This is my post during the book blitz for Burning Secret by R J Lloyd. Burning Secret blurs the line between fact and fiction, a retelling of the extraordinary life of Harry Mason – deceit, violence, power and wealth.
This blog tour is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours and the tour runs from 2 till 7 October. You can see the tour schedule here.
Limited time discount!
For a limited time Burning Secret is only 99 cents! You can grab your copy here.
By R J Lloyd
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age category: Adult
Release Date: 28 June 2022
Burning Secret is a dramatic and compelling tale of ambition, lies, and betrayal inspired by actual events.
Born in the slums of Bristol in 1844, Enoch Price seems destined for a life of poverty and hardship—but he’s determined not to accept his lot.
Enoch becomes a bare-knuckle fighter in London’s criminal underworld. But in a city where there’s no place for honest dealing, he is cheated by a cruel loan shark, leaving him penniless and facing imprisonment.
Undaunted, he escapes to a new life in America and embarks on a series of audacious exploits. But even as he helps shape history, Enoch is not content. Tormented by his past and the life he left behind, he soon becomes entangled in a web of lies and secrets.
Will he ever break free and find the happiness he craves?
• • • • •
Influenced by real people and events, Enoch’s remarkable story is one of adventure, daring, political power and, in the end, his search for redemption.
Praise for Burning Secret
Burning Secret has 50 reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4.7 and 24 x 5 star reviews. And 45 ratings on Goodreads with an average rating of 4.2 with 19 x 5 stars and 18 x 4 stars.
“Fans of historical fiction will find this read particularly interesting and entertaining.” – Bradley Campbell, Amazon Reviewer
“Where Burning Secret shines is its historical accuracy and wonderful world-building.” – Lit Crit, Amazon Reviewer
“Such a fascinating story!” – Reads Alot, Amazon Reviewer
“The attention to detail is amazing and intriguing.” – paws. read. repeat, Amazon Reviewer
“From the first page is was IN! This book is captivating right from the start” – The Pursuit Of Bookiness, Goodreads Reviewer
“This is going straight onto my favourites list (and may possibly remain the only historical fiction on there!) – I loved it so much and am definitely going to miss Enoch.” – Sonja Charters, Goodreads Reviewer
As the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec rang out 2pm, Enoch made his way through the station to the waiting train. Settling into his carriage, a lady of middle age joined him. Enoch recognised from the quality and cut of her fashionable clothes that she was of discerning taste and wealth. He watched as she made herself comfortable. Turning to Enoch, she said, ‘Excuse me for being so presumptuous, but may I introduce myself?’ She spoke with confidence in a refined American accent. ‘My name’s Kitty Morgan. I’m from Albany, New York State. It’s so nice to meet you. Are you travelling far today?’
‘How do you do?’ he replied. ‘I’m on my way to New York and then—’
‘Well, that’s so exciting. You must be English. Am I right?’
‘Yes, I arrived this morning and—’
‘That’s wonderful. I’ve never been to Europe. I’d love to see London and Paris. Have you been to New York before? Do you have friends waiting for you?’
‘I’ve friends who settled there some years ago and—’
‘Well, that’s nice. At least you’ve someone to meet you. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.’
‘Mr Henry Mason and—’
‘Henry. Well, I expect everyone calls you Harry. I always think Henry is too… well, you know, too formal. My name’s Kathryn, but I much prefer Kitty. It sounds… well, less formal. Don’t you agree, Harry?’
Before he could reply, Kitty continued. ‘Now, you must tell me, Harry, what line of business are you in? We’re in glass, for windows, not tumblers or spectacles, you understand. We make a lot of it; at least, that’s what my husband tells me. He says we’ve glazed most of Manhattan; mind you, I’m not sure that’s strictly true.’ She gave a charming laugh, which suited her petite frame.
He noticed she had beautiful blue eyes, and from under her fashionable bonnet, he could see ample waves of pale straw-coloured hair.
‘Tell me, Harry, have you ever visited Paris?’
‘Briefly, I was there on—’
‘Is it like Montreal or Quebec? Do you speak French, Harry?’
‘No. Unfortunately, I—’
‘That’s a pity. My sister, Minnie, speaks French. I’m on my way to visit her; she lives in Montreal. She’s married the most handsome French-Canadian gentleman. He does all kinds of things: property, banking and something with trees. What did you say your line of business is, Harry?’
Avoiding any mention of timber, he said, ‘I manufacture ladies’ garments and—’
‘Ladies’ garments! In heaven’s name! Which ladies’ garments, exactly?’ she said extravagantly, teasing him.
‘Bodices and corsets of the highest quality. I use only the—’
‘Oh, my goodness. You do surprise me. I can’t wait to tell Minnie. She’ll be so envious. Imagine that! I met a man on the train who makes undergarments for us dear ladies. How exciting.’
The collector arrived, and Enoch passed him his ticket and yellow immigration form. Studying it, he read aloud as if talking to himself, ‘Mr Henry Mason. The St James Hotel, Broadway.’
‘No! Really! You’re staying at the St James on Broadway?’ exclaimed Kitty. ‘Ladies’ undergarments must be a profitable line.’ She again smiled and gave a gentle laugh, then, turning to the ticket collector, said, ‘He’s called Harry, you know. He’s from England.’
The man nodded. ‘Yes, ma’am.’ He didn’t ask to see Kitty’s ticket and moved on to the next carriage.
Kitty said, ‘Listen, Harry, there’s a great restaurant car on the D and H. Book a late dinner and get a bottle of wine, then take your ease in their wonderful dining chairs.’ She paused a moment to delicately tuck a lace handkerchief into her cuff. ‘Now, tell me about Paris. I want to hear it all.’
Kitty made herself comfortable, listening as Enoch spun a tale of Paris and the exclusive materials used in the bodices manufactured by his London & Paris Corset Company. Never having visited Paris, he imagined it to be like the best parts of London and, with some assistance from Michael’s description and his recently read novel by Victor Hugo, he impressed Kitty with his familiarity of the city.
‘Harry, you make it sound so wonderful. No sooner I’m home, I’m having my husband book a trip.’
Three hours after departing from Quebec, they arrived in Montreal, and Kitty alighted. ‘It’s been a real privilege meeting you, Mr Harry Mason. And it’s been the most enjoyable journey. If ever you’re in Albany, you must visit. It won’t be as grand as the St James, but we’ll make you welcome. And bring some of your beautiful garments.’ Her captivating smile again crossed her lips, and with that, she stepped away, giving a brief wave.
Collecting his case and following other passengers, he changed platforms to the Delaware and Hudson Railway. As he settled into his new carriage, he was still thinking of Kitty Morgan. From now on, he would be Harry Mason.
About the Author:
Roger is the great-great-grandson of the main character, Enoch Price. A former senior police officer and detective, he has used his investigative skills to fashion this dramatised account of his ancestor’s extraordinary life. Fifteen years of genealogical research and interviews support the various factual strands of this pacy novel.
Roger graduated from both Warwick and UWE and has been a non-executive director with the NHS, social housing, and other charities.
He is retired and lives in Bristol with his wife. He travels, writes and produces delicious plum jam from the trees on his award-winning allotment.
Tell us about your book:
Burning Secret – It’s a true story. Well, almost, at least in my imagination. Burning Secret blurs the lines between fact and fiction as it reconstructs the real-life of Harry Mason, and is a story that many of us can relate to in our own families. It begins with Enoch Price, my great-great-grandfather, being born into the poverty of the Bristol slums of 1844, but he was determined not to follow his father to a brutal and early death.
An ambitious youth, Enoch becomes a bare-knuckle fighter amongst London’s underworld. But when misfortune befalls him and, facing ruin and imprisonment, he abandons his wife and daughters and flees to Florida. It’s here that Enoch becomes Harry Mason.
An opportunist by nature, Harry embarks on a series of risky escapades, playing an important role in the development and history of Jacksonville, building an extraordinary new life of wealth and power.
Enjoying popular success, Harry is elected to the city council and, in 1903, to the Florida State House of Representatives with the prospect of becoming State Governor. However, success brings neither happiness nor contentment. Seeking redemption for his many misdeeds, Harry plans to return home – but life is rarely that simple, especially as Harry harbours a secret that burns deep inside him.
I think the story operates on several levels; as a fast-paced thriller with plenty of derring-do, a morality tale of good vs greed, and how life can easily corrupt the pursuit of happiness.
In a nutshell, tell us what your readers should know about you:
After retiring as a senior police officer, I turned my detective skills to genealogy, tracing my family history to the 16th century. However, after 15 years of extensive research, I couldn’t track down my great-great-grandfather, Enoch Price, whose wife, Eliza, had, in living memory, helped raise my mother.
It was my cousin Gillian who, after several more dead-ends, called one day to say that she had found him through a fluke encounter. Susan Sperry from California, who had recently retired, decided to explore the box of documents given to her thirty years before by her mother, which she had never opened. In the box, she found some references to her great grandfather, Harry Mason, a wealthy hotel owner from Florida who had died in 1919. It soon transpired that Susan’s great grandfather, Harry Mason, was, in fact, Enoch Price. From this single thread, the extraordinary story of Harry Mason began to unravel, leading me to visit the States to meet my American cousins, and it was Susan Sperry and Kimberly Mason, direct descendants, who persuaded me to write the book.
I graduated from Warwick with a joint in Philosophy and Psychology and a Masters in Marketing from UWE. Since leaving a thirty-year career in policing, I’ve been a non-executive director with the NHS, social housing, and other charities. I live with my wife in Bristol, spending my time travelling, writing and producing delicious plum jam from the trees on my award-winning allotment.
What topic or subject have you found it most challenging to write about?
I found the main character’s most inner thoughts and tormented emotions in Burning Secret were the most challenging. Describing the objective world of sights and sounds pose challenges, but conveying the emotions and heartache concealed deep inside, where often there are no overt behaviours, is made doubly worse by the writer’s advice of ‘show don’t tell.’
In my book, the main character must maintain a double life while burdened by the guilt that tortures him. Finding the words to describe his feelings as he struggles to resolve his dilemma was not easy, but these feelings play an important role in shedding light on the motives for what he has done.
What would you like to achieve with the publication of your book?
At the very least, I’d like to inspire others to wonder about their family history. Tracing ancestors has never been more popular or accessible, and what if these lost relatives turn out to be far more intriguing or extraordinary than one might have ever guessed – fact stranger than fiction?
Throughout my professional life, I’ve written; evidence to put before the courts and then, more latterly, reports to various statutory bodies seeking additional funding. You soon find out if your product is any good by the outcomes. So now I want to know if my novel and storytelling have merit, and it’ll be the readers who will decide through their reviews, recommendations and book sales.
What do you most enjoy about writing?
My first passion is gardening. There is so much pleasure when the blooms are in full blush during the warmth of a summer’s afternoon, and the vegetables swell and flourish. But this pleasure doesn’t come without pain and disappointments, and not everything you plant will grow or be good enough to reach the judges’ show table.
And perhaps writing is similar. Writing is not always enjoyable. Sometimes it can be frustrating, tedious and difficult when the ideas won’t fly, or the words won’t join into sentences. But like gardening, it’s creative. You create your version of the world, sharing your views and opinions with others and, like any conversation or standing on the box at Speaker’s Corner, not everyone will like what you have to say – but at least you’ve said it.
No two gardens are the same, which is true of authors and books, but the pride and joy of creating is.
How have you found your journey to publication?
Burning Secret arose from a conversation in 2012 with my two American cousins, Susan and Kimberley, who encouraged me to tell the extraordinary story of our shared ancestor, Harry Mason. It’s a massive disappointment that neither are with us today to witness its publication. And, as you’ll see, I’ve dedicated the book to their memory.
After many attempts at navigating the labyrinth of the query system, I realised that literary agents and publishers didn’t see me as a commercial prospect. At 70 years of age, I couldn’t waste time going down the traditional route. It wasn’t a career as an author I wanted; it was to fulfil a promise I’d made to Susan and Kim.
So, after reading an inspirational article by the best selling self-published author, Paige Weaver (Promise me darkness) and discovering that in 2017, over one million books were published in the United States, and two-thirds of them were self-published, the way forward was clear – and Matador, an imprint of Troubadour, was the obvious choice.
I liked the open and responsive team at Matador, who put me at the centre of decision-making and worked hard to meet their authors’ expectations to produce a book indistinguishable from a traditional publisher.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Well, I’m going to dodge this question. There’s never one piece of advice and too many what-ifs in life. I have one huge regret for not asking my parents about their lives and the history they lived through; two world wars, the Great Depression, rationing, the swinging sixties, and the roaring twenties. None of which they ever spoke about.
What do you think makes a good story?
This is the million-dollar question. There are plenty of creative writing courses that list the essentials of a good story. Some say there are three key elements, while others list ten; structure, character, plot, tension, and so on. I tend to go with the W. Somerset Maugham school of thought, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
But more seriously, a story that grabs and holds my interest must be authentic, relevant, and real to my experiences and imagination. Most of which depends on the storytelling and the flow of the language. I’m impatient, so a plot must race along to keep me turning the pages, and I want a main character that I can keep rooting for, even if they’re a bit iffy. And I like a book that keeps me thinking long after I’ve come to its end.
Do you have any tips for other budding authors?
Tell your story in your own voice, write from the heart and persevere, despite the naysayers – of which there will be many. Writing can sometimes be a slog, but you’ve got to keep going. If you’re going to publish, then invest in a good cover and quality production. Money spent on editing and proofreading is never wasted. There’s little point in going through the wringer to publish if no one is going to read it, so give it your best shot with marketing, and these days that means social media. Marketing is enormously important, but it’s tough, and most writers I meet wince at having to traipse around selling their cherished work. Still, the sad truth is, no one else is going to do it for you, not even in traditional publishing – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
Do you have a set writing routine and where do you like to write?
I’d like to tell you I write on my verandah overlooking the tropical Caribbean Sea, like Fleming at Goldeneye or Hemingway at his Lookout Farm in Cuba, but I can’t. I write from a small bedroom office.
One thing I like to do is to have a routine. My background, I suppose, has instilled the need to plan and schedule. Most of my productive writing occurs between 8 am and midday, but that’s not when I do my best thinking. That’s during the afternoons pottering in the garden or on the allotment. But clarity of thought, when all the ideas gel together, seems to arrive just as I’m about to nod off to sleep. And from bitter experience, I’ve learnt that I must wake myself and make notes because, by morning, every recollection will have deserted me.
What’s next in the writing pipeline for you?
I’m currently working on a couple of projects. The first is about another one of my close ancestors, Frederick Henry Seddon, who was hanged at HMP Pentonville for murder in 1912. His story has been told before, but never, as far as I know, from the family’s perspective. Another project involves a recently discovered family connection with two brothers, Peter and Veniamin Timkov, from the Russian village of Mukhouderovka, where Stalin’s secret police executed them both.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
When one starts writing, it’s difficult to identify yourself as an author. But you only have to look at Twitter or Facebook to see how social media has democratised writing and has given a voice to so many aspiring authors – so please, have a go.
I’ve learnt such a lot from being involved in the process of publication. Next time I’ll be much better prepared, thinking about the title and book cover long before writing the opening paragraph.
I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone at Matador for their hard work and tremendous talent, and patience in bringing Burning Secret to the market.