Step into Ashdown’s Story

SunnyXAshdownFor those readers who would like to find our more about the historical background to House of Shadows, there is a blog site dedicated to Ashdown House, with articles, photos, news and views, from the history of the Craven family to the secrets of the mystical sarsen stones, from Elizabethan armada warning beacons to Iron age artefacts. if you would like to step into Ashdown’s story and learn more, click here!

Writing News

EthelXcoatOr perhaps this should be entitled “puppy news”! Here is one of the major reasons I haven’t been as active online recently as I might have liked. Meet Ethel, our new sponsored Guide Dog Puppy! Ethel is 4 months old now, bright as a button and very cute. She has been keeping us all busy and enjoying her training. I’ll keep you posted on her progress!

Meanwhile here is some writing news (not as cute as puppies, I know!) I am totally thrilled that House of Shadows has hit the number 1 spot on Amazon’s Kindle UK Regency fiction chart and is riding high in other lists as well. You know how special this book is to me and to hear that people are enjoying it has been wonderful.

I am also extremely happy to report that House of Shadows will be coming out in the US in 2017! Watch this space for more details!

And finally, I am currently revising my next timeslip book which will be out in the autumn. The Phantom Tree is a Tudor and present day set historical mystery based on the true story of Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour.

Ashdown House, the setting for House of Shadows, opens today! I can’t wait to show our AshdownXwatercolourvisitors around. We are selling copies of House of Shadows, or bring your own, so that we can take and post up photos of readers with the book in the very place it’s set. Time Travel!

Love and thanks from Nicola xx


The Stuart Passion for Secret Marriages

studio of Sir Peter Lely,painting,circa 1670
Prince Rupert, studio of Sir Peter Lely,painting,circa 1670 Wikipedia

The House of Stuart seem to have been particularly prone to making secret marriages, but they were hardly the first royals to do so. Catherine of Valois, the French Princess who married the famous warrior king Henry V of England chose as her second husband Owen Tudor, a Welsh squire whom she allegedly met when he fell into her lap during a dance at court. The pair became lovers, married secretly around 1430, and founded a dynasty.

When we get to the 17th century, however, it feels as though there is a positive plethora of royal family members indulging in clandestine romantic relationships. King Charles II was obliged to issue a formal declaration that he did not marry Lucy Walter, the mother of his son James, Duke of Monmouth, because the rumours that such a match took place were so pervasive and dangerous to the royal succession. Charles’ cousin Prince Rupert of the Rhine also denied that he had married a lady called Frances Bard, the mother of his son Dudley. He did not deny that he was Dudley’s father; the boy was often known as Dudley Rupert and was sent to Eton college, but poor Frances’ claims that she and Rupert had married in 1664 were dismissed.

Two marriages that were more credible, though, involved two royal ladies of impeccable Plaquereputation. The first was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I. Henrietta and Charles were famously devoted to one another and yet there were persistent rumours that she had had a long affair with her Master of the Horse, Henry Jermyn, and married him after Charles’ death. Certainly Jermyn was very close to Henrietta Maria for a number of years. He probably originally came to her attention because of his ability to speak French and he remained her friend and confidant for the rest of her life. He went into exile with her, helped her to raise an army and rose to prominence through her influence. Gossip suggested that he was the father of at least two of her children, although in the febrile political climate of the English Civil War such slander would not have been uncommon.

When I was researching House of Shadows, my new historical mystery that focuses on the story of Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, I was very struck by the parallels between Henrietta Maria’s story and that of my heroine Elizabeth Stuart. Elizabeth was the sister of Charles I who had married a German prince when she was 16 and gone to live in Heidelberg. Her husband’s rule as King of Bohemia ended in battle and exile after only a year and Elizabeth lived in The Hague for 40 years whilst fighting to regain her husband’s patrimony for her son. Elizabeth and her husband Frederick were also famously devoted to one another and when he died in 1632 she was said to be inconsolable.

In Frederick’s entourage was a young man (12 years younger than Elizabeth) called William, Lord Craven, the son of a fabulously wealthy cloth merchant. Craven became utterly dedicated to Elizabeth’s cause, saving the life of her son Rupert in battle, financing her exile, providing her with a house in London when she finally returned to England in 1660 and starting a building programme of palaces and houses for her on his estates. Like Henry Jermyn he was rewarded with an earldom from Charles II. Londoners celebrated his romantic association with Elizabeth and he was hugely popular.

TheXallegoryXofXloveOf course no convenient marriage certificate exists – or has been found – in either of these cases to confirm the existence of a marriage and we are left to draw on circumstantial evidence as well as historical rumour. In the case of William and Elizabeth there is one particularly beautiful piece of evidence in the form of a painting called The Allegory of Love by Sir Peter Lely, which shows the two of them joined by cupids and features many other symbols of devotion. There is also the incomparable Ashdown House, the hunting lodge Craven built for Elizabeth, that still stands like a little white palace on the Berkshire Downs.


The Lure of the Timeslip Novel

AXTravellerXinXtimeI’ve been a fan of timeslip novels all my reading life. There are the old favourites from when I was growing up:

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, Astercote by Penelope Lively, and later Green Darkness and The House on the Strand. When I discovered Ferney by James Long I was blown away.

These days I feed my timeslip addiction with Pamela Hartshorne’s books, Christina Courtenay and of course the incomparable Susanna Kearsley.

I wonder what it is about the time slip novel that so intrigues me. Beneath the pleasure of reading about history there is something more – perhaps the idea that I, too, would love to step through a portal into another world and see with my own eyes what life was really like in the past. There is a magic about it.

Today on her blog, Midi Berry interviews me about House of Shadows and it seems a goodNights opportunity to mention her lovely time slip book Nights of the Road which draws on the history of Frances Coke, another fascinating 17th century character whom I came across when researching Ashdown House and its history.

So that is my recommendation – Do you have any time slip suggestions for me?

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?