Mastodon The Writing Desk: August 2020

31 August 2020

Special Guest Post by Steven A. McKay, Author of The Northern Throne (Warrior Druid of Britain Book 3)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Northern Britain, AD431, Spring.
Bellicus the Druid and his friend Duro, a former Roman centurion, have already suffered a great deal in recent years but, for them, things are about to get even worse.

Spirituality in Roman Britain

My latest novel, The Northern Throne, is the third of my Warrior Druid of Britain books and, for this one, I wanted to continue bringing out a little more of the religious or spiritual aspects of fifth century Britain. Obviously there’s not much, well nothing actually, written down by the druids themselves about how they conducted their rituals or even what they believed about the gods and goddesses they followed at the time. In terms of writings all we really have are some accounts from Romans like Julius Caesar which are probably, at best, exaggerated accounts designed to cast a bad light on their enemies. 

Aside from his famous claim that the Britons built great wicker men to burn enemies in, Caesar also said that the druids could ban men and women from attending sacrifices. This was apparently the greatest punishment people could suffer, being classed as “impious wretches” who were shunned in case their mere presence brought misfortune to others! This gives us some indication of how seriously people took the druids’ power, although, as I say, it’s not certain how accurate these claims are, given their source (a man showing the civilised Romans how backward their enemies were), but there’s other chroniclers and archaeological finds that we can draw some conclusions from, or at least use to fire our imaginations.

A Druids' Ceremony (National Galleries of Scotland)

Clearly, it’s been difficult to research things during lockdown if you like to get out and see places for yourself, but to be honest, I get most of my ideas from books and websites anyway. One of the most interesting sources for me this time around was Sacred Britannia by Miranda Aldhouse-Green. I do not write a novel to force a history lesson upon my readers, but I do enjoy throwing in interesting little facts about my period and the characters populating it, and Sacred Britannia was really useful for that. Often, I don’t even directly use the things I learn from my research, but it all goes into my head and allows me to almost become a part of the tale I’m telling. 

For example, did you know that sinister tin masks were found at the Roman healing shrine in Bath? Just imagine being part of a night-time ritual within a torchlit shrine, where the priests are wearing grim metal masks and animals are sacrificed so the priests can cut out their entrails for the purposes of fortune telling. As a writer, something like that doesn’t even need to be described in much detail – it conjures an incredibly atmospheric, evocative image within a reader’s imagination when described in just the plainest terms! 

Roman Baths Photo by Wanda Marcussen (Creative Commons)

Or what about the famous old idea of white-robed druids climbing a tree to cut down the mistletoe growing there? It was said by Pliny the Elder to be a golden sickle they used but was most likely made from bronze and shaped like a crescent probably to mirror the shape of the rising moon. The druids’ white robes and berries of the mistletoe were probably also to emphasise the moon’s importance within the ritual. Again, this entire scene is so vivid and colourful and draws a reader right in without the author having to embellish it overmuch. 

Roman Britain also had underground sanctuaries dedicated to Mithras, a God who was often worshipped by legionary officers such as Duro, my centurion in The Northern Throne. Underground chambers, lit only by oil-lamps, torches and candles – you can almost smell them burning, right? It’s so easy to understand why the people of these times found such places and ceremonies so powerful.

Of course, in those days people spent a lot of time in the dark, since even torches didn’t give off that much light compared to modern means of illumination. Yet, despite that, going into a small, darkened area was still seen as something to be apprehensive about and it’s easy to understand why – who knows what might be lurking in the gloom, be it human or supernatural. 

Some fears have never changed over the æons! This is probably why the followers of Mithras would, as part of their initiatory tests, be confined within a cramped pit, which was then covered by a flagstone lid. This would likely have strained the physical and mental limits of even the strongest Roman officer and I wonder if it was supposed to represent the death of the old, uninitiated self being reborn out of the grave into the arms of his waiting brothers, transformed and enlightened into the cult of Mithras. 

One particularly grisly custom of the Gaul’s and Britons’ was the act of decapitating vanquished foes and taking their heads as trophies. Embalmed in cedar oil and preserved in a chest, they’d be brought out to show visitors like some interesting souvenir from a holiday! Human heads were believed to be full of power and many carved stone examples – sinister in aspect to my mind – have been found all over Europe as well as real skulls which had been used for some ritual whose significance can now only be speculated upon. 

All these little scenes are what makes history so compelling for us – they come alive in one’s mind and, when used in historical fiction, make a story that much richer and entertaining which is, after all, the ultimate aim of my novels. Check them out and see if you agree!   


As they neared Dunnottar they saw only one entrance – a long, narrow path leading down before sloping steeply up towards a wooden gatehouse. The natural walls of the fortress towered above the pathway and, most disturbingly, wooden stakes had been hammered into the ground at regular intervals. These bore the decapitated heads of the Picts’ enemies – some were merely sun-bleached skulls, having been in place for a long time, but others were fresher and still had rotting flesh left on them. A carrion crow was perched atop one such head and, when it noticed their approach it took a last hasty peck at a piece of scalp before flying off with an outraged shriek.

“I don’t like the look of that at all,” Cretta growled, and a number of the men, in full agreement with Sigarr’s second-in-command, cursed when they realised how vulnerable they would be if they were to walk to the gate along this eldritch path and seek entry.

“They won’t just fill us with arrows,” the jarl laughed as if their fears were baseless, although he felt as fretful as any of the grumbling warband. “Not until they know who we are, what we want, and, more importantly to them, how many of us there are.”

“Don’t tell them there’s only one shipload of us,” Wig advised. “Let them think we have a whole fleet behind us.”

“Thank you for that insight, Wise One,” Sigarr replied sarcastically. “I would never have thought of that myself.”

“Idiot,” Cretta said, shaking his head in disgust at Wig before addressing his jarl. “Unfortunately for us though, they might already know we have only a single ship.”

“Perhaps,” Sigarr agreed as they reached the narrow curving path that rose upwards towards the fortress. “But we’re not looking for a fight, and we’re no threat to these people so I’d like to think the universal rules of hospitality will keep us alive. Now.” He halted and waited a moment, with Cretta by his side, until the men formed up into two ranks of five. “There’s no point in us all wandering down there. I’ll go with Cretta and Eata to speak to them. Drest is probably waiting at the gatehouse to greet us. You men just wait here.”

“What if they…What if something happens to you?” a grizzled warrior with a large gut asked. 

“You’re not likely to scale the walls in order to avenge us, are you, Egil?” the jarl said with a wry smile. “So, if there’s trouble and we’re cut down or taken captive, you all return to the ship and carry the news back to Garrianum, all right? Good. May Woden protect us then.”

“Woden protect you,” Egil repeated, with others muttering their own blessings, and Sigarr gave a last reassuring nod before turning away and striding along the sloping path towards Dunnottar, Cretta and Eata following behind.

Buy The Northern Throne HERE. And if you’d like “The Rescue”, a FREE Forest Lord short story sign up for my email list HERE.

Steven A. McKay

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About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. He says, 'I enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born. My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write. I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.' Find out more at his website and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay.

30 August 2020

The Writing Contest: Can you write a blurb for a hypothetical book?

This writing contest is all about book blurbs. The twist? We want blurbs about completely made-up, nonexistent books. Get creative!

Write and submit a back cover blurb of 100 words or fewer that sets the stage for a novel, establishes the characters, and raises the stakes in a way that makes readers want to find out more.

Let your imagination go wild—and who knows? You may be inspired to turn your blurb into a novel of your own one day.

The award

​We will award one prize of $500 to the best blurb.

​The submitted blurbs will be judged by our team of query letter writers based on how effectively they hook readers, taking into account the writing style and the overall impression.

  • Your blurb must be original. Any submissions found to contain plagiarism will be disqualified.
  • Submissions must be 100 words or fewer. Please run a spellcheck and proofread carefully.
  • You may submit multiple entries provided each entry is a completely unique blurb.
  • You can apply from anywhere in the world. No purchase is necessary to enter this contest.
  • In applying, you grant us permission to publish your blurb entry on the blog.
  • Please apply by noon (US Eastern time) on September 15, 2020.

24 August 2020

Book Launch Guest Post by Susie Murphy, Author of A Class Forsaken (A Matter of Class Book 3)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A Class Forsaken is the third book in Susie Murphy’s A Matter of Class series. The story will continue in the fourth book, A Class Coveted.

Having escaped capture in London, Bridget and Cormac flee to Ireland with their daughter, Emily. Their homecoming is bittersweet as they embark upon the daunting task of searching for Cormac’s family who have been missing for over seven years.

Historical fiction research: a curse and a joy

Today marks the publication of A Class Forsaken, the third book in my historical fiction series A Matter of Class, which is set in Ireland during the 19th century. As with all novels in this genre, this book demanded a lot of research. 

Although the characters are not based on real figures from history and the country manor at which much of the action takes place is also fictional, plenty of research was still required to ensure that the story was grounded in the reality of that era, whether it was the architecture, clothing, language or politics.

The first book in the series, A Class Apart, is set in County Carlow in 1828, while this third book brings the storyline up to 1836. This period in Ireland was marked by the Tithe War which lasted between 1830 and 1836. The tithes were taxes paid by Roman Catholic tenants to support the Church of Ireland, a Protestant establishment. 

These tithes were resented by those who were forced to pay them to fund the upkeep of a church that was not theirs, and a campaign of resistance gradually grew throughout the country. Anti-tithe meetings took place and the Catholics refused to pay the tithes, which sometimes resulted in violence. This tumultuous situation forms part of the backdrop to A Class Forsaken and has an impact on the main characters in several significant ways.

While A Class Forsaken deals with larger concepts such as the Tithe War, it also includes other historical details which occur on a smaller scale but which require equal (and sometimes even more) research.

The book begins with three characters disembarking from a ship at the seaport town of Cove in Cork harbour. Some Irish people will question the spelling of this town. Cobh is a well-known tourist spot in Ireland and it is most definitely spelled C-o-b-h. It has been known as this since 1920 when it was re-named during the Irish War of Independence. 

Prior to this, it had been called Queenstown after a visit by Queen Victoria in 1849. Many will recognise this as the final port of call for the RMS Titanic before she set off across the Atlantic Ocean on her one and only voyage. However, before it was Queenstown the town was actually known as the Cove of Cork, C-o-v-e. My characters visit the town thirteen years before the Queen made it there, hence they call it Cove.

In this book, a number of sealed letters are found with coins inside. This presented several questions for my research. Did people send coins by post in the 19th century? How did they do it? Could they send several coins or just a single coin at a time? What about the practical concerns of the weight or the jangling of the coins? Would the postman know there was money inside and be honest enough to leave it there? 

My editor and I debated this at length and enquired further afield. The Irish Chapter of the Historical Novel Society was very helpful and offered up a piece of historical evidence that a single coin might be sent beneath the seal of the letter. In the end, I went with a single coin wrapped in a strip of folded cloth. The cloth would soften the edges of the coin so the postman would be less likely to feel the hardness of the coin, and the pages of the letter would have been folded over and sealed with wax to prevent the coin from slipping out. It took a very long time to settle on this small detail which amounts to barely a paragraph in the book!

I did a lot of research into Georgian architecture as some of the book takes place in the old Georgian squares of Dublin, including Merrion Square and St Stephen’s Green. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at old pictures of houses from that era with their red brick facades, wide steps leading up to entrances topped with semicircular fanlights, iron railings surrounding open wells at the fronts of the houses, and flights of steps allowing direct access down to the cellars. It is such a distinctive style of house and I loved poring over images of them.

Inheritance law gave me a bit of bother in this book, as it has in all my books so far! My plots tend to demand that characters inherit under circumstances outside of the norm. I had one particular character in A Class Forsaken who, for specific purposes in the story, needed to be in line to inherit a title. However, titles weren’t easy to come by – you couldn’t leave a title in a will like a piece of property. 

I can remember going to bed at 2am one night after researching this issue and talking to my husband, Bob, about the problem. We discussed it from all angles and eventually hit upon the neat solution that would make the storyline work. I was very happy to have solved it but I’m sure Bob would have much preferred to be asleep.

Research can be both a curse and a joy. Many times I found myself busily writing a scene, only to have my flow derailed by having to check which type of servant would answer the front door of a wealthy home, or when were coal holes first introduced to Dublin streets, or would a carriage in the 19th century have some sort of grab handle like modern cars do and, if so, what was it called (yes, and an arm strap). 

Sometimes these are details that can be added in afterwards, and other times they need to be double-checked right away to avoid running the risk of going down the wrong path altogether with the scene and necessitating a rewrite of it at a later stage.

But doing research can also be wonderful. I find it hard to regret the many hours I’ve spent following one interesting tangent after another, discovering things about the past which may never end up in the final manuscript but which are still so fascinating to learn. Whether they make the cut or not, the knowledge of them still contributes to the overall creation of the book. All research, big or small, is invaluable to a historical fiction writer.

A Class Forsaken is the culmination of eight months of research, writing and editing. I’m thrilled to release it today at long last. 

Susie Murphy

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About the Author

Susie Murphy is an Irish historical fiction author. She loves historical fiction so much that she often wishes she had been born two hundred years ago. Still, she remains grateful for many aspects of the modern age, including women’s suffrage, electric showers and pizza.
A Class Forsaken is her third published novel. You can find out more at, and you can connect with Susie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads. If you would like to keep up with news of Susie’s books and receive bonus content including five free short stories, you can join her Readers’ Club here.

23 August 2020

Guest Interview with Stuart Rudge, Author of Blood Feud (Legend of the Cid Book 2)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Castile. 1067AD: The clouds of war gather over Hispania, and Antonio Perez continues on his path to knighthood, under the watchful eye of his lord, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. Blood Feud is the stunning second instalment of Legend of the Cid.

I'm pleased to welcome author Stuart Rudge to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Blood Feud picks up around a year and a half after the events of Rise of a Champion, and begins with the culmination of the War of the Sanchos. Antonio Perez continues on his path to knighthood, under the watchful eye of his lord, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. A peculiar invitation sees Antonio and his lord Arias in the den of their nemesis, Azarola, where they discover the truth of his marriage to Beatriz, Arias’s sister, and the years of suffering he has inflicted upon her. Arias vows to deliver Beatriz from the clutches of Azarola and restore his family’s honour – even if it means betraying Rodrigo, defying his king and threatening the future of his country.

Meanwhile, King Sancho of Castile sends his champion Rodrigo to Zaragoza, to renegotiate the terms of the parias tribute paid by amir al-Muqtadir to Sancho. But whilst in the city, Rodrigo and Antonio discover a plot to overthrow the amir, and face a race against time to stamp out the unrest before the political harmony of Northern Spain is shattered.

The book explores more of the early years of El Cid when he served the Castilian king Sancho as his champion, or campeador. It covers the years 1067-1068 at a time of rising tensions between Leon and Castile, and culminates with the Battle of Llantadilla in eastern Leon.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I don’t have a proper writing routine per se, mainly because I work shifts and have quite a hectic home life with the family, so I tend to just write when I can! I have been known to get up at 4am to write a few hundred words before starting work at 6am, or scribble well in to the depths of the night when everyone is in bed, providing the muse is with me. 

If by some miracle I have a day off with no distractions, I like to sit down around 10am and write for a few solid hours. And when I am not writing I am researching or updating my social media/blog. I would love to have a structure in place where I can reach an allotted word count every week, but until I start selling a thousand books a month and give up the day job, I will have to make do with the organised chaos I have. And I never edit until the whole first draft has been written and I have set it aside for at least a month. Only then will I decide to cut sections out that do not work, and add new bits which I feel would enhance the story. Regardless of what time I write, a cup of tea and a biscuit is essential to give a jolt to the brain and get it working!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Believe in yourself, and write the book you want to, not for what you believe will fit the market. Whilst writing my first book I had so many days where I didn’t want to contemplate what people would think of my writing, for fear of it being panned. But I am ecstatic with the reaction I have received so far, and have really been buoyed to crack on with the rest of the Cid series. What started as an attempt to turn a hobby in to a craft has transformed in to a second job for me, and hopefully the start of a long career as a writer.

As writing can be a lonely venture, connecting with others online and in person is essential. About 5 years ago, I joined a writing group where we swapped ideas and commented on each other’s work as we developed a story from the initial idea to the first draft. I fortunate enough to sometimes still chat with a few of them. 

Following other writers on Twitter and Facebook is a must, and liking and commenting on their posts will get people noticing your name. Find the ones who reciprocate your actions, and engage with those people. They will be the ones to help spread your posts. And it is nice to have a bit of banter with likeminded people!

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

I felt I could have done a lot better with the marketing for Rise of a Champion. My plan was to connect with people on social media and raise the profile that way, and whilst it had modest success, I wish I had read the advice of some better established authors and put it in to practise. Perhaps finding a few more reviewers to send copies out before the book was released could have raised the profile and built up a bit of hype towards the release. 

I am still exploring the best way to use targeted ads to find new readers, so that is still a work in progress. But I ran a free giveaway for Rise of a Champion a few weeks back, and was shocked at the response it got; downloads were roughly four times what had been sold in the previous three months, so that gave it a good boost. I am hoping that even if a tenth of those who liked Rise go on to buy Blood Feud, it will get off to a solid start.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

There was a Celtic tradition which survived in to the medieval period, whereby you would throw the last few dregs of your drink on to the ground; this was apparently an offering to the gods of the earth, to give thanks for the nourishment they received. As a beer loving Teessider, I can assure you the action is not reciprocated up North (the idea of wasting beer horrifies me).

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Trying to piece together the Islamic city of Zaragoza, and expressing it in written form, was a particular challenge. There are different layers of the settlement, mainly the wide openness of what was once the Roman city of Caesaraugusta, to the cramped and congested Islamic city of Saraqusta, and blending them together with the archaeological evidence we have took a long time. 

The hardest part was describing the palace of the amir of Zaragoza; as none of the structure from the eleventh century still exists today, I had to research Islamic art and architecture, mostly from the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville, and try and conjure up an image of what it would have looked like. It was certainly fun, very challenging at the same time, but I am happy with what I put down on paper.

What are you planning to write next?

The third book of the Legend of the Cid series, Fall of Kings, has been written and is provisionally planned for release early next year, and I am currently two thirds of the way through book four and hope to finish in the next couple of months. Then it will be on to book five of a planned eight. I also have one or two standalone novels I have planned in my head, but have not had chance to commit to paper and explore just yet. I am hoping to have the Cid series wrapped up in the next five years, but have already started planning what I can write about next. The Late Roman Republic has always tickled my fancy!

Stuart Rudge
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About the Author

Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history. By day, he works down the local dock, playing with shipping containers and trains. Rise of a Champion was the first piece of work he has dared to share with the world. He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mould of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers. Find out more on Stuart's Website: and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @stu_rudge

22 August 2020

Special Guest Post by Jane Isaac, Author of Hush Little Baby (DC Beth Chamberlain Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

One sunny day in July, someone took three-month-old Alicia Owen from her pram outside a supermarket. Her mother, Marie, was inside. No one saw who took Alicia. And no one could find her. Fifteen years later, a teenager on a construction site sees a tiny hand in the ground. When the police investigate, they find a baby buried and preserved in concrete. Could it be Alicia?

A Research Experiment!

I love research. It underpins the stories we write. I’ll admit I probably do far too much of it. Sometimes it’s only for an odd sentence, sometimes it’s a thread that runs through the entire book. Research comes in all shapes and sizes, but after eight novels, there is nothing for me that matches the personal experiment I carried out for my latest book.

In Hush Little Baby, I have a victim buried in concrete. Concrete holds some preserving properties - a delicious fact if you’re a crime writer because it opens up many possibilities for the story. But it presents problems too. My body had been immersed in a concrete block for several years when the casing was disturbed on a building site, uncovering the person inside.

What would it look like after all this time? What DNA evidence would be available for identification purposes? These are areas I needed to answer so that readers could follow the story through the eyes of Beth, my investigating detective.

Researching these points proved quite tricky. I tried all my current forensic and pathology contacts and, needless to say, they could speculate on the DNA and forensic front but had never dealt with this particular situation and couldn’t be exactly sure what it would look like. 

I read books and researched online, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of research done on bodies buried in concrete and the science was quite complex; I needed a lay person’s explanation. I was struggling and beginning to wonder if I should drop the idea. Then I decided to do my own experiment.

One Sunday afternoon, I eyed up the pig’s shoulder my daughter got out of the fridge, ready to roast for dinner. And it gave me an idea. Research has taught me that pig is similar to human skin. Depending on conditions, most bodies breakdown during the first six months after death. Why don’t I bury the pig’s shoulder in a bucket of concrete and leave it in my garden for a while?

So, much to the delight of my neighbours (and the disgust of my daughter – I won’t tell you what we ate for dinner that Sunday!), hubby and I took a little trip to the local DIY store, bought some concrete mix and did just that. The bucket sat in my garden for many months with a pot plant sitting on top. I knew it was completely sealed because the flies stayed away and my dogs showed no interest.

Fast forward to last May. Remember that beautiful hot bank holiday weekend? We were having quiet family time, catching up with jobs around the house while neighbours BBQ’d with friends and families in the surrounding gardens. I remember finishing my chores, sitting in the garden and eyeing up the bucket. The meat had been encased for almost a year; it was time to find out what it looked like inside.

The pot plant was moved. My hubby got his sledge hammer out of the shed and whacked the plastic bucket hard. The concrete smashed open. And for the first few seconds it was an extraordinary sight – the pig’s shoulder was exactly the same as when it was buried – the meat was pink and raw; even the skin hadn’t discoloured. 

What we didn’t realise was that as soon as it hit the air, it would go into rapid deterioration. By rapid, I mean super quick - the smell was putrid! And our neighbours were having these lovely BBQs with their loved ones only metres away...

Cue panic. Hubby broke up the concrete, burnt off the remnants of meat still attached to the stone, wrapped it in bags and disposed of it in the bin. I thought hard. What could I do with the joint to stop it smelling? I couldn’t put it in the wheelie bin like that. So, thinking on my toes, I wrapped it in a bag and put it in our freezer. Frozen meat doesn’t smell, right? 

I planned to put it out on refuse collection day. When we’d finally finished clearing up, hubby and I came inside. But no matter how much we cleaned and showered and changed, the fetid odour still hung in the air. We thought it was in our noses, sprayed air freshener, lit candles. Eventually the smell faded and we went to bed.

The following morning, I came downstairs and could immediately smell rotting meat. We had friends coming for brunch, I needed to start cooking. But something wasn’t right. I opened the freezer and the stench slapped me in the face.

Brunch turned out to be takeaway of sorts eaten in the garden that day. Ten minutes before our guests were due to arrive my hubby was driving out of our village - the pig’s shoulder in a carrier bag hanging out of the driver window because he wouldn’t have it in the car – off to bury the rotting meat at the edge of a disused airfield nearby. And I was emptying my freezer in case the smell had infiltrated the other food in there!

I’ve since found a wonderful scientist and former crime scene manager who specialises in bodies buried in concrete and she has been wonderfully helpful with my research. But I’ll never forget that weekend we broke into our concrete. Needless to say, my expert was incredibly interested in our experiment! 

Jane Isaac

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About the Author

Jane Isaac lives with her detective husband and daughter in rural Northamptonshire, UK where she can often be found trudging over the fields with her Labrador, Bollo. Her debut, An Unfamiliar Murder, was nominated as best mystery in the 'eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013'. The follow up, The Truth Will Out, was selected as ‘Thriller of the Month – April 2014’ by
Jane is author of nine novels. Her latest series is based in Northamptonshire and features Family Liaison Officer, DC Beth Chamberlain. Find out moire at Jane's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter  @JaneIsaacAuthor

21 August 2020

Special Guest Post by Anne O'Brien, Author of The Queen’s Rival

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Where to Start Writing? 

The scope of the Wars of the Roses is vast; so is the life of Cecily Neville.  Where would I begin to write my story of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York?  I chose the events in the town of Ludlow, the Yorkist fortress in the Welsh Marches, in October 1459.

Why chose this place and time?  By now Cecily was forty four years old.  She had been married to Richard, Duke of York, for thirty years, spending time travelling between England and France, living in Rouen and Dublin when Richard was on campaign. 

She had seen all twelve of her children born by 1459 and had watched five of them die premature deaths, the last one Ursula in 1454.  She had already experienced the dangerous politics of the day, with a weak king allowing the battle for power between York and the Beauforts to rage.  She knew prestige as wife of the Lord Protector, and also fear when he was ousted by the Beaufort Duke of Somerset.  

Why, then, with so much going on in her earlier life, choose Ludlow in 1459 to begin her story?

Because this was the occasion when Cecily stepped out from the shadow of her family, both Nevilles and Plantagenets, and made an impact on history.  It was not her choice to do so.  Circumstances forced her into it.  But what a dramatic event it was.  And from that point Cecily remained one of the movers and shakers.

The circumstances are well known.  The Yorkist army led by York, Salisbury and Warwick were camped on the fields by Ludford Bridge, just across the River Teme from Ludlow.  The royal army approached and faced them.  Stalemate.  Until one of Warwick's captains, Andrew Trollope, refused to raise arms against his King and defected, taking his  soldiers and knowledge of the Yorkist earthworks with him.

Ludford Bridge with the Teme in spate (Anne O'Brien) 

The result was that on that night, 12th October, York, Salisbury and Warwick left the camp and returned to the castle in Ludlow, abandoning their army with no intention of returning.  Salisbury and Warwick, taking the young Earl of March with them, fled to Calais.  York and his second son Rutland made haste to Ireland.  This left a Yorkist army in disarray and Ludlow at the mercy of the Lancastrians.  

What of Cecily?  She too was abandoned, left in Ludlow with her three younger children, Margaret, George and Richard.  Her now absent family was attainted for treason by the parliament that met in Coventry, their estates, titles, and possessions all declared forfeit.  If anyone remained to be taken prisoner and suitably punished for York's treachery by the vengeful Queen Margaret, it was Cecily.  If she ever had to grasp her courage and show bravery it was here.

After the battle that never happened at Ludford Bridge, the Lancastrian army was allowed to run amok and despoil the town of Ludlow.  Cecily stood witness to the attack on her home and against the people of Ludlow when the houses and taverns were sacked and women defiled.  The streets ran with spilt ale and wine and vomit.  Tradition says that Cecily left the castle and stood at the market cross with her three children when all was laid waste around her.  Was she afraid?  The vulnerable little family was not harmed but it was surely a moment of sheer terror as Ludlow was 'robbed to the bare walls'.

Gateway from Ludlow Castle into the town where 
Cecily must have walked with her children.
 (Anne O'Brien) 

I can think of no better place to begin a novel about Cecily Neville than here.  She is at the forefront of events.  She is not over shadowed by her menfolk.  She showed courage and strength of character beyond any that could be expected of her.  She did not hesitate to go out into the town to make a Yorkist presence when all around was chaos and violence.  She was also, another difficult issue, forced to come to terms with being abandoned by the Duke of York.

My choice was made.  This is where The Queen's Rival begins.

Anne O'Brien 

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About the Author

Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history. She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life. Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien

20 August 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Nest of Ashes (The Phoenix Trilogy: Story of Jane Seymour Book 1) by G. Lawrence

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

October 1537: At a time of most supreme triumph, the moment of her greatest glory, security and power, a Queen of England lies dying.

Through dreams of fever and fantasy, Jane Seymour, third and most beloved wife of King Henry VIII remembers her childhood, the path forged to the Tudor Court; a path forged in flame and ashes.

Through the fug of memory, Jane sees herself, a quiet, overlooked girl, who to others seemed pale of face and character, who discovered a terrible secret that one day would rain destruction upon her family.

Nest of Ashes is Book One in The Phoenix Trilogy: Story of Jane Seymour, by G. Lawrence.

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About the Author

Gemma Lawrence is an independently published author living in Cornwall in the UK. She studied literature at university says, 'I write mainly Historical Fiction, with an emphasis on the Tudor and Medieval periods and have a particular passion for women of history who inspire me'. Her first book in the Elizabeth of England Chronicles series is The Bastard Princess (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 1).Gemma can be found on Twitter @TudorTweep.

17 August 2020

Special Guest Post by Tanya Rogers (AKA Little Miss History) on the Black Tudors

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I have been reading Miranda Kaufmann’s book on the Black Tudors for the last few weeks and became so fascinated by the unheard stories within that I decided to create a series of bite size videos on each person featured in the book! So far I have made 8 different videos and here are my best bits on what I have found out!

My personal favourite black Tudor and probably the most well known is John Blanke. John was the royal trumpeter for both Henry VII and Henry VIII and what is fascinating about him is that there is actually an image of him in the Westminster Tournament Roll from 1511! This was an event to celebrate the birth of baby Henry the first child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon which took place on New Years Day. John was also seen in historical evidence when he petitioned Henry VIII successfully for a pay rise in line with his fellow trumpeters.

The Westminster Tournament Roll 
almost certainly showing John Blanke 
(Wikimedia Commons)

Other interesting black Tudors are Jacques Francis and Diego. Jacques Francis was a salvage diver hired by Henry VIII to recover the weaponry that was lost after the Mary Rose sank in 1545. Jacques was from Guinea and was a trained pearl diver and unlike the English men he could hold his breath and swim under water for a long time!

He was paid £50 to lead a team to recover the £2 million worth of weaponry but only managed to find the anchor and some cannon balls. What is fascinating about him is that he actually testified in court and was a witness in a case involving his master Peter Corsi who was accused of stealing tin from another wreckage. The reason that this is interesting is he was the first black African to do this, and shows he was not a slave, as slaves could not give evidence in court.

Diego was a circumnavigator who Francis Drake picked up after his successful raid on Panama and decided to take him with him on his circumnavigation of the globe in 1577 - 1589. Diego was a former slave who could speak Spanish and would prove useful as a translator or interpreter or even as a spy. As he had helped Drake with the escaped slaves called the Cimarrons in Panama, he could also work with others like this if need be on the voyage. Sadly Diego did not make it back to England in 1580 on the Golden Hinde as he died from an arrow wound in 1579.

Female black Tudors include the story of Catalina the royal bed maker, who like John Blanke came over to England with Catherine of Aragon when she was due to marry Prince Arthur. Catalina was privy to very sensitive and important information regarding whether Catherine and Prince Arthur consummate their marriage before he died, and Henry VIII went on to marry his dead brother’s wife. This question was key to Henry when he wished to divorce her to marry Anne Boleyn. Sadly Catalina had gone back to Granada by that time and could not be located.

Other notable black Tudors include Reasonable Blackman who was a prosperous silk weaver who made clothes for the theatres in Southwark. He originated from the Netherlands where the silk industry flourished. We know about Reasonable due to his records of his children’s deaths from the Plague in parish records. Elizabeth was a big fan of silk stockings and was said to have declared she would never wear cotton ones again after trying them for the first time!

Finally the most recent black Tudor I have researched is the Prince of the River Cestos; Dederi Jaquoah who interestingly came over to England for 2 years with the merchant John Davies on the ship the Abigail. The records show he was baptised in this time and even changed his name to that of this friend and became ‘John Davies’. Dederi went back to the River Cestos which traded regularly with English merchants in pepper and ivory. Mary Fillis like Dederi also got baptised which indicated that many Black Tudors converted from their existing religions to Christianity whilst in England.

If you want to know more on the black Tudors check out the book by Miranda Kaufmann or head to my channel Miss Price@The Price Academy to watch all 8 current videos.

Tanya Rogers (AKA Little Miss History)

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About the Author

Tanya Rogers is an experienced History Teacher from Cheshire, England.Tanya is the founder of The Price Academy creating daily bite size Historical Videos for students and lovers of History! Tanya is a fan of Tudor History and in particular bringing unknown stories to light such as the Black Tudors. Watch daily bite size history videos on YouTube at  You can follow Tanya on Facebook at The Price Academy and Twitter at Littlemisshistory81 @tanyaalex38

15 August 2020

Book Review - Six Tudor Queens: Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen, by Alison Weir

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At just nineteen, Katheryn Howard is quick to trust and fall in love. She comes to court. She sings, she dances. 
She captures the heart of the King.

I've read all the books in Alison Weir's 'Six Tudor Queens' series, and this is my favourite. Despite the horrible inevitability of Katheryn's story, The Tainted Queen has an engaging narrative. 

I've always wondered about the motivation of Lady Jane Rochford, who would know the dire consequences of her actions. Alison Weir shows her skill as a writer by teasing readers with subtle hints, as she does with the question of whether Katheryn is an innocent victim of the men in her life, (including Henry VIII and 'Uncle Norfolk') or if she was taking calculated risks.

I recommend reading the (thirteen page) author's note, which answers some questions raised in the book, and am looking forward to the final book in this captivating series.

Tony Riches 

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About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two children. Find our more at Alison's website and fin her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks 

Disclosure: I am grateful to Alison Weir's publishers, Headline Books, for providing a review copy. 

14 August 2020

The Twitter #WritingCommunity - #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I’ve been active on Twitter @tonyriches since July 2009. Eleven years ago, the great challenge was to craft something funny or even thought-provoking within the constraint of 140 characters.


One of the biggest changes for me has been the emergence of the Twitter writing community, a network which is probably more complex and valuable than some people realise. For me, the most important is the powerful support network within the historical fiction genre, and I’ve seen the same in most other genres.


Next are the collaborative, cross-genre groups of writers and authors, such as #AuthorToolboxBlogHop which help me keep up to date with emerging trends, ideas and useful tips.


A few years ago, the #amwriting tag was the one to use, then #WritingCommunity began to turn conventional wisdom about how authors use Twitter on its head. The rule used to be no 'shameless self-promotion', and only one in eight tweets to be about your new book.


Now I see #WritersLift tweets with many hundreds of authors invited to post their books. Is it worth it? A lot of Twitter users seem to think it is, and the range and variety of work being promoted in this way is in turns inspiring and bewildering.


It all started to go wrong when the tag somehow morphed into #WritingCommnuity and #WritingCommmunity. (You might need to check the spelling to see the problem.) I’ve no idea if this began as a mischievous prank or careless typing (but you know who you are). I’ve even seen authors using all three ‘variants’ with a tweet to maximise reach.


So where is all this leading? When I became a full-time author, I might have tweeted my new book, but with only a few hundred followers, I’m sure it didn’t make any difference. Now I have over 33,000 and the right tweet can double sales in a day – now that’s thought provoking.


Tony Riches

If you have any more ideas on how to make best use of Twitter as an author, 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.

10 August 2020

Special Guest Interview with Max Byrd, Author of Pont Neuf

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

From bestselling writer Max Byrd comes an unforgettable evocation and portrait of Paris at the end of the second World War.

I'm pleased to welcome author Max Byrd to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

In Pont Neuf, the splendidly gifted (and faintly scandalous) writer Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s famously unhappy third wife, is the presiding spirit over a great romance. Two American soldiers, torn apart by the war, meet and fall in love with Martha’s protégé—the irresistibly charming and vulnerable young reporter, Annie March.

Their story begins and ends on the beautiful Pont Neuf, the oldest and best-loved bridge in Paris. For Annie, every bridge connects two different worlds; to cross a bridge is to make a choice. For her, crossing Pont Neuf means choosing one man over the other, one life over another. It is a haunting love story that will move readers to tears.

In its Homeric themes of death and love, Eros and Thanatos, Pont Neuf involves the last two massive battles of the war—Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and the cataclysmic Battle of the Bulge. These historic moments are not simply a backdrop for romance, but also the treacherous and explosive landscape through which love itself moves.

What is your preferred writing routine? 

When I was teaching, I wrote at night, after work.  Today I have an unmarked office in a commercial building.  No internet and no window, and I’m there every morning from 9 am to 2 pm.
I originally wrote detective novels because that is the best way to learn how to plot.  Many writers (Gore Vidal, Oakley Hall, for example) have served an apprenticeship with mystery novels---there’s only one requirement: the story has to make sense, to be coherent.  But that’s the basic requirement for any story, no matter the genre.

What advice do you have for new writers? 

A young person should learn, really learn a foreign language, preferably Latin.  My students used to roll their eyes when I said that.  Then one day the great novelist John Updike visited my writing class.  A mischievous student asked him the very question you’re asking.  To their stunned silence, Updike answered, “Read Latin.”  They swore I had prompted him, but no. The reasons, of course---vocabulary, concentration on individual words, the complex possibilities of syntax and rhetoric that Latin offers.

The other indispensable preparation is learning to be playful with words.  Someone who doesn’t like Dr Seuss doesn’t have much chance of writing well.  I once heard Anthony Burgess at a book signing.  An anxious mother pushed her teenage son toe the head of the line and asked what he should do to become a novelist like Burgess.  Burgess said, “Read lots of poetry.”  The mother looked shocked, the son looked unhappy.  I grinned.  (But I wished he had said Latin.)

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

My new novel “Pont Neuf” arose from listening to my friend Burnett Miller tell stories about the Battle of the Bulge.  (He won the Silver Star in it.)

What are you planning to write next?

Very few novelists proceed without a plan.  It can be as simple as a one-page summary or as complex as a twenty-page outline.  I’ve tried both ways.  Raymond Chandler used to write 90 or 100 pages at top speed, without rereading.  Then he’d stop and see what he had.  P. G. Wodehouse started with a five-page outline.  Then a ten-page outline.  Then a thirty-page outline.  Then sixty.  Then one hundred.  And so on, until the book was suddenly there. I don’t have my next “plan” yet, but it will be coming soon.

Max Byrd

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About the Author

Max Byrd was born in Atlanta, Georgia and now lives in northern California. He was educated at Harvard and at King's College, Cambridge, England. He has taught English at Yale and the University of California, Davis, though he left academia some time ago to become a full-time writer. During his teaching years he published a number of scholarly books and articles about 18th-century literature In 1980 he began to write detective novels. The first was called California Thriller (Bantam Books, 1981) and won the Shamus Award for best paperback original of the year. This was followed by Finders, Weepers and Fly Away, Jill, all featuring the same hardboiled private eye, Mike Haller. Later came Target of Opportunity, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and Fuse Time, the research for which led him to take a brief course in the California Highway Patrol Bomb Squad School (a somewhat different world from Harvard). Finding that crime really did not pay, he turned to the historical fiction. Find out more at his website

7 August 2020

Book Launch: Drake - Tudor Corsair (Elizabethan Series Book 1)

1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure. He learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.

I’ve been planning an Elizabethan series for some time, as my aim is to tell the stories of the Tudors from Owen Tudor’s first meeting with Queen Catherine of Valois through to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

I decided to show the fascinating world of the Elizabethan court through the eyes of the queen’s favourite courtiers, starting with Francis Drake. I soon discovered almost everything I thought I knew about Drake was wrong, and have enjoyed tracking down primary sources to uncover his true story.

Soon after I'd sent the draft manuscript to my editor the Black Lives Matter campaign drew fresh attention to the history of the slave trade, and there was even a campaign to removes Drake’s statue from Plymouth.
Although Drake’s first voyage with John Hawkins was a slaving voyage, I’m hoping my book will help readers understand that he had a very modern view of the slave trade. 

Once he had his own fleet, Drake began freeing any slaves he found, and worked with the Cimarrons, escaped former slaves who lived together as outlaws, to attack the Spanish in Panama. Drake's friend, a former slave named Diego, saved his life more than once.
Francis Drake was a self-made man, who took great risks to make his fortune. He was looked down on by the nobility as a commoner, even after he was knighted, yet his story is one of the great adventures of Tudor history.

Tony Riches