Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Book Spotlight: Pagan King by MJ Porter; Audiobook narrated by Matt Coles


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From bestselling author, MJ Porter comes the tale of the mighty pagan king, Penda of Mercia.

The year is AD641, and the great Oswald of Northumbria, bretwalda over England, must battle against an alliance of the old Britons and the Saxons led by Penda of the Hwicce, the victor of Hæ∂feld nine years before, the only Saxon leader seemingly immune to Oswald's beguiling talk of the new Christianity spreading through England from both the north and the south.

Alliances will be made and broken, and the victory will go to the man most skilled in warcraft and statecraft.

The ebb and flow of battle will once more redraw the lines of the petty kingdoms stretching across the British Isles.

There will be another victor and another bloody loser.


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MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Being raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia meant that the author's writing destiny was set.

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Matt Coles
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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Spotlight on MJ Porter, author of Pagan Warrior


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From bestselling author MJ Porter comes the tale of the mighty pagan king, Penda of Mercia.

Britain. AD632.

Penda, a warrior of immense renown, has much to prove if he is to rule the Mercian kingdom of his dead father and prevent the neighbouring king of Northumbria from claiming it.

Unexpectedly allying with the British kings, Penda races to battle the alliance of the Northumbrian king, unsure if his brother stands with him or against him as they seek battle glory for themselves, and the right to rule gained through bloody conquest.

There will be a victor and a bloody loser, and a king will rise from the ashes of the great and terrible battle of Hædfeld.

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.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ( ¸.•´


Very relevant to the story which pitches the Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria against that of Mercia, I was born in Mercia but have lived in Northumbria for nearly twenty years. I think I’m still very much a Mercian at heart.

Much to many people's disgust at the time, my children learned to ride their bikes on Lindisfarne, as it’s lovely and flat. Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is mentioned throughout the Gods and Kings Trilogy as it’s where Bishop Aidan built his monastery.

Ruins of the later Lindisfarne Priory
(Source: Author photo)

In one of the books, there's a scene where the Northumbrians all complain that it’s too hot in Mercia without the usual Northumbrian wind. My children said this to me when we went to Alton Towers in the summer of one year. They missed the cooling wind.

One of the battles in Pagan King, book two of the trilogy, is based somewhere close to where I grew up, although I changed the name a little.

Tamworth Castle, while not Saxon era, Tamworth is believed to have been a Mercia capital at this time, and I grew up quite close to Tamworth.
(Source: author photo)

The first time I wrote a battle scene, I used my children’s play swords, purchased from a castle, to try and determine how my characters might have been able to fight and defend themselves.


MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Being raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set.

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Matt Coles
audiobook narrator:

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Monday, March 27, 2023

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Betsey - The Hartford Manor Series by Marcia Clayton


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Set in 1820, Betsey is the prequel to the much-loved Hartford Manor Series.

Betsey, a sadly neglected child, is shouldering responsibilities far beyond her years. As she does her best to care for her little brother, Norman, she is befriended by Gypsy Freda, an old woman whose family is camped nearby. Freda's granddaughter, Jane, is also fond of the little girl and is concerned about her.

Thomas, the second son of Lord Fellwood, happens across the gypsy camp and becomes besotted with Jane. However, Jasper Morris, the local miller, also has designs on the young gypsy, and inevitably, the two men do not see eye to eye.

Betsey is drawn into their rivalry for the attention of the beautiful young woman, and she finds herself promising to keep a dangerous secret for many years to come.

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  .•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ( ¸.•´


Back at the gypsy camp, Betsey was happily tucking into a hearty bowl of rabbit stew. It was too hot to eat, and the little girl could barely wait for it to cool; so hungry was she. In the meantime, she contented herself with dipping the thick crust of bread into the delicious gravy and blowing on it to cool it before she could put it to her lips. Gypsy Freda watched her thoughtfully.

"Is everything all right at home, Betsey? I know you lost your mother, so it can't be easy. Is your father looking after you?"

"Well, I miss my mum, and Dad has to work, so me and Norman are on our own a lot since Barney got a job at the mill. We're both going to school now because Mr Billery said Norman could go, even though he's only three. He gives us milk and some dinner, so that's good. It's just after school, and at the weekends, when we haven't got much to eat."

"Doesn't Mrs Carter from The Red Lion keep an eye on you? I thought she was friendly with your mother?"

"Aunty Kezzie is kind and she would like to look after us, but she fell out with Dad a week or two ago, and he told her not to come to our house anymore. I miss her because she came in every day and hugged us too. Dad never cuddles us anymore. I cuddle Norman to sleep and sing to him like Mum did because he likes that."

"Have you finished your stew?"

"Aw, yes, thank you; it was lovely. I've warmed up now, but I must get home to Norman; he doesn't like being on his own and he's hungry too."

"Well, I think Jane’s looking for a pot for you to carry some stew home for him, so while she does that, why don't you come over here and sit on my lap and I'll tell you a story? Would you like that?"

Betsey nodded, the unexpected kindness bringing tears to her eyes. She climbed onto the old woman's lap and was soon encircled by a warm embrace and covered with a cosy blanket. She rested her head against the gypsy's bony chest and relaxed, delighted to be treated as a child for once. Ten minutes or so later, Jane reappeared at the entrance of the wagon and smiled when she saw Betsey snuggled up cosily on her granny's lap.

"My goodness, Betsey, you do look comfortable; that was my favourite spot when I was little; has she been telling you the story about the barn owls?"

Betsey nodded. "I must get home to Norman, though."

"Yes, of course, you must; now here’s some stew for Norman; I've put it into this old jar so you'll have to be careful not to spill it. It's hot so be careful not to burn yourself, but it will soon cool in this weather, and there's some more bread for both of you. Do you think you can carry it all right?"

The little girl nodded. "Thanks ever so much, Jane; the jar will keep my hands warm. I feel much better now, and I loved hearing your story, Gypsy Freda."

"Aye, I thought you would. I'll tell you what, when the weather's a bit better, bring that little brother of yours; I've got two knees, so there's room for one more on the other one, and I know plenty of stories. See you next time."

Betsey hurried home as fast as she could without spilling the precious stew. She let herself in through the back door and called out to her brother. He was hunched in front of the fire and delighted to see her.

"Are you all right, Norman?"

The little boy nodded, gazing intently at the container in her hands, as a delicious smell reached his nostrils. "Is that some food for us, Betsey?"

"No, this is all for you, Norman. I wonder if you can eat it all up?"

Marcia Clayton 

Marcia Clayton was born in North Devon, a rural and picturesque area in the far South West of England. She is a farmer's daughter and often helped to milk the cows and clean out the shippens in her younger days.

When Marcia left school she worked in a bank for several years until she married her husband, Bryan, and then stayed at home for a few years to take care of her three sons, Stuart, Paul and David. As the children grew older, Marcia worked as a Marie Curie nurse caring for the terminally ill, and later for the local authority managing school transport.

Now a grandmother, Marcia enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She’s a keen researcher of family history, and it was this hobby that inspired some of the characters in her books. A keen gardener, Marcia grows many of her own vegetables. She is also an avid reader and mainly enjoys historical fiction, romance, and crime books.

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Monday, March 20, 2023

Spotlight on Rowena Kinread, author of The Scots of Dalriada


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Fergus, Loarn and Angus, Princes of the Dalriada, are forced into exile by their scheming half-brother and the druidess Birga One-tooth.

Fergus conceals himself as a stable lad on Aran and falls helplessly in love with a Scottish princess, already promised to someone else. Loarn crosses swords against the Picts. Angus designs longboats.

Always on the run the brothers must attempt to outride their adversaries by gaining power themselves. Together they achieve more than they could possibly dream of.
Fergus Mór (The Great) is widely recognised as the first King of Scotland, giving Scotland its name and its language. Rulers of Scotland and England from Kenneth mac Alpín until the present time claim descent from Fergus Mór.

Full of unexpected twists and turns, this is a tale of heart-breaking love amidst treachery, deceit and murder.


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Do you know anyone with the surname ‘Campbell’? If yes, does he or she have a crooked mouth?


In ancient times the Scottish Gaelic naming tradition often referred to a visual trait. For example, someone could be called ‘The Red’ or ‘The Fair’ after the colour of their hair or complexion. The descendants would accept and use such a name as their own. Derogatory names often originated from a person’s enemy. For example, ‘Cameron’ means crooked nose. Campbell is a Scottish and Northern Irish surname, derived from the Gaelic roots cam ("crooked") and beul ("mouth"), that originated as a nickname meaning "crooked mouth" or "wry mouthed."

The modern medical explanation for this facial curvature is a form of Torticollis (from the Latin torti, meaning twisted, and collis, meaning neck), or "wry neck." A condition in which the head is tilted toward one side, and the chin (mouth) is elevated and turned toward the opposite side thereby producing a "Cam beul" or curved mouth in some cases.

Clan Campbell, historically one of the largest and most powerful of the Highland clans, traces its origins to the ancient Britons of Strathclyde. In my novel ‘The Scots of Dalriada,’ the King of Strathclyde, Ceredig, has a ‘squiff neck.’

 Does the name Finlaggan seem familiar to you?

In ‘The Scots of Dalriada’ Fergus flees with his brothers Loarn and Angus to his uncle Donald on Finlaggan, to escape the attempts on his life by his evil half-brother Cartan. Finlaggan is situated on the island of Islay. It consists of two islands in a freshwater loch, an ideal place to protect the youngsters from their adversaries.

Historically Finlaggan is best known as the centre of the medieval Lordship of the Isles. The MacDonald lords, descended from earlier kings of the Isles, ruled over vast territories in the west and north in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, threatening the Stewart kings’ hold over Scotland. The Lords of the Isles ruled mainland Argyll and the Glens of Antrim, but at its height MacDonald territory stretched up the Great Glen to Rossshire, beyond to Buchan and the Mearns, and south to Greenan in Ayrshire, all of this virtually independent of royal control. The heir to a strong Gaelic and Norse tradition, the Lord of the Isles was one of the most powerful figures in the country with the small islands in Loch Finlaggan a centre of symbolic and administrative importance.

Today, however, Finlaggan is most famous for its whisky. Finlaggan is a brand for the Vintage Malt Whisky Company Ltd, which focuses on bottling whiskies from the Highlands and Islands. The brand was designed to embody the spirit of Islay. It is sold worldwide in over thirty countries.

Are you superstitious?

Angus, the ship-building brother of Fergus in ‘The Scots of Dalriada’ doesn’t really believe in the mythological creatures called ‘Kelpies’ or ‘Blue Men’, but he learns his verse to freedom just in case.

Scotland's natural relationship with the sea has spawned a variety of claims from sailors convinced they have seen sea-dwelling supernatural creatures.

The strait between the Island of Lewis and the Shiant Isles was known as ‘the stream of the Blue Men’ because it was said to be inhabited by a strange group of creatures.

The Blue Men of the Minch, also known as Storm Kelpies, are said to occasionally prey on sailors making the crossing. Those who are unlucky enough to come across the Blue Men note the distinctive green beards and hair they have, as well as their exceptionally-strong physique. Other historical recordings of the creatures say that they live in underwater caves, while generations of folklore say they can only be beaten by making sure the last word is achieved in a rhyming duel.

Apart from their blue colour, the mythical creatures look much like humans and are about the same size. They have the power to create storms, but when the weather is fine, they float sleeping on or just below the surface of the water. The blue men swim with their torsos raised out of the sea, twisting and diving as porpoises do. They are able to speak, and when a group approaches a ship, its chief may shout two lines of poetry to the master of the vessel and challenge him to complete the verse. If the skipper fails in that task, then the blue men will attempt to capsize his ship.

In ‘Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland,’ John Campbell described a blue-coloured man with a long-grey face that followed boats slowly on the water, never quite in reach. But to others, the Blue Men of Minch are a personification of the treacherous waters they inhabit.


Irish legend about the origin of the Giant's Causeway.

Excerpt from 'The Scots of Dalriada'

 “Tell me the story about the giant again” Angus begs.

Fergus sighs theatrically but repeats the story. “A long, long time ago there was a giant called Fionn, who lived here peacefully with his wife, Oonagh. Then one day Benandonner, a ferocious giant with red hair and a beard who lived in Caledonia, challenged him to a fight. Fionn accepted the provocation and threw rocks into the Western sea to make a causeway all the way to Caledonia so that the two giants could meet. Fionn crept secretly across the rocks at night so that he could spy on Benandonner and see where his weakness lay. He wanted to know how he could defeat him. But when Fionn reached the other side of the sea and saw how big Benandonner was, he fled back to Oonagh and wanted to hide. Then Oonagh disguised Fionn as a baby and tucked him in a cradle. When Benandonner came and saw the size of the ‘baby’, he thought that his father, Fionn, must be a horrendous mammoth-sized monster. He was so frightened that he ran all the way back to Caledonia, destroying the pathway behind him, so that Fionn could not follow and devour him.”

“And he was really called Fionn just like our uncle?” asks Angus.

“Yes, maybe our uncle was called after him; he’s tall and strong, after all.”

The Stone of Scone

The Stone of Scone (Scottish Gaelic: Lia Fáil; also known as the Stone of Destiny; and often referred to in England as The Coronation Stone) is an oblong block of red sandstone that has been used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland. It is also known as Jacob's Pillow Stone and the Tanist Stone.


In my novel ‘The Scots of Dalriada’ Fergus’s grandnephew and high king of Ireland, Muirceataigh, lends Fergus the Lia Fáil for his coronation in Dunadd, Scotland. (This is a recorded legend in a 15th-century chronicle.)

Excerpt from ‘The Scots of Dalriada’

“But what is it? What does it look like?”

“It is a large and very heavy oblong brick of red sandstone. On the surface there is an incised cross and at each end an iron ring to lift it.” 

Setna looks disappointed. “That doesn’t sound very special.”

 “Ah my sweet, let me finish, it is special because the stone is magic.”


“Yes, when the rightful high king of Ireland puts his feet on it, the stone roars in joy.”

“Oh, like a dragon?”

“Yes, but much louder. That is why some people call it ‘the Stone of Destiny’. It has other powers too; it makes the king younger, and ensures him a very long reign.”

Historically, the artefact was kept at the now-ruined Scone Abbey in Scone, near Perth, Scotland. In 1296, during the First Scottish War of Independence, King Edward I of England took the stone as spoils of war and removed it to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into a wooden chair – known as the Coronation Chair or King Edward's Chair – on which most subsequent English and then British sovereigns have been crowned.

In 1996, the British Government decided to return the stone to Scotland, when not in use at coronations, and it was transported to Edinburgh Castle, where it is now kept with the Scottish Crown Jewels.

Queen Elizabeth II was the last British sovereign to be crowned upon The Stone of Scone. I do not know for certain whether it will be used for Charles III coronation ceremony.

 .•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)  ( ¸.•´

Rowena Kinread


Rowena Kinread grew up in Ripon, Yorkshire with her large family and a horde of pets. Keen on travelling, her first job was with Lufthansa in Germany.

She began writing in the nineties. Her special area of interest is history. After researching her ancestry and finding family roots in Ireland with the Dalriada clan, particularly this era.

Her debut fiction novel titled “The Missionary” is a historical novel about the dramatic life of St. Patrick. It was published by Pegasus Publishers on Apr.29th, 2021 and has been highly appraised by The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and the Irish Times.

Her second novel “The Scots of Dalriada” centres around Fergus Mór, the founder father of Scotland and takes place in 5th century Ireland and Scotland. It is due to be published by Pegasus Publishers on Jan.26th, 2023.

The author lives with her husband in Bodman-Ludwigshafen, Lake Constance, Germany. They have three children and six grandchildren.

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Monday, March 13, 2023

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound by Paul M. Duffy


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On a remote Gaelic farmstead in medieval Ireland, word reaches Alberic of conquering Norman knights arriving from England. Oppressed by the social order that enslaved his Norman father, he yearns for the reckoning he believes the invaders will bring—but his world is about to burn. Captured by the Norman knight Hugo de Lacy and installed at Dublin Castle as a translator, Alberic’s confused loyalties are tested at every turn. When de Lacy marches inland, Alberic is set on a collision course with his former masters amidst rumours of a great Gaelic army rising in the west. Can Alberic navigate safely through revenge, lust, and betrayal to find his place amidst the birth of a kingdom in a land of war?


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 .•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ( ¸.•´


I was still young when the fulcrum began its pitch. Fortune’s wheel clanking around in its inscrutable way. It was the year that the sky ships were seen in Ard Macha. A silver host, spectral and gold illuminated the heavens, emerging from the cloud with their glistening sails and their ghostly hosts peering down, blazing with light on the men below who shrank from them in terror. And in that year also, the crozier of the bishop of Cluin Ioraird spoke to its owner, words of radiance and doom setting the kingdom alight.

Though we saw no such miracles to presage coming things, the Tiarna had a dream. He saw a great light rise from the mound on Cnuc Bán. A sídhe mound guarding the high pass over the valley and below – a stag belling, a wild dog of two colours devouring a heron’s nest and above, a sun rising in the west, spreading brightness over a darkened east. A weapon shining at the heart of the mound. A weapon of immense power.

The Tiarna ignored the words of his wife and councillors, he disregarded his ollamh, he closed his house to the monk and chewed his thumb long into the night. Night after night ruminating beside ashen fires, forging his resolve. Until, one darkening day, he sat on his horse commanding the unthinkable. Watching us scrabble and shift moss-thick stones from the ancient cairn. We worked in silence, frantic in our task, working to quieten the dread that rang out in each of our heads. To stave off the flesh-creep as hour after hour, we watched the sun pass its peak and begin to drop away westwards over the shoulder of the cairn. The mound’s passive bulk thrumming with threat, and the geis-breaking sound of stones rolling free, rising to swallow everything else. Swallowing the champ of the standing horses, the rare lilts of the wind through the woodland below, the keening of buzzards circling. We cast the stones out beyond the kerbing into the heather, hoping they would land soft. Flinching at each cracking strike as they collided with hidden rock among the furze. Dread and skeletal hands clenching slowly within our skulls as the darkness thickened in the east.

‘Ho,’ Lochru cried out – the first human sound in hours and he came around the curve of the mound, his palsied face white, his hands trembling. He motioned to the Tiarna who urged his horse onwards. Tuar, his ollamh and the monk, Milesius cantering on also. We all followed to where the youth Fiacra stood, unnaturally still, his eyes fixed upon something in the scree. With great reluctance, he raised his hand and pointed at an opening which showed amongst the loose stone. Two rough pillars leaning towards each other, forming a narrow doorway as wide as the span between fist and elbow.

We stood steaming in the cold. Shudders passed among us and Milesius, hand on the psalter hanging in a satchel at his side, mumbled Latin incantations. The Tiarna gazed coldly. He looked to where his son, Conn stood by, leaning on a spear. I saw the subtle question in the Tiarna’s eye. I saw Conn’s face lowering to the ground, refusing the wordless request and, to disguise Conn’s refusal, the Tiarna’s voice came sudden and barking.

‘Send in the Sasanach,’ he said without looking in my direction and my bowels dropped within me. I stared ahead at the terrible and absolute blackness, a blackness that inhaled the failing light, and did not move. Lochru came towards me, grabbing my arm and pulling me past him with a blow that cupped the back of my skull. I staggered forward, feet twisting among the stones, and fell to my knees before the doorway, backing instantly, as if from a wild beast. I looked to the Tiarna on his horse and Milesius at his side. Their faces as hard as the stone of the hill. I breathed through my nose, a forceful breath. Another. And another. I made the sign of the cross, rose, commending myself to God and the Saints Patricius, Féichin, Lasair and stepped forward.

I moved towards the dragging blackness. Towards the mouth of the underworld. Towards the realm of the sídhe. I approached as if approaching cold water, step by step, clenching something deep within. My hand reached out to touch a pillar and its frigid surface drew the warmth from me. I turned side-on, a welling panic, though I did not stop. I slid my shoulder into the gap and pushed my chest through, feeling the pillars scrape at once along my spine and breastbone. I dipped my head, without looking back and entered the dark.

The space within forced me to crawl and I advanced blindly, my bulk blocking the light from the opening. The stones pressed in all around so that I could neither stand nor turn. Pools of water splashed beneath me, a dead air, stale in my lungs. My eyes moved wildly around, though nothing changed in the depthless dark. Hands slipped and scraped and I struck my head frequently on the uneven roof. Yet I moved, and in moving there was hope.

 Paul Duffy

Paul Duffy, author of Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound (2022), is one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists and has directed numerous landmark excavations in Dublin as well as leading projects in Australia, France and the United Kingdom.

He has published and lectured widely on this work, and his books include From Carrickfergus to Carcassonne—the Epic Deeds of Hugh de Lacy during the Cathar Crusade (2018) and Ireland and the Crusades (2021). He has given many talks and interviews on national and international television and radio (RTÉ, BBC, NPR, EuroNews).

Paul has also published several works of short fiction (Irish Times, Causeway/Cathsair, Outburst, Birbeck Writer’s Hub) and in 2015 won the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. He has been shortlisted for numerous Irish and international writing prizes and was awarded a writing bursary in 2017–2018 by Words Ireland.

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Monday, March 6, 2023

Spotlight on Trish MacEnulty, author of The Whispering Women (Delafield & Malloy Investigations Series)


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“Richly drawn characters, the vibrant historical setting, and a suspenseful mystery create a strong current that pulls readers into this delightful novel. But it's the women's issues—as relevant today as they were in the early 1900s—that will linger long after the last page."

-- Donna S. Meredith, The Southern Literary Review

Can two women get the lowdown on high society?

“Two powerless young women must navigate a soul-crushing class system and find the levers of power they wield when they combine their strengths. These women may have been taught to whisper, but when their time comes, they will roar.”

– 5 Star Amazon Review

Louisa Delafield and Ellen Malloy didn’t ask to be thrown together to bring the truth to light. But after Ellen witnesses the death of a fellow servant during an illegal abortion, Louisa, a society columnist, vows to help her find the truth and turn her journalistic talent to a greater purpose.

Together, these unlikely allies battle to get the truth out, and to avenge the wrongful death of a friend.

What will our heroes do when their closest allies and those they trust turn out to be the very forces working to keep their story in the dark? They’ll face an abortionist, a sex trafficking ring, and a corrupt system determined to keep the truth at bay.

“If you like historical fiction and if you like mysteries, this one is for you!”

– 5 Star Amazon Review

Was change possible in 1913?

To find out, read THE WHISPERING WOMEN today!

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 One inspiration for my series about a society writer turned investigative reporter is my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. I keep a picture of her on the bookshelf by my desk. In it, she wears a black hat topped with some sort of elaborate lace and flower adornment and sits in front of a typewriter. Her husband ran off and literally joined the circus. To support her only son, she worked as a society writer. According to family documents, “After her divorce in 1900, Mary Page Field worked as a local newspaper reporter and was Probation Officer for the Town of West Haven.”


My grandparents on my father’s side also inspired me to write about New York’s stratified society. They had a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce (my grandfather never did learn how to drive), an apartment in Central Park, and a mansion on Long Island, where the gardener and his wife had their own house. My grandmother’s idea of gardening was to point out which roses the gardener should clip for her. I asked my mother once if they would have been part of Edith Wharton’s set (whose books I re-read religiously), and she shook her head emphatically. My grandparents would have been considered “new money,” and since my grandfather was an Irish immigrant who started out as an office boy and whose father was a street sweeper(!), they would have been eschewed by New York society. I don’t suppose it mattered to them. According to my mother, they “lived at the top of their income,” but when my grandmother was diagnosed with a debilitating illness, whatever money they had left after the depression went to keep her alive. Their fortune was gone by the time they died. I never got to meet them. The characters, Katherine and John Murphy, are based on these grandparents.

 Upper class slumming! One of the things that young members of society did in the late 1800s and early 1900s was go “slumming.” A lot of my research came from Herbert Asbury’s brilliant book “Gangs of New York.” Most of the stories we hear about gang activity take place in the late 1800s, but gangs continued to be active in the city into the early 20th Century. Some of the top men in these gangs owned fashionable gambling houses where the wealthy would gamble and rub elbows with murderers and their minions. One of my characters in The Whispering Women goes “slumming” and ultimately has an affair with Owney Madden (a real figure who became especially powerful during Prohibition). Slumming was a way for the upper classes, who were increasingly isolated from “real” people, to see how the other half lived. A large part of their motivation was simply entertainment at the expense of poor, disadvantaged people. However, the practice did have at least some social benefit, according to author and professor Chad Heap as described in a 2009 article in The New York Times: “As odd as this voyeuristic practice may appear now, Professor Heap argues that slumming actually promoted social mixing and reshaped the sexual and racial landscape in what had become an increasingly stratified society.”

The Alligator Farm! I loved going to the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine when I was a kid. In the second book in my series, The Burning Bride, Louisa Delafield goes to St. Augustine to cover a wedding. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the Alligator Farm had been operating since 1893! So it was the perfect place for Louisa and friends to visit in 1914 and see the same sorts of shows I saw as a kid. Here’s an excerpt: “Once they reached the Alligator Farm, they walked around low-walled pens, filled with fat, gray monsters that lay unmoving or lumbered about on their small legs. There were ponds in each of the pens. The foursome stopped at a large concrete pen with almost a dozen of the prehistoric amphibians. Louisa shuddered looking at creatures. One of them was an albino alligator with horrid white, leathery skin.”


 The third book in my series, Secrets and Spies, takes place in 1915. Some terrible tragedies happened that year, including the sinking of The Lusitania by a German U-boat. But there was a particularly happy event as well — a filly won The Kentucky Derby! When the filly was born in 1912, her owner Harry Payne Whitney (husband of Gertrude Vanderbilt) was disappointed. Her parentage was prestigious — sired by Broomstick out of the mare, Jersey Lightning. But Whitney didn’t hold high hopes for her since she wasn’t male, so he named her “Regret.” Then came the Saratoga Special in 1914, and she defeated her number one rival, Pebbles — a colt — and barely broke a sweat. In 1915 the new owner of Churchill Downs wanted to put his little regional race on America’s map. He believed the filly would bring the kind of fame needed to make the Kentucky Derby a household name. That year at Churchill Downs, the once-unwanted filly turned Whitney’s regret into a cause for celebration as she became the first filly ever to win the Kentucky Derby. Beating out her fifteen male competitors, Regret made women and girls around the country proud. A record crowd came to watch the horse — a sleek beauty with a white blaze down her face — take the title of turf queen. The crowd leaped to their feet when Regret snatched the bit and won the race by two lengths.


Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain 


Trish MacEnulty

Trish MacEnulty is a bestselling novelist. In addition to her historical fiction, she has published novels, a short story collection, and a memoir. A former Professor of English, she currently lives in Florida with her husband, two dogs, and one cat. She writes book reviews and feature articles for the Historical Novel Review. She loves reading, writing, walking with her dogs, streaming historical series, cooking, and dancing.

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