11 December 2019

Special Guest Interview with Author Susanne Dunlap

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Susanne Dunlap toi The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book

THE SPIRIT OF FIRE is book 2 in my trilogy, THE ORPHANS OF TOLOSA. It’s about two orphans trying to find the secret of their identities and their destiny during the final years of the Albigensian Crusades in 13th-century Languedoc.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I used to have a good routine, before my day job went away! LOL! Then I’d get up at 5am and write for about 2 hours on weekdays. Now that I’m working from home, I don’t have as much of a routine. I’m crazy busy doing my editing and book coaching work, and seem only able to work on my own writing when I go to community writing sessions. These are where a group of writers gets together and writes in a quiet space for an hour or more, then sometimes shares what they’ve written. The cooperative energy is great for generating new work.

Otherwise, getting out and going to the library to write is also good. Somehow I’ve managed to do quite a bit of my own writing even with everything else going on.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

There’s no right or wrong way to go about it. It’s important to get used to writing whether you feel the presence of the muse or not, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t write every day. Find other writers to hang out with—no one else will understand how hard it is and what you’re working toward. And get beta readers who aren’t family members. Listen to constructive criticism, and keep working on your writing. It’s the only part of the whole process that’s entirely in your control.

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

If I could answer this I’d make a ton of money, LOL! I think just being present, posting on social media all the time, and not just saying “Buy my book!” (Although you have to do that), but taking part in conversations and encouraging other writers, sharing great books I’ve read etc. I do targeted Facebook ads and some Amazon ads. But the thing that works the best is a price promotion, honestly. And doing things like this virtual book tour, too!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I did the research for this trilogy many years ago, so it’s hard to think back. Perhaps the biggest thing I discovered, truly, was about the women troubadours and their lost art. Nowhere else in Europe that had a troubadour tradition had women practicing the art at such a high level. They were poets, composers, and performers, and they came from the upper echelons of society.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I can’t tell you without a spoiler, unfortunately. A lot of bad things happened when the Catholic Church eventually drove the Cathars completely underground. It’s painful to recreate it all.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m working on the third book in a different series, my 18th-century YA historicals with a young violinist as a sleuth. It’s called The Versailles Betrayal. I’m also soon going to start editing book 3 of the trilogy, which I hope will be out next fall.

Susanne Dunlap

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About the Author

Susanne Dunlap is the author of six works of historical fiction. Two are for adults (Emilie’s Voice and Liszt’s Kiss, both published by Touchstone books of Simon & Schuster). Four are for young adults (The Musician’s Daughter, Anastasia’s Secret, In the Shadow of the Lamp, and The Academie, published by Bloomsbury). A graduate of Smith College with a PhD in Music History from Yale University, Susanne grew up in Buffalo, New York and has lived in London, Brooklyn and Northampton, MA. She now lives in Northampton with her long-time partner, Charles, has two grown daughters, three granddaughters, a grandson, a stepson and a stepdaughter, four step-grandsons and one step-granddaughter—that’s a total of four children and nine grandchildren! In her spare time she cycles in the beautiful Pioneer Valley.  For more information, please visit The Orphans of Tolosa website. You can follow author Susanne Dunlap on Facebook and Twitter @Susanne_Dunlap

5 December 2019

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Pirate Code (Capt. Jesamiah Acorne Book 2) by Helen Hollick

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Time : The Golden Age of Piracy - 1716
The Place : The Pirate Round - from the South African Coast
to the Caribbean

Escaping the bullying of his elder half-brother, from the age of fifteen Jesamiah Acorne has been a pirate with only two loves - his ship and his freedom. But his life is to change when he and his crewmates unsuccessfully attack a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa.

He is to meet Tiola Oldstagh an insignificant girl, or so he assumes - until she rescues him from a vicious attack, and almost certain death, by pirate hunters. And then he discovers what she really is; a healer, a midwife - and a white witch.

Tiola and Jesamiah become lovers, but the wealthy Stefan van Overstratten, a Cape Town Dutchman, also wants Tiola as his wife and Jesamiah's jealous brother, Phillipe Mereno, is determined to seek revenge for resentments of the past, a stolen ship and the insult of being cuckolded in his own home.

When the call of the sea and an opportunity to commandeer a beautiful ship - the Sea Witch - is put in Jesamiah's path he must make a choice between his life as a pirate or his love for Tiola. He wants both, but Mereno and van Overstratten want him dead.

In trouble, imprisoned in the darkness and stench that is the lowest part of his brother's ship, can Tiola, with her gift of Craft and the aid of his loyal crew, save him?

Using all her skills Tiola must conjure up a wind to rescue her lover, but first she must brave the darkness of the ocean depths and confront the supernatural being, Tethys, the Spirit of the Sea, an elemental who will stop at nothing to claim Jesamiah Acorne's soul and bones as a trophy for herself.

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About the Author

Helen moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King) explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers.  Helen is published in various languages. For more information visit Helen's website www.helenhollick.net and blog www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com and follow her on Facebook
and Twitter @HelenHollick.

27 November 2019

Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance, by Stephen Spinks

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Edward II is one of the most controversial kings of English history. On numerous occasions he brought England to the brink of civil war. Author Stephen Spinks argues that Edward and the later murdered Piers Gaveston were lovers, not merely ‘brothers-in-arms’. 

Influenced by successive royal favourites and with a desire for personal vengeance, his rule became highly polarised and unstable. His own wife took a lover and invaded his kingdom resulting in his forced abdication; the first in British history. 

Edward’s prevailing legacy remains the warning that all kings can fall from power.And yet … war, debt and baronial oppression before 1307 ensured that Edward II inherited a toxic legacy that any successor would have found almost impossible to wrestle with. 

Stephen Spinks explores that legacy using contemporary and later sources. By focusing on Edward’s early years as much as on his reign, and exploring the conflicting influences of those around him, Stephen shows the human side of this tale against a backdrop of political intrigues and betrayals. He peels back the layers to reveal the man who wore the crown. 

Edward’s belief in his unchallengable right to rule, increasingly at odds with those at his court, and his undeniable thirst for revenge, creates a fourteenth-century tragedy on a grand scale.

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About the Author

Stephen Spinks wrote his dissertation on Edward II while studying at King's College, London. He works for the National Trust and manages three Medieval heritage sites with 900 volunteers and 150 staff.  He has given many interviews on radio and in his capacity at the National Trust, to 'BBC's Escape to the Country' and the 'Antiques Road Show'. He has been studying the primary sources (and locations) for this book over the past 15 years. Find out more at Stephen's website https://fourteenthcenturyfiend.com/ and follow him on Twitter @SpinksStephen

25 November 2019

Guest Interview with C.J. Adrien, Author of The Lords of the Wind (The Saga of Hasting the Avenger Book 1)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Orphaned as a child by a blood-feud, and sold as a slave to an exiled chieftain in Ireland, the boy Hasting had little hope of surviving to adulthood. The gods had other plans. A ship arrived at his master's longphort carrying a man who would alter the course of his destiny, and take him under his wing to teach him the ways of the Vikings.

I'm pleased to welcome author C.J. Adrien  to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book

My latest novels is a first in series about the life of the Viking Hasting. Hasting is one of the earliest verified historical figures of the Vikings Age, whose career began shortly after the period of semi-legendary figures (such as Ragnar Lothbrok). Highly active in the Loire River valley and Brittany regions of France, Hasting is not often evoked in historical fiction novels that focus on England and Ireland (as is generally the case in the Anglophone world).

It's a shame he isn't because his life embodied the ideals of what it was to be a Viking. If anyone could have written a book on what it was to be a Viking, Hasting would have been the man to do it; except the Vikings didn't write! In any case, Hasting features prominently in all the research I've done on the topic of the Vikings in Brittany, and it has always been my goal to write the story of his life in a compelling way.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I generally only write when I am in the mood, which you won't hear from many other authors. I am fortunate in that I am often in the mood to write, and so I never have to force myself. There are certain times when I am more inspired than others, and when that happens I am essentially consumed by my focus on my work. When it comes to planning outlines, scenes, and other nitty-gritty details, the place where I find the most inspiration is at the gym. Something about turning on epic tunes and pumping iron really gets my inspiration going.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

It takes time to find your voice in your writing. Keep writing, and keep practicing. Most importantly, don't be afraid to put your writing out there for others to pick apart. Don't take criticism personally, use it to improve. The first novel I wrote was awful, and lots of people told me so. Rather than feel discourage and stop writing, I took a hard look at my strengths and weaknesses, and I worked to improve. I strive to always improve, and that's the attitude I credit with taking me to the next level year after year. Lastly, patience is key. No author ever became good at writing by simply picking up a pen and writing. It takes years of dedication and practice, and that work never ends.

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

My blog started me on the path to raising awareness. I took the time to write dozens of articles about my research, built up a loyal online following, and after a few years I ended up being one of the top Viking history blogs on the internet. My articles and novels earned me an invitation to be a speaker at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. After that, once my name started to make the rounds in my niche, everything came together. The launch of my third and most recent novel was practically effortless compared with my first two novels, and that's because of all the hard work I put into building up my reputation online over the better part of a decade.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

After the sack of Seville in the 840s, the Muslims of Iberia sent an emissary named al-Ghazal north to find out who the Vikings were and why they had wanted to attack Spain. While the account of al-Ghazal is intriguing after he arrived at the court of Throgisl in Ireland, his early testimony about the voyage revealed something completely unexpected. He described a series of islands off the coast of what is today France, and tells of a Viking village with a king who welcomed them and helped to repair their ships. Historians have struggled to prove the islands of Aquitaine were ever permanently settled by Vikings, and here we have a firsthand account that this was in fact the case.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The "Meeting at Redon" was particularly difficult. Every character in the room has a different motive and goal, and so it was a nightmare to put together a meeting where every participant wanted to pull the conversation in a different direction. It was also hard to write the scene in an entertaining way, and I struggled to put it together in a way that wouldn't lose readers in the nitty-gritty of the politics of the day.

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently writing the second installment of Hasting's life, which will be released on July 4, 2020. Wish me luck!

C.J. Adrien 
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About the Author

C.J. Adrien is a French-American author of Viking historical fiction with a passion for Viking history. His Kindred of the Sea series was inspired by research conducted in preparation for a doctoral program in early medieval history as well as his admiration for historical fiction writers such as Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follett. C.J. Adrien’s novels and expertise have earned him invitations to speak at several international events, including the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. For more information, please visit C.J. Adrien's website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a copy of The Lords of the Wind! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules – Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on December 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter. – Paperback giveaway is open to US residents only. – Only one entry per household.

All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. – The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen. The Lords of the Wind

20 November 2019

Special Guest Interview with Nancy Bilyeau, Author of The Blue

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In eighteenth century London, porcelain is the most seductive of commodities; fortunes are made and lost upon it. Kings do battle with knights and knaves for possession of the finest pieces and the secrets of their manufacture.

I'm pleased to welcome best-selling historical fiction author Nancy Bilyeau to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Sèvres Porcelain Potpourri Vase
I followed up my Tudor trilogy with a stand-alone novel set in the eighteenth century. I jumped to another time period with The Blue. It’s a spy story and an art story: a young Huguenot woman who longs to be a serious artist gets caught up in a conspiracy to steal the formula for the most beautiful shade of blue ever created from an English porcelain factory in 1758, the middle of the Seven Years War. I brought some of my family history to this novel, as I am descended from a Huguenot settler who came to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1665 and my father was a watercolor artist.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I’d love to have a routine—and even more so, a beautiful writing room or even a nook! I have a full time job at a nonprofit news center and freelance nonfiction assignments, and a family, so I write my books, and The Blue in particular, at the kitchen table early in the morning before anyone is awake, or in bed on the weekends. Any time I could snatch for research or writing or revising.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Get eyes on your work and listen to what your beta readers or critique partners say. What we think is coming across with clarity to a reader might not be—that’s where your team can help you. It’s really important not to submit fiction or publish before something is ready. I fight that impulse myself, as I am not a patient, deliberate person. But letting something sit overnight to get a fresh read in the morning is one of my tricks.

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

My books are “traditionally published,” but the classic path to success of bookstore appearances and touring and speaking, it doesn’t work today. Most publicists would actually agree with that too. Nor does sending a huge number of ARCs to newspaper and magazine reviewers to build up awareness, because, sadly, print media is spiraling out of existence. The reality is everyone is online and authors need to be where readers are. I write a lot of nonfiction on history and I interact with people on twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. I like social media, so to me it isn’t a chore or a necessary evil. I have to force myself off it!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

That the luxury-obsessed elites of the 1750s were quite similar to that group of people today. Some aristocrats and merchants went bankrupt collecting porcelain, it became a sort of madness, as the porcelain itself became ever more elaborate and fantastical. During this period, Sevres Porcelain, near Versailles, produced things like a potpourri vase in the shape of a ship, gold enamel, painted deep blue, a lot of detail, including a detailed scene painted on the side of sailors on a wharf packing fish! If when you hear “porcelain,” you think cups and plates, that’s not what this world was about in the mid 18th century. It was about creating these delicate fantasies with tantalizing glimpses of real life.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

In The Blue, it was an early chapter, when Genevieve, my main character, is having dinner in her Spitalfields house with her grandfather—and with a guest, Sir Gabriel Courtenay, who is the antagonist of the plot but also there’s an attraction there between them. Here he is trying to recruit her for a spy mission but doing so with a lot of subtlety. Several levels needed to be in the chapter, but also a lot of information is being revealed and crucial decisions made. Yet they are on the surface of it, just sitting and eating and talking. So it was a challenge to make the scene interesting and tense. I had to revise a lot.

What are you planning to write next?

I’ve written a fifth novel, Dreamland, to be published January 16, 2020 by Endeavour Quill. For the first time, I’m setting a novel in my own city and it’s just past the turn of the century. A rebellious heiress gets dragged to the Oriental Hotel, a luxury hotel on the Atlantic Ocean (one that existed) not too far from Coney Island, “America’s Playground.” She meets an immigrant artist, and that leads to all sorts of fireworks, literal and figurative. I just spotted the Publishers Weekly review of the novel, and it describes the period in Dreamland as “the end of the Gilded Age.” That’s it for sure.

Nancy Bilyeau

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About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau studied History at the University of Michigan and has worked on the staffs of "InStyle," "Good Housekeeping," and "Rolling Stone." She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributor to "Town & Country" and "The Vintage News." Nancy's mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in New York City. Find out more at Nancy's website www.nancybilyeau.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Tudorscribe

18 November 2019

Guest Post by Bart Casey, Author of The Vavasour Macbeth

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Buried Shakespearean treasure from an ancestor’s tomb brings a disillusioned BBC reporter home to solve her father’s murder and restart her life with the man who has always loved her.

Thanks to Tony Riches for inviting me to write a guest post on The Writing Desk about my new novel The Vavasour Macbeth.  I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of the very real Tudor tales written into the book.

As I hope you’ll soon discover for yourselves, the story is told in the form of a 20th century thriller after scores of old manuscripts are found in a flooded Elizabethan tomb.  But underpinning the modern-day action are details drawn from three lines of historical research that I have been exploring for decades: first, investigations into the question of who actually wrote Shakespeare; secondly, the remarkable biographies of Tudors Anne Vavasour and Sir Henry Lee; and finally some little-known quirks about Shakespeare’s play-writing and his masterpiece Macbeth.

Shakespeare Authorship 

It was in graduate school that I read Sir Edmund Chambers’ magisterial two-volume biography called William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems.  Quite frankly, I was shocked at how few facts and how many problems remain about the world’s most famous writer.

It turned out I was not alone, and very shortly I found myself in that crazy corner of English literature studies called “the Shakespeare Authorship Question,” which is filled with conspiracy theories, name calling and loud shouting.  I was astonished at how many people could not believe “the Stratford man” wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare.  I was even more surprised that worthies such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Henry James, and Sigmund Freud were among them.

Since the leading alt-candidate Shakespeare appeared to be Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, I plunged into serious study of his life and literary remains (because there are many examples of works undoubtedly written by him).  I concluded that he was just not up to Shakespeare’s mark – not even close.  But it was while reading about Oxford that I stumbled onto the sad tale of his fling with a teenaged maid of honor named Anne Vavasour.  And that began the second line of research incorporated into The Vavasour Macbeth.

Anne Vavasour and Sir Henry Lee

Anne Vavasour

Anne’s family groomed her from childhood to be a companion to the Queen.  True to plan, she arrived at court at the age of sixteen as a Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber.  She was a lively breath of fresh air for the courtiers hanging around awaiting the Queen’s pleasure.  Unfortunately, the Earl of Oxford – then in his thirties  -- was estranged from his wife at the time and on the prowl for excitement.  So perhaps it wasn’t much of a surprise that young Anne was ensnared.  She then became the scandal of the season when she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy in the maidens’ chamber at court only about 15 months after she had arrived.

Elizabeth was furious and sent both Anne and Oxford to the Tower for a time.  Oxford was banned from court for two years and never recovered his favorable position, while Anne seemed doomed to a miserably reduced life as an unwed mother – until Sir Henry Lee came to her rescue a few years later.

Sir Henry was in Elizabeth’s innermost circle.  He was immensely wealthy and of impeccable character.  He was also thirty years older than Anne.  He had been at court since he inherited his family lands and fortune at the age of fourteen.  That’s when he had been taken from his family into the direct service of King Henry VIII in the royal household.  In fact, there was a rumor that Sir Henry was the king’s illegitimate son.  Indeed, that relationship may explain why Sir Henry always remained in the closest circle of courtiers serving King Henry VIII and each of his children -- Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth – during difficult times when many lost their footing.

Then in 1590, after decades of faithful service, Sir Henry decided to retire as Queen Elizabeth’s Personal Champion at the joust.  His wife and three children were all dead, and he was facing lonely years ahead.  That’s when he invited Anne (and her son by Oxford) to join him as his de facto wife.  Then for the next twenty years, they divided their time between his fifteen-room apartment overlooking the Thames in London and his many estates in the country.  Sir Henry was about 57 and Anne about 27 years old.  And they lived happily in sin together, as confirmed by many reports, stories, and letters documented today in the British State Papers and National Archives. Their unusual living arrangements even seemed to have the tacit approval of Elizabeth, especially after her well-documented visit to Sir Henry’s Ditchley estate during the Progress of 1592.  That was when the Queen and her court all were drafted into acting out a two-day drama on the nature of love which Sir Henry paid to have written by a dream team of poets and dramatists.  And this September event would have coincided exactly with the time when young Shakespeare and his writing colleagues were desperate for writing work while the theatres were closed by plague in the city.

Finally, when Sir Henry died approaching age 80, he left his money and the use of his estates to Anne for a period of sixty years or until her death, whichever came first.  She would have been about 47 at the time of this bequest, and lived out the rest of her long life as one of the richest women in England, completing her highly unlikely recovery from youthful ruin.  In The Vavasour Macbeth, those ancient manuscripts are found in Anne and Sir Henry’s shared tomb.

Shakespeare’s play-writing and Macbeth

My own conclusion about Shakespeare’s plays is that they were highly collaborative creations.  I have no doubt the Stratford man himself wrote the great speeches and soliloquies, and also shaped the stories and their pacing.  But I don’t think he wrote every word and crossed every “t” in the versions remaining today -- just as Steven Spielberg did not write all of the screenplays of his films.  And specific performances would have been adapted for their audiences and time allowed.

In The Vavasour Macbeth I do describe many of the forensic forays into the search for Shakespeare’s handwriting as well as some textual issues of his plays in the posthumous First Folio.  While many of those thirty-six plays appeared in previous smaller “quarto” editions, Macbeth did not, and the only known example of that play is the one found in the First Folio.  Also, unlike the others, it was not “cleaned up” for publication by scribes like Anthony Munday or Ralph Crane who standardized stage directions and formatting.  By contrast, the surviving version of Macbeth seems to be a last minute inclusion in the First Folio, and is obviously a script from one particular performance.  It also shows evidence of serious abridgment from a lost longer version.  Songs by the witches were lobbed in from other sources, a stage direction to “ring the bell” was actually incorporated into the spoken lines by an apprentice typesetter, and many (including Samuel Taylor Coleridge) believe the scene with the drunken porter was added by another writer for comic relief.  Finally, what remains as Macbeth today is a very abbreviated version at just over 2,000 lines compared with Hamlet at more than 4,000.  All of this and more is explained and discussed in The Vavasour Macbeth as the papers discovered in the tomb continue to reveal themselves.

Finally, there is the question of whether anything really new about Shakespeare and his plays is likely to be discovered in the future.  Having been briefly introduced to the mountains of unread and untranscribed documents stored in the National Archive in Kew, and understanding that there are still a very few people today who can actually read and interpret those documents, I dare say we very might well have some Shakespearean revelations coming sometime in the future.  And it is in the fictional part of The Vavasour Macbeth that I show just how much we believe about the bard might be changed by even a single new discovery – such as papers found in an Elizabethan tomb perhaps?

I hope that your curiosity will lead you to read The Vavasour Macbeth and that you will not be disappointed.  The book is available in print, ebook, and audio editions for your reading pleasure.

Best wishes,

Bart Casey
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About the Author

Bart Casey grew up in London, studied Literature at Harvard, and trained as a professor before switching to an advertising career, living many years amidst the settings for The Vavasour Macbeth. His recent biography of Victorian Laurence Oliphant was chosen by Kirkus for its Best Books of 2016. Now writing full-time, Bart is working on a sequel novel to The Vavasour Macbeth in which the same modern-day characters follow in the footsteps of Byron, Keats and the Shelleys around post-Napoleonic Switzerland and Italy. Find out more at Bart's website http://www.bartcasey.com/

16 November 2019

Special Guest Interview with Elizabeth St John, Author of Written in their Stars

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome historical fiction author Elizabeth St John to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book.

The third book in The Lydiard Chronicles series, Written in their Stars, is a true story based on surviving memoirs, letters and court documents from my family history. The novel can be read as a stand-alone, or as part of the family saga recounted in The Lady of the Tower and By Love Divided.

Here’s how I describe the novel in the blurb:

London, 1649. Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. 

Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields.

But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Historical fiction has to start with the research, and I love the variety of techniques that we employ as detectives into the past. I begin with fully researching characters, their activities and the intersection of major historical events, until I’ve established a really solid timeline as the background to my writing. Then, I plot where people are at particular moments, and where the gaps are that can be filled in with fiction. 

Once I see how characters are reacting to their circumstances, I start to think of detailed character arcs, develop protagonists and antagonists, and create settings to support the story. At the same time, I’m starting to experiment with fiction: jotting down conversations or descriptions, character sketches, word clouds, photography and maps—especially if I’m visiting places where my characters have spent time.

My favourite writing time is always early morning, probably because when I started writing, I worked full time in a completely different career, and so had to get up really early to write. It’s a habit I’ve never lost, and I still love the stillness and potential of a new day. I also find inspiration in walking, just switching off the drive to get a word on the page, and instead letting the creative brain roam around the edges of my consciousness. That’s often when the best ideas come.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Speaking from my own experience, read, read, read, and start to really understand what techniques the writer is using, what phrasings give you joy, which characters stay with you well after the book is finished. And to write, every day, even if you don’t think you have anything to write about. It’s a muscle that needs constant exercise. Joining writers groups, whether in live communities or online, is always fun and reassuring to find people who share the same challenges and excitement.

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

There’s really not one single way to raise awareness; any effective marketing is a combination of many strategies. Certainly, creating promotions online through the big retailers moves sales and raises the rankings of my books, and I enjoy interacting with readers and other writers on Facebook and Twitter. I really appreciate personal contact, so being a guest at book clubs and author events is always lovely. I’ve been fortunate to speak on behalf of the Tower of London and the Friends of Lydiard Park in the U.S., which has been great fun and created deep relationships between my readers and my work. I really enjoy combining my experiences as a historical fiction writer with lecturing as a historian on places with as much significance as the Tower and my ancestral home.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Researching 17th century spies certainly revealed a number of surprises that were secrets in my characters’ world, and great discoveries in ours. Code names for Allen Apsley, Ned Villiers, Edward Hyde and the king himself; confirmation of spying activities for the Sealed Knot; and a surprise appearance by Barbara Villiers, the king’s mistress, in pleading for regicide John Hutchinson’s life, were all great finds. But perhaps the biggest piece of gossip was the rumour of an illicit affair between Allen Apsley and his cousin Nan Wilmot (the mother of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, and a lead character in the book). That finding created a wonderful opportunity for a subplot, and I enjoyed creating the fiction around the fact.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There are several major character death scenes—writing these is always challenging, and still moves me to tears. You can’t change the facts, and so creating a believable story around a sad event and doing justice to the characters you’ve loved for so long is really tough.

What are you planning to write next?

Well, if you’d asked me that a week ago, I would have said nothing ever again! Three books in five years with this depth of research has been hard work. But, as I went for a morning walk today, an idea started to form around three of the secondary characters that appear in Written in their Stars—John Wilmot, Barbara Villiers and Frances Apsley. They may just be persistent enough in their demands to have their own stories told that they star in the next novel.

Elizabeth St John
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About the Author

Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An award-winning author, historian and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story... Find out more at Elizabeth’s website: www.ElizabethJStJohn.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @ElizStJohn