19 April 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Songbird: a novel of the Tudor Court, by Karen Heenan

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

She has the voice of an angel...

But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname "the king's songbird." 

She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.

Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?

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About the Author

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams -- which which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing. She lives in Lansdowne, PA, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is currently hard at work on her next book. Find out more at Karen's website http://www.karenheenan.com/ and find her on Twitter @karen_heenan

18 April 2021

Special Guest Post by Steven Pilbeam, Author of The Heron Ring

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

 ‘I am Iphigenia. Daughter of King Agamemnon.
History says I died. I lived.’ 

Argive Greece, 1200 BC. Mighty King Agamemnon kills his daughter to save his warships. Or does he? When Iphigenia of Mycenae betrays her father, words of destiny are spoken that hurl her into the path of Aletes. The herdsman must battle his own fate to discover who he is, as he collides with Iphigenia and the armies of Troy. Think you know the great stories of Troy? Unwrite history, undo legend, uncover the truth…

The Story Behind the Story

The trouble with the greatest stories ever told, is they have been told a great deal. With historical fiction set in ancient Troy and Greece, we know the legends, we know the heroes, we know the face that launched a thousand ships. I knew I wanted to write an epic adventure, and I knew I was fascinated by the world of warriors and war of Bronze Age Greece. But I wanted my story to be new. 

Rather like the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who unearthed the ancient treasures of Mycenae and Troy, I dug up a gem from Bronze Age legend. 


Iphigenia was the daughter of King Agamemnon. The niece of Helen of Troy. Yet I was surprised to find Iphigenia’s story thin and contradictory. Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector, Paris – these male figures have been written, rewritten, overwritten. 

But Iphigenia? Like so many women of the past, her truth has been lost. Playwright Euripides, writing in the 5th Century BC, has Iphigenia ordered to death by her father (Iphigenia in Aulis) because the king has offended the gods. To save his warships, the king must make amends by sacrificing his daughter. Yet, Euripides has Iphigenia being rescued by the gods at the last moment in another play (Iphigenia in Tauris).

And so, Iphigenia became the hilt to my sword. Hers, the first words on my page. I had my hero – and she was a woman.  It got me thinking. What if Iphigenia escaped? How would that act of defiance affect politics? Family? Agamemnon’s temper is famous – surely, he would be furious. What about his warships? Would the Trojan War ever happen?

As the prologue of The Heron Ring reads: 

‘I am Iphigenia. Daughter of King Agamemnon. Twice married to dead kings. Promised to Achilles, greatest warrior who ever lived. I defied the most ruthless king to set foot in history. I betrayed my father.’

Iphigenia would need help. Introducing Aletes. He is modest. Happy with his quiet life. Until the Fates weave their work. The herdsman and Iphigenia collide early in the book. The mighty names of legend are there too – Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Hector, Paris, Helen of Troy – but in The Heron Ring they are supporting cast. This allowed me to create an original story in a genre so well-known. I wanted a theatre of characters in a world of epic proportions to accurately reflect Greece as a superpower of antiquity.  

Another original character is Melampus, a short, bald headed veteran with a voice that grates like bronze tyres on gravel. The men follow him without hesitation – you meet him in the first chapter: 

‘First Spear Melampus ploughed past Aletes, scratching a deep line in the dirt with the bronze point of his weapon, his short, bandy legs braced, swarthy face set like that of a cornered boar.'

The banter between Melampus and Aletes forms much of the humour of the book – or so I ho Now we come to recreating the world of Bronze Age Greece – also known as Mycenaean Greece, after the most powerful of its city states, Mycenae. Research took me years, and I wrote the book over ten years. Little is known because there is archaeological evidence Mycenaean Greece was conquered and destroyed. 

After three thousand years, all that remains are mainly weapons and treasure left in tombs, artwork on pottery, and fragments of frescoes. The written language of the time, Linear B, has been deciphered, but largely documents materials and stocks. In other words, we know the basics. We know what people in Mycenaean Greece ate, that they used swords and shields, were rich in gold and precious jewels. But we don’t know what these people thought. Or felt. Or even, their names. 

What was clear was that people met death in the eye – none more so than warriors. Minds guided by their gods, bodies built muscle on muscle like the stone slabs of their giant fortresses. Epic battles. Glorious courage. Yet the basic aspects of their lives – friendships, family, love – are the same as we face in 2021.

I am not a trained writer or historian, but I’ve written my whole life – to me it’s as essential as breathing. I’ve read and reread every book going on Greek mythology and history. I’ve travelled to the jewels of the ancient world – Mycenae, Hisarlik, Athens, Rome. I came away from each place with another chapter in my mind, another character on my fingertips.  

The test of a good book is if you cannot put it down. My aim for The Heron Ring is to make your arms ache, like the archaeologists digging up history with trowels in their hands. I hope you don’t notice the ache until it’s too late. Until you realise you’ve had the book in your hands so long because you couldn’t put it down.  

Steven Pilbeam

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About the Author

Steven Pilbeam is a retired businessman who wrote The Heron Ring over ten years, so vast was the historical research and epic nature of the story. He would begin writing at 5am every day before work. History-obsessed, he is to be found invariably with a book in hand, documentary on screen, or visiting ancient sites around the world – most of which he has explored ten times before, much to the dismay of his family! Now writing full-time, he is working on an epic set in Rome. The book is based on the true story of an inspirational leader betrayed by his people. Steven has three children: James is a partner in chartered accountancy, Louisa and Katie are television journalists. He describes the luckiest day of his life as the one he met his wife, Wendy. Coincidentally, she counts this as her unluckiest! Find Steven on Instagram: @Stevenpilbeamauthor and Twitter: @StevenPilbeam

17 April 2021

Book Launch Spotlight: For Better and Worse, by E B Roshan

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Boris and Anna's first baby is due any day, but the thought of raising a child in the war-torn city of Dor fills Anna with dread. Because Boris is so focused on keeping his struggling business afloat, he brushes her fears aside. When White Horse gangsters attack his illegal employee, Boris's attempt to protect him puts his own family in danger. Will doing the right thing cost him more than he's willing to pay? Will Boris and Anna live to see their second anniversary?

I'm pleased to announce the release of "For Better and Worse," the fourth novel in Shards of Sevia, the ongoing Dystopian/Romantic Suspense series.

Excerpt from For Better and Worse:

As I stepped into the back garden, the rising wind chilled my nose and blew feathers of snow against my eyelashes. Except for the crackle of a distant machine gun, the city seemed to be sleeping off last night's parties.
I stepped off the cement path and kicked at the half-frozen soil.
My coat didn't zip over my belly anymore, so I held it closed with one hand. In the other, I carried Boris's pistol, making sure the barrel pointed straight down.
Could the baby sense what I was thinking? Could he taste the salty edge of my fear? 
The muscles in my stomach quivered, then clenched. I took slow deep breaths, waiting for the tension to pass. According to the results of my Google search for "Signs of Early Labor," those strange, not-exactly-pain cramps might mean the baby was coming soon. Or they might mean nothing. After all, the baby—did I really want to call him Alexander?—wasn't due until the sixth. I pushed on the top of my belly, and he pushed back with both tiny feet. 
I'd asked Boris to get rid of his pistol more than once. Guns were expensive, but maybe he could sell it back to Maxim. He'd stared at me, those dark eyebrows knitting together. "I got it to protect us."
Boris didn't realize it gave him confidence he shouldn't feel, a false promise that he could stop the violence outside from pushing into our home. Why did he still think he had any control over what was happening in our city? 
Boris and Arjun could have both been killed last night. If things had gone just a little differently—I closed the doors of my mind firmly on that thought and locked them.
Burying the gun seemed the best plan. I stopped in front of the flower bed, where dried stalks of marigold plants stuck out of the snow. My boots were already pinching my swollen feet; I should have borrowed Uncle Peter's to clump around in instead. 
I didn't know much about guns, but I was pretty certain that being buried in a flower bed wouldn't be good for one. Squatting down, I eased my taut belly into place between my knees and uprooted one of the withered marigolds. The soil was laced with ice crystals, but not frozen solid. Using the barrel end of the gun, I scraped the hole bigger, making sure my fingers didn't get anywhere near the trigger.
Boris would be hurt that I didn't trust him. Angry. But I didn't know another way to explain the desperation I felt inside.
Dear God, let him see it's time to go, I prayed silently. Make it so clear a blind person couldn't miss it.
I pressed the gun into the ground. With grimy fingers, I scooped a handful of bullets out of my sweater pocket and dropped them in the hole, too.

E.B. Roshan

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About the Author

E.B. Roshan has enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle for several years, living in the Middle East and Asia. Now she is temporarily settled in Missouri with her husband and two sons, where she works with the local refugee community. When she's not cooking, cleaning, or chasing the boys, she's writing the latest instalment in Shards of Sevia, her ongoing romantic suspense series set in the war-torn (and fortunately fictional) nation of Sevia. To learn more about E.B. Roshan and the Shards of Sevia series, visit: https://shardsofsevia.wordpress.com

13 April 2021

Stories of the Tudors Podcast Series

Welcome to the new player for my series of short podcasts about the stories of the Tudors.

My name is Tony Riches. I’m a historical fiction author and specialist in the early Tudors. These podcasts are about the stories I uncovered during my research.  Find out more at my website www.tonyriches.com.

12 April 2021

New Historical Fiction Spotlight: Murder at Beaulieu Abbey, An Abbess of Meaux mystery by Cassandra Clark

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Death and danger await intrepid nun Hildegard of Meaux when she undertakes a secret mission for the good of her Order, in this eleventh action-packed installment of the medieval mystery series.

February, 1390. Hildegard is given a special assignment by the Prioress of Swyne to escort a young heiress from Beaulieu Abbey to the northern stronghold of Sir William atte Wood. What could be more pleasant than to join a betrothal party, especially as she will be accompanied on the long journey to the New Forest by the two monks militant, Gregory and Egbert.

But there is a more urgent and secret purpose for her mission.

The Western Church is in Schism, with two popes battling for power. The Cistercians are split between the pope in Rome - supported by King Richard - and the pope in Avignon, an ally of the king's French enemies. Which pope will Beaulieu decide to follow? England's future depends on it, and who better than Hildegard to discover Beaulieu's allegiance? But to question such powerful forces brings only death and danger - and even her two militant monks may not be enough to save her.

This action-packed, page-turning medieval mystery is a great choice for fans of holy sleuths like Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma and Paul Doherty's Brother Athelstan.

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About the Author

Cassandra Clark has an M.A. from the University of East Anglia and taught for the Open University on the Humanities Foundation course in subjects as diverse as history, philosophy, music and religion. Since then she has written many plays and contemporary romances as well as the libretti for several chamber operas.  Find out about Cassandra's other books on her website at www.cassandraclark.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @nunsleuth

11 April 2021

Special Guest Post by Alistair Forrest, Author of Line in the Sand: The Story of David and Goliath

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1000 BC. His mother is reviled as a whore and his half-brothers despise him. The best Dhavit of Beth Lechem can do is escape. But just as life couldn’t get much lower for the youth they call Leper, he is recruited as a spy. His mission – to find out about the superior weapons and invasion plans of the warlike Philistines. When he is betrayed, Dhavit is thrown into an arena with two other misfortunates to fight a pair seemingly invincible warriors. Only speed and quick wits can save him. Dhavit believes he is chosen by the gods and finds himself revered in the Philistine court, whose rulers want to declare war on his people. At the head of the Philistine forces is the famed Golyat, a man bred for war and destruction. A vicious conflict for supremacy is sure to follow.

Capturing a Sense of Place, Part Two: David & Goliath

Alistair Forrest draws on an upbringing in the Middle East and a love of ancient history to explore fact and fiction surrounding a famous Bible story.

David and Goliath by Caravaggio

I’m an author of fiction, not a historian. So I don’t worry too much that some boffins and maybe religious folk might find my account of the David & Goliath story, Line in the Sand, a little annoying.

Instead, I hope lovers of historical fiction will accept that I have filled in some gaps that the ancient scribes left in their telling. This is how it might have been before the religious scribes got their hands on the tale.

I count myself lucky to have spent my childhood and early teens in three Middle Eastern countries and subsequently to have travelled widely as a journalist, always delving into the history that made each place what it is today. I’ve always had a burning passion to write historical fiction, in this instance fuelled by two years studying theology straddled by my early years as a newspaper reporter.

We know there are inconsistencies and contradictions across the several Biblical books that report the story of King David, leaving many questions unanswered. So, following my journalist’s mantra, ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story’, I have drawn on my studies of the ancient Near East and Old Testament history – let’s call these ‘the facts’ – and unleashed my imagination and love of ‘a good yarn’.

In reality, there are very few facts. The only archaeological reference to King David would appear to be a reference to the House of David on a ninth century stela found at Tel Dan in northern Israel in 1993. Most of the Biblical texts were written down long after the events surrounding David’s rise to power, with the two books of Samuel the earliest account.

Fair game, then? I decided that this bullied young shepherd should become a spy, find himself betrayed in the Philistine city where giants lived, be tortured and face branding as a slave, fight a giant called Golyat (Goliath) in a gladiatorial arena, rescue a Philistine princess and ultimately escape to warn the Israelites of pending doom.

You might think you know what happens next. Dream on. I have tried to anchor the story in certain Biblical facts, such as the tensions between the agricultural kingdom of Judah and the five Philistine city states, and the settling of scores in single combat (and who wouldn’t nominate a nine-foot warrior as champion?).

Which brings us to Goliath, or more accurately, ‘Golyat’.

At the outset of writing Line in the Sand, I listened to a very convincing lecture by Professor Jeffrey R. Zorn of Cornell University, entitled Who Was Goliath? in which he suggests that the Philistine giant was an elite chariot warrior. Most modern depictions of Goliath are as a very large foot-soldier, but Zorn points out his armour and weapons as detailed in 1 Samuel 17: 4-7 would indicate an Aegean/Levantine chariot warrior who was probably transported to the ideal position in a battle to wreak the most havoc.

While researching for the book, I was in touch with Professor Aren Maier, director of the Tel es-Safi excavations that have uncovered so much about ancient Gath, whence the giant came, including an inscription thought to include his name or at least something similar.

Excavating Goliath’s Gath

I am also indebted to the British Egyptologist and author David Rohl, not least for succinct explanations of his New Chronology theories, specifically his interpretation of the Amarna letters and probable references to King Saul.

Books that have helped me include the Bible of course, The King David Report by Stefan Heym; The Source by James A. Michener; David’s Secret Demons by Baruch Halpern, and various books published by Osprey about warfare in the ancient Middle East.

I have read many books about ancient Israel both on-line and in my studies, too numerous to mention, all influential in their way. But somehow I still feel as though I know nothing when compared with the likes of Maier, Zorn and Rohl. I hope these knowledgeable historians will forgive my diversion from ‘what is known’ to ‘what might have been’.

What next?  Although currently focusing on post-Republic Roman themes at the behest of my publisher Sharpe Books, especially the upheaval following the assassination of Julius Caesar (Libertas, Nest of Vipers, Viper Pit), I hope one day to return to my formative years in the Middle East and extensive studies of ancient Mesopotamia, including the amazing stories waiting to be reimagined of Assyrians, Israelites, Phoenicians and Philistines.

And while there’s ink my pen, I must surely make the most of the archaeological dig just a few yards from my home in Alderney (Channel Islands) where archaeologists Jason Monaghan and Phil de Jersey have uncovered well-preserved remains of Roman and Iron Age settlements. The historian Dan Snow is keenly interested in the site. But that’s yet another story that must wait until the pandemic allows digging to resume…

An Iron Age skeleton is discovered beneath a Roman floor at Longis, Alderney. Photo: David Nash

Alistair Forrest

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About the Author

Alistair Forrest is a journalist, editor and author of historical fiction. He has worked for several UK newspapers, edited magazines in the travel, photographic and natural products sectors, and owned a PR company. He is author of Libertas and the Agents of Rome series, Nest of Vipers and Viper Pit. A third in this series is due out in summer 2021. He lives in the Channel Islands with his wife Lynda. They have five children, two Maremma dogs and a Spanish cat, Achilles. His books are published by Sharpe Books of London. Alistair loves to hear from readers. Contact him through his website https://alistairforrest.com and find Alistair on Twitter @alistairforrest

10 April 2021

Book Two of the Elizabethan Series: Essex - Tudor Rebel

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Continuing the story of the Tudors, begun in the best-selling Tudor trilogy, this epic tale of loyalty, love and adventure follows Robert Devereux from his youth to his fateful rebellion.

Sir Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex