Linda Gillard

Time's Prisoner

Time's Prisoner

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The dead are invisible.
They are not absent.

With her personal and professional life in ruins, Jane Summers, author of historical whodunnits, receives an extraordinary bequest from an old enemy. But there’s a condition attached. If she is to become more than just a sitting tenant at Wyngrave Hall, a crumbling Elizabethan manor house, Jane must solve a centuries-old mystery.

She invites a motley crew of women to share her new life at the Hall: Rosamund, a tough but troubled nurse; Sylvia, retired actress and national treasure; loyal Bridget, gardener and handywoman, who knows the chequered history of Wyngrave Hall and understood the selfish eccentricities of its previous owner.

But unknown to the women of Wyngrave Hall, there is another, unseen occupant, one with a desperate agenda: to enlist Jane’s help solving the coldest of cold cases.

I’d gone to great lengths to avoid the lonely life of a middle-aged, reclusive divorcée, but it was some time before I admitted to myself, I disliked spending a day working at home on my own, not because I feared to be alone in the ancient house, but because I feared I wasn’t…”


Observant readers will spot similarities between TIME’S PRISONER and my previous novel, HIDDEN: the setting, the hidden journal, a woman held prisoner in her own home. There are others which I won’t mention to avoid spoilers.

I wasn’t trying to clone an earlier success. There's a reason for the similarities. About six years ago my novel-in-progress bore a strong resemblance to TIME’S PRISONER. While I was working on this novel, I was approached by Amazon’s publishing imprint, Lake Union. They wanted to re-publish one of my popular indie novels, THE TRYSTING TREE. (They did. It was re-named THE MEMORY TREE and became a Kindle bestseller in Historical Fiction.)

The editor asked what else I was writing. I told her about the novel I was working on, which at the time was called PRISONER OF THE PAST. It wasn’t what she was looking for, but she asked if I could come up with anything else, so I abandoned my work-in-progress, took it apart and recycled much of it to create a new novel I eventually called HIDDEN.

Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire, built in the late 16thC and now owned by the National Trust.

Unfortunately, when complete, this book didn’t meet with editorial approval and I was asked to completely re-write it. By now I’d had enough of writing to order and I decided I would go back to being my own boss. I published HIDDEN in 2020, knowing that I'd set aside a promising story and a memorable main character (Horatio Fortune) for commercial rather than artistic reasons.

Resuming the earlier book was now problematic because so much had been recycled for HIDDEN. I set about writing a very different book, returning to the historical period I knew well - World War I - and which I’d used for THE GLASS GUARDIAN, THE MEMORY TREE and HIDDEN. But after I’d written 25,000 words (about a quarter of the average novel), I set the draft aside, finally convinced that even it was never published, the book I really wanted to write was the mysterious story of “The Brief Life and Ignominious Death of Horatio Fortune, Actor”.

Poor Horatio has waited six years to make his entrance. I hope when they read TIME'S PRISONER, his audience will think it was worth the wait.

Dowland, Denmark and Hamlet

A 1913 portrait by Michael Brunthaler of Carl Niessen playing Hamlet

An author writes many more words than the ones that are finally published. Interesting titbits of research are often deleted - often reluctantly - because they interest the author far more than the reader. I cut the following dialogue between the heroine, Jane and the half-Danish hero, Jesper because it didn’t further the story, but I'm including it here because the content was surprising and fun.

My research source was SCANDINAVIANS: In Search of the Soul of the North by Robert Ferguson.

‘Do you know about Hamlet, Dowland and Denmark?’ Jesper asked. ‘The tradition – quite unjustified – of the gloomy, depressed Dane and who’s responsible for that? Or might be?’

‘No. I’m a fan of Dowland’s music but I don’t know much about him.’

‘Nobody does, but it’s highly likely he knew Shakespeare and some scholars think Shakespeare’s ideas about Denmark and the Danish temperament were supplied by John Dowland – singer, composer, lutenist and possibly Catholic spy.’

‘Did Dowland know Denmark, then?’

‘Oh, yes. He was working in Denmark round about the time Shakespeare was writing Hamlet, but Dowland kept going back and forth, getting things published, and maybe met Shakespeare in London.’

‘What was Dowland doing in Denmark?’

‘Conducting the Royal Danish Orchestra. He was a musician at the court of King Christian IV in Elsinore. It’s the oldest orchestra in the world, founded in 1448. Dowland spent eight years in Copenhagen and was paid a huge amount of money. He was Number 140.’

‘He had a number?’

‘Everyone was assigned a number. They still are. Will Kempe was No. 56.’

The Will Kempe?’ I laughed. ‘Jesper, how do you know all this?’

‘One of the Copenhagen Cousins is a member of the orchestra. I don’t remember her number, I’m afraid. There are well over a thousand now.’

‘And you say Dowland is responsible for the gloomy Dane stereotype?’

‘It’s possible. Danes certainly don’t see themselves reflected in Hamlet. Dowland however, is synonymous with heartbroken, self-indulgent melancholy. If Shakespeare had asked him about Denmark, he might have shared his own negative view of the country and its people. But if Dowland had been employed by the French court, he might have projected the same negative view onto that country. Shakespeare had never been to Denmark – well, there’s no evidence he had – but he might have sat in a tavern with Dowland, sinking a lugubrious pint of ale, picking the depressive’s brains about the Danish court and the national character... And thus, perhaps, was the stereotype of The Melancholy Dane born.’

The Language of The Lamentations

The handwriting of Ben Jonson, poet and playwright. (1572-1637)

To create The Lamentations, excerpts from a fictional secret journal written in 1603, I borrowed from a variety of sources. Depending on how familiar you are with 16th and 17th century literature, you might spot examples from, or hear echoes of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, John Donne’s poems, John Dowland’s song lyrics and the 1611 King James Bible.

Modernising all spellings for clarity, I constructed a patchwork of Tudor and Jacobean language which might not be historically authentic, but creates, I hope, the illusion of a poignant and desperate journal written in captivity four centuries ago.

This is one of my sources: a despairing song lyric (1610) by John Dowland, here with its original spelling...

In darknesse let mee dwell, the ground shall sorrow be,

The roofe Dispaire to barr all cheerfull light from mee,

The wals of marble blacke that moistned still shall weepe,

My musicke hellish jarring sounds to banish friendly sleepe.

Thus wedded to my woes, and bedded to my Tombe,

O let me living die, till death, till death do come.