A focus on Berkshire's authors
PUBLISHED: 15:45 09 September 2016 | UPDATED: 15:59 09 September 2016
Our local authors have been busy with everything from murder and mayhem to discovering the secrets of our towns and villages
Sunningdale author Tessa Harris was just eight years of age when she not only wrote an adventure story but even tried to get it published. “I submitted my story to a local bookseller. They wrote a lovely letter back saying they weren’t publishers but gave me a list of people to try. It was my first rejection letter, which I still have.”
Tessa went on to study history, a subject about which she is passionate, before working as a trainee reporter with a local newspaper then taking on the role of editor of Berkshire Life. Throughout her journalistic career, however, she continued to produce historical crime, realising her dream of becoming a novelist five years ago – and deciding she must leave her role with this magazine to fully concentrate on writing.
Success came with a contract for her Dr Thomas Silkstone mystery series to be published in the US - the theme of the first book, The Anatomist’s Apprentice, was set in 18th century London and ‘starred’ Silkstone, an American anatomist and the world’s first forensic scientist. Now her sixth novel, Secrets in the Stones, has just been published here.
The series had a strong fan base both sides of the Atlantic as readers follow Silkstone as he investigates new deaths alongside his ‘love interest’ Lady Lydia Farrell, who finds herself a murder suspect in the latest book. The fourth and fifth books in the series, The Lazarus Curse and Shadow of the Raven, were also published here in August, both priced £8.99 and available in ebook.
Tessa says: “All my books are based on true stories; I never make up the most outlandish things. You can take risks with narrative but they have to be plausible. Several scenes from my Dr Thomas Silkstone novels are set in The Chilterns. Amersham and Beaconsfield. Lady Lydia lives in a fictitious Chilterns village – Brandwick – which incorporates elements I needed for the story such as a fulling mill and manor house.”
A story arc encompasses this series of mystery books during which Dr Thomas Silkstone’s relationship with Lady Lydia evolves, peaking in the latest novel, Secrets in the Stones.
Meanwhile here’s a spoiler alert. If you’re intrigued by Victorian London and the horrors of Jack the Ripper, Tessa Harris’s new series, to be published next year, will be right up your street.
Just ‘down the road’ from Tessa Harris in the adjoining village of Sunninghill is Katy Eachus, a fellow longstanding journalist who saw writing non-fiction as ‘a guilty secret’. Now Katy is celebrating publication of her first novel, Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings, published by Crooked Cat Publishing and is now on sale as an ebook.
She says: “The novel has been going round in my head for a decade, sparked by a true story my grandmother told me.”
It’s set in 1931 and introduces us to Jack, a young man who’s not having much luck and, having been ditched by his girlfriend, suffers the further indignity of being invited to her wedding to someone with apparently better prospects. A chance meeting with a beautiful girl, Giselle, leads him to think life is improving… but it also takes him into a world of intrigue and murder. The lovely Giselle disappears, having told Jack her life is in danger, and he embarks on a search to find her. Sounds good!
Katy writes under the name Katharine Johnson and her ebook costs £1.99 at Amazon, see myBook.to/liesmistakes.
We move on from the former local journalists to someone they might well have met in their past roles – Brian Langston. Indeed, the current editor of this magazine recalls attending press conferences headed by Brian Langston when he was the police chief at Windsor. Here’s a man who’s seen the worst of what murderous and psychopathic tendencies can lead to.
It’s hard not to think of him as ‘Superintendent Langston’ (he went on to be assistant Chief Constable for Thames Valley Police) but today Brian lives in the Languedoc region of Southern France with his wife Jenny and a large family of adopted cats, where he writes and compulsively haunts fleamarkets, adding to his collection of curious and macabre artefacts.
So he’s still a sleuth fascinated by the gruesome or mysterious but, even so, the discovery that Brian is a Ghost Club member who now uses his extensive investigative experience to conduct research into mysteries and paranormal phenomena is a surprise.
It does explain, though, how he came to write True Ghosts and Ghouls of Windsor & Eton, spanning the centuries up to the present day and chronicling over 200 tales of hauntings, demon possession, witchcraft and wickedness. Want to know more about a supposed vampire in Georgian Windsor? Or the wolf-like beast spotted emerging from the Thames in the 20th century by police officers? Here’s the man to track them down.
Dastardly goings-on in an Eton church, the ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ which Victorian ladies said they were being preyed upon by in Spital graveyard, and claims that the ghost of Herne the Hunter kill a ‘Teddy boy’ in the 1950s are all thoroughly investigated (as you’d expect from an ex-detective) alongside other spine-tingling tales.
As if his past experiences and research for the Windsor book aren’t enough, Brian has another suitably scary book out this year, London Murder Stories.
If you thought the big story of Bracknell was about the massive redevelopment programme currently close to completion, be prepared to discover that there’s much more to the town. In Secret Bracknell, Marion takes us back to well before Bracknell was developed as a ‘new town’ in 1949. A popular hunting ground for kings and queens, Edward III built a hunting lodge in Easthampstead Park. It was here that Catherine of Aragon became friendly with the newly crowned Henry VIII and secretly married him. After her divorce, she returned to Easthampstead.
Bracknell clearly liked to keep some of its ’business’ secret – here we learn of bull-baiting and cock fighting being very popular until 1835 when both were banned. A pub in the High Street still bears the name ‘The Bull’.
And in the 18th century highwaymen and gangs of ‘terrorists’ flourished and stories of their exploits abounded.
The book includes a host of little-known stories of royal visitors, murders, ghosts and other incidents hidden under the ‘new town’.
Ascot author Nicholas Holbrook’s debut title ‘Set Up And Punch’, follows Jasper Green, a man taking his first tentative steps to becoming a stand-up comedian. It’s more than possible that Nick provides his own inspiration for the man behind the character of Jasper as he’s an actor with a reputation in stand-up. As for our hero Jasper, his journey is made in the illustrious company of the comedy greats, from where his inspiration comes. But will he ever get to stand in his idols’ shoes, men like Michael McIntyre, women like Jo Brand?
Clare lived in West Berkshire’s Kintbury village for many years and it serves as the fictional backdrop for her latest novel, The Green Ribbon, published by Cranbrook Press. She likes to deal with modern issues in historical settings, and this time it’s ‘How far would you go to save your marriage?’
But beyond that this book looks at the North-South Divide, and there are some surprises in store. Clare explains: “What may surprise the occupants of high priced cottages and country houses in the shires, is that until the middle of the 20th century the North-South Divide was the other way around. The former occupants of their Farrow and Balled houses may well have been living in desperate straits and struggling to make a living in a changing world.
“In The Green Ribbons I explore the south side of the divide. The setting is 1900 in the village of Nettlestock, based loosely on Kintbury. In the 18th and early 19th century the place had everything going for it – the Kennet and Avon Canal passed through the village, there was a whiting mill supplying chalk powder for wigs, and a silk mill and then the railway arrived.
“But the investment in industrial facilities in the North, combined with the increasing uncompetitiveness of British grain, in what had become a world market, led to depopulation of southern towns and villages like Nettlestock, as agricultural workers moved north to share in the opportunities offered by the cotton, wool, iron and steel industries.”
The Reading History Men - There’s a wealth from the past to explore here and local authors have new books out taking us back across centuries and more recent events.
The historian has produced an impressive hardback, The Royal Abbey of Reading, chronicling the foundation by Henry I to its destruction during the Reformation period. But, piece by piece, Ron ‘rebuilds’ the impressive history and architecture, taking us to the days when no expense was spared on building and Reading was a royal hub. Burials, the monks, pilgrimages and relics, the spread of the abbey’s power and influence and involvement of various monarchs are meticulously investigated. Published by Boydell Press, boydellandbrewer.com.
Reading author David Bilton is a retired teacher who spends his time work as a university lecturer and researching the Great War. He is the prolific author of numerous books about the British Army, the Home Front and the German Army.
The Home Front – Realization: The Somme, Jutland & Verdun, which is the third in a series of books of which Call to Arms – Over By Christmas and The Home Front – Deepening Conflict were the first to be published. The latest book has moved on from that first rush of patriotism in 1914 and looks at how those who were left behind at home coped with the growing numbers of casualties during some of the most fierce and bloody fighting of the entire war. His books are published by pen-and-sword.co.uk.
The popular local author continues to delve into Reading’s history with Reading in 50 Buildings, a fascinating study which takes us from the architectural history of centuries past to modern marvels.
It all starts with a great map plotting the spots of the 50 chosen buildings, so is perfect for a walk – or two – around town. Churches, schools, the old town hall, Reading Abbey of course, lead us on a tour on to hospitals, department stores and Caversham Library, until we reach the likes of the Madejski Stadium, Oracle and new-look railway station. And there’s even time to finish with a historical pub crawl! Published by Amberley Press, amberley-books.com.