Guest Post with Gillian Bagwell, author of Venus in Winter & Giveaway (US only)


Today Gillian Bagwell, author of Venus in Winter, joins us on the blog with a guest post.  I reviewed Venus in Winter yesterday (my review) and I can easily say that if you enjoy historical fiction then Gillian’s newest novel is one to pick up and read!  It was a great read for me and I can’t wait to read more of her work.  For today though I hope you’ll enjoy Gillian’s guest post entitled The Power of Marrying Well and Widowhood…


Bess of Hardwick, the subject of my novel Venus in Winter, rose from a childhood of genteel poverty to become the richest and most powerful woman in England after Queen Elizabeth. Besides overseeing the workings of her increasingly grand household, she went to court numerous times in her life and supervised the building of Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall as well as smaller construction and renovation projects.

Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury

Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury

At a recent event I did for the release of the novel, someone asked what qualities and skills Bess had that allowed her to become so powerful. The answer, no doubt disappointing to a twenty-first century woman, was that Bess married well, not once but four times, and outlived all of her husbands.

Except for royalty, marriage was really the only path to wealth and social standing for women in the sixteenth centutry. Unmarried girls and young women were subject to the control of their fathers. Once they married, they and all they owned were subject to the control of their husbands. But a widow was entitled to a “widow’s dower,” or a third of the income from her late husband’s property, and widows enjoyed more independence than single or married women.

Bess was probably fifteen when she married for the first time. Her husband, Robert Barlow, was only thirteen. When he died the next year, she was entitled to have for her lifetime a third of the income from the Barlow properties, which passed to his younger brother. She had to go to court to get her money, but she eventually succeeded, winning an income of about thirty pounds a year. This was a respectable amount of money when a maidservant earned three pounds a year and the fixed annual income of a brewer was ten pounds.

Bess’s next husband, Sir William Cavendish, was about twenty years older than she was. He came of an old and influential family and when he married Bess, was already quite wealthy. Perhaps because he didn’t want Bess to struggle to get the income she was entitled to if he died before she did, he made her the joint owner of his many properties. This was a very unusual situation, and greatly benefitted Bess, because when he died, she owned and controlled their substantial estate, which included Chatsworth House and hundreds of acres around it, as well as properties in several other counties.

Bess’s third husband, Sir William St. Loe, also signed a will leaving everything to Bess. When he died, leaving her mistress of his family properties, she became even wealthier.

By this point, Bess could easily have remained a widow for the rest of her life, living comfortably on jher income and answering to no one. But she had children who needed to make good marriages to rise in the world, and the only way for her to increase her social standing was to marry again. Her fourth husband was George Talbot, the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, and their marriage was a dynastic arrangement that took care of both of these considerations.

Shrewsbury was enormously wealthy and almost the highest ranking nobleman in England. By marrying him, Bess became the Countess of Shrewsbury. Even better, one of her daughters married one of Shrewsbury’s sons, and one of her sons married one of her daughters, thereby securing the property of both families for future generations.

It was only after Shrewsbury died, leaving Bess a widow once more at the age of sixty-three, that she began her most ambitious project: the building of Hardwick Hall, a palatial mansion near her childhood home in Derbyshire. The building was not quite done when she moved into Hardwick Hall on her seventieth birthday. The building account books list the names of 375 workmen, many of whom had worked for Bess on Chatsworth House and other projecdts. Bess oversaw the construction of Hardwick Hall, whose most notable feature was the tall windows that prompted Robert Cecil to quip, “Hardwick Hall? More window than wall.”


Hardwick Hall by Thomas Allom

Bess had served Queen Elizabeth as a lady in waiting for many years, and her granddaughter Arbella Stuart was a possible successor to the throne. Bess no doubt hoped that she would entertain the queen at Hardwick Hall and that her granddaughter would inherit the throne, and she consciously built Hardwick to be fit for a queen. Alas, the queen never did visit Hardwick and ultimately it was James I, not Arbella, who ruled after Queen Elizabeth’s death. But Bess had risen as far as it was possible for a non-royal lady to rise in Elizabethan England.




Based on the first forty years of the life of Bess of Hardwick, 1527-1608, the formidable four-times widowed Tudor dynast who began life in genteel poverty and ended as the richest and most powerful woman in England after Queen Elizabeth; built Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall; and is the forebear of numerous noble lines including the Dukedoms of Devonshire, Norfolk, Somerset, and Newcastle, the Earls of Lincoln, Portsmouth, Kellie, and Pembroke, the Baron Waterpark, and the current royal family of Britain.

Buy at: Amazon, Amazon Canada, and B&N



GB headshot 1Gillian Bagwell’s richly detailed historical novels bring to vivid life England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Venus in Winter, based on the first forty years of the life of the formidable four-times widowed dynast Bess of Hardwick, begins with Bess’s introduction to the court of Henry VIII just as the king weds Anne of Cleves. Bess quickly learns to navigate the treacherous waters, and survives the turbulent reigns of five Tudor monarchs to become of the most powerful women in the history of England.

The Darling Strumpet puts the reader smack in the tumultuous world of seventeenth century London, charting Nell Gwynn’s meteoric rise from the grimy slums to triumph as a beloved comic actress, through the cataclysmic years of the last plague epidemic and the Great Fire of 1666, to the licentious court and the arms of the king.
The September Queen (U.K. title The King’s Mistress) is the first fictional accounting of the extraordinary real-life adventure of Jane Lane, who risked all to help the young Charles II escape after the disastrous Battle of Worcester in 1651, saving his life and the future of the English monarchy.

Gillian uses her years of experience in theatre an actress, director, and producer to help authors give effective public readings, through workshops and private coaching.

Her life-long fascination with British history and dedication to research infuse her novels with a compelling evocation of time and place, and provide fodder for her non-fiction writing, including articles on “Frost Fairs on the River Thames,” “The Royal Miracle: The Biggest What-If in English History,” and “1660: The Year of the Restoration of Theatre”. Gillian blogged her research adventures for The Darling Strumpet and The September Queen, including the day-by-day events of Charles II’s dramatic escape after the Battle of Worcester.

Please keep visiting Gillian’s website,, for more on her books and upcoming events.

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I have one copy of Venus in Winter by Gillian Bagwell to share with my US readers.  To enter…

  • For 1 entry leave a comment entering the giveaway.
  • Tweet, share on Facebook or blog for 2 extra entries.

This giveaway is open to US residents only (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on July 23/13.  Good luck!


Guest Post with Catherine McKenzie, author of Hidden & Giveaway (Open Int’l)


Welcome to the blog today Catherine!  Catherine McKenzie is the author of the wonderful novel Hidden which just released today!  I loved this book (my review) although I have to say that I’ve loved all of her books.  She is in top five list of favorite authors and I always anxiously await her next book.  Today she joins us to talk about where the idea for Hidden came from…


“Hidden came from the culmination of a bunch of little incidents that were marinating for years.

For various reasons, including the death of a friend that many learned about through an email from his email account sent by his brother, I have been ruminating on the electronic traces that we leave behind these days.

In the past, it was letters, and now it is email and texts. What happens to those things when someone dies? And what secrets do they contain?

Another thread was that mine disaster that occurred a couple of years ago where it came out that one of the miners had a wife and a girlfriend. It only came to light because of all the media attention, and it got me thinking about the girlfriend and how she might never have known what happened to him (or certainly, not right away), had the accident not been treated with so much media attention.

The way the world works now makes it easy (easier?) to have relationships that are hidden from view, and this is what I wanted to explore in the book.”


About Hidden

When a married man suffers a sudden fatal accident, two women are shattered—his wife and someone else’s—and past secrets, desires and regrets are brought to light.

While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Not one but two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son and contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother—her ex-boyfriend—Tim.

With Tish’s co-workers in the dark about her connection to Jeff outside the workplace, she volunteers to attend the funeral on the company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life. Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, our personal choices and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.

Reading Guide
Buy at: Amazon Canada, iBookstore, Indigo, Kobo, and Amazon (Kindle version only)


About Catherine McKenzie

catherineA graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practises law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels, SPIN, ARRANGED and FORGOTTEN, are all international bestsellers. Her fourth novel, HIDDEN, will be released in June, 2013 in Canada and in Spring 2014 in the US. Her novels have been translated into French, German, Czech, Slovak and Polish. And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots.

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I’m going to share my ARC copy of Hidden by Catherine McKenzie with one lucky winner as I always buy her books to have on my eReader for future rereading.  This giveaway is also open up internationally to all of my readers!  To enter…

  • For 1 entry leave me a comment entering the giveaway.
  • Tweet, share on Facebook, or blog for 3 entries.

This giveaway is open internationally and I will draw for the winner on July 6/13.  Good luck!



Guest Post with Sarah Kennedy, author of The Altarpiece & Giveaway (US/Canada)


We’re welcoming Sarah Kennedy, author of The Altarpiece, to the blog today.  I reviewed her novel yesterday (my review) and I really enjoyed it.  Of course the fact that it takes place during the reign of King Henry VIII and has to do with a priory certainly has a lot to do with that but aside from that the book is very well written and engaging.  Today Sarah joins us with a guest post entitled Talking History…

Every writer of historical fiction struggles with dialogue. Historical detail requires research, but it’s not terribly difficult to check up on yourself to make sure that the characters are wearing the right clothes and eating the foods appropriate to the time period. When people talk, though, the words need both to feel accurate and to be readable. Deciding where to modernize grammar, contractions, and syntax without violating the sense of being in the past is tricky—and there’s no key to doing it right.

When I was writing The Altarpiece, which is set in Tudor England, I had a notion of how people might have actually talked. I teach the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and I’ve read a lot of letters, legal documents, and literature from the period. Sometimes the language is surprising—I think of the student in my course on Early English Drama who, when we were acting out The Revenger’s Tragedy, encountered a character who calls his father “dad.” She stopped our in-class acting with a raised hand. “Dad?” she asked. “Did people back then really call their fathers ‘Dad’”? Well, apparently they did, though it seems startlingly modern to us. When Hamlet says, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” he’s speaking in a way that’s both deeply philosophical and completely modern. That is the question, after all, isn’t it? His uncle Claudius, who’s just taken over the throne, stops in the middle of a long speech about a political enemy and says, “So much for him.” It’s very modern-sounding, and if it’s acted right, audiences will burst out laughing. In a more sinister moment, when Othello demands of the villain Iago that he produce “the ocular proof” that Desdemona is “a whore,” audiences are often taken aback by what sounds like language from a recent legal whodunnit.

But readers of Renaissance literature stumble over the contraction “’a” for “he” and syntax like Hotspur’s complaint that a line on a map that gets into his territory “comes me cranking in” to mean “comes moving in on my space.”

Some novelists try to recreate this old diction by sprinkling words like “mayhap” and “’tis” into their dialogue without doing much else to make their characters talk like people from an earlier century. That’s one solution to the problem, though it seems too easy to me. Another is to throw historical diction and syntax to the proverbial winds and have characters talk like contemporary people. Hilary Mantel has chosen this route, and Philippa Gregory does it quite often. These are two very different writers—Mantel more interested in the nuances of character and Gregory more involved in the broad sweep of consequential events—but they have both gained a wide readership, partly, I think, because their dialogue is very readable.

When I started writing dialogue for historical characters, I was writing poetry, which imposes its own demands on dialogue. I was taken to task for inverting syntax in a poem about Biddy Early, the so-called Wise Woman of Clare. Another character said, “Say she’s a witch, / they still will . . . ” and a friend called this “Yoda-speak.” I defended my poem on the grounds that Yoda talks this way because the Star Wars writers and directors were trying to make him seem mythic through old-fashioned dialogue, but I could definitely see her point. I couldn’t, in a novel, just mess around with word order and call that historical dialogue.

I tried writing without contractions. This provided a more formal, removed sound, which to my ear rang a note of something far away in time, but English-speaking people have always used contractions. Without them, the dialogue sounded stilted and odd, especially after 85,000 words. And reading it aloud was impossible. I found myself dropping in contractions—I just couldn’t help it.

Sigh. I finally decided to take a middle road. I began to write in fairly natural modernish English. I say modern-ish because I tried to be faithful to certain expressions of the time without overdoing the antiquey-ness. My characters might say “Forgive me,” but they don’t say “Oh, sorry.” They could say “Maybe we’ll have rain and be saved from the drought,” but they would never say, “I wish we’d get a downpour, and fast, because the fields look so awful.” If they say that something is “awesome,” it had better be an event that inspires the kind of admiration usually reserved for God, and the only things that are “epic” are the works of Homer and Virgil.

I do find that when I read from The Altarpiece, I modernize the contractions even more, and I’ve been asked about this. I explain, as I do to my creative writing students, that listening is in some ways harder than reading. Listeners don’t get a second chance; they can’t go back and reread for clarity, so if there’s anything that needs explaining, it must be done before the reading begins. Dialogue goes by quickly, and I add contractions to let listeners comprehend more easily.

That said, I do get frustrated by writers who drop anachronistic words, references, and attitudes into their historical dialogue. Characters who predate Freud shouldn’t “project” their feelings, and if they are living before Copernicus, they shouldn’t speak trippingly of the earth turning around the sun. Did historical people understand psychology? Of course they did—just read any of Wyatt’s sonnets if you doubt it. Did people understand that the earth was round and not flat? Yes, they did, and Shakespeare puns on the name of the Globe Theatre frequently to link it to both the earth and the human head (where exactly is Hamlet’s “distracted globe”?). But neither Hamlet nor his creator would have talked about the heliocentric universe without enormous anxiety, and they wouldn’t have called it “anxiety.” “Doubt,” perhaps. “Skepticism,” maybe, or even “sin.”

So how does a writer know when to modernize and when to be strictly authentic? With clothing, food, medicine, means of travel, and belief rituals, authenticity is absolutely necessary. How people talk is a different matter. We inhabit two worlds when we open a piece of historical fiction, and we need a way to let our own time give way to that older one. Dialogue can provide that way, because it’s individual and flexible, as well as bound in a particular time and place. It’s the aspect of historical fiction that invites us into the minds and emotions of historical characters—and lets us live, love, suffer, and succeed right along with them.



About The Altarpiece (from Knox Robinson Publishing)

It is 1535, and in the tumultuous years of King Henry VIII’s break from Rome, the religious houses of England are being seized by force. Twenty-year-old Catherine Havens is a foundling and the adopted daughter of the prioress of the Priory of Mount Grace in a small Yorkshire village. Catherine, like her adoptive mother, has a gift for healing, and she is widely sought and admired for her knowledge.

Catherine’s hopes for a place at court have been dashed by the king’s divorce, and she has reluctantly taken the veil. In the remote North, the nuns enjoy the freedoms unavailable to other women. England is their home, but the times have changed, and now the few remaining nuns dread the arrival of the priory’s new owner, Robert Overton. When the priory’s costly altarpiece goes missing, Catherine and her friend Ann Smith find themselves under increased suspicion.

King Henry VIII’s soldiers have not had their fill of destruction, and when they return to Mount Grace to destroy the priory, Catherine must choose between the sacred calling of her past and the man who may represent her country’s future.

Book one of The Cross and The Crown Series.

Read an excerpt
Buy at Amazon, Amazon Canada, and B&N



About Sarah Kennedy (from Knox Robinson Publishing)

Sarah Kennedy photoSarah Kennedy is a professor of English at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia and the author of seven books of poems.

She holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.

Sarah has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts and is currently a contributing editor for Shenandoah.

Sarah will publish a series of novels with Knox Robinson centering around the sixteenth century closure of the monasteries and convents of England by King Henry VIII.


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I have one copy of The Altarpiece by Sarah Kennedy to share with my readers.  To enter…

  • For 1 entry leave me a comment entering the giveaway.
  • Tweet, share on Facebook, or Tweet for 2 extra entries.

This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on June 12/13.  Good luck!


Guest Post with Corinna Chong, author of Belinda’s Rings & Giveaway (US/Canada)


I’m pleased to welcome Corinna Chong, author of Belinda’s Rings to the blog today.  Belinda’s Rings is a coming of age story and I just adore those and simply can’t wait to read this one.  Corinna is joining us with a wonderful guest post on motherhood and her novel and just in time for Mother’s Day too! Enjoy…


My first novel, Belinda’s Rings, begins with a mishap involving a crowded supermarket, a rambunctious toddler named Squid, and a dirty diaper. It opens: “Squid’s got three mothers who can’t spank him.” As you might guess, ‘the joys of motherhood’ represents one of the major themes of my novel.

However, the mothers in this novel are far from conventional. This is the story of a precocious teenager named Grace who must struggle to keep her family together when her mother, Belinda, flies off on a trip to study crop circles in the English countryside. As the much older siblings of their six-year-old brother (nicknamed Squid), Grace and her sister take on a heavy responsibility for his upbringing, toeing the line between the roles of sister and mother.

Grace is not (technically) a mother. Neither am I. But as I was writing this novel, I was interested in exploring the complexities of motherhood – how the meaning of ‘mother’ can transcend strict definitions of ‘child-bearer’ and reflect the emotional and psychological ties between a caregiver and a child. In this book, being a mother is about being tied to a child by an invisible string – one that can be unraveled and pulled, beyond the door of the home, out into the world, tangling itself in trees and telephone poles, stretching across oceans and over mountains. Delicate as silk, but unbreakable. While Belinda might be perceived on the surface as a villain when she effectively abandons her children to live out a frivolous fantasy, her journey in fact becomes as much about her family as it is about herself; indeed, the two cannot be easily separated. And for Grace, even while in the throes of adolescence, her unique bond with her brother becomes a vital part of her self- discovery. The ability, even inescapability, of seeing a child as an extension of oneself, is what truly defines both Grace and Belinda as mothers.

What fascinates me most, however, is the courage that mothers must summon to look across the expanse and see their children so far away, mere dots on the edge of the landscape. As Grace eventually comes to realize,

To a mother, there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than realizing that your kid is an entirely separate person. You don’t even know it, but for the longest time you think of that kid as a part of you, like an extra arm or leg. But really, there’s a space between you and him that you’ll never be able to reach through. A no-man’s land. And that means that no matter what you do, your kid’s life is out of your control.

For Grace as well as Belinda, recognizing this space makes her no less a complete person; rather, she becomes infinitely more complex. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about mothers in writing this novel, it’s that they cannot be reduced, even as they drift further away. Our mothers are like planets, a shade brighter than the stars; they orbit around us always, yet carry on as part of some other, unknowable galaxy.


About Belinda’s Rings

Half-Asian teenager Grace (but she’d prefer it if you called her “Gray” instead) is dead set on becoming a marine biologist rather than being anything like her mother, Belinda. She’d leave that role to her sister Jess instead, who’s a supermom-in-the-making.

Belinda herself is somewhat obsessed as well, by crop circle books and imagery, and abruptly runs out on her family, flying across the Atlantic in order to study the real thing in the English countryside. Grace and her sister are left alone to take care of the house, their rapidly-deteriorating stepfather and their peculiar brother, Squid.

Belinda’s Rings links together the coming of age of a young biracial woman with the mid-life crisis of her mother. With warmth, kindness and a boisterous sense of humour Corinna Chong introduces us to two lovable and thoroughly original female protagonists: persnickety, precocious Grace, and her impractical, impulsive mother Belinda — very different women who nevertheless persistently circle back into each other’s hearts.

Read a Sample
Buy at: Amazon, Amazon Canada, and B&N


About Corinna Chong

Corinna Chong colourCalgary-born Corinna Chong is a writer, editor, and graphic designer based out of Kelowna, B.C. Her writing has appeared in Grain, NoD, Echolocation and The Malahat Review. She currently teaches English Literature at Okanagan College and edits Ryga: A Journal of Provocations.

Stay up to date with Corinna Chong at her website,, and on Facebook. All things NeWest can be found at

Note: The publisher of this Belinda’s Rings, NeWest Press, just had a first-time novelist from their small publishing house win a major literary prize, the Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (for DANCE, GLADYS, DANCE). Check out the story here.


I have one copy of Belinda’s Rings by Corinna Chong to share with my readers.  To enter…

  • For 1 entry leave me a comment entering the giveaway.
  • For 2 entries follow my blog.  If you already do let me know so I can pass the extra entry on to you as well.
  • Tweet, like on Facebook, or blog this giveaway for 3 entries.

This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on Saturday, May 25/13.  Good luck!