14 November 2019

Special Guest Post by Sarah Kennedy, Author of The King's Sisters

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The King’s Sisters continues the story of Catherine Havens. It’s now 1542, and another queen, Catherine Howard, has been beheaded for adultery. Although young Prince Edward is growing, and the line of Tudor succession seems secure, the king falls into a deep melancholy and questions the faith and loyalty of those around him.

Is the third novel the most difficult? It was for me. My first novel, The Altarpiece, the beginning of my Tudor series The Cross and the Crown, was the writing on which I learned to be a novelist rather than a poet. That was hard enough (plot, plot, plot!). Its sequel, City of Ladies, seemed somewhat . . . well, not easier, but at least more familiar. I knew my character, and I knew where I was going, as though the field were mine and I had walked it many times before.

Then I hit the third book, The King’s Sisters (a metaphor that plays on the unofficial title of Henry VIII’s discarded third wife, Anne of Cleves, who was called “the king’s beloved sister” after their divorce). In this novel, my main character Catherine has two children and is serving in the household of Anne of Cleves. Henry has just executed his fourth wife, Catherine Howard, for adultery when the book begins—and Catherine has just discovered that she might be pregnant, even though she’s not married.

Writing this story was like encountering a barbed wire fence where there once had been open pasture. I sailed through a first draft, only to discover that I didn’t know how to end it. I went back to the beginning. Again, I wandered into a wilderness and came up against the barrier of an ending that felt like a satisfying and inevitable ending. Again, I went back to the beginning. Again, I arrived at the last fifty pages only to find that I had no idea how to get over that fence and into the lovely land of conclusion.

Did I finally figure it out? Well, I hope so. The book was initially scheduled to appear in 2015, and was actually advertised on Amazon, but it never appeared, except as an Advanced Review Copy for reviewers. It was right after this sort-of release that my first fiction publisher suddenly went out of business. For The King’s Sisters, this shocking and dismaying event turned out to be something of a blessing, because while I was searching for a new publisher, which I found to my delight in the wonderful folks at Penmore Press, I had time to look at the manuscript with fresh eyes.

In doing so, I discovered what is, for me at least, one of the problems with a continuing character or a series of any kind, mine or someone else’s: what can a writer do that’s different, interesting, even unexpected in the middle of a series without losing coherence? Historical fiction writers, like me, often have to cast about for yet another famous person whose biography the character can get tangled in or some event of great moment for the character to become a player in.

But, for me, the answer lies in character, a person who finds herself confronting political and spiritual issues that force her to make difficult choices. I want my main character Catherine to be a human being facing human problems in the human world. Our lives may sometimes be crime stories, and we may sometimes encounter the great and the famous, but human lives are also fictions of love, self-deception, betrayal, triumph, and grief. The notion of “the King’s sisters” became, at last, as much a description of Catherine’s awkward position as a former novice, in a newly Protestant country, who still seeks the company of women as a pun on the title of Anne of Cleves.

It took me a long time to figure out what my Catherine really wants this time. She doesn’t want to be part of the court, and she doesn’t want to marry a prince. She wants the things that many people want: freedom to make choices for herself, security for her children, and, sometimes, a man in her bed. The events that unfold take their shape from her very human and often quite flawed desires. And so, after several false starts and one large disappointment, I was finally able to jump that fence. It was not an easy or pleasant experience, but it taught me quite a lot about myself as a writer and about the construction of a series. On now to Books Four and Five and all of the problems they are sure to bring to me!

Sarah Kennedy

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About the Author

Sarah Kennedy is the author of the novels The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, and The King’s Sisters, Books One, Two, and Three of The Cross and the Crown series, set in Tudor England, and Self-Portrait, with Ghost.  She has also published seven books of poems.  A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.  Find out more at Sarah's website:  http://sarahkennedybooks.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @KennedyNovels

13 November 2019

Guest Interview with Anne Easter Smith, Author of This Son of York

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Anne Easter Smith to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book:

This Son of York is a new look at a very old king—Richard III, who lived from 1452-1485. He is best known for Shakespeare’s cruel depiction of him in the play Richard III, in which he is portrayed as a hunchbacked, murdering monster who usurped the crown and did away with his two nephews in the process. For a start, Richard was no hunchback, but had severe scoliosis. He is one of English history’s most controversial figures, and a king I have been fascinated with and studied for more than 50 years!

The more I read about him, the more a very different man emerged and I got annoyed enough at the injustice of Shakespeare’s and other Tudor historians’ skewed retelling of Richard’s story after he was dead that I wanted to try and set the record straight. (Sorry, Tony, you are probably a Tudorite! Not I!) He was a loyal brother to Edward IV, faithful husband to Anne Neville, and loving father to his children. The laws to improve justice for all Englishmen, highborn and low, that Richard enacted in his one and only Parliament are still in use today. He was a man of his less civilized time, it’s true, but no better or worse than other men of that period. “To be born of noble blood,” it has been said, “is to court an early grave.” So it was with Richard.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I seem to come alive in the afternoon, so I do my chores or social meetings in the morning, have a bite of lunch and then sit down to write. I found I could not write well at home—always the washing up or laundry to do—and so I rented a room in a friend’s house, where I could shut the door, have my library and charts and maps around me, turn on medieval music, and disappear in-to the 15th century.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Unless you are writing purely to make a million dollars (which you won’t!), write what you are passionate about and not what you think will sell. By the time you have cottoned on to a “trend” it will be passé by the time you have written, edited, found an agent, sold to a publisher, and it is published. If it hasn’t come from the heart, your book won’t soar.

I should have written this latest book about World War II instead of Richard if I had listened to the “trend” and I would have found a willing Big-Five publisher; no one wanted a medieval king by the time I finished Richard’s story. I am thankful to the boutique publisher, Bellastoria Press, for accepting my ms, although I missed the advance of my previous books and the hefty clout Simon & Schuster (who published my previous books) has in the industry to launch it into the world.

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

This is my first experience without a big, traditional publishing house (see above) and without a publicist assigned to me, as with my previous books, I am alone at my computer (at my advanced age) trying to figure out how to market myself on social media! It has been the most difficult part of the writing process. But kind bloggers like you,Tony, are a godsend to me for spreading the word. So thank you for hosting me today! (I am also lucky to have a built-in community from the Richard III Society to support me.)

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research. 

I had written four books (now six) about the York family during the Wars in the Roses when an uncle died, and I inherited his family bible. On the fly page, a record of births and deaths of the Easters had been entered through the years. Imagine my surprise to find out that my paternal grandmother’s maiden name was York and had been born and raised in Northampton (where the York family seat, Fotheringhay, is located)!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Because I have written variations of the battle of Bosworth in previous books, I was taken aback how devastated I was while describing Richard’s death in this book. Not surprising, I suppose, as this is HIS book after all, and I had been in his head for the five years I spent writing and rewriting it. I chose the Kenneth Branagh Henry V movie score to listen to as I wrote the Bosworth scene, specifically the Non Nobis Domine prayer that ended the battle of Agincourt. I played it over and over as I wrote and could hardly see the keyboard for my tears!

What are you planning to write next?

It’s hard to finish a series of books that has been a passion for the past 20 years since I started writing. I’ll have to begin all over again with a new passion before I can think about a new book!

Anne Easter Smith

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About the Author

Anne Easter Smithis the award-winning author of The King’s Grace and the best-selling A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York, Queen By Right, and Royal Mistress. She is an expert on Richard III, having studied the king and his times for decades. Her sixth book, This Son of York, will be published soon. She grew up in England, Germany and Egypt, and has been a resident/citizen of the US since 1968. Anne was the Features Editor at a daily newspaper in northern New York State for ten years, and her writing has been published in several national magazines. Fidf out more at Anne's website anneeastersmith.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anneeastersmith

12 November 2019

Book Launch Guest Post by Jennifer C Wilson, Author of The Raided Heart

Available for pre-order

The Raided Heart is the first of "The Historic Hearts", a collection of historical romantic adventures set in Scotland and the North of England.

Hi Tony, and thanks so much for featuring The Raided Heart on your blog today. I’ve joked that this is the “Trigger’s Broom” of books, a reference I hope most people still get, but I’ll explain more for those who don’t… 

The Raided Heart started life when I was 13, which, sadly, is not just ten years ago, but rather, twenty-two. If the book was a person, it’s now legally able to do practically anything it wants to! But don’t worry, if you’re tempted to download a copy – it isn’t ‘exactly’ the same book. The original version was set in 1530s Scotland, well before I understood the notion of historical accuracy in fiction. 

My main references for historical fiction at that point were Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and The Princess Bride. Both wonderful stories, but not so great at the ‘being true to the facts’ side of things. But, the story lived with me for twelve years, until 2009’s NaNoWriMo came about, and I thought it was time to look at the old manuscript I knew I had lying around somewhere on my hard-drive. 

That’s when I realised how awful some of the plot was, including additional secondary characters included for no reason whatsoever, appalling dialogue (where I’d even bothered with speaking at all), and oh yes, a completely made-up King of Scotland, Edmund. Hmm…

At the time, I was living in Hexham, and had been re-reading a lot of the history of the region, including the fascinating border reivers, groups of families both sides of the England-Scotland border, notorious for their feuding, raids and violence. The perfect back-drop to a historical romance?! 

Undaunted, I went ahead and did my research, keeping the action in the 1530s, but moving from Scotland to Northumberland, using a lot of the days out I was having to build a new world for the story. Plus, Hexham is home to the first purpose-built gaol in England, which gives a great insight into the world the reivers inhabited… 

I merged a lot of the supporting characters, amended the plot points which weren’t working, and in November 2009, wrote a whole new 50,000 words. There was better dialogue this time. Some, anyway. 

Move forward almost another decade, with a series of ghostly tales published, the story kept niggling away at me, and finally, the time was right to see what I could do about self-publishing The Raided Heart. It needed another rewrite, but the words wouldn’t flow. What could I do? 

Add my muse, of course. So we moved era again, from 1530s to 1470s, when Richard III was Duke of Gloucester, and the Warden of the West March, installed in Carlisle Castle, and trying to keep the peace along the Scottish border. NOW the words flowed! 

Which brings us to now, with Trigger’s Broom displaying new characters, new location, new time period, but essentially, the same plot. To call The Raided Heart a labour of love is an understatement. I’m almost sad to be letting it go from my hard-drive, and releasing it into the wild, but I think, at last, it’s time, and thanks to wonderful editing and support from fellow Ocelots, I know it’s definitely the best it could possibly be.  I hope you enjoy reading it!

Jennifer C. Wilson

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About the Author

Jennifer C. Wilson has been stalking dead monarchs since childhood. At least now it usually results in a story, it isn’t considered (quite) as strange. Jennifer won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014 and, as well as working on her own writing, she is a founder and co-host of the award-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle and has been running writing workshops since 2015. Her debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2015, with the fourth in the series, Kindred Spirits: York, released in early 2019. Her timeslip romance The Last Plantagenet? is published through Ocelot Press, an authors’ collective formed in 2018. Find out more at Jennifer's website jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @inkjunkie1984

8 November 2019

Histories of the Unexpected: The Tudors, by Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell

Histories of the Unexpected not only presents a new way of thinking about the past, but also reveals the world around us as never before.
Traditionally, the Tudors have been understood in a straightforward way but the period really comes alive if you take an unexpected approach to its history. Yes, Tudor monarchs, exploration and religion have a fascinating history... but so too does cannibalism, shrinking, bells, hats, mirrors, monsters, faces, letter-writing and accidents!
Each of these subjects is equally fascinating in its own right, and each sheds new light on the traditional subjects and themes that we think we know so well.

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About the Authors

James Daybell is Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of Plymouth and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He has written eight books and has appeared in a number of historical BBC TV documentaries. Dr Sam Willis is one of the country's best-known historians. His work takes him on adventures all over the world. He has made 12 TV series for the BBC and National Geographic, including The Silk Road, and has written 14 books, most recently The Struggle for Sea Power: The Royal Navy vs the World, 1775-1782 and The Spanish Armada, a Ladybird Expert Book. Follow them on Twitter @JamesDaybell and @DrSamWillis

7 November 2019

Book Launch: Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Matriarch, by Nicola Tallis

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The first comprehensive biography in three decades on Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. During the bloody and uncertain days of the Wars of the Roses, Margaret Beaufort was married to the half brother of the Lancastrian king Henry VI. A year later she endured a traumatic birth that brought her and her son close to death. 

She was just thirteen years old. As the battle for royal supremacy raged between the houses of Lancaster and York, Margaret, who was descended from Edward III and thus a critical threat, was forced to give up her son - she would be separated from him for fourteen years. But few could match Margaret for her boundless determination and steely courage. 

Surrounded by enemies and conspiracies in the enemy Yorkist court, Margaret remained steadfast, only just escaping the headman's axes as she plotted to overthrow Richard III in her efforts to secure her son the throne. Against all odds, in 1485 Henry Tudor was victorious on the battlefield at Bosworth. 

Through Margaret's royal blood Henry was crowned Henry VII, King of England, and Margaret became the most powerful woman in England - Queen in all but name. 

Nicola Tallis's gripping account of Margaret's life, one that saw the final passing of the Middle Ages, is a true thriller, revealing the life of an extraordinarily ambitious and devoted woman who risked everything to ultimately found the Tudor dynasty.

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About the Author

British Historian Nicola Tallis graduated from Bath Spa University with a first class BA Hons. degree in History in 2011, and from Royal Holloway College, University of London in 2013 with an MA in Public History. In 2019 she completed her PhD at the University of Winchester. Nicola says, 'I've been fortunate enough to enjoy a varied career as a curator, lecturer, and researcher, and historical research is my passion. I spent five years researching and writing about the Grey family for my first book, and you're most likely to find me delving into documents at the National Archives or the British Library.'  Find out more at Nicola's website http://nicolatallis.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @NicolaTallis

6 November 2019

Guest Interview with Kevin O’Connell, Author of Bittersweet Tapestry: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

As Bittersweet Tapestry opens, it is the High Summer of 1770. Having escorted the future Queen of France from Vienna to her new life, Eileen and her husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary of the Hungarian Hussars, along with their little boy and Eileen’s treasured friend (and former servant) Anna Pfeffer are establishing themselves in Ireland.

I'm pleased to welcome author Kevin O’Connell to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Bittersweet Tapestry is the third of a series of four (though it may wind up being five) books in the Derrynane Saga. It picks up the story in the High Summer of 1770. After almost a decade of service at the court of Maria Theresa – as governess to her youngest daughter – now become Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France – Eileen O’Connell is returning to Ireland with her Hungarian Hussars officer husband, Arthur O’Leary, and their son.

Tapestry represents the beginning of a lengthy “hand off” in terms of primary characters from Eileen O’Connell and her generation to the next. Eileen’s younger brother, Hugh (first introduced as a little boy in Beyond Derrynane), is studying at École Militaire in Paris, his path to a commission in the Dillons’ Regiment of the Irish Brigade of France. Their brother, Daniel, is already an officer in the Brigade. Hugh’s gentle Austrian friendship with Maria Antonia (chronicled in Two Journeys Home) having inevitably waned, his relationship with the strikingly beautiful young widowed Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy is blossoming.

This book is a tale of stark contrasts – between Hugh and Daniel’s lives of increasing prominence amidst the glitter and intrigue of the French court and Art and Eileen’s in English-occupied Ireland – especially as the latter progresses into a dark, violent and bloody tale . . . ultimately involving an epic tragedy, as well as the events leading up to it and those occurring in its dramatic wake.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Ideally, I like to write early in the morning, and late in the afternoon – I frequently print selected pages of the day’s ‘production’ and read and edit them in bed.

What advice do you have for new writers?

(Laughs) These kinds of questions rather intimidate me!  Seriously, I would say, try not to be “afraid” . . . and, as an mentor told me very early in the process, to just ‘write on’.

Once you decide what you’re going to write, be as certain as possible that you know – really know! – the material – no matter what genre you are working in. Also, know your characters – think about them, obsess about them, talk to them even! Be detailed – vividly describe where the story is happening, what the people look like, how they speak their words. Don’t fear dialect – this permits you to alternate between writing, ‘. . . speaking in her precise French, she advised . . .’ and perhaps actually crafting a short sentence in French.

Someone (I wish I could recall who) once said that some Irish writers “dance with the English language” – in the sense that they revel in writing as one does with the certain amount of self-abandon that dancing requires. On my better days, which I believe appear on the better segments of the one thousand-plus pages so far written in Derrynane, I feel I have been able to do this. “Dancing” results in richer, more authentic dialogue; more vivid, greater detailed descriptions of people and places and conveys a deeper level of the emotions of anger, fear – and love – which are so much a part of my genre.

I would suggest that one who dares to “dance with the language” will write more beautifully, certainly more colourfully.

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

Tours like this one (which is extraordinarily well-planned and executed) do a superb job of “getting the word out” – this tour was actually scheduled some time ago to coincide with, indeed to begin on Bittersweet Tapestry’s actual publication date.

Though they are oft-times difficult to get, reviews are immensely important – I have been extremely fortunate to have received not only a goodly number of them over the past few years, but also in that most that have been written about the first two books were largely-favourable, I would add that even “critical” ones help.

Maintaining up-dated, well-written pages on Amazon and Goodreads are also important. Some authors use social media – all variants from Facebook to Twitter – a great deal, others not as much. In all candour, my Facebook page needs some work!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

It was both unexpected and totally shocking to learn definitively that one of my ancestors – though not a character in any of my books – actually had two families – wives and children – in both Ireland and America!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There is an extended (some forty-odd pages) section in Tapestry dealing with a character’s violent death – I would note that I grow very close to my characters – real or imagined, it makes no difference – and this part of the book (and indeed the events leading directly up to it, and certainly those occurring in its aftermath) were beyond painful to write – especially the actual death scene. Once it was completed, I was truly emotionally spent for several days. When I mentioned what really was a sense of loss to my long-time mentor, who is also a superb writer and published author herself, she advised that I was indeed “in mourning” – that, for me, the character had actually lived then died, such that the loss was a genuine and truly painful one.

What are you planning to write next?

One thing about writing a series of books is not having to be coy in the midst of producing them, that readers are fairly certain that there is most likely another one(s) coming – this said, the Derrynane Saga will definitely continue. The story will pick up several years after Tapestry ends and will eventually find its way into the 1790’s – where I envision its ultimate completion. In terms of Book Four, I would add that I actually have a working title and a very rough – mine are always very rough – beginnings of a precis, even some scenes and dialogue. From what I can tell, these will be very eventful years for the characters

Kevin O’Connell
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About the Author

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and a descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland and Mr. O’Connell’s own grandparents came to New York in the early twentieth century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship. He is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre. For much of his four decades-long legal career, O’Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East. The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland. Find out more at Kevin's website www.derrynanebooks.com and find him on Facebook

5 November 2019

How to Create a Box Set Image Using Book Brush

A 'box set' is a great way to package your book series, even if they can be read in any order, so it can be useful to have a professional image to support your 'awareness raising' activities.

I recently posted about using Book Brush to create videos for Twitter and now a new 'box set' feature has been added, with useful templates. The only time consuming bit is creating the spines (I used photoshop to crop the full book covers) but the rest is just a few clicks.

I'll leave it to the Book Brush team to explain: Box Set Creator on Book Brush from Book Brush on Vimeo.

Tony Riches