Friday, August 25, 2023

The making of The Conjuror’s Apprentice

G.J. Williams is my guest blogger today.  A Welsh person!!  She was raised in England, Somerset actually. I think we got chatting at a Crime Writing festival somewhere. She plonked a book into my hand, a historical crime fiction, which is not my  'go to' thing but I did read the book and I was fascinated by it. There's a lot of real history here, but more interestingly for me, the London of 1550's really comes to life; the diseases, the smells, the role of women. There was a blog on here recently about the Thames - it places a very big part in the book. 

Part one is here and now, part two after the Bouchercon Hiatus!

Here she in in her own words-

Part One: Don’t ever let those darlings get you down!


We have a family motto (born of either stubbornness or stupidity).

‘If it doesn’t work, try harder; if it still doesn’t work, try harder still.’ 


It has been the mantra of my writing life.

I was not born into a writing family. It was a typical Welsh family where education is first, music second and never letting the neighbours know your troubles is third – except on Saturdays between September and March when we turned into screaming demons focused on an oval ball. As an only child, imagination was my primary playmate and so arrived a procession of imaginary friends, siblings and pirates. I started writing at 8 – school plays, sketches for the Brownie concert, stories. When my teacher asked what I wanted to be, I said, ‘A writer.’ ‘Go on then,’ he said. It was the belief of that man that held my dream. It was fifty years of trying harder before that man stood at my side at the launch party for my debut novel, The Conjuror’s Apprentice.

I went to University of Stirling to read business studies. Four weeks later a Glaswegian professor told me I was, ‘shite at numbers; shite at logic and had shite chance of getting a degree.’ Then he asked what I wanted to study. History was not an option, so I toddled along to psychology, begged on my knees for a chance, tried harder and eight years later emerged with a B. Sc., M.Sc., and a Ph.D in Psychology. The honesty of that man ensured I had a career which would give me the eternal gift of characters, behaviours, oddities, peculiarities and human stories which arrive on the pages of my novels. Today, people ask if I have put people I know in the story. I smile, say no, and cross my fingers behind my back as they walk away relieved. 


Writing simmered for two decades in late night musing, short stories, diaries, endless plot plans, then re-emerged when I faced the challenge of getting two lively step-daughters to go to bed giving me freedom to slug down a G&T.  My first full novel was a YA fantasy adventure. The first chapter did not achieve the G&T so I tried harder and within two weeks they were asking to go to bed. Result! (and if there is a friendly publisher looking for a Scotland-based, YA adventure based on Celtic myths – Caro has my number!)

And this is when try harder really began.  I went to courses, classes, read books, engaged editors. I have five completed novels on a lap-top. After I had tried my hand at many genres (except Romance, as the Glaswegian professor convinced me never to do something at which I am truly shite), someone said, ‘write what you love.’ I love history, Welsh culture, the Tudor period, psychology, the spirit world, intrigue and a good crime mystery with a bit of bad behaviour. I loved C.J. Sansom and his brilliance in telling a great story within real events. And so was born the Tudor Rose Murders Series.

The series takes real events and people in the Tudor period and throw bodies into the mix. The first book, The Conjuror’s Apprentice, is set in 1555. It is the regency of Mary Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII who came to the throne with an obsession – to return England to Catholicism and the bosom of the Pope. She burned 280 Protestants in her short reign and earned the name, Bloody Mary. She was also obsessed with her non-committal Spanish husband and having a child, resulting in two phantom pregnancies, the first of which is the background to the novel. All my clinical psychology came to life in this lady.

So the story starts as London lives in paranoia, waiting for a phantom child and fearing that Mary will die, leaving her country in the hands of her Spanish husband. Their only hope is Elizabeth, her sister. But when a body is found in the Thames, bearing a letter which implicates Elizabeth in treason, the Tudor Dynasty faces its demise. The plot reaches well into court, but the race is on to uncover the mysterious killer of anyone with evidence.


                                                                                   John Dee

The detective is Doctor John Dee, a real character, who was once called the most learned man in Europe. A theologian, mathematician, astrologer, and later, an alchemist and seeker of angelic prophesy, he was the epitome of try harder as he fought to regain the standing his father had once held in court. History has twisted him into a magician but was really a man well before his time. The complexity and brilliance of this man was the perfect character for bringing in a sliver of mysticism.

Dee’s apprentice is Margaretta, an imaginary character, who has the ability to hear what others feel but do not say. As a woman in Tudor England, she can walk unnoticed as a mere servant picking up all the thoughts, fears and emotions to feed Dee’s analysis. Her character is influenced by the research I did into deep intuition as a student.

As well as being master and apprentice, they are bound by their culture and ability to converse in Welsh – something very likely in Tudor London but also something which would be seen as a threat to others in the paranoid England of Mary. More on that in part two of this blog.

So back to ‘try harder’. By the time I completed The Conjuror’s Apprentice, I was in my fifties. I approached agents, publishers, anyone. They all said I could write – but who wanted more Tudor? (Erm, maybe the thousands who read Sansom, Parris, Clements and the host of other great writers in this genre?) Others insisted publishers only wanted debut authors in their twenties. Some said being a woman without any significant life-traumas or issues made me a dull prospect.  I tried harder and decided to invest in myself.

I hybrid published and realised that learning social media put ‘try harder’ into a whole new realm. Then three months later, my novel was picked up by Legend Press and I was offered a three book deal. The series already has the second book in editing, the third in draft and another four plotted. Dee and Margaretta will be my imaginary companions for the next seven years. So anyone reading this who thinks it is too late, too hard, too competitive, too daft to think a dream comes true. Think again. Believe and go back up the page and read the family motto.


                                                              An inspirational lady!!!

Next blog – the history, people and society of John Dee’s Tudor London.

 The Conjuror’s Apprentice by G.J. Williams is relaunched on September 18th 2023.  


  1. Thanks so much for this post, Caro and G.J. -- putting this on my to be ordered list.

  2. It's incredibly intriguing to get a glimpse into the creative process behind such a fascinating book!