Mastodon The Writing Desk: January 2016

29 January 2016

Book Launch Guest Post ~ Darkest Before Dawn, by Jayne Castel

Book Two in The Kingdom of Mercia series 
is now available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Darkest before Dawn is a tale of forbidden love and duty. Princess Alchflaed of Northumbria's father has given her a terrible choice: if she wants to choose her own path, she must marry the son of his bitterest enemy - and then murder him.

Take a journey into 7th Century Mercia and Wales

Buy on Amazon
As with all my novels set in 7th century Anglo Saxon England, The Breaking Dawn is based on actual historical figures and events. This time around, we also visit 7th century Wales.

There’s something exciting about the Anglo-Saxon period. It’s no wonder this era was a massive inspiration to Tolkien’s writing. It was a time when fate – wyrd – ruled men’s lives, when swords had names. A time when sagas were told around the fire pit at night.
This period of British history is shadowy, hence why it’s called the ‘Dark Ages’ and not particularly well documented. 

The main source of information for this period came from Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. This text wasn’t completed until the 730s, and was written from a religious perspective – however, I found this lack of detail freeing rather than constricting. It allowed me to bring Anglo-Saxon Britannia to life using my own research of how people actually lived, and the beliefs that drove their lives forward.

Cynddylan ap Cyndrwyn – the Prince of Powys (Wales) – was a well-known historical figure of the time, who ruled from around 641 – 655 A.D.

The alliance between Mercia and Powys did exist, and historians have learned a bit about Cynddylan from two famous poems: Marwnad Cynddylan (The Death song of Cynddylan) and the Canu Heledd (Heledd's lament), a 9th century poem in which his sister sings of her brother's death. Both are hauntingly beautiful, if grim, poems.

In a nutshell, here's what my research unearthed about Cynddylan (Dylan, to his friends!):      
  •  He wore a mail shirt and purple cloak
  •  He was fiery, stubborn, brave and ruthless – a great warrior
  • He went to battle alongside King Penda of Mercia, against the Northumbrian King, Oswald, bringing 700 warriors with him. They fought together in the Battle of Maserfield (Maes Cogwy in Welsh), in the summer of 641 A.D. The battle ended with Oswald’s defeat, death and dismemberment
  • He died fairly young and never married (I ignore this detail – it's a romance after all!)
  • He had 9 sisters and 12 brothers (I also ignore this detail – for the sake of the story – preferring to shrink the family to one sister, Heledd, and one brother, Morfael)
  • After the Battle of Maes Cogwy, Cynddylan appears to have fallen out with Penda
Details around Cynddylan's death are hazy. There is debate about whether Cynddylan was killed alongside Penda in 655 A.D. at the Battle of Winwæd, or whether he and his family perished the next year when King Oswiu of Bernicia destroyed his ‘court’ at Pengwern.  However, we don't get this far in the novel – I prefer to leave Dylan's future open, for the reader to decide.

Jayne Castel
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About the author

Jayne Castel writes Historical Romance set in 7th Century Anglo-Saxon England. Two of her novels DARK UNDER THE COVER OF NIGHT and NIGHTFALL TILL DAYBREAK, reached the quarter finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2013 and 2014. Jayne writes historical romance adventures about warrior heroes and strong-willed heroines. She weaves powerful love stories into meticulously researched stories about honor, valor, loyalty and vengeance. Visit her website:, and find her on Facebook and twitter @JayneCastel.

28 January 2016

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Lady of Misrule, by Suzannah Dunn @SuzannahDunn

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I saw her file it away: a good Catholic girl come to supervise her in her detention. Every girl in England, now, under the circumstances, made sure to be a good Catholic girl. Except her, of course. And, if only she knew it, me.
Escorting 'nine days queen' Lady Jane Grey across the Tower of London from throne room into imprisonment is Elizabeth Tilney, who surprised even herself by volunteering for the job. All Elizabeth knows is she's keen to be away from home, she could do with some breathing space. 
And anyway, it won't be for long: everyone knows Jane will go free as soon as the victorious new queen is crowned. Which is a good thing because the two sixteen-year-olds, cooped up together in a room in the Gentleman Gaoler's house, couldn't be less compatible. Protestant Jane is an icily self-composed idealist, and catholic Elizabeth is... well, anything but.
They are united though by their disdain for the seventeen-year-old to whom Jane has recently been married off: petulant, noisily-aggrieved Guildford Dudley, held prisoner in a neighbouring tower and keen to pursue his prerogative of a daily walk with his wife.
As Jane's captivity extends into the increasingly turbulent last months of 1553, the two girls learn to live with each other, but Elizabeth finds herself drawn into the difficult relationship between the newlyweds. And when, at the turn of the year, events take an unexpected and dangerous direction, her newfound loyalties are put to the test.

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About the Author

Suzannah Dunn has enjoyed critical and commercial success for over 25 years, selling over a quarter of a million copies of her historical novels in the UK alone. Suzannah wrote six critically acclaimed contemporary novels and a short story collection before her first historical novel, The Queen of Subtleties, was published in 2004. Her distinctive Tudor novels provide a unique take on the period, telling the stories of extraordinary women living through extraordinary times. Suzannah was Director of the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester University for six years and is a popular speaker at literary festivals and events. Find out more at Suzannah's website and find her on Twitter @SuzannahDunn.

27 January 2016

Guest Post ~ Writing Tudor Wales by Nathen Amin @NathenAmin

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I first became interested in the Tudor period around about 2010 when I read David Starkey’s “Henry VIII: Virtuous Prince”. It was a fascinating insight and introduction into the life and times of England’s most infamous king. 

My interest in history hitherto had been restricted mostly to Welsh history – the Welsh princes of the 12th century, Owain Glyndwr et al. Starkey’s book was easy to read with a gripping narrative and I was hooked; as a voracious reader with an obsessive personality, it wasn’t long before I had acquired a large library of Tudor books. The Elizabethan end of the century didn’t hold much interest for me but working backwards – my god what a treasure trove of fascinating characters and battles.

It wasn’t long before I became gripped by the life of Henry VII, his Welsh background and the frustrating dearth of information about him compared to his descendants. How has a life as great as this only resulted in perhaps 1 book for every 20 produced for his son! Nonetheless the books that did exist were great and kept me hooked, gasping for more!

I was particularly taken with Roger Thomas and Ralph Griffiths’ “The Making of the Tudor Dynasty” and David Rees’ “Son of Prophecy”, two books which chiefly focused on Henry Tudor’s Welsh connection. This was effectively a merging of my new interest with my old interest, and I haven’t really looked back. I must also mention HT Evans’ “Wales and the Wars of the Roses” and Glanmor Griffiths “Henry Tudor and Wales”. 

After about two years of reading, reading, reading, combined with visiting as many sites as I could across England and Wales, it struck me that there was very little in Pembrokeshire which referenced its substantial Tudor heritage. I started an online petition to get a statue for Henry VII and in Pembroke and it wasn’t long, after a bit of local press coverage, that I was contacted by a publisher to scribe a book about ‘Tudor Wales’. 

It appeared they had seen a blog I had written for my website where I had taken inspiration from Suzannah Lipscomb’s book “A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England” and wrote a lengthy blog featuring Welsh sites. They quite simply wanted a book version of my blog.

I was already aware of the sixteenth century heritage of many places in Wales, as well as other sites that were instrumental in the rise of the family, but understood I had to really put in some work in order to find lesser known locations. So how did I do this?

Books. And Lots of them. I delved into general Tudor history books and every time I came across a brief mention of a “Raglan” or a “Chirk Castle” I would make a note. Equally so for any persons who ostensibly had links with Wales; Sir Rhys ap Thomas, Walter Devereux, Bishop William Morgan and so on.

Once I had a basic list of locations and characters, it was a case of trying to zone in on each subject and trying to locate a Tudor history worth speaking of. The most informative information for this generally came from small guide books that were generally only available from the actual locations. So in my car I regularly got and off driving I went.

I received great help from the folks at Pembroke and Carew Castles for example, whilst in North Wales a staff member at Ty Gwyn Wybrnant was a font of knowledge, really enthusiastic about his subject. Through a family connection I also met up with a retired professor in a church graveyard near Wrexham, who again was knowledgeable beyond belief. 

Particularly enjoyable was being shown around Cardiff Castle before it opened, essentially having the entire castle to myself.  I can’t overstate this enough – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Send that email you’ve been deliberating over, you never know the result. It’s certainly opened doors for me, in Cardiff Castle’s case, literally so. 

Little by little the book started coming together, through my own understanding of the period and assistance from other historians who had come before me. The depth of information stored in guidebooks in locations, or lesser known, locally published books, are not to be disregarded lightly. 

Sometimes these books contain an unbelievable amount of research within their rarely-read pages. Particularly helpful for example were CADW’s visitor guidebooks to their castles and booklets such as a recounting of Tenby’s history that was produced for the Millennium.

Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire
I did come across some fascinating discoveries which just highlighted Wales’ Tudor past. Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire hosted a magnificent exhibition in 1507 when Sir Rhys ap Thomas, who had fought for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, held a grant tournament of jousting to celebrate the Tudor Dynasty. It was said to have included 600 knights over five days. 

Today the Tudor Coat of Arms can still be seen on the exterior of the Great Hall. Sir Rhys also built a large church tower in Llanwenog in Mid Wales, again said to commemorate the battle and in thanks to the soldiers from the area. This very rural village probably only gets a handful of visitors a year but this large tower is a wonderful example of the joy post-Bosworth and notably features a Beaufort portcullis. There is also the headless statue of Jasper Tudor high on the cathedral tower in Newport. All of these small examples of extant Tudor connections are just as interesting as the large sites such as Pembroke Castle or Conwy Castle.

My conclusion is that Wales has as much extant Tudor heritage as England has. It’s just not as well known, which is something I am attempting to help change. It does grate somewhat when I become aware of nationwide tour operators who often sell Tudor tours etc and they travel the breadth of England, from London to Bristol to York to East Anglia, often omitting Wales completely. I feel most people would be incredibly surprised if they stepped into Wales. The well-known phrase may be “Tudor England” but don’t doubt for a moment there’s also a Tudor Wales waiting to be discovered. And it’s just as fascinating!

Nathen Amin 
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   About the Author

grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in Welsh history and the Welsh origins of the Tudors. This passion has guided him all over Wales to visit a wide variety of historic sites, which he has photographed and researched for his first book Tudor Wales. He is currently working on a major new book about King Henry VII. Find out more at his website and follow Nathen on Facebook and Twitter @NathenAmin.

26 January 2016

Guest Post ~ Writing The Madog Trilogy, by David Pryce

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It's 1171 and in search of a New World, Prince Madog and his band of adventurers strike out for a new life, away from bitter sibling rivalry and infighting. On the way they will encounter an arrogant and dangerous lord, an ambitious bishop, a future king, an Irish hating giant psychopath, and a vindictive Icelandic chieftain, whilst all the while being trailed by a deadly Welsh mercenary. Will Prince Madog and his fellow travelers make it to the mystical land far to the west? Can they even make it out of Europe? 

Prince Madog ap Owain, illegitimate son of the great Prince of Wales, Owain Gwynedd and destined to be consigned like many of his siblings to historical obscurity. However Prince Madog had other ideas, because legend has it that some three hundred years before Signore Colombo, he led a group of intrepid travelers across the Atlantic Ocean, finally ending up in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Potentially quite a story to be told.

For me it all began with an e-mail from my brother-in-law Nigel, himself a keen local historian back in Northop, North Wales:

“Had I heard of the Welsh prince who had discovered America?” 

I hadn’t, but that was all about to change. Perhaps what struck a particular chord with me was the fact that I too was a Welshman that now lived in the United States. Whatever it was, I voraciously dug into the research. 

I must confess that at the time my ambitions stretched no further than a couple of factual articles, perhaps a modest blog on the subject, but the further I got the more I felt that Prince Madog deserved more, and I began to write…in first person. I was reading Bernard Cornwell’s excellent Saxon Chronicles series at the time so it seemed natural to do so. Oh and I was using Microsoft Word - ah if I knew back then what I know now.

Some 3,500 words into the process and I began to have doubts about the whole first person thing, I consulted my English graduate, ex-teacher sister, and after much agonizing (after all 3,500 words seemed a lot to me back then) I began again, this time in third person. I’ll not lie and say it was easy, although the fact that my ‘day job’ has me working remotely out of a home office was a help.

I scoured the internet for tips and advice and discovered a whole community out there for budding authors. I started a spreadsheet to track my daily word total – highly recommended by the way – and began hitting between 7,000 and 9,000 words per week, I think that I peaked at 12,000 one week. 

Every day I lost myself in 12th century Wales, my characters took on life and writing allowed me to disappear from the everyday mundane. I tend to write without a very tight planned structure, so when I sat down in front of the keyboard every day, I was excited to discover where the story would lead me and what my characters would get up to next.

Several months later and I had finished, I’d written a book! Exciting right? Well to be honest, I felt a little flat. I think that I started to have withdrawal symptoms, what was I going to do without my daily fix of Madog, Cynwrig, Fergal, Ioan and the rest?

So if you think that writing a book will be the hardest part, you’d be mistaken. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy, but then along comes the editing…  In the interim, I took a trip back home to Wales visiting my mum and sister and naturally, I took time out to visit locations that had played a big part in my novel; places that I’d visited many times growing up, but which now took on a whole new meaning.

When I got back, I rewrote parts of the book, taking inspiration from my travels around Gwynedd and Anglesey. I also got invaluable feedback from my best friend Jon out in Florida, who had been doing work on a series of books that hit the NYT Children’s Bestseller list. Taking out my scalpel – or was that meat cleaver - my initial draft (which had just over 100,000 words) was trimmed down to 75,000 and it was off to!

Although as a child I liked to write short stories, I left that behind when I went to university, got a degree and ended up working underground in the gold mines of South Africa. It was many years and several countries later that I rediscovered the passion. 

Would I have advice to anybody wanting to write a book? Go for it, just start and get some words down, you can and will end up editing them later. Don’t listen to any inner voices that tell you that you can’t do it or that “people like me don’t write books.”

Oh and don’t use Word!

David Pryce

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About the Author

David Pryce was born and bred in North Wales; after graduating from The University of Leeds with a Mining Engineering degree, he spent the next seven years living and working in Southern Africa, which gave him ample opportunity to indulge in another of his passions – wildlife photography ( After living in California for a couple of years, he moved back to the UK working for a specialist Africa travel company in London. He currently resides in Colorado, but returns to North Wales on a regular basis to visit family and rediscover his intrinsic ‘Welshness’ This also affords him the opportunity to get some proper fish and chips and a decent cup of tea! You can visit David online at and connect on twitter @Madog1170. 

24 January 2016

Review of Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors, by Chris Skidmore

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

On the morning of 22 August 1485, in fields several miles from Bosworth, two armies faced each other, ready for battle. The might of Richard III's army was pitted against the inferior forces of the upstart pretender to the crown, Henry Tudor, a 28-year-old Welshman who had just arrived back on British soil after 14 years in exile. Yet this was to be a fight to the death - only one man could survive; 
only one could claim the throne.

The story of the Battle of Bosworth has to be one of the great examples of why we need to keep our wits about us when we study history.  Supporters of Richard III argue that the record of events that summer’s day was distorted by the Tudors and, as Chris Skidmore points out, few of the chroniclers were present (or even alive at the time) and relied on the testimony of men such as Sir John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who had good reason to emphasise the importance of his own role.

The Welsh bards were also soon reaching for their quills to compose stirring poems about how Henry marched under the red dragon of Cadwallader and hailed him as ‘Y Mab Darogan’, the son of prophecy. Talking of bards, Shakespeare has also influenced public perceptions of the battle, with his unforgettable line, ‘My kingdom for a horse!’

If all this were not enough, Chris Skidmore was writing the book when in 2010 the site of the battlefield was ‘rediscovered’, with new evidence uncovered in the form of numerous cannonballs. Then in 2012, King Richard’s skeleton was discovered in a Leicester car park, again casting new light on our understanding of events.  

This book takes a fresh look at the original sources and offers a balanced view of what might have actually happened on that fateful day. Chris Skidmore has a lively, engaging style and a good eye for the fascinating details hidden in the ancient texts. Highly recommended.
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About the Author

Chris Skidmore gained a double first in History at Christ Church, Oxford, where he continued with postgraduate research. Chris is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and in 2010 was elected Member of Parliament for Kingswood. He is Vice-Chairman of the All Party Group for History and Archives and a member of the Education Select Committee. Chris is currently working on a full biography of Richard III, to be published in August 2016. For more information please see Chris' Author website and find him on Twitter @bosworthbattle

22 January 2016

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Cross and the Curse (Bernicia Chronicles Book 2) by Matthew Harffy

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Before The Battle of Hastings. 
Before Alfred fought the Danes. 
Even before England. 

Warlords battled across Britain to become the first King of the English. When Beobrand’s valour brings about a stunning victory against the native Waelisc, the King of Northumbria rewards him with riches and land. Beobrand wishes for nothing more than to settle on his new estate with his bride. But he soon finds himself beset with enemies old and new. He even fears that the power of a curse has him in its grip, as he begins to lose all he holds dear. 

With treachery and death surrounding him, Beobrand confronts his foes with cold iron and bitter fury. On his quest for revenge and redemption, he grudgingly accepts the mantle of lord, leading his men into the darkest of nights and the bloodiest of battles. 

The Cross and the Curse is the second novel of the Bernicia Chronicles. 

"A tale that rings like sword song in the reader's mind. Harffy knows his genre inside out and The Cross and the Curse proves it." GILES KRISTIAN (Author of God of Vengeance and the Raven series) 

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About the Author

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria's Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters. When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog. Find out more at Matthew's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @MatthewHarffy.

20 January 2016

Blog Tour ~ A Brother's Oath (Book 1 in the Hengest and Horsa Trilogy) by Chris Thorndycroft

02_A Brother's Oath

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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    The Untold Story of England’s Beginning. Denmark, 444 A.D. Two brothers – the cold and calculating Hengest and the intrepid but headstrong Horsa – find their separate worlds thrown into turmoil by royal treachery and an evil cult thought long dead.

A couple of years ago I read an interview with Philippa Gregory and Wayne Johnston featured in The Globe and Mail entitled; Truth, lies and historical fiction; how far can an author go? and it got me thinking. According to most people history comes from history books and fiction is...well, fiction. So what does the combination of historical fiction even mean? Is such a thing possible?

The way I see it, historical fiction is simply filling in the gaps. And there are always gaps. We think we know history by looking at a few facts but there is so much more that we don't know. We know, for instance, that Harold Godwinson won the Battle of Stamford Bridge and about three weeks later, died at the Battle of Hastings.

What Harold did during those three weeks other than march south is not very well recorded. We don't know what he ate, who he spoke to or if he was happy or sad. This is where writers of historical fiction come in. Wherever there is room for a story within the framework of what we know, there is room for historical fiction.

The minute you start playing around with the facts and changing things for the sake of 'a better story', then what you are writing begins to wander into the genre of alternate history. The film Braveheart with its kilts, woad and pregnant Isabella of France (who was ten when William Wallace died) is so far removed from what actually happened that it might as well be set in an alternate middle ages.

But what about Conn Iggulden (one of my favorites), whose Emperor series takes many liberties with the life of its subject Julius Caesar? At the end of each novel, Conn explains his choices and, in the light of the overall character arch that sees the young statesman rise to the position of dictator and eventual fall, they are fairly minor. But we can see that the definition of the genre is a matter of debate and the lines in the sand are not clearly drawn. Some authors stick religiously to the facts while others fiddle about with them.

Where it gets even more woolly is when the facts themselves become open to interpretation. To use good old Harold again, many say that William the Conqueror invaded England out of his own greed. Now there are plenty of others (mostly the French) who claim that Harold pledged support for William’s claim to the English throne while visiting Normandy, and then took the crown for himself, thus justifying the Norman Conquest of England.

Whichever camp you plant your standard in, there are going to be people who will say that you've got history wrong. But choose we must for to write a compelling novel, we cannot be ambiguous. We must connect with the reader by revealing the feelings, personal struggles and conversations of people who may only get a passing mention in historical records. We have to use our imaginations where the writers of (good) non-fiction must stick to what is recorded and substantiated.

So historical fiction is not just writing about what we know, but what we don't know. It is acknowledging the facts and taking history that bit further in the name of entertainment. It is clear that there is a sliding scale in place with history on one end and fantasy on the other and everything falling somewhere in between.

It is possible to write a novel that adheres to the known facts completely and changes not a thing but modern dialogue, morality and the baggage we take with us often seeps in meaning that any work purporting to be ‘historical fiction’ is only ever an interpretation of the past through modern eyes.

Chris Thorndycroft 

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About the Author

03_Author Chris Thorndycroft

Chris Thorndycroft is a British writer of historical fiction, horror and fantasy. His early short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Dark Moon Digest and American Nightmare. History has long been his passion and he began thinking about a series set in Arthurian Britain when he was a student. Ten years later, A Brother's Oath is his first novel under his own name and the beginning of a trilogy concerning Hengest and Horsa. He also writes Steampunk and Retropulp under the pseudonym P. J. Thorndyke.


Blog Tour Schedule:

Monday, January 18 Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, January 19 Interview at Flashlight Commentary Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Wednesday, January 20 Guest Post at The Writing Desk
Friday, January 22 Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Saturday, January 23 Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews
Monday, January 25 Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Tuesday, January 26 Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, January 27 Excerpt at Let Them Read Books
Friday, January 29 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

04_A Brother's Oath_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

19 January 2016

Guest Post ~ Bringing historic romance to life in a series, by Jayne Castel

Follow the stories of four incredible women - Raedwyn, Freya, Saewara, and Cynewyn - and their search for love and freedom in a world dominated by the warrior and the sword.  The Kingdom of the East Angles is a series of historical romance novels set in 7th Century Anglo-Saxon East Anglia, England.

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Bringing historic romance to life in a series

The beauty of writing an historic romance series – as opposed to straight historical fiction – is that you get to start each new book with fresh characters. I enjoy novels that follow the same protagonists through many books – Bernard Cornwall’s ‘The Last Kingdom’ series is one my favourites – but it just doesn’t work in historical romance.

Romance focuses on the developing love story between the hero and heroine and should end with them facing a happy future together. If you create a sequel involving your two protagonists, then the genre morphs into a historic saga, rather than romance.

Creating an historic romance series

I’ve seen writers create a historical romance series in two ways – either by following the love-stories within a family or by using the same historical setting and picking up a year or two after the first story ends with a fresh romance.

The first option is the one I see most often in historical romance: brothers or sisters in a family who one-by-one become the focus of the story, and live their own adventures.

The second option – and the one I use – needs a strong a historical setting, one that readers can return to with a sense of familiarity. It helps if you can overlap each book with some of the same characters. Sometimes, I like to introduce the hero or heroine for one of my next books as a minor character in a novel, that way when readers pick up the next novel in the series there’s a natural sense of progression.

A journey into Anglo-Saxon England

I focused my series on the reign of three 7th Century East Anglian Kings: Raedwald, Sigeberht and Annan. These novels span eight years, from 624 to 631 A.D – at a time when the East Anglian Kingdom's power was beginning to wane under the threat of Mercia. It’s a highly specific setting, centred around the town of Rendlaesham, which was the seat of the East Anglian king.

My inspiration began with the Sutton Hoo burial – and the great Saxon long ship archaeologists unearthed there. Many believe it was King Raedwald (the king who appears in the first book of my series) who was buried at Sutton Hoo. My mother is from East Anglia and I have spent a bit of time there, so writing about a flat marshy landscape with wide skies and a wild shingle coast was easy.
As I wrote the series,

I noticed a theme running through all three books: that a male dominated world breeds strong women. My heroines: Raedwyn, Freya and Saewara are all searching for love, and freedom, despite the roles and demands placed on them.

They are brave, resourceful and independent, and they all want a man who sees them as an equal. I think many people imagine Anglo-Saxon England as a time of great oppression for women – especially compared with the modern world – but that’s not how I see it. Whether you were born in Ancient Egypt or Victorian England, what women want emotionally  from a man hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

So, in a nutshell, here is what The Kingdom of the East Angles is about:

In Dark Under the Cover of Night, Raedwyn is a king’s daughter who falls in love with the son of her father’s archenemy. In the end, she must choose between love and duty.

In Nightfall till Daybreak, Freya is a king’s slave who struggles to regain her freedom. However, her plans are complicated by her growing attraction to the man who leads the king’s army.

In The Deepening Night, Saewara is forced to marry the king of an opposing kingdom. Torn between loyalty to her people and her growing love for her new husband, she must decide where her allegiance truly lies.

I also wrote a prequel novella to the series: NIGHT SHADOWS, which I’ve included in the series as a free bonus! You can also get a copy of the novella for free, if you sign up to my newsletter on my website. This is a tale of ‘second chance’ love between Cynewyn, an ealdorman’s daughter, and one of her father’s spearmen, who she had spurned ten years earlier.

Jayne Castel
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About the author

Jayne Castel writes Historical Romance set in 7th Century Anglo-Saxon England. Two of her novels Dark Under the Cover of Night, and Nightfall till Daybreak reached the quarter finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2013 and 2014. Jayne writes historical romance adventures about warrior heroes and strong-willed heroines. She weaves powerful love stories into meticulously researched stories about honor, valor, loyalty and vengeance. Find out more at Jayne's website:, and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JayneCastel

14 January 2016

Historical Fiction Book Launch ~ The Queen's Choice, by Anne O'Brien

New on Amazon UK

Who Was Joanna, Queen of England?

It surprises me how some of the Queens of England have remained anonymous, almost invisible.  Who has even heard of Queen Joanna?  Joanna of Navarre, second wife of King Henry IV, who was crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey with all the royal regalia in 1403, is one of these.

In some ways it is easy to understand why.  She was Queen for only ten years.  She had no impact on the actual government of England.  She and Henry had no children together: Henry already had four sons and two daughters with his first wife, Mary de Bohun, so he was not in need of an heir.  Joanna had proved fertile with seven children who grew to adulthood, but their failure to have children together was not a dynastic problem.

Their relationship for the most part has drawn little attention, and certainly not from those who write about English Queens.  Everyone knows something about the wives of Henry VIII.  Most people willingly admit to knowing little or nothing about Joanna.  We do not even have a contemporary portrait or description of her.  All we have is marble effigy on the tomb where her body lies next to Henry's in Canterbury Cathedral.

So why would I choose to write about her, apart from the fact that I have a strong delight in discovering these interesting medieval woman who might just have something to say to us today?

I chose to breathe life back into her because Joanna has some interesting facets to her life - and some tragic ones.

Joanna's tomb (with Henry IV)

Joanna of Navarre was regal from her toes to her fingertips.  Daughter of King Charles II  (the Bad) of Navarre and Joan de Valois who was a daughter of King John II (the Good) of France, Joanna as a Valois princess was related to almost every important family in Europe through either blood or marriage.  She was related to the houses of Burgundy, Berry and Orleans.  The King of France, Charles VI was her first cousin.  Her family connections were second to none. 

On the death of her first husband Duke John V of Brittany, Joanna, as Duchess of Brittany, became Regent in the name of her young son.  Joanna was a woman of considerable presence, reputation and European status.  She was also a woman of intellect, quite capable of ruling a medieval state.  She deserves that we should take a second look at her.

King Henry IV of England, on the other hand, although of Plantagenet birth and royal blood as the only son of John of Gaunt, was a newly made King.  What's more he was a usurper in the eyes of many established rulers of Europe, particularly France, because he had seized the crown from his cousin King Richard II, the rightful, God-Anointed King, whose young Queen was Isabelle de Valois.  Richard died in dubious circumstances while incarcerated in Pontefract Castle.  Thus Henry was a dangerous entity.  Few were willing to support such a precedent for the overthrow of a ruling monarch.  Yet Joanna chose to marry him. 

What was it that motivated her?  What was it that made Joanna, a renowned and highly capable ruler of thirty years of age, with a healthy family of seven children and an enviable reputation, give up everything - power, family, royal approval - to choose to come to England to wed the usurper Henry?  Could it have been love?  Was not Joanna past the age of frivolous emotion?  Her duty surely lay with Brittany and the young Duke, for whom she was Regent.  Their relationship intrigued me.

It was to be no easy marriage for Henry and Joanna, with England torn apart in an ongoing civil war instigated by the powerful Percy family and Owain Glyn Dwr.  Would Henry and Joanna weather the storms of political upheaval and open rebellion?  Many were willing to claim that Richard II was still alive and well in Scotland, waiting to lead an overthrow of the Lancaster monarchy.

Furthermore, as a Breton by association, Joanna could be seen as the enemy in their midst.  With Joanna in England, Brittany under the guiding hand of the Duke of Burgundy was quite prepared to throw its weight behind Owain Glyn Dwr and join France in its ongoing war against England.  Even without the wars, Bretons were detested for their piracy and trading acumen at England's expense.  Joanna would not be the most popular of queens.

And then, surely the icing on the cake for any writer of historical fiction, there was the terrifying accusation of necromancy made against her, that by using witchcraft and and the dark powers, lured on by her father confessor who gave evidence against her, Joanna had plotted the death of King Henry V, the hero of Agincourt.  As a result Joanna spent three years imprisoned in a series of English fortresses.

The consequences for Joanna of the choices she made in her life were far reaching.  They brought her enhanced status and much happiness but also condemned her to a life of great uncertainty.

This, I decided, was a story worth writing.

The Queen's Choice is the story of a Queen of England who has remained in the shadows.  It is a story of betrayal and tragedy, but also one of great love and redemption.  Joanna was a formidable character whose life epitomised the dangers inherent in the role of medieval Queenship.  She can no longer be swept behind the tapestry of history.

Anne O'Brien

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About the Author

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters in Education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding for many years as a teacher of history. After leaving teaching, Anne decided to turn to novel writing and give voice to the women in history who fascinated her the most, beginning with Virgin Widow, which told the story of Anne Neville, the wife of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Since then, she has told the stories of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Devil's Consort, Alice Perrers, the mistress of Edward III, in The King's Concubine, Katherine de Valois, the child bride of Henry V, in The Forbidden Queen and Katherine Swynford, mistress of John of Gaunt, in The Scandalous Duchess. Her latest novel The King's Sister is the story of Elizabeth of Lancaster, caught up in dramatic and bloody family politics in the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. Today Anne lives in an eighteenth century cottage in Herefordshire, an area full of inspiration for her work. Visit Anne online at and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.

13 January 2016

Historical Fiction Book Launch - Blood and Roses, by Catherine Hokin @cathokin

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Blood and Roses tells the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-82), wife of Henry VI and a key protagonist in the Wars of the Roses. This is a feminist revision of a woman frequently imagined only as the shadowy figure demonised by Shakespeare.

Blood and Roses examines Margaret as a Queen unable to wield the power and authority she is capable of, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion. It is the story of a woman caught up in the pursuit of power, playing a game ultimately no one can control...

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About the Author

Catherine Hokin is a Glasgow-based author with a degree in History from Manchester University. Blood and Roses is her debut novel  Catherine also writes short stories and was recently a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition and blog as Heroine Chic, casting a historical, and often hysterical, eye over women in history, popular culture and life in general. Find out more at her website  and find her on Facebook and Twitter @cathokin.

Book Launch - Vision of the Griffin's Heart, by L. R. W. Lee

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

The evil Abbadon, king of Oomladee's northern neighbor Hadession, steps up his attacks on Andy and Mom at home in Lakehills, TX over the next year, unnerving Andy as he overhears speculation that Methuselah may no longer be able to defeat this nemesis. But why? 

Over a year later, Andy arrives back in Oomaldee to discover why zolt have been mysteriously parading through the dungeon and disappearing, for years. And it's not good. 

Tensions run high as more and more citizens are turned into zolt. But there's more going on than meets the eye, for the effectiveness of Abaddon's strikes defeating the military's planned counter measures reveal he's getting inside information. Could there a spy in their midst? 

Despite the chaos, Andy receives a clue for the fifth ingredient needed for the curse-breaking potion, the claw of a griffin. There's one not-so-small problem however--griffins guard the land of Carta's gold and silver mines and don't take kindly to humans. While away in Carta, fears over an imminent attack materialize and Abaddon with his new mage, Fides, enact a campaign of terror no one could have imagined!

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About the Author

L. R. W. Lee is the author of the Andy Smithson juvenile fiction series of epic fantasy books for kids 9 to 99 including teens and young adult, set in medieval times with knight, magic and mythical adventures. She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband and her daughter who is a Longhorn at UT Austin. Her teen YA fantasy series includes free young adult books. Blast of the Dragon's Fury, the series starter, is one such Kindle freebie. Lee gives away the first ebook of her teen & young adult books for free in order to let readers sample her work at no risk and so those without a large reading budget can enjoy an epic adventure. LRW enjoys hearing from readers! Find out more at her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @lrwlee.