Mastodon The Writing Desk: November 2020

30 November 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Lady Sophia: a novella (Georgian Tales Book 1) by Pamela Stephen

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The story begins in Venice in 1720 when a young woman, Sophia Pocock, travelling with her chaperone, Aunt Matilda, decides to escape from the confines of their rented palazzo on the Grand Canal on the day of the Festival di Sensa. 

Free for once, from the careful guardianship of her aunt, she makes two fateful decisions that will set her on a dangerous course, experimenting with the boundaries of acceptable genteel behaviour.

Henry Jenkins, meanwhile, is on the loose, in pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle. He is in the city as part of his Grand Tour after his latest misdemeanour at home. He is also in the crowd at the festival that day, accompanied by his friend James Connaught, as the pair ready themselves for the dubious delights of an evening in the company of the infamous Count Albanolo.

When the worlds of the three young people collide, their encounter will have repercussions that will follow them home and reverberate for years to come.

The novella is the first in a series of three, chronicling the lives and romantic relationships of a group of fictional characters who live in 18th century West London. It introduces us to the young lives of a number of the characters who feature in ‘Artists and Spies’ thirty years later.

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About the Author

Pamela Stephen is the author of ‘Artists and Spies’, a novel about Charlotte Le Juge, stepdaughter of the celebrated 18th century artist Hyacinthe Rigaud. She was born in Berkshire, in the United Kingdom, but has spent most of her life in the East of England. Pamela Stephen lives in Lincolnshire with her husband.  She retired from teaching after more than thirty years in schools and colleges.  Her interests include Art History and Architecture. You can find out more at Pamela's blog and follow her on Twitter @PamStephen13

20 November 2020

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Shadows of Versailles: A gripping tale of seduction, loss, and revenge, by Cathie Dunn

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Seduced at Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.

Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV at Versailles for the first time. Dazzled by the opulence, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. When she believes his words of love, she gives in to his seduction – with devastating consequences.

Nine months later, when the boy she has given birth to is whisked from her grasp, she flees the convent and finds shelter at the brothel of Madame Claudette.

Jacques de Montagnac, a spy working for the Lieutenant General, investigates a spate of abducted children from the poorer quartiers of Paris when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.

Her son’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. With the help of her new acquaintance, the Duchess de Bouillon, Fleur visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.

La Voisin dabbles in poisons.

Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?

Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real series of events that stunned the court of the Sun King!

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About the Author

Cathie  Dunn has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites. Cathie's stories have garnered readers' awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past. is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors. After many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in south-west France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog. Discover more at Cathie's website 

19 November 2020

Stories of the Tudors podcast: Queen Elizabeth I Part Two

This podcast is the second of a series of three looking at the life of Queen Elizabeth the first, and I’m exploring the myths and rumours surrounding the life of Queen Elizabeth, England’s ‘Gloriana’ – the virgin queen who reigned England and Ireland for 44 years.

The third podcast in this series and the third will look behind the familiar façade, to see what Elizabeth was really like.
My book, Drake - Tudor Corsair is available from Amazon in paperback and eBook
More information about all my books can be found on my website at
The Introductory music is La Volta,  composed by David Hirschfelder

Listen on PodBean  or find Stories of the Tudors 
on Amazon, Spotify or iTunes

17 November 2020

New Historical Fiction Anthology: Betrayal

Together with eleven other award-winning novelists, collectively known as the Historical Fictioneers, I'm pleased to announce the launch of Betrayal.

About Betrayal

Read twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges from post Roman Britain to the present day.

“I read this anthology from start to finish in a matter of days.... Each story is gripping.”– Discovering Diamonds Reviews

Perfect for historical fiction readers, Betrayal spans eras from post-Roman Britain to the present day, bringing to life both legendary moments of deceit as well as imagined episodes of treachery. 

Besides an extract from my new book, Drake - Tudor Corsair, there are  stories by Judith Arnopp, Anna Belfrage, Cryssa Basos, Derek Birks, Helen Hollick, Amy Maroney, Alison Morton, Charlene Newcomb, Mercedes Rochelle, Elizabeth St John, and Annie Whitehead. 

And the best part . . . 

We'll be offering this anthology for free as a thank you to our readers, and to bring people entertainment during these difficult times. This is a great opportunity to get a taste for new authors and new periods of history. 

If you would like to keep up with the Historical Fictioneers, follow us on Twitter @HistFictioneers

16 November 2020

Special Guest Post by Tim Darcy Ellis, Author of The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1522, The Spanish Netherlands, Juan Luis Vives, a renowned academic, has fled Spain to avoid the fires of the Inquisition, yet even here he is not safe. When England's Sir Thomas More offers him the role of tutor to Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, he eagerly accepts. While publicly navigating life as a 'New Christian,' Vives is quickly drawn into the secretive and dangerous world of London's Jewish community. With a foot in each world, 
he is torn between the love of two women

When I first stumbled across the name Juan Luis Vives - quite by accident - I was just blown over. I started looking for the novel, or the film, but I couldn't find it. So I had a reason to write and a sudden sense of purpose; this man's incredible story just had to be brought into the light.

Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540) is one of those forgotten players of the Tudor narrative: a footnote to the story of Thomas More, a sometime friend of Catherine of Aragon, a tutor to Princess Mary (from 1523 to 1526). He was a foreigner, perhaps a Jew, who was considered 'subversive' by Cardinal Wolsey and during the second half of the sixteenth century, his writings were banned by the Jesuits, the theologians, the Pope and the Inquisitor General. 

If you scratch beneath the surface, though, you'll find a remarkable man. He led an extraordinary life, and he contributed significantly to European social history. His books were translated into most European languages - and Arabic, some were reprinted over a hundred times (in Protestant lands) before the end of the sixteenth century.

Vives was a humanist philosopher who was the first European to write about the education of women. He considered that the education of a woman was just as important as the education of a man. He firmly believed that women's roles were not limited to producing heirs or as acting as pawns in dynastic power struggles. 

He championed the rights of the poor and the uneducated, he also advocated for a national health service, funded by the state, not the church, and for a league of nations. Vives even wrote about the rights of animals. He was a pacifist, and he was unafraid to challenge Henry VIII, The Pope, The Holy Roman Emperor and the Spanish Archbishops and Inquisitors.

Vives was born to a family of Spanish Jews in Valencia in 1492. That was, of course, the year of the decree of Alhambra, that expelled the Jews from Spain. Although his parents made a public conversion to Catholicism in 1491, within the next thirty years, the Inquisition had destroyed them and most of his extended family. 

Juan Luis Vives left Spain at the age of sixteen (for the Sorbonne) and never returned. He became closely acquainted with Erasmus and Thomas More, and settled amongst a community of Spanish Jews in Bruges, who were then living as 'New Christians'. He made several visits to the English court in the 1520s, and was a lecturer at the newly finished Corpus Christ in Oxford. Once in England, he became closely entangled in the royal divorce between Catherine and Henry.

I set the scene of the book by giving an introduction to the characters that feature; only four of whom were fictional. I deliberately chose the first-person voice because I felt that Vives negotiated life with a forever bitten tongue. I wanted to give him his human voice back, and for the reader to experience his emotions. As a Spanish Jew living in self-imposed exile, Vives wrote cryptically; some have called it 'abstruse,' and I had to dig deep to find the real man. 

Vives avoided reference to the terrible events of the early 1500s, and few of his personal letters have survived, so I had to read between the lines of his life story. I studied everything I could find about Vives and the academic commentaries about him. Key to my understanding of the man was Foster Watson's seminal work from 1908, 'Tudor School Boy Life - the dialogues of Juan Luis Vives.' I also wanted to learn everything that I could about his personal life and the experiences of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the sixteenth century.

As a former Museum of London Archaeologist, I was intimately acquainted with the areas of London that are mentioned in my book, that experience helped me to bring those scenes to life in a sensory, three dimensional way. I wanted to write about the fringes of the old city: areas like Houndsditch, just outside the city walls, where my family, the Elishas (who sneakily creep into the novel) lived, and where immigrants tended to settle.

In terms of my writing processes, my feeling is that, with historical fiction, you simply have to go there. Writing in the first person, I needed to be brave enough to become the character, if only for an hour or two, each day. It was like being a character actor. I had to allow myself to freefall until I felt that Vives was writing through me. I don't honestly know if I am doing him justice or not, but, by consistently going there, as best I could, I was able to write authentically, and I could keep his voice consistent. 

That could be draining at times, when, for example, as a lecturer at Oxford, he discovers the gruesome fate of his father in Spain. Vives felt that connection with the soul was vital, and that clarity of speech was essential. So I had to channel all of that, it was rather like being a character actor, and was a marvellous escape from the real world.

I also felt that, despite the darkness of the Inquisition, that I still had to have fun in this novel, the Tudors were not all a glum lot. Tudor era novels can seem dark, speeding towards the inevitable the grisly fate of the main characters. I tried to get around that with banter, practical jokes, and, in the comfort of my own home, by whiteboarding relationships. Vives often says, 'what you can laugh at, you can rise above.' 

He has a daring exchange with the Henry VIII - admitting to the king that he wanted to psychoanalyse him. In real life, he warned Henry against his arrogance. Thomas More bows to Vives's intellect, but he is committed to staying one step ahead of him. Although More is becoming increasingly insecure during the period of the novel, the witty banter between the two of keeps things fresh and real.

There is a beautiful bond between Margaret Roper (the daughter of Thomas More) and Vives: one that can't ever be thoroughly enjoyed or explored. They were both married, and they understood commitment and fidelity. Still, they couldn't deny their feelings for one another. A writer has to take a stance on Anne Boleyn. Anne was so amazing, and as soon as she loses her head, as far as I am concerned, the Tudor narrative loses its pazazz, its greatest asset. I love Anne, and I was working against my admiration of, and sympathies towards her in my book. Vives, who in my novel first meets Anne in Paris (historically plausible), acknowledges her wit and intelligence, and they consider working together, but soon discover that they can't. He has tremendous loyalty to the beleaguered Catherine of Aragon.

In reality, Vives changed the stuffy pedagogy of the English universities; he encouraged the broader education of women; he also set the framework for secular care of the poor and the sick. Many of his ideas were put into action throughout protestant Europe in the later sixteenth century and beyond. Many European institutions are named after him, yet, he still fell between the cracks. 

That's probably because he didn't fit into any of the camps - not Spanish enough to be an honourable Spaniard. He also wasn't Jewish enough - living life with the outward appearance of a New Christian - but surrounding himself with other Spaniards of Jewish origin to be taken up as a Jewish hero. He certainly wasn't English enough to be considered English, and he ended up falling foul of the king in house arrest.

By giving Vives a voice in The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives, I hope that my novel brings the epoch-making adventures of this incredible man back to life. 

Tim Darcy Ellis

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About the Author

Tim Darcy Ellis (BA BSc, MHSc) is a writer, physiotherapy business owner and formerly a professional archaeologist. Tim studied Archaeology at the University of York (BA Hons 1988) and as a professional archaeologist, worked on sites throughout England and Wales. He held posts at the Museum of London and the British Museum's medieval galleries. Tim is currently Managing Director and Principal Physiotherapist of Excel Physiotherapy and Wellness. He qualified as a physiotherapist at the University of East London in 1998. He moved to Sydney in 2000 where he completed his master's degree in 2002. Tim is chief writer of Excel Life magazine: writing and teaching extensively on health and wellness and specializing in the treatment of complex hip and pelvic pain. Find out more at Tim's website and follow him on Twitter @darcy_author

11 November 2020

Special Guest Post by Nicola Cornick, Author of The Forgotten Sister

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape – one with devastating consequences that will echo 
through the centuries…

Writing and Researching The Forgotten Sister

Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, the childhood friend and favourite courtier of Elizabeth I, is largely famous for the way in which she died. When she fell down the stairs at Cumnor Hall in Oxfordshire on 8th September 1560, a scandal erupted over whether she had tripped, taken her own life or been murdered. Dudley, intent on clearing his name of all suspicion, might have initially thought that his wife’s death opened a path by which he might marry the Queen. However, the taint of Amy’s death was to prove fatal to his matrimonial ambitions even if Elizabeth had been prepared to accept him.

It was the mystery of Amy’s death that first caught my interest. Having read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey at a young age, I’m fascinated by historical puzzles. The gaps in the historical record gives a novelist space for their imagination to roam. Once I started to research Amy, however, it was her life that became the focus of my book rather than her death. I wanted to find out more about Amy herself, a woman who is so often eclipsed by her husband and by the dazzling Queen Elizabeth I.

This was the basis for The Forgotten Sister, my dual time novel set in the present and in the years between 1550 and 1560. I wanted the present-day story to be a mirror of the historical one but not a precise parallel; the two timelines begin in different places but come together at the end.

Searching for evidence of Amy Robsart’s life is difficult. She is elusive. A couple of her letters are extant, from which we can deduce that she was literate and wrote a good hand, and that she was involved in the wool trade associated with the Norfolk estates she had inherited from her parents. Some mention is made in Robert Dudley’s household accounts of her expenditure on clothes. Perhaps it is as a result of this that some authors of non-fiction as well as fiction have portrayed her as being a fashionista with no other interests. A lack of evidence of her other activities can lead to a disproportionate amount of emphasis being placed on the things that we do know about.

As well as drawing on a couple of excellent books on Amy’s life, Death and the Virgin by Chris Skidmore and Amy Robsart A Life and its End by Christine Hartweg, I also read some of the earlier books about her, such as “An Enquiry into the particulars connected with the death of Amy Robsart” which was written in 1859. These were of special interest to me because as a public historian, I am as interested in the myths and legends that grow to surround a historical event or character as I am in the facts. Many Victorian writers were strongly influenced by the writing of Sir Walter Scott, who had written about Amy in his novel Kenilworth. They were not sympathetic to Robert Dudley.

One of the ways in which I found I could broaden my understanding of Amy and her background was to visit the places where she had lived. She was born in Stansfield in Norfolk which during her teenage years was in the throes of Kett’s Rebellion. With relatives on both sides of the dispute, Amy would have had an emotional understanding of the effects of political discord. East Anglia in that period was considered a wild and lawless place which was one of the reasons why Robert Dudley’s father, the Lord Protector, was keen to shore up alliances with prominent gentry such as the Robsart family.

Amy went from this relatively sequestered life to London and the royal court on her marriage to Robert. For a while she was at the pinnacle of society but it all came crashing down with the Duke of Northumberland’s failed attempt to place Jane Grey on the throne in 1553. Such extremes of fortune are always fascinating to explore and of course there was the very real prospect of Robert’s execution at this point. Amy was permitted to visit him during his incarceration in the Tower of London – what must such spousal visits have been like, one wonders.

After Robert’s release from the Tower of London, his and Amy’s stories diverge. Again I had to trace her in the places where she lived apart from him – at Throcking in Hertfordshire and then, finally at Cumnor Place in Oxfordshire, where she died. They are quiet places that must have been both isolated and isolating in the 16th century, a stark contrast to London and the court.

I visited Cumnor on a miserably grey and wet day which seemed all too appropriate. The manor house where Amy fell to her death was demolished at the start of the 19th century but a few walls remain in lonely isolation beside the churchyard. In the church is the life-size statue of Elizabeth I, said to have been commissioned by Robert Dudley in tribute to the Queen, which seems somewhat tactless in the place his first wife died. Amy’s tomb in the University Church of St Mary in Oxford has similarly been lost. All that is visible is a small plaque referring to the fact that she was buried close by.

Amy Robsart remains an elusive figure and one who’s life I would very much like to explore further. Again, as a public historian I am interested in the historical figures whose stories have not been told, including women from the footnotes of history. In some ways Amy Robsart’s afterlife has been much more significant than the mere 28 years that she lived for. Her death and the impact that it had on Robert Dudley’s life has ensured a sort of immortality for her but it is important to see her a woman in her own right and try to tease out the real person behind the myths.

Nicola Cornick

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About the Author

Nicola Cornick grew up in Yorkshire and studied History at the University of London and at Ruskin College Oxford where she was awarded a Distinction for her Maters dissertation on heroes and hero myths. She worked in academia for a number of years before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of acclaimed dual-time mysteries as well as of award-winning historical romance. When she isn’t writing, Nicola volunteers as a guide and researcher for the National Trust at the 17th century hunting lodge Ashdown House. She has given talks and chaired panels for a number of festivals and conferences including the London Book Fair, the Historical Novel Society and the Sharjah Festival of Literature.  Nicola also gives talks on public and local history topics to WIs, history societies and other interested groups. She is a former Chair of the Romantic Novelists Association and is the current RNA archivist, and a trustee of the Friends of Lydiard Park. In her spare time Nicola is a puppy walker for the Guide Dogs charity. Find out more at Nicola's website and follow her on Twitter @NicolaCornick

10 November 2020

Special Guest Interview with J. A. Boulet, Author of The Strong Within Us (The Olason Chronicles Book 2)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nathan Olason picks up the pieces of his life in 1893 and becomes a devoted father and grandfather. Except something from his past is holding him back.

I'm pleased to welcome author J. A. Boulet to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

My latest book, The Strong Within Us, was an emotional journey for me, like nothing else that I have ever experienced. It is the sequel to The Strong Amongst Us (The Olason Chronicles Bk1), during which the Icelandic explorers landed in the developing nation of Canada in 1875. Book Two picks up the story in 1893 and stretches all the way to WWI, following Nathan Olason throughout his life with his grandson Mike. 

As the nation is gripped with the uncertainty of war, Mike makes the gut-wrenching decision to enlist with the infantry, travelling to the gruesome muddy battlefields of Vimy Ridge. Nathan fears the worst and is plunged into a personal hell of grief, fear and letting go. My book, The Strong Within Us is a powerful story of bravery, war, family bonds, love and fighting your way through the past.

I loved writing this book. My characters are fictional but somehow breathe life into the pages, jumping out and pulling you into their lives with a force that is to be reckoned with. I hope my book makes you cry, laugh and see the world with hope again. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I write normally in the evening and well into the night, sometimes only stopping to take a sip of water at 1 am. But I can only edit during the day, lol. Brains are funny!

What advice do you have for new writers? 

Never give up, EVER.

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

Interesting question. I don’t think any individual action is the best way. Social media is key, in-person signings are important, talking to readers is a wonderful way to form connections, although, I think everything together forms the best awareness. Similar to putting all your retirement funds in one basket, in order to raise awareness of your books you need to utilize as many different platforms as possible and gain returns from worldwide exposure, not just one basket.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

The target practice during WWI! I found it intriguing and unusual that these soldiers were in the “butts” as they called the dugout where the soldiers hand operated the pulleys to raise the targets up and down. When I asked Roy Boehli, from the King’s Own Calgary Regiment Museum, to describe exactly what the “butts” were, he instead sent me this picture.


What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Definitely the Vimy Ridge battle scene. It was technically difficult because I have never experienced war myself so I had to immerse myself in research for weeks before I even wrote one word. Then I had to go over it, edit and polish it up several times before I felt it was perfect.

What are you planning to write next? 

Book Three of The Olason Chronicles. I started it last week but had to put the brakes on in order to research and get the dates right. The outline is still in draft version and evolving as we speak, lol

J. A. Boulet

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About the Author

J. A. Boulet is the passionate author of The Olason Chronicles, a historical saga of war, courage, love and strength.  J. A. Boulet was born and raised in Western Canada as a first generation Canadian from European descent. Her father was enlisted with the Hungarian military and fought bravely during the Hungarian Revolution, changing sides to stand up for what he believed in. He was granted asylum in Canada and built his family here.  J. A. Boulet was born many years later, raised with strong morals and values, which she stands behind to this day. She started writing poetry at the age of five and progressed to short stories and novels. She has a keen interest in settlers, healing, family bonds and military history. She currently lives in Canada with her two teenaged sons and a crested gecko named Mossio. Find out more at her website and follow her on Twitter @love_walk_life