17 September 2018

Preparing for National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Stephen King once said ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.’

The first bit is easy. As a book reviewer, I have a healthy 'TBR' (to be read) list and several books 'on the go' at once. It’s the ‘write a lot’ bit that can cause the problem, particularly if it's an unusually mild autumn in the run up to Christmas. 

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) might be the answer for anyone who wants to learn how to write a lot (every day) while being part of a fun community who share an interest in creative writing.

On November 1st, NaNoWriMo participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-words of a novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. The organisers say ‘valuing enthusiasm, determination and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.’ (See http://nanowrimo.org/about )


I've made things a little harder by choosing historical fiction as my genre, so I start researching in September, sorting out timelines, making notes and gathering references. I like to visit actual locations for inspiration, and to track down original documents and sources - all of which takes time.

I also create a good outline before November. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet to track word count and notes on dates etc. for each chapter. I aim for twenty-five chapters of about four-thousand words, to arrive at a first draft for editing of around 100,000 words. 'Nano' can take me half way there in a month - but I like to know where I'm heading.

Although some writers like to 'wing it' and allow for creativity during November, I find it useful to make key writing decisions, such as choice of point of view, voice, where and when it will start - before I write a word. 

Writing Time

I can imagine some of you are saying you simply don't have the time - and I do understand. My children have long since left home, and I'm able to be a full time writer now, but things were very different when I 'won' my first NaNoWriMo (in 2011).

I’m not a 'night owl' when it comes to writing. I'm what they call a ‘lark,’ which means I wake early, my head full of ideas for plot and characters, so I write as much as I can first thing, then have the rest of the day to reach my target. 

I've learned  NOT to try to finish my 50,000 words on the 30th, as it's important to have space to catch up if you need it. I therefore aim to exceed my target by about a hundred words each day until I'm a full day ahead.

Now, as they say, the hard work starts.... Happy writing!

Tony Riches

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Do you have some great tips on #NaNoWriMo 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.

15 September 2018

New Book Review ~ The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror's Subjugation of England, by Teresa Cole

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

One of the main historical dates most people can tell you is that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 - and King Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye by William the Conqueror.

In this thought provoking new book Teresa Cole points out that over nine centuries later it's time to take a fresh look again at all the evidence - and the outcomes of the Norman Conquest of England. Most importantly, it is essential to examine the context for the account represented in the Bayeux tapestry.

I remember going on a school trip to see the tapestry as a child, and recall the 'comet with long hair' which Harold saw as an omen of doom. (ISTI MIRANT STELLA - These [people] look in wonder at the star). Teresa Cole points out that this was probably an appearance of Halley's comet - and it was visible at Easter 1066, not October, when William invaded (a detail ignored by the tapestry makers, who had the benefit of hindsight.)

This engaging book is packed with details and narrated in a lively style:
William the Bastard they called him, although probably not to his face. A strictly accurate description but not necessarily a term of endearment. In fact, there were not many who really loved William of Normandy - his wife, probably, and his inner circle of trusted friends. Even his children seemed to have mixed feelings.
I particularly liked Teresa Cole's chapter on 'The winners and losers of 1066: A Personal View'. Whatever they thought of him, William's victory removed at a stroke not only the King but every noble lord of note, transforming the future of England forever. He then proceeded, with the 'Doomsday Book', to note everything of value and share it between his followers.

Was Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye? All I can say is that there is an intriguing twist to King Harold's story, and you'll have to read the book to find out. Highly recommended. 

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 by Amberley, 'Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt 1415' She lives just outside Bath, UK.

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

9 September 2018

The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I

Seals were used on most documents in the past, to close them and to prove that the document really was from the person who sent it. Most seals had a picture of the owner and a motto or legend around the edge. It would usually show the type of job the owner did and contain information about their family.

However, a Great Seal was special – it belonged to the monarch and all important business that the monarch did had a Great Seal attached. If a document had this seal on it, it had the monarch’s ‘seal of approval’ as it contained the monarch’s wishes or commands.

The seal was made of a mix of resin and beeswax which turns a brown colour with age and regular use.

The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I was used by the Chancery, the Tudor Civil service, to show that the document attached was ordered in the Queen’s name. Elizabeth had her own personal ‘privy’ (private) seals for documents that she approved herself.

Queen Elizabeth used the first Great Seal from her coronation until 1586, after which she used the 'second seal' produced by the artist Nicholas Hilliard:

The second Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I shows an unusual image the queen on horseback riding across what look like a field of flowering plants. The queen is depicted as a strong, feminine figure, not in military armour. 

The inscription around the edge reads: 
'Elizabetha dei gracia Anglie Francie et Hibernie Regina Fidei Defensor'
('Elizabeth by the Grace of God Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith'). 
This second seal was 'surrendered' to King James Ist on his accession in May 3 1603 - and used by him for eleven weeks until his own seal was ready.

(Source National Archives)

7 September 2018

Book Launch ~ A Black Matter for the King by Matthew Willis & J.A. Ironside

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US


 Now a political hostage in Falaise, Ælfgifa forms an unlikely friendship with William, Duke of Normandy. William has been swift to recognize her skills and exploit them to his advantage. However, unbeknownst to the duke, Gifa is acting as a spy for her brother, Harold Godwinson, a possible rival for the English throne currently in the failing grip of
Edward the Confessor.

Homesick and alienated by the Norman court, Gifa is torn between the Duke's trust and the duty she owes her family. William has subdued his dissenting nobles, and a united Normandy is within his grasp. But the tides of power and influence are rarely still. As William’s stature grows, the circle of those he can trust shrinks.

Beyond the English Channel, William has received news of Edward's astonishing decree regarding the succession. Ælfgifa returns to an England where an undercurrent of discontent bubbles beneath the surface. An England that may soon erupt in conflict as one king dies and another is chosen. The ambitions of two powerful men will decide the fates of rival cultures in a single battle at Hastings that will change England, Europe, and the world in this compelling conclusion to the Oath & Crown series on the life and battles of William the Conqueror.

"There is little which is quite so exciting for me as discovering afresh, new talent in historical writing. In Willis and Ironside I feel I've found two writers who can carry me back to the past and can show me a time when, amid the brutality and irrationality of politics, there were still great characters, men of vision and daring, and women of intelligence and foresight. In fact these stories are a lot more than a short war series. They are a rich, extraordinarily well-researched, and meticulously told history of love, jealousy, honour, betrayal, deceit and death. It gives one version - convincingly told - of the curious oath sworn by Harold to William, but it is also the story of different nations, different cultures, and the clash when two warlords desire the same thing. In case I hadn't made it obvious, I loved these books. Sweeping history, battles galore, treachery, a cast of glorious, well-depicted characters - all in all, a fabulous story told brilliantly." - Author Michael Jecks

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About the Authors

J.A. Ironside (Jules) grew up in rural Dorset, surrounded by books - which pretty much set he up for life as a complete bibliophile. She loves speculative fiction of all stripes, especially fantasy and science fiction, although when it comes to the written word, she's not choosy and will read almost anything. Actually it would be fair to say she starts to go a bit peculiar if she doesn’t get through at least three books a week. She writes across various genres, both adult and YA fiction, and it’s a rare story if there isn’t a fantastical or speculative element in there somewhere. Jules has had several short stories published in magazines and anthologies, as well as recorded for literature podcasts. Books 1 and 2 of her popular Unveiled series are currently available with the 3rd and 4th books due for release Autumn/ Winter 2017. She also co-authored the sweeping epic historical Oath and Crown Duology with Matthew Willis, released June 2017 from Penmore Press. Jules now lives on the edge of the Cotswold way with her boyfriend creature and a small black and white cat, both of whom share a god-complex. Find out more at her website http://jaironside.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @J_AnneIronside

Matthew Willis is an author of historical fiction, SF, fantasy and non-fiction. In June 2017 An Argument of Blood, the first of two historical novels about the Norman Conquest co-written with J.A. Ironside, was published. In 2015 his story Energy was shortlisted for the Bridport short story award. Matthew studied Literature and History of Science at the University of Kent, where he wrote an MA thesis on Joseph Conrad and sailed for the University in national competitions. He subsequently worked as a journalist for Autosport and F1 Racing magazines, before switching to a career with the National Health Service. His first non-fiction book, a history of the Blackburn Skua WW2 naval dive bomber, was published in 2007. He now has four non fiction books published with a fifth, a biography of test pilot Duncan Menzies, due later in 2017. He currently lives in Southampton and writes both fiction and non-fiction for a living. Find out more at his website https://airandseastories.com/ and find him on Facebook and Twitter @NavalAirHistory

Wednesday, September 5 Excerpt at Passages to the Past
Friday, September 7 Feature at The Writing Desk
Monday, September 10 Review at Pursuing Stacie
Friday, September 14 Interview at Passages to the Past
Thursday, September 20 Review at Hoover Book Reviews
Friday, September 21 Review at Locks, Hooks and Books
Saturday, September 22 Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Sunday, September 23 Review at Bookramblings Review at Donna's Book Blog


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a signed copy of A Black Matter for the King to one lucky reader! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below. Giveaway Rules – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on September 23rd. You must be 18 or older to enter. – Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY. – Only one entry per household. – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. A Black Matter for the King

6 September 2018

New Book Launch - Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow, by Lucy Worsley

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US
(UK Paperback launch – 16 May 2019)

Who was Queen Victoria? A little old lady, potato-like in appearance, dressed in everlasting black? Or a passionate young princess, a romantic heroine with a love of dancing? There is also a third Victoria - a woman who was also a remarkably successful queen, one who invented a new role for the monarchy. She found a way of being a respected sovereign in an age when people were deeply uncomfortable with having a woman on the throne.

As well as a queen, Victoria was a daughter, a wife, a mother and a widow, and at each of these steps along life's journey she was expected to conform to what society demanded of a woman. On the face of it, she was deeply conservative. But if you look at her actions rather than her words, she was in fact tearing up the rule book for how to be female.

By looking at the detail of twenty-four days of her life, through diaries, letters and more, we can see Victoria up close and personal. Examining her face-to-face, as she lived hour to hour, allows us to see, and to celebrate, the contradictions at the heart of British history's most recognisable woman.

'Such a brilliant idea! Drilling down into Victoria's diaries Worsley gives us Victoria in all her infinite variety - queen and mother, matriarch and minx...I loved it.' Daisy Goodwin, author, and creator of ITV's Victoria
'The glory of this book is in the details, and the specific moments, that Worsley chooses to single out for mention, and in her cheerful voice as she leads us by the hand to the next window of Victoria's life calendar.' The Times
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About the Author 

Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, and other historic places. Her first paid employment after studying history at Oxford was at a minor stately home called Milton Manor, near Abingdon, where she fed the llamas. After that she became an Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage, doing historical research at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire: this led to her first book, 'Cavalier', about a dissolute Royalist duke. Her work as a curator at Kensington Palace led to 'Courtiers', which was followed by 'If Walls Could Talk', 'A Very British Murder', and her first historical novel for young readers, 'Eliza Rose', which is set at the Tudor court. For more information visit Lucy's website www.lucyworsley.com and find her on Twitter @Lucy_Worsley,  

5 September 2018

Special Guest Interview with Historian Nicola Tallis, Author of Elizabeth’s Rival

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The first biography of Lettice Knollys, one of the 
most prominent women of the Elizabethan era

I'm pleased to welcome historian and author Nicola Tallis to the Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book
Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester was released in November 2017, and I have to say I had a brilliant time writing it! For me it was kind of like the follow on from my first book, and though the link isn’t immediately obvious it’s very much there. It was also quite a challenge, as although I work in the Tudor period, the Elizabethans are slightly later than what I’m used to – so it was actually really exciting to be able to work on something completely new, and research a person who’s never had a full-scale biography before.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I’d like to say Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, but most writers will agree that it never turns out that way! I normally start writing at around 7.30am – sometimes earlier, and I can finish any time from around 6pm to 2am. It really depends on how entrenched you are in your writing – or how close your deadline is! Recently I’ve been writing seven days a week, but ideally I’d cut that down to five. My problem is that I just can’t leave it alone – writing becomes very addictive!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

First of all choose a subject that inspires you and that you are passionate about – you can be working on one book for a number of years, so if it’s not about a topic that interests you then it’s pointless. Also, don’t give up – one thing I’ve learned is that you have to be determined and be able to roll with the punches – unless you’re extremely fortunate you’re bound to experience some. Being able to learn from feedback is crucial, and will make you a better writer in the long term.

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

Social media is obviously a huge platform, but my favourite thing ever is events – I really love having the opportunity to speak to people about my books, and nothing beats that face to face contact. I’ve been very fortunate to have done some events at some wonderful venues, and I’ve also got lots coming up – I think that when an audience can see how passionate you are about your subject it sparks their interest, too. And that, after all, is the whole point.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Well, for starters I was amazed that nobody had fully written about Lettice before – it’s such a dramatic story, and I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to tell it. But I was really surprised about how my view of Elizabeth I changed throughout the course of my research – I definitely saw her in a very different light.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The execution of Lettice’s son, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Even though I didn’t have much empathy for him personally, and we have no record as to Lettice’s feelings, I really felt her loss – the numerous surviving letters she wrote to him convey the strength of her maternal feelings towards him, and to lose him in such violent circumstances must have been utterly heartbreaking. Essex was the last of Lettice’s son’s, and I really feel like with him died all of her hopes – from then on she led a very quiet life in the country.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m just putting the finishing touches to my PhD – All the Queen’s Jewels – and I’ve also been working on another book for the past year. But as to the subject, for the time being it’s a closely guarded secret – all will soon be revealed!

Nicola Tallis

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About the Author

British Historian Nicola Tallis graduated from Bath Spa University with a first class BA Hons. degree in History in 2011, and from Royal Holloway College, University of London in 2013 with an MA in Public History. Since 2013 she has been studying for her PhD at the University of Winchester, where she teaches History. Nicola also worked as a historical researcher, most notably for Sir Ranulph Fiennes whilst he was working on his 2014 book, Agincourt: My Family, the Battle and the Fight for France. and is the resident historian for Alison Weir Tours. Find out more at Nicola's website http://nicolatallis.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MissNicolaTal

30 August 2018

The Story Behind Tudor Portraits: Edward, Prince of Wales, by Hans Holbein the younger, circa 1538

One of my favourite Holbein paintings, this is said to have been a New Year's gift from the artist on 1st January 1539, to King Henry VIII. Edward VI was born on the 12th October 1537, so would have been less than fourteen months old when he posed for this portrait so I think Holbein has made him look too grown up, a potential ruler, no doubt to please the king.

Henry VIII's only legitimate son, Edward's mother, Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, died 12 days after his birth. Sadly Edward died in 1553,  although he was king of England and Ireland from 1547 until his untimely death.

The inscription below the portrait is translated as:
Little one, emulate thy father and be the heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of such a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him, thou hast outstript all, nor shall any surpass thee in ages to come. By Sir Richard Morison.
Interesting points about the portrait are that the background was originally a bright blue but has turned greenish-brown over the centuries. The infant prince holds a golden rattle in his left hand, a suggestion of a royal sceptre?

Painted on an oak panel, the skill shown in the foreshortening of the fingers of the prince's right hand and use if shadow gives this portrait a sense of life and movement - although I wonder why Holbein chose the downcast expression?  Could it be that his sitter was getting bored and Hans found it hard to keep him still?

Tony Riches