Mastodon The Writing Desk: September 2016

29 September 2016

Available for Pre-Order: The Actors’ Crucible: Port Talbot and the Making of Burton, Hopkins, Sheen and All the Others

Pre-Order Now on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The town of Port Talbot has long been seen (quite literally) as synonymous with the steel industry. Yet it also has another claim to fame as the actors' capital of Wales. It has produced a remarkable number of actors since the inter-war years. Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen head the glittering cast but there are many others including early stars such as Ronald Lewis and Ivor Emmanuel, more recent figures like Rob Brydon and Di Botcher as well as a cluster of exciting young actors starting to make their names in the West End and on the big and small screen.

This book suggests explanations for this phenomenon. Its author is a historical biographer who hails from Port Talbot and has done extensive research including numerous interviews. It explores the provision of educational and cultural facilities for young people over the years and demonstrates a commitment to drama that is deeply embedded in the town's history. 

It tells in some depth the stories of the super-stars but in a novel way, focusing on how they emerged and on those who nurtured their talent, presenting the actors as part of a tradition that was set in motion even before Richard Burton began to make his mark. It surveys the careers of fifty actors from Port Talbot and it considers what its most famous stars have put back into their community, culminating in the spectacular three-day event of Easter 2011 when Michael Sheen resurrected Port Talbot's pride and hopes through the immersive theatrical experience of The Passion.

Written at a time of mixed fortunes for actors when funding for training is threatened yet opportunities for theatre and film work are expanding within Wales, this book puts centre-stage a town, its actors and those who guide them and so offers a new kind of cultural history. Such an approach also raises wider questions about the importance of the arts and of drama in particular to the wellbeing of communities.

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About the Author

Angela V. John is a Pembrokeshire-based historian and biographer. She was, for many years, Professor of History at the University of Greenwich and is currently an Honorary Professor at Swansea University. Although her earlier books were aimed at an academic audience, she now writes for a wider readership and enjoys speaking at all sorts of events. Forthcoming talks in the next few months include speaking to groups in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion and at Penarth Literature Festival as well as The Tropic cinema in Key West, Florida. She is currently working on her twelfth book, a volume of essays about a bunch of feisty Welsh women of the 19c and 20c. For more information see and her publisher

How to be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life, by Ruth Goodman

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The real Wolf Hall - a time traveller's guide to daily life in Tudor England 

The Tudor era encompasses some of the greatest changes in our history. But while we know about the historical dramas of the times - most notably in the court of Henry VIII - what was life really like for a commoner like you or me? 

To answer this question, the renowned "method historian" and historical advisor to the BBC Ruth Goodman has slept, washed and cooked as the Tudors did - so you don't have to! She is your expert guide to this fascinating era, drawing on years of practical historical study to show how our ancestors coped with everyday life, from how they slept to how they courted. 

Using a vast range of sources, she takes you back to the time when soot was used as toothpaste and the "upper crust" of bread was served to the wealthier members of the house. Exploring how the Tudors learnt, danced and even sat and stood according to the latest fashion, she reveals what it all felt, smelt and tasted like, from morning until night. 

'Ruth is the queen of living history, long may she reign!' 
- Lucy Worsley

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About the Author

Ruth Goodman is an historian who specialises in the everyday life of the past. She has written and presented numerous acclaimed BBC television series and is a regular presenter on the One Show. As well as her television work, Ruth offers advisory services, lectures and holds practical workshops around the country. As a social historian she works with a whole range of people, institutions and museums such as The Weald and Downland, The Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, the National Trust and the heritage and drama departments of several universities. She is the author of How to be a Victorian, and has co-authored three other books, including Tudor Monastery Farm. Ruth lives with her family in Buckinghamshire UK. 

27 September 2016

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Lady Anne (Above all Others; The Lady Anne Book 2) by G. Lawrence

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1522, England: Anne Boleyn has lived an adventurous youth in the glittering courts of Europe, now, promised in marriage to a man she knows nothing of, Anne has been called home by her ambitious father. 

She will enter the English Court, to find many admirers courting her. Anne finds potential for love in three men, but there is one... more unexpected than all the others, who claims her heart. 

The beginning of a love which would change the course of English history, and shake the foundations of the Church... 

The courtier's daughter who captured the heart of a King; Anne Boleyn. 

The Lady Anne is book two of Above All Others: The Lady Anne by G.Lawrence.

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About the Author

Gemma Lawrence is an independently published author living in Cornwall in the UK. She studied literature at university says, 'I write mainly Historical Fiction, with an emphasis on the Tudor and Medieval periods and have a particular passion for women of history who inspire me'. Her first book in the Elizabeth of England Chronicles series is The Bastard Princess (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 1).Gemma can be found on Wattpad and Twitter @TudorTweep.

22 September 2016

Blog Tour Guest Post by Renny de Groot, Author of After Paris

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Liesbeth Zwart forges her identity with courage and aptitude while nursing in France during WW1. As Liesbeth Bos, she feels that identity melting away; the skills she needed as a nurse in Paris are of little use to her as a wife and mother in post-war Netherlands.

“Write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Ernest Hemingway gave authors this tip and I’ve always found it useful.  Here’s my true sentence: Travel changes a person. I had that assertion confirmed many years ago when I was in Nice, France. I stayed in a seedy hotel called Hotel Darcy where I met four other young people – one other girl and three guys – where we were all bunged in together in one room. After getting over that surprise we all became great friends during the week we were there. Then it ended.

It was Debbie’s last night in Nice; a night none of us would ever forget, but we didn’t know that when we were eating supper together and trying to coax her into staying another day.
I tugged on her sleeve. “Come on Deb. Just one more night.”

She shook her head and drained her glass of wine. “I have to go. I have a ticket to Paris.”

Debbie stood and looked around the table. “Are you guys walking me to the station or am I going on my own?”

We almost had to pull Dave to his feet. He sat scowling with his arms crossed.

Debbie looked at her watch. “OK guys. Now I have to run otherwise I’ll miss the train.” Her smile was gentle as she looked at Dave. “I don’t want to say good bye either, but we’ll keep in touch.”

Dave got up finally as Debbie turned and walked away. He hustled then to catch up. The rest of us followed and left them to their private conversation.

The conductor had blown his whistle already by the time we got to the platform.

“Run Debbie.” Dave jogged with her to the edge of the platform, nudging her faster.

The squealing of the train drowned out our chorus of ‘good-byes’ as Debbie put on an extra burst of speed.

Back then, in the 80’s, the doors were still open even as the train began to move. Unheard of now – for excellent reasons.

I remember hearing Liam shout over the noise “Good thing she’s got the world’s smallest backpack.” I smiled as I watched Debbie run alongside the moving train. The nylon pack looked more like something you’d send your child off to her first day of school wearing – not travelling around Europe.

Hands reached out from the train to pull her in.

She leaped.

She fell.

And disappeared.

I ran forward and threw myself down on the platform; my head inches away from the rushing train. I shoved my arms down in the space between the train and the platform and pressed Debbie and the world’s smallest backpack against the wall and shouted. “You’re going to be fine. Don’t move. Just don’t move.” If the pack had been any bigger, it would already have been caught in the speeding wheels and she would have been gone.

Someone must have pulled the emergency cord in the train because it stopped then, halfway out of the station, but past Debbie. A scream of metal on metal.

Whistles and shouts rang out in the silence of the stopped train and I was vaguely aware of blue uniforms and yelling officials running towards me. I could only look down. I let go and pulled back, afraid to turn her. Afraid to see the blood, or worse, where moments before there had flashed a beautiful California grin.

The guys were around me. Dave in tears. For those endless seconds, no one moved.

And then. “Can someone help me up please?”

Debbie rolled back and then an official was there beside her, lifting her. Giving her back to us.

Debbie missed her train that night. After going to the hospital to get checked out (only cuts and bruises) and being shouted at by several different uniformed people about our stupidity and recklessness, Dave and Debbie splashed out for a fancy hotel.

Yes, travel brings change. In my new novel, After Paris, the protagonist; Liesbeth, is changed forever after her experiences as a nurse in France during WW1 - both by the war, and by travel, which results in her tearing the family apart when she leaves her Dutch homeland to search for a new identity in post-war Canada.

Thanks to Tony Riches for giving me this opportunity to guest post! What is your favourite travel adventure? Share your story with us. I’d love to hear about it!

Renny de Groot

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About the author

Renny deGroot is a first generation Canadian of Dutch parents. Her debut novel, Family Business, was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, 2015.  She studied English Literature at Trent University. Her strong Dutch roots continue to influence her while the love of her Canadian homeland with its beauty and freedom, flavours all that she does. Renny lives in rural Ontario with her Great Pyrenees and Chocolate Lab. Find out more ar Renny's website  You can also find her on Facebook.


To enter the After Paris Blog Tour Giveaway please enter via the Gleam form HERE
- 3 winners will receive a copy of Family Business by Renny deGroot (2015 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Shortlist)
- 3 winners will receive a copy of the CD Macushla by renown Irish Tenor, Jimmy Carton (features songs from the era in which After Paris takes place)

Rules – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on September 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter. – Giveaway is open internationally. – Only one entry per household. – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

20 September 2016

Book Launch ~ Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace, by Jody Hedlund

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound 
that saved a wretch like me. 
I once was lost, but now am found…

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

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About the Author

Winner of 2016 Christian Book Award for fiction and Christy Award for historical romance, best-selling author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romances for both youth and adults. Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!). Find out more at Jody's website and find her on Twitter @JodyHedlund.

16 September 2016

Guest Post: Disappearing Down Rabbit Holes - An Infamous Mistress

Available from Pen & Sword Books
and on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales' child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris

We were delighted when Tony approached us and asked if we would like to write a guest blog about researching and writing our latest book, so here we go with our story.

About a decade ago now, we met via an online genealogy forum, exchanged email addresses, then phone numbers and so began our friendship. As we lived at opposite ends of the country meeting face-to-face in real life was not going to be easy, but we spent many hours on the phone discussing the folk we were both researching and, increasingly, shooting off on tangents (we have always been easily distracted by an interesting story).

Our whole adventure into penning not one but two historical biographies for Pen and Sword Books (with more in the pipeline) came about from an innocent enough question that Jo asked Sarah during a telephone conversation which sent us down something of a research ‘rabbit hole’.

“Have you ever heard about the ancestor of the queen who married a gypsy girl?” Goodness only knows now what in our conversation prompted that question, but we were instantly hooked. So, putting aside our joint research into long-dead family members, we instead turned to a particular line of the British royal family’s ancestry.

Yes, one of Elizabeth II’s ancestors had indeed married, as his first wife, a girl with gypsy blood running through her veins. No-one seemed to have looked at the story in depth before, so we decided to take up the challenge.

The Victorian gentleman who had married the gypsy girl, and who shocked his family in the process, was the Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck, nephew to the Duke of Portland. The Reverend Cavendish Bentinck’s father, Lord Charles Bentinck, also had a story to tell. He had eloped with Charles’ mother, a married woman, in 1815 just a few weeks after the Battle of Waterloo. To make matters worse, the lady in question was the niece of the Duke of Wellington. Needless to say, a scandal ensued.

But then we managed to side-track ourselves once again. Lord Charles Bentinck’s first wife had been the daughter of an infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and her father was reputedly the Prince of Wales himself, later King George IV. We couldn't help ourselves and off we disappeared down yet another rabbit hole.

And with that, Grace Dalrymple Elliott took over. She led a fascinating life which quickly captivated us. Married young, she was divorced before she was legally an adult and embarked upon a career as a high-class courtesan, the mistress of an earl, a French duke and a British prince. During the years of the French Revolution Grace remained in Paris, exhibiting a great deal of bravery and operating as a form of spy, later recording her experiences of those years (which were published posthumously). However, much about her life remained unknown.

We approach our research as genealogists first and foremost which pays dividends. It was how we managed, for the first time, to uncover Grace’s fascinating maternal relatives (and Grace, we found, can only be truly understood when placed in the context of her family). The discoveries continued; family wills and other documents which had lain undisturbed tumbled out of dusty archive offices into our hands, shedding new light on Grace, her family and the two generations of the Cavendish Bentinck family we were interested in.

We dread to think about how many emails have passed between us over the years. It’s how we work, constantly batting ideas and information back and forth and questioning everything. The best emails were always those titled with a very excited ‘READ ME NOW!!!’ when one of us had just stumbled across some amazing titbit. All our research has been done personally by ourselves. We work well together and the fact that we lived so far apart was not a problem; geographically we were well placed to cover archives all over the country between us, and so much is online these days that it was possible to do an awful lot from the comfort of our own homes.

We now had a wealth of information and were bursting to share it with the world. There was no other option but to set to and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Neither of us had written anything before that had been widely published and we found that we wrote in vastly different styles. We settled into our writing routine. Between us we produce a detailed timeline with all our research included and then one of us writes and the other edits and critiques as we go along, a system which seems to work very well for us. To work as co-authors also makes the whole experience, which can be a bit of a solitary one, much more fun.

We started a history blog - All Things Georgian - as a way of getting ourselves into the wider marketplace and were contacted by someone commissioning authors for Pen and Sword Books; ‘did we have anything we’d like to consider submitting to them?’ Did we! Almost before we knew it, we were fully fledged authors.

Chronologically, Grace’s story had to come first, and so An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott was published in the UK in January 2016. A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History is due to hit the bookshelves at the end of November 2016, documenting the drama surrounding the elopement of Lord Charles Bentinck with the Duke of Wellington’s married niece and continuing the family saga into the next generation to detail the life, and loves, of his son, the Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck. The book ends by showing how very different Britain’s royal family would look today, were it not for a young gypsy girl and her tragic life.

So many wonderful things have happened to us along the road we have travelled to publication, not least getting to know the highly respected author and historian Hallie Rubenhold with whom we share an interest in Grace Dalrymple Elliott (we met for only the second time in real life in London when we arranged to meet Hallie for a coffee and a chat). Although now living in the same county, old habits die hard and we work as we always have. We continue to bat emails back and forth to one another as we write and research, and spend far too long on the phone!

Sarah Murden and Joanne Major 

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About the Authors

Sarah and Joanne are genealogists and historians who live in Lincolnshire, England and spend the majority of their lives immersed in both the Georgian and Victorian Eras. They describe themselves as 'history detectives' and aim for all posts on their with our blog to have at least one piece of information that is not already in the public domain. You can find Sarah on Twitter
@sarahmurden and Joanne @joannemajor3.

A Right Royal Scandal is due to be published in November 2016 and is available to pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and Amazon US and all good bookshops. It.recounts the fascinating history of the irregular love matches contracted by two successive generations of the Cavendish-Bentinck family, ancestors of the British Royal Family. The first part of this intriguing book looks at the scandal that erupted in Regency London, just months after the Battle of Waterloo, when the widowed Lord Charles Bentinck eloped with the Duke of Wellington’s married niece. A messy divorce and a swift marriage followed, complicated by an unseemly tug-of-war over Lord Charles’ infant daughter from his first union. Over two decades later and while at Oxford University, Lord Charles’ eldest son, known to his family as Charley, fell in love with a beautiful gypsy girl, and secretly married her. He kept this union hidden from his family, in particular his uncle, William Henry Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland, upon whose patronage he relied. When his alliance was discovered, Charley was cast adrift by his family, with devastating consequences.

9 September 2016

Myths in Historical Fiction, By Mark Noce, Author of Between Two Fires

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King. But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.

Thanks for having me over here today, Tony! My debut novel with St. Martin’s Press, Between Two Fires, uses a lot of legendary influences even though it’s a piece of historical fiction. I’ve found that when writing about a historical “dark age” in which very little reliable text or even artifacts have survived, myths and folktales have sprung up to fill the gap.

Now of course, these tales must be taken with a grain of salt, but I’ve found that genuine bits of truth can be gleaned from these ancient tales. They display the way medieval people thought, how they approached religion, and even how they thought someone should behave in varying circumstances. All of this is a potential goldmine to an author writing about a “lost” age in early medieval Wales.

My story doesn’t have a Holy Grail or flying dragons, but it does have knights and ladies who would look very familiar to a reader of Arthurian literature. Even myths and legends draw inspiration from everyday life. Various historical warlords and queens were often condensed by storytellers and bards into a single character within an Arthurian lay. This is just one of the many fascinating tidbits of the overall human story that can be inferred from this ancient era.

In Between Two Fires, my main protagonist is Branwen, a sixteen-year-old noble woman who is the daughter of one king and soon set to marry another king. She is not the Branwen of the Mabinogion, but she certainly has some of that great heroine’s characteristics. In addition, the few medieval texts that do survive this time period reference occasional queens amongst the Welsh and Cornish who ruled as stoutly as any man.

To me, this is a story just begging to be told. An age when despite the hardships men endured, there were courageous women just as willing to stand beside them and determine the fate of their people. In addition, many elements of Celtic culture lasted well into the Christian era, resulting in nation of people who had been influenced by Rome and the Church, but still adhered to folkways and even the more matriarchal leanings they inherited from their Celtic ancestors.

We can see some of these influences in one of the earliest Arthurian legends to survive, the Tale of Culhwch and Olwen. It’s full of supernatural elements, but at its core, it’s a romantic quest set against the backdrop of the chaotic 6th and 7th centuries of early medieval Wales. We get a sense for the atmosphere of the place in a way that the modern buildings and expressways of the UK cannot.
We see the vast wild forests of the era, the sense of danger just across the border with the Saxons, and the ever-present uncertainty of living in that barbaric time.

Yet people still found time for romance, love, adventure, and all the things that make us human. This for me, is the most essential element that comes through these ancient legends. They give us a sense for what people felt and how they lived in a virtually unrecorded age. They provide a small window into that otherwise unknowable world. 

Modern historians don’t have much to go on from this era in Wales. In fact, we’ve even lost some of the names of their kings and kingdoms, let alone any extensive recorded data on the common people. So in addition to reaching out to oral tales and legends, I’ve found that a certain degree of common sense helps fill the void of missing information. For instance, people still had to eat, raise their children, and find inspiration in their daily lives. By asking ourselves how people would hold on to their humanity in an age of chaos and strife, we reach out for the things that make us human – truly human – in any age or setting.

I hope that you enjoy Between Two Fires, as it has a lot of love and thought that has gone into it. It’s available online and in bookstores worldwide now! The sequel is already in the publisher’s hands, although we don’t have a firm release date yet. It’s been a long and fruitful journey composing this first series of historical fiction, and I’m looking forward to many more to come. Thanks for reading!

Mark Noce
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About the Author

Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family. Find out more at Mark's website and find him on 
Facebook and Twitter @MarkNoce.

Praise from Bestselling Authors for Between Two Fires

“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter

“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin

7 September 2016

Book Launch Spotlight: Wynfield's Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums, by M. J. Neary

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Welcome to 1830s Bermondsey, London's most notorious slum, a land of gang wars, freak shows, and home to every depravity known to man. Dr. Thomas Grant, a disgraced physician, adopts Wynfield, a ten-year-old thief savagely battered by a gang leader for insubordination.

The boy grows up to be a slender, idealistic opium addict who worships Victor Hugo. By day he steals and resells guns from a weapons factory. By night he amuses filthy crowds with his adolescent girlfriend—a fragile witch with wolfish eyes. Wynfield senses that he has a purpose outside of his rat-infested kingdom, but he never guesses that he had been selected at birth to topple the British aristocracy.

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About the Author

The only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand. Follow Marina on and Twitter @NearyMJ.