Mastodon The Writing Desk: March 2022

22 March 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Lady Psyche (The Armillary Sphere, Story of Lady Jane Rochford Book 2) by G. Lawrence

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Sent from court to manage her husband's northern estates, Jane Boleyn finds herself far from all she knows at a time when much is changing in the dangerous world of the Tudor court. 

Through wit and wiles, Jane must win a position at the side of her sister-in-law, and new love of the King, Anne Boleyn, as through trials of faith and loyalty Jane will pass, as the King seeks to marry Anne, and break from Rome.

Lady of the Tudor Court, servant of queens, courtier, wife, spy... and constant heart. This is the story of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford.

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About the Author

Gemma Lawrence is an independently published author living in Cornwall in the UK. She studied literature at university says, 'I write mainly Historical Fiction, with an emphasis on the Tudor and Medieval periods and have a particular passion for women of history who inspire me'. Her first book in the Elizabeth of England Chronicles series is The Bastard Princess (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 1).Gemma can be found on Twitter @TudorTweep.

20 March 2022

Special Guest Interview with Nicky Shearsby, Author of To the Bitter End

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

After seeing first hand the devastating results a brutal sex attack has on his best friend Rebecca, nineteen-year-old Craig Marshall sets out with the intent of exacting revenge on the men who attacked her. After the rape case is thrown out of court due to lack of evidence, Craig struggles with the idea that the police failed to protect the friend he adores. To The Bitter End tests every aspect of human life. From trusted friendships to how far a person is willing to go for love.

I'm pleased to welcome author Nicky Shearsby to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My debut novel is a psychological thriller, called To the Bitter End, released world wide by SRL Publishing in February this year. It tells a dark and emotional story about one man's mission for revenge in a bid protect the friends he cares more about than he realises until faced with a life and death decision that literally takes his own existence, to the bitter end.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I write daily, even on a Sunday, between 9am and 1pm. I write best in the mornings and it then leaves my afternoons and evenings free to spend time with my little dog and my husband.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I would advice that they take their time. Don't be in a hurry to publish your first book. Learn your craft, then keep learning. You'll be surprised at how far your writing style will come in a short space of time. Early novels are usually best seen as writing practise as they are usually not as good as you think.

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

I believe that people buy people, not products, therefore I try to connect with my potential readers by showing them who I am, and the values I stand for.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Head injuries are extremely complex....The human mind is a fascinating place.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

To the Bitter End was extremely emotional, with several difficult scenes throughout. Getting the tone just right was important, knowing how Craig (the MC) was feeling during each stage of his harrowing journey.

What are you planning to write next?

I have already written my next two books - a duology called Green Monsters and Black Widow, told from the viewpoint of the antagonist, a narcissistic psychopath. Both books are already scheduled with the publishers for release in September 2002, and March 2023. I am currently now also putting the finishing touches to my forth novel, which is called Beyond The Veil, the first in a new ongoing series of Thrillers, called The Flanigan Files This is also scheduled for release in September 2023. I will shortly be starting my next novel, called Darkridge Hollow, a stand alone thriller due for release in March 2024, with new thrillers launching every spring and autumn going forward.

Nicky Shearsby

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About the Author

Born in England, breaking into serious novel writing wasn’t something Nicky began in earnest until taking early retirement. She spent two decades running businesses in graphic design, magazine publication and web development before setting up an organic vegan skincare manufacturing company. She has written several non-fiction books including training courses on nutrition, skincare, self-help coaching and business mentoring. She is trained in psychology, life coaching, counselling and nutrition. Nicky's serious passion is for fiction writing. For as long as she can remember, she has been fascinated by the human mind, our emotions, how we think, those nonsensical things we do, the struggles life too often throws our way. Because of this, her writing reflects the questions she feels are not asked often enough. She tries to push boundaries, challenging reader perspective by tackling complex issues through powerful characterization and dark plots. Her work asks serious questions that promote deeper and more profound thinking. Her aim is simple. To open emotional and inspirational thinking that guides others within their own lives, helping them to see things differently. We all struggle, and escaping into fiction is the perfect way to unburden a busy mind, whilst hopefully learning value life lessons along the way. Find out more at Nicky's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Nickyshearsby22

19 March 2022

Book Review – The Lost Battlefields of Britain, By Martin Wall

Available for pre-order 

Author and historian Martin Wall points out in his introduction that his title is misleading, as most of the battlefields of Britain are marked on Ordnance Survey maps with a ‘crossed swords’ symbol and a date. His point is that few of us know what it must have been like to experience those battles, and the stark facts deserve closer examination. This book is more of an exploration of successive invasions and occupations, than a search for lost battlefields.

Divided into four sections, the first takes us back to the earliest recorded battles of the Roman invasions. When the Romans arrived, the Britons didn’t even assemble an army, but as Tacitus noted, harassed the invaders from the cover of woodlands and marshes. The actual locations are vague, but the Britons learned how to confront the Roman army in pitched battles. Despite their advantage of knowing the land, in a now familiar pattern they were greatly outnumbered by the resources of the Roman empire.

The second part looks at the decline of the Roman empire, and the Anglo-Saxon colonisation of Britain. Again, the details of battles are overshadowed by Arthurian myths and legends, and even the Anglo-Saxon chronicles are an unreliable source. A good account of the Viking invasions lead up to the arrival of the Normans. I was surprised to see only a few pages covering such a significant turning point in British history.

Part three covers the less well known ‘barons wars’, as Norman nobles squabbled over their rewards and contested territory, setting the scene for many generations of battles. Fierce fighting at the Welsh and Scottish borders leads on to what are known as the ‘Wars of the Roses’, and the well-documented accounts at familiar battlefields. Little time is spent on the pivotal Battle of Bosworth Field, another pivotal moment in British warfare.

The fourth and final part marks the end of the longbow and fighting with swords, and the onset of modern warfare with muskets and artillery. Focussing on the English Civil Wars, this is again an exploration of key events, rather than the details of specific battlefields I was expecting.

In an optimistic and openly political conclusion, Martin Wall hopes we stand on the threshold of a new era of peace, with all battlefields lost and forgotten. He worries that generations with no experience of battles will tend to have a nostalgic view of war, yet as I read his book the daily news is dominated by scenes of devastation in Ukraine. 

Tony Riches

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Amberley

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About the Author

Martin Wall inherited his passionate interest in local history and folklore from his father and has been writing about these subjects for ten years. He lectures historical groups on a variety of subjects and acts as a gallery interpreter in his spare time. He is the author of 'Warriors and Kings', 'The Anglo Saxon Age' and 'The Magical History of Britain'. He has a long-standing interest in Adult and Community Education.

18 March 2022

Special Guest Interview with Ellie Yarde, Author of Escape the Choice

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

How do you make a choice when you don't want to choose? Oliver's friendship may be important to Ali, after all, she's the only friend he's got, but that's all they will ever be – friends. When it comes to Noah, she can't help but hope their friendship will become something more.

I'm pleased to welcome author Elie Yarde to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My first book released on March 1st. It is called Escape the Choice, and is the first in a trilogy of Young Adult Romance short stories about three university roommates. Escape the Choice is about Ali, as she tries to figure out who to choose, the guy who she has a crush on, or a guy she is friends with.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I don’t have much of a writing routine. I tend to write later in the afternoons, or in the evenings, but usually on the weekends. I can’t have any music on when I write, because I get too easily distracted by it, but I also cannot have silence. A good amount of background noise is good for me. I often make tea or coffee before I sit down to write, and it always goes cold because I forget about it.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Keep writing. You might read back over your work and think it is awful, and not want to keep writing because you think you can’t do it. But writing is like learning anything. You can’t just pick up a new instrument and immediately play it perfectly, or start learning a language and speak it fluently straight away. Writing is something you must also learn. Read as much as you can in your preferred genre, and treat it as research. Write as often as you can, even just short stories, or a paragraph here and there. The more you write, the better you will write.

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

I am thankful to have a wonderful community of friends on Twitter, who are all incredibly supportive of each other. We all share each other’s work, and it helps to get it out to new people. I think a good network is important, especially before you have any reviews, because the book won’t sell itself. I also think taglines are very important, because they can help give potential readers an insight into the tone of the book, and lets them know what they can expect. There are two that I am using currently, and they are both from my blurb: 

How do you make a choice when you don't want to choose?

A quick read filled with friendship, love, and a deep adoration for coffee and muffins.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I do not do much research for my books. I primarily write romance and fantasy, so the most research I have to do is generally to gather information about the jobs I have given my characters, to find out what their daily tasks might be, or what hours they might work. One thing I do remember researching was about an essay one of my characters was writing. I needed a question for her to answer, and remember wondering how students were meant to write so many words with a question that could be answered in a few sentences.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I found the last chapter of my book very difficult to write. Without giving anything away, everything comes to a climax, and Ali finally decides who she is going to choose. I had several ideas for the ending, but nothing seemed to fit. I didn’t want to jump ahead, or skip any time just for the sake of a peaceful ending, where the characters could sit and reflect on what happened. It took a couple of rewrites before I settled on keeping everything in the moment, and leaving the peaceful ending for the characters to relax with after the book has already ended.

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently writing the second book in The Choice Series, as well as working on several other projects. I am mainly focusing on book 2, though, which is from the perspective of Lena, Ali’s roommate, as she finds love. I am nearing the end of writing it, and am looking forward to getting the third story down as well, for Kyra, the third roommate.

Ellie Yarde

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About the Author

Ellie Yarde is primarily a reader and blogger. She writes short stories, which are published on her blog, Reading All Night, where she also shares her reviews. Escape The Choice is Ellie’s debut novel, and the first in The Choice Series. Find out more from her website and follow Ellie on Twitter @ReadingAlNight

16 March 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Last King: England: The First Viking Age (The Ninth Century, Book 1) by M J Porter

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

From author MJ Porter comes a thrilling new hero.

They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough.

Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.

Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.

To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.

Praise for The Last King

"I really loved this book, great strong central characters that grow on you. Fantastic read, the book had me gripped. Excellent storyline , fast-paced, full of action, bloody action and violence you feel like your stood in the shield walk or charging on a horse with the blood & sweat of man & beast around you as you help battle the impossible odds. The stories main character Coelwulf is a true warrior of royal blood & the only man with the skills & presence to pull the lords of Mercia together. He stands tall with his band of warriors & draws men to him to do battle. A true hero of old." Stacy T, Netgalley Reviewer

"To say this book is excellent would be an understatement. it’s a blood and gore fest for any fan of the period." Amazon Reviewer 
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About the Author

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, and in Viking Age Denmark. Raised in the shadow of a building that was be-lieved to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set. MJ Porter has also written two twentieth-century mysteries. Find out more at and Twitter @coloursofunison

11 March 2022

Special Guest Post by Pam Lecky, Author of Her Secret War

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

May 1941: German bombs drop on Dublin taking Sarah Gillespie’s family and home. Days later, the man she loves leaves Ireland to enlist.

Historical Fiction: Researching and Writing in a New Era

When my agent suggested I explore the possibility of writing a WW2 novel with a strong Irish flavour, I was at first unsure, but my antennae began to twitch. Up to that point, my books were set in the late Victorian era which I know well at this stage. But I do like a challenge, so the idea began to appeal. My only reservation was the amount of WW2 fiction already published. If only I could find a unique angle…

Luckily, I had plenty of material to delve into, and I soon had an outline for Her Secret War, the first book in the series. Both my family and local history inspired the novels. My mother and her sisters left rural Ireland to work in Britain during WW2. 

My Mother, 1942

One aunt followed her boyfriend, who had joined the RAF, and she worked in a munitions factory. Another aunt wanted to study nursing, and my mother was a ‘clippie’ (bus conductress) on the Birmingham buses. Neither book is their story, but there are glimpses of their experiences hidden throughout the fiction. The German attack on North Strand, which opens the book, happened only a few miles from where I grew up. As a young child, I passed the bombed-out sites regularly, knowing nothing about them. I was in my late teens before I heard about the bombing and the relevant history.

I have always been interested in the world wars and tend to watch anything related on TV, such as documentaries or movies. For me, the greatest challenge was getting up to speed on day-to-day life. I knew a lot about the overall timeline and events of the war, but it was the nitty-gritty details of life on the Homefront which would ground the stories in reality. Essentially, I had to read a lot and, thankfully, there is an enormous amount of material out there, from eyewitness accounts and books to newsreels. 

Then I was lucky enough to come across a wonderful website dedicated to the people who had worked at Supermarine in Hampshire, the company who made the iconic Spitfire plane. The owner of the site was amazing, providing a huge amount of background material which enabled me not only to build a picture of Supermarine, the facility and the workers, but also helped with some tricky aspects of my storyline.

Essentially, the stories are about spies and fifth columnists, a subject covered in some depth by Tim Tate in his book, Hitler’s British Traitors. This was the source for much of my background information and threw up a few plot ideas too (always a bonus!).

My heroine, Sarah Gillespie, is Irish, and the first novel in the series begins with the infamous bombing of neutral Dublin by the Luftwaffe in May 1941. The opening chapters take place during the bombing and its aftermath before the story moves to England. Like many Irish, Sarah has family living in the UK. They welcome her to their home when her own family is killed. Without giving away the plot, Sarah’s nationality leads to complications, and she is forced to decide where her loyalties lie. The complex relationship between the Irish and their ex-colonial masters interests me, and I explore it to some extent in both novels.

Luckily, Avon Books UK/Harper Collins snapped up the rights to Her Secret War, and the sequel entitled Her Last Betrayal. Delighted, I set about writing the second novel, only to come up against a brick wall. Her Last Betrayal continues Sarah’s story. She is now working for MI5 and along with a colleague, a US Naval Intelligence officer, they are trying to track down IRA members who are facilitating British fifth columnists and Abwehr agents entering and leaving the UK. 

Again, I referenced Mr Tate’s excellent book only to find that the port was only alluded to as being in South Wales. I knew the UK National Archives document reference number, but the text in question was only available to view in person, not online. Because of Covid, I could not travel to Kew to look at it. So, in the meantime, I had to make an educated guess (Fishguard seemed likely as it connected Cork and neutral Lisbon at the time—a possible route). 

As the deadline for finalising the book approached, however, I panicked and took a chance and messaged Mr Tate directly through social media. A few weeks later, he responded and emailed all the information I needed. But, as it transpired, the identity of the port used remains a mystery. The document Mr Tate had seen only mentioned South Wales. And then the bombshell: the British Secret Service had destroyed the other file which identified the exact location. Although disappointed, at least I had an answer. And let’s be honest, a bit of mystery is music to the ears of a writer of espionage!

Her Secret War was published in October 2021 and is available in all good bookstores and online. Her Last Betrayal will be published on 14th April 2022 and is currently available to pre-order:

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

London, 1941: After losing her family to a Nazi bomb attack back home in Ireland, Sarah Gillespie joins the British Secret Services 
to bring them justice.

I am currently working on the third novel in the series, as yet unnamed.

Pam Lecky

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About the Author

Pam Lecky
 is an Irish historical fiction author with Avon Books UK/Harper Collins. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, The Crime Writers' Association, and the Society of Authors. She is represented by Thérèse Coen, at the Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency, London. Pam has a particular love of the late Victorian era/early 20th Century. In November 2020, Pam signed with Avon Books UK/Harper Collins in a two-book deal. The first book in the historical thriller series, Her Secret War, was published in October 2021; the sequel, Her Last Betrayal, will be published in April 2022. Her debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, was awarded the B.R.A.G Medallion; shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize 2016; and longlisted for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award. Her short stories are available in an anthology, entitled Past Imperfect, which was published in April 2018.  June 2019 saw the release of the first book in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery series, No Stone Unturned, a fast-paced Victorian mystery/crime, set in London and Yorkshire which was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion. The sequel, Footprints in the Sand, set in Egypt, was released in March 2020. The third book in the series, The Art of Deception, was published in December 2021.  Find out more at Pam's website and find her on Twitter @pamlecky

Hear Pam Lecky read an extract from Her Secret War:

10 March 2022

Special Guest interview with John Anthony Miller, author of Song of Gabrielle

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Lady Gabrielle is captured at a French convent and taken to an English castle, a prize for Sir Michael Marston. Her lover, Montague of Rouen, allies with English barons plotting to overthrow their king. As England drifts into civil war, Montague attacks. Minerva, a powerful witch, casts a spell on Marston and Gabrielle, joining the two as one.

I'm pleased to welcome author John Anthony Miller to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book:

My latest book, Song of Gabrielle, is set in England and Normandy in 1216. I always wanted to write a sweeping epic, where the world the reader walks in has been created by my imagination, almost like a fantasy. Song of Gabrielle has a broad cast of characters: wizards, witches, warlocks and warriors. I found the research fascinating, and I enjoyed writing the book.

The Lady Gabrielle, who is betrothed to Montague, a French warlord, is hidden in a coastal convent, protected from English raiding parties. But the enemy finds her, takes her captive, and offers her as a gift to the English warlord, Sir Michael Marston. A group of English barons then plot to overthrow the King, aided by the French. Montague rushes to England, prepared to attack Marston Castle, where his beloved Gabrielle is captive. Minerva, a powerful witch, casts a series of spells on Marston and Gabrielle, and they become lovers. At the battle’s conclusion, Gabrielle is forced to choose—with whom will she spend eternity: Marston or Montague?

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I’m an early riser, and I’m always at my desk by 6 a.m. I work until around 4 p.m., with breaks for lunch and a daily walk, sometimes some chores around the house. I work every day, even if only for a few hours when I have plans or social engagements. I’m a workaholic (I can’t help it!) and even take a laptop on vacations, writing in the early morning while everyone else is still sleeping. 

I write two novels a year, and sometimes work on one in the morning and another in the afternoon. I use no outlines. When I’m ready to start a new book, I simply sit down at my desk and start typing. My first draft is a bit of a mess, but it’s a system that works well for me. I generally do six or seven revisions before I send it off to my agent. I have different book concepts that I keep in a file, but when I have a general idea about what book will be next—usually the time period, location, and overall plot—I start to research, reading several books, or parts of books, to prepare. 

What advice do you have for new writers?  

To be a writer, you have to write. I also think routine is important. Try to write every day, even if your schedule only allows fifteen or twenty minutes. I think this consistency is especially important during creation of the initial draft or outline, and during subsequent revisions. 

Inspiration, at least for me, comes in a variety of forms: a particular location or character, real events, or an interesting plot. I recently finished a nineteenth century murder mystery inspired only by the photograph of a tranquil lane in Paris—which of course became the scene of the murder in my book. I saw that image on the internet and thought: ‘hmmm, I can have some fun with this.’ Ideas can come from anywhere.

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

What works best for me are interviews like this, or internet blog tours. I do some podcasts and radio interviews, an occasional book signing—but not as many as I used to. I also enjoy talking to book clubs that follow me, sometimes I’ll call in to one of their meetings and answer questions about the book. And my publishers occasionally sponsor book giveaways and send me copies to autograph and forward on to the winners.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research  

The main character in Song of Gabrielle is a strong woman who knows the art of healing. To create different scenes where she uses her medical skills, I had to research treatments used in the thirteenth century—many of which were plant based. I was surprised to learn that some of these treatments are used today. The plants are ingredients in modern pharmaceuticals.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?  

An interesting character in the Song of Gabrielle is a witch named Minerva, who lives in a cave underneath an English castle. It was challenging to create her domain—I wanted the reader to shiver a bit as they read it. I also did considerable research to show the ingredients in her different potions, and I wrote spells that the witch used. My agent had a witchcraft expert review some of the chants I created, just to ensure they seemed authentic.

What are you planning to write next?  

I write all things historical, and I like to do something different each time. I’m finishing a novel set during WWII, planned for a 2023 release, but for my second book of 2022 I’m going to write about the Vikings, probably their colonization of the western Scottish islands, which they called the Kingdom of the Isles.

John Anthony Miller

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About the Author

John Anthony Miller writes all things historical—thrillers, mysteries, and romance. He sets his novels in exotic locations spanning all eras of space and time, with complex characters forced to face inner conflicts, fighting demons both real and imagined. Each of his nine novels are unique: four set during WWII, two Jazz Age mysteries, a Cold-War thriller, a 1970’s cozy/romance, and the Medieval epic Song of Gabrielle. He lives in southern New Jersey with his family. Find out more at John's Amazon author page and find him on Facebook and Twitter @authorjamiller

9 March 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Silkworm Keeper: A captivating historical novel of Renaissance Italy, by Deborah Swift

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Rome 1638: Old sins have long shadows ~ Italian Proverb

Giulia Tofana never wanted to be a nun, but she is determined to atone for her past misdeeds by making her new monastery a success.

When an unexpected disaster closes the convent, Giulia is forced to turn to her old friend Fabio Pasello for help. Giulia still has intense feelings for Fabio and Fabio’s passion for her has never diminished.

But they are not the same people they were before. Giulia has taken her vows, and Fabio is apprenticed to Gianlorenzo Bernini the famous sculptor, and has become one of Bernini’s rakish libertines. They could not be further apart.

To add to their problems, Giulia cannot escape her reputation as a poisoner, and is soon embroiled in a plot against Fabio’s patron, Pope Urban VIII. Faced with the idea of murder, will Giulia renounce her vows or embrace them?

Inspired by true stories, this is a novel of nuns and courtesans, artists and priests, in the shadow and splendour of the Eternal City.

'Swift is a consummate historical novelist, basing her books on immaculate research and then filling the gaps between real events and real people with eloquent storytelling, atmospheric scene setting and imaginative plot lines.' - The Visitor

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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

8 March 2022

Special Guest Interview with Peter Tonkin, Author of Shadow of the Axe (The Queen's Intelligencer Book 1)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1599: After years of arrogance, disobedience and failure, the Earl of Essex bursts into Queen Elizabeth’s private chambers at Nonsuch Palace, confronting her before she has even had time to dress. This is something the Queen can never forgive. Essex’s enemies, led by Secretary of State Robert Cecil, begin to plan his final downfall.

I'm pleased to welcome author Peter Tonkin to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

I am currently working on the second of a proposed three-book series of Elizabethan and Jacobean spy thrillers. They are centred round the real historical character Robert Poley who was not only involved in the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots (he is credited with uncovering the Babington plot by pretending to be one of the plotters) but was also there when Ingram Frizer famously killed Christopher Marlowe at Mistress Bull’s house in Deptford on the evening of 30th May1593. 

In the first of the series, Shadow of the Axe, he is working for Robert Cecil, Secretary to the Council, involved in a plot to bring down the Earl of Essex, who is an increasing danger to the Council and the Queen. In the current work (Shadow of the Tower) his target is Sir Walter Raleigh - who is becoming a genuine danger to King James and his succession - and others keen to kidnap or kill the King in a re-play of the Gowrie Plot of 5th August 1600 which he was lucky to survive. In the third book (Shadow of Treason) he will be involved in foiling the Gunpowder Plot.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I get up at 7am, and go through yesterday’s work on my computer, which I then print off. While it’s printing I work-out on my rowing machine and go through my work-plans for the day in my head as I do so. I take my wife the print-out which she will go through and edit. While we discuss any further plans, I continue my work-out on my exercise bike. 

I write from 9.30 – 12.30 then from 1pm – 5pm. I work on a word-processor, listening to classical music (usually on headphones) from my Spotify account. I try to have a break and walk around every hour then scan through the previous hour’s work before proceeding. I have a study and I work surrounded by the reference books that help with whatever my current project is. During the last few years I have worked on a series set in Ancient Rome (Caesar’s Spies) and another set during the Trojan War (The Trojan Murders) as well as another series set in Elizabethan England (the Tom Musgrave series). 

What advice do you have for new writers?

Someone is supposed to have asked Kingsley Amis on one occasion ‘what makes a writer?’ and he is supposed to have answered, ‘A writer writes’. So that is my first piece of advice (which I have given to both of my sons who are writers, as well as to many students who have asked the same question) Keep Writing. I am still old-fashioned enough to believe that if you want to become a professional writer (they are relatively few & far-between) you need an agent. Then you need a publishing house. 

More modern writers, however, would recommend an alternative approach: publish on the Web; set up a blog; get followers and organise them into a fan-base. Then go looking for someone to pay you to keep writing/influencing etc. If you want to write literature (or even popular prose) that gets critical regard (in papers, magazines, Bookbub or Amazon star-ratings) remember what I call the Mozart rule which is: you never find out how good you were ‘til you’ve been dead for 50 years – so don’t get too hung up on it.

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

I think I covered this in the answer above. I have to say, though, that I am a total dinosaur myself, ad really struggle to do more that Tweet and Facebook daily. When I was first published in the late 1970’s the houses who published me handled the publicity. As time went on, however, things (and my lifestyle) changed. In the early years of my writing career I was also teaching at a series of schools in South London and Kent. 

In those days my work (the Mariner series of 30 action/adventures) tended to be compared with Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes. I promised my wife that when I retired we would follow Hammond Innes’s example and travel widely for the purposes of research etc. That is what we do now (I am writing this in Egypt) SO, I have had little to dlo with my own publicity, but anyone starting out could do no better than going along the Blog, magazine article, Bookbub, author-organised fanbase route until they can get a publisher to do the heavy lifting.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

While researching my current book (Shadow of the Tower) I discovered that Sir Walter Raleigh attempted suicide while being held in the Tower awaiting trial, having been accused of plotting to murder James and his whole family. He was at dinner with Sir Roger Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower, when he suddenly snatched out his dagger and stabbed himself in the breast. The dagger skidded off a rib, or the attempt would have succeeded and he would have died there and then. Robert Cecil (who had had a hand in preparing the evidence against Raleigh) was in the Tower interviewing another prisoner and was instrumental in helping the wounded man.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene usually is the current one – it never gets any easier but still remains infinitely enjoyable. I have had the next scene in Shadow of the Tower in my head for a while but getting it down is being a problem. One which I will confront (again) when I have finished here. It takes place at Burghley House on Easter Monday 1603 when the Cecil brothers’ massive Easter Feast is interrupted by Sir Walter Raleigh who presents himself to King James in spite of James’s orders to stay in London until after Elizabeth’s funeral.

After a nasty confrontation, Raleigh is sent back south with a flea in his ear but things do not end there because James goes hunting after dinner and is thrown from his horse and is very lucky to break his collarbone rather than his neck. An historical coincidence that I shall of course, turn into a murder attempt…

What are you planning to write next?

My next novel (third in the Queen’s Intelligencer series – Shadow of Treason) is all taken care of and really just needs committing to paper (so to speak). In fact, I have introduced – historically accurately – several of the Gunpowder plotters in Shadow of the Tower. After that, there has been some interest in adding further stories to the Caesar’s Spies series or the Trojan Murders series. Caesar’s Spies has chronicled events from the death of Julius Caesar to the Battle of Philippi, but the narrative arc of the series was also designed to carry the characters through to Actium and its immediate aftermath. 

By the same token, the three books in the Trojan Mysteries series have dealt with ‘events’ in the lead-up to the Trojan War itself, and there is plenty more information and inspiration supplied by Homer, Virgil, the authors of what remains of the Epic Cycle, Herodotus and of course the ancient playwrights who put the Golden Age Greek legends on the stage (Vengeance At Aulis, for instance, owes a great deal to Euripides’ Iphigenia At Aulis).

Peter Tonkin

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About the Author

Peter Tonkin attended the Queen’s University, Belfast, 1969 – 75, where he studied with Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Bernard MacLaverty and Ciaran Carson; and directed Ciaran Hinds in Hamlet.  He published his first novel, Killer, to international acclaim in 1978.  Since then he has divided his time between writing and teaching.  He has published 52 other novels including the Master of Defence series of Elizabethan murder mysteries and the 30-book Mariner series of action-adventure-thrillers.  Since retiring from teaching, he has been preparing a series of thrillers set in Ancient Rome.  He is pictured here preparing to attend a Literary Evening at Trinity College, Oxford, of which he is a Benefactor. Find out more at Peter's website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @petertonkin50

7 March 2022

Special Guest Post by Mary Ann Bernal, Author of Forgiving Nero

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Rome. The jewel of the civilized world is no longer what it was. Strength has failed the Senate. Her legions are in disarray, and the Empire has fallen into Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus Nero’s hands. His reign begins under a cloud of scrutiny, for he is the depraved Emperor Caligula’s nephew. Nero is determined to overcome that stigma and carve a name of his own. One worthy of Rome’s illustrious history.Politics and treachery threaten to end Nero’s reign before it begins, forcing him to turn to unexpected sources for friendship and help. 

Emperor Nero - Monster or Victim?

The Biographers

The ancient historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, are responsible for the historical accounts of Nero’s reign that have survived to this day. It is important to note that none of the works were written during Nero’s lifetime. Emperor Nero died in AD 68. Suetonius was born in AD 70, Tacitus in AD 56, and Cassius Dio in AD 155. Their partiality to the facts is suspect, relying on hearsay. It is important to remember history is written by the victors and is not always accurate.


Family History

To understand Emperor Nero’s mindset or genetic predisposition, as some may claim, we must immerse ourselves into the political arena of the Roman Empire, where the wrong choice could result in ruin or death.

Emperor Tiberius’s heir, the future Emperor Caligula, spent most of his youth on the Isle of Capri. He witnessed first-hand continuous plotting, paranoia, assassination attempts, and sexual deviancy while trying to stay alive as his uncle silenced his opponents, including Caligula’s mother and brothers.

When Emperor Caligula came to the throne, he ordered his sisters to return to the Imperial Court, which included Agrippina, mother of Emperor Nero. After recovering from an illness that changed Caligula’s personality, Agrippina and her sister plotted against their brother, but the attempt failed. Agrippina was exiled to the Pontine Islands while her son was sent to Calabria to live with his paternal aunt.

Upon the death of Emperor Caligula, Claudius became Emperor. He recalled Agrippina and Nero to the Imperial Court. The mother and son reunion greatly impacted the young Nero. He observed the power struggle between his mother and Messalina, the wife of Claudius, as their ambitions clashed, each wanting the throne for their son.  

Agrippina’s obsession never faltered. She survived the assassin’s hand, manipulated powerful men, including her Uncle Claudius, whom she eventually married. Once Nero was named heir to Caesar’s throne, Claudius died unexpectedly after eating poisonous mushrooms. Shortly thereafter, Claudius’s son, Britannicus, died after suffering a seizure. Nero’s rule was now secure.

Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula


Imagine a four-year-old child being torn from his mother and sent away to a holding 350 miles south of Rome. What thoughts must have run through young Nero’s mind when he found himself alone, surrounded by strangers who probably kept their distance, fearing reprisal from Caligula?

During that formative year, Nero lived among the slaves, playing with the children, helping in the fields, crying himself to sleep, lonely and afraid.

In all probability, the slaves pitied the child, ignored by his relatives, and treated him as one of their own. 

Nero’s adjustment to his new station in life unraveled with his return to the Imperial Court. For a second time, the child’s stability was uprooted. Instinctively, he clung to his mother, not knowing his part in a dangerous game being played. 

Did Agrippina instil fear into his impressible mind, telling her son only she could save him, causing his dependency?  

Nero and Agrippina

The Imperial Court

Nero’s education befitted his rank. He loved the arts and enjoyed writing poetry, playing instruments, and singing songs. Wearing costumes while acting in Grecian plays endeared him to his tutors, and the people admired his athletic prowess. 

However, during this time, Nero lost his innocence, learning the machinations of government, and the lengths to keep power, greed overshadowing equality, the privileged few ignoring the rule of law.

Did he suspect his mother’s part in the demise of Messalina? Who had alerted Claudius about his wife’s licentious affairs? Did Agrippina manage to lace the mushrooms with poison after the food had been tasted? What part did she play in Britannicus’s death, if any? 

Nero watched the events play out silently while absorbing the seeds of power. This aphrodisiac would evolve, becoming insatiable, following a familiar path as his uncles before him.

Nero before becoming Emperor


The first five years of Emperor Nero’s reign showed a young man caring for his people. He lowered taxes and gave more authority to the Senate. He created programs for the Arts and made changes to the slave laws. Later in his reign, he provided Fire Relief when most of Rome lay in ruins.

Unfortunately for Agrippina, her son grew up, and with maturity came annoyance at her meddling. His mother was an adept politician with excellent ruling skills. When she refused to pass the torch, friction followed.

There were many arguments between mother and son as Nero spread his wings. But Agrippina met her match with Nero’s current wife, Poppaea. This power struggle could only have one outcome, and Agrippina would not be victorious.

Did Nero arrange for the execution of his mother? In all probability, Poppaea was involved from the beginning. Agrippina survived many assassination attempts, but her days were numbered. When she did not drown after her boat sank, soldiers were sent to finish the job. She either died by her own hand or by a guard’s sword. 

This unfortunate decision plagued Nero for the rest of his life. Rumors spread that Agrippina’s ghost haunted the emperor’s dreams. His sanity remained in question.

Poppaea felt threatened by Nero’s former wife, Octavia, who he divorced after charging her with adultery. But Poppaea would not rest until she had Octavia’s head on a platter. Once exiled, Nero ordered his guards to execute the daughter of Claudius and bring Poppaea her head. 

And gossipmongers repeated bone-chilling tales of Octavia’s ghost joining Agrippina’s apparition in Nero’s bed-chamber, causing him to cower beneath a pillow.

The people blamed their emperor for the Great Fire, accusing him of setting the flame freeing land to build his Golden House. Did Poppaea suggest that her husband accuse the Christian sect of starting the fire? A perfect ploy to keep the emperor in the people’s good graces. And the idea worked. Culpability shifted, condemning the followers of Christ to death.

Remorse of Emperor Nero after the murder of his mother

Popular Misperceptions:

Kicking a pregnant wife to death

Although Nero had violent outbursts, there were no witnesses to the alleged attack on his pregnant wife, Poppaea. In all probability, she died in childbirth. 

Death of Britannicus

Modern historians have disputed the ancient text that Nero had poisoned his stepbrother, threatening his succession. Scientists have also challenged this claim. It has been argued that since Britannicus suffered from epilepsy, the condition caused his death by obstructing his airway.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned

Fiddles did not appear until the Middle Ages. Furthermore, Nero was away at his villa in Antium (modern-day Anzio) when the fire started at a merchant’s stall near the Circus Maximus. When word reached the emperor, he rushed back to Rome, fighting the blaze and providing temporary housing for the displaced citizens.

The Verdict

People are a product of their environment. The mores of the first century are very different from the twenty-first century. Although the brutality of the time cannot be condoned, the reality of the times explains why. 

Nero was not born a monster, yet the genetic predisposition argument says otherwise, especially since similar traits were evident with his uncles, Tiberius and Caligula.

Nero had been in love with a slave whom he wanted to marry, wishing to live out their days in Greece before Agrippina sent her away. Without his love’s wise counsel, Nero followed his mother’s advice, choosing power and wealth no matter the cost.

He had been sensitive to the plight of the poor and the treatment of slaves. Even at his death, the citizens of Rome loved their Emperor they had compared to Adonis. Perhaps, Nero was not completely lost?

Somewhere the good-natured boy turned into a suspicious man after realizing the dangers of wearing Caesar’s crown. Self-survival meant eradicating one’s enemies. That was the world Nero lived in. Should he have attempted to change the system? Would he have stayed in power if he had tried? 

Fresco from Neros Golden House

I mourn for the ruler that might have been.

Traian Aelius Protacius

Forgiving Nero

Mary Ann Bernal

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About the Author

Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her recent work includes Crusader’s Path, a redemption story set against the backdrop of the First Crusade, and Forgiving Nero, a novel of Ancient Rome. Since Operation Desert Storm, Mary Ann has been a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other support programs. She appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has been a featured author on various reader blogs and promotional sites. Mary Ann currently resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska. Find out more at her website and find her on Twitter @BritonandDane

6 March 2022

Special Guest Post by David Pilling, Author of The Champion (III): Blood and Faith

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

“I am En Pascal of Valencia, the Adalid, the Champion,
the Leader of Hosts,and this is my tale...”

1300 AD: the armies of Edward Longshanks and the Guardians of Scotland confront each other. The final battle for control of northern Britain looms. Meanwhile Robert de Bruce, the young lord of Carrick, waits in the background to seize his opportunity. Bruce dreams of taking the Scottish crown for himself, and will stop at nothing to seize it...

Two of my favourite historical figures are King Edward I, 'Longshanks' or the Hammer of the Scots, and Robert de Bruce, later King Robert I of Scotland. This may seem strange, since on the surface they were so different. In the popular imagination Edward is generally regarded as a ruthless, expansionist tyrant, hell-bent on conquering Scotland and Wales. Bruce, by contrast, is regarded as a benevolent national hero who eventually liberated his country from the English.

In reality the two men were more similar than Hollywood scriptwriters might care to admit. The real Bruce was every bit as tough and ruthless as Longshanks, and the two men were not always opposed. As Dr Fiona Watson has shown in her recent works, Bruce was fixated on gaining the vacant Scottish throne, and was prepared to do pretty much anything to achieve his ambition. This included murdering his chief rival, John Comyn, and switching sides when it suited him. Between 1302-1306, for instance, Bruce was firmly in the English camp, and actively helped Longshanks to impose what appeared to be a final conquest of Scotland.

It didn't turn out that way, of course. After four years in the English camp, Bruce finally revolted against his paymaster in 1306, and the rest is history. Edward came again, but died in a barren Cumbrian marsh, within sight of the Scottish border. The old king died in pursuit of Bruce, who could be described as a mirror image of himself. To quote one such comparison between the two:

“A crowned warrior, careless of men’s lives, who meant to have his way at any price.” 

Edward's demise was fitting, perhaps, since Scotland had always been just beyond his reach. Bruce went from strength to strength, and after many years of toil and bloodshed finally got his hands on the prize. Those hands, it must be said, were stained with the blood of a great many people, fellow Scots as well as English. 

The nuanced relationship  between these two hard-driving men was the partial inspiration for my book, The Champion (III): Blood and Faith. This series chronicles the adventures of En Pascal de Valencia, a Spanish knight in the service of Longshanks. Pascal is based on a real Spanish mercenary who did indeed fight for the English in Scotland and elsewhere. Apart from the bare accounts, not much is known of the real Pascal, except that he had the interesting nickname of 'Adalid'. This meant 'champion' – hence the title of the series – and implies he was a respected knight and military captain. 

The lack of information on Pascal enables me, as a storyteller, to fill in the gaps. In my novel, Pascal acts as a spy as well as fighting soldier in Scotland, and comes to reluctantly admire Bruce, while at the same time fearing him. However, Pascal's association with the famous Scottish warlord, has only just begun...

David Pilling

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About the Author

David Pilling is a writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as he can remember. The medieval era has always held a fascination for him, perhaps because he spent much of his childhood exploring the misted ruins of castles in Wales. David also has a keen interest in the Byzantine Empire, the post-Roman period in Britain and the British & Irish Civil Wars. Find out more at David's website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @RobeH2