World Book Day & Women’s History Month
Today is World Book Day and this month is Women’s History Month, so given that all of my books are inspired by women in history, what better day to send out my first newsletter.
I’ve given various talks to school, WI groups, libraries, book clubs and literary festivals over the years and one question I’m often asked is, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’
Mostly, they come from history books and biographies.
My new novel, The Keeper of Songs, out later this year, is inspired by the work of folk singer, song collector Sam Lee, but it’s also about a 1960s folk singer, Molly Marrison and when researching her character and life story, I read several wonderful biographies of women folk singers from this period: Peggy Seeger, Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny and Shirley Collins.
My first novel, Isabella, was inspired by a real person and a real place. Belle Isle, in the middle of Lake Windermere in Cumbria, is named after the heiress, Isabella Curwen, who owned the island in the eighteenth century. Isabella was the cousin of infamous Bounty mutineer, Fletcher Christian, who many believed secretly returned to England and hid out on Belle Isle.
My second novel, Pale as the Dead, is a genealogical mystery inspired by Lizzie Siddal, artist, poet and artist’s model for the Pre-Raphaelites and the rather gothic postscript to her life. Her husband, GabrielRossetti, placed into her coffin the only copy of the poems he had written and seven years later, he decided he wanted them back. In great secrecy, on an autumn night in 1869, her coffin was exhumed from its resting place in London’s Highgate Cemetery. It’s said that she remained as beautiful as she had been in life, and her copper hair had grown to fill the coffin. To this day, many people from around the world strangely believe that Lizzie remains undead. If you want to find out more about Lizzie, read Lucinda Hawksley’s wonderful book, Lizzie Siddal, The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel.
The sequel, Bloodline, is about the dark side of genealogy. It’s not about one woman in particular, but about the women who were part of the Lebensborn programme in Nazi Germany. The goal was to raise a master race of Aryan children by encouraging SS and Wermacht officers to have children with Aryan women. Maternity homes were set up, where women who met certain racial criteria could give birth to the future elite of the Third Reich.The first was Steinhöring outside Munich, in the Bavarian Forest, where a poignant stature stood in the forecourt.
Lady of the Butterflies is about Lady Eleanor Glanville (1654-1709), the first lady of British Natural History – a 17th Century entomologist. Her family tried to overturn her will on the ground that ‘nobody in their right mind would go in pursuit of butterflies.’ She discovered the Glanville Fritillary ─ one of only two native British butterflies named after British entomologists.
Cavalier Queen is about Henrietta Maria, French wife of King Charles I of England and mother of Kings Charles II. By openly practicing Roman Catholicism at court, she alienated many of Charles’s subjects, but during the first part of the English Civil War she displayed courage and determination in mustering support for the king’s cause and leading her own army. By her side was her vice chamberlain, Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of Saint Albans (1605-1684) and the founder of the West End.