Images above: Winter Siege; Death and the Maiden covers
Ariana Franklin wrote five historical crime novels. She had her next one, Winter Seige, partly written when she died in 2011, so her daughter offered to finish it.
“My mother was quite private about her writing and I thought there wouldn’t be much to do” she told The Chiswick Calendar “but in fact it was an absolute nightmare. I had to write about half of it”.
Ariana Franklin was the pen name of Diana Norman, the writer and journalist who was married to TV film critic Barry Norman. Samantha Norman is their daughter.
Winter Seige was a stand alone book, but the greater problem was Ariana’s series of mediaeval crime mysteries, featuring the fictional medical examiner Adelia Aguilar.
Mistress of the Art of Death (2007), the first in the series featuring Adelia Aguilar, won her the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award from the British Crime Writers’ Association, as well as prizes in the US and Sweden. It was followed by The Death Maze (2008) and Relics of the Dead (2009), then The Assassin’s Prayer (2010).
The problem was that the end of The Assassin’s Prayer left the series on a cliff hanger.
“One of the favourite characters was in real jeopardy, so it was obvious that the series needed to be finished” Samantha told me.
So having successfully completed Winter Seige in the style of her mother, she then set about writing an entire book, Death and the Maiden, to complete the ‘Mistress of Death’ series.
Like mother, like daughter
I asked Samantha whether anyone had noticed any discernible difference in style.
“If they did they didn’t tell me” she said “and I inherited my mother’s agent Helen Heller, one of the scariest women on the planet, so I think if I hadn’t stayed true to her style she would have said something. My mother taught me to write, so I think I naturally wrote like her”.
Diana Norman suffered from a rare autoimmune disease. They thought they’d lost her when she went into a coma which lasted six months, but she came back from it and started writing Winter Seige. When she died, she went suddenly.
Laura Wilson wrote her obituary for the Guardian and in it she quoted Diana, talking about her astonishment at her success as an author:
“I’m not used to being feted, being married to a TV presenter, Barry Norman. I’m more accustomed to being trampled in the rush to get his autograph than being publicised myself. I’m not complaining, though.”
She started work on a newspaper in the East End at the age of 17, and by 20 was the youngest reporter on Fleet Street. She went on manoeuvres with the Royal Marines, a royal visit with the Queen, and missed her own 21st birthday party because she was covering a murder on the south coast. She married Barry Norman, a fellow journalist, in 1957.
Images above: Diana Norman; Samantha Norman
After the birth of her two daughters, she swapped journalism for writing fiction with, as she put it, “a child on either hip”. She wrote eleven historical novels under her own name, set in different periods, from the 12th to the 18th century.
‘Meticulously researched, but never dry or verbose, they are characterised by historical accuracy, intricate plotting, drama, passion, intrigue and humour’ wrote Laura Wilson.
A hard act to follow, then. But the critics reckon Samantha pulled it off:
Praise for Death and the Maiden:
“Superb…an appropriate homage”- Marilyn Stasio, New York Times
“Medieval-mystery writing at its best.”—New York Daily News
‘Ken Follett meets Patricia Cornwell’ – Washington Independent Review of Books.
‘Death and the Maiden is a richly detailed, twisty thriller, a superb final episode in Ariana Franklin’s much-loved, much-acclaimed series’ – Waterstones
“She sold particularly well in the States” Samantha told us. “I think they like that period of history more than we do”.
Death and the Maiden synopsis
The synopsis of Death and the Maiden is as follows:
England. 1191. After the death of her friend and patron, King Henry II, Adelia Aguilar, England’s vaunted Mistress of the Art of Death, is living comfortably in retirement and training her daughter, Allie, to carry on her craft-sharing the practical knowledge of anatomy, forensics, and sleuthing that catches murderers.
Allie is already a skilled healer, with a particular gift for treating animals. But the young woman is nearly twenty, and her father, Rowley, Bishop of Saint Albans, and his patron, the formidable Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, have plans to marry Allie to an influential husband . . . if they can find a man who will appreciate a woman with such unusual gifts.
When a friend in Cambridgeshire falls ill, Allie is sent to Ely, where her path will cross with Lord Peverill, a young aristocrat who would be a most suitable match for the young healer. But when Allie arrives, all is chaos. A village girl has disappeared-and she’s not the first.
Over the past few months, several girls from the villages surrounding Ely have vanished. When the body of one of the missing is discovered, Allie manages to examine the remains before burial. The results lead her to suspect that a monstrous predator is on the loose. Will her training and her stubborn pursuit of the truth help her find the killer…or make her the next victim?
Writing about boxing, interviewing Tony Benn and plotting medieval crime fiction
Samantha Norman is a successful feature writer, columnist, and film critic in her own right. She began her career writing feature articles for newspapers and magazines on sport – particularly boxing – but she was also Tony Benn’s interviewer of choice for his “Audience With …” series in theatres around Britain.
She had written a couple of children’s books but hadn’t attempted a novel before.
“It was daunting” she told me “but amazingly cathartic with the grieving process. I felt I had my dead mother sitting at my shoulder”.
She started work on Winter Seige quite soon after her mother died in 2011.
“I joined the London Library, her favourite place and I really felt she was sitting with me. We were very close.”
Death and the Maiden came out in October 2020.
Chiswick Book Festival
See Samantha Norman talking to Amelia Fairney about her books Winter Seige and Death and the Maiden at the Chiswick Book Festival 2021 at 2.00 pm on Saturday 11 September in the Boston Room of George IV. The session is called ‘Inheriting a manuscript’. Hosted by The Chiswick Calendar.
Book tickets: Ticketsource/ChiswickBookFestival
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