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22 June 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Firebrand: Previously published as Queen’s Gambit, now a feature film starring Alicia Vikander


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Now a major motion picture, Firebrand shows the tumultuous darker side to the marriages of the notorious King of England, Henry VIII, and the wife who survived.

My name is Katherine Parr.

I’m thirty-one years old – already twice widowed.
I love a man I can’t have.
I’m to wed a man no one would want.

He has cast aside two wives and watched another die in childbirth.
Two more have had their heads struck from their bodies, on his order.

What will become of me as Henry VIII’s sixth wife?

I will have the king’s ear. With that comes power.
But power means danger in the Tudor court.

Many have fallen.

Will I fall too?

Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one, Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. Instead, she attracts the amorous attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII. 

No one is able to refuse a royal proposal. Haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and rely on her wits and the help of her loyal servant Dot to survive the treacherous pitfalls of life as Henry’s queen. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

Dive into Elizabeth Fremantle's vivid Tudor England and meet the woman who survived Henry VIII.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Freemantle lives in London and is the author of seven historical novels. Her first, QUEEN'S GAMBIT is about the last wife of Henry VIII and has been adapted into the feature film FIREBRAND starring Alicia Vikander and Jude Law which premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival 2023. Publishing July 27th (UK) & August 1st (US) is Elizabeth's most recent novel DISOBEDIENT recounting a year (1611) in the life of the young Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi and the terrifying obstacles she was forced to overcome in order to become the foremost female painter of the Renaissance. The brilliant Emma D'Arcy of House of the Dragon has recorded the audiobook. Following on from QUEEN'S GAMBIT are three further Tudor set novels that follow on from each other: SISTERS OF TREASON, WATCH THE LADY and THE GIRL IN THE GLASS TOWER, all focusing on noted women whose lives were shaped and endangered by their proximity to the Tudor throne. Find out more from her website http://www.elizabethfremantle.com/ and find her on Instagram and Twitter @LizFremantle

21 June 2024

Discovering the life of Frances – Tudor Countess


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Frances Walsingham is the only surviving child of Queen Elizabeth’s ‘spymaster’ Sir Francis Walsingham. Better educated than most men, her father arranges her marriage to warrior poet Sir Philip Sidney. After Philip Sidney is killed in battle, Frances becomes Countess of Essex, and is banished from court after her husband Sir Robert Devereaux’s rebellion against the queen. Can she marry for love, if it means turning her back on her faith and all she knows?

Over the past ten years I’ve built an extensive reference collection of books on everything Tudor and Elizabethan, from medicine to recipes, childbirth to government, as well as numerous biographies of key players in the story of the Tudors. All this research provides the backdrop within which the real lives and relationships of my chosen subjects develop and evolve.

I decided to explore the enigmatic Queen Elizabeth through three of her favourite men, Drake, Essex and Raleigh. Each saw her very differently, as Drake was in awe of her, Essex was like the son she never had, and Raleigh became captain of her guard. I also realised I would need to make the Elizabethan books a series of six, rather than a trilogy, and explore the complexity of Queen Elizabeth through the eyes of three of her ladies. 
 

I had plenty to choose from, but found the most interesting were Penelope, eldest daughter of the queen’s nemesis, Lady Lettice Knollys, Frances, the only surviving child of the queen’s spymaster, Walsingham, and one of her ‘Gentlewomen’, Bess Raleigh.

I had the advantage of already having written about Frances as the Countess of Essex, and her ill-fated marriage to Earl Robert Devereux. I also knew plenty about her father, as he has appeared in several of my books, yet the real character of Frances remained elusive. Sadly few of her letters survive, and even the date of her birth is not recorded, (although historians agree it must have been in 1567).
The only solution was diligent historical ‘detective work’, tracing where Frances lived, who she would have been with, and picking up tiny clues from biographies of her contemporaries.  Of the many biographies I’ve studied, an unexpected source I found useful was Daphne du Maurier’s work on Francis and Anthony Bacon, who became important advisors to Frances in her struggle to understand and influence events at the Elizabethan court.

When I set out on this ‘journey’ to tell the story of the Tudors I had no idea how much I would learn about fascinating women such as Frances Walsingham, who witnessed the key events of the Elizabethan era first-hand, yet is so little known – until now.

Frances – Tudor Countess is new from Amazon in eBook and Paperback, and an audiobook edition will be produced this year:

Tony Riches

Blog Tour Spotlight: Humility and Tolerance, by Noni Valentine


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Humility and Tolerance: A sequel to Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice.

Seven years after Elizabeth Bennett married Fitzwilliam Darcy, they are still deeply in love, with two small children. But paradise is showing cracks now that Darcy’s aged housekeeper has died and Elizabeth must take up her duties. It’s more than one woman, even one as capable as Elizabeth, can manage.

Her sister Kitty, with Elizabeth and Jane’s help and a heroic effort on Kitty’s part, has outgrown her silly youth and matured into a sensible young woman—who, being sensible, spends as much time away from her parents and visiting her sisters as possible. 

Darcy’s sister Georgiana, with perhaps more influence from Elizabeth than is good for her, has become a confident, independent woman who is nevertheless ripe for romance. Charlotte Collins, newly widowed, is searching for a way out of the household of her husband’s crabbed patron, Lady Catherine, that doesn’t involve returning to her parents’ house.

Elizabeth sees a way to restore order to Pemberley and give herself a chance to to breathe: she offers Kitty a job as housekeeper of the estate, and Charlotte a job as governess of her adored children.

With these four women under one roof, chaos and the unexpected are inevitable. Both Kitty and Georgiana meet and begin falling in love with honorable, interesting men, neither of whom are gentlemen and therefore not considered eligible matches for them. 

Charlotte has the opposite problem: a childhood acquaintance who is now a Lord has become fixated on her and begins diligently wooing her, when all she wants is a quiet life and a chance to recover from eight years of marriage to a man she never loved.

When Elizabeth and Darcy learn of their sisters’ budding romances, each has the same reaction: delight at their sister-in-law’s choice and outrage at that of their sister. Now throw a ball into the mix, with Elizabeth’s mother bringing up forbidden topics from the past and her father hiding from the noise, Jane and Bingley attempting to calm the waters, Elizabeth trying to set up all three of the younger women, and Charlotte’s Lord pursuing her all over the dance floor—and an explosion is sure to happen.

This charming romance will delight all lovers of Jane Austen’s masterpiece who have ever wondered, “What happened next?”

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About the Author

Noni Valentine grew up in the north central part of the U.S., but moved away after graduating from high school, and never again stayed in one place for long. She has been writing for most of her life, but discovered Jane Austen as an adult and fell in love all over again. 

18 June 2024

Blog Tour Spotlight - Rolling Home: (Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail Book 5) by David Fitz-Gerald


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the heart of the rolling village, dissent brews as the stubbornest naysayer refuses to continue the journey. With an ominous early snowfall and memories of the ill-fated Donner Party haunting the pioneers, Dorcas Moon faces a new wave of challenges. Just when she believes things can't get worse, a disastrous river crossing claims their wagon and submerges their belongings.

As the rolling village approaches the final leg of the journey, the looming threat of outlaws intensifies. The notorious bandit known as The Viper and his ruthless brothers are determined to rob the greenhorns, sell their stock, and kill every last one of them. The pioneers had heard tales of their brutality, but now, with Dorcas' daughter kidnapped and Dorcas captured, everyone is in danger.

What will become of Dorcas Moon, her family, and their friends? Will anyone survive the perilous journey?

Rejoin the expedition and witness the thrilling end to a gripping saga.

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About the Author

David Fitz-Gerald writes westerns and historical fiction. He is the author of twelve books, including the brand-new series, Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. Dave is a multiple Laramie Award, first place, best in category winner; a Blue Ribbon Chanticleerian; a member of Western Writers of America; and a member of the Historical Novel Society. Alpine landscapes and flashy horses always catch Dave’s eye and turn his head. He is also an Adirondack 46-er, which means that he has hiked to the summit of the range’s highest peaks. As a mountaineer, he’s happiest at an elevation of over four thousand feet above sea level. Dave is a lifelong fan of western fiction, landscapes, movies, and music. It should be no surprise that Dave delights in placing memorable characters on treacherous trails, mountain tops, and on the backs of wild horses. Find out more from his website https://www.itsoag.com/GATOT and find him on Facebook and Twitter @AuthorDAVIDFG

17 June 2024

Book Review: What is Better than a Good Woman?: Alice Chaucer, Commoner and Yorkist Matriarch, by Michèle Schindler


Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Michèle SchindlerI drew me into the amazing life of Alice Chaucer (granddaughter of poet Geoffrey Chaucer) with the news she was widowed at the age of eleven when her husband died of the flux at the Siege of Harfleur in Normandy.

Alice inherited his fortune, despite her unconsummated marriage, and married her second husband, the Earl of Salisbury. He already had a daughter confusingly named Alice, of a similar age. Sadly for them all he would die from horrific injuries when hit in the face by cannon shot when standing at a window at the Siege of Orleans. during the Hundred Years War. 

Her third husband, William de la Pole, once the 'power behind the throne', was subjected to a mock trial at sea while crossing to Calais, and executed by beheading. His body was later found on the sands near Dover, his head fixed to a (symbolic?) pole.

I was particularly interested in the chapter on  the relationship between Alice and the enigmatic Margaret of Anjou. These two powerful and influential women were said to become close companions, yet Margaret turned from patron to Alice's prisoner.


Tomb of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ewelme. (Wikimedia Commons)

The picture of Alice which emerges from this fascinating new book is of a beautiful, intelligent woman, strong willed and quick witted, at the centre of events. Michèle Schindler has produced a well-researched and informative account of Alice's life which I am happy to recommend. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Michèle Schindler studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, reading English Studies and history with a focus on mediaeval studies. At the same time she worked as a language teacher, teaching English and German as a second language. In addition to English and German, she is fluent in French, and reads Latin. You can find Michèle on Facebook and Twitter @FLovellInfo
(A review copy of this book was kindly prtovided bt Amberley Books) 

16 June 2024

Special Guest Interview with Robin Burnage, Author of The Threat In The Atlantic (The Merriman Chronicles Book 8)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Barely months after returning from the Adriatic, Captain Sir James Merriman is enjoying some rare time with his wife and children. But his nation is exhausted by an apparently endless war and Napoleon’s continental system is denying Britain crucial supplies. Worse still, the French 80-gun ship Hercule has captured numerous British ships near the Cape of Good Hope. Captained by a wily veteran known as the lone wolf, the Hercule presents Merriman with his greatest adversary yet.

I'm pleased to welcome author Robin Burnage to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Threat In The Atlantic’ is the eighth in the series, but can be considered my debut novel. My late father (Roger Burnage) was the creator of “The Merriman Chronicles.” He had a long-term love of the sea and sea stories, fully rigged ships, and the life of men at sea during the age of sail. The writings of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian amongst others were the inspiration for him to start writing when he retired. He had a plan for some forty or fifty titles – he manged nine in total. Shortly before he passed away, he asked me to continue writing the series.

I have tried to pick up the story directly where my dad left off. At the end of book seven “The Threat In The Adriatic” we see Captain Merriman and his ship HMS Thunder recalled to England following a mission in the eastern Mediterranean. In book eight, we catch up with Merriman getting some rare time at home with his wife and young family. Merriman’s time at home gets interrupted with a letter from The Admiralty. Duty must come first, and he heads to London to find out what is required of him.

Inevitably at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, there is trouble brewing with the French. An 80-gun ship of war called Hercule is terrorising shipping around the Cape of Good Hope and causing losses of essential supplies for the Royal Navy. The country is under pressure from years at war and Napoleon’s continental system blockading trade within Europe.

He learns of the French captain known as ‘the lone wolf’ who is zealously attacking and capturing ships in the name of France and Napoleon. He is also out and to avenge the deaths of his own brothers, killed at the hands of the British. Merriman’s mission is simple – capture, sink or destroy Hercule and restore the trade route.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Honestly, I don’t really have one. My previous professional life was very structured with reports, meetings, and all that the typical nine to five entails. I sold my business to go sailing with a dream of being free from all of that. I manged a few years sipping beer in the sunshine and relaxing without a care in the world. Now I am back on land, I’m getting back into a more normal routine.

I have tried to use the old habits to structure writing sessions – planning how the day will be organised, how many words to write etc. I find that impossible, so writing happens as and when inspiration hits and that can be anytime day or night. I have read about authors who advocate writing something – even if it is bad – every day. That approach doesn’t work for me, it’s too rigid. If I am in the groove I go with it, if not I have plenty of other things to be involved with, not least promotion and marketing. I will say though, I  bsolutely agree with the saying “If you can’t write anything, then read something.” My TBR list is huge!

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

With the latest book there was an immediate audience of people who read my dad’s books and were left waiting for more. That is a double-edged sword of course – they have to accept me as the right person to keep Merriman going. So far the responses have been tremendously positive. With Dad’s first book “A Certain Threat,” my involvement started because he couldn’t find any representation. He had given up with query letters and trying to land an agent. I found out about self-publishing and published his book, then started getting the word out on social media.

I am still active on X (formerly Twitter) and building a following on Facebook and Instagram which helps. Giveaway offers on Goodreads have worked well too. I had 752 people apply for the one hundred copies of Book Eight which means it is getting seen by potential readers. Paid advertising on Amazon, X and META is what really reaches a new audience. It costs, but there is a certain reality about “speculate to accumulate.” Big companies spend fortunes on advertising for a reason!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Not one scene in particular, but getting the technical aspects right, especially of ship handling took some doing for sure. At one stage I was mapping out scenes using paper cutouts of ships on the kitchen table. Working out how an encounter would progress, passing to larboard and firing a broadside, tacking across the wind, and trying to come alongside again with the starboard battery to bear, the commands shouted to the crew, death and mayhem, throwing in a wind shift to add a complication. 

All fun to write, but it’s easy to get carried away with overly complex details of manoeuvring a fully rigged ship that can bog down the pace of the action. As a sailor (RYA Yachtmaster) I am familiar with being in command of a vessel. Much of the terminology we use has been around for centuries and certainly used in Merriman’s time. Tacking a modern yacht is second nature to me – even sailing solo - but getting a third-rate ship of the line through the wind is another matter. All those ropes and sails and the numbers of men working under intense pressure to make it all happen. How they managed to do this in the heat of battle is extraordinary!

What are you planning to write next?

I already have ideas sketched out for the next adventure for Merriman and a timeline of events up to the end of his career. Unfortunately, I cannot really give any details as it could prove to be a spoiler for the end of book 8 and start of book 9. I will leave some hints though - Merriman’s decisions are put in question and he starts to face political headwinds from senior figures as his career progresses.

I am also working on another series about a soon to be retired Police Officer in the Metropolitan Police. The first book is about 65% done, but I honestly don’t know when I will get the time to get
it finished.

Robin Burnage
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About the Author

Robin Burnage is a first-time author taking on the challenge of continuing his late father’s series “The Merriman Chronicles”. His debut novel “The Threat In The Atlantic” picks up the story of Captain James Merriman on his return from his mission in the Adriatic in 1810. Previously a property professional (for which he does actually have recognised qualifications), sailing and travelling always had a greater pull than accounting and spreadsheets. He sold his business in 2012, bought a yacht and headed off on a five-year adventure as a full time liveaboard sailor. He also then travelled through Europe in an old Land Rover and then a motorhome before settling back in bricks and mortar. He lives in Wales overlooking sand dunes and the Irish Sea, and is already dreaming of his next adventure. Fin out more at Robin's website https://www.merriman-chronicles.com/ and find The Merriman Chronicles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @Merriman1792

15 June 2024

Book Review: The Forgotten Palace: A timeslip novel by Alexandra Walsh


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Three women divided by time but connected by the long-hidden secrets of the past. As their stories join in a golden thread, a terrible injustice might finally be undone…

In this clever timeslip novel Alexandra Walsh takes us from the present day to the famous excavations in Knossos, Crete led by Arthur Evans in 1900.  


Part of the palace at Knossos, as controversially reconstructed 
by Sir Arthur Evans. (Wikimedia)

I particularly liked the evocative sense of place, which made me want to visit Crete. I also enjoyed following the Grand Tour of Alice Webster and her family, from London to Crete, a story strong enough to carry the book.

What makes The Forgotten Palace special is the counterpoint with the quite different 'journey' of  the main character of Eloise De’Ath,  Both women fail to escape their pasts, have unexpected connections, and there are intriguing clues to where it all will lead. 

‘A labyrinth has one route in and one route out while a maze has multiple pathways, many leading to dead ends. Mazes are about choice and strategy, labyrinths are spaces of continuous flow, like life.’ Alexandra Walsh, The Forgotten Palace

I highly recommend The Forgotten Palace, which I'm happy to award five out of five stars, and do hope there will be a sequel with more about what becomes of Alice and Eloise.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Alexandra Walsh is a bestselling author of the dual timeline women’s fiction. Her books range from the 15th and 16th centuries to the Victorian era and are inspired by the hidden voices of women that have been lost over the centuries. The Marquess House Saga offers an alternative view of the Tudor and early Stuart eras, while The Wind Chime and The Music Makers explore different aspects of Victorian society. Formerly, a journalist for over 25 years, writing for many national newspapers and magazines; Alexandra also worked in the TV and film industries as an associate producer, director, script writer and mentor for the MA Screen Writing course at the prestigious London Film School. She is a member of The Society of Authors and The Historical Writers Association. For updates and more information visit her website: www.alexandrawalsh.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter @purplemermaid25 and Bluesky @purplemermaid25.bsky.social