Mastodon The Writing Desk: January 2020

31 January 2020

Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII's Most Notorious Ambassador, by Sarah-Beth Watkins

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Sir Francis Bryan was Henry VIII's most notorious ambassador and one of his closest companions. Bryan was a man of many talents; jouster, poet, rake and hell-raiser, gambler, soldier, sailor and diplomat. He served his king throughout his life and unlike many of the other men who served Henry VIII, Bryan kept his head and outlived his sovereign.

This book tells the story of his life from coming to court at a young age through all his diplomatic duties to his final years in Ireland.

The latest book from the best-selling author of Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII

Francis Bryan and Nicholas Carew were becoming firm favourites of the king’s. At the May joust in 1514 at Greenwich the king lent horses and armour to them both for jousting. The tilt yard at Greenwich had become Henry’s permanent play area. Close to the palace of Placentia, Henry had added extra stables, an armoury, a gallery and a five-storey tower for viewing. Such was Henry’s delight in the joust the Spanish ambassador commented ‘The King of England amuses himself almost every day of the week with running the ring, and with jousts and tournaments on foot in which one single person fights with an appointed adversary… 
The most interested in the combats is the king himself, who never omits being present at them’. As well as the king, Nicholas Carew especially excelled as a star of the tournament. He became so popular and so skilled that Henry gave him his own tilt yard at Greenwich in 1515. Carew and Bryan were both also charged with teaching the art of chivalry to ‘encourage all youth to seek deeds of arms’ and pass on their skills to a younger generation. On 19 April 1515 there were more entertainments at Richmond, jousting and a banquet, in honour of Louise of Savoy and Bryan and Carew rode out with the king again. Henry paid for his friends coats of blue satin embroidered with white satin including ‘48 yds. blue satin, at 7s. 8d. a yd., for coats, trappers and saddlery for Bryan and Carew’.

For the celebration of May Day at Shooters Hill, Henry put on a masque around the story of Robin Hood, one of his favourite themes. Eighty-seven yards of green satin were needed for Bryan’s and Carew’s coats and Arnold, the Queen's embroiderer, made hawthorn leaves for their headpieces. The king himself was dressed ‘entirely in green velvet, cap, doublet, hose, shoes and everything’. Henry had with him a band of archers and a hundred noblemen who were joined by Queen Katherine and her ladies to watch an archery contest. Afterwards Henry asked his queen whether she would ‘enter the greenwood and see how the outlaws lived’ and when Katherine said she was content to, he led her into the woods to an area decorated with floral bowers and where tables were laid out with a feast. Bryan was also at the Christmas entertainments at Eltham when the king’s chapel master William Cornysh devised a castle pageant. 
For all the pleasure, there was also work to do and in 1516 Bryan became the King’s cupbearer bringing him in even closer contact to the king both officially and personally.
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About the Author

Sarah-Beth Watkins grew up in Richmond, Surrey and began soaking up history from an early age. Her love of writing has seen her articles published in various publications over the past twenty years. Working as a writing tutor, Sarah-Beth has condensed her knowledge into a series of writing guides for Compass Books. Her history works are Ireland's Suffragettes, Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII, The Tudor Brandons, Catherine of Braganza, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister, Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Unwanted Wife and The Tragic Daughters of Charles I. You can find Sarah-Beth on Twitter @SarahBWatkins

30 January 2020

Special Guest Interview with Historical Mystery Author John Pilkington

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Summer 1604: England is on edge, as a high-powered Spanish delegation arrives in London to start vital and long-awaited treaty talks. King James, a year into his reign, wants to be seen as The Peacemaker King, bringing an end to nearly twenty years of warfare with Spain which has left both countries exhausted and almost bankrupt. Yet there are those who profit from the war - and such people cannot be allowed to threaten the peace negotiations.

I'm pleased to welcome historical mystery Author John Pilkington to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Just now, I’m not sure what counts as my latest book. I’ve been pleased to see the first historical series I wrote, the Thomas the Falconer Mysteries (published 2002-2007) reissued as e-books by Sharpe Books over the past few months, with an omnibus collection of all seven books now out under the title Hunter and Prey (Sharpe, 2020).

Following that early Tudor project I wrote three more historical series, including one featuring 17th century spy or ‘intelligencer’ Martin Marbeck, whose last outing appeared in paperback in 2016 (Severn House Publishers). But the most recent book I’ve written is a new venture for me: Yorick, His Tale told by Himself. I suppose I would call this ‘speculative fiction’, giving my version of the story of a character from Hamlet (he of ‘alas, poor Yorick’ fame) from his humble birth and life as a stable boy, to becoming the King’s favoured jester and playfellow of the young Prince Hamlet. It was a lot of fun to write. It’s yet to find a publisher, and it may need further work, but I have hopes.

What is your preferred writing routine?

After many years of writing, I’ve developed an ‘office hours’ habit. I write all morning, perhaps do a little more after lunch and then edit what I’ve done. Afterwards I escape for a long walk, weather permitting – I’m fortunate to live by a quiet tidal estuary, very good for fresh air and wildlife. I think it’s important to get away from the desk. I work at the keyboard, print off what I’ve done each day and then read it over first thing the next morning, editing by hand with a lurid red pen. Then, when I open up the work again on the screen I edit from the hard copy, which gets me into the flow to carry on the narrative. I sometimes write things out longhand, like new sections I want to insert, and work them in later.

I’ve done lots of research over the years and have extensive files, but I rarely look at these once I’ve started a new book. There’s always the danger of putting in ‘undigested research’, and the temptation to add too much period detail. This is fiction, not a history book, and the story is paramount. Once I’ve got the book moving I work every day, without fail.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I’m not sure I can offer any, but I’ll try. Are you certain you want to write, or do you merely want to ‘be a writer’? If you really want to write, you will probably do so anyway. I attempted my first novel at age 13. It was terrible and I never finished it, but you have to start somewhere. If you want to be published, writing is a commitment, not a hobby. You also need to be clear about what sort of writing you want to do: try out different forms and genres, and see which satisfies you most. It doesn’t matter how bad you think it is.

There’s no short cut to developing a workable style – as with most things in life, you get better with practice. And read a lot, of course – even ‘How to Write’ books, if they help. Join a local writers’ group, if that helps. Make a regular time to write, somewhere you won’t be disturbed, and don’t let anyone put you off. It’s often difficult to get people to take you seriously as a writer – until you’re published, whereupon they start asking you where you get your ideas from! But persevere: it’s down to application and persistence as well as talent. Good luck.

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

I’m a recent convert to Twitter, which has opened up a new – and at times astonishing – world. In the past I generally relied on my publishers to do all the marketing and publicity, though I helped when I could, making myself available for interviews and so on. When I wrote a children’s series, for example (the Elizabethan Mysteries), my wonderful publishers Usborne were very active in promoting me and my work, arranging visits, talks and readings in schools and libraries. But nowadays, I don’t think this is enough: the writer should take some responsibility and engage with the fast-moving online world, and with sites like GoodReads and Bookbub which will help raise your profile and attract potential readers.

I launched my website around a decade ago. There is a panel on my home page which can be updated at any time with news and events, but how much this actually helps with book sales I really don’t know. Being on Twitter has led to a new surge of interest in my work. Online promotion is very important now, and it seems to be helping me.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I’m fascinated by espionage, and when I began delving into the Elizabethan era I was intrigued to learn that the first Cambridge Spies date back to the 16th century - almost 400 years before Burgess, Philby and Maclean. In the 1580s the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, began recruiting bright, adventurous young men from Cambridge University (where he too had been a student). Their mission, in this time of religious turmoil and plots against Elizabeth, was to pose as disaffected Catholics, travel abroad to infiltrate the Catholics on the Continent, and report on their activities.

At its peak, the late-Tudor espionage service boasted as many as sixty agents using cover names, ciphers, letter drops and messages written in invisible ink – the beginnings of the spy’s equipment through the ages. Eventually I created my own spy, Marbeck, the hero of four books (described by Booklist as ‘a 17th century James Bond’). Recently I wrote an essay on the topic, On the Jesuit Trail, for the Royal Literary Fund’s website, now published in their anthology A Self Among the Crowd (Small Press Publishing for the RLF, 2019). I’m sure there’s still a great deal more to be revealed about this absorbing subject.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

This is a tough question. I suppose there have been many I struggled with, though I rarely remember the actual writing process. But one that sticks in my mind was the climactic ‘mass brawl’ scene in The Ruffler’s Child (the first Thomas the Falconer mystery). The fight took place in the Bear Garden in Southwark, after the day’s ‘entertainment’, and involved around a dozen angry men armed with clubs, daggers and assorted hand weapons. Moving so many participants around convincingly, and maintaining the suspense, proved a big challenge.

Never having been involved in such a fracas myself (beyond snowball fights), I had to reach into memory for every violent struggle I could recall, from schoolboy tussles to battle scenes from films. (Spartacus and Braveheart have always been personal favourites, but few scenes match the visceral realism of James Fox’s gangster-on-gangster fight in Performance – perhaps because it wasn’t scripted). To keep the scene gripping without losing sight of my main protagonist, and above all to avoid it feeling contrived, was hard. I think – I hope – that I’ve got better at it since then.

What are you planning to write next?

Some years ago, I wrote two novels set in the reign of Charles II (After the Fire and The Judas Blade), featuring Restoration Theatre actress-turned-sleuth Betsy Brand (first published by Robert Hale, soon to be republished in revised editions by Joffe Books). I’m very fond of smart, witty and resourceful Betsy and want to extend the series, creating more mysteries for her to solve in that ‘gaudy and bawdy‘ period of intrigue and corruption. I’d like to push her further into danger, allowing her to show her considerable courage. A plot’s already forming, but I’m keeping tight-lipped about that.

John Pilkington
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About the Author

John Pilkington has written plays for radio and theatre, television scripts for the BBC and now concentrates on historical fiction, reflecting his passion for the Tudor and Stuart periods. A writer for over thirty years, he has published around twenty books including the Thomas the Falconer Mysteries (republished by Sharpe Books), the Marbeck spy series (Severn House) and two Restoration-era mysteries featuring actress-turned-sleuth Betsy Brand (to be republished by Joffe Books). He is also the author of a children’s series, the Elizabethan Mysteries (Usborne). Born in the north-west of England, he now lives in a quiet Devon village with his partner, and has a son who is a musician and composer. Find out more at his website,, and find John on Twitter @_JohnPilkington.

26 January 2020

Katherine Willoughby and Charles Brandon

Katherine Willoughby was one of the most intriguing yet least well known women of the Tudor court of Henry VIII. Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine knew all Henry’s six wives, becoming lifelong friends with Anna of Cleves and Catherine Parr, She and also knew Henry's children well, and It was rumoured that Henry might choose her as his seventh wife. So how did the daughter of one of the most committed Catholics in England become an outspoken advocate of religious reform?

Katherine was born at Parham Old Hall in Suffolk, on the 22nd of March 1519. Her father was  William Willoughby, the 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, a prominent courtier and the wealthiest landowner in Lincolnshire.  Her mother was María de Salinas, who’d arrived in England from Spain in 1501 with Queen Catherine of Aragon. She was the Queen's ladies-in-waiting and closest companion, and named her daughter after Queen Catherine.

It seems young Katherine had a sheltered childhood. As her two brothers died in infancy, she was brought up with only her tutors and servants for company. Her mother was often away at court, and her father died suddenly when she was seven,  making Katherine Baroness Willoughby de Eresby – and one of the wealthiest heiresses in England.

I began exploring her life when writing about her first husband, King Henry’s best friend, Charles Brandon, for my book, Brandon – Tudor Knight. With typical panache, Brandon borrowed the money to buy the wardship of nine-year-old Katherine, and claimed his plan was to secure her as a bride for his son and heir, Henry, Earl of Lincoln, who was named after the king.

I suspect the truth was a little different. Charles Brandon’s wife, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, and the king’s sister, suffered with a debilitating ‘pain in her side’, so I believe he was making plans for the future.

Whether or not I’m right, the fact is that Mary died on the 25 June 1533, and Brandon's marriage to young Katherine (barely two months later) instantly solved his money worries, with Katherine’s thirty manors making Brandon the most important landowner in Lincolnshire.

Katherine was fourteen at the time, and Charles Brandon was forty-nine, though we must take care not to apply modern standards, it must have been quite a shock to suddenly become a duchess, with privileged access to the king, and one of the most senior ladies of the Tudor court. The age difference was not unusual, although court gossips will have raised an eyebrow at Brandon’s haste.

Tony Riches

Katherine - Tudor Duchess is on Amazon UK and Amazon US
in paperback and eBook
and an audiobook edition is in production

19 January 2020

Guest Interview with Wayne McKinstry, Author of The Two Hands of The King

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Wayne McKinstry to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Sir Donald and Lord Overton are bitter rivals for the favor of King Phillip deRoyale. But now their world is threatened by evil creatures, who intend to make this world their own. Now the two rivals will be tested like never before when their King orders them to work together to deal with this new enemy. Can these rivals work together? They will have help from Prince Luke, who is the third son of King DeRoyale. Also they will work with a Witch and Wizard who have to sort out their romantic feelings while saving the world

What is your preferred writing routine?

Morning is the best for me. As the day progresses there are more and more distractions. Sitting at my laptop in the corner of the spare room I am best able to visualize another world. And if I play music, I will just sit and listen to that rather than write. Focus!!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Do you want to be a writer? Then sit down and write! Start typing out the story that you have in your head. If you do not have an uncle in the publishing business, there are all sorts of self-publishing options. First and foremost you can upload your book to Amazon. What is hard is getting noticed among all the other people who have put their book out there.

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

Oh, that is the 64 million dollar question. Right now I am trying to get some reviews for my book. Hopefully things like this interview will help as well. There is plenty of advice on the internet, I just need to sort through it all.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I realized that basic human emotions are always the same. Everyone needs food, water and protection from the worst of the elements. And everyone wants to be valued by their peers. That might mean they want to be loved or they want to be feared. And all the non-human creatures that I create, I give them the same basic human emotions so the reader can relate.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I found it challenging to write battle scenes. I have never served in the military, and I basically rely on other war fiction that I have read. I can only say ‘the heat and dust were indescribable’ so many times. I found that I could focus on the emotions of the people in the battle, like fear, panic, terror and the like. And you can do a second-by-second description of what happens because life hangs in the balance absolutely every instant.

What are you planning to write next?

Right now I am working on a sequel for The Two Hands of The King. There seems to be a lot of value in having a series. I am mapping out the story to make sure that I do more than just re-tell the previous book.

Wayne McKinstry
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About the Author
Wayne McKinstry recently retired from a 40+ year career in IT, mainly as a programmer and developer.  The field changes rapidly, to say the least.  Now is a chance to move in new directions.  One of those new directions is writing and publishing fiction. Wayne and his wife Loretta live in Springfield, IL.  They enjoy travelling and visiting extended family. Find out more at Wayne's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @WayneMcKinstry

14 January 2020

The 100 Best Websites For Writers In 2020 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Specialist websites offer a wealth of useful and free information on every aspect of writing, publishing and book marketing, often based on years of practical experience.

The problem for busy writers is finding the time to look for the best, which is where The Write Life 100 Best Websites For Writers In 2020 is so useful.

The criteria for inclusion in the list are that the website is recommended by readers of The Write Life, publishes content helpful to writers, and has been updated recently and regularly.

The Write Life have organised their 2020 list into 10 categories:

  1. Freelancing
  2. Blogging
  3. Travel writing
  4. Creativity and craft – you will find Writers Write here
  5. Editing
  6. Publishing
  7. Writing tools
  8. Writing communities
  9. Podcasts
  10. Marketing and platform building

All the websites are listed in alphabetical order within these categories, with numbers for ease of reading (not ranking).

Click here to see the full list:

Do you have suggestions for useful websites for writers you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below

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

13 January 2020

Guest post by Cynthia Jefferies, Author of The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thomas Chayne has never managed to impress his overbearing father, and when a small act of rebellion has lasting consequences, Thomas finds himself exiled in disgrace. But with England on the brink of civil war, a larger revolution is in the air and Thomas has an opportunity to prove his worth by rallying a troop of royalists to defend Oxford 
from the escalating violence.

Putting your home town into fiction. The Storming of Cirencester!

They say write about what you know…and if it’s historical fiction you’d better make sure you’ve done the research! Good advice, but even when you think you know your subject pretty well there can be pitfalls. I wonder if Ian Rankin ever makes mistakes about the places in Edinburgh that Rebus mentions, and if so, does he get picked up on it? Laurie Lee put real people in Cider with Rosie and famously some declared that he had got most people right but not them!

I like to think that I know my home town as well as Rankin does Edinburgh, but I write historical fiction, so I need to get the facts about events right as well as the geography of the town. Over hundreds of years roads and buildings change, or disappear. And then there’s the fact that I was working on a novel. Where to deviate from the truth and when to keep it real? Should I be searching for old street maps?

I was born and brought up in Cirencester, a market town in Gloucestershire, England. The area was valued for its cloth, and strategically it is a gateway to the South and West. These things were important during the English Civil Wars. It was largely a Parliamentarian town, and was stormed in 1643 by Prince Rupert and his brother Prince Maurice. It was the events on this snowy day in early February that I wanted to put in my second novel for Allison & Busby, The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne. 

Fortunately, there are two very good eyewitness accounts of the action, one from each side, so it’s possible to have a pretty clear idea of what happened. But in fiction the story is the thing. Engaging and keeping readers turning the pages is far more than simply relating the facts. And the storming of a town doesn’t conveniently all happen in one place. Several streets in the outskirts will be attacked at a similar time. Where should the forces gather once they are in the town, and if they take prisoners, where can they keep them safely out of the action? 

Instead of trying to give an overall picture I opted to stick with Thomas as he did his bit in his first engagement of the war. It helped that he knew the town, and so didn’t get lost. It also helped that he was new to warfare, and was under command. That meant I could use other characters to hint at action taking place elsewhere without becoming ponderous. 

No one wants long descriptions during the heat of battle! But troops on horseback could get split up in the maze of narrow streets in the centre of a town that was ancient, even in 1643. It would be easy for Thomas, who knew exactly where he was going, to get ahead without meaning to. And there were other things to consider. What if he came face to face with someone he knew? That ghastly situation was no doubt faced by many during this terrible war. 

I did look at street maps. And two very useful plans of the attack and movement of troops were to be found in an excellent publication by John Miles Paddock for the Cotswold District Council in 1993, which I already had. 

I’m very glad I chose to tell this small, violent part of my town’s history. It was something of a journey for me, having first got interested in the event when I was young. It was also a journey for young Thomas Chayne, because of course this book is his story, not mine. He appears in Oxford, Bristol, Norfolk and Flintshire, even up into Scotland. From my comfortable chair in Gloucestershire I was taken aback at how far he roamed. I hadn’t thought he would do that, or have the life he eventually led. He took me to places I had never been before, and taught me things about human nature that I didn’t know. 

This novel was all his but, he also appears briefly, and significantly in my other novel for Allison & Busby, The Outrageous Fortune of Abel Morgan. In that novel he demanded silently that I take the time to tell his story, and so I did. I think I was faithful to Thomas, and in spite of some tweaks here and there I hope I was pretty faithful to my home town. If you know the town I hope you will recognise it in the book. If you have never been there perhaps you will read the book and then go and see for yourself. If you’re lucky you might find a lardy cake, and the coffee is good in the King’s Head Hotel! 

Cynthia Jefferies
Free Event. The Storming of Cirencester! 29th February at 3pm. Cynthia Jefferies will be signing and talking about her latest book, The Honourable Life of Thomas Chayne, and the storming of Cirencester at Octavia’s Bookshop in Black Jack Street, Cirencester, down which her hero cantered. Nibbles of traditional lardy cake may be available!
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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”.  Find out more at Cynthia's website and find her on Twitter @cindyjefferies1

10 January 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Mistress Whiddon: The Memoirs of Nora Basset of Umberleigh, by Joanne McShane

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nora Basset has no memory of her father, John, as he died when she was very young. Her first years are spent at Umberleigh in Devon with her family. 

When she is three years old, she meets her grandmother, Honora Lisle, who has returned from imprisonment in Calais and has been tragically widowed. Nora and her grandmother form a close bond, as the child unwittingly assists the older woman to come to terms with her loss.

The following year, Nora’s mother, Frances Plantagenet, remarries. Her new husband is Thomas Monk of Potheridge and the family leaves Umberleigh to begin their new life.

Nora spends a mostly happy childhood at Potheridge until she is called away at the age of eighteen to become a companion for her grandmother who has once again been visited by sadness. 

The bond between the two women becomes stronger than ever.When she is twenty-seven Nora meets William Whiddon, the love of her life. They marry and the next years are blissful ones for the two soulmates.

When tragedy strikes, Nora must find a way to move forward in her life. The story is set against the backdrop of life in Elizabethan England and the continuing saga of the Basset family.

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About the Author

Joanne McShane spent her childhood on a sheep and cattle farm in Tasmania, Australia. After marrying and raising a family in Tasmania she moved to Wales in 2003 and still lives there, close to the Herefordshire border. A keen historian, she became fascinated by her own family history and by the lives of her ancestors - some of whom she discovered to be very colourful indeed. This led her to begin writing. Honora and Arthur - The Last Plantagenets is her first published book. You can find Joanne on Facebook and Twitter @JoanneMcShane17

9 January 2020

Book Launch Spotlight: The Lady of the Ravens (Queens of the Tower, Book 1) by Joanna Hickson

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Two women, two very different destinies, 
drawn together in the shadow of the Tower of London

Elizabeth of York, her life already tainted by dishonour and tragedy, now queen to the first Tudor king, Henry the VII.

Joan Vaux, servant of the court, straining against marriage and motherhood and privy to the deepest and darkest secrets of her queen. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, as conspiracy whispers through the dark corridors of the Tower.

Through Joan’s eyes, The Lady of the Ravens inhabits the squalid streets of Tudor London, the imposing walls of its most fearsome fortress and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis.

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About the Author

Joanna Hickson was born in England but spent her early childhood in Australia, returning at thirteen to explore her first castle and develop a fascination with medieval history. She also discovered a love of words in all their guises, took a degree in Politics and English and a career in journalism, spending twenty five years in the BBC producing and presenting News and Arts programmes for TV and Radio. Joanna is now writing fiction set in the period she fell in love with as a child, indulging her passion for bringing the past to life. She is married, lives in an old farmhouse near Bath and has a large extended family living on both sides of the world. She welcomes contact on Facebook and Twitter @joannahickson.

8 January 2020

Book Launch Interview with Kaya Quinsey Holt, Author of The Marseille Millionaire

New on Amazon UKAmazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Kaya Quinsey Holt back to The Writing Desk. 

Tell us about your latest book

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog, Tony. My new book, The Marseille Millionaire, features  Elise Laird in her struggle to achieve more than she ever imagined for herself... all in the heart of the South of France!

Elise Laird has just sold the most expensive home in the history of Ashfield, USA, at $4.2 million dollars. The French multimillionaire whose home she sold is thrilled - so much so that he recommends her to a fellow French friend. And when Luc Dubonier steps off of his private jet with the intention of investing in some of Ashfield's best properties, Elise is shocked to find that the successful tycoon is single.

At least, until she gets to know him. In a series of blunders, Elise learns that Luc may be tough in business, but couldn't imagine anyone's personal life being more of a mess. After she impresses him with her sales pitches, Luc asks her to do one more sale for him - his $88 million home in Marseille, France. 

When Elise arrives in France, she learns that there is more to the house, and Luc, than meets the eye. If she sells the house, the commission check will be more than her lifetime salaries combined. But after learning why he is selling it, Elise finds herself conflicted, wanting to convince Luc to keep it. Will Elise choose between her bank account or her heart? And while selling million dollar homes, will Elise cash in her chance at love?

The Marseille Millionaire is currently available for pre-sale and will be released on January 24, 2020. I cannot wait!

What is your preferred writing routine?

I love to have my writing goals outlined for each book. With The Marseille Millionaire, I knew how many words per day I needed to write in order to have the book completed in the length of time I had allotted myself. I typically write best in the morning, so I'll carve out time during the mornings to get my best ideas down on paper (or I should say, typed onto the screen).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I'm a big believer that if you write, then you are a writer - whether you are pre-published, self-published, or traditionally published. Keep writing as much as possible. Remember that even when the deadlines start to accumulate, protect the joy that you get from writing with everything you've got. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I don't want to give too much away! All I'll admit is that while writing The Marseille Millionaire, the hardest scene to write came at a point where Elise feels lost and hopeless. I felt extraordinarily connected to Elise. Writing challenges for the main characters is necessary, albeit difficult at times. I really was rooting for her the whole way!

What are you planning on writing next?

In February 2020, I will be releasing another book set in a fictional community similar to Pebble Shores from my novella A Coastal Christmas. If you're a fan of idyllic, quirky, and cozy coastal towns, keep an eye out!

Kaya Quinsey
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About the Author

Kaya Quinsey Holt is the author of four romantic comedies. She holds her undergraduate and master’s degree in psychology. Her first novel, Paris Mends Broken Hearts, was released in April 2018. Since then, her books have sold in seven countries. They have been translated into multiple languages and been formatted into audiobooks. Kaya’s passion for culture, travel, and psychology intertwine for books that are romantic and full of surprises. When she's not typing away, Kaya loves chatting with friends over a glass of wine, playing with her fluffy Pomeranian Shih Tzu puppy, spending time with her family, attempting to learn new languages, and indulging in one too many cups of coffee. Always planning her next trip and adventure, Kaya's favorite places are near the beach. She lives in Toronto with her husband. Find out more at Kaya’s website: You can contact Kaya on her Instagram page @kayaquinseyholt and on Twitter @kayaquinseyholt.

7 January 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Anne and Louis: Rulers and Lovers (Anne of Brittany Series Book 3) by Rozsa Gaston

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Discover the story of Anne and Louis’ greatest conflict in 
Anne and Louis: Rulers and Lovers 
Book Three of the Anne of Brittany Series.

France, 1506:  In the dawn of the sixteenth century, Louis XII, King of France, wants his daughter to succeed to France’s throne as queen-consort. Anne, Duchess of Brittany and Queen of France, wants her daughter to succeed to Brittany's ducal throne, where she will one day rule, not just sit next to one who rules.

Excerpt from chapter 17:

The year 1506 began well, although Louis’ health was delicate. The doctors had suggested he remain in Blois with its mild, dry climate and the queen at his side, inarguably the king’s most attentive nurse. Basking in the great prestige of having provided the King of Spain with a wife from their court Anne and Louis rested easy, in accord on all points except the question of Claude’s marriage.

Louis XII ((1462-1515)
Etching of Louis XII from A Popular History of France
by Henri Martin, Paris: Furne, Jouvet et Cie, 1859‎
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Louis tried everything to make Anne understand that on this one point, he was unable to yield. It wasn’t just a question of what he wanted. It was a question of what his subjects wanted, too: a French husband for their king and queen’s only child, not a foreign prince who would not only take Claude to a foreign land but also sweep into his possession Claude’s substantial dowry. 
  This included the duchies of Brittany, Milan, and Burgundy, the counties of Blois and Asti, and the territory of Genoa, now occupied by France. Given that the princess royal was her parents’ only child, her inherited holdings were too great for many of the French to feel comfortable seeing them handed over to a foreign prince.
  “Madame, I would see our mice allied to rats from our own barn. Wouldn’t you?” Louis jested, hoping to assuage Anne.
  “Monsieur, I would see our daughter married to a future emperor of the Holy Roman Empire with Spain and the lands of the new world in his portfolio, rather than a small rat who heads only one realm.”
  “Madame, do you speak of my kingdom as insubstantial then?” Louis glowered at his wife.
  “Monsieur, you and I both know that France enjoys prestige beyond any other kingdom in Europe. But a Queen of France does not rule. I wish our daughter to rule over her subjects, as a Queen in Brittany, Spain, or England does. Do you not wish your daughter to come into her full inheritance, my husband?”
  “I do not wish our daughter to gift a foreign prince with what belongs to France.”
  “Ahh, husband, but Brittany does not belong to France.” Anne faced her husband.
  Not yet. Eyeing his wife Louis held his tongue, weighing the future against the present. Brittany did not belong to France at the present moment, but the inevitability of Anne’s duchy coming into France’s domain was apparent to him.
  For the present, what was essential was to secure his succession by seeing his daughter ascend the throne of France as queen-consort, but at the same time to retain his wife’s affection and support. How the devil he was supposed to accomplish this remained to be seen.
  “M’amie, do you prefer that our daughter rule a small duchy or sit on the throne of Europe’s most glorious kingdom?”
  “I prefer her to rule, Monsieur, and not just sit at the side of one who does.” Anne flicked back her headdress.
  “Then you would rather Claude rode a donkey than sat pillion on a thoroughbred?”

Anne of Brittany (1477-1514)
statue by Jean Fréour. Nantes, France
Courtesy of Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

 “Do not compare my country to a donkey. I have already been compared to one myself by your Parisians, and it does not suit,” Anne sniffed.
  “Madame, I agree, but you know my meaning.”
  “I know that you think nothing of insulting my country, although I am not allowed to insult yours.” Anne put her hands on her hips.
  “My lady, as Queen of France, this is your country too.”
  “But it is not my kingdom and its people are not my subjects, as are my Breton people.”
  “It is still your responsibility to listen to your husband.” Obey your husband was what he wished to say, but thought it unwise given the moment. God forbid she lose her temper and flounce off to Brittany again for another four months’ stay.
  “I listen, but I do not like what I hear.” Anne narrowed her eyes at him.
  “Then hear you the tale of the roebuck and take heed.”
  “What tale is that?”
  “Once upon a time it was seen fit by our Lord to give antlers to both the stag and the roebuck. But the roebuck used her antlers against the stag and so God had to remove them. It has been so ever since, has it not, wife?”
  “Husband, do you see me using antlers against you?”
  “I sense a certain pointedness from your direction.”
  “I use the same arguments against you that you use against me. You would not have me diminish the power of your realm. I would not have you diminish the power of mine.”
  “I need not point out whose realm is bigger.”
  “Nor need I point out in which realm our daughter’s authority would be greater.”
  “Madame, you are without antlers. Therefore, I must prevail.”
  “Monsieur, I am not without a voice and I will use it.”
  “God knows you will.” Louis put a hand to his forehead, feeling a headache coming on.
  “Do not forget that I love you, Louis,” Anne’s voice softened.
  “And I you, m’amie. But I would prefer to have peace between us.”
  “I know, husband. As for me, it is not peace so much that I prefer but your continued health.”
  “Thank you for that, wife. But try to back off this argument because I see no way other than the one I have chosen.”
  “I will help you to see another way soon.” Anne smoothed his forehead, gliding her fingers over his closed eyes then down to his mouth.
  “I was afraid of that,” Louis’ muffled voice came from under her touch. His headache was gone.

It is the intent of the Anne of Brittany Series to bring alive Anne of Brittany's story to modern readers in an accessible and historically accurate way.

This late medieval to early Renaissance ruler of Brittany provides a strong role model to women in leadership positions today. She has been largely overlooked due to French mistrust of her as a foreign queen who favored Brittany's interests over those of France. She is the only woman in history who was twice crowned Queen of France.

A rigorous proponent of the education of women, Anne of Brittany was also one of Europe's biggest patrons of the arts, largely responsible for bringing the Italian Renaissance to France and Brittany, which was an independent realm during her lifetime, from 1477-1514.

Readers of Tudor history, in particular, will enjoy expanding their knowledge of historical figures in Brittany and France who ruled during the Tudor era.

It is interesting to note that Anne of Brittany's father, Francis II, Duke of Brittany, provided shelter and support to Henry Tudor during his years of exile in Brittany before ascending the English throne in 1485, marking the start of the modern age. Brittany itself maintains a strong Celtic identity since the 8th century when it was settled by explorers from Wales and Cornwall.

Stained glass mosaic of Anne of Brittany entering Dinan 
Church of Saint-Malo of Dinan, Brittany, France
Photo by R. Gaston


Some thirty-five years ago French historian Bernard Chevalier commented that the reign of Louis XII, Anne of Brittany’s husband, was a “no-man’s land, where neither medievalists nor modernists dare to go.” Unfortunately, that remains largely true still today, and the world knows little about this royal couple, who are two of the most fascinating figures of French history.

Anne of Brittany was unique among French queens in twice being queen, having her own source of power and authority as duchess of Brittany, and exerting robust influence over her husband. Louis XII, the only king to receive the title of “Father of the People” from the Estates General in 1506, was among the best-loved French kings.

With this book, the third in a series on the life of Anne of Brittany, Rozsa Gaston makes a major contribution to English-language historical works on Louis XII and his queen. It covers the middle period of both Louis’s reign and their marriage, which were virtually concurrent. It presents them as secure in both authority and marriage, after complications of Louis’s succession to the throne and his prior marital problems and before the disappointments of their last years, in particular their failure to produce a son to succeed him.

Gaston’s well-crafted imagining of the private life of Anne and Louis is historical fiction, but one that is based on a solid foundation of historical fact.
Frederic J. Baumgartner, author of Louis XII
Professor Emeritus of History, Virginia 
Polytechnic Institute and State University

Wishing Tudor and Renaissance history readers a richly fulfilling 2020. May a spark ignite your interest in Anne of Brittany’s story and help it to flame alive in the new year ahead.

Author Rozsa Gaston
Bronxville, NY, USA

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About the Author

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

Charles Brandon meets Duchess Margaret of Savoy

In my research for my book, Brandon Tudor Knight, there were no shortage of incidents and episodes which gave me an insight into his true character. I’d like to choose one involving Duchess Margaret of Savoy that’s well documented and suggests the strength of Brandon’s relationship with the king.

The young Henry VIII wanted to prove to his people that (unlike his father) he was a true warrior king, and – respond to the demands to ‘teach the French a lesson.’ In 1513 he chose Charles Brandon to lead the invading English army of some 30,000 men on an ambitious mission to France. 

Brandon’s appointment as High Marshall was quite amazing considering his only previous military experience was a disastrous sea battle in the English Channel. The army had plenty of battle-hardened commanders, so although there were no doubt mutterings behind the king’s back, Henry’s choice shows the degree of trust he had in Brandon’s leadership ability.

The invasion of France went surprisingly well and after a short siege the city of Tournai surrendered on 24 September 1513.  It’s said that when the king was presented with the keys to the city he passed them to Brandon – quite an honour, as Charles had only been knighted in the March of that year.

There were several weeks of celebration after the victory, culminating with a grand banquet as guests of Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy. Margaret was the daughter of Emperor Maximilian, the holy Roman Emperor, and King Henry’s great rival. Margaret was also wealthy, well-educated and powerful. Having been widowed twice, she’d sworn never to marry again, but Henry thought she would make the perfect partner for his best friend Charles Brandon. 

Duchess Margaret of Savoy
There are various accounts of the story of how Brandon ‘proposed’ to her, but I like the one attributed to Margaret herself:
One night at Tournai, after the banquet he [Brandon] put himself upon his knees before me, and in speaking and him playing, he drew from my finger the ring and put it upon his, and since showed it to me; and I took to laugh, and to him said that he was a thief, and that I thought not that the king had with him led thieves out of his country.  I prayed him many times to give it [the ring] to me again for that it was too much known but he understood me not well and kept it until the next day that I spoke to the king, requiring to make him give it to me because it was too much known, I promising one of my bracelets the which I wore, the which I gave him, and then he gave me the said ring.
Brandon didn’t take the hint of course, and later at Lille it is reported that he once again knelt before the duchess and took another ring from her finger. Again, Margaret had to speak with Henry VIII, this time complaining not about the ring but of Brandon’s conduct, in stepping out of line - far beyond his status.

Henry was enjoying these games of Tudor ‘courtly love’ and, instead of ordering Brandon to return the ring, gave Margaret a more precious one set with diamonds. The incident caused in international scandal and of course infuriated Margaret’s father, Maximilian.

Years later Brandon sent his eldest daughter to the court of Margaret of Savoy - perhaps to learn something of how a woman could exercise power, or possibly in reconciliation for his earlier conduct.

Brandon enjoyed great favour from the king throughout his life, including protection from his many enemies within the English nobility, who called him a ‘stable boy’ (he was once Henry’s Master of the Horse).  Thomas Cromwell’s reforms to the royal household created the new position of Lord Great Master to oversee everything and Brandon was the first to hold this post. 

He worked for Henry right up to the day he died, when the king said that in all their long friendship Charles Brandon had never knowingly betrayed a friend or taken advantage of an enemy. He is reported to have asked his council, ‘Is there any of you who can say as much?’

Tony Riches

4 January 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Judith Arnopp’s The Heretic Wind: The Life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Judith’s novels concentrate on strong female characters from English history. Her trilogy of Margaret Beaufort, The Beaufort Chronicle, provided Margaret with a credible voice. She does much the same in this novel of Mary Tudor, Queen of England. Mary, due to the violent punishment she inflicted on heretics has come to be viewed as little short of a monster.

In this novel, Mary isn’t white-washed; she is simply allowed to tell her own story. Judith says:

‘I always think it would be awful if, after my death, I was only remembered for the very worst thing I’ve ever done. Everyone is guilty of something, and people like Mary, and her father Henry VIII carried out horrible deeds. Unfortunately those actions have come to define them. Burning anyone to death seems terrible to us but it was the standard punishment for heresy in the 16th century. It would be wrong to look upon Mary as some half-mad monster, glibly sending Protestants to their death. There was much more to her than cruelty. She was kind, generous and terribly well-meaning. She adored her people but her reign wasn’t as benign as she intended. My study of Mary Tudor revealed a sad, isolated and desperate woman whose intention was to be a good and loving Queen. The fact things turned out rather differently were mostly due to exterior forces. In The Heretic Wind, the mortally sick and embittered Mary looks back on her life and explains to some extent, the reasons why things happened as they did.'

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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