Mastodon The Writing Desk: October 2016

28 October 2016

Book Launch Guest Post: The Lion and the Fox: A Novel of Machiavelli's Florence by Sylvia Prince

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Exiled, isolated, and depressed, Niccolo Machiavelli longs to return to power at any cost—but with the threat of torture still hanging over his head, Niccolo must bend to the will of the powerful Medici family.

As a university student, I read Machiavelli’s The Prince more than once. In my political theory class, we talked about his zero-sum view on politics. In a class on Renaissance Italy, we discussed his relationship with the Medici and Savonarola. I was so fascinated with Machiavelli that I wrote my undergraduate thesis on his assessment of the political uses of religion.

Some years later, I’m now a history professor, and I assign The Prince in my classes. Readers come to the text with preconceived notions: that Machiavelli was ruthless, lacked any moral code, and was, in short, “Machiavellian.” But consider the context. Less than a year earlier, Machiavelli had been arrested, thrown in jail for three weeks, and tortured multiple times. Upon release, he was exiled. And then he sat down to write The Prince, dedicating it to the very family that tortured and exiled him.

Yes, The Prince is cutthroat. But Machiavelli was writing for cutthroat rulers.

Just imagine Machiavelli in exile, waiting to hear what the Medici think of The Prince, still hating the family that ruined his life. Imagine one of the greatest political minds in history stuck in a small village, surrounded by “lice,” his brain molding (his words, not mine!).

As Machiavelli wrote in a letter to his friend Francesco Vettori, dated 10 Dec 1513, “these Medici princes should begin to engage my services, even if they should start out by having me roll along a stone. For then, if I could not win them over, I should have only myself to blame.”

To what lengths would he go to win over the Medici?

Those questions inspired my novel, The Lion and the Fox, which is set just after Machiavelli finishes The Prince. Machiavelli wants to impress the family that abused him. What would he do if they asked him to investigate a murder? And what if the Medici family still suspected Machiavelli of plotting against them?

That hook allowed me to explore the world of Renaissance Florence through the eyes of a political exile, disillusioned with the bravado of young patrician rulers yet still dependent on their favors. I wanted to show a darker side of the Renaissance, one that often doesn’t appear in the rosy descriptions of Renaissance art. Clashes of honor, extravagant displays of wealth, and falls of fortune were parts of daily life in Renaissance Florence—as was the violence that could erupt at any moment.

I also wanted to create a rich and realistic role for Florence’s women by not only giving them a voice but also showing the power wielded by those forced to history’s margins. Although they were often treated like material goods to exchange on the Florentine marriage market, their value assessed by the dowry system, women were more than just wives, sisters, or daughters. In Florence, women used informal networks to get what they wanted. And in a city where nearly one in five women was a prostitute, brothels were big business, and most were run by women.

As a history professor, I challenged myself to think of history in different terms—and it taught me some lessons about the gaps in my historical training. What did it feel like to walk the streets of Renaissance Florence? What, exactly, did a courtesan wear in the early sixteenth-century? And if a dead body was found in the Arno River, where would it be taken?

If you’re wondering just how far Machiavelli might be willing to go—you’ll have to read the book!

Sylvia Prince

About the Author

Sylvia Prince holds a PhD in history, an enthusiast of the Italian Renaissance—and loves the bizarre but true stories she has encountered over the years working as a historian. Sylvia is a professor at a public university in the Midwest, where she lives with her husband and two spirited daughters. Find out more at Sylvia's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @sprincebooks.

26 October 2016

New Audiobook: Jasper - Book Two of the Tudor Trilogy

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US
Also Free with 30 Day Audible Trial

“Jasper Tudor was a rebel and a warrior, the man who created the greatest dynasty England has ever known... The Tudors.” Dr Sara Elin Roberts, author of Jasper – The Tudor Kingmaker

Following the best-selling historical fiction novel OWEN – Book One of The Tudor Trilogy, this is the story, based on actual events, of Owen’s son Jasper Tudor, who changes the history of England forever. 

England 1461: The young King Edward of York has taken the country by force from King Henry VI of Lancaster. Sir Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, flees the massacre of his Welsh army at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross and plans a rebellion to return his half-brother King Henry to the throne.
When King Henry is imprisoned by Edward in the Tower of London and murdered, Jasper escapes to Brittany with his young nephew, Henry Tudor. Then after the sudden death of King Edward and the mysterious disappearance of his sons, a new king, Edward’s brother Richard III takes the English Throne. With nothing but his wits and charm, Jasper sees his chance to make young Henry Tudor king with a daring and reckless invasion of England.

Set in the often brutal world of fifteenth century England, Wales, Scotland, France, Burgundy and Brittany, during the Wars of the Roses, this fast-paced story is one of courage and adventure, love and belief in the destiny of the Tudors.

24 October 2016

Life's Little Song: A Book of Poetry and Ramblings, by Jason J Black

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

This book is about the little things in the world that we tend to miss in our everyday rush through life. Our world is such a beautiful place, yet we sometimes fail to notice this.

Taking some time for ourselves to rest, recharge and de-stress can help us to be more creative and inspired. Taking a look at the world, animals and people surrounding us can help us to be more compassionate, helpful and loving.

I wrote these poems and ramblings in those early morning hours when only the birds are awake, when the rest of the world still slumbers and all is still and quiet.

I hope you can find the same kind of peace yourself, perhaps while reading this book.

Jason J Black
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About the Author

Jason J Black was born and still lives in Bristol in the United Kingdom, with his wife, Sara. Jason has always enjoyed writing short stories throughout his life, and enjoys writing science fiction, fantasy and horror stories, as well as some poetry. He hopes that his readers are able to feel the emotion that he tries to invoke in his books. Find out more at Jason's website  and find him on Twitter @jasonjblack. 

23 October 2016

Historical Fiction Book Launch: The Lion and the Fox: A Novel of Machiavelli's Florence by Sylvia Prince

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Exiled, isolated, and depressed, Niccolo Machiavelli longs to return to power at any cost—but with the threat of torture still hanging over his head, Niccolo must bend to the will of the powerful Medici family.

When a mysterious letter sends him to investigate the murder of a Medici, Niccolo stumbles into a dangerous world of rich young patricians, mysterious prostitutes, and shocking violence.

Set against the vibrant backdrop of Renaissance Florence, Machiavelli must rely on his wits to navigate the currents of power and brutality, never knowing who he can trust. Niccolo thinks he can play the fox to outwit his enemies—but has he underestimated the lion?

About the Author

Sylvia Prince holds a PhD in history, an enthusiast of the Italian Renaissance—and loves the bizarre but true stories she has encountered over the years working as a historian. Sylvia is a professor at a public university in the Midwest, where she lives with her husband and two spirited daughters. Find our more at and find Sylvia on Facebook and Twitter @sprincebooks.

19 October 2016

Extract from The Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The turbulent Tudor age never fails to capture the imagination. But what was it actually like to be a woman during this period? This was a time when death in infancy or during childbirth was rife; when marriage was usually a legal contract, not a matter for love, and the education of women was minimal at best. Yet the Tudor century was also dominated by powerful and characterful women in a way that
no era had been before.

To Transform Human Creatures – Extract from The Lives of Tudor Women

Elizabeth I famously attempted to turn back time with the ample use of cosmetics. Later portraits, such as the anonymous ‘Darnley portrait’, which may have been painted from life, show a white, wax-like face which may not have been entirely the result of artistic flattery. (In the years since it was painted, pigment fading has further increased the effect of paleness.) A pale, line-free skin was much admired at the time, and many women, both young and old, would go to some lengths to achieve it.
The Darnley Portrait, c. 1575(Wikimedia Commons)
   But this use of cosmetics was widely mocked in the period, too, with one work – published in 1616 – calling the practice ‘paintings laid one upon another, in such sort that a man might easily cut off a curd or cheese cake from either of their cheeks’. Some women, the author added, had applied so many concoctions that ‘they have made their faces of a thousand colours’. It was irreligious, since by covering ‘her natural face’, a woman was defying God. Although this Discourse Against Painting and Tincturing of Women was written by a man, its transmission was aided and abetted by a woman named Elizabeth Arnold, who translated it from the Spanish.
   In spite of this sort of disapproval, many women continued to use make-up to improve their appearance, particularly as they aged. To achieve a smooth white complexion, such potions as bacon grease mixed with egg whites and a little powder were applied. Another recipe used ground-up pig bones.
   For the wealthiest members of the society, there was the mixture of white lead and vinegar, which was known as ’ceruse’. This highly toxic compound gave the skin the desired lustre when applied, but also caused considerable skin problems. After a time, the skin could become grey and wrinkled, further exacerbating the need for cosmetics. One early seventeenth-century writer, Thomas Tuke, considered that ‘white lead, wherewith women use to paint themselves was, without doubt, brought in use by the Devil, the capital enemy of nature, therewith to transform human creatures, of fair, making them ugly, enormous and abominable’. But for Elizabeth I, who, like many women, had smallpox pits and later wrinkles and other blemishes to cover, the attraction of white lead was perfectly understandable.
Elizabeth Norton 
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About the Author

Elizabeth Norton lives in Kingston upon Thames, near Hampton Court Palace, with her husband and two sons. As well as her books she is carrying out academic research at King's College, London into the Blount family of Shropshire, contributing journal articles and giving papers at academic conferences and has appeared as an expert on television, including programmes for Sky Arts and the National Geographic channel.  Find out more as her website and find her on Twitter @ENortonHistory.

13 October 2016

Book Review: The Lives of Tudor Women, by Elizabeth Norton

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'd been looking forward to the latest book from Elizabeth Norton, having previously been impressed by her work on Tudor queens and her wonderful book Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.  The Lives of Tudor Women could have the subtitle 'the seven ages of Tudor life'  as it explores the many diverse facets of their times by contrasting women at different stages in their lives.

I've recently read many books about Elizabeth of York, so was glad to find a fresh perspective on what she went through providing Henry VII with an heir. (Luckily she had privileged access to pain relief - a sacred relic reputed to be the girdle of the Virgin Mary.)

Equally harrowing are accounts of what women such as the courageously defiant Anne Askew had to endure for their faith. Although familiar with Anne's story, it seems a particularly poignant (if extreme) example of the hardships faced by Tudor women at all levels of society.

At the same time, a picture emerges of confident women, stepping out of the shadows to take their place alongside Tudor men. Culminating with an ageing Queen Elizabeth clinging on to her 'Gloriana' image, I learnt something new in every chapter. I particularly enjoyed the little 'asides' sprinkled through the narrative, where Elizabeth Norton offers an insight into her considerable research.

Highly readable and informative, I'm happy to recommend this book not just for those of us with a fascination for the Tudor times but for anyone who wants to understand the history of the place of women in the world.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Elizabeth Norton lives in Kingston upon Thames, near Hampton Court Palace, with her husband and two sons. As well as her books she is carrying out academic research at King's College, London into the Blount family of Shropshire, contributing journal articles and giving papers at academic conferences and has appeared as an expert on television, including programmes for Sky Arts and the National Geographic channel.  Find out more as her website and find her on Twitter @ENortonHistory.

12 October 2016

Guest Post ~ Prunes For Breakfast by John Searancke

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The story of John Searancke's parents, told mostly from the side of his father, Eddie Searancke, from the time of his calling up in early 1940 to his release from a prisoner of war camp in Germany in 1945, thence his 
return to England to try to pick up the pieces of his old life. 
Nothing could ever be quite the same afterwards

When a cache of letters, written by my father to my mother during the years of World War 2 eventually came in to my possession, I concluded that I should share some of them with a wider audience. In between a selection of those letters is traced the story of his life over those five long war years. 

It fascinated me to learn of the day to day life of an enlisted man – and later officer – as the war progressed to its inevitable conclusion, though finally without him as he languished behind the wire in a POW camp in Germany after having been captured on the battlefields of Normandy. And so his story has finally been written.

This is a watercolour painting of part of my father’s POW camp in Germany, Oflag 79. The painting was done by a prisoner, and my father brought it back to England on his release. It shows a skater in winter, skating across what looks like a frozen pond, but which is, in reality, a bomb crater. The Americans bombed the camp in error, thinking that it was the nearby Goering aircraft engine factory! They scored 7 direct hits and killed some 51 people. What an example of friendly fire!

John Searancke
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About the Author

John Searancke was born in 1943, a war baby, and lived in Ashby de la Zouch, an old market town in Leicestershire before attending Rugby School. After working at a firm of solicitors he managed a country hotel.and a commercial legal services company. He now lives in Tenerife and his exploits in Tenerife became his first book, Dog Days In The Fortunate Islands: A new life in hidden TenerifeFind out more about John Searancke and his books at Rukia Publishing at Meet The Author Book Showcase and visit John's  author website Youi can also find John on Twitter @johnsearancke 

4 October 2016

The Power of Story Structure, Part 2 ~ Barbara Kyle

This post is an abridged excerpt from Barbara Kyle's upcoming book Page-Turner. Read the first post here.

The Hook

As writers, our first goal is to create in the reader a desire to read on. We do that by crafting a hook. A hook is a novel's first sentence or paragraph, and it functions as a promise, an unspoken assurance that excitement lies ahead.

Examples of Hooks

The opening sentence of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is: “Call me Ishmael.” It's famous, and for good reason. First, it’s an imperative sentence—a command—so it establishes an extraordinarily confident voice. Second, it gives a name, which conjures up a real, flesh-and-blood person. Third, that particular name, Ishmael, resonates with the Biblical character of the same name, establishing a portentous theme. Powerful stuff in just three words.

Jane Austen’s much-loved novel Pride and Prejudice begins with: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” No one reading that sentence can withhold a small, wry smile. Which was precisely Austen's intent. She is telling you two things. First, this story is going to have a foundation of gentle humor. Second, it's going to be about love and marriage: it's a romance.

Hook Techniques

Here are some of the most effective ways to wield this essential tool of craft.

1. Name a character. As noted above with "Call me Ishmael," names have power, because they conjure up a living, breathing person.

2. Raise a question in the reader's mind. Toni Morrison starts her novel Paradise with these six, arresting words: "They shoot the white girl first." Instantly, the reader's mind lurches to ask: Who are "they"? Who's the girl? Why have they shot her?

3. Plunge straight into the plot.  Paul Auster's City of Glass begins with: "It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not."

4. Foreshadow an intriguing element of plot. Here's the opening sentence of Dick Francis's mystery Straight: "I inherited my brother's desk, his business, his gadgets, his enemies, his horses and his mistress. I inherited my brother's life, and it nearly killed me."

5. Show a character’s personality quirk. The opening of Vladimir Nabokov's ground-breaking Lolita tosses a small bombshell of Humbert Humbert's quirkiness: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

6. Show a character’s attitude. In J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, the cockiness of teenage narrator Holden Caulfield is on full-frontal display in the first sentence: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

7. Render a mysterious or suspenseful event. George Orwell's novel Nineteen-Eighty-Four starts with: "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen."

8. Start at the story's climax. Donna Tartt uses this technique to open her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch. Theo Decker is hiding out in an Amsterdam hotel room, where, he says: "I'd been shut up for more than a week, afraid to telephone anybody or go out..." With Theo's crisis established, the author then loops back to the chronological start of his story years earlier.

Use any of these techniques and you'll have your reader intrigued, maybe even slightly on edge. In other words, happily hooked.

All my best,

Barbara Kyle
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About the Author

Barbara Kyle is the author of seven acclaimed historical novels – the Thornleigh Saga series – all published internationally, and of contemporary thrillers, three under pen-name Stephen Kyle, including Beyond Recall, a Literary Guild Selection. Her latest novel is The Traitor’s Daughter. Over 500,000 copies of her books have been sold in seven countries. Barbara has taught writers at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and is a popular guest presenter at writers conferences. Before becoming an author Barbara enjoyed a twenty-year acting career in television, film, and stage productions in Canada and the U.S. Barbara’s workshops, Master Classes, and manuscript evaluations have launched many writers to published success, including bestselling mystery author Robert Rotenberg, historical novelists Ann Birch, Tom Taylor, and Barbara Wade Rose, debut novelist Marissa Campbell, thriller writer Carrie Rubin, and Steven T. Wax for his award-winning memoir. For more information visit and find her on Facebook and Twitter @BKyleAuthor.

Book Launch Guest Post ~ Patriarch Run: A Novel by Benjamin Dancer

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nine years ago, Jack Erikson was deployed to China to protect the United States from a cyberattack. Now, suffering from a drug-induced amnesia, he is unable to recognize his own son. What Jack knows for sure is that an elite group of operators is determined to kill him. What he does not yet remember is that he controls a cyber-weapon powerful enough to return human civilization to the Stone Age. If Jack lives long enough to piece together his mission and his identity, he will be forced to choose between the fate of humankind and that of his own family.  

Many people are surprised to learn that the fiction in Patriarch Run is premised on an under-reported, existential threat to our civilization. Over the course of the last 100 years, our society has unwittingly evolved to become absolutely dependent on a vulnerable critical infrastructure. As Jack learns in the story, 100 years ago you didn't need electricity to feed the population. That’s because the "pre-electrical" carrying capacity of the planet was less than 2 billion people. Our vulnerable infrastructure has increased the planet's carrying capacity to 7.5 billion.

The bad guy in my story intends to commit mass murder on a scale never seen before in human history by using a sophisticated cyberattack to take down the power grid. I wish that vulnerability were fiction. But it’s not. You can actually kill a lot of people this way.

Lest that be dismissed as fear mongering, I’ve included a brief video from Ted Koppel, a respected journalist, about the subject below:

In the video, Ted Koppel reports that a devastating cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely and that the United States is shockingly unprepared.
In addition to a cyberattack, there are several mechanisms of destruction that could bring down the power grid and trigger an apocalyptic scenario like the one outlined in Patriarch Run, including an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, physical sabotage, and a coronal mass ejection. That last event is naturally occurring and does not require any human malice or intent. As a matter of fact, on a timeline as large as the sun's, such events are routine.
I’ve included a brief NASA video below to show what a coronal mass ejection looks like:

I carefully researched the vulnerability of our critical infrastructure and depicted that vulnerability with great realism in my story. Then I had some of the leading experts in the country check the accuracy of my work. You can find a few of their endorsements here disabled in your browser.
In a worst-case scenario, the events outlined above have the potential to destroy the power gird permanently. As was explained to Jack in my book, if that worst-case were to be actualized somehow, the gird couldn't be fixed. Not ever.
How can that be?
The critical hardware that would be damaged in such an event cannot be easily replaced. For example, the 2,000 large transformers of our power grid are handmade and take years to manufacture when our infrastructure is working perfectly. Society would collapse long before all the replacement transformers could be manufactured.
Without the use of widespread, reliable electricity, we could not grow, process, and transport enough food to feed the population. We could not distribute clean drinking water to our cities or provide sanitation or healthcare. There would be no commerce as we have come to know it. Such a collapse would probably result in widespread starvation, the reintroduction of diseases vanquished by modern sanitation, unprecedented social unrest, and a skyrocketing mortality rate.
I know that sounds bad. That’s because it is. If you want to learn more about how vulnerable we are, you can read my story Patriarch Run. You could also check out some of the other videos I’ve posted at I’d recommend that you start with the National Geographic documentary, which is based on a book by Dr. Peter Pry (Dr. Pry endorsed my novel for its realistic depiction of this threat). There are videos from other credible sources, as well: NASA and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
I’m really sorry to be the bearer of so much bad news.

Benjamin Dancer 
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About the Author

Benjamin Dancer also writes about parenting, education, sustainability and national security. He works as an Advisor at a Colorado high school where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. His work with adolescents has informed his stories, which are typically themed around fatherhood and coming-of-age. Find out more at his website and find him on Twitter @BenjaminDancer1

2 October 2016

Special Guest Interview About 'Notebook' with Andrew Brown, CEO of Indent Labs

One of the great things about using Twitter as a writer are the new ideas you pick up from people you meet there.  A recent example is my discovery of the new Open Source Notebook - a ‘digital notebook’ which grows and collaborates with you as you create magnificent universes — and everything within them.

Notebook is on a free promotion throughout October aimed at helping writers with the courage to tackle NaNoWriMo. I soon found myself creating a ‘Tudor universe’, complete with castles – a king (Henry Tudor) and a queen. One you’ve created your ‘universe’ the application is designed to track every aspect of its characters, locations, and items. An AI (Artificial Intelligence) writing assistant prompts with questions about your content, helping you dive deeper than ever into your world.

Intrigued, I contacted Andrew Brown, CEO of Indent Labs, to find out more about how Notebook came to be developed.

Hi Andrew and thanks for taking the time to visit my blog.

Thanks for connecting on Twitter. I'm glad you had a chance to give Notebook a quick play and I hope it made a good first impression.

Yes – I found it surprisingly intuitive and easy to use.

Wonderful! We’ve been working hard to make sure Notebook is in a polished, stable state that allows authors to detail and track their characters, locations, and items. It scales with your ideas (meaning you'll never have another "full" notebook) and can actually politely ask questions to keep you fleshing out your ideas even when you're not in the creative mindset to sit down and create things.

I found the ‘prompts’ useful, although I did wonder about the AI behind them?

There's the beginnings of a very basic AI on the backend right now that, for example, can see you have a character named Alice without a hometown listed, and asks you one question at a time from the sidebar of any page (e.g. "Where was Alice born?"). If you answer, it saves your response back to Alice's notebook page and categorizes it for you.

My ‘universe’ is fairly simple so far but is developing fast. What happens when I try to reflect the complexity of the world I’m writing about?

We've also worked hard to make sure Notebook remains relevant to what you're writing about even if you have multiple universes of ideas in the same notebook. By sticking your characters, locations, and items (basically: people, places, and things) in "universes", you can easily do things like scope your notebook only to the universe you're currently writing in (from the universe dropdown in the top-left), effectively filtering out all other content that obviously isn't relevant right now.

I liked the way you can easily establish the relationships between characters.

Yes, you can also link content together semantically! If you create a page for Alice's best friend Bob, you can actually link Bob as Alice's best friend (and vice-versa), meaning whenever you are looking up anything about Alice, any ideas related to her are only a click away (in other words, clicking on Bob's name from Alice's page will take you directly to Bob's page). This is actually really important for the AI improvements that are coming.

What would you say to writers who worry a little about being able to access their information in Notebook in the future?

Of course! There's also a slew of benefits to Notebook inherent to it being digital: their ideas are available from any device, completely private (unless they mark pages public and share them with others for feedback), backed up, and always available, indefinitely, for free. 

What plans do you have for further development of Notebook?

There's a handful of other usability features getting ready to release in the new few weeks, but the biggest benefit authors can expect in the future is an improved AI. The same system that can realize, "Hey, Alice doesn't have a hometown set. I should ask Tony what it is and store it for him" will soon also be able to recognize relationships and ask stimulating questions and writing prompts like, "How did Alice meet Bob?" or "What does Bob not like about Alice?"

In addition to an improved AI, there's also features in the works to actually use the content in your notebook as you write, for example letting you hover over character names in your manuscript to instantly pull up relevant information about them, so you never have to dig out your notebook (or break your writing flow and jump back to an earlier chapter) to look up even the small facts about your characters.

I'm excited to launch Notebook out of private beta this week, but I'm even more excited for what's to come. I'm always happy to answer questions and field comments as well. This is what I love doing! 

Thanks again for the connection, I wish you the best,

Andrew Brown
CEO, Indent Labs
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About the Author

Andrew Brown is the founder of Indent Labs, LLC, a startup focused on blending creativity with artificial intelligence to create smarter writing software. Currently travelling the world with just a laptop and a suitcase, Andrew is preparing for his eighth year participating in National Novel Writing Month (and third published novel—hopefully!). His poetry and short fiction are available at and you can follow him on Twitter at @IndentLabs

Special Launch Promotion

To celebrate the launch of, anyone who signs up for an account during October 2016 with promo code NANOPREP will have their $19.99 completely waived and enjoy a full account — free for life.

After October, new notebooks will cost $19.99 each, but authors on the fence will be able to try out for free with our free Ethereal plan. Ethereal notebooks can be upgraded at any time, with no loss of ideas.

For more information click HERE

1 October 2016

Special Guest Post ~ Big Topic Terrors, by Sarah Gristwood, Author of Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

An ambitious young woman, debarred by her sex from ascending the throne, nonetheless rules her country and turns her court into an academy where girls are taught how to rule. A mother tells her daughter to face death rather than give up the sceptre that is her right to wield…

Talk about fools rushing in. Sixteen protagonists, five countries, and the history of more than a century? Angels would be so afraid to tread, they’d trip over their wings as they ran the other way.
But it’s easy, and perhaps cheap, to play this for laughs, because the truth is, Game of Queens is a book about which I care quite desperately. And that, at this stage - a few days before publication - is what’s so scary.

It’s a bit unfortunate for a writer, but I’ve always loathed seeing my own work in print. In my days as a journalist I’d cross the street to avoid a newsagent displaying a paper whose front page trailed one of my stories. I was always aware how much better it could have been - how much I could have got wrong. That fear is a lot worse today. 

In Game of Queens - about the chains of women and power running through the sixteenth century - I’m scampering over deals and decades, giving only a few pages to reigns and reformations, each one of which has been the subject of a dozen other people’s PhD. Perhaps it is a journalist’s take on history. But that only makes it more important that I should do it properly. Because if I hadn’t done this book someone else would have had to - the more so, since the experiences of these women are being echoed today.   

The sixteenth century saw an explosion of female rule across Europe - not only in England and Scotland, where a ruling queen sat on the throne, but in the Netherlands, France and Spain, where female regents controlled great swathes of the continent on behalf of their male relatives. But if the sixteenth century showed what women could do, it also showed how vulnerable they could be. Anne Boleyn executed for adultery she almost certainly did not commit; Catherine de Medici getting most of the blame for the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day. 

Be very careful in all your dealings, a manual of advice for powerful women warned, ‘because you can be blamed even for something very slight’. ‘Had I been crested not cloven, my lords, you would not have treated me thus’, Elizabeth I told her courtiers, angrily. 

Hillary Clinton’s health? Debate about women leaders has always centred on their bodies. Even Elizabeth I’s famous speech at Tilbury admitted that she had ‘the body of a weak and feeble woman’, before boasting that she had nonetheless ‘the heart and stomach of a king’. Men, and a powerful woman’s relationship to them, was a question then and is still today. Fear of a husband’s takeover was what kept Queen Elizabeth unmarried, and there could be eyebrows raised over the likelihood of Bill Clinton’s confining himself to a backseat role. 
Women have long been seen as naturally more pacific than men, and sometimes that works to their advantage. As when, in 1529, Margaret of Austria and Louise of Savoy negotiated the Ladies’ Peace; as, perhaps, when a President Hillary Clinton might negotiate with Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, or Theresa May. But one slur often levelled is that women may therefore fail in times of war: yes, Trump (like George Bush with Geraldine Ferraro before him) has tried to diminish Clinton that way. 

Before the first debate, Clinton was advised not to interrupt or talk over Trump too much, because voters don’t like such behaviour in a woman. He interrupted her repeatedly. Guess what?  - the question of how to combine femininity with authority has never gone away. 

Maybe that’s why launching this book seems so scary. OK, that may just be the highfalutin’ theory. Maybe it is just about me. The fact this is the first time I’ve ever brought out one book without knowing what project comes next , or that it’s been a while since last I published anything in quite this way. 

But this time there’s no taking refuge in the safely past - no saying, at the end of the day, ‘it’s only a story’. I do believe we need to know our past to take charge of our present - that the rise, and fall, of powerful women in the past have lessons for today. And maybe, just maybe, that is why I care so much. Because, in however infinitesimal a way, this book is trying to add its voice to the chorus of those who are still making - rather than merely recounting - history. 

Sarah Gristwood 
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About the Author

Sarah Gristwood  is a best-selling Tudor biographer, former film journalist, and commentator on royal affairs. After leaving Oxford, Sarah began work as a journalist, writing at first about the theatre as well as general features on everything from gun control to Giorgio Armani. But increasingly she found herself specialising in film interviews – Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro; Martin Scorsese and Paul McCartney. She has appeared in most of the UK’s leading newspapers – The Times, the Guardian, The Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) – and magazines from Cosmopolitan to Country Living and Sight and Sound to The New Statesman. Turning to history she wrote two bestselling Tudor biographies, Arbella: England’s Lost Queen and Elizabeth and Leicester. Sarah was one of the team providing Radio 4’s live coverage of the royal wedding; and has since spoken on the Queen’s Jubilee, the royal baby, and other royal stories for Sky News, Woman’s Hour, Radio 5 Live, and CBC. Shortlisted for both the Marsh Biography Award and the Ben Pimlott Prize for Political Writing, she is a Fellow of the RSA, and an Honororary Patron of Historic Royal Palaces. She and her husband, the film critic Derek Malcolm, live in London and Kent. Find out more at Sarah's webiste and find her on Twitter @sarahgristwood