My cover

My cover
Nell and her oranges

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Castles, Customs & Kings Blog Hop!

I had the privilege of being a contributor to the newly-released book Castles, Customs, and Kings, a compilation of essays from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog by more than fifty authors on real life stories and tantalizing tidbits discovered while doing research for their books. You can buy the book here:

Today, many of these authors are participating in a blog hop, each writing a post related to castles and giving away a historical novel.

My subject today is Codnor Castle in Derbyshire. Bess of Hardwick, one of the most interesting and striking figures of the Tudor era, who ended up the most wealthy and powerful woman in England after Queen Elizabeth, began life inauspiciously. Her father had died when she was a baby, her mother remarried, and by the time Bess was twelve years old, her stepfather was in debtor's prison and her mother was struggling to raise the five children still at home. The crown had seized control of the estate upon the death of Bess's father, until her brother James came of age. Bess's mother was entitled to a widow's dower of a third of the proceeds from the estate and to lease another third of the land, and she must have despaired of how she could keep from losing the family's property.

One thing she could do was to ensure that her daughters had a chance at a better life, and this she did by sending them off to serve as ladies in waiting in the households of distant relatives who were better off. This was a common way for young people to meet potential mates and influential patrons who would help them rise in the world.

When Bess was about twelve years old, she went to serve Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche, at Codnor Castle, about twelve miles from her home at Hardwick. There was probably a fortified on the site soon after the Norman invasion. The Codnor Castle that Bess knew was built in the thirteenth century and was the seat of the powerful De Grey family for about three hundred years, but in the fifteenth century, it passed to the Zouche family through marriage. The castle grew and transformed over the year, and by the time Bess arrived there in about 1539, it no longer served its original purpose as an armed fortress, but it still retained imposing round towers with battlements and a moat. Outbuildings that served the estate such as the brewery, bakery, and dairy no longer had to be within the protective walls of the castle but had spilled outside to the south courtyard.

Bess's mistress Lady Zouche and her husband Sir George Zouche had served in the household of Anne Boleyn before she became queen. They managed to stay in the good graces of King Henry VIII, and in about 1540 Sir George became one of the king's Gentlemen Pensioners, the prestigious few men chosen to guard the king and remain in his company both at court and during his summer progresses around the country. In this position, he would have had to spend much time in London.

Bess's service in the Zouche household certainly set her on the path to success, and in my novel Venus in Winter, based on the first forty years of Bess's long and eventful life, I chose to have Bess accompany the Zouche familiy to London in time for Bess to witness the king's marriage to Anne of Cleves and the resulting upheavals.

Today, Codnor Castle is one of only two castles in Derbyshire retaining its original medieval architecture, thought only ruins are left of the three-story keep, curtain wall, and ditch, flanked by round towers.

Post a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of the mass-market paperback edition of The Darling Strumpet, my five-star rated novel about Nell Gwynn! Tweet or post the link to the post for extra entries! Below are links to some sites with more information about Codnor Castle, and to the other blogs on the blog hop. .

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Summer Banquet Hop Winners!

Congratulations Grace Elliot and History Writer - you're the winners! Email me your mailing addresses please (, and whether you'd like the mass market paperback of "The Darling Strumpet" (with excerpt from "Venus in Winter") or "Venus in Winter" (which I will have in a week or two!)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Summer Banquet Hop! Enter to Win!

Summer Banquet Hop! Join me and thirty other historical novelists for a bounty of food-related posts and chances to win prizes!
I'm giving away two prizes: a copy of The Darling Strumpet, released in mass-market paperback on June 4, with a teaser chapter of Venus in Winter, or a copy of Venus in Winter, my novel based on the first forty years of the eventful life of the Tudor dynast Bess of Hardwick, coming July 2!

Enter by leaving a comment on this post. Get extra entries by following me on Twitter and/or for liking my Facebook author page:

The Darling Strumpet
“An absolute triumph as a debut novel . . . [It] is an absolutely brilliant addition to the historical fiction genre and might be the best novel on Nell Gwynn ever . . . Nell would have applauded in approval and probably done a little jig to celebrate her tribute.” — Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner

Venus in Winter
“A wonderful portrait of one of Elizabethan England’s most fascinating—and most long-lived—women. A great read, rich with detail and story.”—Diana Gabaldon, author of the bestselling Outlander series

Nell Gwynn, the subject of my novel The Darling Strumpet, was born in the slums of London in the area of Covent Garden. At the age of thirteen, she was hired as an orange seller at the newly-built Theatre Royal in Bridges Street, which opened on May 7, 1663. The present Theatre Royal on Drury Lane is the third building on the same site.

Oranges were a delicacy, and sold for sixpence, as much as the cheapest seats in the theatre. Nell’s witty banter and likeable sex appeal got her noticed, and soon she was the lover and protégé of Charles Hart, one of the leading actors and shareholders of the King’s Company. She probably made her debut in Thomas Killigrew’s comedy Tomaso, in a small part as a saucy wench. Nell rapidly became a favorite of London audiences, and she and Hart appeared in a series of “gay couple” comedies featuring battling lovers, making them the Myrna Loy and William Powell of the Restoration theatre.
Here’s a delightful seventeenth-century recipe featuring oranges:

Orange Butter
Good with plain cookies, on ice cream, etc. From  A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Food in Britain, which took the recipe from The Savile Recipe Book, 1683, quoted in The Gentlewoman’s Kitchen.

¼ pint (150 ml) fresh orange juice, and thinly peeled zest of the oranges
¼ point (150 ml) white wine
6 egg yolks
2 T. (30 ml) sugar
Soak the zest in the orange juice and white wine for 30 minutes to enrich the flavor, then remove. Beat the eggs yolks and sugar and add to the orange juice. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and stir continuously over a low heat until thick and creamy, but do not allow to bring to a boil. Allow the butter to cool and serve with wafers as a rich full-flavored fruit dip.

The original recipe:
R. a quarter of a Pint of cleared juice of Oranges, a quarter of a Pint of white wine, pare the Peel of your Oranges thinne, steep itt in the juice & white-wine halfe an hour, then put in when you have taken out the pill a little fine Sugar, to take away the sharpnesse. Then beat the yolks of six eggs very well, & put them into the liquor, & sett them over the fire, & keep itt continually stirring till you find it almost as thick as Butter then throw it about the dish or bason, & let itt stand all night, in the morning take itt off lightlie with a spoon, & serve itt as other Butter.

For more on my books and events, please visit my website,!

Be sure to visit the blogs of the other authors participating in the Summer Banquet Hop! Hop Participants
  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Anna Belfrage
  4. Debra Brown
  5. Lauren Gilbert
  6. Gillian Bagwell
  7. Julie K. Rose
  8. Donna Russo Morin
  9. Regina Jeffers
  10. Shauna Roberts
  11. Tinney S. Heath
  12. Grace Elliot
  13. Diane Scott Lewis
  14. Ginger Myrick
  15. Helen Hollick
  16. Heather Domin
  17. Margaret Skea
  18. Yves Fey
  19. JL Oakley
  20. Shannon Winslow
  21. Evangeline Holland
  22. Cora Lee
  23. Laura Purcell
  24. P. O. Dixon
  25. E.M. Powell
  26. Sharon Lathan
  27. Sally Smith O'Rourke
  28. Allison Bruning
  29. Violet Bedford
  30. Sue Millard
  31. Kim Rendfeld

Saturday, April 27, 2013

POV Panel April 28 at California Writers' Club

Hi, all,

My friend Patricia Bracewell and I will be talking about point of view at the meeting of the California Writers' Club at Book Passage, tomorrow, Sunday, April 28, 2-4 p.m. We met for quite a while this morning to plot!