21 October 2018

Special Guest Interview with Historical Fiction Author Jenny Barden


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, her only hope of surviving the scandal that threatens to engulf her is to escape England for a fresh start in the New World, where nobody has ever heard 
of the Duchess of Somerset.

I'm pleased to welcome author Jenny Barden to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog, Tony.  My last book out was The Lost Duchess centred on the ‘Lost Colony’ of Roanoke and England’s first attempt to found a permanent settlement in North America. What happened to the colony remains a mystery, and my novel explores one possible explanation for its apparent disappearance. 

It follows the fortunes of Emme Fifield who escapes scandal in the court of Queen Elizabeth for a fresh start with the rag-tag band of idealists, desperados and misfits who signed up as would-be colonists. She becomes involved with Kit Doonan, a mariner with a dark past, who has spent years imprisoned by the Spanish and living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves. Together they confront all manner of dangers, meet strange new peoples, come to terms with who they are, and witness the breath-taking wonder of the New World as seen by Europeans for the first time.   

What is your preferred writing routine?

Ideally, when there are no ‘must do now’ tasks to deal with on the farm, I prefer to get up early and start my writing straight away. Not turning on the computer or checking my phone helps avoid distraction. I’ll usually read through the last scene to get myself back into the action and then continue the story, sitting at my desk and writing in manuscript (I always find my ideas flow best while holding a pen). 

Later I’ll refine the work at my pc or laptop. I edit endlessly which may or may not be a failing depending on who you talk to! New scenes are developed in my head while walking the dogs, and worked through quite carefully before committed in outline to a paper draft. Then I’ll write the scene with that micro-outline in front of me, usually beginning with the dialogue and building up from there. Sometimes the characters force a change, but I prefer to at least feel that I know roughly where they’re going so I always work to an overall plan, though the story can take over in the getting there! Detailed description tends to be overlain last. 

I don’t set myself daily writing targets because my output is so variable, sometimes it’s thousands of words, sometimes it’s none because I’m working out what happens next and that’s all in my head. I do all the core research first and the ‘embellishing’ reference work as I go along. After a good morning start I’ll usually be creatively finished by mid-afternoon and ready to check on the sheep or do something else that gets me out of the house. If the something else is moving a load of 25kg bags of cattle feed then that can be as good as going to the gym! 

On the way to Cerne Abbas - A good ‘plot development’ walk!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Keep on keeping on! It’s really hard to finish a book, particularly hard to write historical fiction with all the necessary research involved, hard to find an agent if that’s what you want to do, hard get published or to publish a book yourself to a high standard, hard to get your book noticed and hard to sell it. Reading is the only easy part, and I’m often surprised that this sometimes gets neglected because a huge amount can be gained from reading widely, particularly reading the work of other novelists who are writing in the same genre. 

So I’d recommend doing what should be relatively easy to start with: read, and socialise with other writers who write the kind of stuff you like; talk about writing and share experiences; pick up tips; join a writers’ circle or some such; get incisive and constructive feedback on your work before trying to do anything with it; take criticism and learn from it. Don’t expect anything else to be easy - if it is then something’s probably going wrong!

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

I don’t think there’s a single ‘right’ answer to this question. Despite the tools that the marketing people use, they’re blunt instruments when analysing exactly what makes particular people buy particular books. So I might say that, when starting out, a combination of Goodreads giveaways, author talks (particularly to book clubs), a website and blog, social media chats, providing advance reader copies for review to select review sites and so forth all helped to get my first book noticed, but how can I know which was the most successful when all were being done at the same time? In terms of what has helped most in getting my books noticed long term, once the early ‘promotion push’ dust has settled, then I’d say it’s getting them into libraries. That’s certainly given the books greater longevity. 

On the book shelf - The Lost Duchess found at the
Kinokuniya store in Singapore

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I’ve travelled widely in researching my stories and I love exploring out-of-the-way places that were once the setting for significant events in history. One such is the Camino Real across the Isthmus of Panama - the old ‘royal road’ that used to provide a land bridge between the Pacific and Caribbean and over which bullion from South America was carried en route to Spain. 

Much is now lost under the Panama Canal but an extension to the road, the Las Cruces trail, is still well preserved, and along this it is possible to see hollows in the stones worn by the passage of countless mule trains over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I was not expecting to come across that!

Mule Prints along Las Cruces 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene I’ve written was probably the rape near the beginning of The Lost Duchess. Sex scenes are difficult enough to write without being prurient, prudish or laughable, and a rape is particularly hard to describe without putting off readers or ducking the horror of the ordeal and its ramifications. The need for such a scene came about because of a change proposed by my publisher. The working title of the novel was originally Traces on a Timeless Shore but my editor wanted something that referenced the Lost Colony and suggested The Lost Duchess. I pointed out that by the 1580s almost all dukes had been attainted or executed and their titles were in abeyance, but I knew that Lord Hertford, son of the executed Duke of Somerset, continued to lay claim to his father’s title and was notorious for ‘seducing a virgin of the blood royal’ after secretly marrying the sister of Lady Jane Grey and getting her pregnant. 

He went on to marry twice more in secret and was by all accounts a bit of a rogue. This gave me the idea of having a lady close to the Queen as another of Lord Hertford’s ‘conquests’, a woman who flees from the prospect of disgrace to begin a fresh life in the New World under the assumed name of Emme Merrymoth. She is ‘lost’ in more ways than one. The rape scene that triggers the ensuing events was one that proved very challenging to write. 

What are you planning to write next?

The novel I’m working on now is a thriller set against the backdrop of the threat posed by the Spanish Armada. It’s about a ‘chamberer’ and bedfellow to Elizabeth I called Jane Bruselles who gets caught up in the intrigues and uncertainties of that pivotal moment in history. Jane ends up being torn between her loyalty to the Queen and her affection for one of Drake’s sea-captains. 

This is further complicated by her desire to protect a young ship’s boy, the only surviving member of her immediate family, and her attraction to one of Burghley’s men who may or may not be behind a series of gruesome murders. So as not to drop spoilers I’d better stop there! The writing is a joy, but occasionally the plot is held up by the need to mend a fence and round up a cow!
  
Jenny Barden 
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About the Author

Jenny Barden is an artist-turned-lawyer-turned-writer with a love of history and adventure. A fascination with the Age of Discovery led to travels in the Americas, and much of the inspiration for her first two novels came from retracing the steps of early adventurers in the New World. Both her debut, Mistress of the Sea, and the sequel, The Lost Duchess, were shortlisted for the Best Historical Read Award. Jenny is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Historical Writers’ Association and the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and she has assisted with the co-ordination and programme management of several conferences. She is also a member of the Society of Authors, speaks regularly at libraries, festivals and literary events, runs the occasional creative writing class, and contributes to the Historical Novels Review amongst other publications. Jenny has four children and lives in Dorset with her long suffering husband and an ever increasing assortment of animals. Her current interests are walking, travelling, and haunting art galleries, castles and Iron Age hill forts. Find out more at Jenny's website www.jennybarden.com and find her on Twitter @jennywilldoit 

13 October 2018

Book Launch Guest Post by Author Alison Morton ~ ROMA NOVA EXTRA: A Collection of Short Stories


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Suppose Roma Nova, the last remnant of the old Roman Empire, had struggled through to the 21st century – a tough little country 
with tough, resourceful people? 

The Girl from the Market  AD 370
Victory Speaks  AD 395
A Roman Intervenes  1066
Silvia’s story  1987
Games   2011
Conrad and Carina’s Roman Holiday   2019
Saturnalia Surprise   2027
Allegra and Macrinus  2029


Why short stories of Roma Nova?


Good question! Not an easy one for a writer of 100,000 word novels! Books in the two Roma Nova trilogies are this long with heroines Carina and Aurelia battling their way through sub-plots galore, dealing with complex characters, plenty of conflict, personal and professional dilemmas, entangled love lives, yet keeping the ruler and state of Roma Nova safe. Set in a European mini-state with strong Roman values and a unique social system, each story needs needs a full book.

Being honest, short stories were not my thing. Distilling a tale down to 1,000 or 2,000 words seems a terrifying task: a single story/theme/conflict; 2/3 characters, maximum of 4/5; single setting; short period of time, ultra quick resolution after the climax, no sub-plots, little if any world-building and no wide cast of characters. 

1066 and all that


After six full length books where I could let my characters, plots and twists run wild, (in a disciplined and targeted way, of course ), I was asked to contribute to an anthology of alternative history short stories centred on the Norman invasion of England (or not) 1066 Turned Upside Down. I nearly refused, but how could I miss the biggest ‘what it’ of English history? And how wonderful would it be if an eleventh century Roma Novan female envoy clashed with the macho William of Normandy? 

Uncovering hidden backstory and ancient secrets…


But short stories of my own? I’d broken the barrier with 1066, but in the end my curiosity caught me. When writing the full-length Roma Nova novels, I’ve enjoyed giving the characters their own backstory as it illuminated how they became the characters they were. But I’ve always wanted to explore hidden incidents in my protagonists’ lives, delve back into Roma Nova’s earliest days and find out what happened to characters after the main trilogies ended. I asked my Roma Nova Enthusiasts’ Group who they would like to know more about. Then I began…

ROMA NOVA EXTRA sprang into life


Well, possibly lurched in fits and starts. But this is the huge advantage of writing short stories; each one can be written individually in a relatively short time. Seven of the eight in this collection range from 3,000 words to 10,000 (not quite the classic lengths!). At 18,000 words, the eighth story was originally going to be a separate novelette, but it seemed the perfect complement to the others. Together, they cover a historical range from AD370 to 2029, but focus on people. 

Some tasters...


Lucius Apulius, a military tribune in the dusk of the Roman Empire, is posted from a plum staff position with one of the most influential commanders at the time to a Danube backwater. The reason? Wrong religion. 

His indirect descendant, Allegra Mitela, a tough 21st century Praetorian, struggles with her identity and emotional life. How did the eighteen-year-old Imperatrix Silvia, exhausted and lonely after the liberation of Roma Nova in the 1980s, meet her Italian husband? And what was the ancient mystery uncovered by Conrad and Carina during their ‘Roman holiday’? 

Some are love stories, some are life lessons learned, some resolve tensions and unrealistic visions, some are plain adventures, but above all, they are stories of people in dilemmas, in conflict, in trouble and their efforts to resolve them. Oh, and there are a few surprises…

More about ROMA NOVA EXTRA


Do you need to have read the other books first? No. Readers of  INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA, INSURRECTIO, RETALIO and CARINA  will be familiar with many of the characters, but it’s not essential by any means as the stories are complete in themselves. However, I hope readers new to Roma Nova may find these glimpses intriguing enough to read some of the longer books. 

Alison Morton
# # #

About the Author


Alison Morton writes the award-winning Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of history with six years’ military service in a special communications regiment and a life of reading historical, adventure and thriller fiction. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds an MA History and blogs about Romans and writing. Now she continues to write thrillers with tough heroines, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband. Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com and find her on Facebook and  Twitter  @alison_morton

12 October 2018

Five Informative and Inspiring Websites For Writers #AuthorToolboxBlogHop



There are so many websites for writers it can be bewildering for new writers to sort out those which are really worth following. Here are some I've found useful and am happy to recommend, with a sample of selected posts: 


Authors Angela Ackerman  and Becca Puglisi offer a wealth of free resources for writers, including guest posts and podcasts.  Take a look at this post by Angela: The Novelist’s Triage Center: Get Unstuck and Finish Your Book.


Based in South Africa, the writers behind this useful resource are Mia Botha, Amanda Patterson and Anthony Ehlers. Have a look at this archive post from Mia: How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps


Joel Friedlander's says, “Writers change the world one reader at a time. But you can’t change the world with a book that’s still on your hard drive or in a box under your bed.” Although his focus is more on publishing than writing, it's well worth browsing his archive - see: Creativity—You Are Absolutely Unique.


I've followed author K.M. Weiland's website for years and referred to it often when writing my first novels. As well as mentoring authors through her blog, podcast and vlog, she also specialises in writing how-to books. See her post on How to Outline Your Novel.


Bestselling author Joanna Penn inspired me to become an 'indie' author and can be relied on to keep you up to date on new developments in writing and publishing. See Joanna's post How To Write More And Create A Daily Writing Habit


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.

Do you know of some great writing websites you would like to share?
Please feel free to comment

8 October 2018

Book Launch ~ Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York before the Wars of the Roses, by Kathryn Warner


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 1453, Richard, Duke of York, claimed the throne of England from his Lancastrian kinsman Henry VI, and set off a series of conflicts between rival branches of the English royal family, better known as the Wars of the Roses. 

Blood Roses traces the origins of this bitter rivalry all the way back to 1245 with the birth of the first Earl of Lancaster, Henry III’s younger son, Edmund. Thomas, the second Earl, was the first cousin and most dangerous enemy of King Edward II, and ended up being executed after a decade and half of rivalry and conflict. 

Thomas’s nephew Henry, the first Duke of Lancaster, was one of the great figures of the fourteenth century and was the father-in-law of Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt, probably the most famous member of the House of Lancaster. 

Edward III’s fourth son Edmund of Langley founded the House of York in 1385; his son Edward was killed at Agincourt in 1415 and was the uncle of Richard, duke of York. Blood Roses takes the reader through 170 years of bloody warfare and political intrigue, and sets the scene for one of the most famous conflicts in English history.

# # #

About the Author

Kathryn Warner holds two degrees in medieval history from the University of Manchester. She is considered a foremost expert on Edward II and an article from her on the subject was published in the English Historical Review. She has run a website about him since 2005 and a Facebook page about him since 2010 and has carved out a strong online presence as an expert on Edward II and the fourteenth century in general. Kathryn teaches Business English as a foreign language and lives between Dusseldorf and Cumbria. Find out more at Kathryn's website edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @RoyneAlianore

5 October 2018

New From Lauren MacKay ~ Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thomas and George Boleyn - the father and brother of Anne Boleyn and heads of one of the most powerful infamous dynasties in English history. 

Already key figures in Henry VIII's court, with the ascent of Anne to the throne in 1533 these two men became the most important players on the Tudor stage, with direct access to royalty, and with it, influence. 

Both were highly skilled ambassadors and courtiers who negotiated their way through the complex and ruthless game of politics with ease. But when the Queen fell from grace just three years later, it was to have a devastating effect on her family - ultimately costing her brother his life. In this ground-breaking new book, 

Lauren Mackay reveals this untold story of Tudor England, bringing into the light two pivotal characters whose part in the rise and swift fall of Anne Boleyn has so far remained cloaked in shadow.

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About the Author

Lauren Mackay is an historian whose focus of study goes beyond familiar historical figures and events to lesser known individuals, as well as beliefs, customs, and diplomacy of the 16th Century. Her debut book, Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador, is the first and only biography of the so-called Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, the most integral chronicler of the Tudor Court. She has written several articles for All About History Magazine and BBC History, one of which was the cover article for BBC History magazine’s January 2014 edition. She also frequently contributes to their online content.  A special edition of their magazine which included her article on the Imperial ambassador was released in North America to co-incide with the launch of Hilary Mantel’s play ‘Wolf Hall’ in New York. Find out more at Lauren's website www.laurenmackay.co.uk and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Regina_Saba 

4 October 2018

Book Review ~ Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me, by Matthew Lewis


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Perhaps the greatest paradox about King Richard III is we think we know his story, yet how much of that knowledge is based on fact? The amazing discovery of Richard's grave in September 2012 triggered fresh interest in uncovering the truth, so before reading this book, try to set to one side everything you know about him. 

That means whatever you were taught at school, and of course Shakespeare's caricature, as well as all the films and documentaries you might have ever seen. You will then be able to approach this fascinating account of his short life as Matthew Lewis would wish.

With a forensic approach to uncovering the facts, Matthew Lewis brings his literary style to relating Richard's story. By following the detail of his troubled boyhood, we begin to understand how the man who emerges from his brother's shadow might feel he has something to prove. Pious and chivalric, Richard could have earned his living as a lawyer if circumstance had not made him a warrior king.


Richard might have ruled for little more than two years but until his dying breath he fought with great courage against prejudice and treachery.  Is this the definitive work on Richard III so far? I think it might be. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Matthew Lewis was born and grew up in the West Midlands. Having obtained a law degree, he currently lives in the beautiful Shropshire countryside with his wife and children. History and writing have always been a passion of Matthew's, with particular interest in the Wars of the Roses period. His first novel, Loyalty, was born of the joining of those passions. Find out more at Matthew's website 
mattlewisauthor.com and find him on Twitter @MattLewisAuthor

1 October 2018

Special Guest Post by Kate Innes, Author of All the Winding World (Arrowsmith Book 2)


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England 1294 - The country is under siege, threatened by treachery and invasion. In the contested territory of Aquitaine, the incompetence of the English command has led to the capture and death of many of King Edward’s most trusted knights. Amongst the angry hostages, there is one who will choose to betray his country.

It’s been a few years since the first of my Arrowsmith books, The Errant Hours, was published. It became one of Book Riot’s One Hundred Must-Read Medieval Novels. It was included on a reading list at Bangor University. It was endorsed by an Oxford historian.

So you can imagine that I approached writing the sequel with some trepidation. What if the heroine, Illesa Arrowsmith, had no more to tell me? What if the magic didn’t work again? The spectre of second novel syndrome haunted my desk. I had to force myself to sit and write, gritting my teeth until the fear passed and the story took over. The sense of relief when the characters came to life and began to do their own thing was enormous.

All the Winding World is set ten years after The Errant Hours in 1294 – a time when England was once again at war, this time on several fronts. King Edward I was sucked into an embarrassing and avoidable war with King Philip IV of France, known as Philip the Fair, over his territory of Aquitaine in southwest France. (King Philip was most certainly fair of face, not of nature.) 

King Edward’s barons and knights were tired of the expense of constant warfare, and refused to fight overseas for him. So the king sent out men-at-arms to conscript soldiers across Wales and the Welsh March. Their brutality provoked a large-scale rebellion. Many of his Welsh castles were torched, and Edward was forced to reroute the troops heading to Aquitaine to fight the nearer threat in Wales. 


 Map of Aquitaine by James St Clair Wade

A small fleet of ships full of reluctant knights and pardoned criminals set sail from Portsmouth in October 1294 to fight the Norman French, expecting reinforcements to arrive at any moment. But they didn’t come and the inexperienced English command, after some initial success, began making serious errors of judgment. One of these led to a riot, the sacking of the town of Rions and the capture of twelve of Edward’s knights. The hostages were taken to an impregnable tower in Bordeaux. But one of them had plans to break free at whatever cost, even if it meant betraying his country. This is the political background to All the Winding World. 

Over the course of the story we meet a large company of characters, including some old friends. I was delighted to be able to write more about the player, Gaspar, who was so entertaining during King Edward’s Round Table Tournament in Wales in Book One.

But allow me to introduce you to two new characters who arrived in the story, determined to make their mark on the plot. 

1. Azalais of Dax – a singer and composer of songs from Occitania, the area of Southern France which gave birth to the concept of ‘Courtly Love’ through the songs of the troubadours and trobairitz (female troubadours). Occitania was a part of Europe where women had a little more power, autonomy and creative opportunities than elsewhere in the medieval world. Azalais is vibrant, determined and knows her own value. She was inspired by the real historical figure, Azalais de Porcairages (born 1140) a trobairitz from the area near Montpellier. Her talents are vital in the second half of the book.
 
Azalais de Porcairagues
(from a 13th century chansonnier BN MS12473)

2. Father Raymond – a priest of the Knights Templar
The Templars, a monastic military order, were very powerful in the south of France, and, after the fall of Acre and the end of the main period of Crusades, it was their role to protect pilgrims on the many routes through this area travelling to the famous shrine at Santiago de Compostella in northern Spain. The Templars had a unique position – they were not beholden to the King, or Barons, or to any lesser ecclesiastical power than the Pope himself. As such they were able to trade, buy land, lend money and generally set up a large business with branches all over Christendom without constraint. King Philip IV got into considerable debt with them, and resented their wealth and power over him. Eventually, having brought Pope Clement V at Avignon under his control, he totally destroyed the Templars and confiscated their property. 


 Bust of Philip the Fair – from St Denys

But that was in 1307. In 1295 when All the Winding World is set, the Templars were still at the height of their influence, and the Templar priest, Father Raymond, is able to manipulate the powers in Aquitaine to help a poor group of pilgrims, (in fact Illesa, Gaspar, and the singer Azalais in disguise) who are on a very strange kind of pilgrimage.

All the Winding World is an adventure set in the Welsh Marches, the south coast of England, and the dangerously fertile land of Aquitaine. It is also an exploration of the effects of war, the power of illusion and the ingenuity of love.

Kate Innes
“Rich, intricate, and full of ordinary women finding power in a society that seeks to rob them of autonomy. Second novels rarely live up to the promise of the first, but this delivers wholeheartedly. A fantastic testament to the power of love.” Manda Scott

“This was such a gripping tale that I read it almost in one sitting! And yet the story is well grounded in the realities of medieval life. All the Winding World is a great achievement, and I am already looking forward to the third in the series.” Dr Henrietta Leyser, St Peter’s College Oxford - author of ‘Medieval Women – A Social History of Women in England 450-1500’
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About the Author 

Kate Innes was once an archaeologist and museum education officer, but she now enjoys living in the past by writing historical fiction. Her first novel, The Errant Hours, is a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice and was included on the ‘Medieval Women’s Fiction’ reading list at Bangor University. The sequel, All the Winding World was published in June 2018. Her poetry collection Flocks of Words was shortlisted for the International Rubery Award. Kate performs her poetry with the acoustic band Whalebone and runs creative writing workshops around the West Midlands. Find out more at Kate's website www.kateinneswriter.com and follow her on Twitter @kateinnes2

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