King Arthur, soon to be awoken in QUEEN, KING, ACE. Cover reveal imminent!

January 2024

Hello and Happy New Year!

Not long now until I unleash my latest historical (I use the term loosely) retelling, QUEEN, KING, ACE. It’s a stand-alone novel, but if you’ve read my other retellings you’ll be familiar with some of the characters. Yes, ladies, Harry Rose is back, along with Eliza – even Rowan pops up. But the star is Ace (King Arthur), and I’m pretty sure you’re going to love him.

I’ll be adding pre-order links and revealing the cover in the next week or so. To whet your appetite, below is the back cover copy and Chapter 3, in which we first properly get to know Ace when Will Bardington (Shakespeare) interviews him for a magazine piece. Enjoy! 


“Avalon,” said Eliza. “Where King Arthur rests until Britain needs him again.” She looked over at Ace and smiled. “Now would be good.”

Britain is sunk in gloom, its government blundering between crisis and scandal. The country desperately needs a new hero.

Enter Arthur ‘Ace’ Penhalagon, smashing his way to Wimbledon victory and into women’s hearts. Ace has two missions: to be the first man to win the Golden Slam – the Holy Grail of tennis – and to use his fame as a force for good.

Eliza Rose, head of media giant Rose Corporation, shares Ace’s dreams for Britain. For him it’s love at first sight, but ever cautious, she prioritises her career.

When Eliza becomes the target of abuse and death threats from Ace’s fans, he spirits her away to the safety of his native Cornwall. But there, he too must confront his demons. His past is a mystery to Eliza. And what happened to his beloved foster brother, Locryn, who ran away after a dark episode Ace refuses to discuss?

What secrets is Ace hiding?

In that far corner of England, where magic is woven into the fabric of the land, a reckoning awaits. Will love triumph over Fate, or will history, yet again, repeat?


Chapter 3

Ace wrenched his attention back to Will Bardington, sitting opposite him in The Rose’s café. Ace had been expecting Terri, The Rack’s infamously aggressive editor, to interview him, but she’d said, ‘Change of plan, Ace, love. The boss says Britain’s had enough of angry and grim, so Will’s here for your heroic and nice. Enjoy the easy fuckin’ ride.’ With a disgusted shake of her head, she’d left the studio.

‘You were saying?’ prompted Will, biting into a falafel, ‘how it feels to be Champion?’

Ace smiled as he met Will’s lively brown eyes. The famous writer was camper than a day out at the seaside, and utterly charming with it.

‘Honestly? Like I said to … to Eliza, it’s kind of surreal. I’d never even made it to a Grand Slam final before this year, and now, winning the French and Aussie Opens and then Wimbledon – it’s like someone sprinkled me with tennis fairy dust.’

‘I’m using that.’ Will glanced at the phone sitting between them, recording the conversation. ‘Let’s rewind to the backstory – you were fostered, correct? A tricky childhood there, perhaps?’

Will clearly hadn’t done his homework. As soon as Ace had reached Wimbledon’s final rounds, his background, as far as it was known, had been splashed all over the papers.

There was a flash of irritation. Ace didn’t enjoy dwelling on his past. ‘You’ll already have the bones of it from your research? Can we talk about something the tabloids haven’t already hashed to death?’

Will looked embarrassed, and now Ace felt bad. The writer was far too likeable. But Ace had to beware of a possible trap. This whole Britain needs a hero angle, as Will had described it, could be an attempt to open him up and tease out the parts of his past he’d rather keep private. Act like a friend, then move in for the kill.

‘I have to confess,’ said Will, ‘I’m woefully ill-prepared. This gig was sprung on me last minute, and sport is not my natural habitat. I know nothing of the superiority of the two-handed backhand or the speed of Ace’s ace. Please forgive.’

Ace wrinkled his nose. ‘The two-hander is a blunt and thuggish cudgel; Roger would agree with me on that.’

‘If you say so. But in all honesty, Ace, the Rack reader does not need to know more about your racket skills. That’s the job of the BBC’s commentary box. No – they want to know about your childhood, your likes and dislikes; whether there’s an Ace love interest. The true version, by the way, not the stuff The Sun made up.’

Ace wondered what that had been. His manager had shared only selected highlights of the recent press coverage.

He went quiet, frowning at his water glass. This was how things would be, from now on. The trade-off. If he wanted to be a force for good, he would have to open himself up to scrutiny. And the results would often be mis-reported or made-up bollocks.

‘Nothing much to see here. I’ve always been too busy training to do anything that would titillate your readers.’

‘What a shame.’

‘And no serious love interest. The tennis circuit … it’s difficult.’

‘But look at you!’ Wills eyes drunk in Ace’s hair and face, slowing down as they panned across his shoulders and chest. ‘I would imagine a certain amount of crushing from the lovely leggy ladies of the tennis scene? And the men?’ he added, hopefully.

‘I’m not into men, Will,’ said Ace with a smile.

‘How very sad. But of course, I’d worked that one out already.’ Will nonchalantly picked at his salad. ‘How did you like our Eliza?’

‘She’s … quite something.’ Ace also looked down, focusing on slicing a sliver of tuna.

‘Well, yes.’ Will paused. ‘And if you tell me more of your background, I shall tell you more of hers.’

Ah. So that was how this was working. Evidently, Will had noticed the spark that had flown between the two of them. It had probably been hard not to.

‘I see.’ Ace had the distinct impression he wasn’t only being interviewed for The Rack. ‘You two are friends, right?’

It was no secret. Last year, the pair had been all over the media when the third member of the famous RoseGold trio, Kit Marley, enfant terrible of the arts world, had been murdered. Intrigued as he was, Ace thought it was probably best not to bring that up.

‘We are. You may think of me as her minder.’

‘I see,’ Ace repeated. ‘Fair enough – every queen needs her knight.’

‘You’ll have to solve my riddles to even get over the moat.’

‘Oh, trolls – I know how deal with them. You should check out my social media campaigns.’

There was another pause, and a sense of squaring up.

‘We’ll come to your opinions later,’ said Will. ‘I promise to ask you about racism and climate change if you will please stop being mysterious about your background.’ He cocked his head to one side. ‘Well?’

‘Right.’ Ace drew a breath. ‘As you may be aware, I was fostered as a small child. Permanently, as it turned out. My foster mother, Merle, was a sports coach and recognised I might have potential.’

‘Oof,’ interrupted Will. ‘She must’ve thought she’d won the foster-child lottery.’ He apologised as Ace gave him a look.

‘My foster father wasn’t around much. I guess you could say it was a matriarchal household – my foster sister, Faye, is a … um, strong woman too.’

The discomforting image of his sibling slid in, and he wondered for a moment if she knew about his Wimbledon win. Probably not. Since leaving Merle’s, Faye had lived on the margins of society, disappearing for long periods, travelling with fringe, off-the-grid communities. When the pandemic hit, she’d hooked up with a group of conspiracy theorists and melted into the woods of the West Country.

As a teen, Faye had been diagnosed with ‘conduct disorder’. She’d ricocheted between foster homes, one carer after another throwing up their hands in despair, until Merle had taken her on, determined to be the one who’d make a difference.

‘I have a foster brother too. He left to travel just before Covid, he’s sitting it out in New Zealand.’

‘Sensible chap,’ said Will. ‘Why were you fostered? What happened there?’

‘That’s classified. Sorry.’

‘You’re famous, now. It’ll come out, eventually.’

‘It’s not important.’ Ace’s tone was exasperated.

‘It so is, to your fans.’

Ace put down his knife and fork. ‘Right. Off the record?’

‘Ace. If you don’t tell, the tabloids will dig. If you’re uncomfortable discussing it, give me the barest bones and I’ll fudge. I’m good at writing words that keep secrets.’

Ace looked doubtful, but recognised the sense in Will’s words. ‘I have no idea about my biological parents. For all I know, I could’ve been found sleeping in a cave. I’ve never especially wanted to find out; I’m happy with who I’ve become, and grateful to my foster family.’

He stopped talking; he was saying no more. He held Will’s gaze as the silence stretched out, and when Ace didn’t fill it, Will finally nodded. ‘Thanks for sharing that. I’ll probe no further.’ He checked his phone then carried on, questioning Ace about his rise to tennis stardom.

Ace explained, patiently, how he’d competed in fencing before switching his focus to tennis. He’d been Britain’s number one youth fencer, and had won gold at the 2012 Olympics.

Will’s eyes widened in surprise. ‘Olympic gold? Oh my lord, you are an actual golden boy!’ But then he pulled a face. ‘Fencing, though?’

‘An ancient and noble sport, Will.’

‘What got you into that? I mean, swords are quite sexy, but the head-to-toe onesie things … not so much.’

Ace leaned forward. ‘I think you might enjoy this tale.’

‘I’m all ears.’

‘My foster father, Hector, is a keen coarse fisherman. Those people you see huddled under giant umbrellas on wet Sundays, avoiding their families? That was Hector.’

Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness.’

‘Something like that. When I was little – about five or six – he found an ancient bronze sword in the shallows of a lake up on Bodmin Moor. He was reeling in a fish when a glint in the reeds caught his eye. He waded in and there it was, just lying there on the bottom.’

‘Treasure! How thrilling.’

‘I was fascinated by it.’ Ace pictured the beautiful sword, which Hector had kept in a custom-made cabinet. One of Ace’s earliest memories was of pressing his nose up against the glass, gazing at that weapon, longing to swing it above his head, to run his finger down its gleaming blade. But it had been kept under strictest lock and key.

Museum experts had identified the sword as Celtic. The grip was embellished with moulded swirls, and in the pommel was a space where a precious stone would have sat.

‘It’s Hector’s pride and joy,’ said Ace. ‘Every visitor to our house has to hear the tale. Merle – my mum – was terrified we’d be burgled because of it, but the display case is museum grade. No way could anyone break into that cabinet.’ He grinned. ‘Apart from me.’

Will chuckled. ‘Do go on, Arthur.’

‘When you live in a Cornish backwater, you welcome a supposedly insurmountable challenge.’

‘You mean you worked out where your dad hid the key.’

‘Oh no. No key.’

‘Then …’

Ace tapped the size of his nose. ‘A touch of magic. Opened it up, pulled out that sword.’

‘And now you’re going to tell me Hector called it Excalibur.’

‘He didn’t, but I did. Secretly,’ said Ace. ‘And when I liberated it, I took it outside, and by the time Hector came home I was hooked on the feel of a sword in my hand. He discovered me feinting the elderberry tree. He was furious, and couldn’t believe I’d worked out how to take it from its case. But he knew how fascinated with that sword I’d always been, and in return for my promise never to touch it again, he paid for fencing lessons. Of course, I didn’t compete with a heavy sword like Excalibur, I fenced with an epee.’

‘An epee?’

‘It’s a light, thrusting weapon. And the entire body is a valid target.’

Will met his eye. ‘Indeed? Now that’s a sport I could get into.’

Ace laughed and sat back in his seat, his meal and his story finished. ‘I think we had a deal, Will.’

‘You want more on Eliza.’

‘That would be nice.’

Will looked at him for a long moment, and seemed to reach a decision. ‘She’s everything she seems. Exceptionally bright, genuine, feisty but kind-hearted – a pussy cat in a tiger skin, my late-lamented partner once called her. Also something of a square peg in a round hole, if you’ll pardon the cliché, in that she’s a creative person living a corporate life. Her only failing is probably that she’s a workaholic. But she’s been through a lot. Business battles, family dramas, splitting up with her long-term boyfriend …’ He paused. ‘And … Kit’s death. Kit Marley.’

He stared out of the window. ‘The three of us – we were a close-knit team. Eliza and I are still somewhat adrift without him. Eliza maybe even more so than I.’

‘That was a terrible business,’ said Ace. ‘Andre Sokolov was involved in sports broadcasting, so I came across him. But … back to Eliza?’ Even saying her name made his heart beat faster.

‘Right. Yes. Close to her father. They’ve had their moments – all the wives and mistresses and the scandals. But they’ve worked through that and – well, Ace, should you ever find yourself on her slender arm, know that Harry Rose’s good opinion of you is the deal-clincher. However, as he’s a tennis fanatic, you have something of a head start there.’ Will shook his head. ‘Honestly, Harry acts as if he invented the game.’

‘Useful to know. What’s he like?’

‘Utterly charming and very charismatic; wicked sense of humour, but – shit, you wouldn’t want him as an enemy. He’s ruthless as they come. Verging on the tyrant, at times.’

‘I see.’ Ace looked out of the window at the Thames twinkling in the sunshine, then back at Will. ‘And Eliza … there’s no, um–’

‘Love interest? Not currently. She’s still close to Rob, her ex. It’s something she’s good at,’ he said, as if the thought had just occurred to him, ‘keeping on good terms with people who have … let’s say, let her down. And there have been plenty of those, especially in her crazy extended family: psycho sister, devious cousin, an out-of-control half-brother – he died; a heinous uncle, as well as all the business enemies she’s had to deal with. But somehow she sails through, comes out the other side sparkly as ever.’

Ace wondered if this woman had any flaws at all, but as he went to ask, Will said, ‘Your turn. You’ve said in the press that you want to use your voice for change. Tell me about that.’

Fair enough. Will didn’t want to say too much about Eliza to an over-interested stranger. Ace took another drink of water, then began sharing his thoughts on how those in the public eye had an obligation to use their time in the spotlight to push for change. People didn’t trust politicians, he said, but they idolised sportspeople, calling them heroes. And that particularly applied to the working classes, who were often denied a voice.

Will stifled a yawn; his gaze had drifted out of the window again.

‘Am I boring you, Will?’

The writer’s eyes snapped back to his. ‘Never, Ace. I’m beyond delighted you’re good at heart. We all desperately want to believe you’re the white knight you seem.’

‘Probably not a good metaphor – I’m taking a stand against racism.’

‘Oh. The black knight, then?’ Will adopted a pose. ‘I move for no man.’

Ace grinned. ‘Tis but a scratch …’

I’ve had worse.’

They both laughed.

‘Classic movie,’ said Ace. ‘Shall I continue? Or are my thoughts on social injustice going to be edited out to leave space for speculation on why I was abandoned at birth?’

‘Indeed. I’m just anticipating my editor’s deletions on the piece we’d in fact both like me to write.’

Ace thought for a moment. ‘But isn’t Terri Robbins-More all about fighting for the common man?’

‘She is. But she’s also deeply suspicious of people’s motivations. She’s been around for a long, long time, watched the very best of them collapse under the weight of their own ambition and success. The whole power corrupts thing.’

‘I’m good at hitting a ball,’ said Ace. ‘That doesn’t mean you have to listen to my opinions on equal rights, racism, whatever. But the fact is, when you become famous, people want to know what you believe. And the person on the street will often take more notice of what, say, Harry Styles thinks, than the PM or the leader of the opposition. You’re giving me a platform here. I’m not going to waste it.’

Will leaned forward, warming to his theme. ‘But how are your opinions likely to change anything? A tennis champ who cares about racism, or climate change. So what? Aren’t we all already concerned about these things? Why not do something practical, like, set up a charity to give poor kids the opportunity to play tennis?’

‘Others already have. Sportspeople are great at bringing through talent that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance. I want to be more about changing attitudes. Look – that photo shoot. You think that’s what I want to be doing? It’s bollocks. How is it important whether or not I look hot on your cover? But you know the answer to that. It sells more copies. People will read it mostly to find out who I’m dating, and maybe how much money I won on Sunday. I tell you that, and then I get to share–’

‘But you haven’t told me who you’re dating.’

‘No one, right now …’ It was almost true. ‘And in return I get to share my thoughts on, say, diversity in sport. You get the picture?’

Will smiled. ‘Indeed I do. Right you are – feel free to share more opinions. I just hope you’re prepared for what this feature might unleash.’

‘Bring it on.’

‘Well,’ said Will, some time later. ‘I have all I need and that was an absolute delight. And when I report back to our dear leader –’

The phone in his hand rang. ‘Speak of the devil …’