What’s your favourite month in the place where you live? And why? I love September in my home town, the ancient university city of Cambridge, England. The trees are beginning to turn, the tourists are gone, and the students have not yet arrived. The place has a stillness about it and a sense of waiting. And September is the only time when the townsfolk, like me, almost have Cambridge to themselves. Almost. Have you ever felt that when you turn this next corner, you will have walked into the past? Wandering through the narrow Tudor streets and by the willow-fringed river Cam, I encounter those who lived here in years gone by, and they bombard me with their tales—maybe they know that Carina promises no great story will go untold!
That’s how I met Bryony, my heroine, and came to write Tainted Innocence, which is set in 1524. One early morning she persuaded me to walk barefoot across the fen still drenched with dew to Laundress Green, the bank where some 500 years ago the washerwomen met to do the Great Spring wash for the Cambridge colleges, and to exchange gossip. I hoicked up my skirt and slithered down the muddy bank to wade in the cool dark water, to imagine what it would have been like for her. I felt very foolish when I realised the people having breakfast in the posh hotel on the other side of the river were watching me!
Another day I followed the stream near my terraced cottage to its source—the quiet, magical wood where the Nine Wells bubble up from the earth. I discovered Luke Hobson was walking by my side, dark and troubled, a man who has learned from bitter experience to trust no one, and is angry to find himself attracted to a gypsy girl who is prepared to steal and lie in order to survive. What else, he wonders, is she prepared to do?
I arrived in Cambridge some years ago to teach on a short summer course. I never meant to stay. I haven’t yet managed to leave. Has that happened to you? My heroine, Bryony, flees to Cambridge hoping she will find a refuge, a place of safety—and a place she might learn to read and write. Instead she is accused of witchcraft and murder and is forced to accept that she must either find a man strong enough to protect her—or work out who the killer is herself. Sure—Bryony is feisty enough and should be independent! But imagine that you are trying to survive in the world of Henry VIII where men hold most of the power, and that you are illiterate, penniless, always hungry, and terrified of being drowned as a witch.
Do you always “get it right”? Bryony doesn’t. Me neither. I thought she would be attracted to one man. I hadn’t expected her to be attracted to two.
My life—and my novels!—rarely go to plan. That’s the fun of it.
In Cambridge, the College of the Young Princes brings together all manner of people—with all manner of secrets. Among them is Bryony, an illiterate laundress and a stranger to the town, who lives in constant fear that her unusual upbringing and lack
of friends will leave her vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.
When Matthew Hobson, a scholar at the college, is found murdered and wrapped in linen that Bryony lost, she immediately becomes a suspect. But she is not the only one. Luke Hobson, a taciturn local tradesman who has sacrificed much for his charismatic but selfish brother, also has a motive for the murder.
With the university authorities eager to solve the crime, outsiders Bryony and Luke
are forced into a wary alliance, knowing they have to track down the killer if they are
to escape hanging. But can they trust in each other’s innocence in order
to uncover the truth?
About the author
Joss Alexander thought she’d spend her life gathering rosebuds but ended up picking rosehips, a somewhat thornier occupation that not many people have tried. She wonders why. Addicted to her keyboard, she can be dragged away to play tennis, climb mountains or go wild water swimming. It makes an excellent change from the shoe-box study where she writes. Joss devours fantasy, romance, historical and crime fiction, but the authors she re-reads the most are Georgette Heyer, Robin Hobb and Will Shakespeare. Tainted Innocence is her first novel and is available from Carina Press. You can read an excerpt here and buy it here.