Mastodon The Writing Desk: September 2013

24 September 2013

Special Guest Post by Leanda de Lisle ~ Writing the Past: The Best Advice I Ever Had

For many of us our love of history began with a work of the imagination. For me it was the Viking novels of Henry Treece. Sue Doran, a research fellow at Jesus, Oxford, was gripped by the English Civil War-inspired TV series, Children of the New Forest. My three sons, who all studied history at university, played the video game Medieval: Total War.

Most TV viewers and gamers will not go on to become professional historians or even history graduates. But, spurred on by curiosity, many adults do swap fiction for popular history. Publishers, anxious to play up the entertainment aspect, frequently give such books the same covers as novels. The rose on the cover of my dynastic history Tudor: The Family Story was used earlier for Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. But what readers want from books like mine is the true story of the real people they first discovered outside a history book.

There is in fact no ‘true’ story, not in my book or that of anyone else. With history it is the quest that is important. The quest for the truth that never ends, but is passionately fought for as each generation engages with the past, trying to understand it anew. In the process we understand ourselves better, for historians have to question their own assumptions and be aware of the prejudices of their predecessors and ancestors. One mark of a failure to do so is the appearance of fictional versions of once living people in works of non-fiction, and this is more common than many people realise.

The power of fiction

The power of fiction is evident in the new celebrity status of Richard III. Plans for his new tomb at Leicester Cathedral have been unveiled with as much reverence as if he had died in 1985, rather than 1485. In Shakespeare’s Richard III we had a biblical Herod, killer of his young nephews the Princes in the Tower, his hunchback an outward sign of a disfigured soul. But this black portrait of Richard provoked a reaction.

Perhaps the most influential modern work in Richard’s rehabilitation is Josephine Tey’s detective story, Daughter of Time. Written not long after Stalin’s show trials, which strongly influenced Tey’s viewpoint, the novel ‘proves’ that that Richard, who was in many respects an excellent king, was in fact innocent of the deaths of the Princes. It is to Tey’s novel and that we owe much of the passion behind the Richard III society and those who paid for the dig that raised Richard out from under a Leicester car park. It also provides literary origins of the doe eyes hero we saw in the BBC White Queen drama.

The Richard III character in the White Queen acknowledges that he had a clear motive for murdering his nephews.  After he had overthrown the twelve-year old Edward V and imprisoned him with his little brother, claiming they were illegitimate, the boys had remained a focus of opposition. But while previous usurpers had always claimed their captive predecessors had died of natural causes, lain out the bodies to prove they were dead, and so encouraged former enemies to unite around their rule, the princes simply vanished.

In the White Queen we are told that Henry Tudor’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, had ordered the killings, hoping to cast the blame on Richard and clear the way for her son to marry the princes’ sister, Elizabeth of York and become King. When BBC History Magazine conducted a poll this autumn on who had killed the princes, Margaret Beaufort was the top choice. I fear it is only a matter of time before we see this fictional Margaret emerge in history books. I have seen this sort of thing before.

Frances Brandon, the mother of Lady Jane Grey, has been demonised in the both fiction and history. As with Margaret Beaufort it began with novelists picking up a dubious claim made in the past. With Margaret it was the seventeenth century claim of the historian Sir George Buck, that she had killed the princes with sorcery and poison. In Frances Brandon’s case it was Elizabeth Tudor’s former tutor Roger Ascham, writing, after Frances and Jane were both dead, that Jane had once complained to him that her parents were overly strict. In due course fiction and then history turned Frances into an outrageous child abuser, who also bullied her husband (for which there is no evidence at all).

Authentic Characters

We want our characters to be authentic, not just in history however, but also in historical fiction. Details, conversations and so forth may be invented in a novel, but we want a sense of a person from a given time. I disproved many of the invented stories about Frances by going back to the original sources. But when writing about the past I would always begin by taking the advice I once had from the great travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron: understand the beliefs of the people you are writing about.

As the novelist Leslie Hartley wrote: 'The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there'. Understanding how and why they did things in the past allowed me to understand that Frances being strict did not make her a child abuser, and it also helped me appreciate why Richard III might have chosen to ‘disappear’ the princes in the Tower. It has to do with the power of the cult of saints during this period  – a power that has been overlooked since the reformation. And if I am right or wrong making that effort to think about how they thought is something I found deeply rewarding.

Many of the reviews of ‘Tudor’ have said, kindly, that I have fresh things to say despite the fact the Tudor period is such well-trodden ground. If that is true, it is thanks to Colin Thubron’s excellent advice.  It helped me engage with past anew.

Leanda de Lisle

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About the Author

Leanda de Lisle was Born in London and loved to write stories and poetry as a child. She went on to read History at Somerville College, Oxford University, and began a career in journalism on the Hackney Gazette in what was then Britain’s poorest borough. Leanda had three sons in five years then returned to journalism as Country Life magazine’s first columnist and as a weekly columnist for the Daily Express. She later transferred her Country Life column to The Spectator magazine and began a bi monthly opinion and editorial column for The Guardian newspaper, while also writing regularly for other national papers. Leanda writes on matters historical and reviews books for a number of publications including BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator, as well as several national newspapers. She now lives with her husband and dog (a large brown Labrador) near Bosworth battlefield where the Tudor crown was won.

Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder.

The Story of England's

Most Notorious Royal Family

The Tudors are England’s most notorious royal family. But, as Leanda de Lisle’s gripping new history reveals, they are a family still more extraordinary than the one we thought we knew. 

Leanda de Lisle's first solo book, After Elizabeth: The Death of Elizabeth & the Coming of King James, was published in 2005 and was runner up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. Her next book, the top ten best selling biography, The Sisters Who Would be Queen; The tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey was described by the historian John Guy as ‘ground breaking’.  Her latest book, Tudor; The Family Story (1437-1603), published by Chatto on 29 August 2013 has been highly praised by historians such as Helen Castor (She Wolves and Dan Jones (Plantagenets) and is a top ten Sunday Times best seller.

It is published in the United States by Public Affairs on 8 October 2013 under the title Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder; The Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family. These books are also available in other formats, including kindle and audio.

Preview Now on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Visit Leanda's website 
and follow her on twitter @LeandadeLisle

19 September 2013

UNRAVELLED by M.K. Todd @MKTodAuthor

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Unravelled: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage.

In October 1935, Edward Jamieson's memories of war and a passionate love affair resurface when an invitation to a WWI memorial ceremony arrives. Though reluctant to visit the scenes of horror he has spent years trying to forget, Edward succumbs to the unlikely possibility of discovering what happened to Helene Noisette, the woman he once pledged to marry. Travelling through the French countryside with his wife Ann, Edward sees nothing but reminders of war. After a chance encounter with Helene at the dedication ceremony, Edward's past puts his present life in jeopardy.
When WWII erupts a few years later, Edward is quickly caught up in the world of training espionage agents, while Ann counsels grieving women and copes with the daily threats facing those she loves. And once again, secrets and war threaten the bonds of marriage.
With events unfolding in France, England and Canada, UNRAVELLED is a compelling novel of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of two world wars.
You can read the first two chapters of Unravelled here.

15 September 2013

How to Publish and Market AudioBooks by Shelley Hitz @Self_Publish

One way to increase your book royalties is by publishing your book in audio format. However, if you want to publish an audiobook by the holidays, then NOW is the time to get started. ACX (Amazon's Audiobook Creation Platform) explains why on their blog HERE   Basically, it boils down to the fact that it takes TIME to publish audiobooks. Not necessarily your time. But someone has to spend hours recording your book. Then all of the files have to be edited. And then they have to be approved. It's a process that takes time. And as we get closer to the holidays, the time it takes will actually increase as a mass wave of authors try to get their audiobooks out in time.

Start NOW and get your books in audiobook format

We have gone through the process for multiple books and have learned a lot. We share that knowledge with you in our book, "How to Publish and Market AudioBooks" In addition to the eBook, every purchase comes with video and PDF training files, royalty free music and more to make sure that your audiobook is a success.

Shelley Hitz

6 September 2013

The Priest ~ by Monica La Porta @momilp

The Priest on Amazon Kindle 

Mauricio is a slave. Like any man born on Ginecea, he is but a number to the pure breed women who rule over him with cruel hands. Imprisoned inside the Temple since birth, Mauricio has never been outside, never felt the warmth of the sun on his skin. He lives a life devoid of hopes and desires.

Then one day, he hears Rosie sing. He risks everything for one look at her and his life is changed forever. An impossible friendship blossoms into affection deemed sinful and perverted in a society where the only rightful union is between women. Love is born where only hate has roots and leads Mauricio to uncover a truth that could destroy Ginecea.

About the Author:
Monica La Porta is an Italian who landed in Seattle several years ago. Despite popular feelings about the Northwest weather, she finds the mist and the rain the perfect conditions to write. Being a strong advocate of universal acceptance and against violence in any form and shape, she is also glad to have landed precisely in Washington State. She is the author of The Ginecean Chronicles, a dystopian/science fiction series set on the planet Ginecea where women rule over a race of enslaved men and heterosexual love is considered a sin. 

Visit her blog and follow her on twitter @momilp

2 September 2013

New Book Review ~ Six Women of Salem by Marilynne K. Roach

Just mention 'Salem' and we immediately think of outrageous witch trials. What we know of the awful events of 1692 has probably been gleaned from random sources, so it is fascinating to read such a well-researched account of what it must have REALLY been like for the women concerned.

Marilynne Roach has an engaging style and skilfully evokes the atmosphere of the time with her italicised narratives. Her latest book is impossible to read without being drawn in to the lives of the people of Salem. The stories of the six women she focusses on really help us understand the events of the witch trials in the context of life in the 17th-century Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

Most chilling is the way the legal system failed them by indulging accusers and accepting evidence of witchcraft which was was dubious at best. Witnesses later reported how they were 'frightened into false confessions, hounded until at last they did say any thing that was desired of them.'

The numbers are staggering. As well as the twenty who were executed (nineteen by slow hanging and one by being 'pressed to death') and the five women who died in prison, over two hundred people were accused of some form of witchcraft by their own neighbours. As the mass hysteria spread, seventy four people claimed to have been “afflicted” by spells.

The darker side of human nature is revealed by the fascination that Salem has had for us ever since, with a constant stream of sightseers hoping to see the spot where the "witches" were hanged.  I was reminded of passing a serious car accident. You know you should look away but you can't help it. It's more than just macabre curiosity. We need to learn from the mistakes of others - and this book provides plenty to think about. Prejudice, religion, the power of superstition, the way a community can challenge our natural sense of right and wrong.

Marilynne Roach concludes with a poignant statement: 'The memory of the actual people involved in the original tragedy of 1692 can become lost, replaced by stereotypes or disregarded. They deserve to be acknowledged.'  

About the Author

Marilynne K. Roach lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, less than an hour from Salem. She first visited the Salem Witch Museum in 1973 and was inspired to launch her own investigation into the history of the trials.Studying old documents written in an antique dialect, she discovered new details, including jailers invoices that revealed that the accused-witches were billed for their stay in prison.  Over the course of her career as a historian and illustrator she has written several books specifically abut the witch trials, one of which is a children’s book. Marilynne was one of the associate editors of the definitive Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt and is also the author of The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege.

Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused 
and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials
is available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

1 September 2013

Book Launch ~ The Valentine Present and Other Diabolical Liberties by Lynda Renham

On arriving home after a friend’s posh wedding, launderette worker Harriet finds her life irrevocably changed as she discovers her flat ransacked and her boyfriend missing. In a matter of hours she is harassed by East End gangsters and upper crust aristocrats. Accepting an offer she can’t refuse, Harriet, against her better judgment becomes the fiancée of the wealthy Hamilton Lancaster, with dire consequences. What she had not bargained on was meeting Doctor Brice Edmunds.

The Valentine Present and Other Diabolical Liberties is Lynda Renham’s funniest novel so far. A cocktail of misunderstandings, three unlikely gangsters, a monkey and a demented cat make this novel a hysterical read. Follow Harriet’s adventure where every attempt to get out of trouble puts her deeper in it.

About the Author

Lynda lives in Oxford, UK. She has appeared on BBC radio discussion programs and is a prolific blogger on, and Twitter tweeter @Lyndarenham. She has studied English Literature and Creative Writing, and her books have been likened to books by Sophie Kinsella; refreshingly witty and page turningly unputdownable. When not writing Lynda can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook and twitter

The Valentine Present and Other Diabolical Liberties
is on Amazon UK and Amazon US


Just fill in the Rafflecopter form below to win a copy of The Valentine Present and Other Diabolical Liberties:

Book Review ~ Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell

I started studying the details of Agincourt (or Azincourt to use the French spelling) as part of the background research for my latest novel. It didn’t surprise me to find that the experts are still debating how many men actually faced each other on St Crispin’s day, 1415, but I was interested to read some of the very early accounts of events leading up to the famous battle.

I was therefore unusually well informed when I decided to see what one of our best-selling historical fiction writers made if it.  Bernard Cornwell’s experience shines through as he takes us through the dreadful siege of Harfleur through the eyes of an English longbow man Nicholas Hook. It is a clever device, as we struggle with our simple archer to understand the real motivation of King Henry the fifth.

The lives of the entire army are put at risk, not once but several times, with the only reward being a fairly hollow victory over the long suffering French. Henry comes across not as Shakespeare’s valiant hero but as a deeply flawed leader. As with most battles, luck, the weather and tactical mistakes played a big part in the English victory.

I liked the parallel narratives, that Cornwell has become deservedly recognised for. There are also notes at the end about his own research, which give an insight into his approach. Azincourt works on several levels. If you have ever wondered what it may have been like to be an English archer in 1415 France, this is a book you should read.

Azincourt is available on Amazon US and Amazon UK