6 October 2022

Blog Tour Excerpt - The Conjuror’s Apprentice Series: The Tudor Rose (Book 1) by Author: G.J. Williams


New from Amazon UK and Waterstones

Born with the ability to hear thoughts and feelings when there is no sound, Margaretta Morgan’s strange gift sees her apprenticed to Doctor John Dee, mathematician, astronomer, and alchemist. Using her secret link with the hidden side and her master’s brilliance, Margaretta faces her first murder mystery. Margaretta and Dee must uncover the evil bound to unravel the court of Bloody Mary. The year is 1555. This is a time ruled by fear. What secrets await to be pulled from the water?

Excerpt:

The coach rattled out of St Dunstan’s onto Eastcheap and headed west. The night’s rain had made the road a mess of mud and small stones. Every few minutes, a large divot would make their vehicle lurch to the side. Margaretta clung to the window frame and stared out to stop herself getting sick in her stomach. Doctor John, dressed in his favourite coat of blue and his head well covered by his cap, was reading a document, apparently oblivious to the rolling and clattering. He had taken care to wash his beard this morning, so it shone like a dark waterfall from his chin to his chest. His face, prematurely lined but kind, was golden as the early sun shone through from the East.
   Margaretta studied him. She had calculated he was only twenty-seven years old yet his face seemed to hold the history of a hundred men – though this was not so surprising. In his life he had already been a scholar in both England and in foreign lands, a tutor, a maker of fantastical models, a mathematician, an astrologer, and advisor to King Edward, the poor child. Even the great warrior knight, Sir Herbert of Pembroke, had trusted him in his household. John Dee had been born the son of an immensely rich wool-tax collector, favoured by King Henry. But now he was poor and ignored by Henry’s daughter, Mary Tudor, though he was ever seeking a route back to the riches of court, recognition and the resumption of the family fortunes.
   In John Dee’s lap was a parchment covered in circles within a divided square. Words were carefully entered into a panel at the side while numbers littered the circles. Periodically, he would sigh and shake his head. ‘What is the document?’ asked Margaretta, bored with the silence now. 
   ‘Another horoscope divined using my new method of measurement,’ came the vague answer.
   ‘Is it not foolish to carry such things out of the house, doctor? Anything but the words of the Pope is beckoning accusation these days and you…’
   John Dee batted away the end of her sentence with an irritated wagging of his hand. ‘I need to check my calculations. If this is true then the tarot underestimated the future. This portends many enemies surrounding the Lady Elizabeth. I saw it last month when I conjured her first horoscope. But it worsens.’
   Margaretta pushed her head out of the window to see if the coachman could hear them. Thank the Lord he was singing to himself and so taking no notice. She turned to warn Dee
anyway but he was deep in contemplation again.
   Margaretta stared out. The streets thronged with animals and people all busying their way through the detritus of the road. Hawkers screeched their wares, delivery boys shouted for a clear path to save dropping the huge packages on their back, well-dressed women held up nosegays and looked away from the beggars and children who held out hopeful hands. But not a single face held a smile. Yet only a few short weeks ago, the streets had been full of rejoicing, hailing of glad tidings; Te Deums were sung in every church. Priests thanked the Lord for the safe delivery of a son to Queen Mary and in the streets people danced as if this child was the second coming, here to save them from a terrible fate – being ruled by Mary’s husband, the very Spanish King Philip.
   Then the rumours started. There was no cry of a newborn. Some said the queen had lied, others spoke behind their hands of Lord North trying to buy the babes of women who had birthed the child of a Spaniard; pamphlets shouted that the queen was dead. Court went quiet and London waited while criers claimed the doctors had simply miscalculated the birthing day. Sullen silence. Then the screams from the pyres started again.
   As if he could read her thoughts, John Dee suddenly looked up. ‘You have not told me about your lesson yesterday.’
   Margaretta swallowed hard. Recalling the flames and the screams would only raise the bile already collecting in her throat. ‘Cruel,’ she snapped, not looking at him.
   ‘Come, Margaretta. If you are going to hone your gifts you have to understand the full spectrum of men’s feelings, fears and fallacious thoughts. The good, the evil, the kind, the cruel, the intelligent and the witless. It is all part of our soul and you need to see them all.’
   Margaretta turned bright, green eyes on her master. ‘I can feel evil without having to see its result, Doctor John. I’ll never forget those cries. Terrible it was.’ She sat back with a self- righteous huff.
   Abruptly, her travelling companion looked out of the window, his face setting into a grim glare. ‘They will be with their maker now, Margaretta. There will be peace for them.’
   ‘But not for the poor souls sitting in a cell condemned to such an end…nor their kin who have to watch.’
   ‘That is enough, Margaretta.’
   ‘Then I have had enough learning for this week, doctor.’ John Dee sighed and stared down at his parchment.
   Margaretta gazed at him. Strange. He is the only one I cannot read, cannot feel. I cannot sense the spirit below the skin. It’s as if he is able to block me. What thoughts fill that great head, other than dreams of getting to court and recreating his family’s position in the palace?

G.J. Williams

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About the Author

After a career as a business psychologist for city firms, G.J. Williams has returned to her first passion – writing tales of murder, mystery and intrigue. Her psychology background melded with a love of medieval history, draws her to the twists and turns of the human mind, subconscious powers and the dark-side of people who want too much. She lives between Somerset and London in the UK and is regularly found writing on a train next to a grumpy cat and a bucket of tea.  Follow her on Twitter @GJWilliams92 

5 October 2022

Special Guest post by Wendy J Dunn ~ María de Salinas: how facts inspire fiction


Wendy J Dunn on Amazon UKAmazon US 

María de Salinas: the woman I chose to give voice to in All Manner of Things. If you asked me when I first became interested in her story, I really couldn’t tell you, other than that it was too long ago for me to remember. But I well remember what inspired me to give her voice in Falling Pomegranate Seeds — the overarching title for what I once believed would end up a trilogy of novels based on the life of Katherine of Aragon. 

Many years ago, I read about Maria de Salinas — a woman then of about fifty (elderly by Tudor standards) who disobeys her king by riding from her London home, in an English winter, to be with Katherine of Aragon, her dying friend.

María continued her defiance against Henry VIII at the end of her journey. By this stage, no one could see Katherine of Aragon without first gaining the king’s permission. Injured by a fall from her mount, Maria stood outside Kimbolton Castle, Katherine’s last dwelling place and virtual prison, and demanded to be let in. 

Because of her injuries, they could not refuse her entry. But once inside the castle, she quickly located the apartments of Katherine, her lifelong friend, and stayed with her until Katherine drew her last breath. Here is how I imagine the end of Maria’s journey to Kimbolton Castle:

Gaining ground, María neared the castle. The sound of sizzling rain came down to her as the wind blew it under the ledges protecting the torches. Nearby but unseen, dogs barked out warning. Dizzy with pain, she caught her breath. “Come on, Muchacha. Only a little more.”
   She fixed her eyes on the flame of the guttering torches, slogging step by step through the mud. Black shadows loomed, grew and took substance. Thomas rode to her side.
   “My lady! They say they won’t bring down the drawbridge.” “By all the Saints, do they indeed? Hold my horse, Thomas!” Handing over her reins to Thomas, María cursed in Castilian and picked up her skirts and limped up to the castle. She stopped at the edge of the moat, her eyes raking back and forth over the battlements. Over the stone-wall, a wan, bearded face peered. Torchlight turned his eyes luminous and spectre-like.
   “You there,” María shouted, caring not one iota for her dignity. She had left that behind days ago when she had left London. “Open up. I am Baroness Willoughby.
The man leaned across, holding his hands on either side of his mouth to amplify his voice. “Baroness, I beg you, go elsewhere! We cannot lower the drawbridge without the king’s permission.”
María could not believe her ears. “What do you mean you cannot? Will you have me die at your gates? Have you forgotten all the laws of hospitality? I have fallen off my horse, and I am bruised and need my injuries seen to. Besides that, my horse is lame. You have no choice but to open to me, unless you wish for my son-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk, to deal with you later.”
“Baroness, the king’s orders –”
“The king’s orders.” María shook her head, thinking fast. “There’s no need to concern yourself over that issue. My Lord Cromwell promised me the king’s permission will be forthcoming, perchance by the morrow.” She straightened her stance, and made her voice into a weapon of steel. “The night is foul, good sir, and my son in marriage is a prince of this land. Lower the drawbridge before you live to regret it.”

The story of this determined and loyal woman inspired my imagination and began me on a long road to complete my story about the life of Katherine of Aragon.
 
When I started writing Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters, I wanted Maria to be the voice for this story. But, in that novel, she was then a child telling an adult tale. Eventually, I realised I had no other choice but to switch the point of view to that of an adult, and the amazing scholar Beatriz Galindo stepped forward to take over the narration of The Duty of Daughters.

So who was María de Salinas—and why was she an important figure in the life of Katherine of Aragon? Several histories of Katherine of Aragon tell us the same story. Believed to be kin to Katherine of Aragon, María de Salinas was the daughter of Martín de Salinas and his wife, Josefa Gonzales de Salas (Earenfight 2016). Similarly, to my other works of historical fiction, my attempts to put flesh upon the bones of María’s story proved frustrating. 

Like so many women in this period, her birth year is unknown. There are no known paintings or drawings of her. I assumed she was attractive because Henry VII told Isabel of Castile to send, with her daughter, girls of ‘gentle birth and beautiful or, at the least, by no means ugly’ (Tremlett 2010 p. 63), Good looks meant they were more likely to find husbands. 

This assumption felt far less than an assumption when I studied portraits of her lovely daughter and granddaughter. Several historians have her coming out with Katherine of Aragon in 1501; others have her arriving in England to replace María de Rojas, another woman who was very close to Katherine of Aragon, when she returned to Castile to marry in 1503. 

This is when I remind myself I am a fiction writer. It would be absolutely wonderful to be absolutely certain of my facts before I allow my imagination full rein, but when history is debated, I am even freer to decide the direction of my work.

There is also no biography of María de Salinas. I was reliant on what I discovered about her through the biographies of other, more well-known figures of Tudor history. Sometimes María’s personality flashed out and gave me more than just a side note in the stories of others. 

Like when Weir wrote of María’s desire to stay with Katherine of Aragon after her marriage to Henry VIII. ‘The girl desires of all things to remain with me’ (Weir, p. 98), Katherine told her new husband in 1509. María de Salinas, by then, was well and truly part of Katherine’s life. In these earlier and happier years of his first marriage, Henry liked María, too, and did not mind her influence on his wife, or that she was so close to her.

Weir, while frustratingly not providing her sources most of the time, provided me with the most important bones of María’s story. According to Weir, in 1505, María had hoped to marry a noble Fleming, but Katherine — forced again to write a begging letter to her father for a dowry for Maria. No money arrived, so the arrangement came to nothing.

María did not marry until 1516. If she was a similar age to Katherine of Aragon, which I believe, that means she was then at least thirty by the time of her marriage. For a writer of Tudor fiction, this is an intriguingly mature age for a first marriage for a woman of her time and rank. 

Her husband was William Willoughby, the 11th Baron of Willoughby de Eresby—a man of great wealth, long noble lineage, and the largest landowner in Lincolnshire. Henry VIII clearly approved the marriage because he gifted Willoughby additional wealth and properties to celebrate the match.

Ten years later, María was a widow. Like her Queen Katherine of Aragon, María also grieved the death of all her children, bar for one daughter, named for her lifelong friend.
 
Maria became widowed when her daughter was only about seven. It must have been a terrible time for María when she lost her husband. Her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, who inherited the Willoughby properties that could only come down to the male heir, caused a lot of trouble by trying to grab whatever he could of his brother’s wealth, and María had to fight for her daughter’s rights. 

But Katherine was the primary heiress, and a very wealthy heiress at that. Less than three years after her father’s death, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, brought Katherine’s wardship for a great deal of money (Read 1963).

María never married again. After her husband’s death, she continued in her service to Katherine of Aragon until 1532, when Henry VIII ordered her to leave Katherine’s household. By that stage, Henry had annulled, what he claimed, was ‘never a true marriage’ to Katherine of Aragon. María was far too loyal to Katherine for Henry to risk leaving her in her service.

One of my most favourite quotes about writing historical fiction comes from William Styron. He tells us, “While it may be satisfying and advantageous for historians to feast on rich archival material, the writer of historical fiction is better off when past events have left him with short rations”. 

It is those short rations which ignites a writer’s imagination. That does not mean what I know about this period adds up to ‘short rations’. Not at all. All the research I have done over the years is now, well and truly, part of my writerly compost.
 
My writing philosophy is the same as Margaret Atwood, who says, ‘when there was a solid fact, I could not alter it … but in the parts left unexplained—the gaps left unfilled—I was free to invent’ (Atwood 1998, p.1515). I create characters. Most of them are inspired by real people, constructed through my research. 

When I am provided with short rations—like what happened with María de Salinas—my imagination fires up and begins filling in the gaps. This is when I become immersed in the real magic of writing: I am dreaming my story onto the page. 

Sometimes, I wake from this dream agonised where my dream has taken me. But historical fiction is foremost a work of imagination—and story is what beats its heart. And like the great Hilary Mantel once said, ‘“I have written books and I cannot unwrite them. I cannot unbelieve what I believe. I cannot unlive my life”.

Wendy J Dunn 

WORKS CITED:

Earenfight, T.M., 2016. RAISING INFANTA CATALINA DE ARAGON TO BE CATHERINE, QUEEN OF ENGLAND. ANUARIO DE ESTUDIOS MEDIEVALES, 46(1), pp.417-443.

Le Guin, UK 1989, Dancing at the edge of the world: Thoughts on words, women, places, Grove Press, New York

Read, E. 1963. My Lady Suffolk, a Portrait of Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. New York, Knopf.

Tremlett, G. 2010 Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen Bloomsbury House

Weir, A YEAR, The Six Wives of Henry VIII

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About the Author


Wendy J. Dunn is an award-winning Australian writer fascinated by Tudor history – so much so she was not surprised to discover a family connection to the Tudors, not long after the publication of her first Anne Boleyn novel, which narrated the Anne Boleyn story through the eyes of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that one of her ancestral families – 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 is married, the mother of four adult children and the grandmother of two amazing small boys. She gained her PhD in 2014 and loves walking in the footsteps of the historical people she gives voice to in her novels. Wendy also tutors at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.. Find out more at her website http://www.wendyjdunn.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyjdunn

4 October 2022

Book Launch Spotlight: Sofia's Freedom (The Musician's Promise Book 3) by Rachel Le Mesurier


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

For seven months, Esperanza and Artie have lived in wedded bliss on their little farm, reveling in the success of Artie’s music career. Married life has been kind to them. Experience has taught them to keep an eye out for danger, but no such threats appear—not even from Don Raúl, Esperanza’s jilted fiancé.

However, their peace is not destined to last. When Artie receives an invitation to perform at a wealthy doña’s social event in a nearby city, he finds the extra money impossible to refuse. Promising to return soon, he leaves his pregnant wife behind—but Esperanza quickly realizes that Artie is walking straight into danger, and there’s nothing she can do to warn him.

As bloody revolution erupts all around her, Esperanza must face her worst nightmares if she is to survive. Alone and terrified, her salvation comes in an unlikely form... but will she be able to accept it, knowing that her beloved musician will never be able to fulfill his promise?

After marrying the love of his life, everything takes a turn for the better for Artie. He has a comfortable home, a baby on the way, and best of all, he has Esperanza. Life is wonderful.

However, Artie’s idyllic world does not last long. The whispers of revolution grow louder every day, turning to roars as the country he loves descends into chaos. Before long, his brothers Ed and Alejandro go missing in action, and Diego is racing headlong into a bloody massacre, oblivious to the horrors that await him.

Artie has one chance to save his brother from certain death, but it means becoming an unwilling soldier in a battle beyond the wildest horrors of his imagination. Armed only with a revolver and his prayers, he throws himself into the fray—with deadly consequences.

He promised Esperanza he would come back. He needs to get home, whatever it takes. If Artie stands any chance of survival, he will need to learn to fight—and fast. But when the moment comes, will he be able to pull the trigger, knowing it will end an innocent man’s life?

Praise and Reviews for The Musician's Promise Series:

"A rip-roaring, romantic adventure that is impossible to put down." - Starred Review

"A well-written and well-researched story against the background of early 20th century Mexico." - D. Wells, author

"Class intrigue, dynastic manoeuvring, and dangerous politics against growing civil unrest in pre-revolutionary Mexico. Can an unlikely friendship blossom into more? I couldn't put it down, and nor will you!" - Jennifer Nugée, editor

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About the Author 

Rachel Le Mesurier is the author of the MUSICIAN’S PROMISE SERIES, including ARTIE’S COURAGE, A HERO’S HOPE, and SOFIA’S FREEDOM. Led by strong female characters, The Musician's Promise Series turns the common damsel in distress trope on its head. Based on real historical events, this thrilling page-turner story of love and courage in the face of adversity follows characters on an emotional journey through laughter, tears, passion, and heartbreak Rachel comes from a long and varied line of daring explorers, fearsome pirates and brave heroes from all over the world, with the occasional tyrannical ruler thrown in for good measure. But that's a story for another time. Rachel and her family live a far quieter life on her home island of Guernsey, where she enjoys teaching sign language, singing, reading and (of course) writing. She loves to read historical romance, historical, action / adventure and romance novels, and enjoys combining her favorite elements of all of these genres in her own writing. Rachel has a degree in English Literature, and specialised in literature from other cultures, Post-Colonial, 19th Century and Gothic literature. She loves most genres of writing, and favorite authors include Wilkie Collins, Philippa Gregory, Susan Hill, Chinua Achebe, Arthur Golden and Kazuo Ishiguro. Rachel is a disabled author with a rare genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects her heart, joints and mobility. She is a passionate advocate for equality and disablilty awareness, and wants to prove to the world that our differences should be seen as our superpowers, not just our obstacles. For more information about Rachel and her books, please visit: linktr.ee/RMLeMesurier and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @RMLeMesurier

Book Review: JULIA PRIMA: A Roma Nova Foundation Story, by Alison Morton


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Staying faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire can be lethal. Half-divorced Julia Bacausa is condemned to an emotional desert and a forced marriage, Lucius Apulius barely clings onto his posting in a military backwater. Strongly drawn to each other, they are soon separated, but Julia is determined not to lose the only man she will love.


In this fast-paced 'prequel' to  Alison Morton's alternative history Roma Nova series, readers finally discover the back story to Julia Bacausa and Lucius Apulius, the legendary ancestors of present day modern Roma Novans.

Julia Prima takes us right back AD369, for a grounding in well-researched historical fact. Sometimes harrowing, the clash between Christianity and the last gasps of the Roman Gods provides rich and fertile ground for engaging story telling. 

You don't have to have read the Roma Nova series first, as this book stands alone perfectly well, and has the subtitle, 'A Roma Nova Foundation Story.'  

Packed with the authentic details  Alison Morton's readers have come to expect, I'm happy to recommend Julia Prima.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is governed by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache with with a sharp line in dialogue. She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history. Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her latest two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Now that JULIA PRIMA has been published, she’s writing the next part of the Roma Nova foundation story.  Find out more at Alison's website  https://alison-morton.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @alison_morton

29 September 2022

Special Guest Interview with Heidi Eljarbo, Author of Brushstrokes from the Past: A Historical Art Mystery


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

April 1945. Art historian Soli Hansen and her friend Heddy arrive at an excavation site only to find Soli’s old archeology professor deeply engrossed in an extraordinary find in a marsh. The remains of a man have lain undisturbed for three centuries,
but there’s more to this discovery…

I'm pleased to welcome author Heidi Eljarbo to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Brushstrokes from the Past takes place during the last weeks of WWII in Oslo, Norway. Soli Hansen and her resistance group have given all to keep precious artwork out of der Führer’s hands, and that’s far from easy when their country has been invaded by a ruthless enemy. Her personal life has been turned upside-down with danger, lies, and spying. 

This is a story of Nazi art theft, bravery, friendship, adventure, suspense, and romance. But there’s more. The dual timeline takes us back to Amsterdam in 1641 and to the brilliant master artist Rembrandt van Rijn and the musketeer he painted.
Brushstrokes from the Past is the fourth book in the Soli Hansen Mysteries. Each novel can be read as a standalone, but they are more enjoyable when read in order as the story progresses.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I write in the mornings and early afternoons but never on Sundays. A day of rest is healthy and important. I also carry pen and paper wherever I go as I never know when a wonderful idea pops up in my mind, and I’d be sure to forget it if I don’t write it down.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read a lot! Write s lot! Make sure the cover and description are of great quality! Learn about the craft and practice! But also, it’s important to remember that even experienced authors write many drafts before the book is finished, and they work with a professional editor and beta readers to help them polish that story.

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

When I spend time on quality social posts and small videos with music, I find it’s a fast and easy way for readers to be reminded of my books and the stories.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

When studying the life of Rembrandt, I was touched by his great love for his wife, Saskia. He adored her, and the many drawings and paintings of her verify that. They met the way Saskia explains to Annarosa in the novel, and I’ve described their home as accurately as possible.

Their children were christened in Dutch Reformed churches in Amsterdam. The first son was named Rumbertus after Saskia’s father. The infant died soon after birth. Then followed two daughters, both christened Cornelia after Rembrandt’s mother. Each of them also died after a few days. They called their fourth child Titus van Rijn. He was born in 1641 and survived his father. Unfortunately, the boy saw little of his mother. Saskia died from either tuberculosis or consumption when Titus was only nine months old. In Brushstrokes from the Past, she is pregnant with Titus but far from healthy. Rembrandt confides his worries to Annarosa and is genuinely afraid of losing Saskia.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I would have to say the sword fighting scene. I’m not a swordfighter and spent quit a bit of time researching moves and terminology. But I love research and learning!

What are you planning to write next?

My next novel is a historical Christmas romance set in the Victorian era. I have the cover, and the story is plotted and well on its way. So excited to share it with the readers.

Heidi Eljarbo

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About the Author

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


28 September 2022

Special Guest Post by Anna Belfrage, Author of Her Castilian Heart (The Castilian Saga Book 3)


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him. A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge. He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Those unruly Welsh – a post about those that would not give up

Some years ago, I published His Castilian Hawk, where the story is set against the backdrop of Edward I’s conquest of Wales in 1282-83. Some may think that after Dafydd ap Gruffyd was executed in late 1283, Wales was permanently cowed, bowing its neck abjectly before its new overlord. Not at all like in Scotland, where the Scots just wouldn’t give up, no matter what Edward I threw at them.

Hmm. I dare say those medieval Welshmen would snort—rather loudly—at the notion that they somehow lacked in bravery. Also, one must keep in mind that the English king could command vastly more men than the Welsh could. Plus, Wales was not a cohesive unit as Scotland was. No, Wales was subdivided into various little principalities, and since the death of Llewellyn Fawr in 1240 no one had really managed to unite all Wales again. Plus, large chunks of Wales had been under English control for yonks, ruled over by the so called Marcher Lords. 

So it was a fragmented people who were invaded by the English in 1282-83, and in some places people didn’t overly care who sat in the nearby castle. But that does not mean the Welsh had rolled over and given up. In fact, there’d be a sequence of rebellions—of varying size—over the years. What all those rebellions have in common is that they failed, even if the impressive Owain Glyndwr came close to success.

In my (very!) recent release, Her Castilian Heart, the adventures and misfortunes that beset my fictional protagonists, Robert FitzStephan and his wife Noor, are set against the backdrop of another Welsh rebellion, that of Rhys ap Maredudd.

Rhys was a member of the royal house of Deheubarth, a principality in mid Wales. When Dafydd ap Gruffyd prodded his older brother into rebellion in 1282, Rhys sided with the English. Already in the Anglo-Welsh wars if 1276-77, Rhys submitted to England, hoping that by doing so he’d be able to keep his lands—and regain the impressive Dinefwr Castle, the traditional seat of the princes of Deheubarth. 

In the aftermath of the 1282-83 conquest, Rhys was rewarded for his loyalty with more land.

“And Dinefwr?” he asked. 

King Edward likely raised an eyebrow. No way was he about to return such an impressive castle to a Welsh princeling. Instead, he forced Rhys to sign a quitclaim, effectively handing over “his” castle permanently to the English king. Rhys may not have liked this, but he seems to have swallowed his disappointment and instead focussed his attention on fortifying his remaining castle of note, Dryslwyn.

But it must have rankled, losing Dinefwr. Also, Rhys seems to have been under the impression that he’d been promised Dinefwr if he rode with the English against his fellow Welshmen. Whatever the case, in 1287, Rhys rebelled.

He had some initial success, but King Edward’s appointed regent, Edmund of Cornwall (the king himself was in Gascony) acted with speed, assembling a huge host that marched into Wales. By October, the rebellion had effectively been stamped out until all that was left was a core of determined men besieged at Dryslwyn. This was when King Edward’s interest in siege machines came in handy: soon enough several huge trebuchets began bombarding Dryslwyn’s walls with projectiles. In all that upheaval, Rhys managed to slip away. 



For some weeks, things were quiet and then up popped Rhys, urging his fellow Welshmen to join his rebellion. A new, much smaller force was assembled to sort things out—one in which I’ve included Robert FitzStephan and his friend, Roger Mortimer. Rhys took refuge in yet another castle, this time the triangular-shaped Newydd Emlyn.

The English packed together their siege weapons, loaded them onto carts, requisitioned forty oxen and hauled them all the way up to Newydd Emlyn. Ten days of siege and the English won—but the elusive Rhys had managed to slip away. Again.

For the coming four years, he somehow managed to stay hidden. Some people think he may have escaped to Ireland, but if he had, one wonders why he came back only to be captured. In 1291, Rhys ap Maredudd was executed in York, far from the land of his birth. His son and namesake was to spend the coming fifty years in prison. 

Rhys was not the last Welshman to rebel against Edward. Some years later, the fires of rebellion would yet again threaten Edward’s iron hold on this his newest dominion—but of that I will write in the next book in the series! 

Anna Belfrage

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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 three absorbing interests: history, romance and writing. Anna always writes about love and 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.  More recently, she has published Her Castilian Heart, the third in her medieval Castilian series set against the conquest of Wales. She has also written a new time travel romance, The Whirlpools of Time. Find out more about Anna, her books and her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

26 September 2022

Alas my lady, The Language of Courtly Love.



I wake early, in the first soft light of dawn, with a wonderful idea fully formed in my mind. Nothing can compare with the rare thrill, this frisson of creative inspiration. There is a special alchemy in making something of great value from nothing but the words in my head. I call out to my ever-present, invisible attendants.
   ‘Bring me quill and parchment!’
   They wait at my door night and day, some to guard me, others seeking favours, but the most important know my needs, and how to satisfy them, without question. My wife has her chattering ladies, yet I value my gentlemen of the chamber more than she knows. They guard my secrets with their lives.
   Pulling on a cape of thick, velvet-lined fur over my nightshirt to ward off the chill dawn air, I slide my feet into silk slippers and hum to myself as I rehearse the words in my head. These words could change my life. I sense they might hold the answer to the problem that keeps me awake at night, and torments my dreams.
   My father’s dying gift had been a question. ‘You know your duty?’ His voice was rasping, like the call of a rave, his words sounding harsher than he no doubt intended.
   ‘To ensure the succession.’ The words tripped from my tongue so easily, yet now haunted me. I forgave my father’s tone, yet only now do I understand. The old man was dying of the quinsy, a miserable end. Even with his great fortune, he could not find a cure. I’d known my father would not last long if the simple act of swallowing caused such agony.
   He’d done his duty. An heir and a spare, that’s what they said, his self-serving acolytes. In truth, it was a relief when he died. When my older brother was taken by the sweating sickness, my father changed. His heart hardened and the sparkle vanished from his eyes. Then my mother, the love of his life, followed her son eleven months later, and my father lost his faith in our merciful God.
   I think of my father more often as I grow older, and begin to value his qualities, perhaps even miss his suffocating attention. What would he have said if I’d told him I loved him? Would he have said he loved me, as he’d loved my brother, or scowled at my weakness, and blamed my poor mother for making me soft.
   His plan was for me to enter the church. I smile at the thought. Sometimes I daydream about the life I could have had, so free of care, responsible only for men’s mortal souls. I would have been the greatest archbishop in Christendom, eclipsing the bishop of Rome, yet the prize was stolen from me by my brother’s sudden passing.
   My servant returns and sets out fresh parchment, a silver inkpot and a fine new goose feather quill. I test the sharpness of the nib against the flesh of my palm, an old habit, taught by my writing tutor, although I know it will be perfect, as it always is.
   Dismissing the man with a wave of my hand, I sit at my gilded desk and begin to write in French, the language of courtly love.

   Alas my lady, whom I do so love

   A good start. Direct, yet raising a question in the good lady’s mind. Alas? A magical word, with the power to conjure much speculation. I sit back and read the words aloud, savouring them. Then I read the line again, more slowly this time, pleased to hear the beginnings of a simple melody in their rhythm. Now the great idea must follow, before it eludes me like the slippery elvers I hunted as a child.

   Suffer me to be your humble servant

   Humility. I recall the cautionary words of St Peter. ‘Clothe yourselves with humility, because God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’ This will surprise her, perhaps even raise a smile. She well knows I’d never been anyone’s servant, although I’ve suffered at the hands of many over the years. What more can I offer, as my gift, than servitude?
   I need to develop and reinforce this theme, so what better than with commitment? I know what they say, the gossipers of court. They dare to laugh behind my back, believing they do so with impunity, but I know. I have ways of knowing what is said, when they think I cannot hear. They see my short-lived dalliances and misunderstand. They dare to say I don’t know the value of commitment. I mutter a curse at the gossipers as I dip my quill in the silver inkpot and write, my brow furrowed with concentration.

   Your humble servant I shall always be

   The next line flows effortlessly from my subconscious mind, like the mysterious quicksilver used by my physicians, and I sit back in my chair, startled at the truth it reveals.

   And while I live, I'll love none else but you.

   Now the time has come for my lady’s response. I wish she was at my side, sharing this precious moment with her shy smile. I picture her in a silken nightdress, revealing more than some might think proper. Forcing the sultry image from my thoughts, I instead imagine her most perfect reply to my verse.

Alas, fair sir, you are good and kind

   Alas again. Does it convey concern, or pity, for my hopeless infatuation? If pity, the lady redeems herself by recognising my best qualities. My stern grandmother took it upon herself to make me good and kind. She’d died two months after my coronation, and I miss her wisdom, yet recall her advice.
   She lies now in the abbey of Westminster, her hands in perpetual prayer. When I visited last, a shaft of sunlight, filtered by the stained glass, lit up her gilded face with a delicate, rosy pink, as if she was restored to life. Memories of my devout grandmother inspire my words, so fast I write the next two lines.

  Wise and courteous and from a noble house,
  And as good as one could find

   My grandmother was so proud to be a Beaufort, the most noble of houses, in the line of the royal House of Lancaster. My father claimed we had true royal blood, as good as one could find, yet the royal blood flowing in my veins if from my mother, her blood of kings, of the royal House of York. A wave of sadness threatens as I remember my mother, who never failed to show me her love.

   But I can't forget the one I love.

   Melancholy distracts me from my task. I must recall my waking mood, and the unexpected joy I’d felt at the thought of being able to express the love that burns in my soul, like the red-hot embers of a smithy’s forge.
   ‘Bring me wine, and comfits!’
   I hear their footsteps on polished floors as they rush to do my bidding, and return with a silver tray. I watch in silence as my goblet is filled, then sip the rich red wine and feel its warmth restore my spirits. The dish of sugared comfits tempts me, but I must write more before these words escape my mind.

   Alas my lady, think upon your case:
   Between us two, no need for advocate.
   Certainly not, and you know it well.
   Be gone, for you are doing nothing.

   I smile, pleased at my ingenuity. She is vain, and will know the meaning, yet dare I threaten to dismiss her as punishment for inaction? I can and will, for she plays the game of courtly love so well, a quarry worthy of a king.
   Now a touch of honesty. They say confession is good for the soul. I know not how to win her heart, yet by admitting as much, might surprise her with my honesty. I take another drink of wine, savouring the fruity aftertaste as words form in my head.

   My heart sighs and tenderly complains,
   When it cannot find relief
   I know not how it wants me to woo

   Pleased with the result, I reward myself with a sugared comfit from the silver dish. My weakness is that once I start, I cannot stop until they are all gone, yet I deserve this small indulgence. She knows my other weakness well enough, and now I might use it to seal my words, as surely as I press my royal signet into hot red sealing wax.

   If it is so, I'll go wooing elsewhere.

   Too harsh a threat? Maybe, yet she knows this is a game, and I grow impatient for my reward. Now, how to conclude? At last, the reason for alas – and her answer, offering the hope I crave for more than any dish of sugared comfits.

   Alas my lady, and shall I not?
   Certainly, fair sir, I have not said so.

   There, it is done, and as I read my words aloud, I find I’m singing them. I have written not an ode but a song, which I shall sing to her in my fine tenor voice when next we meet.

   Behave rightly and you will be rewarded.
   Alas my lady, from my whole heart, thank you.


Tony Riches

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Author’s note

I’ve spent over ten years writing about the men and women of the Tudor court, but this is the first time I have attempted to write Henry VIII in the first person. Helas Madame is one of Henry’s most revealing compositions, and inspired me to think about how my view of his character has changed over the years. His father, Henry VII, seems to have made little secret that Henry was never his first choice as heir to the throne, so he must have felt a powerful need for vindication. Originally written in ancient French, I’ve used the translation, which still carries the significance of Henry’s passion. The games of courtly love dominated life at the Tudor court throughout his life, yet I believe such games became a substitute for the true love he found so elusive. 

21 September 2022

Special Guest Interview with K.M. Butler, Author of The Welsh Dragon: A novel of Henry Tudor


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, AD 1471. Henry Tudor's drop of royal blood had never mattered, considering the scores of noblemen with stronger claims to the throne. But when Edward IV becomes king during the Wars of the Roses, that drop threatens Henry's life and forces him into exile.

I'm pleased to welcome author K.M. Butler to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Welsh Dragon follows Henry Tudor during his 14-year exile prior to winning the English crown at Bosworth. Not only were his political enemies working tirelessly to retrieve and execute him—they nearly succeeded more than once—but he was also a young man struggling to establish an identity. He had to grow up in an unfamiliar court as a prisoner-guest without his birthright, his family, or his home. This was an uncertain time for Henry, but it shaped him into the man who could end the Wars of the Roses—for both good and ill.

What is your preferred writing routine?

All of my novels begin with some curious point in history. For The Welsh Dragon, it was a question: what would enduring an exile at such a young age do to a person? From there, I extensively research, then outline. My scene guide was 23-pages, single-spaced! In it, I detail not only plot points, but character development and implications for future scenes. Once I start writing, I aim for finishing just one scene a week. At that pace, I have time to percolate on what’s going to happen next so my writing time is spent doing, rather than redoing.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Share your work with other writers and beta-readers. The key is to approach feedback from the perspective that your reader is right. Their criticism is legitimate and deserves serious consideration. I’ve been writing for 20 years, but I only began to improve after aggressively sharing my work with others and applying their feedback.

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

I don’t think anyone has gotten it quite right. I’ve found that participating on blogs and podcasts helps, as does sharing copies for ARC reviews. Folks like to know what they’re in for, and word-of-mouth is a powerful tool.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

While fiction is filled with daring ventures and thrilling escapes, you never really expect them to have actually happened. However, Henry Tudor really did have some exciting moments. To avoid being repatriated by Edward IV, he really did break away from his captors and flee into St. Malo, and the priest did lead the citizens in a defense. When he finally escaped to France, his pursuers were about an hour behind him. On a journey that would have lasted several days, that’s incredibly close. Those are the kinds of details a writer loves! The scenes basically write themselves!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Emotional turning points take a lot of time to get right. I really struggled with the scene when Henry returns from attempting to join Buckingham’s revolt in 1483. It called for anguish, since his dreams came crashing down. Getting the reactions of all the characters just right took a lot of percolating and re-writing.

What are you planning to write next?

Next, I’ll be publishing a novel set in Medieval Venice about vendettas, family discord, and conspiracy. I’m also revising a novel set during the Spanish Reconquista about a Mozarab thief and a Muslim qiyan who journey into El Cid’s Valencia to steal a precious book. But next to be written is a biographical novel exploring the motivations of Gaius Cassius Longinus, the man who engineered Caesar’s assassination. History has been pretty brutal to him, but his is a story about a man fighting against the ruin of everything his people ever believed in. There’s a tension there worth exploring.

K.M. Butler

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About the Author

K.M. Butler studied literature at Carnegie Mellon University and has always had an avid interest in history. His writing influences are The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. His wife is his first and harshest editor, while his daughters always want his stories to feature more blood and talking animals, but never at the same time. Find out more at his website https://kmbutlerauthor.wordpress.com/ and find him on Twitter @kmbutlerauthor

14 September 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Muse of Freedom, by Jules Larimore


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

First in the series from The Cévenoles Sagas is
THE MUSE OF FREEDOM.

A French Huguenot apothecary’s legacy of secrets, a mystic healer’s inspiration, a fateful decision.

In the mysterious Cévennes mountains of Languedoc, France, 1695, Jehan BonDurant, a young nobleman forcibly held in a Dominican prieuré as a child, comes of age only to inherit a near-derelict estate and his Huguenot family’s dangerous legacy of secrets. While he cherishes his newfound freedom apprenticing as an apothecary, his outrage mounts over religious persecutions led by King Louis XIV’s Intendant Basville, who is sent to enforce the King’s will for “One King, One Law, One Faith”. 

The ensuing divisions among families and friends and the gradual revelation of his own circumstances lead Jehan to question his spiritual choices. A journey deep into the heart of the Cévennes in search of guidance, unfolds in a way he least expects when he enters the enchanting Gorges du Tarn. There he discovers his muse, Amelia Auvrey, a free-spirited, mystic holy woman who reveals ancient healing practices and spiritual mysteries.

Together they quest for peace and spiritual freedom by aiding the persecuted until the Intendant’s spy reports their activities and the King’s dragoons are sent out after them. To retain their freedom, they must choose to live in hiding in a remote wilderness, join a festering uprising against the persecutions, or flee their cherished homeland with thousands of other refugees in search of hope.

Inspired by the true story of Jean Pierre Bondurant dit Cougoussac, distilled and blended with Cévenole magic lore, this is an inspiring coming of age story and family saga of courage, tenacity, and the power of love in a country rife with divisions under the control of an authoritarian king obsessed with power. 

Fans of Poldark, Magic Lessons, The Lost Apothecary, and The Huguenot Chronicles will find thematic elements from those stories melded into this thrilling and obscure slice of French history.

“Brilliantly told, a story that will stick with you long after you've turned the last page . . . fresh and compelling, as relevant now as it was then.” ~ Janet Wertman, award-winning author of The Seymour Saga trilogy

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About the Author

Jules Larimore writes emotive, literary-leaning historical fiction to inspire positive change for the oppressed and refugees, and to encourage an intimate relationship with the natural environment. Influenced by a background in freelance travel writing, Jules uses captivating historical settings as characters. Then distills and blends them with a dose of magic, myth, and romance to bring to life hopeful human stories. A previous career in marketing offered an outlet for creative writing used to romance brands with mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life. With a Bachelor of Arts from Indiana University, Jules has studied medieval history, ancient Greek culture, anthropology, folklore, narrative composition, and architectural design, and has trained under writing geniuses Libbie Hawker/Olivia Hawker and Roz Morris. While investigating the ancestor who inspired The Muse of Freedom, Jules researched late 17th century Languedoc customs, politics, and spiritual traditions specific to the little known Cévennes mountains of south-central France, culminating in a rich repository to feed future novels about the Cévenol people and culture. Jules lives primarily in Ojai, California, with time spent around the U.S. and in various countries in Europe gathering more treasures in a continued search for authenticity. Find out more at https://juleslarimore.com/ and follow Jules on Facebook and Twitter @jules_larimore

10 September 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Her Castilian Heart (The Castilian Saga Book 3) by Anna Belfrage


Available for pre-order from

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge. He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

# # #

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.  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, www.annabelfrage.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

1 September 2022

New in UK Paperback: The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty, by Sarah Gristwood


Available from Amazon UK 
and in eBook and hardback from Amazon US

A BBC History Magazine Book of the Year

Why did Henry VIII marry six times? Why did Anne Boleyn have to die? Why did Elizabeth I’s courtiers hail her as a goddess come to earth?

The dramas of courtly love have captivated centuries of readers and dreamers. Yet too often they’re dismissed as something existing only in books and song - those old legends of King Arthur and chivalric fantasy.

Not so. In this groundbreaking history, Sarah Gristwood reveals the way courtly love made and marred the Tudor dynasty. From Henry VIII declaring himself as the ‘loyal and most assured servant’ of Anne Boleyn to Elizabeth I’s poems to her suitors, the Tudors re-enacted the roles of the devoted lovers and capricious mistresses first laid out in the romances of medieval literature. 

The Tudors in Love dissects the codes of love, desire and power, unveiling romantic obsessions that have shaped the history of this nation. In the #MeToo era, re-examining the history of the social codes behind modern romance has never been more vital.

‘One of the most important books to be written about the Tudors in a generation.’ Tracy Borman

‘A riveting, pacy page-turner… the Tudors as you’ve never seen them before.’ Alison Weir

# # #

About the Author

Sarah Gristwood  is a best-selling Tudor biographer, former film journalist, and commentator on royal affairs. After leaving Oxford, Sarah began work as a journalist, writing at first about the theatre as well as general features on everything from gun control to Giorgio Armani. But increasingly she found herself specialising in film interviews – Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro; Martin Scorsese and Paul McCartney. She has appeared in most of the UK’s leading newspapers – The Times, the Guardian, The Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) – and magazines from Cosmopolitan to Country Living and Sight and Sound to The New Statesman. Turning to history she wrote two bestselling Tudor biographies, Arbella: England’s Lost Queen and Elizabeth and Leicester. Sarah was one of the team providing Radio 4’s live coverage of the royal wedding; and has since spoken on the Queen’s Jubilee, the royal baby, and other royal stories for Sky News, Woman’s Hour, Radio 5 Live, and CBC. Shortlisted for both the Marsh Biography Award and the Ben Pimlott Prize for Political Writing, she is a Fellow of the RSA, and an Honororary Patron of Historic Royal Palaces. She and her husband, the film critic Derek Malcolm, live in London and Kent. Find out more at Sarah's website 
sarahgristwood.com and find her on Twitter @sarahgristwood

30 August 2022

Book Launch Spotlight: The Portraitist: A Novel of Adelaide Labille-Guiard, by Susanne Dunlap


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Based on a true story, this is the tale of Adélaïe Labille-Guiard’s fight to take her rightful place in the competitive art world of eighteenth-century Paris.

With a beautiful rival who’s better connected and better trained than she is, Adélaïde faces an uphill battle. Her love affair with her young instructor in oil painting gives rise to suspicions that he touches up her work, and her decision to make much-needed money by executing erotic pastels threatens to create as many problems as it solves. Meanwhile, her rival goes from strength to strength, becoming Marie Antoinette’s official portraitist and gaining entrance to the elite Académie Royale at the same time as Adélaïde.

When at last Adélaïde earns her own royal appointment and receives a massive commission from a member of the royal family, the timing couldn’t be worse: it’s 1789, and with the fall of the Bastille her world is turned upside down by political chaos and revolution. With danger around every corner in her beloved Paris, she must find a way adjust to the new order, carving out a life and a career all over again—and stay alive in the process.

“Written with breathless drama, The Portraitist follows the rise of the gifted portraitist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard in Paris during the last years of the late eighteenth century. The novel is a luminous depiction of Paris and those terrible times seen through the astute, compassionate eyes of a woman who had to paint. Every bit of lace or royal carriage or bloody cobblestone is alive in the writing. The rain drumming on the skylight and a misbuttoned coat speak. Go to those streets with this book in your hand to follow her footsteps and those long-gone, turbulent times will come alive to you as if they were yesterday.” —Stephanie Cowell, award-winning author of Claude and Camille

“Deeply researched and imagined, The Portraitist offers a fascinating and dramatic plunge into the world of a brilliant female artist struggling to make her mark before and during the turbulent and treacherous era of the French Revolution. I loved this novel.” —Sandra Gulland, internationally best-selling author of The Josephine B. Trilogy

“In The Portraitist, Susanne Dunlap skillfully paints a portrait of a woman struggling to make her way in a man's world--a topic as relevant today as it was in Ancien Régime France. Impeccably researched, rich with period detail, Dunlap brings to life the little-known true story of Adelaide Labille-Guiard, who fought her husband and society to make a name for herself as a painter to the royal family, the very apex of success--only to find everything she had built threatened by the Revolution. A stunning story of determination, talent, and reversals of fortune. As a lifelong Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun fan, I am now questioning my allegiances!” —Lauren Willig, best-selling author of The Summer Country

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About the Author

Susanne Dunlap is the author of twelve works of historical fiction for adults and teens, as well as an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach. Her love of historical fiction arose partly from her PhD studies in music history at Yale University, partly from her lifelong interest in women in the arts as a pianist and non-profit performing arts executive. Her novel The Paris Affair was a first place CIBA award winner. The Musician’s Daughter was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Bank Street Children’s Book of the Year, and was nominated for the Utah Book Award and the Missouri Gateway Reader’s Prize. In the Shadow of the Lamp was an Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award nominee. Susanne earned her BA and an MA (musicology) from Smith College and lives in Northampton, MA—moving to Biddeford, Maine in two weeks with her little dog, Betty. Find out more at Susanne's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Susanne_Dunlap

26 August 2022

Special Guest Interview with Alison Morton, Author of JULIA PRIMA: A Roma Nova Foundation Story (Roma Nova Thriller Series Book 10)


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Staying faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire can be lethal. Half-divorced Julia Bacausa is condemned to an emotional desert and a forced marriage, Lucius Apulius barely clings onto his posting in a military backwater. Strongly drawn to each other, they are soon separated, but Julia is determined not to lose the only man she will love.

I'm pleased to welcome author Alison Morton back to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

JULIA PRIMA was inspired by my Roma Nova series readers. They wanted to know how and why the 21st century Roma Nova was founded back in the 4th century. Most of all, they wanted to know about the people who had shown the courage to stand up for their values in the face of lethal threats and eventually leave everything they knew behind them. But first, who were Julia Bacausa and Lucius Apulius – the modern Roma Novans’ legendary ancestors and what was their connection with the Roman frontier province of Noricum? 
 
As the first of a new strand called ‘The Foundation Story’ within the Roma Nova series, JULIA PRIMA hopes to answer some of these questions plus hint where that red hair of the modern heroines comes from!  This first foundation story is set between AD 369 and 371 when the Roman world was riddled with religious strife and on the brink of transformation.

What is your preferred writing routine?  

I’m glad you said ‘preferred’, Tony. I’d like to write 8.30 to 1pm, with a tea break. Sadly, that rarely happens, especially when getting a new book out. 

Being an independent author means liaising with the editing and design team, contacting advanced and beta readers, creating ebook and print versions, scheduling upload to retailers for pre-order and drawing up a launch and promotion plan. Carving out an independent career also entails organising speaking opportunities, writing blog posts and guest posts, contributing to collective work with other authors, sending in my monthly magazine column, designing PR and marketing graphics and running social media accounts. Then, as with any historical fiction, there is a mountain, no, a universe of research. I love it all, but writing takes priority and somehow amid the organised chaos, it happens.

What advice do you have for new writers?  

Four things: persist, hone your craft, collaborate with other writers and learn to take genuine critiques on the chin.

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

Lesson learned over ten years: there is no silver bullet. It’s harder now than it used to be to gain traction but being authentic and participating are the key strategies. Interact with others about common interests, e.g. I know and enjoy the company of many Roman fiction writers and historical fiction writers in general – they’re fun! And I’m getting to know a good number of crime and thriller writers. 

Go to conferences, write posts about the background to your books, be visible on social media, offer to give talks, write articles – in short, be in as many places on and offline as you can. Sure, tell people about your book and be passionate about your story, but never, ever shove it in people’s faces.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research  

I’d forgotten how often Roman towns changed their names! Over the twelve hundred years of Ancient Rome’s existence in the West, names often changed depending on the emperor, his pet project, his aim to obliterate his predecessor’s existence or as a reward. For instance, Pula in Istria, Croatia, was a major port and the administrative centre of Istria from ancient Roman times until 1991. 


Known to the Greeks as Polai, the "city of refuge” and enjoying the prestige status of a Roman colonia for a long time, it was destroyed in 42 BC by Octavian (the future Augustus) for taking the wrong side in the civil war. Rebuilt at the request of Octavian's daughter Iulia, it was then called Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea, short form Pietas Iulia. Two hundred years later during the reign of emperor Septimius Severus (AD 193 to 211), the name of the town was changed to Res Publica Polensis. By the time of JULIA PRIMA, that’s its formal name, but I bet the locals simply referred to it as Pola.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?  
None in particular, but however well it seems to flow, every scene has its own needs and traps. To avoid the obvious gaps, I ruthlessly asked other for help. The lovely Helen Hollick stopped me making daft mistakes with horse details; all I knew about Roman horses was that there were no stirrups and the saddles had four supporting horns.  Fellow Roman fiction writer Ruth Downie gave me some excellent advice about travel and recommended the wonderful Travel in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson. 

The most intensive work was checking the towns and way stations had existed in AD 370 and pinpointing their correct names and locations so I could make maps for the readers. Some swearing and perspiration were involved at that stage…

What are you planning to write next?  

As usual, I found I had too much story for one book. The happened with AURELIA which was just going to be a one-off novel taking in the late 1960s to early 1980s and not turn into the three full-length novels plus a novella that actually emerged. The foundation story of Roma Nova is only part told in JULIA PRIMA. Now we have many of the main characters in place, I’m going to start the other half of the story – the exodus.

Alison Morton

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About the Author

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is governed by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache with with a sharp line in dialogue. She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history. Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her latest two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Now that JULIA PRIMA has been published, she’s writing the next part of the Roma Nova foundation story.  Find out more at Alison's website  https://alison-morton.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @alison_morton