Mastodon The Writing Desk: September 2020

29 September 2020

Guest Interview with Laurence O'Bryan, Author of The Sign of the Blood (A Dangerous Emperor, Book #1)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The first Christian emperor faces ruthless enemies on his journey to power.

I'm pleased to welcome author Laurence O'Bryan to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

The Sign of the Blood is the first novel in my three book series, entitled A Dangerous Emperor. The last novel in the series was published in the spring of 2020. That novel is called, The Cursed City. The trilogy tells the story of the rise to power of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great. It features Juliana, a slave who becomes his mistress and also Fausta his patrician wife, who schemes against her with Constantine’s son by another woman.

One Amazon Verified reviewer had this to say about the first book in the series: 
“From the first scene with Juliana, the slave captive, to the final chapter, this story of Constantine’s rise to power is truly engaging. Like all Roman fiction, and especially during the later period, the research is never easy, but the author paints a truly vivid picture of life at the bottom of the social strata as well as the luxury at the top. Spite, jealousy and thoughtlessness are there in plenty, but so are comradeship, love and loyalty. As a Roman-themed writer myself, I’ve read a lot of Roman historical fiction – Simon Scarrow, Ben Kane, Ruth Downie, Douglas Jackson, Conn Iggulden, Robert Fabbri and the incomparable Lindsey Davis. This series looks set to join these as the must-reads of the imagined Roman world. Recommended.”
What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to write in the morning and aim to edit yesterday’s words count and to write another 1,500 words each day before lunch. Starting to write before doing emails is key, I have found, to getting the word count completed every day, seven days a week.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read a lot in your genre and learn about craft from conferences, books and other writers.

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

Advertising online is a great way to find readers. It seems we have to pay to get seen these days. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I discovered that much of what we know about Constantine is speculation. Even the most important academic works about his life are filled with educated guesses.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The scenes of personal trauma are always difficult. I haven’t killed anyone or been tortured, so making the leap of imagination required to write these scenes is a challenge.

What are you planning to write next? 

I am writing a thriller series about what’s happening now, with the pandemic all around.

Laurence O’Bryan

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About the Author

Laurence O’Bryan is the author of a series of novels about the life of Constantine the Great. His roots go back to a small estate deep in the Mountains of Mourne near the Silent Valley, in County Down, Northern Ireland. Laurence says, 'My research has taken me all over the world, from San Francisco to deep in the Muslim world. There are secrets everywhere. I enjoy writing about them. I hope you enjoy reading about them.' Find him on Twitter @LPOBryan

28 September 2020

Guest Interview with Tonya Ulynn Brown, Author of The Queen's Almoner

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. 
Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. 
Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: 
he to his conscience and she to her throne. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Tonya Ulynn Brown to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

When the young, headstrong queen of Scotland returns to her homeland after being away for 13 years, her childhood friend, Thomas, is there to greet her—and protect her. But as their friendship grows, Thomas soon realizes that the little queen who left Scotland so many years before, has grown into a passionate, young woman; a force to protect himself from. When loyalty to his queen causes Thomas to make some decisions that have life-changing consequences, Thomas must come to terms with his choices, and find peace for his mistakes. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

With every book I have written, I have done something different. I don’t always plot or outline my stories. Sometimes I just start writing and see where the characters take me. However, with historical fiction, there has to be a great deal of research before the story can be finished, and so, a lot of times I find myself writing, researching, correcting my historical mistakes, writing, researching, correcting…you get the idea. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Just do it! You must start somewhere and the longer you put it off, the longer before your story is told. Do not worry about all the details. Once you have the basic story written, then you can go back and improve it. Don’t let fear or lack of self-confidence hold you back. Everyone had to start somewhere. YOU must start somewhere too. 

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

By far, I would have to say social media. Each platform has its benefits and I like them all for different reasons. Twitter has an amazing community of writers that are so supportive. Yet, I feel more connected to my followers on Instagram, and have found a great community of like-minded history lovers with whom I feel that I can really share my love of history, which in turn all ties back to my book. I have only recently discovered the book blogging community and I have found them to be amazing as well! I especially love when I come across book bloggers who love the same types of books that I do. I feel like we are kindred spirits and I take great interest in their opinions because I know they will not steer me wrong. Hopefully, others feel the same way when they talk about my books!

5. Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Just an interesting little tidbit. I discovered that Mary Queen of Scots wore a white wedding dress when she married her first husband, Francis. White was not a traditional color for wedding dresses until Queen Victoria wore it on her wedding day almost 300 years later. However, Mary chose to wear white because it was her favorite color. It was quite a step out of the ordinary because white was the color of mourning in France at the time where her first marriage took place. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene for me to write in The Queen’s Almoner was the attempted kidnapping of Mary. I think battle scenes, where there is a lot of sword fighting, are difficult. I did quite a bit of research on weaponry and sword fighting, and I think I even watched a few videos of people sword fighting. Explaining the intricate moves that a swordsman uses in a way that the reader can understand what is going on is a challenge. Hopefully, I pulled it off!

What are you planning to write next?

I am working on continuing the saga of the Stuart monarchs with both Mary’s and Thomas’ children. The North Berwick witch trials, which plagued James’ earlier reign before becoming king of England, will be central to the story.

Tonya Ulynn Brown

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About the Author

Tonya Ulynn Brown was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, USA, but now calls southeastern Ohio home. She spent her younger years right out of college, living in Europe and teaching English as a second language. She attributes her time in Eastern Europe as being one of great personal growth, where her love for history, the classics, and all things European was born. Tonya holds a Master’s degree in Teaching and is now an elementary school teacher where she uses her love of history and reading to try to inspire younger generations to learn, explore and grow. Along with all the historical characters that she entertains in her head, she lives with her husband, two sons and a very naughty Springer Spaniel. Her mother has also joined their home, making for a cozy and complete little family. Find out more at Tonya's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MrsBrownee2U

26 September 2020

Special Guest Post by Publishing Consultant Natalie Audley

My name is Natalie Audley, and I am a Publishing Consultant who has spent the last six years working across the industry. I have worked with hundreds of authors, from debuts to household names, and I know what makes them sell.

In my work I have managed and marketed a variety of genres and learnt a great deal about how and why something sells. I have a great passion for literature, as well as respect for those who love to write. My abilities at selling books, from being a bookseller to pitching thousands of copies to Amazon, means I know how to communicate great ideas with personable flare. 

The aim of my publishing consultancy is to support new writers in developing their fiction or plays, with a view to what sells. Having worked for some of the major and bestselling independent publishers in London, I have an excellent radar for what will sell, and how to make the most of your writing. In terms of playwriting I have been a reader for the last three years at one of the premier new writing venues in London and have managed my own theatre company, producing eight shows since 2013 and performing at Edinburgh, Camden and Brighton Fringes.

With my insight to the market I can help you establish your ideas, restructure and develop your work, and give you advice on how to approach agents. I can help you to understand the markets you would sell into, and how this would work for you as an author. 

I am happy to assist you from initial idea to final pitch, with the aim of having a novel which could be sold into Waterstones, Amazon and wholesalers as well as independent bookshops. My expertise can help tailor your manuscript into a piece that’s ready for success.

As a Publishing Consultant I am not an editor, but my in-depth experience as a publisher will talk you through the process of building up your story, with a focus on where you need to develop each section of your writing as if it were a business model:

- Initial idea

- Planning

- Drafting

- Editing

- Synopsis/Pitch

My advice will be predicated on advising you how to make your writing as commercially viable as possible. Of course, I am happy to see a range of fiction pitches whether these be literary, genre or YA. My experience in both print and digital publishing will give insight to authors seeking an agent, or those looking to self-publish off their own bat. 

Natalie Audley

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About the Author

Natalie Audley has worked in publishing for the last six years, beginning as a Waterstones Bookseller before working in several independent publishing houses in London.  Natalie has a BA and Masters in English and Creative Writing, and completed a playwriting course at Brighton Theatre Royal Young Writers Scheme. Her playwriting has been shortlisted by The Bruntwood and the Papatango Prizes, and she has been awarded several grants to stage her plays. For more information visit her website and follow her on Twitter @NatalieAudley16

24 September 2020

Special Guest Post by Suzanne M. Wolfe, Author of The Course of All Treasons: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Elizabethan court is beset by traitors at home and abroad as spies, rogues, and would-be usurpers of the throne vie for power.

I grew up in Didsbury, Manchester. My mother was a single mum who worked as a physiotherapist at a hospital during the day and at night took on private patients just to make ends meet. My brother was, naturally, involved in his own life.

So, in my loneliness, I turned to historical fiction for companionship—Joan Aiken, Henry Treece, Geoffrey Trease, Cynthia Harnett, and many others were among my favorite authors. Something about the way they brought forgotten—or at least distant—voices to my inner ear touched me deeply. As someone who often felt without a voice, I loved the way authors of historical fiction enabled us to hear those who otherwise were voiceless, rendered mute by a world which either ignored or misunderstood them.

Only recently did I come to realize that my love of historical fiction was rooted in a desire to listen for the voices of the past and the stories they could tell—whether it was the murmured conversation of courtiers waiting for a royal audience, bureaucratic lackeys whispering in the Queen’s ear, spies, playwrights, or poets—each of them saying, “I once lived as you now live.”

This is the reason why I love combining historical fact with fiction because fiction can raise the dead to life again much more vividly than historical textbooks. 

It was Elizabeth’s voice that inspired me to write my Elizabethan spy mystery series. So it felt only right to give her the opening line in the first novel, A Murder by Any Name (Crooked Lane Books, 2018). 

“God’s bollocks, girl. I’m freezing my tits off!”

The voice is imperious, irreverent, earthy—a far cry from the sentimentalized Hollywood portrayals of the Virgin Queen. My Queen Elizabeth would make a sailor blush. 

Elizabeth’s voice came to me fully articulated when I started writing this series, a voice singular enough to echo down the centuries through numerous documents and contemporary accounts. It reveals a woman who was witty, irreverent, scathing, vain, kind to her friends and ruthless to her enemies. It is the voice of Gloriana Regina, the last of the Tudor line.

Since childhood I’ve always been inspired by visits to historic sites. Last year I visited Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire and could see the indomitable Bess, much married and a close confidante of Queen Elizabeth, sweeping down the wide stone staircase barking orders, or presiding at the long oak dining table in the main hall calling for more wine. 

Touring the cavernous stone kitchens I could hear the great clamor of pots chinking, cooks yelling, the sizzle of meat and flare of flame during a banquet, see the men turning the spits before the enormous fireplaces, sweat dripping down their faces, the liveried servers carrying huge platters of swan, grouse, venison, and fish up the back stairs to the great hall. 

I could imagine Mary, Queen of Scots,—a confined “guest” at Hardwick Hall—sitting at her bedroom window staring out at the formal gardens, wondering how different her life would have been if only she had not married Lord Darnley or the equally disreputable Earl of Bothwell.

The sixteenth century is an age teeming with life and boisterous with a cacophony of voices. It is a savage age of political and religious turmoil where traitors were beheaded on Tower Hill and Jesuit priests were hung, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. Chock full of treachery, paranoia, and superstition, the era provides plenty of grist for a historical novelist’s mill. Indeed, our contemporary experience of Covid-19 makes the recurrent outbreaks of plague in that period ominously relatable.

My protagonist, Nick Holt, the younger brother of the Earl of Blackwell, is from a prominent recusant Catholic family. That means that, although his family has sworn allegiance to a Protestant Queen, they are in constant danger of being accused of treasonous contact with Continental Catholicism and of secretly practicing their faith. 

Coerced into spying for the state by a not so subtle threat to arrest Nick’s brother on charges of treason (see first book in the series, A Murder by Any Name), Nick must tread a fine line between his allegiance to the Crown and loyalty to his family. 

The owner of The Black Sheep Tavern in Bankside, the notorious “red light” district of London on the southern bank of the Thames, Nick’s friends consist of a huge Irish wolfhound called Hector, an exiled Jewish brother and sister who practice medicine, his faithful friend John Stockton, and a host of social misfits including the young Will Shakespeare, Kat, the madam of a notorious brothel, and Codpiece, the Queen’s clever Fool. 

Despite his insalubrious Bankside neighbors, Nick is equally comfortable rubbing shoulders at court. He and the Queen have a deep mutual respect and Elizabeth trusts him to seek out the truth no matter where it will lead or who it will implicate, irrespective of rank. Perhaps Elizabeth sees in Nick a man who has no truck with the fops, toadies, and ladder-climbers who make up the bulk of Gloriana’s glittering court. 

Or perhaps it is because, as a recusant Catholic, he is an outsider to the intrigues and double-dealing of the court. For whatever reason, he is perfectly placed to investigate crimes both inside the court and in the realm. 

I hope you will consider joining Nick and his faithful hound, Hector, on their quest to seek justice—to give a voice to the voiceless.

Suzanne M. Wolfe

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About the Author

Suzanne M. Wolfe grew up in England and read English literature at Oxford University. Wolfe is the author of the novels The Confessions of X, winner of Christianity Today’s 2017 Book of the Year Award; Unveiling; and the first Elizabethan spy mystery, A Murder by Any Name, and the second in the series, The Course of All Treasons (Crooked Lane Books, 2020). She lives in the Pacific Northwest, US. Find out more at Suzanne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @SuzanneMWolfe

22 September 2020

Special Guest Interview with Juliette Lawson, Author of A Borrowed Past (Seaton Carew Sagas)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Escape into William Harper’s journey of discovery, love and loss in the first book of the Seaton Carew Sagas series. A Borrowed Past is a historical saga for anyone who’s ever felt that they don’t belong.

I'm pleased to welcome author Juliette Lawson to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

A Borrowed Past’ is the first in the Seaton Carew Sagas series, set in the 1870s in Seaton Carew, York and Scarborough. What would you do if you discovered your life was a lie? Young aspiring artist William Harper runs away to find out the truth. But the pull of the past is strong, drawing him into a web of deceit. When tragedy strikes, can he make the right choices about who he should give his heart to and where his future lies?

My readers describe the story as heart-warming, intriguing and compelling, and they say the setting is almost a character in itself. My favourite quote from a review is ‘The writing was beautifully evocative of the era and the story skilfully documented, painting the page with words much as William longed to spill the images in his mind onto paper with a brush.’

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I like to rise early and get my words down first thing, so my subconscious can work on any knotty problems during the rest of the day. At the end of the session, I plan the next chapter ready for the following day, drawing on the detailed outline I created before beginning my first draft.

If I ever find myself struggling to get in the right frame of mind, I either go for a walk or put on my headphones to play the BrainWave Binaural Programs app while writing, overlaid with the sound of thunderstorms. It never fails to get me into the zone, like pressing a switch in my brain!

What advice do you have for new writers? 

Write the first draft only for yourself; don’t worry about what anyone else will think of it. We never see the first draft of books written by bestselling authors, but they won’t be perfect! This stage is for you to find your way around the story and get to know your characters properly. Acknowledge that it will go through lots of iterations, so don’t hold on to it too tightly.

In the second draft, think about how to grip the reader. Pay attention to the details: your descriptions, portraying the senses, how your characters behave and speak in their era and society, and factual accuracy. Your job is to keep the reader engrossed; don’t let them pull away from the story to wonder about any of these things. Leave spelling, grammar and punctuation checks until the last draft.

Finally, prioritise your writing. Don’t look too far ahead at publication and marketing until you’ve finished your book and edited it to the very best standard you can achieve. Just take one step at a time. I was obsessed with learning about the whole process from the start, but by the time I finished my novel, lots had changed! There’s a constant stream of new advice, so you can afford to wait. 

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

Like most authors, I’m still working on that! My challenge with ‘A Borrowed Past’ was that I published it shortly before the Covid-19 lockdown, and it didn’t feel right to promote it initially. I have four years’ experience of writing nonfiction to draw on (as Julie Cordiner), where I’ve engaged with my readers online by posting interesting content, blogging and offering a newsletter. I’m doing the same with my fiction, but it feels much harder to build a following. 

My approach is to build a readership through common interests, sharing how I approach my research and writing, and recommending other books in the genre - we’re all united through a love of reading. Although I favour content marketing, I am testing out some advertising, but it will be more effective when I have more books in the series.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

The inspiration for writing a novel came from my research for a parish history, which I wrote in 2011 to help raise funds for my church’s restoration. I uncovered some strange stories, such as the wrong body being buried in the churchyard and a well-respected local solicitor ending up in court for an alleged assault. But the one that stands out was when a resident asked for a copy of a photograph I’d used in the book, showing a family at an upper window of his house watching the unveiling of the war memorial. 

He invited me round to see all the house deeds, which were on parchment with wax seals, and we worked out who the family members were. Then he said the landlord of the pub next door wanted to see me. We were taken down to the cellar, where the landlord pointed to a boarded-up space. ‘There’s a tunnel behind there,’ he said, ‘and I believe it runs underneath the cottages behind here.’

He wouldn’t open it for fear of finding dead bodies, but I already knew that soldiers had been sent to Seaton Carew in the 1700s to break up smuggling. This discovery certainly fired my imagination.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The scene where William faces his father on the pier was particularly tricky. There was so much I wanted to convey: their relationship, William’s desperate need to understand why his Papa hated him, and the knowledge that he had to save him from jumping over the edge, for his Mama’s sake. But in that fraught situation, there would only be snatches of dialogue, half carried away by the wind. I therefore needed to find a way of conveying the emotion through narrative, using their actions and drawing on all William’s senses. I hope I managed to achieve that.

What are you planning to write next? 

I’m halfway through the second draft of book two in the series, A Maid’s Dilemma. This is the story of Grace, William’s childhood sweetheart, and what she gets up to while he is away. She’s a maid to Lady Forbes, who is making herself ill through drink. It’s a bit of a problem, since Lord Forbes is a staunch advocate of Temperance and is in denial about the whole thing! Grace decides she has to find out where the alcohol is coming from, despite warnings from her new love that she could put herself in danger. That tunnel just might make an appearance!

Juliette Lawson 

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About the Author

Juliette Lawson lives by the sea at Seaton Carew, part of Hartlepool, in north east England. A classics degree, a passion for local history and many years spent exploring her family tree meant that historical fiction was a natural choice when deciding to write a novel. The inspiration for her Seaton Carew Sagas series came from research undertaken for a parish history to raise funds for her local church. As well as enjoying historical novels, Juliette also reads contemporary fiction, thrillers, cozy mysteries, and books with interesting locations. She sings in the church choir and her local Ladies' Choir, plays violin and piano (badly), knits and sews, and loves spending time with her granddaughters. Find out more at Juliette's website and find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter @juliette_author

21 September 2020

Guest Post: Writing a Novel, by Kate Ferguson ~ Part One: The Writing Process

The first thing to do is take a walk. The road ahead is long and hard and paved with self-doubt. Might as well get some fresh air.    

The overwhelming odds are the world won't take any notice. There's a pandemic to think about. Also ironing, Instagram, climate change and Netflix. 

Accept this as the likeliest outcome and do it anyway. You cannot fall in love with a person while being obsessed with how to sell them. The same applies to your novel.

What you should think about is that kernel in your head. That impulse you feel to write. Where does it come from? Maybe you saw a rat crawling through an upturned trashcan on your way to work. Maybe there's a fully formed alternate universe floating around in your head. Maybe you have always wondered what it would be like to have been born a different person in a different time. Whatever it is, interrogate it. Dig deeper. 

For me, it was Frau P. We met shortly after I moved from Ireland to Germany in 2012 and until her death in 2018, we saw each other once a week. We were seventy years apart but that didn't stop us from being besties. If anything, it strengthened our bond.  

My novel is not about her. But it is informed and inspired by how it made me feel to sit with her in her nursing home room. Chatting about the price of pears. Her upcoming death. Germany's political landscape. The care-workers' private lives. Meandering between the quotidian and the profound.

This was the space I wanted to occupy. But it was not yet a story. 

I began writing my novel in 2016 and most of the time, I was miserable. I was miserable because I was overwhelmed. Because I was overwhelmed, I became masochistic. If I had a day off work, I would tell myself that I must sit in front of my computer as if I were in the office. I would spend eight and a half hours staring at a blank screen. The only word that came to me was failure. 

I have since learned that this is the worst thing you can do. Guilt and shame do not produce powerful writing. Curiosity does. 

Different novels have different driving forces. Mine is character. I needed a plot that would take my protagonist on an emotional journey. Figuring the course out became my preoccupation. I would think about it at night. In the shower. On the train to work.   

The breakthrough came while reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Her theory is that every story is about a character confronting their misbelief. In order to have a misbelief, they must have experienced situations that strengthened their flawed perception of the world. Her tip was to write scenes that did just that. 

This exercise, more than any other writing advice I have ever got, injected life into my story. What are my characters wrong about? How did they come to that conclusion? What can I do to challenge their perception of the world? Some of the scenes I wrote in response to those questions became key moments in my novel. Others are no longer on the page but have added nuance to my characters. 

Writing fiction, more than any other craft I can think of, is an extraordinary balancing act between the conscious and unconscious. First of all, there are the logistics of time and place and character to think about. One of the things I did was print out a calendar of 2016, the year in which much of my novel takes place, and mark the events of the story as if they were real. 

This wasn't strictly necessary. One of the great gifts of fiction is that time can fly. But verisimilitude and plausibility are important. Even if you are writing the most outlandish fantasy story, the reader must be able to trust the world you have created. All of this is the domain of your conscious mind.  

The unconscious, on the other hand, is the repository of ideas and sensations. I ignored mine for too long, focusing instead on my calendar and plot outline. They have their place. But they are no replacement for the stuff that lies deep within you. The things you don't know are there until the words come out. 

Annoyingly, your unconscious cannot be summoned. But I have found that it can be beckoned. A film that moves you to tears. An injustice that fires you up. A good conversation with a close friend. A poignant passage in a book. Certain music. You need to feel something. Anything, almost. 

A year ago, when I was 38,000 words into my novel, promising feedback from someone who knows her stuff gave me a boost when I needed it. She had many nice things to say about my work but it was the way she articulated what was wrong with it that made me giddy with joy. The only way to improve your novel is to be able to define the gap between the actual and the ideal. A person who can do this kindly and with conviction, is a gift. 

Earlier this month, fueled by the solitude enforced by the pandemic, I wrote the final words of my novel. I can barely believe I got there. There were so many times I didn't think I would. 

For the next few weeks, I am giving the manuscript some time to breathe and handing it over to others to read. After that the work will begin again. To write is to sculpt. The marriage of vision and precision. When all that can be has been done, it will be time to offer it to the world. 

Kate Ferguson

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About the Author

Kate Ferguson is an Irish writer and journalist living in Berlin. Her short fiction has appeared in The Wild Word and WWBL, a literary journal focused on women's writing. In 2019, her story "Emil Anonymous" was shortlisted for the New Irish Writing in Germany award. Kate blogs regularly about life in Berlin and her writing journey at Find her on Twitter @katekatharina

19 September 2020

Thanks a Million For Your Support


I'd like to thank all the visitors who have helped The Writing Desk pass the milestone of a million page views. This blog continues to average 15,000 visitors a month, and I'm pleased to see so many return visits to older posts.

As well as my own book reviews, writing features and spotlights, I would like to thank the many hundreds of authors and writers who have generously given their time to write guest posts, and take part in my series of author interviews.

I am also pleased to say my Stories of the Tudors podcast passed a more modest milestone of 50,000 downloads this month, so thanks to all the listeners!

I am busy writing the second book of my Elizabethan series and researching the third, so my book reviews are temporarily on hold, but if you are an author and would like to guest post, or have a book launch coming soon, please fee free to contact me to discuss. All posts are shared with 33,400 followers on Twitter as well as Goodreads, so this blog is a useful way to raise awareness and connect with new readers.

Tony Riches

18 September 2020

Book Launch Spotlight: The Boy King (The Seymour Saga Book 3) by Janet Wertman

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Motherless since birth and newly bereft of his father, King Henry VIII, nine-year-old Edward Tudor ascends to the throne of England and quickly learns that he cannot trust anyone, even himself. 

Edward is at first relieved that his uncle, the new Duke of Somerset, will act on his behalf as Lord Protector, but this consolation evaporates as jealousy spreads through the court. Challengers arise on all sides to wrest control of the child king, and through him, England.

While Edward can bring frustratingly little direction to the Council's policies, he refuses to abandon his one firm conviction: that Catholicism has no place in England. 

When Edward falls ill, this steadfast belief threatens England's best hope for a smooth succession: the transfer of the throne to Edward's very Catholic half-sister, Mary Tudor, whose heart's desire is to return the realm to the way it worshipped in her mother's day.

"Wonderfully told" - Tudors Dynasty

"The conclusion to The Seymour Saga is a sheer delight...Wertman has created a magnificent window into the lives of the Seymour family, and 'The Boy King' is the piece de resistance of the entire series."  - Adventures of a Tudor Nerd

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About the Author

Janet Wertman grew up within walking distance of three bookstores and a library on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – and she visited all of them regularly. Janet spent fifteen years as a corporate lawyer in New York, and co-authored The Executive Compensation Answer Book. After moving to Los Angeles with her family and switching careers, Janet became a highly successful grantwriter for non-profits took up writing fiction. Janet is thrilled to finally be releasing the first book in The Seymour Saga series: Jane the Quene. The second book, The Path to Somerset, chronicles Edward Seymour’s rise after Jane’s death to become Lord Protector of England and Duke of Somerset – taking us right through Henry’s crazy years. Finally, the third book, The Boy King, covers the reign of Jane’s son, Edward VI, and the string of betrayals he suffered. Find our more at Jane’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @JaneTheQuene

16 September 2020

Special Guest Interview with Rebecca Lipkin, Author of Unto This Last, a biographical novel about the life of John Ruskin

New on Amazon UK and from all major booksellers

London, 1858. Passionate, contradictory, and fiercely loyal to his friends, John Ruskin is an eccentric genius, famed across Britain for his writings on art and philosophy. Haunted by a scandalous past and determined never to love again, the 39-year-old Ruskin becomes infatuated with his enigmatic young student, Rose La Touche, an obsession with profound consequences that will change the course of his life and work. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Rebecca Lipkin to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about the book

Unto This Last is a portrait of the complex personal life of John Ruskin, one of the most influential men of the past 200 years, and in particular his controversial relationship with his student, Rose La Touche, a girl twenty-nine years his junior.

Rose La Touche, 1861, by John Ruskin

What inspired you to write the novel?

I have had an interest in Ruskin for many years, having joined the Ruskin Society at the age of seventeen to learn about his life and work. Most accounts of Ruskin’s personal life focus on his brief marriage to Effie Gray, but his twenty-year relationship with Rose La Touche was of huge importance to the evolution of his thinking; it is a captivating and tragic story of two people whose loving friendship transcended boundaries and conventions to the very end.

How did you go about researching the novel?

Fortunately, Ruskin, Rose and many other characters featured in the novel were prolific diarists and letter writers, so I had a wealth of information from which I could piece together the intricacies of their relationship, in addition to the many academic sources about Ruskin's life.

How did you find your narrative voice?

I always felt that the novel should be written in the style of the period in which it is set, and as I have used many extracts from Ruskin and Rose's own letters and poems, among other original sources, it seemed right that the narrative voice was also of its time, albeit somewhat modernised for a contemporary audience. I tried to remain neutral throughout, as I wanted the reader to come to their own conclusions about the characters and their actions.

What is your writing process?

Unto This Last took five years to write, including several drafts. The story was originally written as a screenplay, and this proved an invaluable tool when writing what turned out to be an epic novel, for it provided me with an important framework and some of the dialogue. It was hugely liberating to tell Ruskin and Rose’s turbulent story in much greater depth, for arguably they are far more relatable and fascinating than fictional characters due to their faults, misunderstandings and emotional struggles.

What are you working on next?

Staying within the same genre of historical/biographical fiction - my next novel will be set in the colourful world of the Victorian theatre, with actors and actresses who led more theatrical lives than their characters on stage. There may even be some cameo characters you will recognise from Unto This Last, including Oscar Wilde!

Rebecca Lipkin
“This is an atmospheric and utterly convincing novel...tackling the subject with great empathy in prose that is both detailed and vivid. A considerable achievement.” Michael Crowley, writer and dramatist 

“Deeply researched and charmingly written, it resurrects not only John Ruskin, one of the most influential characters of the Victorian age, but his fascinating pupil Rose La Touche, who is portrayed so sensitively that you feel as though you know her.” Daisy Dunn, author of In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny 

“Rebecca Lipkin’s thoughtful novel about this complicated man – and his often-confusing world – is a pleasure to read and a very welcome addition for all lovers of Pre-Raphaelitism.” Lucinda Hawksley, biographer 

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About the Author

Rebecca Lipkin has worked as a journalist, culture editor and theatre critic, and is now writing as a full-time historical fiction author. She has had a passion for nineteenth century art and literature from a young age, and her writing is inspired by the real-life stories of colourful characters whose narratives form the basis of her novels. Find out more at Rebecca's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @rebecca_lipkin

15 September 2020

Special Guest Post by Susanne Dunlap, Author of The Paris Affair, A Theresa Schurman Mystery

Available  from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Marie Antoinette is facing hostility from the populace, inflamed by rumors circulated in pamphlets throughout Paris. The rumors claim that she has dozens of lovers, drinks the blood of poor people, holds satanic masses at Versailles, and more, when nothing could be further from the truth. On the advice of the handsome, enigmatic Captain von Bauer, Joseph II—emperor of Austria and Marie Antoinette’s brother—decides that mystery-solving violinist Theresa Schurman is the ideal candidate for a spy to discover the source of these vile slanders.

Surprise! Research is important—even when you think you know it all.

When you’re writing a historical novel, the importance of research goes without saying. Quite apart from having to get details of the setting, dress, transportation, diet, and a host of other things right—or as near to right as you can depending on the sources available—it’s really important not to distract from a reader’s enjoyment by introducing unfortunate anachronisms.

Like all historical novelists, I start the process of writing a book by doing research. Sometimes I don’t have to do that much. At least, that’s what I believe if it’s a period that is familiar to me. For instance, The Paris Affair was set during a time period I knew a lot about, having done plenty of research for the previous two books in the series. And although it’s set in Paris rather than Theresa’s Vienna, I had also done a completed amount of research recently for another manuscript that takes place in Paris between the years of 1774 and 1794. Not to mention that I have a PhD in music history from Yale, and my period of expertise is the mid-eighteenth century.

Theresa’s story unfolds over about a month in 1783. Piece of cake, I thought, and happily began my light digging to explore more about the musical world in Paris at the time—since I was pretty confident about almost everything else that was going on.

Famous last words. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize my in-depth knowledge of music history didn’t include everything I needed to know. It especially didn’t include the man who was possibly the most famous figure in that world for a variety of reasons. I knew all about the Gluckistes and the Piccinistes at the Opéra. I knew about the queen’s chamber music. I knew about the Concert Spirituel, and had certainly heard of Gossec if not been well-versed in his history.

But I didn’t know about Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. 

Not only was he the best fencer and violinist in Paris, but he also happened to be mixed race. His father, George, was a White Creole plantation owner in Guadeloupe, and his mother, Nanon, was a Black Creole enslaved maid to George’s wife.

It gets more and more interesting. The laws at the time made Joseph free when he was born, but his father went further and freed Nanon at some point. He also lavished great care and attention on Joseph, sending him to France to be educated when he was just eight years old. Joseph attended a famous academy where he learned to fence. And thanks to his father giving him an annuity of 6,000-8,000 Livres per year and an endowment of 100,000, Joseph was a rich young man, welcomed in society, quite the ladies’ man, and swiftly climbing the ranks in the Paris music world.

It didn’t last. When George died in 1774, his entire estate when to his lawful wife. She gave the 100,000 that had been Joseph’s to furnish her daughter Ernestine’s dowry. Ever resourceful and well liked, Joseph landed on his feet, adding the post of music director in the private theater of Madame de Montesson to his existing role as music director of the Concert des Amateurs—and being named Lieutenant of the Hunt by the duc d’Orléans for his country estate at Raincy.

I could go on and on about this fascinating man. But the important thing about all this is that discovering him changed the trajectory of the novel I thought I was going to write. Of course Theresa—a young violinist—would meet and be enthralled with such a person while she was in Paris trying to solve another mystery. It was a short step from there to having Joseph embroiled in the mystery as well.

The lesson learned: No matter what you think you know, take a second look. So many riches (pun intended, LOL!) are buried in the annals of history. We, as historical novelists, have the opportunity—and the pleasure—of bringing them to light in a way that makes them live once again.

Susanne Dunlap 

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About the Author

Susanne Dunlap is the author of ten historical novels for adults and teens. Her young adult novel The Musician’s Daughter was a Junior Library Guild selection and a Bank Street Children’s Book of the Year, and it was nominated for the Missouri Gateway Readers Prize and the Utah Book Award. Her latest adult novels, Listen to the Wind and The Spirit of Fire are the first volumes of a medieval trilogy for adults, The Orphans of Tolosa. Listen to the Wind is a finalist for the Chaucer Awards for Pre-1750 Historical Fiction and a Distinguished Favorite in the NYC Big Book Awards. Susanne also published The Mozart Conspiracy, the second in the YA historical mystery series that began with The Musician’s Daughter, in 2019. Susanne has a PhD in music history from Yale University. Find out more at Susanne's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Susanne_Dunlap

13 September 2020

Music as Inspiration for #Writing

I sometimes need complete silence, particularly when dealing with a complex scene, but usually like to have music playing in the background when I'm writing or revising.

I hadn't thought about how the music influenced the tone of my writing until I upgraded to the new MacBook Pro 16 inch laptop, which has excellent immersive surround sound from a new six speaker system.

During the writing of Henry - Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy, about the life of King Henry VII, I often listened to Sam East playing the Game of Thrones theme, starring Hadrian's Wall in the snow and Henry VII's Tudor marital bed - what more could you ask for?

When I wrote Mary - Tudor Princess, about the life of Henry VIII's youngest sister, I often played Pastime With Good Company (which is thought to have been written by King Henry), to evoke the spirit of the Tudor Court, and included the lyrics in the book:

I discovered The Petersens while working on my current work in progress, the second book in my new Elizabethan series, and realised the words of a particular song, Finally Going Home, perfectly described the demeanour of my main character:

The music of The Petersens has become the 'soundtrack' of my book, and Katie Petersen, who wrote Finally Going Home, has kindly agreed I can add a verse as an epilogue. I find it intriguing to realise the sentiments of lyrics written in present day Missouri chime so perfectly with events in Elizabethan England over four hundred years ago.

Tony Riches

11 September 2020

The International Dublin Writers' Festival

The International Dublin Writers' Festival 
has Gone Virtual! 
September 11th - 13th, 2020

Since 2015 the International Dublin Writers' Festival has welcomed writers to learn, network and improve their craft providing opportunities for writers to learn from industry professionals.

This event is an opportunity for all writers, everywhere, to connect with the literary culture of Dublin and to learn from experts and peers. All writers, both aspiring and experienced, are all welcome.

Featured speakers include UK leading literary agent Kate Nash, author Niamh Campbell, US industry expert Peter Miller, publisher Ivan O’Brien, and screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff.

The speakers are renowned, highly-experienced, published authors, and world-class experts in writing craft, publishing and marketing. This conference provides practical support, valuable training and an opportunity to get to know fellow writers and industry professionals through our online communities.

The conference sessions are separated into five streams, as follows:

  • What It Takes To Win As A Writer Now
  • Get Ready for Success
  • The Writers’ Journey
  • Preparing for our Readers
  • Finding Readers & Reviewers
There is also be a private online community for each of the streams, allowing attendees to comment, ask questions, and communicate with other attendees and the speakers online.

Join online from the comfort of your own digital device, and learn how to pitch your story to a literary agent and get published.

3 September 2020

Book Launch Spotlight: Wolf Hall Companion, by Lauren Mackay

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

An accessible and authoritative companion to the bestselling Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel, published after the third and final book, The Mirror and the Light.

Wolf Hall Companion gives an historian's view of what we know about Thomas Cromwell, one of the most powerful men of the Tudor age and the central character in Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy.

Covering the key court and political characters from the books, this companion guide also works as a concise Tudor history primer. Alongside Thomas Cromwell, the author explores characters including Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cranmer, Jane Seymour, Henry VIII, Thomas Howard, Cardinal Wolsey and Richard Fox. 

The important places in the court of Henry VIII are introduced and put into context, including Hampton Court, the Tower of London, Cromwell's home Austin Friars, and of course Wolf Hall. The author explores not only the real history of these people and places, but also Hilary Mantel's interpretation of them.

Included in the book are also incisive features on various aspects of Tudor life, from the court scene and the structure of government, to royal hunting and hawking, Renaissance influences and Tudor executions.

A beautiful and insightful book, Wolf Hall Companion will enrich the reading of the Mantel novels but also provides an incisive and concise understanding of the reign of Henry VIII, and the profound changes it brought to English life.

Illustrated throughout with woodcut portraits, maps and family trees and with a beautifully produced cover this companion guide is a must-have for any discerning Wolf Hall and Tudor fan.

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About the Author

Dr Lauren Mackay is an historian whose focus of study goes beyond familiar historical figures and events to lesser known individuals, as well as beliefs, customs, and diplomacy of the 16th Century. Her debut book, Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador, was the first and only biography of the so-called Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, the most integral chronicler of the Tudor Court. She has written several articles for All About History Magazine and BBC History, and frequently contributes to their online content. Find out more at Lauren's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Regina_Saba 

2 September 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: His Castilian Hawk (The Castilian Saga Book 1) by Anna Belfrage

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

From Anna Belfrage comes a new release – a story of love and loyalty set against the backdrop of Edward I’s harsh conquest of Wales,
set in a medieval world brought vividly to life. 
Publication date is September 28, 2020, 

For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.  Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.

Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.

Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.

Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.

Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?

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About the Author 

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
More recently, Anna has published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. While she loved stepping out of her comfort zone (and will likely do so again )  For more information visit Anna's website http://www.annabelfrage.comYou can also visit her blog and follow Anna on Twitter @abelfrageauthor.

1 September 2020

Special Guest Interview with Author Suzy Henderson, Author of Spitfire

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

May 1940. The French and British armies are in retreat as Hitler's blitzkrieg storms through France. Finally, they are beaten back to the coast at Dunkirk, with nowhere left to flee. Churchill is determined to rescue as many men as possible, for without her army, Britain is sunk. A plan is hatched to evacuate the men from the beaches by sea, but it will take the combined strength of all the forces to ensure its success.

I'm pleased to welcome author Suzy Henderson to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest published book, Spitfire, is a short story featuring a character who is to be the main protagonist in my next WW2 novel. I have no idea where the story came from, but it was a lightning bolt moment as it paved the way forward to the new series. It features Sam, a fighter pilot caught up in the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940 The French and British armies are in retreat as Hitler’s blitzkrieg storms through France. He flies multiple sorties day after day, hunting the Luftwaffe, enduring battle fatigue, and the loss of friends.

What is your preferred writing routine?

A great question. My preferred routine is to rise early morning and begin writing or editing over breakfast and beyond, at least until lunchtime. I do manage this sometimes, but alas my other work beckons and it’s impossible to maintain a rigid writing schedule right now. Generally, I find pockets of time where I can write or do some revisions even if it’s while cooking dinner! It’s flexible and it works for me.

I aim to write a minimum of 2000 words per day when writing a new book. As long as I have a complete draft, no matter how rough, then I can work with it and revise until I’m satisfied. When I first started out, I was definitely a panster, but that didn’t last. I’m a fan of plotting and of writing a synopsis as I find it helps in the long run. The framework keeps me on track.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Go for it. If it’s in your blood and your bones, then you’ll know because you won’t be able to resist. You might think you are the worst writer in history, ever! Know this—you will be in good company. You will get better, and if you are brilliant, then perhaps you will shine brighter than everyone in time. Tread the rocky road. Some days are great, some days are okay while others are dire—again, that’s a writer’s life and it’s okay. 

I think discipline is key. Make time in your routine to write most days if possible, and get used to showing up. For me, that often means having to make sacrifices in order to write. And join writing communities or tune in on Facebook. Twitter has a wonderful community—search #writingcommunity. Try to get some feedback on your writing too, especially before sending off to agents or publishers. It’s so helpful and helps you to revise your work so it’s the best you can possibly make it before you begin pitching your book.

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

I’m not so sure that I have. As an indie author, it’s tough going at the best of times, but in all honesty, I have found promoting on Twitter to be the best option. It keeps people in the know, provides some exposure for my work and aids sales. I tried NetGalley earlier this year and received a decent amount of reviews from readers and I think Instagram is a growing, viable platform for authors.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

One of the most gruesome was when I read that the guillotine was still being used in WW2. The Germans used it for some executions. I remember including this in a scene in a screenplay for a creative writing course years ago, and my tutor exclaiming that surely the guillotine was extinct by then. Sadly not. According to official records, the Nazis executed some 16,500 people while they were in power between 1933 and 1945. Many of them were resistance fighters.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

That was a love scene in my debut novel, The Beauty Shop. I hated writing that, and it made me cringe! Still, I did it the best I could after many revisions, and I think it turned out okay. Definitely not one of my strong points.

What are you planning to write next?

Well, as I mentioned above, I have a new WW2 series in the planning stage, but right now I am in the midst of edits/revisions on a women’s fiction novel, set in the present day. It revolves around the central character, Grace, a widow, and survivor of emotional abuse, who is learning to start again and build a new life for herself on the Isle of Mull. Typically, there’s a wee hint of WW2 in there when she uncovers some interesting information about her recently deceased grandmother. What can I say? The idea offered itself on a plate and I couldn’t resist.

Suzy Henderson
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About the Author

Suzy Henderson lives with her husband and two sons in England, on the edge of the Lake District. Although she never set out to be a writer, she has always loved reading and experiencing the joy of escaping to another time and place.  While researching her family history, Suzy became fascinated with both World War periods and developed an obsession with military and aviation history partly due to her grandparents' war service. After obtaining her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she began to write until one day she had a novel. In a previous life she was a Midwife but now she runs a small business from home which fits in perfectly with being a novelist. Other interests include music, old movies, and photography—especially if WW2 aircraft are on the radar.  Suzy writes contemporary and historical fiction and is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Find out more at Suzy's website
and find her on Facebook and Twitter  @Suzy_Henderson