26 September 2020

Special Guest Post by Publishing Consultant Natalie Audley

My name is Natalie Audley, and I am a Publishing Consultant who has spent the last six years working across the industry. I have worked with hundreds of authors, from debuts to household names, and I know what makes them sell.

In my work I have managed and marketed a variety of genres and learnt a great deal about how and why something sells. I have a great passion for literature, as well as respect for those who love to write. My abilities at selling books, from being a bookseller to pitching thousands of copies to Amazon, means I know how to communicate great ideas with personable flare. 

The aim of my publishing consultancy is to support new writers in developing their fiction or plays, with a view to what sells. Having worked for some of the major and bestselling independent publishers in London, I have an excellent radar for what will sell, and how to make the most of your writing. In terms of playwriting I have been a reader for the last three years at one of the premier new writing venues in London and have managed my own theatre company, producing eight shows since 2013 and performing at Edinburgh, Camden and Brighton Fringes.

With my insight to the market I can help you establish your ideas, restructure and develop your work, and give you advice on how to approach agents. I can help you to understand the markets you would sell into, and how this would work for you as an author. 

I am happy to assist you from initial idea to final pitch, with the aim of having a novel which could be sold into Waterstones, Amazon and wholesalers as well as independent bookshops. My expertise can help tailor your manuscript into a piece that’s ready for success.

As a Publishing Consultant I am not an editor, but my in-depth experience as a publisher will talk you through the process of building up your story, with a focus on where you need to develop each section of your writing as if it were a business model:

- Initial idea

- Planning

- Drafting

- Editing

- Synopsis/Pitch

My advice will be predicated on advising you how to make your writing as commercially viable as possible. Of course, I am happy to see a range of fiction pitches whether these be literary, genre or YA. My experience in both print and digital publishing will give insight to authors seeking an agent, or those looking to self-publish off their own bat. 

Natalie Audley

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About the Author

Natalie Audley has worked in publishing for the last six years, beginning as a Waterstones Bookseller before working in several independent publishing houses in London.  Natalie has a BA and Masters in English and Creative Writing, and completed a playwriting course at Brighton Theatre Royal Young Writers Scheme. Her playwriting has been shortlisted by The Bruntwood and the Papatango Prizes, and she has been awarded several grants to stage her plays. For more information visit her website and follow her on Twitter @NatalieAudley16

24 September 2020

Special Guest Post by Suzanne M. Wolfe, Author of The Course of All Treasons: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Elizabethan court is beset by traitors at home and abroad as spies, rogues, and would-be usurpers of the throne vie for power.

I grew up in Didsbury, Manchester. My mother was a single mum who worked as a physiotherapist at a hospital during the day and at night took on private patients just to make ends meet. My brother was, naturally, involved in his own life.

So, in my loneliness, I turned to historical fiction for companionship—Joan Aiken, Henry Treece, Geoffrey Trease, Cynthia Harnett, and many others were among my favorite authors. Something about the way they brought forgotten—or at least distant—voices to my inner ear touched me deeply. As someone who often felt without a voice, I loved the way authors of historical fiction enabled us to hear those who otherwise were voiceless, rendered mute by a world which either ignored or misunderstood them.

Only recently did I come to realize that my love of historical fiction was rooted in a desire to listen for the voices of the past and the stories they could tell—whether it was the murmured conversation of courtiers waiting for a royal audience, bureaucratic lackeys whispering in the Queen’s ear, spies, playwrights, or poets—each of them saying, “I once lived as you now live.”

This is the reason why I love combining historical fact with fiction because fiction can raise the dead to life again much more vividly than historical textbooks. 

It was Elizabeth’s voice that inspired me to write my Elizabethan spy mystery series. So it felt only right to give her the opening line in the first novel, A Murder by Any Name (Crooked Lane Books, 2018). 

“God’s bollocks, girl. I’m freezing my tits off!”

The voice is imperious, irreverent, earthy—a far cry from the sentimentalized Hollywood portrayals of the Virgin Queen. My Queen Elizabeth would make a sailor blush. 

Elizabeth’s voice came to me fully articulated when I started writing this series, a voice singular enough to echo down the centuries through numerous documents and contemporary accounts. It reveals a woman who was witty, irreverent, scathing, vain, kind to her friends and ruthless to her enemies. It is the voice of Gloriana Regina, the last of the Tudor line.

Since childhood I’ve always been inspired by visits to historic sites. Last year I visited Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire and could see the indomitable Bess, much married and a close confidante of Queen Elizabeth, sweeping down the wide stone staircase barking orders, or presiding at the long oak dining table in the main hall calling for more wine. 

Touring the cavernous stone kitchens I could hear the great clamor of pots chinking, cooks yelling, the sizzle of meat and flare of flame during a banquet, see the men turning the spits before the enormous fireplaces, sweat dripping down their faces, the liveried servers carrying huge platters of swan, grouse, venison, and fish up the back stairs to the great hall. 

I could imagine Mary, Queen of Scots,—a confined “guest” at Hardwick Hall—sitting at her bedroom window staring out at the formal gardens, wondering how different her life would have been if only she had not married Lord Darnley or the equally disreputable Earl of Bothwell.

The sixteenth century is an age teeming with life and boisterous with a cacophony of voices. It is a savage age of political and religious turmoil where traitors were beheaded on Tower Hill and Jesuit priests were hung, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. Chock full of treachery, paranoia, and superstition, the era provides plenty of grist for a historical novelist’s mill. Indeed, our contemporary experience of Covid-19 makes the recurrent outbreaks of plague in that period ominously relatable.

My protagonist, Nick Holt, the younger brother of the Earl of Blackwell, is from a prominent recusant Catholic family. That means that, although his family has sworn allegiance to a Protestant Queen, they are in constant danger of being accused of treasonous contact with Continental Catholicism and of secretly practicing their faith. 

Coerced into spying for the state by a not so subtle threat to arrest Nick’s brother on charges of treason (see first book in the series, A Murder by Any Name), Nick must tread a fine line between his allegiance to the Crown and loyalty to his family. 

The owner of The Black Sheep Tavern in Bankside, the notorious “red light” district of London on the southern bank of the Thames, Nick’s friends consist of a huge Irish wolfhound called Hector, an exiled Jewish brother and sister who practice medicine, his faithful friend John Stockton, and a host of social misfits including the young Will Shakespeare, Kat, the madam of a notorious brothel, and Codpiece, the Queen’s clever Fool. 

Despite his insalubrious Bankside neighbors, Nick is equally comfortable rubbing shoulders at court. He and the Queen have a deep mutual respect and Elizabeth trusts him to seek out the truth no matter where it will lead or who it will implicate, irrespective of rank. Perhaps Elizabeth sees in Nick a man who has no truck with the fops, toadies, and ladder-climbers who make up the bulk of Gloriana’s glittering court. 

Or perhaps it is because, as a recusant Catholic, he is an outsider to the intrigues and double-dealing of the court. For whatever reason, he is perfectly placed to investigate crimes both inside the court and in the realm. 

I hope you will consider joining Nick and his faithful hound, Hector, on their quest to seek justice—to give a voice to the voiceless.

Suzanne M. Wolfe

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About the Author

Suzanne M. Wolfe grew up in England and read English literature at Oxford University. Wolfe is the author of the novels The Confessions of X, winner of Christianity Today’s 2017 Book of the Year Award; Unveiling; and the first Elizabethan spy mystery, A Murder by Any Name, and the second in the series, The Course of All Treasons (Crooked Lane Books, 2020). She lives in the Pacific Northwest, US. Find out more at Suzanne's website 
http://suzannemwolfe.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @SuzanneMWolfe

22 September 2020

Special Guest Interview with Juliette Lawson, Author of A Borrowed Past (Seaton Carew Sagas)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Escape into William Harper’s journey of discovery, love and loss in the first book of the Seaton Carew Sagas series. A Borrowed Past is a historical saga for anyone who’s ever felt that they don’t belong.

I'm pleased to welcome author Juliette Lawson to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

A Borrowed Past’ is the first in the Seaton Carew Sagas series, set in the 1870s in Seaton Carew, York and Scarborough. What would you do if you discovered your life was a lie? Young aspiring artist William Harper runs away to find out the truth. But the pull of the past is strong, drawing him into a web of deceit. When tragedy strikes, can he make the right choices about who he should give his heart to and where his future lies?

My readers describe the story as heart-warming, intriguing and compelling, and they say the setting is almost a character in itself. My favourite quote from a review is ‘The writing was beautifully evocative of the era and the story skilfully documented, painting the page with words much as William longed to spill the images in his mind onto paper with a brush.’

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I like to rise early and get my words down first thing, so my subconscious can work on any knotty problems during the rest of the day. At the end of the session, I plan the next chapter ready for the following day, drawing on the detailed outline I created before beginning my first draft.

If I ever find myself struggling to get in the right frame of mind, I either go for a walk or put on my headphones to play the BrainWave Binaural Programs app while writing, overlaid with the sound of thunderstorms. It never fails to get me into the zone, like pressing a switch in my brain!

What advice do you have for new writers? 

Write the first draft only for yourself; don’t worry about what anyone else will think of it. We never see the first draft of books written by bestselling authors, but they won’t be perfect! This stage is for you to find your way around the story and get to know your characters properly. Acknowledge that it will go through lots of iterations, so don’t hold on to it too tightly.

In the second draft, think about how to grip the reader. Pay attention to the details: your descriptions, portraying the senses, how your characters behave and speak in their era and society, and factual accuracy. Your job is to keep the reader engrossed; don’t let them pull away from the story to wonder about any of these things. Leave spelling, grammar and punctuation checks until the last draft.

Finally, prioritise your writing. Don’t look too far ahead at publication and marketing until you’ve finished your book and edited it to the very best standard you can achieve. Just take one step at a time. I was obsessed with learning about the whole process from the start, but by the time I finished my novel, lots had changed! There’s a constant stream of new advice, so you can afford to wait. 

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

Like most authors, I’m still working on that! My challenge with ‘A Borrowed Past’ was that I published it shortly before the Covid-19 lockdown, and it didn’t feel right to promote it initially. I have four years’ experience of writing nonfiction to draw on (as Julie Cordiner), where I’ve engaged with my readers online by posting interesting content, blogging and offering a newsletter. I’m doing the same with my fiction, but it feels much harder to build a following. 

My approach is to build a readership through common interests, sharing how I approach my research and writing, and recommending other books in the genre - we’re all united through a love of reading. Although I favour content marketing, I am testing out some advertising, but it will be more effective when I have more books in the series.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

The inspiration for writing a novel came from my research for a parish history, which I wrote in 2011 to help raise funds for my church’s restoration. I uncovered some strange stories, such as the wrong body being buried in the churchyard and a well-respected local solicitor ending up in court for an alleged assault. But the one that stands out was when a resident asked for a copy of a photograph I’d used in the book, showing a family at an upper window of his house watching the unveiling of the war memorial. 

He invited me round to see all the house deeds, which were on parchment with wax seals, and we worked out who the family members were. Then he said the landlord of the pub next door wanted to see me. We were taken down to the cellar, where the landlord pointed to a boarded-up space. ‘There’s a tunnel behind there,’ he said, ‘and I believe it runs underneath the cottages behind here.’

He wouldn’t open it for fear of finding dead bodies, but I already knew that soldiers had been sent to Seaton Carew in the 1700s to break up smuggling. This discovery certainly fired my imagination.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The scene where William faces his father on the pier was particularly tricky. There was so much I wanted to convey: their relationship, William’s desperate need to understand why his Papa hated him, and the knowledge that he had to save him from jumping over the edge, for his Mama’s sake. But in that fraught situation, there would only be snatches of dialogue, half carried away by the wind. I therefore needed to find a way of conveying the emotion through narrative, using their actions and drawing on all William’s senses. I hope I managed to achieve that.

What are you planning to write next? 

I’m halfway through the second draft of book two in the series, A Maid’s Dilemma. This is the story of Grace, William’s childhood sweetheart, and what she gets up to while he is away. She’s a maid to Lady Forbes, who is making herself ill through drink. It’s a bit of a problem, since Lord Forbes is a staunch advocate of Temperance and is in denial about the whole thing! Grace decides she has to find out where the alcohol is coming from, despite warnings from her new love that she could put herself in danger. That tunnel just might make an appearance!

Juliette Lawson 

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About the Author

Juliette Lawson lives by the sea at Seaton Carew, part of Hartlepool, in north east England. A classics degree, a passion for local history and many years spent exploring her family tree meant that historical fiction was a natural choice when deciding to write a novel. The inspiration for her Seaton Carew Sagas series came from research undertaken for a parish history to raise funds for her local church. As well as enjoying historical novels, Juliette also reads contemporary fiction, thrillers, cozy mysteries, and books with interesting locations. She sings in the church choir and her local Ladies' Choir, plays violin and piano (badly), knits and sews, and loves spending time with her granddaughters. Find out more at Juliette's website https://juliettelawson.com/ and find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter @juliette_author

21 September 2020

Guest Post: Writing a Novel, by Kate Ferguson ~ Part One: The Writing Process

The first thing to do is take a walk. The road ahead is long and hard and paved with self-doubt. Might as well get some fresh air.    

The overwhelming odds are the world won't take any notice. There's a pandemic to think about. Also ironing, Instagram, climate change and Netflix. 

Accept this as the likeliest outcome and do it anyway. You cannot fall in love with a person while being obsessed with how to sell them. The same applies to your novel.

What you should think about is that kernel in your head. That impulse you feel to write. Where does it come from? Maybe you saw a rat crawling through an upturned trashcan on your way to work. Maybe there's a fully formed alternate universe floating around in your head. Maybe you have always wondered what it would be like to have been born a different person in a different time. Whatever it is, interrogate it. Dig deeper. 

For me, it was Frau P. We met shortly after I moved from Ireland to Germany in 2012 and until her death in 2018, we saw each other once a week. We were seventy years apart but that didn't stop us from being besties. If anything, it strengthened our bond.  

My novel is not about her. But it is informed and inspired by how it made me feel to sit with her in her nursing home room. Chatting about the price of pears. Her upcoming death. Germany's political landscape. The care-workers' private lives. Meandering between the quotidian and the profound.

This was the space I wanted to occupy. But it was not yet a story. 

I began writing my novel in 2016 and most of the time, I was miserable. I was miserable because I was overwhelmed. Because I was overwhelmed, I became masochistic. If I had a day off work, I would tell myself that I must sit in front of my computer as if I were in the office. I would spend eight and a half hours staring at a blank screen. The only word that came to me was failure. 

I have since learned that this is the worst thing you can do. Guilt and shame do not produce powerful writing. Curiosity does. 

Different novels have different driving forces. Mine is character. I needed a plot that would take my protagonist on an emotional journey. Figuring the course out became my preoccupation. I would think about it at night. In the shower. On the train to work.   

The breakthrough came while reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Her theory is that every story is about a character confronting their misbelief. In order to have a misbelief, they must have experienced situations that strengthened their flawed perception of the world. Her tip was to write scenes that did just that. 

This exercise, more than any other writing advice I have ever got, injected life into my story. What are my characters wrong about? How did they come to that conclusion? What can I do to challenge their perception of the world? Some of the scenes I wrote in response to those questions became key moments in my novel. Others are no longer on the page but have added nuance to my characters. 

Writing fiction, more than any other craft I can think of, is an extraordinary balancing act between the conscious and unconscious. First of all, there are the logistics of time and place and character to think about. One of the things I did was print out a calendar of 2016, the year in which much of my novel takes place, and mark the events of the story as if they were real. 

This wasn't strictly necessary. One of the great gifts of fiction is that time can fly. But verisimilitude and plausibility are important. Even if you are writing the most outlandish fantasy story, the reader must be able to trust the world you have created. All of this is the domain of your conscious mind.  

The unconscious, on the other hand, is the repository of ideas and sensations. I ignored mine for too long, focusing instead on my calendar and plot outline. They have their place. But they are no replacement for the stuff that lies deep within you. The things you don't know are there until the words come out. 

Annoyingly, your unconscious cannot be summoned. But I have found that it can be beckoned. A film that moves you to tears. An injustice that fires you up. A good conversation with a close friend. A poignant passage in a book. Certain music. You need to feel something. Anything, almost. 

A year ago, when I was 38,000 words into my novel, promising feedback from someone who knows her stuff gave me a boost when I needed it. She had many nice things to say about my work but it was the way she articulated what was wrong with it that made me giddy with joy. The only way to improve your novel is to be able to define the gap between the actual and the ideal. A person who can do this kindly and with conviction, is a gift. 

Earlier this month, fueled by the solitude enforced by the pandemic, I wrote the final words of my novel. I can barely believe I got there. There were so many times I didn't think I would. 

For the next few weeks, I am giving the manuscript some time to breathe and handing it over to others to read. After that the work will begin again. To write is to sculpt. The marriage of vision and precision. When all that can be has been done, it will be time to offer it to the world. 

Kate Ferguson

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About the Author

Kate Ferguson is an Irish writer and journalist living in Berlin. Her short fiction has appeared in The Wild Word and WWBL, a literary journal focused on women's writing. In 2019, her story "Emil Anonymous" was shortlisted for the New Irish Writing in Germany award. Kate blogs regularly about life in Berlin and her writing journey at www.katekatharina.com. Find her on Twitter @katekatharina

19 September 2020

Thanks a Million For Your Support


I'd like to thank all the visitors who have helped The Writing Desk pass the milestone of a million page views. This blog continues to average 15,000 visitors a month, and I'm pleased to see so many return visits to older posts.

As well as my own book reviews, writing features and spotlights, I would like to thank the many hundreds of authors and writers who have generously given their time to write guest posts, and take part in my series of author interviews.

I am also pleased to say my Stories of the Tudors podcast passed a more modest milestone of 50,000 downloads this month, so thanks to all the listeners!

I am busy writing the second book of my Elizabethan series and researching the third, so my book reviews are temporarily on hold, but if you are an author and would like to guest post, or have a book launch coming soon, please fee free to contact me to discuss. All posts are shared with 33,400 followers on Twitter as well as Goodreads, so this blog is a useful way to raise awareness and connect with new readers.

Tony Riches

18 September 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Boy King (The Seymour Saga Book 3) by Janet Wertman

Available for pre-order from

Motherless since birth and newly bereft of his father, King Henry VIII, nine-year-old Edward Tudor ascends to the throne of England and quickly learns that he cannot trust anyone, even himself. 

Edward is at first relieved that his uncle, the new Duke of Somerset, will act on his behalf as Lord Protector, but this consolation evaporates as jealousy spreads through the court. Challengers arise on all sides to wrest control of the child king, and through him, England.

While Edward can bring frustratingly little direction to the Council's policies, he refuses to abandon his one firm conviction: that Catholicism has no place in England. 

When Edward falls ill, this steadfast belief threatens England's best hope for a smooth succession: the transfer of the throne to Edward's very Catholic half-sister, Mary Tudor, whose heart's desire is to return the realm to the way it worshipped in her mother's day.

"Wonderfully told" - Tudors Dynasty

"The conclusion to The Seymour Saga is a sheer delight...Wertman has created a magnificent window into the lives of the Seymour family, and 'The Boy King' is the piece de resistance of the entire series."  - Adventures of a Tudor Nerd

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About the Author

Janet Wertman grew up within walking distance of three bookstores and a library on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – and she visited all of them regularly. Janet spent fifteen years as a corporate lawyer in New York, and co-authored The Executive Compensation Answer Book. After moving to Los Angeles with her family and switching careers, Janet became a highly successful grantwriter for non-profits took up writing fiction. Janet is thrilled to finally be releasing the first book in The Seymour Saga series: Jane the Quene. The second book, The Path to Somerset, chronicles Edward Seymour’s rise after Jane’s death to become Lord Protector of England and Duke of Somerset – taking us right through Henry’s crazy years. Finally, the third book, The Boy King, covers the reign of Jane’s son, Edward VI, and the string of betrayals he suffered. Find our more at Jane’s website janetwertman.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @JaneTheQuene

16 September 2020

Special Guest Interview with Rebecca Lipkin, Author of Unto This Last, a biographical novel about the life of John Ruskin

New on Amazon UK and from all major booksellers

London, 1858. Passionate, contradictory, and fiercely loyal to his friends, John Ruskin is an eccentric genius, famed across Britain for his writings on art and philosophy. Haunted by a scandalous past and determined never to love again, the 39-year-old Ruskin becomes infatuated with his enigmatic young student, Rose La Touche, an obsession with profound consequences that will change the course of his life and work. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Rebecca Lipkin to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about the book

Unto This Last is a portrait of the complex personal life of John Ruskin, one of the most influential men of the past 200 years, and in particular his controversial relationship with his student, Rose La Touche, a girl twenty-nine years his junior.

Rose La Touche, 1861, by John Ruskin

What inspired you to write the novel?

I have had an interest in Ruskin for many years, having joined the Ruskin Society at the age of seventeen to learn about his life and work. Most accounts of Ruskin’s personal life focus on his brief marriage to Effie Gray, but his twenty-year relationship with Rose La Touche was of huge importance to the evolution of his thinking; it is a captivating and tragic story of two people whose loving friendship transcended boundaries and conventions to the very end.

How did you go about researching the novel?

Fortunately, Ruskin, Rose and many other characters featured in the novel were prolific diarists and letter writers, so I had a wealth of information from which I could piece together the intricacies of their relationship, in addition to the many academic sources about Ruskin's life.

How did you find your narrative voice?

I always felt that the novel should be written in the style of the period in which it is set, and as I have used many extracts from Ruskin and Rose's own letters and poems, among other original sources, it seemed right that the narrative voice was also of its time, albeit somewhat modernised for a contemporary audience. I tried to remain neutral throughout, as I wanted the reader to come to their own conclusions about the characters and their actions.

What is your writing process?

Unto This Last took five years to write, including several drafts. The story was originally written as a screenplay, and this proved an invaluable tool when writing what turned out to be an epic novel, for it provided me with an important framework and some of the dialogue. It was hugely liberating to tell Ruskin and Rose’s turbulent story in much greater depth, for arguably they are far more relatable and fascinating than fictional characters due to their faults, misunderstandings and emotional struggles.

What are you working on next?

Staying within the same genre of historical/biographical fiction - my next novel will be set in the colourful world of the Victorian theatre, with actors and actresses who led more theatrical lives than their characters on stage. There may even be some cameo characters you will recognise from Unto This Last, including Oscar Wilde!

Rebecca Lipkin
“This is an atmospheric and utterly convincing novel...tackling the subject with great empathy in prose that is both detailed and vivid. A considerable achievement.” Michael Crowley, writer and dramatist 

“Deeply researched and charmingly written, it resurrects not only John Ruskin, one of the most influential characters of the Victorian age, but his fascinating pupil Rose La Touche, who is portrayed so sensitively that you feel as though you know her.” Daisy Dunn, author of In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny 

“Rebecca Lipkin’s thoughtful novel about this complicated man – and his often-confusing world – is a pleasure to read and a very welcome addition for all lovers of Pre-Raphaelitism.” Lucinda Hawksley, biographer 

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About the Author

Rebecca Lipkin has worked as a journalist, culture editor and theatre critic, and is now writing as a full-time historical fiction author. She has had a passion for nineteenth century art and literature from a young age, and her writing is inspired by the real-life stories of colourful characters whose narratives form the basis of her novels. Find out more at Rebecca's website www.rebeccalipkin.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @rebecca_lipkin