From fantasy to historical fiction is quite a jump. Making it all up versus all that research and getting the facts right would not have been my first choice for future books. Then I fell across Emma Beach, a fellow Australian who had spent several years researching the story of Elizabeth Scott – The Shanty Keeper’s Wife was born and my taste for historical novels was set.
Raine didn’t plan to marry Teddy. His moods turn on a hairpin, he’s hotheaded and easily offended. But he’s the father of her unborn child, and in 1950s Australia being an unwed mother isn’t an option. She marries him, determined to make it work, only to see him abandon her a year later for the wilds of the Snowy Mountains. When Raine realises she is bearing their second child, she decides to hunt Teddy down. She needs to look him in the eye and test the truth of their love. Because Raine’s true keeper might not be Teddy; he might be the caring and careful Alf – Teddy’s cockney childhood friend and Raine’s not-so-secret admirer.
Keepers will be published in the spring of 2021.
I entered Keepers in a novel competition last year and was thrilled with the feedback:
Excellent writing and intriguing opening. Convincing feel for the domestic setting but full of intriguing questions. Interesting structure too. Modest* story … written with great skill.
* This, I am told, is a publishing term for a book which isn’t full of explosives and frantic action. You can read an extract from Keepers here.
The Shanty Keeper’s Wife
Australian High Country 1863
Child-bride Betsy has grown into the pretty wife of an abusive, drunken owner of an illegal grog shanty. When he’s murdered, her ex-pirate cook is quickly arrested. But rumours of ‘too close an intimacy’ between Betsy and a youthful groom soon lead to their arrest also.
Convicted on hearsay and gossip, Betsy will hang – unless one man tells the truth.
Very few people have heard of Elizabeth Scott, tried in 1863 along with her mixed-race, illiterate cook and an 18 year-old groom who lodged with the family for the murder of her drunken, abusive husband. That included me before I came across Emma Beach’s novel drafts on a peer review website. Emma’s family hails from the area where the murder happened – the chimney of the illegal grog shop (shanty) where it took place still stands. We became collaborators on the book. It’s finished, even though Emma keeps digging up new and fascinating facts.
Our beta readers love Betsy, and the tension of the story, begging for that reprieve …
The Shanty Keeper’s Wife is currently with a London agency who are considering the full manuscript, and with a regional indie publisher doing the same. Fingers crossed.
Here’s what one of our beta readers has to say: I loved it… You made a masterwork of suspense. Especially during the court scenes as you revealed what happened that night. Right up to the end, I was hoping the Governor would make the decision …
Read an extract from The Shanty Keeper’s Wife here.
The picture is a watercolour by ST Gill. Elizabeth’s first marital home, where she bore five children of whom only two lived, would have looked like this.
Hester talks to the river, which she knows as Sabrina. The river nymphs call to her as they ride the white horses of the bore … Aaron is a wise man with the power of herbal healing, and more. When Hester persuades Aaron to teach her what he knows, he’s reluctant . He’s been there before.
This story is inspired by the life of Ellen Hayward, a respected herbalist from the Forest of Dean who was tried for witchcraft in 1906. And acquitted, I’m pleased to say. Initially I planned to write an historical novel about Ellen, but being a keen reader of magical realism, I’ve turned Belladonna into something rather different. This is a work in progress, being helped along by local and virtual critique partners all of whom are keen to know what happens next (as am I). In the meantime, I’m learning about the medicinal and magical properties of herbs and wildflowers, about toadstone rings, 19th c farming, and smuggling on the River Severn.
The image is of yarrow, plentiful in fields and hedgero. Yarrow boasts many medicinal and magical properties. From stopping a nose-bleed, allaying fever, and enhancing psychic powers.