Mastodon The Writing Desk: October 2019

31 October 2019

Halloween Special: Margery Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye next Westminster

The conjuration from Henry VI (Act 1, Scene 4)
Wikimedia Commons

In 1441, three days before Halloween,  an elderly woman was convicted of witchcraft and burned alive at the stake. Known as 'The Witch of Eye',  Margery Jourdemayne had been found guilty of making a wax image of the king.

Margery Jourdemayne had spent several months in the cells of Windsor Castle for the crime of curing the sick with herbal potions, which earned her a reputation as a 'wise woman'. but was released when she promised to stop using her 'witches' charms and incantations.

I first met her while researching her unusual friendship with the Duchess of Gloucester, the subject of my book The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham.

Duke Humphrey of Gloucester had enemies, as he was the king's uncle and therefore the heir presumptive, if anything were to happen to King Henry.

In June 1441, three of Eleanor's servants, were accused of 'compassing the death of the king' by using astrology to forecast the date of his death.

Eleanor was also accused of employing the talents of Margery Jourdemayne to bewitch her husband the duke into loving her, and of making an effigy of the king:

How she in waxe by counsel of the witch,
An image made, crowned like a king,
… which dayly they did pytch
Against a fyre, that as the wax did melt,
So should his life consume away unfelt.

Margery Jourdemayne was condemned by a church court presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and burned at the stake at Smithfield. This was not a legal sentence at the time, as the crime of witchcraft was not officially recognised in 1441, although predicting the death of the king was treason.

Lady Eleanor's three servants were also convicted. Roger Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn, and quartered, while Thomas Southwell died suddenly in prison of suspected poisoning, perhaps to escape a worse fate. The third, named John Home, was allowed a royal pardon for confessing to witnessing the witchcraft.

Lady Eleanor was imprisoned for life at Beaumaris Castle on the Welsh island of Anglesey, which is where she wrote her secret diary.... discovered by me centuries later.

Tony Riches

Book Launch Guest Post: This Blighted Expedition - a novel of the Walcheren campaign of 1809: Book Two of the Manxman series, by Lynn Bryant

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is 1809. Austria is back in the war and London is committed to a new campaign in Europe. A force of 40,000 men and 600 ships gathers along the south coast of England. They are destined for Walcheren, and a lightning strike against the French dockyards on the Scheldt. 

Captain Hugh Kelly RN is once again embroiled in a joint operation with the army with his old adversary Sir Home Popham, a man who never forgets a perceived slight. Alfred Durrell, Hugh’s first lieutenant, is on secondment as Popham’s aide, a posting which places him at the heart of the campaign as relations between the army and navy 
begin to deteriorate.

The idea to write a novel about the Walcheren campaign happened very naturally. Being a historical novelist, especially one writing a series, I often say that the plot is already written. The tricky bit is finding your characters’ place in the story.

I write historical novels about fictional characters who are very firmly rooted into real historical events, and who rub shoulders with real people from history. For example, I have written five books of the Peninsular War Saga, which follows the story of a fictional character called Paul van Daan, who joins a fictional infantry regiment in 1802 as a junior officer and rises through the ranks as the war progresses. 

The fictional aspect of this enables me to create a story for Paul, to give him a suitably eccentric wife and a whole cast of fellow officers and men who serve in the 110th. However, since I have placed the regiment into the real framework of Wellington’s army, I have real characters such as Robert Craufurd, Charles Alten, Andrew Barnard and of course Lord Wellington himself, who need to be meticulously researched to make them believable. I need to know where they were and what they were doing, but I also need to find out what they were like in order for them to develop relationships with my fictional cast. It’s complicated.

More than a year ago, in a moment of genuine madness, I decided to begin a second, connected series, featuring a Manx Royal Navy captain, Hugh Kelly. My rationale for this was that I was constantly being asked when I was going to write a novel about my home, the Isle of Man. The island isn’t famous for its army connections, although there are some, but the navy is a different matter. 

Hugh Kelly was born, and I decided to link him with the original series, by writing about the Copenhagen campaign of 1807. I had mentioned that Paul van Daan had been present at that campaign, although I’d not written about his role there. An Unwilling Alliance enabled Paul and Hugh to meet. It was a great success and the book was shortlisted for this year’s Society for Army Historical Research fiction prize.

There was no question about writing a sequel, but it had to make sense historically, and to be honest, writing about the navy post-Trafalgar meant I was a bit limited. I had enjoyed linking my army and navy sagas in the first book, and while I was looking for a campaign, I remembered Walcheren. Once again, I had written that the second battalion of the 110th, not Paul’s battalion, had served at Walcheren. 

I cheerfully mentioned this to several fellow writers or historians. Most told me I was insane to write a novel about such a disastrous campaign. Dr Jacqueline Reiter, an expert on the campaign, who has written a biography of Lord Chatham, the commander of the army and is currently researching Sir Home Popham, got really really excited about the idea. With her help in matters of research, I couldn’t resist.

The problem with Walcheren is that there is no glory. There are a few skirmishes and a couple of brutal bombardments of Dutch towns. Vlissingen was almost destroyed. After that, the army arrived on South Beveland, realised that Antwerp was too well defended and that their troops were beginning to collapse with the lethal combination of malaria and dysentery known as Walcheren fever, and made a miserable and inglorious retreat. At least four thousand men died of Walcheren fever and many more suffered recurrent illness for years.

Back in England, there were recriminations in the press and a public outcry and a Parliamentary inquiry followed. The novel places one of my characters squarely in the middle of the ensuing mess and enabled me to look at the political consequences of the failure of the biggest and most expensive expedition of the war. It was particularly interesting to study the struggle of a weak government to fight off repeated attacks given the recent political climate.

I spent a long time researching this book. There is far less written about it, either in contemporary sources or modern interpretations, than most of the other Napoleonic campaigns. Jacqueline Reiter was unbelievably generous in sharing her sources, and Gareth Glover also sent me several excerpts from journals and letters that I had never seen. In a campaign lasting just a few months there is less room for error about dates and events, so my research has been meticulous.

I love this book. In it, I have left behind the death or glory of some of the big set piece battles of the Peninsular War. I always try to capture the human side of war, the details of the aftermath as well as the violence of the conflict, but there is so much more opportunity in a campaign that is going so badly wrong. 

I visited this a little during my previous book, which dealt with the disastrous retreat from Burgos in 1812, but Walcheren puts that in the shade. At the same time, since these are real people, there is still a place for courage and integrity, for love and family, for ambition and the brutal reality of war. There is even a place for humour, from the relentless self-publicising of Sir Home Popham, to the inability of Chatham to be on time for anything at all.

This Blighted Expedition is the story of real people, some of whom turned out to be heroic in unexpected ways. It is available on Amazon kindle in the UK here and the US here and will be out in paperback by the end of November. In the meantime, I am about to embark on book six of the Peninsular War Saga. 

It’s called An Unrelenting Enmity and to give myself a kick start with the writing process, I am attempting NaNaWriMo for the first time ever. To follow my progress why not join me on my blog over at Writing with Labradors, or on Facebook or Twitter?

Lynn Bryant

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About the Author

Lynn Bryant was born and raised in London's East End. She studied History at University and had dreams of being a writer from a young age. Since this was clearly not something a working class girl made good could aspire to, she had a variety of careers including a librarian, NHS administrator, relationship counsellor and manager of an art gallery before realising that most of these were just as unlikely as being a writer and took the step of publishing her first book. She now lives in the Isle of Man and is married to a man who understands technology, which saves her a job, and has two teenage children and two labradors. History is still a passion, with a particular enthusiasm for the Napoleonic era and the sixteenth century. When not writing she runs an Irish dance school, reads anything that's put in front of her and makes periodic and unsuccessful attempts to keep a tidy house. Find out more at Lynn's website and find her on Twitter @LynnBry29527024

28 October 2019

Book Launch: No Armour Against Fate (Queenmaker Series Book 3) by Caroline Angus

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London, January 1537 – Thomas Cromwell is in deep mourning. His new queen is on the throne at King Henry’s command, but the personal cost is too high. Nicòla Frescobaldi is lying dead inside the Medici tomb in Florence, and Cromwell’s only daughter Jane is missing. Now, the people of England have rebelled against their king, marching to London to start a civil war. The Pilgrimage of Grace has two demands: remove all the Reformation changes from religion and cut off Cromwell’s head.

Cromwell needs his friends, allies and the king’s favour more than ever, but he can do nothing when Queen Jane dies giving England its son and heir. Cromwell’s son has married the Queen’s sister, but the Seymours will disappear from favour if Cromwell does not eliminate all those able to take their place. There is only one solution; become Queenmaker yet again and find a foreign princess for Henry, one to seal religious change and create stability in the war of Catholic against Protestant.

Nicòla Frescobaldi may be dead, but Duchess Nicòletta of Florence is not, so Cromwell and his creature can rule politics again to control England and Ireland. But when war with the Holy Roman Empire threatens, all of Cromwell’s powers, titles and schemes cannot save him from his oldest enemy in England, and a betrayal deep in the heart of the powerful Cromwellian faction.

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About the Author

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

26 October 2019

Special Guest Interview with Andie Newton, Author of The Girl I Left Behind

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Andie Newton to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book:

The Girl I Left Behind is about a young woman in the youth German Resistance who infiltrates the Reich to rescue her best friend. Nuremberg, 1941.

As a young girl, Ella never considered that those around her weren't as they appeared. But when her childhood best friend shows Ella that you can't always believe what you see, Ella finds herself thrown into the world of the German Resistance.

On a dark night in 1941, Claudia is taken by the Gestapo, likely never to be seen again, unless Ella can save her. With the help of the man she loves, Ella must undertake her most dangerous mission yet and infiltrate the Nazi Party.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research:

I began this novel ten years ago. In 2009, there was an average amount of information on the internet and at my library about the youth resistance, but I knew I needed to go to the source and ask questions—I needed to ask Germans in Germany. I knew that Germans were reluctant to talk about this dark period of their history, so I looked up business’ in an around the areas my characters found themselves.

I figured that if they had a section on their website about their shop’s history (which several did—mostly about the building’s history throughout the ages) they might reply to an email. Some got back to me; some did not. The Korn und Berg bookstore was one who wrote back. It was through this exchange I learned that Hitler didn’t like the bookstore’s windows, and during a rally he broke away, walked right into the store and demanded the owner change the shape. This is just one of the many nuggets I found. And yes, I wrote this into the story.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The ending. I love the ending of this novel. Love. However, there are many different ways I could have chosen to end it, and I imagined them all. As a reader I want every character to have that happy ending. I want the villains to get their punishments, and I want the heroes and heroines to get their day of splendor and acknowledgement.

However, this story is set during WWII. If I tied up every single plot point into a perfect package with a perfect ending the story would have been unbelievable to me. Definitely inauthentic. War is messy. War is unresolved in the hearts and minds of those who lived through it. So, in this respect the ending was hard to write, but also very easy and satisfying. Even now, and I’ve read my book thousands of times, the ending takes my breath away. I’ve read in reviews that readers are having the same reaction and love the ending, so I know I’ve done my job as a writer and as a historian.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Write. Write a lot. After I finished my first novel (which would later become my debut, The Girl I Left Behind), I thought it was the best thing ever written. I even got a few offers. But my book needed work. A lot of work. Someone told me to start writing a second book while submitting my first and I all but laughed in their face. I felt exhausted. I felt like writing that second book was only possible if I sold my first. Boy, was I wrong.

I wrote a second book and I learned much more about tension, hooks, and scene transitions. I went back and revised my first book using all the new and glorious writing techniques I learned. The funny and ironic part of this story is that my second book saved my first. This is the book that got me that coveted publishing contract, and when I told my publisher that I had another book, this one set in Nazi Germany, they were very excited.

Also, write out of genre. I know this sounds scary, but one of the best things I ever did was write a children’s book. There was no pressure. There were no expectations. I was on submission when I wrote it, and by this time I hated writing. I hated everything about publishing. Writing out of genre was very liberating, and I suddenly remembered why I loved writing. I also got a chance to write in 3rd person, which I had never done. And, as it turns out I’m actually good at it. I would have never discovered this talent of mine had I not dabbled in another genre just for fun.

Get a writing buddy. Specifically, find someone with similar publishing dreams. You will need this person to talk to when you go on submission. You will share ideas. You will share your frustrations. You will know you are not alone.

What is your writing routine?

I write when my kids and husband are out of the house! This is only because I absolutely can’t handle being interrupted; it will kill an entire scene and ruin my writing day. I can handle noise, oddly (I have two boys who make A LOT of noise), but if you want to see what I look like completely stressed out, interrupt me while I’m writing. So, I write when nobody is at home. I turn my phone off too, because receiving texts and FB messages is just as jarring as someone walking up to me while I’m in full creative mode and asking what’s for dinner.

What are you planning to write next?

My second book, The Girl From Vichy, will be released in July 2021 by Aria Fiction. It’s about a woman who joins the French Resistance and spies on her collaborator boyfriend in the Vichy police. This book explores a family that is politically divided, which was really interesting to write, given the state of our political landscape in America and in the UK, which is very divided. My third book, to be released in 2021 by Aria, is still a work in progress, but I can tell you it is a WWII female-driven spy novel involving American women, and I absolutely love it.

Andie Newton

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About the Author

Andie is an American writer living in Washington State with her husband and two boys. She writes female-driven WWII historical fiction. Her debut novel, The Girl I Left Behind, was published by Aria Fiction in October 2019. The Girl from Vichy, her second novel with Aria Fiction, will be released in July 2020 with a third untitled novel due to release in 2021. She has a Bachelor’s degree in History from Washington State University and a Master in Teaching. Andie would love to say she spends her free time gardening and cooking, but she’s killed everything she’s ever planted and set off more fire alarms than she cares to admit. Andie does, however, love spending time with her family, trail running, traveling the world, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. Andie loves connecting with readers on social media. You can find her on Twitter @andienewton, on Facebook, and on Instagram @andienewtonauthor. You can also find discussion questions for her novels on her website

If you would like to add The Girl I Left Behind to your Goodreads shelves, click here:

Special Guest Interview with Susie Murphy, Author of A Class Entwined

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Trapped in a loveless marriage far from home, Bridget does what she can to fill her lonely days. She throws herself into charitable work, but her cherished daughter, Emily, is her only true source of happiness.

I'm pleased to welcome author Susie Murphy to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

A Class Entwined is the second book in my historical fiction series A Matter of Class, the first book of which is called A Class Apart (published July 2018). Beginning in Ireland in 1828, the series is set on a manor estate in County Carlow and follows the relationship between Bridget Muldowney, a landowner’s daughter, and Cormac McGovern, a stable hand’s son. They were childhood friends but as adults their class differences present a barrier to any kind of friendship between them. 

However, despite Bridget's engagement to a wealthy English gentleman and the interference of her domineering mother, Bridget and Cormac still find themselves drawn to each other. The series poses the question: can love overcome the social class divide? A Class Apart begins when Bridget returns to the manor estate for a single summer after having spent seven years away in Dublin, while A Class Entwined deals with the consequences of what happens that summer. The story will continue in the third book, A Class Forsaken (coming 2020).

What is your preferred writing routine?

I don’t actually have any specific writing routine. The past year was pretty hectic for me as I changed jobs twice, moved house twice, and published two books, so really my attitude to writing has been to simply fit it in any time of the day that works!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Be patient. You may want to get your books out there as quickly as possible but it’s worth waiting and making them the best they can be before submitting them to agents/publishers. If you choose to go down the self-publishing route, I would definitely advise seeking a professional editor’s opinion on your writing. If you can’t afford a full edit of your book, then at least get a manuscript assessment which shouldn’t cost as much but will still point you in the right direction. That’s what I did before I published my books and it was the best decision I made.

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

This is a tricky one because I’m still struggling to be successful in this area! I think reaching out to book reviewers for my book launches was helpful as it spread the net of awareness wider when their reviews went out to their readers. I do think engaging with other writers and with readers is very important and so rewarding as well – there’s a really wonderful community out there. I’m also studying an online advertising course at the moment and am hoping to put what I’ve learned into action very soon, so we’ll see how that goes!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I was a bit lax when it came to historical research back at the very beginning, so by the time I came to my senses and started properly researching the time period of my books, I encountered a number of historical facts which caused me unexpected difficulties. There were several aspects of inheritance law that had the potential to ruin the entire premise of A Class Apart, but I managed to makes some adjustments without sacrificing the original storyline. 

Then, in doing my research for A Class Entwined, I stumbled upon the New Poor Law of 1834 which wouldn’t have posed any problem if it had only been introduced two years later. It necessitated a good deal of rewriting but I succeeded in both amending the story and keeping the historical elements accurate. Needless to say, I now do meticulous research before writing anything!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Essentially, rewriting two whole books. Back in 2015, I almost had success in getting traditionally published – an acquisitions editor was really interested in taking on A Class Apart but her associate editor unfortunately turned it down. I received feedback from both of them which alerted me to several things I could improve on in relation to both my standard of writing and the construction of the whole story. 

However, it would mean a huge revision of the first two books in my series which I had believed were already in good shape. This was so hard to accept because I knew it would mean taking a step back from trying to get published for a very long time. In the end, the rewriting process took eighteen months. But I’m so glad I took the time to do it because I feel it made the series much better overall. Getting that rejection in 2015 was the best thing that could have happened!

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently working on the third book in my series, A Class Forsaken. It continues Bridget and Cormac’s story, where the timeline has now reached 1836. I aim to publish it in 2020. This whole series was originally intended to be just one book but my characters have insisted that there will now be at least seven volumes in the series.

Thank you very much for having me as a guest, Tony!

Susie Murphy

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About the Author

Susie Murphy is an Irish historical fiction author. She loves historical fiction so much that she often wishes she had been born two hundred years ago. Still, she remains grateful for many aspects of the modern age, including women’s suffrage, electric showers and pizza. Susie wrote her first ‘novel’ when she was eleven – entitled The Rabbits’ Journey, it was eleven pages long and an unashamed plagiarism of Watership Down. At age sixteen, Susie put pen to paper on the story that would eventually become A Class Apart but it took another sixteen years before she published it. She promises it won’t take sixteen years to write every other book in her A Matter of Class series. You can find out more at, and you can connect with Susie on Facebook, InstagramGoodreads and Twitter @susiemwrites. If you would like to keep up with news of Susie’s books, you can also subscribe to her newsletter here.

25 October 2019

Special Guest Post by Gila Green, Author of White Zion

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Gila Green to The Writing Desk;

Tell us about your latest book releases

In the last twelve months, I released three novels and it's been a rollercoaster ride ever since. I've done my best to juggle each one, sort of like having twins. (I've met women with triplets, that's too strong a comparison.)   

My novel Passport Control was released last August in Virginia. In Passport Control, a young woman comes to terms with her father's background and questions who she really is. She's forced to confront family secrets against the backdrop of Israel's mosaic of multiple identities. 

I tried to keep the novel authentic historically. The cover is composed of visa stamps from 1992-1993, the year in which the novel takes place, from old family passports. I spent a long time photographing them in my garden to get the best shot for the graphic artist. They don't make those entry visas anymore because of the difficulties some people experience with an Israeli stamp on their passport; now an entry visa comes on a loose piece of paper. 

Passport Control was followed eight months later by White Zion published in Massachusetts. White Zion is a novel in stories that I call a companion piece to Passport Control because two of the main characters reappear, though they are now distorted and fragmented. 

White Zion is historical fiction and migrates between Yemen, Ottoman Palestine, British Mandate Palestine, modern Israel and modern Canada against a backdrop of several wars. It follows a Yemenite Jewish family through divorce, immigration, racism, death, and ultimately, survival. 

Many people do not know there was a movement in Yemen in the 1880s among Jews to rush to Jerusalem to greet the Messiah, who was thought to be on his way. Much of the history of the area between the two World Wars is overlooked today, yet what happened then continues to have an enormous impact on millions of people.

In September 2019, my first young adult novel No Entry was released in Australia with an environmental press. This is a big pivot from the first two novels. No Entry centers around a teen heroine who takes on a murderous elephant poaching ring in South Africa's Kruger National Park. I wrote it because there has never been a more dangerous time to be an elephant and I hope to raise awareness regarding the perils of elephant extinction, particularly among young people who will be the most affected. No Entry is the first novel in an eco-series. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I have five children and a day job, so there's no routine. I write whenever I can: if everyone's fed and there's a reduction in the noise level, I'm writing. I tend to write intensely once I get through those first fifty pages. I try to write at least an outline of an entire chapter in each session, even if it's the bare bones of the scene with no setting and no detail. You really have to just get it down! So, my routine once I'm writing is a chapter a session but that can be anywhere from two pages to twelve, as long as I have a map to expand before I stop writing. 

What advice do you have for new writers?

Clarify your goals. Are you in it for a long-term writing career, a hobby, do you want to turn it into your own business i.e., publish yourself and possibly others? Are you happy as a big fish in a small pond as many niche writers are who are well-known in a small circle? You need to know where you want to go if you want to get there. This doesn't mean you cannot change your mind! 

Find a mentor or two. Look for someone who is where you'd like to be (I'm not talking about Booker Prize winner), and someone who believes in you and your writing—important. Imitate. Inhale. Internalize. I wish I'd had my mentors for a lot longer. I'd be a better writer. 

Third, you can do a lot, but you don't have to do it all at once. For example, many other authors told me to network but I could not raise my children, pay the bills, run a home, develop my writing skills, seek publishers and publishing opportunities, AND network. 

So, I didn't! 

Now that my youngest is twelve, I have breathing room. I can go to an evening author talk and not worry (too much). You would be amazed at how quickly you can catch up. For years colleagues nagged me that I never get to any book/writer events. They were right but I was right, too. And with social media you can make up for lost time networking—something that was less possible even five years ago. 

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

The best way to raise awareness of your books is to invest in a practical, functional website. Then—and this is the hard part—use it.  

I am not saying throwing a lot of money at a fancy website is the answer. Keeping up a website and making it work for you takes a lot of effort. A functional website enables you to do so many things, I cannot list them all but here are a few:

  • Post to any social media platform directly from your site with one click. I know the "experts" tell us that we should custom post everything to each media platform—that's probably true in the ideal world, but most of us have no time for that and cannot sustain it.
  • Create and send out your own newsletters. People really like them. 
  • Build community by interviewing other authors, reviewing their books, joint newsletters. 
  • Blog on your own site instead of always guest posting. 
  • If you work at your website, Google notices. 
  • Advertise other services such as editing, classes, giveaways, free downloads.
  • Receive direct comments from your audience and respond

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I spent a lot of time on both Israel-based novels researching food because some interviewees used Arabic names for herbs, spices, and fruits and vegetables and I needed the Hebrew names or vice versa. 

While researching mallow, also named malva, I read that in Jewish culture, mallow was considered a very important plant and that its name means bread in both Hebrew and Arabic. I also learned that when Jerusalem was closed off on all side by Arab armies in 1948, and the inhabitants were threatened with starvation, this crop saved them. So, on Israeli Independence Day, many people celebrate by making a dish of mallow leaves.

Regarding No Entry, one of the most interesting things I learned that I did not know before was about Wooly Mammoth tusks. Wooly Mammoth ivory is legal and that's bad news for elephants and those trying to protect them. For 20,000 years Wooly Mammoth tusks lay frozen in Sibera and elsewhere-- out of reach. They are no longer frozen. Now poachers can claim that illegal elephant ivory is really legal Wooly Mammoth ivory and unless you're an expert, you cannot tell the difference. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? That's easy—any sort of violence. I am the type who covers my eyes during any violent scenes in movies (while thirteen-year olds in the theater stare and munch). Yet, I had to show the violence done against elephants to get my message across. Of course, I took the age category into account but it was difficult to write and still harder to read. I read it for the first time to an audience recently and realized it was harder still to read out loud. 

What are you planning to write next?

No Entry is the first in a series, but I'd like to get feedback on the second one, which no one has read except my own beta readers, before I embark on a third. I'm very tempted to write another novel in stories, though I know how hard it is to get them published, the short story is still my favorite genre. I have this idea of writing a novel in stories that's a fictionalized version of all of the lousy jobs I have had in my life. I published a couple of short stories on this theme and had great feedback and it occurred to me that I could expand it to a whole collection, preferably with a lot of humor. 

Gila Green
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About the Author

Canadian Gila Green is an Israel-based author. Her novels include: No Entry, White Zion, Passport Control, and King of the Class and she's published dozens of short stories. She writes about racism, war, alienation, immigration, and survival. She has a fascination with the 1930s and 40s in the Middle East, and most recently has turned her attention to African elephant poaching. She does most of her work in a converted bomb shelter overlooking the Judean Hills. She loves to hear from readers, so for more information please visit: and find Gila om Twitter @green_gila

24 October 2019

Guest Post by Judith Arnopp, Author of Peaceweaver: The Story of Eadgyth Aelfgarsdottir

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Ælfgar of Mercia falls foul of the king and is exiled, his daughter Eadgyth’s is sold into a disastrous marriage with Gruffydd ap Llewellyn, King of the Welsh. Gruffydd is old enough to be her grandfather, and Eadgyth is not happy. A few years later, alone in a foreign land, she finds herself accused of treason and her life is forfeit. But, a surprise night attack destroys Gruffydd's stronghold, and Eadgyth is taken back to England as Earl Harold of Wessex’s prisoner.

Peaceweaver: The Story of Eadgyth Aelfgarsdottir

I can scarcely believe it is ten years since Peaceweaver was first published. I was a total newbie then so my first attempt was a bit of a damp squib, with a bad cover, and strange formatting. But I am stubborn, and I learned how to improve the book and after that it began to sell … modestly. 

I have written eleven books since then but Peaceweaver remains very special to me. To mark the anniversary of my first published book, I have given it a wash and brush up and a fancy new cover.
Eadgyth appears only fleetingly in the historical record so I had to sift through the muddle of fact, legend and fantasy to craft a story for. Even her name is written variously as Aldith, Eadgyth, Aldgyth and Eadgifu.

The Anglo-Norman historian Oderic Vitalis, writing in the early 12th century, states that Ælfgar’s daughter Ealdgyth was wed to Gruffydd ap Llewellyn to secure his alliance with her father, AElfgar; the Earl of East Anglia. She is barely mentioned again until 1065, so I made it my job to fill in those missing years.

As her story unfolds, it is easy to forget that Eadgyth is so young. Her resilience in the face of trouble evokes a much older woman. She was just twenty-one years old at the Battle of Hastings and, by the end of the same year, had given birth to her fifth child and buried two husbands.

Anglo Saxon chroniclers were infuriatingly vague about women, and the little they did record tantalises and teases the imagination. Peaceweaver will, I hope, help to prevent Eadgyth and women like her, from completely fading from history. 

Judith Arnopp

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About the Author

Judith Arnopp is the author of twelve books; three set in the Anglo-Saxon/early medieval period and nine set in and around the Tudor court. All books are available in Kindle and Paperback format, and The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Kiss of the Concubine and A Song of Sixpence are on Audible. Find out more at Judith's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp

21 October 2019

Special Guest Interview With Author Dr Julia Ibbotson

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Dr Viv DuLac, a medievalist and academic, slips into 499 AD and into the body of Lady Vivianne, little does she realise that their lives across the centuries will become intertwined as they fight for their dreams…and their lives.

I'm pleased to welcome Dr Julia Ibbotson to The Writing Desk"

Tell us about your latest book

I do a lot of research before I write each book and they all arise from a passion I have at the time. I love to turn current thought on its head! My last novel, A Shape on the Air, published by Endeavour, is a historical (early medieval) time slip, set in England in the present day and the post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon era (499 AD). As you can see, I’m not calling this period  the ‘dark ages’ which has been our default term. For too long we have accepted the notion that the Romans left Britain suddenly in 410 AD and the country collapsed into ruin and barbarism (‘dark days’), before the good old Anglo-Saxons invaded and rebuilt civilisation. Now we prefer to call it the ‘late antique’/’early medieval’ period. 

The only darkness, in my view and from my own research (upheld increasingly by current research and thinking), is the paucity of enlightening hard evidence in records, documents and archaeological artefacts. But evidence is being rooted out and ideas are changing. And I wanted my novel, A Shape on the Air, to reflect the notion that this time (5th into 6th centuries) was a time of continuing civilisation and culture, and more gradual, peaceful change and evolution (cf Prof Oosthuizen  2019).  So the setting is of a relatively settled village, albeit with internal tensions, in the midlands of England, the main external threat being from the incursions of the Picts from the north. 

How did you use your research in your book?

I depict the world of the late 5th century as rich with cultural and religious artefacts, and intermarriage between Romans, Britons, Celts and Saxons, although at times fraught with dispute. The main conflict is between Sir Pelleas (a Saxon pagan), who is adopted by Sir Tristram (a Romano-Briton), succeeding him as chief of the settlement, and Tristram’s daughter Lady Vivianne, a Christian.  

In my story, the inter-marriage of Lady Vivianne’s parents (her mother is also a pagan but Celtic-Briton) intermingled Christian values and rites with more magical ancient deism. Bringing in to my tale the magical ‘king’ Arthur (Arturius), as a mystical Welsh Celtic leader of this time with Roman connections, as well as a legendary figure of literature, also signifies the mingling of cultures and beliefs. And adds a bit of magic (and why not? Even historic novelists are entitled to creative imagination)!

A Shape on the Air is also a love story across time as medievalist Dr Viv DuLac’s life becomes intertwined with that of Lady Vivianne, and the strapline is ‘unlocking a love that lasts for lifetimes … and beyond.’  “In the best Barbrara Erskine tradition … I would highly recommend this novel” (Historical Novel Society)

Are you writing a sequel to this novel?

Yes, my WIP is a sequel using the same main protagonists: medievalist Dr Viv and local priest Rev Rory, who suffer a tragedy and are sent on secondment to Holy Trinity church in Funchal, Madeira, partly to recover. Dr Viv must lay the ghosts of two women from the 14th and 16th centuries in a quest to unite two special artefacts before she and the island can find peace. One of the artefacts is from the beginning of time. But time itself is running out …It’s a bitter sweet love story across time, and the working title (currently!) is The Dragon Tree. Or it might be Azulejo! We’ll see! It’s due next year. It’s a bit of a ‘tour de force’, so I’m working hard.

What would you say are your author USPs?

My ‘author brand’, I guess, revolves around the historical, especially early medieval/Anglo-Saxon periods, and I like to turn the so-called ‘dark ages’ idea on its head, as I outline above. I also enjoy exploring the role of women in history, their positions of power in daily life and in community life, which is often overlooked. And because I am fascinated by concepts of time, the time slip. I like to play around with ideas of quantum mechanics (space-time portals) – those interconnections between times. All these come into play in both A Shape on the Air and The Dragon Tree.

What is your writing routine and where do you write?

I’d love to say I write a sacred 9-12 and 2-5, but it doesn’t always work out like that! I’m required by my publisher to be fairly active on social media and I also do a lot of research for my books, so I tend to get distracted. I also have a busy life outside of writing. Let’s just say that I try to work systematically and regularly. 

Having had a very hectic professional life in a demanding area of education, as an academic, when I moved into fulltime writing I found that I wanted to be more flexible. I tend to do my research in the summer months when I can read outside and I get down to writing the book in the winter-time. 

I have a dedicated study but I also have a second desk in our conservatory so that I can feel in touch with the outdoors. 

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

I’m a member of the Society of Authors, the Historical Novel Society and the Romantic Novelists Association. They all have active inspiring social media presence and real-life presence too, and are very supportive in promoting each other’s work. My publisher has won BookBub deals for me and that has been successful in terms of sales and raising my profile. I do book blog tours and contribute to people’s blogs (like this one, thank you, Tony!). Talks at organisations like the WI and at local libraries and suchlike are also helpful. 

I’ve now published 6 books so I have to see that I promote them all in turn, and in the appropriate locations.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I guess everyone would have to say: believe in yourself and don’t give up. We all have our rejections and nasty reviews; it goes with the territory, horrid as it may be. But I’d also say: establish a support network. Join author organisations, online and face to face, in whichever genre you write. Although the RNA is a little tenuous for my genre (or cross genre!), they are a great all-embracing, supportive, encouraging and inspiring organisation, and meet in real life as well as online. 

Attend conferences, have 1:1s with agents and publishers to explore the field and its requirements. Write every day, even if it’s only 500 words. Read publications like Writers Magazine. Learn as much as you can from other writers. It’s a craft, not only a natural flair – although this undoubtedly helps!

Dr Julia Ibbotson 

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About the Author

Acclaimed, award-winning author Dr Julia Ibbotson is fascinated by the medieval world and concepts of time travel. She read English at Keele University, England (after a turbulent but exciting gap year in Ghana, West Africa) specialising in medieval language, literature and history, and has a PhD in socio-linguistics. She wrote her first novel at 10 years of age, but became a school teacher, then an academic as a senior university lecturer and researcher. As well as medieval time-slip, she has published a number of books, including memoir (The Old Rectory), children’s medieval fantasy (S.C.A.R.S), a trilogy opening in 1960s Ghana (Drumbeats), and many academic works. Apart from insatiable reading, she loves travelling the world, singing in choirs, swimming, yoga and walking in the countryside in England and Madeira where she and her husband divide their time. Find out more at and find Julia on Facebook and Twitter @JuliaIbbotson

19 October 2019

Special Guest Interview with Clare Rhoden, Author of The Stars in the Night

Available of Amazon UK and Amazon US

Harry Fletcher is a confident young man, sure that he will marry Nora, no matter what their families say. He will always protect Eddie, the boy his father saved from the gutters of Port Adelaide. Only the War to End All Wars might get in the way of Harry’s plans…

I'm pleased to welcome Australian author Clare Rhoden to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My Great War novel was published earlier this year. It’s unashamedly Australian and based partly on my own family’s arrival in Port Adelaide in January 1914, but mostly on my research into Australian WWI literature.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Anytime the dog is asleep, LOL! Luckily I’m a person who doesn’t need a strong routine – I always think that any spare ten minutes is enough time for at least one sentence. “I can’t do everything, but I can always do something” is my motto. I’m best in the morning, and I prefer to keep writing and editing separate. I write first – anything that comes along – and I edit another time.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I believe the basis of good writing is lots of reading. Written language is a particular dialect that you need to become fluent in, using your own voice. So the first step is to read.  Then, if you want to write, go and write. Write whenever you can, no matter the (perceived) quality or whether you write yourself into a corner and then have to find a way out. It will come.  Remember, nobody else can write YOUR novel…whereas anybody else can watch the TV ads or do the dishes/cleaning/whatever…

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

Oh. So we need to talk about the Holy Grail: how to make readers aware of your books. Marketing is a mystery to me. I don’t really understand its ways. With that in mind, here are my suggestions.

My #1 Tip: I decided to enter as many competitions as I can: literary competitions for The Stars in the Night, and speculative fiction competitions for my sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Pale. It costs money to enter, and you need to send a handful of copies to each contest (more $$$s), but then again, the judges HAVE to read something of your book. At the very least, they will see the title. Spending money on online ads doesn’t give me any confidence that someone will look at them.

My #2 Tip: I also visit local libraries and talk to them about my books. I’ve had mostly good responses and good reader feedback from library patrons.

My #3 Tip: I try to be very active in the #WritingCommunity. I love interviewing other authors on my blog; I review books for my own website and for Aurealis Magazine; I do my best to support fellow writers. I’m with a small indie publisher and we have a nice little family of authors. I’ve also joined my state and national writers’ associations to keep connected.

My #4 Tip: (stop me if I’m going on too long!): Keep churning out short stories and flash fiction, and keep submitting. I think it keeps your writing fluid and puts your work in front of relevant people.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I was surprised to discover that metal helmets (the Brodie helmets) weren’t introduced until the start of 1916. Imagine! The Australians at Gallipoli in 1915, and the British on the Western Front during 1914 and 1915, only had their slouch hats, bonnets or caps to protect their heads. So many novels, movies and illustrations mistakenly put helmets on WWI soldiers in the first two years.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

As The Stars in the Night is a novel that takes us from 1915 until 1970, and covers two wars, we can expect quite a bit of sadness. I struggled most (and I think I’ve done it) to show Harry at the side of his best friend in a death scene. I wanted to show the strength of the love between the two men without any mawkishness, melodrama, or overstatement. I had to channel the stoicism and laconic speech of the Aussie bloke, all the while tugging at the reader’s heartstrings. 
I still cry when I read over that scene.

What are you planning to write next?

The final book of my sci-fi trilogy is being launched next month (November 2019), and completes a dystopian tale of humachines, tribesfolk, and the canini (genetically modified talking dogs). I also have a Young Adult fantasy in the pipeline for 2021. That involves kidnapping, witness protection, and magic cats.  However at the moment I am writing a cosy mystery for older readers. The sleuth is a woman in her sixties with a pet poodle-X-wolfhound called Violet. There are murders and there is mystery, and I actually know who the villain is, which is a great relief.

Clare Rhoden

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About the Author

Clare Rhoden is based on Melbourne Australia and completed her PhD in Australian Great War literature in 2011 (her academic book, The Purpose of Futility, is available from UWAP Scholarly Press). She writes novels with heart and soul, based on love and hope in dark times. If you like to read historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy and/or mystery, you will find something to enjoy in Clare’s books. Find out more at Clare's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @ClareER 

18 October 2019

Book Spotlight: The Mermaid and The Bear, by Ailish Sinclair

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and The Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.
She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…
Until the past catches up with her.

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About the Author

Ailish Sinclair trained as a dancer and taught dance for many years, before working in schools to help children with special needs. A short stint as a housekeeper in a castle fired her already keen interest in untold stories of the past and she sat down to research and write. She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children where she still dances and writes and eats rather a lot of chocolate. Find our more at her website and find Ailish on Facebook and Twitter @AilishSinclair

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 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.