• Sabbatical

    Still here. It’s been long time away, a time of accidents and other stuff too much to go into but now long gone, I hope. I’m back! Now my website seems to have invited me in I’ll think up some news about the old series, the trilogy, and the new novels and hope it’ll turn out to be interesting.

    Thanks for saying hello!

    best wishes


  • What happens next?

    It’s sad to reach the end of a series. From that first midnight dream in 2007 about three mysterious strangers swapping jokes over brimming goblets of Guienne, Hildegard has taken me on an unexpectedly thrilling journey into the past.

    Hildegard, as what reviewers have called, ‘a kickass medieval nun who aways gets her man,’ has more demurely urged me to try my hand at glass painting in York, singing plain chant in Salisbury Cathedral, and trying to shoot a straight arrow with the bowmen of the New Forest. I also explored castles and abbeys as well as the sinister papal labyrinth of Pope Clement, the Butcher of Avignon, and marvelled at King Richard II’s fabulous wooden angels in Westminter Hall, still magnificent six hundred years after he commissioned them.

    Researching this amazing period at the end of the fourteenth century also gave me an excuse to hang out with historians and re-enactors and the followers of many strange and personal medieval passions. In so many extraordinary ways they became part of my explorations into the gritty real life of ordinary people in those extraordinary times.

    Unsurprisingly there were secrets to be unveiled. Shocking revelations about the personal lives of the courtiers at Richard’s fashionable palaces were written up for all to see in the chronicles. No wonder, I began to think, that the sweaty king of the jousting circuit, Henry Bolingbroke, the football hero of the day, felt uncomfortable among the scent and silks of Eltham Palace where minstrels, like rockstars, set the tone for Richard’s court. Poor Henry, the big bad usurper who hated his cousin Richard, no wonder he felt miffed, I almost thought. But bearing in mind how that particular plot turned out I soon withdrew my sympathy from the future Henry IV. A life founded on jealousy, theft, murder, and vicious loathing is nothing to admire.

    Now that my story is at an end in the Twelve Books of Hildegard and the Abbot I intend to bring you some background stories from time to time, ones that have leaped from the pages of the chronicles, from rumour, from myth, from the copious archives left by this most literate of people and from the stories written at the time that would earn their writers a hideous death in the flames of the heretics’ fires. Freedom of speech has ever been a contentious issue.

    Next week, a Victorian mystery, to throw light on a medieval horror story. Check back mid-week if you want to read all about it. I hope you’ll turn up.

  • Untitled Post

    Belinda Sykes RIP

    It was with such sadness that I heard of Belinda’s death last autumn. Today on Hannah French’s early music show on BBC Radio 3 you could hear why she was such a force in early music and why her death is so desperately sad and such a huge loss to the early music world.

    The first tine I heard Joglaresea, the group she founded, was at Holy Trinity in the East End, round about the time I started to write the Hildegard of Meaux medieval suspense series.

    The group burst onto the stage with their wild music that so wonderfully captures the way we imagine those early troubadours travelling between Christian Europe and the Muslim middle east.

    It was fascinating just now to hear that The Du fay Collective who you can hear on this website were early collaborators in her aim to promote a fusion between east and west, just as it would have been in the fourteenth century. Another unxpected point of contact for me in those years in the 90’s and later was the ‘voice of brass’ singing technique of middle Europe which was given as a workshop in Wales at that time. Could it have been Belinda running it? I cannot remember now but I can say that I am not a singer and was pretty useless but they coaxed a voice out of me somehow and it was almost as exhilirating as writing a novel!

    This afternoon since the programme ended I’ve been trying to defy Norton, and all the other hoops required in order to put up a blog on here and have only just managed to get something down. My intention was to give you the links to her music but that will have to come later now. Very soon, I hope, so watch this space as I seem (fingers crossed) to have got it to work.

    Briefly, the good news is that Joglaresa intends to continue Belinda’s fabulous work. Joglaresa forever! A brilliant epitaph for a brilliant and exciting world musician.

  • Radio

    I haven’t talked to many people in real life throughout lockdown and I’m feeling a little bit wary of doing so. There are so many variations to the Covid virus and nobody seems to know much about its long term effects. How can they when it’s all so new? Many other people on zoom, twitter and elsewhere have mentioned they feel that it’s going to be a shock to find we can yak on in real time to real people when the shutters are flung open. No editing, no retracting, and having to make it up as we go along? Good heavens! Whatever next! We’re all improvisors again.

    The upshot is that Wolfy O’Hare of BBC Radio Kingston will be asking me a few questions about my next book, second in the Rodric Chandler trilogy, THE DAY OF THE SERPENT. I hope there’ll be nothing too difficult, Wolfy!

    Look out on twitter @nunsleuth to find out when it’s being broadcast. It should be some time in August, 16th maybe, just before the hardback in the UK is released.

    I wish you well and hope that the road map will hold true and get us to our destination without much doubling back. Stay safe during the end game and remember to curl up with Hildegard and Chandler as their stories continue…

  • Blogging

    I don’t know how other writers do much when they’re writing a novel. They say they read other books at the same time, they blog every day, they use social media to promote their books, they go out and have drinks with friends, and no doubt they manage to string two words together which are not what their chief character has said or is about to say in the next chapter.
    I find this admirable if also puzzling. How do they have the energy to do all that if they’re writing at full stretch?
    I’m scarcely able to knock a meal together. As for reading? Leave my fictive world when it’s only half built? Impossible.
    If you have the secret, please let me know!

  • The briefest brief enounter with the Duke




    I’m  feeeling unexpectedly sad at the death of Prince Philip.  It feels like the end of an era.

    Someone on the BBC said millions of people must have had brief encounters with him.  I’m one of them.   It was like this.

    I was in Cowes for the weekend, having just had eye surgery and wanting to get out of London for a day or so and was leaning on the rail below the Royal Yacht Club watching the yachts come in after the day’s racing when a good-looking, friendly old fellow in scruffy sailing gear came to lean on the rai beside me and we got into conversation.  He was good at banter and we passed a pleasant quarter of an hour batting ideas back and forth as you do.

    What I should tell you is that not only was my eyesight not brillliant that day but that I also suffer from prosopagnosia – face blindnesss – and am used to that terrible moment similar sufferers will know well when you’re bluffing that you know somebody because they clearly know you and you make some casual remark and they suddenly have that look that says:  she doesn’t know who the hell I am.


    He was wearing sailing gear.  All I said was, “Have you been racing today?”

    The look.

    Me:  “how did you do?”

    He:  (recovering)  “We did quite well.  We came in second.”

    Some more banter followed then eventually we both wandered off, the charming old wit to his Yacht Cllub and me to my hotel.

    Still smilinng at such a pleasant interlude,  I went into the foyer and noticed a newspaper lying on the desk with  a half page photograph and a blazing banner headline:  Prince Philip sails in second!

    Even with my limited face perception I recognised the smiling guy sitting on the foredeck.

    Oh dear.

    The look.

    I still puzzle over the fact that I cannot remember faces after only one meeting.  But that was that.  He must have had a bit of a shock.  It still makes me smile, especially today as his era comes to a close and all the memories roll in..

    What a sweet though brief encounter.

    Duke of Edinburgh.  R.I.P.



    If you want to talk about prosopagnosia let me know.  One of the major research universities is Bournemouth and I went along to do some tests and find out if there was anything to be done about it.  As you can imagine in the old days before lockdown when we had to meet people in crowds at drinks and launch parties  it was daunting.  Every time I entered a room it was full of strangers.  I must have cut hundreds of people without knowing it!  I hope they’ve forgotten or forgiven me.

    We made a little film with the students at Bournemouth which is somewhere on utube  A French actor played  the part of the Duke of Edinburgh.  But that’s another story.


  • Th numbers game

    A special word for being innumerate exists.  I noticed it the other day, thought: how apt – then I didn’t write it down and have now (blame Lockdown/Christmas) forgotten what it was and feel too rushed at present to look for it.

    It’s like ‘dyslexic’ but for numbers rather than letters.

    The reason I’m thinking about it now is that although these days there are aids to doing simple sums there are many times when people like me hit a brick wall with that.  Take this morning for instance.  My daughter sent me a wonderful yoghurt maker and it turns out industrial amounts of yoghurt after minimal preparation.  Accent the word industrial.  Today I thought I’d make just enough for one.  But hey ho, numbers come into play.

    When I see  ‘milk – 1399’ it means nothing else to me but the year Richard II was deposed.  Or what about 1485 – wasn’t that the Wars of the Roses and Bosworth?  I hope we can go back to Imperial weights and measures.  That way the 2 metre rule will make so much more sense.  (2AD or 2BCE?)

    Stay safe and happy



  • New Year – new blog post


    I must have known 2020 was best left blank as I haven’t posted a blog since 2019.  Well, it’s best left out of the picture, isn’t it?  What a year.  I do shudder a bit about what 2021 has to offer.  We’re all being so hopeful – but I clearly remember last year’s new years eve when I felt full of hope for the coming year then too.

    Personally it promised to be a good year because I had two new books coming out with the fabulous Severn House Publishers, the first being the tenth of Hildegard of Meaux and her medieval noir series and the next one being a  new series about a man Hildegard might have felt was a somewhat formidable though hauntingly attractive enemy if they had only  met.  Oh well, maybe Brother Rodric Chandler’s presence suggests I’m hankering for a little romance in my own life in this solitary lockdown situation, endless as it seems to be. Maybe you’re the same?

    I hope you’ve already enjoyed MURDER AT WHITBY ABBEY, out last summer.  I know somebody has read it because they sent me a wonderful Christmas card depicting the Abbey with the Whitby lifeboat in the foreground.  It was lovely to receive it, so thank you, Denise. wherever you are. I hope you’re safe and well.

    The second book published last year is THE HOUR OF THE FOX, a new take on events leading to the murder of King Richard II.  As a ruler he still suffers from the bad press of the Lancastrian usurper Henry Bolingbroke (imposter-syndrome sufferer Henry IV) and his special crony Thomas Arundel, the less than holy Archbishop of Canterbury, who was ‘compassionate ‘ enough to bring in a law that allowed the burning ‘in an high place’ of heretics, that is, men and women who happened to disagree with him on anything at all.

    This is the first of three books and today I’m working  on the second, The Day of the Serpent.  More about this later in the newsletter coming out soon so don’t forget to sign up for that if you’d like to know the latest.

    So, here we are, just beginning 2021.   You’ll have noticed that I haven’t dared to write anything about you-know-what.  It’s too much at present.

    I sincerely hope you find solace in a retreat  into the medieval world with Hildegard and Rodric, and that you stay safe, take no risks, and that the new year brings you comfort, joy and new horizons.

    Drop me a line through the contacts page if you have time.  It will be good to hear from you.   This year I’m going to organise a few give-aways as well as keep you more updated with events at Meaux Towers.

    (But you know what I’m like with techy /internet stuff.  Can it really be all that difficult?  Promise:  I will do better! I will!  I will!)

    Oh, and I nearly forgot, the eleventh Hildegard is coming out on 31st March 2021.  It’s called MURDER AT BEAULIEU ABBEY and is available for pre-order from the happily not dauntless Waterstones bookshops. Support them and support  all bookshops.

    love and best wishes



  • Redaction

    They knew about redacted versions of events in 1400.

    The usurper and regicide Bolingbroke (so-called Henry IV) sent out trusted servants to inspect the abbey chronicles  following Richard II’s death, for any hint of support for the king he had murdered.  If any were found, and there was  plenty of support throughout Richard’s twenty-two year reign, the offending pages were ripped out, blotted out, rewritten – redacted – to conceal the truth.

    Gagging orders, as now, were nothing new.  Rewards were handed out in the form of pensions and court appointments for those who penned flattering versions of Lancastrian ‘alternative truth.’

    Chaucer’s rival poet Gower can be seen in all his eternal smug greed in Southwark Cathedral, lying on his velvet, gold-braided cushions.  He amply demonstrates the reward for following the party line.  He even rewrote his earlier work praising King Richard to make it look as if he was praising ‘King’ Henry.  A lesson in how to get on as true then as now.   Goggle-eyed visitors see only an image of the rich fruit of his deceit and not what lies beneath.

    But where is Chaucer’s tomb?  Isn’t he the more illustrious poet?  Nobody really knows.  The memorial put up to him decades later when the memory of Bolingbroke’s perfidy was long buried underneath layers of lies is just that, a memorial.  No body.  No tomb.  Such was the official fate of one of our earliest and greatest writers.

    The reason I’m so interested in this is because I’ve just written a new novel about the death of King Richard II.  It’s called The Hour of the Fox and has nothing to do with Hildegard and the abbot this time.  I tried to find out how the enormity of killing a king was presented to the ordinary man and woman in the streets and fields.

    Chaucer inevitably figured in it because he was connected both by his work and by marriage to the House of Lancaster.  How did he cope with that? I wondered.  Research when writing about real people who actually lived and breathed is a tricky business.  Evidence is not always easy to find and even when it exists it can be ambiguous.  It’s my burden that I feel we have a binding duty to be as accurate as we can be about what we say about the once living.   We have to honour their memory because, no matter how long ago they lived, they were as real as we are and we wouldn’t like lies told about ourselves, would we?   I’d go so far as to say we have a sacred covenant with the past to search out the truth and to tell no lies.

    How does that fit in with the idea of fiction?  What about fantasy history of which we have so much these days?  I’ll leave that with you for now.  I’d like to know if it matters to you as much as it does to me.

  • Useless on Amazon

    I’m useless on social media.  I’m never quite sure why it works the way it does.  Or how.

    The reason it’s making me tear my  hair just now is because Amazon have posted a really boring summary of Murder at Whitby Abbey AND THERE IS NO WAY TO CORRECT IT!!!

    They seem to have dug an old paragraph from somewhere which was junked months ago and not meant for publication and now it won’t go away.

    How annoying!

    It should read something like the following:

    December 1389.  As penance for her sexual misconduct earlier that year, Hildegard is sent by Abbot de Courcy to the poweful Whitby Abbey on a difficult quest – to obtain a Holy Relic, a lock of St Hild’s hair, kept secretly by the monks for over 600 years.

    Accompanied by two monks militant and a young priest from the Abbey of  Meaux, Hildegard finds the Whitby guest house teeming with visitors intent on celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas before the austere days of Lent set in.

    To her dismay she finds that others, too, are desperate to obtain the Relic and she has no choice but to enter a bidding war if she wants to fulfil Abbot de Courcy’s request.

    When the body  of a young monk is discovered dangerous secrets emerge and, with tensions between town and abbey erupting into violence, Hildegard finds the holy precinct full of menace as she tracks down the killer.


    Well, something along those lines will not be too far away from the facts.

    As I’ve just finished The Hour of the Fox I’m thinking a lot about historical truth.  It’s elusive even with good will and careful reading of primary sources but I’m saddened by the Lancastrian propaganda that still dominates, based on their concerted efforts to win the propaganda war against King Richard II.  People are still trotting out the old smears without stopping to think where they come from.  They even omit known facts in order to cling to their prejudices.  I don’t know why something that happened so long ago should sadden me with its obvious distortions but it does.  Oh well.  There it is.  As Chairman Mao said in his little Red Book:  let a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend.   What is history but a collection of unsubstantiated stories?  What is truth?