselling author, Lucy Foley.
Just gorgeous, this is a story to shine a light in the darkness, even in moments of despair.
Constantinople in 1921 is a confusing, often frightening place to be, in the first few pages, two reports from 1918, perfectly sum up the two opposing sides, each report almost interchangeable. Nur’s house is in the hands of the British and being used as a hospital, she finds her thoughts on the occupiers altering and conflicted when she takes an orphan in her care to be treated by George Munroe. Five separate yet entwined stories exist side by side, different time frames ensure the past spears the present, while the future whispers to the past. Lucy Foley has developed a beautiful writing style, the vivid colour stamps it’s impression on the pages, conjuring taste, touch, smells and sounds, as well as creating a feast for your eyes.
As the book began to come to a close, it felt as though two trains were on an inevitable collision course. The sweeping horror of war and occupation, both momentous and insidious, is clearly felt, yet it is the intimate, the individual connections, that were the highlight of this read for me. ‘Last Letter from Istanbul’ caresses, sparks and skewers thoughts and feelings, it is a truly penetrating and captivating read – highly recommended.
Each day Nur gazes across the waters of the Bosphorus to her childhood home, a grand white house, nestled on the opposite bank. Memories float on the breeze – the fragrance of the fig trees, the saffron sunsets of languid summer evenings. But now those days are dead.
The house has been transformed into an army hospital, it is a prize of war in the hands of the British. And as Nur weaves through the streets carrying the embroideries that have become her livelihood, Constantinople swarms with Allied soldiers – a reminder of how far she and her city have fallen.
The most precious thing in Nur’s new life is the orphan in her care – a boy with a terrible secret. When he falls dangerously ill Nur’s world becomes entwined with the enemy’s. She must return to where she grew up, and plead for help from Medical Officer George Monroe.
As the lines between enemy and friend become fainter, a new danger emerges – something even more threatening than the lingering shadow of war.
Last Letter From Istanbul will be published by HarperCollins on the 5th of April 2018.
The start of a new series is always exciting and so I’m absolutely delighted to be wrapping up this week’s blog tour for The Fate of Kings. It’s my pleasure to be your host to share this thrilling novel with you. Read on to the end for a Q&A with author Mark Stibbe.
The Fate of Kings by Mark Stibbe & G.P. Taylor
1793, As the Terror begins to cast a great shadow over France, Thomas Pryce, the new Vicar of Deal, crosses the Channel to find the missing parents of his beautiful French wife. Facing grave dangers, he makes his way to Brittany where he not only discovers the fate of his in-laws but also uncovers a plot which threatens to topple the British monarchy. Fighting against a sinister secret society in a race against time, Pryce battles to thwart the plans of a Parisian spymaster and his agents in London.
The Fate of Kings is the first in a series of gripping spy thrillers that will engross readers of C.J. Sansom, Dan Brown, as well as the many avid watchers of Poldark and Grantchester. In the first years if the British Secret Service,
TRULY IS THE ORIGINAL JAMES BOND
I was pretty excited by the blurb, it’s such an incredible combination of factors. Set during the French Revolution, a time of great unrest, with the liberty of Britain at stake and the untamed violence that went with it. The Fate of Kings is an intriguing insight into those turbulent times.
G.P. Taylor is the author of the best-selling Shadowmancer and the Mariah Mundi series. But for author Mark Stibbe, – a seasoned writer of many successful non-fiction titles – The Fate of Kings is his first foray into the world of fiction and it really works. (You can read more about Mark’s move from non-fiction to fiction in an earlier visit on the blog tour to historical fiction blogger Poppy Coburn)
The story is led by the characters that are all incredibly well written and many taken from the history books. Within the acknowledgements the authors pay tribute to Elizabeth Sparrow, and her ‘ground-breaking book, published in 1999, Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815‘ for providing a wealth of inspiration and information. Through the pages of The Fate of Kings’ we are introduced to the very real first British Spy Master, William Wickham in the early days of His Majesty’s Secret Service.
Atmospheric but without unnecessary gore, The Fate of Kings was at times chilling and I keenly felt the horror and barbaric actions that some faced at that time. A time when even a King could not escape the guillotine. The protagonist, a fictional creation, is Thomas Pryce, a Vicar who provides an interesting contrast with the comparison of James Bond. Pryce is young, heroic and cunning when he needs to be. He is portrayed as being attractive and achieves his fair share of admiration from the ladies but unlike Bond, he is god-fearing and generally a good man with a conscience and a definite sense of right and wrong. Like James Bond, his courage throughout is insurmountable and I loved his resourcefulness that helped him out of difficult situations. The authors look to the weapons and innovations of the time to add another level to the story that makes Thomas Pryce stand out. Events leave him a changed man though. He witnesses horrors and suffering that he has trouble coming to terms with and I feel that this will serve to add to his character in future adventures. What he has seen has left quite a scar.
Written at a time of a great resurgent interest in 18th century history, following the success of Poldark and other period dramas, The Fate of Kings has been described as ‘the original British spy story’. Thomas Pryce, the new Vicar of Deal, crosses the Channel to discover the fate of his beautiful French wife’s missing parents –unwittingly uncovering a plot which threatens to topple the British monarchy. Fighting against a sinister secret society in a race against time, Pryce becomes locked in a desperate battle to thwart the plans of a Parisian spymaster and his agents in London… The Fate of Kings draws on a deep fascination with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era which both authors have had since childhood. Set in a time when the Illuminati was founded and the world banking order was being set up, and when economics were valued more highly than patriotism, this fast-moving historical thriller will be enjoyed by men and women alike.
This is an exciting novel and one that never felt a chore to read. I was immersed into the history without it feeling like a history lesson. It captured my interest and I found myself wanting to research some of the characters so expertly brought back to life.
Mark Stibbe & G.P. Taylor have awakened a period of time of which my knowledge although not ignorant, is certainly sketchy and I came away with a thirst to know more.
I very much look forward to the second title in this exciting new series.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of The Fate of Kings then why not ask in your local book store or you go to book recommendation site Lovereading.co.uk where there is a price comparison option with links to make ordering a doddle.
For more information do visit the author’s website: http://www.thomaspryce.co.uk/ but I’m delighted to say I had the opportunity to put a few questions to Mark Stibbe. Read on for more from this fascinating author…
Interview with Mark Stibbe, author of The Fate of Kings, the first story in the adventures of Thomas Pryce, Vicar and Spy during the years 1793-1821.
1. Where did your inspiration for protagonist Thomas Pryce come from?
It was in the New Year of 2013. I had just been to Bleak House in Broadstairs (Kent) and looked round the smuggler’s museum in the basement there. Many of the exhibits were from the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic era. Of course, the coastline of Kent is itself punctuated by Martello Towers from this time frame. All these factors stirred my imagination and within several weeks I had my USP – the Vicar of Deal who becomes a spy in the embryonic British Secret service. As soon as he began to emerge, the story lines for the novels followed quickly.
2. Can you tell us anything about the next novel in the series?
Yes, I’m well into writing it and it’s a lot darker and more complex than the first one. All I’ll say is that the title is The Drowning Man and it’s about the mass drownings in Nantes at the end of 1793 and the start of 1794. These were instigated by the cruellest city governor during the Terror, a very sinister and brutal man by the name of Jean Baptiste Carrier. In this novel, Pryce is going to be given a very tough mission by William Wickham, spy master at Walmer Castle. He will, however, be aided by a new character, Helin – a Chinese spy working for the British Secret service.
3. Do you have a typical routine to your writing process?
Every fulltime writer tends to have a set routine. I am a lark, not a nightingale. My optimum time for creativity is between about 0600 and 1300. I am very disciplined about this and seek to get at least 1500 words done every time I get to my desk. Good, strong, lattés are indispensable.
4. How did you meet G.P. Taylor and how did the project come about?
I’ve known Graham for many years. I had already written the first draft of The Fate of Kings when I invited him to join the project, particularly with a view to writing the screenplays. He was very down in May 2015, so I gave him this role to boost his confidence after five years of him not writing anything. This gave him a lift and it also gave me an expert in storytelling as a collaborator – someone with whom I could share and refine ideas.
5. Who are your writing heroes?
The first author I admired was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. My father heard that I had become interested in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He drove from Norfolk to Oxford and bought every book by him in hardback. Dad had been an undergraduate at Oxford and a star pupil and friend of CS Lewis and he’d always loved Blackwell’s. Anyway, when he returned, he brought all the books into my room at bedtime. I must have been about 7 at the time. He gave them to me as a gift even though it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas. I was dumbstruck by his kindness. I have these books to this day. I believe this single act of extreme generosity was the catalyst for my calling as an author.
6. What books do you remember reading as a child?
We had holidays in Scotland as children, near Ullapool, overlooking Loch Broom. There was no TV so I went to the bookshop and bought an Enid Blyton novel, one of the Secret Seven books. I read all of them. Next came the Willard Price stories. Then Agatha Christie. In fact, I remember my parents taking us on a world cruise. When we got to the Holy Land I sat on a bus and read Murder on the Nile while the guide pointed to significant landmarks from ancient history. I missed all of them. I was too preoccupied with Poirot’s investigations. On the way back to the cruise liner, the same thing happened again, only this time I was reading Watership Down…
7. How important is accuracy of facts in historical fiction?
If you’re going to write historical fiction, you’ve got to be committed to a faithful recreation of the times in which your characters lived, even if some of your characters are fictional. However, this doesn’t preclude you exercising some artistic license where necessary. I have done this with The Fate of Kings in the matter of one or two details, but not in the broad picture. I have tried to provide the reader with an accurate picture of what was going on in the first three months of 1793, particularly on the Kent coast in Deal and Walmer, as well as in London, Paris, Jersey and Brittany.
8. There are many themes within the story that are highly relatable today, was this your intention from the outset or did they just evolve with the story?
I didn’t set out with the intention of commenting on the similarities between 1793 and 2017. These surfaced during my research and convinced me that we are living in similar times – or, more precisely, with similar challenges, particularly relating to immigration and Terror. This is one of the delights of writing historical fiction – discovering the extraordinary parallels between past and present history, and then using these resonances to enrich the landscape of your story.
9. Was the story born from your research or vice versa?
The story emerged first, the research followed. When I talk about the creative process, I describe the four phases of inspiration, incubation, investigation, and incarnation. With Thomas Pryce, I was already well on my way when I read Elizabeth Sparrow’s ground-breaking book on The Secret Service. This tour de force was a game changer in that it proved that what we would now recognise as the British Secret Service emerged in the 1790s, not during the first decades of the twentieth century. Her research proved to be invaluable and once I’d assimilated it all, I could truly say with Sherlock Holmes, ‘the game’s afoot!’