20 May 2018

Special Guest post by Caroline Angus Baker, Author of Frailty of Human Affairs (Queenmaker Series)

Available on Amazon UK, Amazon US

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.
That man needs to be the Queenmaker.
Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

It would easy to dismiss books on Thomas Cromwell, as the market has felt saturated in recent years. But when people ask why I chose to write a trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, I am happy to say there still feels plenty of room to create a fresh face for a man often covered in fiction. The first book in this unusual tale is already available, with plenty more still to come. 

A new perspective

Frailty of Human Affairs (an expression used by Cromwell himself in 1534), starts in 1529, when Cromwell is still devoted to Thomas Wolsey, just prior to the legatine court assembling to rule on King Henry’s marriage to Queen Katherine. 

This pivotal moment in history brings in a new character, Nicòla Frescobaldi, the son of a wealthy merchant in Florence. Nicòla’s father, Francesco Frescobaldi, was the man who found a young starving, homeless Englishman on the Florentine streets in around 1500 and took him in as an apprentice. 

For Cromwell’s beloved patron’s only son to arrive in England on his doorstep gives Cromwell the opportunity to rekindle the mysterious years he spent in Italy before returning to England as a refined and educated man. 

A complicated reality

Cromwell’s life in the years between the legatine court of 1529 and the birth of Princess Elizabeth in 1533 were ones of a remarkable rise, borne out of a combination of charm, education, savvy law-making and a fervent passion to save English religion from itself. 

Cromwell desperately wanted to give the king what he wanted – Anne Boleyn – and this novel delves into the perspectives of Cromwell and Frescobaldi, who combine their talents to win the trust of a king, but also personally suffer as the king holds power over their complicated weaknesses.

But why read?

Frailty of Human Affairs tells the complex tale of a well-known period, seen through the eyes of both Cromwell and Frescobaldi, two people skirting around the big names of history. Cromwell is a baseborn Englishman and Frescobaldi is the bastard child of a wealthy foreigner tied to the powerful Medici dynasty. 

There is no need for a hero or a villain, as Cromwell and Frescobaldi are both, whether a cardinal need to die, a king needs to be consoled, a mistress needs to be entertained or a family needs to be healed. Cromwell and Frescobaldi have many similarities and remarkable differences that create a loving bond no one else understands.

A darker chapter

Shaking the Throne (Sept. 2018) tells the story of Cromwell and Frescobaldi’s involvement in the destruction of the Catholic Church and the beheading of Anne Boleyn, covering the years of Elizabeth’s 1533 birth to the Pilgrimage of Grace in late 1536. 

Power and influence mean little if you have no safety, but Cromwell and Frescobaldi continue to rise high. Total loyalty from the king, a strong friendship with Henry Fitzroy, having friends in every position and even having the ear of Anne Boleyn might not be enough when powerful Catholic forces come together. Cromwell and Frescobaldi’s secrets will be exploited by the Seymour family to change the course of English history.

How many heads will be claimed?

No Amour Against Fate (Sept. 2019) details the crushing of the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, the creation of Anne of Cleves and Cromwell’s final betrayal that led to his rapidly regretted death in 1540. Whether Frescobaldi’s small head is alongside Cromwell’s on a bloodied spike is something readers need to wait and see. 

While history can answer many questions about the life of the incredible Thomas Cromwell, by adding in new fictional characters, stemming from real-life friendships, means that readers can be entertained to the last page.

The best and worst

The best part of writing the Queenmaker Series is getting to see how far I can push readers to still side with Cromwell and Frescobaldi, even when they are wrong. I like to have protagonists who do good and bad and take readers along for the ride.

The worst part is once the book is out and reviews are needed. I am terrified of reviews but still rely on them for the book to survive in Amazon’s difficult algorithms. Always review books when you read, positive or negative!

Caroline Angus Baker

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About the Author

Caroline Angus Baker is a sailmaker turned author based in Auckland, New Zealand. Having studied, worked and lived in New Zealand, Spain, and the U.K, she has produced modern-day thrillers with the bestselling Canna Medici series, and then the Spanish Civil War based Secrets of Spain series, created after studying in mass graves and bullfighting rings. The Queenmaker Series is the first in a large set of English history novels. Find out more at Caroline's website https://carolineangusbaker.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Writer_Caroline

19 May 2018

Visiting St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle

On this historic day of the royal wedding, I'd like to say a little about the amazing history of the venue, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. By coincidence, the wedding falls on the anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn - and the happy couple will walk over the tomb of King Henry VIII, who will be only feet away from the ceremony.  The subject if my current work in progress, Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, will also be only a few yards away.

St George’s Chapel is within the grounds of Windsor Castle and was founded by King Edward III. Many successive royals have made their own ‘improvements’ and the chapel was seriously damaged by looters during the English Civil War.

There is a real sense of being at the heart of English History as you enter, as it is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and burial place of many kings. I spotted the portcullis badge of Margaret Beaufort everywhere, as well as the Dragon and Greyhound of King Henry VII.

The chapel is also full of surprises. I found I was looking at the tomb of King Edward IV, buried with ‘Elizabeth Widvile’.  The tomb had been ‘lost’ then rediscovered during restoration work in 1789, which explains its modern appearance. (When the tomb was found many ‘relics’ were taken, including locks of Edward's hair – and liquid from the bottom of the coffin!)

I was listening to the audio tour as I entered the quire and was amazed when I was asked to look up to the left of the altar. That morning I’d been writing about Catherine of Aragon watching Henry VIII’s jousting from an ornate wooden gallery.

There above me was another - the wooden gallery from where Queen Catherine would sit to watch services in the chapel, as well preserved as if she is expected to arrive at any moment.

I think Catherine would have approved of Prince Harry's marriage - and would perhaps have some useful advice about the challenges of being a young, foreign princess in the English royal family!
Henry VIII’s tomb occupies the middle of the quire and is surprising both for its simplicity and the company we’ve chosen for him to keep in eternity – as well as Jane Seymour, Henry is buried with the beheaded body of King Charles Ist and a stillborn son of Queen Anne. (If you’d like to know more about Henry’s tomb see Natalie Grueninger's post at 'On The Tudor Trail'.)

Having failed to find the tomb of Charles Brandon, I sked a guide and discovered it in the south transit, half covered by a wooden bench seat and under a life-sized portrait of King Edward III adjacent to the tomb of King Henry VI.  Interestingly, it refers to Mary Tudor as ‘Married Mary daughter of Henry VII, Widow of Louis XII King of France.

And what about Mary Tudor’s tomb? She died in Suffolk on 25 June 1533 and Charles Brandon paid for a fine tomb Bury St Edmunds Abbey. When the abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, her remains were taken to St. Mary’s Church, also in Bury St Edmunds, and placed under a modest slab – another long trip from Wales which I'll be talking about soon!

Tony Riches

18 May 2018

Tudor Book Spotlight: The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, by Suzannah Lipscomb

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

On 28 January 1547, the sickly and obese King Henry VIII died at Whitehall. Just hours before his passing, his last will and testament had been read, stamped and sealed. The will confirmed the line of succession as Edward, Mary and Elizabeth; and, following them, the Grey and Suffolk families. It also listed bequests to the king's most trusted councillors and servants.

Henry's will is one of the most intriguing and contested documents in British history. Historians have disagreed over its intended meaning, its authenticity and validity, and the circumstances of its creation. 

As well as examining the background to the drafting of the will and describing Henry's last days, Suzannah Lipscomb offers her own, illuminating interpretation of one of the most significant constitutional documents of the Tudor period.

‘I was gripped by Suzannah Lipscomb’s The King is Dead, an elegantly written forensic examination of Henry VIII’s last will and testament, one of the most significant constitutional documents in British history.’ (Saul David, Evening Standard)
Lipscomb 'deserves admiration for taking on some of the heavy-hitters among Tudor historians and for holding her own....This is a book that deserves to be read. Lipscomb has produced an entirely credible interpretation of a contentious issue. Her sober but still engaging prose thankfully lacks that sweet sentimentality that so often characterises popular histories of the Tudors. Her analysis of the available documents seems sturdy. With admirable authority, she provides an interesting allegory about how misplaced trust can undermine the best-laid plans of a powerful king.' (Prof. Gerard DeGroot, The Times)
‘Scholars have long jousted over the provenance, authenticity and validity of Henry VIII’s 1546 will, making it one of the most contested documents in British history. Lipscomb approaches the debate as a series of ‘mysteries to be solved’, bringing us directly into the corridors of 16th-century English power by supplying, in an appendix, the document itself. …Challengers to the will’s validity contend that a cabal of courtiers took advantage of a fading monarch to manipulate the endgame. But Lipscomb makes the case that the will was exactly as a dying but still leonine Henry wished it… Both wonkish and elegant, The King is Dead allows us a peek inside.’ (Jean Zimmerman, New York Times Book Review)
‘Nimbly scrutinizes Henry VIII’s unusual final will to lend insight into the king’s state of mind and religious beliefs during the last months of his life while also settling potential timeline incongruities.’ (Publishers Weekly) 
‘A gripping, forceful and forensically detailed investigation into the most controversial document of Henry VIII’s reign’. Jessie Childs
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About the Author

Dr Suzannah Lipscomb is Senior Lecturer and Convenor for History at New College of the Humanities, London, and also holds a post as Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. For three years she was Research Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, based at Hampton Court Palace; she is now a Consultant for Historic Royal Palaces and on their Research Strategy Board. Find out more at Suzannah's website http://suzannahlipscomb.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @sixteenthCgirl

Guest Post by Bett Rose, Author of A Week in Time

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Whilst the men and able bodied were away fighting, those left behind faced a daily struggle to keep up a semblance of normal life. The neighbours all 'pulled together' and 'mucked in' as Harold would have it. Eliza enjoyed her independence and Joanie found an inner strength and knew that Reg would be proud of her. Ruby? Well they all knew about Ruby! Francis? Increasingly fragile and a worry to them all. 

I was inspired to write A Week in Time after watching so many seemingly dark programmes on TV and wanting to bring a little light into the world. My dad and brothers were all employed in the Coventry motor trade, and many times I would quietly sit behind 'dad's chair' listening to the dark and numerous stories of everyday survival during WW2. Very few of the tales were about the actual fighting, more about being 'bombed out' , or rationing or 'making do!'

A Week in Time is a story of everyday lives and relationships, of 'working class' neighbours and families living in close proximity, living out their reality of WW2 Britain. Just a short story, that includes laughter and light and hope and disappointments and spirituality.

Most importantly, to me, a happy ending. I wanted to encourage others who have dreamed of writing and not yet made a start.

My book was published in November 2017.  I'm now working on a story about family and homelessness, inspired by a walk through the city centre, mid afternoon , and seeing so many youngster 'sleeping out' in the cold. I hope to publish in November 2018.

There are editing and publishing companies that will guide a writer through this process, without them A Week in Time would still be a story on an A4 notepad.

Bett Rose
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About the Author

Bett Rose was born in Coventry, UK in the early 1950's, the youngest child of six. After retiring from a career in nursing, Bett and had time to enjoy reading more and writing a few letters to magazines. For many years she wrote relaxation scripts for patients and philosophies for her church, which proved to be good preparation for becoming an author.

17 May 2018

New Historical Fiction: Jane Seymour, the Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens), by Alison Weir

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Acclaimed author and historian Alison Weir continues her epic Six Tudor Queens series with this third captivating novel, which brings to life Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII's most cherished bride and mother of his only legitimate male heir.

Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and as an adult, Jane is invited to the King's court to serve as lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. 

The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumors of Henry's lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn--also lady-in-waiting to the queen--all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a hauntingl incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures Anne as his new queen--forever altering the religious landscape of England--he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King's affection and earn favor for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son, or will she be cast aside like the women who came before her?

Bringing new insight to this compelling story, Alison Weir marries meticulous research with gripping historical fiction to re-create the dramas and intrigues of the most renowned court in English history. At its center is a loving and compassionate woman who captures the heart of a king, and whose life will hang in the balance for it.

Praise for Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession: 
"A stunning, engaging, comprehensive and convincing novel . . . important, page-turning biographical fiction, hauntingly and beautifully told in first-person narrative . . . psychologically penetrating and packed with wonderful, vivid scenes. [Alison] Weir's characterisation is superb."--Historical Novels Review
 "A persuasive attempt to restore the humanity of a tragic, misrepresented figure . . . Weir's fictional Anne is ferociously smart and guilty of nothing but craving the power that's rightfully hers to claim."--NPR
"A richly detailed rendering of the familiar Tudor drama . . . Weir brings considerable expertise to her portrait of Anne as 'a flawed but very human heroine, a woman of great ambition, idealism and courage' [and] vividly depicts court life."--Kirkus Reviews
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About the Author

Alison Weir lives and works in Surrey. Her books include Britain's Royal Families, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Children of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII: King and Court, Mary, Queen of Scots and Isabella: She-Wolf of France. Find out more on Alison's website www.alisonweir.org.uk and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AlisonWeirBooks

15 May 2018

Special Guest Interview with Tal Gur, Author of The Art of Fully Living: 1 Man. 10 Years. 100 Life Goals Around the World

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Master the art of fully living, one life goal at a time. In this stirring book, author, blogger and lifestyle entrepreneur, Tal Gur offers his own transformational journey as an inspiring example and practical guide to implementing the art of fully living to its fullest potential. 

I'm pleased to welcome inspirational author Tal Gur to the Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals is a blend of memoir and self-improvement guide. The very structure of the book models my immersive approach to goal-driven living: each chapter of the book is dedicated to a year of focus—socializing, fitness, freedom, contribution, love, adventure, wealth, relationship, spirituality, and creativity—and follows my endeavors as I work toward fulfilling 100 life goals in 10 years. You can learn more about it here: https://fullylived.com/art/

What is your preferred writing routine?

My writing routine is quite simple. I prefer to write in the morning. When I write, I need zero distractions and complete silence so I turn off my mobile and sit down alone. Then I just start writing and let it flow.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be ready to spend as much time on promoting your book as you do writing it.

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

For me, the best way was to simply ask for help - from friends, authors, influencers, bloggers, and the list goes on and on. The way I see it, launching a book involves a lot of asking and it requires courage and vulnerability to reach out, to connect, to ask, and to, yes, potentially get rejected. However, remember, Asking for what you want can be a gift to others.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Being flexible with my plans. As we all already know, the best laid plans can twist and turn in unforeseeable ways - that’s when flexibility and adaptability are crucial. I’m not talking about being so flexible about the overall direction (for example, writing a book), but it helps to adjust the day-to-day approach when the need arises.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The whole book :) The writing process required sacrifice and investment of my most precious resource—my time. So finding time - or may I say making time - was the hardest thing.

What are you planning to write next?

Not sure yet. But I know it will come to me when I expect it least :)

Tal Gur

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About the Author

Tal Gur is a blogger, entrepreneur, and devoted adventurer, who has spent a decade pursuing a hundred major goals around the globe. he says, 'I embarked on a long motorcycle trip in Australia and immediately fell in love with this remote, vast and spectacular corner of the world. I went back to my home country to pursue a bachelor's degree but the memory of that epic trip never left me. After several years working in the high-tech world and feeling there was something missing, I decided to change direction and follow a lifelong dream of living in Australia.' Find out more af Tal's website www.FullyLived.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @Tal_Gur

How to Produce a YouTube Book Trailer #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

With over a billion users, the number of people watching on YouTube each month is increasing exponentially. The problem is that many hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so how can you expect your modest book trailer to ever be seen?

The answer is to use it across your author platform. My book trailers haven't been going viral on YouTube – but has been widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, as well as uploaded to my Amazon 
and Goodreads author pages, and used to add interest to my website. Here then, are the (relatively) simple steps to produce your book trailer:

Invest in simple Video production software

There are plenty of low cost packages to choose from, so I opted for the reasonably priced Cyberlink’s PowerDirector, which has an intuitive ‘drag-and-drop’ visual timeline. As well as being easy to use, PowerDirector optimises your video for YouTube upload. PowerDirector also includes a wealth of free templates and effects, although I recommend keeping things simple.

If you are a Mac user, the free version of iMovie has less effects but can do the job, and one day I'll invest in Final Cut Pro, (which my son tells me is the best on the market.)

Track down suitable music

It's important to remember the average span of attention you should expect from browsing book buyers is an amazing one minute. This means your soundtrack needs to make effective use of such a short time. 

You need to make sure it is copyright free or obtain consent – and it is easier to make the video fit the soundtrack than the other way around. My brother kindly composed and produced the music to accompany my previous video for The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. The trailer at the end of this post has an extract from Cantiga 166 by Vox Vulgaris and the Swedish composer Rasmus Fleischer was happy to give permission for its use.

Decide on the text

I find it best to use the book description as a starting point – and this can sometimes highlight ways to improve your wording. It's a well-proved adage that people can manage seven key points or less, so  short sentences or even single words can be more effective  - and try it out on a slow reader before uploading the video, to make sure you’ve allowed enough time.

Select images and video clips

I like to start and end the trailer with a cover shot, although it can be tricky to find copyright free pictures and video clips. See Dana Fox’s post, 30 Free Stock Photo Resources, which also has some useful guidance on image licences.

Apply some effects

The most impressive book trailers are surprisingly sparing with special effects. I try to limit it to simple fades, with one or two effects to grab attention where appropriate.

Produce the video for upload

Most video production packages offer a bewildering range of options. I’ve been using an aspect ratio of 16:9 to encode MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) video format in high definition. (MPEG-4 AVC uses better compression than MPEG-2, using less space to produce a video of similar quality with faster uploading.) Make sure you keep all your source files in a folder and back them up, as you’ll need them if you want to update the video later.

Upload to YouTube

If you don’t already have a YouTube account they are free and easy to create and there are instructions here.  You can add the full cover ‘blurb’ for your book as well as purchase links in the video description. I usually create a special ‘thumbnail’ image if I don’t like any of the choices offered by the YouTube uploader.

And finally…

Share with your social networks and upload to your website, as well as your author pages.  When appropriate, you can also add the link to emails - most email systems now allow the recipient to view it within the message.

Good luck!

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 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.