21 September 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Voices in the Mist (The Orphans of Tolosa Book 3) by Susanne Dunlap


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Marry a Catholic stranger, or flee the only world she’s ever known: Headstrong Bruna de Gansard must choose one or the other to protect her Cathar family from the inquisitors.

Toulouse, 1229. The inquisitors have arrived to rid the city of Cathar heretics once and for all, and are putting all unmarried girls over the age of 12 to the question. After an incident in the town calls unwanted attention to 14-year-old Bruna, a young Catholic stranger who is sympathetic to the heretics warns her family about the looming danger, and volunteers to marry their daughter to save her from being questioned.

But Bruna doesn’t want to be forced into marriage, so she chooses flight—which lands her unexpectedly in the midst of a Catholic pilgrimage to Compostela, thrusting her into a life of deceit.

When her beauty and her voice bring her to the attention of the powerful Baron de Belascon, who owes fealty to the king of France, Bruna earns the enmity of the baron’s bitter and imperious mother and finds herself caught between her allegiance to her own people and the dangerous secret of her origins—a secret that can be revealed at any time after the arrival of a French knight who recognizes her.

The Orphans of Tolosa Trilogy comes to a dramatic end in this gripping story of loyalty and betrayal, set amidst the violence and peril of the Albigensian Crusades.

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About the Author

Susanne Dunlap is the author of ten historical novels for adults and teens. Her young adult novel The Musician’s Daughter was a Junior Library Guild selection and a Bank Street Children’s Book of the Year, and it was nominated for the Missouri Gateway Readers Prize and the Utah Book Award. Her latest adult novels, Listen to the Wind and The Spirit of Fire are the first volumes of a medieval trilogy for adults, The Orphans of Tolosa. Listen to the Wind is a finalist for the Chaucer Awards for Pre-1750 Historical Fiction and a Distinguished Favorite in the NYC Big Book Awards. Susanne also published The Mozart Conspiracy, the second in the YA historical mystery series that began with The Musician’s Daughter, in 2019. Susanne has a PhD in music history from Yale University. Find out more at Susanne's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Susanne_Dunlap

17 September 2021

Special Guest Post by Annie Whitehead, Author of The Sins of the Father: Tales of the Iclingas Book 2


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD658: The sons of Penda of Mercia have come of age. Ethelred, the youngest, recalls little of past wars while Wulf is determined to emulate their father, whose quest to avenge his betrayed kinswomen drew him to battle three successive Northumbrian kings.

I’m thrilled that Tony has invited me over to his blog today to talk about my new release, The Sins of the Father. This book is the follow up to Cometh the Hour, which told the story of seventh-century Penda, the last pagan king of Mercia, his struggles against the aggressive Northumbrians, and his quest to avenge his wronged womenfolk. 

Now, in the second volume, Penda’s children and those of his enemy have come of age. Some wish to continue the feud, feeling the need to follow in their father’s steps, while others wish to plough their own furrow. Some even find they have inherited a murderous heart. Hence the book’s tagline: Is a father’s legacy a blessing, or a curse?

Last time I was a guest here, I did a little acrostic, playing on a word associated with the title of my last book. I’d like to do the same today, using the letters of a place which features a lot in both Cometh the Hour and The Sins of the Father: Tamworth.

T is, well, for Tamworth. Though the kings at this time were itinerant, moving from royal vill to royal vill, it seems clear that they had their favourite, or main, residences. I chose to make my character King Penda part of the Iclingas, Icel being the supposed founder of the royal house of Mercia. Icel and Penda both appear in one genealogy, separated by five generations. Tamworth fell within the territory of a people called the Tomsæte, ‘the dwellers by the River Tame’. It’s often assumed that the Iclingas absorbed or were part of the Tomsæte, so Tamworth seems a fitting main residence for Penda and the Iclingas. 


Tamworth (from author's collection)

A is for Arianwen. She is the love of the main character, Ethelred. He is the youngest of Penda’s children, and he suffers from a lack of memories of what happened in his father’s day, which makes him feel disloyal because the feud matters less to him. He fears that he is not honouring Penda’s legacy, but it becomes apparent that perhaps the final outcome is entirely dependent on him. Not at first though. No, all he wants is to spend a quiet life with Arianwen, his Welsh love. She is one of the few fictional characters in the novel, and I felt a great responsibility to her, as her life was utterly in my hands!

M is for Merchelm (and Merwal). Merchelm is the son of Penda’s adopted son, Merwal, who is so much older than Ethelred that it is actually Merchelm who is closest in age to Ethelred. Merwal remembers everything that occurred during Penda’s reign, and is able to advise Ethelred, but it is Merchelm who is his best friend, his wingman in modern parlance, and these two, though in fact uncle and nephew, form the tightest of bonds. Some of Ethelred’s happiest times are spent in the company of Merchelm and Arianwen, before his duties as the king’s brother take him from his peaceful life to the bloodiest of battle fields. Even there, though, Merchelm is with him, watching his back.

W is for Wilfrid. A young boy in the first book, he is now an abbot and becomes a bishop. Wilfrid is devout, and is the confessor of the Northumbrian queens, but he has a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way. The real life Wilfrid’s career was so chequered - he was exiled and imprisoned and suffered the threat of having all his possessions confiscated during his eventful life - that I had to condense the details of it in the novel. One of his most famous roles was as a speaker at the synod of Whitby in 664, which is where, among other things, the dating of Easter was agreed. 

O is for Ositha. As a young girl she is virtually unnoticed by her father, and seeks to please by learning to spy for him. She becomes adept at listening round corners, and as a ‘teenager’ she develops religious fervour, praying to the uncle she is sure she’s named for. Feeling supplanted when a younger sibling is born, she is conflicted because she loves the new baby. A tightly-wrapped bundle of confusion, she struggles to hold onto reality, making her a ‘patsy’ for her elder brother, who dangles the carrot of a good marriage in front of her, if she’ll just do the small job of murder in return…

R is for Ripon. Wilfrid is made abbot there by one of the Northumbrian ‘princes’, which enrages the king, who despises Wilfrid. Unfortunately, Wilfrid’s first act is to evict the entire community of monks there, doing nothing to increase his popularity. There are few locations associated with this period where the visitor can still see traces of buildings, but at Ripon the crypt built in Wilfrid’s day still exists. 


Ripon Crypt 

T is for Tette. She is a minor but important character and she really existed. She was the wife of Penwal, a leading Mercian warrior, and Tette and Penwal are known to us because they were the parents of St Guthlac, the hermit of Crowland. It is thanks to Guthlac’s hagiographer, Felix, that we also know of Tette’s daughter, Pega, who appears in the book as a small girl. 

H is for Heaferth. Again, based on a real life character, but I changed his name because it too closely resembled another character’s name. Consequently, for most of the first draft he was Wossname, and then for a while I thought of him as Kevin, not at all an Old English name! Heaferth is a leader of one of the Mercian tribes, and he is a fierce defender of Mercian independence, as well as a loyal member of the Mercian kings’ hearth troops. There is nothing he will not do for Ethelred and he struggles to forgive himself for the one occasion where he feels he let his lord down by not protecting Arianwen. His determination never to make the same mistake again leads him down a dangerous path…
Annie Whitehead
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About the Author


Annie Whitehead is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor for EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors.) She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon England, one of which was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society (HNS) Indie Book of the year 2016, and her full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom is published by Amberley Books. She has contributed to fiction and nonfiction anthologies and written for various magazines, including winning the New Writer Magazine Prose Competition. She was the winner of the inaugural Historical Writers’ Association/Dorothy Dunnett Prize 2017. She has recently been a judge for that same competition, and for the HNS Short Story Competition. Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England will be published by Pen & Sword Books on May 30th 2020.  Find out more at Annie's website
http://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @AnnieWHistory

Special Guest Post by Amy Maroney, Author of Island of Gold (Sea and Stone Chronicles)


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1454. A noble French falconer. A spirited merchant’s daughter. And a fateful decision that changes their destiny forever.
 
Island of Gold, the first book in my Sea and Stone Chronicles series, was inspired by a three-week visit to the island of Rhodes back in 2012 with my family. As I got to know the island and its people, I was awed by the layers of history stretching back thousands of years. I marvelled at the ancient temples and crumbling statues of goddesses that existed alongside massive stone walls and forts built by the medieval Knights Hospitaller. Traces of past lives were visible everywhere. I imagined I could hear voices of long-forgotten people whispering to me in the wind that rose up from the sea each afternoon.

A moment that will stay with me forever: one day, we entered the rebuilt palace of the knights and wandered through vast, formal chambers. We peeked into dim corridors where stone tablets carved with European knights’ coats-of-arms leaned haphazardly against the walls. Staring at those forgotten slabs of stone, I found myself wondering who the knights had been, where they had come from, and how they had died.


Knights Hospitaller palace, Rhodes Town, [Unsplash photo]

The Order of St. John of the Knights Hospitaller began in Jerusalem during the 1100s as a hospice for sick pilgrims. After gaining papal protection a century later, it expanded its operations to become both a religious and military organization, defending the crusader states in the Holy Land. As Muslims took over the crusader states, the Knights Hospitaller withdrew first to the Greek island of Rhodes and—after their expulsion by the Ottoman Turks in 1522—eventually regrouped in Malta.

The organization’s lifeblood was in Western Europe. Wealthy donors infused the Hospitallers with land, rights and revenues; their sons became knights of the Order and travelled to the Holy Land, Rhodes, and Malta to defend Christendom. Each European region or kingdom with ties to the Order was called a ‘tongue.’ France had three tongues: Ile-de-France, Auvergne, and Provence. During the era of Island of Gold, the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller was Jacques de Milly, a seasoned knight from Auvergne and a pivotal character in the novel.


Jacques de Milly [Wikipedia Commons]

Island of Gold is the story of ordinary people living in the shadow of the knights. It tells the tale of Cédric and Sophie, a noble French falconer and a spirited merchant’s daughter, who marry in France and go on to seek their fortunes in Rhodes. To build their fifteenth-century world, I relied on several key books about the Order during my research. My favorite books on that topic are The Knights Hospitaller by Helen Nicholson and The Knights of Rhodes by Elias Kollias. I also studied many academic papers about the Order and the maritime world of medieval Rhodes and Cyprus (the knights were tied both economically and politically to that island as well).

One thing that surprised me in the course of my research was how few knights there were during the mid-fifteenth century. Rhodes Town (the largest community in Rhodes and the headquarters of the Order for two hundred years) housed about three hundred knights at that time. The bulk of their fighting force was made up of mercenaries, some of whom were recruited from overseas, while others known as ‘turcopoles’ were local men conscripted into service.

Most knights were wealthy second or third sons of noble families. Sending a son on a “tour” with the knights was both fashionable and a demonstration of piety. It was not glamorous, though. I found evidence of a young French knight who arrived in Rhodes only to be horrified by the brutality he witnessed. He wrote a letter home begging his parents not to send his younger brother to join him. They ignored his pleas and the boy was sent on to Rhodes as a page and later killed.

The knights were pirates, like most seafaring societies in the medieval Mediterranean. They raided Muslim villages in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. They took captives and sold them as slaves (or kept them to build fortifications in Rhodes Town and work their sugar plantations). Mercenaries employed by the Order were allowed to keep much of what they stole. The Order was constantly engaged in negotiations with the Ottoman Turks and the Mamluks (the rulers of Egypt at the time), dealing with exchanges of prisoners and attempts to mitigate violence at sea. But both sides routinely broke their fragile agreements.

In Rhodes Town itself, the Grand Master and his brethren ruled the Order from the massive stone palace overlooking the harbor. Once a week, the Grand Master would meet with townsfolk to hear grievances, mediate disputes, and announce punishments and rewards. Inns housing knights, pilgrims, and other travelers were built along the ‘Street of the Knights’ leading up the hill to the palace.


Street of the Knights, Rhodes Town. [Unsplash photo]

The people of Rhodes were allowed to continue worshipping in Greek Orthodox churches, but there were occasional uprisings encouraged by local Greek priests. The Order relied on Greeks to help them communicate, to build their ships, to grow grain and grapes for them, to provide the merchants and artisans that were the backbone of the thriving port town. They conscripted many lower-class Rhodians into the ‘Marinaria’—people obliged to row the Order’s warships. This obligation was passed down from generation to generation, and was so hated that many Rhodians fled their island rather than endure that fate.

The knights were feared, but they were also respected. As Christians, Rhodians were terrified of a Muslim takeover of their island, and the knights were a bulwark against that possibility.

When my characters Cédric and Sophie arrive in Rhodes in 1455, they discover an atmosphere of slowly-building tension and dread. The fall of Constantinople in 1454 to Sultan Mehmed II of Turkey sent shock waves throughout the Christian world. Cédric and Sophie learn that few in Rhodes Town are willing to speak the words aloud, but everyone is thinking: Will Rhodes be next?

The Turks struck Rhodes in 1480, but the Knights managed to hold them off. When they returned in 1522, things would be different. The Order was overwhelmed. After a long siege, they conceded defeat.

During the hundreds of years of Muslim occupation of Rhodes that followed, many Christian churches were demolished or transformed into mosques. The palace fell into disrepair. The beautiful Church of St. John that once stood adjacent to the palace vanished in the 19th century due to an explosion.


Medieval hospital in Rhodes Town Unsplash photo]

Then, during the twentieth century occupation of Rhodes by the Italians, the palace was rebuilt and the lovely Street of the Knights was restored. The hospital that once housed ill and injured knights, pilgrims, and local folk was eventually turned into a museum. Traces of the knights were dug up, dusted off. And still, so much remains hidden under layers of rock, soil, sand. The layers of history in Rhodes are deep. But they will continue to offer up their secrets to those willing to search—and whatever I discover next, I’ll share with my readers in the Sea and Stone Chronicles.

Amy Maroney

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About the Author

Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. She's currently obsessed with pursuing forgotten women artists through the shadows of history. When she's not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, drawing, dancing, and reading. Get The Promise, a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, and check out Amy’s blog here: https://www.amymaroney.com/. Connect with Amy on Facebook and Twitter @wilaroney




16 September 2021

Special Guest Interview with Rosemary Griggs, Author of A Woman of Noble Wit


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

I'm pleased to welcome author Rosemary Griggs to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

It’s the story of a little known Devon woman whose son, Sir Walter Raleigh, made his mark. Like most women of her time, Katherine Raleigh’s footprint on the historical record is light. But, unusually, we do have an account of her that was published in her lifetime. When I read of her courageous vigil with a protestant martyr in Exeter I knew I just had to tell her story.   So, after six years of research,  A Woman of Noble Wit was born.  My title is taken from the description of her visit to Agnes Prest in the second edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. 

Katherine’s story is Tudor history seen through a woman’s eyes. She lived through tumultuous events that changed England for ever — the split from Rome, the see-sawing changes to religion under different monarchs, huge social and political upheaval.   

Little is known about Sir Walter Raleigh’s early years. Even the year of his birth remains the subject of debate.  But biographers have commented that his mother must have been a remarkable woman.  With two different husbands she produced five sons who survived childhood, four of whom were knighted. Her boys strode across the Elizabethan stage, dazzling, brilliant and proud. My novel follows Katherine as she becomes the woman who might inspire them to follow their dreams. 

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I’m a morning person, often drinking my first cup of tea before 6 am, so I like to be at my desk early and work through the morning.  An hour or two more after lunch, then I like to have some thinking time.  If the weather is good I’ll potter in my garden, or best of all, walk up to my allotment.  It’s in a field at the top of a hill, only accessible by vehicle in the summer months and is my special place where I can let my mind wander and listen to the birdsong as I tend my plot.  

That’s my ideal writing day, and I’d love to say that I’m disciplined enough to stick to that routine every day.   But life tends to get in the way.  I have to balance my writing time with preparation for my speaking engagements and  there’s always a lot of admin to do, not to mention time for husband and family.  I’m afraid I also often succumb to the lure of the “research rabbit hole”.  The one where you pause to check one little fact and stumble on a whole new line of enquiry only to emerge hours later without writing a word. I also spend a lot of time visiting the places Im writing about.  I find a lot of inspiration in Devons wonderful churches, many of which have changed little.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Don’t give way to “imposter syndrome”.  You are the only one who can tell your story, so believe in yourself and keep going.  

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

A Woman of Noble Wit is my first novel, so its early days.  But its already clear to me that, as a writer, I need to work hard to make sure potential readers know about my book. Self-promotion doesn’t always come naturally, but it seems to me that its the only way.  Never miss an opportunity to tell people about your book. Word of mouth is powerful and, because my book features so many well loved Devon locations, I see local press and media interest as critical.  

I’ve been advised to set up my author platform, so I have a website and send out newsletters and post on my blog there. Then there’s the whole new world of social media, which on the face of it gives you the possibility of reaching millions of potential readers.   Ask me that question again in a year’s time, and I might be able to tell you what works best.  But as always with marketing, its never really possible to say which particular promotion or activity actually levered sales. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

I really didn’t expect to find that a member of the Raleigh family lived just down the road in the Devon town where I live. Katherine’s stepson, John Raleigh was heavily involved in his father’s shipping business, which veered between merchant trading, privateering and piracy. He was named co-lessee when Walter Raleigh senior renewed the lease on the farm at East Buddleigh in 1551, but later he had  a house in Newton Abbot, where he married the widow of a prominent figure in the town’s history.  

Another real surprise was to find evidence of the marriage of a priest under Edward VI and the consequences under Mary I, which gave me a sub-plot —fascinating stuff which I’ll publish soon.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

I find writing about grief and loss quite harrowing, perhaps because I must draw on my own experience so much.  But I think writing the ending was the most  challenging.   After living with my characters for so long it was hard to part with them, especially Katherine, who has rather taken over my life.  

What are you planning to write next? 

While researching A Woman of Noble Wit I’ve met a whole cast of characters, each with their own story to tell.  I’m currently researching the life of another woman who, although born far away, spent most of her life in Devon. She’s another less known woman who married into Katherine’s family. Her path in life was rather different and her story tells a lot about attitudes in Elizabeth’s England. 

Rosemary Griggs

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About the Author

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

15 September 2021

Author Interview with Heather Robinson, Author of Wall of Stone


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

In AD121 the Twentieth Legion of Rome stands at the northern frontier of Britannia. Forgotten, neglected and dour in spirit, they must still do their duty for an Empire whose meaning is becoming lost to them.


 I'm pleased to welcome author Heather Robinson to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

Wall of Stone is set in AD121 on the northern frontier of Britannia and not only covers events that lead to the building of Hadrian's Wall, but also explores some of the different relationships and emotions we experience in life: comradeship, kinship, friendship, love, hate, fear, despair. It's all in there as we follow the fate and fortunes of a few Roman soldiers from the Twentieth Legion as their lives unavoidably intertwine with a local Brigante family. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

Different to my actual writing routine! I prefer to write every day as it is easier to pick up the thread and I can get in to my writing stride quickly. A walk in the morning, writing in the afternoon, and again after dinner in the evening if it's going well. I managed to achieve this during the Covid-19 lockdowns, but apart from that life mostly has other ideas. 

I work part-time on a farm as well as being an author and a certain flexibility of hours is required with this job, meaning I don't open my laptop at all on some days. I have found it helps if I stop my session of writing in mid-sentence. Is that strange? It feels strange when I do it, but helps me latch back in to my thoughts more easily if I miss a couple of days. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Loads! And none of it's original, it's all been stolen from successful authors. Bernard Cornwell's website is full of good advice, as is Stephen King's book “On Writing”.

Here are my top five that I keep in mind when I'm writing:

  • Read, read and read, then write what you like to read.
  • The job of an historical fiction author is to entertain, not to give a history lecture.
  • The first draft doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be written.
  • Editing is your friend.
  • Finish what you start.

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

I'm still learning and improving my skills of marketing. It's my weakest aspect of being an Indie author. So far social media has raised most awareness: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The writing community out there is vast and generous with its support and I've made some great friends as well as raising awareness of my books. We help each other by sharing our strengths. I'm hopeful this Blog Tour will raise awareness further.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Well, I was surprised to learn that intensive crop farming was underway on Salisbury Plain in Roman Britain. Farming in general was still pretty primitive in Britannia at this time. Unusual Romano-British settlements have been found there too, with speculation that the natives may have been used as slaves. 

I wasn't able to find enough information to use this in Wall of Stone but hope to research further in time for the sequel. Finding the Roman name of the area would help, but so far I've drawn a blank on this. Salisbury Plain is the largest remaining area of calcareous grassland in northwest Europe and intrigues me, especially as it's on my doorstep.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The fighting scenes took some work. I hope I've done them justice. 

What are you planning to write next?

A sequel to Wall of Stone. I'm ready for that now. I tinkered with it last year but a slave girl who escaped the disaster at Pompeii in AD79 was insisting her story be told first. She got her way and Juno's Peacock is published and available to buy on Amazon, so I'm ready to return to the Twentieth Legion in Britannia and see what they're up to. It's like visiting old friends and I'm excited at the plot that is forming. I have a whim to use the characters of Wall of Stone and Juno's Peacock in the sequel...I just need to iron out some difficulties!

Heather Robinson

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About the Author

Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree with most of her working life spent as an Administration Manager locally. She is also a qualified and experienced radio presenter, hosting a weekly show for Warminster Community Radio. Proud parents of two boys, Heather and her husband Graham share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling. Find out more from her website and follow Heather on Facebook and Twitter @HevRob1

14 September 2021

Extract from Master of Battle (Legend of the Cid Book 4) by Stuart Rudge


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Peace reigns in the Kingdom of Leon-Castile, and Antonio Perez returns to his native Asturias to discover the fate of his remaining family. Whilst there, he reconnects with Jimena, his childhood companion and the girl he once loved. But when his loyal friend Rodrigo and Jimena fall in love, Antonio is consumed by jealousy. As the wedding of two of his closest companions approaches, Antonio must battle his enemies and his inner demons, lest it lead to the ruin of all he holds dear.


It is 1073AD, and Antonio returns to Asturias to discover the fate of his mother and sisters. Whilst there, he is reacquainted with Jimena, his childhood companion. This marks the first meeting between Rodrigo and Jimena…


We had bypassed the principal settlement of Asturias in favour of exploring Lugones first, but in truth, the search for my family should have started there. Diego Fernandez still reigned as the count of Oviedo, and as the last person who had supposedly shown mercy to my family, it would have made sense to consult him. We left Lugones and let our horses gallop along the dirt road, felt liberated as the breeze whipped at our hair, whooped as we raced one another. The city soon appeared before us, and we slowed our pace to join the line of traffic that headed to the outer walls. They were thick and the height of three men, and several guards patrolled behind the parapet. The guards at the gate waved us through when Rodrigo produced a letter with the seal of the king and cited our need to speak with the count.
   Oviedo was a small settlement compared to those beyond the Cantabrian Mountains. Once the seat of the kings of Asturias, it had always had a low population, made even more so with the steady flow of people who moved south to repopulate new lands conquered from the Moors. Yet there were still plenty of traders who came to exchange their wares and skilled craftsmen who toiled away in their workshops. Wide avenues divided the close press of timber buildings and the small stone churches, and the toll of the bells from the cathedral rang out above the general chatter of the local populace, the creak of wagon wheels and the occasional grunt from a pack animal. 
   The street opened up to the main square, which was where the market was held. Traders from all across Hispania and beyond called out to those who perused the wares and offered discounts on linens and silks, iron tools and ivory carvings, jewellery of gold and silver, emeralds and garnets and sapphires. I was uninterested in the wares on offer. We had approached from the northern edge of the square, and on the western side was the cathedral of San Salvador. Its limestone façade gleamed in the light of the late summer sun. On the eastern side of the square, located between a small church and freshly built stables, was our destination. It was a small palace surrounded by a low wall, a residence for the count of Oviedo when he was in the city. The main palace was situated a mile or so up the slopes of Monte Naranco, on the site of the palace of the old kings of Asturias. Once more, Rodrigo persuaded the guards to allow us access. 
   ‘The count is not here at the moment,’ one of the guards said as he waved us through the threshold, ‘so you will have to wait. Only God knows how long he will be. His old age is slowing him down.’
   I took no more notice of his words, for I scanned the courtyard of the palace. It was a square enclosure ringed by the main hall, the residence for the count and the staff and servants, various storerooms and another small stable. A sentry kept watch on top of the narrow parapet, two slaves ran bone combs through the coats of a pair of horses, whilst a throng of maids carried baskets of linen towards one of the storerooms. I stopped Pazel and focused on a girl who had emerged from the hall. Her lithe figure was adorned with a simple brown shift and her hair was covered in a white headdress, and she carried a wooden bucket in each hand. Her expression seemed sullen and she stared at the ground as she trudged towards a large trough close to the gate. I could not resist the smile that curled upon my mouth, and the surge of relief that engulfed my body.
   The girl was Eva, my younger sister.
   Of all of my siblings, Eva was my favourite. Two years my junior, she was quiet and reserved as opposed to the domineering Maria who always dreamed of marrying a highborn lord and gaining a position of power by passing noble whelps between her legs, and Inigo who was determined to follow in our father’s footsteps. Perhaps Eva was too young to think of such things. All she cared for was pleasing our mother in her tasks; in her embroidery and her singing, playing the lute and practising her manners and etiquette. As such, she had developed a naivety and vulnerability, similar to myself, and I think that was what drew me to her more than my elder siblings.
   I dismounted and gave the reigns to my squire Enrique, then stepped forward and cut her off. She looked up and flinched, then froze. Her hazel eyes were wide and seemed full of sorrow and fear. Her face was fresh and youthful, and she had grown in beauty since our last meeting. But the thing that stood out the most was there was none of the happiness I recalled from our childhood; only pain and uncertainty.
   ‘Excuse me, lord,’ she said cautiously and eyed the armed men behind me. I simply stared at her, which added to her unease. She took half a step back.
   ‘Have I changed that much, that you do not recognise my face?’ I finally managed. A frown appeared on her brow. I could not help but give a half-grin and raise my brow. ‘This is not a very fitting way to greet your brother.’
   Eva paused and simply stared, processing my words. The frown opened to wide eyes. She dropped the baskets in her grasp and covered her gaping mouth with her hands. She began to tremble. Only when my smile grew did a tear trickle down her cheek, and soon her bright eyes brimmed with more tears.
   ‘Antonio?’ she gasped. I nodded and gave half a laugh as my vision clouded with tears of my own brimming in my eyes. Eva clenched her eyes shut and sank to her knees. Her eyes opened once more, filled now with relief and hope. I knelt and took her trembling hands in my own, but then she threw her arms around my neck, pulled me tight and sobbed into my tunic. We knelt for what seemed like an age, let the rawest of our emotions ebb away before she pulled away and I helped her to her feet.
   ‘You are not the Antonio I remember,’ she said through tears with a chortle. ‘You were skinny and cowardly, but now you look like a lord, a warrior like father once was.’
   ‘So much has happened. I have been trying to avenge our father. Things have not turned out how I had planned, but I have never given up.’
   ‘I believe you would have made him proud.’ Eva paused and gave a nod of reassurance. ‘There have been so many rumours about you that I just did not know what to believe. I heard you lived, but believed you had forgotten about me.’
   ‘Not once over these long years have I forgotten about you. I have dreamed of this moment for years. Where are mother, and Maria? Are they here?’
   I looked over her shoulder and searched the courtyard once more, but amongst the female servants in the courtyard, there were no familiar features. When I looked back at Eva her smile had diminished, yet her tears remained. She was reluctant to speak.
   ‘Eva?’
   I knew something was wrong. A sickening feeling settled in my stomach. I placed my hands on Eva’s shoulders, forced her raw eyes to look into my own. All the long years of uncertainty had prepared me for the worst. But then the emergence of a woman from the main palace caught my attention, and the sense of foreboding was lifted in an instant.
   My heart was sent into flutters.
   Her hair was black as pitch, yet shimmered in the light of the midday sun and fell in loose curls over her shoulders. She was not tall but carried herself with confidence, and the royal blue linen gown she wore clung to her slender frame, highlighted her breasts and the curves of her hips. Sun-kissed skin glowed and bright emerald eyes met mine, which brought a smile that flashed on her full lips. The power of that smile unleashed memories of my adolescence, and feelings that had suppressed for over a decade. The chatter amongst my companions diminished as they joined me in admiring the beauty before us. 
   ‘Greetings, Antonio Perez,’ said Jimena Diaz, the daughter of the count and my oldest friend. She slowly walked towards me. ‘Welcome back to Oviedo. It has been a long time.’
   Words eluded me. I peeled away from Eva and walked towards Jimena as if in a trance. She had grown and matured into a perfect woman, flawless like the brightest of emeralds and more radiant than Helen of Troy who sparked a war because of her beauty. My gawping did not go unnoticed. The look of elation on her face descended into a frown. ‘Antonio?’
   I let out a burst of laughter, then scooped her in my arms and lifted her from the floor. Jimena screamed as I spun her around so her raven hair fanned out, cast a shadow upon the ground. It was no way to treat a highborn lady in her own home, but to me, she was more than the daughter of a count. I let her down to her feet, and she steadied herself then let out a nervous laugh, taken aback by the ostentatious greeting. A grin curled upon my lips before I threw my arms around her and pulled her towards me, squeezed her tight and made her squeak.
   ‘I thought I would never see you again,’ I said as I peeled away. My dramatic greeting startled her, but she did her best to compose herself.
   Around her neck was a silver chain with small beads of emerald and amber glass from Saraqusta, which I had sent to her many years ago. Her brother Fernando agreed to pass it on to her, along with a letter which detailed everything that had happened to me along my journey, and an apology for standing by and letting Inigo assault her when she had aided us in our hour of need.
   ‘You got my letter?’
   ‘I did. I still have it to this day.’
   The memories of what Inigo had done, the pained expression and the trickle of blood upon her mouth came flooding back to the fore and dampened my elated spirits.
   ‘All those years ago, what Inigo did to you…’
   ‘Do not,’ she whispered as she placed a finger upon my lips to silence me. ‘You are absconded of all blame. There is nothing to forgive.’
   Part of me wanted to weep with joy. That dark episode of my life had haunted me for years; the persistent stewing over Jimena’s attitude towards me, the blame I believed she would lay at my feet for what Inigo had done. To hear her words filled me with reprieve. Jimena could sense my discomfort and sought to dispel it, took half a step back to study me.
   ‘Look at you. Antonio Perez, a knight of Castile and lord of Leon! Who would have thought it? There were times I believed even I had more strength than your skinny little limbs.’ She looked behind me at my band of loyal followers. ‘These are your men?’ 
   ‘Some of them are,’ I nodded before I led her over to introduce them. ‘This is Mas’sud, and these are Gotinus, Esidero and Lugo. And this is Enrique, my squire.’
   Jimena greeted each one with a smile and a bow of the head. My companions gave sheepish or overbearing grins, struck by her beauty, which had the profound effect of making them look like idiots. Then Jimena’s eyes fell upon Rodrigo. He alone remained composed and looked at her with a sense of intrigue. Jimena’s interest was piqued in turn.
   ‘You do not seem like just a knight. You are a lord as well?’
   ‘That I am, my lady Jimena Diaz.’ My friend dismounted from Babieca, removed his gloves and took Jimena’s hand in his own, before he bowed and laid a delicate kiss upon it. Jimena seemed slightly taken aback, but it was the way Rodrigo liked to greet most highborn women. ‘My name is Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar.’
   Jimena’s eyes widened a little.
   ‘The alferez who served Sancho?’ Rodrigo nodded. ‘A fall from such a prestigious position would cripple most men, yet you stand here as a man who still holds rank.’
   ‘A fall from grace is a favourable fate when the alternative is death. A man can rise once more from the bottom, but not from the grave.’
   ‘King Alfonso must think highly of you.’
   ‘With sword skills such as mine, most men do.’
   Jimena suppressed a grin, and only the corners of her mouth curled. 
   ‘I have heard of your exploits. It is rare when men of Asturias fight these days, so we all crave a good tale about the heroes south of the mountains. Your reputation is well known. Perhaps I will see you employ your craft one day, accompanied by the tales of your achievements. I hope to be impressed.’
   ‘And I only hope to never make an enemy of you, my lady.’
Rodrigo and Jimena shared a grin, and their eyes seemed fixated on each other, took in the sight of their counterpart, as if entranced by an arcane spell. Jimena soon peeled her eyes away and addressed the entire company.
   ‘You are all welcome in my father’s hall. He is currently at the palace on Naranco but should return by nightfall. For now, you will feast and rest, and we will talk.’ She cast a sombre glance at Eva then to me. ‘There is much to discuss.’

# # #

About the Author

Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history, and his love of table top war gaming and strategy video games. He studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Newcastle University, and has spent his fair share of time in muddy trenches, digging up treasure at Bamburgh Castle.He has worked in the retail sector and volunteered in museums, before working in York Minster, which he considered the perfect office. His love of writing blossomed within the historic walls, and he knew there were stories within which had to be told. Despite a move in to the shipping and logistics sector (a far cry to what he hoped to ever do), his love of writing has only grown stronger. Find out more on Stuart's Website: https://stuartrudge.wordpress.com/ and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @stu_rudge

9 September 2021

Special Guest Interview with Philip Yorke, Author of Redemption (The Hacker Chronicles, Book 2)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.

I'm pleased to welcome author Philip Yorke to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

Redemption is the second novel of the five-part Hacker Chronicle series, set during the period 1644-45, in the midst of the first brutal British Civil War.

The central character is Francis Hacker, who rose to be the foremost commander of horse in the New Model Army. He was also a friend and loyal ally of Oliver Cromwell.

The book’s central plot focuses on a key Parliamentarian who betrays the cause he serves – and Francis’s role in bringing him to heel. But it also tells the story of Francis’s relentless pursuit of Gustav Holck, a Bohemian mercenary and key supporter of Prince Rupert and King Charles the First, who butchered two of Francis’s children in cold blood in the first book of the series (Rebellion).

Punctuating the two twisting plots are regular bursts of action as the Parliamentarian army gradually starts to gain the ascendency against the Royalists. 

Much of what is written in the book is historically accurate, and all of my writing follows a strict historical timeline. Like all historical fiction novels, some of the content is pure invention. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to prepare an outline, which maps out all the key, historical events of the time my book covers. Usually this takes up to three months to complete. In addition, I like to have biographies of the key characters from history who will feature in my writing, and I will often visit some of the towns and areas I will be writing about so I can accurately describe local landmarks. 

When I conduct research, I am always drawn to the online vaults of the BCW Project's website. This is a real goldmine for anyone writing about the events of seventeenth-century Britain.

Once my preparatory work is completed, I create a chapter structure, including as much detail and plot as I can muster. This gives me the easy-to-use reference point I need for my imagination to take over. And then I start to write.

Penning the words is a very different process to creating the structure; some days I find myself only able to write a thousand words, or so, while on others, I can craft a 6,000-word chapter relatively effortlessly. My mood is a big factor in this, so I try to write first thing in the morning, when I have the most energy. A nice cup of fresh coffee provides much-needed stimulus after a couple of hours.

Once a chapter has been completed, I pass it down the line to a couple of people who check it for accuracy and sense. If they say it works, then I move on to the next installment. If they raise some questions, I deal with them. Only when they are happy do I progress.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

We have all been aspiring at some point in our writing journey, so we know what it feels like to be starting out.

Many years ago, two people gave me the best possible advice when I worked on Fleet Street.

The first, an experienced editor, encouraged me to be meticulous in my planning and research. These two disciplines, he contended, are the backbones of all writing. I agree, and that’s why I spend as long as I can preparing things.

Another former colleague encouraged me not to seek the endorsement of my peers, as their views can often be a distraction and hindrance rather than an enabler. He, too, was right. I have spoken to many authors whose stories have been watered down or ruined by third parties. So, stick to your guns and write the story that you want to read. That’s what I try to do.

Whenever I can I encourage writers to simply ‘have a go’ and pour their heart and soul into the project. 

Many people I speak to think all books have to start with the best-ever introductory paragraphs. I disagree. This is a near impossibility for the vast majority of us, so don’t even try to go there. My advice is ‘get writing – and keep writing’. Words can be changed, rewritten and dropped completely at varying stages of the project. But what is sacrosanct (and very difficult to change when you have penned 50,000 words) is the quality and plausibility of the plot – and the credibility of the characters. So, work on these and forget a lot of the other stuff. 

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

Knowledge in this important regard is key – as is preparation and rigour.

Getting advance copies of your book reviewed by third parties is still a key part of the publishing and distribution process. In this regard, newspapers and magazines can be huge influencers – if you sell-in your book in the right kind of way (i.e. confidently).

Social media is also a good way to get would-be readers excited, particularly if you are prepared to offer your eBooks free for a limited period (up to five days), so readers can sample your writing without the need of parting with their hard-earned cash.

Alas, no matter who you link yourself to, you will need to spend some cash on marketing your book – if you want it to be sampled by the largest possible audience. The trick here is to identify which platforms provide value for money and which ones burn your cash and give zilch in return (and many do this).

Once you have done this, identify a budget you are happy spending (and prepare yourself for little return in the short-term), prepare vibrant and credible marketing materials (including endorsements) and then press the button. 

This is when the hard work really starts, because from this moment on, you are using real information to refine your techniques and increase your audience. 

To aid me, I joined the Historical Novel Society, which specialises in historical fiction writing. It costs £40 annually – yet gives me access to specialists who can help with marketing, manuscript testing, and a lot, lot more. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I had been looking into the life of Francis Hacker, and his many family associations, when I was told he was first cousin to Oliver Cromwell.

Unfortunately, I was unable to establish this as ‘fact’ before my first novel in the series (Rebellion) was published at the end of 2019. Six months later, several of Francis’s descendants, who now reside in the US, get in touch with me – and all of them told me of this link. One, a lawyer, had even conducted his own research and pulled together an extensive family tree. This showed a family clear link between Francis and Cromwell, and critically gave me the path to follow to establish the bona fides of the claims.

As I answer this question, I am waiting for some answers to a letter I sent to the National Civil War Museum and the National Archives, which (hopefully) will confirm the veracity of this claim.

I won’t be able to use it in the remainder of the series, but it is a wonderful tidbit to have uncovered.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

That’s easy: the scene describing the demise of one of the key characters. I want name character in question (just in case someone reads the book), but it was a leading figure who I had grown very attached to while writing Rebellion and Redemption.

He was an integral figure in both stories – yet it was important he died in a certain way, thereby emphasising the brutality of the period, and giving Francis the desire to avenge the slaying, which is something that runs throughout Redemption and is integral to his character.

At times, I felt like I was living and breathing the scenes. I only hope the words are fitting for the occasion.

What are you planning to write next?

I am scheduled to write Regicide, the third book in the Hacker Chronicles series. This is a story about the death of King Charles – and the role played by Francis Hacker in thwarting repeated attempts by Royalist supporters to assassinate Cromwell and bring about the downfall of the Parliamentarian regime.

The book is scheduled to be published in January 2022, to coincide with the anniversary of the execution of Charles the First.

Philip Yorke

# # #

About the Author

Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker. Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC. He lives in Leicestershire, England. Find out more at Philip's website https://www.philipyorke.org/ and find him on Facebook and Twitter @yorkeauthor