Mastodon The Writing Desk: June 2015

30 June 2015

Guest Post ~ Researching The Doctor's Daughter, by Vanessa Matthews

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23 year old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is
and who she wants to be. 


‘An ounce of fact is worth a pound of controversy.’ Arthur Schomburg, Historian, Writer & Activist
There are lots of different ways to write your way through history, but if you are working on fiction it can be tempting to throw caution to the wind and ditch historical accuracy in favour of a heap of artistic license so that your plot can move along in the way you want it to. Does it really matter if my femme fatale is wearing nylons pre 1940? 

Who cares if I shift the date of that war by a year or two so I don’t have to weave in details of a battle that will detract from the mystery? Readers do!  A little historical accuracy goes a long way when creating a believable story that feels authentic to its setting. Research is as important for fiction as it is for non-fiction. So, by now you might be wondering how I tackled the twenties in my own novel.

Let me start with a little confession. I didn’t intend to write a historical novel. I just sat down and started to write a story that intrigued me, featuring characters that appealed to me. I didn’t plan to set it in 1927, but that became my chosen year. The Doctor’s Daughter travels through Vienna, Budapest and London. Did I know that’s where it would take me when I started? Not at all!

I know that is not the way all writers approach their work, but I can only talk about my own journey from first paragraph through to final draft. I may not have started with much of a plan, but once I got going I most certainly wanted to ensure that I did everything I could to keep the reader in my historical world. One outdated slang word or use of a modern medicine and I knew I would pop the bubble and my readers would tumble right out of the pages.

What I lacked in the planning, I made up for in the writing, reading, redrafting and rereading later. For the locations, I spent hours researching the cities my characters passed through. I tried to ensure that any landmarks, important buildings and street names existed, or were at least based on similar ones. It wouldn’t do at all to mention a library or a hotel that had been built in the last 50 years! The flora and fauna too, the food and even the dining habits of people at that time. All vital if I were to create authentic scenes.

As for the timing, I had to consider the literature, communication methods, education system, transport, clothing, social context and so much more. It would have been easy to ramble through a bunch of roaring twenties clichés, but my story is very much driven by character. Marta, Elise, Leopold and Arnold are living in the late 1920s, but they are also human beings affected by their experiences and bearing flaws that still resonate in people’s lives today. 

Whilst there is a sprinkling of speakeasy culture, The Doctor’s Daughter is no Gatsby. My characters are imaginings of real people with hopes and dreams, doubts and fears, highs and lows. They can be both warm and austere. They cry, they suffer, they hurt and get hurt, they have compulsions and dark secrets. They are the best of people and the worst of people.

It took almost as long to research as it did to write it, and I hope the reader’s experience will be richer for it. Thanks so much Tony for inviting me to write this post for you, I could talk about writing for hours so it’s nice to be able to share at least some of my thoughts with your audience.

Vanessa Matthews 

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About the Author 

Vanessa Matthews has been writing since her teens and has had feature articles printed in the national media. In 2012 she started a 30-day writing and blogging challenge during which she won two poetry contests. Vanessa lives in Cornwall, England with her husband and four children. Find out more at Vanessa's website and find her on Twitter @VanessaMatthews.

29 June 2015

Guest Post ~ the inspiration behind Roman Mask, by Thomas M. D. Brooke

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Rome AD 9: Augustus Caesar rules Imperial Rome at the height of its power, as the Roman Empire stretches across the known world. Cassius, son of one of her most powerful families, is the personification of Rome's imperial strength: wealthy, popular, a war hero with a decorated military career - none of Rome's fashionable parties are complete without him - except, he hides a secret.

Turning a negative into a positive – the inspiration behind writing Roman Mask

It was an October night, and I was returning home from a night out with a few friends in my local pub in London, when something happened that changed my life dramatically.  The nights were closing in, so it was already dark by the time I left the pub, but I was in a good mood.   I’d recently returned from a trip to Pompeii , so I’d been telling everyone of my excitement at walking through the Roman streets, marvelling at the murals and depictions on the well preserved houses, and laughing about the seedier aspects of the ancient city – the brothels and street graffiti that had also survived the great volcanic eruption of AD 79.
It was probably because I was so preoccupied with these thoughts, that I didn’t see the guy who came out of an alcove and wrapped an arm around my neck.  My first thought was, ‘Am I being mugged?  Who’s going to mug me??’ – I’m a big guy, over six foot tall and I keep myself in pretty good shape, so I’d always thought the chance of this happening in London were pretty remote.  But I was wrong. When the second guy came out from behind a car, then the third from behind a bush I knew I was in trouble.  This was no ordinary street robbery; these guys were out for blood, and the three of them surrounded me and between them punched, kicked, and smashed me to the ground, beating me to an inch of my life.
Afterwards, as I tried to hobble home – one of them had crushed my foot, to prevent me from getting up – another passer-by saw me covered in blood and called an ambulance.  I was lucky, I got to live another day.  And within a few weeks, my bruises healed, and I began to walk without a limp, all physical signs of my encounter disappeared.  But that was just the start of my nightmare.
I was completely unprepared for the mental-trauma that such an incident inflicts on you.  That winter was torture for me.  After any night out, I was terrified to go home; I found I was scared of the dark, constantly thinking that people would jump out of the shadows at me.  I’d never previously been a heavy drinker, but over that winter I found I needed to drink a lot just to give me the courage to walk home.  I could have called a taxi, but then people would wonder why I was taking a cab for such a small journey – this became another all-encompassing fear:  that others would find out about my terror. This might seem irrational, but at the time, that fear was almost as great as being mugged again.
Those first six months were very difficult, but then as the nights started getting lighter, an idea came to me.  After visiting Pompeii I’d been searching for a character to be a lead in a novel set in ancient Rome – someone who fully embraced the entirety of Rome, its seedier aspects as much as its magnificence.  Why not put my experiences to good use, rather than having it a weight bearing me down, let it be something that produces something positive. 
At the time, the news on the television was full of stories of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress and it made me think how soldiers dealt with such issues in the ancient world.  My experiences had shown me the power that traumatic events can play on the mind, and I quite simply didn’t believe anyone who claimed that in the ancient world such a thing was not a concern because life was different back then.   The human mind was biologically exactly the same then as it is now, and just as fallible to conditions we now diagnose and understand the importance of.
So I came up with the character Cassius, a great soldier, but someone who’d been affected by a terrible battle a few years before in the forests of Germany.   I knew from my own experiences how easy it was to fall into a trap of blaming yourself for your own perceived weakness, and I knew how living a lie to hide that same weakness became a part of life.
I then started my novel in Rome so I could show Cassius being seduced by the many vices of that city – something that is all too easy to do under such circumstances.  I then returned Cassius to the forests of Germany where he learns to understand and come to terms with his fears, just as I did whilst writing my novel.
I’m now pleased that fateful night in October happened.  It was a terrible experience, but it gave me something so much more – I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Thomas M. D. Brooke
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About the Author

Thomas M. D. Brooke lives in London where he works in the exciting, and sometimes crazy, fashion world.  He is also a committed writer and he spends as much time as he can in his beloved Northumbrian hills, where up until recently could be seen walking with his black Labrador Fergus, who sadly passed in January 2015.  Fergus was a constant companion to the writing of the novel and prevented many writers’ tantrums. Roman Mask is Thomas Brooke’s second novel, although this will be the first available for sale. As well as writing novels, he also writes a blog on both historical and fantasy genre novels.  For more information please visit and you can follow Thomas on Twitter

Guest Post ~ Writing Sword of the Gladiatrix, by Faith L. Justice

01_Sword of the Gladiatrix Cover

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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 Two women. Two swords. One victor. An action-packed tale that exposes the brutal underside of Imperial Rome, Sword of the Gladiatrix brings to life unforgettable characters and exotic settings. From the far edges of the Empire, two women come to battle on the hot sands of the arena in Nero's Rome: Afra, scout and beast master to the Queen of Kush; and Cinnia, warrior-bard and companion to Queen Boudica of the British Iceni. Enslaved, forced to fight for their lives and the Romans' pleasure; they seek to replace lost friendship, love, and family in each other's arms. But the Roman arena offers only two futures: the Gate of Life for the victors or the Gate of Death for the losers.

Writing Sword of the Gladiatrix:
An Exercise in Frustration and Creative Breakthrough
By Faith L. Justice

First up: thanks to Tony for inviting me to guest post on The Writing Desk. Writing Sword of the Gladiatrix was a challenge and I appreciate the opportunity to share my journey. Second: you have to know a little about me to understand why this book was so difficult (at first) to write. I’m not a “must write or die” kind of person. I’ve been perfectly happy with a number of day jobs that paid quite well, thank you, and didn’t need to take on the mantel of starving artist. What I do have is a drive to share my passionate love of history through stories. Most people hate history, and rightly so, given how it’s taught in public schools: dull facts, lists of dates, wars and pestilence, and the stories of elites (mostly white men). I want to make history accessible to anyone who enjoys a good story and spotlight some little known people along the way.

I write fact-based historicals primarily set in the late Roman Empire. Selene of Alexandria features Hypatia, a famous (in her time) woman mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher as a major supporting character. Twilight Empress (coming out later this year) tells the story of Galla Placidia, who rules the Western Roman Empire just before its fall. A companion book Dawn Empress (out next year) deals with her niece Pulcheria who rules in the Roman East and sets the stage for the Byzantine Empire. These three books were relatively easy to write. History dictated events and plot points. I created the personalities and motivations of historical people who would do what we know they did. As a bonus, I got to do what I love: study the culture, religion, dress, laws, food—all the everyday details that make history come alive and transport readers to a different time and place. All of this went into a detailed outline which allowed me to write quickly and easily.

Sword of the Gladiatrix was a different beast. Set in the first century AD and featuring fictional characters—Afra and Cinnia, two women gladiators—I had to create my characters and plot from scratch. I knew what my ending would be and had my first scene, but the vast middle taunted me with its infinite possibilities. I had to write “into the dark” (some call this “pantsing”) without an outline. I wrote and rewrote the first several chapters a dozen times experimenting with point of view, starting the story in different places and times, adding and taking out subplots and supporting characters. I couldn’t get past a certain point. I had too many choices. Every time I opened the files my creative mind shut down. I tried several tricks to break writer’s block, but none of them worked. I finally shelved the project, thinking I didn’t have the chops to write this story.

But the characters haunted me. They wanted me to tell their story: two women from the far ends of the Roman Empire fighting loss and finding love in this strange land and culture. Finally, I had my mental breakthrough. Afra and Cinnia, although fictional, were rooted in a time and place just as my historical characters were. I hit the research books. What was happening during this time? The Boudican uprising in Britain. A scientific expedition to Kush. Women introduced into gladiator games. An earthquake! Plenty of juicy history to fuel my plot while developing my characters. It clicked. I put together a sketchy timeline and I finished the book in just a couple of months.

Writing Sword of the Gladiatrix was initially a frustrating slog, but it stretched me as a writer. I learned how to take skills I already had and use them in a new and satisfying way. I’m no longer intimidated by “writing into the dark” and look forward to writing the sequel.
Copyright © Faith L. Justice, June 2015
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About the Author

02_Faith L. Justice_AuthorFaith L. Justice writes award-winning novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, the Circles in the Hair anthology, and many more. She is a frequent contributor to Strange Horizons, Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine, and co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites. For more information visit Faith L. Justice's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

28 June 2015

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Queen's Gambit, by Elizabeth Fremantle

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Meet the woman who survived Henry VIII in Elizabeth Fremantle's first novel, Queen's Gambit...
My name is Katherine Parr.  I'm 31 years old and already twice widowed.
I'm in love with a man I can't have, and am about to wed a man no-one would want - for my husband-to-be is none other than Henry VIII, who has already beheaded two wives, cast aside two more, and watched one die in childbirth.
What will become of me once I'm wearing his ring and become Queen of England?
They say that the sharpest blades are sheathed in the softest pouches.
Only time will tell what I am really made of...
For fans of Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Elizabeth Fremantle's first novel, Queen's Gambit, is a riveting account of the Tudor queen who married four men and outlived three of them - including Henry VIII.
Rich in atmosphere and period detail, and told through the eyes of Katherine and her young maid Dot, it tells the story of two very different women during a terrifying and turbulent time. If you loved Wolf HallThe Other Boleyn Girl or the BBC drama series The Tudors, then Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit is the book for you.
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About the Author

Elizabeth Fremantle lives in London. She holds a first in English from Birkbeck where she also studied for an MA in Creative Writing. She has contributed to titles such as Vogue, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle and spent some time in Paris working at French Vogue. Her fascination with early modern culture and writing led to her debut novel Queen's Gambit the first of a Tudor trilogy, the second of which is Sisters of Treason. The third in the trilogy, Watch The Lady will be featured on this blog shortly. See Elizabeth's website for more information about her novels at and find her on Twitter @LizFremantle.

27 June 2015

Book Launch ~ Virtues of War (The Astral Saga) by Bennett R. Coles

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Virtues of War offers a glimpse of humanity’s possible future, of our expansion into space and the cultural and emotional baggage that we will take with us. Within an action-packed, high-tech setting with cutting edge science and fantastic worldscapes, this sci fi novel explores the effects of physical and psychological warfare and the ways in which realistic, human characters react to them. Unlike many military sci fi novels, Virtues of War is a story of the personal, rather than the technical.

Lieutenant Katja Emmes is a platoon commander who was transferred last-minute to be the leader of the 10-trooper strike team carried aboard the fast-attack craft Rapier. Although fully trained, she has never led troops in real operations before, and she is haunted by the shadow of her war-hero father.

Sublieutenant Jack Mallory is fresh out of pilot school, reluctantly doing his duty in the mysterious world of extra-dimensional warfare while pining for the glamour of a fighter pilot position in the space fleet. Day-dreaming his way through life, Jack is in for a rude awakening.

Lieutenant Commander Thomas Kane is poised for promotion, and he knows that this six-month deployment in command of Rapier is the single, best chance to secure his rise to stardom within the Astral Force. He has already learned that performance alone isn’t enough and actively dabbles in the subtle politics of his professional world, but he will learn that there are far more dangerous foes than the ones he can see.

Set far enough in the future to present a society that has evolved and splintered from our own, Virtues of War is a sci fi novel that reveals the traits common in any age, and ultimately looks at the heart of what makes us human.

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About the Author

Bennett R. Coles is a Canadian author who served 15 years as an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. Throughout his career he undertook a variety of roles such as bridge officer, boarding party officer, warfare officer and navigator. He served several years in staff positions before  retiring from active duty in 2005 to pursue a business career. He makes his home in Victoria, Canada, with his wife and two sons. Always wanting to give back to the publishing industry, he has found himself heading up the maverick publishing company Promontory Press, dedicated to giving talented new authors the shot at the traditional market they deserve. Find out more at his website and follow him on Twitter @BennettColes.

26 June 2015

Special Guest Post ~ Anatomy of a Page-Turner, by Barbara Kyle

"I couldn't put it down!" Authors love to hear readers say those words. We live to hear them. So do our publishers. But what, exactly, is this mysterious literary essence that hooks a reader? What holds them so hard, they simply must keep reading, often long into the night? To emerging writers who want to break in, and published authors who want to produce a break-out book, I offer this one-word answer. Emotion.

Sound simplistic? After all, you work hard on the many complex facets of our craft. You slave to hone your story structure, and distill theme, and chisel out perfectly sculpted sentences . Certainly, as writers, we must all do this work of craft. But structure and style are not ends in themselves. They're merely tools to produce the result we want: a meaningful emotional experience for the reader.

When characters in a story move your reader to pity or laughter or loathing or dread or just the simple warmth of fellow-feeling, that's what makes them keep turning pages. They crave to know: What's going to happen to these people? They care. The fine details of craft drift past the reader like mist unless the hand of emotion reaches out to snag them and hold them.

Here's what famed mystery author Raymond Chandler had to say on the subject: My theory was that readers just thought that they cared about nothing but the action; that really although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The thing they really cared about, and that I care about, was the creation of emotion."

The wise writer learns to use this knowledge to best effect. When I mentor writers, I use the word "manipulate." Good writing means you're manipulating your reader. It's not a trick. It's anything but shallow. It is, instead, a bonding with humanity's deepest consciousness. What moves us, imprints us. The evoking of emotion is what turns the writer's craft into art. Here are three powerful ways to do it:

1. Conflict. A main character who has no problems, no challenges to overcome, is a boring character and is living in a non-story. Conflict does not mean combat. It simply means what problems does this person face in trying to achieve their goal, be it a Maeve Binchy heroine launching her catering business in the face of her mother-in-law's disapproval (Scarlet Feather) or a Robert Harris colonel seeking justice against a cabal of generals (An Officer and a Spy). Conflict for your character is the most powerful tool you have to evoke emotion in your reader. Conflict makes us care.

2. Close Relationships. Ever notice how many compelling stories are family stories? War and Peace. The Grapes of Wrath. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Godfather. The Goldfinch. Readers live in families, too, so they instinctively empathize with the intense currents of familial relationships, be they supportive or toxic. Buffet your characters in these shifting currents. Your readers will feel it on a deeply visceral level.

3. Choice. No matter what a character says or how they conduct themselves, the only way they truly reveal themselves is by making choices under pressure. Choice under pressure reveals a person's real nature.  The quiet, meek guy nobody notices who goes off to war and reveals the courage that saves his platoon. The loser, druggie kid living on the streets who gets pregnant and reveals herself to be a loving and competent mother. The rich, comfortable CEO who has everything, then reveals his tortured self by embezzling from his company. Extreme choice bares the soul. Force your characters to bare their souls.

When a reader says of your characters, "Oh, I felt so sorry for him" or "Bitch! I hated her!" or "That was so freaky it gave me chills" or "I had tears in my eyes" you know you've done your job. You've produced a page-turner. 
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About the Author

Barbara Kyle is the author of ten novels with over 450,000 copies sold in seven countries. Her latest book is The Traitor's Daughter. Her master classes and manuscript evaluations have launched many writers to published success. Barbara's "Crafting the Page-Turner" Writers' Symposium on 17-18 October 2015 will bring in top industry professionals to give workshops, seminars, and pitch sessions. For more information and to register see You can find barbara on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @BKyleAuthor.

Book Launch - Thomas Grey & The Lost City, by J C Gruit @jcgruit

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Beneath the old house something stirred. Agitated and restless, awaiting his master’s return. Stale smells of rotting fish and decaying seaweed permeated up through the cold, damp walls of the ancient sea caves, as wisps of early morning sea mist wove their way through the dark rocks, grasping like fingers at any surface they touched. Back and forth, back and forth. The creature paced uneasily.

Wrenched from the comfort of his average life, Thomas has to leave behind everything that is familiar when his family inherit Foxwood Hall, and he makes the move from Dorchester to Cornwall. 

However, Foxwood Hall is not all it appears to be. The house has a life of its own, and is waiting to reveal its hidden secrets. As secret passages and curious artefacts are uncovered, something else is disturbed. Frightening, unwanted visitors begin to creep from their hiding places during the night, wreaking havoc as they go. Behind locked doors rooms have a life of their own, and with a mysterious arrival, Thomas knows his life will never be the same again. 

As discoveries are made, and strong bonds of friendship forged, Thomas's family embark on a quest to Tibet to finish a hunt started by his Uncle. Myths and legends unfold in the mountains of Tibet as the unlikely adventurers head underground, where an almighty shock awaits them. Can the group be saved by an even more unlikely rescuer? Enter the trail to find out ...

Blog Tour ~ Celtic Sister by Meira Pentermann

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

A man looking for his sister meets a woman running from her past. A notebook filled with cryptic clues leads them on an unexpected adventure. Celtic Sister is a tender portrayal of a woman propelled on the journey of her life - both literally and spiritually. Told with a compelling mix of realism and humor, the sensitive issues of marital abuse and alcoholism are woven into an unsolved mystery. The result is a meaningful tale of courage and love.

What Inspires Me to Write and How I Approach It?

Some people devote years making preparations to climb Mount Everest. The passion consumes them. Such a dream both impresses and mystifies me. I am unable to make it to the top of the forty-foot wall in my daughter’s climbing gym. Clearly, Everest is not on my bucket list. I also don’t like small, tight places, so we might as well add spelunking to the not-on-my-bucket-list column. Writing a novel, on the other hand, completed me. Now I cannot imagine a life without writing. It’s soul-nurturing. 

With the release of Celtic Sister, I’m entering into the next phase of my writing career: reaching others where they might be struggling in their life journey. Creating this story - which is part mystery, part women’s fiction, and part motivational – felt a little like jumping off a cliff with no parachute. I still have no idea where I’m going to land, and I doubt it will be a gentle touchdown. Amy Richardson will agitate some people and annoy others. This combination of cozy mystery, abuse drama, and recovery story doesn’t fit nicely into a genre. Nevertheless, it might touch someone’s life. If so, it will be worth the leap of faith.

I don’t really approach writing as much as it approaches me. When a story is brewing, it feels as if it is coming from someplace else. The ideas and characters flood my brain almost faster than I can write them down. It has always been this way. When I’m dry, my mind is completely blank; I couldn’t write to save my life. When a story assaults me, I lock myself in my room and clank away at the keyboard.

That being said, once a story is in development, I have a few routines which I find imperative. A continuity of facts spreadsheet helps me keep track of the characters. I give each one a birthday and a list of milestones. Then I chose a date somewhere in the future and use all the official sunrise/sunset and moon phase data from the period covered during the story. Vacations, cleverly disguised as research trips, give me vital information about the locations where the characters live and travel. I also utilize forums and other web resources to verify terrain descriptions and local customs. Composition notebooks, stashed in strategic locations, are essential. After several initial edits, I solicit the advice of beta readers. 

More edits follow before I entrust the document to proofreaders. While the proofreaders are examining the manuscript, I read it a page at a time in reverse order to catch additional mistakes and continuity errors. At some point, after the final edits and the HTML conversion, I have to walk away. During the last pass-through of Celtic Sister on my Kindle, I was making notes to change “a” to “the”. That’s when I realized it was time to let go.

Now that Amy Richardson and Sam Foster are wandering the cybersphere, I pray they will cross paths with those who need them most. That is what inspires me to write: the possibility of touching a reader’s life.

Meira Pentermann

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About the Author

On slow, snowy days in her Colorado home, Meira Pentermann enjoys cozying up on the couch with a novel. Naturally, snow is not a requirement; neither is the couch. In fact, she sees no reason not to indulge in reading three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year. Dystopian science fiction, mysteries, and young adult titles top her Kindle list, but legal thrillers and chik-lit make an appearance now and then.

When not absorbed in writing or reading, Meira enjoys life's little moments with her family - the love and devotion of her black lab, the quiet wisdom of her artistic twenty-five-year-old, the trials and triumphs of her petite ninth grader, and the unlimited encouragement offered by her Dutch husband.

Meira strives to write stories that deliver the unexpected. She prefers down-to-earth characters that look and behave like regular folks. The prom queen and Adonis take a backseat to reclusive, soul-searching heroines and quirky, introverted gentlemen. Fina Meira on Twitter @MeiraPentermann.

The full tour schedule can be seen at


The author is giving away ecopy of CELTIC SISTER to one winner of the Rafflecopter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

25 June 2015

Book Launch ~ The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, by Deborah Lutz

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

An intimate portrait of the lives and writings of the Brontë sisters,
drawn from the objects they possessed.

In this unique and lovingly detailed biography of a literary family that has enthralled readers for nearly two centuries, Victorian literature scholar Deborah Lutz illuminates the complex and fascinating lives of the Brontës through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed. By unfolding the histories of the meaningful objects in their family home in Haworth, Lutz immerses readers in a nuanced re-creation of the sisters' daily lives while moving us chronologically forward through the major biographical events: the death of their mother and two sisters, the imaginary kingdoms of their childhood writing, their time as governesses, and their determined efforts to make a mark on the literary world.
From the miniature books they made as children to the blackthorn walking sticks they carried on solitary hikes on the moors, each personal possession opens a window onto the sisters' world, their beloved fiction, and the Victorian era. A description of the brass collar worn by Emily’s bull mastiff, Keeper, leads to a series of entertaining anecdotes about the influence of the family’s dogs on their writing and about the relationship of Victorians to their pets in general. The sisters' portable writing desks prove to have played a crucial role in their writing lives: it was Charlotte's snooping in Emily’s desk that led to the sisters' first publication in print, followed later by the publication of Jane Eyre andWuthering Heights.
Charlotte's letters provide insight into her relationships, both innocent and illicit, including her relationship with the older professor to whom she wrote passionately. And the bracelet Charlotte had made of Anne and Emily's intertwined hair bears witness to her profound grief after their deaths.
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About the Author

Deborah Lutz lives in Brooklyn. She is an Associate Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture in the Department of English at Long Island University, C.W. Post. Her scholarship focuses on material culture; the history of attitudes toward death and mourning; the history of sexuality, pornography and erotica; and gender and gay studies. Her writing has also appeared in numerous journals and collections, including Novel: A Forum on Fiction; Victorian Literature and Culture; The Oxford History of the Novel in English, and Cabinet. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, Salon, New York Post, Dublin's News Talk Radio, The John Batchelor Radio Show, and The History Channel. Find out more at

21 June 2015

Book Review ~ The Goldfinch, By Donna Tartt

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, so I must admit I read it partly out of curiosity. At nearly eight hundred pages it is quite a marathon, like reading two books back-to-back, so was it worth it, when I have such a long list of books to read? I was expecting a ‘coming of age’ novel but this is so much more.

Bleak and depressing in parts, I’m not giving too much away to say it starts with the untimely death of thirteen year old Theo Decker’s mother. She was one of two, perhaps three likeable characters in the book, replaced by a succession of troubled – and troubling companions, so I shared his grief at her loss.

I read in a Telegraph interview that it took Donna Tartt ten years to write. She says, “So many people say to me, why don’t you write books faster? But working that way doesn’t come naturally to me. I would be miserable cranking out a book every three or four years. And if I’m not having fun writing it, people aren’t going to have fun reading it.”

Did I have fun reading it? On the back cover The Goldfinch is described as a ‘a gripping page turner’. Several times I found myself turning back and reading a page again to see if I had missed something. Rich in metaphor, coincidence and serendipity save the plot on more than on occasion. Readers have to work hard to understand character motivation and often shocking action is interspersed with long, indulgent passages. The Goldfinch reminds me there really are no rules in novel writing. For that reason, I have to say yes.

Tony Riches

19 June 2015

Guest Post ~ Jacaranda Wife, by Kendra Smith

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Katie and Tom’s marriage is in trouble. As is their bank account. So when Tom tells Katie that they need to talk, she knows it must be about one of two things. Either he has found out about her kiss with her best friend’s husband, or they are in even worse debt than she thought. What she was not expecting was for him to tell her that his boss is sending him to Australia. Permanently. But the home-loving mother of two from London realises it might just be what they need to save their marriage. Trouble is, she doesn’t much like heat, can’t swim and hates spiders. Does Australia provide the spark they need?  And which side of the globe will she decide to call home? 

How did my writing start?

I think I can honestly say that writing has been in my blood for years. As I stapled my fingers together instead of the school magazine, aged 14, I knew I wanted to write. I’d just found out that the glossy school magazine was closing. So I took it upon my 14 year old self to do it alone. I’d write, edit and draw – yes, draw, no iphones to take pictures in those days – my way into ‘publishing’; a pupils’ version of the magazine. 

It worked. I gave birth to a magazine in the secretaries’ office amidst the photocopier jamming and plasters (see stapled fingers, above) and my writing career began. After that it was the university newspaper, followed hot on the heels by various magazines, from trade titles to, finally, women’s magazines, where I found my niche writing features and editing copy. It was where my heart lay. Or did it?

There was one night (breastfeeding, circa 2am) that I was reading Allison Pearson’s fantastic novel I Don’t Know How She Does It – that I remember thinking, through a sleep-deprived blue haze that maybe,  could I do this book thing too? I might even have woken my husband to tell him my wonderful idea.

The whole kit and caboodle, however, didn’t turn into reality for many years as I had tiny infants who insisted that Mummy play Lego, or vomit over the keyboard as I tried to wind them, so I gave up for a bit. But not for too long. After child number three was born, and by which time we were in Australia, I wondered if I could distil these thoughts, ideas, frustrations and, to be honest, the sheer volume of traffic in my head into something of a book. And I did. As the baby slept, I typed. After all, there’s only so much creativity in cutting ham sandwiches into wonderful, exciting and you-will-damn-well-eat-this shapes, isn’t there?

What resulted – after quite a steep learning curve of editing, manuscript reviews and re-writing, was my first novel, Jacaranda Wife.

Kendra Smith
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About the Author

Kendra Smith's writing career had its roots in magazine journalism: she has worked for Cosmopolitan in Sydney and OK! Magazine and the BBC's Eve in London. She has written for Woman & HomeDelicious and New Woman and had a regular humorous parenting column in Prima Baby and Junior. She has also remained very calm whilst editing multi-stage customer magazines in contract publishing. In the brief moments of boredom between emigrating to Australia and back again and moving house five times with three children, she wrote her first bookKendra was born in sunny Singapore and educated at boarding school in sub-zero Scotland, culminating in a degree from Aberdeen University. She has lived in Australia three times: the last time with her family of three boys under eight. With dual Australian-British nationality she currently lives in Surrey with her husband and children. Jacaranda Wife is her first published novel and she is watching the word count grow in book #2. Find our more at her website and find Kendra on Facebook and Twitter @KendraAuthor.

18 June 2015

Guest Post ~ The Beaulieu Vanishing, by K. E. Martin

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

May, 1473: Two years after his victory at the Battle of Barnet, Edward IV's enemies are stepping up their attempts to bring about his downfall. Into this uneasy climate the King's loyal brother, Richard of Gloucester, despatches Francis Cranley and Sir James Tyrell to Beaulieu Abbey where his mother-in-law, the Countess of Warwick, has been in sanctuary since her husband's death at Barnet. Tasked with bringing the Countess to Middleham, they encounter difficulties when the Countess's young attendant disappears. As he sets out to find her, Cranley uncovers subterfuge, murder and a conspiracy with the potential to unleash mayhem across the land.

Why I wrote The Beaulieu Vanishing

My love affair with historical fiction stems from childhood when my sisters and I would pounce on the library books our mother brought home. Thanks to authors such as Jean Plaidy, Norah Lofts and Anya Seton, I was soon familiar with the kings and queens of medieval England and from an early age could recite the names and dates of key battles and other historic events. Fascinated by the rich tapestry of English and European history, I knew that one day I would sit down and write a historical novel of my own. Given my keen interest in the Wars of the Roses, that was always likely to be my starting point. 
Several decades later, having relished the experience of writing The Woodville Connection, my debut novel featuring 15th century sleuth Francis Cranley, I felt encouraged to continue Cranley’s story. Set within the confines of a remote Lincolnshire manor, the bulk of the action in the first book unfolds over a few days in December 1472. It was a deliberately claustrophobic setup but for Cranley’s second outing, I wanted to mirror my hero’s personal development by broadening both the landscape and the timescale.

In order to do this, I went back to my treasured history books to remind myself what was happening in England in 1473. Since Cranley’s close friend and benefactor is Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III in due course), I paid particular attention to events that impacted on Gloucester’s life. When I discovered that this was the year his mother-in-law, the widowed Countess of Warwick, was allowed to leave sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey in order to live with Gloucester and his wife at Middleham Castle, a story idea took root.

I always find it easiest to write about places I know or have at least visited so I liked the fact that Beaulieu was not much more than an hour’s drive from my home. I was already familiar with the pretty village from previous visits but realised I knew virtually nothing about the history of the Abbey. To rectify that, I bought a rather wonderful book written by a learned Cistercian monk called Dom. Frederick Hockey, and spent several happy weekends poking about the New Forest, scribbling notes and taking pictures of anything with a connection to the Abbey.

At this point the novel’s plot was incomplete but a chance discovery in Hockey’s book gave me the key to the rest of it. Without giving away spoilers, I learned that Beaulieu Abbey was once closely associated with X, a place I happen to know quite well. By coincidence, in 1473 something happened at X which was important at the time although it is largely forgotten today. Picking up the strands that led from the Countess of Warwick to Beaulieu Abbey and then onwards to X, I triangulated a plot that mixed established fact with a smidgeon of conjecture and a hefty dollop of imagination. The result is a story that puts Francis Cranley and his comrades in the thick of the action, travelling hundreds of miles and putting their lives in danger as they seek out the truth about the disappearance of a young gentlewoman.

Although it’s never a good idea to plan too far ahead, ideally I would like to write another two Cranley novels in order to complete his story arc. Perhaps story arc is an overly grandiose term to use for my vague ideas. Nevertheless, when I began work on The Woodville Connection I already knew how the last book would play out. For me, the intriguing part is getting Cranley from the first situation to the last. Thus, while my primary aim in writing The Beaulieu Vanishing was to produce what I hope is an exciting and enjoyable read, my secondary motivation was to move Cranley closer towards his ultimate destiny.

Kathy Martin 
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About the Author

Kathy Martin has been writing since she was a teenager. While historical fiction was always her goal, she honed her writing skills by working for a number of different publications before starting work on a novel. Her first real success came in 1987 when she was a runner-up in Cosmopolitan's ‘New Journalist’ competition. This was followed by a long stint writing for and editing various magazines, most of them relating to the antiques and collectables hobby. In 2007 Kathy was approached to write a book about the history of the teddy bear. She followed this up with biographies of two of the UK's best-loved soft toy manufacturers. In 2011 she was finally able to turn her attention from the world of collectables to focus on her first love, historical fiction. Her Who's Who in Women's Historical Fiction - a handy A to Z guide to some of the most interesting characters in female-penned historical fiction - was published in 2012 and one year later, The Woodville Connection, her first historical novel, was published under the name K. E. Martin. A murder mystery set in 15th century England, it introduces the character of Francis Cranley, an illegitimate young man raised as unofficial foster brother alongside Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Handsome, clever and handy in a fight, Cranley is sent by Gloucester to prove the innocence of an old soldier friend accused of murdering a child. As he investigates the crime in the claustrophobic atmosphere of Plaincourt Manor, Cranley’s safety is put in jeopardy as he discovers much more than he had bargained for. The Beaulieu Vanishing, the second Francis Cranley novel, was published in April 2015. This time Cranley is investigating the mysterious disappearance of Eleanor Vernon, a young gentlewoman living in sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey with the widowed Countess of Warwick. Find out more at kathy's website and find her on Twitter @KathyMartin001.