13 April 2021

Stories of the Tudors Podcast Series

Welcome to the new player for my series of short podcasts about the stories of the Tudors.

My name is Tony Riches. I’m a historical fiction author and specialist in the early Tudors. These podcasts are about the stories I uncovered during my research.  Find out more at my website www.tonyriches.com.

12 April 2021

New Historical Fiction Spotlight: Murder at Beaulieu Abbey, An Abbess of Meaux mystery by Cassandra Clark

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Death and danger await intrepid nun Hildegard of Meaux when she undertakes a secret mission for the good of her Order, in this eleventh action-packed installment of the medieval mystery series.

February, 1390. Hildegard is given a special assignment by the Prioress of Swyne to escort a young heiress from Beaulieu Abbey to the northern stronghold of Sir William atte Wood. What could be more pleasant than to join a betrothal party, especially as she will be accompanied on the long journey to the New Forest by the two monks militant, Gregory and Egbert.

But there is a more urgent and secret purpose for her mission.

The Western Church is in Schism, with two popes battling for power. The Cistercians are split between the pope in Rome - supported by King Richard - and the pope in Avignon, an ally of the king's French enemies. Which pope will Beaulieu decide to follow? England's future depends on it, and who better than Hildegard to discover Beaulieu's allegiance? But to question such powerful forces brings only death and danger - and even her two militant monks may not be enough to save her.

This action-packed, page-turning medieval mystery is a great choice for fans of holy sleuths like Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma and Paul Doherty's Brother Athelstan.

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About the Author

Cassandra Clark has an M.A. from the University of East Anglia and taught for the Open University on the Humanities Foundation course in subjects as diverse as history, philosophy, music and religion. Since then she has written many plays and contemporary romances as well as the libretti for several chamber operas.  Find out about Cassandra's other books on her website at www.cassandraclark.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @nunsleuth

11 April 2021

Special Guest Post by Alistair Forrest, Author of Line in the Sand: The Story of David and Goliath

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1000 BC. His mother is reviled as a whore and his half-brothers despise him. The best Dhavit of Beth Lechem can do is escape. But just as life couldn’t get much lower for the youth they call Leper, he is recruited as a spy. His mission – to find out about the superior weapons and invasion plans of the warlike Philistines. When he is betrayed, Dhavit is thrown into an arena with two other misfortunates to fight a pair seemingly invincible warriors. Only speed and quick wits can save him. Dhavit believes he is chosen by the gods and finds himself revered in the Philistine court, whose rulers want to declare war on his people. At the head of the Philistine forces is the famed Golyat, a man bred for war and destruction. A vicious conflict for supremacy is sure to follow.

Capturing a Sense of Place, Part Two: David & Goliath

Alistair Forrest draws on an upbringing in the Middle East and a love of ancient history to explore fact and fiction surrounding a famous Bible story.

David and Goliath by Caravaggio

I’m an author of fiction, not a historian. So I don’t worry too much that some boffins and maybe religious folk might find my account of the David & Goliath story, Line in the Sand, a little annoying.

Instead, I hope lovers of historical fiction will accept that I have filled in some gaps that the ancient scribes left in their telling. This is how it might have been before the religious scribes got their hands on the tale.

I count myself lucky to have spent my childhood and early teens in three Middle Eastern countries and subsequently to have travelled widely as a journalist, always delving into the history that made each place what it is today. I’ve always had a burning passion to write historical fiction, in this instance fuelled by two years studying theology straddled by my early years as a newspaper reporter.

We know there are inconsistencies and contradictions across the several Biblical books that report the story of King David, leaving many questions unanswered. So, following my journalist’s mantra, ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story’, I have drawn on my studies of the ancient Near East and Old Testament history – let’s call these ‘the facts’ – and unleashed my imagination and love of ‘a good yarn’.

In reality, there are very few facts. The only archaeological reference to King David would appear to be a reference to the House of David on a ninth century stela found at Tel Dan in northern Israel in 1993. Most of the Biblical texts were written down long after the events surrounding David’s rise to power, with the two books of Samuel the earliest account.

Fair game, then? I decided that this bullied young shepherd should become a spy, find himself betrayed in the Philistine city where giants lived, be tortured and face branding as a slave, fight a giant called Golyat (Goliath) in a gladiatorial arena, rescue a Philistine princess and ultimately escape to warn the Israelites of pending doom.

You might think you know what happens next. Dream on. I have tried to anchor the story in certain Biblical facts, such as the tensions between the agricultural kingdom of Judah and the five Philistine city states, and the settling of scores in single combat (and who wouldn’t nominate a nine-foot warrior as champion?).

Which brings us to Goliath, or more accurately, ‘Golyat’.

At the outset of writing Line in the Sand, I listened to a very convincing lecture by Professor Jeffrey R. Zorn of Cornell University, entitled Who Was Goliath? in which he suggests that the Philistine giant was an elite chariot warrior. Most modern depictions of Goliath are as a very large foot-soldier, but Zorn points out his armour and weapons as detailed in 1 Samuel 17: 4-7 would indicate an Aegean/Levantine chariot warrior who was probably transported to the ideal position in a battle to wreak the most havoc.

While researching for the book, I was in touch with Professor Aren Maier, director of the Tel es-Safi excavations that have uncovered so much about ancient Gath, whence the giant came, including an inscription thought to include his name or at least something similar.

Excavating Goliath’s Gath

I am also indebted to the British Egyptologist and author David Rohl, not least for succinct explanations of his New Chronology theories, specifically his interpretation of the Amarna letters and probable references to King Saul.

Books that have helped me include the Bible of course, The King David Report by Stefan Heym; The Source by James A. Michener; David’s Secret Demons by Baruch Halpern, and various books published by Osprey about warfare in the ancient Middle East.

I have read many books about ancient Israel both on-line and in my studies, too numerous to mention, all influential in their way. But somehow I still feel as though I know nothing when compared with the likes of Maier, Zorn and Rohl. I hope these knowledgeable historians will forgive my diversion from ‘what is known’ to ‘what might have been’.

What next?  Although currently focusing on post-Republic Roman themes at the behest of my publisher Sharpe Books, especially the upheaval following the assassination of Julius Caesar (Libertas, Nest of Vipers, Viper Pit), I hope one day to return to my formative years in the Middle East and extensive studies of ancient Mesopotamia, including the amazing stories waiting to be reimagined of Assyrians, Israelites, Phoenicians and Philistines.

And while there’s ink my pen, I must surely make the most of the archaeological dig just a few yards from my home in Alderney (Channel Islands) where archaeologists Jason Monaghan and Phil de Jersey have uncovered well-preserved remains of Roman and Iron Age settlements. The historian Dan Snow is keenly interested in the site. But that’s yet another story that must wait until the pandemic allows digging to resume…

An Iron Age skeleton is discovered beneath a Roman floor at Longis, Alderney. Photo: David Nash

Alistair Forrest

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About the Author

Alistair Forrest is a journalist, editor and author of historical fiction. He has worked for several UK newspapers, edited magazines in the travel, photographic and natural products sectors, and owned a PR company. He is author of Libertas and the Agents of Rome series, Nest of Vipers and Viper Pit. A third in this series is due out in summer 2021. He lives in the Channel Islands with his wife Lynda. They have five children, two Maremma dogs and a Spanish cat, Achilles. His books are published by Sharpe Books of London. Alistair loves to hear from readers. Contact him through his website https://alistairforrest.com and find Alistair on Twitter @alistairforrest

10 April 2021

Book Two of the Elizabethan Series: Essex - Tudor Rebel

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Continuing the story of the Tudors, begun in the best-selling Tudor trilogy, this epic tale of loyalty, love and adventure follows Robert Devereux from his youth to his fateful rebellion.

Sir Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

9 April 2021

Special Guest Post by Wendy J. Dunn, Author of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Dońa Beatriz Galindo. Respected scholar. Tutor to royalty. Friend and advisor to Queen Isabel of Castile. Beatriz is an uneasy witness to the Holy War of Queen Isabel and her husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon. A holy war seeing the Moors pushed out of territories ruled by them for centuries.

Writing Falling Pomegranate Seeds 

Absolutely thrilled with the news that Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters has reached the semi-finalist list in the 2020 Chaucer Award!

While I now attempt to forget about the competition and my hope that I learn more good news on April 21st,, (when the finalists are announced), I thought I would like to share with you the inspiration behind this work.

A footnote. Sometimes it takes just a footnote to set my imagination alight. Years ago, I found such a footnote, in Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile: critical essays, a book of academic essays about the times, influence and mythology of Isabel of Castile[1] , the mother of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine, of course, was Henry VIII's wife, and went to her grave calling herself that. Really, that's not surprising considering that she was a devout Catholic, and had been married to Henry for over twenty years, and let's not forget their five dead babies and one living daughter, before he decided to replace her with Anne Boleyn. But back to my footnote.

This footnote introduced me to Dońa Beatriz Galindo (1465/75? -1534)- a woman who taught not only Katherine of Aragon, but also Latin to Queen Isabel herself. Latin was the necessary language of Medieval diplomacy for the Christian world, but, because she was 'female' and an unforeseen successor to her half-brother’s throne, Isabel was not schooled or expected to learn this language in her childhood and early youth. As a mother, Isabel remembered how her own education did not prepare her for her future life. She ensured her five children received the best education possible by employing the best teachers for them.

When I decided to explore in Falling Pomegranate Seeds the forces that originally shaped Katherine of Aragon (or Catalina as she was known to her family) during her time at the court of her mother, I turned to Beatriz Galindo to tell this fictionalised story of Katherine's early years. Beatriz was a perfect subject for me as a writer of fiction. I could only find the barest bones of her life story, which offered me a huge gap to fill with the use of my imagination; but what fascinating bones I had to play with. Beatriz was a scholar, a poet - sadly, like so many talented women of the past, her work is lost to us - and such a gifted Latin teacher that she lectured at the University of Salamanca. She also lectured on Aristotle, medicine and rhetoric. And did I mention she was a wife and mother as well?

I felt in awe of Beatriz when I started writing Falling Pomegranate Seeds. I could not help wondering how it must have been for her - a woman who lived a life denied to most women in the Medieval period. Did it come at a personal cost? That question opened up a lot of 'what if' questions that acted as midwives to my imagination.

My imagination constructed Beatriz as a woman who lived a life that challenged the status quo. In a male dominated society, Beatriz somehow, and extraordinarily so, rewrote her life story. She appeared to have both worked with and resisted a society that could have easily prevented her from reaching her true potential.

A recognised scholar and a respected advisor to Queen Isabel, wife of King Ferdinand of Aragon, a kingdom of lesser importance than Castile, Beatriz lived in a time of great change and upheaval - accompanying her Queen during the 'Holy War', Queen Isabel's campaign to 'cleanse' her country of the Moors, which closed the door upon hundreds of years of Islamic influence in Castile. Beatriz Galindo was also a personal friend to the Queen. As a member of Queen Isabel's court, she frequently accompanied the queen in her court's peripatetic journey around her kingdom while employed as Katherine of Aragon's tutor, and likely the tutor to Katherine's three sisters.

Beatriz Galindo seems almost forgotten by world history, yet she deserves to be remembered. Her one and only biography, written in Spanish, is still untranslated and thus unavailable to the English-speaking world. As a tutor of Katherine of Aragon, a woman known and respected for her intelligence and learning, I believe we can say that Beatriz's influence continued into the reign of Henry VIII of England and beyond.

History tells us that Beatriz Galindo was a scholar of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. This philosopher spoke loudly and clearly his views concerning women who he saw as "unfinished men" and vessels simply designed for childbearing. It intrigued me that Beatriz Galindo studied Aristotle and wrote commentaries about him. Did her resistance to and questioning of his beliefs result in her own empowerment and reshaping her life to one that allowed fulfilment? I could not help thinking about how such a teacher could have influenced Katherine of Aragon.

Falling Pomegranate Seeds is set during the time that saw Columbus discovering the "New World" and Isabel and her husband Ferdinand engaged in their Holy War. Married to Francisco Ramírez, master of the King Ferdinand's artillery, Beatriz Galindo was an eyewitness to the fall of Granada. Later, she saw Isabel send into exile her Jewish subjects, after giving them an ultimatum to convert to Christianity. With her passion for learning and knowledge of medicine, I suspect the expulsion the Moors and Jews would have shaken Beatriz's identity to the core, as would have had a later happening: the burning of countless and priceless Islamic manuscripts, which erased knowledge that had come down the centuries.

Envisioning Beatriz made me wonder what it may have cost her to claim her own life. My imagination posed one possible scenario. My imagination also opened the door to Katherine of Aragon, as both child and girl. Katherine was a woman who loved books and learning. As England's very loved Queen, she was the patron of scholars and of the arts. It is not hard to imagine her then as a child who loved to learn. It is not hard to imagine that she would have loved her tutor, Beatriz. The youngest child of five children, Katherine suffered sorrow after sorrow before she left England to begin her life of exile. But she came to England trained and ready to be a queen. Falling Pomegranate Seeds imagines how that happened.

Wendy J. Dunn 

Reference list:

Boruchoff, D. A. 2003, Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile: critical essays, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Denzin, N. K. and Y. S. Lincoln 2003 Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials. Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage.

[1] Studying that book is also the reason why I call Isabel of Castile Isabel rather than Isabella. One of the essays strongly suggests that Isabella originated as a form of belittlement of this strong Queen - who was referred to as 'King' during her long and world changing reign.

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About the Author

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel. While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally. Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. Find out more at her website http://www.wendyjdunn.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyjdunn

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Year We Lived, by Virginia Crow

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is 1074, 8 years after the fateful Battle of Hastings. Lord Henry De Bois is determined to find the secret community of Robert, an Anglo-Saxon thane. Despite his fervour, all his attempts are met with failure.

When he captures Robert’s young sister, Edith, events are set in motion, affecting everyone involved. Edith is forced into a terrible world of cruelty and deceit, but finds friendship there too.

Will Robert ever learn why Henry hates him so much? Will Edith’s new-found friendships be enough to save her from De Bois? And who is the mysterious stranger in the reedbed who can disappear at will?

A gripping historical fiction with an astonishing twist!

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About the Author

Virginia Crow grew up in Orkney, using the breath-taking scenery to fuel her imagination and the writing fire within her. Her favourite genres to write are fantasy and historical fiction, sometimes mixing the two together such as her newly-published book "Caledon". She enjoys swashbuckling stories such as the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and is still waiting for a screen adaption that lives up to the book! When she's not writing, Virginia is usually to be found teaching music, and obtained her MLitt in "History of the Highlands and Islands" last year. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of music, especially as a tool of inspiration. She also helps out with the John O'Groats Book Festival which is celebrating its 3rd year this April. She now lives in the far flung corner of Scotland, soaking in inspiration from the rugged cliffs and miles of sandy beaches. Find out more at Virginia's website https://www.stompermcewan.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @DaysDyingGlory

5 April 2021

Special Guest Interview with Keira Morgan, Author of The Importance of Pawns: Chronicles of the House of Valois

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The sixteenth century French court dazzles on the surface. But beneath its glitter, danger lurks for those caught up in its flux. Based on actual historical events and characters, this riveting story will keep you turning the pages until the end. It is also a timeless tale of envy, power and intrigue pitted against loyalty and the strength of women’s friendships.

I'm pleased to welcome author Keira Morgan to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

Set in the sixteenth century French court, The Importance of Pawns is based on real historical events and characters. It pits envy, power and intrigue against loyalty and the strength of women’s friendships. The French court dazzles on the surface, but beneath its glitter, danger lurks for the three women trapped in its web. The story begins as Queen Anne lies dying and King Louis’s health is in declines. Their two daughters, Claude and young Renée, are heiresses to the rich duchy of Brittany, and they become pawns in the games of power.

When Anne accepts she is dying, she knows she must choose a guardian for her girls. She names Countess Louise d’Angoulême who has envied the dying queen for years. Because of Louise’s family’s dire financial problems, she schemes to marry wealthy Claude to her son. This unexpected guardianship presents her with a golden opportunity, but only if she can remove the girls’ protectress Baronne Michelle, who loves the princesses and safeguards their interests.

As political tensions rise, the futures of Princess Renée and Baronne hang in the balance, threatened by Countess Louise’s hidden plots. Timid Claude, although fearful of her mother-in-law, must untangle the treacherous intrigues Countess Louise is weaving. Claude and her friends encounter one roadblock after another as they contrive to outflank the wily countess. Their goal is to protect young Princess Renée.

As the crisis nears, faced with frightening consequences, Claude struggles to overcome her fears and find the courage she needs to defend those she loves.

What is your preferred writing routine?

On a practical level, I prefer to write in the mornings until we eat at midday. In Mexico we have comida, the main meal of the day, between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. If I have other writing related tasks, I take care of them after comida. Otherwise, I run errands, visit friends or relax, read or whatever. During these times of the pandémia, my activities occur via internet and Zoom or some similar application.

I write an outline before I start my first draft. I mix writing and research. Although this may not be efficient, it is part of my process. Say I start a scene having decided that my character will take a walk through the market in Blois. I could make a note that says, ‘check the names and routes from the Château to the centre of town or marketplace c. 1500.’ Sometimes I do. But usually, I search the internet there and then for the information. 

In the process I will probably stumble upon images of French village markets, schemata, maps or pictures of various medieval or Renaissance city centres and other bits and pieces. These images and details feed my visual imagination so even if I don’t find the exact facts I am searching for, I develop a picture of the scene — the sounds, sights and smells my character would encounter, the topography of the area and the feeling of the ground underfoot.

When I return to the page, the setting for the scene has come alive. The words usually words flow more smoothly as I settle into the character.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Take formal writing classes and join your local writer’s association. Take part in a writing group and get accustomed to letting other people critique your stories. Attend writing conferences — they don’t have to be the big expensive ones, but the nearby local ones. The idea is to write, to practice writing, to show your writing to others, to learn from others, to see yourself as a writer and most of all to develop the thick skin necessary to keep on improving.

You are not your writing, just as you are not your sewing project or the bread you bake or anything else you do. But at first, for most writers, our work feels like a part of ourselves or at the very least our first-born child. Speaking for myself, it was only when I could see my words as separate from my being that I could hear and accept the feedback that allowed me to improve my craft.

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

Well, as a newly published author of my first book, this is a topic I am actively exploring. I am not ready to make any judgments yet. One thing I have concluded, though. Acting like a hermit or a prima donna and waiting for the world to come to you is not an effective strategy.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

My most exciting and satisfying discovery was an error in the historical record. Historians who believe that Michelle de Soubise was dismissed in 1515 are wrong. Since most people don’t consider the fact important enough to do original research, they simply quote the historian who wrote the original article. So, the misinformation spreads and spreads. 

If I had still been working on my thesis, I could probably have turned that finding into a whole dissertation. As it was, I wrote a post about it [https://keiramorgan.com/court/scandal-french-court-1515/] that perhaps five people have read. Maybe one day I will post it to academia.edu. But it gave me the idea for the conclusion for my novel, and that was enough for me. In fact, it was a breakthrough.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene to write and to get right was the bedding scene between François and Claude. There were so many elements that made it challenging. It was such an alien situation: being an innocent fifteen-year-old royal virgin on my wedding night, accepting as normal that I had a duty to perform with witnesses in the room. 

It took a lot of digging inside myself before I could imagine what Claude might have felt during her preparations for the bedding, during her entry into the enormous chilly bedchamber, and while being stared at by the assembled court during the public blessing ceremony. I wondered how she felt as she lay there reflecting on her cheerless wedding, replete with mourning symbols for her beloved and recently deceased mother. I rewrote that scene so many times I lost count. Fortunately, my relentless writing partner would not let me get away with anything less than putting my tearing my heart open again and again until she told me she believed the emotions in the scene.

What are you planning to write next?

I have started my next novel. It doesn’t have a title yet, but I have bits and pieces written. It will be a prequel to this one, a word that offends me as a language purist, although it serves a useful purpose.

When I finished The Innocence of Pawns, the novel had left me with several questions. In the story, Anne made Louise guardian to her precious girls despite their enmity. Why, I wondered, would she do that? And how had their enmity come about? What events had occurred for it to become so deep and rancorous? When and how had Baronne Michelle become so important in Queen Anne’s life? And, if François was the heir to the throne, why was his family so poor? These are the questions that underlie my next novel.

The chief characters are the young Anne, Michelle and Louise. They are already actual people to me, and I know their past almost as well as I know my own. My factual historical research is complete. Now I am working on the plot outline.

I am eager to learn the questions my readers want answered in the next book after they finish The Importance of Pawns. I invite you to my website, https://kjmorgan-writer.com/ to ask!

Keira Morgan

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About the Author

Keira Morgan retired from training and management in the Canadian Public Service to follow a career as an author. She now writes from Mexico where she lives happily with a husband, two cats and two dogs. Her doctoral level studies in Renaissance history underlie her historical fiction. She writes about the turbulent sixteenth-century French Renaissance. Her stories tell of powerful women who challenged tradition to play crucial roles in French affairs.  Keira also maintains a non-fiction website, All About French Renaissance Women, [https://www.keiramorgan.com] where she writes about the lives of Frenchwomen during the era. She plans to collect their biographies into a book. Find out more at Keira's website https://kjmorgan-writer.com/  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KJMMexico 

2 April 2021

Special Guest Interview with V E H Masters, Author of The Castilians: A story of the siege of St Andrews Castle

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Scotland 1546, and a preacher is burned at the stake. In revenge, a group of lairds infiltrate St Andrews Castle and murder the instigator, Cardinal Beaton. For a sister and brother – spirited Bethia, living outside the castle in St Andrews, and Will among the rebels inside the castle – the long siege becomes a fight for survival. But it’s also a struggle over loyalties and the choices they each must make: whether to save their family, or follow their hearts…

I'm pleased to welcome author VEH Masters to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The novel closely follows the actual events of the siege of St Andrews Castle, and its dramatic re-taking. The title comes from the name the rebels called themselves The Castilians (how perfect is that!). Although the story features famous people caught up in the siege, including John Knox, I was interested in what it would’ve been like for the citizens of St Andrews. 

They were trapped between the rebels in the castle running amok, and the government troops flooding the town. It’s told from the perspective of a merchant’s family. The son, who believes fervently in the Protestant cause, is inside the castle. His sister outside, is being forced into a marriage to save the family from losing all, because of her brother’s actions. And you can still go down the siege tunnel, dug in 1546, today.

What is your preferred writing routine?

My first novel took me years of fiddling about and I have several others in various stages of completion. I’ve now learned to set myself a target of 1200 words a day, 5 days a week. How long that takes me to do each day depends on how much displacement activity I engage in ….checking social media, checking my reviews, seeing how many books I’ve sold yesterday, reading the news – you get the picture. I also try to spend some time each day on marketing, which I’m finding much more interesting than I expected.

What advice do you have for new writers?

There’s a wonderful quote I heard from the singer Ed Sheeran when he was being interviewed. The interviewer said, of course your success is down to your talent, and Sheeran came right back saying, ‘perseverance is more important than talent, perseverance and work’. I have it on my desk to remind me every day to keep going. And invest in an editor.

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

My novel is set in St Andrews, Scotland which is a town that many people have a strong connection with (and not only golfers). I managed to get features in the local press and that started the ball rolling. So word of mouth has helped, including among the Scottish diaspora. I also reach out to bloggers, many of whom I’ve found to be very welcoming to a newbie. My daughter in law is great on social media and she’s helped me a lot with that. And I’m experimenting with Ads on various platforms.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

There was so much it’s hard to choose – here’s a wee selection about St Andrews:

  • In the 1500s young men were banned from playing golf in the streets, after complaints from householders, and a rabbit farm was permitted on the Old Course — as long as it didn’t interfere with golf or archery
  • The town itself was built on a greenfield site in the 12th century – so the wide streets are an early example of the town planning, necessary then for holy day processions.
  • Lots of young cats were found buried under one street. They’d been skinned for their pelts, and and the soft fur used for collars and cuffs
What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

It wasn’t a scene so much as the blurb. I spent about 3 weeks on it, got loads of feedback, and I still don’t think it’s right (I messed with it yet again for this guest post). They are notoriously difficult to do well – so frustrating!

What are you planning to write next?

I’ve just finished the first draft of the sequel, which will be out by St Andrews Day (30 Nov) this year – provided the editing goes well. It picks up where the Castilians left off, almost to the hour. I’m also planning to work in tandem on finishing a novel set during WW2. I’ll no doubt soon discover if I’m being over-ambitious…

V E H Masters

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About the Author

VEH Masters was born and brought up on a farm a few miles outside St Andrews. The first time she was ever inside St Andrews Castle was aged 12, when her history teacher took the class on a visit. She was fascinated as they crept down the siege tunnel and peered into the bottle dungeon, where Cardinal Beaton's body was said to have been kept, pickled in salt. She had a sixth sense, even then, that one day she might write about the siege. Find out more at Vicki’s website https://vehmasters.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter at @VickiMasters9

Special Guest Interview with Cheryl Burman, Author of ‘Keepers’

Available from Amazon UK, 

Maybe her mother’s right. At eight months pregnant Raine shouldn’t be on a jolting bus crawling through melting snow on a mountain track searching for her husband. He might not want to be found. 
She might not want to find him.

I'm pleased to welcome author Cheryl Burman to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

‘Keepers’ is historical women’s fiction, set in Australia post WW2. Raine’s family is living on a migrant camp, having moved from the country to the city for medical treatment for her father. Teddy’s family, and his best mate Alf’s, are there too, recent immigrants from the bombed-out East End of London. Raine faces all kinds of trials in her family and work life, and when she’s rescued by Teddy and Alf from an assault by a drunk, things get even more complicated. The story follows the three as they learn about what’s important in life, and, ultimately, who their true ‘keepers’ are. 

‘Keepers’ was a joy to write, as I used bits and pieces of family lore, dramatised them, and then added huge dollops of pure fiction to create the story. One reviewer says they found the book  ‘compelling and well-written … the characterization fascinating, the narrative thought-provoking and the novel a good exploration of interpersonal relationships and the time period of its setting.’  Can’t ask for more than that.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Mostly I spend the mornings ‘doing morning stuff’ to quote Stephen King. So dog walk, household tasks, shopping if needed, then try to get to my desk by 10.30 or so. I’m involved in a lot of community activities, so between that and all the technical and marketing-related work which befalls a self-published author, the time between then and lunch gets eaten up. Which means I normally get to any actual writing in the afternoon. I’m not a writer who writes every day, and I need a good solid block of time to really get going. But once I’m in the zone, it’s hard to pull out.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Learn the craft. From basic grammar (dialogue punctuation, please!) to how to deal with the complexities of Deep POV and novel structuring, you and your readers will get far more enjoyment from your work if you pay attention to these things. 

Read novels, stories, cereal boxes (perhaps not) with a critiquing eye to spot what makes for good reading, and practice doing the same. 

Join a writing group and listen to the feedback, taking what gels with you. Likewise, giving feedback is a brilliant way to learn, both what to do and not to do!

I’ve also learned a lot by being part of Twitter’s #writingcommunity, as well as building a great network of writers there. 

Don’t try and please everyone. That way lies madness.

Develop a thick skin! It’s your writing on the rack, not you personally.

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

Ah! Still learning that one. I think most writers, both traditionally and self-published, find the marketing side hard. But we have to learn not to be modest because if we don’t tell people about our books, no one else will.

Building a network of writers, both locally and virtually via social media, really helps, but they key here is to be supportive of others too. Give and take. 

I’ve started a monthly newsletter to build a loyal readership base. With that in mind, I aim to fill it with bits and pieces which appeal to readers, not just all about what I’m doing at the time!

A website is critical, as it’s where you can point people to learn about you as an author. 

Whatever you do, however, to build awareness, bear in mind it’s a long term game. Be patient, and keep at it.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Recently, in a backwards move, I did a little more detailed research on migrant hostels in the Australian city where Keepers is set, for an article for my newsletter. This unearthed one unexpected snippet: that some of the hostels were for British-only immigrants. One of the worst – converted wool sheds with chicken wire ceilings – was initially meant for European incomers, mostly displaced persons. But because of shortages elsewhere, the Brits were sent there. They complained long and loudly, and the place was shut down after a few years. The Europeans had a lucky escape!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The one where the main characters ‘get together’ so to speak. It’s a ‘fade to black’ but writing Raine’s inner dialogue while things were hotting up took me many re-writes. I love that scene now, but I worked hard to get it to where it is.

What are you planning to write next?

Not planning, actually writing, and draft one is nearly there. Nineteenth century farm-girl Hester talks to the river, which she knows as Sabrina, goddess. The river nymphs call to her as they ride the white horses of the bore. Aaron is a wise man with the power of herbal healing, and more. When Hester persuades Aaron to teach her what he knows, he's reluctant. He's been there before.

The story was inspired by Ellen Hayward, a respected herbalist with an ‘interesting’ past, who lived in my part of the world. Ellen was tried for witchcraft, in 1906. Fortunately, she was acquitted, but not before the benighted inhabitants of the Forest of Dean were derided in the House of Commons. 

Cheryl Burman

# # #  

About the Author

Originally from Australia, Cheryl Burman arrived in the Forest of Dean, UK via a few years in Switzerland. The Forest inspired her to write, as it has inspired many before her, including Tolkien. She is the author of the fantasy trilogy, Guardians of the Forest, and of Keepers, an historical women’s fiction novel set in Australia in the 1950s. Her flash fiction, short stories and bits of her novels have won various prizes and long/shortlistings. Her latest project is set against the backdrop of the Forest and the River Severn, and is a magical realism novel about a young farm girl who talks to the river, which she knows as Sabrina, goddess. Cheryl is married with two grown children and a border collie, Sammy (who is also an author). Find out more at Cheryl's website https://cherylburman.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @cr_burman

26 March 2021

Book Launch Spotlight: Elizabeth I's Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, by Sarah-Beth Watkins

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Despite widespread interest in Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, little has been written about him in decades past. In Elizabeth I's Last Favourite, Sarah-Beth Watkins brings the story of his life, and death, back into the public eye. 

In the later years of Elizabeth I's reign, Robert Devereux became the ageing queen's last favourite. The young upstart courtier was the stepson of her most famous love, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. 

Although he tried, throughout his life, to live up to his stepfather's memory, Essex would never be the man he was. 

His love for the queen ran in tandem with undercurrents of selfishness and greed. Yet, Elizabeth showered him with affection, gifts and the tolerance only a mother could have for an errant son. In return, for a time, Essex flattered her and pandered to her every whim. 

But, one disastrous commission after another befell the earl, from his military campaigns, to voyages seeking treasure, to his stint as spymaster. Ultimately, his relationship with the queen would suffer and his final act of rebellion would force Elizabeth I to ensure her last favourite troubled her no more.

# # #

About the Author

Sarah-Beth Watkins grew up in Richmond, Surrey and began soaking up history from an early age. Her love of writing has seen her articles published in various publications over the past twenty years. Working as a writing tutor, Sarah-Beth has condensed her knowledge into a series of writing guides for Compass Books. Her history works are Ireland's Suffragettes, Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII, The Tudor Brandons, Catherine of Braganza, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister, Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Unwanted Wife and The Tragic Daughters of Charles I. You can find Sarah-Beth on Twitter @SarahBWatkins

25 March 2021

Guest Post by H. D. Coulter, Author of Ropewalk: Rebellion. Love. Survival (The Ropewalk series Book 1)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Special promotion at 0.99 
signed copies of the paperbacks are
 available from https://hdcoulter.com/

The North of England, 1831. The working class are gathering. Rebellion is stirring and the people are divided. Beatrice Lightfoot, a young woman, fighting her own personal rebellion, is looking for an opportunity to change her luck. When she gains the attention of the enigmatic Captain Hanley, who offers her a tantalising deal to attend the May Day Dance, she accepts unaware of the
true price of her own free will.

The Reformers and the right to vote. 

I would like to thank Tony Riches blog ‘The Writing Desk’ for allowing me to guest post on their site as I discuss the Reformers and the right to vote, an aspect of the historical novel ‘Ropewalk: Rebellion. Love. Survival.’

When I was researching the town Ulverston and the 50 years’ period of the towns industrial revolution. I discovered the plight of the workers and the social change they tried to bring about with the Reform Bill. It was these men and women who began to bring about change and made it possible today to vote and have our say in parliament. 

As a person who was born and raised in Cumbria and a proud Northerner, I saw the rebellious spirit of these people and unacknowledged change they created. During my research I first came across ‘Peterloo’ massacre in Manchester, which came to symbolise Tory callousness and tyranny. 1819 was a year filled with political rallies over industrial depression and high food prices. They were to demonstrate the massive feeling of discontent and the support of parliamentary reform. 

On August 16th 1819; 60,000 people attended, including women and children. It was a peaceful demonstration but because of the threat of the French revolution and the Napoleonic war, magistrates and judges became nervous over the gathering and had the Manchester yeomanry, 15th Hussars and the Cheshire Volunteers attack the crowd with sabres. Hundreds were injured and killed that day, leaving nothing changed. 

Since 1789, the government had been fearful of the workers and the power they were gaining. They created two new laws. ‘The Seditious Act’ in 1817. They created the law to forbid all meeting of over 50 people called to deliberate upon any grievance, in church or state. Under the act, it allowed the magistrates to attend any meeting and if found unlawful, the leaders and attendees were guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy and put to death. 

After the ‘Peterloo’ massacre, the government created the ‘Six Act’ enforcing and created 6 new laws. The Training Prevention Act; The Seizure of Arms Act; The Misdemeanours Act; The Seditious Act; The Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act; The Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act. All created to stem and curb the threat of another revolution. 

The only impact these new Acts created was to force the meeting to go into secret and form an underground rebellion. Families became desperate as the living conditions worsened and the only voice they had to represent the working class were the gentry based on the old system. The Reformers discussed how they could force change by strikes, riots and petitioning the government for support and the right to vote. 

When writing ‘Ropewalk.’ I imagined men from the mills and canal, who were once boys standing in St Peter’s field, were now men, risking their livelihood or even their lives to meet in secret to discuss how they were going to bring about change. I centred this point of view around Bob Lightfoot, the father of the main protagonist Beatrice and the secret life he had from his family. But nothing stays secret for long. 

     "Men: we have less than a month to plan our strike and to create the march across town. It is our time to show that their companies, their fortunes, cannot survive without us!" 

  The men shouted back in approval and banged their pewter tankards on the wooden tables.

  "For too long they have stood on our backs and made promises, only to break 'em. They have told us: better wages, better 'ouses, a right to be heard as shareholders in their doings – have we seen any 'o these things?" His passionate, educated voice rang out across welcoming ears.

  "NO!" the men shouted as one.

  "They have pulled men from our farms, and those farms now stand rotting, to the ground because there is no one to work them. Our women and children stand in the streets and beg for scraps because the labour they were promised is not there!"

  An unknown voice ascended over the crowd. “But what change will it make? I’ve heard all this before - Me and my kin hail from Manchester; we were working there eleven years ago. I stood in St Peter’s Field and heard these same words. That Hunt fella told us to stand up for our rights, to take down the government. But instead they took us down, in that field. Me brother was stabbed that day, standing next to me. His blood weren't the only one mixed in wi'th' mud!”

  “I hear you my friend – I myself was there alongside others in this room but that is why we must rise up, no matter the cost, to change the way o' things, so your sons never have to stand like thee, in the fields, and fight 'til the death for their bread and their hearths.”

  “My neighbour watched as his child, no mo' than four years, died in his mother’s arms starvin', because the mill owners have cut our wages again.”

  “We went on strike last year for seven weeks; I lost count of how many people died, and when the Yeomanry beat us, cut us down, forced us back to work, what did we have to show for it? Nothing, apart from new graves in the ground.”

  A cane banged against the floor, calling for its owner to be heard: “If Magistrate Forester should find us 'ere, an' discover our meetings, he could arrest us under ‘The Seditious Act’ and the ‘Sixth Act’; we are riskin' our necks tonight, just bein' here. They have hung men for lesser crimes!”

  “Aye, we are riskin’ our necks being here and so did the people around Manchester as they rose up. They petitioned the king, wrote to parliament, like we have done, and look what happened to them.” The head man pulled the men back with his reply.

  “That day, there were tens of thousands of us standing in St Peter’s field. We were peaceful, no weapons. All we wanted was a voice, to be heard, to stop the corrupt government from taxing our grain, and cutting our wages. And yes, they slaughtered us. Six-pound guns fired into the children. I reckon hundreds died that day, either in the field, or after, when their masters cast 'em out and blacklisted 'em. Men and women watched their families starve, just like we do today. Fear is what they use to frighten us back into our place. And so, they will always be the victors – until we refuse to run. I look at each man here, and I see clearly that the mill-owners, the landowners, the quarry-owners who control parliament: they have had their time. It is finally our moment, to reform this retched country, and give the power back to her people – so that no more children die in the arms of their mothers. Let them know we are in no doubt - we mean to take back our livelihoods. We the north, are the forgotten land – well I say no more!”

- Chapter 20, Ropewalk. Beatrice Lightfoot spying on the secret meeting. 

Within certain districts, the Reformers became traitors to the crown. Ring leaders gathered up and hung for organising the strikes and riots when the bill kept failing in parliament. It wasn’t until the Whig party became the new government in November 1831 after the year of unrest; the party put another bill forward. In 1832 they passed the Reform Act, which stated 1 in 5 men who leased their homes for £10 or more per year; got the vote. For the average working-class man working the mills, factories, or canal, they deemed this as a failure. However, it meant some trades people, middle class and business owners could vote, which meant change. More MPs in Industrial town, more MPS in parliament with new and fresh ideas, but most of all, they set a president for the path towards everyone able to vote. 

As a writer, I am drawn to social history and the how current events for my characters are affecting their lives in the local area. This aspect will feature in all my novels and in the Ropewalk series the need to be involved with social injustices will follow Beatrice Lightfoot as she tries to find her own path and right the wrongs of society. 

H D Coulter

Book 2, Saving Grace; Deception. Obsession. Redemption, now available for preorder.

# # #

About the Author

Hayley Coulter was born and raised in the lake district and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets. As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn't until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story. Find out more at Hayley's website https://hdcoulter.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @coulter_hd

24 March 2021

Special Guest Post by Judith Arnopp: The Inspiration behind A Matter of Conscience

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

"A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

Henry VIII told me to do it – lol. I’ve been writing about Tudor women for more than a decade now. I’ve covered prominent figures like Anne Boleyn, Margaret Beaufort, and Mary Tudor but always, in the background there’s been the figure of Henry VIII. Henry is the key player in many of the books I’ve written. Even those set before he was king, he has made sure he gets more than a walk on part. Just as he didn’t like to be ignored in life, so he pestered me for his own book … not just a book, a trilogy. 

If he understood the mysteries of the modern keyboard, I swear he would have written it himself. Henry can be an uneasy companion, he is difficult to understand, has mood swings and changes of opinion, which makes him a tricky character to pin down. I’ve done my best to understand him and I think, looking at the events of his reign through the king’s eyes goes some way to explain the more mind-boggling aspects of the era.

The first question I had to answer was, could I maintain a male voice and perspective for an entire novel?  I’ve written short parts from a male perspective before, both historical and fictional characters. It was straightforward to write as Thomas Seymour in Intractable Heart, or Sir Walter Tyrell in The Forest Dwellers but we know so much more about Henry … or we think we do. The idea of writing a first-person narrative of Henry VIII was pretty mind boggling. He is such a huge figure, and people love to hate him. I see comments all the time on the theme describing Henry as a ‘monster,’ a ‘womaniser,’ or a ‘psychopath.’ 

We very rarely hear a good thing about him, nobody tries to empathise or understand. It was the same when I wrote about Mary in The Heretic Wind – she is also an anti-hero. This gave me confidence that if I could encourage a more objective view of ‘Bloody’ Mary, perhaps I could do the same for her father. In fact, once I stopped panicking it came quiet easily. N.B: My husband said I found his voice easy because I am also a selfish old despot – I may release him from chains later on, or I might just leave him there. I haven’t quite decided.

When I sat down to write A Matter of Conscience; Henry VIII. The Aragon Years, I didn’t want to make Henry squeaky clean and saintly. That would probably be impossible. I just wanted to probe and try to get inside his head. It is one thing taking an exterior view of a man like Henry, but events appear quite differently when seen from his perspective. 

His portraits reveal a strong man, a man in control but the fabulous clothes were as much a fiction as the Arthurian tales he so enjoyed. It is highly unlikely Henry dressed in such magnificence on a day-to-day basis, the portraits show him dressed in his court clothes - they were a statement of power. Henry might have been powerful, but he was also vulnerable, easily manipulated, and sentimental. When he ascended the throne, he expected his life would be perfect and when it turned out to be anything but, he couldn’t cope. The realisation that he was not a ‘perfect prince’ slowly eroded his promise. When he looked in his mirror, the man he saw was blemished, imperfect, flawed and he spent his life trying to hide from that fact.

After the death of his brother, Henry was given a short, sharp education on kingship. He was taught the essential importance of sons. The lesson was drummed into him. His primary duty was to beget an heir and other sons to reinforce the Tudor line. Henry knew first hand that heirs could die. Had his brother, Arthur, lived Henry would never have become king; had he not been around to replace Arthur the regime would have ended before it had begun.  

As soon as Henry and Catherine of Aragon were wed and crowned their quest for a son began. Up to this point Henry was unaccustomed to failure. He had known only success, had received only praise – the loss of their first child came as a great shock. The death of their infant son a short time later was devastating, the subsequent unsuccessful pregnancies or stillbirths shook him to the core. The only successful pregnancy resulted in Mary but in those days, a daughter was not enough to perpetuate the Tudor dynasty. Henry knew he had failed in his most important lesson. 

Nobody likes to think themselves a failure, but it must have been far more difficult for a man like Henry. Finding it impossible to blame himself, he laid the blame on Catherine, the wife he loved the longest.

Judith Arnopp

# # #

About the Author

Judith Arnopp is the author of twelve books; three set in the Anglo-Saxon/early medieval period and nine set in and around the Tudor court. All books are available in Kindle and Paperback format, and The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Kiss of the Concubine and A Song of Sixpence are on Audible. Find out more at Judith's website www.judithmarnopp.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Deliverance: A Justice Belstrang Mystery (Justice Belstrang Mysteries Book 3)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1618:  At his manor of Thirldon, ex-Justice Belstrang - still at loggerheads with his old rival Justice Standish - receives devastating news: King James intends to purchase the estate for his favourite, the Marquis of Buckingham – and Belstrang must comply.

In the ensuing turmoil, while his son-in-law George petitions the King on his behalf, Belstrang receives a plea from a dying friend, Sir Richard Mountford, to visit him at Foxhill Manor. To take his mind off his troubles Belstrang goes - and discovers things are not so simple.

Sir Richard is not dying, but desperate. His brother John has been killed in an explosion at the family’s iron foundry, down in the remote Forest of Dean. They cast cannons for the Royal Armouries: a privileged and lucrative business. But Sir Richard does not believe John’s death was an accident.

Meanwhile, Mountford's cold-hearted son Francis treats him as an invalid. He fears things are being kept from him - and implores Belstrang to investigate.

The mystery deepens when a forester who was seen talking to Belstrang is murdered. Only after a violent confrontation on the bleak salt-marshes does the truth begin to unfold - and its implications reach far beyond England’s shores.

This time Belstrang must follow the trail to a very bitter end, which could be the making of him - or cause his undoing.

Praise for John Pilkington:

'Away from the corruption of London and no longer a Justice, but that doesn’t stop Belstrang uncovering dark deeds in this Jacobean thriller. A joy from mysterious beginnings to a satisfying conclusion by a master storyteller.' Paul Walker

'In The Witching Pool, John Pilkington once again puts us in the amiable company of retired Jacobean Justice, Robert Belstrang, familiar from his earlier historical thriller Legacy. In this adventure, Belstrang forsakes the mean streets of London in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, for the rural byways of Worcestershire nearer home. But instead of treason, he finds himself confronted with murder, witchcraft, unmentionable crimes and a quest for legendary gold. Breath-takingly tense and gripping. Simply impossible to put down.' Peter Tonkin

'A sturdy and entertaining historical for fans of Elizabethan mysteries.’ Library Journal

‘Pilkington’s third Thomas the Falconer historical offers a real treat… This tale gives an authentic sense of Elizabethan life’s visceral side with all its lawlessness and brutality, including a climactic battle.’ Publishers Weekly

# # #

About the Author

John Pilkington has written plays for radio and theatre, television scripts for the BBC and now concentrates on historical fiction, reflecting his passion for the Tudor and Stuart periods. A writer for over thirty years, he has published around twenty books including the Thomas the Falconer Mysteries (republished by Sharpe Books), the Marbeck spy series (Severn House) and two Restoration-era mysteries featuring actress-turned-sleuth Betsy Brand (republished by Joffe Books). He is also the author of a children’s series, the Elizabethan Mysteries (Usborne). Born in the north-west of England, he now lives in a quiet Devon village with his partner, and has a son who is a musician and composer. Find out more at his website, www.johnpilkington.co.uk, and find John on Twitter @_JohnPilkington.

16 March 2021

Special Guest Post by Sharon Woodhouse, Author of Pitch What's True: A Publisher's Tools for Navigating Your Best Path to a Published Nonfiction Book

Available from Everything Goes Media and Amazon US

Get your soul into the contemporary publishing game. Use a veteran publisher's tools, checklists, hard-earned advice, and fundamental notions to your advantage. Explore in detail what a publisher considers in terms of book, author, and sales and marketing opportunities in advance of giving a book contract.

Cheat Sheet: Find the Right Publisher for Your Non-Fiction Book

Here’s my overall one-size-fits-most, best approach to locating a publisher that’s a terrific match for you and your project, if 1) You’re not self-publishing, or 2) Your book is not a likely candidate for one of the big New York publishing houses (meaning, an agent is much less likely to take it on). Among the remaining 10,000 small- to mid-sized publishers or remaining 80,000 micro-publishers, there may be a handful of houses ready to make you an offer.
  • Spend a few hours on Amazon researching existing books on your topic and any topic, really, that is aimed at your book’s likely audience. Take in all you can about these titles—such things as sales rankings, reviews (what do readers like about the books? dislike? want more or less of? what do they care about? what are their hot buttons?), their packaging and marketing (what can you infer about how they’re titled, designed, and promoted?), what books customers also purchased. Finally, you want to know…who is publishing books such as yours?
  • Visit the biggest bookseller near you and see which companies are publishing books on your topic and closely-related topics. Note those publishers whose approach, style, design, vibe, etc. you like and are a good fit for your book and its intended audience. Where Amazon can give you breadth, depth, and near-instant information, there is also much to be gleaned from holding physical books and assessing their properties and the decision-making that went into them.
  • As you go about the above two activities, create a list of desirable and suitable publishers. Aim for a list of 50 to at least 100 publishers—seriously. Consider any press that might be a match: micro, small, independent, niche, regional, academic, nonprofit, organizational, religious.
  • Consult the Literary Marketplace guide found in the reference section of most libraries to see which publishers are looking for books on your topic. This hefty annual contains detailed entries on publishers that include such information at publishing specialties, submission policies, acquisitions practices, etc., along with useful articles for aspiring authors. Add the most interesting and relevant publishers to the list you’ve started. (LMP is available online for subscribers—the annual fee is $459.50 US if you’re feeling spendy, but the $24.95 US for a week’s access serves just as well for the diligent and organized.)
  • There are various other directories and listings of publishers online, but in my experience, they are mostly redundant (if you’ve done the above steps) and/or heavy on teeny-tiny, out-of-business, scamming, or self-publishing (pay-to-play) operations.
  • Visit the websites of companies on your list and spend time getting a sense of who they are.
  • While on those websites, read the company’s submission guidelines (nearly 100% of publishers’ websites now contain this information and you usually don’t have to dig around too much for it either). If you learn your book is not a good fit for them, remove them from your list and move on.
  • As you go, prioritize your list of potential publishers based on a combination of your book’s right fit for them and their desirability for you.
  • Next, submit your book proposal package per the instructions (to a tee) on their websites to the publishers on your list, starting at the top and working down. (Think big from the start…don’t “work up” to them!) Simultaneous submissions are okay unless stated otherwise. Divide up the work as makes sense to you, but I’d advise sending them out in batches of 2 to 10 each day in a steady stream until you either reach the end or have a contract. Commit to the project and concentrate your efforts. Don’t drag it out. Publishing takes a long time! You either want to find a publisher in a reasonable amount of time or move on to considering self-publishing or hybrid options.
  • If a publisher’s submission guidelines aren’t specific, think of a book proposal as a “business plan” for your book, and a publishing contract as a “business agreement” between you and the publisher, and it will be hard to go wrong.
  • Keeping in mind the restrictions the publisher lets you know about in advance and the publishing process from the publisher’s perspective, give them your best, savviest shot, knowing that you are essentially competing—even at the smallest presses—against hundreds or thousands of others for only a few coveted spots. Use your passion and imagination to catch their attention, pique their interest, impress them, persuade them…whatever won’t cause them to immediately know your proposal’s a “no.”
  • Unless the submission guidelines prohibit it (or politely request not to do it), plan to check in with every publisher you’ve contacted and not heard back from 30 to 45 days after your initial contact.
  • Use every aspect of your initial contact(s) with a publisher to show your professionalism, your attention to detail, your work ethic, your understanding of their business and their point of view. All other things being equal, they’ll almost always choose the author who’s more professional and easier to work with.
  • If anyone takes the time to jot you a few notes about your book (with their rejection), see what you can learn from the experience and take steps to use that knowledge to your benefit. Tweak future submissions as necessary.
  • Don’t give up. Periodically review your proposal with fresh eyes and upgrade it as necessary. Get advice from others (preferably those with some knowledge of the process). Keep sending it out. Keep your brain trained on new ways to pitch your book, on new opportunities to get it published, and on ways to improve your book in the meantime.
  • Create and know your contingency plan. Create a schedule around it. How long will you devote to finding a publisher? If you don’t find a publisher in that amount of time, will or won’t you pursue self-publishing? What self-publishing options are out there, how and when will you learn about them, and how will you assess them?
Wishing you success!

Sharon Woodhouse 

# # #

About the Author

Sharon Woodhouse is a coach, multipreneur, small business consultant, mediator, and book publisher. Her company, Conspire Creative, offers coaching, consulting, and conflict managements services for the book publishing world and related fields, helping clients accomplish concrete things in tough situations. She is also the author of The Coach Within: 28 Big Ideas for Engaging the Power of Your Own Wisdom, Creativity, and Choices. Find out more at https://www.conspirecreative.com/ and follow Sharon on Facebook and Twitter @ConspireCreativ