Mastodon The Writing Desk: March 2021

26 March 2021

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

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

25 March 2021

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

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Special promotion at 0.99 
signed copies of the paperbacks are
 available from

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

The Reformers and the right to vote. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "NO!" the men shouted as one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H D Coulter

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

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About the Author

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

24 March 2021

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judith Arnopp

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About the Author

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

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

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise for John Pilkington:

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

16 March 2021

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

Available from Everything Goes Media and Amazon US

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

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

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

Sharon Woodhouse 

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About the Author

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

15 March 2021

Book Launch Spotlight: A Matter of Conscience: : Henry VIII, The Aragon Years, by Judith Arnopp

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

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

On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Caterina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys.

But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished

Christendom mocks the virile prince. Caterina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son.

He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Caterina refuses to step aside.

As their relationship founders his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.

A Matter of Conscience: The Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation.The story continues in A Matter of Faith: Book Two of The Henrician Chronicle.

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About the Author

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

14 March 2021

Special Guest Post by Mary K Tod, Author of Paris In Ruins

Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US

Paris 1870. Raised for a life of parties and servants, Camille and Mariele have much in common, but it takes the horrors of war to bring them together to fight for the city and people they love. The story of two women whose families were caught up in the defense of Paris is deeply moving and suspenseful ~~ Margaret George, author of Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero

Louise Michel and the Paris Commune

My newest novel, Paris In Ruins, is set during the Prussian siege of Paris and the Paris Commune—nine months of devastation, death, and infamy. Research prompted many questions. Why did certain Parisians attempt a coup at the end of October 1870 when Prussian soldiers surrounded the city? 

Why did so many working-class citizens rise up to overthrow the government after enduring five months of siege that left many starving and destitute? Who were the leaders of this insurrection? When I came across Louise Michel, leader of the Montmartre Women’s Vigilance Committee who some referred to as the ‘Red Virgin’, I knew she had to be part of the story.

By the summer of 1870, Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, had presided over France for twenty-two years, first as president and then as emperor. During that time, he expanded the French empire, modernized the economy, extended the railways and the merchant marine, and negotiated significant trade agreements with Britain and other European countries. He also dismantled and rebuilt large parts of Paris to create the boulevards and buildings that remain to this day and give the city its distinctive style.

Napoleon III (Wikimedia)

For some—the aristocrats, the Catholic Church, military and political leaders, and the upper middle class—life was good. However, the gap between rich and poor had widened. The working class merely scraped by and half the population lived in poverty and destitution. The people were restless. Protests bubbled beneath the surface, occasionally spilling over onto the streets in riots and demonstrations. According to one account, people assembled every night on the Boulevards, singing the Marseillaise, destroying property, their leaders inflaming the crowds with sedition.

In 1870, the revolutionary spirit from the revolution that occurred toward the end of the 18th century was still very much alive. People like Louise Michel, a feminist, a writer, and an anarchist were attracted to the ideals of socialism that spread under the influence of the International Association of Workers. Montmartre, the home of many working-class men and women, was a center of political and economic radicalism. 

Louise Michel (Wikimedia)

Political clubs were the places where discussions took place and demands for reform debated. Women set up their own clubs where they expressed their desires for change and their resentment of oppression. Louise Michel was one of the founders of the Society for the Rights of Women (La Société du Droit des Femmes). 

She believed passionately that women should have autonomy and equality. Michel and her co-leaders in the society called for the establishment of schools for girls, civil equality for married women, and equal working opportunities. Many denounced the Church and rejected the definition of women through their childbearing and nurturing capacities. 

Louise Michel wrote: “In the world, [woman] bends under mortification; in her home her burdens crush her. Man wants to keep her that way, to be sure she will never encroach upon his functions or his titles.”

Louise Michel led the Women’s Vigilance Committee of Montmartre with vigor and dedication calling on those who assembled to rise up for change, to support the Commune, and to take on all the tasks necessary to overthrow a social order she and others saw as repressive of workers’ rights and the rights of women. Just before the Commune seized control, Louise exhorted her followers to become ambulance workers, food workers, journalists, orators, barricade workers, educators, working class organizers, and to take up arms, if necessary, to fight for their rights.

In Live Working or Die Fighting, author Paul Mason writes: “A wiry, dark-haired woman runs screaming down the cobbled street that links Montmartre with the boulevard below. It is Louise Michel and she has a rifle hidden under her jacket. The word she’s screaming is ‘treason.’ She’s just seen government troops take possession of the guns lined up in the Montmartre cannon park. Drums are beaten in the alleyways and soon Michel returns, accompanied by her boyfriend Ferré and a motley column of armed citizens.”

Paul Mason shares Louise Michel’s memories of that day: “Montmartre arose . . . In the dawn, which was just breaking, you could hear the tocsin ringing; we went up at the speed of a charge, knowing that at the top there was an army in battle formation. We expected to die for liberty.”

This is the Louise Michel on whom my protagonist Camille Noisette spies so that those in government are informed of the plans of the radicals who threaten Paris and, should they succeed, all of France.

Mary K Tod

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About the Author

M.K. (Mary) Tod writes and blogs about historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS  is available for pre-order on AmazonUS, AmazonCanada, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. Find out more from Mary's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MKTodAuthor

12 March 2021

Special Guest Post by Lelita Baldock: The Inspiration behind Widow’s Lace

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A hundred year old mystery, the widow left behind, a fallen soldier, the abandoned fiancée, an unnamed body and the young student determined to find the truth. In 1886 famous English poet Edward Barrington moves from Derbyshire, England to a farm on the Finniss River, in South Australia. Two years later he disappears.

My writing is always inspired by settings. I love to travel and experience new places and cultures. It is when I am out of my normal routine that the creative part of my mind becomes most active. So it will come as no surprise to hear that the inspiration for the story that would become Widow’s Lace came to me on a family holiday. I didn’t know it then, but such bursts of creativity would become the backbone of how I generate new ideas and plot lines.

The year was 2004, I was 22 years old and studying English Literature at the University of Adelaide, enjoying a course I was particularly drawn to: American Gothic. It was the first time I had really read any cannon Gothic Literature. I loved it. As a result I had begun my own private journey into gothic in general, reading Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson. Overtime I ventured into Australian Gothic and more modern stories. I loved the concepts of isolation and oppressive space that recurred particularly strongly in Australian Gothic, think The Secret River by Kate Grenville, or The Dry by Jane Harper.

During a semester break my family and I went on a holiday to the town of Goolwa, some 50 miles out from Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia and my hometown. My father is a keen sailor, so we took a day trip along the Finniss River, a tributary river of the Murray River, which is part of one of the largest river systems in Australia, the Murray-Darling. 

Sailing on the Finniss River. (Photo Credit: Lelita Baldock)

It was there, bobbing on the quiet and remote waterway, surrounded by green rolling hills and gum trees, listening to the buzzing of insects as they searched for food amongst the reeds, that the first seeds of a story were planted.

Watching the riverbank as we passed, I saw a small sandstone homestead, complete with outhouses and sheds. We judged the buildings to be from the late 1800s. The property was old and run down, but also majestic and wistful. I started wondering who would have lived out here so long ago, and why?

Homestead on the Finniss River. (Photo Credit: Lelita Baldock)

Likely inspired by the novels I was reading, I imagined a woman dressed in a flimsy, white dress standing alone on the bank, calling out, her voice echoing through the reeds. 

Over the next few months the image kept popping into my mind, and I found myself daydreaming, piecing together a series of events that would lead to a woman living alone on the banks of the Finniss River. And just like that, the basis for the novel that would become Widow’s Lace was born.

The novel itself took many years to write. It was my first attempt at writing, and while I had studied the works of others I had never written myself. But it was a journey I thoroughly enjoyed. By 2010 I had completed the first draft, but life happened, as it does, and the manuscript was put away for eight years while I moved to the United Kingdom with my husband Ryan and travelled through Europe. 

In hindsight, though unintentional, this break from the story was the best thing I could have done. During those eight years I learnt so much more about myself as a person and as a writer. I read widely and enjoyed composing short stories and poems as a way to practice using words effectively. I also experienced many more places and found locations that were perfect to enrich the backstory of my main characters, expanding the scope of Widow’s Lace.

In 2018 Ryan and I settled in Surrey, where we currently reside. We were both ready for a change in direction with our lives, wanting to get back into our passion-projects and feel like we were getting more out of life. So naturally, I picked up my manuscript again. Taking my original story of an English poet who moves to remote South Australia in 1886 and then disappears, I drew on the various parts of England I had explored in the intervening years and developed the linking characters who investigate his disappearance 130 years later. By mid-2019 my manuscript was ready, and Widow’s Lace was published in March 2020.

It was a long journey writing Widow’s Lace, but I think an essential one. I always believed in the basis of the story: a 100 year old mystery about a man who disappeared, and a body found by the Finniss River, but I needed time to find the threads that would pull it all together, and the locations that matched. 

Without a doubt, my writing is inspired by experiences, in travel and connections with people. Since completing Widow’s Lace I have mapped out a further four novel ideas, one of which, The Unsound Sister, has been published, and I am throughly enjoying developing these ideas and bringing them to life.

I still have much to learn. To be honest, I doubt you ever stop learning about writing. But that in itself excites me. I am loving the process of being creative and finding ways to make it a bigger part of my life. I look forward to many more adventures and discovering new ideas, characters and stories that I can shape into a novel and share with anyone who would like to read them.

Lelita Baldock

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About the Author

Lelita Baldock was born and raised in Adelaide, Australia, and holds a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English and History from the University of Adelaide and a Bachelor of Education from The University of South Australia. During her twenties she worked as an English teacher in both Australia and the United Kingdom, working with the International Baccalaureate curriculum. Now Lelita and her husband run a web development business, and she makes time for writing after hours and on weekends. It can mean long days and late nights, but she doesn’t mind, stories are her passion. Lelita currently resides in the United Kingdom with her husband Ryan and beloved rescue-cat, Jasmine. Find out more at Lelita's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @BaldockLelita

11 March 2021

Special Guest Interview with Cynthia Ripley Miller, Author of A Sword Among Ravens (The Long-Hair Saga Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD 455. Arria Felix and her husband, Garic the Frank, have safely delivered a sacred relic to Emperor Marcian in Constantinople. But now, Arria and Garic will accept a new mission. The emperor has asked them to carry the sword of King David of Israel to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where Arria will dedicate it in her murdered father’s memory.

I'm pleased to welcome author Cynthia Ripley Miller to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book. 

A Sword Among Ravens is a romantic historical mystery/adventure set in the 5th century late Roman Empire in Jerusalem, and the third book in my series, The Long-Hair Saga. My heroine, Arria, is a Roman senator’s daughter known in Rome for her deductive abilities. Her husband, Garic, is a barbarian noble and First Counsel to his Frank tribe of warriors. They have accepted a mission given to them by Emperor Marcian, ruling the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). They will carry an ancient relic, King David of Israel’s sword, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Along the way, they face many challenges and dangers. 

Their young daughter goes missing, a brutal killer stalks their path, and cold-blooded thieves are determined to steal the sword for their own gains. But when Arria is confronted over where the sword should truly rest, old friendships, loyalties, and her duty to the emperor are put to the test. Arria and Garic find themselves caught in a treacherous mission wrapped in murder, mystery, and the power of love and redemption.

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I’m definitely a ‘plotter’! I usually start with an idea, and then I move to the main characters I envision. I’ll describe their situation and characteristics on paper. I think about what they must have or attain, what they are willing to do, or how far they will go to achieve this goal. I try to define the central conflict and their ‘hero’s journey,’ individually and together. 

I like creating exciting connections between leading and supporting characters as well. At times, I let the muses lead me, and often it’s not where I intended to go! Practically, I use graphic web organizers (somewhat similar to a storyboard) or synopsis to help me plot my way through the book. I like twists, mystery, or intrigue to run through the storyline and a HEA (Happily Ever After). 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

You may have many challenges in working your way to publication, but stay fearless. Pay attention to the industry’s demands, read, write, and participate in arenas that will help you grow, but at the same time, block out the noise. I decided to push through the market fads and write in a time that intrigued and excited me and at my own pace. A book takes me about two years to write. Years ago, while at a conference, some editors and agents advised against writing fiction set in WWII and early America and to publish several books a year. And yet, today, books set in WWI and WWII are quite popular. I decided—like the writers I admire—I would focus on quality over quantity, persevere, and enjoy myself. 

From my first word typed on paper to the day I signed a contract was almost nine years. In that time, I revised three drafts, researched, sent out queries, partials, and manuscripts, and attended conferences. I worked a full-time job and lived in a household with four kids and a dog, two cats, a few gerbils, and a goldfish!  

However, one of the ‘signs’ that kept me motivated (and sane) was that people who knew me never seemed to forget I was writing a novel. They would always ask me how it was going. I felt encouraged by this and determined. I made goals for myself, and I joined several writing groups and formed my own novelist group. I surrounded myself with other writers with the same goals—to become better writers and to work towards publication. There were more than a few times when I felt like quitting, but I couldn’t. Something wouldn’t let me. Then, one day, as I sat in my car in a library parking lot, I checked my email, and the offer was there. A London and New York publisher, Knox Robinson Publishing, wanted to publish my book. I cried happy tears.

The best advice I can offer anyone is the model for determination I used.  In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, the character Andy, played by Tim Robbins, goes to prison for killing his wife and her lover, a crime he did not commit. For two decades, he picks away at the wall in his cell with a stolen rock hammer to create a hole large enough for him to escape from prison and finally find freedom. I loved the message in this story. If there is anything you really want—keep at it, pick away at it—and you may accomplish your goal. If you don’t reach your goal, your effort isn’t totally lost. It may lead you to a new purpose and maybe, an even better one. Think positively!

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

I particularly like blog tours to raise awareness. I enjoy it when a reader reaches out to me because they’ve read about me, a review of one of my books, or a Q & A like this one. Author and library fairs also help raise awareness as well as social media platforms.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research. 

In my third book, A Sword Among Ravens, I brought back a Jewish character from book one kidnapped as a young man from his home in Palestine. Part of this story takes place in Jerusalem. As I was researching 5th century Jerusalem, I discovered that in 324–25, Emperor Constantine reunited the empire after winning the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy. 

Within a few months, the First Council of Nicaea (first worldwide Christian council) confirmed the status of Aelia Capitolina (the name given to Jerusalem by the emperor Hadrian in 130AD) as a patriarchate (offices). This was when a significant wave of Christian pilgrims and immigration to the city began. I was unaware that Jerusalem for a time had been given a Roman name. The city is believed to have been renamed Jerusalem in 324.

I also learned that in 325, the ban on Jews entering the city remained in force (first enforced by Emperor Hadrian after the Simon Bar Kokhba revolt). Still, they were allowed to enter once a year to pray at the Western Wall on ‘the ninth of Ab,’ a Jewish holy day. This revelation posed a dilemma for my Jewish character, Samuel. I needed him to be able to enter and move around the city. However, this historical obstacle forced me to create a new scenario, which in the end, added extra tension and drama to the story. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

I think the fight scene at the top of David’s Tower involving multiple people was the most complex scene to write. The weapons were not the problem. By book three, I was very familiar with the types of swords, knives, and axes of the era. It was describing several people paired against one another and fighting at the same time on a rooftop that seemed difficult. It’s much easier to watch swordfights on film, but creating it in words so the reader can visualize is a challenge—one that I jumped into eagerly but where research was necessary.

I enjoyed searching for and interacting with experts who write on swordsmanship, and I actually participated in a sword-fighting class at a conference I attended. Also, while researching the Hun composite bow for my first book, I found the world-leading bowyer for this weapon and contacted him. He graciously offered to read my scenes describing its construction. I was thrilled. It never hurts to ask for advice. Although the fight scene was challenging to write, I found it immensely rewarding when my Beta readers told me it worked.

What are you planning to write next? 

I’m actually toying with an idea I have for a fantasy book. It’s still germinating, but I have two main characters in mind and partially on paper.

Cynthia Ripley Miller

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About the Author

Cynthia Ripley Miller is a first generation Italian-American writer with a love for history, languages, and books. She has lived in Europe and traveled world-wide, holds two degrees, and taught history and English. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, at Orchard Press, and The Scriptor. She is a Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist with awards from Circle of Books-Rings of Honor and The Coffee Pot Book Club. She has reviewed for UNRV Roman History, and blogs at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus. Cynthia lives outside of Chicago with her family, along with a cute but bossy cat. Find out more at her website, and find her on Facebook and Twitter @CRipleyMiller

8 March 2021

Guest Post by Alistair Forrest, Author of 'Libertas': Behind the Writing

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

SPAIN 45BC: Julius Caesar’s crack legions bear down on an obscure Spanish town, Munda, at the climax of Rome’s civil war. Against him are ranged the massed forces of Pompey the Great’s sons, Gnaeus and Sextus. To the victor, the spoils. Caught up in the conflict is an unlikely hero, Melqart. Near fatally wounded in the battle, his family is sold into slavery and his people oppressed by Arsay One-Eye,
a foe crueller than Caesar.

Capturing a Sense of Place, Part One: Julius Caesar marched through my garden

I have a journalist friend who, back in the day, would begin a catch-up call with the words: “I’m writing a book.” The response was always, “Neither am I”.

Well I did, and now the question is, “What took you so long?” In fact I’ve written several, but that first book (Libertas) was like falling in love for the first time. There were times when it wrote itself, leading me on, introducing each character as if they were standing right there in front of me, teasing me with how it would all end.

The key, I believe, is to immerse yourself in the location you are writing about, wrap yourself in the history and backstory, the culture and nature, and all of the tensions that have made that place what it is.

Not so easy if your story is set in Iran or Burma, but perfectly possible if you find yourself on the very spot where Julius Caesar stood 2,000+ years earlier to survey the forces arrayed against him before the last battle in his remarkable life.

My good fortune came about when I moved to Spain with a burning passion to write historical fiction, an enthusiasm that had dulled each evening under the weight of a very demanding day job as editor-in-chief of four magazines. The house my wife and I chose was surrounded by well-tended olive groves in an upland valley opposite Monda, a charming village in the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park not far inland from Marbella. I knew that here I could find the freedom of thought to write a novel based on a character whose intelligence and engineering skills could influence the outcome of ancient warfare against the odds. It was a fairly loose idea that needed a home in those elusive historical facts.

Monda today

As we enjoyed a glass of Rioja on the terrace we looked across the valley to the whitewashed houses of Monda and its imposing castle, surrounded by breath-taking views of the mountains. We began to find out more – and discovered that Caesar had led eight crack legions right through the valley to Monda (then called Munda) to finally defeat the sons of Pompey. He probably stood in our garden, long before it was populated with palms, olives and almonds.

There was a small problem though. Many historians believe that the Battle of Munda took place near Osuna, which lies some 50 miles to the North West. But facts need corroborating, and the community of our Monda was adamant that it was here that Caesar’s Populares finally defeated the Pompeian Optimates. As the Spanish don’t deal in facts so much as raised voices, I took that as proof enough – if there is a difference of opinion, then I have the choice to opt for one or the other. Or put another way, never let the facts get in the way of a good story!

And so to research. This took two forms, walking and reading. There is a small section of Roman road leading towards Monda – enough of an historical site to halt the progress of a new road – and in the town there are ancient springs that never dry up and would have made this a logical ancient settlement. The town would also have been easily defended in a siege with ample water and a steep incline for an enemy to climb. A Moorish castle now stands on a steep hill above the town, and although local folklore says there was a fort there in ancient times, this cannot be proved. The remnants of the Optimates army took refuge behind the walls of Munda and were under siege for several weeks.

Roman road at Monda

The lie of the land matches an eyewitness account. Caesar’s own ‘official’ history of the campaign states: “The two camps were divided from one another by a plain about five miles in extent, so that Pompey, in consequence of the town's elevated position, and the nature of the country, enjoyed a double defence. Across this valley ran a rivulet, which rendered the approach to the mountain extremely difficult, because it formed a deep morass on the right.” 

Stretching North East from the town of Monda, towards modern day Coín (Lacibis in Roman times), is what could be termed a broad upland valley where family-owned olive groves clothe a series of low hillocks. In front of Monda there is a brook, dry in summer, with a marshy area to the right as you look from this valley. In 45BCE there would have been no olive trees as these have been planted in ordered rows over the past century or so – it would have resembled a plain amid the mountains – and on the town side of the brook is a steep incline, the ideal ground for Pompey’s sons to stand their ground and hope to draw Caesar on.

While the location threw up some difficulties, the battle itself did not. Though his work has been questioned by some historians, I trusted the account of Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) who has a passage in which Caesar is goaded by Gnaeus Pompey. The young general accused Caesar of cowardice, prompting a degree of rage that ultimately led Caesar to personally thrust his way to the front line at Munda and exhort his troops to victory. Caesar was unusually brutal in his last battle. He believed he was right, his patience had run out and he had been called a coward.

Having researched the Battle of Munda, its causes and its effect on the politics of Rome, it was time to weave the story around the facts. Before the Romans came, the community was probably based on the simple things in life like hunting, animal husbandry, arable crops, baking bread and brewing. A lifestyle that remained unchanged in inland Andalucia until EC money built new roads for other Europeans to venture away from the Costas. That is the point – this happened in the 1st Century BC when the Celtiberian and Phoenician population came under the influence of the Romans, and towns like Munda became important satellite settlements in support of larger cities like Corduba (Cordoba) and Gades (Cadiz), often at the intersection of existing trade routes.

Rather than assume a collection of Pythonesque yokels whipping up rebellion and asking, “What have the Romans done for us?”, I chose instead to develop the theme of an indigenous people who were creative and inventive in their own right. They understood herbcraft and lacked nothing for a full, healthy life. The hero in Libertas is not a warrior but a thinker. Melqart is appalled at the horror that Rome brings to his home town, but instead of running away he uses his intelligence to make a difference.

The inevitable diaspora after the battle takes Sextus to Sicily where he begins to build his pirate nation, and Melqart across the seas in search of his enslaved family. By chance he is shipwrecked in Sicily on his way to Rome, where he helps Sextus with a series of ideas that Archimedes himself would have been proud of.

Spain and my travels in the Mediterranean, not to mention an upbringing in three Middle Eastern countries, have given me so much inspiration that it would be a crime not to combine this with my love of history and writing: feel the location and dig deep into what others know. We never stop learning. Or as Harry S. Truman put it: “It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

But I still have the novelist’s get out clause. We make stuff up and apologise later, usually to clever-clogs geeks. So to those who insist the Battle of Munda took place at Osuna rather than modern-day Monda, I say this: You’re wrong. I found an old Polaroid of Julius Caesar dressed in full battle regalia when I was digging in my garden.

In my next guest post at The Writing Desk I will explain the inspiration behind ‘Line In The Sand’, the story of David & Goliath as it might have been before the religious scribes got their hands on it.

Alistair Forrest

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About the author

Alistair Forrest has worked as a journalist, editor and principal of a PR company in the UK. His books, published by Sharpe Books of London, include Libertas, Line in the Sand and the first two in a series of three novellas, Nest of Vipers and Viper Pit. The third novella is due out in the summer of 2021. He lives in Alderney in the Channel Islands with his wife Lynda, two large dogs and a rescued Spanish cat. Find him at www.alistairforrest.comFacebook and Twitter @alistairforrest 

7 March 2021

Special Guest interview with Mary Kendall, Author of The Spinster's Fortune

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Moonlit alleys, shadowy tunnels, and buried secrets… Summer of 1929. Of supposed unsound mind without a penny to her name, Blanche Magruder lies alone in a home for the aged and infirm. Meanwhile, her house, a crumbled ruin in the heart of Georgetown, Washington, D.C., 
is pillaged nightly by thieves looking for 
treasure rumored to be hidden there...

I'm pleased to welcome author Mary Kendall to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

The Spinster's Fortune is an historical mystery set in Washington, D.C. in 1929. It’s an intriguing tale of an elderly woman, Blanche, who, for unknown reasons, has hidden her family’s fortune in strange places throughout her decaying house in the neighborhood, Georgetown. 

It is up to her niece, Margaret, to figure out where these hiding spots are and, in the process, start to unravel mysteries about this aunt’s life. Along the way, Margaret begins to make discoveries about her own life and the changes that need to happen. The novel was inspired by real life events and one of the two main protagonists, Blanche, is based on a real person.

What is your preferred writing routine? 

In a perfect world, I would sit “butt in chair” right upon waking with some strong black coffee and write for a couple hours. I believe there is a thin veil between sleep and waking and tapping into that bit of the subconscious is the ideal time for me to write. This “ideal” routine rarely happens unfortunately. Instead, I fit my writing in when the rest of my life allows. 

It may be just a fifteen minute block of time or it may be several hours depending on my day. So, while not actively writing, the story is usually rolling around in my brain somewhere and I might even be scribbling notes here and there. Another important piece for me is to walk at least once a day where I can let my mind drift to figure things out. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

If you want to be a writer, the main thing you have to do is….write! Just dive in and start doing it. Also, this is a game for long haulers. Give up any illusions of best seller lists and over-night success. If that happens, great. But the real reason to keep writing? The love of writing.

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

I am brand new to the social media writer’s thing but I have been working on developing all the usual channels: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, among others. I am still experimenting so I can’t tell you yet what the best way is. I can say that I am most drawn to and comfortable with using Instagram---right now anyway. All the platforms seem to be ever changing so there’s that as a factor.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

In the United States, yellow taxis came into play in Chicago as a mode of transport in the early 1900s. I assumed they were ubiquitous around the country. But I discovered that in Washington, D.C., the setting of my novel, cabs were actually associated with the Black and White Taxi Company and were….black and white in color. Yellow cabs did not appear in D.C. until 1931 which is after my novel takes place. So I learned something unexpected and made that change to my novel accordingly.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

One of the final scenes was difficult for me to write as I found it very poignant and touching because it is something we all must face eventually. (I do not want to give it away by saying any more.)

What are you planning to write next? 

My current work in progress is a change for me as it is not historical fiction. It is a present day mystery but revolves around a very strange real-life archeological find in the Williamsburg, Virginia area dating from the 1800s: a “witch bottle”. The story kind of springs up and around this bizarre find. So…not historical mystery per se but strongly rooted in history.

Mary Kendall 

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About the Author

Mary Kendall lived in old (and haunted) houses growing up which sparked a life-long interest in history and story-telling. She earned degrees in history related fields and worked as an historian for many years. Her fiction writing is heavily influenced by the past which she believes is never really dead and buried. Fueled by black coffee and a possible sprinkling of Celtic fairy dust, she tends to find inspiration in odd places and sometimes while kneading bread dough. The author resides in Maryland with her family (husband, three kids, barn cat and the occasional backyard hen) who put up with her mad scribbling at inconvenient hours. The Spinster’s Fortune, her debut novel, is twisty tale of family deception murky with gothic undertones with a release date of 6 April 2021. Find out more on Mary’s website at Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @MaryLavin49