Mastodon The Writing Desk: May 2018

27 May 2018

Book Review: Write With Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication, by Chrys Fey

NEW on Amazon UK and Amazon US

This is the book I wish I'd had when I was starting out on my writing journey. I had all the usual issues of self doubt, excuses for not having time to write, and found it a steep learning curve. Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication distils a wealth of experience and useful advice, grouped into an easy to follow format of ten writing 'sparks'.

These range from 'Story Essentials' to the challenges of editing and marketing your published book. I particularly liked the section on developing your characters. (I know exactly what Chrys means about characters who seem to spring from nowhere, fully formed, and demand their place in your book.) There is even useful guidance on producing and marketing audiobook editions, which can open up your work to a whole new audience. 

An an experienced editor, Chrys offers plenty of advice from her 'pet peeves' to words to avoid.  Although written largely from a contemporary crime fiction perspective, I found plenty here which translates well into my genre of historical fiction. If you are new to writing or looking for a way to breathe new life into that draft novel, this is the book for you.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Chrys Fey is the author of the Disaster Crimes series, a unique concept blending romance, crimes, and disasters. She’s partnered with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and runs their Goodreads book club. She’s also an editor for Dancing Lemur Press. Fey lives in Florida and is always on the lookout for hurricanes. She has four cats and three nephews; both keep her entertained with their antics. Find out more at her website and follow Chrys on Facebook and Twitter @ChrysFey

26 May 2018

Guest interview with Matt Stanley, author of A Collar for Cerberus

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A Collar for Cerberus is a story about time, life, pleasure and the decisions we make.

Today I'm pleased to talk to Matt Stanley about his new novel:

Tell us about A Collar for Cerberus

It’s the story of a young English graduate who travels to Greece in search of adventure and experience. He also hopes to meet his literary hero: Nobel-prize-winning author and veteran hell-raiser Irakles Bastounis. The two end up travelling around the country with the young man as chauffer and the older man his mentor in how to live life to the fullest. It’s a fraught and fractious relationship, but one that grows towards an unexpected twist. I guess you could also say it has elements of a travel book because the pair visit some of Greece’s most iconic sites and eat a lot of traditional Greek dishes.

Where did the idea come from?

I’d been reading travel journals from my twenties and I was struck by how differently I viewed life then: how idealistic and romantic I was, how open to experience and how much I enjoyed life. Somewhere in the following decades I’d lost that thirst. This book was an exploration of how we live, the decisions we make and what really matters to us. Where do we really find happiness?

Who do you see as your target reader?

It’s certainly important to identify your readership before you write – ideally a spectrum of potential readers. This is a book for young people with a thirst for travel experiences but also older people who once had such adventures and cherish the memories. It’s a book for writers – there’s a lot of discussion about what makes someone a writer (or not). Those with an interest in Greece will also love the book. I lived there for three years and I pass on my love of the country, its people, its history, its mythology and its food. It’s a great summer read, but also one whose twist invites you to read it again in a different light.

Do you have a writing routine?

Two hours a day or 1500-2000 words – whichever is faster. I tend to spend a long time mapping out the shape of the story with rough notes for each chapter, so I’m always working to a plan and I don’t get stuck. That’s the secret I’ve learned over the years. I don’t sit down to write unless I know what I’m going to write and where I’m taking the story. I typically write a novel in one draft. The read-through later is to fix errors.

How is it switching between genres?

I’ve previously written Victorian crime thrillers as James McCreet. Those books took a lot of research before and during the writing process. I was also writing in a quasi-antiquated style. Cerberus was carefully researched in terms of location detail, but much of it was drawn from experience. That made the book faster to write, but not necessarily easier. Whereas the detective books were purely story-driven, this one is more character-driven with attention on the thematic development. It was a book that taught me a lot about writing.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Having taught an MA in Creative Writing for a few years, I saw most students making the same mistake. You need to understand how a novel is structured: how storylines and characters are introduced, how narrative works, how character arcs work, how pace and suspense work. Too many people begin writing a novel as if they are going to read it. They expect it will simply flow automatically. What tends to happen without a knowledge of structure is that the resulting novel is shapeless or baggy or dissipated or lacking in consistency. 

Cerberus is your tenth novel. What have you learned?

I’ve trained myself to produce a larger daily word count with each novel. I started with 500 words a day and have grown to 2000. That’s largely a product of better planning and understanding structure. I’ve also learned to take more risks. Cerberus is a kind of novel I never thought I’d write: a novel about big questions concerning life and death, happiness and delusion. It was a challenge for me, but proved to myself that I could do it. I think each new book has to be a challenge. When people ask me what my best book is, the honest answer is always, “The next one.”

How did you find your publisher?

I did what everyone does and sent out samples with a cover letter and synopsis. It’s not necessarily easier just because I’ve been published before. Every book is judged on its own merit. Unusually, I’ve had four books published without ever having had an agent, and this time I was keen to secure one. Andrew Lownie was the first to get back to me with an interest in my novel and I’ve been very impressed so far with their belief in the book.

Do you have plans for your next book?

Actually, no. I made some notes on a possible sequel to Cerberus, but at the moment I’m taking a break from writing. My life has changed radically in the last year and I have decided to relax into the flow. At first I felt guilty that the next novel wasn’t in the works, but then I remembered that the fuel for Cerberus was a period of intense personal experience. I’m having such a period now. It’s all fuel.

Matt Stanley
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About the author

Matt Stanley is the author of three crime thrillers under the name James McCreet and a non-fiction guide for first-time novelists on how to plan and structure a novel. He works as a professional writer in various guises: as a corporate copywriter, as a journalist, as an editor and as a mentor through his site His articles on craft can be found each month in Writing Magazine.

23 May 2018

Tudor Book Spotlight: Henry VIII, the Reign, by Mark Holinshed

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Until a few years ago I subscribed to a popular image of Henry VIII being something of a hot-blooded womanising, fornicating tyrant who broke with Roman Catholicism to divorce his first wife, Catherine. He married a second wife, Anne, only to have her head chopped off shortly afterwards so he could marry her lady in waiting, Jane, who died. 

He then fell in love with the portrait of a German woman, another Anne, who in the flesh he rejected as his fourth wife and so divorced her. He took a fifth, another Catherine, (Katherine if you prefer) who turned out to be a jezebel, and her head was chopped off. Then finally for a sixth, he fell for a damsel, another Katherine (Catherine if you prefer)who nursed him kindly through his last years until he died of an excess of food drink and sex.

The narrative, Henry VIII, the Reign, began life those few years ago as a simple timeline of the reign, collating the elementary detail to use as way markers to chart the course of Henry’s ‘rule’.

Of course, much history has been written about the time Henry VIII was king, in particular, his love for Anne Boleyn and his desperation to marry her. The heat of this amour, so the books say, directed English history.

On further examination I found, however, the elementary detail in the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, for example, seemed to follow a different course to many of the literary histories, those house brick size works, with Henry at their centre.

Many of these books concentrate on the man himself, the persona of Henry VIII. To adopt such a point of view however is but surely to distort the wider picture and thus Henry is construed, as master of everything. An all seeing all knowing, dictator, ‘a veritable Bluebeard,’who ruled by his wants and whims, and so what has come down to us is more of a legendary than a historical figure.

The narrative of Henry VIII, the Reign is readable in less than two and a half hours and written to be read on an electronic device.
The book is divided into concise parts from the accession in 1509 to the end of the reign in 1547 with scores of links (although they are not essential to follow the narrative) to specific supporting documents, such as the mainstay of Henrician research, the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII.

This book does not do that; it looks at the wider picture, and a completely different image has emerged.

This Kindle edition links directly to the text of the supporting document to which it refers together with its number, date and title. In some instances, I have added a more detailed title which is shown in box brackets. Each supporting document contains a link to return to the main narrative. 

Literary gloss aside, Henry VIII, from the day his father died, was buffeted along by events. Events, such as Wolsey’s wars, the dissolution of the monasteries and the rise of the Seymours. Henry, it seemed to me didn't possess the ability to take control of anything – including all six of his marriages or even his own household.

The purpose of this book, therefore, is to cut away the padding, get back to basics. The aim is to show that the reign of Henry VIII was dictated by political professionals, people the like of Wolsey, Cromwell, Seymour and those who sided with their diverse agendas for the governance of England. 

The people who surrounded Henry were far quicker, far more experienced, far more ruthless, far more determined and above all far more manipulative than the gluttonous royal second son, a man who was but a thrall to their motives, and who was never groomed to be king and certainly not educated to govern.

I really hope you do read it, and afterwards give me your opinion.

Mark Hollinshed
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About the Author

Mark Holinshed has created the website and says, 'If you like your history succinct, to the point and without any padding, then this is the place for you. If you like your history detailed, with comprehensive resources available on screen with a click or a tap, and available for you to make up your own mind about our past, then this too is the place for you. Even if you do not like history, then this is quite probably the place for you – because history is not set in stone and you can have your say about changing our understanding of it. If you have arrived here by accident looking for something else, well, that something else has a history.' You can follow Mark on Facebook and Twitter @HolinshedsBlog 

22 May 2018

Special Guest Interview with Philip K Allan, Author of On The Lee Shore (Alexander Clay Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Philip K Allan:

Tell us about your latest book On the Lee Shore

My Alexander Clay books are set in the Royal Navy of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. On the Lee Shore is the third book in the series. Alexander Clay is asked to take command of a troubled frigate, the Titan which has mutinied against its previous sadistic captain. The ship is sent to join the Channel Fleet blockading their French opponents in Brest. 

Stationed amongst the reefs and rocks of the Brittany coast, he finds the dangers of this notorious lee shore and its French defenders are the least of his worries. Corrupt officers, determined mutineers and rebellious Irishman all combine to insure that the main threats that he must face will come from within the wooden walls of his new command.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Each of my books are broadly set in a different year of the war – so my starting point is to research the events of that year to supply me with the context for the novel. Then I plan out the arc of the story and the various plot lines. I try not to over-plan, as I find that new ideas will emerge as I write, and these can be some of the most interesting. 

I try and write at least two thousand words a day. Once I have a completed manuscript that I am happy with, the next phase is to have it checked by my sternest editor, my wife Jan. I want anyone to be able to pick up one of my books and enjoy it, whether they have a knowledge or interest in the sea or not. If I have pitched it wrong, Jan will let me know, and I go away and re-write the offending passage. The result seems to work well – I get positive feedback from both naval enthusiasts and landlubbers alike.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I have found that my own writing is part “art” and part “craft”. The art part is the story, the characters, the plot and the scenes. It is the emotional, creative element that comes from within. But while a cracking story, with well thought out characters and plot is the essential starting point for a good book, it is not enough. 

The second part is the craft of writing – how you turn the idea in your head into compelling prose on the page. Like all crafts, I find it needs to be worked at, and in my experience you become better at it with practice. Since I became an author, I now read the work of other writers with a very different eye, trying to learn from their method. If a character is seamlessly introduced, for example, I now find I go back to see how they did it. In writing, I find that practise makes perfect. When I am struggling, I remind myself that I can always delete it and try again. 

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

I am published by a small independent US publisher, which is both nice and challenging. The good side is that they look after me very well; the challenge is that they do not have the marketing resources of the giant houses. This has meant that I have to be very active online. I publish a weekly blog on a subject around ships and the sea. This gives people a chance to sample the way I write in advance of trying one of my books. 

I also regularly post on Twitter and Facebook. I am fortunate in that my books have generally been getting good reviews, and readers of naval fiction seem to be very active in spreading the word to each other. I do like the social media side – it is lovely to hear directly from readers who have enjoyed your work, and I almost always learn something new from reader reaction to my weekly blogs.   

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

The naval blockade of Brest is one of the great untold stories of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. For over twenty years the Royal Navy maintained a fleet in all weathers, month after month, off one of the most dangerous coasts in the world. Nine days in ten the prevailing westerly wind tried its best to drive their ships onto the dangerous reefs and cliffs of Brittany. And on the tenth day, the wind would be favourable for the French fleet to come out of Brest. 

Some of the ships spent more than a year on station, with all their needs, including water, food and clothes, being brought out to them from Plymouth. Later in the war, the navy occupied a few of the small islands off the coast that had been abandoned by the French. They grew fresh vegetables on most of them, and even dug wells to provide additional sources of fresh water. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

In my second novel of the series, A Sloop of War, I introduced a black sailor who was a run slave, and who has grown to become one of the more important lower-deck characters. Because his experience and life are so remote from my own, I have found getting into his feelings, motivation and thought process to be very challenging as well as rewarding.

What are you planning to write next?

The next book in the series is with my publisher for editing, with a view for a late summer publication – it takes the story into the Mediterranean. I am pleased with it – it has a nice mix of my own storylines woven into historical events and characters, including Nelson and Emma Hamilton. It will also contain a bit of a whodunit on the lower deck, when a series of crimes are committed, which I thoroughly enjoyed writing.

Philip K Allan
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About the Author

Philip K Allan comes originally from Watford in the UK, and still lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two teenage daughters. He has an excellent knowledge of the 18th century navy. He studied it as part of his history degree at London University, which awoke a lifelong passion for the period. He is a member of the Society for Nautical Research and a keen sailor. After over twenty years as a senior manager in the motor industry he has now become a full time writer. His debut novel, The Captain’s Nephew was published in January 2018, and immediately went into the Amazon top 100 bestseller list for Sea Adventures. The sequel, A Sloop of War, was published in March. On the Lee Shore is the third book in the series, and came out in May. His inspiration for his books is to build on the works of novelists like C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian. Like O’Brian’s his style is immersive, using period language and authentic nautical detail to draw the reader into a different world. But his books also bring something fresh to the genre, with a cast of fully formed lower deck characters. Think Downton Abbey on a ship, with the lower deck as the below stairs servants. Find out more a Philip's website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @PhilipKAllan 

21 May 2018

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Queen of the North, by Anne O'Brien

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

‘O’Brien cleverly intertwines the personal and political in this enjoyable, gripping tale’
The Times

To those around her she was a loyal subject.

In her heart she was a traitor.

1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.

To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow
of the axe.

To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head.

‘Once more Anne O’Brien takes her readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride through the lives of people that history has largely reduced to entries on a medieval family tree. In this gripping novel Elizabeth Mortimer’s story joins the growing list of female lives Anne has gloriously rescued from history’s recycling skip’ Joanna Hickson 
‘Enthralling … with masterful skill Anne O'Brien takes the reader on an action packed journey back to the tumultuous and uncertain days of the fifteenth century. O'Brien's beautifully crafted narrative is full of wonderful details and dangerous intrigues that draw the reader into the dangerous world of Elizabeth Mortimer. A medieval masterpiece.’ Nicola Tallis
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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

20 May 2018

Special Guest post by Caroline Angus, Author of Frailty of Human Affairs (Queenmaker Series)

Available on Amazon UK, Amazon US

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.
That man needs to be the Queenmaker.
Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

It would easy to dismiss books on Thomas Cromwell, as the market has felt saturated in recent years. But when people ask why I chose to write a trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, I am happy to say there still feels plenty of room to create a fresh face for a man often covered in fiction. The first book in this unusual tale is already available, with plenty more still to come. 

A new perspective

Frailty of Human Affairs (an expression used by Cromwell himself in 1534), starts in 1529, when Cromwell is still devoted to Thomas Wolsey, just prior to the legatine court assembling to rule on King Henry’s marriage to Queen Katherine. 

This pivotal moment in history brings in a new character, Nicòla Frescobaldi, the son of a wealthy merchant in Florence. Nicòla’s father, Francesco Frescobaldi, was the man who found a young starving, homeless Englishman on the Florentine streets in around 1500 and took him in as an apprentice. 

For Cromwell’s beloved patron’s only son to arrive in England on his doorstep gives Cromwell the opportunity to rekindle the mysterious years he spent in Italy before returning to England as a refined and educated man. 

A complicated reality

Cromwell’s life in the years between the legatine court of 1529 and the birth of Princess Elizabeth in 1533 were ones of a remarkable rise, borne out of a combination of charm, education, savvy law-making and a fervent passion to save English religion from itself. 

Cromwell desperately wanted to give the king what he wanted – Anne Boleyn – and this novel delves into the perspectives of Cromwell and Frescobaldi, who combine their talents to win the trust of a king, but also personally suffer as the king holds power over their complicated weaknesses.

But why read?

Frailty of Human Affairs tells the complex tale of a well-known period, seen through the eyes of both Cromwell and Frescobaldi, two people skirting around the big names of history. Cromwell is a baseborn Englishman and Frescobaldi is the bastard child of a wealthy foreigner tied to the powerful Medici dynasty. 

There is no need for a hero or a villain, as Cromwell and Frescobaldi are both, whether a cardinal need to die, a king needs to be consoled, a mistress needs to be entertained or a family needs to be healed. Cromwell and Frescobaldi have many similarities and remarkable differences that create a loving bond no one else understands.

A darker chapter

Shaking the Throne (Sept. 2018) tells the story of Cromwell and Frescobaldi’s involvement in the destruction of the Catholic Church and the beheading of Anne Boleyn, covering the years of Elizabeth’s 1533 birth to the Pilgrimage of Grace in late 1536. 

Power and influence mean little if you have no safety, but Cromwell and Frescobaldi continue to rise high. Total loyalty from the king, a strong friendship with Henry Fitzroy, having friends in every position and even having the ear of Anne Boleyn might not be enough when powerful Catholic forces come together. Cromwell and Frescobaldi’s secrets will be exploited by the Seymour family to change the course of English history.

How many heads will be claimed?

No Amour Against Fate (Sept. 2019) details the crushing of the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, the creation of Anne of Cleves and Cromwell’s final betrayal that led to his rapidly regretted death in 1540. Whether Frescobaldi’s small head is alongside Cromwell’s on a bloodied spike is something readers need to wait and see. 

While history can answer many questions about the life of the incredible Thomas Cromwell, by adding in new fictional characters, stemming from real-life friendships, means that readers can be entertained to the last page.

The best and worst

The best part of writing the Queenmaker Series is getting to see how far I can push readers to still side with Cromwell and Frescobaldi, even when they are wrong. I like to have protagonists who do good and bad and take readers along for the ride.

The worst part is once the book is out and reviews are needed. I am terrified of reviews but still rely on them for the book to survive in Amazon’s difficult algorithms. Always review books when you read, positive or negative!

Caroline Angus

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About the Author

Caroline Angus is a sailmaker turned author based in Auckland, New Zealand. Having studied, worked and lived in New Zealand, Spain, and the U.K, she has produced modern-day thrillers with the bestselling Canna Medici series, and then the Spanish Civil War based Secrets of Spain series, created after studying in mass graves and bullfighting rings. The Queenmaker Series is the first in a large set of English history novels. Find out more at Caroline's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Writer_Caroline

19 May 2018

Visiting St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle

On this historic day of the royal wedding, I'd like to say a little about the amazing history of the venue, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. By coincidence, the wedding falls on the anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn - and the happy couple will walk over the tomb of King Henry VIII, who will be only feet away from the ceremony.  The subject if my current work in progress, Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, will also be only a few yards away.

St George’s Chapel is within the grounds of Windsor Castle and was founded by King Edward III. Many successive royals have made their own ‘improvements’ and the chapel was seriously damaged by looters during the English Civil War.

There is a real sense of being at the heart of English History as you enter, as it is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and burial place of many kings. I spotted the portcullis badge of Margaret Beaufort everywhere, as well as the Dragon and Greyhound of King Henry VII.

The chapel is also full of surprises. I found I was looking at the tomb of King Edward IV, buried with ‘Elizabeth Widvile’.  The tomb had been ‘lost’ then rediscovered during restoration work in 1789, which explains its modern appearance. (When the tomb was found many ‘relics’ were taken, including locks of Edward's hair – and liquid from the bottom of the coffin!)

I was listening to the audio tour as I entered the quire and was amazed when I was asked to look up to the left of the altar. That morning I’d been writing about Catherine of Aragon watching Henry VIII’s jousting from an ornate wooden gallery.

There above me was another - the wooden gallery from where Queen Catherine would sit to watch services in the chapel, as well preserved as if she is expected to arrive at any moment.

I think Catherine would have approved of Prince Harry's marriage - and would perhaps have some useful advice about the challenges of being a young, foreign princess in the English royal family!
Henry VIII’s tomb occupies the middle of the quire and is surprising both for its simplicity and the company we’ve chosen for him to keep in eternity – as well as Jane Seymour, Henry is buried with the beheaded body of King Charles Ist and a stillborn son of Queen Anne. (If you’d like to know more about Henry’s tomb see Natalie Grueninger's post at 'On The Tudor Trail'.)

Having failed to find the tomb of Charles Brandon, I asked a guide and discovered it in the south transit, half covered by a wooden bench seat and under a life-sized portrait of King Edward III adjacent to the tomb of King Henry VI.  Interestingly, it refers to Mary Tudor as ‘Married Mary daughter of Henry VII, Widow of Louis XII King of France.

And what about Mary Tudor’s tomb? She died in Suffolk on 25 June 1533 and Charles Brandon paid for a fine tomb Bury St Edmunds Abbey. When the abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, her remains were taken to St. Mary’s Church, also in Bury St Edmunds, and placed under a modest slab – another long trip from Wales which I talk about here

Tony Riches

18 May 2018

Tudor Book Spotlight: The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, by Suzannah Lipscomb

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

On 28 January 1547, the sickly and obese King Henry VIII died at Whitehall. Just hours before his passing, his last will and testament had been read, stamped and sealed. The will confirmed the line of succession as Edward, Mary and Elizabeth; and, following them, the Grey and Suffolk families. It also listed bequests to the king's most trusted councillors and servants.

Henry's will is one of the most intriguing and contested documents in British history. Historians have disagreed over its intended meaning, its authenticity and validity, and the circumstances of its creation. 

As well as examining the background to the drafting of the will and describing Henry's last days, Suzannah Lipscomb offers her own, illuminating interpretation of one of the most significant constitutional documents of the Tudor period.

‘I was gripped by Suzannah Lipscomb’s The King is Dead, an elegantly written forensic examination of Henry VIII’s last will and testament, one of the most significant constitutional documents in British history.’ (Saul David, Evening Standard)
Lipscomb 'deserves admiration for taking on some of the heavy-hitters among Tudor historians and for holding her own....This is a book that deserves to be read. Lipscomb has produced an entirely credible interpretation of a contentious issue. Her sober but still engaging prose thankfully lacks that sweet sentimentality that so often characterises popular histories of the Tudors. Her analysis of the available documents seems sturdy. With admirable authority, she provides an interesting allegory about how misplaced trust can undermine the best-laid plans of a powerful king.' (Prof. Gerard DeGroot, The Times)
‘Scholars have long jousted over the provenance, authenticity and validity of Henry VIII’s 1546 will, making it one of the most contested documents in British history. Lipscomb approaches the debate as a series of ‘mysteries to be solved’, bringing us directly into the corridors of 16th-century English power by supplying, in an appendix, the document itself. …Challengers to the will’s validity contend that a cabal of courtiers took advantage of a fading monarch to manipulate the endgame. But Lipscomb makes the case that the will was exactly as a dying but still leonine Henry wished it… Both wonkish and elegant, The King is Dead allows us a peek inside.’ (Jean Zimmerman, New York Times Book Review)
‘Nimbly scrutinizes Henry VIII’s unusual final will to lend insight into the king’s state of mind and religious beliefs during the last months of his life while also settling potential timeline incongruities.’ (Publishers Weekly) 
‘A gripping, forceful and forensically detailed investigation into the most controversial document of Henry VIII’s reign’. Jessie Childs
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About the Author

Dr Suzannah Lipscomb is Senior Lecturer and Convenor for History at New College of the Humanities, London, and also holds a post as Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. For three years she was Research Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, based at Hampton Court Palace; she is now a Consultant for Historic Royal Palaces and on their Research Strategy Board. Find out more at Suzannah's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @sixteenthCgirl

Guest Post by Bett Rose, Author of A Week in Time

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Whilst the men and able bodied were away fighting, those left behind faced a daily struggle to keep up a semblance of normal life. The neighbours all 'pulled together' and 'mucked in' as Harold would have it. Eliza enjoyed her independence and Joanie found an inner strength and knew that Reg would be proud of her. Ruby? Well they all knew about Ruby! Francis? Increasingly fragile and a worry to them all. 

I was inspired to write A Week in Time after watching so many seemingly dark programmes on TV and wanting to bring a little light into the world. My dad and brothers were all employed in the Coventry motor trade, and many times I would quietly sit behind 'dad's chair' listening to the dark and numerous stories of everyday survival during WW2. Very few of the tales were about the actual fighting, more about being 'bombed out' , or rationing or 'making do!'

A Week in Time is a story of everyday lives and relationships, of 'working class' neighbours and families living in close proximity, living out their reality of WW2 Britain. Just a short story, that includes laughter and light and hope and disappointments and spirituality.

Most importantly, to me, a happy ending. I wanted to encourage others who have dreamed of writing and not yet made a start.

My book was published in November 2017.  I'm now working on a story about family and homelessness, inspired by a walk through the city centre, mid afternoon , and seeing so many youngster 'sleeping out' in the cold. I hope to publish in November 2018.

There are editing and publishing companies that will guide a writer through this process, without them A Week in Time would still be a story on an A4 notepad.

Bett Rose
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About the Author

Bett Rose was born in Coventry, UK in the early 1950's, the youngest child of six. After retiring from a career in nursing, Bett and had time to enjoy reading more and writing a few letters to magazines. For many years she wrote relaxation scripts for patients and philosophies for her church, which proved to be good preparation for becoming an author.

17 May 2018

New Historical Fiction: Jane Seymour, the Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens), by Alison Weir

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Acclaimed author and historian Alison Weir continues her epic Six Tudor Queens series with this third captivating novel, which brings to life Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII's most cherished bride and mother of his only legitimate male heir.

Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and as an adult, Jane is invited to the King's court to serve as lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. 

The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumors of Henry's lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn--also lady-in-waiting to the queen--all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a hauntingl incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures Anne as his new queen--forever altering the religious landscape of England--he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King's affection and earn favor for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son, or will she be cast aside like the women who came before her?

Bringing new insight to this compelling story, Alison Weir marries meticulous research with gripping historical fiction to re-create the dramas and intrigues of the most renowned court in English history. At its center is a loving and compassionate woman who captures the heart of a king, and whose life will hang in the balance for it.

Praise for Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession: 
"A stunning, engaging, comprehensive and convincing novel . . . important, page-turning biographical fiction, hauntingly and beautifully told in first-person narrative . . . psychologically penetrating and packed with wonderful, vivid scenes. [Alison] Weir's characterisation is superb."--Historical Novels Review
 "A persuasive attempt to restore the humanity of a tragic, misrepresented figure . . . Weir's fictional Anne is ferociously smart and guilty of nothing but craving the power that's rightfully hers to claim."--NPR
"A richly detailed rendering of the familiar Tudor drama . . . Weir brings considerable expertise to her portrait of Anne as 'a flawed but very human heroine, a woman of great ambition, idealism and courage' [and] vividly depicts court life."--Kirkus Reviews
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About the Author

Alison Weir lives and works in Surrey. Her books include Britain's Royal Families, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Children of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII: King and Court, Mary, Queen of Scots and Isabella: She-Wolf of France. Find out more on Alison's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AlisonWeirBooks

15 May 2018

Special Guest Interview with Tal Gur, Author of The Art of Fully Living: 1 Man. 10 Years. 100 Life Goals Around the World

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Master the art of fully living, one life goal at a time. In this stirring book, author, blogger and lifestyle entrepreneur, Tal Gur offers his own transformational journey as an inspiring example and practical guide to implementing the art of fully living to its fullest potential. 

I'm pleased to welcome inspirational author Tal Gur to the Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals is a blend of memoir and self-improvement guide. The very structure of the book models my immersive approach to goal-driven living: each chapter of the book is dedicated to a year of focus—socializing, fitness, freedom, contribution, love, adventure, wealth, relationship, spirituality, and creativity—and follows my endeavors as I work toward fulfilling 100 life goals in 10 years. You can learn more about it here:

What is your preferred writing routine?

My writing routine is quite simple. I prefer to write in the morning. When I write, I need zero distractions and complete silence so I turn off my mobile and sit down alone. Then I just start writing and let it flow.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be ready to spend as much time on promoting your book as you do writing it.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

For me, the best way was to simply ask for help - from friends, authors, influencers, bloggers, and the list goes on and on. The way I see it, launching a book involves a lot of asking and it requires courage and vulnerability to reach out, to connect, to ask, and to, yes, potentially get rejected. However, remember, Asking for what you want can be a gift to others.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Being flexible with my plans. As we all already know, the best laid plans can twist and turn in unforeseeable ways - that’s when flexibility and adaptability are crucial. I’m not talking about being so flexible about the overall direction (for example, writing a book), but it helps to adjust the day-to-day approach when the need arises.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The whole book :) The writing process required sacrifice and investment of my most precious resource—my time. So finding time - or may I say making time - was the hardest thing.

What are you planning to write next?

Not sure yet. But I know it will come to me when I expect it least :)

Tal Gur

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About the Author

Tal Gur is a blogger, entrepreneur, and devoted adventurer, who has spent a decade pursuing a hundred major goals around the globe. he says, 'I embarked on a long motorcycle trip in Australia and immediately fell in love with this remote, vast and spectacular corner of the world. I went back to my home country to pursue a bachelor's degree but the memory of that epic trip never left me. After several years working in the high-tech world and feeling there was something missing, I decided to change direction and follow a lifelong dream of living in Australia.' Find out more af Tal's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @Tal_Gur

How to Produce a YouTube Book Trailer #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

With over a billion users, the number of people watching on YouTube each month is increasing exponentially. The problem is that many hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so how can you expect your modest book trailer to ever be seen?

The answer is to use it across your author platform. My book trailers haven't been going viral on YouTube – but has been widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, as well as uploaded to my Amazon 
and Goodreads author pages, and used to add interest to my website. Here then, are the (relatively) simple steps to produce your book trailer:

Invest in simple Video production software

There are plenty of low cost packages to choose from, so I opted for the reasonably priced Cyberlink’s PowerDirector, which has an intuitive ‘drag-and-drop’ visual timeline. As well as being easy to use, PowerDirector optimises your video for YouTube upload. PowerDirector also includes a wealth of free templates and effects, although I recommend keeping things simple.

If you are a Mac user, the free version of iMovie has less effects but can do the job, and one day I'll invest in Final Cut Pro, (which my son tells me is the best on the market.)

Track down suitable music

It's important to remember the average span of attention you should expect from browsing book buyers is an amazing one minute. This means your soundtrack needs to make effective use of such a short time. 

You need to make sure it is copyright free or obtain consent – and it is easier to make the video fit the soundtrack than the other way around. My brother kindly composed and produced the music to accompany my previous video for The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. The trailer at the end of this post has an extract from Cantiga 166 by Vox Vulgaris and the Swedish composer Rasmus Fleischer was happy to give permission for its use.

Decide on the text

I find it best to use the book description as a starting point – and this can sometimes highlight ways to improve your wording. It's a well-proved adage that people can manage seven key points or less, so  short sentences or even single words can be more effective  - and try it out on a slow reader before uploading the video, to make sure you’ve allowed enough time.

Select images and video clips

I like to start and end the trailer with a cover shot, although it can be tricky to find copyright free pictures and video clips. See Dana Fox’s post, 30 Free Stock Photo Resources, which also has some useful guidance on image licences.

Apply some effects

The most impressive book trailers are surprisingly sparing with special effects. I try to limit it to simple fades, with one or two effects to grab attention where appropriate.

Produce the video for upload

Most video production packages offer a bewildering range of options. I’ve been using an aspect ratio of 16:9 to encode MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) video format in high definition. (MPEG-4 AVC uses better compression than MPEG-2, using less space to produce a video of similar quality with faster uploading.) Make sure you keep all your source files in a folder and back them up, as you’ll need them if you want to update the video later.

Upload to YouTube

If you don’t already have a YouTube account they are free and easy to create and there are instructions here.  You can add the full cover ‘blurb’ for your book as well as purchase links in the video description. I usually create a special ‘thumbnail’ image if I don’t like any of the choices offered by the YouTube uploader.

And finally…

Share with your social networks and upload to your website, as well as your author pages.  When appropriate, you can also add the link to emails - most email systems now allow the recipient to view it within the message.

Good luck!

Tony Riches

Do you have some great writing tips you would like to share?
Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.

13 May 2018

Guest Interview with Kaya Quinsey, Author of Paris Mends Broken Hearts

Available on Amazon UK,  Amazon US
and Amazon CA

Paris – the City of Light… the City of Love. What could be more romantic? A love story about falling in love with yourself, three women find themselves unexpectedly in Paris where they eat croissants, drink wine, and fall madly in love with... themselves?

I'd like to welcome Canadian author Kaya Quinsey:

Tell us about your latest book

I've always been inspired by books that take place in fantastic locations. I'm also a romantic at heart and wanted to write a love story with a contemporary twist. 'Happily ever after' can take many forms, and I made sure that was reflected. Undoubtedly a love story, love is that feeling when our heart is flooded with happiness. The three main characters in this novel learn just what brings them that immense joy. In this case, it is what they least expect.

Paris Mends Broken Hearts alternates between three main characters - Gwendoline, Delphine, and Margot - and takes place in post-WWII France and the 1980s respectively. A war-widow, Gwendoline travels to Paris and proves to herself, and everyone else, that there is life after lost love. Delphine is on her perfect honeymoon in Paris. What could go wrong? Margot is caught on a wayward journey to Paris, and in the process finds herself caught in an absurd love-triangle.  As all three of them find themselves unexpectedly in Paris over the summer, they indulge in wine, croissants, and learn about love.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I'm an early riser and I love writing after going for a run and getting ready for the day. Everything is calm and peaceful. I like to block off periods of time each day that I designate to writing. That way, I feel like the momentum continues.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

If you want to write, write!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Without wanting to give away too much, there is a scene in Paris Mends Broken Hearts where Delphine confronts Nicholas. I found myself emotionally exhausted after writing and editing that chapter.

What are you planning to write next?

Right now, I'm writing my second novel based in the Basque Country in the present day. As with Paris Mends Broken Hearts, it is set in a beautiful and inspiring location, which I consider as integral to the plot as the characters themselves.

Kaya Quinsey

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About the Author

Kaya Quinsey, the author of ‘Paris Mends Broken Hearts’, is a born and raised Torontonian. She completed her undergraduate degree and master’s degree in psychology. Kaya’s passion for culture, travel, and psychology blend together for a reading style that is fun, full of surprises, and easy to read. A romantic at heart, Kaya’s writing offers a contemporary twist to traditional love stories. She hopes to inspire young women through her stories to fiercely chase their dreams. Find out more at Kaya’s website: You can contact Kaya on her Instagram page @kayaquinsey and on Twitter @kayaquinsey.

12 May 2018

Book Spotlight ~ Tamed: Ten Species that Changed our World, by Alice Roberts

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors depended on wild plants and animals for survival. They were hunter-gatherers, consummate foraging experts, taking the world as they found it. Then a revolution occurred – our ancestors’ interaction with other species changed. They began to tame them. The human population boomed; civilisation began.

In Tamed, Alice Roberts uncovers the deep history of ten familiar species with incredible wild pasts: dogs, apples and wheat; cattle, potatoes and chickens; rice, maize and horses – and, finally, humans.

She reveals how becoming part of our world changed these animals and plants, and shows how they became our allies, essential to the survival and success of our own species.

Enlightening, wide-ranging and endlessly fascinating, Tamed encompasses thousands of years of history and archaeology alongside cutting-edge genetics and anthropology. Yet it is also a deeply personal journey that changes how we see ourselves and the species on which we have left our mark.


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About the Author

Professor Alice Roberts is an academic, author and broadcaster. Best known for her  programmes and write books about human anatomy, physiology, evolution, archaeology and history, she is a medical doctor, and went on to become a university lecturer. and Professor of Public Engagement with Science at the University of Birmingham. Find out more at Alice's webssite and you van also find her on Facebook and Twitter @theAliceRoberts