21 January 2022

Excerpt from 'A Phoenix Rising: The House of the Red Duke', by Vivienne Brereton

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thomas Howard is head of one of the most powerful Houses in Tudor England. An indomitable old man approaching eighty: soldier, courtier, politician, a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes. After a calamitous period of disgrace, the Howards, renowned for their good looks and charm, are once more riding high at the court of Henry VIII. 


Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, a veteran soldier and Treasurer of England, is talking to his best friend, Gilbert Talbot, in Calais harbour. The date is September 30th, 1511 and they’re discussing the headstrong young King Henry VIII’s determination to go to war with France.

  The wind suddenly dropped completely so we could hear each other again. Right on cue, the sun came out, bathing us in pleasing warmth. Immediately, I felt my mood lift and was even able to smile back at my friend. We’d both aged, of course, and I could see that (unlike me, who prided myself on still having the wiry frame of one of my prize whippets) a love of his wife, Bessie’s, cooking had added flesh to Gilbert’s bones. The approach of old age hadn’t completely passed me by either. My knees were beginning to ache and I had more silver threaded through my hair than before. But to me the streaks were a badge of honour.
    <<Evidence of a long life, lived well and to the full>>
  Gilbert still had the same ready smile he’d always had, and his slightly faded blue eyes reflected the same wisdom and humour I’d long set store by.
   ‘It’s true,’ I said. ‘That toad-spotted, bum-bailey of a royal almoner, Snake, couldn’t wait to write to Richard Fox reporting my disgrace. There was such a red mist in my mind, I could think of nothing else to do but come to you. I rode like the clappers to Dover and jumped on the first vessel crossing the Narrow Sea.’
 ‘And I’m very glad you did. I take it you tried again to dissuade the King from declaring war on France.’
   ‘I did. But the Tudor boy is as stubborn as a mule. He’s determined to risk his royal neck in the lists and has got his sights set on the spoils of war. The treaty Fox, Ruthal, and I negotiated last March is as good as dead. All Henry thinks and talks about is invading France.’
   Gilbert laughed. ‘He certainly lives up to your description of him: “A Tudor rose with thorns”. I wish to God he and Katherine hadn’t lost the prince in January. Maybe it would have calmed him down.’
   ‘But they did lose little Henry. And nothing and no one can turn his head away from the idea of leading an army over the Narrow Sea.’
  ‘It doesn’t help that Henry’s father-in-law—’
   ‘That wily old fox, Ferdinand.’
    ‘Yes. It doesn’t help he’s joined forces with the Pope, declaring the French got more out of the Cambrai agreement than either of them—’
   ‘Or that Rome has invited Henry to join a Holy League against France. He’s acting like a moonstruck maid, meeting a swain in a meadow.’
   ‘Speaking of lovesick swains, Tom, doesn’t Henry realize the Pope is panting after Venice? And Ferdinand after Naples. Not France.’
  ‘That flap-mouthed Andrea Badoer—’
   ‘The Venetian ambassador?’
   ‘Yes. He’s stoking the fires of war, telling the King that old Louis of France wants to be “monarch of the whole world”.’
    Gilbert rolled his eyes. ‘We can only pray the good ambassador falls into the Grand Canal on his next trip back to Venice.’

                                       *                           *                    *

    By this time, we’d almost reached the end of the quay. It felt good to be able to talk like this to an old friend who understood my predicament, even if he couldn’t help me out of it. Just offer me food, board and good counsel for a few days. I knew I was exaggerating a little out of frustration. Young Hal hadn’t actually dismissed me, merely suggested I might like to spend some time with Agnes who was expecting another child. A second boy, I was certain of it. There was nothing wrong with Howard seed: perhaps another thing about me that didn’t sit well with the royal pup. <<A man of nearly seventy able to produce what a youth of twenty cannot>>
   ‘What about your boys, Tom. Can’t they help out? Try to change the King’s mind.’
  I let out a dismissive laugh. ‘The King doesn’t like Thomas. Not that I blame him for that. You know my eldest is a chilly devil at the best of times; even his dogs don’t care for him. And Henry has no time at all for Edmund. Nor do I blame him for that either. Sometimes I think ‘tis both a miracle and a tragedy that one survived the childbed. Animals seem to know much better than humans how to deal with those too puny to survive.’
  ‘He’s a fine jouster.’
   ‘A loggerhead, for sure. Instead of showing cunning like Charles Brandon - and all the others - did back in the lists in February, either tying with the King or letting him win, what does my idiot of a third son do? Knock the proud young Tudor pup to the ground so many times he must have been choking on the dust in his mouth.’
   ‘God’s teeth! Henry will never forgive him.’
   ‘He hasn’t. Edmund hasn’t been invited to a single joust since that day.’
   ‘You’ve got new boys to follow.’
  ‘Yes. William in the cradle and another in the belly.’
  ‘What about Edward. He’s still in favour.’
   ‘Yes, but for some boil-brained reason, he spends his time dripping poison about James of Scotland into the royal ear. When the Venetian ambassador has finished dripping poison about France into the other one.’
    ‘Ah, I see your problem. It must be hard for you. Especially as you struck up such a good rapport with the Scotsman when you went up for the wedding.’
  ‘I did. I can honestly say James deserved every word of any praise I heaped upon him back then. Truly a king amongst kings. Whereas I swear our own sometimes shows less sense than my Lizzie’s little George.’
    Gilbert pointed straight ahead. ‘How about a visit to “The Sign of the Ship” to drown our sorrows? I know for a fact a cargo of the best Malmsey arrived from Madeira this morning, by way of La Coruna.’

Vivienne Brereton

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About the Author

Born near historic Winchester in the UK, Vivienne Brereton has been passionate about the Tudors for as long as she can remember. This led to a degree in medieval history at university where she met her future husband. Three sons later and six countries she called home, she finally felt ready to write a novel. Words have always played an important part in Vivienne’s life whether it’s been writing, editing, teaching English to foreigners, or just picking up a good book. In preparation for her novel, she read intensively on the skills needed to write well and did an enormous amount of research which she greatly enjoyed. Having three sons was helpful when she came to write about the characters, Tristan and Nicolas. All those squabbles she had to deal with came in very handy. She also used her husband and sons as guinea pigs for her Tudor cookery attempts with varying degrees of success. Find out more at Vivienne's website and follow her on Twitter @VivienneBreret1

20 January 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Raid of the Wolves (Ormstunga Saga Book 2) by Donovan Cook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The only thing that kept him going were the voices of his ancestors, screaming for blood...

Ulf and his shield brothers are sent on a raid against an old enemy — Francia, a mighty king-dom to the south, now ravaged by civil war. During the perilous sea voyage, Ulf can only fo-cus on one thing. He demands closure: to find the man who slaughtered his family — Griml.

A hidden enemy stalks Ulf and his warriors through Francia, striking mercilessly when they least expect it. Soon the hunters become the hunted. The Norse warriors must make the ultimate choice between defying the king or angering the gods. Both could end in fury.

But there is another threat lurking in the shadows. One that Ulf could never anticipate.

Ulf is not the only one who wants vengeance.

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About the Author

As a young child, Donovan loved reading stories about Vikings and other medieval warri-ors fighting to defend their homeland or raiding in distant lands. He would often be found run-ning around outside with nothing other than a wooden sword and his imagination. Now older, he spends his time writing about them. His novels come from his fascination with the Viking world and Norse Mythology and he hopes that you will enjoy exploring this world as much as he did writing about it. Born in South Africa but raised in England, Donovan currently lives in Moscow, Russia with his wife and their French Bulldog, where he works as an English tutor. When he is not teaching or writing, he can be found reading, watching rugby, or working on DIY projects. Being born in South Africa, he is a massive Springboks fan and never misses a match. Find out more at www.donovancook.net and find Donovan on Facebook and Twitter @DonovanCook20

19 January 2022

Author Interview With Griffin Brady,, Author of The Heart of a Hussar (The Winged Warrior Series, Book 1)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Poland is at war. He must choose between his lifelong ambition and his heart. Exploiting Muscovy’s Time of Troubles, Poland has invaded the chaotic country. Twenty-two-year-old Jacek Dąbrowski is an honorable, ferocious warrior in a company of winged hus-sars—an unrivaled, lethal cavalry. When his lieutenant dies in battle, Jacek is promoted to re-place him, against the wishes of his superior, Mateusz,
who now has more reason to eliminate him. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Griffin Brady to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

A Hussar’s Promise is Book 2 and the sequel to The Heart of a Hussar. The Heart of a Hussar ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and Book 2 picks up where Book 1 leaves off, taking each character on a wild ride. While the story does wrap up at the end, it leaves room for more books in the series. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I still work professionally in the non-writing world, though I’m winding that down. I like to get obligations in that world cleared out of the way before I begin writing so they don’t pull me out when I’m in the “writing zone.” To help me get into that zone, I pull up a Spotify playlist that’s filled with lots of instrumental jazz, new age music, and movie soundtracks. 

I’d love to say I can sit for a solid few hours and write without interruption, but I actually find my creative brain works better if I get up and do mundane chores throughout my writing time. For some reason, thoughts about the writing I’ve just completed and new ideas shake loose more easily while I’m emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry. Often, though, I find myself sprinting right back to the computer to capture those thoughts before I lose them completely! I keep a lot of notepads and pens lying around as well.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write, write, write, even if the story isn’t coming or if you think you’re writing junk. I’ve often found a nugget in a page of garbage that sparked something altogether different and usable. Another piece of advice is to quiet your critical voices. I find this to be one of my greatest challenges. While you may have read tons of books and taken a boatload of classes on craft, try not to focus on the rules as you’re getting the words out and instead let yourself get carried away in your story. 

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

Tours and promotions such as this one. Saying “yes” anytime someone asks me to talk or participate in some historical event that relates to the Polish winged hussars.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I discovered that Poland’s constitution was one the U.S. founding fathers studied closely, and they integrated ideas gleaned from their investigation as they formulated the U.S. Constitution.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The lead female character, Oliwia, swears an oath under duress and is later called upon to honor that oath. Those scenes and her anguish were difficult ones to write.

What are you planning to write next?

I’d like to complete Book 3 in the series, which begins in 1620 (5 years after the end of the second book) and will bring back many of the characters from the first two books. The backdrop is the ongoing conflict between Poland and the Ottoman Empire. The Battle of Cecora (1620) will play an important role in that story. 

Griffin Brady

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About the Author

Griffin Brady is a historical fiction author with a keen interest in the Polish Winged Hussars of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and Rocky Moun-tain Fiction Writers. The Heart of a Hussar took third place in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2018 Colorado Gold Contest and was a finalist in the Northern Colorado Writers’ 2017 Top of the Mountain Award. The proud mother three grown sons, she lives in Colorado with her husband. She is also an award-winning, Amazon bestselling romance author who writes under the pen name G.K. Brady. Find out more at https://www.griffin-brady.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @griffbrady1588

18 January 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Woman of Noble Wit, by Rosemary Griggs

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Few women of her time lived to see their name in print. But Katherine was no ordinary woman. She was Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother. This is her story.

Set against the turbulent background of a Devon rocked by the religious and social changes that shaped Tudor England; a Devon of privateers and pirates; a Devon riven by rebellions and plots, A Woman of Noble Wit tells how Katherine became the woman who would inspire her famous sons to follow their dreams. It is Tudor history seen though a woman’s eyes.

As the daughter of a gentry family with close connections to the glittering court of King Henry VIII, Katherine’s duty is clear. She must put aside her dreams and accept the husband chosen for her. Still a girl, she starts a new life at Greenway Court, overlooking the River Dart, re-lieved that her husband is not the ageing monster of her nightmares. She settles into the life of a dutiful wife and mother until a chance shipboard encounter with a handsome privateer, turns her world upside down.…..

Years later a courageous act will set Katherine’s name in print and her youngest son will fly high.

# # #

About the Author

Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. An avid researcher, she is now a speaker on Devon’s history and leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall.  She also creates and wears sixteenth century clothing which she often uses to bring history to life for local museums and community groups.  Rosemary lives in Devon with husband David, and her first novel, a Woman of Noble Wit features many of the county’s well loved places.  Find out more on Rosemary’s website https://rosemarygriggs.co.uk/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @RAGriggsauthor

17 January 2022

Special Guest Post by Susanne Dunlap: Mining Your Family History for a Great Story

Mining Your Family History for a Great Story? Here Are Three Things to Know.

Writers come to historical fiction in many different ways. Some have been readers of it throughout their lives. Some are academic historians who want the freedom of invention to bring history to life for a wider audience. Others simply find themselves curious about events of the past and enjoy the research and the story craft.

Another avenue that often leads to writing historical fiction is stumbling on some fact about an ancestor, or discovering a trove of family history that leads you into a world you didn’t know existed—and that you’re connected with in some way. This can be very exciting, very inspiring. Maybe there’s a pirate in your past, or a war hero. 

Maybe one of your ancestors was a pioneer woman who blazed a trail across the world. Perhaps others lived through a great tragedy—a storm, a famine, a plague, a murder. If you dig far enough back, chances are there’s something beguiling in your family’s past.

In fact, family history can be a rich source of ideas for historical fiction. But if you really want to turn that history into a novel rather than simply recording it in a narrative to share with family members, you’ll have to do all the necessary hard work to craft a great story that strangers would find just as fascinating as you do.

Still thinking about it? Here are a few things to bear in mind as you go:

1. You need a real story.

No matter where your inspiration comes from, it still has to end up as a compelling, satisfying story. That means first of all you have to have a point—a reason—why the story needs to be written. It also means you have to be willing to dig for the hard times, the unpleasant truths, the unsavory characters in your past. You’ll need an antagonist as well as a protagonist, and you’ll have to put your protagonist through hell, no matter how much you like her. Perhaps hardest of all, you’ll have to spend time figuring out exactly where your story begins and ends.

2. You can’t get too hamstrung by what really happened.

It’s possible that the history itself is plenty juicy to provide ample material for a novel. But it’s also very unlikely that the events as they happened will arrange themselves in a satisfying story arc. Good stories are about change, about a protagonist’s journey from one state to another via hardship and tests. Sometimes it’s necessary at the very least to rearrange events, compress time, or even invent characters, actions, or underlying causes in order to make your plot work. And that’s okay. It’s fiction, first and foremost, wherever you found your inspiration.

3. You have to be willing to do the work.

This may seem obvious, but writing a good novel based on your family history takes much more than decent writing skills and a solid idea. It takes an understanding of what drives a narrative, how to get what’s in your head onto the page, and the willingness to change things you’ve sweated over for hours/days/weeks. It takes the same level of planning and prewriting, digging deep and researching, that any historical novel takes.

But the process itself can be immensely rewarding. So many people put writing and publishing a book on their bucket lists, and for good reason. There’s nothing like holding that printed volume in your hand and thinking, I did this.

In my business as an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach, I use effective tools to help writers wrangle their ideas into shape, keep them motivated through the dark days, act as editor and cheerleader, and guide them to achieving the best manuscript they’re capable of. In the end, they have a book they can be proud of, whether they seek a traditional publishing contract, a hybrid publishing contract, or decide to self-publish—no matter where their initial inspiration came from.

Want to explore that story in your family’s past? I’d love to hear about it! To book a discovery call and find out more about working with me, please fill out this questionnaire. That way I’ll have a good idea of where you are in your project. It’s never too early—or to late—to start working with a book coach!

Susanne Dunlap

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About the Author

Susanne Dunlap is the author of twelve works of historical fiction for adults and teens, as well as an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach. Her love of historical fiction arose partly from her PhD studies in music history at Yale University, partly from her lifelong interest in women in the arts as a pianist and non-profit performing arts executive. Her novel The Paris Affair was a first place CIBA award winner. The Musician’s Daughter was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Bank Street Children’s Book of the Year, and was nominated for the Utah Book Award and the Missouri Gateway Reader’s Prize. In the Shadow of the Lamp was an Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award nominee. Susanne earned her BA and an MA (musicology) from Smith College and lives in Northampton, MA—moving to Biddeford, Maine in two weeks with her little dog, Betty. Find out more at Susanne's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Susanne_Dunlap

15 January 2022

Historical Fiction Book Launch Spotlight: Lady, in Waiting (The Tudor Court Book 3) by Karen Heenan

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

She serves the queen. Her husband serves the court. How can they be so far apart?

Margaery Preston is newly married to a man she barely knows. Proposing to Robin Lewis may have been impulsive, but she wants their marriage to work - she just doesn't know how to be married, and it seems her husband hasn't a clue, either.

Treated like a child by everyone from her husband to the queen, lost in the unfamiliar world of the Elizabethan court, Margaery will have to learn quickly or lose any chance at the life she wants.

Can a marriage for all the wrong reasons make it to happily ever after?

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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

11 January 2022

Book Launch Spotlight: Out Front the Following Sea, by Leah Angstman

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Out Front the Following Sea is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence. 

At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689 New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents and must flee the brutality of her town. 

She stows away on the ship of the only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor—Owen—bound to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. 

But when Owen’s French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged into the fray. 

Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or keeping her own neck from the noose.

# # #

About the Author

Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Michigander living in Boulder. Her writing has been a finalist for the Saluda River Prize, Cowles Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Fiction Prize, and Chaucer Book Award, and has appeared in Publishers Weekly, L.A. Review of Books, Nashville Review, Slice, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included editing partnerships with ProPublica. She is an appointed vice chair of a Colorado historical commission and liaison to a Colorado historic preservation committee. Find out more at Leah's website https://www.leahangstman.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @leahangstman