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26 September 2023

Special Guest Interview with James Gault, Author of King’s Warrior: The Owerd Chronicles, Book Three

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 11th Century England, King William has achieved almost total domination of the Englisc and turns his attention to Scotland. Owerd, possibly the last of the Britons to be deemed ‘lord’, faces powerful enemies from all quarters. He seems to hold the king’s favour by a thread, which only serves to encourage others to try and bring him down.  Treachery abounds as he tries to juggle multiple roles and prove himself and his men worthy warriors for the Norman king. But will his lust for a woman finally prove his undoing?

I'm pleased to welcome author James Gault to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

King’s Warrior is the third in a series about Owerd, a decent but unsophisticated 11th century Briton who has struggled out of poverty by dint of courage and good fortune (“wyrd” if you will). The series came about by accident, initially intended as a single volume to bring Charles Kingsley’s classic novel “Hereward the Wake” into a more digestible form for the contemporary reader. 

That attempt proved impossible – one cannot, I found, tinker with a classic, however challenging its rather antiquated prose. Hence a new character set in the same period of a land beset by inequity, strife and a Norman invasion. In this book Owerd, having already established his credentials as a loyal subject and “Sea Lord” returns to the role he fills best, that of warrior.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Having led a predominantly disciplined military life, I have since shrugged off the shackles of any routine in my writing endeavours. I simply write when the mood takes me and “life” doesn’t intervene. I need peace and a vacant diary but having begun a story my mind is never far from the circumstances the people in my story find themselves in and what may come next in their journey. 

More often than not that leads to a need for ever more research on a particular topic and I can spend many hours reading or on the internet doing just that. When trying, as I do, to involve real people and historical events lacking detailed records, that can become very time consuming. Having written a few contemporary tales, I find the process and my own routine for writing historical fiction quite different: many hours of researching might well lead to a single sentence. In those circumstances one cannot simply put quill to parchment at a particular time of day and expect the story to flow.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I cannot in all conscience offer reliable advice to any aspiring writer. I would venture to suggest, though, that a key ingredient of success is to focus on subjects that interest you. Without your own interest being fully engaged then it is improbable that the reader’s interest will be. Once that is established then you just need the determination to get writing. There is a “but”. Perhaps don’t attempt “War and Peace” without stopping after a single chapter and doing two things: seek another’s opinion and edit, probably in reverse order. 

Editing is a time consuming and annoying but essential process: typos and awkward phrases can creep into the most erudite text and kill it off instantly for the otherwise keen reader. Another factor is deciding who that reader is. A friend who read a couple of my modern adventure stories returned the third book with the comment that he hadn’t finished it because “it contained too many long words”. Writing style perhaps needs to match the likely audience and genre of the work. I suspect readers of historical fiction tend to be more educated and linguistically demanding than the norm.

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

I am still experimenting with ways of raising awareness. As an “indie” writer without the benefit of a professional agent or publisher I struggle and need to balance the investment involved in the many agencies that offer promotional efforts with the likely (and not assured) return. Word of mouth has been helpful whilst I have been disappointed with Amazon advertising. I am not a wealthy person, but equally I am not starving. Enormous sales, whilst good for the ego, are not my goal: I would much rather hear that a few people had enjoyed a good read. That is far more satisfying. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Something I have come to realise but should probably have known all along. Men and women of the 11th century were little different in their way of thinking than they are today. Fear, anger, pride, shame, joy and jealousy etc are human characteristics that I detect little change in over time. The one surprising element is how universally indifferent society then seems to have been to the place of women. Basically, women were ignored, or at best tolerated simply for their necessary reproductive functions.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There are two scenes – or types of scenes – that I find particularly challenging to write. These are scenes involving violent or sexual interaction. On each occasion of one such event arising I find it challenging to find the right balance between realism and undue detail. There is far too much blood and gore depicted in daily news to be over-exposed to readers again in what is intended to be a piece of escapist literature. Equally, the period of my story involved considerable violence and bloodshed so needs to be depicted. Sex is also inevitable: it is what keeps the planet populated. Again, this has become for me a matter of balance and I tend to choose somewhat restrained language rather than lurid detail.

What are you planning to write next?

I feel the urge to write a sequel to King’s Warrior to continue the Owerd Chronicles. At the same time, I would like to avoid any predictability. Historical fiction can be very demanding in that context. It is a little like writing a story about Anne Boleyn – we all know the ending. I can sometimes read the first chapter of a contemporary romance or adventure tale and confidently predict the outcome. I would like to avoid that same fate with Owerd. Time will tell!

James Gault

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About the Author

James Gault is a semi-retired Naval Captain with an abiding interest in storytelling and history. He has written a few contemporary fiction stories and a history text but lately has concentrated on historical fiction. He lives in a small coastal town in SE Australia – which provides quite a challenge when addressing medieval England with the aid of an old school atlas. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @ozjimg

25 September 2023

New Historical Ficton: Daughter of the Sun: Story of the Young Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Heirs of Anarchy Book 5) by G. Lawrence

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Countess, Duchess, twice a Queen, ruler of vast lands, crusader, mother and politician, this is the story of the young Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Aquitaine, 1137: The young Eleanor of Aquitaine has inherited the lands of her father, at once becoming most powerful and most vulnerable. Promised without her knowledge to the heir to the King of France, Eleanor is about to enter a court unknown, and a world most violent. 

Through trials of marriage, politics and crusade to the Holy Lands, Eleanor will travel, rising above the limitations set upon her, to forge a path to a future where dreams of true power are more than mere illusion.

Daughter of the Sun, Story of the Young Eleanor of Aquitaine is Book 5 
 of the Heirs of Anarchy series 

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About the Author

Gemma Lawrence is an independently published author living in Cornwall in the UK. She studied literature at university says, 'I write mainly Historical Fiction, with an emphasis on the Tudor and Medieval periods and have a particular passion for women of history who inspire me'. Her first book in the Elizabeth of England Chronicles series is The Bastard Princess (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 1).Gemma can be found on Twitter @TudorTweep

22 September 2023

Book Spotlight: Louis XIV: The Real King of Versailles, by Josephine Wilkinson

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Louis XIV’s story has all the ingredients of a Dumas classic: legendary beginnings, beguiling women, court intrigue, a mysterious prisoner in an iron mask, lavish court entertainments, the scandal of a mistress who was immersed in the dark arts, and a central character who is handsome and romantic, but with a frighteningly dark side to his character.

Louis believed himself to be semi-divine. His self-identification as the Sun King, which was reflected in iconography of the sun god, Apollo, influenced every aspect of Louis’s life: his political philosophy, his wars, and his relationships with courtiers and subjects.

As a military strategist, Louis’s capacity was debatable, but he was an astute politician who led his country to the heights of sophistication and power – and then had the misfortune to live long enough to see it all crumble away. As the sun began to set upon this most glorious of reigns, it brought a gathering darkness filled with the anguish of dead heirs, threatened borders, and a populace that was dangerously dependent upon – but greatly distanced from – its king.

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About the Author

Dr Josephine Wilkinson is an author and historian. She received a First from the University of Newcastle where she also read for her PhD. She has received British Academy research funding and has been scholar-in-residence at St Deiniol's Library, Britain's only residential library founded by the great Victorian statesman, William Gladstone She now lives in York, Richard III's favourite city. She is the author of The Princes in the Tower, Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, and Richard III (all published by Amberely), and Katherine Howard (John Murray). You can find Josephine on Twitter @Jo_History 

21 September 2023

Special Guest Post by Heidi Eljarbo, Author of The London Forgery: A Historical Art Mystery (Fabiola Bennett Mystery Book 1)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1973. Art historian Fabiola Bennett sees herself as a prudently observant deer who becomes a daring and even mischievous lioness if the situation calls for it. And that’s exactly what’s required when greedy criminals steal, forge, and tamper with treasured artwork. When the crooks add murder to their list of crimes, the chaos is complete.

What is it with writers? What do they write about? Why do they choose certain genres or topics? To some, it’s purely a commercial aspect, but I believe most authors write about what they love. If they always pick up a romance novel at the bookstore, library, or airport bookshop, they most likely enjoy writing in that genre, as well.

I was a child who loved history. My father made bookshelves to cover a whole wall in our living room. He and my mother filled it with all their favourite books, many from the 1930s and 1940s. During WWII, there was no television, and much of the music and entertainment was banned. My newlywed parents played board games and read. Their love for words, stories, and knowledge was passed on to me.

Another thing in our home was that the walls were filled with my father’s art. He handed me a paintbrush at an early age, and I loved it.

So my life steered in the direction of what became my passions; the written word, languages (I’ve lived in six countries), art, and anything history. I even started on our family tree at the age of fifteen and was always the only young person flipping through old church records at the archives.

And I love to write. It makes me happy. And I choose to write about these things I love; topics I’ve also studied. I have a passion for historical fiction because I can research art history, clothing history, the politics and social life, and the sight, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of life in another time. 

I write about women who fight for justice, for a place in society, and for the safety of their family and friends. Some of these women solve mysteries. They have problems thrown at them. They fall in love. I often add elements of art history because it fills my heart, and I enjoy taking my characters to different countries. Or perhaps I should say…I follow them around…pen in hand, registering their story.

The London Forgery is about all these things. Art historian Fabiola Bennett is from Norway but travels the world solving art crimes in the early 1970s. She is passionate about art history and fairly clever (and ridiculously courageous) when solving mysteries. You can imagine how much fun I have spending hours on research for her stories. 

But there’s more…this new series about Fabiola’s adventures is a spin-off from my Soli Hansen Mysteries. Fabiola is Soli’s daughter! The novels are dual timeline, and some of the chapters take the reader back to the master artist who painted the artwork in trouble. In The London Forgery that artist is British Thomas Gainsborough, and the painting is his world-renowned Mr. and Mrs. Andrews from 1750.

I have often told people who say genealogy is boring, that they haven’t tried enough. I feel the same way about art history. If you, after having read The London Forgery, have the chance to visit the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square in London, please do. 

Go see Gainsborough’s rendition of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews in room thirty-five. Sit on the bench in front of the masterpiece and think about the chapters about Gainsborough; how the painting came about, what the sitters were like, Gainsborough’s decision why he depicted the couple the way he did, and why there’s a mystery about this certain art piece. Fabiola Bennett does everything she can to rescue this beautiful painting.

Happy reading!

Heidi Eljarbo

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About the Author

Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don't want to go near. Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter. After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have fifteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier. Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter. Heidi’s favourites are family, God's beautiful nature, and the word whimsical. Find out more at Heidi's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @HeidiEljarbo

19 September 2023

Pre-Order Spotlight: The Wolf and the Favour by Catherine McCarthy

Available for pre-order from 

(Pre-order price 99c/79p for a limited time)

Ten-year-old Hannah has Down syndrome and oodles of courage, but should she trust the alluring tree creature who smells of Mamma’s perfume or the blue-eyed wolf who warns her not to enter the woods under any circumstance?

A word from the Author

I would like to provide a bit of background to the story and explain what inspired me to write The Wolf and the Favour.  First of all, it's dedicated to a boy named Daniel, a boy who taught me as much as I taught him. Allow me to explain...

Many years ago, in the very early stages of my teaching career, I had the pleasure of teaching a little boy named Daniel, the boy to whom this book is dedicated. Daniel had Down syndrome, but he also had an incredibly supportive family, a big personality, and a heart of gold. I always knew he would go far, and he has done.

He loved stories, and I was thrilled when I discovered he was working at his local library. Though we lost touch many years ago (Daniel is now an adult, and I have moved 100 miles away), he was close in my thoughts as I wrote this story and will always remain in my heart. I hope readers enjoy it.

Catherine McCarthy

The Wolf and the Favour is a tale of love, trust, and courage. A tale that champions the neurodivergent voice and proves the true power of a person’s strength lies within themselves.

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About the Author

From her old Welsh farmhouse, Catherine McCarthy spins tales with macabre melodies. Her previously work includes the collection Mists and Megaliths and the novella Immortelle (Off Limits Press), as well as short fiction in various anthologies and magazines. Find out more from Catherine's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @serialsemantic

17 September 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight - The Mercenary's Blade (Lord's Legacy Book 1) by Eleanor Swift-Hook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, September 1642: The King has raised his standard in Nottingham to summon those loyal to the crown to fight for him against his own Parliament.

Gideon Lennox, an idealistic young lawyer from London, is in County Durham being paid to find a man and deliver a message. Having failed in the task that originally brought him north, Gideon needs to prove himself.

The man he seeks is the traitor Philip Lord, a notorious mercenary commander, with a reputation for brutality gained in the wars raging across Europe. When Gideon encounters Lord, he is abducted and set to investigate strange happenings in a Weardale village.

As he attempts to uncover the truth behind accusations of witchcraft - and the murder of the witchfinder in Pethridge - the lawyer is faced with more questions than answers.

He is convinced that Lord must somehow be involved until a gory discovery proves to him that whoever might be behind the strange events, it is not the accused women - or Lord.

Just as Gideon begins to realise that more than one shadowy hand is moving the pieces in the dangerous game being played out in Pethridge, he is seized and accused of the murder himself.

The lawyer must somehow escape - or become a victim of the conspiracy he needs to bring to light.

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About the Author

Eleanor Swift-Hook enjoys the mysteries of history and fell in love with the early Stuart era at university when she re-enacted battles and living history events with the English Civil War Society. Since then, she has had an ongoing fascination with the social, military and political events that unfolded during the Thirty Years' War and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. She lives in County Durham and loves writing stories woven into the historical backdrop of those dramatic times. You can find out more about the background of Lord's Legacy on her website and find her on Twitter @emswifthook

15 September 2023

Special Guest Post by Imogen Martin, Author of Under a Gilded Sky

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Missouri, February 1874: The last thing struggling homesteader Ginny needs is a scandal on her hands. But when a badly injured drifter arrives at Snow Farm in desperate need of medical attention, Ginny’s kind nature and good upbringing means she has no choice but to treat his wounds and care for him until he’s back on his feet, no matter the danger he might pose.

My inspiration for Under a Gilded Sky

The inspiration for my debut novel Under a Gilded Sky came from many different places. My first draft – which I wrote in pencil on paper – focused on the story and the characters. Only when they were in place did I start deep research to make the book feel authentic.

The book opens in 1874 and is set in Missouri and Boston. I chose this date because I wanted the story to take place after the American Civil War. As a British writer, I did not think I could do justice to a time that was essentially about the freedom of slaves. But the War casts a shadow over my central characters Ginny and Lex.

I am fascinated by the American Gilded Age and 1874 is right at its beginning. Part of my interest stemmed from the library near where I live. It’s a Carnegie Library and there is a plaque to Andrew Carnegie. I knew of him as an American industrialist. Why did he pay for my local library? In fact he paid for thirty-five libraries in Wales, where I live, seventeen still open as libraries today. Only one has been demolished, probably down to each library having unique, high-quality architecture.

Inscription to Andrew Carnegie at Canton library. 
Author’s photo

I picked up an 800-page biography of Andrew Carnegie at my brother’s house, and found that he was born in poverty in Dunfermline. The family emigrated to Pittsburgh in 1848 when he was 12. Carnegie was clever, able and always on the lookout for the next step up. Eventually he made his money in steel production, becoming the richest man in the world at the beginning of the 20th century, and an icon of the Gilded Age.

Biography of Andrew Carnegie
.Author’s photo

There were other fabulously wealthy industrialists. Ginny’s rich and kind cousin Madelaine is determined to find her a wealthy husband and the family I draw on most is the Vanderbilts. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) started with a ferry in New York. He was quick to see the possibility of the new railroads and invested heavily. The succeeding generations built on his foresight. Cornelius’s son, William Henry, grew the business, and by the time of my book they were one of the wealthiest families in the United States.

Daguerreotype of Cornelius Vanderbilt. 
United States Library of Congress

I am interested in the effect of railroads on rural communities during the nineteenth century. They seem to have a similar impact across different countries: Britain, the United States, Russia, India. In America, the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in May 1869 meant the east and west coasts were linked for the first time.

Although the location is given a different name, my book is set in Pulaski County in Missouri. The first railroads in Missouri were laid in 1849 with just one line going west from St Louis. It was originally called the Pacific Line (revealing the ambitions of the early entrepreneurs) but was reorganised as the Missouri Pacific Railway after a debt crisis. Jay Gould, the famous financier and one of the Gilded Age ‘robber barons’ became majority owner in 1879. A railroad was laid through Pulaski County in 1869. Characters in my novel observe some of the changes this caused.

Map of railway lines. Extract from Missouri Pacific Railway System, 

Something unexpected I discovered was how the Gilded Age came to have its name. The term was given by historians in the 1920s and comes from The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today published in 1873. The novel was written by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner. My hero Lex gives Ginny a copy of this book and he comments that it is new, and written by a native of Missouri.

I am delighted that my debut novel is being published by Storm Publishing. It is the culmination of many years’ writing, researching and editing. My second novel will be published in early 2024. Again it is set in the mid 19th century United States, but this time it is the story of the Oregon overlanders and takes place in 1846. Grace Sinclair defends herself when she is attacked by her landlord in the frontier town of Independence. 

Not sure if he’s dead or alive, she needs to get on the first wagon train West and get her younger brother to safety. Unfortunately, the army captain in charge of the train will not let an unmarried woman travel. So Grace has to invent a husband. As with Under a Gilded Sky, the story came first, and then the in-depth research.

I hope I give enough historical detail to make my readers feel transported to a different time and place – but not so much that they feel they are walking through a museum.

 Imogen Martin

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About the Author

Imogen Martin writes sweeping, historical fiction. Her first two novels are set in nineteenth century America. As a teenager, she took the Greyhound bus from San Francisco to New York. Over those three days of staring out of the window at the majestic mountains and endless flat plains, stories wound themselves into her head: tales of brooding, charismatic men captivated by independent women.
Since then, she has worked in a coffee-shop in Piccadilly, a famous bookstore, and a children’s home. She has run festivals, and turned a derelict housing block on one of the poorest estates in the UK into an award-winning arts centre. During 2020 Imogen was selected by Kate Nash Literary Agency as one of their BookCamp mentees, a mentorship programme designed to accelerate the careers of promising new writers. Married with two children, Imogen divides her time between Wales and Sardinia. Find out more at Imogene's website  and find her on Facebook and Twitter @ImogenMartin9