Mastodon The Writing Desk: July 2018

31 July 2018

Book Review: Everyday Life in Tudor London, by Stephen Porter

Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US 
and direct from Amberley Publishing

Although the subtitle of this book is 'Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare and Anne Boleyn', Stephen Porter evokes the colourful Tudor London experienced by all the people who lived in this ever-changing capital city.

Tudor Londoners had to contend with what Porter describes as the 'swinging pendulum' of religious reform, risking their lives if they worshipped in the 'wrong' way. At the same time, they had to contend with the dreaded 'sweating sickness' and plagues that could kill a fifth of the population, taking young and old, rich and poor.

Criminals lurked at every street corner and Thomas Moore noted that the causes of crime included, 'bawds, queans, whores, harlots, strumpets, brothel-houses, stews, wine-taverns, ale-houses and tippling houses...' (I had to look up 'queans' and found it refers to impudent or badly behaved girls or women.)

On the plus side, the shops of prosperous foreign merchants created employment and theatres and gambling made London life more fun. The wealthy began to make provision for the poorest and infirm Londoners, and hospitals became more common than prisons.

The new wealth and the opportunities created familiar problems of sustainable growth and overcrowding, and the primitive sewage systems couldn't cope. The narrow streets stank of human and animal waste and the gutters carried disease, yet were still vibrant on market days, when you could buy anything from a bolt of silk to a live chicken.

Tudor London was a dangerous, noisy, dirty but ultimately successful capital, a place I would love to visit but not to live.

I am happy to recommend Stephen Porter's book to anyone with an interest in the Tudor period or in how the city of London developed into the capital it is today.  

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Stephen Porter is an acknowledged expert on London's history. After holding research posts in history at Oxford University and King’s College, London, he worked for seventeen years with the Survey of London, a project begun in the late nineteenth century devoted to the history of London’s built environment. After his retirement he served as Honorary Archivist of Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse. He has written widely on London’s history: his books include The Great Fire of LondonThe Great Plague of LondonLondon’s Plague YearsShakespeare’s LondonPepys’s LondonThe Tower of London and London: A History in Paintings and Illustrations. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society and now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.

30 July 2018

Book review ~ Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End, by Christine Hartweg

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I've always been intrigued by the mystery of Amy Robsart, the unfortunate wife of Queen Elizabeth I's alleged lover, Robert Dudley, who died after apparently falling down a short flight of stairs in September 1560. Amy Dudley's death caused a scandal across half of Europe, yet although Robert Dudley was widely suspected, the truth of what happened is debated to this day.

This fascinating book by Dudley specialist Christine Hartweg explores Amy's death from every conceivable angle. Every surviving letter and document is analysed in the context of the time - and contrasted with interesting use of modern clinical and statistical evidence about on such falls. 

I was unaware that the coroner's report was wrongly filed under 1561 instead of 1560 and was only discovered by chance in 2008 by Steven Gunn, who was studying accidental Tudor deaths. The last sentence states (in Latin) that 'Lady Amy in the manner and form aforesaid by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise.'

There is also a full exploration of the many myths and stories about her over the centuries, with a discussion of the possible motives of their authors. These range from scheming foreign ambassadors to Dudley's many enemies and Sir Walter Scott's historical novel Kenilworth (published in 1821).

The Death of Amy Robsart, as imagined by
Victorian artist William Frederick Yeames

Did Amy fall and break her neck by accident? Was it suicide? or could she have been pushed or poisoned? If she was murdered, who might have been responsible? Has her death changed the course of English history? You will have to read the book and draw your own conclusion. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Christine Hartweg lives in Berlin and was born in South America in 1972. She has researched the Dudley family of Tudor England since 2008 and has advised the BBC and other TV channels. Christine runs the specialist blog and you can find her on Twitter @BuffHistory 

29 July 2018

Guest Interview with Author Varun Sayal

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Varun Sayal to my blog today:

Please tell us about your latest book

My latest book is a sci-fi fantasy short stories book Time Crawlers. The journey of this book from conception to publishing is an interesting tale in itself. I have been writing short stories on various blogs, websites such as Medium and other such writer forums for a few years now and readers have been loving my work. But sometime around the beginning of 2018, I decided that a more concentrated organized effort on publishing was required if I wanted to reach and ‘wow’ a mass audience. Around February of 2018, I started to pen down stories with a very specific theme in mind, Science Fiction. And that’s how “Time Crawlers” was born.

Specifically speaking about the stories. I had written the story “Genie” very long back, perhaps around two years back, but rest of the stories “Time Crawlers” and “Death By Crowd” etc. were written only a few months back. All these stories were just scattered pieces of fiction and were yet to be woven into a storybook. How I came about an idea of choosing these six stories for my book, among many others I have written, was an interesting thought process. If you look at the underlying tones for these stories, they are very different. Death by Crowd has a very dark theme with a near future kind of storyline, whereas "Nark-Astra, the hell weapon" is an ancient mythology tale from a parallel universe. While Genie, is very light alternative take on Djinn folklore, "The Cave" narrates a story of a powerful planet consuming entity in crosshairs with a legendary telekinetic protector. But the underlying theme which connects all these stories is Science Fiction and the concept that they all take place in different parallel universes, which are not much different from ours.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I prefer to write in the mornings between 08:00 to 10:00 AM because that’s the time when awesome ideas flow in quickly with a fresh perspective. I can portray the picture of my writing space for you. I usually sit on a comfy chair with a proper backrest, with my legs on the table, a fresh cup of piping hot tea on my side, a pillow on my lap and a laptop comfortably resting on it while my fingers clack on the keyboard bringing universes to life.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Two thoughts I would like to share with writers who haven’t started writing as yet:
a) Just Write, but don’t stop until perfection: This is going to be a long one so please bear with me, because this is a major factor which prevents writers from writing. I would like to use the Nike Slogan here “Just Do it”. Don’t wait for a perfect idea or a eureka thought, at times a mere inkling of a situation or a gesture by someone can spark a story within you.

Mr. K.V. Vijyendra Prasad, an eminent Indian fiction writer, and father of famous South Indian movie-director Mr. S.S. Rajamouli once said in an interview that we writers are thieves, who steal inspiration from our daily lives, from real incidents. Seek those inspirations and let your ink flow. Somewhere within us, there is a writing muscle, more you write, more you exercise it and stronger and sharper it becomes. Similarly, famous psychology writer Malcolm Gladwell gave some kind of a ten thousand hours rule, which means in order to attain significant expertise in any field of prominence an expert needs around then thousand hours of practice; well that applies to writing too, so you get the hint.

While I understand that there are cases where many writers don’t write for long spans of their lives and one day they just pen down their magnum opus. But for some others such as me, the fifteenth version of my story is very different from the first one. Eminent writer Mr. Stephen King has also emphasized on revising the stories again and again. Lessons from product management, especially from celebrities such as Guy Kawasaki, also tell us that the first product made by a company can be a minimum viable product, it’s allowed a certain level of crappiness. All these examples point in just one direction: “Just Write”. Don’t worry about the crappiness of your initial story, your first draft, you can improve it later. But you know what you can never improve? A story which has not yet been written.

b) Build strong connections in the writing world: While you may be an introvert in your life, do understand that your story or your novel is like your baby. In this highly competitive world where half a million books are published every year around the world, it’s your responsibility to make sure your baby gains recognition. Slowly build a connection with readers, reviewers, folks in your friend circle and extended acquaintance-circle who are avid readers.

Quoting examples from my limited but recent experience, when I politely reached out to hundreds of reviewers, I did get back polite rejections as well as not-so-polite straight NOs. But what was very surprising and beyond my expectations was that many reviewers from India and outside responded with warm congratulations and told me that they would definitely review my book and post it on multiple locations. There is a huge reader-writer ecosystem out there of which you can become a small part of, by building these relations. Don’t just upload a book online and wait for people to organically find it. Go sell, because your hard-work deserves to be read.

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

Goodreads is a very good platform for raising awareness about your book, but I believe a debut writer such as me has got a lot of honest reviews and ratings from Book Bloggers. I have reached out to hundreds of book bloggers interested in reviewing science fiction and most of them were very courteous and receptive.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene to write was for my story “The Cave” where I talk about a planet ridden with a dark entity which is then challenged by a powerful protecting force. I have written it mostly in a conversational format, where I challenged myself to bring out the information only via a conversation. Another challenge was to keep the technical details to a minimum and focus more on the story because I believe at times readers are put off by too much background stories focused on deep technical nuances.

What are you planning to write next?

My next book would be Science Fiction Technology Novel based on Hindu Mythology with elements from the near future and the deep past combined to pack a solid punch.

Varun Sayal
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About the Author

Varun Sayal is an engineer and MBA from I.I.T. and I.S.B. (top schools in India), who has been involved in theatre as a playwright, actor, and director, and has also been an independent movie-maker. His genre of writing is predominantly science fiction blended with mythology and a sprinkle of the gruesome actualities of life. In his own words: 'I think of each story as a surreal, fast-paced narrative that pulls in the reader right from the beginning, takes them through a voyage into an alternate dystopian realm, bequeathing to them images etched permanently on their minds. I live by the quote, 'a true art calms a disturbed mind and disturbs a calm mind.' Find out more at Varun's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @vsa2

28 July 2018

Special Guest Interview with Author Emily Klein

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Emily Klein:

Please tell us about your latest book

My latest published book is my first novel The Draughtsman Damsel.  It tells the story of a young,  precocious and passionate lord's daughter-Annabelle Latimer.  At the age of ten she's removed with her parents from her home at Calais,  as her father is called to serve the King of England.
As the Duke becomes more deranged and jealous,  her father falls out of favour with him and is obliged to find her a new match.  Prior to that they had all hopefully to match Annabelle with her friend,  the Duke's youngest son,  Thomas.  But Annabelle is a unique girl and develops interest in sketching and planning (her father is an architect), which causes her to neglect her more lady like responsibilities.  When a courtship party fails and her father is called back to the Duke's court to design his grand monument to chivalry,  Annabelle joins him and is reunited with her best friend from childhood,  the Duke's youngest son,  Thomas.  She finds herself helping her father with designing the castle and falling unwillingly and unwittingly in love but treachery  and politics come in their way of finding love and happiness.  

What is your preferred writing routine?

I have rather a unique writing routine.  I come up with a proposal/ seduction scenes in my head, in its entirety.  Then I build a story around it.  I write in coffee shops,  Longhand,  then edit as I type. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

My advice would be that the best way out of writers' block is simply to go in writing.  Even if it's bad.  Don't stop.  Just write whatever pops in your head and edit later.  

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

The best way to get awareness for my books is twitter and blog interviews
Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Something I found interesting is the many types of horses used in medieval times.  Like palfrey,  destrier,  rouncy,  Sumpter. All used for different purposes. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The most difficult scene  to write was the scene where Thomas and Lord Larimer are trying to convince the Duke to use their more practical  idea for the castle's design and not his megalomaniac ideas.  It required research about philosophy and integrating it in conversation.  

What are you planning to write next?

I'm currently writing a regency romance titled Arrogance and Abstinence. Next I'm planning to write a sequel to The Draughtsman Damsel, titled Reynardine Redeemed, With the villainous Guillaume du Lac from The Draughtsman Damsel as the hero. I also have a sequel titled Greenwood Side featuring Robert McMillan, the gallant Scotsman from Draughtsman, to be published later. My next book to be published is another medieval romance, a standalone titled A Good Knight's Kiss.
Emily Klein
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About the Author

Emily Klein is an author of historical romance novels, set in medieval times. She is a staunch anglophile, with a keen interest in anything and everything British, including the English language and all its dialects. She also has a keen interest in history, including the medieval period. Emily enjoys antiques and vintage clothing. In short, if it's part of history, Emily Klein will find it interesting. In her novels, Emily Klein strives to delve into her characters' thoughts, feelings, and true psychological motives. She does this based on their personalities, their pasts, and the societies in which they operate. Finding motives and helping people as they strive to solve the issues in their lives is no strange matter to Emily, who is also a trained social worker. Emily lives in Israel with her husband, two young daughters, and her little dog named Tofu. You can find Emily on Facebook and Twitter @Ekleinfolktales  

27 July 2018

Exploring Westhorpe Hall, Home of Mary Tudor (Queen of France) and Charles Brandon

As part of the research for my book Brandon - Tudor Knight, I decided to travel to Suffolk to see what I could uncover about his manor house at Westhorpe. Their manor house features prominently in my new book, as well as in my previous book, Mary - Tudor Princess. Although, like many Tudor houses, it was demolished in the mid eighteenth century, I was keen to see what I could learn from the site and its location in the Suffolk landscape.

Westhorpe became the main residence for the Brandon family up to the time of Mary's death. Charles Brandon had been made Duke of Suffolk by King Henry VIII and built Westhorpe using Mary's French dower income. He used the moated site of the former de la Pole property, although the new building was on a grander scale. 

When Mary died her French income ceased and Brandon found himself back in debt to the Crown. He soon remarried, to his young ward, the wealthy heiress Catherine Willoughby, and his Suffolk manor and house were taken over by royal trustees in 1535.

An inventory of the property taken three year later in 1538 records a moated house of brick decorated with terracotta panels, built round an open courtyard 126 feet square. The main range of the house on  the eastern side was approached from the west over the moat by an arched bridge, the lower parts of which survive to this day:

Brandon's Tudor Bridge, with an algal bloom over the moat (due to the heatwave)
The 1538 inventory describes a central brick gatehouse with battlements and turrets three storeys high, flanked by three rooms, terminating in corner towers, and that:
'All the wyndowes of the said place be at this present well glassed, and all the walls of the same of bricke and imbateled, leyed over with playster cheker wise white and blake, and all the houses covered with tyle, the gatehowsse and the towers covered with leade'.
A feature of the house was an internal corridor with windows overlooking a large central   courtyard. On the south side were four main rooms, linking at the east end with the service rooms at the lower end of the Hall. The east range contained the Hall, measuring some seventy feet long, with mullioned bay windows onto the courtyard, with service rooms and five other rooms over which was the Brandon's Great Chamber, with large bay windows to the east and west.

(Drawing by Sue Holden based on archaeological evidence)
A dining chamber overlooked a garden to the east, which is thought to have been designed in the French style, like those Mary would have known in the royal palaces of Paris. A tower and private chapel (where Mary lay in state from 25 June until 21 July, 1533) formed the north eastern corner.

The buildings now on the eastern edge of the moat are on the site of the Tudor kitchens, boiling house, pastry house, scalding house and wet and dry larders. When the house was being demolished in the late 1760s, Westhorpe was visited by the antiquarian Thomas Martin of Palgrave, who wrote:
'I went to see the dismal ruins of Westhorpe Hall, formerly the seat of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. The workmen are now pulling it down as fast as may be, in a very careless and injudicious manner. The coping bricks, battlements and many other ornamental pieces, are made of earth, and burnt hard, as fresh as when first built. They might, with care, have been taken down whole, but all the fine chimnies, and ornaments were pulled down with ropes, and crushed to pieces in a most shameful manner. There was a monstrous figure of Hercules sitting cross legged with his club, and a lion beside him, but all shattered in pieces. The painted glass is likely to share the same fate. The timber is fresh and sound, and the building, which was very lofty, stood as when it was first built. It is a pity that care is not taken to preserve some few of our ancient fabrics.'
In 1839 John Wodderspoon, in Historic Sites and Other Remarkable and Interesting Places in the County of Suffolk  noted that:
'The Hall of Westhorpe was of large dimensions and had attached a chapel with cloisters in which existed a fine window of stained glass.  The gardens of large extent were kept in the style of the continental pleasure grounds, the princess having imbibed a taste for the quaint conceits of the French mode of gardening by her brief sojourn in France. The  whole building is however removed.  
In 1988 trial excavations were undertaken to establish the accuracy of the earlier descriptions and measurements, principally by examining the gatehouse. Part of the cobbled floor of the gatehouse was exposed, as well as part of the inner courtyard.

Exploratory trenches were excavated on the inner edge of the moat adjacent to the bridge. These revealed the walls of the southern half of the gatehouse, which appeared to be 22ft square. The walls varied from 60 to 90cm in width and were built up on three courses of brick footings. This building was bonded into the moat wall.

Another trench was dug next to the southern arm of the moat, with the intention of finding the wall of the outer court. The moat wall was located and at its eastern end it was built over by several later walls. At its west end the moat wall formed a straight join with a wall made of re-used Tudor building materials of terracotta, glazed floor-tile and brick.

The pottery recovered was mostly early to mid 18th century, coinciding with the final phase of occupation, although several Tudor sherds were found. Quantities of roof tiles and two sizes of brick were also found. Amongst these were fragments of moulded bricks, including a moulded mullion. Green-glazed floor-tile was found in the gatehouse and red-glazed ones were re-built into a later wall.

Much terracotta was discovered, confirming the extensive use of terracotta decorations as described in the demolition account. Several pieces, including a panel and a capital, were found in the gatehouse area. A large fragment of a window mullion was recovered and many small fragments of roll mouldings and panel were found.

Sample of Italian Terracotta from Westhorpe Manor with Tudor Rose
Sample of Italian Terracotta from Westhorpe Manor showing Brandon's Lion
In 1990 the Suffolk County Council archaeological service undertook more investigation of the site following de-silting of the eastern arm of the moat. This included excavation of the base of the north-eastern tower, which consisted of flint and mortar with stone quoining, on a foundation of crushed building material over a raft of elm planks on timber piles. It was estimated that the tower measured 10 metres (32.8ft) by 8.5 metres (27.9ft).

In 1991 a grant was obtained as part of an English heritage project to pump the moat dry and recover and study the terracotta fragments. These proved to be press-moulded, which might explain the reversal of the crosses on Brandon's coat of arms over the doorway of the present building: 

Westhorpe Hall moated site and associated fishponds were scheduled in July 1999 under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and deemed to be of national importance. The listing states that the moated site of Westhorpe Hall is of particular historical importance because of its association with Charles Brandon and his wife, and the surviving descriptions of the great house which he built here show that it was an outstanding example of early 16th century domestic architecture. 

The listing adds that evidence recorded in limited excavations on the site and in the desilting of part of the moat, in addition to the remains visible around the central platform have demonstrated that the monument retains much archaeological information concerning this house, including a large quantity of architectural and decorative terracotta.

After living with every detail of Mary and Charles Brandon's lives for the past four years it was amazing to to walk in their footsteps over the Tudor bridge which they crossed so often. The village of Westhorpe is a beautiful place and although it is a shame the Tudor manor house was demolished, I am grateful to Patrick Barker for his time and allowing me full access to such a fascinating site.

Tony Riches


Note among the papers of Thomas Martin (d. 1771). quoted in Edward Wedlake Brayley and John Britton (1813). The Beauties of England and Wales (Suffolk, p 203), and in John Wodderspoon (1839). Historic Sites and Other Remarkable and Interesting Places in the County of Suffolk.

Archaeology in Suffolk 1987 compiled by Edward Martin, Judith Plouviez and Hilary Feldman

Gunn, SJ, Lindley, PG Archaeological Journal Volume:145 January 1988

Suffolk Institute Report and notes on some findings, 2002

Architectural Terracotta from Westhorpe Hall, Suffolk,  Anderson, S, The Archaeological Journal 2003.

26 July 2018

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The House of Shadows (De Witt Family 3) by Kate Williams

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The final compelling historical saga concluding a trilogy that began with Storms of War and The Edge of the Fall, from popular TV historian and critically-acclaimed author Kate Williams.

Celia De Witt is half-German, half-English and heir to her family's vast fortune. But it is 1929, the world is changing and her life seems less secure than ever. A shocking revelation from her father sends her far from England and the life she knew and headlong into New York, a city brimming with money and promise.

Celia sets about saving the family firm by creating an innovative new range of convenience foods for the new generation of independent young women. But she also has other plans. The son she thought was dead is in America and the man she once thought she loved is nearby - but if she opens the Pandora's Box of the past, she may find other secrets will escape...

As the shadow of war once again threatens to fall across Europe, Celia is determined to save those she loves, even if it comes at the highest price...
'A beautifully conjured family saga. Fans of Downton Abbey will love it.' - Alison Weir 
'This terrific saga comes with a fascinating twist ... Williams has a gift for showing how great movements in history affect the lives of people caught up in them.' The Times
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About the Author

Kate Williams studied her BA at Somerville College, Oxford where she was a College Scholar and received the Violet Vaughan Morgan University Scholarship. She then took her MA at Queen Mary, University of London and her DPhil at Oxford, where she received a graduate prize. She also took an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. She now teaches at Royal Holloway. Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWilliamsme and visit her website.

25 July 2018

Visiting Framlingham Castle in Suffolk

While in Suffolk doing research for my latest book I was inspired by Sarah Morris' post on the Tudor Travel Guide to visit Framlington Castle.  Once owned by Charles Brandon's nemesis Sir Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk, this was also where Mary Tudor (daughter of Henry VIII) assembled her troops in the summer of 1553 as she prepared to become Queen of England. (See Sarah's post for a full history of the castle.)

I recommend a cream tea in the English Heritage cafe, then a climb up the steps to the walkway high on the castle walls. It's quite a height but made safe with good guardrails (unlike Harlech Castle!) and from this vantage point you can really begin to understand how the castle works in the landscape.

You can also take a close look at the impressive Tudor chimneys - some of which, we are told, were ornamental as they were never used.

Inside the castle walls is an interesting ‘Poor House', which was built in 1729 and includes stones salvaged from the medieval hall. This is a rare surviving example of the provision made for the destitute poor, prior to the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.

Finally, the castle museum includes one of English Heritage's treasured relics, an Apple II desktop PC,  launched in 1977, which went on to become one of the longest running mass-produced home computers, in production for some 17 years and the forerunner of the MacBook Pro I'm using to write all my books on now.

Tony Riches

24 July 2018

Book Review ~ A Divided Inheritance, by Deborah Swift

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A Divided Inheritance is a breathtaking adventure set in London just after the Gunpowder Plot and in the bustling courtyards of 
Golden Age Seville. 

I spotted this book while on holiday in the Greek islands and was intrigued. Elspet Leviston’s journey takes her from the predictable future of her father's lace importing business to the dangerous world of sword fighting in Seville.

I also liked the development of the flawed anti-hero Zachary Deane, and the contrast between the divided worlds of London and Spain. I was only vaguely aware of the expulsion of the Moriscos (descendants of the Muslim population that had converted to Christianity) by the Spanish government in the 1600's, and have been inspired to find out more.

As I'd hoped, Deborah Swift's fast paced narrative and historical detail proved the perfect holiday reading. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory.

23 July 2018

Special Guest Post ~ The Jewel Garden, by Marilyn Pemberton

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It was a time when women were starting to rebel against Victorian conventions and to strive for their independence. This is a story of Hannah Russell’s physical, emotional and artistic journey from the back streets of the East End of London to the noisy souks and sandy wastes of Egypt; from the labyrinthine canals of Venice to the lonely corridors of Russell Hall in Kent. Hannah thinks she has found love with Mary De Morgan, a writer of fairy tales and one of William Morris’s circle of friends. But where there is devotion there can also be deceit and where there is hope there also dwells despair.

I became somewhat obsessed with Mary De Morgan (1850 - 1907), having “discovered” her whilst working on my PhD. I went on to write her biography, Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan, but despite significant research there were still huge gaps in my knowledge that really bothered me. I decided to write a novel and fill in the gaps with my imagination, the result being The Jewel Garden.

The story is told in the first person by a fictional character, Hannah Russell, who has a lonely childhood with an uncaring father, who has never got over the death of his wife during child birth. When her father dies Hannah moves to London and meets Mary, and so begins a relationship that lasts for decades.

I have included real family members in the book, such as Mary’s father Augustus, who was an eminent mathematician, Mary’s mother Sophia, who was a renowned spiritualist and social reformer and Mary’s brother William, who  made beautiful tiles, which are still collectible today.

Mary wrote the most wonderful fairy tales (I encourage everyone to read them) and each chapter in The Jewel Garden starts with an extract. However, she was far more than a writer, and my novel has Hannah sharing the experiences that Mary actually had: being invited to a Jewish wedding; visiting poor families in the East End of London; attending a meeting of the Fabian Society and listening to Annie Besant; holidaying in Lynton in North Devon and being entertained by William Morris.

At over fifty years old Mary travelled to Egypt, for reasons unknown, and in a very short time became the directress of a girls’ reformatory. How on earth did this happen? I have never been able to find out the sequence of events, all I know is that she held this position for a couple of years and then died of phthisis (tuberculosis) and is buried in Cairo. This part of the story is where I let my imagination run absolute riot because I know nothing, so imagine everything.

Another fact that is important to the story is that Mary’s mother was an ardent spiritualist and Mary herself was considered to be a “seer.” The jewel garden in the title of the book refers to a notebook Mary’s mother kept in which she recorded the dreams of her six-year-old daughter. One of the jottings is entitled “Mary’s walk in the jewel garden,” and it tells of Mary playing with her sister Alice, who had died three years earlier. The novel starts and ends in the jewel garden.

Although there is much truth in the book, it is a novel and Hannah’s relationship with Mary is pure fiction. Although Mary was the trigger to writing this book and her life provides many of the events, it is actually Hannah’s story. It tells of a young, naive woman, who falls in love with an older woman, who suffers terrible grief when her love dies, and even more grief when she discovers a dreadful truth.

Marilyn Pemberton
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About the author

Marilyn Pemberton has always worked in IT and is still a full-time project manager. However, at the age of forty (over two decades ago!) she decided she wanted to exercise the right side of her brain and so commenced a part-time BA in English literature at Warwick University. This progressed to an MA and then to a PhD on the utopian & dystopian aspects of Victorian fairy tales. Her debut novel, The Jewel Garden, was published in February 2018 by Williams & Whiting. Marilyn is a member of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists, the Historical Novel Society and The Society of Authors. Marilyn is currently working on a new historical novel, set in 18th century Italy that tells of two young boys who are bought from their families by a wealthy count, castrated and then trained to be singers. This was something that was actually done at the time, though this story is purely fictional. It follows the boys as one becomes a successful singer and the other who does not.

Find out more at Marilyn's website
and blog and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @mapemberton54

21 July 2018

Visiting the Tomb of Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, was the youngest surviving daughter of King Henry VII and the younger sister of King Henry VIII.  Mary was also grandmother to Lady Jane Grey. I spent four years researching her life for my books, as she is born in my book Henry - Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy, and is the subject of my latest book, Mary - Tudor Princess. Mary is also a central character in my next book, about the life of her husband, Charles Brandon.

Mary Tudor died at Westhorpe in Suffolk after a long illness, a little before eight in the morning on the twenty-fifth of June 1533. She was thirty-seven years old. She was laid to rest in the abbey church of Bury St Edmunds. Her alabaster monument was destroyed in the dissolution of the monasteries and her tomb moved to the nearby St Mary’s Church, where it is to this day.

In 1784, Mary’s lead coffin was moved to the chancel of St Mary’s and placed under a plain slab of Petworth marble inscribed ‘Mary Queen of France 1533.’ Although Mary was only Queen of France for some ninety days, it seems she never used her husband's surname or her title Duchess of Suffolk, always preferring to be referred to as Queen of France, so I believe she would have been happy with the simple inscription.

I visited on a bright summer morning and was impressed by the scale of the church, which is one of the largest parish churches in England, with the largest West Window of any parish church in the country.

In the Lady Chapel, there are stained glass windows, provided by Queen Victoria which show events from Mary’ life. In the lower centre window, Mary is shown being 'forgiven' by her brother Henry VIII for marrying his best friend, Charles Brandon, without his permission.

The later inscription and insignia on the wall above Mary's grave and the marble curb were provided on the orders of King Edward VII, who visited in 1904:

When Mary's coffin was moved it was opened and it is reported that her hair was some two feet long, a ‘reddish-gold’ colour and her teeth were even and complete. Locks of her hair were acquired by historian Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, and Lady Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland. Several specimens claiming to be Mary’s red-gold hair survive, including this one in the Bury St Edmunds Moyse's Hall museum:

I was pleased to see how the town of Bury St Edmunds celebrates the connection with Mary Tudor.  There is even this large poster in the Corn Exchange Wetherspoons:

My book  Mary - Tudor Princess is available from Amazon in paperback, ebook and audiobook editions, and although it is historical fiction, it is based on years of research to ensure her story is as factually accurate as possible.

DNA Testing Mary Tudor, Queen of France
Visiting St Margaret's Westhorpe - Parish Church of Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Researching and Writing Mary – Tudor Princess

17 July 2018

Book Launch Guest Post by Sarah Dahl ~ Tower: Unchained by Love (A Tales of Freya Short Story Book 6)

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. Young Viking Myskia lands on Irish shores to rescue his lover Adisa from the clutches of his family's enemy Raven. After a fierce duel, Myskia finds himself in the confined walls of a strange tower, facing Adisa. Their reunion turns out to be very different than what he imagined. Can the passion they once shared break down the walls that have grown between them after months of slavery? Or has she changed in ways he’s unprepared for? 

Set in the Viking era, this is a stand-alone, adult read with a HEA.

A tower as protagonist – An intimate Viking chamber play

The short story Tower – Unchained by Love is on the one hand the most gritty and bloody of my Tales of Freya. We see our protagonist Myskia attack a village to duel his arch enemy. His reunion with his enslaved lover Adisa turns out very different from what he had hoped for. It’s not like he can just snatch back the lady and run to the boats. Myskia has to break down the walls of the strange tower, and also those that have grown between him and his beloved woman. Until passion can unfold

Inside the tower, I wanted to oppose them like in an intimate chamber play: with nowhere else to go. Forced together. They aren’t the same people as before Adisa’s ordeal, but their bond is strong, and their wills and hearts are too. In this intimate setting, they go through a whole array of emotions; and with the traumatic experiences of especially Adisa, her encounter with Myskia is explosive – in many ways. 

So what I needed as a setting was a space that could intimately contain and intensify this wild exchange between them. So the former lovers end up in the very narrow space of a strange round tower, making both of them uncomfortable but also vulnerable and therefore open up. I specifically chose the slender, quite ancient round towers of Ireland, as seen in Glendalough, as a setting for this Tale. These towers’ history is vague. It is unclear who built them, why, and what they contained. They’re often near religious sites, but not quite on them. This uncertainty is ideal for a writer, as it gave me room to set up my chamber play as I needed it to be.

Our young and passionate hero is challenged not only by his enemy and then Adisa, but also this stone structure. He follows its exotic pull, then has to break into this imposing building, which in itself feels suicidal. Once inside, the narrow confines intimidate and confuse him. There is only one way to go: higher and higher into this dark space.

The round, narrow wall literally forces the lovers back together (be that a good or a bad thing). But it also protects them from the bloody mayhem down in what feels like the real world. The tower has a very surreal and removed-from-it-all intimacy to it. Cramped together, our couple is free from interruptions and distractions and can process their traumas and sudden reunion, to then celebrate the latter (in every sense that comes to mind ;-)).

So as often, there is some inciting “prop” for a story to develop. I had this idea of the tower as an intimate setting long before I wrote the Tale “Tower” – about 15 years ago, when I first saw the round towers “in person” in Ireland, steeped in mystery. Only much later did I plot this story “into” this exact space, and made it part of the story, almost like a protagonist in itself. Another challenger, an opponent to overcome. But also a protector for a while, as if the tower’s huge stony hand was folded around our couple for the time they need to reunite in minds, hearts, and bodies.

Sarah Dahl
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About the Author

Sarah Dahl lives on the edge of the rural German Eifel and writes historical fiction primarily set in the Viking age. She also works as an editor, translates, and coaches new writers 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 her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @sarahdahl13

16 July 2018

Discover the Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham, The Duchess Imprisoned For Witchcraft

Available in paperback, eBook and audiobook 
on Amazon UK and Amazon US 

England 1441:  Lady Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, hopes to become Queen of England before her interest in astrology and her husband’s ambition leads their enemies to accuse her of a plot against the king. Eleanor is found guilty of sorcery and witchcraft. Rather than have her executed, King Henry VI orders Eleanor to be imprisoned for life. 

More than a century after her death, carpenters restoring one of the towers of Beaumaris Castle discover a sealed box hidden under the wooden boards. Thinking they have found treasure, they break the ancient box open, disappointed to find it only contains a book, with hand-sewn pages of yellowed parchment.

Written in a code no one could understand, the mysterious book changed hands between antiquarian book collectors for more than five centuries. After years of failure to break the code, experts finally discover it is based on a long forgotten medieval dialect and are at last able to decipher the secret diary of Eleanor Cobham.

14 July 2018

Connecting with readers on Goodreads #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Goodreads is for readers, so is not the place for authors to engage in self-promotion but there are over 75 Million registered users, looking at over two billion books, who have created 77 Million reviews.  So how should you build this into your author platform? I've been on Goodreads for over seven years and offer some thoughts on some things to consider:

1. Create your Goodreads author page

Your author page is separate from your member profile page, which lists your bookshelves friends and reviews. It doesn't take long and it’s free, so search for yourself and click on your published author name, then send a request to join the Goodreads Author Program. If you haven’t set up your page, Goodreads offers readers a disappointing silhouette, so switch that for your favourite photo. You can also add a bio, links to your blog and Twitter user name. I sometimes see authors who put the wrong links, so test them to make sure they work properly. (My Goodreads author page is HERE if you’d like to see what they look like.)

2. Make sure your books are listed

Your books don’t just appear on Goodreads, someone has to list them in the first place. The best person to do that is you, as soon as your book is launched. You can make sure the details are all correct, with the best cover image. If you added the book it is easier to update it in the future. Check before adding a book by searching by author and title – and read the guidelines. If your books need to be added, you will be given access to the online form.

3. Start adding and reviewing books you read

The aim of Goodreads is for readers to share thoughts about books they read, so please join in. I sometimes forget but am trying to make time to write a short paragraph and cross post on Amazon as well as Goodreads, so you have double value from your time and your review may help other authors and readers.

4. Join and interact with Goodreads groups that match your genre(s)

There is a discussion group for everyone on Goodreads, including many led by Goodreads Authors so start exploring – just go to and type some keywords into the search box. Some groups offer book useful book promotion advice and are a great place to link up to other indie authors and find new ideas. (I recently formed a useful group of 'beta readers' for my new novel on a special interest group.)

5. Link to your writing blog with RSS

I have a lot of visitors to my writing blog via Goodreads, so it is definitely worth hooking up the RSS feed. (If you don’t know how to do it, here is step-by-step guidance) 

6. Post your promotional videos

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a one and half minute video worth? I’ll be posting later in this series on my experience with YouTube, but if you have a promotional video it makes sense to add it to your Goodreads author page.

7. Make time to update your status

This is one of the under-used areas of Goodreads, which means if you have time to bother your input stands out. All you need to do is go to and you’ll be presented with any books you’ve marked as currently reading, but you don’t have to limit your updates to that.

8. Send friend requests to like-minded reviewers and authors

Goodreads recommends that you only add someone as a ‘friend’ after you’ve interacted with them in a group or in a book discussion thread. I rarely bother sending friend requests to readers unless I have a really good reason, but it’s a useful way to keep tabs on other authors who share your interests.

9. Accept friend requests

Unlike Twitter, where you need to be a bit careful about who you follow back, I’m happy to accept any ‘friend requests’ on Goodreads. If I have the time I usually check out their blog and add them on Twitter if they have a Twitter username - you can be fairly sure they’ll follow back.

10. Help other authors

One of the Goodreads groups I like is Authors Helping Authors described as is a place where authors and bloggers can come together and help one another out. If you have a writing blog this is a great place to find authors interested in guest posting.

Tony Riches
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Do you have more ideas and suggestions on how to get the best from Goodreads? If so, please feel free to add a comment below

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.