With a background in history and archaeology, Jennifer Ash should really be sat in a dusty university library translating Medieval Latin criminal records, and writing research documents that hardly anyone would want to read. Instead, tucked away in the South West of England, Jennifer writes stories of medieval crime, steeped in mystery, with a side order of romance.
Influenced by a lifelong love of Robin Hood and medieval ballad literature, Jennifer has written The Outlaw’s Ransom (Book One in The Folville Chronicles) – a short novel, which first saw the light of day within the novel Romancing Robin Hood (written under the name Jenny Kane; Pub. Littwitz Press, 2018). Book Two of The Folville Chronicles - The Winter Outlaw - and Book Three - Edward's Outlaw - were released in 2018. A fourth book in the series, Outlaw's Justice, will be published in 2020.
Jennifer Ash has also written fouraudiobooks based on the 1980s television series Robin of Sherwood -- "Mathilda's Legacy", "The Waterford Boy", "The Baron's Daughter" and "The Meeting Place".
Under the name Jenny Kane, she has published several popular romance novels and short stories including Another Cup of Coffee, Another Glass of Champagne, A Cornish Escape (formerly Abi's House), A Cornish Wedding (formerly Abi's Neighbour), Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange and Romancing Robin Hood.
All of Jennifer and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at www.jennykane.co.uk.
Also her Twitter handles are @JenAshHistory and @JennyKaneAuthor
This interview was conducted by e-mail in March 2018 with additional comments added in December 2018 (in the main text) and further comments in July 2019 and June 2020.
AWW: In Romancing Robin Hood your character Dr. Grace Harper reflects that her interest in Robin Hood started “with an instant and unremitting love for a television show” and that “It was all Jason Connery’s fault, or maybe Michael Praed’s?” I know you share her love of Robin of Sherwood, so how did you first get into the Robin Hood legend?
JA:It all began for me when I was 14 years old. I had been off school with glandular fever for weeks and I was going mad with boredom, so my lovely parents popped along to Radio Rentals (TV and video hire shop) and rented a video recorder. They hadn’t been available long, and it was unbelievable to be able to record and watch whatever I liked when I liked. The very first programme my Dad recorded to test if the recorder worked was an episode from series 3 of Robin of Sherwood- "Adam Bell".
Not only since that single episode have I been instantly fixated on Robin of Sherwood- but on the Robin Hood legend as a whole. I immediately wanted to know everything that there was to know of the legend- and the time period it was said to have come from.
AWW: You’d established yourself as a successful writer of feel-good romance novels with books such as Another Cup of Coffee. How did Romancing Robin Hood come about? I like the balance between the present-day romantic elements of historian Grace balancing with her historical novel of the fictional Mathilda’s interactions with the real-life 14th century criminal family the Folvilles.
JA: I’d always wanted to write medieval fiction- but like Grace in Romancing Robin Hood- I was wary of straying too far from historical fact. At the same time, I didn’t want to write something that was so packed with facts that it was dull, or textbook like. I also wasn’t sure I could do it. Writing historical fiction is a very different discipline to writing romantic comedy or feel-good fiction.
Writing about someone in the here- and-now who was writing a medieval based novel- and including their book within that novel- gave me the perfect testing ground for both my ability to write crime and to see if Mathilda’s part of the story would be popular enough to develop into a standalone book.
It also gave me an excuse to share my love of all things Robin Hood with my wonderful readers.
AWW: In the present-day segments Grace has a lot of concerns in writing her historical novel – remembering the time of year, keeping the plot on track with a well-timed murder. What challenges did you have in writing a historical crime novel (or novel-within-a-novel)?
JA: All of those things. Grace suffered with those problems because I was suffering them. She and I limped from problem to problem together- growing in confidence -or not- as we went along!
AWW: You’ve spun the Mathilda section of Romancing Robin Hood off into its own stand-alone novel The Outlaw’s Ransom, the first in The Folville Chronicles series. Why did you change your writing name from Jenny Kane to Jennifer Ash for the new series?
JA: That was a decision made purely for marketing purposes, so that there was a clear difference between the look of my historical fiction and my contemporary fiction. Often, publishers like authors who write across a variety of genres to adopt a new name for each one.
AWW: What upcoming adventures can we expect of Mathilda and the Folvilles in the later novels such as The Winter Outlaw and Edward's Outlaw?
JA: In The Winter Outlaw Mathilda’s position within the Folville household begins to be accepted- but she is far from safe. I won’t spoil it for you- but I will say that it is much darker that The Outlaw’s Ransom- and that someone is trying to take over the Folvilles lands.
Book Three of The Folville Chronicles: Edward’s Outlaw (the Edward in question being King Edward III) was published by Littwitz Press this month. [December 2018]
What inspired it? Well- I came across a very interesting entry about the Folvilles and a man called Robert de Vere, Constable of Rockingham castle, in the Calendar of the Patent Rolls for 1329-1330. The novel sparked from that discovery. I’ll say no more except that this time Mathilda has the role of detective thrust upon her while Robert de Folville and his brothers are on the run.
AWW: How did you come to be involved with the new Robin of Sherwood audiobooks?
JA: It was a pure stroke of luck. Barnaby Eaton-Jones came across my novel, Romancing Robin Hood, on Facebook. We got chatting on social media and a few months later he invited me to sell copies of my novel at The Hooded Man Event 2016- where the audio drama "Knights of the Apocalypse" was first previewed. A week later I found myself at the premier of "Knights of the Apocalypse" in London, where there was talk of writing some more episodes one day. I never for a moment thought I was included in that ‘one day.’
Many months later- out of the blue- Iain Meadows and Barnaby Eaton-Jones contacted me, asking if I would like to try and write a brand new RoS episode. I can’t even begin to describe how that felt!
It was many weeks later before I heard that my episode had passed all the gatekeepers- Spiteful Puppet, The Carpenter Estate and ITV. I’m still stunned I got through.
AWW: One of the characters you introduce in "The Waterford Boy" is James D’Marelle – the king’s recruiter for the wars in France, and an old acquaintance of Will Scarlet. There’s a flashback to Will’s time fighting in France in “Adam Bell”, the first Robin of Sherwood episode you watched. How did you come to flesh out the backstory briefly mentioned on the TV series?
JA: It was homage to that very first episode I watched- "Adam Bell". It remains one of my favourites- and it was the moment I fell in love with Will Scarlet’s vulnerability. I always felt there was much more to say about Scarlet’s past- but obviously it would be out of character for him to share information about himself unless circumstances dictated that he had to. So I invented a scenario where that could happen. All of the characters within RoS have back stories to share; it was an honour to be allowed to embroider Scarlet’s past a little.
AWW: I thought of all the audio books, yours did the best job of capturing the tone of the original TV series? What do you think makes Robin of Sherwood so distinctive, and how did you take that into consideration when writing your script?
JA: I’m honoured- thank you.
I’ve thought a lot about what make RoS so unique. It was the perfect piece of television for a Saturday afternoon. Accessible family entertainment- with strong stories and strong characters- which stayed faithful to the original concept of the Robin Hood legend without being a slave to it.
When I was writing my episodes I was desperate to stay within the original feel of Richard Carpenter’s concept. I wanted the fans of the show to feel like they used to feel when they were teenagers watching an episode for the first time. After all, although it would be wonderful to think we were writing for a brand new audience (and indeed we are in some cases)- for the most part we are writing for adults enjoying a nostalgia kick back to the 1980’s. It was that audience I considered most of all – I desperately don’t want to disappoint anyone by straying too far from what you’d expect from a RoS episode.
AWW: So often in literary traditions, we see male heroes as a reflection of their father. I like that in "Mathilda’s Legacy" you establish Robin Hood (the Robert of Huntingdon version) takes after his mother instead? How did you craft Robert’s mother?
JA: That is a really difficult question- Mathilda just appeared in my head one day. I simply knew how I saw her. Of course, other people may well have imagined Robert’s mother differently, and so my concept of her may have been off-kilter for them.
To me it had to have been Robert’s mother who was his driving force. I couldn’t play with the nature of the Earl of Huntingdon. He is an established character within the series. Not only that- but he is bound by the pressures of his position and the will of his King. His wife however, when she’d been alive- would have spent more time with their son- and if she was as spirited as I made Mathilda to be- then it is little wonder that Robert favoured his mother’s attitude and tendency for careful rebellion.
I called her Mathilda, because that really was the name of the Earl of Huntingdon’s wife.
AWW: With both The Folville Chronicles and "Mathilda’s Legacy", you blend history and fiction. What’s your approach to interacting with genuine history?
JA: I try and stay as close to historical fact as I can, but at the same time I never forget I’m out to entertain my audience. This is fiction and escapism. So, while my history is generally accurate, I wouldn’t use any of my dates for certain events as answers in a pub quiz if I were you!
I do my research properly, as I would if I was writing a historical text book – and then I exaggerate or twist the situation to suit my story if I need to.
AWW: Is there anything you can reveal about your next Robin of Sherwood audio book?
JA: "The Baron’s Daughter" continues the story of Alan a Dale. It takes place six months after Alan and his new wife, Mildred de Bracy, have (with Robin Hood’s help) foiled a plan by the Baron de Bracy for Mildred to be the Sheriff of Nottingham’s wife. Far from happy, Mildred’s father intends to track the newlywed’s down - and the man who helped them escape. This is my only story, so far, to feature Robin of Loxley rather than Robert of Huntingdon. (I have no idea if they’ll be more in the future).
My most recent script is called "The Meeting Place". This story is very close to my heart. It was written from an idea, producer, Barnaby Eaton Jones had for a Much-centred tale.
It contains just three characters. Much, a girl called Kate from the village of Papplewick, and her father William. Written as a cast script, it takes place sometime after the Knights of the Apocalypse. Recording an entire year of Much’s life, it should make you laugh- and maybe cry...
I’ll say no more- expect that Peter Llewellyn Williams (Much in the original series) played his part to utter perfection.
AWW: What is it that appeals to you about the Robin Hood legend, and why do
you think the tales have endured from the time of Folvilles to the
JA: During the time of the Folvilles’ (1320-1330’s) England was in a terrible state. Unrest was rife and the Crown was struggling to cope about years of rebellion, famine and disease. It is no co-incidence that songs of political satire and heroic ballads surged in popularity as people laboured the lands to stay alive.
I think it all comes down to hope. However bad things are, there are stories about a person who is willing to fight back for us to take refuge in. Whether it is Robin Hood, King Arthur, or even Doctor Who- humans need fictional heroes to inspire them to keep going. We need stories to tell us it will be alright in the end. And the worse our reality gets, the more we need those fictions heroes and heroines.
AWW: Thanks again.
JA: Many thanks for inviting me over today,
AWW: You've recently adapted The Meeting Place into a novelization released by Chinbeard Books. How did that come about?
JA: This was yet another dream come true for me. To have my name on a book next to Richard Carpenter- that seems unreal somehow!
The chance to novelise The Meeting Place came after Spiteful Puppet- who compiled the audio stories – purchased the novel licence from ITV. The Robin of Sherwood fans had made it clear they'd welcome any new RoS books- and so I, alongside Paul Kane and Paul Birch, was given the chance to novelise one of my audio tales.
AWW: What challenges and opportunities came with adapting an audio drama into prose form?
JA: The biggest issue I had was that The Meeting Place is only 15,000 words long, and the book had to be at least double that to make it cost effective to publish it. This meant I had to invent a completely new subplot to run alongside the original tale - as well as to compliment and support it. Challenging indeed! It did give me the chance to play with the characters of the Sheriff and Gisburne. I do love putting words in their mouths.
AWW: How were you approached about continuing the Robin of Sherwood "fourth series" in prose? How much of a brief were you given? (ie: is there a "series bible", were you asked to include specific things or characters)
JA: As ever with these new additions to the Robin of Sherwood story, I was approached by Barnaby Eaton Jones of Spiteful Puppet and Chinbeard Books in the first instance. He asked me if I’d like to have a go at “spinning another RoS yarn.”
Naturally, I said yes immediately.
When writing the scripts, the brief is dependent on which actors are available to record them afterwards – so the writing request comes with the knowledge that, for example, they’ll be no Will Scarlet around. Therefore, a good reason for him being absent has to be thought up. In The Power of Three - as it was a novelisation- there was a freedom to include whoever I needed to make the story work.
To be asked to do the first solo novelisation was extremely flattering. I’m sure people must be fed up of me saying I can’t believe my luck - but honestly - I really can’t!
For this story, Barnaby had a few ideas brewing that he wanted expanding into a story – in this case, it was to have Marion as the central figure. He also suggested that the story should have a semi-sequel type appeal – with the return of an old face from the original television series. I won’t say who that was, but I jumped at the chance! After that, the creation of the story was my own.
As to there being a series Bible – well obviously ther are certain unspoken rules. We can’t bring anyone back from the dead (unless there is sorcery involved!), nor can we undo an event that has happened. We have to stick to the original chronology, and add our tales within it, so that the flow of the overall story arc isn’t lost. Beyond that, I try to stick to the golden rule I made myself when this all began – these are not my characters – I’m merely looking after them for Mr Carpenter. I try to use the voices as he would use them; respecting his superior style and character creation.
AWW: Anthony Horowitz's Robin of Sherwood is slightly different creature from Richard Carpenter's Robin of Sherwood. What qualities do you think are important in your spin on Robin of Sherwood?
JA: I’m not sure I can answer that. As I said above, I try and stay faithful to the original style of the stories. I do try and make sure there is at least one slight nod to original series nostalgia within each tale. (For example, in Mathilda’s Legacy, I have Lord Edgar chatting up the future Robin Hood’s mother.)
Both Mr Horowitz and Mr Carpenter wrote the stories so brilliantly, that all I can do is honour their work, and hope like hell I don’t fall too far short.
AWW: What excited you the most about writing The Power of Three? And what can fans expect from this new Robin of Sherwood tale?
JA: I had an absolute ball writing this novel. Not only was I given licence to play with one of my favourite ‘returning’ characters, I could create their entire back story from when we last saw them, and then decree their eventual future...
It was fascinating to write as if seeing Sherwood through both Robin and Marion’s eyes. I had the chance to really get to grips with their personal ghosts and demons, while weaving an adventure that touches on the past, present and future.
AWW: What can you tell us about book four of the Folville Chronicles - Outlaw Justice?
JA: Outlaw Justice will be the final novel in The Folville Chronicles series – for the time being at least. Like the other stories in the series (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw and Edwards’s Outlaw), it has a real historical event at its heart. In this case, it is the kidnap of Sir Richard Willoughby that causes all the conflict within the plot.
The whole family, and their associates, the Coterel brothers of Bakewell in Derbyshire, are on the run and in fear of their lives – and it falls to Mathilda to find some leverage within Willoughby’s family to help the Folville’s cause. A task made both easier - and then very much harder - when rumours of the disappearance of Willoughby’s wife reach Ashby- Folville....
Outlaw Justice should be published before the end of 2020 (pandemic willing!)
AWW: So, a surprise lockdown audio drama project has been announced -- Robin of Sherwood: Fitzwarren's Well. How did this one come about?
JA: Barnaby approached me not long after the pandemic began and asked if I fancied having a go at writing an adventure to reflect the issue. Obviously, I jumped at the chance.
We were limited by time, money- and cast members with home audio equipment. But it was so much fun to do.
AWW: The Lockdown special involves a sickness in Sherwood. Did your knowledge of medieval history come into play with this episode? And also, has your experience as a historian given you perspective on current events?
JA: The idea from Barnaby was to reflect- but not copy- the current climate. At first- yes, my historical knowledge did come into play- but as the story developed, I realised I'd overwritten that side of things. I took a lot of the information I'd put in about herb cures etc out., as it detracted from the tale.
As to my own knowledge and current events- obviously I can see echos of the past here- not with the illness itself, but in how people cope/don't cope with it. Not so much with the plague of the Fourteenth Century, but more with the Spanish Flu horrors of the early Twentieth Century- when people relaxed too soon, and a second wave of illness- far worse than the first- arrived. (I hope that DOES NOT happen this time- but....)
I am reminded often of Eyam in the Peak District, a village that quarantined itself off in the Seventeenh Century when the plague arrived. The sacrifice of that village- by keeping a social distance from the country, saved so many lives- and gave medical science the knowledge of the value of social separation in time of sickness.
AWW: I see some big developments in the world of Jenny Kane. What can you say the reissue of the Abi books, and your new Mill Grange series?
JA: The Jenny Kane side of my writing has changed dramatically over the last year, with my former publisher selling the 'abi' books to Headline - and them becoming A Cornish Escape and A Cornish Wedding (instead of Abi's House and Abi's Neighbour) - and now, with the launch of my new #MillGrange series with another publisher, Aria, I spending a great deal of my time writing new romcoms or 'feelgood' fiction.
The Cornish books continue to sell well - as they bring home a taste of Cornwall so many, n the UK especially, love.
Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange - which launches today (June 25, 2020) - is the story of Thea Thomas - who, like myself, is a former archaeologist and historian. It takes the reader into the word of house restoration and TV archaeology on Exmoor.
AWW: Thanks again for doing these interviews.
JA: My pleasure. xx
ROMANCING ROBIN HOOD by Jenny Kane. At last a story about a Robin Hood scholar. In the present, Dr. Grace Harper is obsessed with Robin Hood (aren't we all?). The tale alternates between Grace's present-day life, and the historical romance she is writing concerning her fictional protoganist Mathilda's adventures with the Folvilles, a real-life 14th century criminal gang with similarities to Robin Hood's band. (The novel-within-a-novel is also published separately as a standalone tale -- the first book in The Folville Chronicles.)
Buy Romancing Robin Hood on Amazon.com
Buy Romancing Robin Hood on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Romancing Robin Hood on Amazon.ca
The OUTLAW'S RANSOM by Jennifer Ash. This is the standalone book from Romancing Robin Hood published separately and under a different author name. The text has been expanded slightly. Mathilda of Twyford - a potter's daughter - is
kidnapped by the Folville Brothers, a crime family inspired in part by the exploits of Robyn Hode. To survive, Mathilda has to earn the trust of Robert Folville. It's murder and mystery with a dash of romance in the 14th century.
Buy The Outlaw's Ransom (The Folville Chronicles Volume 1) on Amazon.com
Buy The Outlaw's Ransom on Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Outlaw's Ransom on Amazon.ca
THE WINTER OUTLAW by Jennifer Ash. Mathilda of Twyford's adventures continue in The Winter Outlaw
Buy The Winter Outlaw (The Folville Chronicles Book 2) on Amazon.com
Buy The Winter Outlaw (The Folville Chronicles Book 2) on Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Winter Outlaw (The Folville Chronicles Book 2) on Amazon.ca
EDWARD'S OUTLAW by Jennifer Ash. The third book in the series - things heat up when Edward III orders the arrest of Folvilles.
Buy Edward's Outlaw (The Folville Chronicles Book 3) on Amazon.com
Buy Edward's Outlaw (The Folville Chronicles) on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Edward's Outlaw (The Folville Chronicles Book 3) on Amazon.ca
Jennifer Ash has also written four audiobooks based on the 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood. These are availble for digital download exclusively on the Spiteful Puppet website. (Unfortunately, Spiteful Puppet's licence with ITV only allows for these to be sold to UK residents, but you can always have a British friend by them for you.)
THE WATERFORD BOY by Jennifer Ash. King John’s chief recruiter, James D’Marelle
is collecting soldiers for the war in France. The Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisburne see this as a chance to get rid of the troublemakers and impose a "people tax". One troublemaker that Gisburne wants to dispose of is a young Pagan boy named Alwin. Robin Hood and the outlaws get involved. And Will Scarlet encounters the man who once recruited him to fight in France. It is not a happy reunion. Read by Judi Trott (who played Marion on the TV series).
Buy The Waterford Boy on Spiteful Puppet's Website
MATHILDA'S LEGACY by Jennifer Ash. Earl David of Huntingdon realizes that his teenage son, Robert of Huntingdon (the future Robin Hood), takes after his mother. And so the Earl decides to tell his son the story of how he first met Mathilda, Robert's mother. It describes the siege of Nottingham Castle. Read by Michael Craig (who played the Earl of Huntingdon on the TV series).
Buy Mathilda's Legacy on Spiteful Puppet's Website
THE BARON'S DAUGHTER by Jennifer Ash. A sequel to the TV episode "Alan a Dale". Alan's father-in-law, the Baron de Bracy is out for revenge. That means trouble -- not only for the young lovers but also for Robin Hood, the outlaws ... and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Read by Peter Hutchinson (the physical actor to play Alan on TV although his voice was dubbed on the show) and featuring Hannah Boydell as Mildred.
Buy The Baron's Daughter on Spiteful Puppet's Website
THE MEETING PLACE by Jennifer Ash, from an idea by Barnaby Eaton-Jones. Each month Much meets the daughter of the village elder of Papplewick to exchange tax money in exchange for food and information. The original TV series actor Peter Llewellyn Williams takes Much to places he never went on TV. It also features Sheila Ham as Kate and Barnaby Eaton-Jones as William. This story is available both individually and in a special four story colllection, with other tales starring Michael Praed and Jason Connery. It has also been adapted as a novel.
Buy The Meeting Place (audio play) on Spiteful Puppet's Website
Buy Robin of Sherwood – A New Adventure (a four-disc CD Boxed Set, including The Meeting Place) on Spiteful Puppet's Website
Buy Robin of Sherwood – A New Adventure (download version, including The Meeting Place and three other tales) on Spiteful Puppet's Website
Buy Robin of Sherwood: The Meeting Place (novelization) by Jennifer Ash on Spiteful Pupper's Website
Buy The Meeting Place on Amazon.com
Buy The Meeting Place (Robin of Sherwood) on Amazon.co.uk
Buy The Meeting Place on Amazon.ca
THE POWER OF THREE by Jennifer Ash. An old villain returns in this novel set after the Robin of Sherwood TV series. It focuses on Marion.
Buy The Power of Three on Spiteful Puppet's Website
This download-only audio drama was recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown. It stars Judi Trott as Marion, Jon Culshaw as Will Scarlet (doing a voice similar to Ray Winstone's), Sarah Greene, Daniel Abineri, Ian Ogilvy and Barnaby Eaton-Jones.
(Please note that the link may not work for those outside of the UK and Ireland)
ANOTHER CUP OF COFFEE by Jenny Kane. Jenny Kane's first contemporary romance novel has been a Kindle best-seller. Thirteen years ago, Amy Crane ran away from everyone and everything she knew. When she receives an old mix-tape in the mail, she reinvents herself again, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. The first in series of stories set around Pickwick's coffee shop.
Buy Another Cup of Coffee on Amazon.com
Buy Another Cup of Coffee on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Another Cup Of Coffee on Amazon.ca
A CORNISH ESCAPE (formerly Abi's House) by Jenny Kane. This novel is on Amazon Romance, Contemporary Fiction, and Women’s Fiction charts. Newly widowed at barely thirty, Abi Carter is desperate to escape the Stepford Wives-style life that Luke, her late husband, had been so keen for her to live. Abi decides to fulfil a lifelong dream. As a child on holiday in a Cornwall she fell in love with a cottage – the prophetically named Abbey’s House. Now she is going to see if she can find the place again, relive the happy memories … maybe even buy a place of her own nearby? She makes new friends, but trouble looms in the form of her lecherous brother-in-law Simon.
Buy A Cornish Escape on Amazon.com
Buy A Cornish Escape on Amazon.co.uk
Buy A Cornish Escape on Amazon.ca
MIDSUMMER DREAMS AT MILL GRANGE by Jenny Kane. The start of a new feel-good romance series set around a Victorian manor.
Buy Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange on Amazon.com
Buy Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange on Amazon.co.uk
Buy Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange on Amazon.ca