31 May 2020

Book Launch: Living in Medieval England: The Turbulent Year of 1326, by Kathryn Warner


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1326 was one of the most dramatic years in English history. The queen of England, Isabella of France, invaded the country with an army of mercenaries to destroy her husband's powerful and detested lover, Hugh Despenser the Younger, and brought down her husband King Edward II in the process. 

It was also a year, however, when the majority of English people carried on living their normal, ordinary lives: Eleyne Glaswreghte ran her own successful glass-making business in London, Jack Cressing the master carpenter repaired the beams in a tower of Kenilworth Castle, Alis Coleman sold her best ale at a penny and a half for a gallon in Byfleet, and Will Muleward made the king 'laugh greatly' when he spent time with him at a wedding in Marlborough. 

One of the 93 pages of Edward II's last chamber account
(the author's main source for the book)

England sweltered in one of the hottest, driest summers of the Middle Ages, a whale washed ashore at Walton-on-the-Naze, and the unfortunate John Toly died when he relieved himself out of the window of his London house at midnight, and lost his balance. _

Living in Medieval England: The Turbulent Year of 1326_ tells the true and fascinating stories of the men and women alive in England in this most eventful year, narrated chronologically with a chapter devoted to each month.

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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 has run a blog about him since December 2005. 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

Guest Post by Crispina Kemp, Author of The Spinner’s Game Series


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Spinner’s Child, Book 1 of The Spinner’s Game

Spliced with dark material, sprinkled with the mystical, Kerrid journeys through the timeless first days… and into the Spinner’s Web. Cursed, friendless and shunned, fraudulent seer Kerrid, born of a fisher-hunter clan, holds two beliefs. That in her psychic abilities and exuded light she is unique, and as Voice of the Lady she’s exempt from an arranged marriage. Both convictions are shattered when nine boats arrive from the east carrying the ancient Chief Uissinir who wants her for his wife, and five of his sons who emit lights and share tricks like her own. Forced to make an unwise judgement, a trail of death follows.

But questions plague her. Why does she dream of babies dying? Why does a voice in her head taunt her: Suffer the loss, suffer the pain? And what is she that no matter how lethal the wound, she does not die? What is she to kill with a thought?

The five books of The Spinner’s Game, set in the between-time, when hunter-gatherers turned to settled agriculture, when spirits and demons morphed to gods, takes Kerrid’s story across continents and weaves through ages fraught with floods and droughts to become the prototype of our most ancient myths.

Kerrid. In the Beginning

Kerrid as a concept was born way back in 2006 as the antagonist in an alternative narrative of the change from Neolithic to Bronze Age (The Hare and the Adder, still on back-burner). In the process of writing, I realised that Kerrid needed a backstory to explain her presence at the westernmost edge of Europe, her longevity and powers, and why she was set against the story’s MC. Thus, began The Spinner’s Game, to provide that backstory. It wasn’t intended as a five-book series.

In the Beginning, its first working title, grew from a single volume, to a trilogy. By then I’d realised that an unknown writer with a trilogy set in the mists of prehistory hadn’t a chance of acceptance by a traditional publisher, and as yet KDP was still in its infancy. In November 2012 I decided to post the trilogy, now renamed Feast Fables, to blog. Meanwhile I was writing additional stories set in the same milieu and sharing some of the characters.

It took three years to post that trilogy. And I still wasn’t content. It was ‘out there’, but it wasn’t widely seen. I took a deep breath and plunged into prepping for Kindle publication. In the process what had been the Feast Fables trilogy became the five-books of The Spinner’s Game – The Spinner’s Child, Lake of Dreams, The Pole That Threads, Lady of First Making and The Spinner’s Sin.

On the Matter of Names

Keen as I am on Celtic mythology, it’s no surprise that I named Kerrid for the Welsh goddess Cerridwen, and that before I created her story. Cerridwen has a Cauldron of Inspiration, which is also the cauldron of rebirth and immortality. It suits my Lady Kerrid.

As to The Spinner… I love word-play and have a passion for textiles. I liked that The Spinner might be a spider spinning its web or she might be the person who spins thread from the fleece. If the latter, that spinner spins a yarn… i.e. a tale. If the former, that spider spins a web to entangle, delay, hold captive, and ultimately to devour. I liked that the Spinner might be both creator and destroyer. The word ‘web’ too is loaded with imagery. The Spinner’s Game is woven through with this imagery.

The Mythological Framework for The Spinner’s Game

The entirety of The Spinner’s Game is a myth, taken apart, twisted, spun and woven anew. I enjoyed creating the fables that feature throughout, an amalgamation of many the myths I have read over the years, distilled to their essence and simplified.

What’s the difference between a fable and a myth? A myth is a story, a fable is something said at the time of the feast. At Christmas we talk of Santa, his flying reindeer, his helpful elves, but there is no story. At Easter, we say of the Easter Bunny hiding its eggs. At Halloween, we speak of witches and goblins and the awakening dead. While these have roots in ancient rituals and beliefs, they are not myths. They are feast fables. And so too with Kerrid’s people. Everyone knew the Lady’s sons had cut up their mother to make the world, but few knew the underlying myth.

Before the belief in the gods, there was a belief in an all-pervading ‘Spirit’, a belief that today is regaining ground in the West while it never really diminished in non-industrialised societies. For Kerrid’s people that belief includes the notion of agency in which Spirit, now coalesced into discrete entities, is able to act of its own volition. With the relevant gifts, these discrete entities – divines – might be made to act on the donor’s behalf. But who knows which gifts might oblige them? While knowledge of the more common gifts – e.g. a slop of brew for the Lady of the Hills will keep her sweet and not convulsing – anything out of the ordinary requires a specialist. Those specialists – call them shaman, witchdoctors, wisemen – while feared, were also revered. As The Spinner’s Child opens, Kerrid is acclaimed a Seer; this keeps her safe, for the alternative is she’s demon-possessed. And the role of a demon is to destroy. As Kerrid says, it’s what they do. They cause disease and rot.

Plans for the Future

As already said, there are five more books that share some of the characters from The Spinner’s Game, three are set in the same milieu, two are time-slip fantasies that move between medieval and contemporary setting. The first of the time-slips, Learning to Fly, is now with beta readers; I hope to publish in time for Christmas 2020. Meanwhile I’m revising Alsalda, a story which, along with another as yet untitled, replaces that long-ago Hare and Adder.

Crispina Kemp
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About the Author

Crispina Kemp says, 'Failing to find a place on the space programme – to boldy go – I turned my vision inwards to a study of psychology and exploration of spirituality. This encouraged an outward journey to explore this wonderful world, its peoples, its beliefs, but mostly its pasts. From the exploration I returned with the core of my writing. But, for the more mundane-minded: For a shy child with a speech problem, the written word came as a release, enabling me to express myself without being asked, ‘Eh? What did you say? Say again?’ I wrote my first ‘proper’ story when I was nine. A gothic offering to scare my friends. Since then, there has been scarcely a day when I haven’t been busy writing. Novels. The short story form doesn’t appeal to me, although over recent months I have posted micro-fiction on my blog. In my early teens, I visited Grimes Graves, the Neolithic flint mines in Norfolk. The following summer, I visited Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Thence began a lifelong interest in the archaeology of prehistory. The study of myths and legends seemed a natural progression, and from there to linguistics (despite my inability to pronounce the words). Resident in Norfolk (UK) where my roots dig deep, my regular rambles into the surrounding countryside provide balance to the cerebral… and ample subjects for my camera.' Find out more at Crispina's website https://crispinakemp.com and follow her on Twitter @crispinakemp1

30 May 2020

Book Launch Guest Post By Sophie Schiller, Author of The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The story of one boy’s struggle to survive amidst all odds in a land of sugar plantations, slavery, and smugglers, a boy who would one day grow up to be a Founding Father.1765: Alexander Hamilton arrives with his family in St. Croix to begin a new life. He longs for the chance to go to school and fit in, but secrets from his mother’s past threaten to turn him into a social outcast and tear his family apart.


THE GENESIS OF THE STORY

In April of 2016, I was approached by a gentleman from St. Croix who asked me to write a novel about the early life of Alexander Hamilton in the West Indies. The reason for his request, he told me, was to show the world the importance of St. Croix in forming Hamilton’s character and his financial vision for America. He wanted to demonstrate how this unlikeliest of islands provided the necessary background for Hamilton’s singular genius in developing America’s financial system.

We spoke over the phone several times and the wheels in my brain started turning, but I was deeply involved with another project that I wanted to finish. And truthfully, I had doubts that I would be able to tackle this subject matter. While we did hold several conversations about the idea, I remained skeptical about the feasibility of it. But I remained firmly committed to finishing the project.

When I was finally ready to start in February of 2018, I almost didn’t know where to begin. I had to learn about the history of St. Croix during the Danish Colonial period, plantation slavery, the triangular trade, the local economy, the history of the West Indies, social values and customs, the history of Alexander Hamilton’s family, his parents’ struggles, his personal struggles, and I had to develop a timeline of everything that happened until he left for America in 1772. Sounds like a lot? ;)

Luckily, at this time, I made the acquaintance of an American historian named Michael Newton, who was working on his own new biography of Alexander Hamilton using newly discovered records from the Danish Rigsarkivet. Michael’s research became indispensable to me, and I will forever remain indebted to his perseverance and commitment to uncovering the unknown parts of Hamilton’s childhood.

The world that shaped Alexander Hamilton:
Christiansted harbor in the late 18th century.

It took me many months to develop a timeline of Hamilton’s life and the lives of the people in his circle. This was one of the hardest aspects of the job, mostly because his family was so dysfunctional for so many generations. And they moved around a lot: Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Eustatius, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Vincent, Tobago, Bequia….it was almost impossible to keep track of them! But on a personal level I could relate to it, and later, my own family’s struggles in the West Indies became the impetus for many emotional scenes that transpired. After that, I set about learning all the aspects of a West Indian counting house, 18th century currencies, how smuggling was carried out, aspects of slavery, and even the existence of Free Black Militias in the Danish West Indies.

Free black militia of the Spanish colonial Army 1770-1776

This was the most surprising part of the research. Free Black Militias in a slave economy? Actually, it made perfect sense to the Danes. The militia of free blacks in the Danish West Indies existed to keep order on the island. They patrolled the towns regularly and served, in some cases, as slave hunters. Many of the free blacks owned slaves themselves, and were quite prominent socially. These people had never been written about before, so I thought it was time to give them a voice. And so, Peter Tongelo, the Captain of the Free Black Militia in the 1770’s became a key character in my novel. I based his personality on Louis Gossett Jr.’s performance in An Officer and a Gentleman, a performance that had astounded me in my youth.

Eventually I developed a story that centers on Hamilton’s struggles to survive on his own after his mother dies and his father leaves the island. Since it is well-known that Alexander had a personal servant named Ajax who was taken away by his mother’s first husband after her death, I developed a story where Ajax is sold to a brutal planter and Alex vows to save him out of loyalty and friendship. But above all, the theme of the novel is about overcoming obstacles and challenges. Hamilton reasons that if he is to rise above the “groveling conditions of a clerk”, he must master the art of commerce and become a self-made man. 

It was largely because of this struggle that he eventually formulated his vision of a prosperous America with a strong economic system. The Lost Diary of Alexander Hamilton is a story about ordinary people overcoming extraordinary obstacles without losing themselves, without becoming a cog in the wheel of a dysfunctional system. In Hamilton’s case, his journey toward self-actualization and personal greatness was essential in the founding of a new system of government whereby all men can grow to their fullest potential.

Sophie Schiller

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About the Author

Sophie Schiller was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies. She is a novelist and a poet. She loves stories that carry the reader back in time to exotic and far-flung locations. Kirkus Reviews has called her "an accomplished thriller and historical adventure writer." Publishers Weekly called her novel, ISLAND ON FIRE, "a memorable romantic thriller", her novel RACE TO TIBET, “a thrilling yarn,” and her TRANSFER DAY, “a page-turner with emotional resonance.” Her first collection of poetry is called, ON A MOONLIT NIGHT IN THE ANTILLES. Her latest novel, THE LOST DIARY OF ALEXANDER HAMILTON, is the story of Hamilton's lost boyhood in the Caribbean. She graduated from American University, Washington, DC and lives in Brooklyn, NY.  Find out more at Sophie's blog https://sophieschiller.blogspot.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @SophieSchiller

29 May 2020

Book Launch Guest Post by Tracey Warr, Author of Conquest III: The Anarchy


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 1121 the Welsh princess, Nest, is unhappily married to the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. She becomes increasingly embroiled in the Welsh resistance against the Norman occupation of her family lands. She visits King Henry in England hoping to secure a life away from her unwanted husband. Grieved and stressed at the death of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies and under increasing pressure to name his successor. 

In Normandy, Sheriff Haith distracts himself from the fact that Nest is married to another man by following clues surrounding the mystery of the drowning of the King’s heir in the wreck of The White Ship. As Haith tries to piece together fragments of the tragic shipwreck in which three hundred young Norman nobles died in the English Channel he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the King? Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry? 


The Anarchy is the final book in my trilogy based on the turbulent life of Nest ferch Rhys. When I started writing the series, I was living in Pembrokeshire, close to the many castles in the area that feature in Nest’s story including Pembroke, Carew, Dinefwr and Cilgerran, as well as the bishop’s palaces at Saint Davids and Lamphey. 

The surrounding landscape and these architectural traces of medieval times and lives were a great source of inspiration. I made Llansteffan Castle the heart of the story with its spectacular view from the headland looking across the triple river estuary of Carmarthen Bay. It is both a delight and a challenge to pursue your characters through three books and to travel in writing with them from childhood to old age. Heading towards the latter myself, I enjoyed writing in some of the positive detail of growing older!

In this book, I wanted to create a medieval mystery as Sheriff Haith tries to find out if the wreck of The White Ship was caused by foul play and, if so, who might have been responsible. The king’s only male heir drowned in the shipwreck, setting up a succession crisis for the Anglo-Norman throne that is the political backdrop for The Anarchy. In addition to this true incident from history of the drowning of three hundred Norman nobles, I also drew the Roman goldmine at Dolaucothi into my story, spinning credible but fictional possibilities from the traces of history.

Tying up story lines at the end of any novel is part of the work of writing, and this is even more the case at the end of a trilogy. I had quite a few hares running and stories to bring to conclusion. Nest loved and was loved by several men in the course of her life and there were threads to follow through with those men still living in the third book, including the sheriff and the king. 

I also wanted to find an ending for the story of Haith’s sister Benedicta, a renegade nun, and her love affair with Amaury de Montfort. And I needed to pursue the story of the Welsh struggle against the Normans. The Anarchy, therefore, recounts the bid by Nest’s brother, Gruffudd ap Rhys, to retake his kingdom from the Norman invaders and the valiant attack of his warrior queen Gwenllian against Kidwelly Castle. 

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing this novel for me was inventing a gifted but brutal bard, who was also a spy and an assassin. His story led me to research and describe devious techniques for carrying concealed messages and ingenious means of committing murder.

Tracey Warr

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About the Author

Tracey Warr’s novels are set in early medieval Europe. Her first novel Almodis was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and the Rome Film Festival Book Initiative. It is based on the life of Countess Almodis de La Marche, who was described by William of Malmesbury as being ‘afflicted with a Godless female itch’. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, recounts the true story of a French noblewoman kidnapped by Vikings. Warr’s trilogy Conquest follows the tumultuous life of the medieval Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys. It was supported by a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary. Warr’s next project, Three Female Lords, has received an Author’s Foundation Award and is a biography of three sisters who lived in 11th century southern France and Catalonia. She is Head of Research at The Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination at Dartington Arts School. Find out more at Tracey's website http://traceywarrwriting.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter at @TraceyWarr1

28 May 2020

Book Launch Spotlight ~ Lionheart: (Richard the Lionheart Book 1) by Ben Kane


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

REBEL. LEADER. BROTHER. KING.

1179. Henry II is King of England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Brittany and Aquitaine. The H3ouse of Plantagenet reigns supreme. But there is unrest in Henry's house. Not for the first time, his family talks of rebellion.

Ferdia - an Irish nobleman taken captive during the conquest of his homeland - saves the life of Richard, the king's son. In reward for his bravery, he is made squire to Richard, who is already a renowned warrior.

Crossing the English Channel, the two are plunged into a campaign to crush rebels in Aquitaine. The bloody battles and gruelling sieges which followed would earn Richard the legendary name of Lionheart.

But Richard's older brother, Henry, is infuriated by his sibling's newfound fame. Soon it becomes clear that the biggest threat to Richard's life may not be rebel or French armies, but his own family...
'A rip-roaring epic, filled with arrows and spattered with blood. Gird yourself with mail when you start.' Paul Finch 
'Ben's deeply authoritative depiction of the time is delivered in a deft manner.' Simon Scarrow
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About the Author

Ben Kane is a bestselling author and former veterinarian. He was born in Kenya and grew up in Ireland (where his parents are from). He has traveled widely and is a lifelong student of military history in general, and Roman history in particular. He lives in North Somerset, England, with his family. Find out more at his website www.benkane.net and find him on Facebook and Twitter @BenKaneAuthor

27 May 2020

Special Guest Interview with Carmen Radtke, Author of Walking in the Shadow


Available on Amazon UKAmazon US

Quail Island, 1909. Jimmy Kokupe is the miracle man. On a small, wind-blasted island off the east coast of New Zealand a small colony of lepers is isolated but not abandoned, left to live out their days in relative peace thanks to the charity of the townspeople and the compassion of the local doctor and matron of the hospital.

I'm pleased to welcome author Carmen Radtke to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is in reality my oldest. I wrote Walking in the Shadow while living in New Zealand. I’d come across the ruins of the lepers’ camp on Quail Island in 2010, during a day trip with my child. We had a picnic where these men once walked and dreamt of the times when they were healthy and free to roam.

That idea kept me awake at night, and in true journalist manner (I’m a trained newspaper reporter) I started to dig into the past. When I read that one of the leprosy sufferers had been cured and still, he returned to the camp, I knew I had to write about them. What would make a man who’d experienced something like a miracle in an age without antibiotics, give up his freedom again?

I wrote on the first draft during the scariest period of my life, when Christchurch was rocked by the earthquakes the killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city centre. I hunkered under the dining table, typing away between aftershocks, desperate to tell this story and keep the memory of these men alive. (Last year, an excellent non-fiction book about the subject, written by historian Benjamin Kingsbury, came out, eight years after I’d finished Walking in the Shadow.)

My draft was selected for the New Zealand Society of Authors’ mentor programme, and mentor Stephen Stratford loved it. The first agent I approached came back within two hours, asking for more. It was long-listed for the Mslexia competition and just missed out in being a finalist in the Be A Bestseller competition. Everyone loved it. And, for years, nobody wanted to publish it, until I decided to take the matter into my own hands, together with an Australian novelist and former publisher.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I wish I had one … Somehow, years and years of journalism have taught my brain not to get into writing mode before ten am. Nine, if I’m very lucky. I drink tea while writing, and for the first half hour or so have to fight the urge to maybe check my emails, or tidy a bookshelf, or organise my research notes … Once I’m in the story, though, on very good days, I hate having to stop when there are meals to be cooked, or the cat needs attention, or the phone rings, or my eyes smart.

I admire writers who can write a novel in a month. I’m not one of them.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Be kind to yourself. Those golden words I hear in my head in the middle of the night look leaden when I write them down. I used to let that stop me, when a paragraph sat there in the page, lifeless and taunting. The best advice I received is, First get it written, then get it right.

Ask for feedback when you’re ready, but choose your audience well. Friends and close family will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to be told. If anybody’s words hurt you, take a step back (easier said than done). Critique should never be personal and always be constructive. And learn to ignore notes you don’t agree with, after thinking about why you don’t agree with them. Pouting and saying, well, it’s my book, and that’s how I want it, is tempting but not really helpful.

Another important thing: Find the courage to cut everything that doesn’t belong and file it away. Most writers use discarded scenes and lines in another book. Nothing is ever wasted, even if it’s only as a lesson learned.

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

That is the trickiest part. Some people are naturals at marketing themselves; I’m not. But I love to interact with other writers and readers and writing blog posts is fun. I sometimes get private messages on Facebook from readers who tell me they loved a book or a character. That’s amazing, although I wish they’d tell the rest of the world, too.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

The leprosy sufferers on Quail Island weren’t really stuck there. They could easily have escaped, in a boat or walking across the mud flats. I can’t imagine the willpower it must have taken.

One of the men, who was the original Will in my novel, was confined first to the camp on Quail Island and later to the colony on a Fijian island where the men were relocated. Altogether he spent 31 years in a lepers’ hut. Thirty-one years! He was the first patient on Quail Island, and he spent two years on his own, with only occasional visitors. Today, we struggle with social distancing and find that an almost intolerable hardship. Despite all this, Will was described as the most cheerful, happy patient. My heart broke when I read that.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene in Walking in the Shadow was having Jimmy think he might have infected someone he loves. There was so little known about leprosy, but I think anybody who’s ever been diagnosed out of the blue with a contagious disease or been close to someone will understand that panic.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m writing the next cozy historical mystery in my Jack and Frances series – fun and lighthearted. But I’m also working on a historical novel set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell all my life, and it’s already breaking my heart because I know what horrors await my characters.

Carmen Radtke
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About the Author

Carmen Radtke has spent most of her life with ink on her fingers and a dangerously high pile of books and newspapers by her side. She has worked as a newspaper reporter on two continents and always dreamt of becoming a novelist and screenwriter. When she found herself crouched under her dining table, typing away on what was to become Walking in the Shadow between two earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, she realised she was hooked for life. She’s the author of the cozy historical mysteries The Case of the Missing Bride, Glittering Death, A Matter of Love and Death and the upcoming Murder at the Races. When Carmen is not writing, reading or dreaming of travel, she is busy acting as resident cat servant. Her website (very much a work in progress) is carmenradtke.com and you can follow Carmen on Bookbub  and Twitter: @carmenradtke1

23 May 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Judas Blade (Betsy Brand Mystery Book 2) by John Pilkington


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London, 1671. The threat of war with Holland looms. And King Charles II is becoming increasingly unpopular.

HER FATHER'S FREEDOM OR HER LIFE?

Spirited actress Betsy Brand is pulled away from the stage to help her father. The bailiffs are threatening to put him in debtor’s prison. Desperate, she turns to enigmatic spymaster Lord Caradoc for help.

He will save her father, but it may cost Betsy her life.

A PERILOUS MISSION

Betsy must travel to Delft, Holland, to spy for her country.

What starts out as a simple fact-finding mission soon becomes a deadly game. Betsy will need all her acting skills to come out of it alive.

She meets Captain Mullin, a reckless fellow agent, and the two must work together to confront an unseen killer and unravel a plot that strikes at the heart of England itself.

But will Betsy survive to return to the family she left behind?

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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 (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, www.johnpilkington.co.uk, and find John on Twitter @_JohnPilkington.

21 May 2020

Special Guest Interview with Louise Fein, Author of People Like Us


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Leipzig, 1930s Germany: Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it. Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew. Anti-semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself...


I'm pleased to welcome author Louise Fein to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My debut novel, Daughter of the Reich (US title) also known as People Like Us (UK title) is a historical fiction novel, telling the story of impossible love set in the tumultuous background of 1930’s Leipzig. Hetty, the daughter of an SS officer, is the epitome of a perfect German child. With a brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM, she is keen to play her part in the glorious new thousand year Reich. Until, that is, she encounters Walter, a friend from the past who once saved her life. A Jew. As she falls more and more in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, Hetty begins to question everything. Will the steady march of dark forces destroy their world, or can love ultimately triumph?

What is your preferred writing routine?

In ‘normal’ times, I work during school hours, beginning straight after the school run, and taking a break mid-morning to walk the dog. This walk is a useful part of my writing day because it allows me to mull over what I have written and where I need to take the story next. Somehow the process of walking allows my brain the freedom to think and it’s the time I am able to find solutions where maybe I have got stuck while sitting at my desk! If necessary, I’ll perhaps edit what I’ve written earlier in the day during the evening. At the moment, with homeschooling my youngest daughter, my routine is rather different, and I find I have to do the bulk of my writing from mid-afternoon into the evening. With my older children (one in the last year of school and one at university ) at home and my husband also working from home, there are other people who can do the cooking!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Writing is a skill which needs practice like any other, so keep writing! Some days the writing will flow, other days it will feel hard, like walking uphill through treacle! But that is the same for every writer, whether new or not. It is also a long-game, so don’t be in too much of a rush. It takes time to write something good, and it will need lots of revision. That is the part I love best - honing a rough first draft into something better. Never compare your first draft to all the wonderful finished books you read - they have been through multiple revisions and have had the input of professional editors. Seek advice and feedback - critique of our work is vital and any criticism is not a reflection of you as a writer, but simply how your work could be improved. Remember to enjoy each step and don’t give up! Patience and perseverance is the key.

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

I’m still fairly new to this game, so I might be better able to answer this further down the line! But from my perspective at this point, I think being connected to the author and the blogging community is very important. Authors are also readers and champions of each other. I’ve found the community to be super supportive and especially at this time, many well known authors are supporting debut or less well known authors getting their books talked about. Bloggers and on-line influencers are increasingly important and some have huge followings which can be key for books to reach readers.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research?

I was lucky to be handed a large family archive of documents (which I had not perviously known existed) during the course of my research. This consisted of twenty-four boxes of diaries, letters, journals etc, which ran from the early 20th century through to the 1960’s.  They formed a useful resource of contemporaneous material. Many of the documents were in German, but once my family had fled to England and America during the 1930’s, they were written chiefly in English. Amongst them I found some poignant items, including my father’s first tooth and a lock of his hair his mother had kept. The most unexpected were the transcript of a broadcast my father had made for the BBC during the war years, and some documents regarding my father’s cousin who had been in the secret service during the war.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I think the hardest scene I had to write for this book was the one which covered the events of Kristallnacht. There was some extreme violence and this was not easy to write, both emotionally but also in order to get the tone and pace of it right. I went over and over the scene to ensure I had the balance right.

What are you planning to write next?

I am at the final stages of my second book which I’ll be sending to my publishers soon! It is also a work of historical fiction, but rather different to this one. It is set in 1920’s England and covers some little discussed, but I think important, aspects of society which are still relevant and have repercussions today. That’s all I can say about it for now!

Louise Fein
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About the Author


Louise Fein was born and brought up in London. She harboured a secret love of writing from a young age, preferring to live in her imagination than the real world. After a law degree, Louise worked in Hong Kong and Australia, travelling for a while through Asia and North America before settling back to a working life in London. She finally gave in to the urge to write, taking an MA in creative writing, and embarking on her first novel, inspired by the experience of her father's family, who escaped from the Nazis and arrived in England as refugees in the 1930's. Louise lives in the beautiful English countryside with her husband, three children, small dog and the local wildlife who like to make an occasional appearance in the house. Find out more at Louise's website https://www.louisefein.com/ and follow her on Twitter @FeinLouise

20 May 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ After The Fire (Betsy Brand Mystery Book 1) by John Pilkington


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Before Jack the Ripper, there was the Salamander.

London, 1670. The Great Fire is all burned out. Now the city lies in ruins and a series of chilling murders is playing out on the London stage.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES . . .

Betsy Brand is an actress performing in Macbeth at the new Dorset Gardens Theatre. Every night she watches Joseph Rigg, the company’s most dazzling talent, in the throes of death as Banquo.

UNTIL ONE NIGHT HE STOPS PLAYING

Betsy watches in horror as Rigg collapses mid-performance, poisoned. London’s theatre world turns upside down as more deaths follow.

The authorities are baffled. But Betsy is determined to get to the bottom of it all.

EVEN IF IT MEANS SOLVING THE CASE HERSELF

Betsy hears rumours that a shadowy figure called the Salamander has returned. He had haunted London during the Great Fire and now he is wreaking revenge on his enemies. But her foe is more cunning than Macbeth himself. And time is running out.

CAN SHE UNMASK THE KILLER BEFORE SHE BECOMES HIS NEXT VICTIM?

Perfect for fans of Erin Morgenstern, Sarah Perry, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, S. J. Parris, C. J. Samson and Rory Clements.

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT JOHN PILKINGTON:

‘A master of the historical mystery.’ Publishing Weekly

‘A likeable hero, an intriguing plot and a fine sense of period ambience.’ Booklist

‘Loved every one of his novels . . . hope there are more to come. What a talented writer.’ Pamela

‘A very well-crafted read which was unputdownable. The characters and settings transported me back in time . . . the best entertainment I have had for a long time.’ Helen

‘Polished and enjoyable . . . a page-turner of a story . . . more, please.’ MyShelf.Com

‘Inventive and amusing . . . the action rattles along at a good pace and the novel tells a good yarn.’ Historical Novels Review

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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 (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, www.johnpilkington.co.uk, and find John on Twitter @_JohnPilkington.

19 May 2020

Setting up Amazon Author pages #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


Your Amazon page should be an important part of your ‘author platform’, as readers like to find out more about the writer behind a book – yet many authors are so busy writing they don’t have time to keep their page up to date. The good news is this only takes a moment once you have an Amazon Author account and at least one book published on Amazon. All you need to do is visit https://authorcentral.amazon.co.uk/ 
or https://authorcentral.amazon.com/ (US) and follow the instructions. 



You probably have a short author ‘bio’ and a suitable picture somewhere already. (I’ve seen research suggesting that readers like to see a picture of the author, so try to resist using a book cover, as I have seen some people do.) Readers can click on any of your books and be directed to the Kindle store where they can download the book in less than a minute. Also, any time you update your biography or 'claim' a new book through Author Central, About the Author will update on Kindle giving your readers access to the most recent information.


Make sure all your books are linked to the page

Amazon leave this to you as they can’t always be sure which are your books. Simply click on the ‘Add More Books’ button and search for books you've written by title, author, or ISBN and add them. While you’re there you can also click on any of your books to check and add information about them.


Copy and paste your details to the other Amazon countries

Unfortunately, updates you make to any Amazon site don’t automatically find their way to the other twelve countries – but all you need to do is copy and paste the bio and update your list of books and add videos when you have the time. (I use Google translate to understand the prompts on the non-English sites.)


Add your promotional videos

Promotional videos can bring your author platform to life and your Amazon pages are a great place to showcase them. Unlike some sites, you need to upload the video, rather than just add the YouTube embed code or link. You can ‘manage’ the order they are displayed and easily update them. I've had feedback from readers that they made the decision to buy my book after seeing the video, so they definitely work!


Create your personal Author Page URL

Your Author Page URL is an easy to share link to your Author Page on Amazon.com. You can use your Author Page URL in blog posts tweets. On your Profile, click add link next to Author Page URL. You can add any text up to 30 characters but it’s good to secure your author name before anyone else does. Check out my author page at this easy to remember url: Amazon.com/author/tonyriches


See 'Customers Also Bought Items By...'

And finally… under your bio you can see a list of other authors your readers are interested in. I find it helpful to see who these are and what I can learn by looking at their books:



If you have any more ideas on how to improve Amazon Author Pages please 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.

17 May 2020

Book Review ~ The Runaway: a gripping family drama by Linda Huber


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Bad things happen in threes – or so it seems to Nicola. The death of her mother-in-law coincides with husband Ed losing his job and daughter Kelly getting into trouble with the police. Time to abandon their London lifestyle and start again by the sea in far-away Cornwall.

This fast paced psychological thriller is the perfect weekend read, with a great location which I knew well, and believable characters with complicated back stories. 

The subject is any parent's nightmare, and the sense of helplessness is convincing. I guessed the harrowing outcome early in the book, but then couldn't wait to find out if I was right. I particularly liked the way Linda Huber teases the reader by nearly resolving the mystery - then backing off to keep you guessing. 

Another great book from an accomplished author, which would make a great TV thriller. Recommended. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Linda Huber is an ex-physiotherapist who grew up in Glasgow but has lived over half her life in Switzerland, where she writes psychological suspense novels as Linda Huber as well as feel-good novellas under her pen name Melinda Huber. The inspiration for her books comes from everyday life - a family member's struggle with dementia, the discovery that a child in her extended family drowned in the 1940s, and more. Find out more at Linda's website https://lindahuber.net/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @LindaHuber19

15 May 2020

Guest Post by Annie Whitehead, Author of Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Many Anglo-Saxon kings are familiar. Æthelred the Unready is one, yet less is written of his wife, who was consort of two kings and championed one of her sons over the others, or his mother who was an anointed queen and powerful regent, but was also accused 
of witchcraft and regicide. 

My new book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, features over 130 named women. The last time Tony invited me to his blog I wasn’t quite sure how to choose which women to feature, so I went with an acrostic, using the initials of the book title.
Since Tony has kindly invited me back again, I thought I’d do the same thing, this time using the initials of the word: Women.
King Edgar,
husband of Wulfthryth
W is for Wulfthryth. She may, or may not, have been the wife of King Edgar in the tenth century. Edgar’s love life is hard to unravel, and the identity of his supposed first wife is difficult to pinpoint, if she existed at all. Edgar had a son, Edward, who definitely wasn’t the product of Edgar’s last marriage, and may have been the son of the elusive first wife, or of Wulfthryth. Wulfthryth was certainly the mother of St Edith of Wilton, and it’s my view that she was Edward’s mother too. Wulfthryth became abbess of Wilton and she was remembered as a very efficient administrator. However, doubt remains as to whether she was ever Edgar’s wife and, more scandalously, whether she wasn’t in fact ‘married’ to the church when Edgar seduced her. Stories abound: she was a nun, whom Edgar carried off and for his sins had to pay a seven-year penance; that she pretended to be a nun to ward him off; that she was caught up in a case of mistaken identity, the real object of his affections evading him by escaping down a sewer. Unravelling the details of her status was quite some undertaking!
O is for Osith/Osgyth/Osyth and it wasn’t much easier identifying her. She is associated with an abbey at Chich in Essex. One historian thought she hailed from the ancient kingdom of the Hwicce, centred around modern-day Gloucestershire. Conversely (and more likely) Osith was said to be the daughter of a sub-king of Surrey. There are several tales about her, which don’t always match up. According to twelfth-century stories she was brought up in her aunt’s nunnery at Aylesbury. Journeying to meet another aunt, she drowned in the River Cherwell but was revived by the prayers of her aunts. We are also told that she wanted to remain a virgin but was married off by her parents to King Sigehere of the East Saxons, but she avoided consummating the marriage, putting herself under the protection of a bishop. Sigehere seems then to have accepted the situation and given her the land at Chich, where she built her abbey. She was apparently kidnapped by pirates and beheaded after refusing to renounce her faith. Confusion surrounds her eventual burial place, with two feast days associated with her, possibly because she was mixed up with another lady of similar name.
Queen Margaret with her husband,
Malcolm III of Scotland
M is for St Margaret, who was half-English, half-Hungarian, and queen of Scotland. Her father was, briefly, heir to the English throne but died and, in any case, probably wouldn’t have survived the machinations of 1066. Margaret’s family fled and ended up in Scotland where she was married to King Malcolm ‘Canmore’ III of Scotland, in either 1069 or 1070. From her chaplain, Bishop Turgot, we learn that she had wanted to live the religious life and throughout her marriage strove to reform the Church in Scotland and ‘civilise’ her husband. Turgot records how ‘she made him most attentive to the works of justice, mercy, almsgiving and other virtues. From her he learned how to keep the vigils of the night in constant prayer.’ She was remembered as a saintly woman, deeply religious and highly educated. Through her daughter’s marriage, the Anglo-Saxon royal bloodline was absorbed into the line of royalty descended from William the Conqueror.
E is for Ealdgyth. What an eventful, and probably not particularly happy life this lady had. She was the daughter of Ælfgar, earl of Mercia, who allied himself as much with Wales as he did with the other English nobles and was a bit of a ‘loose cannon’. Ealdgyth was married to Gruffudd, king of Wales but Gruffudd was killed by Harold Godwineson. Ælfgar was succeeded in Mercia by his son, Edwin, while Edwin’s brother, Morcar, replaced Harold’s brother Tostig as earl of Northumbria. An alliance was needed, and Ealdgyth was married to Harold, her first husband’s killer. Harold famously didn’t put aside his hand-fast wife, usually known as Edith Swan-neck, so it’s probably fair to say that Ealdgyth got very little out of the marriage. She may have been pregnant with Harold’s son in 1066, with a boy who was possibly also called Harold. Her brothers whisked her to safety at Chester, which is where she may have given birth. Most leaders of Wales were princes, rather than kings, but Gruffudd was a king and so, however briefly, Ealdgyth had the distinction of having been married to both a king of Wales and a king of England. How much joy it brought her is debatable.
St Hild, painting by James Clark
N is a bit of a cheat – nuns. I have almost a complete A-Z of women in the book (Okay, no Z!) but no women whose names begin with N. But there are plenty of nuns: kidnapped, like Osith, or escaping down a sewer as mentioned above, and an abbess from Leominster taken hostage by Swegn, Harold Godwineson’s brother, during a rebellion in 1046 when he teamed up with Gruffudd of Wales. She may in fact have been a willing partner of Swegn’s. She was with him for a year and the sources aren’t clear whether she was rescued or arrested afterwards. Then there’s the likes of St Hild, abbess of Whitby, who trained other abbesses and educated five bishops, and Cwoenthryth, who took on the might of the Church to keep hold of her abbeys and was accused by later chroniclers of arranging the murder of her own brother. Apparently she was found out when she recited a psalm backwards as a spell and her eyeballs fell out.  
The stories of these women are often lurid, never boring, and always entertaining. Sifting fact from later fiction was a challenge but great fun. I have enormous respect for these women who were all pioneers in their way.
Annie Whitehead
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About the Author


Annie Whitehead is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor for EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors.) She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon England, one of which was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society (HNS) Indie Book of the year 2016, and her full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom is published by Amberley Books. She has contributed to fiction and nonfiction anthologies and written for various magazines, including winning the New Writer Magazine Prose Competition. She was the winner of the inaugural Historical Writers’ Association/Dorothy Dunnett Prize 2017. She has recently been a judge for that same competition, and for the HNS Short Story Competition. Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England will be published by Pen & Sword Books on May 30th 2020.  Find out more at Annie's website
http://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @AnnieWHistory

14 May 2020

Special Guest Post By Hana Cole, Author of The Devil's Crossing


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1212. The Chartrain, France. A band of shepherd boys have set off on crusade, believing they can free the Holy Land. 

Gui is a troubled priest who has been shielding his secret family for years. Agnes, his beloved, is a falsely-accused heretic he rescued from the Inquisition’s pyre.

Their son Etienne, unaware of his father’s true identity, is coming of age. Tired of his lowly shepherd’s life, he seeks adventure. The Crusade is the perfect opportunity to prove himself to the world.  He has no reason to suspect the men offering him passage overseas are not what they seem.

Discovering that Etienne has been sold into slavery, Gui and Agnes set off to find him. If Gui is ever to tell his son the truth, he must give up his comfortable compromises and fight the battle of his life against the institution he has served devoutly. 

Meanwhile, Agnes guards a secret of her own; she must face her past in a confrontation with the venal Amaury, Lord of Maintenon, that will either set her free or claim her life.

The background events of the novel are real. The Children’s Crusade did indeed set off from the Chartrain in 1212, led by a young shepherd called Stephen of Cloyes: its mission to recover the True Cross and liberate the Holy Land. Simultaneously, in Germany, a boy named Nicolas of Cologne began his own preaching tour, mirroring Stephen’s success. 

Although the movement fragmented very quickly, some of them made it to Rome, and others went to ports such as Marseille, seeking passage overseas. The vast majority of them were never heard of again.  Contemporary chroniclers inform us that some starved en route, whilst others fell prey to sickness, and others still were forced into domestic servitude, or were sold by unscrupulous merchants into slavery abroad.

I knew a fair bit about the period and the events of the crusade from my university studies, but I didn’t realise how ubiquitous the slave trade was in parts of Europe, nor that slaves were widely used as domestic staff in the Mediterranean. Although technically Christians were not supposed to use other Christians as slaves and likewise in the Muslim world, in reality the boundaries became blurred. For example, women from the hinterlands of the Balkans, nominally heretics or pagans, were enslaved in staggering numbers throughout the period and sold in Italy. 

The numbers of women exceeded male slaves by the later middle ages, and they tended to be worth more too, although that is a generalisation. In reality, the responsibilities of the slave owners towards the slave, particular if they sired a child, became financially quite onerous as time went on, and in the end it became less costly to pay nominally free labourers or domestics per diem wages rather than keep slaves, so it began to fall out of use.

I have endeavoured to keep the chronology of events and the details of medieval life as close to the historical reality as possible. However, I did take some creative license to serve the story, most notably with the Inquisition - which whilst technically established, was not yet the dread and coherent organisation that it would be later become. The Children’s Crusade coincided with the crusade against the Cathars in Provence, so I also wanted to weave that into the novel. 

Some of hardest scenes to write were the ones with the inquisitor doing his thing! There is something truly terrifying about the combination of the absolute authority of the interrogator, combined with the lack of any basis in reason. Once they had you, you could not reason with them or appeal to a jury – and by the time we reach the peak Witchcraze era of the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries, the Inquisition had literally been conjuring up enemies to torture for centuries.

My current work in progress is a thriller set in Italy around the rise and collapse of the first merchant banks in the run up to the Black Death. The more I research, the more I realise that many of the seeds of our current economic woes were sown in the commodity markets of the fourteenth century!

Hana Cole
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About the Author:

Hana Cole is a novelist and historian. Born in Essex to an Anglo-Italian family, she studied Economics at the London School of Economics and Medieval History at Oxford where she gained her Masters. After living in Turin for several years, she travelled widely in the Middle East and India before returning to the UK. She has worked as a film subtitle translator, financial analyst and a yoga teacher. She now lives in Manningtree, Essex, with her husband, daughter and two cats. You can find Hana on Twitter @HanaScribe