Mastodon The Writing Desk: April 2017

30 April 2017

Guest Post by Mary Anne Yarde, Author of The Du Lac Chronicles

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

War is coming to Saxon Briton. As one kingdom after another falls to the savage might of the High King, Cerdic of Wessex, only one family dares to stand up to him — The Du Lacs. Budic and Alden Du Lac are barely speaking to each other, and Merton is a mercenary, fighting for the highest bidder. If Wessex hears of the brothers’ discord, then all is lost. Fate brings Merton du Lac back to the ancestral lands of his forefathers, and he finds his country on the brink of civil war. But there is worse to come, for his father’s old enemy has infiltrated the court of Benwick. Now, more than ever, the Du Lac must come together to save the kingdom and themselves. Can old rivalries and resentments be overcome in time to stop a war?

When history and legend collide...

Have you ever tried to put a jigsaw together in the dark? No? Me neither. But researching The Dark Ages is a little bit like doing a jigsaw without any light. It is complicated.

The British populace finally expelled the Roman occupiers in the year AD 409. But without the might of The Roman Army, Britain found itself under attack by the Scots, Picts, Angles and the Saxons. She turned to Emperor Honorius for help. Instead of troops, Emperor Honorius sent a letter. In it, he told the people of Britain to “… look to their own defences…” Briton was alone. She would get no further help from the Empire.

What happened next was to change the course of British History forever. Britain split back into smaller kingdoms, each ruled by a powerful warlord. There was no unity, only division. How could they possibly stand up to the foreign invaders when they couldn't stop fighting each other?

They needed someone to unite them. And that someone was none other than a man called Arthur. You may have heard of him?

It was Arthur that kept the Saxons away. It was Arthur who united the kingdoms. It was Arthur that brought about peace. Fact! Well, sort of.

The Dark Ages, as you can see, is the time of myths and legends. And the most famous tale of all was about King Arthur and his Knights. Over time, the story of Arthur was expanded upon. They gave him a castle, a court. He became a Christian King, and so it went on. Each tale more elaborate than the last, until Arthur became a superhero on par with Ironman! Of course, when he died, the Saxon’s took advantage of this power vacuum. They invaded and made Britain their home. Where was the ‘Once And Future King’ while this was going on? Perhaps someone forgot to wake him up!

Researching the life and time of King Arthur is like searching for a ghost. There is nothing substantial, just theories and stories. But you would think that there would be something more tangible about the Saxon invaders?

The Dark Ages is a little short on historical documents. The chroniclers had left with the Roman Army. So all we have to go on is the damning sermon of Gildas, and the works of Bede and Nennius. It isn’t until Alfred the Great’s time when ink was finally put to parchment. This document became known as The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.

There is one Saxon invader that I am particularly fascinated with, and that is Cerdic of Wessex. There is a rumour that Cerdic’s troops met Arthur’s at Bardon Hill — Arthur won that day. But when Cerdic learnt of Arthur’s death he gathered his troops once more. Cerdic landed in Hampshire at the end of the fifth Century. He launched a campaign that led them across the South-East of Britain and as far as the Isle of Wight. It was during this campaign that Cerdic…

“…killed a certain British King named Natanleod and five thousand men with him.”  - The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.

Some say that Natanleod was Arthur, while others doubt his existence at all. It is said that Cerdic became the first West-Saxon King of Britain in AD 519. Bear in mind that The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles was written over 300 years after Cedric's death. It is hardly a primary source and should be treated with, maybe not suspicion, but certainly scepticism.

A lot happened between the end of the Roman occupancies and the writing of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. It was the bards that kept the history alive during this time. Yes, they may have changed the history a little to make for a more exciting tale, but they can be forgiven because they had to make their money somehow. So you can see the problem the chroniclers had. The Dark Ages and folklore go hand in hand. It is almost impossible to separate them. They are weaved together so tightly that to try to unpick the truth from the fiction would damage the tapestry. Ruin it. So the chroniclers could only work with what they had and what they had was folklore.

In my series, The Du Lac Chronicles, I have tried to weave together folklore and history, paying equal respect to both. It is a challenge but then so is The Dark Ages and that is why I love it!

Mary Anne Yarde
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About the Author

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

29 April 2017

Guest Post: So You’ve Decided to Become a Novelist! By Kathleen Jones, The Quirky Novelist

Photo credit: Lex Eggink, QUERTY, via photopin (license)

So, you’ve decided to finally follow your dream of becoming a novelist! Congratulations! Trouble is, you don’t know where to start. How do you come up with interesting ideas, write a 300-word novel, get it published?

Here are some ideas to start with, from a new novelist who has recently completed her first book:
  • Brainstorm ideas for your novel. Inspired ideas always seem to surface at the most unexpected and inconvenient times! To avoid letting those gems get away from you, purchase a small notebook and pens from a dollar store and keep them in your handbag or briefcase. Get into the underrated habit of daydreaming, and scribble down everything that pops into your head. You might have to waste precious hours of your life riding the bus home from work or sitting in a dentist’s waiting room, but you can make good use of that time to plot out the twists and turns of your novel.
  • Find a special place to write and commit to a regular writing schedule. Find a quiet, secluded room within your home—say, your bedroom or a den—and close (or lock) the door. Be sure to let family members know that you can’t be disturbed. Try to write in the same quiet place, alone, at the same time each and every week. If you have a job, the weekend might be the best time to write. When I was juggling novel writing with a full-time job, I tried to write every Saturday morning. Of course, you may not be able to write at exactly the same time and place every week or weekend, but you should try to stick with your schedule most of the time.
  • To stay motivated, plan your next writing session. At the end of each writing session, make a rough plan for the next one. Your plan might include a brief outline of the chapter (or the scenes within a chapter) that you plan to write, the number of pages or words that you plan to produce, and the amount of time that you’ll try to set aside for the session. By taking this extra step, you’ll be able to stay motivated to finish your book, and your next writing session will be more efficient and focused.
  • Set realistic deadlines for each stage of your novel. For example, you might plan to write 3 pages per day (on weekdays), 15 pages per week, and 60 pages per month; based on that level of output, you might aim to finish writing your first draft in 6-12 months. Your second and third drafts might be completed within shorter time frames. Book each deadline in your day timer and calendar; you might need to revise these dates, but by writing them down, you won’t forget about them, and you’ll be more motivated to finish your novel.
  • Once you’ve finished writing, re-write! And re-write and re-write until you’re happy with your novel.
  • Consider hiring professionals to polish your manuscript before you submit it to agents and publishers. A substantive and/or line editor, copy editor, and proof reader can help you to clear up major problems with your novel. Despite the expense, hiring these pros could be a wise investment, given the considerable difficulties that most first-time authors face when trying to find a publisher for their novels. It’s a good idea to hire editors and proofreaders from reputable organizations such as The Editors’ Association of Canada (, The Society for Editors and Proofreaders ( in the U.K., and the Editorial Freelancers Association ( in the U.S.
  • Set up an online platform to promote yourself. It’s hard for new novelists to find readers. Your novel will be competing with millions of others. If you don’t want your book to be ignored, create an online platform to promote yourself: an author website and/or blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Write and post helpful “how-to” articles for authors on your blog, share (and comment on) other authors’ posts, write book reviews on Goodreads, offer to write guest posts for popular book publishing blogs. Post regularly—at least once a month, more often if possible—to build up an online presence. Don’t know where to start? Check out Chuck Sambuchino’s book, Create Your WriterPlatform.

Kathleen Jones
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About the Author

Kathleen Jones is a fledgling novelist whose first novel, an offbeat, lighthearted romance set in the world of stand-up comedy, is expected to be published in 2018. Visit her online at  or on Twitter at @joneslepidas.

28 April 2017

Book review: The Shadow Queen, by Anne O'Brien

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Queen’s Choice

The untold story of Joan of Kent, the mastermind behind the reign of child-King Richard II. A tale of treachery, power-hungry families and legal subterfuges. ‘What would enhance the pattern of my life further? One word slid into my mind. A seductive word. A dangerous word, perhaps, for a woman. Power.’ 

I remember being overawed by the tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral as a child. Since then, I’ve never taken the trouble to learn much about Sir Edward of Woodstock – until I read The Shadow Queen, the latest book from Anne O'Brien.  Here he steals the show as ‘Ned’, in my view one of Anne O’Brien’s best written characters.

The heroine of the story, Joan of Kent, is one of those strong female role models who never let anything defeat them, even the King of England. As with Sir Edward, I admit to knowing little of the detail of her life, so Anne’s meticulous research was a welcome revelation.

With an epic scale and plenty of surprises, this is a book I’m happy to recommend for anyone interested in medieval historical fiction.

(In her author's note Anne points out that the name 'Black Prince' was a later invention and there are no records of Edward of Woodstock being referred to as that during his lifetime)

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history. She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life. Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.

27 April 2017

Book Launch Guest Post and Giveaway - RETALIO by Alison Morton

Comment below to be entered for the draw to win a paperback signed by the author (Worldwide)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.

Today, Alison Morton launches RETALIO, the sixth in her acclaimed alternative history thriller series. I asked her to tell us how she came to this point.

Why and how did you become a writer?

I’ve written all my life one way or another since I scribbled my first play at age seven. More seriously, I’ve been a career translator, editor, civil servant writing policy papers, local magazine editor and blogger, as well as student slaving away over academic dissertations. So I’ve fiddled with words for a long time.

The trigger for novel writing was a bad film: the photography was accomplished, but to this voracious reader the plot continuity was dreadful and the dialogue corny. I whispered to my husband, “I could do better than this!” He replied, “Well, why don’t you?” Ninety days later, I had 90,000 words typed. Of course it was rubbish as all newbie first drafts are, but inside was the kernel that grew into the Roma Nova series.

Tell us about your books

Imagine an alternative timeline where a remnant of the Roman Empire called Roma Nova survived into the modern age. Founded in AD 395 by four hundred city Romans persecuted by Christian emperor Theodosius, they stayed faithful to the traditional gods, left Rome and settled in mountains to the north. Grit, adherence to Roman values and silver in the hills of their new home helped them survive. As there were so few of them, young women had to fight alongside their fathers and brothers to defend their new homeland. Older women managed the families, worked the fields and traded tot keep their colonia alive. Roma Nova became egalitarian out of necessity. You can read the whole storyhere.

Fast forward to 21st century Roma Nova; prospering, but staying tough and proud of its Roman roots. The first three stories – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO – feature Carina Mitela, a Praetorian officer who battles killers, betrayal and a particularly nasty nemesis.  The second trilogy – AURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO (out today!) – feature Carina’s grandmother as a young woman. When writing the first trilogy, I became intrigued by the older Aurelia. I had to go back to write her story. However, it turned into a second trilogy!

Writing Roman-set stories with women leading the action, not being adjuncts of the male protagonists meant taking them into the 20th and 21st centuries, hence alternative history. More about alternativehistory here.

I’ve been lucky to have the support of fellow authors, both indie and mainstream, such as Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow, Sue Cook, Elizabeth Chadwick and Helen Hollick. RETALIO has the backing of Douglas Jackson, Matthew Harfffy, JJ Marsh and L J Trafford.

Why were you drawn to the Romans?

I confess to being a ‘Roman nut’ since the age of eleven where I was fascinated by my first mosaic in Spain. In the interim, I’ve read Roman fiction (starting with Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth) and non-fiction ad nauseam.

Rome lasted 1229 years; just to give a bit of context, this would take us back to AD 788 from today. Over that time, Rome went from being a tribal village to conquering the known world, introducing complex systems of government, production and trade, heights of art, engineering, and organisation, along with prosperity, corruption and debauchery. And it all ended in a rump, kneeling in the dust to barbarians. It’s breathtaking! 

What research did you do? How long did it take to create Roma Nova?

Roma Nova had been bubbling away in my head for many years. I’ve been a keen student of the Roman world and clambered over its ruins for years. My MA is in history, and during my studies I acquired research tools and methodology that were invaluable.

The Roman world at its dusk is fascinating; why did it dissolve in the fifth century? What happened to the Romans themselves? For my books I took life, society and culture of the end of the 4th century as my jumping off point. Hence 21st century Roma Novans use solidi as their currency rather than sestertii. Afterwards, it was a case of applying historical logic to the next 1600 years! 

A working knowledge of European history gave me background enough to know where I had research gaps to fill. The geography I pinched from Slovenia. The key to world building is to make it real for your characters. Walk them down a typical street at different times of the day. What do they see and hear? What sounds and smells are in the air? I go into much more detail here.

Alison Morton
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Please comment below to be entered for the draw to win a paperback signed by the author (Worldwide)
About the Author

After a multiple-job career, Alison now writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction. The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing. Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years. Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: Facebook and Twitter  @alison_morton

Comment below to be entered for the draw to win a paperback signed by the author (Worldwide)

25 April 2017

Guest Post by J.G Harlond, Author of The Doomsong Sword

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Facing up to destiny can be lonely, silent, and secret. 
In the darkest years of Long Ago in the cold, cold North, there were two young men who were very much alike; and very different in all that mattered most. Davor was a spinner of stories; Sigurd was an earl. Both were destined to confront an evil dragon – but only one of them slew the beast. The Doomsong Sword is coming-of-age, mythic fantasy based on the ancient Norse Volsung Saga, where the real tests of character aren’t always what they seem.

“You write what you read . . .”

I recently heard a comment that an author writes what he or she reads. This is possibly true, but herein lies something of a dilemma for modern fiction authors, because these days, to be successful – it is said – one is supposed to choose a genre and stick to it. To become a ‘popular author’ one is advised to write a whole series in a specific genre.

But if we write what we read, how many of us only read one genre? And even if we do, within any category there are all sorts of sub-genres. Up to now my books can all be classified as historical fiction, but they include various types of crime, international espionage, Vatican intrigue and financial skulduggery, swash-buckling pirate scenes and stately royal scandals, and recently, a World War II murder mystery based on the highly secret British Resistance movement set in a Cornish village. And now, to add to this motley list I have to add ‘fantasy’ because it is based on part of the ancient Norse Volsung Saga and includes a shape-shifting, evil-minded dragon. So as you can see, my own reading and research has ranged pretty far and wide. I only wish it had dawned on me to put it all in a series and call it something like a Game of Thrones. 

Setting aside the genre dilemma, I will confess to trying to write some of what I have read. This might explain how and why, after ten years as a full-time fiction author, I came to finish (I’d been writing it on and off for years) The Doomsong Sword, which began life as part of a school series on traditional tales – a project that was cancelled during the financial crisis. I loved, and still enjoy high fantasy with dragons and arch-mages and shape-shifters. 

As a child, I gobbled up all manner of classic tales and folklore from Narcissus and Theseus to The Little Fool Ivan and the Knights of the Round Table. Later, as a student I dabbled in the academic side of traditional tales and read the Russian folklore analyst, Vladimir Propp. I devoured Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, and then enjoyed it all over again reading it to my own children. Throughout the years of this type of reading, I suppose I have been most influenced by the blurred text where history meets magic: T.E. White’s Once and Future King, Tolkein’s use of Norse tales, and Beowulf, especially Heaney’s translation. 

I can’t say all this consciously inspired me to re-write The Doomsong Sword as a novel, but I was motivated in part by the desire to create a meaningful story out of an old tale for a new generation – my newborn grandson in particular. Davor, the reluctant hero in the story, is an ordinary boy in an extra-ordinary situation: he is lazy and dreams up wild stories to get out of doing his chores. But then he begins to live one, and it is a story more fantastical than he has ever concocted. He not only has to survive alone in the cold Dark Age North with only a wolf-cub for company, but confront all manner of dreadful and frankly outrageous situations, such as finding himself in the home of a three-headed troll and evading the vicious Dwarf, Andvari, under a waterfall.

The sword in the title is named ‘Anger, Doomsong and Truth-teller’ in the saga and I had huge fun writing this into my story, although the manuscript went through many, many drafts before it felt right. Weaving bits of Norse mythology into the basic Sigurd, the Dragonslayer legend to create something new – a coming-of-age story that has meaning for a 21st century reader – was not easy. Nevertheless, as soon as I’ve finished the third book in my wily Ludo da Portovenere (17th century) trilogy I’ll be back in the old, cold North to write the ‘Doomsong’ sequel.  

This brings me back to being accepted as an author writing in different genres. ‘Genre’ is a convenient concept for online retailers and librarians, but many fiction authors bring elements from a whole range of genres into their new works. The joy of creative writing surely stems from the joy of having been taken into other worlds by other authors; living in past epochs, walking in another person’s shoes in numerous, different types of book.

Yes - we probably do write what we read. This is also why children need to read all manner of stories – and daydream. They need to imagine other lives, experience, albeit vicariously, other people’s cultures and world views so that they are better prepared for some of the odd, difficult and perhaps even dangerous things that may befall them in the future. All-powerful dragons and three-headed trolls come in many guises, especially nowadays.

Jane G. Harlond

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About the Author

J.G. Harlond grew up in North Devon, studied and worked in various countries and is now settled in rural Andalucía, Spain. Married to a retired Spanish naval officer, she has two sons and five step-children, all of whom now have their own careers in diverse parts of the USA and Europe. For many years, Jane taught in International schools and she still writes school text book material. Encouraged by positive reviews for her first work of fiction, Jane re-wrote it as The Empress Emerald then completed a linked prequel, The Chosen Man. She is currently working on The Chosen Man Trilogy, charting the international espionage of the charismatic rogue Ludo da Portovenere around 17th Century Europe. Her historical fiction, which is published by Penmore Press, also includes a World War II murder mystery, Local Resistance. and Dark Night, Black Horse, is a true story about a young boy who ‘rescues’ his father's favourite black stallion from Nationalist troops during the Spanish Civil War, it is also available in Spanish as Noche Oscura, Caballo Negro. Jane’s latest book, The Doomsong Sword, is a fantasy novel for younger (and not so young) readers based on part of the ancient Volsung Saga. Find out more at and find Jane on Twitter @JaneGHarlond.

24 April 2017

Special Guest Post: Ian Coulson on Restoring The First State Bed of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

In 2010 I purchased what was described by a Chester auction house as a Victorian carved Oak bed. It was an online purchase , my decision based on some rather poor images the auction house had emailed me.

The bed was certainly imposing , heavily carved in a gothic style with heraldic shields , crests and lion finials. The most striking feature was the intricately carved headboard of trypdich formation with a central Adam & Eve panel. The figures were mesmerising.

Despite studying the images I was shocked by what greeted me when I went to collect my purchase. The design and execution of the carving was sublime as was the proportion of this truly imposing bed. It was a work of art not a work of commerce. There was also the most unusual, almost tangible, feeling of power about the bed.It was immediately obvious that the bed had areas of loss and damage. There were only two crests to the canopy, one attached at the headboard the other at the footboard, a symmetrical arrangement but not correct. 

There should have been three crests, one at the front and one on each side. Of the two remaining crests one had a large split and areas of loss. The lower headboard panel, beneath the carved trypdich, was completely missing as was the headstock rail, replaced with a pine board. The side rails were clearly replacements that did not fully fill the depth of the mortise joints on the posts. Of the four lion finials, two had large cast iron screws, one a cast iron dowel the other a wooden dowel. One of the front lions was missing its tail.

The footboard had been repaired between the carved panels to consolidate the structure. The front posts had been tipped at the base with eight inches of oak carved to match. The side canopy rails were missing the open fret strawberry vine carving that was still present on the front rail. This level of loss and damage on a Victorian bed made of oak made no sense. On closer examination large areas of extinct woodworm were obvious beneath the thick and rather unflattering varnish that covered the whole bed.

There were signs of shrinkage throughout. The central headboard panel had shrank by over an inch across the grain from its rebates but remains tight as a drum on its length. The unvarnished end grain of the posts revealed a deep level of oxidisation that had taken centuries to occur. It was becoming quite obvious that this was not a Victorian bed!

The roses on the posts and lion finials coupled with the arms of England and France on the shields of the headboard and footboard suggested royalty. Research showed surviving Lancastrian beds from the Stanley circle of a similar style from the late 15th – early 16th Century. These beds are covered in family heraldic devices.

The self evident age of the timber, the royal devices with the lack of other family insignia and the exquisite design and execution of the carving convinced me that this was a royal bed of Henry VII. A claim so improbable that few would listen, this was going to be a long journey!

Research revealed two Victorian oak beds of a similar design from the workshop of George Shaw  (1810 -76) of Saddleworth. These were smaller beds, ill proportioned and clearly mechanical in their production. Made to deceive and presented to Northern aristocracy as long lost family treasures!

It was obvious to me that Shaw must have had knowledge of the Henry VII bed in order to make his copies. A visit to his former home in Uppermill, Saddleworth proved this theory to be correct. His home is filled with 19th century carving, the details extracted from the bed. His library has a triptych over mantle inspired by the headboard.

On turning to leave the library I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the missing front crest from the bed! It had been truncated by eight inches on each side and placed above his door as a pediment. 

It had the same pattern of woodworm damage on the base as one of the side crests and it was covered in the same unflattering thick varnish. The shield of this central crest does not have the St George cross as the side crests do but rather the quartered Royal arms of England.

In 2011, upon realising the unique historic importance of the bed, I had made the decision to do no restoration other than that needed to conserve what remained. This had been a bed for over half a millennium and I believed should proudly show it’s signs of age. The obvious repairs were left and the losses have not been replaced.

Colleagues suggested removing the treacle varnish to better display the carving and the age of the oak. However this too remains. This proved an important decision as within the varnish are the remains of crusty medieval pigment. Helen Hughes took extensive samples to reveal a ubiquitous paint treatment on all the original parts. Ultra marine blue (a pigment more expensive than gold) was found on the central headboard panel.

In 2016 I was able to have the Royal Arms crest temporarily removed from above the door in Saddleworth. This was taken to Lincoln University where a mould and plaster cast were produced. All three crests were reunited for the first time in over 150 years.

Replicating the front crest would allow the correct proportions and indeed iconography to be reinstated on the bed. An intact side crest was used as the pattern and a hand carved oak replica was commissioned. In 2013 I was fortunate enough to meet Dr Jonathan Foyle, who recognised the age and quality of the bed. Most importantly his extensive knowledge of the period took the research to levels I could have never imagined.

Ian Coulson

The story of the research and restoration is told in a film 
The First State Bed of Henry VII & Elizabeth of York: an investigation

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About the Author 

Ian Coulson's degree in Art History gave him an appreciation of form and proportion that has endured these past thirty years. On leaving university he entered the world of antiques where he became fascinated by the history of the four poster bed. Over the years Ian has bought, sold, researched and restored hundreds of these often grand and imposing beds .Some have a story to tell. Find out more at and find Ian on Twitter @IANCOULSON2

23 April 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Freedom's Pilgrim ~ A Tudor Odyssey, by Edward James

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1568. The world is a vast and dangerous place. Miles Phillips is thirteen when he sails from England with the famous Francis Drake on his third slaving expedition to Africa and the West Indies. 

Miles is escaping an unhappy childhood in Devon. He has no way of knowing what lies ahead of him. Things bode ill from the start. When the ship reaches San Juan, a battle with the Spaniards erupts.... the effects of which will plague his dreams for a long time. 

From Africa Miles travels to the West Indies. Here he discovers the beauty of the women and the rum. But life is about to throw young Miles off course. 

There is not room for all the sailors and the slaves to sail back to England. Many sailors are left behind, including Miles. Marooned on an island, he is taken prisoner and becomes a servant to a Mexican man who owns a silver mine. 

The Spanish language skills Miles has learned leads him to become an overseer in the mine, with a girlfriend named Moll. But then he is taken prisoner by the Inquisition. For self-preservation he claims to be related to the infamous privateer, Sir Francis Drake. Condemned to a hundred lashes on horseback and ten years as a slave in the Indies, he escapes when a local man takes an interest in him, and he ends up a gardener.

Here he meets Juanita, the niece of the man he is working for. She is quite fascinated with him, but Miles, now known as John Drake, and a slave, knows death could come for him if they are even seen together. That doesn’t stop them… although once again the Inquisition will. 

In the sixteen years that he is away from England, Miles’ journey will take him through war, the Armada, the Inquisition, through love and loss. He will change names, religions, and learn new languages and customs, all in an effort to simply stay alive. 

His is a story of survival. Part fiction, part fact, Freedom’s Pilgrim is a look at the life of one extraordinary boy who survived despite the odds being squarely against him.

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About the Author

Edward James is rather like his hero, the Tudor chronicler Richard Hakluyt; neither went to sea and both were fascinated by ships and seafaring.  Edward blames it on growing up beside the Thames in the days when big ships still came up river to the Royal Docks. After taking a history degree at Oxford Edward became a university lecturer in Britain and America teaching social policy and then a civil servant in what is now the Department of Work and Pensions in London.  After a stint at the European Commission in Brussels he became an independent consultant on social security to governments as diverse as Russia, Kyrghystan and Albania.  On retiring to Cheltenham he went back to history as a Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society and to writing about ships and the sea in the Age of Discovery.  His inspiration is Hakluyt's Principal Navigations of the English Nation, a work of several volumes based largely on interviews with seafarers fresh from their voyages.  In Freedom's Pilgrim and The Frozen Dream he retells two of Hakluyt's most dramatic stories, including the things Hakluyt did not dare to tell.  He is working on a third book about a stranded Tudor sailor who walked from Mexico to Canada to find his way home, becoming the first European to travel overland for the entire length of the eastern shore of the present day United States. You can find more about him, including a selection of his short stories and interviews, on his blog and on Twitter @Edward654James.

22 April 2017

Book Launch Guest Post: Engadine Aerie: Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery Series, by Bluette Matthey

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Hardy Durkin heads to St. Moritz and the stunning Engadine Valley in Switzerland’s Alps for the annual Skimarathon. What could possibly go wrong? Lots, if you’re Hardy Durkin. Murder, an illicit arms deal, attempted murder, and running aground of a seasoned professional poisoner.

My Life as an Author by Bluette Matthey
Where In The World Is Hardy Durkin?

I’ve been hooked on mysteries since third grade, and travelling at least as long.  My dad was forever getting us up at two or three in the morning to start off on a trip to Florida, or Canada, or to head out West from our Ohio farm.  So, I decided to merge my two passions and began writing the Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery series, international mysteries, with amateur sleuth Hardy Durkin as my hunky protagonist.  

Traveling inspires me to write.  It feeds the part of me that wishes it had been born in a different century.  The thrill and wonderment of discovering and exploring something totally new, experiencing something so beautiful that it astounds, or beholding a thing so ancient I marvel it still exists … all resonate and beckon, drawing me on.

Instead of the London-Paris-Rome circuit (all fantastic places), I chose to use less-known locales as settings for my mysteries.  My books are heavily researched for authenticity, which includes a boots-on-the-ground approach, so I get to enjoy visiting all the places I write about.  I’ve had some amazing experiences, eaten wonderful regional foods, met lovely people, and taken some pretty  interesting treks.  

Great St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland.

Hardy Durkin owns an outfitter business specializing in European treks. He is also a crack marksman, trained in signals intelligence, who speaks four languages. I’ve duplicated some of his easier hikes (I’m not as fit as he is).  I hiked into the Hermitage of San Bartolomeo (11th century) near Roccamorice, Abruzzo, Italy, aware I was the only human around for miles as I trekked through the Majella National Park. Animal scat along the trail reminded me there were bears, wolves, and other beasts present.  I climbed to the top of Rocca Calascio, built in the 10th century by the Romans as a watch tower and the highest fortress in the Apennines. This was for my second book, Abruzzo Intrigue.

Dalmatian Traffick took me to the Balkans, where I visited Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania.  I didn’t hike to the Ostrog Monastery, but took my life, literally, in my hands and drove there.  Mostly one-lane, snaking up the mountain of Ostroška Greda with the mountain wall on one side and a drop-off that increased at an alarming rate on the other, and no guard rails, anywhere.

Perhaps a row of rather insignificant rocks placed beside the road, or an occasional tree, but nothing substantial to keep you from plummeting over the edge into eternity.  The guide books tell you to hire a taxi, but driving in Montenegro is almost a blood sport and I opted to control my own fate, so I drove slowly and steadfastly, praying that no cars would come from the other direction.

Walking the streets of Ajaccio, Corsica, one night while working on Corsican Justice, I was drawn into a small, unremarkable bar by polyphonic singing, the a cappella music whose harmonious chords express the heart of Corsican culture.  Deeply moving, other-worldly, listening to the exquisite music was a time-travel journey for my soul that spanned ages, leaving an imprint I cherish.

Black Forest Reckoning took me to Baden-Baden, Germany, where I spent half a day in the Friedrichsbad Spa, Roman baths that are a monument to Old World pampering, followed by a meal to remember at   Schneider’s Weinstube.  That was before spending the night at Gasthaus Zum Lowen in Staufen, where Faustus met his end when the devil came to collect his due.

Exploring the traboules of Old Lyon, France was part of stepping back in time with the Knights Templar in Engadine Aerie.  I also was a guest at the annual Engadine Skimarathon last year, which features prominently in Engadine Aerie.  Dangerous conditions at the time prevented me from hiking in to the Morteratsch Glacier.  I’m hoping this year I’ll be able to explore the eternal ice of the glacier when I return to St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the Skimarathon for a book promotion of my latest Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery, Engadine Aerie.

Hardy’s next adventure takes him to the eastern area of France known as Franche-Comte which runs along the Franco-Swiss border.  The book is yet untitled, but I’ve already enjoyed hiking a portion of La Vy aux Moines, the Sacred Way, used by monks to travel the Jura Mountains between Switzerland and France during the Middle Ages.  

I invite you to discover where in the world is Hardy Durkin … he can be a tough guy to keep track of.

Bluette Matthey
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About the Author

Bluette Matthey is a 3rd generation Swiss-American and an avid lover of European cultures. She has decades of travel and writing experience. She is a keen reader of mysteries, especially those that immerse the reader in the history, inhabitants, culture, and cuisine of new places. Her passion for travel, except airports (where she keeps a mystery to pass the time), is shared by her husband, who owned a tour outfitter business in Europe.  Bluette particularly loves to explore regions that are not on the “15 days in Europe” itineraries. She also enjoys little-known discoveries, such as those in the London Walks, in well-known areas.  She firmly believes that walking and hiking bring her closer to the real life of any locale. Bluette maintains a list of hikes and pilgrimages throughout Europe for future exploration. She lives in Le Locle, Switzerland, with her husband and band of loving cats.  Bluette can often be seen hiking in the Jura Mountains along the Swiss-French frontier.  For more information, please visit Bluette’s web site.  You can also find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @HardyDurkin.  

20 April 2017

Guest Post by Sarah Dahl, Author of The Current – A Battle of Seduction

Available on Amazon UK

The Viking warrior Aldaith meets his real match only after the battle: Marked from the latest fight, Aldaith wants to recover by a stream. But instead of finding solitude, he stumbles on the fearless shield maiden Nyssa. The fierce beauty invites Aldaith into the water to engage in a very different kind of battle - one for which his training leaves him unprepared.

The question that attracted me to the era of the Vikings is as difficult as it sounds easy. The Viking (raiding and settlement-) era as such lies between the late 8th and the early 11th century, starting with an increase in violent attacks in addition to the mostly peaceful trading. The "nordic" countries always fascinated me; I have been to Norway and Denmark and love the mentality and landscapes and the Scandinavian history. 

As a writer, when in a museum or on a site, I immediately imagine the people's lives behind the hard historical facts. And I don't mean the lives and powerplays of the elites – the bling and intrigues of the rich don't interest me. I always look at the simpler people, the 'normal' men and women that populated a region. So in my writing I kind of 'zoom in' on the smaller scale, the more regional picture, the everyday side of history instead of the power plays and politics of the elites so often described in other Viking/medieval novels.

When diving deep into the history of the Scandinavian peoples, I was fascinated by the many layers beyond what we today perceive as typical of the Vikings. Yes, men raided and plundered; they were feared by most other peoples of the era, but were also admired. They fearlessly crossed oceans in their awe-inspiring ships, to settle where nobody else had gone before. But mostly they were skilled traders, long before and after the 'Viking raids'. The 'real' Vikings were many things: farmers, warriors, housewives, healers, settlers, traders, conquerors.

First, they were feared for their rapid attacks and ruthless plundering. Later on, they were admired for their skill in battle, their death-defying belief in their fate, and that only a death in battle was a death aiming for. Later, they assimilated and settled among peoples who more or less seamlessly absorbed them into their societies. England and Ireland still carry their heritage. Viking language was woven into the local language, inter-marriages were common.

Women seemed to like the well-groomed and tall men from the north who respected their wives as their equals. Scandinavian women of the time primarily ruled the household, which in most cases meant a farmstead, but they could also take on different roles, and find respect. Reading the Icelandic sagas, it is often hilarious  how boldly women influenced their husbands, using every means they had at their disposal. And how they spoke their minds, and manipulated.

They had little to fear: a man who mistreated women was seen as not honourable, and honour was all that mattered these days. Women could interrupt duels or other fights by just stepping in and throwing clothes over the opponents. Even throwing a snowball at a woman was regarded as a serious offence in one saga. It is fascinating to see early-medieval female healers, or female warriors – my beloved shield maidens and favourite protagonists.

So many aspects of the history of the era are left untold today that I find huge pleasure in illuminating those other than the battle and plunder we remember to this day. Especially the possible female figures of the time fire my imagination. In every story I write, there is a fascinating woman in charge of her own fate and needs. And with that I mean her mental and physical needs. Her sensuality just as much as the rest of her existence. In my stories, women aren't subjected to the stark inequality of Christianity yet. For that very reason I often set them in the early Viking age, around 900. Surrounded by men who mainly respected them, and allowing them freedom of choice and some influence – as opposed to women of many other regions of the time. The sagas are quite open about love and sensuality as an important and mutual pleasure.

Against the background of my thorough research I create an authentic setting for sensual stories with strong male and female protagonists. In a world of crackling fires and rough landscapes, long winters and bloody raids, the immediacy of life and death ignites undeniable passions. Warriors and monks, healers and housewives – all follow the call of their hearts and bodies to indulge in pleasures that may forever change their lives.

In my first tale in the series of sensual short stories "Tales of Freya", I chose a strong female fighter as the protagonist's opponent: in "The Current – A Battle of Seduction", a warrior is brought to his knees by very different weapons:

Marked from the latest battle, Aldaith wants to recover by a stream. But instead of finding solitude, he stumbles on the fearless shield maiden Nyssa. The fierce beauty invites Aldaith into the water to engage in a very different kind of battle one for which his training leaves him unprepared.

Sarah Dahl
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About the Author

Sarah Dahl lives on the edge of the rural German Eifel and writes historical fiction primarily set in the Viking age. She also works as an editor, translates, and coaches new writers. She is interested in the everyday life in bygone centuries, and the human stories that may have occurred behind the hard, historical facts. Find out more at her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @sarahdahl13