Beautiful Star Blog Tour

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History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it. In Beautiful Star, we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles I, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; the trial of Jane Wenham, witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her granddaughter. This is a moving and affecting journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.

Being married to a History teacher, I am well used to moments from the past taking me by surprise and allowing me to see things through new eyes as I look back at events unfolding. Andrew Swanson’s Beautiful Star was a fabulous read that allowed me to dip in and out of the past and experience those moments of connection with another time, place and person that we can experience through the very best historical writing. I loved the eclectic range of stories and voices here and warmly recommend it to readers who love a book that completely transports them to a different time and allows you to think about our connections to the past, even as we are experiencing our distance from it.

The range of characters and settings is wonderful in Beautiful Star: you’ll find yourself transported from the battlefields of Waterloo to a small village in coastal Fife and meeting people all across the social spectrum from a young drummer boy to the king himself. My absolute favourite was the story of Lady Mary Bankes, who bravely protected her beloved Corfe Castle when it was besieged by Roundheads and I will definitely be using this one in class when we look at heroes and bravery,  This story was definitely one I’d  never heard of, and as usual for me I was straight online, researching her story and making plans to visit beautiful Corfe Castle for myself

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Lady Mary’s story

I loved the way that Bright Star felt like a treasure trove of ‘found’ stories that you could dip into and experience a spot of time travel for yourself. I love immersing myself in historical fiction and often feel that sense of ‘the bends’ when I finish a novel set in another time and have to return to the present day. If I had to use the time travel analogy for this book, I’d say that these stories are like time travelling ‘mini breaks’ in that they transport you utterly back into their time and then bring you safely home afterwards with lots to think about after all you’ve seen and heard.

This is the first book that I’ve read by Andrew Swanston and I will definitely look out for his other books now as his writing is fantastic at evoking a ‘voice’ and I found myself totally immersed in the details of the Scottish story in the collection: Beautiful Star. His research is absolutely meticulous and it is fascinating to find out tiny details about the past from his writing. The eponymous tale describes an 1875 event where a small fishing community in Fife community is devastated by a disastrous storm that swoops in on its fishing fleet. Swanston isn’t merely interested in the huge ramifications of this awful disaster, he allows us a real insight into the villagers’ routines and lives that really does feel like time travel. It really brings them to life and makes the impact of their loss all the more devastating. It really reminds me of the song Cargill by King Creosote from their album From Scotland with Love – definitely worth a listen if you are unfamiliar with it.

Bored yet busy with my hands
Cargill, you’ll have me round the bend
Cargill, you’re pulling all the strands
Of my heartstrings entangled in your net

My luck’s turned thrawn
Always the quayside chores
A sister on each arm
Strong of shoulder weak at the knees
Cargill, I’m the finest catch that you’ll land

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of counting home the fleet
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Your catch has fallen at your feet

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of sounding the alarm
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Cargill, I’m the finest luck that you’ll charm

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of counting home the fleet
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Cargill, I’m the finest catch that you’ll land
Cargill, I’m the finest luck that you’ll charm
Cargill, I’m the finest catch that you’ll land

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There really is something in this collection for everyone.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and have passed it onto my famously intolerant of fiction husband who is absolutely loving it. Thanks so much to Emily from @DomePress for inviting me to take part and being so lovely when I was involved in a terrible car accident a few weeks ago. It really does go to prove my theory – that Book people are the best people.

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Writer on the Shelf

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Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co and Chairman of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.  Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during the English Civil War and the early period of the Restoration.  Andrew’s novel Incendium was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in 1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.

Follow him on Twitter here

Buy yourself a copy of Beautiful Star here

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