19 June 2018

Book Review ~ After the Conquest: The Divided Realm 1066-1135, by Teresa Cole

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

On his deathbed William the Conqueror divided his property between his three sons, Robert, William and Henry. One of them got England, one got Normandy and one £5,000 of silver. None of them was satisfied with what he received. It took much violence, treachery, sudden death and twenty years before one of them reigned supreme over all the Conqueror’s lands.

One of the problems with the way history was taught when I was at school was the 'compartmentalisation', punctuated by the great events. We didn't see it like that, of course, but 1066 is a perfect example, as having studied the invasion, we wasted no time on the aftermath and consequences.

I'd like to think that's changed now (although I doubt it) but it's why books such as After the Conquest are so important. As well as enabling those of us who were failed by their history teachers to 'catch up', they can begin to help readers make sense of a complex period in British and European history, which had far-reaching effects on society.

Teresa Cole is the history teacher I wish I'd had, as she held my attention from the first page to the last, with a lively and engaging style. I particularly like her technique of raising questions in the reader's mind, then answering them in the context of the of the contemporary accounts of chroniclers such as Orderic Vitalis.

One of the 'facts' I dutifully learnt as a schoolboy was of King Henry I dying of a 'surfeit of lampreys'. If you imagine a time before food hygiene or knowledge of harmful bacteria, this was more likely to have been a case of food poisoning. 

I mention this as an example of how understanding the context shifts your understanding. I found this the case throughout this excellent book, which I'm happy to recommend to anyone who wants to know more about how the sons of William 'The Conqueror' took froward his legacy.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Teresa Cole has been a teacher for thirty years. She has written several law books and a historical biography, 'Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt 1415' . She lives just outside Bath. 

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was kindly provided by 
Amberley Publishing

18 June 2018

Book Review ~ The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown, by Nathen Amin

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Beaufort portcullis badge is everywhere, from the one penny coin to the Houses of Parliament, but few people know much about this amazing family, which has had such an impact on British history.  I think part of the reason is the story of the Beauforts is complex, so Nathen Amin has to be congratulated for unpicking myth from fact and producing a highly readable account.

It's often said that history has much more drama than fiction, and the House of Beaufort is no exception. This is a story of loyalty and treachery, luck and disaster, which would make a wonderful epic feature film.

My only issue with this meticulously researched book is that my personal favourite Beaufort, Lady Margaret, (mother of Henry Tudor) has a mention in the prologue and only a single paragraph at the end. I'm hoping Nathen Amin is already working on a companion volume, 'The House of Tudor'. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book is a full-length biography of the Beaufort family. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer. Find him on Twitter @NathenAmin.

16 June 2018

Book Review ~ Arthur and the Kings of Britain: The Historical Truth Behind the Myths, by Dr Miles Russell

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I've always had a fascination with the 'Dark Ages' and look out for new discoveries, so was keen to read this book from Dr Miles Russell.  I don't suppose we'll ever know how much of the Arthurian legends are based on fact, although there is some analysis here about the Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), which places King Arthur's possible origins in context and suggests we should at least keep an open mind.

The subtitle is The Historical Truth Behind the Myths, and Miles Russell prefaces his book with a thought-provoking quote from Michael Wood:
"The continued retelling of the story in the folk tradition has produced its own narrative, accumulating fabulous detail over many centuries, ending up far more wonderful than historical fact, but in some mysterious way reflecting a kind of crystallised essence of the original story."
I was intrigued with the theory that the  British monarchy might owe more than we expect to the Trojan Brutus, and there are some interesting ideas about the origins of London which I've not seen before. 

This book also adds weight to the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth as and the re-evaluation of what has previously been dismissed as myth and legend. Recommended for anyone who'd like a better understanding of the early kings of Britain.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Dr Miles Russell is a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman archaeology at Bournemouth University in the UK. He has worked as a field officer and project manager for the UCL Field Archaeology Unit, the Oxford Archaeological Unit and Bournemouth Archaeology on sites across Southern England, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Germany, Sicily and Russia. He is currently researching prehistoric monumental architecture, archaeological hoaxes and Roman imperial statuary. He is co-director of the Durotriges Project and REGNVM investigating the transition from the Iron Age to Roman period in SW and SE Britain. Miles is a regular contributor to television and radio,  and the author of fourteen books.

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was kindly provided by 
Amberley Publishing

14 June 2018

Raising awareness of your books with podcasts #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

If you're looking for another free (or low cost) way to reach a wider audience, it's worth considering podcasting. I'm fairly new to this, so I'd like to share my 'learning curve' with you and perhaps save you some time.

The first thing you need is somewhere to 'host' your podcasts. There are plenty to choose from but after researching several I chose Podbean. As well as being free (or low cost if you start getting ambitious) Podbean provides great support 24/7 and it's easy to link your podcasts to iTunes and similar sites, where you reach a whole new potential audience.

Next, it's worth investing in a decent microphone designed for the purpose. I bought a 'Yeti' USB microphone which is great as it can eliminate any background noise, but there are plenty to choose from.

I use a MacBook Pro, so my son recommended the free GarageBand app, which was easy to use for recording - but I've now chosen to upgrade to Final Cut Pro, which has loads more features and I can also post my podcasts to YouTube. (There are equivalents on Windows - if you can recommend any please add a comment below.)

You can add your author branding to your podcast page, and include a short bio and social media links, which I found easy to do on Podbean. It's also a good to listen to podcasts from other authors, and to connect with like-minded podcasters and share their content.

Finally, having tried 'winging it' I recommend drafting a script, even if it's just a few bullet point prompts. You don't want to be 'reading aloud' but I find it's surprising how your mind can go blank with a microphone in front of you. 

I try to keep mine to between fifteen and twenty minutes, although many podcasts are much longer. As with life, what you will get back from podcasting depends on what you put in to it, but If you're worried about the time it takes, once you've set it up you only need to spare half an hour a month.  

If you would like to see my podcasts on Podbean you can listen to them here: https://tonyriches.podbean.com/

Tony Riches

Do you have some great writing tips you would like to share?
Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event run by @raimeygallant 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.

Special Guest Interview with Deborah Swift, Author of A Plague on Mr Pepys

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The second novel in the Mr Pepys series by popular historical novelist Deborah Swift, featuring the Great Plague

I'm pleased to welcome author Deborah Swift to The Writing Desk today:

Tell us about your latest book

A Plague on Mr Pepys tells the story of Bess Bagwell, Samuel Pepys’ most enduring mistress. She is mentioned more than any other of his ‘amours’ although she is married to someone else. So why does she do it? What drives a woman to such a long-standing affair? And more surprisingly, why does her husband apparently condone it?

In one way, the book is a classic triangle, with Bess at its apex, but on the other hand it is an exploration into how the wheels of 17th century society are kept moving through hidden liaisons, underhand deals and corruption. This is none more so than in the time of the Great Plague, when lives are at stake, but also great profit can be made in the manufacture of quack medicine, and by exploiting people’s fear.

I also wanted to write about what makes a family; how relationships are forged through surviving adversity. This is the second of my novels featuring real-life women in Pepys Diary, and I really enjoyed constructing a very different story for Bess than I did for Deb Willet.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to write in the mornings and have organised my other work to do this. Like most writers who are not yet retired, I have a day job, teaching in Adult Education, but luckily I am self-employed so I can juggle my time. So my morning writing time is sacrosanct! Actually, having a fixed timetable really helps, as think to be entirely desk bound is not very healthy. I’m a big advocate for Yoga, Tai Chi, dancing, bracing walks, and anything else that gets the body moving after a morning at my desk.

What advice do you have for new writers?

There is so much advice out there. A lot of it gives you formulas about things like three acts, plot points, stakes, and so forth. It can be overwhelming. But in the end, it comes down to you and the page. Most advice is meaningless when faced with your own story and your own characters. You just have to figure it all out for yourself. Particularly with historical fiction where some parts of the story are fixed and others are moveable, you have to rely on your own story instinct. And now there are so many different ways to get your book before readers, and that too is an individual choice. So my advice would be – have courage! You can do it. There is a reader out there who will love your book, and you just need to make sure you finish it and get it into their hands.

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

To be honest, it’s straightforward advertising. If nobody sees your book, nobody will buy it. So it’s worth paying for that. It doesn’t have to be mega bucks, just a little goes a long way, if you target the right readers. And the best place to put an ad is where people buy books - on Amazon.

When I was first published I did a lot of library talks, book talks, blogging, and other activities that took up lots of time. Now I still do those things if I think they will give me pleasure, but I realise that the number of books they sell is miniscule compared with even a simple and cheap paid ad which runs while you write. Historical fiction is a niche genre, and within that niche is my period, which is even smaller. So the advantage of a small niche is that you can target very specifically, and it need not cost you an arm and a leg.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I hadn’t realised how much the medical catastrophe of the plague was also an economic and social catastrophe for London. For example, in the parish of Cripplegate there were eight thousand bodies to bury in 1665, and every grave had to be dug and paid for. The constant tolling of the ‘passing bell’ created its own expenses. The bells wore out and cracked and had to be repaired, and the repair of the eight bells (to pay men to heave them down, pay the foundry, heave them up again etc) cost 25% of the Parish budget.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

As you might expect, in a book featuring the plague, there are deaths. And they are not pretty. So how much detail does the reader need, how much should be left to the imagination? Does the detail help or hinder the emotional impact of the scene? So that was something that required a lot of thought.

But also the first scene in any book is really hard, because there you are setting up the reader’s expectations, and I wanted to make it clear that although the book has ‘plague’ in the title, it is not all doom and gloom. There is plenty of lively action from Bess our vivid and outspoken protagonist, and Pepys himself is a colourful larger-than-life character.

 What are you planning to write next?

The next book in the series is ‘Entertaining Mr Pepys’ which I am working on now. It is the final book in the trilogy, about Elizabeth Knepp, nicknamed ‘Bird’ because of her singing voice. She is taken on as an actress in the newly-formed King’s Players, and meets Mr Pepys at the theatre. The theatre of this era; the time of Nell Gwyn and the playwrights Dryden and Aphra Behn, is particularly vibrant, and I’m enjoying bringing this woman’s journey to life. And it features the Great Fire, which will be enormous fun to write!

Deborah Swift

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About the Author

Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website www.deborahswift.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory.

13 June 2018

Interview with Linda Hughes, Author of Secrets of the Island (The Secrets Trilogy Book 2)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Red Cross nurse Harriet escapes the trauma of WWII and sequesters herself in her grandfather's cottage on Mackinac Island, she has no inkling about her heritage. But as one shocking clue after another surfaces—disclosing lies, corruption, madness, and murder—the family realizes that it’s not just their ancestors that remain a mystery. 

Today I'm pleased to welcome Linda Hughes to talk about her writing:  

Tell us about your latest book.

Secrets of the Island is a romantic suspense novel that is second in my Secrets trilogy. First was Secrets of the Asylum, which took place in 1921. It’s that protagonist’s daughter who is the central character in Secrets of the Island, set on Mackinac Island, Michigan, in 1943. There’s mystery, romance, murder, a bit of mayhem, and a lot of adventure. The story takes you to this historic island in an era gone by, while a family attempts to unravel the destruction left by generations of deceit. Adding to the suspense are their own astonishing secrets, kept from each other.
Secrets of the Island poses this question to the reader: What secrets are buried in your family tree?

What is your preferred writing routine?

I strive to walk my dogs, have my muffin and coffee, and finish any quick chores by 9:00 a.m. so I can start writing. After a couple of hours I workout and have lunch. Then back at it for two or three hours. I make myself get up out of my chair by 4:00, in case there’s anything else in the world I need to pay attention to. Some afternoons go to hell in a handbasket quickly, as you can well imagine, when other things come up, which makes that morning writing more critical. I try not to let myself write in the evening, although I often go over outlines and notes. Mostly, I like to read other books at night while I watch TV or do nothing else. I follow this routine five days a week as much as possible. Otherwise, those books never get done.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I read something once – so I can’t take credit for it – that writers need to be ready to be disturbed, focus, listen to your pages, meet goals, and trust yourself. Good advice.

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

I’ve learned to circle out. Start with the most obvious, close circle of people I know, and work out from there. I ask who they know, and who those people know. I do all the usual social media things but have also had nice success with signings at book stores, libraries, and historical societies. Mostly, I’ve connected with those places through people I already know. And then I get to know the folks who work in those places, and they refer me to other places. I also belong to a couple of writers’ clubs that are very supportive.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

The patriarch of the family in this trilogy was once a lumberjack, before becoming a business tycoon. I had to learn all about “shanty boy” life in the mid to late 1800s. I was surprised to learn that many did this their entire adult lives, until they could no longer wield an axe. Most were not married. They moved around from forest to forest, following the trees. When they got old and couldn’t work, they were customarily taken into asylums, even though their minds were fine. They simply had no place else to go. What a life!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

A rape scene. I had to make it quick and give her immediate revenge.

What are you planning to write next?

The last book in this trilogy is next: Secrets of Summer. It’s 1965 and our protagonist is the twenty-one-year old daughter of the last protagonist. This girl cannot stay out of trouble! I’m having a blast writing her. She’s a real free spirit.

Linda Hughes

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About the Author

Linda Hughes is a native Michigander and a world traveler, having worked in thirteen countries and visited a couple dozen more, but Mackinac Island remains one of her favourite places. Her books have won awards from the National Writers Association, Writer’s Digest, the American Screenwriters Association, Ippy (Independent Publishers), and Indie Book of the Day. Find out more at Linda's website www.lindahughes.com and find her on Twitter @lghughesauthor

12 June 2018

Guest Post by Stephen Porter, Author of Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn

Available from Amazon US 
and for pre-order from Amazon UK 
or direct from Amberley Publishing

Tudor London was a large and vibrant city holding an unrivalled position within England as the centre of government, political life and the law; the focus of power and patronage; the hub of overseas and inland trade, with a diverse and flourishing economy. Its wealth and the opportunities which it offered drew aspiring incomers from across the country and attracted a significant inflow of people from abroad, together with new ideas and practices, as London’s overseas trade expanded into new trading regions. Its contacts developed, centred on the commercial world of the City, the court’s artistic interests and patronage, and the humanist intelligentsia’s networks.
   Visitors were aware that the city was inhabited by craftsmen and was not dominated by the aristocracy. Shops lined many of the streets, including the one which crossed the bridge connecting the city with Southwark; an impressive structure which was greatly admired. Cheapside attracted attention for the wealth of its goldsmiths’ and silversmiths’ shops and Watling Street was dominated by wealthy drapers dealing in all sorts of woollen cloth. The houses of the merchants and wealthy craftsmen were impressive but not showy and the streets themselves gave an unfavourable impression, for they were narrow and lined with tall buildings, and so were rather dismal. And their surfaces were foul, because they were badly paved and often wet and muddy, and that carried into the houses. London’s environment was a smelly one, both indoors and out. 
   Within the city were more than a hundred parish churches, the great cathedral of St Paul’s and over 30 monastic houses, of varying sizes. The monastic orders owned many houses across the city and after they were dissolved, in the 1530s, not only were the sites of the monasteries sold, but so too were their properties, and so the mid-century saw a considerable transfer of ownership of property. 
   Londoners enjoyed a good and varied diet, with mutton and beef, and plenty of fish, and they were particularly fond of young swans, rabbits, deer, and seabirds. Markets were held along the streets. The principal one was in Cheapside and the names of the adjacent streets indicate their specialities: Honey Lane, Bread Street, Milk Street and Wood Street. A fish market was held in Friday Street on Fridays, although the biggest fish market was at Billingsgate. The poultry dealers traded in the eastwards extension of Cheapside, known as Poultry; at its western end a corn market was held in a churchyard, and beyond that Newgate Street was used by butchers for their slaughter-houses and stalls. 
   To supply the Londoners’ needs, goods, fuel and produce were brought by road, along the Thames and in seagoing and coastal vessels. The carts which supplied the city and those which transported goods from the quaysides along the Thames caused traffic congestion, which worsened during the sixteenth century, as London’s population grew and as the aristocracy, gentry and wealthier merchants took to travelling by coach. Congestion of pedestrians and vehicles was a characteristic and frustrating feature of life in the city. The number of vessels on the river also increased and visitors were impressed by the sheer amount of shipping in the Thames.
   As well as the seagoing vessels and river barges, the Thames seemed to be full of small passenger boats taking two passengers and known as wherries; by the end of the century there were said to be 3,000 of them. They were convenient for theatre-goers who attended performances in the new playhouses on Bankside; others were built in Shoreditch. The late sixteenth century saw the birth of the modern theatre as plays emerged from the court and aristocratic mansions onto a genuinely public stage, where a wide-ranging and constantly expanding repertoire could be enjoyed by everyone for a small charge. But the playhouses were viewed with suspicion, as places which attracted ne’er-do-wells, and the magistrates occasionally tried to suppress them, on moral grounds, and during outbreaks of plague, to deter people from crowding together, which was thought likely to help spread the disease.
   Londoners had a range of other recreations to choose from. That was the period when the Lord Mayor’s show developed into a truly impressive day-long spectacle, with hundreds taking part and thousands lining the route. Bowling alleys, gaming-houses and alehouses were all popular, although the magistrates tried to control the numbers, partly because they were thought to be the resort of idle people who should have been at work. But alehouses were lively meeting places for music and conviviality, with ballads pasted on the walls to encourage communal singing. Inns, taverns and beer gardens were scattered about the city and were used by women as well as men. Women and men mixed freely in Tudor London and travellers commented on the practice of kissing as a greeting, with callers expected to kiss the hostess and her whole household both when they arrived and when they left. 
   Tudor London, with its overlapping communities, was a complex, lively and rewarding city in which to live. By the time that the dynasty came to an end in 1603 its population had reached 200,000, having increased fourfold since Henry VII’s accession in 1485. That was just one reflection of how dominant the city was within England, in terms of its economic, social, political, legal and cultural influence. And it had gained a far wider international reach, as its merchants traded with an expanding range of ports across much of the world, and the greater volume and ever-widening variety of fine goods that were imported. Many of them reached London’s myriad shops and households; the congestion in the streets and on the river reflected the city’s industrious and prospering society. Problems remained, for growth brought overcrowding and bad living conditions for the poor, and epidemic diseases could not be prevented, but the rapid recovery from the sporadic outbreaks demonstrated London’s social and economic resilience. A French visitor in 1578 was so enthused by the city that he wrote that ‘rumours of the greatness, prosperity, singularities and splendours of London fly and run to the ends of the whole world’.     

Stephen Porter 

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About the Author

Stephen Porter is an acknowledged expert on London's history. After holding research posts in history at Oxford University and King’s College, London, he worked for seventeen years with the Survey of London, a project begun in the late nineteenth century devoted to the history of London’s built environment. After his retirement he served as Honorary Archivist of Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse. He has written widely on London’s history: his books include The Great Fire of London, The Great Plague of London, London’s Plague Years, Shakespeare’s London, Pepys’s London, The Tower of London and London: A History in Paintings and Illustrations. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society and now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.