12 November 2018

Book Review: Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Harold II of England had been with Edith Swanneck for twenty years but in 1066, in order to strengthen his hold on the throne, he married Ealdgyth, sister of two earls. William of Normandy’s Duchess, Matilda of Flanders, had supposedly only agreed to marry the Duke after he’d pulled her pigtails and thrown her in the mud. Harald Hardrada had two wives – apparently at the same time. So, who were these women? What was their real story? And what happened to them after 1066?

One of the many things I learned from Sharon Bennett Connolly’s new book is there are six hundred and twenty six people depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, but only three are women. One is Edward the Confessor’s queen, Edith of Wessex, one is a woman fleeing from a burning house - and the third is an intriguing ‘mystery woman’, who has been the subject of much debate by historians.

I mention this because it touches in the central theme of Silk and the Sword, which is how little is known about the women involved in the build-up to the Norman Conquest. It has taken much detective work to sort out the few known facts from the many myths. It hasn’t helped that even the names of these women are debated and records of the time (including the famous tapestry) focus on the men.

Sharon Bennett Connolly begins with what she calls ‘the triumvirate’ of remarkable women from before the Norman invasion. I knew about Emma of Normandy – but suspected that most of what I know about Lady Godiva was wrong. Although she is arguably the most famous of the Anglo-Saxon women, her name was probably Godgifu. As for her famous naked ride, it’s no surprise that every retelling becomes more embellished in the fashion of the time.

For me, the most fascinating story is that of Gytha of Wessex, mother of an ill-fated dynasty. (Her father, the wonderfully named Thorgils Sprakaleg, was said to have been descended from the union of a bear and a Swedish maiden.) Gytha's life seems to have been an amazing saga of wealth and war, privilege and tragedy. As with all these women, I have the feeling that Sharon could have written a whole book about each of them. I am certainly inspired to find out more. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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

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About the Author

Sharon Bennett Connolly was born in Yorkshire and studied at University in Northampton before working at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London. She has been fascinated by history for over thirty years and has worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle. Best known for her fascinating blog History ... the Interesting Bits she began focusing on medieval women and in 2016 her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World was published by Amberley Publishing. Sharon is now writing her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published by Amberley in late 2018. Follow Sharon on Facebook and Twitter @Thehistorybits

11 November 2018

Mary, Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure (Stewart Dynasty in Scotland), by Jenny Wormald

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, has long been portrayed as one of history’s romantically tragic figures. Devious, naïve, beautiful and sexually voracious, often highly principled, she secured the Scottish throne and bolstered the position of the Catholic Church in Scotland. 

Her plotting, including probable involvement in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, led to her flight from Scotland and imprisonment by her equally ambitious cousin and fellow queen, Elizabeth of England. 

Yet when Elizabeth ordered Mary’s execution in 1587 it was an act of exasperated frustration rather than political wrath.Unlike biographies of Mary predating this work, this masterly study set out to show Mary as she really was – not a romantic heroine, but the ruler of a European kingdom with far greater economic and political importance than its size or location would indicate. 

Wormald also showed that Mary's downfall was not simply because of the ‘crisis years’ of 1565–7, but because of her way of dealing, or failing to deal, with the problems facing her as a renaissance monarch. 

She was tragic because she was born to supreme power but was wholly incapable of coping with its responsibilities. Her extraordinary story has become one of the most colourful and emotionally searing tales of western history, and it is here fully reconsidered by a leading specialist of the period. Jenny Wormald's beautifully written biography will appeal to students and general readers alike.

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About the Author

Jenny Wormald was one of the most influential Scottish historians of her generation. She taught history at Glasgow University for 20 years, and was then appointed to a fellowship in Modern History at St Hilda's College, Oxford, for a further 20 years. After retirement to Edinburgh she became an Honorary Fellow in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. She wrote a number of significant books and articles, including Court, Kirk and Community: Scotland 1470-1625 (1981), 'James VI and I: Two Kings or One?' (1983) and 'Gunpowder, Treason and Scots' (1985).

9 November 2018

Special Book Launch Guest Post ~ The writing of Miss Marley, by Rebecca Mascull (In Memory of Author Vanessa Lafaye)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Before A Christmas Carol there was… Miss Marley
A seasonal tale of kindness and goodwill
Orphans Clara and Jacob Marley live by their wits, scavenging for scraps in the poorest alleyways of London, in the shadow of the workhouse. Every night, Jake promises his little sister ‘tomorrow will be better’ and when the chance to escape poverty comes their way, he seizes it despite the terrible price.

The writing of Miss Marley

My friend Vanessa Lafaye was an historical novelist who loved Dickens, just like me. We bonded over reading each other’s first novels. We could see instantly that we both had the same feeling about history, that we loved the modern world of decent medical and social care, easy transport and communications, Twitter and Facebook and having hot cross buns all year round. But imaginatively we lived in the past and didn’t want to live anytime else, thanks very much.

We discovered a mutual love of Dickens. I’d read all of his novels when I was pregnant and he became my all-time number one novelist. In one of our first conversations Vanessa suggested (jokingly, kind of) that we begin an A Christmas Carol appreciation society.

Vanessa had cancer the whole time I knew her. It didn’t define her life though and she just got on, writing gorgeous books and making dear friends throughout the writing world. We lived at opposite ends of the country, so didn’t see each other much but we kept in touch regularly via Skype calls and messaging. Her condition became terminal. This year, it became clear that her time was running out and she only had a few months left. She’d just got a new deal with HarperCollins for a prequel to A Christmas Carol called Miss Marley. 

She was writing against the clock. She messaged me from a ship near New Zealand on a trip of a lifetime, asking me questions about Scrooge’s timeline and I sent her pictures of pages from the novel and talked it through. The writing was going really well and she was determined to finish it. In February 2018, we made a date to talk about her next book the following week. She died three days later. Miss Marley was two-thirds completed. Her time had run out. Too soon, too soon, for a thousand reasons.

In March 2018, HarperCollins asked me if I would consider writing the final chapters of Vanessa’s novella. I didn’t have to think about it for a second. Of course I wanted to do it. I was sent the 22,000 words Vanessa had already written and I read it with a pencil in hand, covering it in notes. I was looking for patterns in her style, such as the way she used figurative language, the details she liked to focus on and key phrases or ideas that should be reiterated and developed in the final section I was to write. 

As I read, my mind automatically began projecting forward into how these plot strands might play out and where I, as a reader as much as a writer, wanted these characters to end up. We had very little information on what Vanessa planned for the ending and so, after discussion with the publishers and those close to Vanessa, it was decided that I should write the ending as I felt it should naturally end. I had a clear picture in my head of what should happen and it was agreed by my editor Kate. I was ready to write.

The deadline was tight. It was May 2018 and they wanted the book published in November of this year, in time for Christmas. I sat down at my desk to write. I could have laboured over it and edited manically as I went along and agonised over every word – does this sound like Vanessa? Is this how she would have written it? I decided that way madness lay and also it would have created stilted prose. I realised I just had to get on with it. I had to write it how it came naturally, how it flowed. 

So I started writing, very fast, thousands of words a day. I got the whole thing finished in five days, around twelve thousand words. I didn’t think much as I wrote, I just let it flow. At points, it felt like a kind of channelling. Read into that what you will. That’s just how it felt at the time. It was a strange and beautiful experience. When I read what I’d written, I had no idea if it was similar to Vanessa’s style, if it worked as an ending or if people would approve of it. It’s like when you’ve been cooking a stew all day and you keep tasting it and it starts to taste of nothing. People close to Vanessa read it and they all liked it. 

No changes were called for. I’ve never had so little editing in my whole writing career. It was a lovely thing to do and a sad thing to do. It brought me closer to Vanessa and made me miss her presence even more. I’m so glad I was asked and I hope she would have liked it. I’ll never know, but I did the best I could. I hope Mr Dickens wouldn’t be too outraged with it either. It’s a lovely, touching story, all about goodwill and humanity. I hope you enjoy Vanessa’s last book and I heartily I recommend you read it on Christmas Eve! Thank you.

Rebecca Mascull

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About the Author

Rebecca Mascull is the author of three historical novels, all published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Her first novel, THE VISITORS, tells the story of Adeliza Golding, a deaf-blind child living on her father’s hop farm in Victorian Kent. Her second novel SONG OF THE SEA MAID is set in the C18th and concerns an orphan girl who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. Her third novel, THE WILD AIR, is about a shy Edwardian girl who learns to fly and becomes a celebrated aviatrix but the shadow of war is looming. After previously working in education, Rebecca is now a full-time writer. She has a Masters in Writing and lives by the sea in the East of England. Rebecca also writes sagas under the pen-name Mollie Walton. Find out more at Rebecca's website rebeccamascull.co.uk and find her on Facebook and Twitter @rebeccamascull

Vanessa Lafaye

7 November 2018

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Road to Newgate by Kate Braithwaite

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London 1678: Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real.  Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates. When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, 
the consequences threaten them all.

The Road to Newgate is my second novel set in the 17th Century - a fascinating time in Europe when society was making great advances in knowledge and literacy but was still fairly 'medieval' in its attitudes and medical understanding. The line between religion and superstition at times was paper-thin.

This is a story about a private marriage and friendships in a time of great public upheaval. Titus Oates rocked London with wild tales of Catholic plots, playing on the intense bigotry against Catholics that was felt by many at the time. The murder of the magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, appeared to prove that Oates' claims were true. The truth about this murder, still unsolved today, is at the heart of Nat Thompson's efforts to undermine Oates and end the terror crisis gripping London. But what will it cost him personally?

I hope the book will appeal in many ways. There's a murder mystery, a love story, an LGBT theme, and a wonderful villain. For those who love historical novels - as I do - I've tried to vividly bring to life the Popish Plot, a dramatic moment in British history, which also resonates with politics and society today.

Kate Braithwaite
“Moved me greatly and brought tears to my eyes. Gripping, moving and brilliantly captures this tense and sometimes brutal episode in late seventeenth-century English history.” - Andrea Zuvich, Author & Historian
“A real pleasure to read,” - Denis Bock, author of The Ash Garden & The Communist’s Daughter

“Meticulously researched, vividly imagined, and deftly plotted. Rich, resonating and relevant.” - Catherine Hokin, author of Blood & Roses, the story of Margaret of Anjou.
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About the Author

Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh but has lived in various parts of the UK, in Canada and the US. Her first novel, CHARLATAN, was long-listed for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award in 2015. Kate and her family live in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Find out more at Kate's website kate-braithwaite.com and find her on Twitter @KMBraithwaite  

4 November 2018

Book review: Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire, by Amy Licence

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Despite the huge amount written about Anne Boleyn, for me she remains an intriguingly elusive figure. Even the well-known portraits might not be of her, and her many enemies had good reason to darken her reputation, both during her short lifetime and afterwards.

This fascinating new book from Amy Licence is possibly the most comprehensive review of the life of Anne Boleyn to date. Amy opens with the admission that Anne has always been one of her favourite heroines, and sets out to show Anne as defiant, defining and brave, and her 'career' as the culmination of the ambitions of generations of her ancestors. 

Beginning with useful background on the rise of the Boleyn family, this book follows Anne's story from her birth to her sad end. Interestingly, almost everything we know about the last days of Anne Boleyn is filtered through the pen of Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, in his detailed reports to Cromwell. He is said to have told her the execution would not hurt, as it was to be 'cleverly' done. (His wife, Lady Mary Kingston, might have been his 'spy' when she attended on Anne Boleyn during the queen's 'doleful'  imprisonment in the Tower.)

I particularly liked the wealth of details of the court of Henry VIII, which show how some other writers might have over-simplified the complexity of Anne's situation. We still hope for answers to the many questions raised throughout this book, yet this epic account of Anne Boleyn's life is a perfect companion to Amy's excellent Catherine of Aragon. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Amy Licence is an historian of women's lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also a fan of Modernism and Post-Impressionism, particularly Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Cubism. Amy has written for The Guardian, the BBC Website, The English Review, The London Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement and is a regular contributor to the New Statesman and The Huffington Post. She is frequently interviewed for BBC radio and made her TV debut in 2013, in a BBC documentary on The White Queen. You can follow Amy on twitter @PrufrocksPeach or like her facebook page In Bed With the Tudors. Her website is www.amylicence.weebly.com

2 November 2018

Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Different Kind of Fire by Suanne Schafer

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ruby Schmidt has the talent, the drive, even the guts to enroll in art school, leaving behind her childhood home and the beau she always expected to marry. Her life at the Academy seems heavenly at first, but she soon learns that societal norms in the East are as restrictive as those back home in West Texas. Rebelling against the insipid imagery woman are expected to produce, Ruby embraces bohemian life. Her burgeoning sexuality drives her into a life-long love affair with another woman and into the arms of an Italian baron.

With the Panic of 1893, the nation spirals into a depression, and Ruby’s career takes a similar downward trajectory. After thinking she could have it all, Ruby, now pregnant and broke, returns to Texas rather than join the queues at the neighborhood soup kitchen. She discovers her life back home is as challenging as that in Philadelphia.

A Different Kind of Fire depicts one woman’s battle to balance husband, family, career, and ambition. Torn between her childhood sweetheart, her forbidden passion for another woman, the nobleman she had to marry, and becoming a renowned painter, Ruby’s choices mold her in ways she could never have foreseen.

“Writer Suanne Schafer spins a unique tale of a turn of the 19th century Texas heroine and her way of artistic expression. Her paintings shock her contemporaries and the love she’s drawn to shocks herself. A Different Kind of Fire depicts the journey of a determined woman to meet life on her own terms.” –Pamela Morsi, USA Today Bestselling Author of 26 books including The Cotton Queen and Bitsy’s Bait & BBQ
“If you love historical novels about women who throw off the shackles of feminine convention, then this book is for you. In spare but sensuous prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy and E. Annie Proulx, Schafer brings Ruby Schmidt to life–a woman who doesn’t belong in the late nineteenth century but gradually finds her place in the twentieth. You can’t help but root for Ruby as she grows from Texas farm girl, to a freethinker and lover of men and women in Philadelphia, and finally into a consummate artist. This is a powerful and deeply satisfying read.” –Helena Echlin, co-author of Sparked and author of Gone 
“An exceptional first novel. Schafer has woven a cohesive tale from disparate elements–a stark life in the rugged countryside of 1890s Texas vs the gentility of an arts academy in the East; a traditional marriage and motherhood vs a secret and haunting sexuality. Unequivocally recommended!” –Michael R. Hardesty, Author of Amazon Best Seller, The Grace of the Ginkgo
“With rare artistry, Schafer paints a life both creative and cursed in A Different Kind of Fire.–Willa Blair, Award-winning Amazon and Barnes & Noble #1 bestselling author of His Highland Love, Highland Troth, Highland Seer, and ten other books 
“The saga of a young woman determined to follow her dream, whatever obstacles cross her path.” –MJ Fredrick, author of A Texas Kind of Love, Smitten in a Small Town, and twenty-five other books, a two-time Epic Awards winner and a four-time RWA Golden Heart finalist 
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About the Author

Suanne Schafer, born in West Texas at the height of the Cold War, finds it ironic that grade school drills for tornadoes and nuclear war were the same: hide beneath your desk and kiss your rear-end goodbye. Now a retired family-practice physician whose only child has fledged the nest, her pioneer ancestors and world travels fuel her imagination. She originally planned to write romances, but either as a consequence of a series of failed relationships or a genetic distrust of happily ever-after, her heroines are strong women who battle tough environments and intersect with men who might—or might not—love them. Suanne completed the Stanford University Creative Writing Certificate program. Her short works have been featured in print and on-line magazines and anthologies. Her debut women’s fiction novel, A Different Kind of Fire, explores the life of Ruby Schmidt, a nineteenth century artist who escapes—and returns—to West Texas. Suanne’s next book explores the heartbreak and healing of an American physician caught up in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Find out more at Suanne's website suanneschaferauthor.com and follow her on Twitter @SuanneSchafer

New Tudor Book: The Forgotten Tudor Women: Anne Seymour, Jane Dudley & Elisabeth Parr, by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Anne Seymour, Jane Dudley and Elisabeth Parr all have their own unique stories to tell. Born into the most turbulent period of England’s history, these women’s lives interplayed with the great dramas of the Tudor age, and their stories deserve to be told independently of their husbands. 

Anne Seymour served all of Henry VIII’s six wives and brushed with treason more than once, but she died in her bed as a wealthy old matriarch. Jane Dudley was a wife and mother who fought for her family until her last breath. 

Elisabeth Parr, sister-in-law of Queen Katherine Parr, married for love and became Elizabeth I’s favourite lady-in-waiting. The Tudor age was a hazardous time for ambitious women: courtly life exposed them to “pride, envy, indignation, scorning and derision”, executions were part of everyday life, death in childbirth was a real possibility and plagues sweeping regularly through the country could wipe out entire generations of families. 

Yet Anne, Jane and Elisabeth lived through all this and left their indelible marks on history. It’s high time for these women’s stories to be heard.

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About the Author

Sylvia Barbara Soberton is a writer and researcher specialising in the history of the Tudors. She debuted in 2015 with her bestselling book “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Mary Howard, Mary Shelton & Margaret Douglas”. Sylvia’s other best-sellers include “Golden Age Ladies: Women Who Shaped the courts of Henry VIII and Francis I” and “Great Ladies: The Forgotten Witnesses to the Lives of Tudor Queens”. You can find Sylvia on Goodreads and Twitter @SylviaBSo 

The Magic Marble Tree: A Writer's Journey (The Liberator's Daughter Book 2) by Deborah Levine

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Join me on the journey from chronic pain to award-winning author. Travel from the beaches of British Bermuda to New York, Chicago, and Chattanooga. Experience the blending of my father, a US military intelligence officer who interrogated WWII Nazi prisoners of war and mother, a pioneer in special education. 

Her empathy and people skills rescued us Share the joy of teaching special needs children and embracing diversity as I practice what she preached. Learn what it takes to grow into a leader that crosses cultural boundaries with emotional intelligence. 

Be part of my transformation from a hospital bed into a world-famous writer and innovator. Join this mystical journey of repairing the world in these challenging times through the art of writing. 

Deborah Levine

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About the Author

Deborah J. Levine is an award-winning author, Editor-in-Chief of the American Diversity Report, contributor to The Huffington Post, and Opinion Columnist for The Chattanooga Times Free Press. Brought up in the British colony of Bermuda, she attended Harvard, NYU, Spertus Institute, and the U. of IL at Chicago. In the Chicago area, Deborah founded the DuPage Interfaith Research Coalition and coordinated the National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations. She is headquartered in TN where she founded the Women's Council on Diversity, now Lean In-Women Ground Breakers, and served as Research Coordinator at the College of Engineering & Computer Science at the U. of TN/ Chattanooga (UTC).  You can find Deborah on Goodreads and Twitter @diversityreport 

1 November 2018

The Druid (Warrior Druid of Britain) by Steven A. McKay

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Northern Britain, AD430 A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted. In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose. 

With years of training in the old ways, two war-dogs at his side, and unsurpassed skill with a longsword, Bellicus’s quest will take him on a perilous journey through lands still struggling to cope with the departure of the Roman legions. Meanwhile, amongst her brutal captors the little princess Catia finds an unlikely ally, but even he may not be able to avert the terrible fate King Hengist has in store for her.

This, the first volume in a stunning new series from the bestselling author of Wolf’s Head, explores the rich folklore and culture of post-Roman Britain, where blood-sacrifice, superstition and warfare were as much a part of everyday life as love, laughter and song. As Saxon invaders and the new Christian religion seek to mould the country for their own ends one man will change the course of Britain’s history forever. . . . . . THE DRUID.
"Steven A. McKay's archetypal villains and heroes step vividly onto the page from a mist-veiled past of legend to battle for the life of a princess and the fate of Britain.Dark age adventure at its gripping best." - MATTHEW HARFFY, author of The Bernicia Chronicles
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About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, Wolf's Head, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. Blood of the Wolf is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series. Steven is currently researching and writing a brand new tale - tentatively titled "The Druid" set in post-Roman Britain. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up. Find out more at his website
https://stevenamckay.com/ and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay.

Legend of the Crescent Moon, by Grace Willows

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

What if a medieval legend came true and pulled
you back into its past?

Elizabeth got her degree in Medieval History, spent time in England studying the past, toured castles until she found the one that 'spoke' to her, and volunteered at the local Renaissance Festival, thinking that the closest she would ever get to her dream life was a lifetime working as curator in a museum.

She spent her adult life madly in love with a friend's husband thinking it was as good as her life was going to get unless she settled. When this year's meteor shower coincided with a crescent moon, she had no idea what magic would ensue when she made a wish on a shooting star.

Then she finds herself in the past, a concubine to the feared knight Sir Robert of Ravenswood.

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About the Author(s)

Grace Willows is the alter ego of internationally published authors Robin Woods and Julie Brookshier. Working together on romance novels together for the past five years, this popular writing team specializes in stories with happily ever after endings. Robin wrote her first novel in 2005 and has continuously written novels since that time. She lives in the Midwest with her two dogs, one cat and is a huge Kansas City Royals and Chiefs sports fan. Julie wrote her first full-length novel at age 7 and has written over 45 novels to date. She shares her Midwestern home with a 12 lb. poodle that runs her household. When Julie is not writing, you can find her in her garden or cooking for friends and family. The writing team of Grace Willows specializes in Historical Westerns, Suspense, Paranormal and Contemporary romance novels. In a world that can be stressful, a Grace Willows novel will take you to exotic places and adds that special touch of love at first sight. Grace Willows has currently released fourteen published novels with many more to come. Find them on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter @gracewillows201

31 October 2018

Stories of the Tudors: Henry VIII

What changed Henry VIII from a renaissance prince into the 'tyrant' we know in his later rule? In this podcast I take a look a the theories and evidence for the possible causes, as well as talk about some of the less well know facts about King Henry.

29 October 2018

New Tudor Book Spotlight ~ Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Unwanted Wife, by Sarah-Beth Watkins

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Anne of Cleves left her homeland in 1539 to marry the king of England. She was not brought up to be a queen, yet out of many possible choices she was the bride Henry VIII chose as his fourth wife. 

But, from their first meeting the king decided he liked her not and sought an immediate divorce. After just six months their marriage was annulled, leaving Anne one of the wealthiest women in England. 

This is the story of Anne's marriage to Henry, how the daughter of Cleves survived him and her life afterwards. The latest in the series of popular Tudor biographies from Sarah-Beth Watkins, author of Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII

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About the Author

Sarah-Beth Watkins grew up in Richmond, Surrey and began soaking up history from an early age. Her love of writing has seen her articles published in various publications over the past twenty years. Working as a writing tutor, Sarah-Beth has condensed her knowledge into a series of writing guides for Compass Books. Her history works are Ireland's Suffragettes, Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII, The Tudor Brandons and Catherine of Braganza. You can find Sarah-Beth on Twitter @SarahBWatkins

27 October 2018

Book Launch Guest Post by Sarah Dahl, Author of the Tales of Freya

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Battles – Sacrifices for Love is the seventh in the Tales of Freya collection of sensual short stories set in the Viking Age. In a world of crackling fires and rough landscapes, long winters and bloody raids, the immediacy of life and death ignites undeniable passions. Warriors and monks, healers and housewives – all follow the call of their hearts and bodies to indulge in pleasures that may 
forever change their lives

Writing short story sequels? - When your couple’s love story isn’t over quite so soon

I wrote or at least drafted the short stories for my collection of sensual Tales out of sequence, and some a few years apart. They all feature different situations, characters, and conflicts. At the core of each one is a couple thrown into a Viking mess of the time, with real authentic grit, and how they discover a life-changing bond and healing passion. 

Some stories were drafted years ago, then edited to fit (Tower, Awakening, Monk). But when I wrote this “fresh” story “The Current” something special happened: this couple, Viking warrior Aldaith and his fierce yet sensual shield maiden Nyssa, didn’t let me out of its grip. Readers fell for them hard, too, and demanded more. Some said it was about this fighter mentality in them both, this fatalistic approach of fighting and loving, as if every moment could be their last. Readers wanted more of these two warriors. 

Of course I had to oblige – I was so in love with them too! These two always have a real or a sensual duel going on – which made for very exciting love scenes. They meet in a wild river after battle (in “The Current”)… then continue to train together for upcoming campaigns (in “Bonds”) and discover how deeply they really have fallen for each other. This revelation suddenly gives a whole new dimension to their profession: Fear. 

And after the big revelation there had to be a satisfying wrap-up of their journey, to really show readers (and myself) how their life together develops and ends. Which of course is hard to achieve in the frame of short stories. So little space (every story is around the 10,000 word mark) needed to accommodate so much depth and development! Their dynamic is special and exciting. I had a lot of aspects to work with in terms of depth and options for development: Their love story is set amidst battlefields and training grounds. But they rarely did what I told them! And still I had to wrestle them into a format that was both satisfying for readers and fit the short story limits, and write a mini-trilogy.

The Urban Dictionary defines “Trilogy” as: “The first can stand on its own as a complete adventure. The second links to the first, but has a dark inconclusive feel generating an air of foreboding and leaving itself wide open for an unknown ending. The final chapter has drama, excitement and a moment where you think it is all lost. A grand battle is waged where good overcomes evil and peace is restored in your gut.”  Yeah right, then that’s what we’d have – in a short story frame!

Part 1, “The Current” makes our lovers meet in a river after a gruesome battle, and soon sparks fly that help reaffirm life in a basic way, as one reader put it. Their “Battle of Seduction” is healing but leaves them craving more.

In Part 2, “Bonds – Under the Armour”, the couple have joined forces and are fighting and training in the same band. But a major revelation leaves them suddenly vulnerable and shaken, right before a major battle. 

And finally, our Part 3: “Battles – Sacrifices for Love”, in which a campaign takes an unplanned turn. Only a painful decision can help them cope with the aftermath …

Battles” is the last story in the Tales of Freya collection and therefore should wrap up both our mini-trilogy and the Tales in a satisfying way. To achieve this, I used an unusual, modern twist and let the ancient warriors’ voices speak yet again. How? You’ll see in “Battles – Sacrifices for Love”!

Sarah Dahl
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About the Author

Sarah Dahl lives on the edge of the rural German Eifel and writes historical fiction primarily set in the Viking age. She also works as an editor, translates, and coaches new writers. She is interested in the everyday life in bygone centuries, and the human stories that may have occurred behind the hard, historical facts. Find out more at her website www.sarah-dahl.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @sarahdahl13

Guest Interview with G.K. Holloway, Author of 1066 What Fates Impose

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own.

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Glynn Holloway to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book

1066 What Fates Impose tells the story of the epic struggle for the English throne. There are family feuds, court intrigues, assassinations, papal plots, loyalties, betrayals and a few battles all leading the way to the Viking and Norman Invasion of 1066, which changed the course of English history forever. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

First thing in the morning I usually take a fifty-minute walk often followed by a visit to the gym. Invigorated, I go home, check my mail and then put a couple of hours in before lunch. In the afternoon I usually manage another two or three hours of writing or researching before my day is over.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don’t expect to write a masterpiece at the first attempt. Most of what we put to paper on the first occasion falls victim to the delete button. Whatever your favourite book is, I can guarantee it didn’t look like your copy until it had dozens of rewrites. You will have to go through the same process. Also, writing can be a lonely profession, so join a group of other writers. You won’t feel so isolated and you’ll learn a lot.   

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

Most people buy books on recommendations from their friends, which is fine except a friend must read the book before he or she can recommend it. So, how do you get the friend to read it? Reviews help bring attention to your book, especially in the right place.

Because my novel is historical fiction, I sent it off to the Historical Novel Society for a review hoping it wouldn’t get panned. Luckily, it was ‘highly recommended’ raising my novel’s profile in a positive way. This gave me the confidence to enter a couple of competitions: The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards was the first I entered, and I won a gold medal. I also entered a Words for the Wounded competition, which I didn’t win but was highly commended.

Book signings, if you can get them, could certainly help you sell a few books. It’s worth approaching your local independent bookshop. I did, and the owner placed an order for forty books with my publisher; only three were returned. 

It’s also worth approaching highly rated amazon reviewers as a positive review can help your sales as can book bloggers. What also worked for me was writing a short story for a collection twelve, which were all about alternative outcomes for the year 1066. People got to discover me through buying an ebook because it had stories by some of their favourite authors.

What I also found that worked for me is Book Gorilla and BookBub. A brief campaign will show a spike in sales. After trying all of the above, I find now sales seem to tick over by themselves.

Tell us something unexpected you uncovered during your research

The Danes living in England a thousand years ago enjoyed a sauna. I stumbled across this unknown, (to me), fact while researching pagan wedding ceremonies in pre-conquest England. All the detail was there about how and why they took saunas. This practice might account for why Danes were more popular with the ladies than their Saxon counterparts, who appear expert in the art of soap dodging.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m now on the final draft of the sequel to 1066. It’s called In the Shadows of Castles and follows the survivors of Hastings as they fight to keep England free of the Norman invaders. It should be published early in the New Year.

Glynn Holloway

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About the Author

G K Holloway left university in 1980 with a degree in history and politics. After spending a year in Canada, he relocated to England's West Country and began working in Secondary Education. Later he worked in Adult Education and then Further Education before finally working in Higher Education. After reading a biography about Harold Godwinson, he became fascinated by the fall of Anglo Saxon England and spent several years researching events leading up to and beyond the Battle of Hastings. Eventually he decided he had enough material to make an engrossing novel. Using characters from the Bayeux Tapestry, the Norse Sagas, the Domesday Book and many other sources. He feels that he has brought the period and its characters to life in his own particular way. Following the major protagonists, as well as political, religious and personal themes, the downfall of Anglo-Saxon England is portrayed by a strong cast. He lives in Bristol with his wife and two children. When he's not writing he works with his wife in their company. Visit G K Holloway's website www.gkholloway.co.uk and find him on Twitter @GlynnHolloway

25 October 2018

Book Launch Guest Interview with Canadian Author Kaya Quinsey

Can a small-town mayor and big-city broadcaster have the romance that Jessica always dreamed of?

I'm pleased to welcome author Kaya Quinsey back to The Writing Desk. 

Tell us about your latest book?

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog, Tony. My new book, A Coastal Christmas, features the successful broadcaster Jessica Beaton who has it all: the perfect New York City apartment, high-flying career, and handsome boyfriend. And with Christmas around the corner, she has her sights set on one thing. A ring. 

But Jessica is humiliated when her co-host and boyfriend, Brett Fanshaw, almost proposes to her on-air before backing out, leaving her dumped and embarrassed on national television. In the midst of her heartbreak, Jessica leaves to go home to Pebble Shores for the holidays for the first time in years.

While retreating at her family's seaside house to evaluate her life, Jessica finds herself butting heads with Dean Adams, the Mayor of Pebble Shores, who isn't thrilled to have the media spotlight shed on their small town. Jessica couldn't imagine anyone being more of a Grinch.

After more than one mistake, Jessica proves that she's no A-list stereotype. Gradually, she becomes more enamored with life in Pebble Shores, the community spirit, and to her own surprise, Dean Adams. Suddenly, Brett arrives with a camera crew in tow, ready to give Jessica the dream proposal she had always wanted. Thankfully, Dean has his own surprise for Jessica waiting under the Christmas tree. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to start each morning with writing. I've always kept a journal, and it helps focus my thoughts for the day. I love writing books with a large cup of coffee in a calm environment. I find that writing every day helps to keep the momentum flowing while I'm working on a book. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write as much as you can as often as you can! 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

In A Coastal Christmas, I had a hard time writing the final scene because I didn't want it to end. I had a fantastic time writing this book!

What are you planning on writing next?

I'm working on another book set in a fictional community similar to Pebble Shores. If you're a fan of idyllic and cozy coastal towns, keep A Coastal Christmas in mind!

Kaya Quinsey

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About the Author 

Kaya Quinsey completed her undergraduate degree and master's degree in psychology. Kaya's passion for culture, travel, and psychology blend together for a reading style that is fun, full of surprises, and easy to read. A romantic at heart, Kaya's writing offers a contemporary twist to traditional love stories. Through her writing, she hopes to inspire women to fiercely chase their dreams.  Kaya resides in Toronto with her fiancé and cat. Find out more at Kaya's website: www.kayaquinsey.com and find her on Twitter @kayaquinsey 

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