Today, it is my pleasure to welcome Deborah Swift to my blog to discuss the inspiration for her latest novel, The Poison Keeper. I would like to thank Deborah Swift and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing my blog to host a stop on this tour.
I had enjoyed writing about Seville in A Divided Inheritance and was looking to find another setting where I could escape from the dull grey English winter. My husband suggested Italy and I remembered reading about Giulia Tofana, a notorious Renaissance poisoner, and the poison Aqua Tofana, named after her. I decided to investigate her a bit further to see if she would make a subject for a novel.
I was surprised to find that no one had written a novel about her in English, and so that made me even more determined. However, as soon as I started the research process I realized I was researching someone who was more of a myth than a real historical figure. Most of the information about her was from the 19th century, a good three hundred years since any proper record of her. Also, there were so many different dates associated with her life – for example, she is said by different sources to have been executed, to have escaped, and to have been bricked up behind a wall (!) – and her time of death was variously attributed to 1659, 1709 or 1730.
Three Generations of Poisoners
There were some peculiarities in the history and it soon became apparent that I was dealing not with one person, but with three – Theofania d’Adamo, her daughter Giulia Tofana and her daughter Girolamo Spara. In Italy at the time, women often took the contracted version of their mothers’ forenames as Christian names – hence Theofania = Tofana. I decided to focus on the middle generation because Giulia was the only one who escaped without execution as far as I could tell.
The one date that could be fixed by contemporary records was the death of Theofania who died on 12th July 1633. This concords with the first record of Aqua Tofana the poison named after Giulia Tofana, or more likely her mother Theofania, which was in 1632. This gave me a firm idea of the timescale for the book.
The enticing City of Naples
I was fascinated by the geography of Naples in the 17th Century – a city in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius that had erupted only two years earlier in 1631. The city was still recovering from those horrific events which included not only the eruption, with the city choked by dust and lava, but also by the earthquakes that preceded it and the devastating tsunami that followed it. I was able to use these events in my characters’ backstories. Society was sharply divided into rich and poor areas with glittering Palazzos and squalid slums. Corruption was rife both in the Church and in business.
The Camorra or Mafia
Powerful aristocratic families controlled the city through extortion and racketeering – this was the early inception of the mafia, known as the Camorra. The etymology is from Camo – boss, or head, and Morra – a type of gambling game popular in 17th Century Naples. This provided me with a subplot that I could use with my main male character and allowed me to create a strong antagonist, the Duke de Verdi, for my story.
Aqua Tofana – A deadly poison
Aqua Tofana was supposed to kill by three drops in a drink or food. It was a colorless liquid, supposedly undetectable, but would cause death with similar symptoms to a wasting disease. The actual ingredients have never been confirmed, although many suspect arsenic to be the main ingredient. Naples was a city of alchemists and apothecaries, and the tradition of poison was well known in the city. There had been an epidemic of poisonings since the Borgias. This research area fascinated me, and I spent quite a few happy hours researching poisons in online libraries and through books.
The scope of the research was so interesting that the story soon grew into two books, and the sequel to The Poison Keeper, The Silkworm Keeper will be released soon.
Thank you for hosting me!
Aqua Tofana – One drop to heal. Three drops to kill.
Giulia Tofana longs for more responsibility in her mother’s apothecary business, but Mamma has always been secretive and refuses to tell Giulia the hidden keys to her success. When Mamma is arrested for the poisoning of the powerful Duke de Verdi, Giulia is shocked to uncover the darker side of her trade.
Giulia must run for her life, and escapes to Naples, under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, to the home of her Aunt Isabetta, a famous courtesan. But when Giulia hears that her mother has been executed, and the cruel manner of her death, she swears she will wreak revenge on the Duke de Verdi.
The trouble is, Naples is in the grip of Domenico, the Duke’s brother, who controls the city with the ‘Camorra’, the mafia. Worse, her Aunt Isabetta, under Domenico’s thrall, insists that she should be consort to him – the brother of the man she has vowed to kill.
Based on the legendary life of Giulia Tofana, this is a story of hidden family secrets, and how even the darkest desires can be vanquished by courage and love.
‘Her characters so real they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf’ Historical Novel Society
Is your book on Kindle Unlimited? Yes
Universal Link (if you have it): mybook.to/PoisonKeeper
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0928WPHMH
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0928WPHMH
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0928WPHMH
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0928WPHMH
Deborah Swift lives in the north of England and is a USA Today bestselling author who has written fourteen historical novels to date. Her first novel, The Lady’s Slipper, set in 17th Century England, was shortlisted for the Impress Prize, and her WW2 novel Past Encounters was a BookViral Millennium Award winner.
Deborah enjoys writing about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and most of her novels have been published in reading group editions. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and is a mentor with The History Quill.
Social Media Links:
Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/deborah-swift
Amazon Author Page: http://author.to/DeborahSwift