Mastodon The Writing Desk: November 2017

30 November 2017

Special Guest Post ~ Bonds Under The Armour, by Sarah Dahl

NEW from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Bonds – Under the Armour – the fourth in the Tales of Freyaå collection of sensual short stories set in the Viking Age

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

About visual inspiration for historical fiction 

More than authors of contemporary fiction, historical fiction authors have to create images for readers that they haven‘t ‘seen’ before. We create or revive bygone worlds and have to do meticulous research into every detail of the medieval lives and mindsets in order to be convincing and captivating for readers.

In my Viking era stories I don’t focus on the kings and chieftains but on the very people battling to survive: warriors and farmers, monks and housewives – with very human desires and fears. In order to create a dense atmosphere, I have to know all the little details of their daily lives and routines (for the Vikings, there are unfortunately huge gaps and blind spots in sources, which are also heavily influenced by who wrote them). 

So, my own version of sensual Vikings might not be entirely ‘the truth’ – just like the monks and scribes of later centuries are not telling ‘the truth’ about Vikings. Luckily, these days we have more objective sources like archaeology and non-fiction to hand, and they are an endless source of textual and visual inspiration. But with the digital age came a much more direct way to imagine ‘Viking life’: photographs and filming. Huh, you’ll say, but they are all dead?? 

Yes, unfortunately. Well, that may be good for rich monasteries, but bad for me. Luckily, there’s very lively help in the form of modern reenacting societies and enthusiasts of all backgrounds. ‘Going Viking’ is en vogue again, and there’s countless medieval markets and museum events that an image-hungry writer can go to, to experience the looks and walks and moves of real Vikings to translate into her books. 

Nothing tops the feeling of actually holding a Viking sword
(even a replica) and getting a feel for it.

Several times a year, I soak up atmosphere on these sites, get research done and answer questions that popped up during writing. And of course I take tons of pictures of everything that might come in handy, either as inspiration (a quirky Viking that just fits my brief for a character) or as necessary detail for a setting (a hanging basket, or a table lamp, and the way it lights up faces, for example). The challenge then is to translate all the inspiration into writing so that similar images are created in the readers’ heads. Heads that haven’t seen anything of what I describe almost first-hand. 

So what I do for myself AND for readers is to create Pinterest boards with visual inspiration. Most pictures are from either museums or reenactors. It is a very different experience to imagine a Viking warrior from a written description or to see him (or her!) in full armour, colour, and sweating on a picture from a reenactment battle event.

My collection of inspirational pictures is growing fast and contains a wide array of topics, from research facts and character ideas to sensual moments. In addition, I also have a huge moodboard on the wall opposite my desk, onto which I pin all my ‘characters’ and settings for the novel I’m currently writing, so I can just look at them across the room. 
What is even more brilliant: some reenactors and enthusiasts do little films to show ‘how things were done’ – and my entire research and inspiration is taken to a new level. Just recently I watched a short video by Hands On History (see end of post). As well as showing the ‘Travel Food of the Vikings’, embedded in a little story about a lonely traveller. How he prepared, walked, rested, then cooked and ate on his journey. Just a few minutes, but the way it was filmed was breathtaking: the way he put on his leg-wraps while his wife made butter and bread in the light of a flickering candle, how she packed the food for safe travelling, and how he later spread the butter on flat bread and sat to eat it in the shelter of a rock, overlooking a vast, barren landscape that held many dangers. 

It was immensely inspiring to watch: there were ‘my’ people, living and moving as if I had fallen into their time. Ideas for a dozen scenes and details I wanted to transfer into my stories formed. I gave the guys names before I knew it, memorised the way they moved their hands when using all these long-gone objects. 

So yes, visual – preferably moving – inspiration is so much stronger than just a sketch or text, and much more inspiring. 

But this little film also showed that inspiration goes both ways: when writers are script-writers and create the basics for an educational mini-movie like that. Because someone, a very good historical writer at that, had to write this little journey down before it was brought to life by the actors. Visual inspiration works both ways: historical writers like me can get endless ideas and insights from (moving) pictures – but moving pictures can only be created after a good writer lay the foundation with her words. And entire worlds come back to life.

So I keep telling myself that one day my own little story will be on a screen, and my favourite characters will not only live in my readers’ heads, but will be living and breathing people that propel the audience back into a long-gone era, in real-time. 

Skål to that dream, and always happy reading and writing! 

Sarah Dahl

# # #

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 in German and English. She is interested in everyday life in bygone centuries and the human stories that may have occurred behind the hard, historical facts. Find out more at Sarah's website and find her on Facebook & Twitter @sarahdahl13  

28 November 2017

Cover Reveal for VOICE OF THE FALCONER & FORTUNE'S FOOL by David Blixt

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Italy, 1325. Eight years after the tumultuous events of THE MASTER OF VERONA, Pietro Alaghieri is living as an exile in Ravenna, enduring the loss of his famous father while secretly raising the bastard heir to Verona’s prince, Cangrande della Scala.

But when word of Cangrande’s death reaches him, Pietro must race back to Verona to prevent young Cesco’s rivals from usurping his rightful place. With the tentative peace of Italy at stake, not to mention their lives, Pietro must act swiftly to protect them all. But young Cesco is determined not to be anyone’s pawn. Willful and brilliant, he defies even the stars. And far behind the scenes is a mastermind pulling the strings, one who stands to lose – or gain – the most.

Born from Shakespeare’s Italian plays, in this novel we meet for the first time Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, the Nurse, as well as revisit Montague and Capulet, Petruchio and Kate, and the money-lending Shylock. From Ravenna to Verona, Mantua to Venice, this novel explores the danger, deceit, and deviltry of early Renaissance Italy, and the terrible choices one must make just to stay alive.

“For anyone who has not yet read one or more of David’s novels, you are about to hit the literary lottery. Yes, he is that good. In his hands, history comes to bright, blazing life.” - Sharon Kay Penman

“Dante’s Italy and the internecine, blood-feuding struggle of the dominant families of the northern city states. This story of corruption and the quest for power is as compelling as Mario Puzo’s Godfather and as thrilling as any of Rafael Sabatini’s historical adventures.” - Peter Tremayne

# # #

About the Author

David Blixt‘s work is consistently described as “intricate,” “taut,” and “breathtaking.” A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS’D series) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY’S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, he describes himself as “actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order.” For more information, please visit David Blixt’s website. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter @David_Blixt

23 November 2017

New Book Spotlight: Edward II The Man A Doomed Inheritance, by Stephen Spinks

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Edward II is one of the most reviled kings in English history. His own wife took a lover and invaded his kingdom and he was forced to abdicate. He brought England to the brink of civil war. His prevailing legacy is the understanding that all kings can fall.

And yet, war, debt and baronial oppression before 1307 ensured that Edward II inherited a toxic legacy that any successor would have found almost impossible to wrestle with. Stephen Spinks explores that legacy using primary sources.

By focusing on Edward's early years and exploring the influence of those around him, Stephen shows the human side of this tale of political intrigue. Stephen Spinks is unequivocal in his assertion that Edward and the murdered Piers Gaveston were lovers, not merely "comrades-in-arms."
Where he saw virtue, his contemporaries saw betrayal...
What could he possibly have done to make a success of his reign?
He was, it seems, doomed by his inheritance.
Historian Ian Mortimer's description of Edward II is the starting point of Stephen Spinks' new analysis of this ultimately tragic story of sex, revenge and savagery.

Stephen Spinks explores that legacy using a wide breadth of contemporary and later sources. By focusing on Edward’s early years as much as on the reign itself, and exploring the conflicting influences of those around him, Stephen shows the human side of this tale against a backdrop of political intrigues, betrayals and revenge. He peels back the layers and seven hundred years of opinion to reveal the man who wore the crown.

Edward’s belief in his unchallenged right to rule, increasingly at odds with those at his court, and his undeniable thirst for revenge creates a 14th-century tragedy on a grand scale.

# # #

About the Author

Stephen Spinks works for the National Trust and manages three Medieval heritage sites. He started researching the fourteenth century in his teens, and has a monthly column in a Midlands magazine. Find out more at Stephen's website 

18 November 2017

The Tudor Book of Days Special Giveaway

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US
and directly from the Tudor Times Shop

Would you like to win a beautiful Tudor Book of Days Perpetual Diary?  The Tudor Times Shop has donated one for me to offer to someone to be chosen from the comments below on the 
10th December, 2017.

The hardback cover of this unique six-days-to-a-view perpetual diary features Tudor roses and flowers, courtesy of the V&A Museum.  An 'at-a-glance' year planner, notes section and dedicated space for recording special occasions and reminders make it a book you will rely on.

The Tudor Book of Days Perpetual Diary is also a historical record of the Tudor period, with saints and feast days listed for every month, a month by month account of important political and social events, key births, deaths and events listed alongside their relevant days.

To round it all off, there is a glossary of over 150 key Tudor figures, so if you'd like to win a copy please feel free to comment below.

Book Launch Guest Post ~ Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees: A Travelogue of Vietnam, By C. L. Hoang

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Filled with historical and cultural tidbits and personal reminiscences, and illustrated with over forty photographs, Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees offers the reader an insightful and fascinating glimpse
of this tropical land.

By nature I am a slow planner, especially when it comes to long trips away from home. So imagine my surprise when in late 2016 I was presented with an opportunity to join a group tour to Southeast Asia, with the main focus on Vietnam, and I heard myself spontaneously blurt out, “Sign me up!”

It turned out to be one heck of a trip. Seventeen days in total, beginning and ending with a twenty-hour flight over an eight-thousand-mile stretch of ocean, across fifteen time zones and the International Date Line and a wide scale of climate changes. Most significant to me, it marked my first time traveling back to the ancestral homeland I hadn’t seen in over four decades.

This travelogue retraces the major segment of the tour—the final ten days—which took us on an itinerary of discovery through the length of Vietnam: from Saigon, my former hometown in the south where I grew up during the war, to Hoi-An, the best preserved medieval seaport in Southeast Asia; Hue, the ancient capital of imperial Vietnam, on the central coast; Halong Bay, a world-renowned natural wonder on the Gulf of Tonkin; and our final destination, Hanoi, the country’s thousand-year-old capital, in the north.

I tried not only to recapture the highlights of this whirlwind journey—with their historical background and mythical lore—but also to explore a few special sites that I wish we could have squeezed into our packed schedule. At times the travelogue may read like a journal because it is sprinkled throughout with all kinds of resurrected memories—of my own childhood, in a time and place long since gone.

The book contains many pictures, forty-three in all. Most were taken by me on this trip—so please kindly overlook imperfections—and the rest were generously contributed by family and friends who had visited there before. Color printing technology being where it is today, I was forced to limit the total number of pictures and pages to reduce the setup and printing fees. This is so the book can be reasonably priced for a wide audience, even though my personal inclination was to share every relevant and worthwhile photograph I have.

I also decided to include many historic names in Vietnamese, along with their English translations, of course. As it was in our age-old tradition, names were never merely names; they carried great meaning and were often used to promulgate noble aspirations. Over the millennia, many of these ancient names also took on an extra aura, as they became associated with momentous events that still resonate with the Vietnamese people to this day. By incorporating them into the travelogue in their original spellings, I strived to convey an intangible aspect of our heritage, one that extends beyond pictures and descriptive words.

To people who have read my Vietnam novel, Once upon a Mulberry Field (Willow Stream Publishing, 2014), this travelogue offers a glimpse of the story’s setting as it appears half a century later. For others, I hope it kindles your passion for travel and discovery and also provides you with a different view of this once ravaged land—and perhaps the inspiration to visit there some day. As the French writer Marcel Proust once reminded us, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

This journey across the Pacific Ocean accomplished both for me.

C. L. Hoang
# # #

About the author

C. L. Hoang was born and raised in Vietnam during the war and came to the United States in the 1970s. He graduated with degrees in electrical engineering from Ohio University and the University of California, Berkeley, and earns his living as an electronic engineer, with eleven patents to his name. Books, history, and travel are his hobbies. His first book, Once upon a Mulberry Field, is an award-winning novel set at the height of the Vietnam War. It is followed by Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees, the travelogue of his recent return trip to the ancestral homeland. Visit him at his website and find him on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter @CLHoang

17 November 2017

Poetry Spotlight: Back on Earth, by Mark Andrew Heathcote

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

This is a collection of breath-taking poetry and prose, which is packed with a cacophony of emotions. The author is masterful in poetic metaphor, often using birds, flowers and nature as an effective method of telling a heart’s story. 

The deep emotions of the writer will not be missed, but rather felt in a profound way, with imagery so strong, that the reader easily identifies with what the poet is saying. Mark muses on subject matter which addresses ageing, fading love, love’s rebirth, peace, harmony, and the consuming emotions of rage and love, locked in a poet’s heart. 

The beauty of Mark’s traditional style of writing, is comforting, yet evocative. I found that I had to re-read many pieces, lest I missed the hidden meaning in his many forms of expression. He has created his second collection, with the most beautiful, gentle flow, which is carefully constructed. 

Mark ends his book with pieces on the musings of love, following the harsh cold of winter. It warms the heart, to travel through very vivid images from his poetic heart. Mark Andrew Heathcote is an accomplished poet in his own right, with a penchant for metaphors painting beautiful pictures in the mind of the reader.
 # # #

About the Author

Mark Andrew Heathcote is from Manchester in the UK, where he lives with his partner Elaine and their two children. His two poetry books, In Perpetuity and Back on Earth are both published by CTU Publishing Group ~ Creative Talents Unleashed. Mark is an adult learning difficulties support worker, who began writing poetry from an early age at school. Mark enjoys spending his leisure time reading, writing and gardening. 

Special Guest Post by Author Alison Brodie: The Bottom Line

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Devious, ruthless, and loyal, Zenka is a capricious Hungarian
with a dark past.

“For though to be read is not the motive which impels the author to write, but once he has written his desire is to be read” – W. Somerset Maugham

I have always written. Silly pieces that didn’t go further than a few paragraphs, then I managed a page or two. Suddenly something shifted inside me and I had a story that HAD to be told…

I was on a modelling assignment in the Scottish Highlands with a (truly beautiful but volatile) Italian model (Peri). We stayed in an old farmhouse with the owner, a housekeeper from the village, the German photographer and his assistant. The owner was the rugged sort with the typical Scottish no-nonsense attitude. And he and Peri struck sparks off each other. It was fascinating to watch, but scary; they were like big cats circling each other waiting for the moment to attack (but they couldn’t when the photographer was present).

When Peri and I were flying back to London, I suddenly felt this PING! In my head. The story of Peri and Douglas rushed towards me and I couldn’t get to paper and pen quick enough!
I did not write with the thought of big bucks in my head. I wrote because I HAD to.

The book became Face to Face. The first agent I sent it to, Dinah Weiner, signed me up immediately and got me a two-book deal with Hodder within three weeks. Face to Face did really well, but when it came to the second book, I froze. I didn’t have anything to write! Day after day, I stared at a blank piece of paper and … nothing.

Eventually, I managed to finish a book that was OK and it was published, but Hodder declined to keep me on.

I was without a publisher.

After the traumatic experience of Second Book Syndrome, I stopped writing. I kept myself busy settling into my new home in Shawnee, Kansas. Then one day a character came into my head, then another. They were telling me their story. And I let them lead me on. This was to become The Double, a tale of an American rock star and a poor Scottish nurse changing places.

At the time, it was entitled Famous Last Words. I sent it to my agent, Dinah Wiener, and she wrote back, saying, I quote: “Well, I’ve now finished Famous Last Words and congratulate you – it’s a really good read, a page-turner with good characterisation and a splendid plot. I look forward to offering it, and to representing you again. My agency agreement letter is enclosed.”

You can imagine how I felt! But … she couldn’t sell it to a publishing house.

I was gutted. (That’s not a nice word, but it aptly describes how I felt!)

My contract with Dinah fizzled out. I was in a literary wilderness.

But I kept on writing. Why? Because I HAD to. (Fellow writers will understand what I mean). I wrote Wild Life and sent it off to agents. The rejections were crippling. (Stephen King used to put his rejections on a nail in the wall until one day the rejections got so heavy the nail fell out).

I wanted desperately to be READ. So I became an indie author. In 2015/16 I published Wild Life then The Double – both on Amazon Kindle. It was so easy, so quick! (A traditionally-published book can take over a year to see the light of day. With Kindle your book is born with 72 hours!).

I published Brake Failure earlier this year with 28 five-star reviews from book bloggers. Zenka was published last week and the 24 five-star reviews on Goodreads are all from book bloggers.

I don’t write for the money (Come on, Alison, tell us the truth!) Well, yes, I would like to make some dosh but the truth is (honestly!) I want to be read – just like Somerset.

I want to be READ. That is the bottom line.

And, finally, it is happening. Book bloggers have taken time out of their busy lives to risk reading an unknown indie – me. And by being an indie I have found myself in the warm, fuzzy world that is the blogging community. Book bloggers don’t read books for money. They don’t do it for gain. They do it out of love … love for literature. They are not reading my books cos they see dollar signs. They read them cos they LIVE books. They are intrepid explorers in a literary jungle.

I’ve never before had such encouragement and support. For instance, the guy who runs this blog? Tony Riches? I don’t know him. Yet, out of the blue, he invites me to write something on his blog. The night before the release of Zenka, I am worried that I haven’t done enough to promote the launch, and suddenly I get an email from Tony asking if I want him to help launch Zenka. YAY! And ever since, he has been quietly promoting me.

I hope, one day, the general public will read my books and if they do, it will be totally due to people like Tony Riches.

Thank you.

Alison Brodie

# # #

About the Author

Alison Brodie is a Scot with French Huguenot ancestors on her mother's side. Alison has lived all over the world, including Kansas City, Athens and Basque country. Her first novel Face to Face was published by Hodder & Stoughton and became Good Housekeeping's Pick of the Paperbacks. Find out more at Alison's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @alisonbrodie2 

15 November 2017

New Book Spotlight ~ Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire, by Amy Licence

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Anne Boleyn’s unconventional beauty inspired poets ‒ and she so entranced Henry VIII with her wit, allure and style that he was prepared to set aside his wife of over twenty years and risk his immortal soul. Her sister had already been the king’s mistress, but the other Boleyn girl followed a different path. For years the lovers waited; did they really remain chaste? Did Anne love Henry, or was she a calculating femme fatale?

Eventually replacing the long-suffering Catherine of Aragon, Anne enjoyed a magnificent coronation and gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth, but her triumph was short-lived. Why did she go from beloved consort to adulteress and traitor within a matter of weeks? What role did Thomas Cromwell and Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall play in Anne’s demise? Was her fall one of the biggest sex scandals of her era, or the result of a political coup?

With her usual eye for the telling detail, Amy Licence explores the nuances of this explosive and ultimately deadly relationship to answer an often neglected question: what choice did Anne really have? When she writes to Henry during their protracted courtship, is she addressing a suitor, or her divinely ordained king? This book follows Anne from cradle to grave and beyond. Anne is vividly brought to life amid the colour, drama and unforgiving politics of the Tudor court.

# # #

About the Author

Amy Licence is an historian of women's lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also a fan of Modernism and Post-Impressionism, particularly Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Cubism. Amy has written for The Guardian, the BBC Website, The English Review, The London Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement and is a regular contributor to the New Statesman and The Huffington Post. She is frequently interviewed for BBC radio and made her TV debut in 2013, in a BBC documentary on The White Queen. You can follow Amy on twitter @PrufrocksPeach or like her facebook page In Bed With the Tudors. Her website is

Book Launch Spotlight: Joan of Arc and 'The Great Pity of the Land of France', by Moya Longstaffe

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Joan of Arc's life and death mark a turning point in the destiny both of France and England and the history of their monarchies. `It is a great shame,' wrote Etienne Pasquier in the late sixteenth century, `for no one ever came to the help of France so opportunely and with such success as that girl, and never was the memory of a woman so torn to shreds.' 

Biographers have crossed swords furiously about her inspiration, each according to the personal conviction of the writer. As Moya Longstaffe points out: `She has been claimed as an icon by zealous combatants of every shade of opinion, clericals, anticlericals, nationalists, republicans, socialists, conspiracy theorists, feminists, yesterday's communists, today's Front National, everyone with a need for a figurehead. 

As George Bernard Shaw said, in the prologue to his play, "The question raised by Joan's burning is a burning question still."' 

By returning to the original sources and employing her expertise in languages, the author brings La Pucelle alive and does not duck the most difficult question: was she deluded, unbalanced, fraudulent - or indeed a great visionary, to be compared to Catherine of Siena or Francis of Assisi?

Extract from the Prologue
 ~  Joan: A Burning Question Still 

Ô Jeanne, toi qui as donné au monde la seule gure de victoire qui soit une gure de pitié! 

André Malraux, Rouen, 30 May 1964 

On Wednesday, 21 February 1431, at 8 o’clock in the morning, a girl of nineteen years of age was led into the chapel of the castle of Rouen, before a tribunal presided over by the portly Bishop of Beauvais and comprising no less that forty-two eminent theologians and canon lawyers of all ages, sitting in solemn array, leaning forward and gazing at her with intense curiosity, mingled in many cases with stern disapproval, dark suspicion, and occasionally perhaps even pity. 

She was dressed in plain and sombre male clothing, a belted knee-length tunic over the hose of a page, but she was of average height and build for a girl of her time, not at all the strapping hoyden they might have expected.1 Her dark hair, cut round and still short like a soldier’s even during her captivity in Rouen, lent a curious pathos to her appearance, somehow underlining her present vulnerability. 

Joan of Arc's Tower, Rouen
After passing the previous two months imprisoned in a cell in the tower of the castle, chained to a heavy wooden beam by night and by day, allowed no exercise and only meagre rations, and guarded at all times by hostile English soldiers ‘of the roughest sort’, of whom three were shut in the cell with her at night and two kept guard outside, she now looked pallid and very young. And when she spoke, the greatest surprise of all was her voice, for it was soft and feminine, with a hint of the speech of her native Lorraine.  Who was this notorious and enigmatic prisoner, on trial for her life? What had brought her to this pass?

# # #

About the Author
Moya Longstaffe is a retired Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Ulster, having previously taught at the universities of Bristol. Edinburgh, Heriot- Watt (Edinburgh), Caen and Belfast. She is the author of Metamorphoses of Passion and the Heroic in French Literature: Corneille, Stendhal, Claudel (Edwin Mellen Press) and The Fiction of Albert Camus: A Complex Simplicity (Peter Lang). She has researched the life and trial of Joan of Arc from primary sources over several years.

14 November 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The King's Mother: Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicle, by Judith Arnopp

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

October 1485: With the English crown finally in his possession, Henry Tudor’s endeavours to restore order to the realm are hindered by continuing unrest. While the king is plagued with uprisings and pretenders to his throne, Margaret in her capacity as The King’s Mother oversees the running of his court. 

The warring houses of York and Lancaster are united, the years of civil strife are at an end but, as the royal nursery fills with children, the threats to Henry’s throne persist and Margaret’s expectation of perfect harmony begins to disintegrate.
As quickly as Henry dispatches those whose move against him, new conflicts arise and, dogged by deceit and the harrowing shadow of death, Margaret realises that her time for peace has not yet come.

Intrigue, treason and distrust blights the new Tudor dynasty, challenging Margaret’s strength of character and her steadfast faith in God.

The King’s Mother is the third and final book in The Beaufort Chronicles, tracing the life of Margaret Beaufort.

# # #

About the Author

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

11 November 2017

Special Guest Post: Regency era Tenby, by Kyra Kramer

Tenby, a coastal town in Pembrokeshire, Wales, was the site of one of the most important events in Tudor history. It was in Tenby that Jasper Tudor hid from the forces of Henry IV with his teenage nephew Harri in the summer of 1471. The fugitives were shielded by the loyal Welsh folk and by the mayor, Thomas White, in tunnels under the town. It was in one of Thomas White’s ships that Jasper and young Harri were smuggled out of Tenby toward the relative safety of the continent.

When Jasper’s nephew later became King Henry VII, he showed his gratitude to Tenby in the form of royal grants that turned the small Welsh town into a center of international trade. For more than two centuries the small costal town thrived as one of Britain’s most important ports. Turkish merchants and Irish pirates alike moored anchor in Tenby’s harbor and traded along its docks.  
Alas, disaster struck Tenby during the middle of the 17th century in the form of the bubonic plague. Approximately half the population of the town – more than 500 people -- died in one virulent outbreak in the winter of 1650, and Tenby (like many small towns decimated by the plague) couldn’t recover from such drastic losses. By the time the Georgian kings began their reign the once-booming town of Tenby was mostly an empty shell of abandoned buildings. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, came through Tenby during his efforts as a traveling preacher and reported that, "Two-thirds of the old town is in ruins or has entirely vanished. Pigs roam among the abandoned houses and Tenby presents a dismal spectacle”.  
Nevertheless, happier times were just around the corner for Tenby. The town would enjoy a resurgence in the Regency era thanks to the efforts of one man -- a merchant banker named Sir William Paxton. With brilliance and foresight, Paxton thought to turn Tenby and its lovely white beaches into a spa town for sea bathing, in the likeness of Brighton or Weymouth.
With that in mind, Paxton began investing heavily in Tenby property at the beginning of the 19th century, buying a significant portion of the buildings in the older part of the town. He wrote a friend about his plan to “lay out some thousands in building lodging houses etc. which being much wanted, may be of some benefit”. When Paxton informed the town council of his hopes for Tenby in 1805, they nearly wept with gratitude and bent over backwards to help him along.
Paxton already knew exactly who he needed to remake Tenby and design a "fashionable bathing establishment suitable for the highest society" one of the most renowned architects of the era, Samuel Pepys Cockerell. This was the same architect who had recently designed Paxton’s splendid new mansion, Middleton Hall, just a few years prior. Paxton also turned to his estate agent, an engineer named James Grier, and his landscaper, Samuel Lapidge, for help.
He knew he could trust the genius of Cockrell, Grier, and Lapidge because they had turned Middleton Hall and its gardens into one of the marvels of Pembrokeshire. Not only was the mansion elegant and charming, it was modernized to the hilt. There were elevated reservoirs of water from natural springs behind the residence which filled a lead cistern on the hall’s roof, giving Paxton’s mansion the luxuries of hot running water and flushing toilets. There reservoirs were moreover used to create an unparalleled water park on the grounds surrounding the mansion. A clever network of dams, sluices, bridges and cascades moved the spring water from the reservoirs into the multiple ponds, lakes, and streams in Middleton Hall’s gardens.
In a stroke of luck, Paxton had discovered a chalybeate spring on his estate. The heated, mineral-rich waters of this spring not only supplied the warmth for Paxton’s baths and hothouses, they were considered medicinal. Ferruginous water was believed to provide a cure for colic, melancholy, and “the vapours” because it “loosened the clammy humours of the body, and dried the over-moist brain". Moreover, drinking the mineral water “killed flat worms in the belly” and could make “the lean fat [and] the fat lean”.
Paxton came up with the idea of piping the ferruginous waters into Tenby, in order to offer the discerning tourist health-granting mineral waters like those provided at Bath or other spa towns. This would give Tenby a real edge in the tourist trade, since other places could offer only one or the other of these treatments; Bath had healing waters, but no seashore, while most seaside resorts could boast no mineral water. Tenby would thus become the place to be if one wanted to restore one’s health via mineral waters and sea-bathing.
While he was it, Paxton commissioned Grier to come up with a plan to bring fresh drinking water into Tenby, as well as the mineral waters from Middleton Hall. They had already created watering system in the town of Carmarthen, where Paxton had formerly been mayor, using iron pipes and the techniques they had refined on Paxton’s estate, so they knew it could be done. Even in its heyday Tenby had a constant problem with obtaining sufficient fresh water for its residents, and Paxton knew an abundance of potable water was crucial for building up the tourist trade. He was determined to use cutting edge innovations to turn Tenby into the perfect resort town, and make it the center of tourism in Wales.
In this same vein, the bath house Grier and Cockerell designed for Tenby was not only aesthetically pleasing, it was technologically brilliant:
The bath house was in fact not only a fancy establishment built by a much respected architect to receive the best company, it was also a remarkable feat of engineering. The top floor was on street level and contained the elegant assembly room, a bar, the vestibule mentioned above and two bedrooms for those who were too infirm to be lodged in the town of Tenby. One floor down were three hot baths with attached dressing rooms, a pump room, a vapour bath and a shower bath. The hot baths were fed by a water-tank placed under the vestibule where the water was heated by a furnace. The bottom floor was fitted out with two cold plunging baths, one for the ladies and the other for gentlemen. Four private baths with attached heated dressing rooms were available for those wishing to bathe in the most exclusive privacy. This floor was below the level of high tide and the baths were fed by sea water from a large reservoir that was refilled with every new high tide. The waste water from the baths was piped into two large basins on either side of the reservoir which were emptied at low tide … It was equipped with a handsome assembly room commanding a view of the sea and harbor and a spacious vestibule "for servants and attendants on the bathers to wait in without mixing with the company". Its front entrance was adorned with a quotation from Euripides' "Iphigenia in Tauris" which, translated, still reads; "All man's pollution does the sea cleanse". 

As well as arranging the best sea-bathing apparatus and baths for Tenby, Paxton bought a local inn and renovated it, creating very stylish accommodations for the Beau Monde and upper crust merchant class whom he hoped would visit. Additionally, he had ‘picturesque’ yet functionally modern cottages built alongside the baths for those guests who would prefer to spend their summers in Tenby ‘taking the waters’ from the convenience of a more private residence. He furthermore widened the main roads, as well as building livery stables and coach houses, to promote ease of travel and to meet the needs of the wealthy visitor to Tenby.
Paxton’s sea-bathing resort opened in July 1806, but he knew a nice beaches, bathing facilities, and mineral water were only half the battle to bring in tourism. The tourists needed something to do. Thus, Paxton set out to provide easy access to, or even outright create, places to visit on short pleasure outings. The yen for brief forays to nearby areas of interest started in the Regency era and would become a central feature of Victorian tourism.

With day-trippers in mind, Paxton invested in turnpike roads and bought several coaching inns spanning as far to the east as Swansea and as far to the north as Narberth. He built bath houses on his own estate, well-warmed with furnaces and chalybeate spring waters, which he made open to the public. He also commissioned Cockerell to build what became known as Paxton's Tower, an ornate garden folly in memorial to Lord Horatio Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar, on his property to complement the immense water garden and create a delightful site for tourist jaunts. The tower was an ideal place to take in the breathtaking views over the Tywi valley, with the additional feature of a banqueting room that would allow more formal receptions and entertainments.
It is most likely Paxton who published a small guide book, "The Tenby guide; Comprehending such information relative to that town and its vicinity as could be comprehended from ancient and modern authorities", which detailed all these various wonders to enjoy in the area. He was probably the mastermind behind the numerous magazine and newspaper articles praising Tenby as THE place for seashore holidays in Wales, as well.
In 1814 Paxton paid for the construction of a road overlooking Tenby harbor atop Romanesque arches that is still in use today. The new road served the twofold purpose of “providing a good approach to his bath house” and allowing “the clientele of that establishment to observe the activity in the harbor without having to mix with the workmen and the public.” One wanted lovely vistas, not the reality of the laboring classes, on one’s holiday! Preserving class boundaries was as important to the Georgian tourist as it was for the future Victorian visitors … maybe even more so. Paxton, born middle-class and now ascended to the nouveau riche elite, was profoundly aware of these sociocultural niceties and pandered to them.
The one failure in Paxton’s investment plan for Tenby was a local theater. Built to entertain the tourists, it opened at the beginning of August 1810 and featured a long-standing favorite Georgian farce, “The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret by Susanna Centlivre, and John O'Keeffe’s comedic opera “The Poor Soldier”. In spite of a good start, the theater only lasted eight years before closing down. A theater, it was speculated, would encourage ‘vice’ in Tenby and was a source of contention among some of the moralistic tourists and locals. When ceased its performances in 1818, Paxton promised to use the building for something “unobjectionable” in the future, and reimbursed the other investors out of his own funds.
Paxton poured a huge outlay of money into Tenby and Pembrokeshire, but it proved to be a wise gamble. His efforts to turn Tenby into one of the premier watering holes in Great Britain succeeded beyond even his hopeful expectations. It thrived in the Regency, and the Victorians would treasure it, calling it the “Naples of Wales”. Mary Ann Bourne would write a popular guide book about Tenby, pointing out that it was the ’judicious choice of rank and fashion’ as a seaside destination. It remains a favorite tourist destination today.
Kyra Kramer 
Strother, Edward. 1721. Dr. Radcliffe's practical dispensatory: containing a complete body of prescriptions, fitted for all diseases, internal and external, digested under proper heads. 4th ed. Rivington, London.
"Sir William Paxton".
# # #
About the Author
Kyra Cornelius Kramer is an American anthropologist living in south Wales best known for her work on Tudor history. Her first historical novel, Mansfield Parsonage, a retelling of Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park from the point of view of Mary Crawford, was released earlier this year. You can read her blog at, follow her on Twitter @KyraKramer, or like her Facebook author page.