Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly: a brief review by Diana Milne

Since its beginning, I have been an avid reader of Sharon Bennett Connolly's blog, 'History - the Interesting Bits'in which the author finds and explores little known people and situations throughout history and blogs knowledgeably about them. 

When I heard that she was writing a book showcasing the lives of women throughout history, women who have rarely been heard of and never had a voice of their own, I was delighted, not just because I genuinely felt that this author would do an exceptional writing job, but also because the role of a woman as a subject in history is so rarely covered and they, as gender, played major roles in so many situations, not just here in Britain but on the wider world stage, often changing the course of history very much from behind the scenes. 

So many people never look behind the men folk of these ages and consider that the lives and actions of medieval women were totally restricted by the men who ruled the homes, countries and world in which they lived. It is so easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden, retiring and obedient little housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably little boys) and serve their husbands. In this groundbreaking book, Heroines of the Medieval World, the author looks at the lives of the women who  defied social mores and made not just their own future, but the future of nations, changing lives, society and even the fate of nations.

Some of the women are famous, like the Maid of Orleans, but others I had never heard of and have now become fascinated by, Maud de Braose, for example and Ms Bennett Connolly's own favourite, Nicholaa de la Haye, who defended Lincoln Castle in the name of King.
As the author says, ''Heroines come in many different forms, and it is no less true for medieval heroines. They can be found in all areas of medieval life; from the dutiful wife and daughter, to religious devotes and to warriors and rulers. What makes them even more unique and heroic, compared to those of today, are the limitations placed on them by those who directed their lives; their fathers, husbands, priests and kings. Women have always been an integral part of history, although when reading through the chronicles of the medieval world, you would be forgiven if you did not know it. We find that the vast majority of written references are focussed on men. The chronicles were written by men and, more often than not, written for men. It was men who ruled countries, fought wars, made laws and treaties, dominated religion and guaranteed the continued survival of their world. It was the men, if anyone, who could read, who were trained to rule and who were expected to fight, to defend their people and their country.''
The book is written in a friendly, easily readable style that belies the impact and interest of the words, each of which has been carefully considered to ensure that the meaning is clear to any reader of any level and maintain its academic importance and integrity. Whilst primarily it is a book aimed at adults, a child interested in history would also benefit greatly and find it an enjoyable read that could be dipped in and out of and also kept as a valuable reference book. The book is carefully referenced and indexed and I can see this being a valuable ‘go to’ book for school projects as well as being an enjoyable read with its well defined concept and clear, convincing language. 

The author has not just attempted to strike out from the pack with something different and new, she has succeeded with this trail blazing book.

Such is the popularity of the author and the subject, that the first run of books sold out on the first day, a major achievement for any author. The presses are working overtime now to fill all orders. Buy this book! You will not be disappointed.

Ms Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years and studied history academically and just for fun – she even worked as a tour guide at historical sites - and is a keen contributor to many online history groups. Her passion for the subject shines through in every word she writes, together with her extensive knowledge for the history of the Mediaeval and Renaissance eras.  

She is currently working on her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published by Amberley in late 2018.

A fluent linguist, Bennett Connolly was born in Yorkshire, and studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London.She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.

© Diana Milne September 15th 2017

Monday, 18 September 2017

St George's Chapel: Windsor Castle, part 2

The College of St. George at Windsor Castle, in Royal Windsor, Berkshire, England, was founded by Edward III in 1348 as a body of priests and lay men who were dedicated to  daily prayer for the Monarch and all the faithful. Over 650 year later it still so remains, services, open to all, being held everyday of the year. The times of prayer, music, silence and readings follow a strict liturgical pattern through the week and throughout the church year. 

The chapel choir, comprising boys aged between seven and thirteen, sing regularly at eight services a week during term time and is described as 'an angelic joy' by one fortunate person who attended.  

Choir Practice
The boys attend St. George's School, situated just outside the castle.

The alms box
Pilgrims and visitors have visited the chapel since it was first built, many in the late 15th and 16th century coming to pray at the burial site of Henry VI, a very devout and pious man, considered by many to be a saint . There is a pilgrims' alms box that stands beside the the tomb that dates to c1480, and was made by John Tresilian.

Pilgrims were also attracted to the chapel by the Cross Gneth, which is now represented by a ceiling boss at the SE end of the chapel. The original, which disappeared in the 16th century, came about by a story being told of  a priest named Neotus, bringing back a piece of the one true cross to from the Holy Land to Wales, where it became a national treasure, before falling into the hands of of King Edward I in 1283. It was given to the chapel by Edward III after his creation of the Order of the Grater.

On my recent visit, I stood transfixed staring up at this ancient artifact, resplendent in it's colours of blue and red and covered with shimmering gold leaf. If I, a twenty first century woman with technology at  her finger tips, can find such power in this image, I can only begin to imagine how it would have appeared, in flickering taper light to my ancestors...

Cross Gneth

The architecture of the the chapel is not from the 13th century but from the two following centuries. When in 1348 Edward III founded the previously mentioned order of chivalry, The Order of the Garter, he also founded the 'college', not the college as we know it today but the group of clergy and laity who lived together as a community. His Grandson, Edward IV ordered the erection of the present building and chose it for his eventual burial place, where he lies with his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. It is a spectacular example of perpendicular architecture, large windows and slender pillars giving and appearance of light and delicacy, added to by the pale colour of the Taynton stone. The fan ceiling with its numerous bosses and the friezes of stone angels lining the entire chapel draw the eye up.

The highlight of the visit for me was seeing the Hasting's Chantry in the North Quire, the resting place of William, Lord Hastings*, one time friend of Edward IV, executed on June 13th 1483 with no trial by the Duke of Gloucester. The chantry hosts an early 16th century painting of the martyrdom of St Stephen.  (William, Lord Hastings is the historical character I would most like to have met.) 

The martyrdom of St George.

In part 3 of this blog on Windsor Castle, I will be talking about the state rooms and apartments.

A floor plan of the chapel.

Key to numbered locations

1 - Nave - This is a good spot to view the slender Perpendicular Gothic columns which soar up to the fan-vaulted ceiling overhead. 

1a - Cenotaph of Prince Imperial - A memorial to the son of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France, killed in the Zulu War in 1879. 

2 - Beaufort Chantry - The marble tomb of Charles Somerset (d. 1526) and his first wife. 

3 - West Nave Central - The richly decorated bosses in the roof above the nave bear the coats of arms of Henry VII, his family and court officials. 

4 - Urswick Chantry - This chantry chapel, built in 1507, commemorates Dean Urswick, confidant of Henry VII. In the chaple is a marble monument to Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, who died in childbirth in 1817. 

5 - Tomb of George V and Queen Mary 

5a- Rutland Chapel (not generally open to the public) - The chapel houses the tomb of George Manners, Lord Roos (d. 1513), and his wife Anne. 

6 - King George VI Memorial Chapel and Tomb 

7 - Hastings Chantry - Chantry chapel for Lord Hastings (d. 1483), who was executed by order of Richard III. 

8 - Edward IV's Tomb - The king (d. 1483) and Queen Elizabeth Woodville lie here. 

9 - Wrought Iron Gates - These intricate gates were designed to protect the tomb of Edward IV. 

10 - Tudor Oriel Window - The ornately carved wooden window was built by Henry VIII as a gallery for Katherine of Aragon. 

11 - Reredos and East Window - Built in 1863 as a memorial to Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria. 

12 - Garter Stalls - Most of the stalls were carved 1475-1483. Each stall bears the insignia of current Knights of the Garter. Brass and copper plates bear the arms of past knights from the 14th century to the present. 

13 - Royal Vault - George II, George IV, and William IV are buried here, with other members of the royal familiy. 

14 - Tombs of Henry VIII and Charles I 

15 - Roof Bosses - At the crossing are the arms of Henry VII and those of the Garter Knights 

16 - The Royal Stalls

17 - West Window - The stained-glass window, completed in 1509, portrays 75 royals, saints, and popes. 

18 - Bray Chantry - Tomb of Sir Reginald Bray (d. 1503). 

19 - Oliver King Chapel - Oliver King was Canon of Windsor (1480-1503) and later Bishop of Bath and Wells. He was secretary to no less than 4 kings, whose portraits appear on the opposite wall. 

20 - Edward III's sword - The battle sword made for King Edward, measuring 6 feet 8 inches long. 

21 - Oxenbridge Chantry - Chantry tomb of a canon of Windsor (d. 1522). Over the door of the chapel are an Ox, a letter 'N', and a Bridge. 

22 - Henry VI's Tomb - Henry was reburied here in 1484. The tomb was the scene of reported miracles, making it a pilgrimage destination. There is an alms box made of wrought-iron beside the tomb to receive the gifts of pilgrims. 

23 - Tomb of Edward VII (d. 1910) and Queen Alexandra 

24 - Lincoln Chapel - Within the chapel is the tomb of the Earl of Lincoln (d. 1585) and his third wife. This chapel was originally dedicated to Master John Schorn (d. 1314). 

25 - East Doors - Beautiful 13th century ironwork frames the doors (built 1240), which once formed the entry to Henry III's Chapel. 

26 - Dean's Cloister - The interior tracery of the cloister was built in 1352.

* In a later blogs I will be discussing Lord Hastings in detail and also discussing the painting and the possible reasons for it hanging in Hastings' Chantry.

Images from:
Choir practice

Burial site of Henry VI
The alms box
Cross Gneth

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Diana talks to... Phillip.D.Curwood

Hello Phillip. It is really lovely to meet you. Thank you for agreeing to chat like this. I hope I have come up with some unusual questions for you!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

Q. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
A. On the bestseller list, and maybe one of my novels adapted for film or TV.

What is the genre you are best known for?
The genre I’ve been writing has classic leanings toward Bronte-style Paranormal Romance/ Horror, although my latest work will venture more into Sci fi fantasy.

If your latest book Lytefoot was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

The characters I created for this particular book were people that I actually knew, so really, and have no idea who’d play one of the five protagonists, Steven Runcombe. However, the actress Brenda Blethyn would be fitting as the guardian, Suzanne Bentley.

What made you choose this genre?
For years I’ve had a profound interest in the paranormal. My curiosity grew after living in a haunted house for 13-years of my life and witnessing things that would indeed frighten the faint-hearted.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
The character, Arabella, in my debut novel – Arabella: A Picture of Beauty - came to me quite by accident when I stumbled across a beautiful 17th-century portrait of a Lady Jane Smijth, attributed to a Sir Godfrey Kneller. Other characters are taken from my life, or off the TV.
Plots are inspired by music I listen to.

Favourite picture or work of art?
John Constable to me is the demigod of art. The landscapes he paints elicits feelings of euphoria in me and really is beyond the realm of the living.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
The novel I’m writing at this moment in time is one that I’ve always wanted to put down on paper... if there is such a thing these days. The genre is a Sci fi fantasy romance set in the years 2017 and 1973 and will be a heartfelt story, heavily laden with nostalgia from that period.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
Basically, I’ve always wanted to be a writer since a very young age, but love and life got in the way, until recently.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Love it, love it, love it!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
Before I even think about writing, I have to eat an apple... then make a huge mug of Americano – black, no sugar. If I don’t, my writing goes asunder.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
My family comes first. And as a carer for my severely disabled daughter, she is more important to me than the books I write. (Total respect. DMM.)

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Ooh! Archaeologist. Besides myself, I love old things.

Coffee or tea?Red or white?
Black Americano coffee. Earl Grey tea. I don’t drink alcohol and haven’t done so in 30-years.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
Stories are mostly inspired by the music I listen to. From there, whatever transpires does so as if I’m watching a film in my head.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I love the smooth flow of a Freestyle Script any day.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The only original source I know comes from a bottle.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Like most writers, I don’t have full control over my story, or the characters within it. More often than not, it will head in a direction of its own device, which leads to many frustrating moments.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
For my latest novel, soon to be released, I did indeed go on a research trip to Helmsley in North Yorkshire. However, being a keen rambler, my feet have trodden the York Moors on many occasions this past 30 years.There is much to inspire up north!

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
I love all my characters, so bottom line – No.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
That would be a dangerous thing for a writer to do unless he is well researched and confident enough.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
This has been a secret of mine for a while now, but I have indeed fallen for one of my female characters, although I’m not saying which one... and before you say it; no, it’s not Arabella.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Classic literature - Jane Austen. H.G Wells. The Brontes. Charles Dickens... and last but not least, the great modern writer, Dan Brown.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
Coffee or Earl Grey tea.
Last but not least... favourite author?
Dan Brown... I have all his works to date. He’s such an inspiring, thought provoking scribe.

About Lytefoot:

To absolve himself of his guilt, the famous crime author, Nathan Rothwell, recorded an admission on a smartphone before his death, of what really took place the night his sister and Lytefoot hall’s estate manager were murdered; his obsessive love for the ghost of the beautiful heiress, Lady Arabella Lytefoot, and his struggle coming to terms with a dark entity, so twisted by rage and jealousy because of his love for her, that he could reach out and harm those in the material world.

A year later, the phone, which was never wiped after forensics, falls into the hands of a 21-year-old trainee police officer, Steven Runcombe, after the 8-month long investigation concluded Nathan Rothwell, even in death, was still guilty of the crimes of murder.

Heeding Nathan’s story though, gave Steve a curious thirst for the supernatural, especially after also discovering his close friend, Rob Slatterley, had witnessed the smiling spectre of his girlfriend, not long after her funeral.

Armed with borrowed ghost hunting equipment and the dead author's smartphone, Steve, Rob, along with two other reluctant friends, head over to Lytefoot Park to seek the truth about the afterlife, while trying to uncover more of Nathan Rothwell’s story.

However, what they didn’t envisage, was the danger they’d put themselves in, the minute they entered the quaint Suffolk village of Thydon le Marsh, which led over to Lytefoot's encompassing 400-acre estate.

But the more they discovered, the more the park and village seemed a foreboding place to the four youngsters. A place where the shades of the past reveal themselves in unusual ways, and where reality ceased to exist long ago.

Buy Phillip's books here... they are worth it!!

© Diana Milne January 2017 © (Phillip.D.Curwood)

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Heroines of the Medieval World, by Sharon Bennett Connolly: a blog and review by guest blogger Karrie Stone.

Today I welcome guest blogger Karrie Stone to The Review Blog. At The Review we have all been waiting anxiously for today, 15th September 2017, the day that sees the release of the Review's very own Sharon Bennett Connolly's book Heroines of the Medieval World, a master piece of short biographies of the long overlooked women who altered the course of history.


There is deep deep truth in the quote within Sharon Bennett Connolly's book where it says:

'Heroines come in many forms and it is no less true for medieval heroines'.

The difference then, as opposed to now, is the strict limitations put upon them by the male of the species, be it King, Father, Brother, Husband or a combination of those; the religious guidelines on how women were perceived and should behave was often laid down by Priests too.

Bearing in mind these were Monks and that their perception of womanhood in its 'purest form ' was somewhat askew when placed next to a living breathing intelligent woman, one cannot as a 21st century woman, begin to conceive or imagine the determination required to be seen and heard as a valuable human being not just a chattel .

It is true too, that when reading history, it is often written by the victor ...'To The Victor The Spoils' springs to mind , but for women it was also not really deemed necessary or that relevant to write about their achievements in detail even if a Queen. Certainly to write about their true personality, needs, mores, fears , etc was not relevant or so it seems to us now.

Regardless , women were for procreating, furthering the lineage, be it high or low, for making sure that the home was indeed their lords castle even if a farm or hovel and to be run smoothly.

However ,we do it seems, have more written information on the Nobility than we do on women further down the scale in class or status within that time....Or at least that's how it appears until one truly starts to delve as Sharon has.

When Sharon Bennett Connolly first begun her blog 'History - The Interesting Bits' I was immediately hooked by the women she wrote about , true there were the more famous or infamous ones such as the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine who introduced so much into the culture and running of not just her homeland but also Britain. She was a force of nature in a man's world .

But Sharon's quest has been to unearth with painstaking research the lesser known women. Lesser known but no less important to history. For history helps shape the world.

Maude de Braose who spoke out against the ubiquitous King John, I was slightly more aware of , but with Maude, Sharon has filled in the blanks effortlessly.

This book's Chapters are beautifully set out to lead us through the variations of the perception of a Medieval Heroine.

We have the Religious, the Scandalous, The Mistress, Disinherited, Pawns, Captive, Warriors, Rulers, Literary and one of my personal favourites, The Survivors.

One such for me is Anne of Stafford, granddaughter of Edward lll and Phillippa of Hainault, daughter to their son, Thomas of Woodstock . She had the most incredible twists and turns in her life which was seemingly a sort of footnote to history. She was married at age eight or nine to Thomas Earl of Stafford who was fifteen years her senior, then, after his death,  married to his younger brother Edmund at age nineteen.

Her father Thomas was arrested personally by the King Richard ll, only to die in captivity not long after. Possibly smothered. Thus began further losses of the family fortune, then the death of her mother Eleanor de Bohun and her unmarried sister Joan. Anne's only surviving sister Isabel took the veil and ultimately therefore Anne became the greatest heiress of the Kingdom at that time.

I could go on but this is Sharon's book and there is no doubt in my mind that once you pick this up you won't be able to stop reading about these women until the last chapter. Truth is definitely stranger and more fascinating than fiction within these lives.

Sharon has a wonderful way of writing, it appears effortless, easy and utterly fascinating.

I've been a staunch fan of history for all my life but Sharon has, in my humble opinion, truly reached the core of what really was the backbone and making , even in the seemingly quiet lives of these many ladies, of Medieval Times.

It is a book well overdue. Her research is thorough and painstaking. She took time to truly explore where these women lived where possible and the photographs are a beautiful adornment to this book.

Thank you Sharon I've learnt a lot about women I knew nothing of, gained so much insight.

So as they say dear reader, it's your turn to pick up this book, settle in and read on.


If you wish to read the Diana talks interview with Sharon, you can find it here
Diana talks to Sharon Bennett Connolly


About Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Sharon Bennett Connolly, has been fascinated by history for over 30 years now. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.

Born in Yorkshire, she studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London.

She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses. 

For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – History ... the Interesting Bits , allowing her to indulge in that love of history. Sharon started researching and writing about the lesser-known stories and people from European history, the stories that have always fascinated. Quite by accident, she started focusing on medieval women. And in 2016 she was given the opportunity to write her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which was published by Amberley in September 2017. She is currently working on her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published by Amberley in late 2018

Regarding the new book,  'Silk and the Sword' ...

Thank you Sharon Bennett Connolly and Karrie Stone 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Charlie Smithers: Adventures Downunder (The Charlie Smithers Collection Book 3) - a review by Diana Milne

Flashman never experienced anything like this, not even remotely!

Whether it’s because of his gift of the ‘sight,’ inherited from his dour old Hebridean mum, or simply a sorely battered noggin (a result of his master’s appalling aim)the Australias hold one of Charlie Smithers’ most intriguing adventures to date.
Pirates, great white sharks, mermaids, scorching deserts, cannibals and a small army of sadistic bushrangers are only part of the story. A mysterious gunslinging sheila with emerald green eyes, and a shocking vocabulary, is another adventure all on its own.

And throughout the tale there is the innocuous message from a ghost from Charlie’s past: “You must learn to forgive…”

Charlie Smithers, or should I say C W Lovatt? has done it again, bringing us the best adventure yet in the series about this remarkable and lovable character. Following a raid by pirates and a serious wound from the ever helpful, but sadly unskilled marksman, Lord Brampton, Smithers finds himself washed up and stranded in a place that he later knows to be Australia. The story follows his rescue and travels with a foul mouthed and enigmatic woman, who he comes to respect and love, and is held together by a tune that haunts him throughout the narrative.

Written in a friendly first person, the book grabs hold of its readers and lures them from page to page, tugging at the edges of the consciousness whilst one is not reading, urging one to go back. Lovatt’s skilled narrative and exceptional story telling ensure that no reader gets away without this book becoming a part of themselves. It is, to me, a mark of true genius, when a character becomes so important that the reader becomes slightly infatuated with them, and this is true of Charlie. I cared, and cared deeply, what happened to him.

The amount of research that the author has accomplished to ensure every facet of this story is accurate is phenomenal, ranging from the flora and fauna of the Antipodes, through Waler horses, to folk history, Aboriginal people and traditions and that most elusive of Australian native phenomenon, ‘Dream Time’.

Smithers is his usual very British, stiff upper lip self, where fair play rules, right is right and wrong is everything else. His sense of indignity when confronted by someone who did not play by the unwritten British rule book, is so funny, and yet not too out of the ordinary for a certain type of Englishman – (think Jacob Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson!) :

“Well, something had to be done, and no error. This was really too bad, but there was nothing else for it. My defiant glare transformed into an indignant frown. 

Gasping, I managed to wheeze, “Hold on,” spluttering out a mouthful of the ocean, “this ain’t cricket!” 

When this failed to stop him, or indeed, slow him down one iota, my indignation became quite severe, let me tell you, and I declared, “You, sir, are not a gentleman!” 

No doubt your surprise is as great as mine, upon finding that this also produced no effect, and I could see that things were looking pretty grim. 

“But dammit, you’re British!” I cried. 

Then, with a final gasp, I took what little air that I could swallow into my poor starving lungs, and sank beneath the waves. I could hear his enraged fists pummelling the spot ...” 

In this adventure, Smithers, whether as a result of a greater maturity or as a result of a severe bang on the head, begins to experience the gift of ‘sight’, inherited from his mother, which has been touched on in previous works, but never thoroughly examined. In this place, where real time and dream time go hand in hand, he finds a perfect avenue to get to know this other side of his psyche and a lot of the book is about the metaphysical, within the context of Charlie’s own exploration and experience of the theme. This is a brave undertaking for any author and CW Lovatt accomplishes this with exceptional understanding and tact and manages to explain paranormal events in a way that the lay person can understand and which would also be recognisable to a practitioner.

Dream Time is an anomaly in the space time continuum that is experienced by Aboriginal people and it is a subject that I have tried to understand in greater depth since the 1970s. Although this quote comes from the previous book in the series, it more than sums up Charlie’s tentative grasping at the subject: "There was more to our existence than met the eye. Whether it was through some sort of deity, or something else, there was a force at work beyond our capabilities of reckoning, and it defied reason."

This book stretches Charlie as a character and stretches the CW Lovatt as an author, to new levels of greatness and storytelling, weaving a magic spell around Smithers and Mattie as they dance to their music of time, that maybe, just maybe, only they can hear. Charlie probably will never get better from the loss of his wife Loiyan, but he has become better at it and is now able to confidently move on and face his life in all its dimensions. 

With his exceptional use of words, Lovatt paints pictures of the mysterious and beautiful land that is Australia, getting under the skin of the country to its very soul and carrying the reader along in his wake. Whilst on the subject of the author's exceptional use of words, the book contains my favourite quote of all time:
"I bowed my head, wondering yet again, how something so pitifully shallow as my body, could endure something so deep as my grief, and yet live?" Every time I read this I not only relate to it, but get tears in my eyes. 

And in an after word, the author posits a possible explanation for the lilting music that Charlie hears throughout the adventure tying the story together very cleverly, combining fact, folklore and fiction, a skill at which Lovatt excels.

And did Charlie learn to forgive? Read the book and find out! You won’t be disappointed.

About the author:

Image of the author in Australia researching 'Downunder'.
(The image is shared with permission from absolutely no one, having been blatantly stolen by Diana from the author's Face Book page.)

CW Lovatt is the award winning author of the best selling Charlie Smithers Collection, the short story anthology, “And Then It Rained,” and the critically acclaimed “Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg.” His latest release,“Interim,” is the second book of the Josiah Stubb trilogy.  
You may read his blog here at Story River
and do read even more about him in this wonderful interview 
Diana talks to CW Lovatt.

© Diana Milne September 2017

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Windsor Castle - part one - a brief history of the Castle in Mediaeval and Renaissance times.

Throughout its millennium plus history, Windsor Castle has always been a 'work in progress'. Four monarchs of England have made the most impression on it: William I, known more often as William the Conqueror, chose the location, founded the castle and established its rough outline and plan; Edward III rebuilt much of it in a Gothic style and established the royal apartments; Charles II transformed it into a Baroque Palace and lastly George IV, who restored a considerable amount of the exterior, altering it to conform with the then modern desire for a romantic castle ideal.

The two eras of history I will be concentrating on in this article are the ones within the time frame of the Mediaeval and Renaissance eras of English history. 

William I began building at Windsor around 1070 and his work was finished by 1086. The castle is one of a chain of fortifications around London and is situated in the only naturally occurring defensive position in this part of the Thames river valley, being 30 metres -  (almost 100 feet) - above the water. Windsor is the only one of this ring of castles to survive the assault of time.
Slightly later than our time frame, this is a model of defensive fortifications and lines of communication around London in the English Civil War.

Norman castles were built to a standard plan. An artificial earth mound supported a keep (motte),
the entrance of which was protected by a fenced yard (bailey). At Windsor, unusually, there were two baileys, an upper and a lower one, known today as the Upper and Lower Wards, one either side of the motte. The outer walls of the castle were surrounded by a ditch which only partially survives.

The moat as it is today
Although the castle was built to keep secure the western route to London, the proximity to a royal hunting forest and to London, made it an ideal residence. As early as 110, Henry I had living quarters there and his grandson, Henry II, built two sets of apartments, a state residence in the lower Ward and a small family lodging in the Upper Ward.

Fine examples of the Bagshot Heath Stone and yellow Bath stone in situ.
When first built, the castle was made from timber but Henry II began to replace the timber with durable stone. Much of it is built of Bagshot Heath stone and the Gothic details in yellow Bath stone. The interior is mostly finished with Bedfordshire stone.

The outer walls are punctuated by towers. Those ordered by Henry II are square whilst those from Henry III are D shaped.

Henry II towers 

The 'Warrior King,' Edward III spent £50,000 transforming the castle from a place of fortification to a Gothic Palace, reflecting his ideal of a chivalric, Christian monarchy. The Lower Ward was transformed by buildings for the College of St. George, founded in 1348. The Chapel that had been built there a century earlier had been dedicated to St Edward the Confessor, but it was Edward who first associated the Castle and the College with St. George, who was the patron saint of the new Order of the Garter.
(I will be writing about St George very soon

Part of the Quadrangle as it is in September 2017
William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester directed the extensive building works taking it to a level that was way and above that necessary for a purely defensive edifice. One particularly impressive example of this is the Great Range, overlooking the Quadrangle, accommodating the King's Great Chamber, St George's Hall and the Royal Chapel. This was lit by 17 tall arched windows and matching fortified entrance towers. This was intended to form a magnificent back drop for the spectacular tournaments and jousts held within the Quadrangle and also functioned as the castle's tilt-yard.

Moving on to the time of Henry VIII, at the time of his death, the king owned over 60 houses and palaces, travelling between his many residences. It was here at Windsor in 1522 that he received the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to conclude an alliance against France. The only really significant addition to the fabric of the castle ws his addition of a gate that bears his name at the bottom of the Lower Ward, through which visitors leave. 
A gate wide enough for King Henry VIII

Henry is buried in St. George's Chapel together with his favourite wife, Jane Seymour. It was a strange sensation to be standing at the grave of the king... I had very damp eyes 
often in that chapel.
Probably wise, but I would so much have
liked a photograph of my own.

Photo from 'Find a Grave'

Edward VI did not like Windsor and probably would have gone on to bring galleries and gardens to it had he lived long enough, but Mary I refaced many of the of the houses for the Military Knights in the Lower Ward  and her arms, together with the arms of her Spanish husband Philip, can be found hanging on the old belfry tower, known today as the Mary Tudor Tower, the residence of the Governor of the Military Knights.

By the time the first Elizabeth came to the throne, many parts of the castle were in drastic need of repair and a major building campaign was started in the 1570s. Henry VIII's terrace walkway was described as a 'verie great ruyn' and the Western end of the chapel was 'verie ould ruinous and far oute of order redie to fale down, ' (we all have days like that :-) ) The terrace walkway was completely renewed in stone with a very elaborate ornamented balustrade and the Royal Chapel was remodelled and fitted with stalls, a gallery and a panelled ceiling.

Elizabeth also added a long gallery in which to walk and admire the far off view to the north during poor weather  as she loved to be out in the air but hated to be 'russled by the wind'.

I will now conclude with some random shots of the castle....


Unless otherwise attributed, all photos in the blog together with the blog itself are by Diana Milne September 2017 © 
Image of Edward III from English Monarchs

Diana talks to Jane Risdon

Hello Jane. I love reading your Facebook posts about  your life in the music industry. Thank you for sharing so much of that time with us. 

I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

Is there life on other planets? I think there must be and they’ve sent a few of their eccentrics to earth.

What is the genre you are best known for?

If your latest book (Only One Woman – to be published November 2017) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

Having worked in Hollywood I would be concerned about who would play the parts. If the movie was to be International (made in the USA, distributed globally) they’d want to have an American lead. It is the way it works - I’ve been involved with movies there. Only One Woman is written from two POV (both female) and the object of their desire is a lead guitarist. It is set in 1968/69 and I cannot think of a present day actress or actor I’d like for the roles. Also, I am terrible in that I don’t have a clue who any of the present day actor/actresses are. And an author never gets any say in any choices, not even famous authors. Hollywood does not work like that.

What made you choose this genre?
I normally write Crime as mentioned earlier, but for some years Christina Jones and I have wanted to write together, about our experiences in the music business in the late sixties. Fashion, music and world events. When we found we both shared the same publisher, we decided to get on with it. Only One Woman was born. It is going to be marketed as Women’s Fiction.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
When I am writing (mostly but not limited to Crime) I often get my ideas from my experiences in the International Music Business which has been the greatest part of my life, and also from my time at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before then. Overheard conversations or a title will pop into my head, or as I mentioned, something which happened to me or others I know in Music, might set the little grey cells off.  If you know Hollywood (music and movies) you will know there is never a shortage of characters from which to draw upon.

Favourite picture or work of art?
I don’t have one. I am not a fan of modern art, preferring the old masters.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Not really. I write pretty much what I want and I go where a story takes me. It may well end up as something other than crime as with Only One Woman. I have also written what I call observational humour based on overheard conversations at a bus stop…come to think of it I have dabbled in most genres apart from Sci-fi and Fantasy which leave me cold. At the time of writing I have four novels on the go and about 30 short stories most of which are crime, a couple are ghost stories and also humorous.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
I have written since I was very young but upon leaving school I ended up in the Diplomatic service. Way back then writing would never have been practical – it was all about earning a living. I married a professional musician and we had a child young and so with his touring and our lifestyle it was all we could do to find five minutes to ourselves. Later we went into management of singers, songwriters, record producers, and musicians and we were constantly touring, recording, or working so time was an issue.  I kept telling myself ‘one day I would write…’ One day came when we both semi-retired, passed our artists and business on and I found the time at last.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Love it and especially in sandwiches with sliced bananas. Yummy.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
Nope. Not one for that. I do like to nibble liquorice and drink tea sometimes if I can’t get on with a difficult section. I had enough of rituals with my artiste’s in the recording studio or before going on stage, to last a lifetime. Music – well having lived it 24/7 for almost 48 years it is nice to have some peace and quiet. I might (rarely) have the radio or TV on in the background whilst writing, and sometimes my husband is playing his guitars and song-writing, if that counts.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Our only son is grown up and long gone, and my husband spends his life writing and playing music so we are quite happy working alongside each other – often sitting beside each other - but completely absorbed in our tasks. It does not arise. Whoever is hungry makes food and whoever is not busy does the chores. Always been that way.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I used to think it was being a War Correspondent on a Newspaper but seeing how reporting has gone downhill, I am glad I didn’t go that route. I wanted to be Doris Day as a child but there is only one. A writer is what I have always really wanted to do, though having studied Forensic Science and Archaeology of late, I could be tempted into either career. Had I known back then, or had there been opportunities, I might have taken a completely different life path – but…

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Only Tea and Red wine – but only good stuff. If I drink anything else it has to be Crystal Champagne.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I write by the seat of my pants. I sit and it comes out, much like song-writing, as if from space. I don’t make notes and I have no idea how a story will end, let alone where it’s going. It flows eventually as if from somewhere else.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I never think about it. The publisher has to worry about this. I had enough worries years ago about production and promotion of records and artists, so I am pleased I don’t have to worry about such things. I would say that as I am short-sighted a really clear text suits me.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
Having an interest in espionage and some experience of working in situations where spies were part of every- day life, I would like to get my hands on debriefing documentation relating to any of the big spying cases in the 20th century – Burgess, McLean and so forth, from the Cold War.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
All the time. I read back what they’ve said and done and wonder…where did that come from? I like it. I hate anything contrived - be it music, fashion or comedy, so love it when my story goes off in its own direction. I cope, it’s a blast!

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
I rely upon past experiences for a lot of my writing, but having said that I have never killed or trafficked anyone so I have to do research. I discovered early on that as a crime writer it is easy to come unstuck using old or inaccurate information or procedures (Police/Forensics etc) and I know that a writer loses all credibility if ‘found out.’ Yes, we write fiction and there is some poetic license allowed, but it is not good to be shown up for ignorance.

I’ve studied; taking (to date) seven courses in Forensic Science, Criminal Justice and Forensic Anthropology and Archaeology, so that I at least have some idea of what happens to the dead, how to identify someone from a skeleton, and the way the Justice system works from Police Investigations, Witness Interrogations to Miscarriages of Justice and also which Agencies are involved in Criminal Investigations. 

My series Ms Birdsong Investigates – in with my publisher – features a former MI5 Officer and so I have had to study the workings of our Intelligence Agencies and those overseas. I worked for the FCO and can use some of my experiences from my time there.

Only One Woman – both Christina Jones and I have backgrounds in music. She was a rock journalist and my husband’s (band) fan-club secretary in the late 1960s and so we both called upon our experiences back then. Music, fashion and world events and the way ‘teenage’ culture was emerging. We had to compare notes, research the Music Charts and so on…so much fun.
For my music themed stories I can fall back on life in the International Music Business, Hollywood and more…fact in my business was always stranger than fiction and a great pool of inspiration for my writing. The world of ‘wise guys’ and ‘family’ is never far away.

I do a lot of walking and photography and from day one I have taken photos as visual notes for my writing if I come across a location I think might work in a story. I put the photos aside until I am writing and need a location and a little ‘ping’ goes off in my head.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Not yet, but give me time. I do try to keep my characters to a minimum as I am told readers find it hard to keep track of a lot of characters. I never find it a problem when reading, but if we have to abide by rules as writers, I don’t mind this one.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
Of course, I write fiction. I try to keep the basics ‘real’ and then embroider around them. I try to disguise anything factual with something fictional and blur the edges if I can.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Our memories of events are very unreliable and after a period of time our brains fill in any gaps and tend to change our perception of the facts. I studied this in Witness Investigations (Police witnesses) and it is known that two witnesses to the same event see it and recall it in very different ways. The longer the time between an event and the telling of it can make the facts blur into what our subconscious thinks we saw/heard or experienced. That is why Police try to interview witnesses as fast as possible after an event and on their own, so two witnesses cannot influence each other by what they say.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
No I cannot say I have. I know authors do, but not me.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Crime, Thrillers, Mystery, Espionage and Political Thrillers.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
For OOW I suggest a Babycham, Vodka and lime, Rye and Dry or a Snowball.

For Ms Birdsong Investigates (when she comes out – be prepared) I suggest Scotch, Crystal Champagne or a really decent Red wine.

Last but not least... favourite author?
Gosh, I have so many from Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier and Robert Louis Stevenson to John Le Carre, Peter James, Michael Connolly, Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritsen and Karin Slaughter. Oh and let’s not forget Stella Rimington (former Director General of MI5) – I cannot decide.
Diana, thanks so much for allowing me to be your guest and thanks for such interesting and thought-provoking questions. It has been a blast.

About Jane and her work

Jane Risdon began writing over six years ago having had a successful career in the International Music Industry which has taken her all over the world working with everything from Rock, Thrash Metal, and R&B/Pop to Chinese Opera. Her work has taken her to North America, Europe, and Singapore: even to Taiwan.
She's been involved in Music Production, Television, Radio, and the Movies around the world.

Travelling extensively and living overseas she draws upon her life experiences when writing Crime/Mystery novels, short stories in all genres - including humour, and she has dabbled in flash fiction.

Some of these experiences have found their way into her short stories about the Music Business, and she is presently working on a novel which will bring a lot of her more crazy 'rock 'n roll' experiences into one tome.

Her main focus remains crime however, and she is working on a series of novels called 'Ms Birdsong Investigates' centered around a glamorous ex MI5 Officer forced into early retirement, who is trying to keep a low profile in a rural village in Oxfordshire. Her past experiences come to the fore when she finds herself investigating murder. Soon she finds herself back on old territory with Russian Mafia, Ukrainian People Traffickers and an old flame to deal with.

Jane hopes that this series of novels will be ready for publication in 2018.

In 2014 Jane signed a publishing contract with Accent Press Ltd.

Jane's co-written novel with award-winning author Christina Jones is entitled 'Only One Woman' and is due for publication by Accent Press Ltd November 2017. One lead guitarist, two girls and a journey through the heady, mad rock 'n' roll 1960s.

Her short story 'The Haunting of Anne Chambers' is included in Accent Press Ltd Halloween collection published in October 2014 called Shiver: a collection of horror stories published by Accent Press Ltd 9th Oct 2014.

Wishing on a Star: a collection of Christmas themed stories by Accent Press Ltd. published Dec 2015 includes Jane's story - Merry Christmas Everybody - which is set in a recording studio and is based on actual events one Christmas not long ago.

Jane has a short story in Ghostly Writes Valentines Anthology 2017 - called Eternal Lovers and this is via may outlets including Amazon and in e-book and printed versions Feb 2017.

In A Word: Murder available in Paperback and for Kindle via and - her stories are: 'Dreamer' and 'Hollywood Cover Up'. Published by Margot Kinberg

In addition to her books and short stories for publication by Accent, Jane has also published many short stories in paperbacks, e-books and online with other publishers.

Another short story which is included in the anthology, Madame Movara's Tales of Terror, and entitled 'Haunting Melody.' This anthology was published 20th Oct 2016 in Hardback and paperback. Available via for a limited period only.

Jane has contributed towards is Ghostly Writes Anthology 2016 for Plaisted Publishing House and is published in paperback and for Kindle 31st October 2016. Her story is called The Beneficiaries of Secret Cottage. Available via and and other sites.

She is also included in an anthology published May 2017: A Stab in the Dark: Cons, Dames and G-Men and her story is called Cue Murder. Available via and other sites.

Previous publications with her stories are:

Telling Tales Anthology published by Moon Works Ltd in Hardback, Paperback, and for Kindle via 'The Debt Collector' and 'The Ghost in the Privy' are her contributions.

I Am Woman Vol 1 published by FCN Publishing, available via and for Kindle only. Her story is called 'The Look'.

Jane has published and had pod-cast many of her short stories and pieces of flash fiction and links to these are available via her blog, Jane Risdon Author at Voice Over actor, Elijah Lucien has recorded several of her short stories which are available on YouTube.

In addition to being a regular blogger,, with a considerable following, she has an author page on Facebook with many dedicated followers there as well. You can find her at @Jane Risdon on Facebook and @Jane_Risdon on Twitter. She also has an amazon author page and an Accent Press Ltd page and on GoodReads too.

She continues to work on Ms Birdsong Investigates as well as several other novels including The White Haired Man set in Bollywood and based on true events.

Jane is a keen photographer and enjoys the countryside and visiting old buildings and historical locations and often uses photos as visual notes for her writing. She loves history and archaeology and is loves anything to do with science and astronomy.

With a background (early on in her career) in the Diplomatic Service in Whitehall, London, followed by a long career in International music, Jane has a wealth of experience and a huge pool from which to craft her stories.

Author Jane Risdon

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Jane Risdon 2017