Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Shining a bright Book Spotlight on Amanda Roberts' fascinating novel, The Woman in the Painting #AwardWinning #HistoricalFiction #RecommendedReading @cathiedunn

The Woman in the Painting

by Amanda Roberts

The ring is the key to Hannah’s future, but first she must unlock its past.

1645: A widow of nearly two years, Catherine is content with a quiet life looking after her young daughter, until she catches the eye of a wealthy Royalist. He gives her a unique, engraved ring as a talisman for good luck, but these are turbulent times. As she is drawn into a secret relationship she finds herself pitted against his family and her own father, caught in a deadly battle of wills driven by the ambitions of men, from which no-one can emerge victorious.

2019: When Hannah finds the ring buried in her garden, she is fascinated and intrigued. Who had owned it and how had they lost it? Focused on peeling back the layers of history, Hannah doesn’t realise that a web of deceit is tightening around her. Then a series of events threaten her security and warn her that she may not be the only one interested in the ring. 

The Woman in the Painting is a novel about human relationships, a heart-breaking tale of love and loss, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley and Barbara Erskine.

I am so fortunate to live in a beautiful, and very historic village. Islip in Oxfordshire is the birthplace of Edward the Confessor, King of England from 1042 until he was killed in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, (the one date that every British school child remembers). 

Edward the Confessor

The village is also the site of what was a significant river crossing on the old main road from London to Worcester, which has made it a target throughout history, as control of the crossing brings a strategic advantage. Never was this more apparent than during the years of the English Civil War. It was one event in April 1645, known locally as the Battle of Islip Bridge, but probably more accurately the Battle of Islip, fought between Royalists and Parliamentarians that gave me the inspiration to write this novel.


I’m not an historian, but I am a lover of history. I had no desire to attempt to recount the details of that true event, or base my heroine on a real person who lived at the time. Rather, I chose to set my novel against the canvas of that period of English history, imagining what it might be like for ordinary people to live in a small village that is constantly under occupation by military forces, the presence of soldiers guarding the bridge, the tension created by the King having taken up residence in nearby Oxford, the torn loyalties and the fear of saying the wrong thing and being condemned by one side or the other. The events of the Civil War are as a backdrop to my fictional world, shaping and influencing the lives and actions of my characters, particularly my heroine, for whom as a young widow with a child every day is a battle for mere survival.

I also love the timeslip, dual narrative format, so the past meets the present in The Woman in the Painting, not through the walls of an old building but manifested in a connection with a unique ring, engraved with the rebus of another famous ‘Islipian’, John Islip, Bishop of Westminster from 1500 until 1532. The ring (which to the best of my knowledge does not exist, although the rebus does) was given to Catherine in 1645, and found by Hannah after nearly 400 years laying buried in the earth.


Context: It’s 1645 and Catherine, a young widow who wants nothing more than a quiet life devoted to her daughter, catches the eye of a royalist (Thomas) and her world is thrown into turmoil. 
Thomas is a wealthy Royalist. Catherine is poor and her father is falling under the influence of the Levellers. Thomas asks her to trust him and gives her the ring as a talisman for good fortune and protection. When she ignores her father’s instructions to stay away from Thomas, and allows her hopes for a better future to be raised, Catherine soon finds herself pitted against his family and her father, backed into corner from which there is no easy way out. 

From Chapter 2:

Thomas has just given Catherine the ring, and back in her own kitchen, alone, she is able to look at it for the first time.

In the few minutes that had elapsed since she'd peeped into the pouch, Catherine had been hoping that she'd imagined its contents. She hadn't. The ring landed on the table with a solid thump. She swallowed, hard, and stared, unwilling to believe her own eyes. Her overwhelming instinct was to put it back in the pouch and return it, somehow, to Thomas. But how could she do that? She couldn't turn up on his doorstep and ask to see him. Nor could she give it to one of his household staff and trust them to return it without questioning how it came to be in her possession, or mentioning it to someone else.  
She had to do something to make it disappear. Her fingers reached across the table, and with a quick, furtive movement as if she were being watched, she picked it up. It was chunky and heavy. Catherine raised it to her eye level, and studied it. This was no cheap trinket. A large, oval-shaped green gemstone was set into the gold on its flat surface, partially ringed with smaller black stones, and it had a curious engraving of a human figure who appeared to be about to fall from the branches of a sapling, next to the letters 's l i p'. As she studied the design, puzzling over what it meant and twisting the ring between her fingers, the gemstone caught the shaft of sunlight penetrating the room from the open door and it seemed to pulse with life. 
Catherine gasped. It was the most beautiful object she’d ever held. Seconds and minutes slipped past and still she stood, staring at the ring, unable to decide what to do. Tilly singing nearby spurred her to action. She threaded the ring onto the chain, fastened it around her neck and slipped it inside her gown where it seemed to burn into her skin. 
Her head was buzzing now, remembering Thomas’s words. She plucked some sprigs of thyme and added them with a venison bone to the stockpot. Whatever he had meant still eluded her. She poked at the fire in the hearth. It crackled and spat in protest. She fed it another log, hung the stockpot above and started work on the bread dough. What was the darkness he had referred to? She didn't understand, but if there was any chance that Tilly might be in danger, Catherine was in no doubt she would do anything in her power to protect her daughter. She was also certain that the ring was unique and valuable. No-one could see her with it, especially not her father. She shivered, although the room was not cold, wondering what state of inebriation he would be in when he came for his supper.  

I set out to write the sort of novel I would like to read, in a genre that I love. If this does tempt you to delve between its covers, I hope you enjoy it too.

Amanda Roberts

Amanda Roberts has worked as an Editor in business-to-business magazines for over 30 years, specialising in out-of-home coffee, vending and foodservice/catering, including Editor of the global gastronomy title: ‘Revue internationale de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’. She currently freelances, editing UK-based healthcare titles – HEFMA Pulse, Hospital Food + Service and Hospital Caterer. 

She is a member of the Society of Authors, the Historical Novel Society and West Oxfordshire Writers. She also volunteers for Tea Books (part of Age UK) to run a book club/reading group for elderly people in the community.

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