What sort of books do I write?
The short answer is historical fiction. I want to tell a good yarn but do far more as well. Sometimes I say that I write ‘intelligent good reads’. Sometimes I say, ‘rigorously-researched historical novels’. My favorite compliment was that one of my novels was ‘literature that reads like a thriller.’ But none of that feels like quite enough to explain all those hours at the computer asking myself , ‘but would she really…?’ or sunk in library stacks trying to fill the gap between facts. It doesn’t feel like enough to explain the vivid delight of exploring the secret corners of old houses or staring at Elizabeth the First’s crumpled stocking, still nobbly from her toes. Or my sense of ‘being there’. Often I start out replying ‘Historical novels, but…’.
As I say in my biography, I care passionately about truth. Wrong details can build up into big lies, and I want my reader to be able to trust what I say about our shared past. I love to read thrillers and try to give my books the tension of a thriller. I write about politics (which don’t seem to change all that much over time). I write about love in all its complexities’, which I believe comes close behind staying alive and food as a human priority. I’m fascinated by how terrifyingly familiar much of the past is. My books are about recognisable people who nevertheless wear odd clothes and differ from us in very particular and fascinating ways – ways that it’s my job to try to understand and explain through an imagined story.
Every book you write is a learning curve. I’m still working on making each new experience for my readers even more gripping, more moving, more informative and more fun. As time goes on, I’ll try to tell you more about my favourite periods in history and how I go about trying to get ‘inside’ them.
The Winter Queen Series
The dramatic early life of the ‘Winter Queen’, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I & VI (who ruled England after Elizabeth the First). When her older brother, Henry, dies unexpectedly, rumour whispers that his own father the king had murdered him. Princess Elizabeth fights to control her own fate with the help of Tally, an African slave. One reviewer said it was the best treatment of an inter-racial relationship she had ever read. And Francis Quoynt pleases his fans with an unexpected guest appearance.
Elizabeth Stuart, now the exiled Winter Queen, is on the run in Europe. Her plight gives Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, a minor character in The King’s Daughter, the chance both to save her friend and to escape her own marriage. But Lucy becomes tangled in plots that threaten the life of the Prince of Wales who will one day be Charles the First. Even her lover, the poet John Donne may be her enemy.
The Fire Master’s Mistress Series
The plot behind the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Francis Quoynt, an amiable English explosives expert, must infiltrate the plotters to spy on them for the Crown. He finds his former lover on the enemy side, while their passion is re-kindled. And he likes the Gunpowder Plotters better than the man who has hired him.
returns, forced against his honest nature into a scientific scam by an Italian prince and into forbidden romance with the prince’s daughter, the Principessa of the title. Francis may not survive either the dirty politics, or the girl, who could have taught Lucretia Borgia a lesson or two and Francis must learn to act the villain.
The Lady Tree Trilogy
Seventeenth century Tulipmania, when tulip bulbs were traded like pork bellies or gold. John Nightingale, an English gentleman with murder in his past is black-mailed into going to the Netherlands to speculate in tulip bulbs for an English trading company. Meanwhile, an unexpected romance blossoms sweetly back in England between him and his cousin’s wife, Zeal. Private Eye called it ‘the first and best book’ on Tulipmania.
The villain of The Lady Tree turns musician hero (and supposed ‘werewolf’). Quicksilver looks at how we react to people who are different and offers a plausible, real-life answer to the myth of the werewolf. Will this one survive? Music and the animal inside us all are set against a background of emerging experimental science in 17th c. England and Amsterdam.
Zeal, heroine of The Lady Tree, has lost everything and sees no way out but to kill herself. Then love and rescue beckon from an impossible direction. This mix of passionate love story and psychological thriller is set in first half of the 17th century, and delights readers with details of building a great country house, theatrical surprises and magical machines. It also makes an impassioned case for the arts in our daily lives, as Zeal risks both life and heart in a battle against pinch-lipped Puritan destruction of beauty. Her only allies are a country parson with a fiddle and a passion for music – and the lover she never expected to have.
The Saigon Series
The Dragon Riders
A lot of books have been written about the war in Vietnam, but mainly by men and mainly about soldiers. And most people don’t realise that the American war was the second Vietnamese war; the French fought there first. Not only that, they had made the opium trade a legitimate government monopoly. The Dragon Riders (published in the USA and Germany as Saigon) follows a young French-Vietnamese girl, Nina, through the terrifying breakdown of French rule in Indo-China before the First Vietnamese War.
Recommended as supplementary reading for a modern history course at the University of Wisconsin, USA.
The Tears of the Tiger
Nina has grown up. The Americans have arrived in Vietnam. Nina is torn between an American lover – who may or may not be a spy – and her Vietnamese war-lord cousin. Then her American disappears. Her desperate search for him runs into a parallel search by former American soldiers for a POW friend who was never returned. Suspense and inside information on the international intelligence services. Set in Vietnam and Thailand in the aftermath of the second, American, Vietnamese War.