Alison Weir and Elizabeth of York



Alison Weir is first and foremost a historian but when you combine this with her writing skills and ability to make us care about historical figures whether popular or less known, then you can guarantee that any book with her name on it ‘does what is says on the tin’


This is not a history book however – it is a story of intrigue and mystery A story of a woman often forgotten in history but who was right at the heart of the action during the golden era of the Plantagenets and the rise of the Tudors.


Elizabeth  has often been written about only in relation to her father, uncle husband and of course son was, but delve into Elizabeth’s story is to find out a different story altogether overlooked.


There is a lot of history covered here and for all those history buffs out there, you will love the family trees, the history of the family feuds, how the nobles of the time dressed, what they ate etc. It is a very detailed book but is not a heavy read thanks to the skill of the author. The nature of her writing, the development of her findings is impressive as are the conclusions which she comes to.


An interesting introduction to the Palace of Westminster too where Elizabeth of York was born and lived as a child  –


The Palace of Westminster

Where  Elizabeth was born in 1466 – 

The royal palace of Westminster extended along the Thames shore, southwest of the City of London. A royal residence had stood on this site opposite Westminster Abbey since the sainted King Edward the Confessor had rebuilt both in the eleventh century…..

The rambling old palace was much in need of upgrading and Edward IV had set about converting part of it into new royal lodgings, which Elizabeth of Tok would come to come very well.


But for now England was celebrated as ‘The ringing isle’ because of its many churches, abbeys  and priories.


I thought I’d read everything there was to read on Elizabeth of York and her family. How wrong was I? I discovered many things and not just about the lady herself and the Tudor time period but they way in which it was written made me remember them and care and also want to read more about her.

Daughter of Edward IV, sister to the princes in the tower, wife of Henry VII, mother of Henry VIII, and grandmother of Elizabeth I: Elizabeth of York is a pivotal character in English history.

She certainly comes back to life in this book –  In the early part we see Elizabeth as a young woman unsure of her future and on her way becoming Queen. She becomes a much more shadowy character after the wedding. Weir tries to give us a picture of her life by detailing her wardrobe, the places she visited with Henry, the events she took part in, and her role in bearing the royal children.


 Elizabeth would have learned early in life that she was a very special little girl


The end of the book is much more interesting from the aspect of historical events. The pretenders caused Henry worry about the security of his throne. We do get a sense of what Elizabeth thought of all this and it goes to heighten the drama and the truth of what history has already told us but never really from a woman’s point of view – and not just any women -one at the heart of everything that was going on.


For a history lesson and a fascinating read – Elizabeth of York is THE place to start. One to add to the growing pile…..

Alison Weir writes about some fascinating time periods, people and places in the UK
Alison Weir writes about some fascinating time periods, people and places in the UK






Author Interview – Elaine Cougler – The Loyalist’s Wife

Following on from the review and trail yesterday, The Book Trail is very proud to introduce to you: Elaine Cougler: Time to pick her brains!

Interview with Elaine Cougler - author of The Loyalist's Wife
Interview with Elaine Cougler – author of The Loyalist’s Wife


 Hi Elaine. First of all thank you very much for agreeing to this interview on the Book Trail. The Loyalist’s Wife is an intriguing read. What made you want to write about this period of history and in particular from the point of view of a loyalist’s wife?

I am delighted to be your guest on the Book Trail and am overwhelmed by your support of The Loyalist’s Wife. Thank you so much. As for the choice of point of view, the story just seemed to demand that both John and Lucy get to show their respective sides as the story progressed. When John goes off into the trees to join Butler’s Rangers I could see that this was terribly difficult for both of them. The structure, then, of chapters from his point of view and chapters from her point of view allowed me to do that. And to add a lot of suspense, as well!

 I felt such sadness at Lucy’s plight  – did you find certain parts of her story hard to write?

I absolutely did and I sat at my computer with tears streaming down my face but I can’t tell you what they were as they are spoilers for new readers. But while they were hard to write, they were also the easiest as I just lost myself in the story. My fingers smacked the keys, only stopping to grab a tissue, as I stuggled to bring to life those scenes.

 Can you tell us something about the literary devices you used to tell your story – such as the alternate storyline of Lucy’s plight and John’s role in the fighting?

I love words and word pictures and writing word pictures in such a way that the tumbling of the words in their sentences mirrors the action and, indeed, the meaning of the words. They are like a patchwork quilt which has been carefully constructed of various colours and designs in order to make the whole a bigger entity than just each square taken by itself. For me, the literary devices slide in unobtrusively because they just are part of that love of mine.


 Did you visit Niagara-on-the-Lake as part of your research and can you tell us a little bit about what you found there?

Oh, yes, I visited Niagara-on-the-Lake several times. I love to walk where my characters might have walked and I click away on my camera so that I can have photos to remind me of what I saw. NOTL has Fort George, built after the American Revolution. It has many historical buildings built after the burning of the town by the Americans during the War of 1812. And it has a wonderful museum which keeps all of this history alive so that down through the generations we can see and remember. But the best thing I found was Fort Mississauga, which was built after the time of The Loyalist’s Wife but which is hidden on a golf course—you have to walk to get to it—and which shows exactly why Fort George had to be built. Fort Niagara is so close to Fort Mississauga that the Americans could easily have erased it with a steady bombardment. Of course today our countries are best friends but a couple of hundred years ago, not so much.

Do you think these battles and this period of history is something that is not well understood by many? Your book certainly lets us see them from the point of view of those involved!

Most of us are caught up in our daily lives and don’t pause to think too much of what or who came before and I was no different. When I did start to research for The Loyalist’s Wife, I found out a lot about my own personal history and that just made me ache for more. I knew I was from Loyalist stock but not much more than that. Now I absolutely treasure the stories of those who fought then so that I can be who and what and where I am now.


I’ve been following your blog On Becoming a Wordsmith.  

Congratulations on your first book! As the book is part of a planned series, are you able to tell us about what we should be looking forward to?

The Loyalist’s Luck (due out next year, I hope!) stands on its own as a novel but continues on with John and Lucy’s story. My research showed me there was much more about the history of these brave peoples and John and Lucy just had to be involved. The Loyalist’s Legacy will again stand on its own but have links to the first two books. And that’s all I can tell you at this point.

 Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to anyone out there who is currently writing a book or thinking of doing so? 

I am not sure there is any quick way to write a book or to learn how to write the kind of book you want. I wanted mine to be excellent for its story, its characters, and its correctness. As a former teacher of high school English I needed to do the best job I could. That meant taking a few years to learn about the industry, the process, the social media connected, and the people who were doing a great job. The short answer is just start. Write a set number of pages a day and stick to the schedule that suits you. Writing is mostly about being persistent.

Finally, who do you think would play Lucy and John in a TV adaptation or indeed a movie adaptation of your book?

OMG, you’ve done it! You’ve come up with a question I find impossible to answer. I am the one who watches a movie and afterwards says, “you know, the one with the purple shirt who sang that obnoxious song” when trying to give the actor’s name. I don’t even really take note of the characters’ names either. I love authors of long books who give a character list at the beginning so I can keep going back and refer to it.

So now you’ve managed to sneak into my head and steal my secret.

That being said, Lucy must be strong-willed to the point of being a bit of a pain, independent, forthright, intelligent, auburn-haired, clever, competent, and a loving wife. John must be tall, deep, strong and yet soft, clever, and a true friend, as well as quick to anger and able to forgive. Maybe I should have a contest on my blog for people to name actors to play my amazing characters.

The Loyalist's Wife
The Loyalist’s Wife

Thanks Elaine for agreeing to feature on The Book Trail!

Elaine blogs at On Becoming a Wordsmith which may be found at She also is frequently found here: @ElaineCougler, Facebook/ElaineCouglerAuthor. 

The Loyalist’s Wife is available on Amazon and Kobo. 

The Loyalist’s Wife – Elaine Cougler – Canada

The Loyalist's Wife
The Loyalist’s Wife

When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.

With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

The lovely Elaine Cougler
Elaine Cougler

I admit that the fact that I wanted to read this book made me finally buy a kindle! I know! Me! I think that deserves another post on its own quite frankly but for now, this is what I wanted to say about my first Kindle read!

I finished the The Loyalist’s Wife at the weekend. I can honestly say that I understand a lot about this period of war that I had never really thought about before. Some parts were gruesome, some were uplifting, whilst all were realistic and put me right at the heart of the people living their day to day lives in such turbulent times.

It was a particularly interesting read as I had only come across a little of this history before, years ago when I was travelling in Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, Canada and discovered Butler’s Burying Ground and the vault where the famous Colonel John Butler was buried. I spent a little time then reading about the history but found the books at the time hard to read and inaccessible. How I wish The Loyalist’s Wife had been written then!

Canada - home to Niagara on the Lake
Canada – home to Niagara on the Lake

The book moves from two places of action – the home where Lucy, the Loyalist’s Wife of the book, is left behind to have and look after the baby whilst her husband goes to fight. This was an interesting way to split the action as just as a cliff hanger came about Lucy I was thinking NO! but then was immediately thrown into the action John now found himself in. The struggles of both (Lucy protecting her home and her baby and John on the road with his men) are as difficult as each other. We get not only the husband’s point of view as being at the heart of the action but that of the wife. I would argue that it is the wife’s story that shines through for me as she had the anguish of giving birth, caring for the baby and also worrying about John. She also suffers a tragedy involving her father but I won’t give any plot away.

This book may have the colonial wars and struggles as the backdrop and I found it exciting to ‘be right there at the heart of the action’, but it was the people and the human side of the story which was brought out so strongly and passionately in Elaine’s book.

And it is certainly a book built with passion and feeling. I can only imagine the challenge of the research involved due to the detail involved.

Even though the story is a hard one to read at times, I felt such sadness and concern, especially for Lucy. When you realise Lucy and indeed her husband John are just one couple caught up in the historical battles, it brings home to you the raw honesty this book represents and the wide reaching effects of years of fighting and the human reality of just getting through every day.

Fair to say that going to Niagara on the Lake started a little seed of interest that brought me to this book and now I can say I understand what I saw all those years ago. This is the real story of the fighting and the battles of that time. While I might not understand all the politics, I understood the raw anguish and emotions of the people caught up in it all. And my heart went out to them.

Writing that produces raw emotions is definitely a story worth reading.

My signed copy arrived in the post today!
My signed copy arrived in the post today!

And I’m so excited that today! this very day that I am putting up the review of the book, what should land on my doormat but a signed hard copy of the book itself! Thanks Elaine! All the way from sunny Canada. I will treasure this and also reread it of course since although I now love my kindle, I have the proper book now!

Booktrail around Newcastle – Mari Hannah’s The Murder Wall

mari hannah book

The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah is a debut police procedural set in the North East of England.

Living in the North East made me really really want to read this novel especially so I could see and visit the places where it is set. Now granted, this may sound a bit strange for a crime novel but it is a great book so it was not a hard decision. I admit that I haven’t read much crime fiction due to the often brutal content but I can tell you that this book (and the two further books in the series) has made me change my mind. It’s clever and more CSI than simply a book about murder. It’s about the real people involved in an investigation and the hard and brutal challenges they face.

I admit I was shocked at the opening chapter. It certainly makes you sit up and take notice! But it didn’t put me off – I just didn’t read much of it at night!

Two deaths at the beginning of the book happen in a church and a year later they remain unsolved much to the chagrin of Detective Chief Inspector Kate Daniels. Now she is called upon to investigate the murder of Alan Stephens on the Quayside who she recognises but is reluctant to reveal for reasons that become clear later on.

The Quayside
The Quayside

It soon becomes apparent that there is a serial killer stalking victims in and around the North-East of England.

I really felt as if I was central witness sitting in the same room in front of the Murder Wall – the wall where all information and photographs of the crime scene are displayed. I was there sat beside Kate and feeling her frustration and vulnerability. Kate had an interesting backstory and personal story which enhanced the novel as it was so different to other ‘detective’ stories I’ve read.

You only get as much information as the police uncover, with the exception of passages from the killer’s point of view. Very very clever…..

So I decided to walk in Kate’s footsteps and see her investigate the crime through her eyes…

1. The iconic Newcastle Quayside where the murder of Alan Stephens takes place  and the Exhibition park where we first meet Jo Soulsby in Chapter two:

The Sage
The Sage
The Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge

The quayside was buzzing with energy. On the south side of the river, the Sage music centre sat like a silver bubble gleaming in the moonlight.  To the left of it, the gateshead millennium bridge…page 12

2. Exhibition park….

The entrance to Exhibition Park
The entrance to Exhibition Park
Getting a taxi outside of the park as Jo Soulsby would have done
Getting a taxi outside of the park as Jo Soulsby would have done

Jo Soulsby looked down at her feet, hoping the two young women hurrying from the northern exit of Exhibition Park hadn’t noticed her.

Hauling herself from the bench, she moved unsteadily toward the perimeter fence…

Almost immediately, a taxi pulled to the kerb – page 18,19

3. Swan house roundabout

55 Degrees North
55 Degrees North
Looking at the Tyne Bridge from 55Degrees North
Looking at the Tyne Bridge from 55Degrees North

Daniels was stationary at the North end of the Tyne bridge , waiting to gain access to the Swan House roundabout. In the centre of the island, looming  high above the city, was a former government block converted to apartments  and renamed 55 o North. She stared up at it, wondering why anyone would want to live above  a traffic nightmare. – page 58

 3. Jesmond – where Kate Daniels lives

Holly Avenue where Kate Daniels lives
Holly Avenue where Kate Daniels lives
Holly Avenue  - the home of DCI Kate Daniels
Holly Avenue – which is the home of DCI Kate Daniels?
Kate's view of her street on her way home?
Kate’s view of her street on her way home?

The leafy suburb of Jesmond was a cosmopolitan area with good shops, hotels, restaurants and trendy bars. Although it was different to the rural area where Daniels had spent her childhood, she liked the fact that it still retained a villagely feel. – page 58

 4. Dene’s deli in Jesmond

The leafy streets of Jesmond
The leafy streets of Jesmond
Dene's Deli - the home of the perfect sandwich
Dene’s Deli – the home of the perfect sandwich

‘The best sandwiches around as far as Daniels was concerned.” – 119

I second that. I mean where else can you get a baguette stuffed with bacon and hot mango sauce! I ate this in one hand with my novel in the other. Food for all the senses hehe

 5. The Baltic on Newcastle’s Quayside:

The Baltic
The Baltic

Daniels walked to the window and  looked out at the Millennium Bridge; a giant  curved structure known locally as the ‘blinking eye’. Her won eyes  followed a large party of students  making their way across the river to the Baltic, a converted flour mill,  now a centre of contemporary art, the largest gallery of its type in the world. – page 162

 6. The living room on Grey street where she meets her colleague Ron Naylor..


Always the policeman, she knew he’d sit facing facing the door, careful never to turn his back on potential trouble. – 181

Murder Wall is the first in the series of  cases for DCI Kate Daniels and I can’t wait to read them next. They are not only fascinating and brilliant insights into police procedures and a well-developed female protagonist but a great way of exploring some lovely areas of Newcastle.

Take the book. Take the bus to Jesmond. Eat at Dene’s Deli and spend time with Kate Daniels on the Quayside. Get into the heart of the story and experience the city that Mari Hannah showcases so well.

New Lanark Spinning New Lives – a literary gem in Scotland

C.A. Hope has done two of my favourite things – written an historical novel based on true facts and set in a real place. And she has written a book that really places you at the heart of the people who lived and worked in New Lanark, and at the heart of their everyday lives.

New Lanark - Spinning New  Lives. Reading the book on site!
New Lanark – Spinning New Lives. Reading the book on site!

The New Lanark cotton mills –  now a UNESCO world heritage site is a place of discovery and hidden history. There is plenty to see on a visit there such as inside the homes and shops of the workers, but it is with the book ‘New Larnark- Spinning new lives’ that the voices from history whisper from the stone buildings and the surrounding forest.

 The story

David Dale was a wealthy Glasgow business man who had plans for a new cotton mill. He found the perfect site at the Falls of Clyde, with its close proximity to the town of Lanark in 1784. He went on to build a mill village at the foot of the Falls and so New Lanark was born.

New Lanark
New Lanark

Dale was ahead of his time as he believed that workers’ conditions should be fair and honest. He was responsible for showing that business could be done right yet still be profitable.

The book also narrates the story of the Scott family who worked at the mill and delves in to how the reality of working in a mill at that time was harsh and unrelenting. Their experience of the New Lanark dream was somewhat different to that of the Mr Dale and his family.

Conditions in the mill at the time must have been horrendous
Conditions in the mill at the time must have been horrendous

I visited New Larnark for the first time since reading this novel and I felt I had already been guided round by the book. I had a strong sense of deja vu at many times during the day whilst reading and listening to the museum exhibits.

There is the Annie McLeod experience which sees you getting into a time travel car as Annie guides you through what it was like working and living in New Lanark in 1820. But to get a real insight and to feel the raw emotions of those in the book and even those who aren’t.

The literary trail of New Lanark – Spinning New Lives

Nature in the book:

The Falls of Clyde - stunning!
The Falls of Clyde – stunning!

The author obviously has a genuine love and interest in nature, wildlife and the Falls  of Clyde in particular and these are also characters in the book as important and as much a part of the story as the human characters.

She writes of Dundaff waterfall – one  of the four making up the Falls of Clyde –

Dundaff was the smallest waterfall in the valley but ..[…] . Yet, being visible from the village,it held its own beauty splashing down over rocky shelvesjust before the mills…” The kingfishers, sticklebacks and array of wildlife she mentions could also be seen as I stood and took a picture of the falls:

A view towards the village
A view towards the village

The people of New Lanark: 

Fiona McDonald one of the poor is brought to see Mr Dale about working in the mill: she sets foot inside his house and notices the opulence – quite a stark reminder of the contrast of her own situation:

The opulence of Robert Owen's house - a social pioneer at the head of New Lanark. Could this be like the home which Fiona found herself in?
The opulence of Robert Owen’s house – a social pioneer at the head of New Lanark. Could this be like the home which Fiona found herself in?

She had stepped into another world – page 14

A typical workers cottage would have looked like this: ( I was still intrigued to see the line of books beside the radio – no home is complete without them! )

A typical workers cottage
A typical workers cottage

Another character, Joe is desperate to save his widowed mother and siblings from ruin:

The family lived in the end part of a row of miners’ houses  strung along the roadside. Houses were too grand a description  for the shabby collection of stone walls and ragged thatched roofs. – page 20

Workers houses
Workers houses

For me, what I found particularly interesting and fascinating in equal measure was the author’s use of regional Scottish dialect. It never gets in the way of understanding though and even non native readers will see how it enhances the voice of the people.

The passion and raw emotion comes from Fiona the orphan as she prepares to marry Joe Scott: page 161

Joe says: ‘Ye’ve had a’ this learnin’ an’ readin’. Ah have nae, mibbe ye’ll come tae think o’ me as a sumf…’

Fiona replies: ‘Any hoo, mibbee ye will bore me, an’ who’s tae say ye will nae tire o’ me? But if Ah’m gaun tae be bored wi’ any man, Ah wid wish it tae be ye, Joe Scott!’

Spinning New Lives is about the language, people and backdrop of a part of Scottish history and I completely fell in love with the place, the book and the ghosts of those who lived and worked there. There was also a literary heritage I discovered – in the library of Robert Owen:

These books were originally in the New Lanark library established by Robert Owen for the benefit of the villagers.
These books were originally in the New Lanark library established by Robert Owen for the benefit of the villagers.

In my opinion – Literature can teach, educate, entertain  and comfort. Every home should have a bookcase of these literary wonders. Robert Owen recognised this and it is still true today. The book New Lanark- Spinning New Lives is one such example of the power and importance of the written word.

There is a sequel planned and I for one can’t wait. I feel part of the story myself now and will be sure to go back to New Lanark and sit beside the Falls of Clyde to read how everything turned out. Beautifully written and excitedly read.

Jane Austen comes to Northumberland

Well, this weekend has been steeped in sense and sensibility, sprinkled with a little  pride, but gladly no prejudice. And just the right amount of persuasion…..

I visited Belsay Hall in Northumberland with my copy of Pride and Prejudice in my hand and wandered about the halls and gardens of a wonderful castle and gardens to walk in the footsteps of Darcy, Emma, Mr Knightly and Elizabeth Bennet to name but a few.

I know the novels weren’t set here but the style , setting and atmosphere of the surroundings, they could have been.

With the costumes of the characters as worn by the actors who portrayed them just in the next room, you could almost see the language and stories of the books come to life before your very eyes

The poster announcing the Austen greatness awaiting you as you walked through the arch way of the main entrance into Austen world:

Darcey greeted me at the door...
Darcy greeted me at the door…

The shirt itself was only  a breath away…..

Could this be Pemberley House or indeed Hartfield?
Could this be Pemberley House or indeed Hartfield?

could this be Pemberley house?

Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. (Quote from Pride and Prejudice)

And inside, the costumes so cleverly displayed amongst the stunning library backdrop simply added to the literary thrill of seeing Mr Darcy, Mr Knightly and Emma come to life……

Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma

“Vanity working on a weak mind produces every kind of mischief” – Emma

Elizabeth Bennet
Elizabeth Bennet

“They could talk of nothing but officers; and Mr Bingley’s large fortune” – Pride and Prejudice

Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh

I can wait no more………

Ooh Darcy....
Ooh Darcy….

And when Darcy marries……(I imagine me wearing this dress as I’m sure all other visitors here do)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

To find out more about the costumes and  to visit the stunning setting of Belsay Castle and Gardens, please visit their website:

Well worth it for literary fans. The perfect setting to read your Austen novel in Austen inspired surroundings and one of the most magical gardens I have ever seen – perfect for losing yourself in whilst reading one of her novels. As Jane Austen herself once wrote in Pride and Prejudice:

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Nell Gwynn’s Covent Garden

Nell’s journey in the heart of theatre land continues…..

The theatre land in London now is of course not the bawdy, dirty maze of streets that it once was. But wandering around Drury lane, I closed my eyes and imagined the smells and sounds than Nell would have heard. If I opened this door, would I see her selling oranges, dreaming of the big time?

would Nell and the actors have had a drink in the pub nearby?
would Nell and the actors have had a drink in the pub nearby?

This is a real rags to riches tale and I enjoyed the fact that it had a very different feel to it from many of the other royal historical fictions I have read – it wasn’t all about power and survival. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for me was the descriptions of the theatre world and of how it makes Nell feel:

 “ I want to do that Nell thought. I want to make them love me like that.”

Would Nell have stood here?
Would Nell have stood here?

I found Gillian’s style very readable and enjoyable to read too. I loved the way she described the scenery, even remembering to include the smells as well as the sounds.  I felt I got a really good feel for what London was like at this time and the struggle that people like Nell found life to be like. So much so that I thought I had to go to London to see Nell and her theatre land for myself.  I also spent a lot of time to wander around the cobbled streets of Convent Garden to hear the traders and the crowds shout as they would have done back in the day:

Covent Garden where Nell once thought of her mum ‘alone in the grey streets of Covent Garden, where the plague raged most  fiercely’
Covent Garden where Nell once thought of her mum 'alone in the grey streets of Covent Garden, where the plague raged most  fiercely'
Covent Garden where Nell once thought of her mum ‘alone in the grey streets of Covent Garden, where the plague raged most fiercely’
In the heart of Covent Garden
In the heart of Covent Garden

A funny  moment when Nell discovers where she should go to the toilet whilst on stage – in something called Oliver’s skull:

Kate indicated the chamber pot tucked behind a screen and Nell giggled in delight at the thought that Cromwell’s hated name had come to mean a lowly pisspot.

This book fully captured my imagination. I felt fully immersed in the times and felt as if I was standing right beside Nell. I warmed to her and wanted to be her friend. The story is essentially how she meets and falls in love with the king, but the real story is about Nell and her struggle and her spirit above all else.

Getting to know Nell has been an historical insight as well as a joy and I am keen to read more from Gillian Bagwell.

Mistress of a King – Nell Gwynn’s London

Neil Gwynn came from nothing to become the mistress of King Charles II. Her story is told by Gillian Bagwell and is set in the heart of theatreland in London……so off I went….  

Nell Gwynn
Nell Gwynn

The Darling Strumpet is the story of Nell’s impressive rise from the streets of London to the most coveted position in the land. Her spirit shines out in the book – her tenacity, wit and charm above all else.

But what also came out of this novel, sadly, was the awful early life she had and the abuse she suffered at the hands of men and boys. Some readers will feel very uncomfortable at the language and descriptions used but they are all sadly representative of the time it would seem. Women in general were nothing more than men’s playthings and I must admit I shed a tear at some of the early scenes.

Talking of the King’s mistress they have just spotted in the crowd, one of the lads with Nell boasts;

 “Aye, just give me half an hour with her. I reckon she’d be worth the price.”

But Nell’s real story is not the negative parts of her life but how she overcame these and other situations by her charm and sheer zest for life. Her thrill at  getting a job selling oranges at the theatre is charming as it is exciting for the reader as we know this is the start of some good fortune for a heroine we have already come to love.

Arriving at the Theatre where she is going to see a lady called Orange Moll to see if she can a job at this amazing new place of excitement:

And she would be part of it! She felt a thrill, and then a stab of doubt..[ ]

After all, who was she but a ragamuffin from the squalid streets?

The majestic looking Kings Theatre on Drury  Lane
The majestic looking Kings Theatre on Drury Lane


Nell is enthralled by the smells and sounds of the theatre – no wonder she wants to become an actress. When the man who says will teach her, suddenly murdered, I admit I cried. No! Was Nell’s dream about to be snatched away??

Please come back for part two …there was too much to share in just one post!

The Shadow of the Wind – Back to 1940’s Barcelona – part two

The Shadow of the Wind – a work of art – a classic film noir that you would normally expect to see on the big screen – masterfully crafted amongst the pages of this book.

It certainly has all the makings of an epic film of the old Hollywood variety – dark smokey alleyways, crumbling buildings, young love and dark dark secrets.


Calle Santa Ana The journey starts at the bookshop on Calle Santa Ana Plaza real,  Daniel meets Clara here. He also comes across Fermin Romero de Torres. Calle Arco del Teatro Is this where the Cemetery of Books is hidden? Calle Ferran  The area in the Gothic Quarter where Daniel first saw that pen in the shop window. Iglesia Santa del Mar  In the book it’s the Santa Lucia Hospice where Daniel and Fermin hear the tale of Penelope and Julian from Penelope’s old nurse Jacinta Coronada. El Quatre Gats  where Daniel and Fermin spend a lot of their time
Calle Santa Ana
The journey starts at the bookshop on Calle Santa Ana
Plaza real,
Daniel meets Clara here. He also comes across Fermin Romero de Torres.
Calle Arco del Teatro
Is this where the Cemetery of Books is hidden?
Calle Ferran
The area in the Gothic Quarter where Daniel first saw that pen in the shop window.
Iglesia Santa del Mar
In the book it’s the Santa Lucia Hospice where Daniel and Fermin hear the tale of Penelope and Julian from Penelope’s old nurse Jacinta Coronada.
El Quatre Gats
where Daniel and Fermin spend a lot of their time

After the first part of my literary journey back in time to 1940’s Barcelona, in the trail of The Shadow of the Wind, I took a moment to sit in a small cafe, and with my coffee in one hand and my book in the other, I was back in that time, the dark wooden tables splashed with wine and the flickering candles illuminating every scene.

The eerie beauty of the Gothic Quarter
The eerie beauty of the Gothic Quarter

After a spot of lunch, I continued my journey across Barcelona via Calle Ferran and ended up walking along  Calle Jaume I and Calle de la Princesa street in the same way that Daniel would have done. It is in this area that Daniel first saw that pen in the shop window. The Montblanc Meisterstuck that provides some touching moments between Daniel and his father.

Calle de la Princesa
Calle de la Princesa 

The streets near the Church Iglesia Santa del Mar are dark , damp and mysterious but in the Shadow of the Wind, it’s the Santa Lucia Hospice where Daniel and Fermin hear the tale of Penelope and Julian from Penelope’s old nurse Jacinta Coronada.

Where Daniel goes in search of the truth on his literary trail
Where Daniel goes in search of the truth on his literary trail

The eerie but beautiful maze of streets, alleys and almost secret passageways are as spooky as they are fascinating. The imposing trees and balconies above your head try and look over your shoulder and touch your head to get your attention. I cowered my head as it started to rain and chased Daniel as he himself scurried along in his search for the truth.

The evening sky was heavy and imposing above and the shadows all around me chased me as I hurried my steps in order to make my way back around the cathedral and back out into open space where I could breathe once again

The beautiful but imposing Cathedral
The beautiful but imposing Cathedral

I took a moment then to visit Nuria’s flat and the square  – ‘a small breathing space  in the maze of streets” and stand beside the fountain as I imagined Daniel had done  so many times before me. Daniel is searching for the truth and he enlists Nuria’s help – but the more Daniel learns about Carax, the more he realizes the similarities and parallels between his own life and that of the author. Then to the cathedral where the hatter and the character of Sophie Carax first met:

A meeting of destiny
A meeting of destiny
Nuria's flat
Nuria’s flat
the breath of fresh air
the breath of fresh air

Finally coming to the end of my journey for now, I sat and enjoyed the last chapter at the cafe El Quatre Gats where he spent a lot of his time. I saw Daniel go past me as I watched the street outside the window and I saw Lain Coubert at every turn. Every flicker of light,every motion out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and was heightened by The shadow of the wind. The shadow of the wind is Barcelona and although it was a dark and eerie adventure at times, it was a literary journey that I will never forget.