Hearts and Flowers for my Readers

tulipsThe first thing I would like to say is a huge thank you to everyone who has bought, reviewed, tweeted, commented on or emailed me about House of Shadows and given me so much support and encouragement with this, my debut historical romantic mystery. It’s been a very exciting and emotional time for me and I’m very grateful for all the feedback I’ve received from both readers and my fellow authors (who of course can be readers as well!) You are the best!

heartSecondly, I acknowledge the frustration of readers in the US who have tried to get hold of the book but not been able to. I’m very sorry for this.  I hope to have positive news for you soon. Please hang on in there and I appreciate your support!

Thank you.

Love from Nicola x

Of Cursed Pearls

LOUISE HOLLANDINE, PRINCESS PALATINE (1622 - 1709), by Gerard Van Honthorst, (1590-1656) at Ashdown House.
LOUISE HOLLANDINE, PRINCESS PALATINE (1622 – 1709), by Gerard Van Honthorst, (1590-1656) at Ashdown House.

The mirror and the pearl that feature in House of Shadows are imaginary historical artefacts but like so many aspects of the book they are inspired by historical fact. The idea of the pearl came from the Craven portrait collection on display at Ashdown House. This features a number of 17th century paintings that Elizabeth of Bohemia bequeathed to William Craven on her death, including portraits of four of her daughters, Princes Elizabeth, Princess Louise Hollandine, Princess Sophie and Princess Henrietta Maria. In all of these pictures and in the portrait of Elizabeth herself, the ladies wear a pearl necklace.


A jewellery historian who came to Ashdown specifically to see the pearls told me that they were part of a necklace of seven strings that belonged to Elizabeth and had originally been Medici pearls inherited by Mary, Queen of Scots and passed down to Elizabeth via her father James I. Elizabeth would pawn this necklace and indeed her other jewellery, furniture and anything else she could lay hands on when she was particularly short of money during her exile, and then buy the items back if she had a special state occasion to attend.


On her death she left one strand of pearls to each of her daughters. In the nineteenth century there was a long-running dispute between the British Royal family and the house of Hanover over possession of the pearls. The English crown claimed the necklace but only six strands were reassembled. The seventh strand had been given to Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Henrietta Maria. She had died only six months after her wedding to Prince Sigismond of Transylvania and was buried in her wedding dress – wearing the string of pearls. Her descendents declined to open her tomb to retrieve the necklace!


This picture shows Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, also called Elizabeth, wearing herElizabethXPrincessXPalatineX1 strand. This Elizabeth was considered one of the greatest beauties of the age and was known as “The Star of the North.” She was also a great philosopher and correspondent of Descartes. It is said that the large drop pearl in this portrait is “The Bretheren” a famous pearl that brings bad luck to the wearer. Elizabeth of Bohemia was, arguably, a very unlucky Queen but it is easy to attribute this to her poor choice of jewellery with the benefit of hindsight.

Cursed pearls are not unusual (indeed one might say almost obligatory in pirate stories!) and range from the tale of the Roseate Pearl, said to have caused the sinking of the ship Koombana off Australia in 1912 to “La Peregrina”, which was discovered in the 16th century, belonged to Mary I of England and was bought in 1969 by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor. Whether or not there is any truth in the stories of bad luck that cling to these famous jewels they are certainly great inspiration for a writer.

The Girl Who Would be Queen

HOUSE OF SHADOWS webToday is publication day for House of Shadows, and I could not be more thrilled. This book has been twelve years in the planning and now, finally, the day is here and I can’t quite believe it! I feel so very blessed and fortunate to have been able to write the book of my heart and I would like to thank each and every one of my readers for the support and encouragement you have given me along the way.

There could not be a more appropriate publication day for House of Shadows than 5th November for it is Guy Fawkes Night, the day in 1605 that the gunpowder plotters planned to blow up the Houses, and place Elizabeth Stuart on the throne.

It was the intention of the Gunpowder Plot  conspirators to kill King James I and his eldest son and heir, Prince Henry, plus all the nobility sitting in the House of Lords and all the members of parliament sitting in the House of Commons. They wanted to put a Catholic monarch on the throne. The plot was thwarted when Henry Parker, 4th Lord Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend parliament:

“My lord out of the love i beare to some of youere frends i have a caer of youer guy fawkespreseruacion therfor i would advyse yowe as yowe tender youer lyf to devys some excuse to shift of youer attendance at this parleament for god and man hath concurred to punishe the wickednes of this tyme… for thowghe theare be no appearance of anni stir yet i saye they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament and yet they shall not seie who hurts them…”

Monteagle was married to the sister of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, Thomas Tresham. Monteagle took the letter to Robert Cecil, who informed the King. The king ordered a search of the cellars at the Palace of Westminster. The plot was discovered and Monteagle became the hero who saved Parliament. He was rewarded to the sum of £700 a year – £500 in cash and £200 in the value of land donated to him. He invested the money in business ventures in Virginia.

ElizabethXofXBoheniaOne of the lesser-known aspects of the Gunpowder Plot is what the plotters intended to happen if they had actually succeeded. Their aim was to put James I’s daughter Elizabeth on the throne as a catholic figurehead. In 1605 the nine-year-old Elizabeth was living at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire.  Lord and Lady Harington, staunch Protestants, had been charged with “the keeping and education” of the young Princess, as was the wont with royal children in those days. At Coombe, Elizabeth was taught amongst other things, French and Italian, music and dancing. King James did not approve of the education of women, stating that: “to make women learned and foxes tame had the same effect – to make them more cunning.” However I think we may assume that by most people’s standards Elizabeth was very well educated.

In late October 1605 strange rumours of a plot to overthrow the monarchy were circulatingfireworks.jpg 1 in Warwickshire, which was a stronghold of Catholicism. Lord Harington was warned of a threat to the princess and Elizabeth was taken for her own safety to the city of Coventry, for it was suspected that she might be seized should a rebellion take place. She was lodged in the city with an armed guard. Later, after the gunpowder plotters had been arrested and tortured, it emerged that it had been their intention to kidnap “the person of the Lady Elizabeth, the king’s daughter, in Warwickshire, and presently proclaim her queen.” The plan had been to seize her from Coombe Abbey and carry her off to Ashby St Legers, a Catholic safe house and the home of Lady Catesby, mother of one of the conspirators.
It is said that when Elizabeth heard of the plot she said: “What a Queen I should have been by this means! I had rather been with my royal father in the Parliament House than wear his crown on such condition.”

Elizabeth was to become a strong and courageous queen, a political leader, a diplomat and an influential cultural figure but in 1605 she was a nine year old child with a strong loyalty to her father and brother. She was never destined to be Queen of England but her descendants did inherit the throne and still rule today.


The Blog is Back!

HOUSE OF SHADOWS webGood morning! It’s my very great pleasure to relaunch my blog in this exciting week when House of Shadows makes its debut in the world! Thursday 5th November is publication day and in addition to a special blog post about Elizabeth of Bohemia, heroine of the book and indeed a real life 17th century heroine, there will be a series of articles on the  historical background to the story, writing time slip novels and other topics of historical and writing interest. There will also be a very special new website contest to win not only a copy of House of Shadows but also a beautiful pearl necklace NOT like the one is the story, since this one isn’t cursed! Drop by on Thursday for the launch article and to join in the celebrations. Thank you, as always, to all my lovely readers!

Talking Titles

Choosing-a-Book-TitleGetting the right title for the right book can be a complicated business. Some authors need to have a definite title in mind before they start writing a book. It’s part of the world that they create. For others it isn’t as important and they call the book something vague until the moment comes when they need to give it a firm title. Then there are the marketing implications; a publisher will want a title to help identify a genre. Is it crime, historical, romance, horror? Those few words used on the front of a book can conjure an entire idea, a picture that, along with the style of the cover, will draw the reader in.

The “timeslip” genre has always struck me as having particularly evocative titles. They John Buchanremind me of the days when I was first reading historical fiction and enjoyed the writing of John Buchan (Greenmantle, The Dancing Floor) and Daphne Du Maurier (The House on the Strand, Jamaica Inn). Those titles, whether timeslip books or not, intrigued me with their suggestions of mystery and glamour.

Daughters of fireThese days I would be hard pressed to decide which was my favourite title by Barbara Erskine both in terms of the books and the titles themselves (Maybe Daughters of Fire on both counts). Susanna Kearsley’s titles perfectly sum up the books’ immensely atmospheric and evocative nature. Just the words “The Splendour Falls” gives me a tiny shiver of anticipation up the spine. Pam Hartshorne has totally nailed the timeslip vibe with all her fabulous titles.

It’s the association of the words, the reader’s imagination and the promise of entwined history and mystery that works for me. Each of us takes from a title the things we want, the things that spark our imagination and excite our reading senses.

When it came to choosing a title for my first timeslip I ran through many alternatives. FirstMist up was The Memory of Water, which had been the working title for the book for a long time. Then I realised that the story had changed and the water theme wasn’t as strong as it had once been. So then I thought of Winter’s Shadow. The book featured the Winter Queen, so this seemed appropriate. But it was set in summer, so maybe not. Secrets of the Winter Queen? Not so much. My editor came up with The Silent House. I wasn’t sure at first, but then it started to grow on me. But no – we decided it needed to have more of a timeslip feel. So now at last we have – drumroll:

House of Shadows.

It’s perfect for the story and I love the dark, slightly mysterious feel to it.

House of Shadows will be out in December from MIRA UK. Now all I have to do is think of a title for the next one…

What do you think of timeslip titles? Do you find them atmospheric and evocative? Which are your favourites and what do they “say” to you?

When is historical romance not historical romance?

frenchmans-creekIt’s a strange thing but lately I’ve discovered that a lot of the historical romance I enjoyed as a girl turns out not to be historical romance after all. First there were the books of Daphne Du Maurier. I wouldn’t dream of disputing the elements of horror and violence and the dark overtones that, according to newspapers such as The Guardian make her books so much more than “just” popular romances. There’s chilling malevolence in some of her books and dark shadows in all of them. But I would dispute that some of her books cannot also be described as historical romance.

So where is the problem? Is it simply a matter of Cornwalldefinition? Or is it that pesky literary snobbery that persists in sneering at romance and seeing it as “lesser”? Du Maurier herself, apparently, hated the notion of being referred to as a romantic novelist whilst adoring the idea of living in a “romantic rambling house near the sea” (The Guardian again). Menabilly, and the Cornish landscape, inspired many of her books including Frenchman’s Creek and Jamaica Inn. So it’s okay for the house and the landscape to be described as romantic but the books not?

PoldarkThen there’s Poldark. By chance – or perhaps not – we are back in “romantic” Cornwall again. I was only eleven when the first TV adaptation of Poldark was broadcast and it was hugely influential on my developing passion for historical romance. Now we have a new TV version and a slew of articles telling me that this most romantic of historical romances isn’t one because it has character depth and deals with political and social issues. So do a great many historical and contemporary romances that I have read, so I’m still waiting to understand the difference.

It feels as though it is somehow a shameful thing to approve of historical romance, to likeHistory and admire the genre and give it the credit it deserves for combining historical accuracy, intricacy, atmosphere, character depth, swashbuckling plot and romance. Ah yes, the romance. Perhaps that’s the problem – we’re back to that persistent and pernicious prejudice against romance. Even some of those reviewers who admit to enjoying the Poldark remake make it sound like a guilty pleasure, trotting out unpleasant clichés about bodice-rippers (does anyone who uses the cliché ever stop to think what it really means?) and metaphorically blushing as they admit to enjoying a smouldering hero. For me the low point was one newspaper feature that referred to the new series of Poldark as aiming to become “a housewife’s favourite.” That one really did have me wondering which century we were in.

I’ll never apologise for enjoying historical or any other sort of romance. It’s not something that requires any apology, justification or judgement against some spurious set of literary criteria. I love writing historical romance, I love reading it, I love watching it and I applaud anyone who feels the same.

Blog Round Up

carriageHere’s a quick link to three great blog pieces for history lovers this week:

Firstly, on the UK Regency Authors’ Blog, Elizabeth Hawksley talks about the importance of sons in Victorian families:


On the Word Wenches, Louise Allen blogs about the trials and tribulations of stagecoach travel in the early 19th century:


And on the Ashdown House blog is the illustrious history of the Craven A cigarette and how the development of grand Victorian smoking rooms led to the segregation of the sexes:


Happy reading!



The Treasures of Windsor Castle

Windsor 2This weekend I went to Windsor Castle to see the exhibition commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Whilst I was there I also had the pleasure of a tour of the rest of the castle, including St George’s Chapel. I had had no idea that so many Kings and Queens had been buried at Windsor, including Edward IV, Henry VIII alongside his third wife Jane Seymour, and Charles I. I found it pretty mind-blowing to be standing on the spot they were buried, but I found the entire chapel building totally awe-inspiring and a true distillation of the phrase “steeped in history.” It would be difficult to fine anywhere more steeped in history than Windsor, in fact – from Edward III’s battle sword to the choir stalls for the Knights of the Garter, from Charles II’s bed (the imagination runs wild!) to the armoured figure of the King’s champion on horseback, it is a journey through a thousand years of history.

It’s impossible to do justice to a vast castle like Windsor in one blog piece and probably notNapoleon's cloak that interesting for the reader anyway, so I have picked out a few highlights of my trip. The first was the Waterloo Exhibition itself; in addition to a room with paintings, maps and cartoons relating to the Battle of Waterloo there were other artefacts on display including a tiny lock of Napoleon’s hair and the scarlet and gold cloak he was wearing before the battle. I really fancied trying that on but sadly I wasn’t allowed! It was a very theatrical looking item!

I also loved the Castle’s “moat garden.” The original moat surrounding the Round Tower has been an ornamental garden since the 18th century and it is full of palm trees, roses and other wonderful tropical and temperate plants.

Prince RupertThe Parliamentarian forces held Windsor during the English Civil War. Prince Rupert of the Rhine attempted unsuccessfully to recapture it and after the Restoration of the Monarchy he was appointed Constable of the Castle. He instituted a new programme of repairs and redecoration which was described thus by the diarist John Evelyn in 1670: “Prince Rupert… handsomely adorned the hall with furniture of arms, which was very singular, by disposing the pikes, muskets, pistols, bandoleers, holsters, drums… as to represent festoons, trophy-like.” It sounds like a riot of weaponry!

My most excited moment on the tour was when we were walking through Charles II’s Bohemian childrenstaterooms and I saw amongst all the Stuart artworks a painting called “The Four Eldest Children of the King of Bohemia.” I’ve never seen this “in the flesh” before and I love it. It’s painted by Von Honthorst, who painted many of the pictures in the Ashdown House collection, and it’s a group portrait of the Winter King and Queen’s elder children. Play-acting and fancy dress were a popular form of entertainment amongst the early 17th century nobility and this picture shows the Princess Elizabeth dressed as Diana, goddess of the hunt, whilst her brothers Rupert, Maurice and Charles Louis represent a group of Arcadian hunters. The boys are depicted as manly and athletic, whilst also showing that they have learned to show a lady gallantry and reverence. The dogs have also learned gallantry – the one in front is bowing!

Fashion and History at Kensington Palace

Today on the Word Wenches blog I am talking about a recent visit to the exhibitions atFashion rules Kensington Palace. From the advice on how to survive at the Georgian Court to Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, from Queen Mary’s china to Diana Princess of Wales’ shoulder pads, it was a marvellous day out! Read more about fashion, history and costume here!