18 June 2021

Available for pre-order: Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium

Available for pre-order from 

Are you ready to meet Miss Moonshine?
Life may never be the same again…

It’s summer in Haven Bridge and Miss Moonshine is getting ready for a busy season. From the window of her Wonderful Emporium, at the heart of the pretty Yorkshire town, she watches and waits, weaving plans to bring happiness to all who step through her door. For Miss Moonshine is no ordinary shopkeeper. She may not have what you want, but she will always have what you need…

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this anthology of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This magical collection of contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry and wish for a Miss Moonshine in your own life.

Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium is an anthology put together by a group of romantic novelists and short story writers from Yorkshire and Lancashire in the north of England. The group meet regularly in the little town of Hebden Bridge, and this location, lying as it does on the moors near the border between the two counties, led to the group name Authors on the Edge, and to the inspiration behind this collection.

Hebden Bridge

Much cake was consumed by these authors in the making of this anthology!

A bit about the stories…

A Glitch in Time, by Jacqui Cooper

In 2021 Nicola disappears into Miss Moonshine’s changing room to try on a gorgeous vintage dress - and emerges in 1951. Meanwhile her grandmother Lily goes shopping for a new outfit in 1951 and finds herself in Miss Moonshine’s shop seventy years later. While both women get to grips with a time that isn’t their own, Miss Moonshine and Napoleon are working busily behind the scenes to restore the timeline. After all, it’s not as if this hasn’t happened before...

More about the author:  Living on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, Jacqui Cooper doesn’t have to look far for inspiration for her writing. Her short stories regularly appear in popular women’s magazines, including Woman’s Weekly, The People’s Friend and Take a Break. Writing has always been her dream and she is thrilled to now be able to do it full time.

Caught Red-Handed, by Sophie Claire

A shoplifter in Miss Moonshine’s steals a valuable pen in the desperate hope it might help her troubled grandfather. But little does she know that someone witnessed her misdeed, and when the stranger confronts her, she must rethink. Can she put right the wrong she’s committed? And can the pen help after all? Though perhaps not in the way she’d expected…

Sophie Claire writes uplifting emotional stories with their heart in Provence, where she spent her childhood summers. She is half French, half Scottish, was born in Africa and growing up in England she felt she didn’t belong anywhere – except in the pages of a book. Perhaps this is why she likes to help her characters find their home; a place in the world where they can be loved for themselves. Previously, she worked in marketing and proofreading academic papers, but writing is what she always considered her ‘real job’ and now she’s delighted to spend her days dreaming up heartwarming contemporary romance stories set in beautiful places.  Find out more at www.sophieclaire.co.uk and find her on Twitter @SClaireWriter

Three Butterflies, by Marie Laval

Parisian chic meets guerrilla gardener... and a goose! Olivier Dumas, heir to a prestigious but struggling Parisian perfume house, needs to come up with a new fragrance, but instead of Bali or Fiji, he is sent to Haven Bridge to stay on a canal boat with gardener and charity worker Tamsin Sheridan, her cat Josephine and Frieda the allotment guard goose. Will Miss Moonshine work her magic and help Olivier find inspiration and romance in Haven Bridge?

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie now lives in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire. Her bestselling novels include ESCAPE TO THE LITTLE CHATEAU, shortlisted for the 2021 RNA Jackie Collins Romantic Suspense Awards, and her new romance HAPPY DREAMS AT MERMAID COVE is available from Amazon and various digital platforms. Find out more at http://marielaval.blogspot.com/ and find Marie on Twitter @MarieLaval1

GU 1909, by Angela Wren

GU 1909 centres around Maddie - a character from the first anthology - who is coping with some difficult personal issues.  Miss Moonshine comes to the rescue through her need to get her old Wolseley E4 back on the road.

More about the author: Author Bio Angela Wren is an actor and director at a theatre in Yorkshire, UK. She loves stories and reading and writes the Jacques Forêt crime novels set in France. Her short stories vary between romance, memoir, mystery and historical. Angela has had two one-act plays recorded for local radio. Find out more about Angela at https://www.angelawren.co.uk/ and follow her on Twitter @AngelaWrenAuthr

The Secret of Greymoor Hall, by Kate Field

Libby is intrigued when she discovers Greymoor Hall. Once the most notorious house in Yorkshire, now it faces ruin, and all its treasures are lost. Haunted by mysterious echoes from the past, and helped by the magic of Miss Moonshine, can Libby unlock the secret that might save Greymoor’s future?

Kate Field lives in Lancashire with her husband, daughter and cat. Her debut novel won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writers. Kate writes heartwarming, uplifting love stories and her latest novel, Finding Home, is available now from Amazon and other retailers. Find out more about Kate at https://www.amazon.co.uk/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B00J18F3PY and follow her on Twitter @katehaswords

The Treasure Seekers, by Mary Jayne Baker

Joely Fox is desperate to raise the deposit money to buy back her childhood home. When she and best friend Toby are accepted as contestants on The Great British Antique Swap gameshow, Joely pins all her hopes of buying Bluebird Cottage on winning the £20,000 prize. Can Miss Moonshine lend a helping hand with the aid of a mysterious wooden clock?

Mary Jayne Baker is a novelist from Bingley, West Yorkshire. Since her debut in 2016 she has published eight romantic comedies, including A Question of Us, which was the winner of the Romantic Novelists' Association's Romantic Comedy of the Year Award 2020. Mary Jayne also writes humorous, emotional women's fiction under the name Lisa Swift, and World War Two sagas as Gracie Taylor. Find out more about Mary Jayne at https://www.maryjaynebaker.co.uk/ and follow her on Twitter @MaryJayneBaker

Ginny’s Ghost, by Helen Pollard

Ginny could do without the strange noises she’s begun to hear in her new flat at Haven Bridge Mills. She thinks she can do without Graham Crowe, a man with a very strange profession who turns up on her doorstep to offer his help. But with a local journalist intent on making her life difficult and rumours that the mill is haunted circulating, Ginny is forced to give in. Will they find the cause of the disturbance? And will she discover that she has more in common with this stranger than she first thought?

As a child, Helen Pollard had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading (long past her bedtime!) so she started to create her own stories in a notebook. Now a bestselling author of contemporary romance, she believes that good characterisation is the key to a successful book and loves infusing her writing with humour and heart. Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and the Society of Authors. Find out more about Helen at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Helen-Pollard/e/B00O2E0BRC and find her on Twitter at @helenpollard147

I Shall Wear Purple, by Melinda Hammond

Inspired by a true story from the author’s own family, this is a tale of two people who are no longer in the first flush of youth. Seeing a pretty tea service in a strange little shop in Haven Bridge, retired vet Dan Hartley sets out on a nostalgia trip. He visits places and meets friends he thought he had left behind him, including Jeannie, his childhood sweetheart. Time has passed, they have both moved on, but can Miss Moonshine work her magic to give them another chance?

Melinda Hammond is a West Country girl who spent 30 happy years in the Yorkshire Pennines walking the moors and thinking up her stories. In 2018 she decided to realise a lifelong ambition to live by the sea and now writes her award-winning romantic historical adventures from her new home in the Scottish Highlands. Melinda also writes as Sarah Mallory for Harlequin Mills & Boon and has published more than 50 novels. Find out more about Melinda at http://www.melindahammond.com/ and follow her on Twitter @SarahMRomance 

Music, Love and Other Languages, by Helena Fairfax

Edith O’Brien comes across a wonderful violin in Miss Moonshine’s emporium. The violin seems to have a mind of its own, playing exuberant folk tunes from the past. When Edith puts a video of her playing on TikTok, she receives a message from a stranger. What is the mystery of the violin’s past? Only Miss Moonshine has the answer…

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author of romantic fiction, as well as a non-fiction social history called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Readers can subscribe to her newsletter for book news, photos of her beloved Yorkshire moors, and the occasional free stuff.  Find Helena on Twitter @HelenaFairfax

17 June 2021

Book Review - Six Tudor Queens: Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife, by Alison Weir

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Having sent his much-beloved but deceitful young wife Katheryn Howard to her beheading, King Henry fixes his lonely eyes on a more mature woman, thirty-year-old, twice-widowed Katharine Parr. She, however, is in love with Sir Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Queen Jane. Aware of his rival, Henry sends him abroad, leaving Katharine no choice but to become Henry’s sixth queen.

The long awaited final book of Alison Weir’s ‘Six Tudor Queens’ series has arrived, and it doesn’t disappoint. In a poignant opening passage, Katharine Parr’s story begins with the sudden death of her father from the dreaded ‘sweating sickness’, which ravaged the world of the Tudors.

I’ve enjoyed reading the other five books of this series, and admit to being unusually well informed about the events of Katharine, my favourite of Henry’s six queens. There were enough fresh ideas to keep me gripped to the end – and, like the best historical fiction, many new questions for readers to reflect upon.

Is it possible that Katharine learned to love the garrulous king? Could she not see through the wily Thomas Seymour until others pointed out his flaws? Was she naïve enough to believe the ambitious men of the privy council would allow her to rule the country as Queen Regent? 

I was particularly intrigued by the portrayal of Henry VIII in his last years. Enigmatic as ever, he is in turns sensitive and blunt, yet Alison Weir shows her mastery of the craft, offering us a new perspective from Katharine’s point of view. 

If anyone might have been close enough to Henry to see through his façade, it must be Katharine, yet this book is woven through with indications his last wife was as much in his thrall as anyone. At one point she thinks of him as like ‘God on earth’, and the most powerful man who ever lived.

I recommend starting with the first book of this series, and reading them in order. It will take a while, but you will be setting out on a journey which could change your thinking about King Henry VIII and his many wives.

Tony Riches

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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. Find our more at Alison's website http://www.alisonweir.org.uk/ and fin her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks 

Disclosure: I am grateful to Alison Weir's publishers, Headline Books, for providing a review copy. 

Special Guest Post by Sarah Kennedy, Author of Queen of Blood

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1553: Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.

The Inspiration behind my series, The Cross and the Crown

My latest novel, Queen of Blood, which is also the fourth volume in The Cross and the Crown, my series about Tudor England was largely inspired by my interest in Mary Tudor. Mary Tudor is popularly known as “Bloody Mary,” because she supposedly led a violent counter-attack on the Protestant country she’d inherited from her father, Henry VIII, and her brother, Edward VI.

Mary’s reign interests me for a couple of reasons. First, she attempted to restore Catholicism as the official religion of England, and any attempt to change (or restore) a country so widely is a difficult undertaking for any leader. Secondly, and more importantly for me, Mary Tudor was the first real queen regnant in England. She ruled in her own right, and she had to fight to get and to keep her throne. She not only had to fight against subjects who thought a woman shouldn’t sit on the throne at all but she also had to fight to win over Protestant subjects to the cause of Catholicism.

Mary did have many of her subjects executed. Of that there is no doubt. Whether she was any more “bloody” than any other monarch dealing with uprisings and resistance, however, is open to debate. What’s clear is that her reign was a time of discord and polarization among English citizens, both nobles and commoners.

And this brings me to my real interest and inspiration: ordinary people, particularly women. I’ve long had an interest in how great cultural shifts affected the daily lives of people who were not living on the public stage of the monarchy—the servants, the farmers, the merchants and craftspeople who had to just get on with it if they wanted to eat and keep a roof over their heads. 

For women, this was all the more challenging, of course, because they also had to bear and raise children. I’ve long wondered how such seismic shifts in the culture around them, from Catholicism to Protestantism and back again to Catholicism, from one monarch to another, affected women. We know that the break with Rome resulted in the destruction of the monasteries and convents and that the former monks were able to become priests in the new church. We know something of some of the former nuns, but not a great many of them. We hope they survived, even if they didn’t thrive.

So what was it like, to be an ordinary woman in Tudor England?

For my main character, Catherine, it’s not easy. She is fortunate in many ways, in that she marries well and has healthy children. Because she was raised in a convent, she has an education. When Mary Tudor inherits the throne, the times seem to have turned favorable again; though Catherine has accepted the Protestant church, she still feels nostalgia for Catholicism. She is also glad that a woman now rules England, an event that she never thought could possibly come to pass.

But Mary Tudor is not an ordinary woman, as much as Catherine would like to think she is. A queen is not ordinary, and Catherine, despite her increasing wealth and the security it affords her, is still a commoner. She has to navigate and negotiate her way around the power of this queen, whom she has thought of as a friend. And Mary Tudor was a queen who used her power.

However intelligent Catherine may be, she is often left to her own devices as England heaves and rolls around her. I think this was likely true of many women—and men, for that matter. When things at the top change radically, those who live “below” must scramble to learn the new doctrines, forms of speech (and prayer), and acceptable behaviors. To fail at this might mean punishment, or death. Many did die, and surely many more whose names we will never know.

To bring these forgotten women and men back to life is my basic inspiration, and I hope that Queen of Blood does just that.

Sarah Kennedy

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About the Author

Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as 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 https://sarahkennedybooks.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KennedyNovels

16 June 2021

Special Guest Post by Chris Wood, Author of Famous Last Words: Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Famous Last Words collects a fascinating selection of destinies culminating in their often flamboyant yet always captivating, final utterances before shuffling off this mortal coil. Revealed inside are tales of sangfroid bravery, astonishing ironies and overdue confessions often betraying grave miscarriages of justice, throughout British history. Revealed inside are tales of sangfroid bravery, astonishing ironies and overdue confessions often betraying grave miscarriages of justice throughout British history.

‘Famous Last Words’ is the result of an unwavering fascination with the themes of death and an individual’s passing to the ‘other side.’ How do people react and respond when approaching this inevitability that ‘greets’ us all? What do they say? This was of course a key aspect that I wished to explore in the book, by collecting a range of people’s last dying thoughts manifested in their final utterances upon this mortal coil as the reaper grimly approached.

Beyond this, I sought also to clarify exactly how the individual arrived at this point, so rather than the book being merely a listed collection of final words, there is, I hope, behind each case a ‘backstory’ which perhaps allows the reader to build some form of connection with the individual before the culminating final words. Whilst many of the cases involve final spoken words, included also is a host of written dialogue, some of which is clearly intended as a final act of humour or bravery, and of course, others that portray a more traditional and perhaps expected frame of mind - those paralysed with fear.

Also of importance in the book is the evolving nature of British society and how it deals with the often ‘taboo’ theme of death. Certainly, it was clear to see that in previous times the most important feature for many on their deathbed was to seek and gain repentance from God above anything else - as this would apparently ensure a ‘good’ death. Several cases in the book involve a final unburdening of sin, perhaps the confession to an act committed long ago for example, that, having unshackled themselves of such an affliction, would provide a repentance before God.

We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful resources, archives and libraries throughout Britain, and I should think that an almighty percentage of these were contacted at some stage in the researching process. Sadly of course covid emerged and enforced the closure of these, but I was thankful that I had utilised them, for the most part at least, prior to the pandemic. These wonderful establishments were all extremely helpful in helping me to unearth subjects for the book, and for this I am forever grateful. 

Of all of the documents that I had the pleasure of perusing throughout my research, I think one in particular - held in the vaults of Newcastle City Library - has remained with me. It involved the case of a man that was hung upon Newcastle’s Town Moor for the alleged murder of a security guard in an old pottery works. The document is a small pocket sized book which details the account of the murder, the subsequent trial, and also the felon’s death as he awaited the noose. His final words are documented within - largely a protestation of innocence - yet beyond this are also two leathery dark brown pages, which are said to have been made from pieces of skin extracted from the executed man following the surgeon’s anatomisation of his body. A rather ghoulish piece of ephemera perhaps, but wholly intriguing nonetheless - much as I hope readers will find ‘Famous Last Words’.

Chris Wood

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About the Author

Chris Wood was born in Northumberland, England, and remains happily there to this day. Chris is a student of criminology and psychology and possesses - perhaps unhealthily - a keen interest in most things of morbidity. In stark contrast to this, some of Chris’ previous roles have certainly instigated much debate, (and amusement!) not least when he masqueraded as an old woman on local radio stations, despite being a twenty odd year old man. He did eventually land a more ‘grown up’ job within the Probation Service which he thoroughly enjoyed, and was certainly better acquainted to his interests. Today, Chris loves to research and write with his second book due for release in 2022. He is happily married with a young daughter, who still refuses to sleep at conventional times, hence he does much of his writing in the dead of night. This being the case, his Twitter and Instagram accounts are aptly named, @hewritesatnight, where he would love for you to follow his journey, and his official website is at chriswoodwriting.co.uk

Historical Fiction Excerpt: Guardians at the Wall, by Tim Walker

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Archaeology student Noah scrapes the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes, in the hope of uncovering an ancient artefact around which he can build a project-defining story.

Extract: Dreaming of a Dig

[Archaeology student, Noah, continues his desk research into Centurion Gaius Atticianus]

On Monday morning, I picked up where I’d left off with the Corbridge tablets. From what I’d translated, added to guesswork on what was missing, I deduced that Gaius was at Coria to report that his unit had been attacked by unknown barbarians, whilst conveying a payroll chest from Vindolanda to Coria for safekeeping. The garrison at Vindolanda was under siege from a large force of Caledonian warriors. He had diverted his unit off the Via Vespasian (not Hadrian, as I’d earlier speculated with Sima) at milestone twenty-six, to the estate of Lucius Gabia, Magistratus, roughly a mile from the road. Here, he buried the chest of coins and the cohort standard. The rest of the report was unclear after that, but he referred to a grave marker for a Domina Drusilla Gabia.
   “Hmmm, instructions on where to find buried treasure,” I said. I looked around, but none of the half dozen academics or staff were looking in my direction. My pulse had quickened and my mind was racing. Firstly, that stretch of the Roman road from Coria to the Vindolanda turn-off was constructed in the reign of Emperor Vespasian, between 69 and 79 CE. This was a new discovery, and Maggie would be pleased to hear of it. Secondly, Gaius was reporting that he had to bury the cohort payroll chest in the grounds of a villa estate, close to a tombstone, so perhaps in a family burial enclosure. This was approximately one hundred yards along a side road marked by a milestone marking twenty Roman miles. Perhaps it had been recovered, or perhaps not, particularly if all those involved in the desperate action had not lived to return at a later date. Also, it was possible others had long since read the report and recovered the chest. It was a long shot if it was still buried.
   I did some investigation and found that the milestones along what came to be called the Stanegate, in the post-Roman period, started from Segedunum Roman fort, now Wallsend in Newcastle, to the east, and increased in number as they progressed west. So, 26 Roman miles, indicated on the miliarium reported by Gaius, equates to 24.5 imperial miles. A check on UK driving distances showed me the distance from Wallsend Roman Fort to Corbridge Roman town to be 24.37 miles. So, the XXVI (26) milestone would have been situated roughly two hundred yards west of the track to the Roman fortified town of Coria.
   I got the detailed Ordinance Survey Map of Northumberland and measured two hundred yards west of the turning to Coria, using my ruler. The road was predictably straight, apart from a few kinks that mirrored the river course. I studied the rural location for a clue to a track that might have once led to a Roman farm estate. Green fields lined both sides of the current road, and the map showed some dotted lines to farm houses. Now, if I could only get an idea if there were Roman estates on one or both sides of the road with an entrance track close to that point.
   Sima came over, curious at my sudden burst of activity and my poring over a map.
   “What you doing?” she asked.
   “Oh hi. I think I’ve stumbled onto something from one of the tablets. A report from…” I checked myself, wondering if I should rush into spilling the full story whilst it was still formulating. Maybe caution and further investigation on my part was prudent before talking about it. “A report from an officer at Coria in the days or hours before the fire of 180 CE. I’m just checking on something that he referred to.”
   “Good for you, Sherlock. I hope it leads to something useful.” She paused and leaned closer, then continued in a hushed tone. “Thanks, Noah, for not running for the hills. I’m all right now. I’m usually calm and collected.” 
   “I know, Sima. I’ve noticed. I hope it all works out for you. Remember, you can grab me anytime if you want to offload.”
   There was relief in her smile when she turned towards her office, leaving me to get on with exploring my theory. I decided to send an email to Maggie, bringing her up to speed with my findings, and ask for ideas on how I could identify the location of a Roman estate to the east of Coria, one owned by the Gabia family in the year 180. If we could narrow down the search area, it might make a field study possible.

[In the year 180 CE, Centurion Gaius Atticianus is forced from the road by a barbarian attack]

A guard of shields awaited the runners as they filed through the gap into the estate, and Gaius staggered past sandstone columns to collapse in a heap beside his men on the grass, panting hard by a gravel track that led to an imposing villa. The last of the men entered and the gates were slammed shut and barred. Gaius noted that the high walls had metal spikes on the tops and grinned at his morsel of good fortune.
   Paulinus rushed to his side, and helped him to his feet. “Sir! There are thirty estate workers manning the walls with our men, throwing sharp objects and rocks at the bastards!”
   “Good job, Paulinus,” Gaius puffed, trying to catch his breath. “Let us hide the chest and standard and join in the fight.”
   “Already in hand, sir. The lady of the house pointed out a grave that has been part-dug in their family plot, sir. Two of the boys are burying them. Remember the gravestone is in the name of Domina Drusilla Gabia. Her recently demised mother, apparently.”
   “Then we must be grateful for the gap between her mother’s death and burial,” Gaius replied, holding the stitch in his side. He turned at the noise of fighting beyond the wall. “And we must also be thankful for their high walls. Do they run all around the compound?”
   “Aye, sir. They cannot come behind as a high thorn hedge prevents it. There is a small gate at the rear to a covered pathway that goes through an orchard to the woods, protected on each side by thick bushes, then down to the river. The owner is a magistrate, Lucius Gabia, who had made provision for an escape should the need arise. There is a path along the riverbank to the bridge at Coria. Our escape route, if these devils don’t get behind us.”
   “Praise the gods that the magistrate had enemies or is of a nervous disposition. We should send the civilians now, with the wounded and a couple of guards,” Gaius replied.
   “Aye, sir,” Paulinus said, shouting orders as he ran off.
   Gaius looked up at the serene, beautiful villa, with red roof tiles and a grape vine climbing up a lime-washed wall, a peaceful scene at odds with their predicament. Then he saw Aria and the other wives helping the wounded with bandages and splints in the side garden through an archway. He bowed to a matronly lady who must be the magistrate’s wife, standing in the shade of the patio, giving instructions to her fretting attendants.
   He jogged past the stricken soldiers, asking how badly were they wounded, to Aria, who looked up with a cry of relief. “My love, I am so pleased to see you unhurt!” She dropped a bandage roll and threw her arms around him. Brutus ran to him and hugged his thigh with the grip of a bear cub.
   “The gods be praised, I’m unhurt, Aria, but must return to my men. I have ordered two guards to take all the civilians and wounded out through the rear pathway to the river, and from there to the bridge at Coria, where the guards will look after you until we can follow.”
   Her tear-stained eyes widened in fright. “No, you must come with us! To stay here is to die at the hands of those barbarians!”
   “I must stay and organise an orderly retreat…”
   “Come with us, Papa!” Brutus cried, squeezing his leg tight.
   “You have a strong grip, my son,” Gaius said, lifting the boy. “Soon you will be the one protecting your mother. But for now, I need you both to be strong and prepare to leave. You may have to help the wounded, so do not carry anything heavy. Now pass on my instructions and organise the wounded to leave.” 
   He kissed the boy’s forehead, bent and put his son on the ground, then pulled Aria to him by her slender waist. He looked into her liquid green eyes and then kissed her lips with all the passion and madness of the moment. “Go now, my love, and I promise you, I will follow.”
   He held her shoulders at arms-length, then she turned away with a look of sorrow, grabbed Brutus by the hand and ran to the lady of the house to inform her. 
   “May the divine Jupiter and all the Caesars protect you!” he shouted, then turned and jogged from the peaceful surroundings, through the archway and down the gravel drive, past men shovelling soil onto a grave, to the scene of chaos at the main gates.

Tim Walker

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About the Author

Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After studying for a degree in Communication studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009. His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of a former Roman town. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries. Find out more at Tim's website: http://www.timwalkerwrites.co.uk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @timwalker1666

15 June 2021

Special Guest Post by Mercedes Rochelle, Author of The Usurper King (The Plantagenet Legacy, Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

From Outlaw to Usurper, Henry Bolingbroke fought one rebellion after another. First, he led his own uprising. Gathering support the day he returned from exile, Henry marched across the country and vanquished the forsaken Richard II. Little did he realize that his problems were only just beginning. How does a usurper prove his legitimacy? What to do with the deposed king? Only three months after he took the crown, Henry IV had to face a rebellion led by Richard's disgruntled favorites. Worse yet, he was harassed by rumors of Richard's return to claim the throne.

The Percies and the Battle of Shrewsbury

Froissart Chronicles by Virgil Master, Source: Wikimedia

The Percies were such a powerful force in the North they practically acted like rulers in their own kingdom. For much of Richard II's reign and the beginning of Henry IV's, Earl Henry Percy and his son Harry Hotspur alternated between the wardenships of the East Marches and the West Marches toward Scotland. They were experienced in dealing with the tempestuous Scots, and their retainers were fiercely loyal. When Henry IV returned from exile and began his campaign that led to the throne, the Percies were his staunchest supporters; they provided a large portion of his army. Henry Percy was directly responsible for persuading King Richard to turn himself over to Bolingbroke—the beginning of the end of Richard's fall.

Naturally, this was not done out of sheer kindness. Henry Percy expected to be amply rewarded for his services, and at the beginning he was. But the king was uncomfortable about the potential threat of this overweening earl. He soon began to promote his brother in-law, Ralph Neville the Earl of Westmorland as a counterbalance, chipping away at Percy's holdings and jurisdictions. Additionally, the Percies felt that they were not being reimbursed properly for their expenses; by 1403 they claimed that the king owed them £20,000. But even with all this going on, it's likely that the earl may have contained his discontent, except for the belligerence of his impetuous son.

One possible catalyst was Hotspur's refusal to turn over his hostages taken at the Battle of Homildon Hill. This battle was a huge win for the Percies in 1402, where so many leaders were taken—including the Earl of Douglas—that it left a political vacuum in Scotland for many years to come. Once he learned of this windfall, King Henry insisted that the Percies turn over their hostages to the crown. It was his right as king—even if it was against the code of chivalry. 

Though his highhanded demand was probably not the wisest choice, considering the circumstances. There were many possible reasons he did so. He was desperately short of funds—as usual. It's possible he may have wanted to retain the prisoners as a means of ensuring Scottish submission. Earl Henry agreed to turn over his hostages, but Hotspur absolutely refused to surrender Archibald Douglas, letting his father take the blame. One can only imagine that all was not well in the Percy household, either.

There was more at stake. The king had just returned from a humiliating fiasco in Wales, where he had campaigned in response to the English defeat at Pilleth, where Edmund Mortimer was captured by the Welsh. Mortimer was the uncle of the eleven year-old Earl of March, considered by many the heir-presumptive to the throne. Edmund was also the brother of Hotspur's wife. By the time Henry demanded the Scottish hostages, it was commonly believed that the king had no intention of ransoming Mortimer; after all, he was safely out of the way and couldn't champion his nephew's cause. This rankled with Hotspur, and it is possible that he thought to use Douglas ransom money to pay for Mortimer's release himself.

Statue of Harry Hotspur, Alnwick Castle

Hotspur finally rode to London in response to the king's demands, but he went without Douglas. Needless to say, this immediately provoked an argument. When Hotspur insisted that he should be able to ransom his brother in-law, Henry refused, saying he did not want money going out of the country to help his enemies. Hotspur rebutted with, "Shall a man expose himself to danger for your sake and you refuse to help him in his captivity?" Henry replied that Mortimer was a traitor and willingly yielded himself to the Welsh. "And you are a traitor!" the king retorted, apparently in reference to an earlier occasion when Hotspur chose to negotiate with Owain Glyndwr rather than arrest him. Allegedly the king struck Percy on the cheek and drew his dagger. Of course, attacking the king was treason and Hotspur withdrew, shouting "Not here, but in the field!" All of this may be apocryphal, but it is certainly powerful stuff.

The whole question of Mortimer's ransom became moot when he decided to marry the daughter of Glyndwr and openly declare his change of loyalties on 13 December, 1402. No one knows whether Hostpur's tempestuous interview with King Henry happened before or after this event; regardless, a bare minimum of eight months passed until Shrewsbury. Were they planning a revolt all this time? It is likely that early in 1403 one or both of the Percies were in communication with the Welsh. Owain Glyndwr was approaching the apex of his power, and a possible alliance between him, Mortimer, and the Percies could well have been brewing. It would come to fruition later on as the infamous Tripartite Indenture (splitting England's rule between them), but by then Hotspur was long dead.

No one has been able to satisfactorily explain just why the Percies revolted against Henry IV. If they were so supportive of young Mortimer—as was stated in Hotspur's manifesto before the battle—why did they work so hard to put Lancaster on the throne? All evidence points to their self-aggrandisement. And looking at the three years following his coronation, it became evident that King Henry was not willing to serve as their puppet, nor was he willing to enhance their power at the expense of the crown. The Percies' ambitions were thwarted by the king's perceived ingratitude, and the consensus of modern historians is that they hoped to replace him with someone more easily manipulated.

Shakespeare—and some historians—blame Hotspur's uncle Thomas Percy as the one who deliberately misrepresented negotiations between the rebels and Henry IV just before the battle. But frankly, I see no evidence to support this theory. Thomas had nothing to gain and much to lose; in fact, he was executed afterwards. I think Hotspur drove the uprising from beginning to end; it's even possible that he "jumped the gun", so to speak, and refused to wait for his father to show up with reinforcements. No one knows for sure.

Shrewsbury was considered one of the bloodiest battles on English soil. This was the first time archery was used on both sides—already well proven on the battlefields of France. It was a close call. Until they discovered Hotspur's body, no one was even sure who had won the day. Historians agree that for Henry, this came the closest to his losing his crown forever.

Mercedes Rochelle

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About the Author

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves. Find out more at her website: https://mercedesrochelle.com/ and find Mercedes on Facebook and Twitter @authorrochelle

7 June 2021

Guest Post by Savannah Cordova: Five Crucial Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

 Knowing how to write a great short story is tough. To condense a narrative into 3,000 words or less, the writer really has to sculpt every sentence, being careful not to sacrifice substance or theme. Despite this difficulty, each week my colleagues and I read dozens of standout short stories as judges of Reedsy’s short story contest. 

One thing we notice is that authors who write in genres which require more worldbuilding — historical fiction included — can struggle to condense their narratives and pack a real punch in relatively few words. This is a shame, since historical fiction stories done right are some of my absolute favorites. To encourage more historical fiction writers to try this form, I’m going to share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from reading hundreds of short stories — as well as a few stellar examples.

1. Do your research 

Different kinds of historical fiction require different kinds of prep work. For a historical romance, the writer needs to know all about societal norms and expectations; for a fictional account of a battle, the tactical decisions and maneuvers matter most. When writing a short story, it’s all about immediately grounding readers in the culture of the time period. You need to know how people thought, how they went about their daily lives, and what stories they might tell about themselves and their world.

If you want your historical fiction story to foreground a real historical figure, you’ll need to do the kind of research a biographer might do. Then use those facts as your source of inspiration. As long as what you write is plausible, you can use your imagination to speculate and fill in the gaps, taking the story where the historian can’t go.

2. Find an interesting way into the time period

One common misconception among historical fiction writers is the notion that an elaborate, multi-POV, multi-act story structure is the only way to tell “the whole truth.” But writers who try to encompass everything they know within the scope of a short story will inevitably spread themselves too thin.

Leave it to the historian to give an unbiased account. What you need to do is get behind your protagonist and tell their story. Figure out what’s meaningful and interesting about their connection to the time period, then try to pinpoint your story's key emotion. Despite the historical backdrop, it’s this key emotion that will move the reader.

One recent submission that did this really well was The Ritual, which takes place in New York during WWII. The author uses what they know of the period — the hysteria, the uncertainty, and the mistreatment of Japanese and Italian immigrants — to tell a moving story about community, family, and the home. When they touch upon historical events, this sentiment still permeates every paragraph. Take a look:

When the FBI agents came for Luigi, he had been cutting through a beam that was part of a new project that Giovanni had been doing on the house. Giovanni had given the old Victorian a face lift; its termite infested wooden exterior was replaced by cream colored stucco and red window boxes.

3. Infuse your story with historical details

Though it’s true that you shouldn’t try to cram everything you know about a time period into a short story, sprinkling in accurate historical details will keep readers interested and make your story much more credible.

To that end, during your research, keep an inventory of small details that will add color to the world of your story. While writing, you can also make note of any details you include that you might want to check for accuracy, or replace with something more emblematic of the times.

Of course, you don’t want to add information just for the sake of it. To hold your audience’s attention, you’ll want to emphasize select details that advance plot or characterization. Here’s a great example from a story called Treading Water, set when Elvis Presley was king:

The ding of an overhead bell signaled my arrival as I pushed open the door. A wave of cool air hit my face and I sighed in relief. On a shelf, a small electric-powered fan blew a soothing breeze straight at me. I was surprised the store even had electricity, but I supposed that since most of Main St did, there was no reason for it not to. A portable radio rested on the front counter, by an ashtray full of cigarette butts, but it wasn’t turned on.

4. Don’t get bogged down in dialogue

One detail that I’ve seen way too many writers get bogged down in: the vocabulary or grammatical structure of their historical era. Yes, speech has shifted dramatically over time, but you won’t shatter any illusions for your reader by failing to replicate historical speech patterns.

In fact, it’s far more noticeable when a writer chooses to write in a specific dialect. Think of Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh and the narrator’s thick Scottish dialect — it can make for pretty opaque reading, right? The odd word or occasional phrase can work to reinforce your historical setting, but don’t bust a gut trying to stuff them in. Include too many and your story might become tougher to read than it’s worth.

One of the stories submitted to our contest, Adventurin’, did a great job of adding some historical color to the speech of one of its characters. The story is narrated in modern English, but the protagonist’s loud, loquacious friend Jed speaks, well, like this:

They know our story; you know, ‘cause their Paw has sung our story-song to them in front of the fireplace after their Maw has done the Bible readin’. Not too soon after, mind you, because their Paw don’t want to shame the Word of God with our story. That happens, and kids won’t want to listen to Bible readin’ anymore. Famous is fine, but you and me don’t want to come between children and the Almighty.

Jed’s voice comes through so clearly, helping us understand the character and the world he’s grown up in, and immersing us in the historical context without making the prose jarring to read.

5. Start with a punch, not exposition

Most writers instinctively understand the need to hook readers as quickly as possible. As you might imagine, the need is even greater when it comes to short fiction, where everything is so compact. As a judge, I’m looking for a hook within the first paragraph — if not the first sentence — to convince me that this story is going to be engaging.

If your story opens with a flowery description of a period costume, an antiquated building, or the events of the year in question, I’m going to check out. I understand the desire to establish the time period early on, and that’s not a bad idea — we even prompted readers to do just that in this contest — but as that prompt asked of our writers, try not to lay it on too thick.

Let’s take a look at the opening lines of this brilliant story, The Things You Don’t Say, as an example:

It was the hottest summer of the decade the year we bought our first air conditioner. It was August 1988, the summer before I entered high school, the summer before life got complicated. The six of us (seven if you count Daisy, the basset hound) loaded into the green Chevy station wagon and drove to Sears, Roebuck and Co. (as it was still called back then.) We were the only people on our street to get an air conditioner.

These opening lines instantly let us know we’re being transported back to the 80s. (So much so that I don’t think the author needs to tell us the date — luckily for them, it wasn’t an entry in the aforementioned contest, but another contest without such requirements.)

But beyond that, they also create atmosphere, clearly establish the narrator’s voice, and set the tone for the whole story. It’s hot, times are changing, and I don’t know about you, but I’m hooked. So if you ever submit a story to our contest at Reedsy, remember to open with something like this. I look forward to reading what you write!

Savannah Cordova

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About the Author

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading and writing short stories. Naturally, she’s a big fan of historical fiction — when it’s done right. Find out more at https://reedsy.com/ and on Twitter @ReedsyHQ