Mastodon The Writing Desk: April 2022

29 April 2022

Historical Fiction Blog Tour: The Lake Pagoda, by Ann Bennett

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Indochina 1945: Arielle, who is half-French, half-Vietnamese, is working as a secretary for the French colonial government when the Japanese storm Hanoi. Although her Asian blood spares her from imprisonment, she is forced to work for the occupiers. The Viet Minh threaten to reveal dark secrets from her past if she won’t pass them information from her new masters.

The Lake Pagoda – Extract from Chapter 4:

They moved on beyond the prayer hall to another square where the great red-brick pagoda soared above them, its eleven roofs jutting out from the walls at regular intervals, with the still, white Buddhas looking down impassively at them from each level. Arielle leaned back and stared up to the top of the pagoda where a marble lotus soared even higher into the sky. 
   In front of the pagoda was an altar, where more incense burned and people had laid flowers, candles and fruit as offerings.
   ‘Come, let us meditate and pay our respects to the Buddha,’ said Ba Noi, laying her lotus flower on the altar, stepping back and sitting down on the stone floor, lotus style. Arielle followed suit, laying her incense, candles and flower on the altar, then sitting down beside her grandmother. It was hard to force her unaccustomed legs into the lotus position, even though she was several generations younger than Ba Noi who managed it with ease. 
   Arielle closed her eyes and tried to settle her mind, allowing the chanting of the monks in the monastery, the discordant clang of the temple bells and the gentle voices of other worshippers to calm her down. They sat for ten or fifteen minutes and during that time, try as she might, Arielle couldn’t empty her mind of thoughts. It kept returning to Etienne again and again. What was he doing now? Where was he? Had she been wrong about him and wrong to trust his assurances about his business? What did the future hold for the two of them? At last she heard Ba Noi getting to her feet, so she gave up the struggle to meditate, but she vowed to return to the temple. It felt good being here, connecting with her mother’s faith, letting the calm of this spiritual place permeate her soul.
   ‘Come, I need to go home now,’ said Ba Noi. ‘I am tired and I need my bed.’
   ‘Me too,’ said Arielle, a feeling of trepidation creeping through her at the thought of the huge, empty house she must go back to, alone but for the reticent servants. 
   They returned along the walkways to the yellow gateway where they put on their shoes and bowed their heads to the monk as they went through the gates. As they did so, a man stepped out from the shadows beyond the gate. He was dressed all in black and he came forward bowing his head respectfully to Ba Noi.
   ‘Good evening, phu nhan – madame,’ he said. Ba Noi stopped, a smile spreading across her face.
   ‘Good evening, Xan. Nice to see you here on this beautiful evening. I hope you are well. This is my granddaughter, Arielle. Madame Garnier, in fact.’
   The man turned his attention to Arielle, and she felt his serious, dark eyes sweep down her body, scrutinising her from head to toe, like the beam from a searchlight. He held out his hand and she took it, feeling the warmth and strength of his as she shook it.
   ‘Good to make your acquaintance, Madame Garnier. I read about your wedding in the newspaper the other day. Your husband is … an important man,’ he trailed off but still he held her gaze. She looked away, the honesty in his look felt intrusive somehow.
   ‘He is just a businessman,’ she said, wondering how and why this man knew about Etienne or was interested in their marriage.
   ‘Of course. Well, phu nhan, Madame Garnier, very nice to see you. I must go and do my devotions now. But perhaps I will see you here again one evening soon?’
   ‘You will, of course,’ said Ba Noi, putting her hand on Arielle’s back to usher her to the gate. As they walked away, Arielle felt those black eyes boring into her back. 
   ‘Who’s that?’ she asked. ‘He’s a bit intense, isn’t he?’
   ‘Oh, I often see him here,’ said Ba Noi. ‘He is a very nice man. But he has every reason to be serious. He is a communist. Fighting the corner of exploited workers all over Indochina. He is very passionate and serious about his cause.’ 

Ann Bennett

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About the Author

Ann Bennett was born in Pury End, a small village in Northamptonshire, UK and now lives in Surrey. Her first book, A Daughter's Quest, originally published as Bamboo Heart, was in-spired by her father’s experience as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway. The Planter's Wife (originally Bamboo Island) a Daughter's Promise and The Homecoming, (formerly Bamboo Road), The Tea Panter's Club and The Amulet are also about the war in South East Asia, all six making up the Echoes of Empire Collection. Ann is also author of The Runaway Sisters ,The Orphan House, and The Child Without a Home, published by Bookouture. The Lake Pavilion and The Lake Palace are both set in British India in the 1930s and 40s. Her latest book, The Lake Pagoda, set in French Indochina in the 30s and 40s, will be published in April 2022. Ann is married with three grown up sons and a granddaughter and works as a lawyer. Fi d out more t Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @annbennett71

28 April 2022

Special Guest Post by Catherine Meyrick, Author of Cold Blows the Wind

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A story of the enduring strength of the human spirit. Ellen Thompson is young, vivacious and unmarried, with a six-month-old baby. Despite her fierce attachment to her family, boisterous and unashamed of their convict origins, Ellen dreams of marriage and disappearing into the ranks of the respectable. But in Hobart Town the past is never far away, never truly forgotten. There is one in every generation, a person obsessed with their family’s past. Both of my parents filled that role for their generation. Twenty years ago the torch was passed to me.

My mother’s work was painstaking and meticulous. My father had not quite the same level of perseverance so I had to start from scratch. Dad was a fifth generation Australian born in Tasmania, the state that as a nineteenth-century colony received approximately 75,000 convicts transported mainly from the British Isles. My genealogical digging revealed that seven of his forebears had been transported to Van Diemen’s Land, as Tasmania was called up to 1856. In the process I uncovered stories which had been completely lost to memory.

‘Hobart from the Bay’ by J.W, Beattie Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

My great-great-grandmother, Sarah Ellen Thompson, captured my imagination from the moment I met her. Known as Ellen, she was born in Hobart Town in 1858, the fourth child of two ex-convicts. My new novel Cold Blows the Wind covers seven tumultuous years of Ellen’s life. Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six she faced every single thing, short of her own death, that women fear most in life. Hers is a story of the resilience of the human spirit, the story of so many ordinary women of the past.

The genealogical research that underpins the story was done well before I sat down to write. Like anyone else who takes family history seriously, this research was painstaking, triple-checked and revisited. By the end, I knew the whats and wheres of Ellen’s life—Cold Blows the Wind is my attempt to understand the whys.

While I was able to draw on the work of a number of Tasmania’s generous and dedicated researchers and historians, my greatest research challenges were in discovering the daily details of the world Ellen inhabited. She was one of what is described today as the working poor—living conditions were basic; pay was low for men, lower for women; life was precarious and illness or an accident could tip a family into dire poverty. These lives left few artefacts and while it’s acceptable to fill the gaps in historical knowledge with plausible imagining, it is necessary to get as close as you can to the reality of the past before you let your imagination take flight.

Numerous visits to Hobart up to 2019 had given me an understanding of the topography of Hobart and its streetscape—Hobart retains a substantial number of solid Georgian and Victorian buildings—but street numbers have changed over the years. I attempted to locate some of the houses Ellen lived in using a combination of Assessment Rolls—lists of the names of the people renting each property—and Water Board maps as well as the time-honoured method of locating a place by vicinity to the nearest pub. 

Only one of the houses Ellen lived in is still standing—a narrow 1840s labourers cottage in Molle Street, Hobart. Fortunately, there were estate agent photographs online to give me a sense of the interior so there was no need to arouse the current residents suspicions that I was casing the place with robbery in mind like one of my forebears.

Molle Street Hobart
The only house Ellen lived in that is still standing. 
(Photographs taken in the 1930s and in 2018.)

Through endless hours searching contemporary copies the Hobart Mercury, I was able to glean basic information about the type of house Ellen would have lived in in Moodie’s Row off Liverpool Street. The Row no longer exists—its location is the concrete driveway on a commercial property. In the early 1880s it was a row of seventeen houses, mostly two-roomed weatherboard, each with a front yard where some grew vegetable gardens and one even kept a cow. There was a yard in common at the rear where the seven privies and single water tap serving all the houses were located. The lane was unpaved and there was no gutter—refuse was tipped into the street.

My problems with locating information about housing were repeated in many other aspects of research. While there is a wealth of information available about women’s clothing in the nineteenth century, it concentrates on the women with money to spend on fashion. For women like Ellen, new clothing was often second-hand, from the pawn shop or the second-hand dealer. I have no doubt, though, that young women tried to make their dresses into something resembling the clothing of the monied. 

To get some idea of what ordinary women might have worn, I spent hours staring at the extensive collection of cartes de visite, digitized by the State Library of Victoria, of ordinary men and women dressed in their very best. There are scenes of labouring men but almost none of women at work cleaning out grates, blacking fireplaces, or doing the laundry. The few photographs there are of working women, I stared at intently, almost willing them to come alive so I could see what was hidden beneath the voluminous aprons, wondering if the skirt matched the bodice, were they wearing some sort of skirt and blouse (blouses as we know them were not really a ‘thing’ until the 1890s) or a dress. I believe that I have gained a sense of what life was like for women like Ellen but it is more an impressionist painting than the hyper-reality of the Pre-Raphaelites.

My hope, beyond telling of Ellen’s life and struggles, is that readers will see that those who came before, even the most ordinary of people, were like us. While they may have held some attitudes that we now find objectionable, at their core, like us, they wanted shelter, warmth and enough to eat, love and security, freedom from illness and, most of all, a better future for their children. It is the daily heroism of ordinary lives, the survival, over generations, that has given most of us, up till now, a life far better than that experienced by any generation before us.

Catherine Meyrick

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About the Author

Catherine Meyrick lives in Melbourne, Australia but grew up in Ballarat, a large regional city steeped in history. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist. As well as Cold Blows the Wind, Catherine has written two novels set in England in the 1580s which concentrate on the lives of women of the middling sort, Forsaking All Other and The Bridled Tongue. Find out more at Catherine’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @cameyrick1.

27 April 2022

Blog Tour Excerpt: Where the Gulls Fall Silent, by Lelita Baldock

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A small fishing village, a shunned healer, her daughter, tradition, superstition and a world set to change. Kerensa lives with her mother, the healer Meliora, on the edge of a small fishing community on the Cornish Coast. The townsfolk, who work the fish runs of pilchard and mackerel that make their way up the Atlantic coast, call on her mother for help with their ailments, but never for her company. Kerensa does not know why.

Cornish Daisies (Excerpt)

As the sun was setting over the Cornish coast the two friends made their way slowly down the hill into Porth Gwynn. It had been a long and tiring day, helping Meraud to set up her stall and sell her fish. Kerensa had delighted in being useful, calling out the available fish and prices, helping to pack the sold produce for the customers. It was the side of work she understood, and she was good at it. Organised and efficient. And customers always smiled at her. She was careful to keep her foot well hidden.
   Gerens had helped too, though he’d disappeared for a few hours after lunch. Kerensa had barely noticed. 
   Now, as their little town nestled in the curve of the bay came into view, he disappeared again, running off to the side of the road. 
   “Gerens!” Kerensa stopped and planted her fists on her hips. “What are you doing?”
Grinning, her friend came racing back from behind a length of blackberry bush. Coming to a stop before her, he pushed a bunch of Cornish daisies up to her face.
   “For you!” he announced happily.
   Kerensa eyed the delicate white flowers, their yellow centres glowing in the dawn light. Frowning she looked at her friend. “Why are you giving me daisies? You can’t do anything with daisies.”
   Now it was Gerens turn to frown, “Do anything with them?” he repeated, “Kez, they aren’t for potions or treatments. They just look pretty.”
   “What’s the point of that?” she asked, taking the proffered posey from him.
   “It’s something people like. Especially women. Father often brings pretty flowers home for mother.”
   “And what does she do with them?”
   Gerens shrugged, “Puts them in a pot on the table usually. Trust me Kez,” he smiled, “people like flowers on the table.”
   “I don’t know… I think my mother would prefer a useful flower.”
   They continued making their way down to the town through the fading light. 
   “What’s a useful flower then?”
   Kerensa paused, thinking. “Lavender,” she finally announced. “It can be used to cover bad smells and it’s good for calming an unsettled baby, or mother for that matter.”
   The two grinned at each other, enjoying her small joke. Both had known their mothers to be rather distressed from time to time.
   “Put the daisies on the table, Kez. They might not smell as strong as lavender, but they will make you feel happy.”
   “All right,” Kerensa agreed, but was unconvinced.
   “Oh Kez! Look!” Suddenly Gerens darted forward, pointing at the bay. 
   There bobbing in the gentle currents sat a huge wooden vessel. Above its decks rose two tall masts, sheets of canvas sail wrapped up against wooden struts for the night.
   A trader had come.
   It was late in the season for such an event, but that only made it more exciting.
   “Come on!” Gerens called. 
   Kerensa grinned and raced down the hill after her friend. The traders always brought excitement to the town. Kerensa might even be able to sneak a few pies at the trolys that Braneh was bound to throw to welcome the sailors. A shame Meliora was not home to see it. She so often missed the trade boats.
   Kerensa pushed the thought aside and made her way to the foreshore. 
   The posey of daisies fell to the dirt behind her.

Lelita Baldock

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About the Author

Lelita Baldock is an author of historical fiction and crime fiction. She has a passion for dark stories, with an unexpected twist. It was during her years studying English Literature at University that Lelita discovered her love of all things reading and writing. But it would be another 15 years before she would take up the challenge and write her own novel. Her debut novel, the historical fiction Widow's Lace, is an Amazon best-seller. Her follow up, The Unsound Sister, saw her take a different direction in her writing, trying her hand at crime fiction and has been warmly received globally. Lelita also runs a blog and newsletter featuring fellow authors and other creatives. Find out more at Lelita's website 

22 April 2022

New Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ The Admiral’s Wife, By M.K. Tod


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love 
and financial scandal.

In 2014, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.

In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.

As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.

Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel." -- Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of The Last Rose of Shanghai 

“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of The Library of legends 

“A riveting tale of clashing cultures, ruthless corruption, and the consequences of corrosive lies.” James R Benn, author of ROAD OF BONES and other Billy Boyle mysteries.

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About the Author

The Admiral’s Wife is M.K. (Mary) Tod’s fifth novel. In addition to writing fiction, she runs the award-winning blog A Writer of History where readers and writers can find all sorts of information on historical fiction. Mary is married to her high school sweetheart and has two adult children and two delightful grandsons. In off-writing hours, you can find Mary on the golf course, hiking, biking, traveling, or hanging out with friends and family. Find out more from Mary's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MKTodAuthor

20 April 2022

Blog Tour Excerpt from Sea of Shadows (Sea and Stone Chronicles, Book 2) by Amy Maroney,

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1459. A gifted woman artist. A ruthless Scottish privateer. And an audacious plan that throws them together—with 
dangerous consequences. 

Excerpt: Summer, 1459 ~ Rhodes Town

Anica followed her family out the front door, Maria and a manservant close behind. Outside, the sun blazed overhead and life pulsed in the streets as if their family’s private tragedy meant nothing. Trumpeters at the grand master’s palace up the hill bugled a serenade to mark the fleet’s arrival. It was clear, though, that news of the arriving ships had already spread. Merchants and their wives, artisans, traders, notaries—it seemed all of Rhodes Town was streaming downhill toward the harbor.
   Hurrying to match Heleni’s stride, Anica adjusted her violet headpiece embroidered with silver thread, a recent gift from Aunt Rhea. It was the first time she’d worn any color other than black for six months, and she’d felt a twinge of guilt when she put the garment on. Heleni’s headpiece was bright fuchsia, the color of the deadly but beautiful oleander flowers blooming in gardens all over Rhodes Town, and it glittered with gold thread. Glancing at her sister sideways, Anica realized Heleni had rimmed her eyes with black kohl and stained her lips with pink-tinted beeswax.
   “Too slow.” Heleni pulled at Anica’s arm. “We’re missing everything!”
   Anica shook her off. “The boats aren’t going anywhere. It takes ages to unload them.” She raised her voice, directing her next words to Papa. “I hope there’s a vessel from the Black Sea carrying oak for panels and another from Alexandria full of minerals for pigments.”
   Heleni let out an exasperated sigh. “You would. I hope there are silks in every color of the rainbow and a Hospitaller ship full of strong, handsome knights.”
   Papa glanced at them over his shoulder. “Heleni, have you painted your face again?” he asked.
   When she didn’t answer, he looked at the sky as if to implore God for patience. Next to him, Mamá clutched his arm, her face concealed by a gauzy black veil. Before Beno’s death, Mamá would have wiped Heleni’s face clean at the door, scolding her all the while. Now she was listless and unseeing, her mind preoccupied with the one person who wasn’t there.
   Santa Maria, Anica prayed. Give my mother a reason to smile today.
   As they passed the Salviati home, the banker and his family, along with an entourage of slaves and servants, were filing out the door.
   “Buon giorno, Signor Salviati,” Papa said. He nodded at the banker’s wife. “Buon giorno, signora.”
   The woman inclined her head at Papa but studiously ignored Mamá. Anica’s heart pounded a little faster at the slight. Her mother had once taken in one of this family’s house slaves, a woman who had been beaten half to death by Signora Salviati and flung out on the streets. That was nearly five years ago, and Signora Salviati had shunned Mamá ever since. Luckily, Signor Salviati himself had overlooked the matter.
   “Troilo has just arrived from Florence,” Signor Salviati said, sweeping a ring-laden hand at his son. “He’ll be joining me at the treasury this week. Your gold could not be in better hands.”
   Anica dropped her chin, studying the cobblestones underfoot.
   “What good fortune,” Papa said politely, turning to the young man. “How do you find Rhodes after so many years away?”
   “Florence has its advantages. But Rhodes suits me. The climate, the sea air, the beauty.” The young man’s gaze returned to Anica. “Yes, there is much to recommend it.”
   After another moment of polite conversation, Papa bade the Florentines farewell. He turned down a narrow side lane rather than following the main street past the Kastellania.
   “But the other way is faster!” Heleni protested.
   Papa ignored her. Anica knew his detour was for her mother’s benefit.
   When Mamá and the aunts had wailed during the funeral procession for her brother, spectators had warned they could be flogged for defying the knights’ rules.
   Anica herself had not wailed. She’d distanced herself from her shrieking Greek relatives, clinging to her father’s arm during the entire procession, his quiet strength keeping her upright as tears rolled down her cheeks.
   She clenched her teeth, forcing the memories away. Here in these bright streets, she could escape the worries marching through her mind. At the very least, she had to try.

Amy Maroney

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About the Author

Amy Maroney studied English Literature at Boston University and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series, an award-winning historical fiction trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Her new historical sus-pense/romance series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus. Find out more at Amy’s blog: and connect with Amy on Facebook and Twitter @wilaroney

15 April 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Reiver, by David Pilling

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1569 AD. The March lands between England and Scotland are a place of terror, where outlaw bands and broken men rob, pillage and murder in open defiance of the law. Here, deadly blood-feud is a way of life. Families of robbers, known as Border Reivers, live via blackmail and terrorism. No man sleeps safe in his bed, and the sound of hoofbeats on the tops is a herald of death.

Richie Reade, known as Richie O’the Bow, finds himself dragged into this dark and bloody world. One night his village is raided by a gang of Armstrongs, the most dreaded of the reiver families. After he slays two of the gang, Richie is declared a dead man walking: the Armstrongs and their allies will not rest until they have his head. Betrayed by the law, Richie is forced to flee into the wilderness. He and his fellow outlaws begin to forge a reputation as Richie’s Bairns, killing the Armstrongs wherever they find them.

Meanwhile the Border is threatened by war. The rebellious northern earls plan to depose the Protestant Queen of England, Elizabeth I, and replace her with the Catholic Mary Stewart. Many of the reiver families rise to join the rebellion, and the earls march south under the Banner of the Five Wounds. Civil war threatens to break out in England, even as fresh murder and conspiracy raise havoc in Scotland.

With the north in turmoil, and the Border in a state of bloody flux, Richie and his outlaws do what they can to survive. As his fame grows, Richie finds himself drawn inexorably into the war for England’s soul. When the final battle looms, above the rushing waters of the Hell Beck, he must choose his fate.

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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

14 April 2022

Book Launch Spotlight: Her Last Betrayal, by Pam Lecky

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

An Irish spy. A deadly betrayal. A dangerous mission
to save her country…

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.

Partnered with American undercover agent Lieutenant Tony Anderson, Sarah embarks on a dangerous mission that takes her from war-torn London into the black mountains of Wales. But when one of her team is revealed to be a German mole, and enemies begin to close in, what price will Sarah have to pay to save her country―and herself?

A gripping and thrilling tale about one woman’s bravery in WW2 Britain, perfect for fans of Kate Quinn's THE ALICE NETWORK, Suzanne Goldring's MY NAME IS EVA and Ariel Lawhon’s CODE NAME HÉLÈNE.

Readers love Her Last Betrayal:

“So much excitement… this is the quickest I have ever read a book, I just couldn’t put it down. Read it, you won’t be disappointed.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Had me sitting in silence, tears falling… My mind was blown more than once… I can't tell you how many times I was left thinking, ‘I didn't see it coming.’” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Totally absorbing… It has everything. Suspense, spying, intrigue, mystery and a smattering of romance. A nail biting, gripping book that had me absolutely hooked from the first page…Outstanding.”Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
# # #
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

13 April 2022

Book Review of Drake - Tudor Corsair (Elizabethan Series Book 1)


Available from Amazon UKAmazon US

1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure. He learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.

There seems to be so much ‘mis-speaking’ about historical figures at present that it came as a welcome relief to read this balanced, thoughtful and meticulously researched narrative of the life of Sir Francis Drake based on primary sources and first-hand accounts by one of his crewmen.

Written in the first person creates an enthralling immediacy, combining fascinating details about ships and sailing with the personal themes of family, marriage and betrayal.

Eldest of the twelve sons of a Devon farmer Drake seems to have suffered from the snobbishness of Queen Elizabeth’s court throughout his life and maybe it was this that spurred him on to a buccaneering life at sea where the only status a man has derives from his own true grit.

Armchair critics might take a look at the 150-foot replica of the Golden Hinde docked at London’s South Bank if they doubt the courage of its commander and crew who risked the storms and other dangers, real and fabulous, of the world’s oceans.  

Riches pens a racketing good yarn from Drake’s earliest days when he took command of his first ship, to his bloody battles with England’s enemies, his famous circumnavigation and  knighthood, to his last voyage at an age when most sea dogs would be content to stay in harbour. That Drake and his men had courage is without question, that he was also a shrewd and audacious commander is worth repeating.  He succeeded in making allies of the indigenous peoples he met in South America, freed slaves where he could, and invited some to become paid members of his crew. Diego, the black man figured on the Drake jewel in the V &A, becomes his right-hand man until his death. 

Brought to the queen’s attention by his successful piracy against the treasure ships of the Spanish, he was sent on a secret mission by Queen Elizabeth I, to disrupt the Spanish and Portuguese slave trade which was yielding those countries a vast and previously unimagined exchange in gold, Peruvian silver and pearls, as well as a monopoly of the much desired trade in porcelain and silk from China.

The fear of the queen’s ministers in England was that the Spanish king, Philip II, would use this wealth to fit out a fleet for a planned invasion with the aim of forcing England back into Catholicism. This fear was most prescient and without Drake’s impudent attack on the  massive armada fleet anchored in Cadiz harbour the eventual invasion could have had a vastly different outcome.

There is no mention of bowls as that story only came decades after the event but there are many other delights, such as the derivation of the name for the flightless birds that charmed a Welsh sailor, who called them pen gwyns, white heads.

Drake’s personal life, two marriages and no children, is an enduring sadness but his brother Thomas sailed with him and was loyal to the end.  Drake was eventually defeated by the fever that intermittently swept throughout the fleet killing hundreds.

Wearing the green silk scarf given to him by Elizabeth I herself and with his father’s prayer book in his hand, he died with the same courage that characterised his life.  I admit I shed a tear as he arranged himself in his best armour with his ceremonial sword at his side to wait for death and imagined he heard his father reading from his prayer book:  Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee…  

A cracking story deserving several readings.

Cassandra Clark

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About the Author

Cassandra Clark has an M.A. from the University of East Anglia and taught for the Open University on the Humanities Foundation course in subjects as diverse as history, philosophy, music and religion. Since then she has written many plays and contemporary romances as well as the libretti for several chamber operas.  Find out about Cassandra's books on her website at   and follow her on Twitter @nunsleuth

12 April 2022

Special Guest Post by Amy Moroney, Author of Sea of Shadows (Sea and Stone Chronicles)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1459: A gifted woman artist. A ruthless Scottish privateer. And an audacious plan that throws them together—with dangerous consequences. No one on the Greek island of Rhodes suspects Anica is responsible for her Venetian father’s exquisite portraits, least of all her wealthy fiancé. But her father’s vision is failing, and with every passing day it’s more difficult to conceal the truth. 

Sea of Shadows, my new romantic historical suspense novel, takes readers on a journey through the beauty and danger of Renaissance-era Greece. It stars an unlikely duo. Anica Foscolo, a gifted painter, is the daughter of a Venetian artist and a Greek woman; Drummond Fordun is a fierce Scotsman renowned for his exploits as a privateer serving the Knights Hospitaller of St. John. When her family’s honor is threatened, Anica reluctantly turns to Drummond for help. There’s just one problem: she never planned to fall in love with her accomplice.  

Like Island of Gold, its predecessor in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, Sea of Shadows explores the shadowy world of the Mediterranean during a time of adventure, war, prosperity, and risk. The undisputed rulers of this maritime world were the Venetians, who rose to power in the 13th century. Venice was the epicenter of maritime trade in the late medieval and early Renaissance era. Western Europe’s hunger for spices—ginger, saffron, cinnamon, pepper—and luxury fabrics like silk drove demand to dizzying heights, and the Venetians had the naval superiority to develop supply chains to Alexandria, Damascus, the Black Sea, and other points in the West and North.  

Carpaccio’s Departure of Pilgrims from Venice

The Venetians’ arch-enemies were the Genoese, who had their own fleet of military and merchant vessels. At sea, these two city-states were frequently at war. But in port cities all over the Mediterranean, Venetian and Genoese merchants often formed partnerships in the name of economic gain. The Knights Hospitaller, headquartered on the island of Rhodes from 1300-1522, had a long-standing alliance with the Genoese. This explains why there were occasional attacks by Venetian vessels on Rhodes—and divided loyalties amongst Rhodian citizens with Italian heritage. 

Knights at Rhodes, Caoursin Manuscript

The Knights themselves were constantly at war on the seas. They—and their privateers, typically Genoese or Catalan—preyed on Muslim vessels and raided coastal towns in Africa and the Middle East, all in the name of Christendom. In return, the knights were the targets of attacks by the Ottoman Turks and the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. At sea, the knights and their agents had carte blanche to act as pirates. They could board any enemy ship, taking captives and seizing goods as they saw fit. Rhodes Town, the main port on the island of Rhodes, was home to a bustling slave market and a thriving brothel industry. Merchants from all over Western Europe, as well as the Middle East and North Africa, flocked to Rhodes to take advantage of the trade opportunities there. 

Island of Rhodes medieval illustration

Artists and artisans exploited the growing wealth in Rhodes Town under the rule of the knights, setting up studios and workshops within the walled city. Gold-beaters, jewelers, textile workers, stoneworkers, and painters were among the creative classes. Evidence exists of Italian-trained artists commissioned by the knights to create frescoes and paintings for their private residences and for chapels and churches on the island. At the same time, the astounding layers of history in Rhodes offered opportunities for entrepreneurs to sell artifacts to collectors from Italy, who traveled to the island seeking treasures for wealthy patrons.

My heroine Anica Foscolo, the unsung talent behind her father’s dazzling portraits, is like many female artists of her time. There is plenty of evidence of women working alongside their artist fathers, husbands, and brothers during the medieval and Renaissance eras, but their work was not valued. Their paintings were often attributed to their male counterparts or kept anonymous. 

Anica is not based on a particular female artist, but rather on a composite of these myriad women whose stories were never told. As a product of her environment, she embodies the conflicting loyalties of her time and place: She’s Venetian (not always an advantage for a citizen living under the rule of the Genoa-loving Knights Hospitaller), but she’s also Greek (and, as such, seen as subservient by her Latin rulers).

For his part, Drummond Fordun is based on a real Scotsman called Diguerus le Scot. Apparently he travelled with a Scottish knight to Rhodes sometimes in the 1430s, where he made a career for himself and returned to Scotland with a pension from the Order of St. John in 1454. In Alan Macquarrie’s Scotland and the Crusades 1095-1560, he is described as “a servant of the grand master, who served the order for many years by land and sea, with manly striving against the infidels.” The fictional Drummond is a self-made man: he earned enough money through the spice trade to buy his own ship, then signed on as a freelancer for the knights. 

Greek church, sea, and ship. (Photo by Matt Artz for Unsplash)

Rhodes under the Knights Hospitaller was a goldmine of adventure, scandal, love, and divided loyalties, offering rich fodder for a historical novelist. The more I learned about this island’s storied past, the more ideas I developed for plot twists and characters in Sea of Shadows (and all of the stand-alone novels in the Sea and Stone Chronicles). As always with my novels, real historical events and people inspired my story and characters, and my ultimate goal was to bring a lost, fascinating world to vivid life.

Amy Moroney

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About the Author

Amy Maroney studied English Literature at Boston University and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series, an award-winning historical fiction trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Her new historical suspense/romance series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus. Find out more at Amy's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wilaroney

Excerpt From When The Mermaid Sings: A Jesamiah Acorne Short Read Nautical Adventure, by Helen Hollick

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Summer. 1708. Throughout childhood, Jesamiah Mereno has suffered the bullying of his elder half-brother. Then, not quite fifteen years old, and on the day they bury their father, Jesamiah hits back. In consequence, he flees his Virginia home, changes his name to Jesamiah Acorne, and joins the crew of his father’s seafaring friend, Captain Malachias Taylor, aboard the privateer, Mermaid.

A brief bit about the Sea Witch Voyages:

I wrote the first Voyage (Sea Witch) back in 2005 after thoroughly enjoying the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Like most avid readers, however, I wanted more than just the movie, I wanted to read something that was as entertaining and as exciting. 

A nautical adventure with a charming rogue of a pirate captain, written for adults (with adult content) but with a dash of supernatural fantasy as well – elements of which had made that first movie such fun to watch. I found many nautical-based novels, but they were all ‘serious stuff’ – Patrick O’Brian, Alexander Kent, C. S. Forrester ... all good reads but without the fantasy fun, and barely a female character in sight. I simply could not find the book I wanted to read. So, I wrote my own.

The first Voyage led to more books in the series, and also generated several emails from fans who wanted to know how Jesamiah had become a pirate in the first place. When the Mermaid Sings answers that question.

Excerpt: Virginia. Summer 1708

For several minutes Jesamiah sat staring at the strengthening flames and the sparks flying up the soot-blackened chimney. Finally, he admitted in a quivering voice, “I’m scared, Halyard. I only know this place. Where do I go? What do I do? How do I manage?” Biting his lip to drive off fresh tears, he looked at his muddy shoes. One of the silver buckles had been torn off, and his silk stocking had a hole in it. “And I’m not exactly dressed for travel,” he pointed out, attempting a weak smile.

Nodding over his shoulder, Calpin indicated the chest. “Have a rummage in there, see if there’s anything that fits you.” He flapped his hand at the room and its plain furnishing. “Do you really want to stay here? Or would you rather set off to see the world, seek adventure, fame and fortune? Go to interesting places?” He winked. “Find a pretty girl to fall in love with?”

Grimacing, his face flushing, Jesamiah confessed, “I don’t know much about girls.”

Laughing, Calpin fetched two tin plates and wooden spoons, and set them on the small table. “At your age I would hope not, but you will not be almost fifteen forever, Jes. There is life, love and the delight of a woman out there waiting for you. You will not find any of it here in Virginia, though.” He felt in his waistcoat pocket, handed Jesamiah Mayor Smallwood’s coin pouch, and explained who had donated it. “I have added some silver coins of my own. There is enough in there to see you through to the autumn fall, longer, if you sell that sword. Take care and do not spend the profits on unnecessaries.”

Returning to the fire and the bubbling stewpot, he raised a warning finger. “There is not much additional advice I can give you. Choose wisely where you spend the money and keep it well hidden. Keep your wits about you, learn from those willing to teach you, trust no one until you know for certain that you can trust them, and even then, do not trust them. And only go with decent women. For the rest, you will need to find out for yourself.”

It was on the tip of Jesamiah’s tongue to ask what Calpin meant by ‘decent’ women, but he let the subject go.

Helen Hollick

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About the Author

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

11 April 2022

Special Guest Interview with Philip Beaufoy, Author of The Lochwood Series - A Dark Enlightenment

  Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The old races still live. They are hidden within us, more in some than others. The journey of a boy who must become more than he is, is a tale told a thousand times over, but it has never been told quite like this. 

I’m pleased to welcome author Philip Beaufoy to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book   

I have always been fascinated with the idea that many hominids roamed the earth at some point in ancient history. I wandered what it would have been like spying a tribe in the distance that was quite literally a different species. It is hard not to make parallels with the tales of giants, dwarves and elves that we all grew up loving and seem embedded into our culture. 

I was also taken with the idea of chaos as a scientific construct, in that given enough time all things will become dust, cold and empty and conversely the idea of life, a phenomenon that builds ever more complex structures the longer it is left to run. It was within this framework that I wanted to explore the moral norms of culture and how free choice is dependent on a person’s environment.  

Whenever I sit in an old English pub, next to a log fire sipping ale, I imagine I sit in a land far removed from the real world. I constructed the world where my story is set and the characters within long before the actual plot. These ideas gave be the basic construct for the Lochwood series. 

What is your preferred writing routine?   

I see scenes in my head. I play it like a film that I know has a good story if only I could find the correct words.  I know my characters and world. I have a map, currency, political system, weather patterns and cultures. After putting my first attempts on paper and outlining some initial ideas, I used Pro writing aid, to re-edit the whole book. As a beginner it helped me understand the methodology of writing as well as highlighting many dos and don’ts. 

I did not want my book to become overly formulaic. I welcomed the advice and guidance from a ‘bot’ but felt at times felt my style got lost in strict obedience to a set of rules. For this reason, every time I finished a chapter in pro writing aid, I dropped it back into word and did the final edit, which was torturous. It felt as though the excitement of the story exploded from me in a few weeks while refinement took three years. I am however very pleased with how I have developed from a total non-writer to someone who can express ideas in a way (some people at least) want to read. 

What advice do you have for new writers?   

Just write. Go back edit what you have written and write some more. Don’t be scared to put thoughts to paper they can be edited, refined, or deleted later. I spent hours agonising over a single sentence when I could have moved on and edited that sentence in context. Write, edit, repeat. Keep going until what you have, you like. Pass your draft to an honest friend or proof-reader and welcome any criticism. 

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

There are many platforms for indie authors with some great tools for marketing and premotion, but the support of writers working through the same process is most helpful. I have gathered some of my best advice from friends on twitter. It is best to meaningfully engage with people, not only post memes for likes. Guest posts, such as this, can help reach new readers, and spread awareness as you as an author. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research   

While researching for my book I investigated ancient cultures, rituals, language, and the meaning of names. I found it interesting to base my own cultures and rituals on these, I use literal names from old languages to denote ancestry. In the battle scenes I have tried to make troupe movements, shield walls, light horse and archers deploy in ways similar to historical battles. 

The most fun was researching the megafauna that roamed the earth with prehistoric man. I discovered giant crocodiles and snakes, big cats and bore that hunted like wolves. I used this as the inspiration for the monsters and beasts that roam the far-flung jungles of my world. 

What are you planning to write next?   

A Dark Enlightenment is book one of The Lochwood Series. I plan to explore magic, science, social norms and structures. I want readers to think about new ideas, hate with a passion the evilness of my some characters and grow to love the eccentricities of others. I am looking forward to exploring the yet untouched lands and creating new adventures for Aelfheah to face. 

Philip Beaufoy

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About the Author

Philip Beaufoy lives in Tamworth, UK, the ancient capital of Mercia. He has two children and a supportive wife who works as an illustrator and helped create the maps of Lochwood. He teaches science and maths at a school for students who have not been successful in a mainstream environment. Despite being dyslexic has always had a love of reading, writing and history. It is with this varied mix of interests he wrote the Lochwood series. Find out more at Philp’s website and find him on Twitter @PhilipJBeaufoy

10 April 2022

Guest Interview with Iris Novak, Author of An Independent Woman in Yugoslavia: A Memoir

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The memoir of a woman named Iris who determined to succeed, although she was born as a poor and frightened country girl in what was then Yugoslavia. To achieve her goals, she used her abilities to gain knowledge from everything around her, and so triumphed against the odds and grew into a successful and independent business woman.

I'm pleased to welcome author Iris Novak to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is a memoir that describes the life of a woman in the ex-Yugoslavia. It speaks about my social background that did not offer me any support to succeed. Although I became the best pupil in a good Slovenian school, these years brought also bitter moments, because my father seemed determined to make our family unhappy, as he was himself. 

When my mother, my brother and I seemed to have been left without anything, we were accepted by my mother's family and started to live a normal life, without violence. I entered the secondary school and had to struggle again to become equal to my brilliant schoolmates. I fell in love, but soon found out that the young man did not deserve the love I felt for him. 

After some miserable months, I met another boy and thought that I finally found the love of my life. I graduated from the university, found a good job, got married and had three children. I was happy as a mother, but had to overcome struggles as a business woman in an environment in which business was the realm of men.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Up to now I used every free moment to write, but I wish that I would have enough time to write in the morning.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I think they should be honest and objective and read, read, read.

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

I first asked quite some friends to read my book and to tell what they thought about it. Only recently I discovered book blogs and I must say that I enjoy reading them. I intend to become a book reviewer for biographies.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I had bitter feelings when I described domestic violence. But it somehow helped me to analyse it and leave it behind me.

What are you planning to write next?

I would like to write about life in Slovenia after it became an independent country and about European Union. One would expect that it would be much better and free than in the ex-Yugoslavia but it is not always so. I would also like describe my struggle to help my son recover from Crohn’s disease. And about my Camino de Santiago.

Iris Novak
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About the Author

The author writes under the pseudonym Iris Novak. She was born in the second half of the twentieth century in Slovenia, the northern part of the then Yugoslavia. She graduated from English and German, acquired my MA in Management and PhD in Librarianship. She worked in the international business, in librarianship, was director of a school for foreign languages and finally established her own business: employment agency and college. She lives in Slovenia, is married and has three children.