Mastodon The Writing Desk: January 2021

28 January 2021

The death of Sir Francis Drake, explorer, sea captain and pirate, 28th of January, 1596,

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

Some historians believe it was the 27th, but Richard Hakluyt says it was the four in the morning of the 28th of January, 1596, when Sir Francis Drake, explorer, sea captain and pirate, died of dysentery in Portobelo harbour, Panama. 

Drake's last campaign began well, departing from Plymouth on August 28, 1595. As well as six of the queen's warships, the fleet included twenty-one armed merchant ships, with a crew 9of fifteen hundred sailors and a thousand soldiers.

Jointly commanded with his old captain Sir John Hawkins, their plan was to capture a Spanish treasure ship, thought to have with 2,000,000 ducats aboard, which had been damaged in a storm at sea, and was undergoing repairs in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Their surprise attack failed, as San Juan was well defended, so Drake continued to his old hunting grounds at Nombre de Dios, on the Panama isthmus. He led an attack on Porto Bello at the end of December, 1595, but this was also  a failure. 

The crews began to suffer from fever, and it was reported that 'the fire in theor stomachs began to break forth.'  The illness was most likely severe dysentery, and on January 28th, 1596, Drake realised his own death was near. He asked to be dressed in his armour, and although he requested burial on land, Drake was buried at sea in a lead coffin.

Richard Hakluyt's account states that:
The 28 at 4 of the clocke in the morning our Generall sir Francis Drake departed this life, having bene extremely sicke of a fluxe, which began the night before to stop on him. He used some speeches at or a little before his death, rising and apparelling himselfe, but being brought to bed againe within one houre died. He made his brother Thomas Drake and captaine Jonas Bodenham executors, and M. Thomas Drakes sonne [the later Sir Francis Drake, first baronet] his heire to all his lands except one manor which he gave to captain Bodenham.
There have been many attempts to discover Drake's coffin using the latest sonar and remote submersibles, but at the time of writing none have been successful. 

Tony Riches

26 January 2021

Special Guest post by Heidi Eljarbo, Author of The Other Cipher (Soli Hansen Mysteries Book 2)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1613. Fabiola Ruber has been wed to a man she does not know and must live in a country with a new language and different customs. The memories of a lost love in her hometown Malta haunt her, and she sets out to find an artist who can do her portrait and recapture the feelings she had when she once modelled for a renowned Italian master painter.

1944. Four years into World War II, art historian Soli Hansen works with the Norwegian resistance to locate significant artwork and safeguard the pieces from the Nazis. When she finds out the Germans are after a hidden baroque depiction of a seventeenth century woman, she must muster all her courage and skills to decipher encrypted codes and preserve the mysterious art before it’s too late.

Nazi Art Theft During WWII

Writing a dual timeline novel where art is the common factor for both stories was a wonderful learning experience.

In the main storyline of The Other Cipher we get to know art historian Soli Hansen who joins the resistance effort in Oslo, Norway during WWII. She makes the choice to go all in and assist a small branch of the resistance movement called the Art Club. The dauntless members welcome Soli and her vast knowledge of art history.

But why spend the time and effort to preserve and protect art during a war?

Adolf Hitler, who was particularly interested in art, tried to earn a living as a painter during his younger years. Although his rise to fame came from other reasons than his attempt at becoming an artist, the Führer produced several hundreds of paintings and postcards. After his political career escalated, he started planning a museum of fine art to be situated in Linz, Austria. His goal was to complete the museum by 1950, but with his death in 1945, and the end of the second world war, his plan was fortunately thwarted.

Looting. Confiscation. Amazing artwork gathered in sometimes indescribable ways. Jews were deported and their valuables seized. Hitler’s soldiers hid his art collection in the Austrian salt mines and other places. By the end of the war, the Allies discovered thousands of beautiful paintings.

As I’ve read articles and accounts about Nazi art theft, I also learned that Hitler sent his men to buy artwork in France and Italy. This surprised me, as I’d always thought the Reich only stole the art. Hitler spent money he’d earned on his book Mein Kampf and other investments to buy desired pieces.

Art history was one of my favorite classes as an Art & Design major. Soli Hansen and the Art Club work tirelessly in their effort to keep important artwork out of the enemy’s hands. Like me, Soli is particularly fond of Renaissance and Baroque paintings.

I have traveled throughout Europe and visited art galleries and old churches. I also spent five years living in Austria, not far from Hitler’s birthplace. During the ongoing pandemic, I’ve signed up for virtual art presentations. With all the technical help nowadays, it’s easy to learn from your own home.

The second story told in The Other Cipher is about Fabiola, a young mother in Antwerp at the beginning of the seventeenth century. She’s Italian, a Jewess, and she longs for the companionship of a master painter who painted her portrait when she lived in Malta.

Although I can still study art history from home, I must admit I look forward to traveling to Rome again to see works by Caravaggio in the churches and observe with my own eyes the magnificent works by Rubens in his house in Antwerp. The chiaroscuro technique described in the book is prevalent in the paintings of these artists.

To get a fulness of the story about Soli Hansen of WWII and Fabiola of the Baroque time period the Soli Hansen Mystery Series follows both of these women and their passion for art.

Heidi Eljarbo

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About the Author

Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don't want to go near. Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter. After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren--so far--in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier. Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter. Heidi's favorites are family, God's beautiful nature, and the word whimsical. Find out more at Heidi's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @HeidiEljarbo

25 January 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Danish King's Enemy: England: The Second Viking Age (The Earls of Mercia Book 2) by M J Porter

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Every story has a beginning.

Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.

With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.

In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.

With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?

The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen.

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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 Find me at and @coloursofunison

18 January 2021

Special Guest Post by Wendy J. Dunn, Author of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Winter, 1539: María 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.

At times, I am amazed about what opens the door to my imagined Tudor world. I will read something or see something, and the next moment I sink deep into the daydream that is necessary for writers to create fiction. The first key that opened the door to my Tudor world was a poem I discovered from a page in Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain by Margaret Irwin. I replaced this novel in recent times and re-visited the page that inspired me decades ago. This is how I remember it:

Thirty-seven-years-old, staunchly Catholic, Mary Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII, was resigned to die unwed and childless. But her succession to the throne of England, after her young brother’s early death, turned Mary into a marriage prize. 

Mary wakes up on the day after she has wed Philip, (the Prince of Spain of the title). Not fully awake, she wonders if she dreamt the night before and the consummation of her marriage. The marriage she had yearned for years. In her trance-like state of happiness, words from a poem thrum their power into her consciousness: It was no dream, I lay broad waking.  It wakes her up completely because the words were from a love poem to Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn: the witch, the whore, the woman who stole Mary’s beloved father from her beloved mother and destroyed Mary’s early life. Dead or alive, if Mary hated any woman it was Anne Boleyn. 

One line. Only one line. One line that made me seek out the whole poem as a teenager and began my long and enduring relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder. That poem gave me his voice, and also the story that became Dear Heart, How Like You This?. I was also inspired by Edouard Cibot’s Anne Boleyn in the Tower (painted in 1835), used for the cover of my novel. 

Edouard Cibot’s Anne Boleyn in the Tower
(Wikimedia Commons)

This painting once again became a key and ignited the writing of The Light in the Labyrinth, my second Anne Boleyn novel – as well as something I remembered from my research for my first Tudor novel. This research suggested Catherine Carey with Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London and witnessed to her aunt’s execution in 1536.  

I suppose there is no surprise that the door to the creation of Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things was also opened by research. Deepening my Tudor knowledge for the writing of Dear Heart also meant researching Katherine of Aragon. That was when I first read of María de Salinas riding in winter to be with the dying Katherine of Aragon. She did not wait for the necessary permission of the king to make this journey. Once there, she demanded to be let into Kimbolton Castle. María stayed with Katherine until she breathed her last. 

Reading a story like that in a biography ignites my imagination. The shadows of the past solidify into figures of substance – living, breathing, real. They speak to me until it feels I have no other choice but to scribe their stories. 

There was one nugget from history which helped me framed this story. When the Duke of Northumberland approached Catherine about arranging a marriage between her son and his daughter, Catherine wrote in reply: 

‘…marrying by our orders and without their consents, as they be yet without judgement to give such consent as ought to be given in matrimony, I cannot tell what more unkindness one of us might show another, or wherein we might work more wickedly than to bring our children into so miserable a state not to choose by their own liking…’ (Read 1963, pp. 76-77). 

Katherine Willoughby was the ward of Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk. She grew up in his home, with Mary Tudor, Brandon’s wife and Henry VIII’s favourite sister, supervising her upbringing. It appears she grew up expecting to marry their son, but when Mary died in 1533, Brandon, knowing his only son was expected to die, quickly married Katherine. He was a man approaching fifty. Katherine may have been as young as fourteen. 

Katherine’s words spoke to me of personal experience – and of hurt and resentment. Hurt and resentment directed against a parent figure. What if that parent figure was not Brandon, but her mother? Could I construct the final part of my Katherine of Aragon story as a letter María writes to her daughter Katherine to explain her life and her decisions. 

This ‘what if’ story helped me shape a work which weaves a tale about Tudor women and the little power they had over their lives. In the same way, the story of María’s winter ride to be with her dying friend pulled her out the shadows and gave me her voice. I knew she was the perfect point of view character to tell the story of Katherine of Aragon in All Manner of Things. 

Margaret Atwood writes, ‘…when there was a solid fact, I could not alter it … but in the parts left unexplained – the gaps left unfilled – I was free to invent’. This is also how I write. With history leaving me few solid facts about María’s life, I did what all writers of historical fiction do in crafting their works: I imagined. 

I imagined so I could tell Katherine of Aragon’s story – a story of such inspiration that it shines its light down the centuries to our own days. 

Wendy J. Dunn 

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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 and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyjdunn

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: María 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.





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 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 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 ( 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: 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 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 Find me at and @coloursofunison