Mastodon The Writing Desk: 2016

23 December 2016

Book Launch Guest Post: The Zorzi Affair: A Novel of Galileo's Italy, by Sylvia Prince

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Zaneta Lucia Zorzi secretly reads science books while her mother pushes etiquette lessons. But on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, an arranged marriage changes everything. 

I’ve always been intrigued by arranged marriages. They were very common in the Renaissance, when marriage could make or break a family. Marriage was much too serious to leave up to young people—the institution was a business transaction designed to unite two families.

In 1391, Buonaccorso Pitti decided to marry, but instead of choosing a wife, he chose a family: “Since Guido del Palagio was the most respected and influential man in the city, I decided to put the matter in his hands and leave the choice of bride up to him, provided he picked her from among his own relatives.” Pitti was explicit about this strategic choice. “For I calculated that if I were to become a connection of his and could win his good will, he would be obliged to help me obtain a truce with the Corbizi family.”

And when Lorenzo de Medici married Roman Clarice Orsini in the mid-fifteenth century, it was seen as an insult to other Florentine families. Lorenzo’s choice declared that no one in Florence was worthy of an alliance with the Medici, so he was forced to go to Rome to find a bride.

But marriage was not always an option. In the late sixteenth century, over 60% of Venetian patrician women were put in convents. Rising dowry costs and a closed patrician class created a crisis, where patrician fathers could not find suitable partners for their daughters.

In this world, daughters had very few choices—in Italy, they would often be married or in a convent before their twentieth birthday. When I imagined the strict life of a Venetian patrician daughter, a character began to emerge: a girl who rejected those choices to pursue her true passion, the study of nature.

The Zorzi Affair follows Zaneta Lucia Zorzi as she flees her life in Venice to enroll at the University of Padua. Zaneta Lucia, disguised as a boy, moves in to Galileo’s boarding house—yes, that Galileo! He actually did run a boarding house at the University of Padua, and my fictional Galileo, along with crafty tutor Paolo Serravalle, help Zaneta Lucia pursue her dream.

I found myself rooting for Zaneta Lucia on her journey. And I loved writing about a woman pursuing an education at a time when women did not attend universities. The Zorzi Affair also allowed me to write about the history of science, which is a passion of mine. So if you’ve ever wondered about Galileo’s astronomical discoveries, but you’d also like to read about a courageous young woman, this is the book for you!

Sylvia Prince
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About the Author

Sylvia Prince is a historian and an author. Sylvia holds a PhD in history—and loves the bizarre but true stories she has encountered over the years working as a history professor. Did you know, for example, that in 1492 the pope received a blood transfusion by literally drinking the blood of three young boys? (It didn’t work—the pope and the boys all died.) You can follow her on twitter @sprincebooks, find her on Facebook  and visit her website, where she also blogs:

20 December 2016

Camelot at Christmas: What was Christmas like in Arthurian Britain? Guest Post by Mary Anne Yarde

Like a sparrow flying through a Mead Hall…

"...O sit a supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, with a good fire in the midst, while the storms of rain and snow rage outside..."

The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English

Winter in the Dark Ages was a long, drawn out affair. There was no magic light switch you could flick on to banish the dark. Days were short. Nights were long. The world was in hibernation. Food was scarce, and it was cold. Winter was hard, and death from illness or starvation was a very real threat. It was no wonder that the pagans wanted to celebrate Midwinter and New Years Day.

Interestingly, it wasn't until the 4th Century when Church leaders in Rome embraced this pagan holiday and made it their own. And over the centuries this pagan celebration has been 'added' to, until we have the Christmas that we know and love today.

What was Christmas like in Arthurian Britain?

I need to make one thing clear before I begin — many of the stories that we know of Arthur and his Knights are just that, stories. There is nothing substantial to them. So a Christmas at Camelot would have been highly unlikely. The 12th Century French Poets certainly gave Arthur a castle for himself and his Knights, but Camelot itself didn't come about until the 15th Century when Thomas Malory invented it in his great work, Le Morte d'Arthur.  Which kinds of puts a whole dampener on “Christmas in Camelot!”

Obviously, our Dark Age ancestors celebrated Midwinter and New Year, but when we are dealing with Arthur, we have to contend with a fictitious Christmas as well.

In the 14th Century a poet, whose name has been lost over time, wrote an epic poem called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Pearl Poet, as he became known, described Christmas at Camelot and, as with many things when we talk of Arthur, we can assume he used a great deal of poetic licence!

“…then they brought the first course, with the blast of trumpets and the waving of banners, with the sound of drums and pipes, so that many a heart was uplifted at the melody. Costly and most delicious foods were carried in. Many were the dainties, delicacies and fresh meats, so great was the plenty they might scarce find room on the board and table-cloth to set all the silver dishes. Each helped himself as he liked best, and for each of two guests were twelve dishes served, with a great plenty of beer and bright wine…”

Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.

According to The Pearl Poet, Arthur knew how to throw a party! One would expect a feast at the Midwinter/ New Year celebrations, but perhaps not on such a grand scale.

So what kind of food did the Dark Age Kings and Warlords serve up at a Midwinter Feast?

Pottage — which was the staple diet for most, but at a feast it would have been the best pottage you ever tasted. The Rolls-Royse of Pottage!

  • Roasted Goose and Partridge may have been on the menu.
  • Salmon.
  • Dry cured hams.
  • A boars head.
  • Venison.
  • Cheese.
  • Eggs — preserved ones, because chickens tend to stop laying during the winter months. It is only how chickens are farmed nowadays that ensures we have fresh eggs throughout the year.
  • Pastries

The only fresh vegetables would have been seasonal, but back in the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages for that matter, it was not recommended to eat raw fruit and veg, for fear of dysentery – one of the biggest killers of the time.

Of course, they would also have had ale, mead, wine and beer to wash it all down with! There may well have been one or two rosy faces by the end of the feast!

There would have been music, and entertainment. Maybe not quite on the scale of the Beheading Game that The Pearl Poet introduced us to in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but I should imagine there were jugglers and those with what we would call Circus Skills! Bards would tell wonderful stories to entertain the guests — perhaps they told stories of Arthur and his Knights — and as the evening wore on, old men would become philosophical, as they contemplated mortality.

It would have been a wonderful celebration that probably took many months in the planning. These Midwinter celebrations were so important. It was something to look forward too. And after Christmas and the New Year celebrations, spring was once again in sight and with so, the promise of life!

 Mary Anne Yarde
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About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood. At nineteen, she married her childhood sweetheart and began a bachelor of arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions. Mary Anne Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. Find our more at her website and follow her on Twitter @maryanneyarde

8 December 2016

New Historical Fiction: The Beaufort Woman: Book Two of The Beaufort Chronicles, by Judith Arnopp

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Margaret Beaufort's story continues in
The Beaufort Woman

As the struggle between York and Lancaster continues, Margaret Beaufort fights for admittance to the court of the victorious Edward IV of York and his unpopular queen, Elizabeth Woodville.

The old king and his heir are dead, leaving only Margaret’s son, the exiled Henry Tudor, with a tenuous claim to the throne. The royal nursery is full, with two small princes securing York’s continuing rule. 

But Edward and Elizabeth’s magnificent court hides a dark secret, a deception that threatens the security of the English throne … and all who lust after it.

In 1483, with the untimely death of the King, Margaret finds herself at the heart of chain of events that threaten the supremacy of York, and will change England forever.

The Beaufort Woman: One woman’s selfless struggle for the rights of her son.

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About the Author

Judith Arnopp is a historical fiction author based in Wales, UK. She has a particular interest the Tudor period and her collection of Tudor novels will take you inside the minds of women like Elizabeth of York, Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr, Anne of Cleves and  Katherine Howard. The Beaufort Chronicles, is a trilogy tracing the life of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. Books one and two, The Beaufort Bride and The Beaufort Woman are available now and book three, The King's Mother is to follow soon. Find out more at Judith's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp.

7 December 2016

Special Guest Post: Girl In A Golden Cage by Lucy Branch

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Making decisions is not one of Francesca Milliardo's strengths so when something mysterious starts unfolding in her father's mansion in Milan - it's no surprise that she's unsure what to do. Francesca dreams of becoming a star in the contemporary art world and she has all the right connections, though what should be a summer of fun is turning out to be anything but. 

A fast-paced mystery with a hint of supernatural and a dash of romance - Girl in a Golden Cage introduces a new character into the Gold Gift Series

Art at the Heart of the Story:

My career is a cocktail of art and fiction. No – I don’t swan about London in high-heels with a Manhattan in my hand looking at Old Master paintings (though that sounds fun...) but alongside my writing, I run a sculptural restoration business specialising in public sculpture. These may seem dichotomous ways of earning a living, but they blend surprisingly well to make for a colourful life.
My work on statuary is primarily outdoors and highly practical.

I work on War Memorials, large-scale monuments like Nelson’s Column and contemporary sculpture. In the UK, we don’t realise how lucky we are to have art on our streets that people pay significant sums to see in art galleries: Henry Moore, Rodin, Hepworth and these masterpieces have a pretty hard life what with the harsh urban environment, vandalism and pigeons.

Occasionally, I come across a sculpture that makes my heart thrum and in the case of my most recent book, Girl In A Golden Cage, a book was born out of the encounter. This novel, a mystery set in Milan, is about Francesca Milliardo who is the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Francesca is set on becoming a contemporary artist, but strange events are playing out in her own home and getting in the way.

The statue that inspired the story is by Anthony Gormley, artist of the iconic Angel of the North sculpture in the UK. His sculpture, Feeling Material XIV is much smaller than its titanic brother, but no less impactful. In the novel, I made it part of her father’s art collection and it represents the supernatural theme that threads its way through the story.

My last novel, A Rarer Gift Than Gold, was a conspiracy theory set in the art and craft world. Girl In A Golden Cage sees some characters from the first story feature, but it is a standalone novel with a new main character and her own challenges. I think this is where I can offer my readers something unique. My in-depth knowledge of the art world means that I can open up my specialism to them and as my field is so unusual, it’s unlikely they will have come across it before in fiction.

Milan was an obvious choice as a setting for the new book. Not only is it Italy’s business capital which is relevant to the plot, art lovers get the extra bonus of scenes carried out in breathtaking locations such as beneath  incredible architecture like The Duomo and cutting edge contemporary art venues like Hangar Bicocca. Art, mystery, Milan, paranormal, romance - it’s a potent blend for fans of Dan Brown, Kate Mosse and Scott Mariani.

Lucy Branch
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About the Author

Lucy Branch lives in North London with her husband and three children. She is a lover of Tolkien above all things, but a close second comes Italy. When not penning fiction or treating a statue, she enjoys sewing though she confesses to being truly horrible at it.  Find our more at Lucy's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @lucybranch11.

5 December 2016

New Historical Fiction ~ First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson

Available from Amazon UK 
and Pre-Order from Amazon US

‘The throne must be a lonely place when you do not have close family, whose loyalty you can rely on.’

Jasper Tudor, son of Queen Catherine and her second husband, Owen Tudor, has grown up far from the intrigue of the royal court. But after he and his brother Edmund are summoned to London, their half-brother, King Henry VI, takes a keen interest in their future.

Bestowing Earldoms on them both, Henry also gives them the wardship of the young heiress Margaret Beaufort. Although she is still a child, Jasper becomes devoted to her and is devastated when Henry arranges her betrothal to Edmund.

He seeks solace in his estates and in the arms of Jane Hywel, a young Welsh woman who offers him something more meaningful than a dynastic marriage. But passion turns to jeopardy for them both as the Wars of the Roses wreak havoc on the realm. Loyal brother to a fragile king and his domineering queen, Marguerite of Anjou, Jasper must draw on all his guile and courage to preserve their throne and the Tudor destiny.

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About the Author

Joanna Hickson spent twenty five years presenting and producing News and Arts programmes for the BBC. Her first published book was a children’s historical novel Rebellion at Orford Castle but more recently she has turned to adult fiction, concentrating on bringing fifteenth century English history and some of its fascinating principal characters to life. She is married with a large family and gets inspiration from her Wiltshire farmhouse home, which dates back to her chosen period. Find Joanna on Facebook and Twitter @joannahickson.

3 December 2016

New Historical Fiction: The Du Lac Devil (Book 2 of The Du Lac Chronicles), by Mary Anne Yarde

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The best-selling Du Lac Chronicles continues:

War is coming to Saxon Briton.

As one kingdom after another falls to the savage might of the High King, Cerdic of Wessex, only one family dares to stand up to him — The Du Lacs.

Budic and Alden Du Lac are barely speaking to each other, and Merton is a mercenary, fighting for the highest bidder. If Wessex hears of the brothers’ discord, then all is lost.

Fate brings Merton du Lac back to the ancestral lands of his forefathers, and he finds his country on the brink of civil war. But there is worse to come, for his father’s old enemy has infiltrated the court of Benwick. Now, more than ever, the Du Lacs must come together to save the kingdom and themselves.

Can old rivalries and resentments be overcome in time to stop a war?

“Mary Anne Yarde has once again given us a tale of Arthurian beauty and romance. Filled with danger, intrigue and love.” M.T. Magge, author of The Treasure of Gwenlais

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About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood. At nineteen, she married her childhood sweetheart and began a bachelor of arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions. Mary Anne Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. Find our more at her website and follow her on Twitter @maryanneyarde

2 December 2016

Blog Tour And Giveaway ~ Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, by Wendy J. Dunn

Available on Amazon UK, Amazon US

A tale of mothers and daughters, power, intrigue, death, love, and redemption. In the end, Falling Pomegranate Seeds
sings a song of friendship and life.

I started writing Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters not long after the publication of my first novel, Dear Heart, How Like You This? That novel depicted my imagined reconstruction of Anne Boleyn’s life as seen through the eyes of a man always loving her. Like my character, Sir Thomas Wyatt, I believe with all my heart that Anne Boleyn’s death was unjust, and an act of deadly Tudor politics. I see her death as murder, and one of the many things Henry VIII has to answer for. Researching Dear Heart also made me aware of his appalling and heartless treatment of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon and their daughter Mary. By the time I had completed my first novel, I found myself so drawn to Katherine’s story that I decided it had to be my next major work.

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters focuses on Catalina’s childhood and early teenage years in Castile. My first attempt to write this work was from the point of view of Maria de Salinas. But I had to rethink that when I realised my efforts to give voice to a child and young girl, who was recounting what really was an adult story, just didn’t hit the bullseye. Despite the encouragement of receiving a short listing in the HarperCollins Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development, it was a different story when my agent sent my work to publishers. Their feedback forced me to face the fact that I needed to dismantle years of work and retell my story through one of my adult characters.

Deciding on that character was easy. Constructing and peopling Catalina’s world had made me grow to love Beatriz Galindo. Beatriz Galindo – a respected scholar who lectured at the University of Salamacha and became a tutor to Queen Isabel, before tutoring her children  - aroused in me those very important ‘what if’ questions essential for a writer of fiction. She was also a person I felt deserved to be brought to life on the page.

What was not easy was tackling a rewrite. A new main character meant rebuilding my novel through the story of that character. Grieving about putting aside my first vision for this work, I decided it was easier to turn my attention to another project inspired by Dear Heart; revisiting the last days of Anne Boleyn through the eyes of her niece, Kate Carey, in The Light in the Labyrinth. I always planned to return to Falling Pomegranate Seeds. I believed in the work and I had done all the research needed to achieve the first version of the first part of Katherine of Aragon’s story. I had even gone to Spain to walk in Catalina’s footsteps.

The Light in the Labyrinth was published in 2014, and I started researching another book project. I told myself I was waiting for the right time to get back to Falling Pomegranate Seeds. That day came last year when I contacted Tim Ridgway of MadeGlobal Publishing about an entirely different matter. We exchanged a flurry of emails and Tim – likely trying to distract me in the kindest possible way from pursuing my original question –  finally asked me if I had any other projects that may interest him. I told him about my planned novels about the life of Katherine of Aragon and how I had the rough draft of the first book,  a work focusing on Catalina in her formative years.

“You are writing about Katherine of Aragon’s childhood?” he asked. “ That would interest me. How long would it take you to get it to me?”

I gulped, and my mind quickly calculated the time I needed to rewrite a whole novel. “Four months,” I lied. Knowing I had a publisher interested in my work, I then had to work out strategies to turn that lie into truth. I booked myself into a writing retreat for two weeks in February 2016 and then worked towards that booking like a crazy woman…well, like a writer who knew they had an important, once in a lifetime deadline to meet. Tim received my manuscript on April 4th 2016, five months after our first email, and I received his offer to publish my work on the same day. Now that is a true moment for a writer to treasure – to get an acceptance for their work just hours after submitting it to a publisher.

Wendy J. Dunn
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About the Author

Wendy J. Dunn has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of three historical novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters. While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channelling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally. Wendy gained her Doctorate of Philosophy (Writing) from Swinburne University in 2014, and is the Co-Editor in Chief of Backstory and Other Terrain, Swinburne University two new peer-reviewed writing journals.  Find out more at Wendy's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @wendyjdunn.

Want to win a copy of  Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, by Wendy J. Dunn? To enter the prize draw, simply leave a comment below this post saying what historical figure you’d like to see Wendy write about next. Leave your comment by midnight on Saturday 17th December 2016. One winner will be chosen at random and contacted for their details.

1 December 2016

Guest Post by Maria Hall, author of Reparation: A spiritual Journey

Available from Amazon UK,  Amazon US

I never thought I’d ever share my past with anyone, not fully, because it contained a secret that belonged to me alone. But a new relationship changed that resolve and, in time, led to the writing of my first memoir. Initially, I wrote everyone else’s story in my Irish Catholic family, stories passed down from generation to generation over pots of tea.]

With each story my confidence grew, my love of writing increased, my voice strengthened. I was on safe ground, untouchable. But months of sitting and pondering eventually led me deeper, into the darkest corners of my own confession, and it was there that I needed to stay and face my confusion and shame.

The writing process pushed me harder than anything else I’d ever done. I ached. I drowned – and stopped writing. I needed help. Insight came, as did the knowledge of the beauty and value of authenticity and vulnerability.

REPARATION – A Spiritual Journey is my story: from the sweeping coastline of New Zealand to the barren plains of Southern Spain, from youthful hope to deep despair, and from sin to reparation.
As a free-spirited university student, living in New Zealand in the mid-seventies, my life had stretched before me like a wonderful adventure.

I studied music, loved Jesus and entered the convent. Then, the unthinkable happened: a callous act resulted in an impossible choice that shaped the rest of my life. Heartbroken and in need of a miracle, I sought absolution as a Carmelite nun in the dark, silent cloisters of the Palmarian Catholic Church, one of the world’s most secretive and controversial religious orders, located in Seville, Spain.

My second memoir is called IRISH SHORTS: Nora’s Escape and other true stories of love, loss and resistance. It is a small collection of six true stories from my Irish Catholic family caught in the iron grip of a changing world.

I write about a young girl called Nora, my maternal grandmother, as she escapes her oppressive father to start life anew in the wilds of New Zealand. I tell of my family’s Christian values being tested upon discovering our home broken into, and the culprit lurking close by.

The decades pass, and world wars turn into religious ones as I travel to bomb-blasted Belfast in search of my heritage and connection to one of Ireland’s most famous artists. But is our family hero the man we thought him to be?
These are just some of the themes revealed, as I pick my way through family legend and fact to uncover tales of resistance, love and survival across three awe-inspiring generations.

Maria Hall
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About the Author

Maria Hall was born in Auckland, New Zealand. After leaving school, she completed a Bachelor of Music at Auckland University and a Diploma of Teaching, before studying Theology and Scripture at Chanel Institute (Auckland) and Yarra Theological College (Melbourne, Australia). She lives on the water’s edge on Auckland’s North Shore with her partner, Nicholas. She loves boats and all things Irish and Spanish. She is currently working on a second collection of short stories, as she continues to explore her family history and her love of memoir writing. Find out more at Maria's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MariaHallWriter.

23 November 2016

Cover Reveal ~ Lost in Time, by Alyssa Richards.

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Searching for the answers she needs,
will Addie lose everything she has?

Adeline “Addie” Montgomery is searching for the truth. As she and Blake travel back to 1920, she expects her nemesis Otto is behind a string of art forgeries. The only problem is that the villain has completely disappeared. Addie must now find Otto without blowing her cover to keep the past intact, as long as a lover from a past life
doesn’t get in the way…

Blake Greenwood wants nothing more than to catch Otto and return to the present with Addie, the love of his life. When his mother goes missing as well, he leaves Addie alone with his half-brother to save his family. As the future begins to change in unexpected ways, Blake and Addie begin to question everything. Can they find Otto and save their relationship before what they had disappears for good?

Lost In Time is the third book in an absorbing series of paranormal romance time travel novels. If you like museum capers, psychic powers, and romance that’s both steamy and sweet, then you’ll love Alyssa Richard’s thrilling conclusion to the Fine Art of Deception Series.

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About the Author

Alyssa Richards is the Amazon best selling author of The Fine Art of Deception series and upcoming The Haunting of Alcott Manor series - a contemporary gothic trilogy due out in 2017. She loves living in the South with her husband and two children. She also loves good espresso, her rescue dogs, magnolias and gardenias, and, of course, reading a great book. She grew up running barefoot in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where her favorite weekly adventure was a trip to the library with her mom.  Find out more at: and follow Alyssa on Facebook and Twitter @1AlyssaRichards.

18 November 2016

Guest Post by Eli Kale, Author of Needless: Book Four in the "Faces of the War" Collection

Available for Pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Benjamin, a youthful man working at the U.S. Consulate-General in Barcelona, finds himself in a world of danger, vengeance, and intrigue in the early autumn of 1942. His position as cultural attaché will prove to be merely a stepping stone in his European post. Only time will reveal what perilous stepping stones await him, as well as what consequences will arise from his decisions. But will those consequences prove to be too much for him?

What inspires me to write? How do I approach my writing? These question, among many others, have been asked by many people over the past three years since I began writing historical fiction. The genesis of my writing, at least my published writing, began in college when I enrolled in an Introduction to Fiction course. For an assignment, I had to create a short story from scratch and implement various components that were discussed up to that point in the course (theme, tone, characterization, and so on). Due to my growing passion for history, especially of the Second World War, I decided to do a little research and set my story during that time period. It turned out to be a ‘great story’ in the words of my professor. Long story short, that short story got my gears turning about taking writing more seriously.

That was in the spring of 2011. Almost six years later, I find myself on the cusp of self-publishing my fourth book in three years, all the while couching it in my passion for history. Being that I’m a high school history teacher by day, I’m able to be more enveloped by the content in which I write than if I wrote, say, steampunk novels. I quickly found that historical fiction is my niche and I’ve stuck to it. When it comes to history, I am of the belief that we can learn something from it. Sure, that sounds cliché and overused, but it is indeed true. And it’s not just the study of history that can teach, but also the manipulation of it. By intertwining creativity with historical fact, an author can oftentimes subtly and easily teach a reader about life, the world, history…without the reader even picking up on it. And for me, gearing my storytelling toward that end is exhilarating.

I admittedly can sometimes get carried away by the romanticism of such familiar historical events like D-Day or Stalingrad or Pearl Harbor or the activities of resistance movements or the secretive acts of the OSS, but it’s in those moments that I usually find a starting point for my ideas. In the context of my upcoming book Needless, I approached the writing in a way that allowed me to learn as I wrote. I knew a fair amount of information, at least basic information, on the subject, but reading into it more led me to want to develop a story that would exist in the same vein as the previous three in the Collection, but would also stand alone in its own right. I went out on a limb at times in the storytelling, while at other times I played it safe. I tried things I hadn’t done before in the name of creativity and adventure. And over the course of about three months, I cranked out over 46,000 words.

Writing can sometimes be hard, but I think that’s what keeps it interesting – trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, how I should or shouldn’t develop a plotline, when I should write in the climax or throw in a twist. It’s definitely a craft, and one that is always being refined. Writing two books the exact same way is a sign that I’m not growing as a writer. In my work, I strive to tell stories that evoke emotion and realities of the time period in which they’re set, and to do so in a creative and appealing manner. Given that I don’t write full time, I have to pick my moments to write. Maybe one day, though, I’ll get to a point in life where I can write every day.

Eli Kale
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About the Author  

Eli Kale is an author, educator, and traveller. “Needless” is the fourth book in his collection entitled “Faces of the War,” where the Second World War is seen through the perspectives of different people. In addition to his WWII historical fiction, Eli writes short stories for one of his ongoing projects, “The Short Story Collection.” Eli graduated from the University of Mount Union with a history degree and a teaching license. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Sarah, and their pets, Nika and Zazu. Find out more at his website and find him on Twitter @Eli_Kale

16 November 2016

Blog Tour and Giveaway ~ Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell, by Samantha Morris

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

On 24th June 1502, the Florentine politician and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli came face to face with Cesare Borgia. Borgia's name had long been known to Machiavelli and indeed the Florentine people – he was the son of Pope Alexander VI and an exceptional military tactician, whilst stories of his macabre and evil doings (many of them brought on by nothing more than rumours whispered by his enemies) had been heard throughout Italy for years. 

"It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both"
-Niccolo Machiavelli

It had always been a wish of mine to sit down and write a book – even as a child, I would forever be writing stories. But as I grew, completed my education and left University, even though I wanted so very badly to sit down and write a non-fiction book, I believed wholeheartedly that I wasn't good enough. After all, how could I write something that would compare to the great historians whose books graced my shelves? I'm no David Starkey, Suzannah Lipscomb or Dan Jones.

It was when I was at university studying archaeology that I first discovered the Italian Renaissance. I'd been poking around the library looking for books to help me with one essay or another and inadvertently found myself in the Renaissance section. I was instantly drawn to a book that would become my bible when it comes to Cesare Borgia – Sarah Bradford's biography of the man himself.

After reading it (admittedly whilst I should have been reading for one of my archaeology modules), I found myself sucked into the world of the Italian Renaissance and particularly the Borgia family. I'd fallen in love with the corruption of the Church at the time, fallen in love with the murderous young man who had once been a cardinal. An obsession was born, and I often wondered whether or not me writing something on the period, on the Borgia family, would be worth it.

Even after I graduated University and ended up working for the local archaeology unit, my love of the Renaissance stuck and I knew that was what I wanted to concentrate on. I even got myself tattooed with Cesare Borgia's motto. The Renaissance, and the Borgia family, in particular, became what I now consider to be my life's work – I wanted to share my knowledge of the era, and what better way to do it than write a book?

A few years back now, not long after I first started The Borgia Bull, I contacted a gentleman by the name of Hasan Niyazi who ran a fantastic Renaissance blog by the name of Three Pipe Problem. The two of us became friends and would often chat about the myths that surrounded the Borgia family and the best ways to show people that those myths were entirely wrong.

We would call ourselves ‘myth busters', which became something of a little in-joke between us. It was after one of these conversations with Hasan that I decided I would finally try and write the book I had been wanting to write for so long. I would try and write a book that would tell Cesare Borgia's story in a way that would dispel some of the awful myths surrounding his life, that would be accessible reading to both academics who didn't want a massive tome to wade through and the general public. Truthfully, without Hasan, Cesare Borgia In A Nutshell would never have been written.

A few months after starting to write, I put the book down. Life caught up with me and the book was forgotten about. When I heard the sad news that Hasan had passed away, I knew I had to finish the book. Yet it still took me longer than expected to actually pick up the writing again – with only weekends and evenings to be able to write, I was often far too tired to actually do anything. That and there was still the niggling doubt in the back of my mind that anything I wrote would be the worst thing ever.

When I eventually did pick things up again, I found that the words began to flow in a way that they hadn't since I'd written my BA Dissertation on the 1644 Battle of Cheriton. In my break from writing, I had spent my spare time reading books on the Borgia family and watching documentaries on them – I even expanded my horizons and dipped into Medieval and Tudor history.

It was when I re-read Suzannah Lipscomb's works on Henry VIII and began to read Dan Jones' work on the War of the Roses, I realised that I could do it. Whilst I still believe that I will never be in the same vein as them, I look up to the fact that they have been able to make something of themselves in the history world through hard work – they are of the younger generation of historians who have proven that you don't have to be old and dressed in tweed to make something of yourself in the field of history.

The moment I finished the final sentence of Cesare Borgia In A Nutshell, I won't lie here – I was proud of myself. After thinking for so long that I'd never be able to write a non-fiction book, I'd done it. And I couldn't have done it without Hasan's myth busting and our talks, I couldn't have done it without those top historians whose work inspired me.

More so, I couldn't have done it without the encouragement of my publishers, MadeGlobal. The writing of my first book has been a journey and a half, sometimes difficult and full of self-doubt. But it's a journey that I completed with the help of some amazing people, and for that, I owe them all the gratitude in the world.

Samantha Morris
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About the Author

Samantha Morris studied archaeology at the University of Winchester where her interest in the history of the Italian Renaissance began. Since graduating University, her interest in the Borgia family has grown to such an extent that she is always looking for new information on the subject as well as fighting against the age-old rumours that haunt them. Samantha describes herself as an accountant by day, historian and author by night. Her first published book is Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell, a brief biography which aims to dispel the myths surrounding a key member of the Borgia family. She runs the popular Borgia website https: // and you can find Samantha on Facebook and Twitter @TheBorgiaBuIl.

Want to win a copy of Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell? To enter the prize draw, simply leave a comment below this post saying what historical figure you’d like to see included in Samantha's 'History in a Nutshell' series. Leave your comment by midnight on Saturday 26th November 2016. One winner will be chosen at random and contacted for their details.

12 November 2016

Guest Post ~ Inspiration for writing The Merchant's Pearl, by Amie O’Brien

 * * * The Merchant's Pearl Saga Book 1 * * *
Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The opinionated, only daughter of a missionary, is enslaved and gifted to an Ottoman prince who has an inner vow to win her affection. Sarai was led to believe that the whole world could exchange their beliefs for hers. But when her parents are murdered, she quickly learns that the world never stops for just one person

It’s probably common sense as a writer to write what you know. I mean, it makes for a better explanation when you tell others you’re writing a fat novel about it. I tried that once, maybe a decade ago. I told no one, of course, but got about 3 chapters in and immediately became aware that my high school years weren’t very riveting. My writing wasn’t very riveting either, more like…literary stumbling. I promptly hid my work in a basement storage bin. (I’ll be pretty embarrassed if we ever clean that dungeon and my husband finds it.)

But still, there has always been this need (perhaps stirring is a better word) where I walk out of a perfect movie like Becoming Jane, Pride & Prejudice, or even The Hunger Games and I am literally burning with envy. I want another heroine to believe in, to keep me glued to my seat or turning pages at a stoplight. Sure, it’s great if she’s beautiful, but what I really want is someone who struggles with the same confusion, same angst and identity issues, same pinned up aggression for society telling them things around them are acceptable—or not acceptable—that their heart tells them good and plenty otherwise.

I love, love, love Jane Eyre. It just doesn’t get better. But the truth is, the story stopped there. I can’t get any more of that beautiful, taunting, sweet, Victorian, bitter pill. But as I was standing in the shower one morning it occurred to me, there are things—deep things—that still utterly confuse me. They have my entire life. They’ve been in my childhood, carved their way into my marriage, sent me to my knees at times, wondering if I must change myself and my mind in order to make it, to be sensible. And why…why is it so impossible for me—not everyone else apparently—but for ME to do that?

So that morning I wasted a whole lot of hot water thinking about it. Thinking about why love must seemingly always share a road with lust. Why a daddy’s little girl can open Christmas presents in his lap, see the tears of joy at her mother unwrapping a too-costly diamond ring, yet hours later see him slip into a quiet corner of a closet, showing off his prized pile of Hustler magazines to her favorite uncle. Why the church can’t seem to protect men’s minds from choosing to stay a little behind at the office to see things they know they shouldn’t see. Why the news is filled with shocking reports of men and women, once very good men and women, caught taking girls and boys barely at their puberty, as if the experience is some kind of pinnacle of sexual experiences.

I cannot fathom the countless women and children trapped behind closed doors forced to be bend to others’ wills, again and again and again. It’s heartbreaking. It is, without a doubt, my worst nightmare.

If you knew me, really knew me, you would know that I am actually quite fond of sex. I am not fearful nor disenchanted by it by any means. I am not a prude. I wish I could say that I waited until marriage and saved myself for my husband, but in all actuality, I gave myself away to a couple of guys in high school. Then I torturously survived eighteen months of dating my husband in college, holding out by a single thread until marriage. (By the way, they were the BEST months EVER.)

But there is an ample amount of jealousy and insecurity that runs through my blood. Enough that little things like a man comically pointing out Hooter’s as a date night dining option can instantly put a fat chip on my shoulder. Seeing a sitcom portray that perfect, loving girlfriend who rents porn for her man is a surefire way to set my thumb to channel surfing. But the hardest part is when my stomach sinks when I’m sitting in church and yet another pastor teaches the story of Esther. Seriously, did they teach them in seminary to portray her like a Disney princess story?

Esther was not a pageant queen. She was a slave, taken from her home, trained as a royal concubine for King Xerxes. She was a teenager as she learned all of her lessons within the palace and painfully took her turn with Xerxes, then waited for him to sleep with a different girl every night for almost three years before he finally chose her as the best of them. Then he made her queen and the Bible says he continued to take on more concubines. We know this because she went as much as six months at a time without seeing him for her turn again.

Esther, aside from Jesus’s mother, Mary, is probably one of the most famous females of the Bible. She was eventually able to save tens, if not hundreds of thousands of her people because she had won Xerxes favor. It’s where the phrase “born for such a time as this” appears in the Bible. Ultimately, Esther was born to be a king’s sex slave. So…it’s pretty darn safe to say that this confuses and vexes me too. (Sorry God.)

Long story short, this is why I wrote The Merchant’s Pearl. It’s why the story flowed out of me like an unstoppable fountain. I drew not from what I knew, but what I could not understand. I can’t understand my world, and I definitely couldn’t understand Esther’s.

I made it my character’s conflict. I knew the exact injustices and insecurities I would wrap around Leila, and I placed her in a time and place in history where it was impossible for her to run or even so much as veer from it. Then…I made her experience the confusion of love in the midst of it.

That last part was cruel, I know, and completely unplanned. It sort of happened like a whisper in my ear. I was driving, not showering, but I instantly knew it made for quite a story.

I can’t say that I finished this story and felt completely whole again and all of my fears have fallen away. But somehow, writing it, even researching it, has healed me. I found a purpose to my feelings. Having Leila confront the things, head on, that I wrestle with, has helped me find not only security in myself, but also compassion for others.

Amie O’Brien

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About the Author

This is the first novel from Amie O’Brien, but she would tell you her characters are constantly nagging her for their future instalments. Madly in love with her husband and children, she hopes to spend more time petting horses, reading books, and pursuing her addiction with world travel. Find ut more at and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter @merchantspearl.

11 November 2016

Historical Fiction Blog Tour & Giveaway ~ The Devil’s Chalice, by Derek Wilson

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the steaming summer of 1549 two men languish in the Tower of London. William West is accused of attempted murder. Robert Allen is under investigation for dabbling in the Black Arts. Meanwhile, England is in the grip of rebellions against the boy king, Edward VI. The connections between these facts remains a mystery.

The great 19th C historian, Lord Macaulay, said that two qualities are necessary for good history writing – reason and imagination. Reason is obviously necessary to ensure thorough and intelligent research. But historiography is not the bare recital of dry, authenticated facts. The writer has to ‘enter into’ those facts in order to help the reader grasp their implications for the characters he is describing.

This, I guess, is obvious to all history lovers. I know that I was switched on to the subject as a teenager by reading gripping works of narrative history such as C.V. Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War. But Macaulay then went on to say that the same requirements hold true for good historical fiction. The novelist may legitimately give his/her imagination freer rein BUT the responsibility still exists to get the factual framework right. Anything less is fantasy fiction, not historical fiction.

Most of my writing career has been devoted to ‘straight' history but in recent years I have turned my attention increasingly to fiction. This is partly for the pleasure I derive from storytelling but also because I hope to engage the reader's imagination so that he/she will both ‘know' and ‘feel' what it was like to be living in a different age. Currently, I am involved in a series of stories set in the mid-Tudor era – and, boy, was that era different from ours!

One major contrast between the 16th and 21st centuries was, as Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch has said, ‘We don’t do God; they did God all the time’. Until we grasp that, we haven’t a snowball’s chance of getting inside the heads of our ancestors of 500 years ago. That means that, as well as telling the reader what my characters ate and wore and what their houses looked like, I have to indicate, to the best of my ability, what they believed; what their attitudes were towards, not just religion, but sex, children, social hierarchy, crime and punishment, etc., etc., etc.

Some authors had their imagination fired in the schoolroom by such sagas as ‘Henry VIII and his six wives'. Fine, it's an emotive story and not without its importance in the great scheme of things but how many romantic novels have been written about Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne, Catherine and Catherine? Answer: too many! Most of them are fairy tales for grown-ups, all about heroines and heroes and villains living out their convoluted love lives against a background of banquets, royal bedchambers and horse riding in the park. It's fantasy. It's escapism.

OK, let’s not get too po-faced about this. What I write is also escapist. But the escape I offer is not away from drab 21stC reality into a glittering world of 16thC high society. I take my readers (or I aspire to take them) into the everyday world of ordinary people, as far removed from romance, as your life and mine are removed from the lives of Hollywood stars and TV celebs. I hope to engage history lovers in a world which, though invented by the author, yet feels authentic because the author has done his research.

The kind of critique that gives me most satisfaction is: ‘He has an ability to translate Tudor England, accurately detailed, onto the page and bring it to recognisable and sometimes quite spectacular life … his hero is just an ordinary, if privileged, young man and it is this sheer humanity which makes the book so outstanding’ (Crime Review 30.1.2016)

That gratifying assessment was of The Traitor’s Mark, the second in my series of mid-Tudor crime novels (I could say more about the sub-genre of ‘historical crime’ but that will have to wait for another time). The central character of this ongoing series if Thomas Treviot, a London goldsmith. I chose him because his position enables him to walk the ‘mean streets’ of the capital, while also having professional contacts with members of the royal court and the political class.

Each story takes its origin from a real unsolved crime or mysterious event. Thus, in November 1536, London merchant, Robert Packington really was assassinated with a handgun (the first recorded such crime in England) and no-one was ever brought to book for it. Thomas Treviot, Packington’s friend, tries to unmask the murderer and what follows takes the reader into the world of political intrigue, religious conflict and illicit Bible-smuggling. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of The First Horseman.

The Traitor’s Mark explores the mystery of whatever happened to Hans Holbein. The royal portrait painter simply disappeared from the record in the autumn of 1543. The ‘explanation’ that the artist died of plague only emerged sixty years later. What if there was another reason for his abrupt exit – a more sinister reason? Treviot becomes involved because Holbein is overdue in producing some jewellery designs for the goldsmith’s workshop and when he sends an associate to find him the poor man is set upon by murderous thugs and then finds himself on the run from an officious constable for a related crime. Of course, Treviot has to go to his friend’s aid, doesn’t he?

In The Devil’s Chalice we enter the world of Tudor magic – a world very real to all classes of society. The jumping-off point for this yarn was the records of the Tower of London for 1549, recording the incarceration of William West, suspected of trying to murder his uncle, Lord De la Ware, and also of Robert Allen, a dabbler in black magic. Could there be a connection between these two prisoners?

That is what Archbishop Cranmer, one of Thomas's most important clients, employs the goldsmith to find out. Soon the reader is drawn, not only into the world of arcane activity but also of civil rebellion, for a mob of malcontents, led by Robert Kett, have seized Norwich and may be about to advance on the capital. It was a pleasant challenge to try to recreate the widespread panic felt by thousands of people at this time of very real crisis.

I hope this brief essay indicates some of the ways I try to respond to Macaulay’s formula of bringing reason and imagination to bear in writing historical fiction.

Derek Wilson
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About the Author

Derek Wilson has been writing historical fiction and non-fiction since the mid 1970s and is the author of 70+ books, as well as work for radio and television and innumerable newspaper and magazine articles. After graduating from Cambridge in History and Theology, he spent some years teaching and travelling abroad before settling to a freelance writing career. He specialises in the Reformation but his large output includes studies of the Rothschild family, the Plantagenets, Peter the Great, Charlemagne and the history of circumnavigation. He lives in Devon and is the patriarch of a family of three children and six grandchildren. Find out more at Derek's website and find him on Twitter @DerekAlanWilson 

The Devil's Chalice Giveaway

Want to win a copy of The Devil’s Chalice? To enter the prize draw, simply leave a comment below this post saying what historical event/time you’d like to use as a setting for a novel. Leave your comment by midnight on Saturday 26th November 2016. One lucky winner will be chosen at random and contacted for their details.

7 November 2016

Book Launch Guest Post by Barbara Kyle ~ Page-Turner: Your Path to Writing a Novel That Publishers Want and Readers Buy

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

 "Brings alive almost every tough issue a writer of fiction must confront . . . friendly and fun to read."— Albert Zuckerman, founder of Writers House literary agency

The following is an excerpt from Page-Turner.

by Barbara Kyle

I once heard an interview with bestselling author John LeCarré in which he spoke about the necessity of conflict in a novel. He said, “The cat sat on the mat—that's not a story. But, the cat sat on the dog’s mat—that's the beginning of a story."
  All stories spring from conflict. A character who has no problems, no obstacles to overcome, is a boring character, and they are living in a non-story. So, as a writer, you want to make choices about plot that highlight the conflict between your story’s protagonist and antagonist. These counterbalanced characters are at the heart of all compelling fiction.
  Science fiction author Nancy Kress puts the concept succinctly: "Fiction is about stuff that's screwed up."

Emotional Bonds

Why do we, as readers, love to see characters thrown into crisis, forced to grapple with problems. I don't think it's because we're sadists. Rather, it's because we want to experience the emotional bond with a character who faces a dilemma. We get that intense feeling: What would I do in that situation? It’s one of the reasons we read stories.
  Yet new writers often shy away from depicting their characters’ conflict. This only undermines the power of their stories. Instead, I advise you to embrace all the richness that conflict gifts you as a writer.
My Mantra

When I'm planning a book, scene by scene, I focus on what the characters do to try to get what they want and how the results of their actions increase the conflict. I do this so constantly, it's become a kind of comic mantra: "What could possibly go wrong?" I slyly mutter.
  But I’m dead serious. And I recommend that you ask yourself the same question, very soberly, about every step of the story you're developing: "What could possibly go wrong?" Then, make that happen.
Remember, nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.


Even more important, conflict under pressure is the only way that characters truly reveal themselves.
Here’s a guiding principle: The compelling novel is built on situations that put increasing pressures on characters, forcing them to face more and more difficult challenges, so that they must make increasingly risky choices, leading them to take actions that eventually reveal their true natures.

Three Tips about Conflict

Tip #1. Conflict does not mean combat.

Don’t be intimidated by the word conflict. Conflict isn't about fighting. It just means “problems.” What problems does your protagonist—your main character—face in trying to achieve his or her goal?

Tip #2. Escalate the conflict gradually.

To be believable, characters in a story, just like people in real life, will naturally start by taking the most conservative action to get what they want. If they don’t—if they instantly leap into taking extreme action—they’ll come across as unrealistic, maybe even a little crazy, and you’ll lose your reader.
  Therefore, the long middle section of your book will be composed of a series of events that spring from conflict that escalates gradually. That is, events force the main character to make choices in an ever-escalating succession of risks to try to achieve their desire.

Tip #3. Your protagonist can be in conflict on three possible levels.

1. Internal: conflict with oneself.
2. External Level 1: conflict in interpersonal relationships such as with family, friends, colleagues.
3. External Level 2: extra-personal conflict with the larger community in the form of institutions, such as the government, the church, the school system, the army—institutions that have power.
The most compelling stories, the stories that move us most deeply and stay with us forever, often involve conflict on all three levels: personal, interpersonal, and extra-personal. That’s partly what creates the enduring power of books like David Copperfield, Frankenstein, A Passage to India, Heart of Darkness, The Age of Innocence, The Grapes of Wrath, Gone With the Wind, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

In contrast with those potent stories, it's instructive to examine the form of "soap opera." The term is often used as a pejorative. Why? After all, soap operas are highly engrossing stories that are loved by millions of viewers. I think the reason we sense weakness in the soap opera form is that it shows us conflict on only one level: the interpersonal. It does that with great panache; it's soap opera's tremendous pull, because interpersonal relationships are so engaging.
  But it’s also incomplete. Characters in a soap opera hardly ever face internal conflict; there’s rarely a crisis of conscience. And they never do battle with the larger community. For example, if a cop enters a storyline in a soap, you can be sure he’ll soon be caught up in the highly personal concerns of other characters; the story will not be about corruption in the police department. So, there's virtually no conflict with the self, nor with society. It’s all one level—momentarily highly engrossing, but ultimately unsatisfying.
  Not every story can involve conflict on all these levels, but if you can bring all three into your story, I recommend it.
  The important point is this: never shy away from catching your characters up in the swirling currents of conflict. It will prove their mettle, and make them reveal their true selves. That's what enthralls readers, and leaves them saying, “I couldn’t put it down!”
  In other words, you’ll have created a page-turner.

Barbara Kyle
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About the Author

Barbara Kyle is the author of the acclaimed Thornleigh Saga series of historical novels, and of award-wining thrillers, with sales of over half a million books. She has taught writers at the University of Toronto, and is a popular presenter at international writers’ conferences. As a story coach, she has launched many writers on the path toward published success. Find out more at Barbara's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @BKyleAuthor.