Mastodon The Writing Desk: May 2015

31 May 2015

Book Launch ~ Tales of the Drui Book #1 Dolor and Shadow, by Angela B. Chrysler

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

As the elven city burns, Princess Kallan is taken to Alfheim while a great power begins to awaken within her. Desperate to keep the child hidden, her abilities are suppressed and her memory erased. But the gods have powers as well, and it is only a matter of time before they find the child again.
When Kallan, the elven witch, Queen of Lorlenalin, fails to save her dying father, she inherits her father’s war and vows revenge on the one man she believes is responsible: Rune, King of Gunir. But nothing is as it seems, and the gods are relentless. A twist of fate puts Kallan into the protection of the man she has sworn to kill, and Rune into possession of power he does not understand.

From Alfheim, to Jotunheim, and then lost in the world of Men, these two must form an alliance to make their way home, and try to solve the lies of the past and of the Shadow that hunts them all.

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About the Author

Angela B. Chrysler is a writer, logician, and die-hard nerd who studies philosophy, theology, historical linguistics, music composition, and medieval European history in New York with a dry sense of humor and an unusual sense of sarcasm. 
In 2009, after completing two courses from Long Ridge Writer’s Group, her articles appeared in Kritter Kronickles Pet Magazine, and she began work on Dolor and Shadow: a dark mythological fantasy that depicts the Viking era from the elves’ point of view. Despite her smile and passion for laughter, Ms. Chrysler survived a number of unique hardships that fueled her darker side and love of macabre. You can find out more at Angela's website and follow her
on Twitter at @abchryslerabc.

30 May 2015

Book Launch ~ Imaginary Brightness: A Durant Family Saga, by Sheila Myers

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK 

The story follows William and his sister Ella Durant. They have spent their formative years traveling and living abroad, cavorting with high society, while their father, Dr. Thomas C. Durant, builds the transcontinental railroad (1861-1874). It comes as a shock to William when, in his 24th year, his father instructs him to return to America to take on the family’s tradition of building railroads, this time into the interior of the Adirondack Wilderness where the Durants own half a million acres. Even more shocking however is that Dr. Durant is now bankrupt and recovering from a political scandal that has investors both in London and New York wary of Durant business endeavors.

Being brought up mostly by his English-bred mother, and having no formal education in business, William struggles to maneuver in the American business landscape when Robber Barons were at the height of their political and economic power. When William is sent to scout out a location for the family compound in the Adirondacks he soon discovers that he much prefers the wilderness than business jungle in New York City.

While overseeing the construction of his beloved retreat, Pine Knot, in the Adirondacks, William meets Louise Lawrence — half French Canadian, half Mohawk Indian — and falls in love. William also has to contend with his father’s insistence on making him President of the Adirondack Railroad, which requires him to spend more time in New York City and away from Louise and Pine Knot. Further adding to his disillusion is that fact that he is President of the Railroad Company in name only as his father maintains autocratic control.

Ella struggles with her own cultural identity as she strives to be recognized as a writer, while trying to avert an arranged marriage. When Ella falls in love with Poultney Bigelow, a literary partner for Ella, she makes the mistake of getting caught with him in an uncompromising situation. William is torn trying to protect her from their father’s wrath as well as keeping Ella in line. The sister and brother have a falling out.

When brother and sister meet at the death-bed of their father, they must contend with the fact that they would like to see him dead so they can resume a life of freedom, and take control of the family landholdings and money.

Juxtaposing this narrative is the narrative of Avery and Jack, present day inhabitants of one of the cabins William Durant built in the woods for his trysts with Louise and later in life, Minnie. They find a diary dated 1893 which provides clues to the Durant destiny and lures the reader into wanting to read more about the Durant family saga for novels two and three in the trilogy.

Sheila Myers
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About the Author

Sheila Myers is an Associate Professor at Cayuga Community College in Upstate New York. If she is not off planting trees with her students she is writing.  Myers traveled to England, and visited several libraries and museums throughout England and the U.S. to research this novel. Her website and blog about the research journey for this project can be found at: Imaginary Brightness: A Durant Family Saga is Sheila's second novel. Her first:
Ephemeral Summer, is a coming of age story set in her beloved Finger Lakes. You can find Sheila on Twitter at @SheilaMMyers.

28 May 2015

Book Launch ~ The Traitor’s Daughter, by Barbara Kyle

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

In 1582, England is gripped by the fear of traitors. Kate Lyon, tainted by her exiled mother’s past treason, has been disowned by her father, Baron Thornleigh. But in truth, Kate and her husband Owen are only posing as Catholic sympathizers to gain information for Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. Kate is an expert decoder. The deception pains her, but she takes heart in the return to England of her long estranged brother Robert. If only she could be sure where his loyalties lie…
Kate and Owen’s spying yields valuable intelligence: English Catholics abroad are spearheading an invasion that would see Elizabeth deposed—or worse—in favor of Mary, Queen of Scots. Kate takes on the dangerous role of double agent, decoding and delivering letters the exiles send Mary. But when lives and fortunes hang by the thinnest threads, betrayal is only a whisper away…
A brilliant blend of Tudor history and lush storytelling, The Traitor’s Daughter is a riveting, passionate novel of loyalty, heartbreak, and one woman’s undaunted courage.
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About the Author
Barbara Kyle is the author of the acclaimed Thornleigh Saga series of historical novels ("Riveting Tudor drama" - USA Today) and contemporary thrillers including Beyond Recall (under pen name Stephen Kyle), a Literary Guild Selection. Over 450,000 copies of her books have been sold around the world. Through her mentoring, Barbara Kyle has launched many writers to published success, including bestselling mystery author Robert Rotenberg, historical novelists Ann Birch, Tom Taylor, and Barbara Wade Rose, award-winner Steven T. Wax, and debut novelist Marissa Campbell. Find out more at her website and find her on Twitter @BKyleAuthor

20 May 2015

Book Review ~ The King's Sister, by Anne O'Brien

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The gripping tale of Elizabeth of Lancaster, sibling of Henry IV. Packed with love, loss and intrigue’ - Sunday Express Magazine

I’m prepared to bet you know little more than I did about the life of Elizabeth of Lancaster, so Anne O’Brien’s new novel The King’s Sister is a great example of why we need historical fiction.  I discovered a whole new perspective on the rise of her brother to become King Henry IV – and began to see King Richard II in an entirely different light.

Elizabeth is a strong, independent woman, with a very modern outlook – trapped in a privileged world of medieval nobility. Resigned to obey her father (a surprisingly understanding John of Gaunt) and accept his unfortunate choice of husband, she falls in love with the handsome knight Sir John Holland, Duke of Exeter. Holland is an adventurer and womaniser yet Anne finds his sensitive side and he becomes a hugely likeable character, staunchly loyal to his half-brother King Richard. 

Henry’s seizing of the throne puts them all in an impossible position, with Elizabeth torn between the man she loves and loyalty to the House of Lancaster.  I particularly liked Anne’s portrayal of Katherine Swynford, (who reminded me of Diana Rigg’s portrayal of Olenna Tyrell  in Game of Thrones) so now I have to read her book about Katherine  - The Scandalous Duchess.

Anne has included a short postscript about what became of Elizabeth of York, although I really wanted to know more about Sir John Cornewaille, who fought alongside Henry V at Agincourt.  I was disappointed when The King’s Sister ended leaving me with so many questions - but when historical fiction sparks your interest in a period of time you know it has really succeeded.  Highly recommended.

Tony Riches 
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About the Author

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters degree in education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding as a teacher of history. Always a prolific reader, she enjoyed historical fiction and was encouraged to try her hand at writing. Success in short story competitions spurred her on. Leaving teaching, she wrote her first historical romance, a Regency, which was published in 2005. To date nine historical romances and a novella, ranging from medieval, through the Civil War and Restoration and back to Regency, have been published internationally. Anne now lives with her husband in an eighteenth century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales. Since living there she has become hooked on medieval history. Virgin Widow, published in 2010 was Anne's first novel based on the life of an historical character, Anne Neville, wife of Richard Duke of Gloucester. Her second novel tracks the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, through marriage, crusades and divorce, not to mention scandal, as Devil's Consort (In the USA published as Queen Defiant.)  Other novels depict the scandalous life of Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III, who broke all the rules as The King's Concubinefollowed by Katherine de Valois as The Forbidden Queen and now Elizabeth of Lancaster as The King's Sister.  Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.

See Also:

Book Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

Writing: A pleasurable way to pass the time ~ or a compulsive disorder? Special guest post by Anne O'Brien

Special Guest Post by Anne O'Brien ~ Inspiration to write the dramatic story of Elizabeth of Lancaster

19 May 2015

Book Review ~ The Zoo, by Jamie Mollart

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Jamie Mollart's first novel, The Zoo, is original and thought-provoking. It should be depressing to watch the successful world of a man slowly unravel until he no longer knows who he is or cares what he does. Instead, this is one of those books you can't stop thinking about, well after you reach the last page. Jamie's inside knowledge of the advertising world gives his writing an authentic edge, littered with sparkling one-liners and instantly recognisable characters.

His great achievement is to make the reader really care about his eponymous ant-hero, James Marlowe, despite his many flaws. I don't want any spoilers in this review, so all I can say is he teases the reader with clever metaphors until you just have to know how he will use them. When he finally does, it is brilliantly understated. And the 'zoo' of the title? If I told you, I'd have to explain everything.

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About the Author

Jamie Mollart runs his own advertising company, and has won awards for marketing. Over the years he has been widely published in magazines, been a guest on some well-respected podcasts and blogs, and Patrick Neate called him 'quite a writer' on the Book Slam podcast. He is married and lives in Leicestershire with his wife and cat. His debut novel, The Zoo, is on the Amazon Rising Stars 2015 list. Find out more at his website and you can find Jamie on Facebook and Twitter @jamiemollart

14 May 2015

Special Guest Post by Anne O'Brien ~ Inspiration to write the dramatic story of Elizabeth of Lancaster

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The gripping tale of Elizabeth of Lancaster, sibling of Henry IV. Packed with love, loss and intrigue’ - Sunday Express Magazine

What inspired me to write the dramatic story of Elizabeth of Lancaster?

It all began, quite simply, through a moment of shameful ignorance, when Elizabeth had slipped beneath my historical radar.

I was invited by a local historical society here in the Welsh Marches to give a talk on Elizabeth's life together with a guided tour to the tomb of the 'Plantagenet Princess' at Burford, just over the county border in Shropshire, near Tenbury Wells.  Being a recent 'incomer' to the area at that time, I was forced to admit that I knew nothing about this princess buried in the depths of the Welsh Marches.  I soon discovered who she was, but still knew very little about her other than her Plantagenet connections, her illustrious parentage, a sister who became Queen of Portugal, and that the famous - or infamous - Katherine Swynford had been employed as her governess.

Not enough here for an informative or even an interesting lecture.

Some investigation and a personal visit to her tomb were essential. Tomb first (I like tombs!).  I was prepared to be interested.  Even impressed. The Plantagenet  Princess took my breath away.  There she was at Burford, the heroine of my new novel, in vivid colour.  I think I knew that I must write about her as soon as I saw her life-size effigy. 

Clad regally in red with a purple cloak trimmed with ermine, she is every inch a Plantagenet Princess (the tomb is referred to locally as the Princess tomb).  Her hair is fair, her face oval and her nose long. Plantagenet features, I suppose. She wears a ducal coronet and her hands are raised in prayer, an angel in red and white supporting her pillow and a little dog holding the edge of her cloak in its mouth.  She is quite lovely.  And here is the inscription carved around the edge of her tomb:

Here lyeth the body of the most noble Princess Elizabeth, daughter
of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, own sister to Henry IV, wife of
John Holland, Earle of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter, after whose
death she married John Cornewayle, Kt. of the Garter and Lord
Fanhope, and died in the 4th year of the reign of Henry VI, 1420.

The date of her death is wrong - Elizabeth died 24th November in 1425 at Ampthill Castle - and she had been 'repainted' in a Victorian make-over, but it was sensitively done and believed to be accurate.  The whole is most impressive and well worth a visit.

So here she was: the subject of my novel - if my subsequent investigation could come up with a dynamic and interesting life.  Characters in historical novels need tension and human interest to engage the empathy of the reader.  At first, discovering more than the basic detail about Elizabeth's life did not prove to be easy.  Yes, there was the element of sex and scandal and medieval stalking within her second marriage to John Holland, but historical novels need more than sex and scandal.  Her elder sister Philippa had life documented in far more detail than Elizabeth.  I almost abandoned my attempt to track down this Plantagenet princess.

But there eventually was the clue to Elizabeth when I placed her into the context in which she lived in the latter years of the 14th century and the turbulent days of the reign of Richard II.  Hers was the story of a family ripped apart by war with Elizabeth in the thick of it.  A story of love and betrayal, of ambition and war and bloody deeds, of treason and ultimate redemption, with Elizabeth torn between those who meant most to her.

This was to become Elizabeth's story as 'The King's Sister.'

Anne O'Brien 
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About the Author

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters degree in education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding as a teacher of history. Always a prolific reader, she enjoyed historical fiction and was encouraged to try her hand at writing. Success in short story competitions spurred her on. Leaving teaching, she wrote her first historical romance, a Regency, which was published in 2005. To date nine historical romances and a novella, ranging from medieval, through the Civil War and Restoration and back to Regency, have been published internationally. Anne now lives with her husband in an eighteenth century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales. Since living there she has become hooked on medieval history. Virgin Widow, published in 2010 was Anne's first novel based on the life of an historical character, Anne Neville, wife of Richard Duke of Gloucester. Her second novel tracks the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, through marriage, crusades and divorce, not to mention scandal, as Devil's Consort (In the USA published as Queen Defiant.)  Other novels depict the scandalous life of Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III, who broke all the rules as The King's Concubinefollowed by Katherine de Valois as The Forbidden Queen and now Elizabeth of Lancaster as The King's Sister.  Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.

13 May 2015

Everville: The Fall of Brackenbone, by Roy Huff

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ancient civilizations, parallel worlds, aliens, time travel, epic fantasy, dragons and college! Books #3 and #4 in the best-selling, award-winning Everville series can be read as stand alone novels and have it all for teens, new adults, and all ages.

"Huff’s novel took me to a different place, where daily life is somehow seen as only a surface-rippling manifestation of its beyond and beneath... the book moved me ever so swiftly between portals of worlds somehow far distant, yet juxtaposed, in time and space to each other. Imagined people and exotic intelligent beasties cohabit and move at dizzying speed between each other's worlds." -George F. Simmons

Two very different worlds, Easton Falls University and the magical realm of Everville are in dire need of a hero. Owen Sage embarks on an epic journey of monumental proportions to save these worlds all while fighting to keep the world within himself intact. This quest is not for the faint of heart nor is it for the weak of mind—only the bravest will succeed. Discovering the well-kept secret of The Fourth Pillar of Truth is only part of the feat. Owen will have to outwit the ever-powerful villain Governor Jahal and overcome countless other challenges along the way. Amongst all of the dragons, giants and grand chaos, will Owen's acquired skills and wisdom be enough to save both worlds or will peril be the ultimate fate of all?

The first three books in the series are also available

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About the Author

Roy Huff was born on the East Coast but has spent more than half his life in Hawaii, where he currently resides and writes his epic fantasy sagas. His interests include science, traveling, movies, the outdoors, and of course writing teen and young adult fantasy fiction. He holds five degrees in four separate disciplines including liberal arts, history, secondary science education, and geoscience. Roy Huff's background includes work in art, history, education, business, real-estate, economics, geoscience, and satellite meteorology. Find out more at and find Roy on Twitter @realroyhuff.

11 May 2015

Guest Post ~ Turning-Point, by Calvin Hedley

Matthew Pelham’s disappearance, while flying an RAF Harrier, can only
be explained through investigations conducted some forty years apart.
The quest involves wartime intelligence services, high politics in the
Third Reich and beleaguered Britain, and has incalculable implications
for the war’s course and future events.

Available on Kindle at Amazon US and Amazon UK
also in paperback

Turning-Point derives from my abiding love of history, but the novel also reflects my preference for character-driven stories.  Plots containing, and themes surrounding, good characters constitute the ‘best’ stories.  This is reflected in Hollywood.  It’s the thought-provoking, character-driven movies that take the plaudits; thrills-and-spills blockbusters triumph relatively infrequently, and their popularity often proves more ephemeral.

History’s an intricate, colourful, thrilling, terrifying, white-knuckle ride.  Time without number, history throws up unanswered mysteries, those puzzles of who? How? and why? that, happily for novelists, readily lend themselves to interpretation and invention.  Turning-Point focuses on one such instance — a tactical shift that proved greatly significant during the Battle of Britain.  The novel’s characters, provided with backdrops of momentous events, find themselves battling with situations to challenge their fundamental beliefs and understanding.  I use the term ‘find themselves’ because this taps into another element of storytelling. 

My preference is for plot lines whereby the characters are drawn into the story ‘by accident’.  This is to say a character’s plight, no matter how extraordinary, could befall any of us.  From a novelist’s perspective, this provides in-built bewilderment, struggle, and conflict — obstacles far more daunting to the person going about his/her usual business than to those superhumans contrived by an author to just happen to be martial arts experts, military heroes, or Olympic athletes.  For me, it’s better to work with characters limited by relative ‘ordinariness’ than to have the convenient get-out clause of providing superabundant skills, strengths, wits, and so on.

History also provides those ‘real’ people who were the movers, shakers, and poor bloody foot-soldiers of the past.  Their experiences were often stranger than fiction, and I like to salt my stories with them.  This ‘faction’ element provides another insight into past events, but for the novelist it offers more.  Often, analysing events indicates, for example, a particular conversation must have occurred, but the actual words exchanged remain unknown.  Never mind — the novelist can put the essence of the exchange into their mouths, and what is better still, can introduce dramatic elements too.

Of all the eras in history, I find the Third Reich one of the most fascinating and puzzling.  The entire Wagnerian world of operatic excess in Germany at that time becomes more incredible the closer one looks.  Yet, it’s too easy to distance oneself from Nazism and all its works by claiming some kind of substantial difference pertaining then that disqualifies any repetition occurring now.  That comfort blanket is diaphanously thin.  When considering a political system so obsessed with the spurious notion of Arian legitimacy, so obsessed in fact that one of the Nazis’ legitimising committees concluded Hitler to be blond-haired, a patent nonsense, it’s too easy to dismiss it as crackpot folly.  Hitlerism was far more fundamental than that.

How a story’s told is crucial.  Bad storytelling fails.  I chose a split-time structure to ensure that only the reader discovers the whole puzzle.  My characters, through investigating a mystery separating them by some forty years, discover what they can.  This is the usual run in life.

Calvin Hedley
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About the Author

Calvin Hedley has been partially sighted since birth and became registered blind in 1982. He lost all useful sight in 1997 yet continues to pursue his writing career. Calvin read History and Politics at Warwick
University and lives in Coventry with his wife Denise.  Find out more at Cakvin's Facebook page.

10 May 2015

Book Launch ~ The Lady of Misrule, by Suzannah Dunn

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I saw her file it away: a good Catholic girl come to supervise her in her detention. Every girl in England, now, under the circumstances, made sure to be a good Catholic girl. Except her, of course. 
And, if only she knew it, me.

Escorting 'nine days queen' Lady Jane Grey across the Tower of London from throne room into imprisonment is Elizabeth Tilney, who surprised even herself by volunteering for the job. All Elizabeth knows is she's keen to be away from home, she could do with some breathing space. And anyway, it won't be for long: everyone knows Jane will go free as soon as the victorious new queen is crowned. Which is a good thing because the two sixteen-year-olds, cooped up together in a room in the Gentleman Gaoler's house, couldn't be less compatible. Protestant Jane is an icily self-composed idealist, and catholic Elizabeth is... well, anything but.

They are united though by their disdain for the seventeen-year-old to whom Jane has recently been married off: petulant, noisily-aggrieved Guildford Dudley, held prisoner in a neighbouring tower and keen to pursue his perogative of a daily walk with his wife.

As Jane's captivity extends into the increasingly turbulent last months of 1553, the two girls learn to live with each other, but Elizabeth finds herself drawn into the difficult relationship between the newlyweds. And when, at the turn of the year, events take an unexpected and dangerous direction, her newfound loyalties are put to the test.

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About the Author

Suzannah Dunn was born in London,and grew up in the village of Northaw in Hertfordshire (for Tudor ‘fans’: Northaw Manor was the first married home of Bess Hardwick, in the late 1540s). Having lived in Brighton for nineteen years, she now lives in Shropshire. Her novel about Anne Boleyn The Queen of Subtleties was followed by The Sixth Wife, on Katherine Parr, and The Queen's Sorrow, set during the reign of Mary Tudor, ‘Bloody Mary’, England’s first ruling queen. The Confession of Katherine Howard was followed by The May Bride  and The Lady of Misrule is her latest book.Prior to writing about the Tudors, Suzannah published five contemporary-set novels and two collections of stories. She has enjoyed many years of giving talks and teaching creative writing (from six weeks as ‘writer in residence’ on the Richard and Judy show, to seven years as Programme Director of Manchester University’s MA in Novel Writing) Find out more at her website and follow Suzannah on Twitter @SuzannahDunn

9 May 2015

Re-imagining Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd

This week I went to see the latest version of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd and it started me thinking about bringing classic novels to the big screen.  A long time Thomas Hardy fan (see Visiting Thomas Hardy’s house at Max Gate ) anyone who didn’t know this is based on his novel could be forgiven for not realising, as his credit is so small and fleeting.

Set in the rural Dorset of Victorian England and starring the perfectly cast Carey Mulligan as the independent  Bathsheba Everdene, the story is a classic love triangle.  Three very different men, Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a swaggering red-coated Sergeant, and (in a wonderfully understated performance from Martin Sheen) William Boldwood, Bathsheba’s bachelor neighbour, all compete for Bathsheba’s affection.

Director Thomas Vinterberg’s re-imagining  is the fourth time this novel became a film, the first being exactly a hundred years ago in 1915.

Far From the Madding Crowd is Thomas Hardy's fourth novel, written in 1874, and his first real success. Interestingly, Hardy first published it anonymously as a monthly serial in Cornhill Magazine, the Victorian equivalent of ‘Wattpad’.  

Hardy took inspiration from the people and landscape of Dorset, although the name of Bathsheba is from the Bible (she was the mother of Solomon who was seduced by King David - a story echoed in the novel).

Hardy took his title from Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

         Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
         Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
         Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
         They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

So what did I think of the latest version?  Loved it. It helps that the screenwriter, David Nicholls, is also a best-selling novelist, who also adapted Tess of the d'Urbervilles for the lavish BBC production.  As well as being able to bring a writer’s insight to retelling Hardy’s compelling story, he brings a modern sensitivity to the way it addresses female independence.  In an interview with The Telegraph, Nicholls says he tried to remain true to Hardy. “I will change things if they seem to suit the medium better but apart from that I’m just trying to dig out what I love about it and be faithful to that.”

This is as good an example as any of how classic novels can be brought into the twenty-first century. The 2015 version has made me return to the Hardy’s original, although I doubt I’ll ever be able to picture Bathsheba Everdene without remembering Carey Mulligan racing her horse across the Dorset countryside.

(Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

8 May 2015

Book Launch: The Chosen Queen (Queens of the Conquest 1) by Joanna Courtney

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

He looked like a king that day, Harold. Even in a simple bridegroom's tunic of darkest green he looked like royalty as he stepped up to take the Lady Svana's hand. There was no gold in sight, just flowers; no parade of bishops, just a smiling monk in a sack-robe and bare feet. There was no betrothal contract, no formal prayers, no exchange of lands or elaborate gifts, just the linking of hands joining two people for a year and a day.

Edyth had said nothing but it had seemed to her then that Harold glowed when he was with his handfast wife and it was that glow, more than any gold or land or title, that drew people to him. 'Love prefers to be free,' Svana had said and Edyth had carried that with her ever since. It had been her ideal, lit up by firelight and scented with meadow grass, and now, on the brink of womanhood, she craved such a passion for herself.

The Queens of the Conquest trilogy

1066. Three Queens. One Crown.

As a young woman in England's royal court, Edyth, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, dreams of marrying for love. But political matches are rife while King Edward is still without an heir and the future of England is uncertain.

When Edyth's family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, she falls in love with the charismatic King of Wales - but their romance comes at a price and she is catapulted onto the opposing side of a bitter feud with England. Edyth's only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana.

As the years pass, Edyth finds herself elevated to a position beyond even her greatest expectations. She enjoys both power and wealth but as her star rises the lines of love and duty become more blurred than she could ever have imagined. As 1066 dawns, Edyth is asked to make an impossible choice.

Her decision is one that has the power to change the future of England forever . . .

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About the Author

Joanna Courtney lives in Derbyshire, UK and has had has short stories broadcast on BBC radio, and has also written and directed award-winning plays. For the last 6 years she has taught creative writing courses for the Open University as well as teaching privately around the country and working with schools. She says, "Being a writer is a tough job but a hugely rewarding one. Stories are in my blood and, however painful it may be at times, I love the process of mining them out and onto paper and hope to be doing it for many, many years to come." 

Find out more at Joanna's website and follow her on Twitter @joannacourtney1

Blog Tour: The Holy Lance by Andrew Latham‏ #HFVBT

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The year is 1191. A daring counterattack against the Saracens’ last-ditch effort to relieve the besieged city of Acre has not only saved the Third Crusade from a fatal defeat; it has also brought the leader of that counterattack, English Templar Michael Fitz Alan, to the attention of King Richard the Lionheart. In the days that follow, the king charges Fitz Alan with a life-or-death mission – to recover the long-lost Holy Lance, a religious relic widely believed to be responsible for the near-miraculous success of the First Crusade. The ensuing quest leads Fitz Alan and a hand-picked band of Templars on a journey deep into enemy territory, where they battle Saracens, Assassins, hostile Christians and even a traitor within their own ranks as they seek to return the Holy Lance to Christian hands and thereby ensure the liberation of Jerusalem and the success of the crusade.

The Ideal of the “New Knight”: A Synthesis of Brutal Warrior and Pious Monk

One of the questions I am asked most often as a writer of historical fiction is “what was the inspiration for this novel?”  My answer is that, essentially, it was born out of nothing more ambitious than a desire to tell the truth about what Saint Bernard of Clairvaux called the “New Knighthood”, the Knights Templar.   In the popular culture, of course, there are three basic narratives about the Templars: they are either odious religious fanatics; cynical secular thugs using religion to camouflage their all-too-worldly real motives; or mystical (and often heretical) keepers of some terrible secret.  Turns out, though, that not only are these ultimately silly narratives (although they can be grist for some great entertainment), but they are actually far less interesting that the reality of Templar life.  Think about it for a moment.  On the one hand, Templars, like all medieval knights, were warriors, bred to be brutal and merciless killers.  On the other, they were pious monks, committed to a life of prayer and works of charity.  How was that possible?  How did they reconcile these two personas? And how did they do so in a way that made them the most effective military force in the Latin East?  Answering these questions – that is, trying to make sense of the actual reality of Templar life – was what really what inspired me to write the novel.

In order to tell this story, I invented the character of Templar Michael Fitz Alan.  Fitz Alan has been groomed from birth to be a warrior and leader of warriors; he has great skill-at-arms and is an extraordinarily proficient killer; he is courageous, resourceful and tough.  When pushed, he is capable of extraordinary savagery and ruthlessness.  He lives to fight and is constitutionally incapable of turning his back on the warrior life.  Fitz Alan is also, however, wracked by a profound sense of sinfulness.  Caught up in the intense lay piety of his era, he increasingly sees the warrior life he has been leading as morally corrupt, spiritually empty and sure to earn him eternal damnation.  Seeking to reconcile these two deeply contradictory elements of his personality, he considers “taking the cross” (i.e. going on crusade), but ultimately joins the order of the knights Templar instead.  His reasoning is that as a Templar he will be able to continue fighting, but will do so for both a higher purpose and his own personal salvation.

Initially, while still in England, Fitz Alan focuses on the spiritual disciplines, learning the new life of the Christian monk.  After leaving England, however, the realities of war progressively transform him into a perfect synthesis of the warrior and monk: a brutal and capable fighter motivated by a proper inward disposition, faithfully fighting on behalf of what he considers to be the only truly just cause in this life (defending Christ and His Church).  In other words, he is transformed from a brutal secular knight, into a quintessential exemplar of St. Bernard's “new knighthood” – a perfect knight and perfect monk, fighting a “double combat of flesh and spirit”.  He believes his redemption in both this life and the next depends on both killing the enemies of the Church and living an ascetic and pious religious life that sustains his proper spiritual disposition (humility before God and obedience to His Church).

Fundamentally, then, Fitz Alan is an archetypal warrior hero: courageous, clever, resourceful, idealistic, tough and, of course, a peerless fighter.  In this respect, he is similar to those great warrior heroes of both classical mythology and contemporary historical fiction – heroes like C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe and Thomas of Hookton, Si Turney’s Marcus Falerius Fronto, and Simon Scarrow’s Cato and Macro.  But – and this is where his DNA differs from those great characters – he’s also very much inspired by Bernard of Clairveaux’s ideal of the “new knight”.  Whereas most heroes in military historical fiction are either irreligious or adherents to some form of pre-Christian religion, the Fitz Alan character was fundamentally inspired by my desire to figure out what made Saint Bernard’s so-called knights of Christ really “tick”.  In a sense, then, what I have done with Fitz Alan is to take Saint Bernard’s highly stylized vision of what a Christian a holy warrior should look like and bring that vision to life by exploring the interior life – the motivations, struggles and inner conflicts – of those who belonged to a military religious order like the Templars. 

None of this is to imply that Fitz Alan’s a saint – like all great military adventure heroes, he most assuredly isn’t.  It is, however, to place him in his proper historical context.  Fitz Alan isn’t simply a twenty-first century (presumably secular-humanist hero) parachuted into a story set in the twelfth century.  Rather, he’s my very best educated guess about what a twelfth century Templar knight would actually look like.  As such, like almost all people in medieval Christendom, Fitz Alan understands the world in terms of Christian religious categories and concepts.  For the people of Medieval Latin Christendom, these beliefs were neither a symptom of mental illness nor a cynical ideological smokescreen concealing their true motives (power, wealth, glory, pleasure, what have you).  Instead, rather like the laws of physics are for us, Christian religious categories and concepts provided the fundamental imaginative matrix through which medieval people made sense of – and thus acted in – the world around them.  As I see it, not taking the medieval religious worldview seriously would simply be to get Fitz Alan – and his world -- entirely wrong. 

Andrew Latham
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About the Author

Andrew Latham was born in England, raised in Canada and currently lives in the United States. He graduated from York University in Toronto with a BA (Honours) in Political Science and later earned an MA from Queen’s University in Kingston and a PhD from his alma mater, York. Since 1997 Andrew has been a member of the Political Science Department at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he where he lives with his wife Wendy, daughter Bernadette and son Michael. Andrew regularly teaches courses in Medieval Political Thought, International Security and Regional Conflict.  His most recent publications include a non-fiction book entitled Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades. Find out more at Andrew's website and follow him on Twitter @aalatham. 

7 May 2015

The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner's Manual, by Victoria Mixon

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

The sequel to Victoria Mixon's popular The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner's Manual, her new book, The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner's Manual, explores in detail the complex crafts of character development and plot structure, explaining and illuminating exactly how the greats have done this work to such powerful effect and teaching how to apply their lessons to your own fiction. 

Victoria includes dozens of examples from the literary canon along with a step-by-step analysis of six brilliant stories from which their genres sprang, as well as discussing the grand art of storytelling, from character arc/narrative arc to three-dimensional graphing, from hunting the ghost tiger to the Tao of theme. Vicroria Mixon's voice is warm and entertaining, your personal welcome into the greater fellowship of all writers.

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About the Author

Victoria Mixon lives in Northern California with her husband and son and has been a professional writer and editor for over thirty years. She is now a freelance independent editor, working with both critically-acclaimed published authors and aspiring unpublished talent. Her popular blog,, was voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers.  Follow Victoria on Twitter @VictoriaMixon

Book Launch ~ The Italian Wife, by Kate Furnivall

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Italy, 1932 -- Mussolini's Italy is growing from strength to strength, but at what cost? One bright autumn morning, architect Isabella Berotti sits at a cafe in the vibrant centre of Bellina, when a woman she's never met asks her to watch her ten-year-old daughter, just for a moment. Reluctantly, Isabella agrees -- and then watches in horror as the woman climbs to the top of the town's clock tower and steps over the edge. This tragic encounter draws vivid memories to the surface, forcing Isabella to probe deeper into the secrets of her own past as she tries to protect the young girl from the authorities. Together with charismatic photographer Roberto Falco, Isabella is about to discover that secrets run deeper, and are more dangerous, than either of them could have possibly imagined ...From the glittering marble piazzas to the picturesque hillside villages and winding streets of Rome, Kate Furnivall's epic new novel will take you on an breathtaking journey
of intrigue, romance and betrayal.

Kate Furnivall has a wonderful gift for evoking a location, and her stories are always fast-paced page-turners, peppered with authentic detail ~ Lucinda Riley

 Breathtaking historical fiction ~ The Times

The Italian Wife has everything: a fascinating setting in an extraordinary period of European history and a powerful love story. I loved this book Liz Trenow, author of The Last Telegram

About the Author

Kate Furnivall was born in Wales and studied English at London University. She worked in publishing and then moved to TV advertising, where she met her husband. In 2000, Kate decided to write her mother's extraordinary story of growing up in Russia, China and India, and this became The Russian Concubine, which was a New York Times bestseller. All her books since then have had an exotic setting and Kate has travelled widely for her research. She now has two sons and lives with her husband in a cottage by the sea in Devon. Visit Kate's website at and find Kate on Twitter @KateFurnivall.