My – as I thought – sweet and innocent historical novelist friend Karen Charlton made a weird discovery while researching her family for a new novel. She discovered that her ancestor, Jamie Charlton, was convicted of Northumberland’s most notorious robbery back in 1810.
FK: So, Catching the Eagle, your debut novel, is based on the true story of Jamie Charlton, and now we discover that potentially you have more than one skeleton in the closet. Another ancestor of yours, William, brother of the unlucky Jamie, perjured himself in court to try and get his sibling off the charge. Mm, nice ancestors you’ve inherited…. it’s a while since I’ve had the opportunity to interview someone who openly admits that they are descended from a long line of thieves and perjurers.
KAREN: Er, thank you. I hope it makes a refreshing change for you. Although so far we have no evidence that William was ever charged with perjury.
FK: But did he do it?
FK: Okay, I’ll take your word for it. So how did you discover this nest of old family lags?
KAREN: We were researching our family’s history some years ago. One day I was sitting reading my messages and opened one from a genealogy researcher who said that Jamie Charlton had been convicted of stealing the rent from Kirkley Hall in Northumberland and sentenced to transportation. When we shook our family tree – a convict fell out.
FK: How much did he steal?
KAREN: £1,157. This was quite a lot of money back in 1810.
FK: Were you surprised?
KAREN: Yes. I reached for a large Bacardi and couldn’t stop giggling for days. When my elderly Grandmother had first met my husband she had said she thought he was a ‘wrong ‘un.’ I now had proof that the Charltons were all ‘wrong ‘uns.’ I kept reminding my husband of this. Still do, in fact.
FK: Ah, so the felonious ancestor is actually his blood relation – not yours?
KAREN: Yes: Jamie Charlton is a direct ancestor of my husband and children.
FK: [stops for shivers to run up and down spine at this thought] Mm.. Is the burglary gene hereditary?
KAREN: I don’t believe so. But my children are only teenagers – there’s plenty of time to find out yet.
FK: So how did your husband react to the discovery that he had a jail-bird roosting in the branches of his family tree?
KAREN: He was quite upset, especially when we learned that Jamie’s conviction was controversial – even by the dodgy standards of the Regency justice system. He felt sure that Jamie Charlton had been framed and that the whole thing was a miscarriage of justice.
FK: So you went ahead and wrote the novel anyway?
KAREN: Absolutely. The perfect plot for a historical novel had just fallen in my lap. I wasn’t going to let that pass me by. I particularly enjoyed creating the characters of Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods, who were brought up from London by the worried landowner to help solve the crime. When the first seeds of a plot for my second novel, The Missing Heiress, began to grow in my mind I decided to use these two characters again; the dialogue and rapport which developed between them was fun to write.
FK: The Missing Heiress will be published by Knox Robinson Publishing on December 6th. Is that also based on the true story of a load of old Charlton Crims?
KAREN: No, The Missing Heiress is pure fiction. It‘s a Regency whodunit revolving around the mystery of a beautiful heiress who vanishes from a locked bedchamber. But Stephen Lavender was a real historical figure, one of the first principal officers with the Bow Street magistrates’ court in London.
FK: A Bow Street Runner, eh? Did he always operate out of London?
KAREN: No. He became the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester after the formation of the police force by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.
FK: So ultimately, Stephen Lavender, the hero of your second novel, is the man who placed your husband’s bad Great-Granddad in the dock?
KAREN: Yes, but I don’t hold that against him. When the first seeds of a plot for this whodunit began to germinate in my head, as far as I was concerned there were only two policemen in England who could crack the case.
FK:: Fair enough. But tell me – are you still married to this feloniously descended Charlton chappy?
KAREN: Yes. Why?
FK: Well, far be it from me to make trouble, but it seems to me that writing one historical novel full of details about your hubby’s devious ancestor – and then a second book which glorifies the detective who arrested and convicted him – might strike him as excellent grounds for a divorce.
KAREN: We’re sound.
FK: Delighted to hear it. And I suppose the royalties help lighten the embarrassment. So tell me, have you uncovered any more shady relatives to fictionalise?
KAREN: No. But we haven’t researched his mother’s family tree yet.
FRAN: Shameless or just incredibly brave? Only time will tell. The Missing Heiress is published on 6th December. More details can be found on Karen’s website: www.karencharlton.com oh, and divorce lawyers touting for business can contact her there directly.
The Missing Heiress on amazon.co.uk : http://www.amazon.co.uk/Missing-Heiress-Detective-Lavender-Series/dp/1908483709/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354112715&sr=8-1
The Missing Heiress on The Book Depository (Free Worldwide Delivery): http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Missing-Heiress-Karen-Charlton/9781908483706
Website address: www.karencharlton.com
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