Tim Darcy Ellis

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Tim Darcy Ellis (BA BSc, MHSc) is a writer, physiotherapy business owner and formerly a professional archaeologist. His critically acclaimed debut, 'The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives' is a fast-paced and meticulously researched historical novel. It brings back to life the largely forgotten Vives, a Spanish Jew and leading Renaissance humanist. Tim is passionate about bringing his love of history, archaeology and philosophy together: and to express it by writing great fiction.

As a child in his family home in Surrey, England, Tim spent hours thumbing through historical books and encyclopaedias. He became especially fascinated with the Tudors: Henry VIII and his six wives, the rise of the Renaissance, the power struggles between the court factions, driven by relentless ambition and religious ideology. Later, Tim majored in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York (1985-1988).

Tim worked as a professional archaeologist (1988-1996), on sites throughout England and Wales, including the excavations of London's Roman amphitheatre at the Guildhall (1988-90). He held posts at the Museum of London and was a tour guide at the British Museum's medieval galleries. It was during this period that he developed a lifelong fascination with England's immigrant communities—their struggles, conflicts, failures and, ultimately, their successes.

Years later Tim gifted a Spanish friend a book, 'The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture', by Henry Kamen. Tim thumbed through the pages before passing it on, and stumbled upon the incredible story of Juan Luis Lives. To his surprise, there were no films, no novels, and no recent biographies of this astonishing man and his life, and so Tim got to work. After several rewrites and collaborations with experts, 'The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives' was completed in 2020. The story charts the course of Vives's story in the years during the years of his self-imposed exile from Spain, his University positions in Paris, the Netherlands and Oxford, and his contentious visit to the court of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon in the 1520s.

'The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Lives' is the first part of Tim's Sephardic Trilogy. The trilogy that explores the role of the key men and women whose life's work was pivotal in enabling the resettlement of the Jews in England - and her colonies- in 1655.

Tim is currently Managing Director and Principal Physiotherapist of Excel Physiotherapy and Wellness. He qualified as a physiotherapist at the University of London in 1998. Tim moved to Sydney in 2000 where he completed his master's degree with honours in 2002 at The University of Sydney. Tim is chief writer of Excel Life magazine: writing and teaching extensively on health and wellness and specialising in the treatment of complex hip and pelvic pain.



BY Tim Darcy Ellis • POSTED ON Aug. 3, 2020

A historical novel about the great 16th-century humanist Juan Luis Vives.

In the framing device of Ellis’ novel, an electrician in the present-day College of Bruges in Belgium opens the wall of a study and finds a centuries-old book. It’s the secret journal of one of the city’s most famous citizens: Juan Luis Vives, who was born in Spain in 1493, spent most of his life in the Netherlands, and made a fateful and contentious visit to Henry VIII’s England in the early 1520s. Vives was friends with fellow humanists Erasmus and Thomas More, and during the first part of his time in England, he was a tutor to King Henry VIII’s daughter Princess Mary (“this was to be my catapult to greatness, the chance to realise my dream,” Vives thinks when More arranges the position for him). Ellis’ tale follows the adventures of young Vives as he leaves his native Spain and encounters the strange world of England, where he must become accustomed to his new, Anglicized name (“John Lewis of Oxford”) and the shifting tensions between Henry and Queen Catherine of Aragon, whose turbulent marriage becomes the central topic of the land. Henry seeks to have his marriage to Catherine annulled, claiming that she’d previously had sex with his late brother, Arthur, which she adamantly denies—to Henry. However, she impulsively tells Vives that the claim is true and also that her baby boy, fathered by Arthur, was taken away from her on the pretext of it being stillborn. As the narrative moves forward, Vives must juggle his own domestic struggles with the possibility that he has “talked [himself] into treason.”

Ellis writes all of this with marvelous gusto that’s more reminiscent of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (2009) than of a more traditional Tudor novel. Vives not only addresses his diary as though it were a person; it also sometimes seems to address him right back. As a confidant of the queen, Vives refused to accept the validity of the king’s annulment and, as a result, he only narrowly escaped England with his life; in Ellis’ telling, the danger was compounded by the fact that Vives was also secretly an adherent of Judaism. As the story goes on, Ellis can’t resist the occasional bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing. When Vives visits the shrine of Thomas Becket with More, for instance, More says, “See how even the king’s greatest friend, his most favoured subject, can fall? But if God is with me, whom should I fear?” Months later, of course, More himself would be executed on the orders of his friend the king. However, the boisterous vivacity of Vives as a character remains appealing throughout. Early on, he discovers that he is “human rather than humanist,” and this canny emphasis is the guiding light of the book, allowing readers to avoid Vives’ forbiddingly abstruse scholarly writing. With this novel, Ellis effectively allows readers to root for a person that many may only know as a footnote to the story of More.

A fast-paced and richly engaging story about an intriguing historical figure.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-228-83437-3

Page count: 272pp

Publisher: Tellwell

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Lives - trailer

Awards, Press & Interests

Day job

I'm a physiotherapist, specialising in treating hip and pelvic pain

Favorite author

Kazuo Ishiguro

Favorite book

A Time of Gifts Patrick Leigh Fermor

Favorite line from a book

'Like a stallion who breaks his halter...and gallops off across the fields in triumph, to bathe in the lovely river. He tosses up his head; his mane flies back across his shoulders; he knows how beautiful he is.' Homer, The Iliad

Favorite word



Sydney, Australia

Passion in life

History, archaeology, philosophy, walks in the woods, hanging out with my dog, my mates, and dives into the ocean

Unexpected skill or talent

I come from a big family and I was once a chef, I'll create a meal for twenty people in twenty minutes


THE SECRET DIARIES OF JUAN LUIS VIVES: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books, 2020


'this beautifully detailed, thrilling historical novel', 2020

The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives, 2020

'A fast-moving, highly enjoyable historical drama', 2020

'the swirling beautifully penned new novel by Tim Darcy Ellis', 2020

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