7 December 2011

Karen Charlton

'When we shook our family tree - a convict fell out.'
Please welcome my guest this week -
 new author Karen Charlton!

Karen was born in Sheffield UK and grew up in Leeds. She completed an English degree at Hull University and after a few years of roaming between various jobs in Harrogate, Ripon and Scarborough, she finally settled in Teesside. 
Her novel Catching the Eagle is based on the true story of her family's notorious ancestor, Jamie Charlton.... tell us more Karen.

Thank you, Helen, for inviting me to post on your blog and dine in your home with my ten favourite guests.

As a debut novelist this is a really exciting time for me.  My novel, ‘Catching the Eagle’ is based on the true story of the controversy surrounding Northumberland’s largest robbery back in 1809. My husband and I had always shared a mutual interest in genealogy and we stumbled across this amazing story while carrying out some family history research into his ancestor, Jamie Charlton. 
For an aspiring historical novelist like me, this discovery was like winning the jackpot. When we shook our family tree - a convict fell out. I quickly realised that the perfect plot for a historical novel had just landed in my lap. 
I’d wanted to write a book since I was eight years old and used to scribble down stories in old exercise books. I always loved the historical fiction – especially the Regency period - and I devoured the Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy and Catherine Cookson in the bookshelves in my mother’s dining room. Unfortunately, real life got in the way of literary ambition. Work commitments and raising a family took a large chunk out of my time and I just never got around to writing that bestseller. Until now.
Back in August 2004, when we made our amazing discovery, I was chatting on a genealogy message board with another forum member. He directed us to an online document which suggested that hubby’s four x great-grandfather was a convicted felon, sentenced to transportation to New South Wales, Australia.
We were stunned. Transported? If so, what had James Charlton done? 
It took years of painstaking research at The National Archives in Kew and the local libraries in Northumberland to uncover the truth. What started as a hobby quickly became a quest.

Kirkley Hall
James Charlton had been convicted of stealing over £1,157 from Kirkley Hall in 1810. He had allegedly been involved with the biggest heist Northumberland had ever known. The mystery of the burglary at Kirkley Hall had never been properly solved. Even by Regency standards James’ conviction was dodgy and there was a public outcry amongst the influential and literate middle-classes following his imprisonment.
Bit by bit, the story came together.  By January 2009, I had enough information to start writing the novel – and then the real hard work began. An English degree and a lifetime of teaching English in secondary schools do not automatically turn someone into a writer. It was a steep learning curve – and I’m still learning.

Last June ‘Catching the Eagle’ was bought by Knox Robinson Publishing and is available from Amazon, Knox Robinson Publishing, The Book Depository and selected Waterstones’ branches in the UK. It is the first in a trilogy of novels about the Charlton family. Our research has uncovered enough material for two more books.
In the meantime, I am also writing a spin-off series featuring two of the minor characters from ‘Catching the Eagle’: Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods.  Lavender was a real historical figure, of course.  He was a principal officer with the Bow Street Magistrates court in London and later became the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester when Sir Robert Peel introduced the police force to the United Kingdom. Back in 1809, he was employed by Kirkley Hall’s owner to try to solve the mystery of the robbery. I enjoyed creating his character in my first novel – and that of Constable Woods - and I was not prepared to let them go. The first novel in the Detective Lavender Mystery Series is nearly finished and it has been a dream to write. I have called it: ‘The Missing Heiress.’
Here my intrepid pair of Regency sleuths are back in Northumberland to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy young woman who vanishes out of a locked bed chamber into a wintry October might...

In the middle of all this writing it is great to have a night off and attend a dinner party, Helen.  Hopefully, the guests I have invited will ensure we have a night to remember for a long, long time!

Ten dinner guests :

Well, firstly I would invite our hostess, Helen Hollick to the table.  (It seems a tad churlish to leave her in the kitchens, boiling lobster and scrubbing dishes all night. J ) 
(Helen - you reckon you could keep me out of the way .... with Sean Bean in the house....!)

 My next guest would be the late and very gifted Winston Graham:  author of the Poldark series.  I must have read these twelve books about six times. He brought Regency Cornwall to life and created memorable characters.  (Helen: I have a favourite teddy bear called Demelza.... My husband found her in a dustbin when he was working as a refuse collector. She looked such a waif & stray, the name came instantly to mind! She is quite the lady now of course.)
He also was a perfect gentleman. According to his biography on his website, even in his nineties Winston enjoyed ‘regaling all with his vast memory store of poetry, anecdotes and stories.’  I am sure he would make a fabulous and very entertaining dinner guest and hopefully he might even give me a tip or two about writing the remainder of the Regency Reivers series.

Eleanor of Aquitaine.  I have always been fascinated by this lady.  Born the wealthiest heiress in the world she became the Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right at the age of fifteen. She achieved the double by marrying both the King of France and the King of England and was imprisoned by both husbands for insubordination. She had ten children and was still sorting out their problems when she was nearly eighty.
I think Eleanor might have some very useful tips on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of maintaining marital harmony, staying out of prison and dealing with a houseful of fractious teenagers.

Richard Sharpe
Every dinner party needs a piece of best British beef.  For me this is actor Sean Bean, star of TV series Sharpe (based on the best-selling novels of Bernard Cornwell.)  However, he would only be allowed to join us if he was wearing the uniform of the 95th rifles.  This will definitely get the saliva flowing amongst the ladies. 

Helena Bonham-Carter is my favourite British actress.  I adore every character she plays and think she is probably our most versatile female performer – as well as being the one we most overlook when it comes to giving out the plaudits.  I think she would be great fun. 

Apart from a bit of mint in the potatoes, dinner parties also need a bit of myth in the company. For that reason I think I would also invite Orlando Bloom as Legolas, the gorgeous elf from the Peter Jackson film versions of The Lord of the Rings.  Again, Orlando must be wearing the full costume – including the ears. I’m not 100% sure what elves eat but I have heard that Helen is a brilliant cook and I’m sure she would be able to rustle up some lembas bread in the kitchen. 
(Helen: you can't possibly mean me! *laugh* I can't cook for toffee - I've only got a kitchen because it came with the house.... As this is fictional I will hire in a chef, and I would have Henry Crabbe from the old TV police drama series Pie in the Sky. I liked that show - and the character was a fabulous cook. For those unfamiliar: Crabbe was a semi retired policeman who ran his own restaurant in between solving crimes.)

Aung San Suu Kyi,  the Burmese opposition politician and the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, who has recently been released after spending nearly fifteen years under house arrest for her beliefs. This lady has my most sincere respect.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Bishop Desmond Tutu. The South African activist and retired Anglican bishop.  I have always admired the stance he took against apartheid and saw in him an influential voice of reason and forgiveness following the country’s reunification.  Besides that, he is jolly good fun and – as he showed at the South African World cup – can boogie with the best of them.  Rock on, Desmond.

Helen Sharman.  The first Briton in space. Apart from being a lady who has some fascinating stories to tell, she is also a gal who has shown us all how to reach for the stars.

And finally my late grandfather:  Bob Baker.  He gave me lessons in how to get along with people I didn’t like. He believed in my mad-cap ventures and was prepared to put his money where his mouth was. And he taught me the real meaning of unconditional love.  He’d have been so delighted with my recent writing achievements that he would not have been overawed by the auspicious company above. In fact, after dinner he would have hobbled to the pool table on his artificial hips and insisted everyone joined him. Then, smiling happily, he would have raised the stakes, cleared the table and fleeced every one of their cash.
Good for you, Bob.

Helen: What a guest list Karen.... I so hope they all accept the invitation!  The book sounds fascination.... must dash to Amazon to order a copy...

Your cover is very eye-catching Karen - another fabulous design by Cathy Harmon Helms of Avalon Graphics  who also takes care of my UK covers and has provided several covers for Knox Robinson I believe

Karen's  website
Karen's Facebook

Buy Catching the Eagle (Hardback edition only available at the moment)

Catching the Eagle
by Karen Charlton
(Based on a true story)

Easter Monday, 1809: Kirkley Hall manor house is mysteriously burgled. When suspicion falls on Jamie Charlton, he and his family face a desperate battle to save him from the gallows.
When £1,157 rent money is stolen from Kirkley Hall, it is the biggest robbery Northumberland has ever known. The owner sends for Stephen Lavender, a principal officer with the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in London, to investigate the crime.  Suspicion soon falls on impoverished farm labourer, Jamie Charlton, and the unpopular steward, Michael Aynsley.
Jamie Charlton is a loving family man but he is hot-tempered and careless.  As the case grows against him, it seems that only his young brother, William, can save him from an impending miscarriage of justice. 
But William is struggling with demons of his own. Desperate to break free from the tangled web of family ties which bind him to their small community, he is alarmed to find that he is falling in love with Jamie’s wife.
Set beneath the impenetrable gaze of a stray golden eagle whose fate seems to mirror that of Jamie's, Catching the Eagle, the first novel in the Regency Reivers Series, is a fictionalised account of a trial that devastated a family and divided a community.
Published by Knox Robinson


  1. Karen, it is fantastic to see you as a guest in Helen's blog! I am very much looking forward to reading your book too! And what a fascinating story as to how Catching the Eagle came about! Wow!

    I thoroughly enjoyed designing the cover too. I was excited when the publisher actually let me do my grunge thing for once! *laughs* So glad you are happy with the design!

    And if Sean Bean is coming to your dinner party...I'm crashing in! *laughs*

    I wish you much success in your literary career. I enjoyed reading more about you!

  2. What a fab post and I just love the cover, but then you have used the best book cover designer on the planet! I'm away to chekc out the book too. Thanks Helen for introducing us to Karen.

  3. Thanks ladies. :) I'm glad you enjoyed this article. I had a great time at Helen's - the food was delicious and the company really stimulating. ;)

    If you do buy 'Catching the Eagle' I hope that you enjoy it.

    Best wishes

    karen Charlton


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