Mastodon The Writing Desk: January 2022

31 January 2022

Special Guest Interview with Justin Newland, Author of The Coronation

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is 1761. Prussia is at war with Russia and Austria. As the Russian army occupies East Prus-sia, King Frederick the Great and his men fight hard to win back their homeland.

I'm pleased to welcome author Justin Newland to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your book, The Coronation.

The Coronation is my third novel. Like the first two, The Genes of Isis and The Old Dragon’s Head, it’s a historical fantasy. Since then, I’ve written a fourth, The Abdication, which is a supernatural thriller. 

All four books are stand-alone. The books explore the same themes, the individual’s spiritual quest, the journey of self-discovery, the human condition and how different societies in history have attempted to reconcile their religious beliefs with the way they structure their societies.

The Coronation is set during The Great Enlightenment in the 1760’s in Europe and it’s set in East Prussia, a now-defunct state on the Baltic Sea. Prussia was the template for an embryonic Germany and at the time was governed by an enlightened despot, King Frederick the Great.  

The plot of The Coronation unfolds against a backdrop of social and political upheaval i.e. the Seven Years’ War between the burgeoning power of Prussia, and its more powerful Imperial neighbours, Austria and Russia. This war was not only over territorial acquisition, it was also a continuation of the religious wars that had afflicted Northern Europe since the Great Reformation. Prussia was Lutheran (Protestant) while Austria and Russia were Catholic. 

During the Great Enlightenment, the previously-rigid shackles imposed by the Catholic Church were slowly being loosened, allowing the development of intellectual and philosophical ideas, resulting in the exploration of new scientific fields.

What is your preferred writing routine?

It usually takes me while to get myself ready to be able to write. Often, I’ll read over what I last wrote to clue myself into the story, the voice of the characters, and the settings. Then the writing I enjoy the most is when the plot or a character takes the story in a new, surprising way. Then I’ll explore that plot thread or character arc and see where it ends up. Ideally, if I can, I’d write all day until my fingers are tired from typing, but that only happens under special circumstances. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Do join writers’ groups – both face-to-face and online. They’re great for mutual support.  Read as much as you can and as widely as possible, and not just fiction and novels, plays, short stories, as well as non-fiction, biographies, histories and so on. 

Remember, writing is not just about plot, character and suspense. It’s about being a good manager of your work and a good editor. 

Use beta-readers, notably ones you don’t know, who are anonymous. You can learn from other writers. 

As much as they might want to help, don’t ask friends and relatives to review your work. They rarely tell you as it is. 

Take regular copies or back-ups of your work. 

Writing is both an art and a craft. It requires talent, good luck, and great timing. 

Think about it: even the great Ludwig van Beethoven had to write eight other symphonies before he wrote the famous ninth. 

And don’t give up. Ever.

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

Locally, get out and about. I’ve done talks in libraries around the historical periods in which my books are set. To promote the talk, I’ll contact the local newspapers and radio stations to get interviews.

I also do book signings. Then I use the same method of promoting them via local media.

I also use blog tours to promote my work on the internet.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

There are many things – many facts - you learn when writing historical fiction – from the trivial to the grotesque. It’s part of the territory. But rather than specify one thing or one extraordinary fact, I’d say that research expands your field of reference, and at the same time, connects and links up parts of that field in a way that you might not have previously imagined. It’s a bit like learning a new route from A to B via your Satnav, that’s different to the route you had always taken. 

Then having broader reference fields allows greater comparative value, and that allows a thing, an event, or a personage to be seen in a better, perhaps less biased, and truer context.

It’s said that there are the facts, and there is the interpretation of those facts, but isn’t the interpretation dependent on the context in which those facts are considered? 

The importance of context is what I’ve discovered during my research.  

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The ending. I think I must have written three or four versions before I was content that it wrapped up the plot threads and brought the main character arcs to a successful completion.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m working on a novel set in Elizabethan England. 

At the time, Spain was the richest and most powerful European nation by far with huge resources, a massive Empire and a colossal fleet of ships. 

So, how could its navy, the great Armada, be repulsed by a bunch of pirates and buccaneers? 

That’s my Work In Progress, a supernatural re-telling the story of the repulse of the Spanish Armada in 1588.  

Justin Newland

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About the Author

Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers - that’s history with a supernatural twist. His stories feature known events and real people from history which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural. He gives author talks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Bristol’s Thought for the Day. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England. Find out more from Justin's website

30 January 2022

Special Guest Interview with L. K. Wilde, Author of Queenie of Norwich

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I was born Ellen Hardy in 1900, dragged up in Queen Caroline's Yard, Norwich. There was nothing royal about our yard, 
and Mum was no queen.

I'm pleased to welcome author L. K. Wilde to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

Queenie of Norwich is based on the true story of Queenie Read, my great grandmother. Queenie was born Ellen Hardy in 1900 and spent the first few years of her life living in the Norwich yards. At six years old her mother sold her to the traveling fair. All Queenie was told was to wait on the corner of the street for a lady named Julia. She didn’t know who Julia was, where she was going, or why she had to meet her. 

Queenie stayed with the travelling fair until she was fourteen, when the death of her ‘adopted’ father and the outbreak of WW1 forced her back to the city of her birth. She returned to care for the mother who had abandoned her, scraping by on her earnings from work at a munitions factory.

In 1924 Queenie met Barny Read, a man involved in the illegal world of off-course betting. She became Barny’s ‘bookies runner’, riding round the city on her bicycle, collecting debts. Queenie gained her name when a local newspaper reported- ‘Police Raid on Betting Shop, Queen Bee Escapes’! Queenie and Barny married, but her longed for children never came, and she was diagnosed with a heart-shaped womb. Queenie’s dreams of motherhood were fulfilled when, after the death of her sister, she adopted her niece Barbara. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I fit my writing around various other jobs, so it’s usually a case of wherever, whenever I can. I set myself the goal of writing 500 words a day, sometimes it turns out to be a lot more, sometimes it’s all I can do to squeeze out 500 pesky words. But it keeps me going and ensures whatever book I’m writing keeps its momentum. I have a desk set up for writing, but more often than not sit on my bed, propped up with pillows, my laptop on my knees!

What advice do you have for new writers?

Practice makes perfect, whether that’s writing, editing, or marketing. Take time to learn the many skills you’ll need to get a book into the world, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help. There’s a supportive writing community out there ready and willing to encourage, listen and offer advice- make use of it!

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

I’ve found social media to be a really useful tool. I recently had a journalist contact me through Instagram which has resulted in a double page spread about my book in a local paper. Having said that, word of mouth is also an excellent way of letting people know your books. I’m hopeless at telling people about my books, but thankfully I have very supportive friends and family who do that for me! I’m also trying to learn the ropes of Amazon ads; I’ve not yet mastered it but hopefully I’m getting there.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research. 

My greatest discovery was tracing the couple who had bought Queenie and adopted her into fairground life. It took days of cross-checking newspaper articles and fairground names with the ancestry website, but eventually I found records of a Julia and Henry Westrop who owned a shooting gallery. On one census they registered a daughter, Nellie Westrop, and further investigation confirmed she was the girl I was looking for. It was such an exciting discovery I actually screamed with joy!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

This is a tricky question as there were so many! I was writing as Queenie, in the first person, so the whole thing was a very emotional experience. The scene that stands out though was when Queenie finally gets a home with a proper bathroom. I never thought I’d weep over a bath, and I know that sounds strange, but if you read the book, it should all make sense!

What are you planning to write next?

I’m currently working on a book about a famous 19th century Cornish murder. It’s written from the perspective of both the victim and murderer’s wives, as I felt women are often overlooked in the reporting of such events. It begins with the murder, and follows the wives as they navigate through the trial, execution and their lives as widows. Cheery stuff! 

L. K. Wilde

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About the Author

Author and musician LK (Laura) Wilde was born in Norwich, but spent her teenage years living on a Northumbrian island. She left the island to study Music, and after a few years of wandering settled in Cornwall with her husband, where she raises her two crazy, delightful boys. Dreams of writing started early for Laura, and she carried a note book round at school, scribbling stories whenever she could. During her teens Music took center stage (excuse the pun) and she applied her love of writing to song lyrics. In her 20's, a full time teaching career meant any dreams of becoming an author were put on hold. In 2018 she embarked on an ambitious Music project with Cornish folk band The Rowan Tree, unearthing and retelling forgotten stories of Cornish miners in India. The project involved a substantial amount of writing as well as music, and her dream of writing a book was rekindled. Eventually, with a great deal of encouragement from family near and far, she began writing her first novel. Silver Darlings was released on Amazon in early 2021. Laura's second novel Queenie of Norwich was released in February 2022. Find out more at Laura's website and find her on Twitter @lkwilde

28 January 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Under the Emerald Sky: A tale of love and betrayal in 19th century Ireland, by Juliane Weber

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Escape to 19th century Ireland in the first book in the Irish Fortune Series, a historical fiction novel that sets the stage for an epic romantic saga. In a land known for its scenery, folklore, myths and legends comes a heart-wrenching family drama set amid the stark contrasts between Britain’s wealthy aristocracy and the poor Gaelic-speaking peasants living on the aristocrats’ land.

It’s 1843 and the former British Army officer Quinton Williams has come to Ireland to oversee the running of his father’s ailing estate and escape his painful past. There he meets the Irishwoman Alannah O’Neill, whose family is one of few to have retained ownership of their land, the rest having been supplanted by the English over the course of the country's bloody history. 

Seeing the injustices of Victorian Ireland, Alannah’s brother Kieran has learned to hate the English and imperialism. Aware of Kieran’s hostility towards the English, Alannah keeps her growing relationship with Quin a secret – a secret that cannot, however, be kept for long from those plotting to end England’s oppression of the Irish people. As the military officer and the heroine seek happiness in the face of hate and revenge, an action-packed romance ensues.

But as the love story develops between Quin and Alannah, disaster looms – the Great Famine that would forever change the course of Ireland’s history. With repeated failure of the potato harvest upon which most Irish families depend, thousands will go hungry, with sickness and starvation sweeping through Irish farms, decimating poor populations for years to come.

Join the strong female protagonist on her journey in an Ireland on the brink of ruin.

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About the author

Juliane Weber is a scientist by training. She holds degrees in physiology and zoology, including a PhD in physiology. During her studies she realised, however, that her passion lay not in conducting scientific research herself, but in writing about it. Thus began her career as a medical writer, where she took on all manner of writing and editing tasks, in the process honing her writing skills, until she finally plucked up the courage to write her first historical novel, Under the Emerald Sky.  Juliane was born in Germany but spent most of her life in South Africa. She now lives with her husband and her two sons in Hamelin, Germany, the town made famous by the story of the Pied Piper.  Find out more (and follow her blog) on Juliane’s website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Writer_JW

27 January 2022

Special Guest Post by Mercedes Rochelle, Author of A King Under Siege (The Plantagenet Legacy, Book 1)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants' Revolt terrorized London.

Researching The Fourteenth Century

When I finished my SAXON EARLS series, I felt that I had thoroughly investigated the period—at least, as much as I could without reading Latin. My decision to jump forward three hundred years was a daunting one. 

I essentially had to start over, for I only knew the basics of the period and much of my knowledge was gleaned from Shakespeare, my inspiration. Alas, Shakespeare was a dramatist, not a historian—no matter how much credence we give him! His play, RICHARD II was fabulous, but as it turns out it only covered the last three years of Richard's life. None of it had anything to do with my current novel.

By then, at least, I had a system. It took me a year of daily reading before I even began writing about Richard II. I've learned that the fat books (in page-length) are the best starting points. They give us a broad brush-stroke (like a landscape painting) and create the structure for the story. The huge books tend to be sparse on details. 

This was certainly the case with Richard II. Nigel Saul wrote a big biography about him, but it was only a starting point. I discovered books by Charles Oman and Dan Jones about the Peasants' Revolt, which was pretty well documented. Then I stumbled across the "Manchester Medieval Sources Series"; this series gives us direct translations of chroniclers covering key events in several periods. 

This one, annotated by A.K. McHardy, was entitled THE REIGN OF RICHARD II: FROM MINORITY TO TYRANNY 1377-97 (and it carried me into my next volume). Invaluable. It documented every single crisis in Richard's reign from the proverbial horse's mouth. Needless to say, this book is well-thumbed and I was very fortunate indeed to have access to it. This kind of reference material is very rare. 

The chroniclers tended to disagree depending on their agendas. Thomas Walsingham, who composed the St. Alban's Chronicle and was a key source, was pro-Lancastrian and very definitely anti-Richardian. The Westminster Chronicle was pro-Richard, as he was a big donor. Some chroniclers wrote down their observations second or third-hand, while others may have been eye-witnesses; it's up to later historians to sort that out. As a result, I had to delve into academic articles to compare notes. I learned to pay close attention to footnotes; this is where I found most of my articles. These essays are specific to a particular subject, so the author puts every bit of knowledge into an event (including all contradictory source material).

If I'm lucky, I often find these articles online. is a fabulous source; I pay $10 per month for a subscription and it's well worth it. Sometimes I have to pay for the article. Otherwise, they might be bound in a compilation such as Fourteenth Century Studies or The Fifteenth Century (in fifteen volumes) and can't be had elsewhere. These can get very expensive, and alas, sometimes each volume only has one or two articles I need. If I'm desperate enough, I'll bite the proverbial bullet and hope they will provide more help in future projects! 

So over the course of a novel, I usually consume well over 30 history books and fill two loose-leaf binders full of articles. After I've run my course, I go back to the beginning and re-read much of the material to pick up stuff I missed the first time through. You just can't absorb it all when it's new. The reading never stops while I'm writing; occasionally I'll be able to insert something in my editing phase.

Each century has its definitive scholars. In late 14th-early 15th century England you absolutely must read Kenneth McFarlane; he opened up new scholarship on the period in the 40s and 50s. My favorite historian is Chris Given-Wilson, who did write a "fat" book about Henry IV. He also gives great background on the royal household and English nobility. Without the background, the history will fall flat. 

Needless to say, if I'm not enamored with a subject, I'm not likely to write a novel about it. I would say I'm spending an average of two years thinking about and writing each book; with a series, I'm already researching one or even two books ahead. It helps foreshadow certain events. When I get to the end of a series, it's like falling off a cliff!

Mercedes Rochelle

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About the Author

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves. Find out more from and find Mercedes on Facebook and Twitter @authorrochelle

23 January 2022

Special Guest Interview with Rob Samborn, Author of The Prisoner of Paradise

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nick and Julia O'Connor's dream trip to Venice collapses when a haunting voice reaches out to Nick from Tintoretto's Paradise

the world's largest oil painting. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Rob Samborn to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book

The Prisoner of Paradise is the first of a series published by TouchPoint Press, and was released on Nov. 30, 2021. It's a thriller blended with historical fiction and magical realism, set in Venice, Italy in the present and 16th century. When an American couple travel to Venice, the husband comes to believe that his true soul mate is not his wife but a woman whose soul has been confined to the world's largest oil painting. On a quest to free his beloved from another time, he discovers an ancient religious order that uses the painting as an ethereal purgatory. He'll do anything to save her, but liberating her means freeing thousands of other souls - and the order will never let that happen.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Honestly, whenever I can. Though I find myself most productive in the morning with a good mug of coffee and at night with a good glass of wine.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Learn, learn, learn, edit, edit, edit. Never stop learning your craft and don't stop revising until your manuscript is so good, people can't help but say, "Wow."

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

This is my debut so I'm still learning. I'm active on social media and growing my presence, which is helpful, but in terms of awareness, I'd say nothing beats paid advertising. It's the only way to reach people outside of your own community. You can also scale reach with budget.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

As an American writing about present-day and 16th century Venice, I completed thousands of hours of research for this book (plus a research trip to Venice). Whenever I needed to research something to suit the plot, invariably, I'd discover that a person, place or event already existed.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The opening. In my opinion, the most important part of a book is hooking the reader. I'm the first to admit that my second and third acts are considerably better than the first act. But if I can't hook the reader and get them to keep reading, they'll never experience the thrilling adventure that's in store for them. How to grab the reader, introduce character, and provide exposition without it all seeming heavy-handed is very difficult. My original opening was completely different and I wrote five or six distinct versions of the opening chapters.

What are you planning to write next?

The Prisoner of Paradise is the first of a trilogy and the second book, The Painter of Paradise is slated for release in the fall of 2022. That book is already finished, so I'm currently working on the third book. In all likelihood, I'll continue the series to four or five books and I'll write some spinoffs.

Rob Samborn 

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About the Author

In addition to being a novelist, Rob Samborn is a screenwriter, entrepreneur and avid traveler. He’s been to forty countries, lived in five of them and studied nine languages. As a restless spirit who can’t remember the last time he was bored, Rob is on a quest to explore the intricacies of our world and try his hand at a multitude of crafts; he’s also an accomplished artist and musician, as well as a budding furniture maker. A native New Yorker who lived in Los Angeles for twenty years, he now makes his home in Denver with his wife, daughter and dog.Find out more at Rob's website and find him on Twitter @RobSamborn

22 January 2022

Special Guest Post by by Alan Bardos, Author of The Dardanelles Conspiracy (Johnny Swift Thrillers Book 2)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

January 1915: The Western Front has descended into trench warfare. In the East an opportunity arises for the Allies to bypass the stalemate.

Researching a Conspiracy

In January 1915 Captain ‘Blinker’ Hall, Director of British Naval Intelligence, launched an operation to bribe members of the Ottoman Government into making peace. It was hoped that would open the Dardanelles Strait to the Allies. Allowing them to supply Russia and bypass the stalemate on the Western front. It was however superseded by the Allies attempt to open the Straits by force. The ensuing naval and land campaigns resulted in a second stalemate in the East.

My novel ‘The Dardanelles Conspiracy’ charts these missed opportunities through the eyes of Johnny Swift, a disgraced soldier and diplomat. Swift finds himself in the middle of the attempts to open the Straits, by both negotiation and force.

It was the attempt at a negotiated peace that attracted me to the story and caused the greatest amount of difficulty in researching the novel. This was because it’s a fairly obscure footnote to what is largely considered to be a disastrous ‘side show’ to the Western Front.

It was in the footnotes of ‘Gallipoli’ by James Robert Rhodes that I got the first big break in my research. He made reference to two articles in the Royal United Service Institution Journal, from 1963. The first was called ‘A Ghost from Gallipoli’ by Captain G.R.G. Allen. The second was a response to this article written by Admiral Sir William James. My other break was that a friend of mine could actually get hold of the articles for me.

These articles gave a detailed overview of the negotiations and why they failed, but did not give a great deal of colour about the ins and outs of the discussions. I was able to find further details in books about naval intelligence in the First World War, most notably in two biographies of Hall written by Admiral James and David Ramsay.

However, they did not contain any further information about the negotiations themselves, which appear to have been conducted rather vicariously. ‘Blinker’ Hall sent two emissaries to bribe Talat Pasha, the Ottoman Minister of the Interior. The delegation was unable to gain entry to Turkey and had to use the Grand Rabbi of Constantinople as an intermediary, corresponding via messengers.

I had hoped to read this correspondence and gain a greater insight into the negotiations by studying the old Admiralty files. I spent a day or so at the National Archive in Kew, searching the old Foreign Office FO37 card index, which was where the Admiralty files had been archived.

I found a number of references on the index cards, but when I searched the actual files they related to, the documents had been removed. When I queried this I was told that files are often subject to ‘weeding’, where documents not thought to be of value are removed.

Unable to gather any firsthand material I invented the scenes where the Grand Rabbi and Talat Pasha negotiate, dropping my lead character into the mix. While doing this I located another firsthand source in the memoir of Henry Morgenthau. Morgenthau was the American Ambassador in Constantinople in 1915 and had negotiated with Talat Pasha. 

His descriptions of this and of Talat’s home really helped enrich these scenes. Geoff Berridge’s biography, ‘Gerald Fitzmaurice (1865-1939), Chief Dragoman of the British Embassy in Turkey’, also had details of the negotiation strategies employed by British diplomats when dealing with Ottoman officials, which helped build tension in these scenes.

Ultimately the negotiations failed, because of promises made to Russia about the future of Constantinople (Istanbul). This was where my trip to the National Archive came into its own. I was able to find some interesting cabinet papers around the future of Constantinople and War Council minutes, about the decision to open the Dardanelles Strait by force. This is when Johnny Swift’s troubles really begin.

Alan Bardos

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About the Author

Writing historical fiction combines the first great love of Alan Bardos’s life, making up stories, with the second, researching historical events and characters. He currently lives in Oxfordshire with his wife… the other great love of his life. There is still a great deal of mystery and debate surrounding many of the events of the First World War, which he explores in his historical fiction series. Through the eyes of Johnny Swift, a disgraced and degenerate diplomat and soldier. The series starts with the pivotal event of the twentieth century. The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The second book The Dardanelles Conspiracy is based on an attempt by Naval Intelligence to bribe Turkey out of the First World War. In the third book Johnny will be employed as a useful idiot to flush out a traitor working to undermine the Allies..  Follow Alan on Twitter @bardosAlan 

21 January 2022

Excerpt from 'A Phoenix Rising: The House of the Red Duke', by Vivienne Brereton

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thomas Howard is head of one of the most powerful Houses in Tudor England. An indomitable old man approaching eighty: soldier, courtier, politician, a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes. After a calamitous period of disgrace, the Howards, renowned for their good looks and charm, are once more riding high at the court of Henry VIII. 


Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, a veteran soldier and Treasurer of England, is talking to his best friend, Gilbert Talbot, in Calais harbour. The date is September 30th, 1511 and they’re discussing the headstrong young King Henry VIII’s determination to go to war with France.

  The wind suddenly dropped completely so we could hear each other again. Right on cue, the sun came out, bathing us in pleasing warmth. Immediately, I felt my mood lift and was even able to smile back at my friend. We’d both aged, of course, and I could see that (unlike me, who prided myself on still having the wiry frame of one of my prize whippets) a love of his wife, Bessie’s, cooking had added flesh to Gilbert’s bones. The approach of old age hadn’t completely passed me by either. My knees were beginning to ache and I had more silver threaded through my hair than before. But to me the streaks were a badge of honour.
    <<Evidence of a long life, lived well and to the full>>
  Gilbert still had the same ready smile he’d always had, and his slightly faded blue eyes reflected the same wisdom and humour I’d long set store by.
   ‘It’s true,’ I said. ‘That toad-spotted, bum-bailey of a royal almoner, Snake, couldn’t wait to write to Richard Fox reporting my disgrace. There was such a red mist in my mind, I could think of nothing else to do but come to you. I rode like the clappers to Dover and jumped on the first vessel crossing the Narrow Sea.’
 ‘And I’m very glad you did. I take it you tried again to dissuade the King from declaring war on France.’
   ‘I did. But the Tudor boy is as stubborn as a mule. He’s determined to risk his royal neck in the lists and has got his sights set on the spoils of war. The treaty Fox, Ruthal, and I negotiated last March is as good as dead. All Henry thinks and talks about is invading France.’
   Gilbert laughed. ‘He certainly lives up to your description of him: “A Tudor rose with thorns”. I wish to God he and Katherine hadn’t lost the prince in January. Maybe it would have calmed him down.’
   ‘But they did lose little Henry. And nothing and no one can turn his head away from the idea of leading an army over the Narrow Sea.’
  ‘It doesn’t help that Henry’s father-in-law—’
   ‘That wily old fox, Ferdinand.’
    ‘Yes. It doesn’t help he’s joined forces with the Pope, declaring the French got more out of the Cambrai agreement than either of them—’
   ‘Or that Rome has invited Henry to join a Holy League against France. He’s acting like a moonstruck maid, meeting a swain in a meadow.’
   ‘Speaking of lovesick swains, Tom, doesn’t Henry realize the Pope is panting after Venice? And Ferdinand after Naples. Not France.’
  ‘That flap-mouthed Andrea Badoer—’
   ‘The Venetian ambassador?’
   ‘Yes. He’s stoking the fires of war, telling the King that old Louis of France wants to be “monarch of the whole world”.’
    Gilbert rolled his eyes. ‘We can only pray the good ambassador falls into the Grand Canal on his next trip back to Venice.’

                                       *                           *                    *

    By this time, we’d almost reached the end of the quay. It felt good to be able to talk like this to an old friend who understood my predicament, even if he couldn’t help me out of it. Just offer me food, board and good counsel for a few days. I knew I was exaggerating a little out of frustration. Young Hal hadn’t actually dismissed me, merely suggested I might like to spend some time with Agnes who was expecting another child. A second boy, I was certain of it. There was nothing wrong with Howard seed: perhaps another thing about me that didn’t sit well with the royal pup. <<A man of nearly seventy able to produce what a youth of twenty cannot>>
   ‘What about your boys, Tom. Can’t they help out? Try to change the King’s mind.’
  I let out a dismissive laugh. ‘The King doesn’t like Thomas. Not that I blame him for that. You know my eldest is a chilly devil at the best of times; even his dogs don’t care for him. And Henry has no time at all for Edmund. Nor do I blame him for that either. Sometimes I think ‘tis both a miracle and a tragedy that one survived the childbed. Animals seem to know much better than humans how to deal with those too puny to survive.’
  ‘He’s a fine jouster.’
   ‘A loggerhead, for sure. Instead of showing cunning like Charles Brandon - and all the others - did back in the lists in February, either tying with the King or letting him win, what does my idiot of a third son do? Knock the proud young Tudor pup to the ground so many times he must have been choking on the dust in his mouth.’
   ‘God’s teeth! Henry will never forgive him.’
   ‘He hasn’t. Edmund hasn’t been invited to a single joust since that day.’
   ‘You’ve got new boys to follow.’
  ‘Yes. William in the cradle and another in the belly.’
  ‘What about Edward. He’s still in favour.’
   ‘Yes, but for some boil-brained reason, he spends his time dripping poison about James of Scotland into the royal ear. When the Venetian ambassador has finished dripping poison about France into the other one.’
    ‘Ah, I see your problem. It must be hard for you. Especially as you struck up such a good rapport with the Scotsman when you went up for the wedding.’
  ‘I did. I can honestly say James deserved every word of any praise I heaped upon him back then. Truly a king amongst kings. Whereas I swear our own sometimes shows less sense than my Lizzie’s little George.’
    Gilbert pointed straight ahead. ‘How about a visit to “The Sign of the Ship” to drown our sorrows? I know for a fact a cargo of the best Malmsey arrived from Madeira this morning, by way of La Coruna.’

Vivienne Brereton

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About the Author

Born near historic Winchester in the UK, Vivienne Brereton has been passionate about the Tudors for as long as she can remember. This led to a degree in medieval history at university where she met her future husband. Three sons later and six countries she called home, she finally felt ready to write a novel. Words have always played an important part in Vivienne’s life whether it’s been writing, editing, teaching English to foreigners, or just picking up a good book. In preparation for her novel, she read intensively on the skills needed to write well and did an enormous amount of research which she greatly enjoyed. Having three sons was helpful when she came to write about the characters, Tristan and Nicolas. All those squabbles she had to deal with came in very handy. She also used her husband and sons as guinea pigs for her Tudor cookery attempts with varying degrees of success. Find out more at Vivienne's website and follow her on Twitter @VivienneBreret1

20 January 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Raid of the Wolves (Ormstunga Saga Book 2) by Donovan Cook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The only thing that kept him going were the voices of his ancestors, screaming for blood...

Ulf and his shield brothers are sent on a raid against an old enemy — Francia, a mighty king-dom to the south, now ravaged by civil war. During the perilous sea voyage, Ulf can only fo-cus on one thing. He demands closure: to find the man who slaughtered his family — Griml.

A hidden enemy stalks Ulf and his warriors through Francia, striking mercilessly when they least expect it. Soon the hunters become the hunted. The Norse warriors must make the ultimate choice between defying the king or angering the gods. Both could end in fury.

But there is another threat lurking in the shadows. One that Ulf could never anticipate.

Ulf is not the only one who wants vengeance.

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About the Author

As a young child, Donovan loved reading stories about Vikings and other medieval warri-ors fighting to defend their homeland or raiding in distant lands. He would often be found run-ning around outside with nothing other than a wooden sword and his imagination. Now older, he spends his time writing about them. 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. Born in South Africa but raised in England, Donovan currently lives in Moscow, Russia with his wife and their French Bulldog, where he works as an English tutor. When he 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 never misses a match. Find out more at and find Donovan on Facebook and Twitter @DonovanCook20

19 January 2022

Author Interview With Griffin Brady,, Author of The Heart of a Hussar (The Winged Warrior Series, Book 1)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Poland is at war. He must choose between his lifelong ambition and his heart. Exploiting Muscovy’s Time of Troubles, Poland has invaded the chaotic country. Twenty-two-year-old Jacek Dąbrowski is an honorable, ferocious warrior in a company of winged hus-sars—an unrivaled, lethal cavalry. When his lieutenant dies in battle, Jacek is promoted to re-place him, against the wishes of his superior, Mateusz,
who now has more reason to eliminate him. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Griffin Brady to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

A Hussar’s Promise is Book 2 and the sequel to The Heart of a Hussar. The Heart of a Hussar ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and Book 2 picks up where Book 1 leaves off, taking each character on a wild ride. While the story does wrap up at the end, it leaves room for more books in the series. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I still work professionally in the non-writing world, though I’m winding that down. I like to get obligations in that world cleared out of the way before I begin writing so they don’t pull me out when I’m in the “writing zone.” To help me get into that zone, I pull up a Spotify playlist that’s filled with lots of instrumental jazz, new age music, and movie soundtracks. 

I’d love to say I can sit for a solid few hours and write without interruption, but I actually find my creative brain works better if I get up and do mundane chores throughout my writing time. For some reason, thoughts about the writing I’ve just completed and new ideas shake loose more easily while I’m emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry. Often, though, I find myself sprinting right back to the computer to capture those thoughts before I lose them completely! I keep a lot of notepads and pens lying around as well.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write, write, write, even if the story isn’t coming or if you think you’re writing junk. I’ve often found a nugget in a page of garbage that sparked something altogether different and usable. Another piece of advice is to quiet your critical voices. I find this to be one of my greatest challenges. While you may have read tons of books and taken a boatload of classes on craft, try not to focus on the rules as you’re getting the words out and instead let yourself get carried away in your story. 

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

Tours and promotions such as this one. Saying “yes” anytime someone asks me to talk or participate in some historical event that relates to the Polish winged hussars.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I discovered that Poland’s constitution was one the U.S. founding fathers studied closely, and they integrated ideas gleaned from their investigation as they formulated the U.S. Constitution.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The lead female character, Oliwia, swears an oath under duress and is later called upon to honor that oath. Those scenes and her anguish were difficult ones to write.

What are you planning to write next?

I’d like to complete Book 3 in the series, which begins in 1620 (5 years after the end of the second book) and will bring back many of the characters from the first two books. The backdrop is the ongoing conflict between Poland and the Ottoman Empire. The Battle of Cecora (1620) will play an important role in that story. 

Griffin Brady

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About the Author

Griffin Brady is a historical fiction author with a keen interest in the Polish Winged Hussars of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and Rocky Moun-tain Fiction Writers. The Heart of a Hussar took third place in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2018 Colorado Gold Contest and was a finalist in the Northern Colorado Writers’ 2017 Top of the Mountain Award. The proud mother three grown sons, she lives in Colorado with her husband. She is also an award-winning, Amazon bestselling romance author who writes under the pen name G.K. Brady. Find out more at and find her on Facebook and Twitter @griffbrady1588

18 January 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Woman of Noble Wit, by Rosemary Griggs

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Few women of her time lived to see their name in print. But Katherine was no ordinary woman. She was Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother. This is her story.

Set against the turbulent background of a Devon rocked by the religious and social changes that shaped Tudor England; a Devon of privateers and pirates; a Devon riven by rebellions and plots, A Woman of Noble Wit tells how Katherine became the woman who would inspire her famous sons to follow their dreams. It is Tudor history seen though a woman’s eyes.

As the daughter of a gentry family with close connections to the glittering court of King Henry VIII, Katherine’s duty is clear. She must put aside her dreams and accept the husband chosen for her. Still a girl, she starts a new life at Greenway Court, overlooking the River Dart, re-lieved that her husband is not the ageing monster of her nightmares. She settles into the life of a dutiful wife and mother until a chance shipboard encounter with a handsome privateer, turns her world upside down.…..

Years later a courageous act will set Katherine’s name in print and her youngest son will fly high.

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About the Author

Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. An avid researcher, she is now a speaker on Devon’s history and leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall.  She also creates and wears sixteenth century clothing which she often uses to bring history to life for local museums and community groups.  Rosemary lives in Devon with husband David, and her first novel, a Woman of Noble Wit features many of the county’s well loved places.  Find out more on Rosemary’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @RAGriggsauthor

17 January 2022

Special Guest Post by Susanne Dunlap: Mining Your Family History for a Great Story

Mining Your Family History for a Great Story? Here Are Three Things to Know.

Writers come to historical fiction in many different ways. Some have been readers of it throughout their lives. Some are academic historians who want the freedom of invention to bring history to life for a wider audience. Others simply find themselves curious about events of the past and enjoy the research and the story craft.

Another avenue that often leads to writing historical fiction is stumbling on some fact about an ancestor, or discovering a trove of family history that leads you into a world you didn’t know existed—and that you’re connected with in some way. This can be very exciting, very inspiring. Maybe there’s a pirate in your past, or a war hero. 

Maybe one of your ancestors was a pioneer woman who blazed a trail across the world. Perhaps others lived through a great tragedy—a storm, a famine, a plague, a murder. If you dig far enough back, chances are there’s something beguiling in your family’s past.

In fact, family history can be a rich source of ideas for historical fiction. But if you really want to turn that history into a novel rather than simply recording it in a narrative to share with family members, you’ll have to do all the necessary hard work to craft a great story that strangers would find just as fascinating as you do.

Still thinking about it? Here are a few things to bear in mind as you go:

1. You need a real story.

No matter where your inspiration comes from, it still has to end up as a compelling, satisfying story. That means first of all you have to have a point—a reason—why the story needs to be written. It also means you have to be willing to dig for the hard times, the unpleasant truths, the unsavory characters in your past. You’ll need an antagonist as well as a protagonist, and you’ll have to put your protagonist through hell, no matter how much you like her. Perhaps hardest of all, you’ll have to spend time figuring out exactly where your story begins and ends.

2. You can’t get too hamstrung by what really happened.

It’s possible that the history itself is plenty juicy to provide ample material for a novel. But it’s also very unlikely that the events as they happened will arrange themselves in a satisfying story arc. Good stories are about change, about a protagonist’s journey from one state to another via hardship and tests. Sometimes it’s necessary at the very least to rearrange events, compress time, or even invent characters, actions, or underlying causes in order to make your plot work. And that’s okay. It’s fiction, first and foremost, wherever you found your inspiration.

3. You have to be willing to do the work.

This may seem obvious, but writing a good novel based on your family history takes much more than decent writing skills and a solid idea. It takes an understanding of what drives a narrative, how to get what’s in your head onto the page, and the willingness to change things you’ve sweated over for hours/days/weeks. It takes the same level of planning and prewriting, digging deep and researching, that any historical novel takes.

But the process itself can be immensely rewarding. So many people put writing and publishing a book on their bucket lists, and for good reason. There’s nothing like holding that printed volume in your hand and thinking, I did this.

In my business as an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach, I use effective tools to help writers wrangle their ideas into shape, keep them motivated through the dark days, act as editor and cheerleader, and guide them to achieving the best manuscript they’re capable of. In the end, they have a book they can be proud of, whether they seek a traditional publishing contract, a hybrid publishing contract, or decide to self-publish—no matter where their initial inspiration came from.

Want to explore that story in your family’s past? I’d love to hear about it! To book a discovery call and find out more about working with me, please fill out this questionnaire. That way I’ll have a good idea of where you are in your project. It’s never too early—or to late—to start working with a book coach!

Susanne Dunlap

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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

15 January 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Lady, in Waiting (The Tudor Court Book 3) by Karen Heenan

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

She serves the queen. Her husband serves the court. How can they be so far apart?

Margaery Preston is newly married to a man she barely knows. Proposing to Robin Lewis may have been impulsive, but she wants their marriage to work - she just doesn't know how to be married, and it seems her husband hasn't a clue, either.

Treated like a child by everyone from her husband to the queen, lost in the unfamiliar world of the Elizabethan court, Margaery will have to learn quickly or lose any chance at the life she wants.

Can a marriage for all the wrong reasons make it to happily ever after?

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About the Author

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams -- which which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing. She lives in Lansdowne, PA, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is currently hard at work on her next book. Find out more at Karen's website and find her on Twitter @karen_heenan

11 January 2022

Book Launch Spotlight: Out Front the Following Sea, by Leah Angstman

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Out Front the Following Sea is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence. 

At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689 New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents and must flee the brutality of her town. 

She stows away on the ship of the only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor—Owen—bound to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. 

But when Owen’s French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged into the fray. 

Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or keeping her own neck from the noose.

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About the Author

Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Michigander living in Boulder. Her writing has been a finalist for the Saluda River Prize, Cowles Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Fiction Prize, and Chaucer Book Award, and has appeared in Publishers Weekly, L.A. Review of Books, Nashville Review, Slice, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included editing partnerships with ProPublica. She is an appointed vice chair of a Colorado historical commission and liaison to a Colorado historic preservation committee. Find out more at Leah's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @leahangstman

6 January 2022

Special Guest Interview with Siobhan Daiko, Author of The Girl from Portofino

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 1970 Gina Bianchi returns to Portofino to attend her father’s funeral, accompanied by her troubled twenty-four-year-old daughter, Hope. There, Gina is beset by vivid memories of World War 2, a time when she fought with the Italian Resistance and her twin sister, Adele, 
worked for the Germans.

I'm pleased to welcome author Siobhan Daiko to The Writing Desk: 

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is The Girl from Portofino, the second standalone novel in my Girls from the Italian Resistance series.

In 1970, Gina Bianchi returns to the beautiful Italian resort of Portofino to attend her father’s funeral, accompanied by her troubled twenty-four-year-old daughter, Hope. There, Gina is beset by vivid memories of World War 2, a time when she fought with the partisans and her identical twin sister, Adele, worked for the Germans. In her childhood bedroom, Gina reads Adele’s diary, left behind during the war. As Gina learns the shocking truth about her sister, she’s compelled to face the harsh realities of her own past.

What is your preferred writing routine?

When I’m in the process of writing a book, I try to write every day to keep the momentum going. I prefer to write in the mornings as my ageing mind focuses better. If I need to go out on a writing morning, I’ll write in the afternoon instead—but I’m never as productive.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I would say not to consider yourself an ‘aspiring writer’. Writers write. There’s nothing ‘aspiring’ about it. First and foremost, write because it fulfils you, makes you happy. It doesn’t matter if no one else reads what you’ve written. You write because it’s as vital to you as breathing. Becoming an author is different. It’s a craft and you should study it. Take courses, read online advice. Practise, get feedback, keep pushing yourself to improve. Develop a thick skin about criticism and learn from it. A negative review can mean you didn’t write the book the reviewer wanted to read, or that there is room for improvement. There are very few perfect books published, but readers aren’t looking for a perfect book—what they want is a good story and interesting characters. Last, but not least, go for it!

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

I have invested in Facebook ads and they have worked well. I also have a growing readers list for my newsletter. And, of course, The Coffee Pot Book Club has raised awareness of my books via their fab blog tours.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I needed a well-known place in which to set the story and hit upon the stunning resort of Portofino. I had no idea before researching what happened there during the war and gave a resounding ‘yes’ when I discovered that it had been occupied by the German Navy as a headquarters for their coastal defences, the SS incarcerated and tortured political prisoners in a tower on the isthmus, the inhabitants of the village were forced to relocate when concrete sea defences were built, and the quaysides were mined for fear of aquatic landings. 

Portofino, known today as a mecca for wealthy tourists, became a target for Allied bombing after the Nazis built anti-aircraft and anti-naval batteries on the headland and the portofinesi lived in fear for their lives. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I can’t answer this question in detail without giving a spoiler. I’ll just say that one of my main characters dies in tragic circumstances. After I’d written the scene, I needed a glass of wine and a hug from my husband.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m planning the next in the series, either The Girl from Verona or The Girl from Bologna. It depends on what I discover in my upcoming research.

Siobhan Daiko

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About the Author

Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and two rescued cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn't writing, enjoying her life near Venice.  Find out more at Siobhan's website an dfollow her on Facebook and Twitter @siobhandaiko