For those who don’t know, secondary-modern schools existed to teach people the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Then send them out into the world at fifteen or sixteen to have jobs rather than careers.
So you could say it wasn’t the best start in life.
Unsurprisingly, after I left school at 16, a long list of dead-end jobs followed. I won’t bore you with a litany of them.
Ambition Found Me
But somehow, somewhere, along the way, I found ambition. I realised that i wanted to do something with my life, rather than fritter it away.
I’d always been a keen reader. So trying to become a published writer seemed a natural step on the road. Fortunately, I was too ignorant to know any better!
Oh Boy! Was I in for a Shock!
I first started writing in my early/mid twenties. But I was an amateur. A rank amateur. I knew nothing about research. Nothing about creating characters or plot. I hadn’t a clue, basically. I was a dilettante, and never finished anything.
One of Those Age Milestones
But hitting the age of thirty concentrated my mind. I determined to finish a novel, rather than just play about at the edges. And gradually I learned how to write novels—and how to finish them.
From the age of thirty, I wrote a book a year for six years before I achieved publication.
That book was a Romantic Novel called Land of Dreams. It was set in The Canadian Arctic (trying to be the same, but different, from what had been published before).
After that brief brush with publication, Robert Hale rejected my next Romantic Novel. It was back to Rejection Alley.
Angry and Dejected
By then i was pretty fed up. Nobody likes being repeatedly rejected. My ‘stuff you’ mentality came into play. I felt like murdering someone. So I did.
I turned to Crime
Remarkably, my very first crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile, and published. It was also published by St Martin’s Press in the USA, and Worldwide in P/B.
I’ve done them all. Stabbings, poisonings, smotherings, bludgeonings. You name it and I’ve done it. I’ve even hanged someone, but that was after they were dead.
So, How Do You Start Creating a Crime Series?
By thinking, long and hard. The first book in a crime series is, I believe, the most difficult and demanding. You have to master the problems of plotting, clue laying, and red-herring scattering. You also have to learn about police and forensic procedures. And at the same time, somehow, create a cast of characters who are capable of supporting a series.
A Tall Order!
A pretty tall order for a first effort in a genre I think you’ll agree.
There must be many neophyte writers who have fallen by the wayside in attempting to write crime novels. I might have been one of them if I hadn’t decided to do my own thing rather than follow the crowd.
Maybe the word originality explains why so many fail. That single word strikes terror into the hearts of a lot of new crime writers. I know it did mine.
After a writing history of five rejected romantic novels followed by the publication of the sixth. And then more rejection. As well as the publication of various articles. The writing of a crime novel seemed much more demanding than anything I’d tackled before. It was also extremely intimidating.
I admit I was scared by the crime writers who are regularly praised for their devilish ingenuity, god-like intellect and masterly characterisation. It was enough to have more ordinary mortals, like me, quaking in their boots at the thought of trying to emulate them.
So How Do You Set About Creating an Original Crime Series?
All I can tell you is how I went about it.
I suppose you could describe the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery novels, which form my first series, as Inspector Frost meets Del Boy Trotter and family.
For those who don’t watch British TV, Inspector Frost is something of a bumbler who’s anti-authority, but he’s smart enough to get his man.
And Del Boy Trotter is a market trader (market stall not the stock market), who’s into buying dodgy gear. He’s working-class and a bit of a ducker and diver, but witty with it.
So if you’re looking for the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes, type of crime novel – steer well clear! Though, having said that, I had one reviewer who likened me to Holmes(!).
In short, the Rafferty family has more than their share of ‘Del Boy Trotter types’. Their leisure-time activities are far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing. Or Morse and his Wagner.
The Rafferty family pursuits are nothing so refined. They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains and other diversions of equally questionable legality.
And Rafferty’s ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in such pursuits. She uses emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her.
Having far more than her share of Blarney Stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.
Don’t Restrict Yourself
Given the above, don’t restrict yourself to what you think are the usual sort of police characters. Like middle-aged men in suits. If something else would come more naturally to you, go for it.
Like me with Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty and his back of a lorry-bargain family – try to find the main character that’s right for you.
The Tricky Business of Originality
To get back to this business of originality for a moment, I think we can all agree that being original is a tricky business.
A book that one person considers a true original might be thought of as over the top by another.
While a third person might consider your hard won originality is nothing more than a poor copy of a well-known writer’s style that’s been given a bit of a twist.
So, originality’s a pretty movable feast.
What Publishers Want
Who knows?! Publishers themselves are often pretty vague when they try to define what they’re looking for.
But, even if they can’t tell you what they want, they find it easier to tell you what they don’t want.
No editor is going to be impressed by a writer who’s a copycat. For one thing, it’ll put the publisher in danger of being sued. So—no second rate plagiarism.
Ask Yourself Some Questions
Okay, so where do you start? You start by asking yourself a few pertinent questions. About yourself, your background, your family, warts and all. And then maybe oomph it up a bit.
Maybe, like ex-British Prime Minister John Major, your family has a circus or funfair background?
Maybe you could have a sort of Gypsy Rose Lee type in there somewhere? A travelling crook detector with her crystal ball ever at the ready!
Outlandish, perhaps, but then wacky might be just your thing.
Or maybe your working background’s a little more conservative? In insurance, for instance.
An insurance investigator could get to look into a lot of suspicious deaths. And he doesn’t have to be your average stereotypical insurance worker. Whatever that is.
Maybe he desperately wants to get out of the insurance business and into the world of entertainment. An insurance investigator as comedian, given to cracking tasteless jokes at the crime scene.
A man who’s learned to judge the witnesses as he would judge an audience.
They’re just a couple of ideas to get you thinking. Feel free to use them. Or not!
Bit of a Scruff
To get back to me, and the choices I made when I was creating my crime series. I decided on the surname Rafferty because I wanted his name to suggest someone who was a bit of a scruff – a rough Rafferty, in fact.
I chose the name Llewellyn for his sidekick because I wanted to give the suggestion of royalty.
Dead Before Morning #1
Alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-induced problems.
I’ve just started #19 in the Rafferty series. I know–I should have started it months ago. My excuse is that a modern writer can no longer just concern him or herself with the story. I wish. I had it easy starting before the invention of the internet. Or Social Media / Websites / Photoshop / WordPress / Social Networking / Marketing / Categories / Niches / and a whole host of their brothers and sisters.
So you have to do some serious studying. Which is what I’ve been doing. Biting the bullet and accepting that my website needs a complete overhaul. From start (in 2010) to finish (now, midway through July 2020). Ten years worth of work. It’s enough to send a girl sobbing into her dotage.
To Return to Series Creation
And similarities. I thought if Rafferty shared class and education with me, he might as well have other elements of similarity. Why not? Other writers do.
Would a non—classical music lover have created Morse? Would someone who knows little and cares less about poetry have created the poetry writing Adam Dalgliesh?
Well, possibly, i suppose. But it’s far more sensible to make use of elements from your own life, as I presume those devilish types did.
A Character You Can Empathise With
One who was as near me as I could get. Believe me, it helps!
Even though I’m not a man, I made Rafferty male because I felt the relationship with his ma was important. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that there would be more scope for humour with a male main character.
You’ll Have Enough Trouble
In creating a plot that conceals as it reveals. With coming up with clues, red herrings, a satisfying denouement and the rest.
You won’t need to increase your difficulties by having a lead character from a totally different social background from yourself as well.
As I said, my background is Irish-Catholic working-class. So is Rafferty’s. I was educated (sic) in a Roman Catholic secondary modern. So was Rafferty. I come from a large family. So does Rafferty.
There are a few differences, of course. Apart from the differences in gender. But the basic elements of similarity are there. They all help to give the writer a ‘feel’ for a character and their background. Something I regarded as essential when I hoped to carry him through a series of novels.
Unsavoury Habits of Youth
There are a lot of working class policemen out there – just like Rafferty – who have risen up the ranks. Leaving behind them the less savoury habits of youth and family.
Often, they’ll have had to shed or at least conceal, certain aspects of their character. Prejudices of one sort or another, for instance. Or, like Rafferty, a family with a love of dubious ‘bargains’.
But just because our policeman character has found it necessary to change doesn’t mean to say his family would be so obliging as to do likewise. He would have parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and so on, all with their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. And all beyond the lead character’s influence or control.
Imagine such a family. They’d be only too likely to embarrass your lead character.
Think of Ex-PM
Now, i know we’re talking fictional policemen here, but just think again for a moment, of John Major and his family. Of Terry and Pat, and the trapeze-artist, gnome-loving father.
Nothing criminal there, of course. But still, what ammunition they provided his enemies – of whatever political persuasion. He must have often wished he had been an only, lonely orphan. Rafferty often wishes the same!
It doesn’t take a major (go on – groan!) Leap of the imagination to see that a policeman, in a position of authority, with the need to be seen to uphold the law can easily be embarrassed by a less than honest family. He could even have his career put at risk by them.
I was well into my stride now and decided that if Rafferty was going to be working-class like me, he might as well have other elements of ‘me’. Why not? it not only makes life easier, it also helps me relate to the main character and to the past which has helped to shape him
But in order to have a ‘past’, he’s got to have memories. And the best memories, from the point of view of believability, are one’s own memories.
Which is something else you might perhaps care to bear in mind if and when you start creating your own mystery series.
I’ll give you an example.
In Down Among The Dead Men, the second in the series, I had Rafferty reveal – just as I remember doing – that as a schoolchild he and his classmates would attend Friday afternoon Benediction at the local Catholic Church. There, they would sing Latin hymns without – as they had never been taught any Latin – having a clue what they were singing about.
Not much, perhaps, in the broad sweep of a novel, but it’s little touches like that which help to bring a character to life. Which perhaps helps a reader to identify with them, to the point of saying, ‘yes. I remember doing that.’ it helps to make it all more real.
Once i had Rafferty down on paper, i gave a lot of thought to his sidekick. But that’s for the second in my three-parter articles. So tune in next time!
I’ll even throw in my spoof for forlorn lovers! Relationship Counselling for the Lovelorn, written as Professor I M Osolohmio . This was an entry into Joe Konrath’s fellow writers’ challenge to write, edit, get a cover for, and publish a book in eight hours.
This is no longer on Kindle, as I took it down pretty soon after I scraped through. But I can soon put it back up.
My novel, Reluctant Queen: About the Little Sister Of Henry VIII, is a Bestseller in the UK.
FICTION > RELIGIOUS & SPIRITUAL > HISTORICAL
Image by Damonza
Portrait of Princess Mary Rose Tudor: From Wikimedia Commons Wasn’t she gorgeous?!
Reluctant Queen: A Tudor Biographical Novel about Henry VIII’s Little Sister, Mary Rose
‘A very readable account of a fascinating woman who dared to stand up to Henry VIII and survived. It is thoroughly researched, admirably written and the author’s love of the Tudor period shines through.’ HISTORICAL NOVELS REVIEW
One not about any of the six wives!
Henry, when he came to the throne at almost eighteen, had plenty of other relatives. But owing to his short-lived dynasty and shaky right to the crown, the always insecure Henry had them executed throughout his reign.
Can you imagine what it must be like to be the little sister of infamous English king, Henry VIII? Remember, this is the king who went on to have six wives, two of whom he divorced and two of whom he beheaded.
The teenaged Mary Rose is his favourite sister. He even named his famous ship after her. But then his alliances shifted. So did his plans for sister.
And he pushed the young and lovely Mary into a hateful state marriage with the ailing and ancient King Louis XII of France.
But, a reluctant Mary Rose, as strong-willed as Henry and passionately in love, for the first time, doesn’t give in easily.
Before agreeing to the match, after a relentless campaign by her loving brother to get her to say yes, Mary Rose extracts a promise from Henry.
A promise she is determined he will keep.
‘Very easy to read, very hard to put down. This made a Mary Tudor so accessible and relatable to the reader.’ READER REVIEW
‘Thoroughly enjoyable.’ READER REVIEW
‘No, I won’t marry that feeble, pocky old man,’ Mary Tudor raged at her brother. For all that twenty-three-year-old Henry was the elder and had for five years been King of England, Mary was determined not to submit to his entreaties.
‘Now, sweetheart.’ Henry bent from his great height and coaxed, ‘You know nothing about him. Louis, the French King may be no young stripling, but they say he’s very rich. He’ll be kind and loving, I doubt not. You will learn to be fond of him in time.’
‘I will not,’ Mary insisted. Louis was old and sickly; fifty-two to her eighteen. The thought of marrying such an old man appalled her.
Henry was all sweet reasonableness now, but Mary knew that would soon change if she continued to defy him. Since becoming king, Henry had rapidly grown used to having his own way; he had not sacrificed himself on the marriage market. Instead, just a few months after their father’s death, he had speedily married Catherine of Aragon, their brother Arthur’s pretty young widow, ignoring their late father’s advice. It had been a marriage made, at least, in part, for love.
Mary didn’t see why she should not also marry where she would, as rumour had it their sister Margaret was determined to do. Now nearly twenty-four, Margaret had set her heart on marrying the young and handsome Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. Just fourteen, Margaret had married their father’s choice of King James IV of Scotland eleven years earlier, carrying with her the forlorn hope that this marriage alliance would bring to an end the interminable wars between England and Scotland.
Forlorn hope it had proved. For Margaret had been widowed just the previous year when King James had been killed fighting Henry’s army at the battle of Flodden.
Mary had no doubt that Henry’s present wish to use her for a similar, unnatural alliance, this time with France, would prove equally fruitless. Had he not been long allied with the Emperor Maximilian and King Ferdinand, the father of Queen Catherine?
And although they had had a falling out after Henry had discovered Ferdinand had made a secret truce with the French, Henry would revert to the long-standing Hapsburg alliance in a second, rendering vain her sacrifice in marriage to old King Louis. His naming of Louis as ‘The French King’ rather than the ‘King of France’ was further proof of how unnatural such an alliance would be.
Henry considered himself the rightful King of France. He longed for his own Crécy and Agincourt. Only the previous year, he had led his army against the French and had captured Thérouanne and Tournai.
Mary felt she had sacrificed enough for her brother’s ambitions. He had caused her to be spurned by young Prince Charles of Castile, the Emperor’s grandson and Catherine’s nephew, to whom her father had betrothed her six years earlier. Now he wanted to replace this match with one far more distasteful to her.
But between her brother’s alliance-swapping, Mary had fallen in love, just like her sister. Mary knew that if she wished to copy her sister’s example she must hold out against her brother’s demands. It wouldn’t be easy. But when she thought of the unheroic figure of Louis XII, the old French invalid whom everyone laughed at, her determination to defy Henry grew stronger.
‘How can you ask it of me, Henry? You know where my heart lies,’ she reminded him now. ‘Where it’s lain these many months, whilst you’ve been toying with Castile and its prince.’
Mary’s gaze narrowed as she recognised her previous betrothed’s expensive gift, and, for a moment, she felt a deep sadness that she had no betrothed bridal pledge from her love. But now was not the moment to dwell on such thoughts. If she was to change her brother’s mind, she needed to be strong. ‘Where’s the magnificent dowry jewel they sent our father, but perched in your hat, brother?’
Henry’s small mouth visibly tightened. But he managed to rein in his temper and tried more sweet reason. ‘As you say, King Louis is old and sickly and has been for a good long while; any marriage couldn’t be for long. Think of the honours and riches that would be yours and you could be free in a year or less. What’s a year when you’re only eighteen?’
‘No, Henry, I’ll not be persuaded.’ Mary smoothed her gown and tried some sweet reason of her own. ‘Surely I could be permitted to please myself, as you did.’
Henry’s lips were now a thin line. His skin flushed up and he shouted at her. ‘This is foolish talk. I’m a man, Mary and a king. You’re only a princess, and princesses must dispose themselves where duty, not the heart, lies.’
Henry’s gaze turned longingly towards the window, for the day was fair. Mary, too, wanted to be out in the warm sunshine instead of cooped up indoors arguing with her brother. She hoped Henry’s love of pleasure and hunting would persuade him to give over trying to browbeat her.
But this hope was a vain one. Even as she thought it, Henry dragged his gaze from the window and stared so consideringly at her that Mary realised he was about to try another tactic.
‘Do this for me, this once,’ Henry pleaded, ‘and when Louis dies, as he will, and that no doubt right soon, you may choose your own husband afterwards. On this you have my word.’
Mary stared broodingly at him. Much as she adored this handsome giant of a brother, she had learned to be wary of Henry’s promises and this one had a too-ready air about it.
But he had given his word on it, she mused. His offer weakened her resolve. Given Henry’s determination to have his own way in all things this might be her best chance to attain her desire and marry Charles Brandon.
But the repugnant necessity of first marrying the sickly Louis invaded her mind and would not be ignored.
Mary’s thoughts churned, while silence lengthened. How could she bear to let the old French king fondle her, couple with her, when all her senses craved only the touch of Charles Brandon?
Yet it was true that Louis was sickly, perhaps liable to die ere long, as Henry claimed. But he had been sickly for years, so she wouldn’t be able to rely on him dying “right soon”, as Henry had so confidently predicted. But maybe his poor health would allow him nothing more intimate than a formal bedding with her for the sake of convention.
If she could trust her brother’s promise she might soon be able to go to Charles freely. Upset, confused, wishing only to be left in peace to consider what she should do, Mary was startled from her reverie by Henry’s angry voice.
‘What more do you want, Madam? Most girls do not need to be cajoled into marriage. They’re told whom they are to marry and they marry them.’
Henry’s handsome face was now flushed with a right royal temper, and Mary knew he had taken her silence for willfulness.
Now, he towered threateningly over her and for the first time, Mary felt something of that fear that her brother’s rages so easily engendered in others.
‘I’ve been too indulgent towards you, Madam, too easy-going. You’ll come to your duty, sister, or perchance, I might have to find a teacher, one not as kindly as I.’
Mary, with her own goodly share of royal temper, now forgot Henry’s promise, his kingly majesty, and her own wavering doubts and flung back defiantly at him, ‘Perhaps you should do that, brother, for I’ll not wed him else.’
Turning on her heel, Mary fled from the chamber, her steps echoing up the passageway, mingling with the sobs she could no longer hold back.
Thomas Wolsey, the king’s almoner, stepped from behind the curtained doorway. ‘That was not well done, Your Grace,’ he chided.
‘Your sister may be a sweet and loving girl, but she has a certain spirit. She should be gentled into agreement, for love of you and for the sake of the French alliance. Chivvying and harrying is not the way with her.’
Henry’s gaze narrowed and he stared hard at Wolsey.
But Wolsey, aware that his young king valued honest counsel, was emboldened to continue.
‘With the help of Princess Mary’s friend, Mistress Popincourt, and our obliging French hostage, the Duc de Longueville, we’ve advanced the match this far; perhaps we should encourage them further.
‘Mistress Popincourt is mighty friendly with your sister. Let her use her soft words at every opportunity. ‘Tis my belief, Your Grace, that between her and de Longueville, they’ll sway your sister to the match if we make it worth their while.
‘De Longueville is kin to His Majesty, King Louis. He will, I’m sure, be doubly rewarded for providing the old King with such a lovely young bride. He will also get his freedom if he helps to persuade your sister to the match.’
‘What of Jane Popincourt?’ Henry asked. ‘What reward for her?’
Wolsey gave a sly smile. ‘From what I understand, Your Grace, she has had her reward from de Longueville—a tarnished reputation. They have conducted their liaison with little discretion. For her, the gleam of gold will be carrot enough, but no further payment should be necessary. She will, I doubt not, expect to accompany your sister to France, but that is something I would counsel against, Sire. We do not wish your sister’s good name to be joined with such a wanton’s at the French court.’
‘No, indeed. But Mary will expect the girl to accompany her. They’ve been friends since childhood. If we are to get her agreement to the match it would be wise not to upset her on this matter.’
Wolsey had already given due thought to the question of Jane Popincourt and as a natural diplomat, he had quickly found the obvious solution.
‘What need is there for us to upset her, Your Grace when others can be persuaded to do it for us?
‘Our Ambassador, Worcester, has only to whisper in King Louis’ ear about Popincourt’s morals, and His Majesty would, I’m sure, see to the rest. Princess Mary is young and innocent; he will want her to stay that way. He admires virtuous behaviour in a woman, so we may surmise that he dislikes the opposite. I think, Sire, we can safely leave King Louis to do our refusing for us.’
Henry’s laugh boomed out. ‘I like the idea of Louis banning Mistress Popincourt from accompanying Mary’s train to France. He who makes the rules must also take the blame. But I believe you are right in what you say about Mistress Popincourt, Thomas. It would seem she has already led my sister astray, putting romantic notions of love in her head when there should be naught but duty, making her pert and disobedient. ‘
The previous laughter was replaced by grim determination, as, with his little eyes narrowed, Henry vowed, ‘we will try the gentle option first to get Mary’s agreement to the match, but if she is still hot against it, methinks we will need to use more ungentle methods.’
Mary raced into her bed-chamber, long, golden hair flying behind her, and threw herself, sobbing, on her bed.
Lady Guildford, her governess, came up to her, tutting at such unseemly behaviour. Mary’s ‘Mother’ Guildford, in whose charge she had been placed since the death of her own mother, was all calm reason. ‘What’s to do, my lady? What’s to do? Get up, child, you’ll crush your gown.’
‘Whatever is the matter, Mary?’
Through her sobs, Mary heard the concerned voice of her friend, Jane Popincourt, but she didn’t answer her. Eventually Mary’s sobs subsided and she sat up on the bed, her lovely face a mask of misery.
‘Now, madam, will you tell me what ails thee? Have you a pain? I’ll send for the physicians.’ Her Mother Guildford bustled to the door, but Mary called her back.
‘Nay, mother. This is a pain which no physician can cure.’ She raised her tear-stained face. ‘My brother wishes to wed me to old King Louis of France.’
‘Surely he’s not looking for another wife?’ Lady Guildford asked. ‘He’s buried two already. Besides, ’tis well known he’s too old and sickly to get himself any sons. They say he only clings to life to spite, Francis, his son-in-law.’
‘But what riches you would have, Mary,’ Jane cajoled. ‘Think what your trousseau would be for such a marriage. It would make the one for the Castilian match look like a pauper’s rags. To be Queen of France—’tis a magnificent honour for any girl.’ Jane’s soft French accent turned the words into a honeyed caress.
Mary was not to be comforted. Sunk in misery, she caught the look of dislike her Mother Guildford cast towards Jane. But Lady Guildford was a stern and pious woman and thought her worldly friend Jane a bad influence.
But then she had been a great friend of Mary’s equally pious paternal grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. Together, with her father’s sanction, they had ruled the court, overriding Mary’s meek and gentle mother, Elizabeth, whose only duty was the getting of sons.
She had done her duty in that as in everything else. Indeed, she had done her duty so well that she had died, worn out from child-bearing, but a short while after giving birth yet again. The baby, Catherine, had also died.
Fresh tears filled Mary’s eyes as she thought of the gentle countenance of her dead mother. Now, apart from Mary, there was only her brother, Henry and her elder sister, Margaret left out of the brood of babes her mother had borne. Her father and grandmother were also long dead.
The atmosphere at court had changed markedly after her brother Henry had replaced their father as king just before his eighteenth birthday. And although gaiety had not replaced piety – for Henry was devout – there had been so many balls and banquets that it had seemed Henry couldn’t run through their father’s carefully accumulated wealth quickly enough.
‘If you did marry him, my lady, it could not be for long.’
Practical as well as pious, Lady Guildford repeated Henry’s soothing words. ‘An old and sickly man and a young, lively bride is a sure recipe for an early funeral.’
Although she knew it was sinful, Mary couldn’t help but be cheered a little by this and she asked curiously, ‘Is King Louis very sickly, Mother?’
Lady Guildford nodded. ‘He’s been sickly these many years. They say he retires to his bed at six of the clock every evening. Even the king’s cocks and hens tarry later than His Christian Majesty.’
‘My brother seems very keen on this marriage,’ Mary confided pensively. ‘Surely, if he loved me, he could have found a more suitable match for me?’
‘Would that someone would arrange such a match for me,’ Jane commented. ‘You’d not find me weeping and thinking on the age of the groom.’
‘You’ll be lucky to find anyone to marry you, madam,’ Lady Guildford told her tartly. ‘Your indiscretions with the Duc de Longueville are all over the court.’
Jane gave a careless shrug. ‘What care I? Mary will take me to the French court with her and find me a rich husband.’
‘There’s many a noble lady ahead of you in the queue for a rich husband,’ Lady Guildford waspishly reminded her. ‘Why should you think you would be permitted to go to the French court?’ Suspiciously, she demanded, ‘Unless you and de Longueville have been plotting while you indulged your lusts?’
‘I don’t know what you can mean,’ Jane retorted.
‘Do you not? Can it be that you and de Longueville have decided that the best way for him to achieve his desire to return to France is by persuading the king to marry Mary into that country?’
Mary saw that her Mother Guildford’s shot had hit home. De Longueville had been one of the French nobles captured by her brother’s forces the previous year at Thérouanne. In his eagerness to return home had he persuaded her friend Jane to betray her? The possibility upset her and Mary remained silent while she listened to the continuing exchange.
‘A marriage alliance with France would be an ideal way for a prisoner such as de Longueville to return home,’ Lady Guildford continued thoughtfully. ‘Maybe taking his mistress with him into the bargain?’
Mary found her voice and demanded, ‘Jane, can this be true?’ Mary looked reproachfully at the girl as she saw confirmation on Jane’s face.
‘For all your plotting, madam, I doubt you’ll get your way,’ Lady Guildford upbraided the unrepentant Jane. ‘Do you think King Henry will want his little sister’s name sullied by association with yours? And from what I hear of King Louis, he’s turned very pious in his old age—he wouldn’t countenance any immorality at his court. Or loose women either.’
Jane’s expression turned venomous, before she flounced from the room. Lady Guildford snorted after the departed Jane.
‘You know, my lady,’ Mother Guildford remarked, as she picked up a hairbrush. With a gesture, she suggested that Mary would be soothed by the repetitive action of the brush. Mary thought it unlikely, but she had had enough of arguing, so simply acquiesced, and came and sat on a stool set before the glass. ‘Perhaps there is something in what that wanton says about this French marriage.’
She began to smooth the brush through Mary’s disordered hair. Waist-length, and golden, it was one of her greatest beauties.
‘Not you, too, Mother,’ Mary protested. ‘Tis enough that my brother should harry me, without you starting—’
‘Hush, child. There are worse fates in this life than marriage to an old man.’ As Lady Guildford brought the brush through Mary’s hair, she told her, ‘King Louis divorced his first wife for her ugliness. He couldn’t abide her near him. His second, Queen Anne, he was supposed to be fond of, though she was on the plain side too.
She put her head on one side, and smiled. ‘Do you not think that a young beauty like yourself would fare better than either? He would be ready to fall at your feet if it would please you, I vow, having first decked you in costly rubies and diamonds.’
Despite her fears, Mary smiled to hear the devout Lady Guildford speak so. ‘It is not like you to talk in so worldly a manner, Mother.’
‘I can be as worldly as necessary when it is for the good of my little maid. I have taken the place of your mother and grandam, and must think of your best interests, as they would.’
‘And would it be in my best interests, think you, to marry a man so old, with creaky joints and gouty limbs? What of love? What of romance?’
‘Foolish notions for a princess, as I’m sure your brother told you. Both your mother and grandam married for duty, though I’m not saying love didn’t come. You should put such thoughts out of your head for I know none of high rank who were permitted to marry for love.’
Mary, about to remind her of the love-match that had formed the basis of her own Tudor dynasty, remained silent as she recollected how that love-match had ending.
The marriage between Catherine, Henry V’s young French widow and her own paternal great grandsire, Owen Tudor, the Welsh gentleman of her guard, had been a secret one, ending in tragedy with Owen eventually clapped into prison and Catherine forced to retire to a convent where she had died at an early age.
Such was not the future Mary wanted for herself and Charles Brandon. So, although she brooded, Mary said nothing when her Mother Guildford told her she would submit to her duty, as many before her had submitted and that her brother, for all his gay charm, would see to it that she did so.
Mary knew it was useless to speak to Lady Guildford of love and passion. Like Henry, it was clear she thought the match an excellent one. But Mother Guildford was old. Piety was her passion. And neither she nor Henry would have to endure King Louis’ shameful fumblings.
Beneath her lowered lids, Mary’s blue eyes darkened. But as Lady Guildford continued to pull the silver-backed brush through her silken hair, Mary’s mind quietened.
And as thoughts of the future were so distasteful, she cast her mind backwards, to the carefree days of her childhood at Eltham which she and Henry had shared; their sister, Margaret, long married and in Scotland and Arthur, Prince of Wales, in his own establishment.
Henry, as second son, had been destined for the church until Arthur’s early death altered his prospects. Mary had always found it impossible to imagine her tall, adored, handsome brother a man of the cloth. He exuded too much of the love of life and its many pleasures for that.
Henry had basked in her adoration and loved her the more for it, far more than he had ever loved their elder sister, Margaret, who, once betrothal to King James of Scotland, had delighted in queening it over them.
Mary wished she could remember more of her mother; but she had died shortly before Mary’s seventh birthday and all she had was an impression of soft arms and a gentle voice crooning lullabies.
Her father, a thin, solemn man with a careworn face, she could remember more clearly.
He had arranged the ‘great match’ for her with the young Prince of Castile. She could still remember the betrothal ceremony held at Greenwich with the great throng of nobles and clerics. Her betrothed, or more probably his grandsire, had sent her the brilliant jewel in the form of the letter ‘K’ for Karolus, made of diamonds and pearls, which Henry now wore in his hat.
She had been proud of the jewel and had loved to show it off. It had an inscription on it, which, with childish notions of love, she had taken to her heart—’Maria had chosen the good part, which should not be taken from her’.
But it had been taken from her. The marriage had been due to be finalised this year, despite her lately wayward-leaning heart. Her father had paid her dowry of 50,000 crowns, but had cautiously demanded a pawn for the money.
Mary could still remember his delight when his demand had been met and a magnificent cluster of diamonds worth twice the dowry sum had been sent.
But then her father had died. And although he had left her the dowry, in the form of the diamond cluster, when he had become King Henry had taken a great fancy to the jewel and refused to part with it. Mary had been left with nothing, not even her Castilian Prince, who had repudiated her after many months of wrangling and recriminations.
And now her brother proposed another, even grander, match for her. But Mary’s taste for grand marriages had turned to ashes. She had only to look at those of Catherine and her sister, Margaret, to know they often brought misery and humiliation in their wake.
Had not Catherine, Henry’s queen, suffered near-destitution for seven years after the death of her first husband, Arthur? Her misery only alleviated when Henry became king and married her.
And owing to her first husband, King James’s, ‘fatal weakness for women’, Margaret’s marital humiliations had been without number.
Such memories strengthened Mary’s resolve to marry Charles Brandon. She wanted only to live in peace with her beloved. She must find Charles and persuade him to declare himself. Surely Henry, who could be sentimental, would relent when he realised how great was the love of his sister and his bosom friend.
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is a professional business membership organisation for self-publishing authors.
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Unfortunately you can’t. But in July you will be able to!
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