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Phil Gillam: Myth and legend in a tale of Shropshire's past

Phil Gillam | Published:

Shropshire is blessed to have a number of highly-talented novelists who use the county – and especially Shrewsbury – as a backdrop for their work.

The historical novels of Shropshire author Kate Innes

Among these writers is Kate Innes.

Now, while other local authors set their stories in the present day, Kate – with subtlety and lightness of touch – transports us to the distant past, a time where history, myth and legend intertwine.

Kate has just published a sequel to the acclaimed The Errant Hours.

This newly launched historical novel, All the Winding World, continues the story of Illesa Arrowsmith whose perilous journey with a secret manuscript saw her travel from her home in a Shropshire valley to the western reaches of medieval Britain, and the holy shrine of Bardsey Island.

Now, if you’re attracted by a period that saw chivalry and heroism on the one hand, cruelty and brutality on the other – a time of knights in armour, jousting, falconry and swordplay, but also a time in which ordinary women struggled to find their own voice and flex their own muscles – this book might just be your mug of mead.

All the Winding World is set ten years later than The Errant Hours, during the disastrous Anglo-French War of 1294-96, one of Edward I’s rare military defeats.

Sir Richard Burnel has been forcibly recruited to lead a division into France in order to regain control of the Duchy of Gascony.

But his commanders prove to be incompetent, and Richard is taken hostage along with many of King Edward’s most trusted knights, one of whom decides to turn traitor, becoming a spy for the French King.

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Meanwhile, in the Welsh Marches, resentment boils over into rebellion against crippling taxes and conscription. Illesa, struggling to protect their family and manor, must find an ingenious way to free her husband, before Fortune’s Wheel tips them all into death and ruin.

Best-selling author Manda Scott says of All The Winding World: “Rich, intricate, and full of ordinary women finding power in a society that seeks to rob them of autonomy. Second novels rarely live up to the promise of the first, but this delivers wholeheartedly. A fantastic testament to the power of love.”

Kate herself said of her latest book: “Old friends and fresh characters combine in this new adventure, in which the voice of a siren, the tricks of an actor, the power of the Templars, and, bizarrely, a weasel, join forces to free Illesa’s family from the grip of war.

"From a Britain under siege, threatened by treachery and invasion, they sail to southwest France, where war has razed towns, turned allies into enemies, and each step brings them deeper under the power of the cruel Count of Artois.”

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Meanwhile, this columnist’s sister, Janet Soden, who is passionate about English history and thoroughly enjoyed Kate’s first novel, couldn’t wait to get her hands on this one. Before I had a chance to read it myself, Janet snatched it away from me and read it in a matter of a few short days.

She even came back to me with a mini-review!

And here it is: “A long-awaited sequel to The Errant Hours, Kate Innes’s new novel transports the reader to the turbulent times of Edward I of England and Philip The Fair of France as they battle for territories in 13th century Europe. Kings, knights, bishops, ladies and troubadours people this tale of Lady Illesa seeking to free her husband, Sir Richard Burnel, from captivity in a French castle and return to their manor in Shropshire.

“A most enjoyable read!”

As for the author, well Kate is a poet, workshop leader and novelist. She was born in London and raised in America by South African parents. She spent a year working on archaeological digs around Europe before taking a degree in archaeology.

After qualifying as a teacher, she worked in Zimbabwe for two years. Returning to England, she taught in a comprehensive and completed an MA in Museum Studies. She worked as an Education Officer at several museums.

She now lives in Shropshire with her husband and three children.

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