8 December 2021

Special Guest Post by Meredith Allard, Author of Christmas at Hembry Castle

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

An unlikely earl struggles with his new place. A young couple’s love is tested. What is a med-dling ghost to do? In the tradition of A Christmas Carol, travel back to Victorian England and enjoy a lighthearted, festive holiday celebration.

Thanks to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, many of us have a specific vision when we refer to the perfect Christmas. In fact, most of our Christmas traditions originated or were revived during the Victorian era.

Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, Prince Albert, brought many of his childhood Christmas traditions with him to England, including the Christmas tree.  According to the BBC’s Christmas website, in 1848, the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family’s Christmas tree; after that, every English home had a tree decorated with candles, sweets, fruit, homemade decorations, and small gifts. 

Prior to the popularization of Christmas trees, in 1843, the first Christmas card was designed featuring an illustration of people seated around a dinner table, ready for a feast, of course. The cards cost one shilling apiece, too expensive for most Victorians, so children, including the Queen’s children, were encouraged to make their own cards.  

Even traditions like hanging mistletoe became popular during the Victorian era. In a time when rules of etiquette were so important, and when there were only certain ways men and women could interact socially, stealing a kiss under the mistletoe was considered entirely proper. Christmas crackers also became popular during this time, though instead of featuring the paper crowns and trinkets we find today, during the Victorian era the crackers were filled with bon-bons, sweets of sugar-coated almonds. The use of holly and ivy to celebrate midwinter stems as far back as the time of the Anglo-Saxons, and the practice was revived during the Victorian era.  

Christmas caroling gained in popularity, and most of the Christmas carols we know today were sung during the Victorian era. According to Christmas Traditions in the Victorian Era, the Victorians loved music and often played instruments and sang at home for entertainment. During the Victorian era they revived Medieval carols and created new ones. The lyrics for one of the most famous Christmas carols of all time, “Silent Night,” was written in German and first performed in Austria in 1818. Other popular carols from the time included “O Christmas Tree,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Deck the Halls.”

A Christmas Carol was published on December 19, 1843. That one short story (it’s only 30,000 words) has given us our idealized image of what Christmas could be. Christmas, according to Dickens, was a time for family and a festive meal—recall the Cratchits’ meager fare, yet they still had a lovely celebration because they were together as a family. Christmas was a time for games and dances and smoking bishop. Perhaps most importantly, Christmas was a time for charity, when those with means should be generous towards those without.

Dickens himself loved the holiday, and according to one of his sons, Christmas was “a great time, a really jovial time, and my father was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and throwing his heart and soul into everything that was going on…And then the dance! There was no stopping him!” (Allingham, P.V., Dickens the man who invented Christmas).

I had great fun exploring some of these beloved Victorian Christmas traditions while writing Christmas at Hembry Castle. Even more, I loved putting my own spin on A Christmas Carol, one of my favorite Dickens tales. 

Meredith Allard

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About the Author

Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her latest book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 new release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help on Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Ne-vada. Find our more at www.meredithallard.com and find Meredith on Facebook

5 December 2021

The Elizabethans and Alchemy

During the research for the new book in my Elizabethan series, I came across a reference to Queen Elizabeth being given a book by George Ripley, The Compound of Alchemy, Or the ancient hidden Art of Alchemy, containing ‘the right and perfectest means to make the Philosopher’s Stone, with other excellent Experiments. Divided into twelve gates.’ 

With a long dedication to the queen, the book is in verse, the ‘twelve Gates’ being the twelve stages in Alchemy: Calcination, Dissolution, Separation, Conjunction, Putrifaction, Congelation, Cibation, Sublimation, Fermentation, Exaltation, Multiplication, and Projection.

The alchemist Edward Kelley, who went abroad with Dr John Dee and Edward Dyer in 1583, was at the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague; was also in Prague. In May, 1590, Lord Burghley wrote to Edward Dyer, asking him to obtain Kelley’s return, or to procure a small portion of the powder (which he claimed to convert into gold), ‘to make a demonstration, in her Majesty’s own sight, of the very perfection of his knowledge.’

At the time, Lord Burghley was concerned at the cost of maintaining a navy to see off another Spanish Armada, and asked if Edward Kelley could, 

‘in some secret box, send to her Majesty for a token some such portion as might be to her a sum reasonable to defer her charges for this summer for her navy, which we are now preparing to the sea, to withstand the strong navy of Spain, discovered upon the coasts between Britain [Brittany] and Cornwall within these two days’.
I find William Cecil's determination to apply alchemical knowledge for the benefit of the Elizabethan state intriguing. Throughout his career he invested in, and supported a wide range of alchemical experiments.

Edward Kelley, who was of course unable to help, fled from Prague and was never heard of again.

Tony Riches 

29 November 2021

Book Launch Spotlight: A Class Coveted: A sweeping Irish historical romance saga (A Matter of Class Book 4) by Susie Murphy

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Their choices have shackled her dreams…

It’s 1836, and Bridget and Cormac have arrived, full of hope, to the city of Boston with their growing family. However, as they adjust to domestic life together for the first time, they face anti-Irish sentiment from the local Americans, as well as a threat to their happiness from a much closer source.

Cormac undertakes the challenging search for his missing sister, Bronagh. He is determined to do all he can to put the broken pieces of his family back together, but the appalling truth he uncovers will shake him to his core.

Meanwhile, as Emily grows up in this new country, she realises how her parents’ past actions will affect her entire future and she begins to covet that which is no longer within her reach. When she receives an unexpected proposition, will she be able to resist its temptation, despite the untrustworthy nature of the person behind it?

A Class Coveted is the fourth book in Susie Murphy's historical fiction series A Matter of Class. The story will continue in the fifth book, A Class Reunited.

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About the Author

Susie Murphy is an Irish historical fiction author. She loves historical fiction so much that she often wishes she had been born two hundred years ago. Still, she remains grateful for many aspects of the modern age, including women’s suffrage, electric showers and pizza.
You can find out more at www.susiemurphywrites.com, and you can connect with Susie on Facebook, and Twitter @susiemwrites

27 November 2021

Special Guest Interview with David Pilling, Author of The Champion (III): Blood and Faith

Available for pre-order

from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1297 AD: the kings of England and France have struck a truce, but elsewhere conflict still rages. In Scotland, the armies of Edward Longshanks have been driven out by a mysterious champion named William Wallace. Meanwhile, on the continent, the the Holy Roman Empire is torn apart by civil war.

I'm pleased to welcome author David Pilling to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

My latest is the third in The Champion series, a series of tales loosely based on a real-life 13th century Spanish knight called En Pascal de Valencia. We know the real Pascal was a mercenary who fought for Edward I in Scotland and probably elsewhere. He was called the 'Adalid', which translates as 'the champion', hence the title of the series. This was a traditional military rank awarded to especially skilled fighters in the kingdoms of Aragon and Navarre.

I have used the bare details of the historical Pascal's career as the basis for a series of fictional stories, in which the character is transported all over Christendom. In this, his latest adventure, he is dispatched on a secret diplomatic mission to Rome, where he encounters a certain famous Scottish hero. He also meets the Pope, and has several close shaves in Scotland and France. It's quite a packed story!

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I am at my best in the morning, when I am fresh and full of energy and ideas (and caffeine). In the afternoons I prefer to concentrate on my blog and social media.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

The main thing – unless one is exceptionally lucky – is to be prolific. Unless you are fortunate enough to write a hit bestseller, or get snapped up by one of the handful of major publishers, the only realistic path is to churn out material on a regular basis. It also has to be of high quality, of course. Work hard, do your research, and employ decent graphic designers and editors/proofreaders!

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

I started writing full-time in 2013 and throughout have discovered that the most efficient way is to keep producing quality, well-presented content. Everything else – social media, blogging, online promotion etc – is helpful, though I do sometimes wonder how necessary it is. There are so many authors competing for attention now, there is a danger of creating a 'white noise' effect, whereby we all cancel each other out. On the other hand, readers are now spoiled for choice and the market is not restricted to a handful of publishing houses. These trends can only be a good thing, since they allow more opportunity and freedom of expression.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

I am constantly surprised by the sheer volume of surviving source material for this era. The details of Pascal's own career are quite bare – which enables me to fill in the gaps – but in general there are stacks of surviving documentation, so one can pluck out all kinds of juicy details to add colour and conviction to the story.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

For this book, it was the death of a particular supporting character. I was in two minds about the scene at first, but it definitely added an edge to the narrative. Obviously I won't reveal the details...

What are you planning to write next? 

I have several projects in the pipeline. These include a short 'novelette'  that fleshes out some of the background and context to the Champion series, and a nonfiction book on Edward I and the Anglo-French war of 1298-1303. I am also engaged to write the second and third parts of a series for Sharpe Books, based on the English condottiere in Italy in the time of Sir John Hawkwood. Busy, busy!

David Pilling 

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About the Author

David Pilling is a writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as he can remember. The medieval era has always held a fascination for him, perhaps because he spent much of his childhood exploring the misted ruins of castles in Wales. David also has a keen interest in the Byzantine Empire, the post-Roman period in Britain and the British & Irish Civil Wars. Find out more at David's website https://davidpillingauthor.weebly.com/ and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @RobeH2

26 November 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Castilian Pomegranate (The Castilian Saga Book 2) by Anna Belfrage

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return.

Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.

Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . . 

Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts. 

Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant. 

Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger. 

Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?  

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About the author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk, has her returning to medieval times. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time, is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands. All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards Find out more about Anna, her books and her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

18 November 2021

Book Launch Spotlight: Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II, by Tracy Borman

Available from Amazon UK 
and pre-order from Amazon US

The British monarchy is the one of the most iconic and enduring institutions in the world. It has weathered the storms of rebellion, revolution and war that brought many of Europe's royal families to an abrupt and bloody end. 

Its unique survival owes much to the fact that, for all its ancient traditions and protocol, the royal family has proved remarkably responsive to change, evolving to reflect the times. But for much of its history, it also spearheaded seismic change, shaping our religious, political and cultural identity and establishing the British monarchy as the envy of the world.

There has never been a more apposite moment to consider the history of this extraordinary survivor. Within the next decade, there is likely to be a change of monarch, sparking renewed global interest on a scale not seen since Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. 

Even the media and popular frenzy evoked by recent royal events such as royal weddings and births will not compare to that generated by the accession of a new king. In the lead up to this pivotal moment in Britain's history, Crown & Sceptre explores the history and evolution of the monarchy from 1066 to the present day, feeding the renewed interest not just in the modern royals but in the predecessors who helped shape the institution into what it is today.

"Crown and Sceptre shows an astonishing command of a thousand years of the British monarchy, its traditions, roles and realities beyond the pageantry and romance. Beautifully crafted, insightful, and a genuine pleasure to read, it underscores the royal heritage at the heart of a nation." - Lauren Mackay

"Crown and Sceptre" combines an eminently accessible narrative with a lucid scholarly lens. Tracy Borman skilfully unravels the trials and triumphs of this ever-shifting institution. By charting both the majesty and mechanics of monarchy, we get a vivid understanding of why its glittering gears shifted over time, and by whom the levers of change were pulled. A triumph.' - Owen Emmerson, Curator at Hever Castle

'Tracy Borman's passion for the British monarch and the crown is infectious and compelling!' - Estelle Paranque

Enlightening, gripping and skilfully composed, Tracy Borman navigates the twists and turns of the British monarchy with an expert hand. A pacy narrative that's simply bursting with colour and intrigue, Crown and Sceptre is both powerful and compulsively readable. A masterpiece. - Nicola Tallis

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About the Author

Tracy Borman is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust. She studied and taught history at the University of Hull and was awarded a PhD in 1997.  Tracy is the author of a number of highly acclaimed books, including Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant, Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England, Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. Tracy is also a regular broadcaster and public speaker, giving talks on her books across the UK and abroad. She lives in Surrey with her daughter. Find out more at tracyborman.co.uk and follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyBorman

12 November 2021

Description of England, by William Harrison (1535-1593), an Essex clergyman, in Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577)

Of Palaces belonging to the Prince

What shall I need to take upon me to repeat all and tell what houses the Queen’s Majesty hath? since all is hers, and when it pleaseth her in the summer season to recreate herself abroad and view the estate of the country and hear the complaints of her poor commons injured by her unjust officers or their substitutes, every nobleman’s house is her palace, where she continueth during pleasure and till she return again to some of her own, in which she remaineth so long as it pleaseth her.

The court of England, which necessarily is held always where the prince lieth, is in these days one of the most renowned and magnificent courts that are to be found in Europe. 

I might here make a large discourse of such...grave councillors and noble personages as give their daily attendance upon the Queen’s Majesty there. I could in like sort set forth a singular commendation of the virtuous beauty or beautiful virtues of such ladies and gentlewomen as wait upon her person.

It is a rare thing with us now to hear of a courtier which hath but his own language. And...how many gentlewomen and ladies there are that, beside sound knowledge of the Greek and Latin tongues, are thereto no less skilful in the Spanish, Italian, and French, or in some one of them.

Our ancient ladies of the court do shun and avoid idleness, some of them exercising their fingers with the needle...divers in spinning of silk, some in continual reading either of the Holy Scriptures or histories of our own or foreign nations about us, and divers in writing volumes of their own or translating of other men’s into our English and Latin tongue, whilst the youngest sort in the meantime apply their lutes, citterns...and all kinds of music, which they use only for recreation sake when they have leisure and are free from attendance upon the Queen’s Majesty or such as they belong unto.

Many of the eldest sort also are skilful in surgery and distillation of waters. As each of them are cunning in something whereby they keep themselves occupied in the court, so there is in manner none of them but when they be at home can help to supply the ordinary want of the kitchen with a number of delicate dishes of their own devising.

In some great princes’ courts beyond the seas...it is a world to see what lewd behaviour is used among divers of those that resort unto the same, and what whoredom, swearing, ribaldry, atheism, dicing, carding, carousing, drunkenness, gluttony, quarrelling, and such-like inconveniences do daily take hold...all which enormities are either utterly expelled out of the court of England or else so qualified by the diligent endeavour of the chief officers of her Grace’s household that seldom are any of these things apparently seen there without due reprehension and such severe correction as belongeth to those trespasses.

Finally, to avoid idleness and prevent sundry transgressions...such order is taken that every office [of the household] hath either a Bible or the books of the Acts and Monuments of the Church of England [by John Foxe] or both, beside some histories and chronicles lying therein for the exercise of such as come into the same, whereby the stranger that entereth into the court of England upon the sudden shall rather imagine himself to come into some public school of the universities, where many give ear to one that readeth, than into a prince’s palace.

I might speak here of the great trains and troops of serving men also, which attend upon the nobility of England in their several liveries and with differences of cognizances [badges] on their sleeves whereby it is known to whom they appertain. I could also set down what a goodly sight it is to see them muster in the court...much like to the show of the peacock’s tail in the full beauty or of some meadow garnished with infinite kinds and diversity of pleasant flowers.

William Harrison, 1577