16 October 2019

How to create 3D Cover images #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


Author Laila Doncaster @LailaDoncaster is re-launching her book, Cocooning the Butterfly, and when I saw her mock-up of the new cover, I asked what was used to create them.

Laila explained you don't need any software or graphic design skills, and shared the link to DIY Book Design: 


All you do is choose a template from their library then upload your cover. These book mock-ups and 3D devices look great for social media or website use, and can be arranged as you wish. 


This tool is 100% free, with no need to sign up. and couldn't be easier to use.


Do you have tips and suggestions for useful book marketing tools 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. 

15 October 2019

Book Launch: Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation, by Kathryn Warner


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Mother of the English Nation is the first full-length biography of the queen at the centre of the some of the most dramatic events in English history. Philippa's marriage to Edward III was arranged in order to provide ships and mercenaries for her mother-in-law to invade her father-in-law’s kingdom in 1326, yet it became one of the most successful royal marriages and endured for more than four decades. The chronicler Jean Froissart described her as, ‘The most gentle Queen, most liberal, and most courteous that ever was Queen in her days.’

Philippa stood by her husband’s side as he began a war against her uncle, Philip VI of France, and claimed his throne. She frequently accompanied him to France and Flanders during his early campaigns of the Hundred Years War. She also acted as regent in 1346 when Edward was away from his kingdom at the time of a Scottish invasion. She appeared on horseback to rally the English army to victory.

Philippa became popular with the people due to her kindness and compassion. This popularity helped maintain peace in England throughout Edward's reign. Her son, later known as the Black Prince - the eldest of her thirteen children - became one of the greatest warriors of the Middle Ages. Her extraordinary life did not escape tragedy: in 1348 three of her children died, almost certainly of the Black Death.


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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 October 2019

Book review: The Bestseller Code, by Matthew Jockers and Jodie Archer #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Imagine, for a moment, if you had a way to analyse the top ten bestsellers in any genre, and gain insights into what makes them sell so well. That idea intrigued Matthew Jockers and Jodie Archer - and this little book was the result.

In turns witty and thought provoking, The Bestseller Code is packed with counter-intuitive discoveries. Sexual themes are not a predictor of success - but books with 'Girl' in the title do surprisingly well. Characters in bestsellers ask more questions, and the word 'thing' occurs six times more often than in non-bestsellers. 

Pseudo science? Maybe, but still fun. They don't claim to be able to make anyone into a bestselling author, but do reveal something they call the 'DNA of good writing.' In their analysis of over 20,000 bestselling novels, they looked at theme, plot, style and character, and began to find some interesting trends. As my last book had a female protagonist, I was particularly interested in what they had to say about style differences between male and female authors.

It's also intriguing to consider what the implicit contract might be between an author and their readers. What did they conclude? There are no magic short cuts, and the bestselling authors don't really understand how they do it.

So how is it that, for example, there is such a close correlation between the analysed 'profile' of The Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Grey?  Are either of them examples of truly great writing, or is there something else going on behind their stratospheric success?

The key to it all seems to be writing style, which is how plot, theme and character are delivered to readers. There is now even a branch of applied linguistics called 'stylometrics.'  It seems there are no new stories - only different ways of telling them, so if you can discover the right style, you too can become an international bestselling author.

Tony Riches

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About the Authors

Jodie Archer was born in Yorkshire, England and holds BA and MA degrees in English from the University of Cambridge. She bought and edited books for Penguin UK before she decamped for the USA and the doctoral program in English at Stanford University, California. After her PhD, she worked at Apple as their research lead on literature. She is now a full time writer in the areas of romance and metaphysics. Matthew L. Jockers is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English and Data Analytics at Washington State University. His research is focused on computational approaches to the study of literature. Find out more at www.archerjockers.com. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mljockers


Do you have tips and suggestions for books about the craft of writing 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. 

Spotlight on Priestess of Ishana by Judith Starkston ~ Historical Fantasy Featuring a Hittite Queen Forgotten by History


Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK  

“What George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, and magic…” 
Amalia Carosella

A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.

An award-winning epic fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.

A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city.

As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery. Isolated in prison and facing execution, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.

f you like a rich mixture of murder mystery, imperial scheming, sorcery, love story, and lavish world-building, then immerse yourself in this historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting,” and “not to be missed.”


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About the Author

Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get two degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell. She loves myths and telling stories. This has gradually gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write fantasy set in the exotic worlds of the past. Fantasy and Magic in a Bronze Age World. Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award. Judith has two grown children and lives in Arizona with her husband. For a free short story set in her Bronze Age historical fantasy world (and a cookbook of foods in her novels), sign up for the newsletter on her website. Find Judith on AmazonFacebook, and Twitter @JudithStarkston

13 October 2019

Book review: The House of Grey, by Melita Thomas


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Grey family was one of medieval England's most important dynasties. They were were on intimate terms with the monarchs and interwoven with royalty by marriage. They served the kings of England as sheriffs, barons, and military leaders. Weaving the lives of these men and women from a single family, often different allegiances, into a single narrative, provides a vivid picture of the English medieval and Tudor court, reflecting how the personal was always political as individual relationships and rivalries for land, power, 
and money drove national events.

I've had a long fascination with the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey, and know something of her background, so welcomed the chance to learn more about her family. 

Melita Thomas has done an impressive job of navigating us through this complex story, as ever since the Grey family arrived with William the Conqueror, they seem to have been in and out of favour - more often as the victims of circumstance.

Thomas and Richard Grey must have thought their luck had changed at last when their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, caught the eye of King Edward IV. Thomas became the Marquess of Dorset and a wealthy man, then struggled to remain silent when Richard III announced the 'disappearance'  of their half-brothers from the Tower.

Following the story of the rise of the Tudors from the Grey point of view offers a fresh perspective on events. There are several places in this book where things I'd thought odd make sense within the context of the Grey family story. For example, Dorset's midnight departure from Henry Tudor's camp in France might have been a gesture to cover his options if the Tudor's invasion failed.

A memorable scene in this intriguing book is chronicler John Foxe's account of the execution of Henry Grey at the Tower. A man Grey owes money to interrupts the proceedings to ask when he's going to be paid, and Henry shouts, 'Alas, do not trouble me now!' Then Mary I’s Chaplain, Hugh Weston, asks Henry if he'd be willing to convert to Catholicism. Henry shoves the priest down the scaffold steps, and goes to his death with his debts unpaid but his faith intact.

This is an engaging and well-researched history of the rise and fall of one of the most unlucky medieval families, which finally puts their struggle into context. The death of Lady Jane Grey is handled with sensitivity and helped me understand why her family acted as they did. An excellent book which I highly recommend.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times, a repository of information about Britain in the period 1485-1625 www.tudortimes.co.uk. Melita has loved history since being mesmerised by the BBC productions of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and ‘Elizabeth R’, when she was a little girl. After that, she read everything she could get her hands on about this most fascinating of dynasties.  In her spare time, Melita enjoys long distance walking. She is attempting to walk around the whole coast of Britain. You can follow her progress here. https://mgctblog.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @thetudortimes.



A review copy of The House of Grey was kindly provided by the publishers. 

12 October 2019

Special Guest Interview with Danielle Calloway, Author of The Lost Child


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nicolás is a deaf boy on the run and trying to survive in a dangerous hearing world. Lily moves to Ecuador from the US to teach the deaf, full of uncertainties and trying to adjust, she meets Nicolás. 
Now Lily must gain his trust to save him.

I'm pleased to welcome author Danielle Calloway to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

“The Lost Child” is based on a true story. Eight years old, deaf, and abused, Nicolas runs away and lives on the streets of Ecuador, South America. Four years running and hiding from dangers, he braved the streets while looking for a loving family to let him be their little boy. A Child Services police officer, Antonio Morales, using his vacation time and own money, scoured the country trying to find information about Nicolas, and, most importantly, finding Nicolas to keep him safe and to place him in a loving home.

In the meantime, Lily, a volunteer from the United States, and Nicolas crossed paths. Safe in Lily’s home, Lily must find a way to get Nicolas to trust her enough to open up. Lily and Officer Morales now have a timeline: find a way for Nicolas to trust them enough to tell them what they need to know so they can find a home for him, otherwise the state would lock him up in an institution.

What is your preferred writing routine?

In order to fully open my creative side, I need to limit my distractions. My writing desk is bare, with only a picture of my Dad and his wife, who are my greatest supporters, and a cup of coffee or tea.

In the late afternoon or evening, after my to-do list is done and my schedule cleared, I can concentrate on writing. I work best with an uncluttered mind. Relaxed, I delve into my creative world and my fingers fly over the keyboard. My dog, Harley Davidson, usually lays on my lap, creating a nice, fuzzy and warm arm rest as I type.

What advice do you have for new writers?

My Dad gave me the best advice, “Write, just write. Don’t go back and edit what you’ve written until you’re done with the first draft. Make notes, if you must, about parts you need to fix, but don’t edit. Because, if you are constantly going back, you won’t go forward, and you will disrupt your creative flow.”  Following his advice made all the difference.

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

I’m still trying to figure that one out, this is all very new to me. Any advice is warmly accepted.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Ten years had passed since Officer Morales and Child Services here in Manta had contact with Nicolas. Over the years many children had passed in and out of the system, they’ve saved many children from kidnappers, abusers, and abusive homes. 

Yet, when I went to their offices to gather more information about Nicolas, they immediately remembered him with fondness and smiles, asking how he was doing. Everyone I contacted remembered him, even after all those years. That’s how special little Nicolas was, that’s how much he touched people’s hearts with his innocence and wanting to love and be loved.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The Lost Child is not only based on a true story, it is a story I was very much a part of. A lot of the scenes I wrote while crying. The hardest scene to write, however, was the day Nicolas spilt milk and begged me to beat him. 

Curling up on the floor in a fetal position, he waited for me to hit and kick him. When I wouldn’t, he begged even harder, “Just beat me and get it over with so I can drink my milk.” It still breaks my heart to remember his pleading eyes, full of pain at the thought of me, his new friend, hurting him.  My heart twisted in pain, realizing he not only blamed himself for the abuse he’d received, he also truly believed he was unlovable.

Reasoning with him I saw his expressive eyes and face slowly grasping the truth: although deaf and a little boy, he deserved love and deserved to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect.  He then signed, “Thank you for not beating me,” and hugged me tightly, crying. At that moment he started to trust again, moving him to later open up, allowing me to see his true inner beauty.

Every time I edited that scene, I needed a box of tissues at my side. Even now, thinking about it, brings tears and sniffles from me.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m currently working on the second draft of To Hold a Rainbow, about three sisters driven apart in their childhood by their mother’s psychological torment. Now, in their adult life they start sifting through the lies to find the truth about themselves. Will this truth drive them further apart or closer together? Will they ever be sisters?

Danielle Calloway

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About the Author

Danielle Calloway, a San Francisco Bay Area native, made a permanent move to Ecuador, South America, in 1997 as a volunteer worker, to teach the deaf. Until becoming disabled with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, she experienced many adventures: visits to the rainforest, the Galapagos Islands, wading with white-tipped sharks, surfing, and horses, to mention a few. She continues to teach the deaf and their families as she enjoys the little things life offers. Danielle is currently working on a new novel, “To Hold a Rainbow” and two Sci-Fi chapter books for young readers. You can find Danielle on Twitter @AuthorCalloway

10 October 2019

Special Guest Interview with Author Janet Roger


Available for pre-order

Two candles flaring at a Christmas crib. A nurse who steps inside a church to light them. A gunshot emptied in a man’s head in the creaking stillness before dawn, that the nurse says she didn’t hear.

It’s 1947 in the snowbound, war-scarred City of London, where Pandora’s Box just got opened in the ruins, City Police has a vice killing on its hands, and a spooked councilor hires a shamus to help spare his blushes. Like the Buddha says, everything is connected. So it all can be explained. But that’s a little cryptic when you happen to be the shamus, and you’re standing over a corpse.

I'm pleased to welcome historical fiction author Janet Roger to The Writing Desk. Tell us about your new book, Shamus Dust.

Well, I thought, what about letting someone else do that, and look at how the book’s first reviewers recapped the storyline? It’s been really interesting to see the initial reactions. Here’s one that I think nails it, and in a record few words: Imagine Polanski's masterpiece, Chinatown played out against the bomb sites and grimy alleys of a freezing 1947 London.

I really hadn’t thought about the parallels before, but on reflection they’re spot on. Like Chinatown, Shamus Dust unfolds as a dark tale driven by greed and the sense of impunity of the powerful. Both are stories of deviant wealth and civic corruption at the highest level. Both involve criminal sexuality. Both descend into routine murder for the cover-up, and both are told as an intimate noir mystery that unravels through the eyes of the gumshoe who’s on the case. You can read the full review and lots of others on my website.

What is your preferred writing routine?

An admission. I have a mortal terror of routine in all things. It drives me completely nuts. I’m an itinerant of long standing, so writing - like everything else - gets done on the hoof wherever I happen to be. Also in the expectation that I’ll want to be somewhere else very soon. There, got that off my chest! But please don’t imagine that I don’t take writing seriously. I do. I tend to be very serious about the things I give my time to. The other side of that coin is learning to let the less important things go hang.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I really wouldn’t presume, except to say don’t take your writing (or yourself!) lightly. On the other hand, coming from me that’s more of a general prescription for life. So I’ll keep my own counsel, borrow from a title of Joan Didion’s and say, play it as it lays for you. After all, in the end what else is going to work? As well as tending to be serious about what interests me, I tend to be seriously pragmatic.

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

Can I adapt an old advertising saw about this? You’ll see clearly that - somehow - one half of the promotional effort expended on your book is working. You’ll just never know which half. At different times, Shamus Dust has kept three literary publicists slogging; on the whole it gets more five-star reviews than not; and for better or worse, anything you see on my website or Facebook or Twitter really does comes from me, myself, in person. What part of all that is best at raising awareness? I’d love you to tell me. For anyone who can, a fortune awaits.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the unexpected things are often the ones you remember? Shamus Dust plays out in London’s square mile of high finance called The City - Wall Street across the pond - in the early years of the Cold War. Hundreds of its acres, some of the most valuable on the planet, are still rubble after wartime bombing. City fortunes are staked on their reconstruction. Cue a story of racketeering, high-risk fraud, police collusion and a chain of murders. Much of that background is real enough. You’ll find it in accounts of the time. London was a dark, violent city in the postwar, a place where veterans who didn’t easily fit back in had been trained to handle a gun. That much I knew. But a feel for the times needs more.

Then quite by chance I found myself in Sydney, at a harborside film festival that called itself Brit Noir. On the program, twenty and more British-made movies, some even set in and around the City, that featured the disillusion, the dark side and the crime of exactly those years that interested me. The manners, the looks, the dress were up there onscreen; the accents, the idiom and the prejudices as their original audiences heard them. I still buy a ticket wherever they’re shown. A discovery? No kidding. Falling over those fabulous movies in Sydney? I couldn’t believe my luck.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Good question. Many were quite tough, not so much in the doing but in the deciding to do. That’s to say that I find the hardest part - not always but often - can be deciding the scene. I mean the when and the how of it, who’s involved and where it’s headed. I have no time at all for scenes (my own or anyone else’s) that simply park the narrative, characters and setting to no purpose. Mostly, once a scene’s function is decided, the first draft seems to write fairly straightforwardly.

Of course there are exceptions, and my feeling is that when that happens, the chances are I’ve made a wrong call and better rethink from scratch. But I’d better answer your question. I’m tempted to say that the short intro on page one was on my mind for the longest time. Certainly it was a special joy when a recent review gave a sizable quote from it. See what you think. You can read the intro on my website or hear John Reilly narrate it. American listeners will likely recognize the voice.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m well on with a sequel to Shamus Dust called The Gumshoe’s Freestyle, set six months later in the City of London (of course), in the summer of ’48. Those immediate postwar years made interesting times. Freestyle ties up some loose ends, returns to some characters from the first story and develops with them.

Actually, there’s a connection planted toward the close of Shamus Dust, though you do have to know your Raymond Chandler pretty well to spot it. I liked the idea of some oblique, passing link between events that Newman (my shamus) and Marlowe will never know they shared an interest in. That said, Freestyle stands on its own and takes our private eye to an entirely new case. It’s been interesting to decide which characters to go back to, how fleeting or important they need to be, and of course, how to introduce them to a reader who doesn’t already know them from the earlier story.

Janet Roger
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About the Author


Janet is an historical fiction author, writing literary crime. She’s published by Troubador Publishing in the UK and represented by JKS Communications Literary Publicity in the USA. She trained in archaeology, history and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. Her debut novel, Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is due 28 October and is currently attracting widespread media interest. Find her reviews at https://www.janetroger.com/media and find Janet on Facebook and Twitter @janetroger

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