Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review/Interview: Blessop's Wife by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

This month's featured novel is a medieval murder mystery, although I'm not sure that completely sums up Blessop's Wife.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil was born in Gloucestershire, England and later moved to London. Her Scottish father was an artist and playwright, her Australian mother was a teacher, and Victorian author Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell was a great, great, great aunt. 

When younger Barbara worked in many literary capacities and published numerous short stories and articles, but now writes full length novels.

Her passion is for late English medieval history and this forms the background for many of her historical novels, although she also writes fantasy novels. 

Find Barbara on Amazon or on her BLOG

A review can be a powerful thing - never underestimate it! I came to Blessop's Wife because I'd read the Discovering Diamonds review. This site is a wonderful place to learn about new historical fiction. From there, I went over to Amazon and read the preview sample. I was hooked. What an opening page; the author employs every one of the senses to describe the scene and we are not simply watching poor Tyballis, we are experiencing what she is experiencing, we can smell what she smells, see what she sees. She runs. I would have run too.

It is 15th century England and King Edward IV wears the crown, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly without clear cause, rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is working behind the scenes.
Tyballis was forced into marriage with her abusive neighbour. When she escapes, she meets Andrew and an uneasy alliance forms with a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children eventually joining the game.
I have read a fair few books set in this period and all of them have been told from the point of view of one of the 'major' players of the time, either Elizabeth Woodville, or Richard of Gloucester. In this story, the fictional characters take centre-stage. And a superb cast of characters they are, too. London in medieval times provides a noisy, dirty, smelly and frightening backdrop as this band of allies is drawn together first through having nothing more in common than being in straitened circumstances. The people all live under the same roof and this is the only reason for their interaction, until they begin to work together to aid the cause of their benefactor, Andrew, and to help when any of their crew is in difficulty or danger.

This book has everything - murder, mystery, danger, adventure, history, and love stories. As I read it, I got caught up in the lives of the fictional characters, enjoying being taken along on their adventures, but all the while being reminded that this story was rooted firmly in its historical context and these people had a part to play in the major events of history. The fictional and non-fictional characters are put together in such a way that it was hard to tell where the join was.

I'm not the only one to have enjoyed this book; it has just been given a special award by Chill with a Book

After I'd read this book, I asked Barbara a few questions:

The characters of Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester are pivotal to the plot. What made you decide to focus your story on fictional characters?
I have always enjoyed basing my plots around genuine historical characters and events, while bringing in an entirely fictional storyline as the major component. This brings an element of reality into a novel, and that is something I immensely enjoy. I love using my years of research concerning these periods to conjure an atmosphere of reality. I want to enter that world, and I want to bring my readers with me. Simply telling the history of a real person, and adding fictional conversations and events to what has been gained from fact, does not satisfy my desire to create. Atmospheric creation delights me. Yet it would seem too shallow if it remained pure fantasy and did not include the truths of the era. History also delights me and some real characters of the past stand out as fascinating. I love to delve and dig, but I am uncomfortable with adding my own spin to the genuine past. I therefore combine history with fact, which satisfies me and hopefully also pleases my readers.

Without giving away any spoilers, you say that a certain key moment regarding Edward IV's demise, might plausibly have happened. How did you discover this theory, and was this what gave you the idea for the book? 
Yes, indeed, this was the spark which set off my initial inspiration.
This may constitute a spoiler, but the fact is the theory regarding Edward IV’s death is not my own. The king’s death in 1483 was entirely unexpected. He was a young man, dying just days before his forty-first birthday, and although there are suggestions that he was possibly obese, he suffered from no specific known complaint. Nor was any medical diagnosis publicly acknowledged at the time.. 
The suggestion I follow in my novel was put forward by Richard E. Collins, presented in the book The Death of Edward IV Part II by J. Dening and R. E. Collins , published in 1996. There is no proof of this theory, but it remains a possibility.

Given that most of your characters are fictional and the plots and intrigues have many twists and turns, how did you piece together the story - did the plotline require huge amounts of planning, or did you have most of the story in your head already?
All my books are written in much the same way – which you might call an absolute muddle! The initial inspiration starts off a flow of ideas which race around in circles, swell, retract, pop in and out of my dreams, and eventually start to make sense. Then I try to tame these ideas into a genuine plot, with a multitude of possible situations and characters. I make endless notes, lists, and pages of research. The characters solidify first. Then – finally – I write the book, and as I write I change almost everything. My imagination goes wild and I end up with quite a different book to the one I originally planned. It almost always happens this way and I find it tremendous fun. Heroes turn into villains mid-book and villains become my favorites. But my principal hero and heroine, who are always fictional, stay solid become real in my head, and guide me along. Indeed, sometimes I think they write the book for me. I also re-write many times, polishing and refining. I believe that rewriting several times is indispensable.

I so enjoyed the scenes with all the disparate characters who lived in Drew's house. Is this based on historical fact? By which I mean would there have been groups of people, different families, living together like that in and around London during this period?
I’m afraid I have no genuine historical basis for this idea, but there were certainly large rickety tenements where the poorer families lived squashed up together, and would have known each other – almost living in each other’s pockets (not that they had pockets back then!). Privacy was not a concern even for the rich, and for instance, the court was a great palace of separate rooms where the lords of the court all lived very close to each other, gossiping and plotting in various ways. London’s streets were squashed, houses almost combined, and sharing walls, and everyone knew everyone else’s business. Therefore my one large house occupied by many is not so far from the truth. I used a genuine fact, and changed it just a little to fit my story.

If readers have read and enjoyed Blessop's Wife, which of your books would you recommend they go to next?
I think both THE FLAME EATER and SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN. Both are set in the same era and follow plots with a variety of characters from all stations of life, include the mysteries of crime and the unknown criminal, include a fair background of genuine historical fact, and move fast through different episodes and events, leading to a generally cheerful conclusion, with some humor included., for however difficult life may be, there is always something to laugh at and cheer us up.

Sumerford’s Autumn is set during the early years of Henry VII’s reign, and brings the vastly differing  adventures of a family of boys into focus against the mystery and battles of Perkin Warbeck, the pretender. The first Tudor king makes some small appearances but the novel concentrates more on the mystery and chaos of the family, and the main hero’s romantic confusion.
The Flame Eater is set just a little earlier during the reign of Richard III, although he does not personally appear. Political strife, the background struggles of the era, and the events of the time are the backdrop to a very different romance, and a series of highly misunderstood murders. As usual, there is a large cast of essential characters, this time being mostly female. But I am particularly fond of my hero Nicholas.

Thanks so very much, Annie, for these really interesting questions, and the chance to talk about my work.

Barbara's Fantasy Novel - FAIR WEATHER


  1. I adored Fair Weather and must read this new book. I love this quirky different writing and the superb plots with character twists.

  2. Barbara Gaskell Denvikl3 August 2017 at 04:58

    Thanks so much Carol. I do hope you enjoy others of my novels. All the best, Barbara

  3. Replies
    1. It is Cryssa, a proper 'page-turner' :-)