Interview with Author Susan Spann


June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Hello Susan! Welcome to Layered Pages and thank you for chatting with me today.

After reading your book description, I don’t think I have read a story quite like this one. What sets your story apart from others in this genre?

Susan: First: thank you for inviting me here today. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you!

I think the key difference is my detective, Hiro. He’s a shinobi (aka “ninja” – shinobi is the actual Japanese pronunciation of the word), which is something I hadn’t seen in detective fiction before. As a trained assassin, Hiro has a better understanding of forensics than most people who lived in medieval Japan, which gives him a special ability to look at a crime scene and deduce what might have happened there. I love “translating” forensics back through the centuries, and seeing the facts through Hiro’s eyes.

Stephanie: Your story looks really involved and you have quite a cast of characters….was there any challenges writing your story or keeping up with what each character was doing?

Susan: It’s definitely a challenge to keep up with a pack of liars—and generally speaking, every character in a mystery novel is a liar (to one degree or another). I usually write two outlines for each novel, one that shows the “onstage” action the reader sees on the page, and the other to keep track of the “offstage” action—so I know when a character is lying and when he’s telling the truth!

Stephanie: Did you use an outline for your story?

Susan: I do! In fact, I use two. Once I start writing, however, the characters take on a life of their own, so the finished novel usually has some fairly significant departures from the version that appeared in the outlines. So far, I’ve never changed the murderer’s identity—but several of the subplots ended up very different from my original plans.

Stephanie: Which character are you partial to?

Susan: I love Hiro and Father Mateo—no surprise there—but looking only at Blade of the Samurai, my favorite character from that novel is probably Ichiro, a young samurai who’s the son of the murder victim. Ichiro wasn’t in my original outline—he “rode onstage” in the first draft and I loved him too much to cut him out again. He captured my heart for many reasons, and I hope readers will like him too.

Stephanie: Please tell me about your research and conflicting opinions/interpretations from historians? If so, how did you deal with it?

Susan: When historical facts conflict, I try to find a reasonable version of the “truth” and go with it. Ultimately, historical fiction is still fiction, and though I try very hard to avoid significant errors, in the end we all have to write the best novels we can and accept that even in modern non-fiction, differing viewpoints and errors happen.

When I divert from historical fact, I try to add notes to that effect on my website, to help readers separate “fact from fiction” – but I try very hard not to change anything that’s historically significant.

Stephanie: What era does your story take place in and why did you chose this period and culture?

Susan: The Shinobi Mysteries are set in the mid-16th century (Blade takes place in 1565), which the Japanese refer to as the “Muromachi Era.” In the West, we consider it the medieval age. Japan was ruled by an emperor, though the shogun was in charge of the military, and had become the actual head of the government too.

I chose this era for a couple of reasons. First, the real, historical ninjas were at the peak of their strength in the 16th century. During that time, the shinobi clans were powerful forces within Japan, as spies and assassins for hire. The mid 16th century was also the time when foreigners (particularly Portuguese traders and Jesuits) were first making inroads in Japan, and that clash of cultures makes an interesting backdrop for fiction. This was also a tumultuous period in Japanese history, when many warlords vied to become the shogun. Taking all of those things together, it seemed like a great time to set a mystery series!

Stephanie: Did you face any challenges writing a murder scene?

Susan: I consider the murder scene a pivotal part of the novels—it’s the fountain from which the rest of the story flows—so I always take a lot of time in planning and writing it. The murders in my novels happen offstage, but before I write the novel itself, I actually write the scene in which the murder happens, to set the details in my mind and to help establish which clues the killer left behind. Those scenes I keep to myself, of course, but they’re just as important—if not more so—than the pages which do become part of the novels.

Stephanie: Who long did it take for you to write your story and where in your home do you like to write?

Susan: I write the first draft of a novel in 30 days, but that’s only the start of the process. That initial draft gets two full rounds of revisions before I insert the chapter breaks, and then two more (five drafts total) before it goes to my college-age son, who is my alpha reader. After I integrate his comments (and run another draft on my own) Draft 6 or 7 goes to my critique partners, and then draft 8 (or sometimes 9) gets sent to my agent for comment. By the time that first draft gets to my editor at Minotaur, it’s been through 9-10 rounds of revision, at least. The entire process takes about nine months.

Stephanie: Do you need complete silence and alone time to write or can you write surrounded by noise and a few people in the room?

Susan: It depends on the draft. I typically write first drafts in silence, and alone (though I can work in a coffee shop, if the need arises). Noise bothers me less now than it used to, though my favorite environment for writing and editing is definitely my home office, with the burble of my reef aquarium as the soundtrack.

Stephanie: What are you currently working on?

Susan: I’ve finished the third Shinobi Mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, which is scheduled for publication in July 2015, and I’m currently revising the fourth book, Blood of the Outcast. It’s a wonderful thing to spend more time with Hiro and Father Mateo!

Stephanie: Thank you, Susan!

Susan: Thank you for having me here today!


Susan Spann acquired her love of books and reading during her preschool days in Santa Monica, California. As a child she read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie. In high school, she once turned a short-story assignment into a full-length fantasy novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day).

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts.

Susan’s interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest. When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her highly distracting marine aquarium. Susan lives in Sacramento with her husband, son, three cats, one bird, and a multitude of assorted aquatic creatures.

For more information please visit Susan Spann’s website and blog.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Blade of the Samurai Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, July 7 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, July 8 Review at Closed the Cover

Wednesday, July 9 Review at Staircase Wit Guest Post & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Thursday, July 10 Review at Boolover Book Reviews

Monday, July 14 Review at Bibliophilia, Please

Wednesday, July 16 Review at Buried Under Books

Thursday, July 17 Spotlight at Reviews by Molly

Friday, July 18 Review at History Undressed

Monday, July 21 Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Tuesday, July 22 Review at Judith Starkston Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Wednesday, July 23 Review at The True Book Addict

Thursday, July 24 Interview at Layered Pages

Monday, July 28 Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

Tuesday, July 29 Review at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, July 30 Review at Princess of Eboli

Thursday, July 31 Review at A Fantastical Librarian

Friday, August 1 Review at Reading the Ages

Susan Spann Book Tour Banner



My Guest Author Judith Arnopp

Henry Tudor – the infant prince by Judith Arnopp

We are used to thinking of Henry as obese, ailing, suspicious and vindictive but he wasn’t always so. We know from contemporary descriptions of him that in his youth he was athletic, talented and cordial; a perfect example of a Renaissance prince. I have discussed in previous posts the degeneration that took place during Henry’s mid-life resulting in the ‘monster-king’ we know and love, but today I’d like to go further back to Henry’s infancy. There are many questions I want to address. What sort of child was he? Did his upbringing have any bearing on the king he was to become? Or did his childhood relationships with women impact upon the way he treated the women he was to encounter as an adult? And to what extent did the constant rebellion that affected his father’s reign impact upon Henry’s crushing need to produce a male heir?

picture 1 J

Henry was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich on 28th June 1491. He was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As second son he was never intended for the throne; that honour was to go to his older brother, Arthur, a boy who, as far as we can tell, resembled his father both in looks and manner. Henry was more like his maternal grandfather, the giant, bright haired Yorkist king, Edward IV. This likeness seems to have been more than just physical and in several aspects the lives of the two kings bear similarities; both married for love, both shared a love of fine cuisine and both were subject to violent outbreaks of temper.

Like most royal children Henry’s early life was governed by women. While Arthur, as heir to the throne, was given his own extravagant male orientated household at Ludlow, Henry shared a nursery with his sister Margaret, and later his other siblings joined them. It was a world of women, very different to that of his brother. Henry’s wet nurse, Anne Uxbridge, provided nourishment in his early years while his two rockers, Margaret Droughton and Frideswide Puttenham, saw to his other comforts. As Elizabeth of York continued to dutifully fill the royal nursery, the role of ‘lady mistress of our nursery’ was bestowed upon Elizabeth Denton who served in the queen’s household long after the children had outgrown their need of her.

This team of women who cared for the royal infants should not suggest that Elizabeth kept her children at arm’s length. In fact Elizabeth seems to have been exceptionally close to her younger children. With Arthur far from court and growing up almost a stranger, she took an active role in the upbringing of his siblings. David Starkey suggests that Henry’s handwriting is so similar to his mother’s that it can only indicate she had a hand in their early education too.

The nursery at Eltham was next door to Elizabeth’s favourite palace of Greenwich and that had connections with her own royal father, Edward IV. As David Starkey points out in his book,Henry, the prince who would turn tyrant, at this point Edward IV had only been dead for a decade and the palace staff would have known and remembered him, and perhaps some ‘items of his household stuff were still in use.’ (Starkey. p. 69)

It is widely accepted that Elizabeth was fond of her father and it is very likely he would have featured in the stories she told of her childhood. Whether Henry VII liked it or not, growing up in his grandfather’s palace, with his grandfather’s possessions and staff around him, the young Henry could not help but be aware of him, and influenced in some degree by his memory.

At his mother’s knee Henry heard the tales of old, of knights and battle, chivalry and romance. He learned the importance of treating maidens gently and your foe mercilessly. The stories he heard at this time would influence him for the remainder of his life. Henry always aspired to being a knight like the men of old. Even as late as 1542 when he was growing old and infirm, he gamely donned his armour, climbed onto to his charger and rode off to war with France for his ‘second Agincourt.’

As Henry grew from infancy into a small boy new siblings arrived, and some departed. When Henry was just four years old his sister, Elizabeth, who had blossomed briefly into his life died suddenly in September 1495 aged just three years old. What affect this loss of a playmate may have had is impossible to say. Childhood death was commonplace in Tudor England but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult. As humans we never get used to death. Henry would have missed her. He and Margaret might have been lonely. It was his first brush with death and the loss perhaps made him wonder and worry a little. In 1496 Elizabeth’s place in the nursery was filled by another sister, Mary and a brother, Edmund followed in 1499. Sadly, like Elizabeth, Edmund did not survive for long but Mary has long been regarded as Henry’s ‘favourite’ sister. The lesson Henry learned from this was that childhood was dangerous – sons and daughters could be lost. His father, beset by rebellion, was made more insecure by the loss of each child; Henry must have noticed this and soon, the lesson would become further ingrained.

In 1491 a man claiming to be the younger son of Edward IV arrived on the scene. We now know him by the name of Perkin Warbeck and it is widely accepted that he was an imposter, a base born son of Edward IV, or perhaps someone who just happened to bear a family likeness. Regardless of who he was, Henry VII seems to have been rattled by his claim. Warbeck had the backing of France, Burgundy and Scotland; the powers of Europe were ranged against the unstable claim of Tudor and the king had plenty of reasons to be worried. England was home to many supporters of York; men who would go to any lengths to reinstate the old Plantagenet line. Some would even go so far as to accept an imposter. The fact that the king was so unsettled by Warbeck’s claims could suggest that he had no idea if the princes of York were living or dead.

In order to marry Elizabeth Henry repealed the act, titulus regius, that had made her and her brothers illegitimate and allowed the crown to pass to their uncle, Richard III. In reversing the act, legitimising his wife and turning Richard into a usurper, he also made the missing princes (if indeed they were still alive) legitimate also. In validating their blood, he also validated their claim to the throne …before himself. Imposter or not, neither Henry nor Elizabeth welcomed the return of a son of York this late in the game; as much as Elizabeth may have loved her brothers, she was queen now and in all probability, would have wanted the crown to pass to her own son, Arthur.

It was time for the Tudors to show their trump card; their two strong, healthy, legitimate sons. In an unspoken yet eloquent declaration Henry bestowed many of the titles that had belonged to the younger York prince, Richard of Shrewsbury (whom Warbeck was claiming to be), onto Henry. This action spoke louder than any words. The Princes of York are gone but, in their place, here are my sons; the princes of the house of Tudor.

Starkey says, ‘Henry’s creation and endowment as duke of York marked his entry into his inheritance as a prince of the blood. It also made the rivalry with Warbeck evident and unescapable. ‘The dukedom (of York)’ one of Henry’s future servants, Sir William Thomas, asserted flatly, ‘belongs to the king of England’s second son.’ Only force would determine which of the rival dukes would possess it.” (Starkey, P. 103)

The extravagant formalities that made the young Henry a royal duke were his first introduction to ceremonial bling and began a love affair with pageantry that would last his whole lifetime.

Henry VII had spent his youth in a similar vein to that of Warbeck. He was exiled, unsure whom he could trust, the future a dark unfathomable void. He would either become king or die in the attempt. The king knew only too well how tenuous the counterfeit prince’s survival was. Henry VII sent spies far and wide trying to capture him, made constant attempts to persuade or bribe Warbeck’s supporters to hand him over. And during this time he also continued to parade his legitimate sons in the face of Warbeck’s on-going claims. The situation dragged on until 1497, when Prince Henry was six years old, and the Cornish, fed up with Henry’s taxation laws, rose up in favour of Warbeck against the king. While Warbeck rode south with Scottish troops, the Cornish marched on Black Heath from the west, throwing the royal family into panic.

picture 2 J

While the king called his men to arms, Elizabeth of York fled with her children to the safety of the Tower. Just as in her youth, during the wars of the roses, when she was forced to take refuge with her mother in the Tower and later in sanctuary at Westminster, she must have been afraid and vulnerable, the future uncertain. She had no way of knowing the outcome and she could not be convinced that her husband would triumph. Her overriding fear must have been that her own children might shortly join the ranks of her missing brothers. The walls of the Tower were thick impenetrable stone, she was as safe from physical danger as it was possible to be, but the memories, if not the ghosts, of her brothers, must have cried out to her from the shadows. Her children must have sensed those fears and been terrified too.

Luckily for Henry, Warbeck was captured and thrown into the Tower, (eventually to be beheaded on dubious charges that warrant another blog post) the rebels were punished and the royal family resumed their lives. The King and his council continued to govern, Elizabeth continued to oversee the upbringing of her children and Henry and his sisters continued with their education.

Henry’s first teacher was John Skelton, a poet and philosopher under whose instruction Henry’s fertile mind flourished. In 1499 the Dutch scholar Erasmus and his friend Thomas More visited the nine-year-old prince at his home in Eltham. Erasmus remarked afterwards on Henry’s ‘dignity of mind’ and ‘courtesy,’ and it seems the prince was not slow in coming forward either.

When Thomas More made a gift of a literary composition to Henry, Erasmus was embarrassed not to have anything of his own to offer. He was angry with More for not warning him that an offering was expected. The oversight did not go unnoticed and afterwards at dinner, the young Henry issued the scholar a challenge to write something for him. Erasmus spent the next three days hastily composing one hundred and fifty three lines of verse dedicated to the prince. (Erasmus’ Prescription for Henry VIII) The incident began a correspondence and friendship that was to last many years.

On 14th November 1501 a great royal wedding took place between the Prince of Wales, Arthur, and the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon. The couple had been betrothed since they were three years old but it was only now, with Warbeck no longer a threat, that they were considered of an age to marry. The wedding took place at St Pauls and it was Henry who led the princess ‘from the Bishop’s Palace, across the churchyard of St Paul’s, through the west doors and along the elevated walkway to the wedding platform.’ (Starkey p 144) Then, after the ceremony, he led her back again to be united with her husband at the door of the bridal chamber.

picture 3 J

A week of great ceremony followed during which time Henry VII held a Friday evening entertainment in Westminster hall. The Prince of Wales danced with his aunt, Lady Cecily, and then it was Henry’s turn to dance with his sister, Margaret. He led her formally by the hand, bowed to the audience and proceeded to follow the steps. “But now Henry stepped out of the script. Finding that his heavy clothes got in the way of his fun, he ‘suddenly cast off his gown’ – which had been obtained at much expense – and ‘danced in his jacket’ with his sister. His parents looked on proudly and indulgently.”(Starkey: p.146)

This is the first recorded sign we have of the joy loving figure Henry would become and the picture of the chubby ten year old prince dancing in his shirt sleeves is an endearing one. The boy took a risk but it was a calculated one. He knew it was breaking the rules but he also knew there was nothing his father could do to prevent it – not until later when the revel was over. Unfortunately the king’s response to this breach of etiquette is not recorded but it is the first indication that Henry was the sort of boy to go his own way. For several weeks after the wedding great joy was held throughout the kingdom, but the joy was not to last. In less than five months, Arthur, the Prince of Wales, was dead, Catherine of Aragon was widowed and the king and queen were devastated.

The death of his older brother marked a great change for Henry. No longer the second son his status was drastically altered; his life never to be the same again. Henry, Duke of York, second son of an unpopular monarch was now thrust into global prominence. But, having lacked the strict male upbringing of his older brother, Henry was not ready to be Prince of Wales, and he was certainly not ready to be king. He had a lot to learn and he would have to learn quickly.

Henry VII and Elizabeth were plunged into deep mourning. Records tell us that their grief was profound, Elizabeth was summoned to the king’s chamber to comfort him and she is reported to have reminded her husband that they were lucky to have in Henry another ‘fair and goodly prince,’ and that they were yet young enough to have other children.

There is some suggestion that sexual relations between the two had ceased sometime previous to Arthur’s death but necessity brought them together again and, as good as her word, Elizabeth quickly fell pregnant. Since the day she became Henry’s queen, cementing the union of York and Lancaster and end the wars of the roses once and for all, Elizabeth had done her duty and never put a foot wrong. Now, if she could give the king another son, the Tudors would be secure again with, to use Starkey’s term both ‘an heir and a spare.’ But before the year was out Henry’s mother was gone, she died on 2nd February 1503 shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Katherine; a little girl who followed her mother to the grave a few days later.

Picture 4 J

From now on the king, unnerved by grief and beset by increasing insecurity, was to keep his heir close. During the last years of his father’s life Henry was seldom seen in public. The Spanish ambassador was to remark that the prince was, “never permitted to go out of the palace, except for exercise through a private door leading to the park. At these times he is surrounded only by those persons especially appointed by the king as his tutors and companions and no one else, on his life, dared approach him. He takes his meals alone and spends most of the day in his own room, which has no other entrance other than through the King’s bed chamber. He is in complete subjection to his father and grandmother and never opens his mouth in public except to answer a question from one of them.” (Hutchinson p. 95)

For a boy like Henry; outgoing, active and physically agile, this virtual imprisonment must have been hell and possibly exacerbated the grief he was no doubt suffering for the loss of his mother. An illustration in a book of illumination discovered a short time ago in the National Library of Wales depicts the aftermath of Elizabeth of York’s death. The king, dressed in mourning, is being offered a book and, in the background his daughters, Margaret and Mary, are wearing black veils. Somewhat apart from the others, a young boy with red hair weeps onto his mother’s empty bed. It is a picture of segregation and solitude; a sad, heart wrenching illustration of a formerly ebullient prince.

1503 marks the end of Henry’s childhood. The future yawns wide and empty before him. His childhood with its stories of chivalry, the warm nurturing presence of his mother and nursery staff is unreachable. He cannot return to the time of joy that went before. In a short time he has lost his brother and his mother and been thrust from a fairly predictable future as a royal Duke into the terror of the unknown trials of monarchy.

Henry’s early status of ‘second in line to the throne’ would impact upon every aspect of his upbringing and it was perhaps this early need to play second fiddle that fed his later desire to be centre stage. Nobody, least of all Henry, knew what sort of king he would make but his early lessons stayed with him. Henry would continually seek the unconditional love he’d known from his mother in his early years; he would strive and fail to become the perfect renaissance prince that his early teachers, Skelton, Erasmus and More had impressed upon him; and he would also strive and fail to fill the royal nursery with sons as his father would have wished.

picture 5 J

“Laughing child, possibly Henry VIII, c.1498. Possibly commissioned by or presented to Henry VII. Guido Mazzoni“from the royal collection.

Link to manuscript of young henry here

Link to Perkin Warbeck here

Link to Henry meeting Erasmus and More here

Link to Henry VII and Elizabeth here

Further reading

Erasmus’ Prescription for Henry VIII: Logotherapy Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle Renaissance Quarterly Vol. 31, No. 2 (Summer, 1978), pp. 161-172)

Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII By Robert Hutchinson

Henry, The Prince who would turn Tyrant, David Starkey

Winter King, The Dawn of Tudor England, Thomas Penn

Judith Arnopp

Judith Arnopp is the author of six historical novels. The first three are set early in the historical calendar in Anglo Saxon and Norman Britain, the last three in Tudor England. She is currently working on her seventh A Song of Sixpence which tells the story of Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII.

Her books include:

Peaceweaver: set during the run up to the Battle of Hastings

The Forest Dwellers: set after the Battle of Hastings.

The Song of Heledd: set in 7th Century Powys.

The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII.

The Kiss of the Concubine: the story of Anne Boleyn

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

You can find out more about Judith and her work on her webpage:

Judith’s blog  

Judith’s Amazon Page UK

Judith’s Amazon page US: Amazon Page US


The Devil In The Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

The Devil in the Marshalsea

Publication Date: June 10, 2014 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Formats: eBook, Paperback

Thrilling new historical fiction starring a scoundrel with a heart of gold and set in the darkest debtors’ prison in Georgian London, where people fall dead as quickly as they fall in love and no one is as they seem.

It’s 1727. Tom Hawkins is damned if he’s going to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a country parson. Not for him a quiet life of prayer and propriety. His preference is for wine, women, and cards. But there’s a sense of honor there too, and Tom won’t pull family strings to get himself out of debt—not even when faced with the appalling horrors of London’s notorious debtors’ prison: The Marshalsea Gaol.

Within moments of his arrival in the Marshalsea, Hawkins learns there’s a murderer on the loose, a ghost is haunting the gaol, and that he’ll have to scrounge up the money to pay for his food, bed, and drink. He’s quick to accept an offer of free room and board from the mysterious Samuel Fleet—only to find out just hours later that it was Fleet’s last roommate who turned up dead. Tom’s choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder—or be the next to die.

Praise for The Devil in the Marshalsea

“Hodgson…conjures up scenes of Dickensian squalor and marries them to a crackerjack plot, in her impressive first novel…Hodgson makes the stench, as well as the despair, almost palpable, besides expertly dropping fair clues. Fans of Iain Pears and Charles Palliser will hope for a sequel.” –Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)

“The plot develops almost as many intricate turns as there are passages in the Marshalsea…Hodgson’s plotting is clever…the local color hair-raising.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Satisfyingly twisty debut thriller…so well detailed that one can almost smell the corruption, and the irrepressibly roguish Tom makes a winning hero.” —Booklist

“Historical fiction just doesn’t get any better than this. A riveting, fast-paced story…Magnificent!” —Jeffery Deaver, author of the bestselling The Kill Room and Edge

“Antonia Hodgson’s London of 1727 offers that rare achievement in historical fiction: a time and place suspensefully different from our own, yet real. The Devil in the Marshalsea reminds us at every turn that we ourselves may not have evolved far from its world of debtors and creditors, crime and generosity, appetite and pathos. A damn’d good read.” —Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves

“A wonderfully convincing picture of the seamier side of 18th-century life. The narrative whips along. Antonia Hodgson has a real feel for how people thought and spoke at the time—and, God knows, that’s a rare talent.” —Andrew Taylor, author of An Unpardonable Crime and The Four Last Things

Buy the Book

Amazon CA Amazon UK Amazon US Barnes & Noble Book Depository IndieBound

About the Author

Antonia Hodgson

Antonia Hodgson is the editor in chief of Little, Brown UK. She lives in London and can see the last fragments of the old city wall from her living room. The Devil in the Marshalsea is her first novel.

For more information please visit Antonia Hodgson’s website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Twitter.

The Devil in the Marshalsea Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, June 10 Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, June 11 Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, June 12 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, June 16 Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Friday, June 20 Interview at Reading the Past

Monday, June 23 Guest Post at Kinx’s Book Nook

Wednesday, June 25 Review & Giveaway at Book Nerd

Monday, June 30 Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Tuesday, July 1 Review at Mina’s Bookshelf

Thursday, July 3 Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Monday, July 7 Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, July 8 Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict

Wednesday, July 9 Spotlight at Layered Pages

Friday, July 11 Review at Princess of Eboli Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

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Interview with Fellow Book Blogger Sarah Johnson

Stephanie: I would like to introduce Sarah Johnson. As a fellow book blogger, I met Sarah through the Historical Novel Society online and it has been a pleasure getting to know her. I would also like to say that Sarah is a fountain of information in the book industry. Especially in the Historical Fiction world.

Thank you for chatting with me today, Sarah. First off, please tell me about your occupation and how has it impacted your life.

Sarah: Thanks for inviting me, Stephanie!

For my full-time job, I work as a reference & electronic resources librarian at Eastern Illinois University. This means I spend my days doing a variety of things: answering reference questions; giving tours; teaching classes how to search for information; tracking electronic journals and working with database vendors; selecting new books in economics, math, and computer science; writing handouts; and a lot more. As for how it’s impacted my life… library school and on-the-job training taught me the best ways to search for information in many different fields. For example, yesterday I taught a class of education graduate students, many of whom were teachers, about researching issues affecting middle schoolers. Today I may work with students researching biology, dietetics, or poetry, and as I help them, I get to learn more about these subjects. In addition, because of my responsibilities, I’ve gotten very comfortable with speaking in front of groups – a useful skill to have (especially for an introvert!). Also, to take my current job, my husband and I moved halfway across the country from suburban New England to rural Illinois. We live in a large house in the country surrounded by woods and cornfields. Although the area does lack some amenities (the nearest bookstore is 50 miles away), I like the quieter atmosphere and the lack of traffic.

Stephanie: Whenever I walk into a library, for me it is like a child walking into a toy store every time. Actually, it is more than that….because there are millions and millions of words to be read, stories wanting to be told, worlds to be discovered and even the voices of the characters or people that once lived wanting to be heard. The reasons are endless. What are some of the emotions you experience?

Sarah: What a great way of putting it! I’m glad to hear of your positive thoughts about and experiences with libraries. I think libraries are more valuable than ever in these tough economic times, and they need people’s support. Walking into a library, and seeing all of the shelves full of books, impresses me with the wide range of knowledge the materials can impart to readers.   I also see libraries as places where people can come together, learn, and discover, whether they’re picking out new novels to read, searching for information in databases or on the web, or looking for a comfortable place to study or read.

Stephanie: Let’s talk about your website (Reading the Past). I absolutely love whenever you post a book lists. When I click on the link it is so thrilling to see all those new beautiful book covers. What are some of the titles you have listed that are your favorites?

Sarah: Thanks for your comments on my book lists! They take a lot of time to put together, but I enjoy doing it and am happy you like seeing them. When I post the covers of upcoming books, I won’t necessarily have read them yet, but for the most recent lists, some I can personally recommend are Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, a novel of unnerving surprises and social conformity in 1680s Amsterdam; Beatriz Williams’ The Secret Life of Violet Grant, a dual period novel whose ‘60s-era narrator has an irresistible voice; and Alix Christie’s Gutenberg’s Apprentice, which tells a little-known, fact-based story about the origins of the Gutenberg Bible; it also captures the social and religious atmosphere of late medieval Germany.

Stephanie: Please list and share five book covers you love.

Sarah: I love talking about book covers, so choosing five to share has been fun. Cover designs tend to follow trends (the “headless woman” being a prominent one) and although I have favorites within them, the ones I love the most not only strike me with their individuality but also their effectiveness in representing the book’s storyline and atmosphere. I’m including links to my reviews where I have them.

Beaituful Lies-Sarah Interview

Clare Clark’s Beautiful Lies focuses on a bohemian Victorian society wife who’s pulled off a major deception. I love the deep turquoise background, the original illustration, and how the design conveys both the era and the heroine’s sultriness.

The Monsters of Templetons

This one’s an older title. It uses the complex art of papercutting design (“Scherenschnitte”) to depict many scenes and people from this quirky, wonderful saga set over a large span of time in Templeton, New York. So clever and original!

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

This is a recent literary novel surrounding the strange abandonment of the American ship Mary Celeste in the open Atlantic in 1872. The cover conveys the eerie undercurrents of the novel, the maritime setting, and its lingering mysteries – the ship’s disappearance remains unsolved to this day.

The Lodger

Unlike the other four, I haven’t read this novel, which isn’t out until October – but the cover is a very strong enticement to buy it. (It’s about Dorothy Richardson, an early 20th-century writer who was part of the Bloomsbury Set.) I love the balance of light and shadow and its vivid sense of place, and it makes me want to know why this woman is standing with her bicycle alone at sunrise in central London.


Fear in the Sun Light

I reviewed this book a few weeks ago; it’s the 4th title in the author’s mystery series featuring Scottish novelist Josephine Tey. The illustration gives a good sense of the subject and setting (the glamorous film industry in the ‘30s, the two main characters) and that, combined with the enigmatic title, make me curious about what’s inside.

Stephanie: What are some of the memorable reviews you have written and why?

Sarah: I remember many of them well, for different reasons, and for me, writing reviews serves as a memory-aid to the book much later on. I read so many books that the finer details of the plot and characters may not stick in my mind for long, but I’m likely to remember a novel more if I’ve reviewed it.

My review of Jude Morgan’s The Taste of Sorrow (about the Bronte sisters) may be my favorite, and not only because the book itself is fabulous. It’s a complex novel, and the review took me a week to write, but I finally managed to capture everything that made the novel stand out for me.

I covered Padma Viswanathan’s The Toss of a Lemon , a saga of social change in southern India, for Booklist in 2008 (the review’s on the novel’s Amazon page). It took a long time to encompass the scope, characters, and themes of this excellent 600-page novel into a 175-word review, and I was so pleased when the author found me online and sent me a lovely thank-you note. The Historical Tapestry blog had an A-Z Alphabet Challenge back in 2010 – participating bloggers focused on books or authors starting with different letters – so for the letter “F,” I chose James Long’s romantic and creepy time-slip novel, Ferney. One of the privileges of being a reviewer is having the ability to shine increased attention on deserving books, even if they’re older (like this one). And having other readers choose (and enjoy) books based on your recommendations is pretty cool.

Stephanie: Who are some of the authors you have interviewed?

Sarah: I have an index to past interviews at the top of my blog page if you or other readers are curious to see them all. Just a few authors I’ve spoken with for my blog have been Tony Hays, whose interview took the form of a fun conversation about Arthurian figures and the realities of post-Roman Britain; Kate Forsyth, whose fairy tale-inspired Bitter Greens will be out in the US this fall at last; Ann Chamberlin, who gave me a detailed interview about The Woman at the Well, set in 7th-century Arabia; and Deanna Raybourn, who told me about her first novel Silent in the Grave — she’s written many Lady Julia novels since!

Stephanie: Wonderful authors you have interviewed.

For those who are first time book bloggers or who want to start a blog, how would you recommend they do so?

Sarah: There’s always room for more book bloggers and online conversations about books. For newcomers, I’d suggest they familiarize themselves with other blogs in their genre and leave comments on others sites’ now and again. Forming a network like this is an easy way to build interest and support in a new blog. Looking at other sites can help them develop their own focus – do they want to do reviews, interviews, spotlights, or something less formal? One other suggestion I’d make is for them to let their personalities shine through in their writing style, because readers will respond to it.

Stephanie: I have to agree with you, forming a network is a wonderful way to have support and you meet so many fellow avid readers through this experience.

When did you get started blogging and what do you enjoy most about it? Were there any mishaps along the way?

Sarah: My Reading the Past blog turned eight in March. I enjoy the ongoing challenges of reviewing, which includes finding original things to say about each book I come across. By now I’ve reviewed quite a large number of books, so I try not to repeat the same familiar phrases or devolve into “reviewese” (though I think everyone must, now and again). Another big highlight is just talking with other readers about historical novels. I can’t think of any major mishaps, though I sometimes receive requests to post what’s essentially free advertising (which I don’t do).

Stephanie: Please tell me about your involvement with HNS and how long you have been a member?

Sarah: I first became a member of the Historical Novel Society (HNS) in 1998, quite a while ago. It was wholly a UK venture at that point, but when I saw Richard Lee’s call for US editors on a Usenet discussion group the following year, I signed on and have continued as book review editor since then — a job that’s expanded greatly over time. I oversee the book review content for Historical Novels Review magazine, which is published quarterly in print as well as online, and work with about a dozen other editors in the US and UK, each of whom solicits review copies from different publishers.

Stephanie: What are some of the ways the HNS has impacted the historical fiction genre?

Sarah: The Historical Novels Review is in its 17th year of publication, and by now many publishers, authors, and readers see it as a quality source for historical fiction reviews. In addition, HNR Indie, overseen by managing editor Helen Hollick, has been getting out the word about worthy indie-published historical novels. Among the most popular pages on the HNS website are those dealing with how historical fiction is defined, and our definitions have been cited and widely discussed (and debated!), so we’ve had a strong impact on the genre in that respect. Librarians and readers regularly consult our guides to forthcoming titles, and the HNS’s annual conferences are great places to meet authors and network with other enthusiasts of the genre. These are just a few examples.

Stephanie: How can readers, bloggers and authors get plugged in with HNS?

Sarah: Everyone’s welcome to browse the HNS website, which has all of our reviews and many features and guides online for free. To receive the Historical Novels Review magazine in print and be listed in our directory, there’s an annual membership fee, and anyone interested can see the Join HNS page for details. We also have an active Facebook group that’s coming up on 5000 members – pretty crazy when you think about it!   Readers, bloggers, and authors can ask to join, and once they’re in, they can contribute to the discussions there. The HNS is a volunteer organization, and people can be as involved as they’d like to be – for example, reviewing for our publications, writing feature articles, attending and organizing our conferences and chapter meetings, even initiating new projects. There are plenty of opportunities to work with the HNS to spread the word about historical novels.

Stephanie: I’ve been meaning to go to BEA one year and hope to soon. Tell me about your experience with it this year? Who are some of the authors you saw and were there new authors you discovered?

Sarah: I’ve attended nearly every year for the past dozen years. The show has great energy, and to be in the same place as so many people enthusiastic about books and reading is a wonderful experience. I attend not just to discuss and get copies of the books being promoted in the fall but to meet up with other people in the industry – publishers, librarians, bloggers, and other readers. This BEA was different than most for me because I didn’t go to many author signings. There was so much going on that I ran into conflicts, plus I’m getting too old to enjoy standing in hour-long lines. I did get a signed copy of Ann Hood’s upcoming An Italian Wife, a literary historical saga dealing with the immigrant experience, and I also went to the Mystery Writers of America booth, where I met Nancy Bilyeau, Annamaria Alfieri, James Benn, and John Florio and got copies of their latest books signed. I also met up with Shifra Hochberg, an author in town from Israel, who recently guest blogged on my site about her on-site research at the Vatican catacombs.

Picture of books 1

I always discover new titles and authors while stopping by publishers’ booths. Here are pics with some of the galleys I acquired – most of these are meant for HNR, but I managed to snag some for myself, too.


Pictures of Books 2

Stephanie: Now, about what you have been reading this year. How many books have you read so far and what are a few of the titles?

Sarah: I track my reads on Goodreads, and the system has been telling me I’m behind for the year, which I’m not real pleased about. Maybe I was overambitious in setting my goal? I’ve read 48 so far in 2014. At the moment I’m reading Kader Abdolah’s The King, about struggles between tradition and modernity in 19th-centuryPersia. Before that I finished P.S. Duffy’s The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, a wide-ranging Canadian portrait of World War I, as seen from a soldier at the front and his son at home; and Tim Hernandez’ Mañana Means Heaven, an amazing novel about the real-life “Mexican Girl,” Bea Franco, from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road – you don’t have to have read (I hadn’t) or even heard of Kerouac to appreciate the book, which is set in ‘40s California.

Stephanie: What stories interest you and how do you select them to read? Does the overall layout have a part in your selections?

Sarah: Mostly I stick to historical fiction but aim to read widely within it. I don’t like sticking with the same settings all the time. A good chunk of what I read is Booklist assignments, which, for the most part, are selected for me by my editor. So I never know what I’ll be getting, but I’ve made some wonderful finds that way. If you mean the physical layout of a book, hmm, only occasionally. Too-small print, for example, is an impediment to reading for me, and a less-than-professional layout job makes me wonder whether the book lacks quality writing or editing.

Stephanie: Which do you prefer? E-book or print? And when do you read during the day? Is there a particular food or beverage you like to enjoy while reading?

Sarah: I slightly prefer print books, especially when reviewing, since I find it’s easier for me to take notes that way. But I’ve been reading an increasing number of e-galleys as well as e-books on my Kindle. During the week, my only reading time is in the evening, and I usually stay away from food and drink while I’m reading since that can get messy and because I often have a cat on my lap at the time!

Stephanie: Are there any other genres besides Historical fiction you like to read?

Sarah: I read some contemporary fiction – Karen White’s Tradd Street series is a favorite (they’re Southern mysteries with architecture and ghosts) as well as some fantasy novels and classics, when I have time. I also enjoy modern Gothics like those written by Wendy Webb.

Stephanie: I LOVE Karen White’s Tradd Street series! I have all of them and have read a couple of them twice.

Sarah, it was an absolute pleasure chatting with you and there is so much more I would like to discuss with you another time. Thank you so much for being here today and please come back soon.

Sarah: Thanks again for the opportunity, Stephanie!

Q&A About Beta Readers with Author E.M. Powell

Stephanie: I would like to introduce Author E.M. Powell. She is here to take part in my series about Beta Readers and has some very interesting and helpful things to say….E.M. is the author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, The Fifth Knight, a medieval thriller based on the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The next book in the series, The Blood of The Fifth Knight, will be published by Thomas & Mercer in late 2014. Visit her website or her facebook page . The audio version of The Fifth Knight can be purchased here: Amazon

Do you use beta readers?

E.M.: Yes.

Stephanie: I know of a few authors who use beta readers for different phases of their manuscript. How many do you use and in what phase of your WIP do you require them?

E.M.: I am also one of those authors! First reader is my long-suffering spouse. Many people would think that this is a recipe for domestic turmoil. But he’s extremely sensible and he knows the importance of getting things right. If he thinks something’s not working, he says so, and more importantly, why. Next is my agent, the peerless Josh Getzler. You could argue that an agent is not a beta reader but he certainly meets the definition. Again, he is completely honest and probably over-kind with some of the stuff I have put before him. He’s also brilliant with editorial suggestions. At this early stage, it’s asking them to read on a partial. Then a full. And once a whole lot of changes have been made, it’s over to my team of three other beta readers.

Stephanie: What is it that you look for in a beta reader? And what is the importance of them?

E.M.: I think the important word here is reader. None of the people who so generously help are writers. As for importance, it’s impossible to quantify just how important they are. Something that I think might be working fine in my head can get a universal thumbs-down. And they’re always right. I don’t use beta readers for grammar/spelling/typos specifically. To me that’s a different request and if they’re looking for those issues, then the chances are, they’re going to be thinking less about the characters and the story.

Stephanie: How do you choose your beta readers?

E.M.: It’s a tricky decision and one which is probably individual to every writer. I don’t have a choice about my agent seeing early versions- which is good! For me, it’s all about trust. So yes, I have chosen my spouse and three friends. But all of them know how much this matters to me and all of them understand the importance of my manuscripts working as novels. I know they won’t say things are great when they’re not.


Stephanie: What has been your experiences with them?

E.M.: All good. And when I use the word good, I don’t mean that they say everything is good. But good in the sense that I have been told where I’m going wrong. And you know what? They’ve been right. Right to the extent that I deleted 20,000 words out of the first 30,000 word partial of my current novel. Yes, it was painful, but I was weirdly happy to do it. I had a little voice in the back of my mind telling me things weren’t working. My first-round beta-readers confirmed that.

Stephanie: How often do you take their advice and what is the impact they have had on your writing?

E.M.: See above! In terms of the impact, it was about me recognizing my strengths (fast-paced action) and delivering more of that. And it’s so much more fun to write! In the ill-fated partial. I was even boring myself.

Stephanie: Do you use them for every book you write?

E.M.: Yes, I have used other writers for my unpublished novels (which will never see the light of day!). I have had tremendously useful feedback from different individuals over the years and honed my craft that way. But I think the group I have now works and I don’t want to change it. And they’re very good value for money. Only Josh sees a commission- the rest just have to help me drink wine!

Thank you, E.M.!