15 January 2021

Book Launch ~ Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things, by Wendy J. Dunn


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Winter, 1539: MarĂ­a de Salinas is dying. Too ill to travel, she writes a letter to her daughter Katherine, the young duchess of Suffolk. A letter telling of her life: a life intertwined with her friend and cousin Catalina of Aragon, the youngest child of Isabel of Castile. It is a letter to help her daughter understand the choices she has made in her life, beginning from the time she keeps her vow to Catalina to share her life of exile in England.

Friendship.

Betrayal.

Hatred.

Forgiveness.

Love wins out in the end.

“A moving account of one woman’s strength and courage against impossible odds. Seen through the eyes of her friend Maria, Catalina/Katherine of Aragon grows from a young, powerless girl to become a queen England will remember for ever. A timeless story of friendship and love, which will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned, All Manner of Things is Wendy J. Dunn’s best novel yet.” – Lauren Chater, author of The Lace Weavers and Gulliver’s Wife.

“To read this book is like tasting a succulent pomegranate that swells and ripens and reveals the luscious fruit.” – Glenice Whitting, author of Pickle to a Pie and What Time is it There?

“A finely wrought tale that resurrects the indomitable spirit of Katherine of Aragon, breathing new life into her oft-told story. Maria’s voice is fresh and engaging – a perspective sorely needed in novels of this era. You can’t help but rage and grieve alongside her as her beloved Catalina’s fate races towards its inevitable and heartbreaking conclusion. Yet another spellbinding novel from Wendy J Dunn!” – Adrienne Dillard, author of Cor Rotto and The Raven’s Widow.

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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

13 January 2021

Special Guest Post by E.M. Powell, Author of The Canterbury Murders (A Stanton and Barling Mystery Book 3)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Easter, 1177. Canterbury Cathedral, home to the tomb of martyr Saint Thomas Becket, bears the wounds of a terrible fire. Benedict, prior of the great church, leads its rebuilding. But horror interrupts the work. One of the stonemasons is found viciously murdered, the dead man’s face disfigured by a shocking wound.

There has been a cathedral in Canterbury for more than 1,400 years. Saint Augustine consecrated the first cathedral there not long after his arrival in the year 597. There is no trace of the original building, as a fire in 1067 destroyed it and it had to be completely rebuilt. 

Archbishop Lanfranc oversaw much of the construction, but it was his successor, Archbishop – and later Saint – Anselm, who built the ‘glorious quire’ and the enormous crypt. That choir was destroyed by fire but the atmospheric crypt is still intact. 

Canterbury Cathedral (Wikimedia Commons)

The cathedral’s most famous archbishop is another saint: Thomas Becket, who was murdered there on 29 December 1170. He was slain by four knights acting on one of King Henry II’s legendary outburst of temper. Readers of my Fifth Knight series will know that I took this event and added a fictional extra man to the group.

The knights’ original intention may have been to arrest Becket, who had been engaged in a monumental power struggle with the King for several years. But the situation quickly deteriorated, and Becket was hacked to death on one of the altars. The Martyrdom is still maintained in the cathedral and one can stand at the very spot. 

Becket's body lay cooling where it fell as the traumatized cathedral monks tried to regroup. Over the next few hours, people converged on the cathedral in horrified disbelief. Those who came dipped their fingers in the blood of their martyred Archbishop, daubed their clothes with it and collected as much as they could. 

Terror still filled the air, with rumours flying around that the murderers were coming back to take the body, or to slay others. It was feared that the knights would defame Becket’s corpse, and pull it across the city behind a horse, or display it on a gibbet. This could not be countenanced. The monks decided to bury Becket in the crypt as quickly as possible.

The miracles began that very night. A man who dipped part of his shirt into Becket's blood went home to his paralysed wife. As he wept in his telling of the murder, she asked to be washed in water containing some of the blood. She was cured immediately. Word quickly spread and the devotion to Becket the Martyr began, with his tomb becoming a major site for pilgrimage. An astonishing 100,000 people came to pray and visit Canterbury Cathedral in 1171 alone. He was canonised in 1173.

Pilgrimage is of course still done today by millions of people of different faiths across the globe. Every individual will have their own personal reason for embarking on one. For medieval people, going on pilgrimage could be done to show piety or to carry out a penance. The less virtuous went for the rich pickings that could be had or to have a really exciting holiday. 

The hope of a cure of mental or physical illness brought people to shrines in their droves. The reports of so many miracles must have given many great hope and comfort, even if they did not get their cure. People also travelled to shrines to give thanks for prayers answered. Pilgrim badges were a common, cheap souvenir of a trip to a shrine, worn either on one’s person, clothing or pilgrim staff. 

While medieval people sought aid from the saints for illness and disability, they also looked to medical practitioners. The twelfth century had a remarkable selection from which people could choose, from expensive physicians and surgeons to cheaper barber-surgeons and midwives. 

Herbalists were also much in demand. But, overall, the twelfth century medical profession was not viewed as a specialism. Practitioners engaged in a wide variety of medical interventions as well as a number of other trades. It was not unusual to find a doctor who was a bailiff, an ale-taster who specialised in fixing people’s bad feet or a practitioner who would treat dogs as well as people. 

A further group who could offer help from afflictions were the exorcists. There was a widely held belief that illness could be caused by demonic possession. Exorcism, the casting out of devils, was practiced by clergy at all levels. Lay people also performed these rites. Herbs could cure demonic possession too. The important aspect of exorcism was that it was the saints who were invoked. 

Necromancy was its sinful cousin. Demonic magic was a perversion of religion, practised it was believed by those who had turned away from God and instead to the devil. It was, like seances and other more recent rituals that claim to summon the dead, or invoke demons or the devil, a sham. 

The conjurations relied heavily on props, sleight of hand and illusions to convince an audience and to make them part with their money. The realisation of fraud is not a modern one. John of Salisbury, secretary to Thomas Becket, wrote in 1154 of the belief in evil nocturnal assemblies ‘only poor old women and the simpleminded kinds of men who enter into these beliefs.’

E.M. Powell 

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About the Author

E.M. Powell’s historical thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. She is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers’ The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in North-West England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. Find out more by visiting www.empowell.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @empowellauthor


11 January 2021

Blog Tour Guest Post by Christopher D. Stanley, Author : A Slave's Story Trilogy (Book 1)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Marcus, a slave in the household of Lucius Coelius Felix, enjoys a better life than most slaves (and many free citizens) as the secretary and accountant of a wealthy aristocrat. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Christopher D. Stanley to The Writing Desk:

What inspired you to write A Rooster for Asklepios?

As an academic scholar and historian, I’ve been studying and writing about the Greco-Roman world for over 30 years as the background for understanding the early history of Judaism and Christianity. But I had never given a thought to writing fiction until a dozen or so years ago when my wife, an avid reader of historical fiction, asked me one day out of the blue, “With all of that historical research that you do, why don't you write a historical novel?”

“I don't know how to write fiction,” I replied, without giving the idea much thought. The next day, however, an intriguing opening scene (now the Prologue to A Rooster for Asklepios) crept like a waking dream into my consciousness. I shared it with my wife, who encouraged me to pursue it. Over the next two weeks, the broad outline of what would eventually become the first two books in my A Slave’s Story trilogy took shape in my mind. I shared each new development with my wife, who continued to find the story engaging. But I still didn't know whether I could turn this outline into a full-scale novel.

Later that year I was hiking in England between speaking engagements at a couple of British universities and the novel popped suddenly into my head. As I strolled along a hilly ridge, a word-by-word narrative of the opening scene began to frame itself in my mind. I carefully rehearsed and memorised the words as they came to me, then wrote them down and e-mailed them to my wife after I returned to my hotel. “You CAN write fiction!” she replied by e-mail after reading it. “This is as good as many of the historical novels that I've read over the years.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Encouraged by my wife's support, I began the time-consuming but enjoyable task of writing what turned out to be over 800 pages of printed text spread over two books, A Rooster for Asklepios and A Bull for Pluto. (The third volume in the trilogy remains to be written.) The process took several years as it had to compete with both my academic writing and my ongoing duties as a university professor. A massive amount of research was also required to ensure that every detail of the story was historically accurate, including two trips to Turkey to examine the various sites where the books take place.

I’ve always liked to write, but crafting these novels was truly a labor of love. I couldn’t wait to get back to work and see what the characters were going to do! It seemed to me as if they were living out their story before my eyes and I was simply recording what happened. Now and then they actually surprised me, taking the narrative in directions that I had not anticipated.

How historically accurate is your story?

Like any author of fiction, my first aim in writing these books was to tell an engaging story that would allow readers to lose themselves for a few hours in a foreign world. But as a historian, I also wanted to help my readers understand what life was like for ordinary people in the Roman world. I was particularly concerned to avoid the all-too-common error of having people in the past think, feel, speak, and act as if they lived in the 21st century. As the British novelist L. P. Hartley famously said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Getting the names, dates, and places right is the easy part of reconstructing the past; getting the cultural beliefs, values, and practices right requires substantially more work.

While there is much in my novels that will be familiar to any reader due to the consistency of human nature and human societies over time, there is also much that will surprise, puzzle, and even offend readers who are accustomed to authors glossing over the differences between past and present, whether to make the material more accessible or simply because they don't know better. My hope is that readers will emerge from my novels with a new understanding of the complexities of life in an ancient Roman province while also enjoying a good yarn.

A few examples will illustrate my point. At the “big picture” level, many readers will probably be surprised by the way in which slavery is depicted in my novels. Slavery is undoubtedly an evil institution wherever it occurs because it strips people of their most basic right, the control of their own bodies. But in a society where over 90% of the population lived on the keen edge of survival, a slave who worked in the household of a wealthy Roman citizen often had a better life than a poor free person. At least they were assured of having food and a roof over their heads.

But that's only part of the story. Trusted slaves managed the farms, the businesses, and even the households of wealthy Romans. A skilful male slave who worked closely with his master could earn enough money through tips, bribes, and outside employment to purchase his freedom and live comfortably (in some cases even luxuriously) as a freedman. With his master's permission, he could buy property and make investments even while he was a slave. My central character, Marcus, benefits greatly from this system, but his story is not meant to “sugar-coat” or justify slavery. My aim is to show readers how Roman society worked, not to defend it.

At a more granular level, I have investigated every twist and turn in the ancient route between Antioch and Pergamon, and readers can be assured that my account of Lucius's travels reflects the actual geography of the region insofar as it can be determined. The same is true for the various cities, streets, and buildings depicted in my stories—most of these places have been excavated to a greater or lesser degree, and I have visited the reconstructed ruins and pored over the archaeological site maps wherever possible. I did have to use my imagination to fill in the details of neighborhoods that remain buried under layers of earth, but my speculations are based on archaeological data and scholarly knowledge about ancient cities. My Website for the series (www.aslavesstory.com) includes photos of many of these places under the "Resources" tab.

My obsessive concern for accuracy is especially evident in my description of the sanctuary of Asklepios at Pergamon, which plays a prominent role in my story. Readers who have visited this famous tourist site and recall its layout might think that I erred in some of my depictions of the facility since they don't always match what is visible today. But the ruins that we can see today date mostly from the second century AD; my description is based on the German archaeological reports that show what the site was like in the first century AD when my story takes place. Only two points in my story lack archaeological support: the location of the baths, which is unknown (though my siting of them is quite defensible), and the theater, which in its present form dates to the second century AD (though it probably replaced an earlier Greek theater like the one at the Asklepian sanctuary at Epidauros in Greece).

The same level of care was employed when describing the beliefs, practices, and customs of the various characters in the novels. Virtually every act that they perform, including those that seem strange by modern standards, can be justified from Roman records. Even their speech-patterns are based at least loosely on what can be discerned from our limited evidence of how ordinary Romans talked, with due adjustments for modern comprehension.

In short, I've done everything in my power to immerse my readers into the lived experience of ordinary people in Roman Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in the first century AD. I hope that they will find it as fascinating as I do!

Christopher D. Stanley 
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About the Author

Christopher D. Stanley is a professor at St. Bonaventure University who studies the social and religious history of the Greco-Roman world, with special attention to early Christianity and Judaism.  He has written or edited six books and dozens of professional articles on the subject and presents papers regularly at conferences around the world.  The trilogy A Slave’s Story, which grew out of his historical research on first-century Asia Minor, is his first work of fiction.  He is currently working on an academic book that explores healing practices in the Greco-Roman world, a subject that plays a vital role in this series. Find out more at Christopher's website: https://www.aslavesstory.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @aslavesstory

8 January 2021

An Unfamiliar Murder (DCI Helen Lavery Book 1), by Jane Isaac


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder inquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim…

Leading her first murder investigation, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?

“… beautifully and confidently written and impossible to put down once you start.”

Christine, Northern Crime Reviews

“It’s a true “keep them guessing until the end” great mystery thriller that I think even Hitchcock would have liked.”

Joanna Lee Doster, Author of Maximum Speed, Pushing the Limit


 “… an action packed and thrilling read I found this difficult to put down until I had devoured it completely.”

Teresa Hamilton, The Sussex Newspaper    

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About the Author

Jane Isaac lives writes detective novels with a psychological edge. She lives with her husband and daughter in rural Northamptonshire, UK where she can often be found trudging over the fields with her Labrador, Bollo. On 1st March 2016 she re-released her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, originally published in the US in 2012, which was nominated as best mystery in the 'eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.' Later in the year her fourth book, Beneath the Ashes, will be published by Legend Press. Find out more at her website www.janeisaac.co.uk and follow Jane on Twitter @JaneIsaacAuthor.

6 January 2021

Book Review - A Painter in Penang (Penang series Book 3) by Clare Flynn


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Sixteen-year-old Jasmine Barrington hates everything about living in Kenya and longs to return to the island of Penang in British colonial Malaya where she was born. Expulsion from her Nairobi convent school offers a welcome escape – the chance to stay with her parents’ friends, Mary and Reggie Hyde-Underwood on their Penang rubber estate.

This evocative book is the third in a trilogy set in mostly in Penang, I can confirm that A Painter in Penang works perfectly well as a ‘stand alone’ book, although I’ve added the first two books in the series to my TBR list, as I suspect there are more complexities to the relationships than I was aware of.

I grew up in the Ngong Hills of Kenya and could identify with aspects Jasmine’s life in Nairobi, walking long distances in shimmering heat, fresh mango juice and house 'boys' (who were often in their thirties).

Jasmine's coming of age story really begins in chapter four, once the location shifts to Penang. I knew nothing about Penang, or the guerrilla war which became the Malayan Emergency, and now I’m keen to find out more – and visit Malaysia!

Clare Flynn is an accomplished author with a highly readable style, and her passion for the period and telling good stories set in exotic locations shines through.

Tony Riches.

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About the Author

Clare Flynn is the author of twelve historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer. Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveller, her books are often set in exotic locations. Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, Novelists Inc (NINC), ALLi, the Historical Novel Society and the Romantic Novelists Association, where she serves on the committee as the Member Services Officer. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano. She continues to travel as widely and as far as possible all over the world. Find out more at Clare's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @clarefly

4 January 2021

Guest Post by M J Porter, Author of Lady Estrid: A Novel of Eleventh Century Denmark

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Daughter, Sister, Duchess, Aunt. Queen. United by blood and marriage. Divided by seas. Torn apart by ambition. Lady Estrid Sweinsdottir has returned from Kiev, her first husband dead after only a few months of marriage. Her future will be decided by her father,
King Swein of Denmark, or will it?

Letter writing in the Eleventh Century

In trying to bring together the narrative for Lady Estrid, I faced a bit of a problem, that of the vast distances involved. Lady Estrid had family in England, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, many of them she may never have met in person.

Today, we might pick up the phone, or have a quick look on the internet, but in the eleventh century, how would people have communicated?

And so to letter writing. There are two surviving letters from the eleventh-century that were sent by King Cnut, Estrid’s brother, to the English, when he was absent from his newly conquered country, in AD1020 and AD1027. I give a small example below.

“Be it known therefore to all of you, that I have humbly vowed to the Almighty God himself henceforward to amend my life in all respects, and to rule the kingdoms and the people subject to me with justice and clemency, giving equitable judgments in all matters; and if, through the intemperance of my youth or negligence, I have hitherto exceeded the bounds of justice in any of my acts, I intend by God’s aid to make an entire change for the better.”

(From Cnut’s letter to the English from AD1027.)

These might well have been an exercise for Cnut in asserting his authority over the English, and giving his regents a little bit of extra support, but they open up the possibility of just who else was busy writing and sending letters to one another.

There’s always the assumption that unless you were a holy man, you perhaps couldn’t read or write, and in fact, in one of the books I referenced for Lady Estrid, I found a fascinating chart detailing people who are known to have been used by the ruling family of Normandy as messengers, another way that messages could be sent between people. But surely, sometimes, it was just better to write everything down, that way nothing could be lost in translation.

Without the possibility of Lady Estrid ever meeting some members of her family, using letter writing allowed me to artificially create conversations between the characters, and while it might not have been the ‘norm’ it was certainly something that happened.

Indeed, three centuries earlier, there’s a great wealth of information to be found in the letters of Alcuin of York (c735-804), so it wasn’t as though it was a new thing. With Denmark’s conversion to Christianity, there would have been a ready selection of scribes just waiting to note down Lady Estrid’s frustrations and complaints, even if she didn’t pen them herself.

M J Porter
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About the Author

M J Porter is an author of historical novels set in Seventh, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh-Century England, and now also a little further afield, in Viking Age Denmark, and Tenth-Century East and West Frankia.
M J Porter also writes fantasy based on Viking Age Iceland, and fantasy as J E Porter. M J Porter can also be found reviewing books and sometimes the odd film at earlofmercia.wordpress.com. Find me at www.mjporterauthor.com and @coloursofunison