A Baby's Bones by Rebecca Alexander ** Blog Tour Book Review & Author Interview**

 I am so happy to introduce Rebecca Alexandra to you today who has agreed to answer some of my questions. Her latest book, A Baby's Bones was published on May 1st by Titan Books and is the first in her new crime series featuring female archaeologist, Sage Westfield. Before we hear from Rebecca, here is a little about this historical crime novel:

It was a secret burial. Maybe even murder... 

Archaeologist Sage Westfield has been called in to excavate a sixteenth-century well, and expects to find little more than soil and the odd piece of pottery. But the disturbing discovery of the bones of a woman and newborn baby make it clear that she has stumbled onto an historical crime scene, one that is interwoven with an unsettling local legend. Then a tragic death makes it all too clear that a modern murderer is also at work…

Welcome to Books, Life and Everything, Rebecca! 

Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. My father was in the navy and my mother taught me to read and write so I could send him little messages. School introduced me to exercise books, which I realised would be perfect for little stories like the ones I was reading and hearing at home. I was thoroughly disappointed to have to put numbers and maps in some of them. A visit to the school library led to a favourite series of books. When I had read them I asked if there were any more, and the librarian told me to look under the author’s name. It was a revelation. Authors were people that wrote books as a job. I determined that was what I would do. Life got in the way, I married, had children, was widowed young, went on into a career as a psychologist and lecturer but kept writing articles and stories. As my children were growing up, I decided to take time out to take a Master’s degree in creative writing and see if I actually could write a whole book. The resulting novel, The Secrets of Life and Death, was a runner up in one competition, and A Baby’s Bones came second in another. They attracted an agent and finally publishing deals.  

What is it about the historical crime/ thriller genre which attracts you?

I think historical crime covers several of my interests all at once. I enjoy history, my father used to take us to castles and Roman sites as children, telling us the stories of the people that once lived there. Famous crimes fascinated me in childhood, stories of murder set in a mediaeval world. Place names hint at dramas half forgotten: Monk’s Head, Battle Lane, Hangman’s Hill. If I am writing about something in the present day that uncovers the past, I can go back into history and write the story from the sixteenth century point of view. In A Baby’s Bones, Sage uncovers a mysterious burial of a baby. In 1580, Vincent Garland watches over the estate and its occupants, including the beautiful French embroideress and the pregnant lady of the manor. I can’t imagine writing it as a straight historical novel, and Sage has so many interesting things to contribute from her expert perspective and from her personal situation as a single, married woman trying to juggle life and career. Similarly, I don’t know enough about police procedures (although I love those books) to write a modern crime from a detective’s point of view. The expert needed to solve this crime is an archaeologist, and I have one of them in my family (my son Isaac). 

What was the inspiration for ‘A Baby’s Bones’?

I was watching a BBC series called ‘Historic Cold Cases’ and was fascinated by the case of seventeen people buried in a well in 1190. They turned out to be from a Jewish settlement in Norwich, massacred as ethnic cleansing at a time of persecution. It seemed such a horrible end, to be thrown down a well, dead or alive (some of the children may have survived the fall) and the sadness haunted me. A proper burial was so important to people in the Elizabethan era and when I remembered a story I was told as a child about a woman carrying the devil’s child, the idea was born. I live near Dartmoor where there are many legends about supernatural events and the devil. He was real to many Tudor people, they were always careful not to accidentally call on him or attract his attention. One of the justifications given for the massacres of Jews in history was that they were killing Christian children, so they were believed to be aligned with the devil and not to be trusted.  

Without spoiling the plot, could you let us know a little about the story?

The story starts with the discovery of bones in a Tudor well, by the archaeologist, Sage Westfield, who was called in to do a survey before the building of an extension. Back in 1580, a whole manor house waits for a baby to be born. Her youngest sister Viola and her uncle Vincent, the steward of Banstock Manor on the Isle of Wight, watch the summer unfold with Viola’s betrothal, the strange behaviour of some of the servants and the building of a well. As Sage uncovers more evidence, she starts to reveal the crime, and that leads to other mysteries on the estate. Is someone buried in the copse under the memorial stone? Who is the woman buried with the new-born baby? As the past gives up more secrets, Sage realises there is a violent rage being revealed with the bones, and she turns to new friend Nick, the vicar of Banstock for support.   

How did you go about researching?

I do think writers are always gathering snippets of research. I lived on the Isle of Wight close to the fictional village of Banstock so I know the area very well, and there are still Elizabethan houses on the island to visit. Reading stories of ordinary people and their masters made me more interested in those landed families who weren’t rich or at court, but farming with their tenants and trying to make a living. In Queen Elizabeth I’s time, girls were important assets for creating useful alliances. In 14 year old Viola’s case, she will marry into a powerful shipping family. These girls gained power and connections through marriage, and the educated and cultured women have left some wonderful accounts of their lives. Elinor Fettiplace and Catherine Tollemache’s receipt books and the documents from the Willoughby family gave me a lot of the information. In Elizabethan England many people could read and write, stewards kept extensive records not just of everyday events but births, deaths, marriage, speculations, war and peacetime. Reading their accounts I came across mentions of coffins for babies, clothes for betrothed children, and accounts of journeys. All this research is distracting though, I read and read until the story just demands to be told.   

Did you base the character of Sage Westfield on anyone you know?

I didn’t consciously base Sage on any one person but I’m sure people will recognise various influences there. She’s a strong, intelligent, independent woman, any number of literary and film influences have sneaked in. When I was at university I knew someone with a Kazakh parent, and that sneaked into the story. I don’t think Sage is like me, yet I suppose there are moments when she does something I would do. My family think so, anyway. She’s also wrestling with balancing her pregnancy with her work, a familiar story for many women.  

Have you any projects you can share with us at the moment?

The sequel to A Baby’s Bones is called A Shroud of Leaves and is based just over the water in the New Forest, Hampshire. The historical period is 1913, a strange era when the post-Victorian way of life was about to be shattered by the First World War, but the main focus is the death of a young girl, years after another child went missing in the same place. I’m also writing a book with an element of fantasy provisionally called Finding Noah, about the extraordinary effort one father, a whole hospital and a team of experts will make to save one boy, locked in a deep coma.

When you are not writing, what do you like to read?

I do read lots of crime, especially by female writers but not exclusively. I enjoy Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen and Karin Slaughter, for example. I also read a lot of historical fiction, including historical crime, like Karen Maitland, SJ Parris and Ruth Downie. I read very fast, so I can easily read a book a day if I’m not writing a new novel. My go-to ultimate novel is still Dracula by Bram Stoker, and I loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova so will read them as a pair. If I can’t get to sleep, I re-read anything by Georgette Heyer because her dialogue is just brilliant. 

Can you sum up ‘A Baby’s Bones’ in one sentence?

Pregnant archaeologist Sage Westfield and her students are overshadowed by the murder of a baby in 1580, a time of betrayal and obsession, and the violence of the excavated past haunts the present day.

Thanks so much Rebecca- A Shroud of Leaves sounds intriguing! I can't wait to find out what is next for Sage.

                                                                                 My Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Baby's Bones and can say that it got me through a very difficult day. I found the plot(s) engrossing, particularly the 16th century chapters and loved the way both stories, the present day one and the Tudor interlude, had parallels and contrasting themes. You can see the juxtaposition of the rational, scientific perspective as opposed to the instinctive superstitious one. Sage personifies the former in all her actions and is always looking for the evidence to back up her findings. In her personal life, she has been impulsive and lost sight of her clear sightedness but when we meet her, has realised how foolish she has been. She is a brilliant central character and one who the reader instinctively trusts. We do learn about her however, that although she has high standards in applying her logical brain to her work, she is sometimes blind to others' faults. When she goes by instinct, sometimes, she finds herself in trouble.

   There are some telling parallels between the fate of the baby whose bones are found in the well and the fact that Sage is pregnant with her own baby. Sage finds it difficult to be dispassionate about the archaeological finds but is determined to solve the riddle. The background details for the archaeology and the historical context appear to be very well researched and give a flavour of the times. There are plenty of red herrings to tease us with and I was not wholly sure who to trust amongst the present day characters. The least convincing part for me was the love interest which appeared for Sage but that is a minor quibble. It really is a great start for a Sage Westfield series.

In short: Innocence v malevolence- who will win?

                                                                              About the Author

 Rebecca Alexander is a psychologist and writer. Rebecca wrote her first book aged nineteen, and since then has been runner up in the Mslexia novel writing competition and the Yeovil Literary Prize 2012. She is the author of the Jackdaw Hammond series of supernatural crime novels published by Del Rey, The Secrets of Life and Death (2013), The Secrets of Blood and Bone (2014) and the Secrets of Time and Fate (2016). She lives in Devon.

You can follow Rebecca here: Website  |  Twitter

Book links: Amazon UK

Thanks to Rebecca Alexander and Philippa Ward of Titan Books for a copy of the book and a place on the tour.

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