About the book:
12-year-old Tom must save his father from hanging. He falls in with a mysterious stranger – the Falcon – who promises to help in exchange for his service. But on the long journey to London, Tom discovers the Falcon’s true mission – and a plot to blow up Parliament with barrels of black powder.
Tom faces a terrible decision: secure his father’s release, or stop the assassination of the king …
A rip-roaring, beautifully written life-and-death quest, packed with history and adventure.
Ally Sherrick talks about the research behind her historical adventure
Black Powder – from fact into fiction
The spark for a story can come from anywhere. A newspaper article, a photograph, a conversation overheard in a cafe or on the train home. In the case of my debut novel, Black Powder, it was the irresistible combination of a grand, now ruined, Tudor palace and its unexpected association with one of the most famous ‘villains’ in British history.
On a visit to Cowdray House near Midhurst in West Sussex, I discovered that a certain Mr Guy Fawkes had served as a gentleman footman to the Montagues, one of the richest , most powerful Catholic families of the day. After leaving their employment, he’d gone abroad to the Low Countries to fight for the Spanish king. It was there that he learnt to lay a powder trail – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Coming across such a colourful and controversial character deep in the heart of the Sussex countryside set me thinking. What if he had cause to return there in secret, many years later, on the road to his date with destiny in the cellars beneath Parliament? And what if, when he did, he crossed paths with a young boy who was on his own very desperate mission to save his father from hanging. The spark took hold but I needed to know more about the plotters and the plot. What kind of men were they? What motivated them to take the path they took? And how might my young hero, Tom Garnett, end up meeting them?
I turned first of all to the gripping account of the plot written by the great author and historian Antonia Fraser: The Gunpowder Plot – Terror and Faith in 1605. This gave me the lowdown on early Jacobean England; a place of political and religious paranoia where Catholics were in the minority, treated as second-class citizens and their priests regarded as traitors. And where King James’s chief minister and spymaster, Robert Cecil, ran a network of spies ready to act on the first whiff of treason. It also highlighted the larger- than-life character of the plotters – an unlucky 13 in total – and gave a blow by blow account of their plans, the mistakes they made and the tragic consequences of their actions . All in all it was a tale you really couldn’t have made up if you’d tried. I knew then if I could exploit the gaps in between, I had the makings of a rip-roaring historical adventure.
To create an authentic version of the time, I set about reading first-hand accounts of the day, poring over old maps of London, studying portraits and visiting the key historical settings.
And I learnt a whole host of fascinating facts along the way. For example that people’s clothes didn’t tend to have pockets; that young men used to ride the rapids under London Bridge for fun and that spies really did use orange juice ink to write secret messages.
Which just goes to show that historical fact really can be stranger than fiction.
Ally Sherrick loves exploring ruined castles and decaying mansions and imagining what it must have been like to live in them without electricity and hot and cold running water – although she’s quite glad she doesn’t have to herself!
She has a BA in medieval history and French from Newcastle University and an MA in Writing for Children at the University of Winchester.
She is married and lives with her husband and assorted garden wildlife in Farnham, Surrey. Black Powder is her first novel.