13 April 2021

Stories of the Tudors Podcast Series

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

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

12 April 2021

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

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

11 April 2021

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

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

David and Goliath by Caravaggio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excavating Goliath’s Gath

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alistair Forrest

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About the Author

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

10 April 2021

Book Two of the Elizabethan Series: Essex - Tudor Rebel

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

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

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

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

Sir Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

9 April 2021

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

Writing Falling Pomegranate Seeds 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy J. Dunn 

Reference list:

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

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

A gripping historical fiction with an astonishing twist!

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About the Author

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

5 April 2021

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

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

Tell us about your latest book.

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

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

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

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

What is your preferred writing routine?

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

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

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

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

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

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

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

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

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

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

What are you planning to write next?

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

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

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

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

Keira Morgan

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About the Author

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

2 April 2021

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

Tell us about your latest book

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

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

What is your preferred writing routine?

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

What advice do you have for new writers?

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

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

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

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

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

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

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

What are you planning to write next?

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

V E H Masters

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About the Author

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

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

Available from Amazon UK, 

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

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

Tell us about your latest book

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

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

What is your preferred writing routine?

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

What advice do you have for new writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

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

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

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

What are you planning to write next?

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

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

Cheryl Burman

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About the Author

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