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BITTER GREENS: The Facts behind the Fiction of Charlotte-Rose de la Force's life

Monday, March 06, 2017

To celebrate International Women's Day, I thought I would spotlight the real (and unjustly forgotten) historical women whose lives I have drawn upon in my fiction.

First off the rank is Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, the 17th century fairy-tale writer who is best known for having written the best known version of 'Rapunzel'. I drew upon the true events of her dramatic and tempestuous life to write my novel Bitter Greens . 

This blog was first published in September 2014.

My novel BITTER GREENS is, of course, a work of imagination.

However, in weaving a tale of fancy I have used as the immovable pegs the known facts of Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s life, few as they are.

Even the year of her birth is open to argument, ranging from 1650 to 1654. I travelled to Château de Cazeneuve in Gascony and, with the help of her baptismal records, was able to confirm it as the earlier date. I also saw her baby pram and the simple white family chapel where she was baptised.

Chateau de Cazeneuve, in Gascony, France

Of her childhood, we know only that she met King Louis XIV in 1660 at the Château de Cazeneuve, and that two years later her mother was imprisoned against her will in a convent in Bordeaux.

Charlotte-Rose went to court at the age of sixteen, and was maid-of-honour first to the queen and later to the Duchess of Guise.

She had an affair with Moliere’s protégé, the actor Michel Baron, who notoriously left his nightcap in her bedroom one night.

Michel Baron, the 17th century French playright

Later, Charlotte-Rose was engaged to the Marquis de Nesle, the betrothal ending in scandal after a pouch she had given him was found to have toads’ feet and spells in it. As a result, Mme de la Force “came to the attention” of the King during the infamous Affair of the Poisons.

Her love affair with the much younger Charles de Briou caused more scandal, particularly after she dressed up as a dancing bear to gain access to him. They wed, but their marriage was annulled in the courts.

In 1697, she was banished to the abbey of Gercy-en-Brie after writing some satirical Christmas verses and under suspicion of having an affair with the Dauphin.


The Dauphin

She wrote ‘Persinette’ and various other fairy tales while imprisoned there, publishing them anonymously the following year.

 The mystery of how Charlotte-Rose de la Force came to know of Giambattista Basile’s fairytale ‘Petrosinella’ may have been solved in 2007 by the fairytale scholar Professor Susanna Magnanini. She conjectures, in ‘Postulated Routes from Naples to Paris: The Printer Antonio Bulifon and Giambattista Basile’s Fairy Tales in Seventeenth Century France’, that a copy of his fairytale collection may have been brought to Paris around the time of the explosion of literary fairytales by French writers Charles Perrault, Charlotte-Rose de la Force, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier and others. If so, these French storytellers would have had to have read Basile in his original Neapolitan dialect, which is strikingly different to both Latin and Italian. 

The story ‘La Puissance d’Amour’, told by Charlotte-Rose in the novel on the night she first meets Charles de Briou, is a paraphrasing of one of her actual fairytales, which has never before been translated into English.

Similarly, ‘Bearskin’, the story about a princes turned into a she-bear, is one of Henriette-Julie d’Murat’s most famous fairytales, and she was indeed a cousin of Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

I first heard about Charlotte-Rose de la Force in an essay by Terri Windling, 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair', in Endicott Stduio's Spring 2006 Journal of Mythic Arts. This was the first seed that led me on my journey to discovering the life of this extraordinary writer.

My primary source for the facts of Charlotte-Rose's life come from "Mademoiselle de la Force:  auteur mèconnu du XVIIͨ siècle", by the French academic Michel Souloumiac, which I had translated into English, again for the first time. My secondary source was "Letters from Liselotte: the collected letters of Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine and Duchess of Orléans, 'Madame', 1652-1722", in which she recorded the gossip of the Sun King's court. Charlotte-Rose is mentioned a number of times.

Researching and writing the life of Charlotte-Rose de la Force was like assembling and putting together a gigantic jigsaw - it required patience, dedication and persistence. I feel, however, that I have discovered one of the most fascinating women ever forgotten by history.

Read more about BITTER GREENS or BUY IT HERE!

BOOK REVIEW: The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece - Carola Hicks

Thursday, December 08, 2016


One of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 

For all its fame, its origins and story are complex and somewhat cloudy. Though many assume it was commissioned by Bishop Odo—William’s ruthless half-brother—it may also have been financed by Harold’s dynamic sister Edith, who was juggling for a place in the new court. 

In this intriguing study, medieval art historian Carola Hicks investigates the miracle of the tapestry’s making—including the unique stitches, dyes, and strange details in the margins—as well as its complicated past. For centuries it lay ignored in Bayeux cathedral until its discovery in the 18th century. It quickly became a symbol of power: townsfolk saved it during the French Revolution, Napoleon displayed it to promote his own conquest, and the Nazis strove to make it their own. 

Packed with thrilling stories, this history shows how every great work of art has a life of its own. 


I have always been interested in the Bayeux tapestry and made the trip to see it in its little French stone village this year. 

It really is a fascinating artefact, the world’s longest piece of embroidery and quite possibly the first real comic strip. It tells the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, in a series of small scenes sewn with extraordinary vigour and humour. 

I bought Carola Hicks’s book in Bayeux, and read it over the next few nights. It begins with the story of how the embroidery came about, and then the extraordinary story of its survival over the next three thousand years. It survived the French revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, years of being kept in a damp church cellar, and the Nazis who tried to steal it. A really lively and beguiling story about an utterly unique piece of art. 

Love books set in France? I have a list of my favourites here

Do you love non-fiction books that illuminate history for you? Any suggestions for me? Please leave a comment for me.

SPOTLIGHT: A Brief History of Fairy Tales

Thursday, February 11, 2016


For your enjoyment ...  a brief history of fairy tales!

Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale

The differences between myth, legend, fairy tale & fable can be can simply described as:

Myths: narratives about immortal or supernatural protagonists
Legends: narratives about extraordinary protagonists
Fairy Tales: narratives about ordinary protagonists
Fables: narratives with animal protagonists which convey a moral

History of Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales have their roots in ancient oral storytelling traditions.
All cultures have their own myths & legends. Many fairy tales wear ‘the easy doublet’ of myth.
A.D. 100-200, Ancient Greece – “Cupid and Psyche” written by Apuleius 

A.D. 850-860, China - The first known version of “Cinderella” is written

C. 1300 – Troubadours and travelling storytellers spread tales throughout medieval Europe 

C. 1500 - One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is first recorded 

1550 & 1553, Italy - Gianfrancesco Straparola publishes The Pleasant Nights - he has been called the 'grandfather of fairy tales'

1600s, Italy - Giambattista Basile writes The Tale of Tales – published posthumously in 1634. This contains 'Petrosinella', the earliest known version of 'Rapunzel' 

1690-1710  - The French Salons invented and played with fairy tales - Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy invented the term 'conte de fées'

1697 France - Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales is published in Paris 

1697 – Charlotte-Rose de la Force publishes her collection which includes the tale we now know of as “Rapunzel”

1740 France - Gabrielle de Villeneuve writes a 362 page version of “Beauty and the Beast”

 1756 France – Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont publishes much shorter version of “Beauty and the Beast” - first tale written specifically for children.

1812 Germany - Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm publish Vol 1 of Childhood and Household Tales

1823 Great Britain - Edgar Taylor publishes the first English translation of the Grimms' tales in German Popular Stories. The book is illustrated by George Cruikshank

1825 Germany – Grimms’ first edition for children - known as The Small Edition - illustrated by Ludwig Grimm

1835 Denmark - Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children

1889 England - Andrew Lang publishes The Blue Fairy Book -  the first multicultural fairy tale collection 

1890 Russia - Tchaikovsky's “The Sleeping Beauty” premieres in St Petersburg 

1893 Great Britain - Marian Roalfe Cox publishes her book, Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O' Rushes’- the first fairy tale scholarship

1910 Finland - Antti Aarne publishes ‘The Types of the Folktale’. Later, Stith Thompson translates and expands it into English in 1961

1937 United States - Walt Disney's first feature length animated film is released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Now – fairy tales have never been hotter! They dominate our TV and movie screens, and influence advertising, music, and fashion. Plus of course ... fairy tale retellings ...

Fairy Tale Tropes
Pure distillation of plot

Setting is anywhere and nowhere

Traditional sentences & archaic language: Once upon a time ... Long long ago … Once, twice, thrice …. 
‘Abstract style’  - dark forest, brave youth, golden bird

Fairy tale numbers and patterns: the numbers 3 & 7 & 13 i.e. the third sister, the thirteenth fairy

Magic & metamorphosis – talking mirror, prince into frog, girl into bear

Binary oppositions i.e. good & evil, rich & poor, beautiful & ugly, strong & weak

Memorable language i.e. rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia 

Motifs & metaphors: ‘the language of the night’

Structure – a series of trials & tribulations (often three)

The Fairy Tale ‘happy ending’ .. 

(Though not all fairy tales end happily. Many of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are very sad, for example) 


INTERVIEW: Miranda Richmond Mouillot, author of A Fifty Year's Silence

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Interview with Miranda Richmond Mouillot (first published in Good Reading magazine)

In 1936, two young Jewish students met in a café in Strasbourg. 

In 1940, when the Nazis invaded France, the young man Armand walked three hundred kilometres to find Anna, the beautiful young Romanian he had met that day, who was hiding out in the French Pyrenees. Two years later, they managed to escape France by climbing the Alps in a snowstorm. In Switzerland, as war refugees, they were married.

In 1945, Anna gave birth to a beautiful little girl and Armand worked as a translator at the Nuremberg Trials, giving voice for the first time to the full horrors of the Nazi regime. 

In 1948, the couple bought a tumbledown stone house in a tiny village in the south of France.

In 1953, Anna fled their home with her two children and just a few souvenirs of their life together. She and Armand never spoke again. 

In 2015, Miranda Richmond Mouillot - Armand’s and Anna’s only granddaughter  - published an extraordinary memoir entitled A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War & A Ruined House in France. Although it tells the story of Armand and Anna’s tumultuous love affair and its tragic end, Miranda’s book is as much a meditation on memory, storytelling, and the dark shadow that the Holocaust continues to cast over the descendants of those who survived. It is also the story of how the author fell in love with France, and with the Frenchman who would become her husband. 

Miranda, you wrote in your Author’s Note that you “sought to maintain the vertiginous sense of poetry that their silence provoked in my life.” Could you please expand on this idea? 

Fairy tales and poems are a powerful part of the human experience because they are like little symbolic capsules for carrying big ideas and emotions. They help us to remember and pass on what would otherwise be too vast and complex for us handle. We connect to those little capsules long before we understand them fully because we sense all the meaning packed into them. And I sensed before I could give words to it that grandparents’ silence was like that, a capsule tightly packed with a lifetime of experiences, of love and loss and hope and heartbreak. It was so palpable – and they themselves were such extraordinary people – that it made me alive to that symbolic potential in all things. And when you walk around sensing that symbolic potential in all things, it’s a bit dizzying: you are keenly aware that everything around you contains an infinity of stories. In A Fifty-Year Silence I sought to make the reader aware of that world of infinite memory, not only in my own family, but everywhere.  

Why do you think your grandparents’ tragic love story took such a hold of your imagination? 

For two reasons: first, I think that it was imprinted in me. There’s research showing that the methyl group that gets attached to your genes in certain traumatic situations causes epigenetic changes that are actually passed on from one generation to the next. I literally felt it in my bones. Second, to say my grandparents fascinated me would be an understatement: there was simply no one like them on earth. And they were so beautiful, both as I knew them and in the few pictures we had from when they were young. They were larger than life, more brilliant, difficult, and original than anyone I knew. I wanted to follow them into their originality and find out more. 

Your grandmother had a knack for finding four –leaf clovers, told fortunes with playing cards, and ‘viewed death as an interesting dance step she’d eventually get around to learning.’ She sounds so wonderful! Can you tell me more about her? 

She was wonderful! A brilliant psychiatrist, a staggeringly well-read woman, equally at home in Samarkand and at the supermarket and would strike up a conversation with anyone she met, anywhere she went. She made every part of life into an adventure, loved postmodernist literature, and made catastrophically bad cakes from whatever she had lying around in the refrigerator – squishy kiwis, grated carrots, old raspberry jam. And she was generous – she wasn’t a wealthy woman, but she supported her artist friends, gave to charity, and kept up with old patients long after they’d left treatment. 

Your grandfather cooked elaborate feasts, sent you poetry to read, and had a library of books on the Holocaust. He sounds like such an intelligent and deep-thinking man. Can you please tell us more? 

My grandfather’s experiences during the Second World War, and then as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trial just after, left his confidence in humanity shaken to the core. I don’t think he ever fully trusted another human being again. But he wanted to – he wanted to desperately. And that desperate want drove him on a lifelong intellectual quest for the best and most hopeful of parts of human existence, which he located in two places: in the human capacity to create beauty, and in the human potential for kindness to others. That intersected for him in literature, so he read all the time. (After he retired, when he wasn’t reading, he was volunteering for Amnesty International, seeking justice for writers.) No matter how difficult and tyrannical he was – and he was, he sent back my letters with corrections written on them, wouldn’t let me wear my hair down in his company, and nearly cut off our relationship because I disagreed with him on the Shakespeare authorship question – he threw me the lifeline of literature. 

As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, you describe your childhood as being ‘bafflingly full of terror.’ You kept your shoes by the front door so you could grab them if you had to flee in the night, and always looked out for possible places to hide. I find this evidence of the long shadow cast by the Holocaust deeply moving. Can you tell us some of the stories that engendered this terror in you? 

A lot of those stories are in the book, so I won’t give them away, but I believe the thread connecting them is uprootedness, the possibility of being taken away from your life at any moment, or having to leave it. Of everything you’ve created and grown accustomed to shattered in an instant. One thing that stands out to me is footsteps in the night. My grandparents were nearly arrested many times, but the first time, as far as I can tell, they were lying in the dark morning in the south of France and heard boots on the stairs. There was a pounding at the door, and two French milice officers demanded they rise – to go interpret for them as they arrested my grandparents’ upstairs neighbours, who had grown to be very dear friends. My grandparents had to stand and not only watch, but enunciate the brutal arrest of two people they had grown to love, and were only saved from the same fate by one of the officers, for whom my grandmother had (through a chance encounter) knitted a pair of wool gloves. 

Tell us about the first time you saw your grandparents’ house in the south of France.

I was fifteen, and in boarding school in Geneva, and my grandfather drove me down there one Sunday, with absolutely no explanation as to where we were going or why. The house is in a little medieval hamlet, a tiny fortified village with just two streets. A lazy, half-dry river runs by it and it is dominated by a gigantic rock, some six stories high, with the ruins of a fort on its flat top. When my grandfather propelled me down one of the hamlet’s two narrow streets and showed me the house, it was as if he’d thrown a brick into the still, unruffled pond of my teenage imagination: in an instant, I knew I had to live there. 

You had trouble establishing the truth of your grandparents’ love affair and subsequent marriage. Even the date of their wedding was hard to pin down. Explain some of the challenges you had to overcome in your search for your grandparents’ story.

The main challenge was them! No matter how many times I interviewed them, and how many questions I asked, it was as if they’d lived through the war in parallel, matching universes. They would tell stories about the same times, and the same places, with absolutely no mention of one another. And when I did get them talking about the other, it was like finally grabbing the bar of soap you’ve lost in the bathtub: they’d slip irretrievably off onto another subject before I knew it. Talking to them was also challenging because I loved them so dearly, and knew what suffering they were carrying in them, and how hard it was to for them to talk about. 

You moved to the south of France to life in your grandparents’ long abandoned house. Can you explain some of the emotions behind that choice, and some of the consequences?

I moved there chasing an ideal, in many ways: like many young people starting out to study history, I believed there was a single truth to uncover, and that the house would lead me to it. I also, as many children of refugees and immigrants do, grew up with a sense that I had no real home, and I was chasing the dream of finally finding my home, which I thought was a physical place. Moving there showed me how much more complex life really is – not only was there no clear-cut connection between the house and my grandparents’ love affair (though the complex connection I discovered in its place is just as strong), there was no way I could make this house my home! It wasn’t mine, for one thing, and for another it was nearly uninhabitable. Half its windows had been shattered, one of the doors had rotted nearly away, it was freezing cold and infested with spiders and scorpions. But I moved in anyway (I had no real choice) and learned more about my grandparents’ experiences with hardship than I ever would have in a cushier place. And of course the best consequence of all was meeting my husband – who is my true home. 

One aspect of the book which I found utterly heart-wrenching was the scenes in which you explore your grandfather’s work as a translator at the famous Nazi trials at Nuremberg. On one occasion, he broke down while translating Hermann Göring, Hitler’s second-in-command. What kind of scars did this experience leave on your grandfather?

Interpreting is usually thought of as highly intellectual work; certainly it requires a great deal of knowledge and quick thinking. But it is also intensely physical: the voices of the people you are interpreting enter your body through your ears, they vibrate into you, travel through your brain, and then you perform the work of transforming it into another language, and vibrate it back out into the world with your vocal cords. My grandfather once said to a journalist that he felt as if he had been a black box into which all the Trial disappeared, which he carried with him without being able to see inside it – and which I know tortured him and weighed on his soul for the rest of his life. 

What happened to your grandparents’ ruined stone house in the south of France?

It’s still there, still in the family, and I still hope to one day fix it up and live there. But who knows what life will bring? 


Monday, December 14, 2015


The bestselling author of Lunch in Paris takes us on another delicious journey, this time to the heart of Provence. 

Ten years ago, New Yorker Elizabeth Bard followed a handsome Frenchman up a spiral staircase to a love nest in the heart of Paris. Now, with a baby on the way and the world's flakiest croissant around the corner, Elizabeth is sure she's found her "forever place." But life has other plans. 

On a last romantic jaunt before the baby arrives, the couple take a trip to the tiny Provencal village of Céreste. A chance encounter leads them to the wartime home of a famous poet, a tale of a buried manuscript and a garden full of heirloom roses. Under the spell of the house and its unique history, in less time than it takes to flip a crepe, Elizabeth and Gwendal decide to move-lock, stock and Le Creuset-to the French countryside.

When the couple and their newborn son arrive in Provence, they discover a land of blue skies, lavender fields and peaches that taste like sunshine. Seduced by the local ingredients, they begin a new adventure as culinary entrepreneurs, starting their own artisanal ice cream shop and experimenting with flavors like saffron, sheep's milk yogurt and fruity olive oil. 

Filled with enticing recipes for stuffed zucchini flowers, fig tart and honey & thyme ice cream, Picnic in Provence is the story of everything that happens after the happily ever after: an American learning the tricks of French motherhood, a family finding a new professional passion, and a cook's initiation into classic Provencal cuisine. With wit, humor and scoop of wild strawberry sorbet, Bard reminds us that life-in and out of the kitchen-is a rendez-vous with the unexpected.


Picnic In Provence is a memoir of a Jewish American princess who marries a Frenchman, and moves to Provence to make honey & thyme ice-cream, among other wonderful dishes. Charming , romantic and poignant, this book is full of delicious-sounding recipes and lots of wry observations on the cultural differences between the two countries (fast food, wearing sweatpants in public, and the like). It made me want to move to Provence and cook stuffed zucchini flowers and fig tarts drizzled with lavender honey, always the sign of a good food memoir. I’ve since cooked quite a few of the recipes – délicieux!

Alors , qu'avez-vous pensé ?

SPOTLIGHT: Camille Claudel, sculptor and RODIN'S LOVER

Friday, October 16, 2015

Heather Webb is the author of RODIN'S LOVER, a heart-wrenching biographical novel about the French sculptress Camille Claudel. On the blog today, Heather writes about the story behind her novel ...  

For the Love of Art

By Heather Webb

Being a female artist in Belle Époque France was a challenge to say the least, yet young sculptor Camille Claudel would carve out a name for herself—at all cost. Attending proper art school with nude models was frowned upon, and in most cases forbidden, as was wearing trousers to do the intense lifting, scrubbing, and chiseling that came with being a sculptor. To make matters worse, women seldom won the coveted positions at the Champs-Elysée Salon. On the rare occasion a female artist was nominated for her work, she garnered lesser awards, leaving the prestigious Salon prizes for their male counterparts—allegedly the most creative and intelligent of the sexes. 

Yet Camille managed all of these feats. Not only did she work with live, nude models, but she received commissions for her work, as well as a prominent award for her sculpture Sakuntala; a depiction of an Indian woman resting her head atop her lover’s, who pleaded for her forgiveness. Still, Camille’s sensual work was deemed indecent by many, and her Sakuntala  (among other pieces) was not accepted everywhere. 

On one occasion in 1895, Camille sold an Alexander Harrison painting she owned to a museum in Châteauroux to support herself—buying stone, clay, and tools for sculpting, never mind rent for her atelier cost a small fortune, and she, among other artists struggled to make ends meet. Camille was so relieved by the museum’s purchase that she donated a copy of Sakuntala to the museum as a thank you. Delighted, the art committee featured her work in the main hall. 

Camille visited the museum to view how they displayed her piece, and received a warm welcome, prompting the committee to submit an article praising her work in the town newspaper. Once again, Camille met strife. Several conservative bourgeois from the town were shocked—as other critics in Paris had been—by the sensual nature of her work. They pushed back against her and the art committee, ridiculing her skills and making both sexual jokes about the Hindu legend she had depicted, as well as mocking the committee for their choice in showing it. One article even suggested hiding the sculpture behind a curtain.

Luckily for Camille, she had gained the support of a few well-known critics who came to her defense. Gustave Geoffroy said, “Those who saw [Sakuntala] retain in their memory…the anatomical science and the passionate expression of these two figures.” Rodin, Camille’s collaborator, teacher, and lover, offered his unfailing support of her as well.

In my novel RODIN’S LOVER, I explore the politics of art, the tumultuous affair between the famed Auguste Rodin and his volatile, yet brilliant student Camille Claudel, and the fine lines between obsession and madness. 

For those interested in seeing some of Camille’s works, a few of my favorites are: The Waltz, The Wave, Maturity, The Gossips, and Clotho. I have photos on my website under FOR FUN, as well as a Pinterest board packed with photos of her work as well as Rodin’s. For more information, check out my website

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE, RODIN’S LOVER (Jan 27, 2015), and A FALL OF POPPIES: An Anthology of Armistice Day to be released from HarperCollins in 2016. In addition, she is a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning writing sites and Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

INTERVEW: Heather Webb, author of RODIN'S LOVER

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Heather Webb is the author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, which tells the story of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine Bonaparte, against a background of the French Revolution; and RODIN’S LOVER, which chronicles the passionate and tragic story of Camille Claudel, sculptor, collaborator, and lover to Auguste Rodin. 

Please welcome her to the blog!

What was the first flash of inspiration for RODIN'S LOVER?

I fell in love with Camille while in my French film class in college. The film called Camille Claudel, was multiple award-winning in Europe and the U.S. with stars Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu playing the roles of Camille and Rodin. Their tragic love story gripped me and I swooned at the beauty they created both together and separately. After the film, I became rather obsessed with sculpture in general. Many years later, I had not forgotten Camille, and knew I wanted to delve more into her life. When I kept seeing renditions of Rodin's "The Thinker" all over the place the month I was choosing a new topic, I knew it was a sign. (I'm one of those! Signs are important to me.) 

What do you love most in the world?
Beyond my children and family, I'd say a great meal while I'm on the road traveling. I love, love, love to travel and I'm a foodie so there we have a perfect marriage.

What do you fear most in the world?
Again, beyond something horrible with loved ones, I would say war coming to U.S. soil. Oh, and cockroaches. Those bugs are crunchy and NASTY. They carry over a hundred diseases and I'm convinced they'll be around long after the apocalypse. 

What are your 5 favourite childhood books?

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene


What are your 5 favourite books read as an adult?

This is so difficult! It changes based on the phase in my life and my mood, but here are a few favorites I still think about:

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Longbourn by Jo Baker

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Mystic River by Denis Lehane

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Probably the variety. I read lots of young adult, historicals, and literary, but I also read the occasional romance, mystery, or science fiction.

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell

How would you describe perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is sitting on a beach in the sun, listening to the waves and the gulls, sipping a glass of wine. Knowing everyone you love is safe, knowing that life is short and precious and being content with all you have. Being free from fear of what comes next in my career, life, love...

What are your dreams for the future?

Like many writers, I'd love to hit one of the big lists or win some literary prize, but mostly, my dreams involve continuing to write good stories that capture the public imagination and heart. I dream about my kids growing up happy and having families of their own. And lots more adventure! 

REVIEW: Children of War by Martin Walker

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Children of War (Bruno, Chief of Police #7)

by Martin Walker


Bruno, chef de police in the French town of St Denis, is already busy with a case when the body of an undercover French Muslim cop is found in the woods, a man who called Bruno for help only hours before.

But Bruno’s sometime boss and rival, the Brigadier, doesn’t see this investigation as a priority – there are bigger issues at stake.

Bruno has other ideas.

Meanwhile, a Muslim youth named Sami turns up at a French army base in Afghanistan hoping to get home to St Denis. One of Bruno’s old army comrades helps to smuggle Sami back to France, but the FBI aren’t far behind. Then an American woman appears in St Denis with a warrant for Sami’s extradition.

Bruno must unravel these multiple mysteries, amidst pressure from his bosses, and find his own way to protect his town and its people.


I’ve really been enjoying this series of contemporary murder mysteries set in the Dordogne in the south-west of France. 

The first few books were gentle, warm and character-driven with lots of descriptions of Bruno cooking delicious meals and looking for truffles in the forest with his dog. 

The later books have become more like hard-edged thrillers, with a bit of sex and a lot of political intrigue thrown in. I am still enjoying them, but not as much. Bruno was such a lovable character to begin with, but now he’s bed-hopping a little too much for my taste. I’d like less torture and more romance and feasting. 

Ah, well! Still a very enjoyable read.

Best Research Books for the French Revolution, chosen by Charlotte Betts

Friday, August 28, 2015

Today, British author Charlotte Betts joins us to talk about the research books which were of the most help for her in researching the french revolution, the setting for her wonderful historical novel, The Chateau on the Lake:

When I began to write The Chateau on the Lake I had a great deal of groundwork to do. It was the first book I’d written about the eighteenth century and I’d never studied either this era or the French Revolution before. It was necessary to immerse myself in the period and I decided to begin with a general overview.

The English – A Social History 1066 – 1945 by Christopher Hibbert was helpful here to put the eighteenth century into context for me. Then I thoroughly enjoyed The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman. Richard Hall was a Baptist haberdasher and his diary and papers were collated by his descendent, Mike Rendell. Mr Hall owned a shop on London Bridge and the journal is crammed with details of his life and times. It’s marvellous book to dip into for those little snippets of information that can add colour to a novel. 

Similarly, Ladies of the Grand Tour by Brian Dolan was a treasure trove of knowledge when my heroine was attending a salon to meet the intellectual and artistic glitterati of the day and then when deciding what to pack to travel to France. Apparently indispensible items were a pair of leather sheets and a rhubarb grater!

Behind Closed Doors – At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery gave me an insight as to how people from servants to duchesses lived at home. Amanda Vickery uses many quotations from Jane Austen’s writing and this one made me laugh, which she adapted to suit the book: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Georgian house with a drawing room, French windows and lawns must be in want of a mistress …’

My next step was to read as many of Jane Austen’s novels as I had time for. I’d loved them in the dim and distant past while studying English literature but it was very interesting to read them with fresh eyes. Perhaps I’ve seen too many Jane Austen-adapted films in the intervening years but I was astonished at how little description there was. A large part of her novels are dialogue and none the worse for that. Her perspicacious comments and sharp sense of humour most definitely stand up to the test of time. It was useful to place myself in, say, Lizzie Bennett’s shoes, for a young woman’s view of life at that time.

Jerry White’s London in the Eighteenth Century was important for explaining how London, a city of huge contrasts, was expanding and how this affected citizens from all walks of life.

Then I moved onto History of the French Revolution from 1789 – 1814 by Francois Mignet, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe 1770 - 1870 by Geoffrey Best and Fatal Purity - Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr. These were invaluable and densely packed with facts.

For light relief I looked at A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel and The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier. I found the latter very interesting because it was about Daphne du Maurier’s own family during the French Revolution. It didn’t cover quite the same period as in The Chateau on the Lake but gave a useful flavour of the time.

It’s impossible in a short post to mention all the books I studied and one of the things, as a non-historian, that I love most about writing historical fiction is the self-education aspect. Learning history because you are truly interested, rather than being force-fed dates and events at school, is a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine my enthusiasm for this will ever wane.

INTERVIEW: Charlotte Betts, author of The Chateau on the Lake

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Please welcome Charlotte Betts, the author of The Chateau on the Lake, a brilliant historical romance set during the French Revolution. I had previously read Charlotte's book, The Apothecary's Daughter, which I really enjoyed too, and so I'm looking forward to more of her books.


Are you a daydreamer too?

I am definitely a daydreamer and I’m not sure it would be possible for me to write novels if I wasn’t. My writing doesn’t flow until I’ve daydreamed a scene. I need to ‘see’ it in my mind and then it’s like watching a film and I simply record what happens in front of me. This sounds easy but it’s taken a while to learn how to do this. The best time for me to daydream is when walking the dog or last thing at night just before I fall asleep.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

It seems extraordinary to me now that I didn’t start to write until fifteen years ago. I loved to read and always had to be creating something or other: painting, drawing, decorating, sewing, making puppets or a garden. Most of my working life has been as a designer, first fashion but then interior design for hotels and private residences. Colour and texture are important to me and I use these a great deal in my writing. The skills used for architectural drawings and detailed specification lists aren’t so very different from those required when planning a novel. I don’t have time to paint now but like to think that I paint with words.


Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in London, though I only have a few memories of that time as my family moved to Berkshire when I was seven. I’ve lived in the Thames Valley most of my life but eleven years ago moved to a seventeenth century cottage on the Berkshire/Hampshire border, close to a market town.

This year I gave up the day job to write full time and I am so happy discovering the wildlife and the flowers in the woods that surround the cottage. There’s something new to see everyday. I’ve been busy finishing my next novel and a short story for Christmas but I’m looking forward to having a little more time to travel, read, make jam, meet friends and generally potter about at the end of my writing day. What luxury!

Tell me about your book, The Chateau on the Lake. 

The Chateau on the Lake opens in 1792. After her English mother and French father are brutally murdered, bluestocking Madeleine Moreau travels to France in search of relatives she hadn’t known existed. When France declares war on England it becomes unsafe to return and Comte Etienne d’Aubery offers her shelter in his chateau. Impulsive and sometimes self-opinionated, Madeleine favours the people’s revolution in France but her views are shaken after she witnesses Louis XVI’s death by the guillotine. The revolution gathers momentum and as passions of the populace are inflamed, Madeleine sets off on a dangerous race against time to save the man she loves.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

My first three published novels were all set in the mid-seventeenth century and I decided I’d take a jump ahead in time. As usual when beginning a new novel, I researched the period, looking for a suitable historical event to use as a backdrop to my story. When I read about the French Revolution it struck me as the perfect framework for a novel because it was a dramatic, life-changing event for so many, crammed with intrigue and adventure.


What was the greatest challenge in the writing of it? 

I had two major challenges when writing The Chateau on the Lake. Firstly, I’d never studied the French Revolution but everyone knows that the starving poor rebelled against the greedy aristocrats and beheaded Louis XVI, don’t they? Except that, once I started my research, I quickly discovered that it was nothing like as straightforward as that.

It’s often perceived that most of the victims trundling their way to the guillotine in a tumbril were powdered and patched aristocrats but this wasn’t the case. The great majority were of working class background and had taken up arms against the Revolution, most notably in the Vendée. Those nobles who had chosen to emigrate and then returned to France were also executed as they were assumed to be spies. Priests who had refused to take an oath of loyalty to the constitution were also seen as enemies of the Revolution and guillotined. Many ordinary people were denounced for very little reason and a terrible atmosphere suspicion and fear prevailed. 

My second challenge was that whilst writing the novel I was still working long hours in a demanding day job. I place high importance on the accuracy of the historical events I portray and it was extra hard to find the time to do all the research required to enable me to meet the deadline. Everything else in my life had to go on hold!

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I do plan my novels in immense detail all fitted around the historical facts as, for me, this is the best way to avoid writer’s block. Of course, the best-laid plans always go awry! My characters develop a personality I hadn’t expected and secondary characters try to muscle in for a bigger role in the story. I find that an historical fact actually occurred two months after I wanted it to so it’s back to the drawing board for the plot. All this is normal and I don’t upset myself about it. A novel plan is like a road map but there is often another way, maybe a better way, to reach your destination.



Where do you write, and when?

Now that I’m not working in an office I tend to start writing at 9am after household chores with a break in the middle of the day to walk Hattie, my Border Collie, mid morning. Sometimes I’ll start at 5am, as ideas are usually fresh then. I generally keep ‘office hours’ but if I’m nearing a deadline I’ll work very late. Now, I’m able to take time off at weekends to spend time with family. I have my trusty Mac Air on all the time, though, and will write whenever inspiration strikes.

I have a lovely garden studio where I can watch the birds while I write but if it’s very cold outside I set up camp in our orangerie or in my little study, which has a woodburning stove for the depths of winter.


What is your favourite part of writing?

I love all of it, the planning, the research, the certainty that this book will be the best ever! I suppose the middle part of the book is my least favourite because, when the initial excitement has worn off, you begin to wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake and everyone will hate it. It’s wonderful when it all comes together at the end.


What do you do when you get blocked?

Nearly always this happens because I know in my heart of hearts that something isn’t working. It’s usually in the middle section of the novel. In this case I question my characters’ motivation and have ‘conversations’ with them. Or I’ll do a little more research to see if I can find a new and interesting fact to add a twist to the story. Sometimes I’ll even kill a character – that usually livens things up!


How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

If I’m not inspired it’s generally because I’m trying too hard. I am fairly obsessive about my writing and sometimes it’s better to stop and take a walk, bake a cake or meet some friends. I think reading more or watching a film can also be very helpful. 


Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Tea. Chocolate. Both dark and strong like my heroes. Need I say more?


Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Tracy Chevalier, Philippa Gregory, Nicci French, Sarah Dunant, Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Clare Francis, Dick Francis, Jane Austen and Deborah Swift.


What do you consider to be good writing? 

Good writing immediately lifts me into the world of that book, the minds of the characters and into the locations so that I feel I’m really there. I also like writing to be clear and concise. Good writing shines, whatever the genre.  


What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

  • Write every day
  • Read all you can
  • Keep a notebook
  • Never give up


What are you working on now? 

I’m currently checking the proofs of The House in Quill Court, which will be published on 7th January 2016. The novel is set in 1814 and the plot is perhaps best summed up as Jane Austen meets Whitechapel!


After Venetia Lovell’s father is murdered, she’s shocked to discover that he had another family. Since both families have been left without means of support they must combine forces to take over his interior decorating business.

Venetia discovers that her neighbouring shopkeepers have been paying protection money to a vicious gangland boss and, after he threatens their livelihood too, she is determined to end his terrifying tyranny. However, when a street war breaks out Venetia soon begins to regret interfering.

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