12 August 2018

Special Guest Post by Mark Noce, Author of Dark Winds Rising

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Queen Branwen finds her world once again turned upside down as Pictish raiders harry the shores of her kingdom. Rallying her people once more, she must face her most dangerous foe yet, the Queen of the Picts. Ruthless and cunning, the Pictish Queen turns the Welsh against each other in a bloody civil war, and Branwen must attempt to stop her before her country threatens to tear itself apart. All the while Branwen is heavy with child, and finds her young son’s footsteps dogged by a mysterious assassin. Branwen must somehow defeat the Picts and save her people before the Pictish Queen and a mysterious assassin threaten to destroy their lives from the inside out.

Thanks for having me here today, Tony! My second novel in the Queen Branwen Series is Dark Winds Rising (published via St. Martin’s Press). I’ll be discussing the events that inspired my latest historical novel, as well as the research involved.

Dark Winds Rising tackles more than a few big themes: power, relationships, and romance. But it also describes the enigmatic Picts, who are the antagonists in the story. The Picts themselves are a mysterious people, who left some tantalizing clues regarding their lifestyle and culture, but no written records or many definitive facts regarding their reign in Scotland and their interactions with the rest of Britain.

I definitely chose to emphasize certain details over others in the historical record, in an attempt to present a more complete picture of the Queen of the Picts and her people. Branwen, as the Welsh protagonist, is confronted with striking similarities and difference between her Welsh kingdom and the invading Pictish tribes. Both the Picts and Welsh have strong matriarchal elements in their cultures and both opposed the Saxons during the Dark Ages. However, the Picts also had a barbaric reputation, not known for their mercy. In fact, during the collapse of the Roman Empire in Britain, the Romans actually invited the first Saxons as mercenaries to defend them from the invading Picts. The Saxons, however, took advantage of the situation, and the struggle turned into a three-way conflict among the Saxons, Picts, and Britons (in this case the Welsh).

With such an epic backdrop, however, I make sure to emphasize the story of the central characters and their personal struggles set within the larger tale of their fledgling nation. Queen Branwen is pregnant throughout the narrative, forcing her more than ever to rely on her mind and strategy when she cannot simply mount a horse and ride off into battle. In addition, her relationship with Artagan is strong, but complex, as they struggle to maintain their role as rulers while still dealing with the everyday concerns of a growing family in a time when there were few luxuries for commoners and nobles alike. Running through this entire thread is of course their primary rival, Queen Sab of the Picts, who acts both friendly and treacherous at all times. Her unpredictability forces Branwen and Artagan to confront challenges they have never had to face before, even in their previous forays against the Saxons.

At its heart, Dark Winds Rising is a piece of historical fiction. It is also a tale of two people striving to make a “normal” life for themselves and their family in very dangerous times. It certainly has elements of suspense, romance, and other influences as well. Of course, you won’t find any flying dragons or holy grails in my plots, but that’s sort of the point. I really want to show what life was like around the year 600 AD in Wales at this time. To do that, I embarked upon literary, historical, and archaeological research, drawing conclusions based on the available facts. It can be difficult to piece together an era that saw extreme tumult and change, because little survives in such conditions. But the Welsh people themselves obviously survived and their descendants as well. So despite all the hardships of the time, there is certainly a silver lining as well.

Some of the key clues to the era can be drawn by inference. For instance, hoards of silver and other objects were buried during this period. That only occurs when a society undergoes great stress. Think about it for a moment. If you dig up a bunch of buried coins that means the person who originally hid it never came back for it. Nor did any of their friends or family. Which means, something bad probably happened to them. This is just one common sense way to derive valuable data from this era. Another telltale clue comes about from forensic evidence, particularly from burial grounds. It gives you an idea of people’s health from their bones, even what they ate. In addition, modern science has shown that not all skeletons buried in armor were many. More than a few were women. That’s right, female warriors. You’re probably starting to see why I felt such an overpowering need to describe this largely neglected period of history.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading Dark Winds Rising. It was a labor of love to write and will hopefully give you a new perspective on the Picts, the Welsh, and the history of the early medieval period. Dark Winds Rising is the second novel in the Queen Branwen Series, the first book being Between Two Fires. Both are published via St. Martin’s Press and are available wherever books are sold. Thanks for reading!

Mark Noce

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About the Author

Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family. Find out more at Mark's website Marknoce.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @MarkNoce.

Praise from Bestselling Authors for the Queen Branwen Series

“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter

“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin

See Also:

Myths in Historical Fiction, By Mark Noce, Author of Between Two Fires

11 August 2018

Top Tips for Effective Guest Posts #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Guest posting has evolved from a way to manipulate rankings to become a useful tool for raising awareness of your work. This blog is visited by well over twenty thousand readers each month, (over thirty-six thousand last month) mostly with an interest in historical fiction, so it's a great way to reach a wider audience.

My broad aim now is to have posts with a one third book reviews, one third my own original posts and a third guest posts from other authors.

There are some simple things you can do to create the most effective guest posts:
  • Be open-minded when choosing your guests. Although I write historical fiction, I like to include authors from other genres and open up my blog to a wider audience. I try to find guests whose work interests me and, unless they have a book launch deadline, make it an open invitation which they can attend to whenever they have the time.
  • Develop a format which works for your blog readership. Mine has 'evolved' over the years into a layout with the cover of a book at the top with purchase links, then the guest post, and finally a short, third-person bio with a picture and links to the author's website and social media. (A short YouTube video embedded at the end also adds interest.) 
  • Provide your guest-posters with guidance to save their time and make it more likely they'll send you something in the right format. I've developed a 'template' email which I customise for specific guests but only takes a moment to prepare.
  • Share, share and share again. All posts on my blog are automatically shared on Goodreads and Google+ via RSS. I also share them at least twice to 28,000 followers on Twitter as well as Facebook to ensure they reach the widest possible audience.
If you are an author and feel your work would be of interest to visitors to The Writing Desk, please feel free to get in touch.
Tony Riches 
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Do you have some great tips on guest posting you would like to share? Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.

8 August 2018

Book Review ~ Pirates: Truth and Tales, by Helen Hollick

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Helen Hollick's latest release,  Pirates: Truth and Tales is a clever concept, as she uses a non-fiction book to show how her extensive research has led to the success of her popular fiction.

This fun exploration of the history and legends of the world of pirates is packed with interesting facts and fascinating details. Hollywood has, as usual, done it's best to mislead us about what it might have been like to live the life of a pirate.

The truth is much more complicated, as an amazingly wide range of seafarers might be termed pirates - but there are plenty of stories which are supported by historical evidence. Improved technology means that long-lost 'pirate' ships are being discovered, so our knowledge of how the real pirates lived continues to develop.

Illustrations of the 1911 edition of
Treasure Island, by N. C. Wyeth
I was particularly interested in Helen's exploration of the lives of some famous seafaring writers, such as Daniel Defoe, who I knew little about. I enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe as a child but hadn't realised Defoe is among the founders of the English novel.

We learn it was the Pirates of the Caribbean series that inspired Helen's Sea Witch series, and we sail with her as she looks at the difference between a buccaneer and a corsair, a brigantine and a caravel.

Complete with excerpts from Helen's novels and the words of sea-shanties to sing along to, this is a great book to dip in to - and like any pirate ship has treasure in the hold. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Helen moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King) explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers.  Helen is published in various languages. For more information visit Helen's website www.helenhollick.net and blog www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com and follow her on Facebook
and Twitter @HelenHollick.

7 August 2018

DNA Testing Mary Tudor, Queen of France

When I visited Bury St Edmunds recently to see the tomb of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, I also visited the nearby Moyse's Hall museum, to see the locket containing a lock of Mary Tudor's hair, (pictured above) which was taken when her coffin was moved to its present location. (It was reported that when Mary's coffin was opened her hair was some two feet long and a ‘reddish-gold’ colour.)

I was aware that several other locks of hair were taken, including this one, by historian Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, and Lady Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland:

I read in The Mythology of the 'Princes in the Tower, by the late John Ashdown-Hill (see review) that attempts were made to study these locks of hair in the quest to solve the mystery of what became of the princes. Dr Ashdown-Hill (whose research helped identify the skeleton of Richard III) had turned his attention to the urn in Westminster Abbey which purports to contain the remains of the princes in the Tower. 

To be technical for a moment, as well as DNA from cells, it is also possible to extract mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the cushion of cytoplasm which surrounds our cells. Importantly, mtDNA is inherited unchanged down the maternal line, passed from mothers to both sons and daughters, but sons cannot pass along their mothers' mtDNA to their children because mtDNA is transmitted through the female egg.

This means that Mary Tudor, Queen of France, (and her brother King Henry VIII) will have shared mtDNA with the princes through their mother, Elizabeth of York and grandmother, Elizabeth Woodville.

John Ashdown-Hill was able to borrow the specimen of Mary's hair from Moyse's Hall museum - but found the locket was sealed with solder which couldn't be removed without risking damage. He then managed to examine Horace Walpole's locket in January 2009 (now kept at Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool) and two hairs were removed in sterile conditions and taken to Professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman, an mtDNA specialist and professor in the Department of Human Genetics in Leuvenin, Belgium.

Sadly, the results were inconclusive, as it seems the hair was contaminated at the time it was removed, although research in overcoming the problem of contaminated mtDNA by 'cleaning' the samples continues, so one day Mary Tudor might help solve one of our great historical mysteries. I wonder what Mary would have said if she'd known two strands of her hair were receiving so much attention in the twenty-first century?

Tony Riches

My book  Mary - Tudor Princess is available from Amazon in paperback, ebook and audiobook editions, and although it is historical fiction, it is based on years of research to ensure her story is as factually accurate as possible.

6 August 2018

Book Review: The Mythology of the 'Princes in the Tower', by John Ashdown-Hill

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The much-needed spotlight of historical scrutiny is shone into the dark corners of one of our greatest medieval mysteries - the death of the princes in the Tower. This new book is a worthy testament to the long career of the late Dr Ashdown-Hill, and challenges the many myths which surround the disappearance of Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, sons of Edward IV.

Part of the 'mythology' of the princes in the Tower of London
Painting by Paul Delaroche in 1830 (Wikimedia)
I was surprised to learn that even the term ‘Princes in the Tower’, which we use so easily, was never used at the time - or by Shakespeare, and only emerges in the nineteenth century.  I also recall  trying to decipher the Latin inscription on the urn purporting to contain the remains of the princes in Westminster Abbey:

The author helpfully provides a full translation:
Here lie the relics of Edward V, King of England and Richard Duke of York. These brothers being confined in the Tower of London, and there stifled with pillows, were privately and meanly buried, by the order of their perfidious uncle Richard the Usurper; whose bones, long enquired after and wished for, after 191 years in the rubbish of the stairs (those lately leading to the Chapel of the White Tower) were on the 17th day of July 1674, by undoubted proofs discovered, being buried deep in that place. Charles II, a most compassionate prince, pitying their most severe fate, ordered these unhappy princes to be laid amongst the monuments of their predecessors, 1678, in the 30th year of his reign.
I've included the translation in full as here lies, not just the bones, but the foundation of much of the mythology.  People could be forgiven for accepting the inscription as fact, yet John Ashdown-Hill challenges almost every word of it.

There simply wasn't the forensic understanding in 1694 (or in 1933 when the urn was opened for 'modern' examination) to claim undoubted proofs discovered. I also hadn't realised that being buried deep in that place meant some ten feet below ground level - into the region where Roman and earlier bones have been found.

As a staunch 'Ricardian' one might expect the author to implicate Henry VII, who had much to lose by the existence of a legitimate Yorkist challenger to his throne. I know suspicion about Richard III's involvement was useful to Henry and Jasper Tudor when they were trying to raise an invasion force in France, but Henry seems to have remained silent about the matter for nineteen years after his victory at Bosworth.

This thought-provoking book raises many questions - and intriguingly points out that we might one day be able to use improved DNA analysis to answer at least some of them.  John Ashdown-Hill was uniquely placed to answer these questions, and will be missed. By working with geneticists and scientists he came tantalisingly close, so it is to be hoped that his book will inspire others to continue his work.

Tony Riches

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In Memory of the Author

John Ashdown-Hill,  a prolific author and a leading historian of the Yorkist dynasty, died on the 18th of May 2018, so never saw the publication of The Mythology of the 'Princes in the Tower'. He completed his MA in Linguistics and PhD in medieval history at Essex, and his research helped lead to the discovery of Richard III’s remains beneath a Leicester car park in 2012. Here is a short video of his acceptance of an honorary degree from the University of Essex in 2014:

5 August 2018

Special giveaway of three copies of Owen - Book One of the Tudor Trilogy on the New Bookery App

Bookery is a new app for readers looking for the best book, featuring deals and novel news.  Instead of searching through your over-loaded email box for book deals, the Bookery App  brings them straight to your phone in one convenient place. 

The team at Bookery have also gathered great reading from authors and bloggers for your entertainment. And they are always running contests. There are plenty of prizes: from books to gift cards and much more.

The new contest is to win one of three free paperback copy of the best-selling historical fiction novel, Owen - Book One of the Tudor Trilogy

England 1422: Owen, a Welsh servant, waits in Windsor Castle to meet his new mistress, the beautiful and lonely Queen Catherine of Valois, widow of the warrior king, Henry V. Her infant son is crowned King of England and France, and while the country simmers on the brink of civil war, Owen becomes her protector.

They fall in love, risking Owen’s life and Queen Catherine’s reputation—but how do they found the dynasty which changes British history – the Tudors?

This is the first historical novel to fully explore the amazing life of Owen Tudor, grandfather of King Henry VII and the great-grandfather of King Henry VIII. Set against a background of the conflict between the Houses of Lancaster and York, which develops into what have become known as the Wars of the Roses, Owen’s story deserves to be told.

Enter now and check out Bookery on the Apple App Store  and on Google Play - and follow the Bookery team on Twitter @TBookery

4 August 2018

An Interview With Helen Hollick (and maybe a couple of pirates thrown in for good measure?)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Helen has written a series of nautical Voyages based around her fictional pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, Sea Witch, but her latest UK release in paperback is a non-fiction book – Pirates: Truth and Tales published by Amberley Press, which explores our fascination with the real pirates and those who are favourites in fiction. Today, Helen drops anchor for another interesting addition to her on-line two-week Voyage around the Blogs and answers a few piratical questions…

Tell us about your latest book

Hello everyone! First of all, thank you Tony for inviting me as a guest on to your blog: I’ve had a look around and you have some very interesting articles here. I’ll try to match the standard!

I’m here to talk about my latest release, a non-fiction light-hearted read: Pirates: Truth and Tales which is due for publication in in paperback by Amberley Press in July 2018 and a little later in the year in the US – but already available for pre-order, I believe.

I usually write fiction, some ‘straight’ historical fiction  – the 1066 era and a trilogy about King Arthur, and a nautical adventure series about – well, pirates. One pirate in particular, a made-up scoundrel of a loveable rogue who gets into all sorts of swashbuckling scrapes – and manages, somehow, to get out of them again. My tag line is: ‘Trouble follows Captain Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake.’

The love of his life is Tiola, a healer, midwife and white witch, but he is often torn between loyalty to her and the pull of the sea and his ship, Sea Witch. I wrote the first in the series (titled Sea Witch) because I enjoyed the fun of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and wanted to read something similar. I couldn’t find what I wanted for adults, so wrote my own. I am currently writing the sixth Voyage, Gallows Wake.

Amberley Press, however, approached me to write a non-fiction book about pirates to explore the truth and the tales of these dastardly rogues. Why is it that we adore tales of pirates, dress up like them, have pirate festivals and fun days, when in reality they were the terrorists of their age, the early eighteenth century? Although this ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ only lasted a few short years, those years almost brought the cross-Atlantic trade to its knees.

I was a little hesitant about producing a non-fiction book, having never really written one before. (I did produce a ‘tips on writing a novel’ booklet, but I don’t count that.) Then I figured I had posted quite a few interesting (I hope!) articles on my own blog and as guest posts for other blogs, so why not give it a go? My aim was to be light-hearted, maybe a little tongue-in-cheek and to explore this nautical world of cutlasses, treasure and high-sea Chases with a touch of fun, interspersed with the serious side of pirates. Many of them, despite our romantic view, were not very nice people. To break up the factual sections in the book I also delved into the fiction that we enjoy, including excerpts from some popular fiction. Fingers crossed.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I wish I could say I have one, but I don’t. I try to do the ‘admin’ type work of a morning: Facebook, Twitter, answering emails, and I run an historical novel review site called Discovering Diamonds which primarily supports indie/self-published writers but we also review traditional mainstream and the occasional non-fiction book.

I try to write of an afternoon – if the dogs don’t need walking, the garden doesn’t need weeding, the horses don’t need attending to. I live in an eighteenth century Devonshire farmhouse surrounded by thirteen acres of land, with my study windows overlooking the beautiful Taw Valley. It’s no wonder I get distracted!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Get professionals to edit your work and design your covers. Yes I know it costs money, but you have put a huge amount of effort into getting your book written, doesn’t that effort deserve the best quality when it comes to the final production stage?

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Marketing can be time-consuming, but marketing is essential. Having a fabulous on-line ’shop window’ website, blog, Facebook or Twitter page etc., and encouraging potential readers to ‘come inside and browse’ often seems a hopeless task, but the trick is to be interesting and varied, and don’t keep on and on about your books. I generate most interest through my blog Let Us Talk of Many Things (link below) and I think I draw in the visitors because I vary my own posts and also host guests. Whether anyone actually reads any of it is another matter, *laugh*.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

One of the chapters in Pirates: Truth and Tales relates to the book A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson. It was written circa 1724 and the thing is, we do not know who Charles Johnson actually was, the name is a pseudonym. Usually, the author is assumed to be Daniel Defoe but while researching this section I came to realise that Defoe knew nothing at all about seamanship or pirates, so why would he write this book? And I came up with a very logical, and I’m convinced, correct, conclusion. Except I’m not divulging it here. You’ll have to read the book.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The final scene in my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. Set in post-Roman era the trilogy is based on the earlier Welsh legends, not the Medieval tales, so there are no knights, no holy grail, no Lancelot, no Merlin, just the story of the boy who became the man, who became the king, who became the legend. Except we all know what happened to Arthur in the end. He dies. And writing his death, after being with that character for something like ten years was very hard to do.

What are you planning to write next?

More of Jesamiah, and I have recently completed a non-fiction about smugglers which is due to be published in early 2019. I’m quite excited about it!

Thank you, again Tony for being one of the hosts on my Virtual Book Tour, I haveenjoyed my visit to your blog.

© Helen Hollick
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About the Author

Helen moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King) explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers.  Helen is published in various languages. For more information visit Helen's website www.helenhollick.net and blog www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com and follow her on Facebook
and Twitter @HelenHollick.

Sign up for Helen’s Newsletter and be entered for an annual prize draw. 
One name ‘picked from the hat’ in December will win a £10/$10 Amazon gift voucher.
Subscribe here: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

Follow Helen’s Tour:

These links will take you to the Home Page of each blog host – Helen says thank you for their interest and enthusiasm! For exact URL links to each article go to Helen’s website:  www.helenhollick.net  which will be updated every day of the tour.

30th July: Cryssa Bazos  https://cryssabazos.com/ Dropping Anchor to Talk About Pirates
31st July: Anna Belfrage  https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/ Ships That Pass…
1st August: Carolyn Hughes https://carolynhughesauthor.com/blog/ Pirates of the Middle Ages
2nd August: Alison Morton   https://alison-morton.com/blog/ From Pirate to Emperor
3rd August: Annie Whitehead https://rwranniewhitehead.blogspot.com/ The Vikings: Raiders or Pirates?
4th August: Tony Riches http://tonyriches.blogspot.co.uk/ An Interview With Helen Hollick (and maybe a couple of pirates thrown in for good measure?)
5th August: Lucienne Boyce http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.com/ Anne and Mary. Pirates.
6th August: Laura Pilli http://fieldofbookishdreams.blogspot.co.uk/ Why Pirates?
7th August: Mary Tod https://awriterofhistory.com/ That Essential Element… For A Pirate.
8th August: Pauline Barclay http://paulinembarclay.blogspot.com/ Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be? 
9th August: Nicola Smith http://shortbookandscribes.uk/ Pirates: The Tales Mixed With The Truth
10th August: Christoph Fischer https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/ In The Shadow Of The Gallows
11th August: Debdatta http://www.ddsreviews.in/ What Is It About Pirates?
12th August: Discovering Diamonds https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.co.uk/ It’s Been An Interesting Voyage…
13th August: Sarah Greenwood https://www.amberley-books.com/blog Pirates: The Truth and the Tales
14th August: Antoine Vanner https://dawlishchronicles.com/dawlish-blog/ The Man Who Knew About Pirates