22 March 2019

Happy Birthday Katherine Willoughby, Tudor Duchess

Katherine Willoughby was born on the 22nd March 1509.  Although that's five hundred years ago, as she is the subject of my current work-in-progress I've been living with this fascinating woman for the past two years and feel I know her well.

I first began researching the known facts of her life when I was writing about her husband, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, for my last book Brandon Tudor Knight. Even by the very different standards of the day, Katherine must have been surprised by his decision to break her engagement to his son and marry her himself.

This presented me with the challenge of understanding the complex relationship between a fourteen year old girl and a man of forty nine. I've had plenty to write about, as Katherine knew all six of King Henry VIII's wives, as well as his son Edward - and even Lady Jane Grey, (daughter of her step-daughter Frances Grey).

This means my new book about her life includes an astounding nine Tudor queens (if you count Jane Grey) and two kings, taking me right up to the coronation of Elizabeth I and my next project, the Elizabethan Series. 

I'm now planning a visit to Katherine's family home at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, which was granted by Henry VIII in 1516 to Katherine's father, the 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, when he married her mother, Maria de Salinas, lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. (Amazingly, Grimsthorpe is still occupied by Katherine's de Eresby descendants.)

My new book, Katherine - Tudor Duchess will be out in autumn this year.

Tony Riches

18 March 2019

Why you should create your own bookmarks #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Bookmarks are a wonderful marketing tool as, unlike a business card, readers will use them and be  (subconsciously?) reminded of your books every time.  The don't cost much to produce to a high standard and are easy to carry and post.

A few years ago I ran an Amazon free promotion weekend and watched as hundreds of books were downloaded in return for two or three reviews (which I probably would have had anyway).  

These giveaways can have their place in your overall 'awareness raising strategy' but after putting over a year of hard work into each of your books, it doesn't feel right to give them away for nothing. 

It can prove particularly expensive with paperback or hardback giveaways, once you take into account international postage and other costs. I used to offer free Goodreads givaways, but now their 'standard' package costs $119 to give away up to 100 copies and the 'premium' package is $599.

I design my bookmarks with a template in Photoshop, upload them to an online printing company (I recommend (Solopress for UK and GotPrint for the US) and they arrive in the post a few days later, so it couldn't be easier.  

Tony Riches
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Do you have more ideas and suggestions for raising awareness of your books? If so, please feel free to add a comment below

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 HERE below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.

16 March 2019

Guest Interview with Rob Shackleford, Author of Traveller Inceptio

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

If you were sent a thousand years into the past, would you survive?
With the accidental development of the Transporter, university researchers determine that the device sends any subject one thousand years into the past.
Or is it to a possible past?

I'm pleased to welcome Rob Shackleford, Author of Traveller Inceptio, to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Traveller Inceptio is a mix of science fiction and historical fiction that examines how members of 21st Century Western society could survive the world of the 11th Century.

I was inspired one day when I sat on a beach imagining how the location would have looked 100, then 200, then 1000 years in the past. Fortunately I lived close to the beautiful beaches of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia and the exercise of imagining the location before resorts, powerlines and phone towers brought to mind a very different world. 

The next step in the tale was to imagine how modern humans would survive ‘back then’. Then – how was this leap of imagination possible?

Traveller Inceptio (Latin for Beginning) examines what could happen if such an accidental discovery was not hidden from public view. How would a device that takes one back a thousand years be used? Where would one go? In a world where historians are not like Indiana Jones, who would be sent?

I took every effort to thoroughly research any role the military might play, the consequences of inevitable bureaucratic and political interference, and the world of the Saxons in 11th Century England. England was chosen because of the interests of the nations involved in the research that developed the device, called the Transporter, and the attempt to access a place that might be safest for the Travellers, the title of the researchers involved.

Traveller Inceptio examines the interactions of the Travellers with local Saxons and their efforts to integrate into the village of a people of the great forest. This was the time of the Viking invasions, an unsettled time of conflict.

Through it all I tried to make the Saxons human and examine how they would interact with a highly trained soldier from the 21st Century. 

The reviews of Traveller Inceptio have been overwhelmingly positive. For those of you who delve into this tale, I thank you and hope you enjoy.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I start my day with a walk with my lady love, then write for a few hours. Because I have dedicated my life to writing for the past years, if we are not travelling I try to write for at least four hours each day. There is also research of course, which is my excuse to travel.  Morning is my best writing time, though I do tend to write whenever the desire grabs me.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

That is tough, because much in writing is about your own personal confidence and desires.

My first piece of advice is to start writing, no matter what. Too many believe they must have the whole story before writing starts, while I find the story develops as I write. It’s like painting, or weaving a rich tapestry with words. Like a journey, it starts with the courageous first step.

Second is to not worry about what everyone else thinks. Writing is like running: you have to practice to get good at it. I find the process of writing and rewriting allows me to get better. Just go for it and let your creativity shine.

Third: Never be happy with the first draft. I always go back through the story, the words, the creative writing many, many times. It might feel like an OCD thing, and that is what makes writing so personal. My format will be different to everyone else. Find your way and follow it.

Fourth – and the hardest. Be prepared to be disappointed at criticism. As my first book, Traveller Inceptio was self-published, critiqued, then edited. My first British editor metaphorically tore off my arm and beat me over the head with it. Wiping away my tears I followed his advice in most areas, reduced the draft by 50,000 words, sent it out for review and received positive response and 5 star reviews. My head still hurts though.

Fifth – have a market in mind. Writing is a creative art, but selling books is strictly a marketing endeavour. I aim to become an author that sells. That is my goal. For any writing to sell it must appeal to a market, to a slice of humanity who likes what you produce. Publishers only seek what will sell and then leave it to you to create the market for them. Gone are the days of offering a new author a million dollar contract. Yes, it’s a tough gig.

What ways have you found to raise awareness of your books?

I have a publisher who is engaged in publicity, but my efforts are as follows:

1.     I have given my book to interested parties who read and spread the word because they enjoyed what they read. Readers love the gift of a book.

2.     Social media – I hate social media, but you have to repeatedly tell the world what you are doing, what your book is doing, and become a specialist on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more. Not my favourite thing as I am not a great self-promoter when it comes to the trivial. But the world loves it, so I must get better at it!

3.     Contact Bloggers and try to connect with people who like reading my style of books. By connecting with like minds, we can support each other. It is a very large global community.

4.     Submit my book to be reviewed by Book Reviewers. This is scary!

5.     Submit Traveller Inceptio to Sci Fi magazines and other publications.

This is a movable feast! If anyone has any more helpful, great ideas, please feel free to let me know. I am making this up as I go along.

Tell us something unexpected you uncovered during your research

I found that with Traveller Inceptio I had to research extensively about the relevant subject matters: the Special Forces of Australia, Great Britain, the USA and Canada, the Saxon people, and the great forests of England. Once I immersed myself into the subject matter, sometimes odd things happened.

On more than one occasion I found the story running in a direction I didn’t expect, where I would go, “Wow, I didn’t know that was going to happen!” While this is probably a creative process many might experience, I found that most surprising. It was only possible for me when I had the material assembled by research.

Rob Shackleford

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About the Author

An English-born Australian, Rob Shackleford has lived in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with a varied career that has included Customs Officer, Scuba Instructor, College Teacher and management roles in too many places. With degrees in the Arts and Business, he is mad keen on travel, Scuba diving, Family History, martial arts, astronomy, and playing Djembe and Congas. Rob is father of two and lives on the Gold Coast, where he likes to scuba dive, play the djembe, look at the stars, and play in the surf. Find out more at http://robshackleford.com/ and find Rob on Facebook and Twitter @robshackleford

15 March 2019

Book Launch: Louis XIV: The Real King of Versailles, by Josephine Wilkinson

New on Amazon UK

Louis XIV’s story has all the ingredients of a Dumas classic: legendary beginnings, beguiling women, court intrigue, a mysterious prisoner in an iron mask, lavish court entertainments, the scandal of a mistress who was immersed in the dark arts, and a central character who is handsome and romantic, but with a frighteningly dark side to his character.

Louis believed himself to be semi-divine. His self-identification as the Sun King, which was reflected in iconography of the sun god, Apollo, influenced every aspect of Louis’s life: his political philosophy, his wars, and his relationships with courtiers and subjects.

As a military strategist, Louis’s capacity was debatable, but he was an astute politician who led his country to the heights of sophistication and power – and then had the misfortune to live long enough to see it all crumble away. As the sun began to set upon this most glorious of reigns, it brought a gathering darkness filled with the anguish of dead heirs, threatened borders, and a populace that was dangerously dependent upon – but greatly distanced from – its king.

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About the Author

Dr Josephine Wilkinson is an author and historian. She received a First from the University of Newcastle where she also read for her PhD. She has received British Academy research funding and has been scholar-in-residence at St Deiniol's Library, Britain's only residential library founded by the great Victorian statesman, William Gladstone She now lives in York, Richard III's favourite city. She is the author of The Princes in the Tower, Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, and Richard III (all published by Amberely), and Katherine Howard (John Murray). You can find Josephine on Twitter @Jo_History 

7 March 2019

Book Launch: Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI, by Lauren Johnson

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A thrilling new account of the tragic life and troubled times of Henry VI.
First-born son of a warrior father who defeated the French at Agincourt, Henry VI of the House Lancaster inherited the crown not only of England but also of France, at a time when Plantagenet dominance over the Valois dynasty was at its glorious height.

And yet, by the time he was done to death in the Tower of London in 1471, France was lost, his throne had been seized by his rival, Edward IV of the House of York, and his kingdom had descended into the violent chaos of the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VI is perhaps the most troubled of English monarchs, a pious, gentle, well-intentioned man who was plagued by bouts of mental illness. In Shadow King, Lauren Johnson tells his remarkable and sometimes shocking story in a fast-paced and colourful narrative that captures both the poignancy of Henry's life and the tumultuous and bloody nature of the times in which he lived.
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“Lauren Johnson has done something extraordinary. The Shadow King is the best life of Henry VI now in print: a triumph of elegant and spirited biography, deeply researched and beautifully written.”
Dan Jones, New York Times bestselling author of The Plantagenets

“Vivid, absorbing, and richly detailed, The Shadow King is an intriguing account of a monarch who has often seemed no more than a cypher, putting him back at the heart of his own dramatic reign.”
Helen Castor, author of She-Wolves

About the Author

Lauren Johnson is a historian and costumed interpreter with a first-class degree from Oxford University. Her debut novel The Arrow of Sherwood, an origin story of Robin Hood rooted in a real, brutal medieval world, was named one of Medievalists.net’s books of the year. Lauren has appeared on Channel 4, BBC4, BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Radio Somerset. Lauren is co-founder of Untold, a theatre company that creates ensemble-driven devised work and new writing to tell stories that have been marginalised in history and the modern day. Lauren has worked in live costumed interpretation since 2008, based at major heritage sites including the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. She has also worked with Historic Royal Palaces, the charity who administer Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Hillsborough Castle, chairing historical debates and creating on-site digital missions for families and schools. Find out more at Lauren's website and find her on Twitter @History_Lauren

6 March 2019

Historical Fiction Book Review: Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

By 1535 Thomas Cromwell is Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes having risen with those of Anne Boleyn, the king’s new wife. But Anne has failed to give the king an heir, and Cromwell watches as Henry falls for plain Jane Seymour. Cromwell must find a solution that will satisfy Henry, safeguard the nation and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge unscathed from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.

I recently re-watched the BBC DVD of Wolf Hall, based on the two books by Hilary Mantel, and I wanted to see what the screenwriter, Peter Straughan, had included and what he'd chosen to leave out. In the BBC version there are some wonderful scenes where Mark Rylance, as Thomas Cromwell, says nothing but holds the silence or gives a look which says more than any words.

In the book, Hilary Mantel has whole pages of lyrical description which create a compelling sense of place and time. In her author's note Hilary Mantel acknowledges that that the evidence for the circumstances surrounding the fall of Anne Boleyn are complex and sometimes contradictory,  sources are often dubious and after-the-fact. 

This is where historical fiction can usefully begin to fill the gaps, particularly using a point of view of one of the participants, in this case Thomas Cromwell.

I recommend this book to anyone interested the Tudors generally and the life of Thomas Cromwell. I'm sure this is a book I will return to and find something new.

Tony riches
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About the Author

Hilary Mantel is the author of thirteen books , including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and the memoir Giving up the Ghost. Her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring up the Bodies have both been awarded The Man Booker Prize - an unprecedented achievement. Find out more at her website http://hilary-mantel.com/

28 February 2019

Guest Post by Rozsa Gaston, Author of Anne and Charles: Passion and Politics in Late Medieval France: The Story of Anne of Brittany's Marriage to Charles VIII

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII: Political alliance or true love? 

France, 1491:  In the fall of 1491 twenty-one-year-old Charles VIII of France is king, but he doesn't feel like one. When he marries Anne of Brittany in a political alliance, he acquires a wife who already feels like a queen and guides her husband to feeling like the king he already is. The brimming self-confidence of Brittany's ruler inspires his own, and fans the flames of their attraction into a lasting love. Their partnership and shared interest in new techniques in design and architecture from Italy results in the introduction of the Italian Renaissance to France.

Chateau Royal d’Amboise
Royal residence of Charles VIII of France and Anne of Brittany 
during the years of their marriage, 1491-1498
Amboise, Loire Valley, France
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Renaissance Gardens of the Chateau Royal d’Amboise
Designed by Pacello Mercogliano of Naples and commissioned by Anne and Charles
First Renaissance garden to be introduced in France, designed 1495-1497
Photo courtesy of Stephane Bern, Anne de Bretagne: Secrets d’Histoire
Anne and Charles presents French king Charles VIII in a new historical light, not as the naïve pawn of his older sister, Anne de Beaujeu, France’s regent in Charles’s minority, but as a young man with a sincere heart fired by the chivalrous tales of Roland. Charles successfully throws off his older sister’s powerful regency with the newfound confidence his bride Anne of Brittany gives him.

Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany on their wedding day
Waxwork reenactment of their Dec. 6, 1491 marriage ceremony
Great Hall of Chateau de Langeais, Loire Valley, France
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Anne de Beaujeu, regent of France from 1483-1491 stands on far left\
Wax reenactment of secret wedding of Anne of Brittany with Charles VIII of France
Both were betrothed to others: Anne to Maximilian I of Austria, Charles to his daughter Margaret of Austria
At age fourteen, Anne of Brittany has been ruler of Brittany for three years since her father died in 1488. She lacks the resources with which to rule her country, which Charles gives her by marrying her, saving Brittany from desecration by France. Additionally, he crowns Anne Queen of France to add to her title of Duchess of Brittany.

Both Anne and Charles are pleased with what the other offers, politically and personally. Anne's objective is to retain Brittany's independence from France. Charles's aim is to fold Brittany into his kingdom. But the surprising and lasting passion they develop for each other early on in their marriage tempers their opposing political objectives.

Portraits of Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII, artist unknown, c. 1492
Chateau Royal d’Amboise, Amboise, France, photos by R. Gaston

Charles's lack of self-confidence, due to his neglected upbringing, manifests itself in his incessant need to prove himself. At age twenty-four, he invades Italy with the French army, based on a flimsy Angevin claim to the throne of Naples. After twenty months in Italy, he is forced to cede Naples by the combined forces of Venice, Milan, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. His army returns to France, defeated and with many men carrying syphilis. But with him, Charles brings back artists, artisans, architects and designers who introduce the glories of the Italian Renaissance to France, beginning at his and Anne’s royal residence in Amboise.

 Repeatedly faithless to Anne, despite his reliance on her love and support for him, Charles finally reforms his ways in a crisis of conscience during Anne's seventh pregnancy. Believing that he is being divinely punished for his faithlessness to his wife by the death of all of their children, he gives up his dalliances and turns to managing the affairs of his kingdom.

But it is too late…

Next month’s guest post on Anne and Louis, Book Two of the Anne of Brittany Series.


STROLLING DOWN TO the great hall Charles paused on the threshold, searching for a small figure within. The room was filled with courtiers and wedding guests, all of them noble, except for the six Bretons from Rennes in the corner. They were talking animatedly in their strange rolling accents, most likely on the subject of a duty well done.
God, it had been well done. And duty had had nothing to do with it. Scanning the room, he searched for the little bird who had laughed then cried the night before, finally falling into the sweet sleep of exhaustion in his arms until late in the morning. When they had awoken, her head had been nestled against his chest and he had felt himself a hundred times the man he had thought himself to be the morning before.
His heart swelled to think of it. Standing, he was constantly reminded of how inferior he was in height. But lying down with his Breton princess on his chest, he had felt as tall as he needed to be. The woman had the sort of ability to make him feel differently about himself than he ever had. Good God, she had even called him clever. What he most liked about her was what he most lacked in himself: her confidence. Starting with the night before, he felt as if he was beginning to have some, too.
Moving further into the great hall he traversed its length, unnoticed by anyone, as usual, due to his short stature and unprepossessing demeanor. He could do nothing about his height. But he would work on his demeanor, beginning that day. Finally, there was someone in his life he wished to prove himself to, again and again. He didn’t doubt she would advise him on how to prove himself before his public, too.
Looking everywhere for her, he avoided the eyes of his guests, who were beginning to notice he was in their midst. Where was his minx when he needed her?
“Sire! Your Majesty!” The duke of Bourbon slapped Charles heartily on the back. “Did you sleep well?” His eyes twinkled at Charles with the expected post-nuptial-night mirth.
“Not a wink, Monsieur. Too busy,” Charles replied, thinking it was not far from the truth.
“Good lad, Your Majesty. Work well done!”
Charles reached out and grabbed the duke of Bourbon's wrist. He gazed coolly into the older man’s eyes.
“What's that? What's that?” the duke spluttered, staring at the king's hand upon his wrist, the mirth draining from his face.
“You will never again address me as 'lad', Sire Beaujeu. I am your king and your sovereign.” Charles willed himself to remain calm.
“Yes, Your Majesty. Your Grace.” Pierre de Bourbon struggled to regain his composure as Charles released his wrist. He bowed to the king and when he stood again his eyes held new respect for the short youth over whom he and his wife had served as regents for the past eight years.
“And you may tell your wife the same, do you understand?” Charles stared into the older man’s eyes.
“Y-yes, Sire, I will do so at the first opportunity,” the duke of Bourbon spluttered.
“Good. Then let us break fast together. I am famished.” Charles slapped his sister’s husband on the back in precisely the same patronizing manner the duke had done to him a moment earlier.
The room had quieted. Glancing around, Charles caught Guillaume de Roquefort gazing at him with a look the king had never seen his chancellor face him with before: respect.
“What's the matter, Guillaume? Do you not recognize your newly-married king?”  Charles eyed his chancellor coolly.
“Your Majesty, I am your humble servant.” De Roquefort bent one knee before him. As he did, the other men in the room followed suit. One by one, Charles d'Angoulême, Louis d'Orleans, the count de Vendome, and the count de Foix all knelt, and as they did Charles was pleased to see he stood taller than any of them, for once.
The new order had begun. He would see to it that it continued. But he needed help. Where was she?
Anne and Charles at the time of Anne’s coronation as Queen of France, February 1492
By Jean Bourdichon, c. 1492
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Available for pre-order now is my new short story The Least Foolish Woman in France. Readers might be interested to learn the true tale of how Anne of Brittany’s second husband was sexually harassed in young adulthood by his sister-in-law Anne de Beaujeu, France’s most powerful woman at the time. This story is short but riveting, a surprising twist on the #MeToo movement.

On pre-order now, it comes out April 12, 2019. Post a short review on Amazon by the end of April and receive an eBook edition of any of my other books for free.

Rozsa Gaston

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About the Author

Rozsa Gaston writes playful books on serious matters, including the struggles women face to get what they want out of life. She studied European history at Yale, and received her Master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She worked at Institutional Investor, then as a hedge funds marketer. Entirely unsuited to the world of finance, she was happy to give it up to become a full-time novelist. Gaston lives in Bronxville, New York with her family and is currently working on Anne and Louis: Middle Years, Book Three of the Anne of Brittany Series. If you read and enjoy Sense of Touch, please post a review at http://lrd.to/SENSEOFTOUCH to help others find this book. One sentence is enough to let readers know what you thought. Drop Rozsa Gaston a line on Facebook to let her know you posted a review and receive as thanks an eBook edition of any other of Gaston’s books: Anne and Charles, Anne and Louis, The Least Foolish Woman in France, Paris Adieu, or Black is Not a Color. Visit her at www.rozsagaston.com or at https://www.rozsagastonauthor.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rozsagastonauthor  Instagram: rozsagastonauthor  and on Twitter: @RozsaGaston

See Also:

Anne of Brittany? Raised to rule, she knew how to lead: Guest Post by Rozsa Gaston, Author of Sense of Touch