Love a mystery?

Christmas is coming and we are all very busy, but if you want to take a few hours out to relax and lose yourself in a mystery, then why not meet Nicholas Penn in Dead to Sin – A Penn Mystery Book 1?


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Dead to Sin

Nicholas Penn is summoned to Gorebeck Gaol to visit a man accused of murder. Having been found holding the body of the last victim in his arms, his plight seems sealed. Nicholas is torn between a sense of duty and his feelings of hurt and disgust when being in the presence of the accused. The tables turn abruptly, and Nicholas becomes the incarcerated. Duped and incensed, he swears to find the man, Wilson, before another victim dies.

Bolton Castle

When I was touring North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales National Park this summer, researching scenes for the Penn Mysteries, I was lucky enough to discover the medieval gem that is Bolton Castle.

In the heart of Wensleydale Richard II’s Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Richard le Scrope had the castle built between 1379 and 1399. It is in a remarkable state of repair and is still owned by Lord Bolton who is a direct descendant of its founder.

We had a lovely day exploring its battlements, rooms, stores, armoury, dungeon, kitchen and courtyard. Actors provided a medieval play and archers put on a display. Tents surrounded the entrance showing how people lived in medieval England – a joy to the sound, smells and skills of the time.

Before we left the tea rooms provided a truly lovely light meal in ancient surroundings. If you are in the area during the holiday season, I would recommend a visit. The area is absolutely beautiful for hiking or simply touring.

Pantomimes & Fairy Tales

Christmas would not be Christmas in the UK without the onset of the pantomime season.  Theaters up and down the land give way to the colourful, family, slap-stick humour of the pantomime. Celebrities appear in the most surprising roles to join in the seasonal fun. One of the most popular titles is the adaptation of the beloved fairy-tale Cinderella.

Poor Cinderella is a persecuted heroine. She has lost her own mother and father and is left in the ‘care’ of her step-mother and her daughters – the ugly sisters.

The origins of Cinderella can be traced back through different cultures at various times in history from: Greek mythology, Chinese fable, seventeenth century France in Perrault’s verison in 1697 and the Brothers Grimm’s Ashenputtel to name but a few.

It is a universal theme. Beauty is more than skin deep and so is ugliness. Cinderella’s rescuer can be magical, human, a tree – or in my version on this Cinderella theme, a combination of faith, hope and love in human form who seeks justice for my poor Ellie. Of course, the greatest of these is love :)

An Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick

Welcome to my blog, Elizabeth. From the moment you began writing manuscripts you never gave up on your goal of becoming a published writer. How long did this take?

I decided I wanted to write for a career when I was 16. This was after I had spent a year hand writing my first novel. Prior to that I’d always told myself stories verbally as imaginative fun. It wasn’t until I was 15 I wrote anything down, but having done so, I decided that writing novels was what I wanted to do for a living. It took another 16 years for me to realise that dream. Part of that time was taken up by growing up, entering the world of employment, getting married and having a family. During that period I learned to touch type and as technology advanced, transferred from manual typewriter to computer – in those days the Amstrad green screen. I always hoped to get published, but I figured it didn’t matter if I didn’t because this was my hobby and storytelling had been a part of me since I first had language, so I wasn’t just doing it for the fame and fortune (!), I was doing it for me.

Your big break came when Carole Blake became your agent after reading The Wild Hunt. How quickly did your world change as a result of this?

Not immediately because it takes time for contracts to be arranged and for money to begin flowing through so I didn’t give up the part-time day job immediately. When I was first offered a publishing contract, my children were aged six and three, and I was staying at home looking after them during the day and going out to work the twilight shift in a local supermarket at night while my husband took over the childcare. So although I was offered a publishing contract in the summer of 1989, I didn’t give up the job until late autumn of the same year. While my first contract wasn’t exactly enough to move to Millionaire’s Row, it allowed me to be a stay at home mum and write in the spaces between the children. In those early days it was still very much a part time income, but enough to get by when added to my husband’s full-time wage.

Do you look back at your early work affectionately or critically?

Both. I think any writer worth their salt is always learning and seeking to improve. I know I have moved on since my early days, but my early novels were still strong enough to be published and short-listed for awards in a very competitive market. I have since had the great opportunity to overhaul those early novels in the light of experience gained and it was interesting to go back and look at the learning curve. But I am very fond of my early works because they are the foundation stones on which my career has been built.

I totally agree with you. What advice would you give to an author who is about to make the step into the world of an agent and publishing deals?

Be professional. If you don’t know something and it’s genuinely out of your range, then ask. But do some homework first and make sure that it’s not something you can’t answer for yourself. Talk to other writers and professionals who have knowledge of the publishing industry and get a range of opinions. Go to events and network. The more you know the better you will be able to make decisions. You might even decide to go the route of self publishing, but you need to know all the ins and outs of what this entails and be realistic about expectations.

Your love of the medieval period began when you watched your TV hero on screen in the 70’s adventure series Desert Crusader. Which of your heroes/heroines would you love to see televised to inspire a new generation?

Without a doubt it would have to be the great William Marshal and his family. They win hands down! He was a man who took the helm of the country in a time of great upheaval during the early 13th century. Without his political, military and people skills, the pages of England’s history would probably have looked very different.

I would love to see William on TV.

You are renowned for your detailed research and historical accuracy. How has this deepened or broadened over the years since you started writing?

When I began writing it was at the more romantic end of historical fiction and the research books I was using were often fairly general in their outlook although I did even at that time possess a core number of books from university presses. By the very nature of time I gained experience, adding layer upon layer as each successive novel came out. I bought more books; as my knowledge levels increased so did the complexity of my reading. These days I mostly buy my research books from specialist publishers and university presses and my research has become more academic. I am now sometimes asked to give talks at universities and heritage sites – something I couldn’t have envisaged 20 years ago. My research has also become multi-layered. The Internet is obviously a fabulous resource and primary source documents are now available online that couldn’t be obtained when I first began writing. Even so one has to be careful because there is an awful lot of mediocre rubbish out there and all writers need an inbuilt drivel alarm! As well as research reading, I also re-enact with a living history society called Regia Anglorum. This helps me to get a feel for the period by working with replica artefacts and not just reading about how things were done, but having a go – see the next question. I also visit sites mentioned in my novels where possible, and this helps to give a feel for the lie of the land, although Google Earth is also your friend.

Regia Anglorum has obviously been an important part of understanding life within medieval England. What is your favourite artefact/garment that you have had recreated, through knowing the experts associated with the group?

I have a dress. It’s made from woollen fabric especially commissioned and woven to an 11th century pattern using the same loom width that a person of that period would have used. I’m rubbish at needlework and a bit awkward when it comes to cutting out patterns, so I had someone I know make the dress for me. This particular person has degree level knowledge of textile archaeology and mediaeval costumes and was able to design the dress to an 11th/12th century spec. It was then all handsewn using mediaeval stitch techniques. It’s the nearest I’m ever going to get to fully authentic!

In all the places you have been and the artefacts you have studied during your research, do you have a particular favourite(s) that has inspired you or left a lasting memory?

I absolutely love trawling museums, and the London ones are fabulous if one is in the capital. I would say that one of my favourite places to go is the Museum of London which has some terrific exhibits in the mediaeval gallery many of which are ordinary everyday objects and not just the stuff of high aristocracy. There are things like 14th century spades, fish traps, a wonderful little tinned mirror case, a terrific money box that looks like something out of the 1970s! They have a codpiece too!

For a single one I’d have to say the effigy of William Marshal at the Temple Church in London. I always go and see him and honour him when I visit London. He gave me my first New York Times bestseller and he has touched so many people, myself included. He has a life beyond his mortal life, and it always makes my throat tighten with pride when I go to the Temple Church.


What appealed to you most about the character of Eleanor of Aquitaine, inspiring your critically acclaimed trilogy?

I think it’s not so much a case of appealing. It’s more a case of downright curiosity. I had written about her and several novels and at first had followed the usual path of the biographers when I needed to put her in a story. But that came to be not enough. I began to ask questions; I began to see anomalies in her story that didn’t agree with the biographies or what was being accepted as historical veracity. I began to think about Eleanor in a bit more detail. What was she really like? What could she tell me that she hadn’t told anyone else? And the more I researched the more I found out and the more biographical discrepancies came to light. For example you will find her biographers describing her variously as an olive skinned black eyed beauty with a curvaceous figure that never ran to fat in old age, as a saucy blue-eyed blonde, as a humorous redhead with green eyes. And the thing is there is not one single physical description of Eleanor recorded anywhere. Even the supposed mural of her in the chapel of St Radegone in Chinon, is now thought by a leading art historian who has examined the mural in detail, to be a man. A recent academic work on Eleanor titled “inventing Eleanor” by Professor Michael R. Evans, investigates these odd ideas about her appearance, and actually quotes my research into the biographers’ notions about Eleanor’s appearance.

Non-historians also have some strange ideas about Eleanor – that she was a feminist and way ahead of her time, both of which are false assumptions. So I felt I wanted to explore my own version of Eleanor and see if I could discover the 12th century personality behind the detritus of the centuries.

What is next for Elizabeth Chadwick?

First I have to finish and hand in THE AUTUMN THRONE, but when that’s done I strongly suspect that William Marshal is going to be riding again as there are aspects of his story still to be told.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to give us an insight into your fascinating career and love of history. Have a lovely Christmas and every good wish for further success in 2015!

Flat bottoms and Yorkshire Cobles

One of my fondest memories of growing up in the coastal town of Redcar was walking along the promenade with my father and seeing the flat-bottomed fishing boats being pulled up onto the beach after they crashed through the breakers on the shore-line.

People went down to meet them on the fine sand of the beach to see what they had to sell of their catch. I would eagerly peer inside. Fresh fish meant just that: mackerel, cod or crab to name but a few, depending on the season.

Sadly, this scene is no longer common. The boats that once lined the promenade are few. All along the bay towns of the northeast coast, the fishing industry has diminished.

In Phoebe’s Challenge, she instantly looks upon the distant boats and the sweeping bay as a scene of beauty when she sees the bay open up before her for the very first time. This story is based on a village I call Ebton, which has striking resemblances to Saltburn.

In my previous blog post on Cobles and Contraband, I talked about the versatility of the cobles (often called cobbles locally) and their use in smuggling at the turn of the nineteenth century. When the sea wall was being built at the end of the eighteenth century many men were housed in the small towns of Coatham and Redcar. They supplemented their income, like the local people, by working in gangs to bring contraband ashore from the colliers and luggers that would hover illegally off the coast. They would then distribute it before the beleaguered customs service could catch them. They would have been vastly outnumbered anyway.

One historic boat, which does still have pride of place in its own museum, is the Zetland Lifeboat.

In October 1802 this oldest surviving lifeboat in the world arrived at the small coastal town of Redcar in North Yorkshire. In its time it has been used to save over 500 lives and the service that began with it has continued to work in the exceptionally dangerous conditions of rescues in the North Sea. Grace Darling was an exceptionally brave lady who risked her own life to save others. The RNLI continues to save lives. These days their boats do not need pulling down to the edge of the water, but they face the same dangerous, treacherous seas as their forefathers.

Roses are Dead: Burglary and Intent

Occasionally I drift away from my love of history for a change of pace and venture into a contemporary world of suspense, love and adventure. This usually happens when something in reality has struck a nerve, such as when a friend’s home was burgled.

Jen’s world is turned upside down when she should be at a happy beginning in her life. She is hounded by a string of unnerving events and then someone breaks into her home; her new sanctuary.

We read about burglaries all the time. However, they are not only a violation of a person’s belongings and space, but also their peace of mind. How quickly a person bounces back from such an experience will depend upon the individual and the extent of the theft and damage.

Doubts can linger regarding the motivation behind the crime – Was it a random event? Was I targeted? Did they know my work pattern so that I would not be there? Do they know me?

In fiction we can play with these questions, keeping the answers and consequences within our control. However, in reality, overcoming such a personal violation can take a lot of time. Authors often focus on the crime and catching the criminals, but I respect that for the victim this is only part of the process of healing and restoring that inner peace.

If you want to read Jen’s story, Roses are Dead is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Yorkshire Parkin


My earliest memories from my young life in the small coastal town in North Yorkshire include running into my Aunty Mary’s house and smelling the fresh baking coming from her kitchen. She was a lovely lady who would bake a cake for anyone in need, simply as a gift to share, or to have something in to offer a visitor with a cup of tea.

She was not wealthy, her home was ordinary, but the feel of homeliness within it was something money cannot buy. Among her many recipes was my favourite chocolate cake with lovely icing that seemed to dissolve on your tongue as the cake melted away. The next memorable taste sensation, which I always associated with November, was her sumptuous ginger cake – Parkin.

This warming winter treat was rich in spices, sugar, ginger, oats and treacle. It was not for a calorie controlled diet, but for a comfort food that when warmed would leave you full for hours.

In my stories, cooks occasionally share their treats with the young miss of the households – like Hannah and Abigail. Parkin is often linked to Guy Fawkes night and bonfires, but to me it is a trip into nostalgia and many lovely visits to a lady who taught me the meaning of giving and a loving home.

Here is a simple recipe to follow from the BBC Good Food website.