Sunday, June 7

The Forgotten History of the Radium Girls By Historical Fiction Author Samantha Wilcoxson

I have loved reading about history for as long as I can remember. On more than one occasion, I was asked what class I was reading a book for and I had to admit that it was something I had selected to read for enjoyment. Yet, I was not familiar with the story of the “radium girls” until I listened to Kate Moore’s excellent book.
It was one of those snippets of history that seems unbelievable. When you think things are changing for the better, something happens and everything gets worse. Then you realize that events just like it continue to occur to this very day.
Called radium girls because of the luminescent paint they used to make watch and instrument dials glow in the dark, the young working-class women who were exposed to radium on a daily bases began sickening and dying in the years immediately following World War I. The companies they worked for denied liability, rejected the idea that radium was the cause of the women’s problems, and made any excuse at their disposal to avoid a decrease in profits.
The women had little help from the outside. Doctors, who had been using radium as a sort of miracle cure, were reluctant to admit that it might be dangerous. Most lawyers had no interest in taking on the case of women with little ability to pay fees and insufficient support to win their case. Worker’s compensation laws varied by state and often didn’t include the women’s situation. They were left at the mercy of the corporations that had caused their health to fail and then often fired them when they were unable to work.
When women began to die of radium poisoning, the symptoms were attributed to all manner of diseases. Diphtheria, tuberculosis, and even syphilis were documented causes of death for some of the poor girls. Some of the results of radium poisoning, such as sarcoma and infections, were listed as the cause of death without an understanding of the underlying cause. Some doctors were in the pocket of the radium industry. Others simply didn’t know any better.
In Luminous, I have focused on the story of Catherine Donohue, an employee of Radium Dial in Ottawa, Illinois. Catherine was a typical small-town girl, who counted herself lucky to obtain a good-paying position at the dial studio until she developed a limp that never healed. Then she watched one of her friends collapse at work and another die of an infection that spread like wildfire. Catherine stood up for the Ottawa dial painters, even as her own health failed. Luminous is her story, and I hope that it is one that inspires curiosity about the past as well as a hunger for justice in the present.
Samantha Wilcoxson
Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveller. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.
Discover more about Samantha here:

Monday, April 13

Divine Intervention - Let it be (cover)

Great new local band with a version of the Beatles Let it Be. Hope you enjoy.

#musicforhope #NHSCovidHeroes #StayAtHome #Keyworkers #Cumbria

Monday, March 9

On Tour with Madame Fiocca

This week I'm on tour with my latest release, Madame Fiocca. For those who don't know, it's about Nancy Wake, the infamous SOE heroine, journalist and French Resistance courier. Here's a piece I wrote for Viviana Mackade's fabulous book blog today. For the entire piece click the link below:

Finding Nancy
by Suzy Henderson, author of Madame Fiocca.

I first read about Nancy Wake and her role in World War Two several years ago, while researching another story. I recall thinking how commendable, but I read on, discovering other heroines of SOE including the American, Virginia Hall, the first female operative in France. What is even more remarkable is that she had a prosthetic leg. While working with the Special Operations Executive in France, Virginia had to escape over the Pyrenees, quite literally at one-point crawling part of the way. It was an incredible achievement and so courageous.

One day I came across an article about Nancy Wake, and it mentioned her husband. That caught my interest, so I bought a biography of Wake written by Russel Braddon. Suddenly, Nancy was on my mind and I wanted to know more, such as where she grew up, and her life before France. Braddon’s book was wonderful, but it didn’t cover much of Nancy’s life in Australia. I then bought Nancy’s own biography, written at a later stage in her life. Once again, not much in there about Australia, so I decided to go digging on the internet, turning to genealogy sites as I looked for family ties. Well, after many hours of searching and triple checking the facts, I discovered her family tree, unearthing British, Maori and French roots.

I discovered through Nancy’s own words in her books and tv interviews, that her father had abandoned her and her family at an early age. And there was something else that stood out every time Nancy spoke of her war times. She vehemently denied ever being afraid, saying things such as she was far too busy to be scared. I found this interesting, because I’ve also heard of soldiers and airmen who have said exactly the same. And then I’ve heard dozens more state that any man who said he wasn’t afraid in war is a liar!
The fact is, Nancy was the consummate actress, quite forward, openly flirtatious with German soldiers in order to bluff her way through check points for instance. She could probably do just about anything and so painting on a brave face was a simple task. Like a chameleon, Nancy was changeable and adaptable to any situation or environment.

The French men she fought with and led loved her. They thought she was amazing, and formidable. Nancy made many firm friends for life, and one of them, Henri Tardivat, once stated: “She is the most feminine woman I know, but when the fighting starts she is like five men.”

Food for thought indeed. My take was that Nancy would have been afraid. Fear is a natural response after all, but Nancy had a strong spirit and the strength to push on, doing what she needed to do despite the risks.
There’s a lot to consider when writing about a real person, and the fear factor was important to me because I knew it existed, and I didn’t wish to write a person who was completely without it.
Re-reads of the biographies gave me more insight – it’s funny what you miss when reading something the first or even the second time. Piece by piece Nancy was emerging before my eyes.

Having gone from learning about a New Zealander, raised in Sydney, who became a guerrilla fighter with the Maquis in France – a great leader of some 7000 men, I was suddenly facing a woman who bore her own emotional scars, who did admit to feeling worried at times during the war, and who was a true lady with the heart of a lion. She was a born leader, involved in dangerous courier work for Resistance groups from the very beginning in France, and well before she joined the Special Operations Executive. It was during this time that the Germans became aware of a woman operating in southern France, and they dubbed her “The White Mouse”, offering a bounty for her capture.

Her real story reads like something out of Hollywood, and I was hooked, and I knew I had to write about her, to enable people to see the real Nancy. She was a wonderful human being, kind, incredibly generous, the greatest friend to have, and incredibly patriotic and brave.

Nancy Augusta Wake began life with very little, and went on to marry a wealthy man, Henri Fiocca, living a millionaire’s life, only to lose it all through war. At the end of it all she had to start again. It’s a tragic story, but she eventually found happiness and perhaps some peace later when she met and fell in love with John Forward. They married and settled eventually in Australia.

Nancy never got over the loss of Henri. He was, as she often remarked, the greatest love of her life, and his selfless sacrifice was her one regret from the war years.
Henri was arrested in May 1943 and tortured by the Germans, but he refused to give up his wife’s location. On October 16th, 1943, Henri Fiocca was executed by firing squad. And to the end of her days, Nancy always declared that “the only good Nazi is a dead one”.

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake 30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011

From March 11th, the book will be available worldwide from all sellers including Kobo & Apple.

Friday, January 24

Free Book Alert

This weekend only: Grab a copy of Madame Fiocca FREE e-book until January 26th.

Universal Link:

Latest Review 5 Stars:

From the first paragraph of this enthralling biography that reads like a memoir, my attention was firmly grabbed and it never once flagged, even when it looked like Nancy’s life would be all love and roses. I had never heard of Nancy Wake, the independent, adventurous woman who seized life with both hands, living fully, embracing all it had to offer. But I immediately fell under her spell, tagging along as she made her way into adulthood and headlong into some of the most tumultuous times our world has ever known.

It took no time for Nancy to land plum assignments in Europe, where her love of food and culture bloomed. She lived a dazzling life as she made her way across the continent, reporting news of the emerging monsters—Mussolini, Franco and Hitler—as they cut a swath of misery and destruction across Europe. And in the middle of all the turmoil, Nancy fell in love with a man whose heart she had captured at first sight.

I can see why author Suzy Henderson was drawn to Nancy Wake, and the woman she would become, Madame Fiocca. As far as personalities go, Nancy was indomitable. She didn’t think twice about jumping into the fight against Hitler with both feet, regardless of the fact that she was a woman and had only minimal time to train.

Nancy relinquished her own happiness to help others to safety, to take up the fight, putting all she held dear at risk. She used her intelligence, her righteous hatred of Hitler and his goon squads, and her ability to slip past the enemy using her unique mixture of femininity, cunning and skills to her advantage. But it was her refusal to ever give up—regardless of pain or exhaustion or heartache—that makes her such a fascinating character. I absolutely loved this incredible account of a legendary woman—Madame Fiocca.

Thursday, January 23

Book Review: The Evening Chorus

Paperback304 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 by Mariner Books (first published January 26th 2015)


Downed during his first mission, James Hunter is taken captive as a German POW. To bide the time, he studies a nest of redstarts at the edge of camp. Some prisoners plot escape; some are shot. And then, one day, James is called to the Kommandant’s office.

Meanwhile, back home, James’s new wife, Rose, is on her own, free in a way she has never known. Then, James’s sister, Enid, loses everything during the Blitz and must seek shelter with Rose. In a cottage near Ashdown forest, the two women jealously guard secrets, but form a surprising friendship. Each of these characters will find unexpected freedom amid war’s privations and discover confinements that come with peace.


Well, it's no secret that I love WW2 books, although not all of them of course. But this book caught my attention, late in the day as it was published a few years ago. Still, there's nothing more wonderful than discovering a new book and I'm so glad I found this one. I'm still not completely certain how to sum it up in all honesty, except for what I write below and to say that it is a startlingly beautiful read.

James Hunter is shot down on his first mission with the RAF. Having baled out of his aircraft, he's fished out of the sea by a German patrol. For him, the war is over. He is taken to a pow camp. Meanwhile, his new wife, Rose, is left alone in their cottage on the edge of the Ashdown Forest in Sussex. While James turns to birdwatching at the camp to pass the time, his letters home are filled with such talk, something Rose struggles to connect with, her husband becoming ever more distant. She develops a friendship with someone else and begins an affair. When Jame's sister Enid is bombed out and loses everything, it's Rose she turns to and comes to stay. Rose, desperate to continue seeing this other man, closely guards her secret.
As James studies the birds - Redstarts, keeping a journal, his 'hobby' catches the attention of the camp Kommandant, a man who shares his passion.
The story really pursues the three characters who are all imprisoned, James literally, and Rose and Enid figuratively. The story is beautifully written with almost meditative prose, poetic, and well-plotted. A truly enjoyable book and well recommended and I award it five stars.

Available to buy from Amazon UK here:

Available also worldwide and in various online stores. 

Wednesday, January 15

Nancy Wake- Codename 'The White Mouse'(1987) Part 2 of 6

The next instalment and the inspiration behind my latest novel, Madame Fiocca: The Remarkable True Story of Nancy Wake.