Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Medieval Female Exorcist - Dark Maiden by Lindsay Townsend

Yolande, the heroine of my latest medieval historical romance novel, 'Dark Maiden' is an exorcist. Her father, who was born in Ethiopia (a country with very ancient Christian roots) was an exorcist. Her mother was born in York.

As is now being discovered, there were people of African descent living and working in Britain, especially in cities and ports like York. Archaeology discovered a Romano-British grave in York where a woman of black African and mixed race heritage had been buried in a rich tomb with grave goods. Archaeology also uncovered a tomb of a man of north African descent buried at a medieval friary in Suffolk, England, close to the port of Ipswich. According to bone specialists he had a bad back! The thirteenth century statue of Saint Maurice in Magdeburg cathedral in Germany clearly shows him as African.

Half-African, half-English, Yolande is the dark maiden of the title, a spiritual wanderer and warrior, helping those tormented by the restless dead and assisting the restless dead themselves to find final peace. She lives and works in England during the time of the Black Death.

Statue of St. Maurice at Magdeburg
I chose this time period quite carefully. Women during the Middle Ages could not be priests but during the period of the Black Death, when thousands died, including hundreds of priests, the church allowed women to take confessions from dying people. In early 1349 the bishop of Bath and Wells wrote to his priests to encourage all men to confess, before they were taken by the pestilence. He added that if they had no priest they should follow the teaching of the Apostles and confess to each other 'or, if no man is present, even to a woman'.  (From translation in Philip Zeigler, The Black Death, page 125).

Medieval people also believed that in a crisis anyone, priest or lay person, could perform an exorcism because every Christian has the power to command demons and drive them away in the name of Christ.  I took these ideas and developed them, allowing my Yolande to become an exorcist.

In 'Dark Maiden' I have Yolande and Geraint  (a travelling player who becomes her friend, help-mate, lover and finally husband) face several encounters with both restless spirits and also demons. My ideas have always been shaped by the real beliefs of the time. So in 'Dark Maiden' there are evil spirits, restless ghosts called revenants, an incubus and vampires - all paranormal creatures with a medieval slant.

I'll talk about these in other blog articles.

More details of 'Dark Maiden' here.
Can be pre-ordered from Ellora's Cave here.
Can be pre-ordered from Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.
Can be pre-ordered from Barnes and Noble here

Ellora's Cave (forthcoming, June 13 2013)

Read Chapter One

Lindsay Townsend 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Excerpt from Virtue of a Governess

In 1867 Nicola Douglas attends a London lecture that inspires her to change her life. With no family, but a good education, she boards a ship to Australia with high hopes of a fresh start in a new country as a governess. But Sydney is full of young women with similar hopes and equally poor prospects. When Nicola is at her lowest, she meets Nathaniel West. Try as she might, her attraction to Nathaniel West grows. She also meets a visiting American, Hilton Warner. As both men shower her with attention, Nicola reaches a crisis. She came to Australia expecting to be a governess, but finding love, and being married, shows how empty her life has been since her parents' death. Her achievements at the Governess Home are vital to her. Can she have both? To reject both men would relegate her to spinsterhood, but if she makes that choice, would her career ever be enough to sustain her?

Nat shook the sweat from his eyes, ducking his head and weaving to the side, making sure he kept his shoulders and fists up high to protect his chin. From the corner of the chalked square, he made out the old hunched-back man, who stood and, holding the brass bell aloft, rang it heartily three times. Cheers and shouts went up, there was a surge towards the fighters but the organiser’s men held the rowdy mass back.
 “Christ man, what’s taking you so long?” Tristan thumped Nat’s back, laughing. “You should have had him in the first minute. The man is lead-footed.”
Nat wheezed the air into his lungs and wiped the sweat from his eyes. “I want to keep out of his reach, he can hit like a hammer.”
“Nonsense, man. He’s like a windmill, arms everywhere.”
“Shut up will you, and get me some water.” Nat closed his eyes for a moment, trying to block out the sight and noise of men baying for his blood. What possessed him to agree to this fight? He was no longer a young man of twenty. It’d been a few years since he celebrated his thirtieth birthday, which should have been enough warning to give up this sort of sport and stick to cricket. He hadn’t been practising in months, and it showed.
Tristan thrust a crude tin cup into his hands and water sloshed over his wrist. “It’s only water, perhaps you need something stronger.”
“Sod off.” He gulped the water down just as the hunchback rang the bell again. Surging to his feet, he berated himself once more in agreeing to this madness. Already his opponent, some dockland fellow with missing teeth, had jabbed him in the ribs, which ached when he moved. Another lucky punch had caught his eye and likely tomorrow he’d have the bruise to show for it.
He raised his fists, keeping light on his feet as he’d been taught as a schoolboy back home in England. His wiry opponent gave a little jab, testing the way it was to be in this round, but Nat was tired of the game. It’d been a spur of the moment decision to enter the square, a desperate need to burn off some restless energy that bedding with his current mistress didn’t do last night.
Weaving, ducking, he circled the opposite man, looking for a way to end the match so he could return to his club and drown his sorrows for another day. He thought of her then, the woman who’d haunted his mind. Nicola Douglas. His blood grew thick in his veins as an image of her face swarmed before him.
He never saw the punch, just felt the intense pain of the other man’s fist hitting his jaw. The impact made him bite his tongue and the stinging pain joined the thudding ache of his face. He staggered, tasted blood. The crowd, mainly all working class, shouted encouragement to their champion and jeered at Nat when he readied himself again.
Anger cursed through Nat and brought him awake and into focus. Thinking of that damned woman had been his downfall. He’d be on his back if he didn’t concentrate.
Uttering a filthy swear word, he pivoted on one foot, danced a side-step and taking the fellow unawares gave him a quick three jab attack that sent the man to his knees. Nat jigged away, hopping from foot to foot at the edge of the square, waiting to see if he regained his feet, but the fellow knew he was beat and surrendered the purse.
Declared the winner by Mr Kent, the organiser, Nat was given the purse of four guineas. The unruly crowd went into a frenzy, the shouts and yelling growing into a deafening roar, as not many had backed Nat. He knew their thinking, a workingman’s strength up against a toff who did nothing but sit around in his club all day. But who’d got the last laugh this time? Little did they know that he enjoyed physical pursuits and had been fighting since he was a small boy. Not many had the better of him.
“Excellently done, West.” Tristan once more thumped his back and gave Nat his shirt and coat. Nat winced, moving his shoulders to ease on the shirt over the wet stickiness of his sweat-soaked body.
“Let’s get out of here.” Nat grabbed the rest of his belongings from Tristan. Now the fight was over, it wouldn’t pay to stay in this rough neighbourhood. The four guineas was hardly worth it really, but then it’d never been about the money, just the sheer joy of beating another. However, today the win left him with a sour taste in his mouth that had nothing to do with the bloodied tongue and lip.
“Wait, I’ve yet to collect.” Tristan disappeared into the press of workingmen.
Nat groaned in frustration. Hanging around would only be asking for trouble. Already he was sensing a change in the atmosphere. He kept his head down but managed to glance around, taking in the situation. Mr Kent was arguing in the corner with five men, all baying for blood. They’d lost heavily by the looks of it. Shrugging on his jacket, Nat walked backwards a bit, heading towards the barn doors and the alley beyond. Damn Tristan, where was he?
“Mr West!”
Nat swung around and waited for Kent to wield a path through the thick of the crowd towards him. “I’ve an appointment, Kent, got to go.”
“Can I book you in for another fight next month?”
“No, not this time.” He wasn’t stupid. Kent had scored a high profit today.
Tristan joined them, hurriedly stashing coins into his bulging pockets like a child stealing sweets. “Nice afternoon’s entertainment,” he said with a grin.
“Let us go.” Nat made for the door, glaring at any man who made eye contact with him. Lord, he was stupid to risk his neck at these back alley fights. If anything happened to him, Frances would be alone.
Once clear of the old barn, he squinted in the harsh sunlight. The squeal of pigs came from the slaughterhouse on the right. He shivered, despite the mild spring warmth of the September day.
“Shall we have a drink at the club?” Tristan replaced his hat as they headed left. 
“I don’t particularly care. I just want to be clear of that lot in there.”
“You think it could have turned ugly?”
“I’m sure of it. Too much money changed hands. Kent has pulled a fast one I think. He’s seen me fight before but that was a new crowd.” As if to justify his words, a shout came from behind them. When Nat turned and saw the dozen or so men spilling out of the barn, yelling fit to be tied, his guts squeezed dread. He turned to Tristan and had to smile at the shock on his face. “Well, friend, I hope you can run fast.” 

Buy for Kindle or paperback from Amazon UK or Amazon USA:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Medieval mind and illness

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, who also writes historical novels as James Forrester, is an excellent read for authors and readers alike.

I was struck by many things as I read it, but one of them was an eye opening sequence on medicine. The possibilities of injury and illness were common. You could be struck by a blade, an arrow, a staff or even a cannon ball, not to mention falling off a horse or being bitten by a wolf or bear. When such injuries in themselves would not have proved fatal, the medicine of the day was such that it and a total lack of hygiene quickly saw a patient on his way to a better life.

How disease spread was quite unknown. Body function was mostly guesswork. No one knew about circulation of the blood, so instead of feeling the pulse for signs of life, a bowl of water would be placed upon the victim's chest to see if he or she were still breathing.

Given the lack of education and knowing the rule of the church was so strong, it is not much of a surprise to learn that  medieval man considered  the most common cause of illness to be Divine Justice. Disease was regarded as a tempering fire sent to test an individual's faith in God's mercy. Even if a cure was effected, it came courtesy of God's grace, never the skill of the doctor.

The planets and stars were thought to have an influence on health of individuals and communities and it was believed they controlled the function of organs such as the brain and liver. Medieval people had medical knowledge, and some of it was sophisticated, but it worked on very different lines to our own. Instead of hygiene and antibiotics, medieval man depended on a mix of astrology, herbology, religion, philosophy, mixed with a lot of hearsay and vast

quantities of desperation.

I thoroughly recommend Dr Mortimer's book for your enjoyment. You'll learn a lot, I assure you.

Posted by Jen Black,
author of Far After Gold and Victorian Beauty.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Duchess of Drury Lane

Despite seeing herself as Irish, the famous actress, Mrs Jordan, was in fact born in London near Covent Garden in 1761, no doubt where her stage-struck parents were seeking work at the time, and where she was baptized Dorothy Bland. Her sisters called her Dolly. She preferred Dora and adopted that as her stage name.

Turning to acting out of necessity rather than choice, her father having abandoned his family to marry an Irish heiress, she became known as the most famous comedic actress of her day. Dora began her career on the Dublin stage and became the sole source of income for her family from the age of sixteen.

Suffering a sexual assault from the manager she fled to Yorkshire, already pregnant, where she went on the circuit to learn her craft. She endured much jealousy from her fellow actors, but her talent was soon recognised and she moved on to Drury Lane where her fame spread.
Dora wasn't considered to be a classic beauty, her nose and chin being somewhat prominent, she nevertheless had the sweetest smile and the most alluring dark eyes, cupid’s bow mouth and rosy cheeks that gave off a healthy glow.

Her expressive face was perfect for comic roles, as was her mop of brown curls. She was not particularly tall but had a neat, elegant figure, was articulate with good diction, and a voice considered to be strong and clear.

Most of all she had vivacity, confidence and a natural stage presence. Her finest feature proved to be her legs, which were shown to perfection in her cross-dressing roles. Men in the audience worshipped those elegantly shapely limbs, considered by some to be the finest ever seen on stage.

She became mistress to the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, with whom she lived in happy domesticity for nearly twenty years, presenting him with ten children while striving to balance both career and ‘marriage’ as her modern counterparts do today. Her life was blighted by an insincere and weak father, a dependent mother, inadequate siblings, selfish children, but more than one man who betrayed her trust.

They lived here at Bushy Park

Dora's flaw was that she was perhaps a little too trusting, caring and eager to help those she loved, which proved to be her downfall in the end. She was a woman of great courage and independence, fiesty, warm-hearted and generous to a fault.

When things started to go wrong she needed to call upon all her resources to survive. Yet she bore her troubles with astonishing good will, and to the end of her life never said a word against the Duke.

‘Had he left me to starve I would never have uttered a word to his disadvantage!’ And following their separation the Duke collected as many portraits of her as he could find, so perhaps he did still love her after all.

Passion, jealousy, scandal and betrayal - a true-life Regency Romance of the rise and fall of an extraordinary woman born into extraordinary times. Growing up in a poverty-stricken, fatherless household, Dorothy Jordan overcame her humble beginnings to become the most famous comic actress of her day. It was while performing on Drury Lane that Dorothy caught the eye of the Duke of Clarence, later to become King William IV. Her twenty-year relationship with the Duke was one of great happiness and domesticity, producing ten children. But ultimately, Dorothy's generous nature was her undoing and she was to be cruelly betrayed by the man she loved.

Trade paperback now available on Amazon

Virtue of a Governess now available in ebook!

It's new release time for me again.
My historical novel, Virtue of a Governess, is set in the Victorian era and now available in ebook from Amazon UK and USA.

Virtue of a Governess.
In 1867 Nicola Douglas attends a London lecture that inspires her to change her life. With no family, but a good education, she boards a ship to Australia with high hopes of a fresh start in a new country as a governess. But Sydney is full of young women with similar hopes and equally poor prospects. When Nicola is at her lowest, she meets Nathaniel West. Try as she might, her attraction to Nathaniel West grows. She also meets a visiting American, Hilton Warner. As both men shower her with attention, Nicola reaches a crisis. She came to Australia expecting to be a governess, but finding love, and being married, shows how empty her life has been since her parents' death. Her achievements at the Governess Home are vital to her. Can she have both? To reject both men would relegate her to spinsterhood, but if she makes that choice, would her career ever be enough to sustain her?

Amazon USA - Kindle

Wednesday, May 8, 2013



Maggi Andersen

My heroine, Vanessa Ashley, visits Harrods department Store and climbs the new escalator. She is offered a glass of brandy to settle her nerves at the top!

The industrial revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851 allowed the drapers shops to evolve into full-blown department stores. They began catering to all members of the family and to all of society’s needs. Specialist department stores, called warehouses, opened and sold all manner of goods. There were mourning warehouses, sporting dress warehouses, waterproof clothing warehouses and tartan warehouses. After Queen Victoria purchased Balmoral, in Scotland, she used tartan fabrics on the upholstery, curtains and sofas throughout the castle.

When aristocracy continued to shop in specialist stores or with tradesmen who offered them personalized shopping in their homes, omnibuses were carrying more and more shoppers into the main retail areas of every city. After 1840, half of London’s shops opened for business after 10 A.M. on Sundays.

In the 1880s, store fittings such as dress forms, arm forms for displaying gloves and bent wood counter chairs could be found in most stores. There were no tills and customers had to wait while clerks took money to the office for change.   

During this year, Lambston’s Cash Balls were invented. These were hollow, wooden balls that could be unscrewed. The customer’s cash was placed inside, and then the clerk it the ball onto an overhead track above the counter. The balls would arrive at the cash office, where change was made and a receipt written, and both were returned to the counter.

The larger shops still offered custom dressmaking departments, which were thought to be exclusive. These stores, and smaller tailoring establishments, began putting their labels into garments in 1869.


The author deserves high praise for her ability to capture the reader's attention and engage one in both the mystery and the romance of this delightful story!

Margaret Faria

*****InD’Tale Magazine

Vanessa Ashley felt herself qualified for a position as governess, until offered the position at Falconbridge Hall. Left penniless after the deaths of her artist father and suffragette mother, Vanessa Ashley draws on her knowledge of art, politics, and history to gain employment as a governess. She discovers that Julian, Lord Falconbridge, requires a governess for his ten-year-old daughter Blyth at Falconbridge Hall, in the countryside outside London. Lord Falconbridge is a scientist and dedicated lepidopterist who is about to embark on an extended expedition to the Amazon. An enigmatic man, he takes a keen interest in his daughter's education. As she prepares her young charge, Vanessa finds the girl detached and aloof. As Vanessa learns more about Falconbridge Hall, more questions arise. Why doesn't Blythe feel safe in her own home? Why is the death of her mother, once famed society beauty Clara, never spoken of? And why did the former governess leave so suddenly without giving notice?


The maid’s head appeared over the banister rail. “The master will see you now.”

Vanessa walked up the wide oak stair to where the maid awaited outside a door. A deep voice answered her knock. Vanessa turned the knob thinking how she would have liked to wash before meeting her new employer; it was difficult to appear cool and in control when so hot.

The room she entered was also gloomy. A gas lamp glowed where a man sat in shirtsleeves and braces, his dark head bent over a desk. She took two uncertain steps and paused in the middle of a crimson Persian rug. Vanessa clasped her hands together and inspected the room. Shelves of leather-bound books lined one wall. Heavy bronze velvet drapes, pulled halfway across the small-paned windows, framed a narrow but magnificent view of parkland where broad graveled walks trailed away through well-grown trees. She suffered a sudden urge to walk across, pull the curtains back and throw open a window.

Lord Falconbridge put down the butterfly under-glass he had been examining and pushed back his leather chair, rising to his feet. As she edged closer, he donned his coat and came to shake her hand. “Miss Ashley.”

“How do you do, my lord?”

He motioned her to sit then sat himself.

He would be in his mid-thirties, she guessed. His good looks made her feel even more untidy. His dark hair swept off a widow’s peak, and he had a deep cleft in his chin. He removed his glasses, and his eyes were a similar bright blue to the butterfly. Dark brows met in an absent-minded frown as if she was an unwelcome distraction. “Welcome to Falconbridge Hall. I hope you had a good journey?”

“Yes, thank you, my lord.”

“You’ve come quite a long way. You must be tired.”

“I broke my journey with an aunt in Taunton, my lord.” Her aunt was quite elderly, and Vanessa had slept on the sofa, but she didn’t feel at all tired. She expected fatigue would strike once the initial rush of excitement had faded.

 “My sympathies for your loss, Miss Ashley.”

“Thank you.”

“You have had no experience as a governess, I believe.”


“Do you like children?”

“Very much, my lord.”

“Then you have had some involvement with them.”

“Yes, I was very fond of my neighbors’ children. I minded them quite often as their parents were both in business.”

“You had no opportunity to marry in Cornwall?”

“I had one offer, my lord.” The widowed vicar, Harold Ponsonby, had offered, in an attempt to rescue her from the heathenish den of iniquity in which he found her.

He eyed her. “And you refused him?”

Might he think her imprudent? “Yes.”

“Do you have a particular skill, Miss Ashley, which you can impart to my daughter?”

“No, my lord.” She drew in a breath. She had not expected such a question. “Sadly, I did not inherit my father’s artistic talent, but I have my mother’s enquiring mind and her interest in history and politics.”

“Politics?” He stared at her rather long, and she wished again that she’d had time to tidy herself. “We shall see how you get on. The rest of the day is your own. We will discuss your duties in the library tomorrow at ten. Mrs. Royce, my housekeeper, will show you to your room.” With an abstracted glance at his desk, he rose and went to pull the bell.

The mahogany desktop was completely covered with pens and papers, a microscope, a probe of some kind, a set of long-handled tweezers, a large magnifying glass and a small hand-held one, tomes stacked one on top of the other in danger of toppling, and the butterfly in its glass prison, its beautiful wings pinned down, never to soar again. Caught by its beauty and premature death, Keats’s poem Ode to a Grecian Urn, rushed into her head. “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought…As doth eternity.

The viscount swiveled, and his eyebrows shot up. “Pardon?”

Vanessa jumped to her feet as heat flooded her cheeks. She'd said the words aloud. She must have had too much sun. “Keats, my lord.”

“Are you a devotee of the Romantics?”                                    

“Not especially.” Annoyed with herself and, irrationally, with him for pursuing it, she said, “Forgive me, it was a random thought.”

He folded his arms and studied her. “You are given to spouting random philosophical thoughts?”

She tugged at her damp collar. “Not usually. I’m a little tired, and it’s been so hot.” Hastening to change the subject, she stepped over to the wall covered in framed butterflies of all sizes and colors. One particular specimen caught her eye. “Exquisite.”

She felt his presence disturbingly close behind her. “Which?”

She pointed. “This one, with patches of crimson and deep blue on its wings.”

“You have a good eye. That’s a Nymphalidae from Peru. Do you know much about butterflies?” She looked at him, finding his blue eyes had brightened.

“Very little, I’m afraid,” she said, aware her contribution to this discussion would prove disappointing. “We get many orange ones with black spots in Cornwall.”

“Dark green Fritillary.” The interested light in his eyes faded.

“That can’t be. They’re orange,” she said.

“That is their name, dark green Fritillary.”

“Why would they call it dark green when …?” Her voice died away at the impatience in his face.

“That species is common and of little interest.” He studied her. “Unless you took notice of some interesting aspect of their habitats?”

“No, not precisely, my lord … uh, they seemed to gather in trees and grasses ….” She nipped at her lip with her teeth, as he nodded and turned away. Would a governess be required to know much about butterflies or botany? Beyond Cornwall, her knowledge of flora and fauna was barely worthy of comment.

A woman entered the room, her neat figure garbed in black bombazine, with a lacy cap over her brown hair and a watch pinned to her breast. A large bunch of keys jangled at her waist. Vanessa thought her to be in her early-forties. She had a pointed nose and sharp eyes that looked like they would miss little.

“Ah. Mrs. Royce, this is the new governess, Miss Ashley. Please give her a tour of the day nursery and school room and introduce my daughter to her before you take her to her quarters.”

“Yes, milord.”

“Miss Ashley.” His lordship nodded. “I shall see you here again at ten o’clock tomorrow. We’ll discuss your plans for teaching my daughter. I’m extremely keen that she becomes proficient in mathematics, the French language, and botany.”

“Botany, my lord?” Vanessa’s fears were realized. Completely unprepared, she looked around wildly at the books lining his shelves. Might she have time to bone up on it? She read some knowledge of her discomfort in his eyes and lifted her chin. “Surely English and history are equally as important?”

“That goes without saying.” He turned back to his desk. “Tomorrow at ten.”

Research: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England Kristine Hughes
Labels: Victorian mystery, Mystery romance, Historical Romance, English Murder Mystery, Maggi Andersen