Mastodon The Writing Desk: 2022

15 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Wolves of Wagria: A Viking Age Novel (Olaf's Saga Book 3) by Eric Schumacher


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is AD 972. Olaf Tryggvason and his oath-sworn protector, Torgil, are once again on the move. They have left the Rus kingdom and now travel the Baltic Sea in search of plunder and fame. 

But a fateful storm lands them on the Vendish coastline in a kingdom called Wagria. There, they find themselves caught between the aggression of the Danes, the political aspirations of the Wagrian lords, and the shifting politics in Saxland. 

Can they survive or will they become just one more casualty of kingly ambitions? Find out in this harrowing sequel to the best-selling Forged by Iron and Sigurd's Swords.

Praise for Olaf's Saga

"The ability to bring history alive and the capability to put the reader convincingly in a past time and place is the hallmark of a master historical fiction novelist, qualities Eric Schumacher demonstrates in this novel and others he's written." - Preston Holtry, author of the Arrius Trilogy

"Eric Schumacher writes so well that you're there, while thanking the gods that you're not. I can't wait for the next book to see what the Norns have planned for Torgil, Turid, and Olaf." - Amazon customer

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About the Author

Eric Schumacheris the author of six novels and one novella, all set in the Viking Age. By day, Schumacher is a brand storyteller and PR consultant for early-stage companies. By night, he ventures into the past, using known history and ancient tales to create stories about real people living in turbulent times. From the earliest age, Schumacher devoured books about castles and warrior kings and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Those stories, coupled with a love of writing, led him to the completion of Hakon’s Saga (published by Legionary Books), which tells the story of the young Norwegian king, Hakon Haraldsson, and his struggles to win, unify, and protect what was not yet Norway. Find out more at Eric's website: and find him on Facebook and Twitter @DarkAgeScribe 

13 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Fortune Keeper, by Deborah Swift

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Count your nights by stars, not shadows ~ Italian Proverb

Winter in Renaissance Venice: Mia Caiozzi is determined to discover her destiny by studying the science of astronomy. But her stepmother Giulia forbids her to engage in this occupation, fearing it will lead her into danger. The ideas of Galileo are banned by the Inquisition, so Mia must study in secret.

Giulia's real name is Giulia Tofana, renowned for her poison Aqua Tofana, and she is in hiding from the Duke de Verdi's family who are intent on revenge for the death of their brother. Giulia insists Mia should live quietly out of public view. If not, it could threaten them all. But Mia doesn't understand this, and rebels against Giulia, determined to go her own way.

When the two secret lives collide, it has far-reaching and fatal consequences that will change Mia's life forever.

Set amongst opulent palazzos and shimmering canals, The Fortune Keeper is the third novel of adventure and romance based on the life and legend of Giulia Tofana, the famous poisoner.

'Her characters are so real they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf' - Historical Novel Society

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About the Author

Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory

9 December 2022

Special Guest Interview with Jacquie Bloese, author of The French House

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In Nazi-occupied Guernsey, the wrong decision can destroy a life...

Left profoundly deaf after an accident, Émile is no stranger to isolation - or heartbreak. Now, as Nazi planes loom over Guernsey, he senses life is about to change forever. Trapped in a tense, fearful marriage, Isabelle doesn't know what has become of Émile and the future she hoped for. But when she glimpses him from the window of the French House, their lives collide once more.

I'm pleased to welcome author Jacquie Bloese to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The French House is set on Guernsey, during the German Occupation of World War 2, and it’s about two estranged lovers: Émile, who lost his hearing in a tragic accident, and Isabelle. Both unhappily married to other people, the German invasion throws Émile and Isabelle together again, through their work at the ‘French House’ – Victor Hugo’s former residence-in-exile. And as their lives become enmeshed with that of the enigmatic German press censor, Schreiber, loyalties are blurred and dangerous secrets form ...

What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to devote quality time to writing – and thinking, which is such a crucial part of the process - rather than writing in snatched moments. On a day where I’m writing, I’m at my freshest and most productive in the mornings, then I’ll break for lunch, and go back to it in the afternoon – I find changing locations helps, so I can often be found in the local library! I find Sundays a good time to really get stuck in too.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Build resilience – it’s a tough industry and everyone, both published and unpublished, experiences knockbacks along the way. Seek out other writers who you feel comfortable sharing your work with and whose opinions you trust. Establish a routine. Take classes, either online or in person. Don’t give up, even if it feels tempting. And … make sure you finish!

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

I’ve actually found word-of-mouth through friends, family and colleagues very helpful – occasionally I post on LinkedIn and these posts always seem to gain far more traction than anything on Twitter or Instagram!

My advice to debut authors, like myself, would be to be pro-active in terms of publicity. Be bold and pitch yourself to local literary festivals, local radio etc. It all helps and importantly, it gives you as the author a feeling of agency.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

It wasn’t uncommon for German soldiers who had been billeted with Guernsey families to strike up friendships, and return for holidays when the war was over. And how living in a time of extreme uncertainty was just as psychologically distressing as food shortages and loss of freedom.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

It was probably the prologue as it’s based on real events, endured by my great-grandfather. It re-tells the story of how he fell down an unlit elevator shaft, as a very young man, newly arrived in Canada – an accident which resulted in permanent hearing loss.

What are you planning to write next?

My next novel, The Golden Hour, is set against the backdrop of the underground trade in erotic photography in late Victorian Brighton, and is about three women from different classes, all fighting against their constraints of their circumstances. But in their quest for freedom, have the women become more trapped than ever?

Jacquie Bloese 
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About the Author

Jacquie Bloese grew up on the Channel Island of Guernsey, an upbringing which provided lots of inspiration for her debut novel, The French House. Her interest in travel, languages and other cultures led to a career in ELT publishing, a job which has taken her in and out of classrooms all over the world. Writing fiction is her first love and her work has been shortlisted for the Good Housekeeping First Novel Award, Caledonia Novel Award, and the Mslexia Novel Award. The French House is a Richard and Judy December book club pick. After many years in London, Jacquie now lives in Brighton, with her partner. Find out more at her website and find Jacquie on Facebook and Twitter @novelthesecond

8 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Son of Anger (Ormstunga Saga, Book 1) By Donovan Cook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ulf is like a storm, slowly building up its power, he grows more dangerous with each passing moment. And like all storms, he will eventually break. When he does, he will destroy everything in his path.

Ulf is one of a long line of famous Norse warriors. His ancestor Tyr was no ordinary man, but the Norse God of War. Ulf, however, knows nothing about being a warrior.

Everything changes when a stranger arrives on Ulf’s small farm in Vikenfjord. The only family he’s ever known are slaughtered and the one reminder of his father is stolen -- Ulf’s father’s sword, Ormstunga. Ulf’s destiny is decided.

Are the gods punishing him? All Ulf knows is that he has to avenge his family. He sets off on an adventure that will take him across oceans, into the eye of danger, on a quest to reclaim his family’s honour.

The gods are roused. One warrior can answer to them.
The Son of Anger.

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About the Author

Donovan Cook was born in South Africa but raised in England, and currently works as an English tutor. He is the author of the Ormstunga Saga, which includes his debut novel Son of Anger and the follow up, Raid of the Wolves. His novels come from his fascination with the Viking world and Norse Mythology and he hopes that you will enjoy exploring this world as much as he did writing about it. When Donovan is not teaching or writing, he can be found reading, watching rugby, or working on DIY projects. Being born in South Africa, he is a massive Springboks fan and rarely misses a match. Find out more at Donovan's website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DonovanCook20

7 December 2022

Book Launch: Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England's Medieval Queens, Volume Three, by Alison Weir

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Packed with dramatic true stories from one of European history’s most romantic and turbulent eras, this epic narrative chronicles the five vividly rendered queens of the Plantagenet kings who ruled England between 1299 and 1399.

The Age of Chivalry describes a period of medieval history dominated by the social, religious, and moral code of knighthood that prized noble deeds, military greatness, and the game of courtly love between aristocratic men and women. It was also a period of high drama in English history, which included the toppling of two kings, the Hundred Years War, the Black Death, and the Peasants’ Revolt. Feudalism was breaking down, resulting in social and political turmoil.

Against this dramatic milieu, Alison Weir describes the lives and reigns of five queen consorts: Marguerite of France was seventeen when she became the second wife of sixty-year-old King Edward I. Isabella of France, later known as “the She-Wolf,” dethroned her husband, Edward II, and ruled England with her lover. In contrast, Philippa of Hainault was a popular queen to the deposed king’s son Edward III. Anne of Bohemia was queen to Richard II, but she died young and childless. Isabella of Valois became Richard’s second wife when she was only six years old, but was caught up in events when he was violently overthrown.

This was a turbulent and brutal age, despite its chivalric colour and ethos, and it stands as a vivid backdrop to the extraordinary stories of these queens’ lives.

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About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband. Find our more at Alison's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks

6 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Hearts of All on Fire, by Alana White

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Florence, 1473. An impossible murder. A bitter rivalry. 
A serpent in the ranks.

Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci returns to Florence from a government mission to find his dreams of success shattered. Life is good—but then a wealthy merchant dies from mushroom poisoning at Guid’Antonio’s Saint John’s Day table, and Guid’Antonio’s servant is charged with murder. 

Convinced of the youth’s innocence and fearful the killer may strike again, Guid’Antonio launches a private investigation into the merchant’s death, unaware that at the same time powerful enemies are conspiring to overthrow the Florentine Republic—and him. 

A clever, richly evocative tale for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere, The Hearts of All on Fire is a timeless story of family relationships coupled with themes of love, loss, betrayal and, above all, hope in a challenging world.

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About the Author

Alana White's passion for Renaissance Italy has taken her to Florence for research on the Vespucci and Medici families on numerous occasions.  There along cobbled streets unchanged over the centuries, she traces their footsteps, listening to their imagined voices, including that of her protagonist, Guid'Antonio Vespucci and his friends, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Lorenzo de' Medici.  She is a member of the Women's National Book Association and the Historical Novel Society, among other organizations.  She loves hearing from readers, and you can contact her at her website, and find her on Facebook and Twitter @AlanaWhite1480

5 December 2022

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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?

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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.  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

4 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Colour of Poison and the Colour of Gold, by Toni Mount

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A unique collector's edition.

Visit the narrow, stinking streets of medieval London. Dark and dangerous places where burglary, arson and murder are every-day events and the gossips whisper of alchemists making gold for the King.

Meet Sebastian Foxley, a talented yet challenged young artist, as he tries to save his brother from the hangman's rope. Will he find inner strength in these, the hardest of times? Can the Duke of Gloucester or his friend Francis Lovell help? One thing is certain - if Seb can't save his brother, nobody can.

A wedding is planned, and in medieval London, this should be a splendid occasion, especially when a royal guest is attending. Yet for the bridegroom, the day begins with disaster when a valuable gold livery collar goes missing. From the lowliest street urchin to the highest noble, who could be the thief? Can Seb save the day, despite a young rascal and his dog causing chaos?

Re-live the fun and adventure, the bustle and the stench of medieval London in this perfect combination of the first two Sebastian Foxley murder mysteries, the most popular Colour of Poison and the entertaining Colour of Gold.

To make this 456-page volume even more special for Foxley followers, you will love the new bonus material including a detailed map of the Foxley's neighbourhood, additional background details, fun quizzes and much much more.

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About the Author

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript. Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies. Find out more at Toni's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @tonihistorian

1 December 2022

Special Guest Post by Catherine Meyrick, Author of The Bridled Tongue: Household medicine in sixteenth-century England

Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US

England 1586: Alyce Bradley has few choices when her father decides it is time she marry as many refuse to see her as other than the girl she once was—unruly, outspoken and close to her grandmother, a woman suspected of witchcraft. Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer, inspires fierce loyalty in those close to him and hatred in those he has crossed. Beyond a large dowry, he is seeking a virtuous and dutiful wife. Neither he nor Alyce expect more from marriage than
mutual courtesy and respect.

Good housewives provide ere a sickness do come: Household medicine in sixteenth-century England

Until the advent of modern medicine, most ordinary medical care took place in the home, usually administered by the women of the household. Consequently, there was an expectation that women would possess skill and knowledge in the use of herbal remedies. Their medical care extended beyond the immediate household to their tenants and labourers. Thomas Tusser recognized this in Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie (first published in 1573):

Good huswiues prouides, ere an sicknes doo come,
of sundrie good things in hir house to haue some.
Good Aqua composita, Vineger tart,
Rose water and treakle, to comfort the hart.

Cold herbes in hir garden for agues that burne,
that ouer strong heat to good temper may turne.
While Endiue and Suckerie, with Spinnage ynough,
All such with good pot herbes should follow the plough.

Margaret, Lady Hoby, (1571-1633) is the author of the earliest known diary written by a woman in English. A well-connected Puritan woman, she began her diary as a religious exercise but, as time progressed, she recorded her ordinary daily activities, particularly at her manor at Hackness, Yorkshire. 

Her days always began with private prayers, often followed by attending those who came to her with their injuries and ailments. She seems often to have held two clinics, one in the morning either before or after her breakfast, and one in the late afternoon. She speaks of dressing the injuries, sores and cuts of her tenants and servants. Some were serious, such as the hatchet wound on the foot of her servant, Blakethorn. Despite her deep piety, Lady Hoby also attended to injuries on Sundays.

In her diary, Lady Hoby talks of reading her herbal some evenings or having it read to her by one of her women. She also made up medicines and salves as well as distilling oils and aqua vitae. Unfortunately, she never provides detail of the medicines she made or their ingredients. And although she talks often of being busy in her garden, and in one case of giving herbs to a woman from Everley to plant in her own, she does not mention what her herbs were.

Lady Hoby visited the sick at home and mentions reading to a sick maid in her house and sitting with her husband whenever he was ill. She also records attending births, both for family members and tenants.

That Lady Hoby was given respect for her skills is obvious as in August 1601 a child, presumably a newborn infant, was brought to her. The child had been born with ‘no fundiment’. Lady Hoby was asked to cut the child to see if a rectal passage could be found which she did to no avail. She mentions no more of the incident but one would assume the child died.

We can gain some idea of the range of medicines and remedies that could be made at home from the papers of Grace, Lady Mildmay (c.1552–1620). She is noted as having written the earliest known autobiography of an English woman. She bequeathed to her daughter over 2,000 medical papers and several books, as well as devotional meditations. The inventory of her stillroom is almost industrial in its extent and organization. Her extensive collection of ingredients included herbs, seeds, spices, gums and flowers as well as metals and minerals. She made juleps, syrups, cordials, oils and tinctures and also prescribed purges, ointments, plasters and bloodletting.

Lady Mildmay’s understanding of illness was based on the theory of humours and her treatments aimed to restore the body’s humours to balance. She did not perform surgery of any sort nor does she mention attending childbirths, visiting the poor or physically nursing the sick. She did practice her medicine daily, possibly having patients come to her at her residence the way Lady Hoby did.

Like most women, her education in household medicine had taken place at home. She was taught by a Mrs Hamblyn, her father’s niece. As well as direct instruction, Mrs Hamblyn encouraged Grace to read books like A Neww Herball by William Turner (1551) which could be used to identify herbs and their properties and uses.

Stillrooms, where many of these medications were made, were common in manor houses. When Sabine Johnson (c1521-1597?), the wife of John Johnson, a draper and wool stapler, moved to the Old Manor House at Glapthorn, Northamptonshire she requested that her brother-in law Otwell Johnson obtain articles for use in the stillroom: a still, a mortar and pestle, and a chafing bottle. Sabine also ordered seeds and herbs for her gardens. While there is little detail of her medical care of the family, the health of the household was mentioned in almost every letter she wrote.

Frontispiece of the The grete herball (1526), popular throughout the sixteenth century

Herbals published in the sixteenth century described a range of herbs and their uses including information on the qualities of the herbs and when best to harvest them according to their nature and the alignment of the stars. As the century progressed, books intended for the general public simply listed medical conditions and methods of dealing with them. 

The Widowes Treasure (1595), contains a wonderful collection of handy hints as well as medical advice and recipes from confectionary, scented oils, dyes, syrups and cakes to a range of medicinal recipes much like the many personal recipe or ‘receipt books’ kept by women that remain from the seventeenth century.

Women like Margaret Hoby, Grace Mildmay and Sabine Johnson offered medicines and treatments as part of their care for those within their households and on their estates, no money changed hands. Their services, particularly in rural areas where there were few if any doctors, filled a need and were not seen as being in competition with the professional medical men.

Most housewives at all levels of society would have had their own favoured remedies. Many, particularly those at the lower levels of society, also had their aliments treated by local herb wives or cunning men and women. In fiction, on occasions, women’s herbal and medical knowledge and skills is enough to make them targets of those intent on sniffing out witchcraft in their communities. 

This makes for a compelling story but is not a reflection of reality. It was rare even for cunning folk to be accused and tried of crimes involving witchcraft. As modern scholarship has shown, accusations of witchcraft arose for myriad interrelated reasons.

Skill with herbs and healing was an expected part of a woman’s domain, a legitimate and essential element of a good housewife’s skills, and fitted well within nurturing role expected of women.

Catherine Meyrick 

Select Bibliography

Davies, Owen Cunning-Folk: Popular Magic in English History. New York : Hambledon and London, 2003.

Moody, Joanna The Private Life of an Elizabethan Lady: The Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605. Stroud: Sutton, 1998

Pollock, Linda With Faith and Physic: The Life of a Tudor Gentlewoman, Lady Grace Mildmay, 1552-1620. London: Collins & Brown, 1993.

Sharpe, J. A. Instruments of Darkness : Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

Winchester, Barbara Tudor Family Portrait. London: Johnathan Cape, 1955.

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About the Author

Catherine Meyrick lives in Melbourne, Australia but grew up in Ballarat, a large regional city steeped in history. A former customer service librarian at her local library, she has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist. The lives of Margaret Hoby and Sabine Saunders provided inspiration for some of the elements in Catherine’s novel, The Bridled Tongue, which also follows a witchcraft trial from suspicion and accusation to trial and beyond. Catherine has written two other novels. Forsaking All Other is set, like The Bridled Tongue, in England in the 1580s. Her latest novel Cold Blows the Wind is set in Hobart Town, Tasmania in the years around 1880 and is based on fact. Find out more at Catherine’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @cameyrick1

29 November 2022

Special Guest Interview with Lora Davies, Author of The Widow's Last Secret

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Victorian England, 1846: A gripping and powerful story about one woman’s incredible courage in the face of heartbreak, and a secret that – if revealed – could destroy everything.

I'm pleased to welcome author Lora Davies to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book  

My latest novel is The Widow's Last Secret which came out earlier this year. It is set in rural England in the 1840s – just as the steam railways are being built – and features Bella, a woman farmer, and James, a railway engineer. It was partly inspired by the ongoing battle over HS2, a high-speed railway that is currently being built in England. This got me wondering about how people reacted when the first railways were being built. Nowadays, trains are so much part of the fabric of our lives, but to the early Victorians they must have been such a shock to the system. They changed so much about how people lived; from the food they ate to the clothes they wore to the types of job they did.

I soon discovered that there had been very mixed feelings when it came to the early railways. Like James, the railway engineer in my novel, many people were exhilarated by the changes the railway would bring. They saw it as a form of progress that would improve people's lives. Others were very suspicious of them – people even feared that the trains would cause birds to fall from the sky and hens to stop laying eggs!

In the novel, Bella is from a rural background and feels a genuine bond with the land. Through her story, I explore the lives of rural Victorians; the hardships they faced and the tough choices they had to make. When it comes to the railways, she and James are on opposite sides of the argument and yet they are drawn towards one another despite this. As their relationship deepens, they each have to reckon with the secrets in their pasts – and ultimately come to realise that progress and advancement always comes at a cost.

What is your preferred writing routine?  

I have a full time job alongside my writing so I have to write wherever and whenever I can! I write quite a bit on my morning commute from Brighton to London which means I can then have some time off at the weekend. I would love to be one of those people who get up at 5am and write before work but that will just never happen – I'm not a morning person! Some people say you should write every day but for me, it is important to have breaks so that I can reflect and recharge.

What advice do you have for new writers?  

I would have two pieces of advice. Firstly, take all advice with a pinch of salt! There are so many books and articles telling you how you should write but everyone is different and what works for one, won't work for all – trust your instincts. My second piece of advice is to read! Read as much as you can and read widely. This will never be wasted and you'll be learning about writing, and developing your own style, without even realising it.

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

That's a tough one as my publisher takes care of the marketing and promotion of my books and a lot of it comes down to magical social media algorithms that I don't understand! If you are an unknown writer it can be really hard to get your book out there but I think word of mouth is still so important. So, a plea to readers everywhere: if you read a book that you love, leave a review and tell your friends – or better yet, buy them all a copy. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research  

I have discovered so many weird and wonderful things as part of my research – in fact that's one of the reasons I love writing historical fiction as much as I do. Something unexpected I discovered while researching The Widow's Last Secret was the role of women in the navvy camps. While the camps were dominated by male workers, there were women who lived and worked there, including some in positions of power. This inspired the character of Long Rachel in the novel, who runs the navvy camp where Bella finds herself living in the early part of the book.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?  

The hardest scene I have written was in my first novel, Daughter Of The Shipwreck. I don't want to give too much away but let's just say that I decided to kill off one of my characters and I literally  wept as I wrote it. Fortunately, my editor thought it was just too sad and so we decided to give the character a reprise and to change that part of the book. I am so glad that I did! 

What are you planning to write next?  

I am currently working on my third novel which is set in the 1780s aboard a sailing ship. I am loving all the research this involves and am becoming quite the expert on all things nautical. The book involves exploration and astronomy, as well as a fair amount of intrigue and adventure. I can't wait to get it finished and into the hands of my readers!

Lora Davies

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About the author

Lora Davies studied English at Hull University before training as an actor at East 15 Acting School. She went on to work as an actor, director and workshop leader for companies including English Touring Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and Theatr Clwyd. Her debut novel, Daughter Of The Shipwreck, was published in August 2021 and her second novel, The Widow's Last Secret, was published in January 2022. She is represented by Hannah Weatherill at Northbank Talent Management. Find out more on Lora's website: or follow her on Twitter @DaviesLora

28 November 2022

Special Guest Post by Helen Hollick, Author of Gallows Wake: Capt. Jesamiah Acorne Voyage 6

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Where the Past haunts the future... Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

The love of my fictional life is Captain Jesamiah Acorne. I first met him on a rain-drizzled beach in Dorset, England, back in the autumn of 2005.

I’d had an idea for a pirate-based novel – having enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie but wanting to read something along the same lines: a swashbuckling adventure romp with a dash of romance and fantasy. I found plenty of ‘straight’ nautical fiction, mostly written by men for men, and quite a few good Young Adult stories, which were interesting but, for obvious reasons, did not have ‘adult’ content. So I decided to write my own.

There I was on this deserted beach. I had my lead female, my pirate ship, a basic plot. But no pirate captain. I sat on a (wet) rock and gazed at the grey English Channel. Looked up, and saw him, a few yards away. Dressed in full pirate regalia, gold acorn earring dangling from his ear, blue ribbons fluttering from his curly black hair.

“Hello Jesamiah Acorne,” I said.

He looked back at me, smiled, touched his three-corner hat with one finger – and vanished.

And I swear that story is true.

Since then I have written five full-length Sea Witch Voyages, a short read -prequel story and recently published the sixth Voyage, Gallows Wake.

There will be more!

Read An Excerpt from Gallows Wake: Jesamiah had been aboard a Royal Nav frigate, but the crew have been captured by the Spanish...

Cádiz, Spain 1719

Someone was patting Jesamiah’s face. None too gently.
   When I wake up, he thought, I’ll bloody pat their face.
   “Wake up, man. Come on, enough of this, it is time to rouse yourself.”
   Reluctantly, Jesamiah stirred, opened his eyes and looked directly into the stern, but concerned, face of Captain Edward Vernon.
   At least, Jesamiah thought it was Vernon. The man had a bedraggled appearance, disorderly, dirty, hair and a generous amount of unshaved stubble. Captain Vernon, the real Captain Vernon, was a stickler for tidiness and cleanliness. The voice was Vernon’s though.
   “Fetch him some of that water,” Vernon ordered to someone squatting close by. The someone rose, came back with a dented tin mug half-filled with green, scummy water. Vernon took it, held it to Jesamiah’s lips.
   “’S’truth, but that tastes as foul as a latrine pit!” Jesamiah grumbled, pushing the mug away.
   “You have a familiarity with drinking from latrine pits, then, do you?” Vernon asked, not bothering to conceal his disdain for the man before him. The earlier concern, it seemed, was not directed at Jesamiah’s wellbeing but for the fact that he was not awake.
   “Aboard your ship I did,” Jesamiah retorted. He shifted position, stiff from lying prone on a hard, damp floor. Winced, then yelped as pain in his arm, face, thigh and almost all his body hurtled through him.
   “We need you to wake up,” Vernon insisted. “They tell me that you speak Spanish?”
   Jesamiah blinked at him, not quite understanding. They? Who were ‘they’? He peered over Vernon’s shoulder, realised their surroundings. A prison cell, packed with crew from the Bonne Chance. Thirty or so men?
   “What happened?” he croaked, again, wincing, trying to sit up. Hands reached out to help him. Richard Tearle. The ‘they’ in question?
   “Spaniards took us,” Tearle explained as he propped Jesamiah against the wall. “We know twenty-eight are dead; another six here will not see many more sunrises. You’re one of the wounded. One of the lucky ones to be alive.”
   Lucky? The pain was increasing. Jesamiah did not believe in luck. It let you down too often. He growled something crude about the consequences of luck.
   “How long have we been here?” he asked, wrinkling his nose at the overwhelming stench.
   “You’ve been drifting in and out of consciousness for nine days,” Vernon informed him. “Which is why you really do need to pull yourself together and wake up.”
   The question ‘why?’ filtered through Jesamiah’s mind, but he quickly answered it: Because this is a Spanish gaol and I can speak Spanish. Except, he had no wish to wake up or to speak Spanish. Nor did he want any Spaniard to discover who he was. His present name was Oakwood and Oakwood he would stay. End of discussion.
   His head thumped as if an entire militia were beating to quarters in there. He felt with his right hand. A tender lump the size of a duck’s egg – no, bigger, a goose egg. His face throbbed too. He brought his hand lower, felt a stitched gash snaking across his cheek.
   Tearle explained. “Surgeon says you have concussion. Been in and out of awareness all this time. You’ll have a scar but he reckons it will fade in time. He says you were lucky there too, could have lost an eye.”
   “Nine days?” Jesamiah queried. “We’ve been here nine days?”
   “Six. They kept us locked up aboard their Spanish ship at first. The Santa María del something or other.”
   “Santa María del Bartolomé,” Jesamiah corrected. Perhaps they were lucky? Most Spaniards, as with pirates, would simply have tossed prisoners overboard. “And where exactly is ‘here’?” Not entirely certain that he wanted to hear an answer to his question.
   “Cádiz. The Castle Tarif, or some such name,” Vernon answered.
   Jesamiah again put him right. “Do you mean Castillo de Tarifa? Shite.”
   “Aye, that is probably the only thing we will ever agree on, Acorne,” Captain Vernon said, grimly. “Shite.”
   “Oakwood,” Jesamiah reminded him. “If you wouldn’t mind. Oakwood. My real name ain’t harboured by many friends in these parts.”
   “I have no care as to what you call yourself,” Vernon retorted with a snort. “All I am interested in is getting these Spaniards to understand that I and my officers have a right to parole and exchange. So far, the imbeciles are refusing to understand the King’s English.”
   “German,” Jesamiah muttered as the overwhelming impulse to go back to sleep flooded through his thrumming head. “King George of Hanover is German, can’t talk a word of English.”
   “Nonsense,” Vernon snapped, “he only makes pretence of not doing so, though I grant his accent is lamentably hard to decipher.”
   “Met ’im personally ’ave you? Heard ’im mangle the language?” Jesamiah countered.
   Tearle interrupted. For the first time, Jesamiah noticed that he had a ragged bloodstained bandage bound around his right bicep and a black eye beginning to turn a lurid shade of purplish yellow. He guessed his own face was a similar colour.
   “We need you to negotiate for us, Jes. And Captain Vernon needs to know what they have done with the rest of his men.”
   “If they discover who I am,” Jesamiah repeated his earlier statement, “I’ll not be negotiating anything for anyone, I’ll be swinging from a gibbet.”

Helen Hollick

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About the Author

Helen Hollick became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now branching out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with her new venture, the Jan Christo-pher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant. Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, and occasionally gets time to write. Find out more at Helen's website and find her on  Facebook and Twitter @HelenHollick

24 November 2022

Special Guest Post by C. P. Giuliani, Author of A Treasonous Path: Murder and double-dealings in Elizabethan England (Tom Walsingham Mysteries Book 2)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1583: Tom Walsingham is back in London, being groomed for intelligence work by his spymaster cousin, Sir Francis. An anonymous informer has started sending letters from the French ambassador’s residence, claiming to have bribed the man’s secretary to pass on information. The informer has discovered messages between the French and Mary, Queen of Scots, which could harm the 
English Queen Elizabeth.

History and Story in A Treasonous Path

It all began with the letters. In the spring of 1583, you see, someone began to write anonymously to Sir Francis Walsingham from Salisbury Court, the London residence of the French ambassador.

Walsingham was not only the Queen’s Secretary of State, but also the creator and head of England’s informal intelligence service… Why, you could say that he owned the thing, since he largely paid for it out of his own pocket. It was very fortunate for everyone that he was unwaveringly faithful to Elizabeth!

Anyway, Mr. Secretary was the man to contact if you had information to sell – and this is exactly what the mysterious Henry Fagot did, in a series of fascinating letters. He wrote in bad French, providing a quirky mix of gossip and valuable tidbits, and even claimed that he could bribe the Ambassador’s secretary into leaking secret correspondence…

At the time, with the Gowrie Protestant regime teetering to its end, Scotland was the proverbial powder-keg – or even more of it than usual – and some insight on just where France stood on the matter would be obviously welcome. So very obviously so, that Sir Francis – always a man to look gift horses in the mouth – took this bizarre correspondence with several grains of salt: being offered just what he needed, just when he needed it, made him wary.

I can’t say that I blame him – although in time Fagot proved to be a trustworthy (if not quite game-changing) source of news. Still, Mr. Secretary’s wariness provided me with the perfect set-up for my hero Tom Walsingham’s second foray into espionage and sleuthing: what would be more natural than Sir Francis sending his trusted young kinsman, fresh from Paris, to have a good look at the Embassy’s household and single out the mysterious Fagot?

This is how A Treasonous Path was born. Tom’s own adventures and the murders are, of course, my own invention – but I’ve tried to weave them into the known facts of the time, especially the framework provided by the letters. It greatly helped that the actual facts came complete with a varied and rather picturesque cast of characters.

Henry Fagot, whoever he was, goes into some very lively detail about the people at Salisbury Court, and more can be found elsewhere. The Calendar of State Papers, for instance, was a mine of information – including the letters of Walsingham’s original plant at the Embassy, William Fowler. 

The beauty of it is, of course, is that through the letters the fellow comes vividly to life: a nervous, eager, rather excitable and occasionally scatterbrained young man, whose observations of Ambassador Castelnau’s entourage intersect with Fagot’s more gossipy ones… I’m sometimes told that I get a kid-in-the-toyshop gleam in my eyes when I talk about this kind of things – and I’m not denying it: to find in a centuries-old letter the outlook, the fears, the ambitions, the foibles, the voice of these long-dead people is, to me, one of the chief joys of writing historical fiction.

The other is to fill the gaps through a mix of guess-work, imagination, and extrapolation. I try to always do this within the bounds of what we actually know, always keeping in mind that I write fiction, I am allowed to make up things. Then again, this balance of History and Story is what all the game of historical fiction is about, isn’t it?

In this case, the biggest gap was, of course, the identity of Fagot himself. I was going to say “apart from whodunit” – but actually, I very soon found that the two questions were woven together to a good extent; in fact, changing my mind about Fagot at some point, had the not-so-side effect of turning part of the plot on its head.

 I spent a good deal of time and many notebook pages deciding just who “my” Fagot should be, working with what is in the letters, and the strands of the fictional plot. The answer I chose is perhaps the most obvious example of the interplay of history and story in A Treasonous Path.

I’m not telling what this answer is, of course. It can be found – together with a few others things – in A Treasonous Path. All I’ll say here is that, this time, I got to play with an actual historical mystery, one that, in spite of a few pretty convincing theories (think of historian John Bossy’s work), is still not quite solved after four centuries and a half: it was a fascinating challenge – and a lot of fun.

C. P. Giuliani 

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About the Author

C. P. Giuliani lives in Mantua, Italy, and 
began by studying the Classics and International Relations – and then swerved to the timber trade first, and later the pen and the stage. A passion for history and stories has led her to write historical fiction both in Italian and English. She also writes, directs, teaches playwriting, does backstage work, and very occasionally understudies with Mantua’s historic Compagnia Campogalliani. Find out more from her website and find her on Twitter @laClarina

23 November 2022

The Final Year of Anne Boleyn, by Natalie Grueninger

Available from Amazon UKAmazon US 

There are few women in English history more famous or controversial than Queen Anne Boleyn. She was the second wife of Henry VIII, mother of Elizabeth I and the first English queen to be publicly executed. Much of what we think we know about her is colored by myth and legend, and does not stand up to close scrutiny. Reinvented by each new generation, Anne is buried beneath centuries of labels: homewrecker, seductress, opportunist, witch, romantic victim, Protestant martyr, feminist. In this vivid and engaging account of the triumphant and harrowing final year of Queen Anne Boleyn’s life, the author reveals a very human portrait of a brilliant, passionate and complex woman.

The last twelve months of Anne’s life contained both joy and heartbreak. This telling period bore witness to one of the longest and most politically significant progresses of Henry VIII’s reign, improved relations between the royal couple, and Anne’s longed-for pregnancy. With the dawning of the new year, the pendulum swung. In late January 1536, Anne received news that her husband had been thrown from his horse in his tiltyard at Greenwich. 

Just days later, tragedy struck. As the body of Anne’s predecessor, Katherine of Aragon, was being prepared for burial, Anne miscarried her son. The promise of a new beginning dashed, the months that followed were a rollercoaster of anguish and hope, marked by betrayal, brutality and rumour. What began with so much promise, ended in silent dignity, amid a whirlwind of scandal, on a scaffold at the Tower of London.

Through close examination of these intriguing events considered in their social and historical context, readers will gain a fresh perspective into the life and death of the woman behind the tantalising tale.

"Natalie Grueninger skilfully unravels the myths surrounding Anne Boleyn’s downfall, and presents the most compelling account of her final months to date. A Triumph.” - Dr Owen Emmerson, Historian and Assistant Curator, Hever Castle

"A heart-stirring account of Anne Boleyn's last living year. Researched flawlessly, the events are revealed in a compelling read; little-known facts adding to the tension which builds toward an emotional end. A must-read for fans and students of Tudor history." - S.V author of Anne Boleyn's Letter From the Tower; A New Assessment

"Genuinely ground-breaking, provocative yet sensitive, exquisitely well-researched and fair - both to Anne's friends and enemies - Natalie Grueninger's book shows us the complexities, and the secrets, that wove together during Anne Boleyn's final twelve months as queen. This is an exciting and important book of Tudor history." - Gareth Russell, Historian and author of The Ship of Dreams and Young and Damned and Fair

“Astonishingly well-researched, 'The Final Year of Anne Boleyn' triumphantly re-writes the fall of one of England's most famous queen consorts, shedding new light on a well-known story. A riveting and emotional read.” - Kate McCaffrey, Assistant Curator, Hever Castle
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About the Author
Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, who lives in Sydney with her husband and two children. She graduated from The University of NSW in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in English and Spanish and Latin American Studies and received her Bachelor of Teaching from The University of Sydney in 2006. Natalie has been working in public education since 2006 and is passionate about making learning engaging and accessible for all children. In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail (, a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the life and times of Henry VIII’s second wife. Natalie is fascinated by all aspects of life in Tudor England and has spent many years researching this period..Find Natalie on Facebook and on Twitter @OntheTudorTrail