26 February 2021

Special Guest Post by Juliane Weber, Author of Under the Emerald Sky: A tale of love and betrayal in 19th century Ireland


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ireland, 1843: Alannah O’Neill is feeling trapped. Under the thumb of her controlling brother, she finds herself contemplating the meaninglessness of her existence. Her life takes an abrupt turn with the arrival of the Englishman Quinton Williams on the neighbouring estate. Alannah feels drawn to Quin but knows that her brother hates the English and all they stand for. So she keeps her growing relationship with Quin a secret. Can Alannah and Quin find happiness amid those who dream of ridding Ireland of her English oppressors?

The mind is a curious thing… 

We’ve all heard this saying before, and it is most certainly true of my mind too. I had just moved halfway across the world when I suddenly found myself desperately wanting to write a book. How peculiar!, I hear you say. And you would be right, particularly so as I had ended up moving to a town that I’d never before heard of, with two children under the age of five, a dog and a cat that had made the trip with us, and a husband who was having to spend most of his time away from home for work. Clearly, I was in serious need of a distraction and evidently, writing a novel was just the thing!

The spark of an idea

I had thought of writing a novel before being gripped by the sudden, mad desire to do so after relocating to another country. Previously, though, I had only gotten as far as deciding that it would be a historical fiction novel and had no idea when or where the story would take place. Searching for inspiration I read about the Great Famine in Ireland in the 19th century and was immediately attracted to this historical setting. I liked the idea of the 19th century; I liked the idea of Ireland, with its beautiful scenery and its myths and legends; and I liked the idea of writing about something that hadn’t been written about as frequently as other historical events. So, I thought, why not? 

The story takes shape

I soon immersed myself in my research, trying to get to grips with the historical, social and religious underpinnings of the tragedy that was the Irish Famine. The luscious green hills of Ireland would provide an excellent backdrop, I decided, and the injustices that pervaded the land in the 19th century supplied plenty of literary fodder. And to add a little more conflict? Why not an English hero and an Irish heroine, who happens to have a brother who doesn’t like the English one bit! Perfect, I thought, and got to work, and so, Under the Emerald Sky was born.   

What’s next?

Once I started working on Under the Emerald Sky, the ideas just kept coming. So much so that I realised early on that I wasn’t writing just one novel, but an entire series of books set in Ireland around the time of the Great Famine. I immediately had plenty of ideas for the second book, which I am working on now. This onslaught of creativity was so thrilling at first that I could barely stop myself from writing, using every spare moment to jot down a few more words. Things have slowed down a little, though, with both children now in primary school and (usually!) plenty of activities lined up in the afternoons. For the second novel, I find that I need to schedule writing time during my day. That makes it easier for me to avoid distractions – there is always something else to be done after all! 

The second novel in the series will pick up where Under the Emerald Sky left off, in the spring of 1845, shortly before the Famine began. Besides getting to grips with the Famine itself, a few open questions from Under the Emerald Sky will be answered, there’ll be trips to 19th century Dublin and London, and perhaps even an encounter with Charles Darwin or some other famous personality. Who knows? I don’t plan my books in minute detail before writing, and so I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds as much as my readers! 

My advice to aspiring authors

If you’re an aspiring author and are feeling overwhelmed by the vast amount of information on writing that’s out there, I have just one piece of advice for you: do whatever works for you. Some people like to plan out their story in detail before writing down a single word, others (like me) prefer to figure things out along the way. Some people like to complete a draft of the entire manuscript before editing, while others (also like me) prefer editing while they write. There is no single way of writing a good book. Figure out what works for you and do that! 

 Juliane Weber

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About the author

Juliane Weber is a scientist by training. She holds degrees in physiology and zoology, including a PhD in physiology. During her studies she realised, however, that her passion lay not in conducting scientific research herself, but in writing about it. Thus began her career as a medical writer, where she took on all manner of writing and editing tasks, in the process honing her writing skills, until she finally plucked up the courage to write her first historical novel, Under the Emerald Sky.  Juliane was born in Germany but spent most of her life in South Africa. She now lives with her husband and her two sons in Hamelin, Germany, the town made famous by the story of the Pied Piper.  Find out more (and follow her blog) on Juliane’s website www.julianeweber.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @UnderEmeraldSky

24 February 2021

Special Guest Post by Paul Walker, Author of State of Treason


Audiobook on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London 1578 - a cauldron of conspiracy, intrigue and torture. The might of Spain and the growing influence of the Catholic League in France all threaten the stability of Queen Elizabeth and her state. 

Writing Historical Fiction - Inspiration and Planning

Inspiration seems so much more creative and worthy than the structured and methodical act of planning, and it’s tempting to emphasise the former in any success as a writer I might enjoy. But looking back, there is no doubt that writing the William Constable historical thrillers was more the result of planning over years than a sudden whoosh of inspiration.

My mother was an early influence on my reading. She was a member of the Richard III Society and devoured all fiction (and some non-fiction) that covered Medieval Britain, especially the Plantagenets. She later expanded this to include Tudor and Victorian periods. Following her encouragement, I started reading historical fiction as a teenager. Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time and T H White’s Once and Future King were memorable early reads.

In common with many others, reading for pleasure took a back seat while I worked my way up the greasy pole of career advancement, made a home and raised a family. It was later in my working life, commuting into London, that I rediscovered the joy of reading fiction again. My taste was eclectic. I read widely, quickly and, during this period, discovered what remains my favourite series of books – Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels of the English Navy in the early nineteenth century. 

I was entranced by his depiction of life aboard a man-of-war, the ambience he created and, above all, his writing style and use of language, which conjured an acute sense of period. It was my admiration of O’Brian that planted the seed of an ambition to write historical fiction.

In mid-2016, some 15 years after my first encounter with O’Brian, I retired from full-time work. Within a month I had enrolled on two creative writing workshops. I had done plenty of academic and business writing, but had never made a serious attempt to write fiction. I found support and momentum in the company of other aspiring writers in the workshops and within three months had started to write a novel. Very little research was involved, with the plot of a contemporary thriller unfolding as I wrote. It was finished in four or five months, I had enjoyed the writing and, although it wasn’t very good, I had the experience of storytelling spread over roughly 100,000 words.

One of the best decisions I made was to get a professional critique. No matter how hard they try to be objective and critical, friends and family just can’t do it. I learned a lot from the critique and there was enough encouragement in there to suggest if I reworked and edited thoroughly, it may be taken up by a publisher. But I didn’t want to go down that road. I put my first attempt at a novel to one side as an apprentice piece. Despite my inexperience, I had the audacity to imagine I was now ready to tackle what I really wanted to write – historical fiction.

I had already decided it was to be set in sixteenth century England, even though I was advised the Tudors had been overdone and interest in the period was waning. I’m not a historian, but the Tudor period was the one I was most familiar with, so the research would be easier. Also, I wasn’t convinced that the market was saturated. Surely, the fabulous books by Mantel, Sansom and others had strengthened interest in a period full of intrigue, peril and opportunities to fire an author’s imagination. My protagonist would be fictional with the plot woven around real events and characters. An interest in Doctor Dee led to the choice of my hero as a scholar, rather than a swashbuckling adventurer.

So far, so planned with little in the way of ‘light bulb’ inspiration. I also knew I had to research and structure this book in meticulous detail. I couldn’t write flying by the seat of my pants. Errors would be pounced on and reported, damaging reputation and branding. Of course, I underestimated the time it would take to do the research and with my first book, State of Treason, the research took twice as long as the writing. But, for the most part, I enjoyed the preparation, consoling myself that it would be worthwhile if book one turned out to be the first of a series.

The most difficult part of writing the book was finding a style of writing to suit the period, the main characters and the pace of the plot. State of Treason is a spy thriller, so maintaining a good pace was essential. But I also wanted the reader to feel immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of Elizabethan London. I had to experiment with the balance between readability and authenticity in language before I settled on what I thought might work. Writing historical fiction in the present tense has its critics and I dithered before taking the plunge and choosing to write that way. The book is also written in the first person, from William Constable’s viewpoint, as it felt the most natural way to write the story.

I’ve taken a long and winding route to describe how writing the William Constable historical thrillers series was the result of inspiration from reading Patrick O’Brian and the somewhat uneven process of planning in the 15 or so years that followed. I was fortunate to find a publisher and enough readers who liked the book to consider producing an audio version – something I never envisaged when I started writing. And how was it creating an audio version of State of Treason? That’s a whole different story.

Paul Walker

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About the Author

Paul Walker is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in a number of universities and run his own business, he now divides his time between non-executive work for an educational trust and writing fiction. His writing is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.  State of Treason is the first in a planned series of Elizabethan spy thrillers. The plot is based around real characters and events in London of the 1570’s. The hero, William Constable, is an astrologer, mathematician, physician and inventor of a navigational aid for ships. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PWalkerauthor

23 February 2021

Book Review ~ The Forgotten Pioneer: A family story set in East Africa


Available on Amazon UK  and Amazon US

I was a child in Kenya when the country gained independence, so was fascinated to read this very personal account by Anthea Ramsay. Drawing from her grandparents’ diaries and photographs, as well as her own memories as a child, this sometimes harrowing book describes what it was like to live in East Africa for the first white settlers.  We then follow the adventures of Anthea’s family right through to the present day.

Taking real dangers in their stride, from wild animals to lawless Mau Mau rebels, this family lived through an era that could easily be forgotten.  There was the constant threat of malaria or the dreaded black water fever, with only the most basic medical care. It is recalled as a happy time, however, with amazing extremes of wealth and poverty.

The Forgotten Pioneer is a very readable book and shines a light on a period of history which is often overlooked.  Thanks to Anthea Ramsay at least the men and women who helped to make Kenya what it is today will no longer be forgotten.

Tony Riches

21 February 2021

Special Guest Interview with Emma Makarova, Author of Unearthed


Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US,

Scotland, 1849: Midwinter on the remote island of North Uist and twelve-year-old Morag has a terrifying encounter in the dark. Is it a beast or is there a more sinister threat which stalks the island? As the villagers turn to folklore to protect themselves, Maria, the wife of the landowner, arrives on North Uist longing to escape her past. But Maria’s past is catching up with her and time is running out – both for her and for the islanders.

I'm pleased to welcome author Emma Makarova to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Unearthed is a historical fiction set on the Outer Hebrides in Scotland in 1849. It is set during the Highland Clearances when thousands of people were forced off the land by English landowners. The novel is based on the Battle of Sollas in July 1849 and the attempted eviction of the community which is still commemorated on the island of North Uist today. 

The novel weaves fiction, history and folklore together to tell the story of two young women caught up in the events on the island, but also caught up in the societal pressures of the time. The story is told by two first person narrators: Morag, a girl whose family has lived on the island for generations; and Maria, the young English wife of the new owner of the island. Although they come from very different backgrounds, both Morag and Maria have a thirst for learning and knowledge which sets them apart from their contemporaries and which ultimately puts them both in danger. Their stories become more and more intertwined as the novel reaches its climax.

What is your preferred writing routine?

When I have a new idea for a novel or short story I try and carve out as much time wherever I can to get the first draft down on paper. This means I reschedule things, get up early, go to sleep late, whatever it takes to get that energy into words. When I am re-drafting or editing I tend to work in the mornings for just an hour or two at a time. Any more than that and I can't see the woods for the trees and I go round in circles editing the same paragraph over and over again.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Don't forget the first draft is only the start. My novel, Unearthed, took about 5 drafts before I thought it was even nearly ready. Also don't show anyone your work too soon, that can be really off-putting if your work is still in embryonic form. When you are ready, find someone that you really trust to read your work. I am so lucky to have my sister who has this amazing knack of telling me if something doesn't work in the nicest possible way.

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

Word of mouth was really useful in the beginning. Friends and family recommended it to their circles and it spread from there to book clubs and beyond. Twitter is also useful, especially for running giveaways and promoting discounted e-books, but the platform can seem very crowded with so many people promoting their books that it can seem daunting.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

The use of pelvic massage and vibrators to treat hysteria in women was a very ordinary practice in Victorian times!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I'm not sure about the hardest scene, but writing and re-writing the first chapter was hard work. You have so much you want to tell the reader it's difficult not to overload them with information.

What are you planning to write next?

I am co-writing a YA fantasy novel at the moment and I have plans for a romantic comedy based on my experiences of moving to France.

Emma Makarova

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About the Author

Emma Makarova was born in Melbourne, Australia and grew up in the Cotswolds, England. After studying Ancient History and Archaeology at The University of Birmingham she taught English in Hungary and then in Russia where she met her husband. In 2017, she gained a Masters with Distinction in Creative Writing for the manuscript of her novel. Two years ago she and her family decided to move to France for a new adventure, an experience she wrote about in her blog Femme Fran├žaise. When she is not writing or teaching English, she can be found climbing a mountain or eating a lot of French cheese. Unearthed is her first novel. Find out more at Emmas website https://emmamakarova.fr/ and find her on Twitter @emmamakarova2

19 February 2021

Guest Interview with Michael Stolle, Author of The Dark Shadows of Kaysersberg


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It’s 1646 and infant King Louis XIV reigns over France; wily Cardinal Mazarin holds the reins of power - but he needs money, desperately. Armand de Saint Paul, the younger son of a great and rich noble house, is leading a carefree life in Paris, dedicating his time to such pleasures as gambling, hunting and amorous pursuits. Unexpectedly, Armand has to defend the honour of his house in a duel that transpires to be a deadly trap, set up by a mighty foe of the house of Saint Paul.

I'm pleased to welcome author Michael Stolle to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

My latest book ‘The Dark Shadows of Kaysersberg’ is set in the 17th century, like the other books of the ‘French Orphan’ series. It starts in Paris from there the reader will travel to the East ( Alsace) and further on to the Germanic Empire straight to the imperial city Vienna. It’s a simple story of adventure, deception, love - combined with a crime plot to give it more zest. The major protagonist is a very likable young man, born into one of the great noble families of France, who’s taken love as a pleasant game so far. As he’s entangled more and more in a web of deadly intrigues, he suddenly realizes that love is a precious gift… and that life can be cruel.  

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I need to walk, I have difficulties to look at a blank screen and start writing. While I’m walking I develop the plot and rehearse scenes until I like them. What then happens invariably is that my plot will change, characters that seemed less important at the beginning suddenly become major protagonists. It never goes to plan, that’s probably the weirdest thing.

What advice do you have for new writers? 

I can only judge from my own weakness, I tend to explain too much, I had to learn to leave space for the reader to develop his/her own imagination. I think my last books are better in this respect. Otherwise my advice: if you like what you write, believe in it, just go on, don’t give up.  And be careful, there’s a whole industry out there to cash in on writer hopefuls.

Get a good and helpful copy editor. I battle constantly with mine as I like to change the point of view (head hopping)  in a chapter, but somehow we always find a compromise.

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

First a confession: I’m not good in social media, really not good at all. I should be, I know - but I simply don’t like to upload constantly pictures of my dog or a cat to get a ‘like’ or show an artistically arranged picture of my self-cooked dinner. That leaves bloggers (an there are really good and nice ones out there), Amazon ads and reader reviews as the only lever to draw attention to my books, which I admit, can be tedious. Conclusion: if it’s in your DNA, better play the social media card and make a selfie with your cat – and your cake…

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

I thought that I knew pretty well the period, I had made extensive visits to museums and as I travelled a lot, I have seen most premises mentioned in my books myself. I was surprised though to find out how much the sister of Louis XIII who’d become Queen of England by marrying King Charles, meddled with politics and in how far the King of France and later the First Ministers were prepared to drop a close relative as weakening England was in the major interest of any French monarch. Nothing has really changed over the centuries, has it? ­čśë

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

I’m battling constantly with sex scenes and describing scenery. It’s a true challenge. It’s a tightrope walk between kitsch and evoking genuine emotions, very, very difficult for me to get it right. I love action and dialogue, that’s my thing.

What are you planning to write next? 

Good question, no idea. I guess one day I’ll be walking and suddenly a new plot starts forming in my head and my tormented readers will have to endure another book.

Michael Stolle

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About the Author

Born and educated and living in Europe, Michael Stolle has been publishing since 2013. He’s always been intrigued by the historical setting and the fact that what makes us human was as true in the 17th century as it is now. He has been reading and writing about history for longer than he cares to recall...  Follow Michael on Goodreads and find him on Twitter @MichaelStolle16

18 February 2021

Guest Interview with Josephine Greenland, Author of Embers


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Two siblings, one crime. One long-buried secret.  17-year old Ellen never wanted a holiday. What is there to do in a mining town in the northernmost corner of the country, with no one but her brother Simon – a boy with Asperger’s and obsessed with detective stories – for company?  Nothing, until they stumble upon a horrifying crime scene that brings them into a generations-long conflict between the townspeople and the native Sami. When the police dismiss Simon’s findings, he decides to track down the perpetrator himself. Ellen reluctantly helps, drawn in by a link between the crime 
and the siblings’ own past.

I'm pleased to welcome author Josephine Greenland to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Embers is a YA Mystery and crime novel set in the fictional mining town of Svartjokk in northern Sweden. It can be described as a Scandi Noir version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It tells the story of 17-year-old Ellen Blind, who travels to Svartjokk with her brother Simon, a 14-year-old with Aspergers. They’re on a holiday arranged by their parents, who claim that the siblings should bond, visit the birthplace of their late grandfather, Lars-Erik, and discover their Sami roots. Ellen, though, knows that her parents also want them out of the way so they can sort out their marital problems. 

The holiday turns upside down when the siblings discover reindeer heads in the forest. Simon’s findings at the scene suggest the reindeer have been poisoned, and he suspects people in the town. Frustrated with the police’s lack of interest, he is determined to solve the case himself. The siblings’ investigation takes them to the local Sami village and the owner of the dead reindeer, Per-Anders Thomasson. It turns out that Per-Anders knows far more about Lars-Erik’s past than the siblings did. The more they learn, the more Ellen suspects that the reindeer killing is somehow connected to their grandfather and the reason he left his home-town and the Sami community behind. As Ellen and Simon are to discover, embers of the past rarely burn out.

What is your preferred writing routine

My writing routine follows more or less the same pattern regardless of whether I’m writing a short story or novel. I always prefer writing in the mornings, roughly between 10 am – 2 pm. Normally, I’ve typed up the first draft on the computer, but recently I’ve gone back to writing by hand (even for my current WIP, my second novel!), before redrafting/editing it on a computer. I find writing by hand in a beautiful notebook is a safe space for trying out my ideas, before typing them up in a more formal, “polished” version on my laptop.

I tend to have a rough outline of the plot, which I will tweak and amend as I go along, but with certain key stages /turning points (including the ending), clearly identified. I normally have a reasonably detailed mind map for all of my characters, including appearance, body language, generic info like their favourite food and drink, hobbies etc, so that they feel like a real person I know in real life.

When it comes to drafting, I feel like I take the long route. The first two drafts of a WIP are always complete rewrites, particularly for novels. Not until the third draft do I have what feels like the true version of the story. Only by the fourth draft do I get to the true micro-editing stage.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

It is never too early to share your work with other writers/readers. Perfection does not exist, and striving for it before you’re willing to share your story can kill the heart of the work. Throw yourself into whatever opportunities come your way, and actively seek out for opportunities, in equal amount. Writing is about perseverance, but in order to persevere, you need to be fearless.

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

Social media. I love the Twitter community for writers, it’s an incredibly supportive space and a very efficient to grow your network. If not for twitter, I wouldn’t have encountered Tony and be invited to write this guest post! Twitter is also a great way of discovering new magazines, publishers and agents to submit to.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research


The crime in the book is actually based on a real reindeer killing, in which a circle of mutilated reindeer bodies had been discovered by two teenage girls in the forest. The location wasn’t far from the town where I’d stayed with my brother when we were travelling in northern Sweden. The culprit was never found. This opened my eyes to the hate crime that is committed against the Sami and their reindeer. The more I researched, the more atrocities, each one stranger and more gruesome than the next. All of them could be linked to the long-term contempt and discrimination against the Sami that has taken place through history with forced assimilation, racial biology studies and exploiting ancient grazing lands for iron ore mining and forest industry. All of these underlying issues have been described in the novel.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?


It’s difficult to describe this without giving away the plot! What I will say though, is that the confession building up to the climax near the end of the novel was quite challenging emotion-wise: every single word was loaded and had to perfectly selected. There was a very delicate balance between raining the emotion in and maintaining a tangible tension, and going overboard resulting in more cliched dialogue.

What are you planning to write next?


I am currently finishing the third draft of my second novel, a crime novel for adults. Like Embers it is set in Sweden, but closer to home, describing the hunting community and small-town life, and the secrets and conspiracies that can take place within a family. It is also loosely based on a real incident that happened in the area, about wolf hybrids roaming the countryside and passing through towns, which had to be tracked down and shot.

Josephine Greenland
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About the Author

Josephine Greenland is a Swedish-English writer from Eskilstuna, Sweden, currently living in Edinburgh, where she works as a secondary English teacher. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham and a BA in English from the University of Exeter. Embers is her first novel, and was her dissertation project for her MA. She was a finalist in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition by Regulus Press, the winner of the 2019 Bumble Bee Flash Fiction Competition by Pulp Literature, and winner of the 2017 Fantastic Female Fables Competition by Fantastic Books Publishing. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in fourteen different magazines online and in print. When not writing or teaching, she enjoys playing the violin, running and hiking. Find out more at https://www.josephinegreenland.com/ and follow Josephine on Facebook and Twitter @greenland_jm

15 February 2021

Torn Between Two Queens, a special guest post by Wendy J. Dunn


There’s a chorus of an old song that I’m sure most people have heard at least once in their life:

Torn between two lovers,
feelin' like a fool,
Lovin' both of you,
is breakin' all the rules.

I’m not torn between two lovers, but I have to admit to feeling torn between Tudor queens. Yes – I have my fair share of Anne Boleyn replica jewellery, an Anne Boleyn Iphone case, Anne Boleyn note paper and even devoted years of my life to give voice to Anne Boleyn in my fiction, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I feel just as devoted to Katherine of Aragon. I have even my Falling Pomegranate Seeds series (my two novels about Katherine of Aragon) to prove it.

So many people think of Katherine of Aragon as a Spanish princess, but she wouldn’t have described herself in that way – not really. It was the marriage of her father and mother, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabel of Castilla, two monarchs who ruled over different parts of what is now known as Spain, that resulted in the gradual union of their two countries that became one of the most powerful dominions in Christendom.

As a daughter of King Ferdinand, Katherine was a princess of Aragon. Her mother – the Queen of Castilla, a far more powerful country than Aragon – could have made it very difficult for her husband, but her great ability in diplomacy was apparent even on the home front. She chose to wield her power in such a way that always included her husband. Her immense gifts as a ruling monarch makes me wonder if this was the reason history renamed her Isabella – a name, it is believed, the English brought into being when they wanted to belittle the grandmother of Mary I, as well as in response to the Spanish Armada (Liss 2002).

Born on the sixteenth day of December in 1485, Katherine of Aragon, or Catalina as she was known at her mother’s court, was the fifth and last child of these two monarchs. At three, Katherine was betrothed to Prince Arthur, the first-born son of a new royal English dynasty: the Tudors.

Extremely intelligent, pious and educated by the best tutors her mother could find, Katherine was also trained – like her three older sisters – by her mother to be a devoted and obedient wife who was able to be a good helpmeet for their husband. Katherine was not only able to care well for her husband’s stomach, but also was an excellent embroiderer and maker of manly shirts. She would one day anger Anne Boleyn when she refused to stop making shirts for Henry VIII. As his wife, it was her duty to make them (Fraser 1998).

There are many stories from the pages of history about Katherine I can visualise as a fiction writer. One story I especially love - when Wolsey visited Katherine during the time of "The King's Great Matter". Busy sewing with her women, Katherine doesn’t invite him into her chamber, but speaks to him at the door, with skeins of threads over her shoulder and I suspect a needle in her hand. 

Like Anne, Katherine did not like Wolsey, especially in this time when she was being pressured to step aside as Henry’s Queen. Did she feel tempted to accidently brush against Wolsey and prick him with her needle? Make him bleed, because she saw him as one of the reasons her husband now rejected her, making her own heart bleed.

Katherine arrived in England just before her sixteenth birthday, after a long and perilous journey from her mother's kingdom of Castile. The sea journey was even more dangerous, with her ships being driven back once by terrible storms before venturing out to sea again. A chronicle of the period said:

It is reported that this lady Katherine thought and feared such an unhappy chance might come, (the death of her husband, Prince Arthur) for when she had embraced her father and taken leave of her noble and prudent mother, and sailed towards England, she was continually so tossed and tumbled hither and thither with boisterous winds that what with the raging of the water and the contrary winds her ship was prevented many times from approaching the shore and landing (2014 Primary Sources, online).

Katherine met her future husband and his father at the Bishop’s palace at Dogmersfield in Hampshire. At this palace – against all Castilian custom, a custom historically influenced by the Moors – Henry VII insisted on lifting the veil of his son’s bride. He saw a pretty girl with grey eyes. Her skin colour appeared to be what is still described of as the English rose, which she inherited from her English ancestors. 

Katherine’s grandmother was Catherine of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt (Fraser 1998). Katherine’s greatest beauty was her thick red/gold hair, hair that cascaded past her waist. When she first met Henry VII and Prince Arthur, her hair would have flowed free – as a symbol of her virginity. Sigh. I always feel somewhat cross when I see Katherine of Aragon recreated in movies or television shows as a woman with black-hair. She wasn’t. Thomas More said of her: ‘There is nothing wanting in her that the most beautiful girl should have’ (2014 Historic Royal Palaces, Online source).

Arthur Prince of Wales

The King and Prince Arthur expressed themselves fully pleased with Katherine. Arthur wrote later about his joy at first seeing ‘the sweet face of his bride’ (Fraser 1998, p. 24). But Arthur’s happiness was short-lived. Within only a few months of marriage, the fifteen-year-old prince was dead and Katherine fighting for her own life. They had both been stricken with one of those sudden deadly illnesses of the period – probably the English sweat - that struck fast and hard.

Katherine was pious and honest. After Arthur’s death, Katherine said, over and over, that their marriage had never been consummated. Her father wrote, in 1503, ‘It is well known that the princess is still a virgin’. But he was also a wily politician. In arranging Katherine’s betrothal to Prince Henry, her husband’s younger brother, her father asked the Pope to write up the dispensation in a way that made the question of her virginity unimportant and would safeguard Katherine’s later marriage. Henry VII also protected his own child and son, not forgetting his political back – the marriage would only go forward when Henry the younger was old enough to agree to the match.

Katherine endured seven dreadful years after Arthur’s death. A political pawn – in the hand of a father-in-law who often acted towards her like an utter miser – she was kept short of funds, as well as powerful friends. I agree with Antonia Fraser that these years of deprivation shaped her in such a way that made it impossible for her to bend when Henry VIII later sought to take a new wife (Fraser 1998). In that future time, Katherine probably remembered her time of triumph after seven years of hell while a widow. It is possible that she thought that all she needed to do was to keep faith and God would answer her prayers again.

I also find myself wondering if this time of deprivation impacted upon her health. Katherine spent many hours praying and days fasting during these bleak years. Perhaps this led to some kind of physical damage that caused complications during her pregnancies, making it difficult for her to bear living children. Alison Weir also suggests this in Henry VIII, King and Court, that Katherine’s deep piety and habit of fasting – behaviours reinforced during her widowhood – may have caused reproduction problems (Weir 2001).

Just before Henry VII died, a desperate Katherine contemplated taking the veil. She was saved from this destiny for another destiny when the King died in 1509 and she married – just weeks later – his son, Henry VIII.

During the early years of Katherine's marriage to the young Henry Tudor, the English court had a reputation for learning as well as piety. I have no doubt that Katherine influenced and encouraged her husband's better traits. Greatly respected for her intelligence, Katherine acted as her father’s ambassador during the early years of her marriage to Henry. Henry VIII also had no hesitation in entrusting his Kingdom to his wife whenever he decided to ride off to war with France, his country's traditional enemy.

Katherine did her very best to provide Henry with a royal heir. She believed she had done her duty by giving her husband their daughter, Mary, the only child of their union to survive infancy and live to adulthood. Perhaps if the fates had been kinder – if her husband hadn’t convinced himself that their marriage was accursed, and indeed was no marriage after his hopes for a son had been dashed time after time by the birth of yet another dead or soon to be dead baby – Mary could have been a valid answer to the English succession.

18 Year Old Henry in 1509

Katherine took her responsibilities as Queen very seriously. She gave money to the poor, was a patron of scholars and poets, and enriched religious orders not only with her presence, but also with her wealth. As the events of the Evil May Day, in 1517, proved when she begged for four hundred lives of those who had rioted in London, protesting against foreigners making their livelihoods in London, she was willing to stand up to her husband for those deprived of power. Her actions on during that terrible May were long remembered in a ballad:

What if (she said) by Spanish blood,
have London's stately streets being wet,
Yet will I seek this country’s good
And pardons for their children get;
Or else, the world will speak to me,
And say, “Queen Catherine was unkind,”
And judge me still the cause to be,
These young men did misfortune find.
And so disrobed of rich attire,
With hair unbound she sadly hies,
And of her gracious lord required,
A boon, which hardly he denies…
For which, kind Queen, with joyful heart,
She heard their mothers’ thanks and praise;
And so from them did gently part,
And lived beloved all her days… 
 
(Luke 1971, p.195).

Henry VIII may have rejected her as his wife, but England never rejected her as one of their most beloved Queens. To this day, also like Anne Boleyn, flowers are placed on her tomb.

Sometimes, I find myself imagining Katherine and Anne, alone together, in a heavenly, Tudor garden. The sun shines brightly as they sit close together, heads bent, their hands busy at completing exquisite embroideries. They murmur and laugh together, and I hear the often-repeated name of Henry: a man they both loved until their last living breath. I think, in Heaven, free of life’s sorrows and the battles to live and to love, Anne and Katherine would at last discover their common ground and find an eternal friendship.

Wendy J. Dunn

References:

Fraser, A, 1998, The six wives of Henry VIII, Arrow Books, London

Weir, A, 2001, Henry VIII, King and court, Ballantine Books, New York

Luke, M. L 1971, Catherine, the Queen, Paperback Library, New York

Liss, P. K 2002, “Isabel, Myth and History”, in Isabel la Cat├│lica, Queen of Castile: Critical Essays, David A. Boruchoff (Editor), 2002, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

2014. Primary Sources: The death of Prince Arthur Tudor, 1502. [ONLINE] Available at: http://englishhistory.net/tudor/darthur.html. [Accessed 17 September 2014].

2014 Historic Royal Palaces: Hampton Palace, viewed 17 September 2014,

The original version was first published on 19/09/2014 at English History Fiction Authors. 

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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

Book Launch: Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders: Simnel, Warbeck, and Warwick, by Nathen Amin


New from Amazon UK

On 22 August 1485, Henry Tudor emerged from the Battle of Bosworth victorious. His disparate army vanquished the forces of Richard III and, according to Shakespeare over a century later, brought ‘smooth-faced peace, with smiling aplenty and fair prosperous days’ back to England. Yet, all was not well early in the Tudor reign. 

Despite later attempts to portray Henry VII as single-handedly uniting a war-torn England after three decades of conflict, the kingdom was anything but settled. Nor could it be after a tumultuous two-year period that had witnessed the untimely death of one king, the mysterious disappearance of another, and the brutal slaughter of a third on the battlefield. 

For the first time in one compelling and comprehensive account, Nathen Amin looks at the myriad of shadowy conspiracies and murky plots which sought to depose the Tudor usurper early in his reign, with particular emphasis on the three pretenders whose causes were fervently advanced by Yorkist dissidents ‒ Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck, and Edward, Earl of Warwick. 

Just how close did the Tudors come to overthrow long before the myth of their greatness had taken hold on our public consciousness?

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About the Author

Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book is a full-length biography of the Beaufort family. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer. Find him on Twitter @NathenAmin.

10 February 2021

Guest Post: Writing a Novel, by Saga Hillbom ~ Part Two: The Publishing Process


Available for pre-order from 

1483, Westminster. The bells toll for the dead king, Edward IV, while his rivaling nobles grasp for power. His daughter Cecily can only watch as England is plunged into chaos, torn between her loyalties to her headstrong mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and her favourite uncle, Richard of Gloucester. When Elizabeth schemes to secure her own son on the throne that Richard lays claim to, Cecily and her siblings become pawns in a perilous game.

"
Traditionally published books are of a higher quality. Self-publishing is for those who failed."

An acquaintance of mine said these exact words to me when I was fifteen and considering which way I would want to publish my debut novel. Now, the novel was, to put it bluntly, shit. That is why I later removed it from the market and am currently rewriting it—but I did receive a couple of offers from literary agents. 

Recalling what my acquaintance had told me and what I knew was a common view of traditional versus self-published books, it felt like a no-brainer to accept one of the offers. However, I did not. Creative control has always been extremely important to me; I write because I love it, and I want to have full power over what happens to my finished product. Moreover, I was eager to get my book out there, as I imagine most writers are. To wait a couple of years before seeing it in print, to have others influence my cover design and tell me what I had to edit out from the manuscript—all this felt harrowing.

When I first began self-publishing, I was a complete novice and made more mistakes than correct choices. I have still not mastered the process, but a lot has improved. For example, I have learnt how to professionally format a book, how to market myself, and which cover designers to hire. Although I far from enjoy the publishing process, I do not feel quite as lost, and I am glad that I chose creative control over supposed higher status. There are terrible traditionally published books just as there are fantastic ones; the same stands true for the self-publishing market. No matter which way suits you best, there will always be both good and bad reviews.

I use Ingramspark to print my paperbacks and Kindle for my ebooks. This combination works best for me. Ingramspark has given me various issues over the years, such as making my book available to retailers before either of my ‘publishing’ and ‘on sale’ dates, but I stick with it. If you are planning to self-publish your book, be sure to check whether there are any promo codes available. Around November, you can usually find a code for NaNoWriMo, saving you the fee for uploading files on Ingramspark.

In August 2020, I ordered the cover for my historical novel Princess of Thorns from my favourite freelance graphic designer, who has made the covers for my previous books as well. There are not many stock images out there depicting accurate 15th century fashion, so I had to settle for the best I could find. 

The girl on my cover is therefore a compromise between historical accuracy, visual appeal, and the protagonist's appearance. The crown encircling her legs is obviously symbolic of the literary themes. To tell the truth, I sometimes feel that all my books look more ‘girly’ than they are once you actually read them. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with chick lit, I hope my designer and I have managed to convey the right mood for Princess of Thorns. Overall, I was very pleased with how the cover turned out.

As part of my publishing and marketing process, I have started a series of Instagram posts about medieval and early modern England. This is partly to attract my target audience, partly to keep me busy while I go through the periods of waiting associated with releasing a book. The series of posts centers around the Wars of the Roses, including everything from battles to major and minor personages, but also covers 15th century food and clothes. In my experience, the publishing process can be quite frustrating at times, so I really recommend having another little project on the side.

This has been a shorter post than the one I wrote about my writing process, but perhaps that is because publishing is simply not what I feel the most passionate about. I would say that I publish because I write rather than the other way around, if you see what I mean. Someday, I might sacrifice a bit of creative control and give traditional publishing a proper go, but not with Princess of Thorns. As for now, I am about to bundle myself up in a blanket, make a cup of tea, and flick through my proof copy.

Saga Hillbom

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About the Author

Saga Hillbom is the self-published author of four historical novels, including Princess of Thorns, City of Bronze City of Silver, Today Dauphine Tomorrow Nothing, and A Generation of Poppies. She is currently studying history in Lund, Sweden, where she lives with her family. When not writing or reading, Saga enjoys painting, cooking, spending time outside, and watching old movies.. To find out more, visit her website sagahillbom.blog and follow Saga on Twitter @sagahillbom02

9 February 2021

Special Guest Interview with David Pilling, Author of The Champion (I): Blood and Steel


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1296 AD: the whole of Western Europe trembles on the brink of war. South of the Pyrenees, the Christian and Moorish kingdoms fight and scheme against each for control of Hispania.

I'm please to welcome author David Pilling to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

I am currently working on the sequel to my most recent novel, The Champion (I): Blood and Steel. The sequel is titled Blood and Gold and follows the adventures of En Pascal of Valencia, a knight of Aragon struggling to make his way in late 13th century Europe. In the first volume of his memoirs (they are told in the first person), Pascal had barely escaped with his skin intact from Edward I of England's wars in Aquitaine and Flanders. He is now dispatched on a mission to the Holy Roman Empire, before being pitched into the Scottish wars against William Wallace and Robert de Bruce. Pascal is a busy man!

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I prefer to write in the morning, when my mind is fresh, and try to do a second stint in the afternoon. That usually requires a serious caffeine injection. Otherwise I get distracted by social media, Twitter, Facebook etc

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Write about a subject that genuinely inspires and interests you, rather than something you think you ought to be writing. Otherwise you will never sustain the interest in the long term and will find it lonely and difficult work. It is always possible to make compromises, of course.

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

To be honest the most effective marketing strategy is to produce regular new content. Unless one strikes lucky – it does happen – most writers have to be quite prolific these days to have any chance of making a living from it. The social media aspect helps, of course, but there is an element of 'white noise', with so many authors on the net clamouring for attention.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

Oh, all sorts of things. I cannot pick out anything specific, but the level of detail and subtlety in medieval politics is always fascinating. They were full of surprises, you know (often unpleasant ones...)

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

None. I'm not the sort of writer who struggles to write of the death of a character or anything like that. The hardest scene is generally the one I have to write at the start of the day, when my brain doesn't want to shift into the work pattern.

What are you planning to write next?

I have several non-fiction projects in mind, possibly co-writing projects focused on wars in medieval Europe and the rise of concepts of 'nationalism'. Nothing concrete as yet though. I find it good to flip between fiction and non-fiction, it keeps things fresh.

David Pilling

# # #

About the Author

David Pilling is a writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as he can remember. The medieval era has always held a fascination for him, perhaps because he spent much of his childhood exploring the misted ruins of castles in Wales. David also has a keen interest in the Byzantine Empire, the post-Roman period in Britain and the British & Irish Civil Wars. Find out more at David's website https://davidpillingauthor.weebly.com/ and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @RobeH2

8 February 2021

Special Guest Post: The Fall of Kings: History vs Myth, by Stuart Rudge -Author of The Fall of Kings


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Castile. 1071AD. Three kings. One crown.

After Sancho II of Castile dispatches his champion Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar to capture his brother, King Garcia of Galicia, he hopes it is a defining moment in his quest to reunite the lands of his father under one banner. 

The Fall of Kings: History vs Myth

Today, I will be looking at the historical sources and those associated with the legendary Cid to define his role in the war between the sons of Fernando. Interpretation varies from source to source, and for a historian, it is important to validate their authenticity to sort out the fact and fiction regarding Spain’s most distinguished hero.

Sancho of Castile and Alfonso of Leon had clung on to an uneasy peace ever since they became kings after the death of their father. By the end of 1071, their younger brother Garcia had already been deposed as king of Galicia. A surviving document names Alfonso as King of Leon and Galicia, and Sancho as King of Castile and Galicia, at the same time, although it would prove difficult for Sancho to rule in Galicia, given that Alfonso’s domain lay directly between the two. 

As several Galician bishops serve as signatories on some of Alfonso’s charters from the end of 1071, it was likely only Alfonso who conquered Galicia, almost doubling the size of his domain in the process. Sancho would not allow Alfonso to sit comfortably on his possessions. The decisive clash came at a place called Golpejera in the Kingdom of Leon, at the beginning of January 1072, which would have made for hellish conditions for a battle. This suggests Sancho wanted to catch Alfonso without additional forces from Asturias and Galicia, as these would have taken some weeks to assemble. In the battle, Sancho defeated Alfonso and became king of Leon, Castile and Galicia.


El Cid, Champion of Castile
Source: https://www.deviantart.com/javieralcalde/art/El-Cid-Campeador-807284727

There has been much debate about the status which the Cid held under Sancho’s tenure as King of Castile, and later of Leon and Galicia. The Carmen Campidoctoris, literally translated as ‘Song of the Campeador’, claims that the Cid was at least the champion of Castile. From the poem comes the extract early in his life, ‘This was his first single combat, when as a young man he defeated the Navarrese champion; for this reason he was called campi doctor.’ Campi docti translates from Latin as ‘master of the field’, but likely in Medieval Spain at the time is similar to ‘armiger’, or arms bearer of the king. 

The Historia Roderici claims that wherever Sancho went and whichever battle he fought, Rodrigo bore the standard of the king, including at Lantadilla and Golpejera. When Sancho conquered Leon, it also claims he ‘rated him so highly…he made him the commander of his whole military following’. Some scholars argue against this, claiming the Cid would have been too young and too inexperienced to hold such a position, but if we are to believe the Cid had been a knight for nearly a decade and carried the king’s standard into battle, a high honour in itself, then why would Sancho not give one of his most distinguished men that honour?

Sancho experienced a troubled rule as king of all three domains, and by October 1072, it came to an abrupt end. In Bishop Pelayo’s Chronicon, he describes how Sancho ‘ruled for six years and was killed by treachery by a soldier named Vellito Ariulfo outside the walls of Zamora which he had besieged.’ The citizens of Zamora had risen in rebellion against their king, and the fact that Zamora was the city under siege suggests Urraca, Sancho and Alfonso’s elder sister, was the one who was the figurehead of the rebels. Urraca had inherited the city on her father’s death, and given that she was a regular signatory of Alfonso’s charters, it is highly likely the infanta still harboured loyalty to him and sought to help wrest control of the crown from Sancho. 

As to the circumstances of Sancho’s death, the most accepted tradition is that Vellito posed as a turncoat and offered to show Sancho a weak spot in the defences, only for him to assassinate the king ‘with a spear… unexpectedly, from behind,’ according to the Silense. The Cid was understandably grief-stricken; the Historia Roderici has him chase Vellito back to Zamora and, in an incident which may or may not have been connected, faced off against fifteen enemy knights, where he killed several and put the rest to flight. But no amount of killing could undo the death of his king. The Castilian army fell apart, and Sancho was laid to rest at the monastery of O├▒a, as was his wish. Only one man could take Sancho’s place as king.


The Death of Sancho II of Castile
Source: https://www.ileon.com/historia/101946/vellido-dolfos-el-heroe-leones-de-zamora-que-recupero-el-trono-del-gran-alfonso-vi

The final events of the year make for some of the most iconic in the story of the Cid, but also the most controversial. Alfonso made a swift return from Toledo and, once he had secured the thrones of Leon and Galicia, made for Burgos. In the Charlton Heston film, the Cid famously makes Alfonso swear he had no hand in Sancho’s death, even going so far as to slam the king’s hands upon a bible to add to the dramatic effect. This is based on an episode from an untrustworthy thirteenth-century source, most likely taking stock of the bad blood that would arise from the Cid and Alfonso in later years. 

From a historical point of view, it is highly unlikely the Cid would be so brazen as to go through with such an offensive act because to offend the new king so early in his reign would be to invite personal disaster. Some sort of hostility towards the new regime would be expected, but in fact, the Historia Roderici claims ‘King Alfonso received him with honour as his vassal and kept him in his entourage with very respectful affection.’ It was mutually beneficial for Alfonso to keep Sancho’s leading lords close to him, and for those lords, in turn, to submit peacefully to keep their possessions and standing in the kingdom. We even have the Cid’s signature on one of the first charters issued by Alfonso in Castile, further suggesting an amicable transfer of power.


El Cid forces Alfonso’s Oath
Source: https://nobility.org/2011/09/26/el-cids-story-living-legend/

Alfonso was now the sole ruler of a large kingdom, with members of all three districts in his court. Yet Rodrigo’s time in Alfonso would bring mixed fortunes. Whilst Alfonso recognised the champion of Castile’s service to his brother, Rodrigo did not enjoy the level of prestige he experienced in Sancho’s court. Furthermore, conspiracy and jealously would plague his service in the years to come.

Stuart Rudge

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About the Author

Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history. By day, he works down the local dock, playing with shipping containers and trains. Rise of a Champion was the first piece of work he has dared to share with the world. He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mould of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers. Find out more on Stuart's Website: https://stuartrudge.wordpress.com/ and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @stu_rudge

7 February 2021

Guest Post by Mojgan Azard, Author of A Lullaby in the Desert


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A Lullaby in the Desert tells the story of one woman’s unrelenting journey to find freedom. Born in Iran, Susan is forced to flee in order to escape an arranged marriage, leaving her mother 
and everything she has known behind.

What if by questioning injustice and standing up for the oppressed, your words were met with threats, captivity, and execution? Would you still stand up?

Imagine being born without rights. From bicycle bans and compulsory clothing to mandatory beliefs, what’s worse than being born in a society where your gender alone is a crime? Millions of women are held captive, whether behind bars or behind barriers, for what they believe, what they wear, and what they say. They are suffering at this very moment. Some, like Susan, decided they wouldn’t take being held in the grip of a society’s invisible hands any longer. Some, like Susan, decided to stand up despite the possibility of paying with their lives.

A Lullaby in the Desert isn’t just Susan’s story; it’s the chorus of millions of women, their voices carrying forcefully over the empty sands. Their silent melody can be heard from Iran to Syria, from Indonesia to Morocco. Indeed, their voices ring all over the world. Slavery as we read about it in the history books may be fading into the past, but another kind of slavery lives in the present and threatens to persist into the future if we choose to ignore it.

Some use fear as a weapon to keep others down, forcing entire societies into silence. In some countries, those in power would prefer to destroy the identities of millions of innocent people so long as their grip on power remains intact.

What they don’t know is that fear won’t stop someone who has nothing to lose. In A Lullaby in the Desert, Susan finds herself homeless, penniless, and alone in Iraq, a country on the brink of disaster. When standing on the edge of the abyss, Susan stepped forward, just like the other refugees beside her taking this journey to the point of no return. They all had the same goal: freedom.

Freedom is their fundamental right, their dream, their destination. Like the so many others, Susan’s freedom was stolen from her, the shackles thrown over her, covering

her body, pushing her down. For Susan, the forces of evil and slavery could be easily seen in the black flags of the Islamic States of Iraq and al-Sham, who some call ISIS, covering her life in a shadow. However, for millions of women, those dark forces are not so obvious, but they are deadly nonetheless.

Since 2014, ISIS killed and enslaved thousands of women in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. The world watched as the numbers of the dead ticked by on their televisions, seeing digits instead of faces, not knowing the tragedies those women have faced and continue to face, even at this very moment.

For a long time, I wondered how I could speak for those who could not, for those who had already died, for those who were still enslaved. When the idea first entered my mind, I had to take a step back. Even the thought of telling the world of our plight made me shudder as I remembered my own trauma that began from my earliest days. I remembered the nine-year-old girls sold for fifty dollars in the street to marry strange old men, I remembered a singer assassinated for speaking up about people’s rights, I remembered seeing a woman shot in the head because she wanted to be free. Shame on me if I remained silent.

When I close my eyes I feel no pain because I cannot see anything around me. But my beliefs remain, my story remains. I had to stand in front of my trauma, confront it, release it, because I didn’t choose this life but this is what I know.

When I decided to write Lullaby, one thing pushed me forward: the pain. Pain may stop some, may slow some down, may force some down a different path. For me, I allowed it to open my eyes. Everything I see fills me with responsibility, to women everywhere, even from different places and different backgrounds. I don’t want other humans to suffer what I’ve suffered.

I’ve always believed that we are alive for others. We exist for each other. We can’t survive alone. We all look up at the stars and wish we could be in space, looking down at the earth. However, the moment we were really up there, smothered in cold and dark, we’d realize how alone we felt, and we’d wish to be back among humanity.

Just like those places between the stars, our earth would be frozen and empty, sad and lonely, if people live without regard for those with less than them, those with a different belief, a different gender, a different ability.

Yes, you read that right: it’s our earth. They’ve separated us, they’ve painted us with identities and made us into “us” and “them.” They’ve made some of us human and some of us less than human.

Well I have something to say to “them:” they’ve underestimated women everywhere for far too long. It hurts to be seen as less than someone else, but our world was built on pain and struggle. It was also built on hope. We women have given birth to the leaders, the teachers, the world changers. A Lullaby in the Desert shows that just like Susan, we need to reject the idea of being weak that is imposed on us, and instead be ready to be strong. They should never underestimate us.

Mojgan Azar

"Mojgan carefully weaves a tapestry of so many tragic truths in her novel about Susan's fight to overcome being a woman in the Middle East, being an Iranian in Iraq, and being a human in the shadow of ISIS. Her journey takes us to places that many of us in the West have never heard of, real places full of love, life, and loss." ~ Amazon Reviewer 
Such a compelling, beautifully written tale. Should be read by any and everyone but will particularly resonate with those who want to understand the crisis faced in the middle-east at a more personal level. Heart-renching and captivating I cannot recommend this book enough." ~ Lovely Stories
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About the Author

Mojgan Azard was born in Iran and lived most of her adult life in Iraq. She was living in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham swept through the area, displacing millions and trapping Mojgan in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Her harrowing experiences have inspired her writings, and for the first time she is making that story known to the world. Find out more at her website www.azarmojgan.com and find her on Instagram