16 October 2019

How to create 3D Cover images #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Author Laila Doncaster @LailaDoncaster is re-launching her book, Cocooning the Butterfly, and when I saw her mock-up of the new cover, I asked what was used to create them.

Laila explained you don't need any software or graphic design skills, and shared the link to DIY Book Design: 

All you do is choose a template from their library then upload your cover. These book mock-ups and 3D devices look great for social media or website use, and can be arranged as you wish. 

This tool is 100% free, with no need to sign up. and couldn't be easier to use.

Do you have tips and suggestions for useful book marketing tools 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 October 2019

Book Launch: Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation, by Kathryn Warner

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Mother of the English Nation is the first full-length biography of the queen at the centre of the some of the most dramatic events in English history. Philippa's marriage to Edward III was arranged in order to provide ships and mercenaries for her mother-in-law to invade her father-in-law’s kingdom in 1326, yet it became one of the most successful royal marriages and endured for more than four decades. The chronicler Jean Froissart described her as, ‘The most gentle Queen, most liberal, and most courteous that ever was Queen in her days.’

Philippa stood by her husband’s side as he began a war against her uncle, Philip VI of France, and claimed his throne. She frequently accompanied him to France and Flanders during his early campaigns of the Hundred Years War. She also acted as regent in 1346 when Edward was away from his kingdom at the time of a Scottish invasion. She appeared on horseback to rally the English army to victory.

Philippa became popular with the people due to her kindness and compassion. This popularity helped maintain peace in England throughout Edward's reign. Her son, later known as the Black Prince - the eldest of her thirteen children - became one of the greatest warriors of the Middle Ages. Her extraordinary life did not escape tragedy: in 1348 three of her children died, almost certainly of the Black Death.

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About the Author

Kathryn Warner grew up in the Lake District in the north-west of England, and gained a BA and an MA with Distinction in medieval history and literature from the University of Manchester. She is a specialist in the history of the fourteenth century and has been researching and writing about Edward II's reign since 2004, and have run a blog about him since December 2005. Future projects include biographies of Edward III's queen Philippa of Hainault, their son John of Gaunt, Edward I's five daughters, and a joint biography of the medieval Despenser family. Find out more at Kathryn's blog and find her on Twitter @RoyneAlianore

See Also:

Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York before the Wars of the Roses, by Kathryn Warner

14 October 2019

Book review: The Bestseller Code, by Matthew Jockers and Jodie Archer #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Imagine, for a moment, if you had a way to analyse the top ten bestsellers in any genre, and gain insights into what makes them sell so well. That idea intrigued Matthew Jockers and Jodie Archer - and this little book was the result.

In turns witty and thought provoking, The Bestseller Code is packed with counter-intuitive discoveries. Sexual themes are not a predictor of success - but books with 'Girl' in the title do surprisingly well. Characters in bestsellers ask more questions, and the word 'thing' occurs six times more often than in non-bestsellers. 

Pseudo science? Maybe, but still fun. They don't claim to be able to make anyone into a bestselling author, but do reveal something they call the 'DNA of good writing.' In their analysis of over 20,000 bestselling novels, they looked at theme, plot, style and character, and began to find some interesting trends. As my last book had a female protagonist, I was particularly interested in what they had to say about style differences between male and female authors.

It's also intriguing to consider what the implicit contract might be between an author and their readers. What did they conclude? There are no magic short cuts, and the bestselling authors don't really understand how they do it.

So how is it that, for example, there is such a close correlation between the analysed 'profile' of The Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Grey?  Are either of them examples of truly great writing, or is there something else going on behind their stratospheric success?

The key to it all seems to be writing style, which is how plot, theme and character are delivered to readers. There is now even a branch of applied linguistics called 'stylometrics.'  It seems there are no new stories - only different ways of telling them, so if you can discover the right style, you too can become an international bestselling author.

Tony Riches

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About the Authors

Jodie Archer was born in Yorkshire, England and holds BA and MA degrees in English from the University of Cambridge. She bought and edited books for Penguin UK before she decamped for the USA and the doctoral program in English at Stanford University, California. After her PhD, she worked at Apple as their research lead on literature. She is now a full time writer in the areas of romance and metaphysics. Matthew L. Jockers is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English and Data Analytics at Washington State University. His research is focused on computational approaches to the study of literature. Find out more at www.archerjockers.com. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mljockers

Do you have tips and suggestions for books about the craft of writing 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. 

Spotlight on Priestess of Ishana by Judith Starkston ~ Historical Fantasy Featuring a Hittite Queen Forgotten by History

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK  

“What George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, and magic…” 
Amalia Carosella

A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.

An award-winning epic fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.

A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city.

As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery. Isolated in prison and facing execution, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.

f you like a rich mixture of murder mystery, imperial scheming, sorcery, love story, and lavish world-building, then immerse yourself in this historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting,” and “not to be missed.”

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About the Author

Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get two degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell. She loves myths and telling stories. This has gradually gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write fantasy set in the exotic worlds of the past. Fantasy and Magic in a Bronze Age World. Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award. Judith has two grown children and lives in Arizona with her husband. For a free short story set in her Bronze Age historical fantasy world (and a cookbook of foods in her novels), sign up for the newsletter on her website. Find Judith on AmazonFacebook, and Twitter @JudithStarkston

13 October 2019

Book review: The House of Grey, by Melita Thomas

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Grey family was one of medieval England's most important dynasties. They were were on intimate terms with the monarchs and interwoven with royalty by marriage. They served the kings of England as sheriffs, barons, and military leaders. Weaving the lives of these men and women from a single family, often different allegiances, into a single narrative, provides a vivid picture of the English medieval and Tudor court, reflecting how the personal was always political as individual relationships and rivalries for land, power, 
and money drove national events.

I've had a long fascination with the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey, and know something of her background, so welcomed the chance to learn more about her family. 

Melita Thomas has done an impressive job of navigating us through this complex story, as ever since the Grey family arrived with William the Conqueror, they seem to have been in and out of favour - more often as the victims of circumstance.

Thomas and Richard Grey must have thought their luck had changed at last when their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, caught the eye of King Edward IV. Thomas became the Marquess of Dorset and a wealthy man, then struggled to remain silent when Richard III announced the 'disappearance'  of their half-brothers from the Tower.

Following the story of the rise of the Tudors from the Grey point of view offers a fresh perspective on events. There are several places in this book where things I'd thought odd make sense within the context of the Grey family story. For example, Dorset's midnight departure from Henry Tudor's camp in France might have been a gesture to cover his options if the Tudor's invasion failed.

A memorable scene in this intriguing book is chronicler John Foxe's account of the execution of Henry Grey at the Tower. A man Grey owes money to interrupts the proceedings to ask when he's going to be paid, and Henry shouts, 'Alas, do not trouble me now!' Then Mary I’s Chaplain, Hugh Weston, asks Henry if he'd be willing to convert to Catholicism. Henry shoves the priest down the scaffold steps, and goes to his death with his debts unpaid but his faith intact.

This is an engaging and well-researched history of the rise and fall of one of the most unlucky medieval families, which finally puts their struggle into context. The death of Lady Jane Grey is handled with sensitivity and helped me understand why her family acted as they did. An excellent book which I highly recommend.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times, a repository of information about Britain in the period 1485-1625 www.tudortimes.co.uk. Melita has loved history since being mesmerised by the BBC productions of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and ‘Elizabeth R’, when she was a little girl. After that, she read everything she could get her hands on about this most fascinating of dynasties.  In her spare time, Melita enjoys long distance walking. She is attempting to walk around the whole coast of Britain. You can follow her progress here. https://mgctblog.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @thetudortimes.

A review copy of The House of Grey was kindly provided by the publishers. 

12 October 2019

Special Guest Interview with Danielle Calloway, Author of The Lost Child

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nicolás is a deaf boy on the run and trying to survive in a dangerous hearing world. Lily moves to Ecuador from the US to teach the deaf, full of uncertainties and trying to adjust, she meets Nicolás. 
Now Lily must gain his trust to save him.

I'm pleased to welcome author Danielle Calloway to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

“The Lost Child” is based on a true story. Eight years old, deaf, and abused, Nicolas runs away and lives on the streets of Ecuador, South America. Four years running and hiding from dangers, he braved the streets while looking for a loving family to let him be their little boy. A Child Services police officer, Antonio Morales, using his vacation time and own money, scoured the country trying to find information about Nicolas, and, most importantly, finding Nicolas to keep him safe and to place him in a loving home.

In the meantime, Lily, a volunteer from the United States, and Nicolas crossed paths. Safe in Lily’s home, Lily must find a way to get Nicolas to trust her enough to open up. Lily and Officer Morales now have a timeline: find a way for Nicolas to trust them enough to tell them what they need to know so they can find a home for him, otherwise the state would lock him up in an institution.

What is your preferred writing routine?

In order to fully open my creative side, I need to limit my distractions. My writing desk is bare, with only a picture of my Dad and his wife, who are my greatest supporters, and a cup of coffee or tea.

In the late afternoon or evening, after my to-do list is done and my schedule cleared, I can concentrate on writing. I work best with an uncluttered mind. Relaxed, I delve into my creative world and my fingers fly over the keyboard. My dog, Harley Davidson, usually lays on my lap, creating a nice, fuzzy and warm arm rest as I type.

What advice do you have for new writers?

My Dad gave me the best advice, “Write, just write. Don’t go back and edit what you’ve written until you’re done with the first draft. Make notes, if you must, about parts you need to fix, but don’t edit. Because, if you are constantly going back, you won’t go forward, and you will disrupt your creative flow.”  Following his advice made all the difference.

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

I’m still trying to figure that one out, this is all very new to me. Any advice is warmly accepted.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Ten years had passed since Officer Morales and Child Services here in Manta had contact with Nicolas. Over the years many children had passed in and out of the system, they’ve saved many children from kidnappers, abusers, and abusive homes. 

Yet, when I went to their offices to gather more information about Nicolas, they immediately remembered him with fondness and smiles, asking how he was doing. Everyone I contacted remembered him, even after all those years. That’s how special little Nicolas was, that’s how much he touched people’s hearts with his innocence and wanting to love and be loved.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The Lost Child is not only based on a true story, it is a story I was very much a part of. A lot of the scenes I wrote while crying. The hardest scene to write, however, was the day Nicolas spilt milk and begged me to beat him. 

Curling up on the floor in a fetal position, he waited for me to hit and kick him. When I wouldn’t, he begged even harder, “Just beat me and get it over with so I can drink my milk.” It still breaks my heart to remember his pleading eyes, full of pain at the thought of me, his new friend, hurting him.  My heart twisted in pain, realizing he not only blamed himself for the abuse he’d received, he also truly believed he was unlovable.

Reasoning with him I saw his expressive eyes and face slowly grasping the truth: although deaf and a little boy, he deserved love and deserved to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect.  He then signed, “Thank you for not beating me,” and hugged me tightly, crying. At that moment he started to trust again, moving him to later open up, allowing me to see his true inner beauty.

Every time I edited that scene, I needed a box of tissues at my side. Even now, thinking about it, brings tears and sniffles from me.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m currently working on the second draft of To Hold a Rainbow, about three sisters driven apart in their childhood by their mother’s psychological torment. Now, in their adult life they start sifting through the lies to find the truth about themselves. Will this truth drive them further apart or closer together? Will they ever be sisters?

Danielle Calloway

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About the Author

Danielle Calloway, a San Francisco Bay Area native, made a permanent move to Ecuador, South America, in 1997 as a volunteer worker, to teach the deaf. Until becoming disabled with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, she experienced many adventures: visits to the rainforest, the Galapagos Islands, wading with white-tipped sharks, surfing, and horses, to mention a few. She continues to teach the deaf and their families as she enjoys the little things life offers. Danielle is currently working on a new novel, “To Hold a Rainbow” and two Sci-Fi chapter books for young readers. You can find Danielle on Twitter @AuthorCalloway

10 October 2019

Special Guest Interview with Author Janet Roger

Available for pre-order

Two candles flaring at a Christmas crib. A nurse who steps inside a church to light them. A gunshot emptied in a man’s head in the creaking stillness before dawn, that the nurse says she didn’t hear.

It’s 1947 in the snowbound, war-scarred City of London, where Pandora’s Box just got opened in the ruins, City Police has a vice killing on its hands, and a spooked councilor hires a shamus to help spare his blushes. Like the Buddha says, everything is connected. So it all can be explained. But that’s a little cryptic when you happen to be the shamus, and you’re standing over a corpse.

I'm pleased to welcome historical fiction author Janet Roger to The Writing Desk. Tell us about your new book, Shamus Dust.

Well, I thought, what about letting someone else do that, and look at how the book’s first reviewers recapped the storyline? It’s been really interesting to see the initial reactions. Here’s one that I think nails it, and in a record few words: Imagine Polanski's masterpiece, Chinatown played out against the bomb sites and grimy alleys of a freezing 1947 London.

I really hadn’t thought about the parallels before, but on reflection they’re spot on. Like Chinatown, Shamus Dust unfolds as a dark tale driven by greed and the sense of impunity of the powerful. Both are stories of deviant wealth and civic corruption at the highest level. Both involve criminal sexuality. Both descend into routine murder for the cover-up, and both are told as an intimate noir mystery that unravels through the eyes of the gumshoe who’s on the case. You can read the full review and lots of others on my website.

What is your preferred writing routine?

An admission. I have a mortal terror of routine in all things. It drives me completely nuts. I’m an itinerant of long standing, so writing - like everything else - gets done on the hoof wherever I happen to be. Also in the expectation that I’ll want to be somewhere else very soon. There, got that off my chest! But please don’t imagine that I don’t take writing seriously. I do. I tend to be very serious about the things I give my time to. The other side of that coin is learning to let the less important things go hang.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I really wouldn’t presume, except to say don’t take your writing (or yourself!) lightly. On the other hand, coming from me that’s more of a general prescription for life. So I’ll keep my own counsel, borrow from a title of Joan Didion’s and say, play it as it lays for you. After all, in the end what else is going to work? As well as tending to be serious about what interests me, I tend to be seriously pragmatic.

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

Can I adapt an old advertising saw about this? You’ll see clearly that - somehow - one half of the promotional effort expended on your book is working. You’ll just never know which half. At different times, Shamus Dust has kept three literary publicists slogging; on the whole it gets more five-star reviews than not; and for better or worse, anything you see on my website or Facebook or Twitter really does comes from me, myself, in person. What part of all that is best at raising awareness? I’d love you to tell me. For anyone who can, a fortune awaits.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the unexpected things are often the ones you remember? Shamus Dust plays out in London’s square mile of high finance called The City - Wall Street across the pond - in the early years of the Cold War. Hundreds of its acres, some of the most valuable on the planet, are still rubble after wartime bombing. City fortunes are staked on their reconstruction. Cue a story of racketeering, high-risk fraud, police collusion and a chain of murders. Much of that background is real enough. You’ll find it in accounts of the time. London was a dark, violent city in the postwar, a place where veterans who didn’t easily fit back in had been trained to handle a gun. That much I knew. But a feel for the times needs more.

Then quite by chance I found myself in Sydney, at a harborside film festival that called itself Brit Noir. On the program, twenty and more British-made movies, some even set in and around the City, that featured the disillusion, the dark side and the crime of exactly those years that interested me. The manners, the looks, the dress were up there onscreen; the accents, the idiom and the prejudices as their original audiences heard them. I still buy a ticket wherever they’re shown. A discovery? No kidding. Falling over those fabulous movies in Sydney? I couldn’t believe my luck.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Good question. Many were quite tough, not so much in the doing but in the deciding to do. That’s to say that I find the hardest part - not always but often - can be deciding the scene. I mean the when and the how of it, who’s involved and where it’s headed. I have no time at all for scenes (my own or anyone else’s) that simply park the narrative, characters and setting to no purpose. Mostly, once a scene’s function is decided, the first draft seems to write fairly straightforwardly.

Of course there are exceptions, and my feeling is that when that happens, the chances are I’ve made a wrong call and better rethink from scratch. But I’d better answer your question. I’m tempted to say that the short intro on page one was on my mind for the longest time. Certainly it was a special joy when a recent review gave a sizable quote from it. See what you think. You can read the intro on my website or hear John Reilly narrate it. American listeners will likely recognize the voice.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m well on with a sequel to Shamus Dust called The Gumshoe’s Freestyle, set six months later in the City of London (of course), in the summer of ’48. Those immediate postwar years made interesting times. Freestyle ties up some loose ends, returns to some characters from the first story and develops with them.

Actually, there’s a connection planted toward the close of Shamus Dust, though you do have to know your Raymond Chandler pretty well to spot it. I liked the idea of some oblique, passing link between events that Newman (my shamus) and Marlowe will never know they shared an interest in. That said, Freestyle stands on its own and takes our private eye to an entirely new case. It’s been interesting to decide which characters to go back to, how fleeting or important they need to be, and of course, how to introduce them to a reader who doesn’t already know them from the earlier story.

Janet Roger
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About the Author

Janet is an historical fiction author, writing literary crime. She’s published by Troubador Publishing in the UK and represented by JKS Communications Literary Publicity in the USA. She trained in archaeology, history and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. Her debut novel, Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is due 28 October and is currently attracting widespread media interest. Find her reviews at https://www.janetroger.com/media and find Janet on Facebook and Twitter @janetroger

9 October 2019

Guest Post by David Field, Author of The Queen In Waiting: Mary Tudor takes the throne

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK

Mary Tudor has claimed her sovereignty. But she remains conscious that her Council had briefly preferred another — her cousin, the Lady Jane Grey — and at the age of thirty-seven, unmarried and childless, she looks fearfully at the natural beauty and popularity of her nineteen-year-old half-sister Elizabeth.

In search of ‘Gloriana’

When I began plotting out the final two novels in my six-volume Tudor series (A Queen in Waiting, about Elizabeth Tudor’s early years, and The Heart of a King, about her forty odd years on the throne) I found myself pinned against the same wall that all authors experience when writing about the more famous of our former monarchs – what might be described as ‘image overkill’.

Certain of those who ruled England in their time (for example, Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII, and before him Richard III, Henry V and Richard the Lionheart) had a public relations team who left behind a one-sided but vivid ‘take’ on their subject that has survived to this day, and has become the orthodox version that is taught in schools. This poses a definite challenge to historical writers like me, whose readers will suffer from what psychologists call ‘counter-intuition’ if you try to sell them something else. But if you don’t – if you simply trot out the same character that everyone’s all too familiar with - then it’s about as exciting as last week’s weather report.

Our accepted mental picture of Elizabeth 1st is of a self-assured, physically beautiful, occasionally stern, but courageous and competent ruler who was adored by all her subjects. She was Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’, the people’s ‘Gloriana’, a sort of reincarnation of Boudicca dressed in her late father’s battle armour addressing her troops at Tilbury. But examine the facts more closely, peep behind the ‘fake news’ curtain, and think again.

Before she was even three years old, her mother was executed on the order of her father. The same loving father who had her declared a bastard, and sent her to live in Hatfield House, a day’s ride from London, under the resentful eye of her much older half sister Mary. Not an auspicious start by anyone’s benchmark, but it was to get worse when their half brother Edward VI died, and Mary became Queen at the age of 37. Elizabeth was a mere 19, and already under suspicion of having maintained a far from chaste relationship with Thomas Seymour.

Mary was nothing if not paranoid, and Elizabeth was everything Mary was not – young, tall, physically attractive, charismatic – and probably fertile. She was also Protestant, and fell under immediate suspicion of complicity in the Wyatt Rebellion against Mary’s marriage to King Philip of Spain. There then followed, on the order of her half-sister, a period of imprisonment in the Tower, followed by house arrest in a medieval ruin in Oxfordshire. Then, aged 25, she was advised that she had become Queen of England on the death of Mary.

What life skills could she possibly have brought to the job, given that background? Since long before her accession she had relied on a few trusted advisers, and they were now the power behind the throne. Chief among these was William Cecil, Secretary of State, who was her policy adviser, personal counsellor, friend, public relations consultant – and, might it be suggested, the father she never had?

Where would England have been without Cecil? Every achievement that was chalked up to Elizabeth was in fact the outcome of Cecil’s wise and sympathetic counsel. Without him, one trembles to think what England would have become, to judge by the few events during her reign in which Elizabeth’s stubborn determination won the day. Elizabeth didn’t defeat the Spanish Armada – Howard, Drake, Hawkins and Frobisher did, despite Elizabeth.

Not only was she so tight-fisted that her navy was denied adequate ordinance, even when the Armada was in the Channel approaches, but her lack of compassion for those who lost limbs and eyesight in the defence of her realm resulted in bands of ‘sturdy beggars’ roaming the country seeking alms to keep body and soul together. Even her famous Tilbury performance was at the suggestion of her lifelong friend and adviser Robert Dudley.

Likewise, had it been left to Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots would never have been executed. The popular version of events surrounding the demise of this romantic (dare I say ‘promiscuous’?) rival to Elizabeth’s crown has Elizabeth as a stern and vengeful nemesis who had Mary beheaded (badly, as it turned out, which only added to the poignant drama). The reality was that Elizabeth was reluctant to set a precedent for the execution of a queen, and only signed the death warrant in exchange for an assurance that it would not be employed until she said so. It was in fact done behind her back, and her angst at this betrayal is a matter of public record.

And what of Elizabeth’s much vaunted virginal status? Being unmarried is not the same thing as being celibate, but her frequently boasted assertion that she was married to her people was in reality an admission of her fear of marriage. After what it had meant for her mother, followed by her father’s series of disastrous marriages, sister Mary’s political blunder in marrying the ruler of England’s most dangerous foe, and the tragic betrayal of Mary Stuart by first Darnley, then Bothwell, who can blame Elizabeth if marriage didn’t seem to her to be quite the blessed state that others tried to assure her it was?

But given her naturally hot-blooded and somewhat impulsive nature (and she was descended from two parents who had possessed these qualities in spades) is it really likely that she went to her grave a virgin? The rumours ran riot through the Court regarding the unhealthy proximity of her bedchamber to that of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and even the version of events that was allowed by Cecil did not seek to deny Elizabeth’s love for her lifelong companion. Elizabeth did nothing to negate the suspicions when she gave orders, on her deathbed, that no physician was to examine her corpse – what was she hiding, in a final smoke and mirrors exercise?

Then there was her fabled beauty. Few of her subjects ever set eyes upon her, but were content to swallow the glamorous stories they were fed regarding her physical allure. They also basked in the peace and prosperity with which England was blessed during her reign, and had little idea of where the credit lay for that. However, her Ladies could have told a different story, had they dared.

Smallpox had left Elizabeth with facial pits that were smeared over with ‘Venetian Ceruse’ a lead-based whitewash that she succeeded in making fashionable, and which accounts for the images we have of Elizabeth resembling a badly advised circus clown. Her love of sweet treats left her with rotting teeth and a halitosis that was obvious from several feet away, while her luxuriantly long red hair was a wig, under which clumps of white clung stubbornly to her scalp as time progressed. As for her body, being tall is a desirable look when there are youthful curves to drape over the height, but not when the wrinkles and creases take over, as they did in her later years. Later years that reaped the consequences of all that lead, in the form of mental decline.

It was not just natural modesty that closed her bedchamber to all but the most intimate of her entourage as Elizabeth slipped into a carefully concealed dementia in which periods of silent concentration on the wall in front of her were interspersed with muttered ramblings. Cecil’s son Robert had taken over guru duties, and to the very end was pleading with her to name her successor, while working behind the scenes to ensure that it would be James VI of Scotland.

If you have persevered with this blog to the end, muttering words such as ‘misogynist’ and ‘traitor’, then you are probably experiencing counter-intuition. Unlike those who were there at the time, I have not overlooked or downplayed any inconvenient truths. By all means make a studied point of not reading my two novels on the subject of ‘Good Queen Bess’, but at least concede that there are two ways of looking at propaganda. More importantly, recognising it for what it was.

I finished up experiencing considerable admiration – even affection – for the brave young Queen who rode through all the hardships to leave England believing in itself again. I hope it shines out in what I’ve written.

David Field

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About the Author

David Field was born in post-war Nottingham, and educated at Nottingham High School. After obtaining a Law degree he became a career-long criminal law practitioner and academic, emigrating in 1989 to Australia, where he still lives.  Combining his two great loves of History and the English language he began writing historical novels as an escape from the realities of life in the criminal law, but did not begin to publish them until close to full time retirement, when digital publishing offered a viable alternative to literary agencies, print publishers and rejection slips. Now blessed with all the time in the world, his former hobby has become a full time occupation as he enjoys life in rural New South Wales with his wife, sons and grandchildren to keep him firmly grounded in the reality of the contemporary world. Find out more at David's website https://davidfieldauthor.com/ and follow him on Facebook 

7 October 2019

Special Guest post by Cynthia Jefferies, Author of The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1660, England. War is at an end, yet for Christopher Morgan his personal conflict rages on. Haunted by the tragic death of his wife, Christopher is desperate to escape the pain her memory brings, although looking into the eyes of his young son, Abel, he cannot help but be reminded of what he has lost. Over time, father and son develop a strong bond until they are callously torn apart when Abel is snatched by smugglers and sold overseas. From the shores of Constantinople to the coast of Jamaica, time and tide keep them apart. Christopher will sail across oceans to find Abel, never losing faith that one day they will be reunited, and, as the years pass, Abel will learn 
that fortune favours the brave.

Lots of people have asked me where on earth I got the idea to write this rather extraordinary story. All I can say is that one day the character of Christopher Morgan popped into my head and just wouldn’t leave me alone. Sometimes it’s the plot that comes first, but this was definitely a person first. 

To begin with I thought he was a pirate, and would fit nicely into a story for children, but he was far too sad for that. After a few nights of broken sleep for me he had a dead wife, an infant son and probably post traumatic stress disorder after fighting and being forced to flee his homeland after the English Civil Wars in the 1600’s.

I’ve always been fascinated by that complicated and chaotic time in British history when, after a long period of peace in the country, King Charles I and his subjects resorted to war to resolve their differences. The king only needed to call parliament when he wanted money and his need to come up with ever more creative taxes to get what he wanted went down very badly. It was a system that had outlived its usefulness.

The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan begins after the chaos of war, when most of Christopher Morgan’s wealth is gone and he only has enough money to buy a tumbledown, disreputable inn. It is his attempt to stand up to a smuggler family that results in him losing Abel his son, and begins his long search to find him.

The novel is told in two voices, father and son, following their separate lives across seas and continents. It took several years to write as I struggled to tell both stories, intertwining them in such a way that the tension is kept high, and nothing is given away too soon. Charles II, Samuel Pepys and Hans Sloane all have cameo roles. 

There are smugglers, pirates, spies, slaves and forbidden love. There is a man with an articulated metal hand and forearm, which I first saw at the National Trust property Cotehele, in Cornwall. It hung on the wall in the great hall. So many visitors remarked on it that the house raised money to have a replica made, which could be demonstrated. I was able to handle it, thanks to the collections manager, Rachel Hunt. 

Ideas for a novel come from all over the place. A sack of dried chillies I noticed when in Delhi, India suggested one small scene. A visit to Istanbul, Turkey gave me the setting for the scene. Visiting a never commissioned wooden ship in Dundee Scotland gave me lots of ideas, as did a visit to a much smaller old boat on the Tamar in Cornwall. 

A beautiful effigy in the little church in Miserden, England gave me something important I badly needed. It all came together in the end, after much trial and error. A wonderful publication, The Surgeon’s Mate, a handbook published in the 1617 was a wonderful resource. Other research materials are mentioned at the end of the book. 

In my career so far I have learned a few things from a couple of excellent editors. One reminded me that common phrases have little place in fiction. A good writer will find her own way of describing things. No need for babbling brooks, scorching suns or old crones. Find your own words. English is such a rich language. 

Another told me that if I was working on a sentence and thought ‘that’ll do’ it almost certainly won’t. She was right! A few times she picked up on a phrase I had struggled with before coming to the conclusion that it would do. I was amazed that she had noticed that couple of phrases in amongst the rest, but she was a brilliant editor. Work harder, until it’s right!

I suppose more than anything I have come to love and respect editing. Yes, of course it’s important to research the subject until comfortable in it. Then to get a feel for how the plot will develop, however much or little you like to know before you start. I use post it notes on a door to move important scenes around until I’m fairly sure how the plot will work. 

Some people write copious notes about each chapter, but that doesn’t work for me. Once I’ve got the bones of the plot sorted, while leaving plenty of space for unexpected scenes that are bound to appear, I write the first draft.

It can be hard to start. That first sentence is so important! And about half way through writing the novel lots of writers lose heart. I know I can! Suddenly it feels as if everything I’ve written is rubbish. That’s when it’s so important to keep going, however bad you think it is. Getting towards the end can suddenly feel euphoric as you race to the finish. Then I usually put the manuscript away for as long as I can manage, and do something entirely different for a few weeks at least. 

Then, when I go back to it the real work can begin. Edit, edit edit. Sometimes a whole chunk needs to be abandoned, or a new bit put in. Occasionally a character has to go, because he just isn’t needed. Anything not strictly needed makes a novel baggy. Sometimes a bit I love best just isn’t needed to move the plot on. If it doesn’t it has to go. 

It’s a rare book that passes scrutiny without three close readings, sometimes more. I love the editing because I can see the work improving each time I revisit it. And then, when it’s the best it can be it’s ready. Off it goes to be read by the editor and when she is happy, off it goes to find its readers. Out of my hands. Go well new novel. I hope you are treated well!

Cynthia Jefferies

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About the Author

Cynthia Jefferies wrote for many years for children as Cindy Jefferies. Her Fame School series for Usborne Books attracted world wide interest, and was eventually published in 22 languages. The books remain in print in the UK. More recently, she has turned to her interest in the C17th to write historical fiction for adults. As a child of ten she wrote a play about the escape of Charles II after the Civil Wars in the UK, and performed it with her class at school. From that moment she knew she would be a writer, however difficult it might be to achieve her goal. Success as a writer was hard won and so, while raising her family she had a variety of jobs, from working in a china shop to raising poultry, pigs and sheep; trying her hand at being a DJ, working behind the bar in a pub and dealing in junk antiques. “I think I have always been pretty well unemployable,” she says. “I always wanted to work for myself!” Eventually she did just that, starting a bookselling business which sold to schools all over the UK. It was while building up the business that she sent her first children’s novel, Sebastian’s Quest to Barry Cunningham, who first took on J K Rowling of Harry Potter fame. To her great surprise and total delight he took it on. “It didn’t do terribly well for him, so he didn’t want any more from me, but he was a great first editor to have, and was very encouraging.” After twenty years of writing for children she is now writing historical fiction for Allison & Busby. Her first, The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan came out in 2018 and was reviewed by the American Libraries Association. Their Booklist publication gave it a starred review, saying it was “Outstanding storytelling”. Her next, The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne is out in hardback and ebook in November 2019.  Find out more at Cynthia's website www.cynthiajefferies.co.uk and find her on Twitter @cindyjefferies1

6 October 2019

Histories of the Unexpected: How Everything Has a History, by Dr Sam Willis and Professor James Daybell

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US 

In this fascinating and original new book, Sam Willis and James Daybell lead us on a journey of historical discovery that tackles some of the greatest historical themes - from the Tudors to the Second World War, from the Roman Empire to the Victorians - but via entirely unexpected subjects. 

You will find out here how the history of the beard is connected to the Crimean War; how the history of paperclips is all about the Stasi; how the history of bubbles is all about the French Revolution. And who knew that Heinrich Himmler, Tutankhamun and the history of needlework are linked to napalm and Victorian orphans? 

Taking the reader on an enthralling and extraordinary journey through thirty different topics that are ingeniously linked together, Histories of the Unexpected not only presents a new way of thinking about the past, but also reveals the everyday world around us as never before.

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About the Authors

James Daybell is Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of Plymouth and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He has written eight books and has appeared in a number of historical BBC TV documentaries. Dr Sam Willis is one of the country's best-known historians. His work takes him on adventures all over the world. He has made 12 TV series for the BBC and National Geographic, including The Silk Road, and has written 14 books, most recently The Struggle for Sea Power: The Royal Navy vs the World, 1775-1782 and The Spanish Armada, a Ladybird Expert Book. Follow them on Twitter @JamesDaybell and @DrSamWillis

5 October 2019

Special Guest Post by Nancy Blanton, Author of The Earl in Black Armor

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

IRELAND, 1635: When the clan leader sends Faolán Burke to Dublin to spy on Thomas Wentworth, the ruthless Lord Deputy of Ireland, the future of his centuries-old clan rests upon his shoulders. Wentworth is plotting to acquire clan lands of Connacht for an English Protestant plantation, displacing Irish families. To stop him, Faolán must discover misdeeds that could force King Charles to recall Wentworth to England.

Inspiration under Siege

For weeks I’ve struggled with an inner dilemma that not-too-surprisingly corresponded with an outer storm, Hurricane Dorian, that we had to deal with here in Florida.

While Dorian dallied, confused the forecasters, and battered the Bahamas, my husband and I also struggled with indecision. Should we hunker down at home, or should we evacuate? We live on a barrier island that is susceptible to flooding, loss of electricity and significant wind damage in high storm conditions. Evacuation might seem like an obvious choice.

However, the forecasters tend to over-state, and it takes a great deal of effort to evacuate a home even for a few days. The to-do list is three pages long: pack valuables, clothing, food and pets, money; store outside furniture and secure the house; find a decent dog-friendly hotel, inform relatives, etc. My reluctance to leave was high, but for safety’s sake we headed west. Thankfully, Dorian passed causing very little damage to our island.

Likewise, I’ve navigated through my inner storm without too much injury.

Years ago, I set a goal for myself to complete a series of novels that illuminate the history of 17th century Ireland. I’m three books into that goal, covering the years 1634 to 1658. But there’s a gap in there that haunts me, starting with a great Irish rebellion of 1641—a brave stand against the English that started as a bloodless coup and ended in brutality, execution and massacre.

This was a complex and bloody era, without a doubt. It falls in the middle of the early modern period in history, 1534 – 1691—a time known for five major wars between the Irish and English, allegedly resulting in atrocities—rapes, murders, infant killings, massacres, starvation, genocide, and more—terrible acts of cruelty I have no wish to describe. I’ve studied much about the rebellion, including the depositions taken afterward describing crimes so cold and horrendous one must question the existence of God.

Remembering first and foremost that the victors write the history, I know what was recorded as fact during that time was quite often inflated to make more useful propaganda. The English wanted to invade Ireland, and the rebellion simply gave the English Parliament—gorged with power after executing the king’s top advisor—a means by which they might justify and ignite hatred of the Irish and recruit men and support for the military invasion.

Somewhere within or perhaps between those same histories and depositions lies the truth. Modern historians are digging deeper for an honest evaluation of these incidents. Through their work I’ll find a vein of accuracy and follow it with some trepidation, knowing it could verify much of the atrocity. While some authors revel in the opportunity to shock and alarm readers with this dark realm of human history, it’s not my thing. The story must always come first. I know I may be in the minority on this, but I still believe the author’s job is to get the reader to feel and care, not to give them deranged nightmares.

The truth must be told, I agree, often and honestly and in terms vivid enough that it will be remembered. As with the holocaust, such inhumanity must be imprinted at a global level. Memory, such that it is, provides the only insurance we have against such things happening again.

But explicit blood and gore of an incident isn’t necessary to understand unacceptable violence. Morbid detail elevates the violence to a spectacle that usurps the reader’s attention and separates him or her from the emotion driving the act. What are the causes? What’s the effect? How does it propel the story?

And there’s my inner dilemma: how do I write the truth honorably and effectively but not too graphically? The answer comes in the form of scale, the camera-lens ability to zoom in and out at will. Cruelties of man against man can be woven as truthfully as possible into a tapestry backdrop for a profound experience on an individual level.

Now then, what’s the individual experience that will serve, and whose eyes will reveal it?

As the storm raged, my research became both documentation and treasure hunt. I stumbled upon a singular event I will use as foundation for the novel’s structure: a castle siege involving all the right bits of conflict to tell the full story.

Within the castle are the English Protestants, holding out against those wild and savage Irish. Outside the castle walls are the Catholic native Irish, whose castle and lands were stolen by the greedy, invading English. Within that setup lies a love story: forbidden love in war time, the struggle to maintain tradition and lifestyle amid a sea of hatred, the spirit to restore and renew what was lost, and the eternal fight to survive.

There’s quite a bit of violence involved, too, but observing it through the limited perspective of the characters makes it more manageable.

In this period, siege was a fairly common strategy of warfare, and economical for those who lacked cannons and other artillery and could live off the enemy’s captured livestock. Some famous sieges in Ireland include the Siege of Smerwick, 1580; Siege of Kinsale, 1601; Siege of Drogheda, 1649; Siege of Derry, 1689; Siege of Athlone, 1690; and the Siege of Limerick, 1691.

A siege can be much like a hurricane. Had we chosen to stay in our home as Dorian marched toward us, we might have boarded up the windows against our enemy, and hoped we had enough food, water and candles to see us through the few days it would take for the storm to batter our surroundings and then pass us by.

But in a 17th century siege, there might not have been time to secure supplies. The external forces might make a surprise attack. If repelled by the castle forces, they wouldn’t necessarily try to break down the walls—especially not if their goal was to preserve and hold the castle. Instead they would take the grazing sheep and cattle, the corn, hay, and other stores they could find, so that those within the castle could not feed themselves or their livestock. From the outside they might easily contaminate the castle’s water supply as well.

The siege could last much longer than a few days. The inhabitants could hold out for weeks or months, hoping for help to arrive. The longest siege in world history lasted 21 years! But in most cases, without military relief, the only choice was to surrender the castle to the siege force, or die. And things tended to end badly. One inescapable atrocity of the time was that even those who peacefully surrendered were sometimes, as they say, put to the sword.

Nancy Blanton

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About the Author

Nancy Blanton writes award-winning novels based in 17th century Irish history. Her latest, The Earl in Black Armor, tells a relentless story of loyalty, honor and betrayal in the Stuart era prior to the great Irish Rebellion of 1641. The Prince of Glencurragh, her second novel, occurs in 1634 during the English Plantation of Ireland. Her first novel, Sharavogue, is set in Ireland and the West Indies during the time of Oliver Cromwell. In non-fiction, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps is also a medalist, providing a valuable personal branding guide for authors, artists, and business consultants. Her blog, My Lady’s Closet, focuses on writing, books, historical fiction, research and travel. Ms. Blanton is a member of the Historical Novel Society and has worked as a journalist, magazine editor, corporate communications leader and brand manager. Her books celebrate her love of history and her Irish and English heritage. She lives in Florida.Find out more at www.nancyblanton.com and find her on Twitter @nancy_blanton 

2 October 2019

Blog Tour: A Phoenix Rising: The House of the Red Duke, by Vivienne Brereton

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thomas Howard is head of one of the most powerful Houses in Tudor England. An indomitable old man approaching eighty: soldier, courtier, politician, a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes. After a calamitous period of disgrace, the Howards, renowned for their good looks and charm, are once more riding high at the court of Henry VIII. 


Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, a veteran soldier and Treasurer of England, is talking to his best friend, Gilbert Talbot, in Calais harbour. The date is September 30th, 1511 and they’re discussing the headstrong young King Henry VIII’s determination to go to war with France.

  The wind suddenly dropped completely so we could hear each other again. Right on cue, the sun came out, bathing us in pleasing warmth. Immediately, I felt my mood lift and was even able to smile back at my friend. We’d both aged, of course, and I could see that (unlike me, who prided myself on still having the wiry frame of one of my prize whippets) a love of his wife, Bessie’s, cooking had added flesh to Gilbert’s bones. The approach of old age hadn’t completely passed me by either. My knees were beginning to ache and I had more silver threaded through my hair than before. But to me the streaks were a badge of honour.
    <<Evidence of a long life, lived well and to the full>>
  Gilbert still had the same ready smile he’d always had, and his slightly faded blue eyes reflected the same wisdom and humour I’d long set store by.
   ‘It’s true,’ I said. ‘That toad-spotted, bum-bailey of a royal almoner, Snake, couldn’t wait to write to Richard Fox reporting my disgrace. There was such a red mist in my mind, I could think of nothing else to do but come to you. I rode like the clappers to Dover and jumped on the first vessel crossing the Narrow Sea.’
 ‘And I’m very glad you did. I take it you tried again to dissuade the King from declaring war on France.’
   ‘I did. But the Tudor boy is as stubborn as a mule. He’s determined to risk his royal neck in the lists and has got his sights set on the spoils of war. The treaty Fox, Ruthal, and I negotiated last March is as good as dead. All Henry thinks and talks about is invading France.’
   Gilbert laughed. ‘He certainly lives up to your description of him: “A Tudor rose with thorns”. I wish to God he and Katherine hadn’t lost the prince in January. Maybe it would have calmed him down.’
   ‘But they did lose little Henry. And nothing and no one can turn his head away from the idea of leading an army over the Narrow Sea.’
  ‘It doesn’t help that Henry’s father-in-law—’
   ‘That wily old fox, Ferdinand.’
    ‘Yes. It doesn’t help he’s joined forces with the Pope, declaring the French got more out of the Cambrai agreement than either of them—’
   ‘Or that Rome has invited Henry to join a Holy League against France. He’s acting like a moonstruck maid, meeting a swain in a meadow.’
   ‘Speaking of lovesick swains, Tom, doesn’t Henry realize the Pope is panting after Venice? And Ferdinand after Naples. Not France.’
  ‘That flap-mouthed Andrea Badoer—’
   ‘The Venetian ambassador?’
   ‘Yes. He’s stoking the fires of war, telling the King that old Louis of France wants to be “monarch of the whole world”.’
    Gilbert rolled his eyes. ‘We can only pray the good ambassador falls into the Grand Canal on his next trip back to Venice.’

                                       *                           *                    *

    By this time, we’d almost reached the end of the quay. It felt good to be able to talk like this to an old friend who understood my predicament, even if he couldn’t help me out of it. Just offer me food, board and good counsel for a few days. I knew I was exaggerating a little out of frustration. Young Hal hadn’t actually dismissed me, merely suggested I might like to spend some time with Agnes who was expecting another child. A second boy, I was certain of it. There was nothing wrong with Howard seed: perhaps another thing about me that didn’t sit well with the royal pup. <<A man of nearly seventy able to produce what a youth of twenty cannot>>
   ‘What about your boys, Tom. Can’t they help out? Try to change the King’s mind.’
  I let out a dismissive laugh. ‘The King doesn’t like Thomas. Not that I blame him for that. You know my eldest is a chilly devil at the best of times; even his dogs don’t care for him. And Henry has no time at all for Edmund. Nor do I blame him for that either. Sometimes I think ‘tis both a miracle and a tragedy that one survived the childbed. Animals seem to know much better than humans how to deal with those too puny to survive.’
  ‘He’s a fine jouster.’
   ‘A loggerhead, for sure. Instead of showing cunning like Charles Brandon - and all the others - did back in the lists in February, either tying with the King or letting him win, what does my idiot of a third son do? Knock the proud young Tudor pup to the ground so many times he must have been choking on the dust in his mouth.’
   ‘God’s teeth! Henry will never forgive him.’
   ‘He hasn’t. Edmund hasn’t been invited to a single joust since that day.’
   ‘You’ve got new boys to follow.’
  ‘Yes. William in the cradle and another in the belly.’
  ‘What about Edward. He’s still in favour.’
   ‘Yes, but for some boil-brained reason, he spends his time dripping poison about James of Scotland into the royal ear. When the Venetian ambassador has finished dripping poison about France into the other one.’
    ‘Ah, I see your problem. It must be hard for you. Especially as you struck up such a good rapport with the Scotsman when you went up for the wedding.’
  ‘I did. I can honestly say James deserved every word of any praise I heaped upon him back then. Truly a king amongst kings. Whereas I swear our own sometimes shows less sense than my Lizzie’s little George.’
    Gilbert pointed straight ahead. ‘How about a visit to “The Sign of the Ship” to drown our sorrows? I know for a fact a cargo of the best Malmsey arrived from Madeira this morning, by way of La Coruna.’

Vivienne Brereton

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About the Author

Born near historic Winchester in the UK, Vivienne Brereton has been passionate about the Tudors for as long as she can remember. This led to a degree in medieval history at university where she met her future husband. Three sons later and six countries she called home, she finally felt ready to write a novel. Words have always played an important part in Vivienne’s life whether it’s been writing, editing, teaching English to foreigners, or just picking up a good book. In preparation for her novel, she read intensively on the skills needed to write well and did an enormous amount of research which she greatly enjoyed. Having three sons was helpful when she came to write about the characters, Tristan and Nicolas. All those squabbles she had to deal with came in very handy. She also used her husband and sons as guinea pigs for her Tudor cookery attempts with varying degrees of success. Find out more at Vivienne's website and follow her on Twitter @VivienneBreret1