18 August 2019

Book Launch ~ Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames, by Lara Maiklem

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US


Mudlark (/'mAdla;k/) noun A person who scavenges for usable debris in the mud of a river or harbour

Lara Maiklem has scoured the banks of the Thames for over fifteen years, in pursuit of the objects that the river unearths: from Neolithic flints to Roman hair pins, medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys. These objects tell her about London and its lost ways of life.

Moving from the river's tidal origins in the west of the city to the point where it meets the sea in the east, Mudlarking is a search for urban solitude and history on the River Thames, which Lara calls the longest archaeological site in England.

As she has discovered, it is often the tiniest objects that tell the greatest stories.

'Driven by curiosity, freighted with mystery and tempered by chance, wonders gleam from every page' Melissa Harrison

'The very best books that deal with the past are love letters to their subject, and the very best of those are about subjects that love their authors in return. Such books are very rare, but this is one' Ian Mortimer

'Fascinating. There is nothing that Maiklem does not know about the history of the river or the thingyness of things' Guardian

'A treasure. One of the best books I've read in years' Tracy Borman

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About the Author

Lara Maiklem, known as 'London Mudlark', moved from her family's farm to London in the 1990s. She now lives with her family on the Kent coast within easy reach of the river, which she visits as regularly as the tides permit. Mudlarking is her first book. Lara is on Facebook and Instagram @london.mudlark and you can find her on Twitter: @LondonMudlark 

Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England, by Kate Hubbard

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The remarkable story of Bess of Hardwick, her ascent through Elizabethan society and the houses she built that shaped British architectural history.

Born in 1521, Bess of Hardwick, businesswoman, money-lender and property tycoon, lived an astonishing eighty-seven years. Through canny choices, four husbands and a will of steel she rose from country squire’s daughter to Dowager Countess, establishing herself as one of the richest and most powerful women in England, second only to Queen Elizabeth.

Bess forged her way not merely by judicious marriage, but by shrewd exploitation of whatever assets each marriage brought. At a time when women were legally and financially subordinate to their husbands, Bess succeeded in manipulating hers to her own and her children’s advantage, accumulating great riches and estates in the process. 

Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury,
by Rowland Lockey, 1592

Wealth took concrete form in her passion for building and she oversaw every stage of the construction of her four country houses: Chatsworth, Hardwick Old Hall, Hardwick New Hall and Owlcotes. Hardwick New Hall, her sole surviving building, is stamped all over with Bess’s identity and her initials: it stands as a celebration of one woman’s triumphant progress through Elizabethan England.

In Devices and Desires, Kate Hubbard examines Bess’s life as a builder within the context of the male-dominated Elizabethan architectural world. This new biography traces the creation of Hardwick and Bess’s lost houses, as well as estates such as Longleat, Holdenby and Theobalds, all known to and coveted by Bess. Throughout, it seeks to locate Bess within Hardwick, her greatest achievement and her lasting monument.

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About the author

Kate Hubbard's first book, a short life of Bess of Hardwick, was published in 2001, followed by three children's books - biographies of Charlotte Bronte and Queen Victoria and "Rubies in the Snow", the fictionalised diary of Anastasia Romanov. Her most recent book, "Serving Victoria" follows the lives of six members of the Queen's household. She also works as a book reviews and freeland editor and lives in London and Dorset.

17 August 2019

Mastering Amazon Descriptions: An Author's Guide: Copywriting for Authors, by Brian Meeks #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Are you happy with your book descriptions? 

Are they as good as they could be? 

I suspect many of you, like me, find yourself writing a synopsis, perhaps with an attempt to interest potential readers which falls short of perfection.

I decided to invest in this little book to see if I could learn a few tricks to improve my descriptions on Amazon. Brian Meeks makes the ambitious claim that effective copywriting can triple your current book sales, although I found it's more difficult than it seems.

Although full of 'before and after' examples in most genres, I found it can be tricky to devise an attention-grabbing 'hook' that might make a casual book browser click 'read more' in just six words. (Did you notice my 'double hook' at the start of this post?) 

I also flinched at writing 'Get it now' at the end of a description, but according to Brian that's what works best as a 'call to action'. We'll see....

Amusing and informative, I enjoyed reading this book and am happy to recommend it.  I'm sure they need more work, but you are welcome to take a look at my revised descriptions. Let me know what you think. Get it now.

Tony Riches

Do you have recommendations for other useful books for writers you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below

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.

16 August 2019

Guest Interview with Historical Fiction Author Margaret Skea

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Margaret Skea to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Katharina: Fortitude is the story of one of the most controversial marriages of the early 16th century – that of the escaped nun, Katharina von Bora, to the reformer, Martin Luther. It was a sign of apostasy to Luther’s enemies and a source of consternation to his friends and sent shock waves across Europe, even Henry VIII of England publicly condemning them - but from an inauspicious beginning, it became a strong and successful relationship and a paradigm of clerical marriage, then and since.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I am a morning person, but not terribly disciplined, so I need to start my day’s writing first thing, or I probably won’t start at all. When I’m in the writing phase I aim to write c 1000 words per day. If I’m struggling, I don’t allow myself to give up until I’ve hit that target, but if I’m on a roll I keep going.

My passion is for authentic historical fiction which reflects the life and times my characters inhabited and so extensive research is vital. I ‘front-load’ my research, with the aim of writing as naturally about the 16th century as if I was writing about last week. When I’m unsure of something, I don’t stop to check during the writing phase, but type in red and my first editing process is to fact check the ‘red’ passages.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Whether you are naturally a ‘plotter’ - planning everything out in detail, or a ‘panster’ – allowing the story to evolve as you write, the key is to keep going, ideally writing something every day. Find a writing routine that suits you and stick to it. A first draft is just that – not a finished novel. Don’t expect it to be brilliant and don’t rush to get it out there. Editing is vital, but until you’ve written a draft, you’ve nothing to edit.

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

I’m not a natural marketer, so this aspect of self-publishing is difficult for me, but I’m trying to learn! I do however love meeting potential readers and so take every opportunity I can get to speak at events and festivals and recently have begun taking books to craft fairs.

I’ve found general craft fairs to be better than dedicated book fairs – although not everyone at the fair will be a reader, those that are aren’t faced with an array of books and authors to chose from, but only me! It’s good to target fairs where the visitors are likely to have an interest in your genre – so, for example, I go to a pop-up fair at a stately home, on the basis that visitors there are likely to have an interest in history. Works a treat!

Although my books are available to order in any UK bookshop via Gardners, I also look for outlets that are a little out of the ordinary – for example one of my best outlets is a coffee shop in the middle of nowhere, but on a tourist route, and they are great at selling sets of my Scottish trilogy to folk who think they’d better just buy them all at once in case they don’t find them easy to get elsewhere!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

On the ground research is really important, even if just to experience landscape and terrain where nothing else of the period remains and so I went on a solo trip to Saxony to research Katharina. I drove 1000 miles, and visited every location that had a connection to her. It proved a challenge because I didn’t speak German and discovered that as part of former GDR most folk there didn’t speak English, their second language being Russian, but was a vital part of the research process.

While there I found answers to questions that I wouldn’t have known to ask, if I had just been armchair researching, and discovered details that I would definitely have got wrong. For example – in England in the 16th c the pattern of leaded glass in windows was either diamond-shaped or rectangular. In Saxony, by contrast, it is circular – no idea why as it must have been much more difficult to make, but it was a significant detail for me when describing patterns of light coming into rooms.

I already knew that songbirds were considered a delicacy, but one of the most surprising details of everyday life I discovered was that lures, in the form of whistles that replicated individual bird song, were given to children whose role was to attract the birds and enable them to be trapped.

Perhaps the two most surprising discoveries were 1) Martin Luther changed nappies- who’d have thought it? And 2) while sand clocks were still the most common form of timekeeping within a home, one of the reformers had a pocket watch, which looked very like those in vogue in the early 20th century!! And if you don’t believe me - you can see it in the Lutherhaus today.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

In all the books I have written the deaths of individual characters have been the hardest to write. Perhaps because they embed themselves so closely into my life that although they actually died some 450 years ago, their deaths feel like a personal loss. This book was no exception and (spoiler alert – she dies in the end) in the case of Katharina it was doubly hard because it comes at the end of the book and the final chapters are always hard, with the aim of finishing on a ‘high’ in terms of the writing, even if it’s a ‘low’ in terms of the plot.

What are you planning to write next?

Now that is a problem. I have various ideas all vying for attention – all of them historical – some would be, as before, tied closely to historical events, some would be much more fictional, although set in an historical context, and I honestly don’t know which will win out. I need to choose quickly though, because I don’t want my writing ‘muscle’ to get out of condition.

Margaret Skea

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About the Author

Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the 'Troubles', but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. You can find more details, including why chocolate is vital to her creative process, on her website www.margaretskea.com  and follow Magaret on Twitter @margaretskea1

15 August 2019

Book Review: Richard II: A True King's Fall, by Kathryn Warner

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Where the famous portrait on Henry VIII makes him seem powerful, the familiar image of Richard II in Westminster Abbey (see book cover) achieves quite the opposite. I'd always thought he looks sad - and was unsurprised to discover a contemporary chronicler described him as 'pensive'.

Kathryn Warner, as an acknowledged expert on Richard II, has crammed her book with a wealth of fascinating details, yet the image of Richard which emerges is one of an unhappy life. Her choice of ' A True King's Fall' as her title is significant.

He inherited a kingdom ravaged by the plague and simmering with rebellion. The Scots tested his borders to the north and the old noble families of England jockeyed for power and influence, making it impossible to Richard to be certain who he could trust.

This book reveals more truth than I expected in Shakespeare's unflattering portrayal of Richard. Many accounts hint at his mental health problems, and he proved an ineffective king, yet undeserving of his lonely death by starvation - or responsibility for the Wars of the Roses.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Kathryn Warner grew up in the Lake District in the north-west of England, and gained a BA and an MA with Distinction in medieval history and literature from the University of Manchester. She is a specialist in the history of the fourteenth century and has been researching and writing about Edward II's reign since 2004, and have run a blog about him since December 2005. Future projects include biographies of Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault, their son John of Gaunt, Edward I's five daughters, and a joint biography of the medieval Despenser family. Find out more at Kathryn's blog and find her on Twitter @RoyneAlianore

See Also:

Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York before the Wars of the Roses, by Kathryn Warner

14 August 2019

The Ultimate Chess Novel: Queen Sacrifice

Two kings are fighting for their lives, and the stakes 
have never been higher.

10th Century Wales is a country divided, with the kingdom of the south becoming Saxon and the north violently defending the old ways. The inevitable civil war is brutal and savage in this tale of divided loyalty and revenge, treachery and love. The bishops of Wales struggle to keep the faith while knights and warlords turn events to advantage and the lives of ordinary people are changed forever by the conflict. 

Queen Sacrifice is a tale of love and sacrifice, soldiers and spies, heroes and assassins, who meet in the war to end all wars. The tale is perfect for fans of George R R Martin. The narrative also follows every move in the queen sacrifice game, known as ‘The Game of the Century’ between Donald Byrne and 13-year-old Bobby Fischer on October 17th, 1956.

Praise for Queen Sacrifice:

'Queen Sacrifice stands in quality and complexity with any novel of the genre. Look out George R.R. Martin, Tony Riches is coming for you!’ – Rabid Reader Reviews

'A fast-paced read for those who love history and chess' - Black & White Magazine

Cover of Chess Review, December 1956.

13 August 2019

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Honora and Arthur - the Last Plantagenets: Love and loss in Tudor times, by Joanne McShane

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At the age of 18, Honora Grenville is swept off her feet by Arthur Plantagenet, the handsome, illegitimate uncle of Henry VIII. Honora has spent an idyllic childhood in early-16th-century Cornwall, the pampered daughter of a wealthy and influential landowner.

On the threshold of adult life, she is ready for adventure. Since childhood, her dreams have been of a white knight who will whisk her away to live in far-off palaces and to wear fine clothes. Now, in Arthur Plantagenet, it seems that her dreams are about to come true.

Alas, it is not to be. Henry VIII orders Arthur to marry Elizabeth Dudley Grey, Viscountess Lisle, and poor Honora is cast into an abyss of despair. Whilst still trying to put Arthur from her mind, she reluctantly marries John Basset, a Devonshire widower twenty-four years her senior.

After thirteen years of what turns out to be a tranquil and fruitful marriage, John Basset dies and Arthur Plantagenet, also recently widowed, re-enters Honora's life. The passion, which has never died for either of them, is rekindled in an instant. They get married and she leaves Devon, to begin her new life as part of the court of Henry VIII where she is set to become a grand lady. 

Unfortunately, Henry's court is a place of intrigue and his reign is turning into a reign of terror. When King Henry orders Arthur to take on the role of Governor at Calais, the couple find themselves at the centre of the fast-changing and tumultuous political climate of the English Reformation.

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About the Author

Joanne McShane spent her childhood on a sheep and cattle farm in Tasmania, Australia. After marrying and raising a family in Tasmania she moved to Wales in 2003 and still lives there, close to the Herefordshire border. A keen historian, she became fascinated by her own family history and by the lives of her ancestors - some of whom she discovered to be very colourful indeed. This led her to begin writing. Honora and Arthur - The Last Plantagenets is her first published book. You can find Joanne on Facebook and Twitter @JoanneMcShane17