Mastodon The Writing Desk: August 2021

31 August 2021

Guest Post by Craig R. Hipkins, Author of Clement: The Green Ship (Clement, Book 2)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Normandy. The year 1161. King Henry ll sends the 14-year-old Clement, Count of la Haye on a secret mission. The young count and his friends travel in the wake of the mysterious mariner known as Sir Humphrey Rochford. Their destination? The legendary land of Vinland, known only from the Norse sagas. The journey is full of adventure and intrigue. Clement battles with a tyrannical Irish king and then finds his vessel attacked by a massive monster from the deep. The Green Ship sails to the sparse and barren land of Greenland where more trouble awaits.

First, I would like to thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. I was inspired to write a novel that takes place in the 12th century the day that my twin brother Jay passed away in 2018. Jay and I were very close and he had previously published a 12th century novel, Astrolabe which I read by his bedside while he was dying. I wrote the sequel to his novel which I called Adalbert and from this book the Clement series emerged.

I was first inspired to write Clement: The Green Ship while I was writing the first novel in the series, Clement: Boy Knight of Normandy. I was uncertain on whether to write a sequel until I was about halfway finished with the rough draft of the first book. I realized that it was going to be hard for me to move away from the characters and I decided that I would write a trilogy. 

The character of Clement, a 12-year-old boy who is the son of a great lord, was originally meant to be a minor character in my first novel, Adalbert. However, as that book progressed, I found that Clement had evolved into one of the prominent characters and needed a book of his own. Sometimes my characters seem to have minds of their own as I plod through the chapters. In this latest adventure, Clement and his friends are sent on a secret mission by King Henry. There destination is the legendary land of Vinland where a mysterious mariner is headed with a treasure chest that contains something that Henry desperately wants.

In a way, my novels remind me of my twin brother. Sometimes I feel that he is helping me write. Ideas sometimes pop into my head with relative ease as if there might be two brains at work. At least I would like to believe this to be true. The inspiration to write comes from him. It is my way of keeping him alive. Jay and I always had an affinity for medieval times. 

As boys we would pretend to joust with sticks. He often told me that he thought that we had lived in a castle in another lifetime. I believe that he was correct. Most of the time, while I am writing, I can visualize the setting. I can see the morning sunlight poking through the trees and hear the mourning doves calling and the crickets chirping. The castle stands tall with its lofty turrets. 

I can see the herald getting his horn ready and smell the bacon frying in the kitchen. I can also hear my brother’s voice telling me to plod onward…for there is still a story to tell.

Craig R. Hipkins

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About the Author

Craig R. Hipkins grew up in Hubbardston Massachusetts. He is the author of medieval and gothic fiction. His novel, Adalbert is the sequel to Astrolabe written by his late twin brother Jay S. Hipkins (1968-2018) He is an avid long-distance runner and enjoys astronomy in his spare time. Find out more at Craig's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @CraigHipkins

30 August 2021

Author Interview with Jenny Knipfer, Author of In a Grove of Maples

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 1897 newly married Beryl and Edward Massart travel more than one thousand miles from Quebec to farm a plot of land in Wisconsin that they bought sight-unseen. An almost magical grove of maples on their property inspires them to dream of a real home built within the grove, not the tiny log cabin they’ve come to live in. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Jenny Knipfer to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, In a Grove of Maples was inspired by my grandparents and their lives as Wisconsin farmers in the late 1890’s. 

Told in a split timeline through both diary entries and third person narrative, In a Grove of Maples relays a story of newlyweds, Beryl and Edward Massart, and their trials to brave the land, survive their trials, and rise above their misunderstandings and differences. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I prefer to write in the afternoon or evening and manage my author business in the morning. 

My system: after establishing POV, a rough outline, and a premise, I begin, keeping notes on characters as they appear. 

I write on my iPad, chapter by chapter and only sandwich chapters together when I’m done to do a final edit on the computer. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Do your homework. Just because you excel at expressing yourself through words does not mean you know how to write a novel. I learned this the hard way. 

Learn all you can about point of view, active sentence structure, how to construct a good plot, establishing your characters, and on the list goes… 

Also, keep in mind that selling your book will require much effort, and if you’re an indie author, plan for a large marketing budget.

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

Social media, Facebook groups, blog tours, and newsletter book promotions have been the best outlets for me to raise awareness for my books.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I had to research how deaths were handled in the county in Wisconsin that In a Grove of Maples takes place in. Even in the 1800’s and in a rural setting, people were not permitted to bury those who died on their own property unless an official family cemetery had been established. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Deeply romantic scenes and the ending scene gave me the most challenges. I am, firstly, not a romance writer at heart. I take joy in writing the tension filled dramatic scenes of trials and traumas over romance, but as I write more, I find those scenes are growing on me. 

Wrapping up a book with a final scene can sometimes be difficult. I had a tinge of fear before I sat down to write the ending scene for In a Grove of Maples, but it came to me as I began and flowed out as I trusted it to.

What are you planning to write next?

I have three other full-length novels in the Sheltering Trees series complete and a Christmas novella. Read about the series here:

I am working on another title for a four-part novella series entitled, Botanical Seasons. Holly’s Homecoming, Violet’s Vow, Daisy’s Delight, and Marigold’s Muse are the titles for those. 

Jenny Knipfer

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About the Author

Jenny Knipfer lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling. Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions. She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association. Jenny’s favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set. A new historical fiction, four-part series entitled, Sheltering Trees, will be released in 2021 and 2022. Jenny is currently writing a novella series entitled, Botanical Seasons.  Find out more at Jenny's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JennyKnipfer

28 August 2021

Women of Medieval England, by Lynda Telford

Available for pre-order from

The Sarum Missal proclaimed that the medieval wife must be 'bonair and buxom in bed and board', and this promise found its way into their  wedding vows. This fascinating book explores the developing status of women in medieval England, both before and after the Norman Conquest.

The author starts by contrasting the differences in status between Anglo/Danish or Saxon women with those who fell under the burden of the feudal system imposed by the Normans.  She explores the rituals of  marriage and childbirth, the rights and responsibilities of wives, separation and divorce, safety and security and the challenges of widowhood. 

The Castle of Love under the siege  (from the Luttrell Psalter)

Lynda Telford also examines such issues as virginity and chastity and the pressures placed on women by religious groups. At a time when women's rights were minimal, the author charts their struggles against the sexual politics of the era, its inequalities and its hypocrisies. She also examines the problems of the woman alone, from forced marriage to prostitution. 

The lives of ordinary women are the centre of attention, painting an engaging picture of their courage and resilience against the background of their times.

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About the Author

Lynda Telford writes historical articles and is currently Events and Projects Officer for the Yorkshire Branch of the Richard III society. She has had two books published and she is a keen amateur archaeologist. 

27 August 2021

Author Interview with Clare Marchant, Author of The Queen’s Spy

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne. There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

I'm pleased to welcome author Clare Marchant to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Queen’s Spy is a dual timeline set in both Tudor London and present day. It follows deaf and mute Tom Lutton in the sixteenth century as he rises from apothecary to spy, and tries to find a place in a world where he is shunned because of his disability. But with secrets, plots by those who wish to see a Catholic monarch on the English throne and spying, comes betrayal.

In the present day, Mathilde travels the world in her campervan not belonging anywhere, haunted by her past. When she receives news of an inheritance in England, she makes a discovery at the medieval hall she now owns that leads her on a new journey as she tries to unravel its secrets.

What is your preferred writing routine

My writing routine is important to me. I like to get up early to make sure I am at my desk by about 8.30, and then I work until 1.00 or 2.00pm. If I am writing a book then I give myself a target of at least 2000 words a day and I always make sure I do that or I have to catch up at the weekend!

In the afternoons I usually go through social media (I’m currently dipping my toe into TikTok so I may spend some time making a video or possibly taking photos for Instagram) and also see what my fellow authors are up to. I also research anything that has cropped up during the morning’s writing.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers

The best piece of advice I can give to an aspiring writer is exactly what I was told when I was trying to write my first book and that is to sit down and write every day, even if it is only a few hundred words. Or one hundred, or fifty. They all add up and they are all contributing to the final book even if you later want to go back and change them all. But you can’t edit a blank page!

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

In this day and age I think it is easier to promote our books with the amazing networking available on social media. I love connecting with readers and fellow authors all over the world, I probably go on Twitter more than any other social media although I try to get onto Instagram more often now and of course there is TikTok to get my head around!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Researching my books is one of my absolute favourite pastimes, I spend hours down a rabbit hole sometimes completely away from what I need to be looking for because to me, history is so fascinating! One of the things that I was surprised at but was so useful for me was the amount of information that we have on the Babington plot, and this made writing The Queen’s Spy so wonderful. 

I discovered that a man in a blue coat was spotted delivering a letter to Babington who was believed to be one of Walsingham’s many men (so now you know why Tom has a blue coat!), in fact I always ensure that all of the historical facts in my books are correct and then I just weave in my own characters. I was interested to discover that the playwright Kit Marlowe, a contemporary of Shakespeare was also a spy for Walsingham, and I loved reading about how a doctor at St Bartholomew’s hospital was also inventing a shorthand to be used with codes for spying activities.

What is the hardest scene you remember writing

The hardest scene I had to write in The Queen’s Spy was where someone dies (I don’t want to put any spoilers here!). Actually, writing any scene where I have to kill off a character is difficult, I create these people in my head and to me they are real so it isn’t nice when they need to die, even if it is integral to the plot.

What are you planning to write next

As for what I am writing next, I am already working on the next book! It is another Tudor dual timeline, all completely new characters (unlike The Queen’s Spy where Tom had been a child in my previous book The Secrets of Saffron Hall) and it will take us from Elizabethan England across to Europe.

Clare Marchant

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About the Author

Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller. Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast. Find out more at Clare's author page and find her on Facebook and Twitter @ClareMarchant

26 August 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Royal Game, by Anne O'Brien

Available  from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…

King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game, charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.

‘A wonderfully immersive and intriguing read, meticulously researched. I was completely captivated’ Barbara Erskine

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About the Author

Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history. She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life. Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien

25 August 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Whirlpools of Time by Anna Belfrage

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

He hoped for a wife. He found a companion through time and beyond.

It is 1715 and for Duncan Melville something fundamental is missing from his life. Despite a flourishing legal practice and several close friends, he is lonely, even more so after the recent death of his father. He needs a wife—a companion through life, someone to hold and be held by. What he wasn’t expecting was to be torn away from everything he knew and find said woman in 2016…

Erin Barnes has a lot of stuff going on in her life. She doesn’t need the additional twist of a stranger in weird outdated clothes, but when he risks his life to save hers, she feels obligated to return the favour. Besides, whoever Duncan may be, she can’t exactly deny the immediate attraction.

The complications in Erin’s life explode. Events are set in motion and to Erin’s horror she and Duncan are thrown back to 1715. Not only does Erin have to cope with a different and intimidating world, soon enough she and Duncan are embroiled in a dangerous quest for Duncan’s uncle, a quest that may very well cost them their lives as they travel through a Scotland poised on the brink of rebellion.

Will they find Duncan’s uncle in time? And is the door to the future permanently closed, or will Erin find a way back?

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About the author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk, has her returning to medieval times. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time, is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands. All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards Find out more about Anna, her books and her eclectic historical blog on her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

24 August 2021

Special Guest Post by Heather Robinson, Author of Juno's Peacock

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Exposed...cast aside...condemned...yet the gods must favour the slave girl Decima, saving her as Mount Vesuvius explodes. Vowing to fulfil whatever purpose the gods ask of her, she must first use guile to survive. "What you do is who you become," and Decima becomes Maia Secunda, free born citizen, liar and thief...

Thank you for inviting me to your blog Tony. I'm delighted to be here to tell you what inspired me to write Juno's Peacock. In short, it was research, one particular fact I unexpectedly unearthed.

I was plotting a sequel to my first novel, Wall of Stone, which is about how the lives of legionaries from the Twentieth Legion of Rome intermingle with the lives of a local Brigante family in northern Britannia during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, when, during a research session, I stumbled upon the practice of child-exposure in the Roman Empire.

My curiosity was piqued. What was child-exposure? It was the practice of abandoning an infant, so named because the child would be left exposed to the elements to die. I was already writing my first page:

“Tied by strips of leather to a cypress tree on the remote slopes of the mountain. Tied so she couldn't wander off even though she was barely beyond the age of crawling.”

Horrifying! I needed to learn more.

What I learned was that it was an ancient practice not limited to the Romans, as many other civilisations, excluding the ancient Jews and Etruscans, did the same. Focussing on the Romans, my continued research revealed that child-exposure was widespread in the Roman Empire and a familiar custom in most regions. It was a common way for infants to be killed. Although there was some disapproval to this practice, it was widely accepted as an unavoidable necessity. 

Shocking! I searched out more.

Things took an upturn for a moment when I discovered that although many infants did die this way, some were at least rescued as it was considered, and here we take a slump again, an acceptable and inexpensive way to bolster your number of household slaves. Slavery! Another appalling practice that, as I already knew, was a natural part of Roman life. I typed in another sentence::

“Abandoned, unwanted, exposed by her father, thus legally dead and available to be taken as a slave.”

The number of household slaves was an indication of a family's wealth, so, for a person struggling financially but needing to maintain an air of riches, the reward for saving an exposed infant was appealing. Interesting characters were leaping out at me. This research seed had rapidly swelled and I was already invested emotionally in my main character. What a tragic start to life, but 'my girl' was still alive, and whilst there is life there is hope, and this young girl was grabbing me firmly by the hand and screaming for her story to be told.

Yet I couldn't fit her into the lives of the legionaries of the Twentieth Legion who I'd left in Britannia about to build a certain wall made of stone. This girl's story had to be set in Italy, Pompeii to start with as my scribbled notes had the exposed infant tied to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. 

Once I'd made the decision to postpone writing the sequel, it became an easy choice for me to start Juno's Peacock at the time of the destructive eruption that devastated Pompeii. When even further research of this period revealed the double disasters of fire and plague in Rome during the short reign of Emperor Titus, plus the opening of the Flavian Amphitheatre and the excitement of the inaugural games, I could clearly see my way ahead.

So, not only was research the inspiration behind Juno's Peacock, research was also the continuing driving force throughout the story. It gave me such a lot of material and ideas to work with. 

Heather Robinson

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About the Author

Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree and having spent most of her life as an Administration Manager locally, she is now exploring new work opportunities in the countryside, whilst also writing and broadcasting on Community Radio. Proud parents of two adult sons, Heather and her husband, Graham, share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling.  You can find Heather on Facebook and Twitter @HevRob1

23 August 2021

Inspiration to write The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham

England, 1441: Lady Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, hopes to become Queen of England before her interest in astrology and her husband’s ambition leads their enemies to accuse her of a plot against the king. Eleanor is found guilty of sorcery and witchcraft. Rather than have her executed, King Henry VI orders Eleanor to be
imprisoned for life.

Available as eBook, Paperback and audiobook from

My wife was researching her family tree and discovered Antigone Plantagenet of Gloucester was her 19th great grandmother. Further research revealed Antigone was the daughter of Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester and younger brother of Henry V, who became Lord Protector of England.

There proved to be much debate about the identity of Antigone’s mother, although historian and author Alison Weir suggests both Antigone and her brother, Arthur, could have been the children of Humphrey and his mistress Eleanor Cobham, whom he later married. In her book Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy Alison Weir notes, ‘Eleanor Cobham became Humphrey's mistress sometime before their marriage and might have borne him two bastard children’. 

Curious, I looked into this and discovered the tragic details of Eleanor Cobham’s life in the course of my research. It is a fact that Humphrey of Lancaster acted as a father towards Antigone and was definitely with Eleanor Cobham since at least 1425, if not earlier (records were seldom kept of mistresses), marrying her in 1428. 

Alison Weir’s suggestion is therefore plausible but I found no positive evidence to support it. The only sure way to settle the question of whether Eleanor was Antigone’s mother would be if some new documentation comes to light. That is how the idea for my novel, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham came about.

I was struck by the injustice of how it seems Duke Humphrey’s enemies used Eleanor’s interest in astrology to bring him down. Her good friend Margery Jourdemayne was burned as a witch – and Eleanor came very close to the same. Instead she was imprisoned for life, at first in royal palaces, then in worse conditions until her death.  

Beaumaris Castle - Lady Eleanor's Chapel

There are many accounts which state important details incorrectly, most notably that Eleanor died at Peel Castle. It is well documented that her final two years were at Beaumaris. 

Lady Ellen and Sir William Bulkeley

My wife and I spent a summer afternoon searching the churchyard of St Mary and St Nicholas, within sight of Beaumaris Castle. Inside the church lie the medieval ornate tombs of Lady Ellen and Sir William Bulkeley. We found no sign of Eleanor’s grave, although she will never be forgotten.

Tony Riches

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21 August 2021

Book review: SOE Heroines: The Special Operations Executive's French Section and Free French Women Agents, by Bernard O’Connor

Available for pre-order from

It’s impossible to read this new book without being astounded by the bravery of these women, the true heroines of WW2. We follow them into an exciting world of secret training, codenames and amazing gadgets, yet all the time (like them) we know their stories are likely to end in tragedy.

The secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) personnel files are held in the National Archives, and only released into the public domain a hundred years after an agent’s death. WW2 espionage specialist Bernard O’Connor has done an impressive job of piecing together all the available evidence of what became of them.

We don’t know how many courageous women were parachuted into occupied France. The number could be as high as eighty.but all their activities had to be kept top secret, and a good number belonged to French and Soviet intelligence services.

Most readers might be familiar with the well-publicised accounts of the life of Odette Sansom (code named ‘Lise’) but sadly her survival of brutal interrogation and imprisonment in harsh conditions is a notable exception.

Odette Sansom in 1946
(Wikimedia Commons)

Although aware of it, I was shocked to read the documented details of the collaborators who betrayed entire SOE networks to certain death. Harrowing and at times disturbing, we must never forget what these heroines endured to shorten the war, and I can’t think of anyone better qualified than Bernard O’Connor to tell their stories.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Bernard O’Connor has lived and worked in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom, for over two decades. During this time he has taught Humanities in Secondary Schools and researched aspects of local geology, archaeology, history and natural history. When he discovered that an iguanodon had been dug up in Potton in 1866 he decided to locate the dinosaur. It sparked a decade investigating the impact of the UK’s coprolite industry; thought by many at the time to be fossilised dinosaur droppings. He has written accounts of every parish where coprolites were found, had articles published in academic magazines and given talks and lectures across East Anglia. Find out more at Bernard’s website

Full Disclosure - A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers, Amberley.

20 August 2021

Special Guest Post by Stephen Finlay Archer, Author of The Irish Clans Series

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

 The Irish Clans begins with a travesty at sea necessitating searches for life's true treasures, both in 1915 Ireland, when the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa affords a golden opportunity to fan the flames of revolution, and in America, for transplanted Irish families connected to the world of the Irish Clans.

Being of Irish descent and intensely interested in history, I decided to write the great Irish historical fiction novel about the struggle for freedom from Britain in the 20th century. In the fictitious story I chose to involve my grandfather, an Irish artist who emigrated to Canada in 1909 in order to link the fight in the homeland to the Irish diaspora in North America. In this way it brings me full circle to my roots.

The premise of the fictitious story in its prologue is the meeting of two remaining great Irish Clan Chieftains Red Hugh O’Donnell (North) and Florence MacCarthaigh (South) in 1600 prior to the defeat of the Clans at Kinsale in 1602. Fearing that outcome, they make a secret Clans Pact to hide their wealth of a thousand years separately to keep the British from seizing it. They agree to use Gaelic relics of their clans as cross-linked clues that their descendants must follow together when the time is right for revolution. And beyond their own wealth there may be an ancient prize of much greater significance to be sought. 

In researching this prolonged complex conflict involving the Easter Rising during WWI, War of Independence, and subsequent Civil War, I realized that this epic story would take several, now seven novels to tell. During the treasure hunts it draws the reader back into medieval Irish history and mythology. The story opens in Book One, Searchers, with the German U-boat sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania during WWI in May 1915. Book Five, Revolution is planned for release at the end of 2021 with the remaining two novels currently in work.

In my novels, I immerse my fictitious characters in detailed historical events, and I am careful to accurately portray the characters of historical persons who support my complex fictitious story. In the end, I hope my readers will wonder whether this was indeed fiction or perhaps exciting, unearthed history.

I hope these novels will entertain, inspire, and inform other descendants of Ireland as they enjoy the intellectual, introspective, mystic, and proud history of their homeland. I believe it is important to remember and understand our past so we can use this important knowledge for our future. The end of the rainbow may not contain a pot of gold, but it can certainly offer wisdom and a better life.

Stephen Finlay Archer

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About the Author

Stephen Finlay Archer writes Irish historical fiction illuminating Ireland's heroic, challenging and mystical past. His latest seven novel series, The Irish Clans covers the Irish revolutionary period from 1915 to 1923. This Irish family saga full of swashbuckling characters and page-turning action tells the true story of Ireland’s conflict with England. It is also a personal portrayal since the fictitious story involves his own ancestral family as they are drawn into the conflict of their Irish homeland, in his birthplace of Toronto, Canada. Archer lives in Northern California with his wife Kathy. He is a member of Writers Unlimited in California Goldrush Country and the North American and Irish branches of the Historical Novel Society. Before his retirement, he was an Aerospace Manager directing large-scale, delivery-in orbit, satellite systems for the U.S. Navy and NASA/NOAA. Find out more at Stephen's website and find him on Twitter @SFinlayArcher

19 August 2021

Special guest interview with scriptwriter, producer and author Angela Elliott.

I’m pleased to welcome scriptwriter, producer and author Angela Elliott back to The Writing Desk to answer some questions I’ve wondered about: Could my book ever be made into a film/movie, is it worth writing a ‘treatment’, and what do I need to know?

Here’s the thing: treatments these days aren’t like they used to be. Once upon a time when you sent a script to a producer they’d ask for the treatment.  That’s because most producers were not creatives, they were money men (they still are to a large extent) and because scripts are notoriously hard to read, even when you’ve got one that is perfectly formatted, and a brilliant story, fabulously told. A treatment is simply the script without the dialogue and with a little more storytelling and less instruction.

So, roll back from this for a moment. A script is meant to be an instruction manual to the director and actors. It gives action, dialogue and, in a first draft script, some camera shots but definitely not all. What you do not want to do with a first draft script is direct the film. A shooting script is a whole different thing. Let’s be clear, every draft you, as the originator, writes is a first draft until it’s sold and the director starts to make official changes to it.

A treatment is a synopsis, but for a film instead of a book, and it should be easier to read than a script because all those nasty scene headings and dialogue and lumps and bumps are smoothed out. At least, that’s what it used to be. These days you can get away without a treatment as long as you have a really good script and a one/two page outline that includes a log line and brief overview. 

No one has time any more to wade through a treatment. What they will do is scan your outline, read the first couple of pages of script and if it’s formatted correctly and the idea paints a picture, they may read on.  If it doesn’t then at best you’ll get a ‘I can’t really see this’ or ‘it’s not for us’ message, and at worst you’ll get no reply at all.

What is the best way to find the right initial point of contact to discuss a potential script?

In the USA scriptwriters have managers and agents, with agents focused on contracts. In the UK agents do the job of both manager and agent. So, depending on where you are you should try to get an agent. Easier said than done. Many scriptwriters submit to places such as the ‘Blacklist’ It’s USA based and you get a script assessment. You can get picked up by managers there. However, there’s no telling who is doing the feedback and you’re putting your script online for all to read and potentially take. There are others similar to this, and you can take part in contests to get noticed. You will have to do some research to find them.

All that said, I’d still say that for a UK based scriptwriter the best way to get noticed is to research the production companies making your kind of project and submit direct to them.

You can also write a short (10 to 15 minutes) either as a stand-alone or as a proof of concept for a bigger project. You can then find people you know to make that short and enter it into various short film contests to get yourself known. Another route in is to do a course such as those run by Raindance, here in the UK. There are loads of other, similar film schools and courses in the States. Any of these courses give you entry level contacts and furnish you with more knowledge.

It is the hardest thing in the world to find producers with a high enough profile who will work with you and make things happen. It’s dead easy to find producers either at the start of their career or who have never really produced anything of note. Don’t go with the first person that comes along and says they want to make your film. You need to know what else they’ve made, who they know, who they can bring to the party. You want someone with a good reputation, that is unless you are writing something really low budget that you want to produce/direct yourself. In other words, if you’re an auteur rather than a scriptwriter; if you see yourself as someone who writes, directs, acts, and edits your own film, then go do it all. Otherwise, look to work with the best you can find who believes in you.

The importance of making connections is invaluable. It’s also often organic rather than forced. My way into the business happened because 33 years ago my then mother-in-law saw a piece in a local Harrogate newspaper by an actor who was in Emmerdale. Stewart Bevan had directed theatre, and his first film was with Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love.  Channel 4 in the UK was brand new and they wanted short films. Stewart advertised for people to come forward and I wrote a ten-minute script and sent it to him. He loved it, submitted it to C4 and it was shortlisted. Although it didn’t get made Stewart taught me script formatting and introduced me to a producer he knew. That producer had been Stanley Kubrick’s assistant on Barry Lyndon. He introduced me to director Lewis Gilbert’s son John. Stewart also made introductions to Stephen Walters and Stephen to Bernie Williams, who made Top Gun and Bowfinger, Charlotte’s Web and a whole heap of others. Bernie helped me some more and got my scripts to Marlon Brando (who promptly died, but that’s another story). I spent years and years developing contacts and learning my craft. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to put in the work and you have to know who to trust and who to avoid. This is something you learn along the way.

If you’re young and fresh out of film school, then you’ve got one up on me because I didn’t study either film or creative writing; I did Fine Art. Studying art though trains you in attention to detail, and God (or the Devil, depending on your proclivity) is in the details. If you’re a good novelist you’ll only make a good scriptwriter if you know what to junk and what to keep, and you allow your ability at prose to flow without it bogging down the instructive nature of a script. 

In other words: don’t overwrite. A good example of overwriting the action in a script might be something like: ‘He walked to the door and opened it’, when all that’s needed is ‘He exits’.  Most producers look at format as a way of gauging if you know what you’re doing. Getting format right is vitally important. Many novices write scripts that are formatted more or less correctly, but are low on incidental formatting, such as sounds in caps and transitions, or even breaks in paragraphs or info on what’s happening in the background. I’ve seen some where the characters are not described. Try and get formatting right.

As far as treatments are concerned, some write them before the script and some after. I’d say don’t write a full treatment, which can run to many pages, unless you’re asked specifically for one. Read as many first draft scripts as you can. You can find them online. Watch out for those which are written post edit. They aren’t a first draft. One of the best scripts I’ve ever read is Wes Craven’s first Nightmare on Elm Street, but the first John Wicks script is pretty good too. I’m not talking film here; I’m talking script; the best script for formatting and ease of storytelling.

What is your view of the advice from the BBC Writer's room? 

The BBC have a very proscribed way of doing things. There are two formats for scriptwriting: TV and film. TV format is an old format that writes down half the page vertically in caps and gives you 30 seconds of screen time per page. Film format gives you 1 minute per page which is, these days, by far and away the preferred format for everyone except the BBC. 

You might think that you’ll get noticed there, and you may well, save that the BBC really only wants good technicians and is not really that interested in originality or creativity. They would probably argue differently. It’s not my experience, nor that of many scriptwriters with whom I’ve spoken. There used to be a rule of thumb that the BBC would not employ any writer unless they had first done a soap. I know many scriptwriters who write for the BBC on soaps. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with soaps.

If you’re lucky, after you’ve done a soap, you’ll get a fifty-minute episode of a long running drama. Personally, I’d avoid the BBC unless you really want to write on Eastenders or similar. The old terrestrial channels are similar in their attitude to writers and soaps. The only independent production companies making programmes for the BBC are well established. It’s an old boys club.

Likewise, with Netflix, Sky, Amazon, Apple TV, Lionsgate, etc… only they are at least always looking for new ideas and are more open to projects. You still have to find a production company that will support you and root for you. In other words, you’re back to researching independent production companies or highish profile producers who like your work.

What about looking through scripts which are available online?

Think of a film and search for it using its title and ‘first draft script’. Avoid all that aren’t paginated like proper scripts. Avoid all that aren’t real first (or second) draft scripts. Many are written in the edit to reflect what’s on screen. You won’t learn as much from them as the original first draft script. 

‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a good start, the original by Wes Craven. I’d also go for any of the John Wicks, Braveheart, Terminator 2. Yes, those are all old action movies. It doesn’t matter. They have the best formatting.  Any number of books will teach you scriptwriting, but go for either Final Draft or for a cheaper option Fadein, which are industry standard scripting software programmes.

What seems to be in most demand - and what ideas are really non-starters, to avoid?

No one really knows what’s going to fly. So it’s all up for grabs. Engaging characters, good plots, character development are more important than genre.

Avoid writing things that are like something you love. So if you love Star Wars, don’t write a Star Wars clone. By all means write Sci Fi, but make it your own. Anything in the public domain is going to prove tricky. By that I mean history is a hard one to author because production company can and do say ‘we don’t like your script but we do like the idea, thanks and good bye’. Then they go and make it themselves. You have to make it sufficiently yours for them to realise they can’t do it without you. So, a different angle, specific characterisations etc… Either that you’ve sold thousands of copies are a household name, or you have a true story that no one knows or has written about before. You can then become the authority on it. Similarly, if you go for adaptations, if it’s still in copyright then you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder or estate. If you want to adapt your own book, well then beware. It’s very difficult to adapt a novel. Far harder than you realise. Scriptwriting is a whole different mindset to novel writing. This is nevermore obvious than when you take a novel you’ve written and rewrite for the screen. Boy, it challenges you. 

In many ways scriptwriting is much harder than writing novels, and it’s also much harder to see the fruits of your labours out there.

Don’t expect go half-arsed into scriptwriting and expect to get away with it. Format is everything. 

Here’s the thing (and for me this is the crux of it): Films are essentially old time, round the fire, oral storytelling – only in pictures. The best stories (not novels – stories) resonate in the human psyche and leave us with a feeling at the end best described as that ‘ah’ moment. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. 

They have inciting incidents and rising action. They have a 3 act or 5 act structure, depending on your proclivity, and the very best end by bringing you back to the start only further on in time. In other words they aren’t a circular story, they’re a spiral viewed end on.  To write a good script you must understand storytelling. You must understand what makes myths and fairy tales work. You must understand that this is what you are doing on screen. Even in a soap. Yes, even then.

This then, is why the scripts for action films make the best teachers because they are so tightly scripted, with everything in them doing the job its meant to do; with that hook at the start and 30 mins in the inciting incident; and the rising action through the middle so that by the time you reach three quarter of the way through you can see the moment when the climax is reached and everything starts to resolve; and the end where the last quarter of the film seems to speed by and yet all that’s happening is the tying up of loose ends and the rolling you out to the denouement or the nice goodbye. And if you step back from the action film script and take a look then at something slower, a romance say, you’ll notice the exact same ‘schematic’. Why? Because that’s how stories work. That’s how they’ve always worked. That’s what resonates with us and why we can watch the same film over and over again. Scripts/films that don’t follow this time-honoured path end up making us feel unsatisfied and often annoyed with them.

To write and sell a good script you’ve got to have passion, not just for your chosen subject matter and story, but for the actual process of scriptwriting – and there are all kinds of considerations such as setting up a scene three scenes ahead, and intercutting scenes with parallel action, and thinking about what’s happening in the background while your characters are playing out their scene, and transition dynamics – and all while you’ve got one eye on whether you’ve written too big a scene for it ever to get made because it’s going to cost and arm and a leg.

Angela Elliott

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About the Author

Angela Elliott is a scriptwriter, producer and  author. Having won a BBC Radio writing competition in 1990, Angela contributed to the BBC Global Concerns programme before moving into documentaries and film with Stanley Kubrick assistant Norrie Maclaren at Tartan Television and Plantagenet Films. With Norrie, Angela originated, researched, and created over 30 documentaries and originated and scripted feature length films and dramas. She wrote with Director Lewis Gilbert's son, John Gilbert, and in association with actor Stewart Bevan and subsequently for Producer Bernie Williams. Angela now works in conjunction with fellow producers to develop projects for TV and film at Londonshire Films Ltd. She is the author of four novels, including "Some Strange Scent of Death" featured on the Discovery Channels "Unexplained" series, The Finish, The Remaining Voice, and The Nine Lives of Antoine Montvoisin. Find out more at and follow Angela on Twitter @anjgi 

See also: Guest Post by Angela Elliott, Author of The Finish: The Progress of a Murder Uncovered

12 August 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Landscape of a Marriage, by Gail Ward Olmsted

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.

New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to "not let Mary suffer”. 

But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a 'beating green heart' in the center of every urban space.
Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. 

Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.

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About the Author

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a full time basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. For more information please visit her website at and find Gail on Facebook and Twitter @gwolmsted

Special Guest Post by Angela Elliott, Author of The Finish: The Progress of a Murder Uncovered

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is 1769 and these are violent times. London’s Covent Garden has long been a centre of hedonistic pleasure with its whores and harridans, aristocrats and artisans, actors, drunks, and thieves. 
Prostitute, Kitty Ives, takes a man to her bed and wakes to find him dead. Fearing the gallows, so begins Kitty's quest to uncover 
the identity of the murderer. 

Visit Covent Garden today and you are surrounded not only by history but also by tourists intent on pleasure. From chic eateries to Opera House, boutiques to flagship Apple store, clubs to coffee shops, this magnificent square has long been a hedonist’s dream destination. Built as a 16th century aristocratic Italianate piazza, by the mid-17th century the nobility had moved to pastures new.  

Over time, the magnificent houses became places of trade. Prostitutes of every description lingered beneath the porticos, danced in the inns, sported themselves in bagnios, brothels and Turkish hummums. They formed a ‘whores’ club and they were listed on Jack Harris’s Guide to Covent Garden Ladies. One street to the East of Covent Garden, the Magistrates’ court played host to the foremost detective agency in the land: Sir Henry Fielding’s Bow Street Runners paved the way for the Metropolitan Police service in this, the most vice-ridden area of London. Fielding called it the ‘Square of Venus’.

Fascinated by its history, Covent Garden became the setting for my book The Finish. Intrigued by the idea of a prostitute who wakes to find a man dead in her bed, I decided to explore what might happen to her. I’d already written about Drury Lane’s Theatre Royal for the then owners, Stoll Moss, and I’d scripted a TV series about the ghost hunting exploits of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. 

It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to continue my 18th century detective work. Research has always been the backbone of my work, both in TV and film and with my novels. So it was I entered the somewhat seedy world of Kitty Ives.

When Sir Henry Fielding died in 1754, his blind brother, Sir John took over as head of the Bow Street Runners. Covent Garden’s glory days were over. Now the aristocrats mostly took their pleasure in Soho or St. James. By the end of the 18th century, they were travelling even further - to newly built Marylebone. Although Covent Garden’s hay-day had passed, there were still brothels aplenty. 

The Hummums Turkish bath, in the Little Piazza, still welcomed the unwashed gentry. The Shakespeare’s Head still played host to Jack Harris and his harem. The Covent Garden Theatre (now the Opera House) and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (today, in its fourth incarnation) still drew crowds. Covent Garden was by no means dead. It had just become a seedy neighbourhood, down-at-heel, and treacherous. 

Dan Cruickshank states in his book The Secret History of Georgian London that a staggering one in five women living in London during the 18th century were prostitutes.  Given that the population ranged from seven hundred and fifty thousand, mid-century, to one million souls at the turn of the 19th century, Cruickshank’s figures, on first consideration, seem rather high. 

Elsewhere the statistics appear more realistic. The Universal Daily Register, published in 1786, suggested that one sixth of the population lived off the proceeds of thievery and whoring, whilst the German traveller, Johann Wilhelm Von Archenholz, claimed that fifty thousand prostitutes occupied London.  

Covent Garden’s licentious reputation grew on the back of bawds such as Mother Needham, who gained notoriety for providing the very best ‘gentry morts’ to a clientele of such a high standing, she could count Dukes and Earls amongst her patrons.  When the bawd of renowned prostitute Sally Salisbury died, she gave her services to Needham’s stable.  

Here, older whores procured from other establishments, combined with a continual influx of sweet young girls, fresh from the country and free from disease, meant customers were never short on choice.  It was a commonly held belief that a young virgin could cure syphilis. A disturbing report, made by Michael Ryan in 1839, claimed that around 400 people made their living by kidnapping children to feed the common desire for child sex partners.  Sad to say, as fast as the pretty young things were snapped up by avaricious bawds, they aged and died. A whore’s life was short. 

Few reached their thirties. There no cure for ‘dripper’ or the ‘French pox’, other than to take mercury. Men of course, were not considered the repository of such diseases. It was all the women’s fault. Foreigners to our shores called English women ‘foul and fetid under cover’ (Lobcock 1795, p.94), and with this description, and the end of the 18th century, Covent Garden’s hay-day waned. 

In truth, few women were really top-class courtesans. They were more likely to be lowly sorts, much given to drink. Gin was a particular craze. They were less frequently addicted to opium, which was traded in China by the East India Company in exchange for tea. Many London whores were educated country girls, enticed into the trade by promises of money and fine clothes. 

Just as girls are trafficked today across international borders, only to end up as sex slaves with no hope of escape, so in the 18th century prostitutes could do little to break away from their tawdry lives. Few women avoided the control of their ‘beardsplitter’, who gave a roof and food with one hand, whilst taking away the means to independence with the other.  

It can be argued that even the those whores of highest renown relied on the income they had from being ‘kept women’, and that even though they appeared to be free agents, their escape came by way of an early death, or marriage. The much celebrated Sally Salisbury, for instance, was imprisoned for stabbing a man, and died of syphilis whilst in Newgate prison. The idea that these women retain their independence by whoring is naught but a fiction.

As to the criminal aspects of prostitution in the 18th century, whilst there were laws against keeping a disorderly house, few bawds were charged.  Streetwalkers suffered arrest for theft more frequently than they did for solicitation. Sir John Fielding had given the men in his charge power to apprehend whores, and had the backing of laws passed mid-century, but more frequently than not they simply maintained the status quo. 

This led to accusations that the Bow Street Runners operated ‘protection rackets’. Complaints were more often laid at the door of those policing the streets, than that of the trouble-makers. Not that anyone really ‘policed’ 18th century London. Prosecutions were brought, not by the Crown Prosecution Service, as is the case now, but by the victim of a crime, or, in the case of a murder, by someone with a close association to the victim. The early Bow Street Runners had been recruited from the ranks of ‘thief-takers’; they were essentially, professional thugs.

As the century progressed so what came to be known as the ‘Bloody Code’ intensified. You could be sent to the gallows for as little an offence as stealing bread.  If you were transported to America, but escaped back to England, you were hanged on recapture. Interestingly, Sir John Fielding spoke against whores on the one hand, whilst turning his blind eyes away on the other. For all the ‘Bloody Code’, crime was fast spiralling out of control. It would take until 1829, and the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force, to see any real control over the lawlessness of the larcenous and licentious Londoners. 

Angela Elliott

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About the Author

Angela Elliott is a scriptwriter, producer and  author. Having won a BBC Radio writing competition in 1990, Angela contributed to the BBC Global Concerns programme before moving into documentaries and film with Stanley Kubrick assistant Norrie Maclaren at Tartan Television and Plantagenet Films. With Norrie, Angela originated, researched, and created over 30 documentaries and originated and scripted feature length films and dramas. She wrote with Director Lewis Gilbert's son, John Gilbert, and in association with actor Stewart Bevan and subsequently for Producer Bernie Williams. Angela now works in conjunction with fellow producers to develop projects for TV and film at Londonshire Films Ltd. She is the author of four novels, including "Some Strange Scent of Death" featured on the Discovery Channels "Unexplained" series, The Finish, The Remaining Voice, and The Nine Lives of Antoine Montvoisin. Find out more and follow Angela on Twitter @anjgi

9 August 2021

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Daughter Of Carthage, Son Of Rome, by Kate Q. Johnson

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Elissa Mago, a Carthaginian heiress, recklessly flees the prospect of a despised arranged marriage and arrives in Italy vulnerable yet defiant on the cusp of Hannibal's audacious crossing of the Alps and invasion of Roman territory.

Marcus Gracchus, a brilliant and celebrated Roman Centurion, questions his own loyalty to Rome after his brother is murdered and he is ordered to serve under the leadership of the vindictive man who orchestrated his brother's death. A chance encounter thrusts the two together, first as captive and captor.

But violence both on the battlefield and within the Roman legion eventually leads them into an alliance that is tested repeatedly by their ties to home. Ultimately, they must choose-their love for one another or their loyalty to their people.

Praise for Daughter of Carthage, Son of Rome

Kate Q. Johnson has woven a compelling tale that brings to life the high stakes of political rivalries, a daring heroine and an honorable but torn military leader. Daughter of Carthage, Son of Rome is a vivid recreation of the ancient world and a sensitive portrayal of the demands of the human heart.
 —Linda Cardillo, award winning author of historical novels such as Love That Moves the Sun, Dancing on Sunday Afternoons, and the First Light trilogy.

Kate Q. Johnson’s sure-handed debut novel tells the story of a wartime Romeo and Juliet, two star-crossed lovers whose lives collide at a moment when history might have swung off in a different direction  —Sherry Christie, author of the Roma Amor saga.

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About the Author

Kate Q. Johnson is a scientist, new mom, and outdoorsy chick living in the Pacific Northwest. Originally hailing from the frigid Great White North, her creative juices only really got flowing when she moved to the relatively warmer climate of Vancouver, BC for graduate school. Her debut novel, Daughter of Carthage, Son of Rome was the stuff of daydreams at bus stops, learning about epic wars and earth-shattering events through history podcasts. She figured the only thing missing was a daring heroine to save the day! Kate is passionate about bringing history to life through action-packed stories of love and adventure. Find out more from kate's website and follow her on Twitter @kqjohnwrites