Mastodon The Writing Desk: February 2020

28 February 2020

Book Launch ~ Fate at the Wisteria Estate (The Pink Shell Shores Series Book 1) by Kaya Quinsey Holt

Aribella "Bell" Lacroix moves to Pink Shell Shores as the new wedding and venue coordinator for the Wisteria Estate. With a high profile Valentine's Day wedding around the corner, Bell has a lot on her plate. When it comes to love, at work Bell plays a connoisseur. But, her personal life proves that it couldn't be further from the truth.

When Colt Gamay and Maggie Blazer come to the Wisteria Estate to start planning their Valentine's Day wedding, Bell is overwhelmed by Maggie's plans for the perfect wedding.

As Bell gets to know the soon-to-be-newlyweds, she learns that there's more to the 'perfect couple' than meets the eye. It becomes clear that Maggie has her eye on one man... and it isn't Colt. Bell surprises herself when she brakes the number one rule in wedding planning: do not fall for the groom.

With wedding plans in full swing and Pink Shell Shores draped in a romantic, snowy backdrop, will Bell be able to help Colt and Maggie pull off the perfect wedding? Or, will Bell find herself an unexpected romance just in time for Valentine's Day?

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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.

25 February 2020

Book Launch Spotlight ~ The King's Justice: A Maggie Hope Mystery, by Susan Elia MacNeal

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Can a stolen violin lead secret agent and spy Maggie Hope to a new serial killer terrorizing London? Find out as the acclaimed World War II mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Susan Elia MacNeal continues.

Maggie Hope started out as Winston Churchill’s secretary, but now she’s a secret agent—and the only one who can figure out how the missing violin ties into a series of horrifying murders.

London, December 1943. As the Russian army repels German forces from Stalingrad, Maggie Hope takes a much-needed break from spying to defuse bombs in London. But Maggie herself is an explosion waiting to happen. Traumatized by her past, she finds herself living dangerously—taking huge risks, smoking, drinking, and speeding through the city streets on a motorbike. The last thing she wants is to get entangled in another crime.

But when she’s called upon to look into the theft of a Stradivarius, one of the finest violins ever made, Maggie can’t resist. Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer on the loose in London, targeting conscientious objectors. Little does Maggie know that investigating this dangerous predator will pit her against a new evil—and old enemies. Only Maggie can uncover the connection between the robbery, the murders, and a link to her own past.
"Vivid descriptions of devastated London and distinctive, emotionally flawed characters enhance a plot that builds to a wicked twist. This enjoyable effort will inspire those new to MacNeal to seek out earlier entries.""--Publishers Weekly
 "I have read and loved every single one of the Maggie Hope mysteries. In her ninth, The King's Justice, Susan Elia MacNeal raises the bar. Maggie faces old enemies, new killers, and her personal demons--not to mention unexploded ordinance--with an extra helping of her own special brand of derring-do. Longtime readers will be richly rewarded and first-timers will be made instant fans by this taut, breathtaking, and authentic read."--Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris
"In The King's Justice, Maggie Hope, a veteran of missions for the Special Operations Executive, is suffering from what we now call PTSD and doing it none too quietly. The mystery is riveting, but Maggie's emotional journey is at the heart of this superb novel as she struggles to come to grips with the impact of the violence she has endured, as did so many. I devoured this story."--James R. Benn, author of When Hell Struck Twelve and other Billy Boyle WWII mysteries 
"Susan Elia MacNeal spins another rousing tale featuring gutsy Maggie Hope. Once again, MacNeal deftly weaves a fast-paced mystery with enticing historical detail, but this time gives us a fully realized exploration of a psychologically wounded but still determined survivor of the darkness of war. . . . A multilayered thriller that will keep you up all night reading!"--Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue 
"The King's Justice is gripping. It is reality, gritty and frightening. I feel the cold, the fear, and the courage. The very air of it exists on the edges of my own memory."--Anne Perry, bestselling author of Death in Focus

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About the Author

Susan Elia MacNeal is the New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope mysteries. MacNeal won the Barry Award and has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, Agatha, Left Coast Crime, Dilys, and ITW Thriller awards. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son. find out more at Susan's website  and find her on Facebook and Twitter @SusanMacNeal

18 February 2020

Special Guest Post by Camilla Downs, Author of Words of Alchemy

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

When life became heavy with struggling, I became more committed to a loosely held walking practice. Walking, being in nature, became a mediation of sorts, guiding me in processing life events.

During these walks, I increasingly became moved to photograph nature. Listening to the intuitive nudges of when to stop walking, which direction to look, whether to kneel on the ground, and at which angle to take a photo became a colorful ingredient to the practice of walking.

What happened next surprised and delighted me in ways I find difficult to describe. Following a walk, I would scroll through the nature photographs, choosing one to post on social media. As I began to type a comment to accompany the photo, poetic words spilled from my heart and mind, through my fingers, landing on the screen.

This began to happen more and more with the poems becoming more and more meaningful. Eventually the poems began to flow simply from events I was in the midst of experiencing. During morning journal writing, I would write about what was happening in my life. Magically, a poem would flow forth.

It was 2018 when I began to feel that it was time for my next book. I thought I would be writing another memoir. Yet, the pull to gather and publish the poems written between 2012 and 2019 was powerfully insistent. I listened, went with it, and Words of Alchemy was published in December 2019. The cover photo is a photo I took on one of my 2018 walks.

The poetry of nature, the poetry of healing, the poetry of appreciation, the poetry of love … in one beautiful book.

Camilla Downs

Praise for Words of Alchemy:
“Words of Alchemy, a heartfelt new collection by Camilla Downs, lives up to its namesake in numerous ways. Downs spans the broad range of nature, healing, love, and parenting, while making sure we have a little fun along the way. And the bridge she creates from the mindfulness of how we see the world at large to the poetry of everyday life is certainly worth a stroll or two across its borders.” – Thomas Lloyd Qualls, Award-winning author of Painted Oxen 
“This poetry collection offers contemplative words, soothing thoughts and peace to the reader.” – Sue Bentley, Bestselling author of Second Skin 
“Camilla Downs shares truth, vulnerability and wisdom in her Words of Alchemy collection, inviting readers to be inspired, contemplate and dive into her world of self-awareness and growth.” – G. Brian Benson – Award-winning author, actor and spoken word artist 
“These poems take you on a calm and loving walk through the verses of the author’s thoughts. Alchemy is a perfect word for the title as Camilla Downs understands nature; connecting with its magical, medicinal qualities and beauty which she conveys throughout her poetry.” – Ailsa Craig, Author of The Sand Between My Toes 
“Words of Alchemy is a chronicle of hope. These poems are an encouragement, especially when we are feeling at our lowest, to keep seeking the light that is our way forward, and focus on the real. This collection is a walk through the positive nature of life. Camilla Downs is to be commended.” – Frank Prem, Author of free-verse memoir Small Town Kid

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About the Author

Camilla Downs is a bestselling author, indie publisher, mentor, and mom. Nature and life experiences are a constant source of inspiration for her writing. She enjoys living a minimalist lifestyle, practicing meditation and mindfulness, reading, going for walks, and capturing nature’s essence with photographs. Camilla is the founder of and lives in Northern Nevada, USA with her two kids. Find our more at Camilla's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @CamillaDowns

13 February 2020

The Novel Editing Workbook: 105 Tricks & Tips for Revising Your Fiction Manuscript, by Kris Spisak #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

You are more connected to your manuscript than anyone else could be. It is a part of you. You are part of it. This is the brilliance of creativity, but at can also be a major hindrance in the editing process.

I'm not advocating this new workbook as an alternative to professional editing, or suggesting that these are ideas you won't have come across before.

Instead, I'd like to recommend Kris Spisak's tips as a series of useful reminders to help you make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be, so your editor has the best possible start.

There are plenty of suggestions of words to search for - and what to do when you find them, as well as prompts to help you improve your first page and tidy up dialogue.

Although I'm close to completing my tenth novel, I'm planning to use this workbook as my 'checklist', and hopefully feel I've done everything I can before sending my manuscript to my editor. 

Tony Riches 

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About the Author

Kris Spisak is a former college writing instructor, having taught at institutions including the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, Kris is now an active ghostwriter, speaker, and freelance editor. She is a member of James River Writers, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and the Women's Fiction Writers Association, Visit to learn more and find her on Facebook and Twitter @KrisSpisak

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

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

2 February 2020

Searching for the birthplace of King Henry VII at Pembroke Castle

I attended a talk by archaeologist James Meek in Pembroke, where he outlined the exploratory excavations within the walls of Pembroke Castle. The intriguing outline of a large building was revealed by parch marks during the summer of 2013.  

The outline of a possible late medieval double-winged hall house was confirmed by geophysical surveys carried out by Dyfed Archaeological Trust, funded by the Castle Studies Trust, in 2016. If these remains prove to be a ‘mansion-house’ and are dateable to the fifteenth century, this could be a compelling candidate for the location of King Henry VII’s birth in 1457. 

Visitors to the castle are currently treated to a 'tableau' of Henry's birth in the adjacent Henry VII tower, although Margaret Beaufort looks much older than fourteen - and her lady in waiting can hardly hold the heavy child! I've always thought the room too small and more likely to be used as a guardroom than living accommodation.

The tower was recorded as being in a poor state of repair at that time, so an adjacent building could have been commissioned by Jasper Tudor, the uncle of Henry, who was granted the castle in 1452 when he was made Earl of Pembroke. Jasper didn't live in the castle until the death of his brother Edmund in 1456, his sister-in-law Margaret Beaufort came in to his care and gave birth to Henry Tudor the following year.  

Two trial trenches were excavated to establish the condition, character and extent of the building – and, if possible, its date. The archaeological evidence uncovered was partly compromised by excavations of the site in 1931, which were unrecorded apart from two black and white photographs.

1931 excavations
The 2018 evaluation confirmed the presence of the large free standing stone structure within the Outer Ward, the remains of which indicate it was domestic and of high status.  A curving staircase with two spiral steps were exposed and finds indicate that the roof was of slate with green glazed ceramic ridge tiles.  

2018 excavation

A large cess pit was excavated with finds including pottery of medieval and later date, animal bone, including swans and blackbirds, and a significant number of oyster shells. Finds also included a few sherds of Roman pottery.

Archaeologist James Meek said it was not yet possible to date the building to the time of Henry Tudor's birth, but the two preliminary trenches strengthen the case for excavation of the rest of the site later this year - so watch this space.

Tony Riches 

1 February 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Hunter & Prey: The Complete Thomas the Falconer Mysteries, by John Pilkington

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

'The story moves at a great pace ... it made a welcome change to discover Elizabethan England through the eyes of a lesser mortal.' The Historical Novels Review

The Ruffler's Child - Book 1

Thomas Finbow is more than just a humble falconer, in the service of Sir Robert Vicary and Lady Margaret. He is a widowed father, a skilled ex-soldier and tenacious hunter.

Far from the court and corruption of London, Thomas resides in the picturesque Berkshire Downs.

All is as it should be until Lady Margaret’s loathsome brother is found murdered.

Once Thomas starts to put the pieces together, he realises that he, and his Mistress, are in grave danger.

A Ruinous Wind - Book 2

When invited to attend the Barrowhill Pleasures at the seat of the extravagant and pompous Earl of Reigate, Sir Robert brings Thomas along with him to enjoy the festivities.

No-one expected three of the Earl’s guests to be murdered, or for their deaths to be quickly covered up by the Earl himself.

But things begin to unravel when the Earl himself becomes the next target of the murderer.

The Ramage Hawk - Book 3

Thomas the Falconer confronts the most terrible foe he has ever faced.

On remote Salisbury Plain villagers toil to get the harvest in, unaware that a murderer has come amongst them.

Thomas is called in to help find a missing girl.

But the search soon turns into a dangerous game, involving hidden gold – and as the body count rises and fear grips the land, Thomas has no choice but to follow the trail to its bitter end.

The Mapmaker's Daughter - Book 4

A tragic fire at one of his master’s tenant farms is just the start of a tortuous trail for Thomas Finbow – for when the body of Simon Haylock is dragged from the blazing barn, it becomes clear that he was dead before the fire started.

Soon a chilling series of murders, seemingly unrelated, is spreading fear across the Berkshire Downs, baffling the authorities. Plague is raging in London and suspicion falls on strangers in the area, like the dour mapmaker Christopher Mead and the outrageous travelling showman Paulo Schweiz, whom Thomas rescues from the stocks.

Thomas finds himself matching wits with a cunning and elusive adversary.

The Maiden Bell - Book 5

In the isolated village of Lambourn there is great excitement when a family of itinerant bell-founders arrives to forge a new church bell. But the peace of a summer’s night is shattered when churchwarden Will Stubbs – a saintly old man without enemies – is found dead in the woods.
Thomas is charged by his master to find answers.

The Jingler's Luck - Book 6

In the depths of winter the body of a young woman, cruelly mutilated, is found washed up beside the Thames.

Meanwhile Thomas arrives in London on a sensitive mission: to persuade his master Sir Robert to give up his foolish infatuation with a notorious woman of the Court.

But the Lady Imogen’s intrigues are more serious than even Thomas realizes, until he’s caught up in a bizarre series of events including the theft of a corpse, and even his own imprisonment.

The Muscovy Chain - Book 7

Thomas’s master Sir Robert is charged by Queen Elizabeth’s Council to host an important guest to help valuable trade relations: Grigori Stanic, ambassador of distant Muscovy, in Russia.

Thomas must also guard a priceless gift for Boris Godunov. But no sooner has it arrived at Petbury than it is stolen, risking a disastrous diplomatic incident.

As the desperate hunt for the Muscovy Chain begins, a shadowy figure is seen on the Downs. Is he the thief – or worse, is he responsible for a murder, the victim having been brutally tortured?

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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.