15 May 2019

Stephen King: On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is a useful read for anyone who writes – or would like to.  I grew up on Stephen King’s thrillers without really knowing anything about the man who wrote them.  I read ‘On Writing’ when it was first published but have written many books since then, so it was interesting to see if it was still as good.

It was better.  The years have done nothing to diminish the power of the story telling that runs through this book.  There are also some great quotes that passed me by on the original reading (or perhaps slipped into my subconscious)  such as ‘the editor is always right’ and ‘2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%.’  

It’s easy to see how King has drawn on his childhood experiences in character development.  Growing up in poverty was an adventure - and no TV seems to have been a distinct advantage.  Undaunted by his growing pile of rejection slips, Stephen King just knew he was meant to write and nothing was going to stop him.

I liked his description of the moment he had his first big advance  (for Carrie).  The early draft had been rescued from the waste bin by his wife. (She smoothed out all the crumpled balls of paper and said she wanted to hear the rest of the story.  The film version made $33.8 million in the U.S. alone).

Although there are plenty of useful tips for writers throughout, the most thought provoking part of this book is the final section, ‘On Living: A Postscript.’  King explains, ‘Writing is not life, but I think that it can be a way back to life.  That was something I found out in the summer of 1999, when a man driving a blue van almost killed me.’  You have to read it.

Tony Riches

Do you have recommendations on books for writers you would like to share? 

Please feel free to 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. 

1 May 2019

Author interview with mystery and suspense author Tony Lee Moral

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A supernatural mystery, a coming of age story with romance, faith and hope. The biggest theme in the novel is what it means to be alive, focusing on Alice as she tries to navigate her grief for her mother, her new relationship, and her family. As history, a curse and ghosts plague the town, life and death are tackled in a unique way.

I'm pleased to welcome mystery and suspense author Tony Lee Moral to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Haunting of Alice May is a mystery and suspense story between a ghost and a human. When Alice May Parker moves to Pacific Grove, California, she is rescued from drowning by Henry Raphael. Handsome, old fashioned and cordial, he sees straight into her soul. Soon the two are involved in a romance but destructive forces threaten to tear them apart. Themes in the novel include what it means to be alive, what it’s like to lose someone you love, and the possibility of an after life.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I write often during the evenings or weekends in my study. Actually I wrote an article on “Blue Sky Thinking” which you can read on my Ghost Maven website. I interviewed a psychologist who told me that creative thinking is best done in wide-open spaces which is where the phrase Blue Sky thinking originated. But if you want to be detailed and analytical, or if you have a looming deadline, confined spaces work best. As I lived in Pacific Grove for two years, where my novel is set, I would visit and write scenes on location in note books so I could capture the sights, smells and vistas of Monterey Bay.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Build your author platform and cultivate your readership and followers. In today’s social media age, your readers are everything. Nurture them and you will see the fruits of your labour. Read books, watch films, and delve deep into your own lives for inspiration. Travel is very important for my writing and I have been lucky enough to visit many places for my other profession as a documentary filmmaker.

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

Through book tours, social media, ad campaigns, but most of all getting reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. GoodReads is especially useful as you have a whole community of authors and readers who are supportive and willing to read your book and recommend it to others.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Reading The Haunting of Alice May makes me realize how incredibly personal it is to me. I drew upon my own childhood fears of drowning, a sense of the afterlife and also my interest and appreciation of nature, especially marine life. As I lived in Monterey Bay for two years, the locations became very central to the story and I use them when plotting my mystery and suspense, which I learned through my studies of Alfred Hitchcock.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Definitely the opening chapter was the hardest, which I continually rewrote, as it is vital to pull the reader in. I wanted to plunge Alice in immediate danger and surrounded by her greatest fear, that of drowning. So I thought how could I use the location in an imaginative way, and what better place than placing the heroine in the middle of the Bay.

What are you planning to write next?

I have three more novels which I am planning to publish. Two are suspenseful murder mysteries set in New York and Rome and follow an American heroine and her Italian boyfriend. They were great fun to write and of course I enjoyed visiting the many glamorous places when I was plotting my novel.

Tony Lee Moral
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About the Author

Tony Lee Moral is an author specialising in mystery and suspense. He has written three books on the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock's Movie Making Masterclass (2013) published by MWP books; The Making of Hitchcock's The Birds (2013) published by Kamera Books and Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (2005) published by Scarecrow Press. Hitchcock was a master storyteller, using plot, character, location and props to tell engaging stories of mystery, suspense, crime and retribution. Tony was born in Hastings, England in 1971, before moving to California. He lived in Monterey and Big Sur for two years which forms the inspiration for his latest thriller The Haunting of Alice May, which is published in March 2019 in Paperback and Kindle. Find out more at Tony's website www.tonyleemoralbooks.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @TonyLeeMoral

25 April 2019

Special Guest interview with Toni Mount, Author of The Colour of Lies: A Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is late summer and London is all a-bustle for St Bartholomew’s Fayre, with merchants arriving from faraway lands. When an old friend returns with fabulous items for sale, it can only mean one thing: trouble. As thievery, revenge and murder stalk the fayre, Sebastian Foxley – artist and sometime-sleuth – has mysteries to solve. In uncovering the answers, he becomes enmeshed in a web of lies and falsehoods.

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Toni Mount to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Colour of Lies is the seventh Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mystery. Seb is an artist-cum-scribe whose eye for detail that others miss make him fifteenth-century London’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. In the series so far, Seb has progressed from being doubtful about his abilities and reliant upon his elder brother, Jude, to having a wife, a workshop and becoming a father but things never go smoothly for Seb.

In this book, he returns to London after a brief but necessary sojourn in Norfolk to discover Jude has ruined the business and the Foxleys’ reputation. With London’s famous St Bartholomew’s Fair in full swing, there are soon crimes to be solved and the possible suspects come too close to home, leaving Seb to have to choose between seeing justice served and protecting those dearest to him. Revenge, passion, infidelity and a great many lies complicate Seb’s life. Will our hero solve the crimes and save the day? All is revealed in The Colour of Lies as readers share in the fun of the fair, suffer the stinks of medieval London, go aboard a merchant ship and visualise life in the Middle Ages.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I don’t really have a routine because so much is always going on in my life: teaching, lectures, library volunteering, freelance writing for magazines, research and events but, if I’m at home then I plan to have done daily chores such as washing up, washing, meal prep, shopping by ten a.m. Then I’m at my desk. I skim emails for anything vital and then forget about it.

I work for an hour, take a coffee break. Work, take a lunch break, work until 4.30-5.00 then cook dinner. That’s it. I don’t work in the evenings or my head is too busy to sleep. That said; I often have my best ideas in bed or in the shower. The trouble with the latter is it’s too wet to make notes, so I have to remember them!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Three things. Firstly, if you want to write, just get on with it. Nobody else can do it for you or it won’t be the book you want to write. Secondly, be prepared to persevere. A book is a long haul and even once it’s written, there will be editing and checking to do. If your manuscript is accepted for publication, there will be more editing, tweeking, rewriting and proof reading, so be ready for that. And finally, don’t be shy. Get your work out there. If you enjoyed writing it, people will enjoy reading it.

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

The short answer is that I’m still working on that. Being published by MadeGlobal, they don’t have a big publicity budget so events like this ‘blog-tour’ on other people’s websites are great. Facebook and other social media, listing on Amazon and reviews in magazines like GoodReads, Red Herrings (the Crime Writers’ Association monthly) and any other virtual magazines all help.

Author talks and competitions with freebie books as prizes get your name known. But I’m still open to ideas and looking for the ‘big break’. Although my book sales are in the tens of thousands, I’ve a way to go to catch up with JK Rowling and Lee Child, etc.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Unicorn horns. In The Colour of Lies I wanted some really exotic items to be for sale at St Bartholomew’s fair where much of the action takes place, something worth stealing that might also be used as a weapon. Extremely rare and lethally pointed, I decided a unicorn horn was perfect. Unicorn horns were reckoned to counteract every known poison in medieval times, so they were carved into cups for royalty to drink from, dipped into food in case it was tainted to make it safe to eat, or powdered and taken as a medicine – an extremely expensive one – to cure all ills, from plague to piles.

But from where and from which creature did the horns come? Arabian oryx, rhinos... Summer 2018 saw us holidaying in Iceland and we visited the ‘Whales of Iceland’ Museum in Reykjavik. Imagine my delight when I found the narwhal. Narwhals are fairly small members of the whale family, usually white with a single long tooth that grows out of one side of the mouth like a tusk. Examples of these tusks on display were exquisite spirals of ivory, 8-10 feet in length, and then I read the information card. ‘Narwhal tusks were often exported to England in the fifteenth century to be sold as unicorn horns.’ Perfect.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

At one point in the book, Seb reaches rock bottom in a state of emotional dilemma. I won’t say too much – you’ll know which bit when you read it and I don’t what to spoil it for you – but, fortunately, I’ve never been in quite so desperate a situation. I had to recall my saddest moments ever, add a big dash of conflicted interests and multiply by ten to get close to Seb’s emotional predicament. I hope I never experience anything like it for real: I had to take the afternoon off to recover from writing it.           
What are you planning to write next?

I’m currently writing a factual history book, The World of Isaac Newton, commissioned by Amberley Publishing, deadline 1st October 2019. Then I have two commissions from Pen & Sword Books Ltd: How to Survive in Medieval England, deadline 1st June 2020, and Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England, (which should be fun to research), deadline 1st March 2021.

Then there is the next Sebastian Foxley mystery, The Colour of Shadows, currently evolving. This has no definite deadline but my publisher blithely added the words to the preview snippet at the end of Lies, ‘due out later this year!’ So, fingers crossed for that. And then there are all the other ideas brewing in my head: a sequel to my Victorian murder mystery, The Death Collector; an Isaac Newton mystery suggested by Heffer’s Bookshop in Cambridge; an off-shoot novel for one of the secondary characters in the Seb Foxley series and then The Colour of Evil, if I’m still here... Phew!

Toni Mount
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About the Author

Toni Mount is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker - and a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group. Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library. Toni is married with two grown up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups - or volunteering - she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. Find out more at Toni's website www.ToniMount.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @tonihistorian

23 April 2019

Guest Interview With Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Author of Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome Kelcey Wilson-Lee to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Daughters of Chivalry tells the forgotten life stories of the five daughters of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile - Eleanora, Joanna, Margaret, Mary, and Elizabeth. These women travelled extensively and independently from early ages, managed large estates and commanded castle garrisons, undertook diplomatic and trade missions, and promoted England's cultural and military might throughout Europe. They were utterly unlike the powerless princesses familiar from fairy tales, and their lives help to shatter many of the myths that continue to surround understandings of the opportunities open to and constraints upon medieval noblewomen.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I work full-time (as a major gifts fundraiser at the University of Cambridge), and also have two small children, so I research, plan and write whenever I can. Because it's hard to find consecutive hours to really sit down and write, I sketch the narrative progression of each chapter extensively, bundling together the notes and key sources I'll use along with any major interpretive angle I want to feature. This means that by the time I am writing you can pretty much plow through a first draft even on those days when the words aren't flowing smoothly - which is a necessity when you have little time to write and a fixed deadline!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Find a story that you believe in, one that you feel needs to be told, and be creative in thinking about how to make that story as accessible as possible. If the first idea doesn't work, ask why and then come up with a second idea that better addresses the market.

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

Many underestimate the value of word-of-mouth recommendations - one reader who likes the book and mentions it to friends can set in chain dozens of book purchases that really add up. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads can also do wonders to give potential readers an idea of what a book is really like.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Given Eleanor of Castile's own exceptional learning, it was not unexpected that her daughters would learn to read (and even to write) in their native Anglo-Norman, and perhaps also in Latin. But much rarer was the tutor who taught some of her grandchildren - including her granddaughter, Margaret de Bohun - to read Greek, a truly exceptional skill for a secular woman in early fourteenth-century England.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

A little over halfway through Daughters of Chivalry, the eldest of the five sisters, Eleanora, dies. We can piece together quite a lot about her from surviving sources: she was a dutiful student of diplomacy, a strong advocate for her father's imperial ambitions, a patient sister and a formidable wife, as well as a lover of almonds with a penchant for dresses with bling. But her death is barely acknowledged in the sources, and no cause is given. It was exceedingly frustrating to have to write such a rounded person being essentially snuffed out without being able to offer any more sense of what her final days were like.

What are you planning to write next?

I am presently sketching an idea for a biography - of only one person this time rather than five! Like Daughters of Chivalry, it will be influenced by art, artefact, spaces, and literature, as well as strict documentary history.

Kelcey Wilson-Lee

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About the Author

Kelcey Wilson-Lee is a historian of medieval Britain, its art and architecture. Following completion of her doctoral research on late-medieval tombs, she has written and lectured on this subject, as well as topics including the development of the country house and the representation of medieval women in positions of power. She is a keen advocate for the preservation and enjoyment of Britain's outstanding surviving heritage. Originally from America, she has lived in the UK since 2003, mostly in Cambridge, where she resides with her husband and two sons. Find out more at Kelcey's website https:/å/www.kelceywilsonlee.com/ and find her on Twitter @kwilsonlee

18 April 2019

Tudor Book Of The Garden

New on Amazon UK 
or direct from the Tudor Times Shop

The Tudor Book of the Garden has been designed as a practical garden journal for the twenty-first century whilst sharing extensive information about the Tudor garden and gardener. Its dedicated sections allow gardeners to plan and record their horticultural efforts and refer back to them in this high-quality production diary for years to come.

Sections include: Tudor Garden Designers Tudor Tools, The Tudor Gardener, Popular Tudor Gardening Books, Essential Tudor Plants Plants found in Shakespeare, Year Planner with Seasons Favourite Plants, My Garden Layout and Features, My Favourite Gardens.

16 April 2019

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Of Knights and Dogfights: A WWII Novel, by Ellie Midwood

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Austria, 1938: On the verge of the most devastating war of all times, four young men found themselves sharing a room in a flying school dormitory. A bohemian Berliner, a Flieger-Hitlerjugend member, a prodigy pilot, and a butcher’s son, with nothing in common but their love for the Luftwaffe and the freedom the sky has to offer. 

The bond they develop is put to the test by what might be a stronger adversary - war itself. Over the English Channel, in the dusty skies of Africa, on the brutal Eastern front, they will discover where their loyalty lies, and what true bravery means. 

“It’s Großdeutsches Reich, soldier. When one has a family at home, it doesn’t leave him many chances for the revolt.” 

As the war progresses, Willi and Johann grow more and more disillusioned with the regime they’re protecting with their lives. An SS unit appearing on their base to claim one of their own; bits of conversation revealing the truth about the extermination program accidentally overheard during the official reception - the pieces of the puzzle are slowly coming together, but it’s too late to do anything but fight to the bitter end, whatever it may bring. 

Set during one of the bloodiest wars in history, “Of Knights and Dogfights” is the story of the shattered illusions of youth, tyranny and freedom, friendship and love guiding one out of the darkest hell of Soviet captivity.

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About the Author

Ellie Midwood is an award-winning, best-selling historical fiction writer. She's a health obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew and a doggie mama. Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.
Find out more at http://elliemidwood.com and find her on Facebook

My Top Five Blogging Tips For Authors #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

As busy writers, it’s easy to forget the value of blog posts as a tool to raise awareness. This blog, for example, averages over 10,000 visitors a month, as well as countless shares across social media. It doesn't cost anything, except time, so here are my top tips, based on my experience of blogging over the past ten years:

Keep it simple

Develop a format and stick to it. As well as saving time, regular visitors know what to expect. For example, I like to start with a book cover with purchase links and end with a short, third-person bio with website and social media links.

Invite other authors

Be selective and invite authors who are broadly within your target readership to guest post. Remember they are busy, particularly if they have a new book to launch, so make it as easy as you can for them.

Develop good ‘interview’ questions

I’ve ‘evolved’ a set of questions that work well – and authors seem comfortable with answering. In the past I’ve been asked all sorts of odd things in blog ‘interviews’. Sometimes the quirky questions can reveal something of the writer, but it’s best to keep them relevant.    

Share your posts on Goodreads via RSS

There are over eighty million readers on Goodreads – who manage and amazing four hundred and thirty million monthly pageviews, so it’s well worth taking the time to set up a feed to automatically post there.

Learn from others

Make the time to visit other blogs and leave comments. Invariably you'll learn something new - and what works well today could change next month, so it's a great way to keep up with new and emerging ideas and developments.  

Happy blogging!

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Do you have some great tips on blogging you would like to share? 
Please feel free to 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 

15 April 2019

Guest Post by Author Derek Birks: Echoes of Treason – Book 3 of The Craft of Kings

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

An Exercise in Filling in the Gaps!

The Craft of Kings series charts the exploits and trials of a fictional family - the Elders – through the period of transition between the end of Edward IV’s reign and the arrival of Henry Tudor.

In the previous two books the Elders, led by the young lord who is head of the family, John Elder, manage to survive – just about - the reign of the boy king, Edward V. So, at the start of this story, members of the Elder family are scattered and under pressure. Trust me, for this family, that is pretty much life as usual!

For the backdrop of this novel, I chose the rebellions against Richard III which occurred in October/November 1483. They are sometimes collectively called ‘Buckingham’s Rebellion’ – referring to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who was Richard’s erstwhile ally. But the term is very misleading, for it was not Buckingham who began the revolts, nor organised them – and his own part in them was an ignominious failure.

I chose to focus instead on a less well known – indeed hardly ever referred to – area of revolt: Poole in Dorset. In truth, there was not much support for a rising in Dorset, though Poole was an ideal port for Henry Tudor to choose for his invasion and there is some evidence that he did turn up there. So, as they say, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I soon learned that researching Poole in the fifteenth century was not straightforward at all. It turned out that I was going to have to fill in a lot more gaps than usual!

To start with, my attempts to gather any information about the area for the specific date of 1483 pretty much drew a complete blank. I even had to piece together what the town of Poole might have been like. There were no contemporary maps of a place that appears to have been something like a Wild West boom town at that time. In fact, the map I commissioned for the book may well be the first genuine attempt at producing one for that period.

I set quite a lot of the action at a prominent coastal landmark called Handfast Point – known locally as Old Harry Rocks. It’s a place I have visited many times but unfortunately, because of hundreds of years of erosion, there is no trace of what stood on the point in 1483. There is reference in the sources to a castle there in King John’s reign and another, new castle built there in the sixteenth century, but nothing in between. 

So, a big gap to fill – and that’s where the historical fiction writer can have great fun! I decided that, by 1483, the old twelfth or thirteenth century castle would still have been there, but perhaps in a state of disrepair – otherwise they would not have needed a new one a century later. So that’s what I used for the location – an old, small and decaying castle perched on the edge of sheer chalk cliffs. Did something similar ever exist? I’ve no idea, but it seems at least plausible based on what we know - which is next to nothing!

If you are new to my books then you can expect a lot of action and a fairly high body count – with some interesting characters – at least, I hope you’ll find them interesting!

Derek Birks

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About the Author

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs. Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes, but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family during the Wars of the Roses up to 1471. A second series, entitled The Craft of Kings, also features the Elder family in the 1480s. Find out more at Derek's website: www.derekbirks.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @Feud_writer

12 April 2019

Guest Post: The Vision of Antje Baumann, by Laurence Power

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is May 1940 in Holland. As the Baumann family realizes that Hitler’s war has suddenly become their war, sirens begin blaring as a squadron of airplanes flies over Oosterbeek. Antje, Gerrit, and Cornelis Baumann are too young to understand what is happening around them. All they know is that they feel powerless as they watch their father cry.

In spring and early summer of 1945 I was a pupil in a rural school in Tipperary. Our curate arrived in one day with collection boxes to put to use. Teaching ceased to allow the priest to say what he had to say. He told us how lucky we in Ireland were because we had enough food to feed all of us, while in Holland children were starving and eating tulip bulbs and whatever else to stay alive.

Two generations earlier Ireland had lived through The Great Famine, the tragedy that took one million lives; another million emigrated. Everyone was aware of it. I took a collection box and walked into farmer's houses for the "starving children of Holland." Most of us took boxes and we were proud to do so.

Over a generation later I was in Holland buying pedigree MRI cattle for a Dutch oral surgeon living in Ireland when I met up with farmers he knew with cattle to sell. To make conversation one evening I raised the Nazi occupation of their country. At first it seemed that they didn't want to go there. But ever so slowly they began to talk. 

To me it seemed a taboo topic until then. Finally, they opened up. There was sadness, anger and most of all there was emotion. It was extraordinary. They couldn't be stopped; a torrent of words without let-up. One of those people told me that in the first days of May 1945 he saw his mother leave the house early. She carried an axe in her hand. Soon she was in the company of other house wives; they too carried axes. Scores to be settled.

From Chapter 17 in my book and on I deal with the airborne landings, near Arnhem. I visited the landing places, the scenes of battle, the blunders, the courage of British tommies and the Dutch resistance. Epic stuff. After the Arnhem tragedy we were, once again, into famine; the Great Irish Famine and now the Hunger Winter. 

How one individual could orchestrate and create such devastation and suffering? Never again. I cycled around the landing areas and Arnhem, I visited museums and the Imperial War Museum in London for background information on Marker Garden. I'm not young now but hope to return there in September, if the Lord is willing. It was the book I had to write.

Laurence Power

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About the Author

Laurence Power is a retired business professional. When Catherine, his wife of 50 years passed away, he researched and wrote Black ’47, a story of the Great Irish Famine of 1846-49 that forever altered the path of Irish history. Laurence lives in County Kildare in Ireland and is currently researching and working on a book that will reverberate in a few countries, hopefully in 2019. His cycling days are over but not his writing days…not yet. Find out more at Laurence's website http://laurencepower.ie/ and find him on Facebook.

10 April 2019

Tudor Historical Fiction Spotlight: Shadow of Persephone (The Story of Catherine Howard Book 1), by Gemma Lawrence

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

February 1542: A young woman awaits her execution in the Tower of London, sent to death on the orders of her husband, Henry VIII.

Daughter of the nobility, cousin to a fallen Queen, Catherine Howard rose from the cluttered ranks of courtiers at the court of Henry VIII to become the King's fifth wife. But hers is a tale that starts long before the crown was placed on her head. A tale of tragedy and challenges, predators and prey; the story of a young girl growing up in a perilous time, facing dangers untold. 

The fifth wife of Henry VIII would end her life on the block, like her cousin Anne Boleyn... But where did her story begin?

Shadow of Persephone is Book One in the series The Story of Catherine Howard, by G. Lawrence

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About the Author

Gemma Lawrence is an independently published author living in Cornwall in the UK. She studied literature at university says, 'I write mainly Historical Fiction, with an emphasis on the Tudor and Medieval periods and have a particular passion for women of history who inspire me'.Gemma can be found on Wattpad and Twitter @TudorTweep.

7 April 2019

Book review: Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister', by Heather R. Darsie

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK

It's unlikely that Henry VIII called Anna (Anne) of Cleves 'the Flanders Mare' (later writers added that nice little detail) and far from being unlucky to have been his wife, Anna seems to have done rather well from becoming 'the king's beloved sister.

I enjoyed reading this wonderfully researched new book from Heather Darsie, which returns to  primary sources. It must have helped that the author is fluent in German, and was able to visit archives and museums all over Europe.

Anna’s story begins with her life as a child, born as a duchess at Burg Castle (now reconstructed and a major tourist attraction), and at the rather staid Cleves court, where the only education she had was in embroidery.

It's hard not to feel sympathy for Thomas Cromwell, as Anna 'ticked most of the boxes' and brought an important alliance. He was unlucky not to realise the significance of the cultural differences between the German and English courts - or that Anna only spoke German (although she was desperately trying to learn conversational English.) 

Like many modern celebrities, it seems Anna was poorly advised, as she changed from her wedding dress into a 'gown like a man's gown' - perfectly acceptable in Germany but a mistake in fashion-conscious England. She eventually swapped her odd (to English tastes) German hat for a French hood, but the damage to her reputation had been done. 

With hindsight, it seems credible that King Henry was less concerned with Anna's looks (or what she wore) than with her young lady-in-waiting, Catherine Howard. It's also worth remembering that Catherine's uncle, the influential Duke of Norfolk, would have good reason to encourage Henry's 'interest' in his niece.

Although Anna had no choice other than to agree the annulment of her marriage, it now seems she had a lucky escape.  She became one of the richest women in England and seems to have been a positive influence on her step-daughters, Elizabeth and Mary (Mary was only a few months younger than Anna). 

Anna is the only one of Henry VIII's six wives to be buried in Westminster Abbey - thanks to his daughter Queen Mary I. (Anna's tomb is on the south side of the High Altar, a low stone structure with carvings of the initials AC with a crown, lions' heads - and a skull and cross-bones!)

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Heather R. Darsie lives in the United States. She has a Bachelor of Arts in German Languages and Literature, and a Juris Doctorate. During her time at university, she studied in Costa Rica and France, with visits to Germany and other countries. She is currently studying for an MA in Early Modern History. Find out more at maidensandmanuscripts.com  and follow her on Facebook 

5 April 2019

Historical Fiction Spotlight: No Room for Regret (Cullen - Bartlett Dynasty Book 1) by Janeen Ann O'Connell

Available on Amazon UK, Amazon US

London, 1811:  Chained below deck, 18-year-old James Tedder listens to the sobs of his fellow prisoners. Putting his hand over his nose to filter the vile smells, James wonders how life on the other side of the world could ever be worth living.

London, 1812:  Sarah Blay watches the convict ship Indefatigable begin its voyage to the other side of the world with her husband, and his friend James Tedder, on board. 

One year later, Sarah bundles up her three small sons and says a final goodbye to her mother, and follows her husband to Van Diemen's Land on a dangerous journey that will take fourteen long months.

Will Sarah regret her decision... and will any of them survive?

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About the Author
Janeen Ann O'Connell was born and lives in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia with her husband and their miniature poodle, Teddy. Janeen's working life was as varied as it was interesting. She worked at the University of Melbourne Archives where her love of history was nurtured, then at Forensic Medicine for Victoria Police. She taught Humanities (which included History) and English, at a secondary school in the outer Melbourne suburbs where she now lives. Janeen weaves elements from her life experiences into her historical fiction stories. Find out more t Janeen's website https://janeenannoconnell.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @janeen_author 

4 April 2019

Book Review - Edward the Elder: King of the Anglo-Saxons, Forgotten Son of Alfred, by Michael John Key

New on Amazon UK 
and for pre-order at Amazon US

History has been unkind to 'the forgotten' Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Elder, son of King Alfred the Great and father of Æthelstan. Part of the reason for Edward the Elder's low profile is the lack of contemporary biographical records, so this new book by Michael John Key is therefore a good way to help put the record straight.

For me, the most useful section of this book deals with the analysis of Edward's legacy. Without Edward's successes, Æthelstan would have had a very different life, so his contribution to British history is not to be underestimated.

Edward the Elder emerges from this fresh examination of the evidence as an effective administrator with a good grasp of strategy - ideal qualities for the emerging political class of kingship. Perhaps the one quality he lacked was the talent for self promotion which created our most memorable kings. 

I was interested in what Michael John Key has to say about Edward the Elder's final resting place. It seems the story of labourers accidentally breaking into his undisturbed tomb is a myth, although advances in scientific analysis mean we might have a small piece of Edward's pelvic bone - but even that could belong to Alfred the Great.

Well researched and engaging, I feel much better informed after reading this book and recommend it  to anyone with an interest in the Anglo-Saxon kings. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Michael John Key has spent his professional career in the oil, gas, and petrochemical Industry. After retiring to concentrate on writing he has researched and studied medieval history for many years, with a particular interest in the Anglo-Saxon period. He has a BA History Honours Degree. He was born in Leigh, Lancashire, but now lives in Hampshire, where he has spent most of his life.

31 March 2019

Book Launch: Transfer, by Apple Gidley

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Transfer traces the lives of those on Anna’s Fancy, the Clausen estate on Saint Croix in the Danish West Indies, handed down through three generations. An historical novel and the sequel to Fireburn (OC Publishing 2017), Transfer sees Niels Clausen, the illegitimate child of a Danish landowner and his black mistress who both died as a result of the 1878 worker revolt, leave his adoptive mother’s sugar plantation and sail to England to continue his education.

With the help of Toby, a British aristocrat, Ivy, a lady’s maid turned lady and her botanist husband, Timothy, Niels challenges the perceptions on the streets of London of a black man at the turn of the 20th century. His development as a writer and political protagonist continues as he travels to Denmark and France where he meets up with childhood friends, Javier and Fabiana Gomez, before returning to Saint Croix.

The Danish West Indies face an uncertain future as the declining sugar industry lessens Denmark’s interest in their colonial outpost. Niels becomes increasingly involved in the future of the islands as war looms and concerns grow that Germany might covet a presence in the Caribbean. Will the islands’ security be guaranteed by the transfer of power to America?

The highs and lows of Niels’ life are punctuated by the crossing of oceans and cultures as well as the political manoeuvrings of a turbulent time in Europe, the United States and the Caribbean.

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About the Author

Apple Gidley is an Anglo-Australian author whose life has been spent absorbing countries and cultures, considers herself a global nomad. She currently divides her time between Houston, Texas and St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. She has moved 26 times, and has called twelve countries home (Nigeria, England, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Papua New Guinea, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Scotland, USA, Equatorial Guinea), and her experiences are described in her first book, Expat Life Slice by Slice. Her roles have been varied - from magazine editor to intercultural trainer, from interior designer to Her Britannic Majesty’s Honorary Consul. Now writing full time, Apple evocatively portrays peoples and places with empathy and humour, whether writing travel articles, blogs, short stories or full-length fiction. Find out more at Apple’s Blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter @expatapple.

30 March 2019

Guest Post by Rozsa Gaston: Passion and Politics in Early Renaissance France

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

France admired her but Brittany loved her. Just as Louis did.Anne, Duchess of Brittany, is the love of King Louis XII of France’s life. Too bad he’s already married.While his annulment proceedings create Europe’s most sensational scandal of 1498, Anne returns to Brittany to take back control of her duchy that her late husband, Charles VIII, King of France, had wrested from her.

France, 1498 
Charles VIII, King of France, has died in a freak accident at age twenty-seven. His queen, Anne of Brittany, is now sole sovereign ruler of Brittany as well as Europe’s most wealthy widow. When the new king, Louis XII of France, sues for her affections, she tells him he has one year to get an annulment or she will move on. The king’s annulment proceedings create Europe’s most sensational scandal of 1498, while Anne returns to Brittany to take back control of her duchy that her late husband had wrested from her. But can she maintain Brittany’s independence from France if she accepts Louis’ offer to make her queen of France once more?

Stained Glass Mosaic of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII, King of France
Hotel de Ville, Vannes, France
Photo courtesy of Thor Karlsen and ABP BZH Agence Bretagne Presse

Louis has admired Anne since meeting her as a young girl at the court of her father, Duke Francis II of Brittany. Even at the age of seven, the future duchess of Brittany held herself as the ruler she would one day become.

In return, Anne’s first girlish crush was on Louis d’Orléans, the twenty-one-year-old handsome and debonair friend of her father’s from the French royal house of Valois. The impression Anne and Louis made on each other was indelible, the threads of which were picked up many years later once Anne became the widow of Charles VIII and Louis ascended the French throne.

Anne of Brittany and Louis d’Orléans, 1491
Gravure from Secrets of History: Anne of Brittany
Courtesy of Stephane Bern

Louis must get an annulment to make Anne his bride. His wife resists, the hunchbacked, sterile Jeanne of France, whom he was forced to marry against his will as a youth of fourteen, by her father, known as the spider king for his devious machinations.

But Louis has an ace up his sleeve. He is aware that the most scandalous pope in the history of the Catholic church, Alexander VI, also known as Rodrigo Borgia, needs a title, land, and noble wife for his purported nephew, Cesare, whom everyone knows is his son.

While Louis offers a backroom deal to the pope in order to obtain his annulment, Anne returns to Brittany to make the Tro Breizh, a journey through her realm to reaffirm her political power as Brittany’s sovereign ruler. If the French king wants to marry her, he will have to come get her, but not without his annulment decree in hand.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Tro Breizh (Tour of Brittany)
from Editions Coop Breizh, courtesy of Google Images

Finally, the annulment is granted. The decree is delivered by Cesare Borgia himself, a cocky peacock from the streets of Rome who is laughed at behind his back by the French royal court.

Louis leaves for Brittany immediately, there to wed Anne in Nantes at her father’s castle where they first met. This time, Anne’s marriage to the king of France is on her terms. Her marriage contract states that she is to remain sole sovereign ruler of her own duchy of Brittany, unlike her marriage contract with Charles, in which she was forced to cede sole sovereignty.

Louis respects Anne’s right to administer her own duchy. He knows she is determined to retain Brittany’s independence from France. One day he believes Brittany will come into the kingdom of France, but not under his wife’s watch.

Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany
Birthplace and ancestral home of Anne of Brittany
Nantes, France

It is not Brittany that the king of France covets, but Italy, just as Charles VIII did before him. Louis stakes a claim to the duchy of Milan and then to the kingdom of Naples.

Portrait of Louis XII, King of France
Artist Unknown, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Anne would prefer Louis to mind France’s affairs and stay out of Italy’s, but the king has other ideas. Two months before the birth of their first child together, Louis leaves for Milan, where he enjoys initial success in claiming its ducal throne. But after several months, Louis begins to realize the morass he has gotten himself into in Italy. Allies change sides, then change sides again. The age of chivalry is dead and in its place the Borgias lead the pack in poisoning their enemies and seizing power by unscrupulous means.

Stained glass image of Louis XII, King of France
By Jean Perréal, c. 1500
Walters Art Musuem, Baltimore, Maryland
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Anne is concerned that her good-hearted husband is like a lamb led to slaughter in Italy. When, finally, he returns, they are visited by diplomatic envoys from Florence, the junior of whom is the young Niccolò Machiavelli. Instantly, Anne sees that Machiavelli is sizing up the king, to report back to Florence. She arranges for the young envoy to be sent back soon, distrusting his motives at the French court.

Beggar’s Meeting with Anne of Brittany and Louis XII
By Adrien Thibault
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Both Anne and Louis have high hopes that a dauphin for France will soon be born to Anne to join their daughter Claude. Meanwhile, Louis, confident that he still holds Milan, is determined to try to take the kingdom of Naples, to which he has a much more flimsy claim. Knowing that he lacks the resources to take and hold Naples alone, he enters into a secret alliance with Ferdinand of Spain. They decide to carve up southern Italy between France and Spain, with Louis getting Abruzzi and the Campania, including the city of Naples, and Ferdinand getting Apulia and Calabria in the south.   

All is harmonious between Anne and Louis, a couple temperamentally suited to each other and with deep affection planted between them from the days of Anne’s childhood. Where Anne is fierce, Louis loves a challenge. Anne is lavish in her tastes, but also in her care of her husband; Louis is somewhat parsimonious and relies on Anne to add splendor and lustre to the French court.

But when Anne proposes that their daughter Claude one day marry the heir to the Habsburg throne, Louis secretly wishes their daughter to marry the heir to the throne of France. Neither worry overmuch as Claude is just a babe of one. Besides, once Anne has a son, he will ascend the French throne and Claude will one day rule Brittany as her mother’s successor.

Yet no son arrives…

Close up of figures reputed to be Anne of Brittany and Louis XII
from The Unicorn Tapestries thought to be commissioned by Anne of Brittany for Louis XII, c. 1498-1505
The Met Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
 Photo by R. Gaston

Ma Brette, you know I must go. The moment is right. With the pope’s support I will sweep Milan clean of Sforza and claim my inheritance for France,” Louis reasoned to Anne. As usual, she was not having it.
            “Why must you fall into the same trap that Charles did? Do you really think there is something on the other side of the Alps so much better than what we have here?” Anne balled her fists at her side, containing the urge to beat some sense into her husband’s head. What was with these men and their harebrained dreams of conquest in foreign lands?
            “’Tis not the same trap at all. Milan is mine through my father’s mother. And Borgia has given his word that he will support me in sweeping Sforza from the city. His son will ride at my side as soon as I can wrap up his affairs here.” Louis looked frustrated. He was no matchmaker like his wife and without her support Cesare’s marriage aspirations were going nowhere.
            “Get rid of him as soon as possible, then stay here and wait for the birth of your child, husband. Is not your duty to manage the affairs of your country and not interfere in the affairs of another?”
            “This is an opportunity ripe for the picking. And you know the Borgia won’t leave unless I personally accompany him over the border.” Louis rolled his eyes. “We just need to get your princess to agree to marry him.”
            “She will never agree.”
            Louis looked closely at his wife. Usually Anne didn’t put too fine a point on whether her maids of honor agreed with her marriage choices for them or not. She just insisted on their obedience. What his Brette really meant was that she herself would never agree to handing over Charlotte of Naples to such a man.
            Louis sighed, wondering how he could get her to change her mind. His wife’s motto was ‘Non mudera, I will not change.’ Well did he know.

Cesare Borgia (1475-1507)
Portrait of a Gentleman Thought to be Cesare Borgia
by Meloni Altobello (1490-1543)
Museum Accademia Carrara, Italy
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“I have arranged for Cesare to come to dinner tonight. Have Charlotte come, too, and we will excuse ourselves so that they may dine alone and get to know one another.” Louis tried to sound authoritative. He was king, but he had never arranged a private dinner for two unmarried people to meet. He had no idea how to manage it.
            “Why should a princess of Naples and Aragon get to know a man with no title and no lineage, other than one he cannot claim?” The accepted story was that Cesare was the pope’s nephew. Not a single soul in Europe believed it.
            “Wife, do you not understand that the Borgia’s support is vital for me to claim Milan?”
            “Husband, do you not understand that claiming Milan gains you and your kingdom nothing?”
            “Of course, it does. It would be a gem in the crown of France.”
            “A gem that will fall out at the first push. The moment you leave Milan you know what will happen, just as it did with Charles in Naples. The Italians will re-form their alliances and push you out. Do you not know them well enough by now after suffering so horribly at Fornovo?” Louis and his troops had endured terrible losses in 1495 at the battle of Fornovo, due to the treachery of Ludovico Sforza. Initially France’s ally, Milan’s powerful ruler had switched sides to the League of Venice at the last moment.
            “It was a terrible time, but this will be different.”
            “Men! When will any of you understand that war is never different? It always ends badly, and none of you ever learn that it is best not to go where one is not invited.”
            “And that is precisely the difference. The pope has made it clear that the people of Milan want Sforza out. They’ve had enough of him. With the pope’s help, and his son at my side, they will welcome the king of France, great grandson of Giangalezzo Visconti, their very first duke!” Louis pulled himself up, looking almost Italian for a moment, handsome and glowering.   
            “For how long do you think they will welcome you? You will be greeted in glory, welcomed for a month or two, then slowly resented and ultimately booted out. Has not recent history taught you this, husband?”
            “I know that if ever there was a chance to claim Milan for France, it is now. Bid the princess of Naples to join us for dinner, so that Cesare can work his magic and we can wrap up this marriage business so I can get to Milan.”
            “Husband, you are in a dream, and I would have you wake from it soon.”
            “Wife, I am in a hurry. Deliver the princess tonight and I will write to her father to request permission for Cesare to proceed with his suit.”
            “I will not deliver Charlotte into the hands of such a ruffian.”
            “This is dinner, m’amie. Not an engagement.”
            “I will never deliver her to such a man.”
            “Then he will never leave France.”
            Anne paused a moment, looking as if she had swallowed a bag of lemons. Finally, she spoke. “If her father says no, this cannot proceed.”
            “Of course, m’amie. Just dinner is all I ask.”

 Images of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany atop their tomb
Basilica of Saint-Denis
Saint-Denis, France
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For further reading, discover Anne of Brittany in the Anne of Brittany Series.
The gripping tale of a larger than life queen

Available for pre-order now is my new short story The Least Foolish Woman in France. Readers might be interested to learn the true tale of how Anne of Brittany’s second husband was sexually harassed in young adulthood by his sister-in-law Anne de Beaujeu, France’s most powerful woman at the time. This story is short but riveting, a surprising twist on the #MeToo movement.

On pre-order now, it comes out April 12, 2019. Post a short review on Amazon by the end of April and receive an eBook edition of any of my other books for free. 

Rozsa Gaston

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About the Author

Rozsa Gaston writes playful books on serious matters, including the struggles women face to get what they want out of life. She studied European history at Yale, and received her Master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She worked at Institutional Investor, then as a hedge funds marketer. Entirely unsuited to the world of finance, she was happy to give it up to become a full-time novelist. Gaston lives in Bronxville, New York with her family and is currently working on Anne and Louis: Middle Years, Book Three of the Anne of Brittany Series. If you read and enjoy Sense of Touch, please post a review at http://lrd.to/SENSEOFTOUCH to help others find this book. One sentence is enough to let readers know what you thought. Drop Rozsa Gaston a line on Facebook to let her know you posted a review and receive as thanks an eBook edition of any other of Gaston’s books: Anne and Charles, Anne and Louis, The Least Foolish Woman in France, Paris Adieu, or Black is Not a Color. Visit her at www.rozsagaston.com or at https://www.rozsagastonauthor.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rozsagastonauthor Instagram: rozsagastonauthor and on Twitter: @RozsaGaston

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