7 August 2020

Book Launch: Drake - Tudor Corsair (Elizabethan Series Book 1)

1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure. He learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.

I’ve been planning an Elizabethan series for some time, as my aim is to tell the stories of the Tudors from Owen Tudor’s first meeting with Queen Catherine of Valois through to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

I decided to show the fascinating world of the Elizabethan court through the eyes of the queen’s favourite courtiers, starting with Francis Drake. I soon discovered almost everything I thought I knew about Drake was wrong, and have enjoyed tracking down primary sources to uncover his true story.

Soon after I'd sent the draft manuscript to my editor the Black Lives Matter campaign drew fresh attention to the history of the slave trade, and there was even a campaign to removes Drake’s statue from Plymouth.
Although Drake’s first voyage with John Hawkins was a slaving voyage, I’m hoping my book will help readers understand that he had a very modern view of the slave trade. 

Once he had his own fleet, Drake began freeing any slaves he found, and worked with the Cimarrons, escaped former slaves who lived together as outlaws, to attack the Spanish in Panama. Drake's friend, a former slave named Diego, saved his life more than once.
Francis Drake was a self-made man, who took great risks to make his fortune. He was looked down on by the nobility as a commoner, even after he was knighted, yet his story is one of the great adventures of Tudor history.

Tony Riches 

6 August 2020

Book Launch Spotlight - Six Tudor Queens: Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen, by Alison Weir

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At just nineteen, Katheryn Howard is quick to trust and fall in love. She comes to court. She sings, she dances. She captures the heart of the King.

Henry declares she is his rose without a thorn. But Katheryn has a past of which he knows nothing. It comes back increasingly to haunt her. 

For those who share her secrets are waiting in the shadows, whispering words of love... and blackmail.

Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir draws on extensive research to recount one of the most tragic tales in English history - that of a lively, sweet but neglected girl, used by powerful men for their own gain.

History tells us she died too soon. This mesmerising novel brings her to life.

'Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life' Guardian

'Alison Weir makes history come alive as no one else' Barbara Erskine

'Utterly gripping and endlessly surprising' Tracy Borman
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About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two children. Find our more at Alison's website http://www.alisonweir.org.uk/ and fin her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks

4 August 2020

Understanding the life of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

I began exploring the life of Katherine Willoughby when writing about her first husband, Charles Brandon for my last book, Brandon – Tudor Knight. With typical panache, Brandon borrowed the money to buy the wardship of nine-year-old Katherine, who’d become Baroness Willoughby de Eresby on the death of her father – and one of the wealthiest heiresses in England.


He claimed his plan was to secure her as a bride for his son and heir, Henry, (named after the king) yet I suspect the truth was a little different. Charles Brandon’s wife, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France (and the king’s sister) suffered with a debilitating ‘pain in her side’, so I believe he was making plans for the future.


Whether or not I’m right, the fact is that Brandon married young Katherine himself barely three months after Mary’s death, and instantly solved his money worries, becoming the wealthiest landowners in Lincolnshire.


Katherine was fourteen at the time, and though we must take care not to apply modern standards, it must have been quite a shock to suddenly become a duchess, with privileged access to the king, and one of the most senior ladies of the Tudor court. The age difference was not unusual, although court gossips will have raised an eyebrow at Brandon’s haste.


Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas, was the Spanish companion to Queen Catherine of Aragon, and arrived with the queen from Spain in 1501. Maria raised her daughter as a strict Catholic, so I was intrigued to discover how Katherine became an outspoken advocate of religious reform.


As I expected, the answer is complex. The break with Rome enabled radicals such as Hugh Latimer to argue for a simpler form of religion, more relevant and accessible to the common people, who could never learn Catholic Latin. There is evidence of young Katherine attending Latimer’s sermons at Hampton Court, and her surviving letters to William Cecil reveal her questioning and enquiring attitude.


For my research, I was able to visit Katherine’s home, Grimsthorpe Castle, and see the Tudor rooms where she lived. After her mother’s death, Katherine had the walls of the family chapel whitewashed, and removed the gilded saints from their niches, then she invited Hugh Latimer and other Protestants to preach to her friends and neighbours.


Katherine’s resolve was hardened by the conviction of a Lincolnshire woman who shared her views of the need to reform religion. The woman’s name was Anne Askew, and on 16th July 1546, she was burned at the stake as a heretic in Smithfield, with three other Protestants. Katherine knew them all, and must have wondered if she would be named, but Anne kept her silence, even when her bones were broken on the rack at the Tower.


I was also fascinated to research the relationship between Katherine and Queen Catherine Parr. Katherine, aided and abetted by William Cecil, funded the publication of Catherine’s controversial book, The Lamentation of a Sinner, in 1547, and no doubt encouraged the queen to influence the King’s religious views. This was, of course, a high risk strategy, and almost the downfall of them both.


Seven years after Charles Brandon’s death, Katherine married for love, to her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie, in 1552. Their first child, a daughter, Susan, was born in 1554, and when the Catholic Mary became queen and began persecuting Protestant reformers, they fled into exile on the continent, living in near poverty until assisted by the King of Poland.


Their son, Peregrine, was born in Cleves in 1555, the same year Hugh Latimer was burned at the stake in Oxford. After Queen Mary’s death in 1558 they returned to England, and although Katherine didn’t serve Queen Elizabeth, she used her position in Lincolnshire to promote religious reform.


A lifelong supporter of the Protestant faith, many books on reform carried Katherine’s coat of arms, and were dedicated to her, including works by Erasmus and William Tyndale. The family’s adventures on the continent were even told in popular Elizabethan ballads.


Katherine died after a long illness aged sixty-one, on 19th September 1580, at Grimsthorpe Castle. I visited her magnificent alabaster tomb in the Willoughby chapel at St Johns Church, Spilsby Lincolnshire. Her husband, Richard Bertie, who died two years after Katherine, is buried beside her.

 Katherine Willoughby was a woman far ahead of her time, prepared to stand up for her beliefs. The story of her life helps us see the complex world of the Tudors through a new perspective, and I believe she would have been pleased to know that is her legacy.


Tony Riches 

Katherine - Tudor Duchess, the true story of Lady Katherine Willoughby, an amazing Tudor woman, is available in paperback, eBook and audiobook editions:


πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07YCV3RJV

πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07YCV3RJV

πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ί https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07YCV3RJV


30 July 2020

Special Guest Post by Martha Begley Schade, Author of Galway Fairytales: The Merlin Woods Series

Available  from Amazon UK 

This children’s fairytale book aims to motivate young readers to strengthen their social skills. It is best suited for children age 9 to 12 years old. With charming and educational celtic stories about relatable animal characters living in the Merlin Woods in Galway on the West Coast of Ireland, the characters all find their way through difficult topics that children have to face.

Can't life be simply wonderful!  

After several hard, soul-destroying years, I stumbled across a whole new aspect in life that I would never have dreamed about. It turned my life around and I would love to share this story with you: How I became a published author at 57 years of age! Who knows where this will lead to for you?

I guess now, looking back, it was a natural development. The seventh child in a family of ten in rural Ireland, we occupied each other. We were a gang. Conversations at the dinner table could be loud and intimidating for any visitors. If you ever got “airtime”, your story had to be quick, concise and very entertaining or mob-attention quickly moved onto another.

As the saying goes: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. My father was always noted for entertaining others with his stories. His visitors would spend hours with him in our garden and they loved it. Or after Sunday mass… while we patiently waited to go home, all squashed together into our old Ford Anglia Estate. 

My mother was a very quiet, extremely patient woman and she loved my father. But stories, we quickly learned, was a way to get to communicate, entertain, exchange ideas, make friends, form bonds or check out common understandings. And so it was, that storytelling was obviously going to an important parenting skill when I became a mother myself.
How did it all start? 

Well, … with a bet. My younger son, then 16, wants to be a writer. He felt that he needed a new laptop to write. When I asked him whatever happened to a pen and paper, he simply said I had no idea what it entailed to be a writer. Like a red rag to a bull, I took on the challenge and we made a bet that I wouldn’t have a book written in two weeks.

Once again, I leaned back on my formative years, took out any storytelling skills I had, polished them up, sat down and wrote “Flappy. The Pigeon Who Overcame Bullying”. 
Where does an author get their material?

Years ago, this story had been the result of a bad day I was having with the children. It had been raining for quite some time, and being Ireland, that timeline referred to weeks. The boys couldn’t go out and had cabin fever. It was difficult keeping them occupied. So I promised to tell a story but needed their help. I started with one line and then asked them what happened next. The results were amazing. 

Children by their very nature are limitless in their creativity. I suddenly had a pigeon who had really long wings that flapped too loudly. My son, who was being bullied in school at the time, took over. He described how the pigeon felt and how awful it was. In this way, my son was verbalising his own experiences. We listened. We empathised. He felt understood. Imagine my surprise when he then came up with the idea how the pigeon got out of the situation.

I guess that is why the story never left me. Always at the back of my mind, this was the book I was going to write. If it could help my son to develop coping skills or a new perspective, then it may well help others. There is something very fulfilling in thinking your work has a purpose. A mission. 

What did I enjoy most about becoming an author?

It was enlightening. When I started to advertise the book, I began to have the most amazing experiences. Young, old, it didn’t matter. All could recall bullying. All had their story to tell. 

But something bothered me. With all these stories people told me about being bullied when younger, I had to ask myself, who were the bullies? The only conclusion I could come to was that often WE are the bullies and don’t realise the impact we are having on others.

As humans we do categorize and try fit others into our perceptions of life. If they don’t fit, we reject them. The pecking order I think it is called. Many of us want to be top-dog, the kingpin, the dominant one. If the other doesn’t fit our picture of acceptable, it is so easy for us to fall into bullying ways. 

Understanding the mission of my stories

I suddenly realised the importance of the book! Educational. Educational about the impact that bullying has and how it can be any of us. Giving children the story of Flappy has been an eye-opener. Now, I’ve been an engineer, I’ve been a senior manager in the headquarters of a huge multinational company, I’ve trained people all over the world, I’ve developed policies to be adhered to in all corners of the world - but nothing, simply nothing I have ever done before has meant so much to me as this book.

I have travelled to schools, nervous as anything, and enjoyed storytelling sessions with the book, Flappy. There too, the results amazed me. The children got it! They related with the poor bird and understood how they too could be exhibiting bullying behaviour. It isn’t always the other people who carry out bullying, the others who are racist… the children understood that they have the propensity to be these people too.
The world is a small place and we are all human.

However grateful I have been to see how my book has gone to distant places such as Kuwait, Japan, Australia, United Arab Emirates, and more, it was the opportunity to donate books for fundraising towards a group of medical professionals who travel to countries and provide life-changing operations to people who cannot afford them. 

The very idea that because my book exists, someone somewhere will probably be able to walk again just fills me with a sense of doing something so right. The sense of being partially instrumental, albeit only slightly, in humanity helping humanity, was good for the soul.

Exciting times

None of these developments took place overnight or were foreseeable. They just happened at random and always caught me by surprise. One of my favourites was at the book launch of Flappy. In the story I include a Princess and her father, the King of the Claddagh.
The Claddagh is an area of Galway City that is unique and is probably best known because of the Claddagh ring. Galway is known since medieval times as the City of the Tribes and in the Claddagh they still have a tradition of voting one local person to the lifelong position of being their King.

When I held the book launch, my first ever, people came from all corners. But can you imagine the absolute thrill of seeing the real King of the Claddagh come through the entrance, accompanied by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Galway? Believe me, I was speechless for a change. Really chuffed I can now claim to have a Lord Mayor and a King attending my book launch. I’m not sure how many authors can claim that honour.

How did it continue? 

After Flappy, there followed the stories of Billa and Buster, The Golden Key of Wisdom, The Listening Tree and then finally, Emily and Tristan. They deal with issues such as depression, teamwork, kindness, guidance, friendships and more. Each book has a list of discussion points and fun facts about the relatable animal characters in the story.
At a minimum, these books are good readers for children aged 6 – 12 years, but my wish is that the books are used by adults with children as a platform where these topics can be discussed, golden memories created and coping skills developed. 

How would I describe my writing journey? 

I would describe it like a disco ball. You know the one with the thousand little mirrors all reflecting light? Each mirror was an experience that filled me with joy along the journey. Whether it was the fact that I could be a role model to my son who wants to be a writer, breaking down barriers in his mind to the possibilities or whether it was the people I met. All these combined joys helped catapult me out the hard years I had recently put behind me – and that I did through the books, put bad times firmly behind me.

So, when Tony offered me to guest blog on his website, I had to write my story. While the mission of my books is to educate children on social issues they have nowadays, the mission of this article is to encourage absolutely everyone to write. 

Besides being a wonderful experience, there is a story to tell in each and every one of us and there is always someone who needs to read your story, whatever it may be. I want to encourage you to get writing and create your own disco ball. The journey alone is worth it. Believe me.

 Martha Begley Schade

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About the Author

Born in Ireland, Martha Begley Schade, B.Sc., MBA has over 25 years of experience in Quality and Production Management, working globally with a focus on German, Austrian, Swiss and Italian Automobile supplier industries. Further qualifications include: ISO9000 Certification Auditor, EFQM Assessor, Green Belt in Lean Six Sigma, Training and Business coach and more. Martha is a born storyteller, having grown up with the tradition in the family. While running her own online training business called Business Online Learning, she also turned her hand to authoring children’s books. Rising to a challenge she has now completed five individual books and one compilation book “Galway Fairytales”. These are all educational in nature, addressing social topics that affect children nowadays. Find out more on Facebook and Twitter @GalwayFairytale 

28 July 2020

Special Guest Post by Jackie Cosh, Author of The King with the Iron Belt: The life of King James IV of Scotland

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Known as the Renaissance king, King James IV of Scotland played a huge part in the joining of the two kingdoms of Scotland and England. Through his marriage to the English Margaret Tudor his lineage became heirs to the English crown and his great grandson eventually took the throne as King James VI of Scotland, I of England. 

Amateur dentist, sociologist, educational reformer….. If King James IV of Scotland was alive today his CV would be pretty impressive. Which is why, for nearly twenty years I have had a fascination with him that led me, slowly and surely, to write a book about him. The King with the Iron Belt was published in 2018, a biography of the man from birth to his death at the Battle of Flodden.

My love of history developed only after I left school. Initially Irish history interested me the most. I flirted with European history, before finally settling down with British history, primarily Scottish. I read about many different eras in Scottish history, meeting James IV along the way. I found that there were very few books dedicated to this great man, and those that were tended to be very academic, and just a little bit, well, dry to say the least

James IV was anything but dry. He was the most fascinating of men and loved to explore and learn, such as when he placed two orphaned infants on the island of Inchkeith with a mute woman, in an attempt to determine what he perceived as ‘the original language’. This was the man who introduced full quarantine for plague victims, hundreds of years before Covvid 19 and lockdown.

He reformed the justice system and introduced the first education act, more than 300 years before England. Then there is his marriage to the English Margaret Tudor, which led, eventually, to the union of the crowns. I struggled to understand why, unlike his granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots, the bookshops were not full of books on this man.

I make a living as a writer and tutor and have over the years written many history articles for local and national publications, so it was a natural step to stop moaning about the lack of books on the topic and write my own. My aim was very specific – not to replicate or replace what had originally been written but to bring James to the general public, the history lover who wanted to read and learn about history in easy to understand language that was not overly academic.

As any author who is not writing books full time will know, fitting writing round a full time job and family is hard. I would have a few days where I relished being full engrossed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, before work commitments would pull me back to the present and my research and writing would be put on hold again.

Researching Renaissance Scotland brought its problems. Firstly, there is the gaps in official records, particularly regarding the early years of his life, so, for example, the assumption is made that he was born at Stirling Castle as that was his mother’s main residence. But isn’t that part of the attraction of history – the not knowing, the surmising, the piecing together of the jigsaw puzzles?

Then there is the doubt surrounding some of the accounts we read. Some, like Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, pay him many compliments but Lindsay was not born until nearly twenty years after King James died. I like to think he was simply reiterating what those who did know James reported. Perhaps little children were told of the late King James who died in battle and what a great monarch he was. Others, such as the Spanish ambassador Pedro de Ayala, were perhaps prone to exaggeration and felt the need to say great things about him.

I spent a number of years researching and reading all I could get my hands on in order to do the subject justice. Sometimes I had to make my own judgements on which version of events was correct. Some writers claim that Margaret Tudor was on her brother Henry’s side when he went to war with her husband. But my research found that there was more evidence to support the opposite. This was also in line with my intuition, which, as a historical writer you have to use at times.

But perhaps the greatest challenge is knowing where to start with all the ideas for other books that appear to me as the book develops. Through my research I encountered many fascinating characters and stories that need told. My next book is at the very early stages of planning, a book related to an extent to King James IV. The others I will put in a box for now, perhaps to return to at a later date.

Jackie Cosh

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About the Author

Jackie Cosh writes Scottish nonfiction. Her book, The King with the Iron Belt, a biography on King James IV of Scotland, was published in 2018. A related book, still very much in the planning stage, will be published some time in the future. Jackie tweets at @Scothistauthor.

26 July 2020

WOLSEY (Routledge Historical Biographies) by Glenn Richardson

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Through a thematic and broadly chronological approach, Wolsey offers a fascinating insight into the life and legacy of a man who was responsible for building Henry VIII’s reputation as England’s most impressive king.

The book reviews Thomas Wolsey’s record as the realm’s leading Churchman, Lord Chancellor and political patron and thereby demonstrates how and why Wolsey became central to Henry’s government for 20 years. 

By analysing Wolsey’s role in key events such as the Field of Cloth of Gold, the study highlights how significant Wolsey was in directing and conducting England’s foreign relations as the king’s most trusted advisor. 

Based on up-to-date research, Richardson not only newly appraises the circumstances of Wolsey’s fall but also challenges accusations of treason made against him. This study provides a new appreciation of Wolsey’s importance as a cultural and artistic patron, as well as a royal administrator and politician; roles which helped to bring both Henry VIII and England to the forefront of foreign relations in the early-sixteenth century.

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About the Author

Dr Glenn  Richardson is Professor of Early Modern History at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. His work concentrates on monarchy as form of government, ideals of princely rule, the royal court and international political and cultural relations between monarchs. His published works include The Field of Cloth of Gold, Renaissance Monarchy: the reigns of Henry VIII, Francis I and Charles V, ‘Contending Kingdoms’ France and England, 1420-1700 (ed.) and Tudor England and its Neighbours (ed. with Susan Doran). Glenn's latest book, a biography of Thomas Wolsey, will be published later this year. Follow Glenn on Twitter @GJ1Richardson

21 July 2020

Blog Tour: The Last King: England: The First Viking Age (The Ninth Century Book 1) by M J Porter

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough. Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.

I'm pleased to welcome author M J Porter to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

The Last King is set in AD874, in Mercia, and tells the story of Coelwulf and his war band as they battle against the Raiders (Vikings) following the abdication of King Burgred (King Alfred’s brother in law). It’s a relentless, blood and gore fest action story, as Coelwulf sets out to drive the Raiders from Mercia, even as they try to hunt him down to put an end to his attempts to keep Mercia independent. It’s sweary and brutal and not for the faint hearted, but Coelwulf and his warriors are a delight to travel with (honest).

What is your preferred writing routine?

I prefer to write in short, sharp spells, but during my ‘writing’ phase of a book, I aim to write 5000 words a day. This seems like a great deal, but I’ve discovered that to craft a book, I need to get the words down, fast, and then spend my time editing and further developing the story. I can’t edit a blank page, and it’s during the edit that all the details are added into the characters and the storyline. I’m what’s known as a ‘pantser’ not a planner. I ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ and then draw the strands together. I don’t go back and read what I’ve written until the end, and sometimes it can be a bit of a surprise.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write, write, write and write some more (and maybe do some reading as well). For ‘newbies’ I would recommend taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November each year, because it will allow you to develop the habit of writing each and every day. It’s surprising what an eye-opener that one little thing can be. Even a thousand words a day, will soon make it feel as though you’ve made a good start on a new story.

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

This is the part of the ‘job’ that I struggle most with. I have a fan base who read my books whenever I release them (thank you), and I really wish I knew how I came by them, but to find new readers, I have come to rely on BookBub campaigns and on Netgalley to gain reviews for new books. This is my first blog tour, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I love the research element of writing. While writing The Last Warrior (Book 2 of the Ninth Century), I learned all about the crossing points on the River Trent in the UK, and that one of them, at Littleborough, dates back to the Roman period, when flagstones were laid across the river.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I don’t remember a specific scene that I found really hard, but what I do find really hard, and it happens more than you might realise, is writing the death scene of a character that you’ve really become quite attached to, but have to ‘kill off’ because their death is recorded as occurring then. My beloved Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce, from the Earls of Mercia series, was not a character I wanted to give up on.

What are you planning to write next?

I plan to work on a story I want to write about Lady Estrid, the sister of King Cnut, who had a very eventful life, even from the few ‘facts’ I can find out about her.  I also have a book that I want to finish – a Tudor-esque fantasy.

M J Porter

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About the Author

M J Porter is an author of historical novels set in Seventh, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh-Century England, and now also a little further afield, in Viking Age Denmark, and Tenth-Century East and West Frankia. Find out more at www.mjporterauthor.com/ and on Twitter @coloursofunison