Mastodon The Writing Desk: July 2022

28 July 2022

Special Guest Post by Deb Stratas: The Time Traveler’s Wife meets Downtown Abbey in The Royal Key


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Annabelle is struggling to overcome a personal tragedy without losing the man she loves. Suddenly, she finds herself locked in a Victorian country home, nannying royal children in a strange time and place. How did she get here? Is she meant to influence the future of the British monarchy? More importantly, how can she unlock the key back to the modern life she desperately misses? Travel back to the nineteenth century with Annabelle, and share her unexpected healing journey.

A Tale of Two Annabelles 

Meet Annabelle, a young Montessori teacher in Toronto, Canada. She loves her life with Ryan, her contractor fiancé and their dog, Lucy. She has a job she adores, a warm family, and a terrific bond with her soon-to-be-husband. What’s missing? Annabelle wants a baby, and is recovering from a painful miscarriage. Was it her fault? Does she even deserve to be a mom? How can she marry Ryan if she can’t provide him with the child he also craves?

One day, while going through old books of her father’s, she happens upon a picture of the Duke of Windsor, as the Prince of Wales. Suddenly, she feels peculiar, and falls to the floor in a faint. 
Meet the second Annabelle! Waking up in a strange garden, she is greeted by an oddly-dressed man asking after her well-being. Assuring himself that’s she’s alright, he urges her to get to the nursery straightaway to report for her duties as a fill-in nanny. Bewildered, Annabelle decides to go along with the ruse until she can get her bearings and find a way home to Ryan.

Thus begins her journey to fit in until she can get out. It’s quickly obvious that she’s in an upscale country home somewhere in England. Feeling as if she’s in an episode of Downtown Abbey, Annabelle draws upon her Montessori training to assist the senior nanny with the upbringing of two young boys and a baby girl. She soon realizes these are royal children, and as time goes on, she identifies them as the oldest children of the Duke and Duchess of York - Edward (known as David), Bertie, and young Mary. She was in the presence of three future Kings!

Taking her role seriously, she tries to instil behaviours befitting two future kings. Given the restrictions of the late 1890’s, it’s a difficult challenge without giving herself away. In the Edwardian era, and children were meant to be seen and not heard. Annabelle perseveres while trying to sort who in the household are friends vs. foes. She hatches many plans to escape, which all come to nothing.

Meanwhile, she makes an extraordinary discovery in the garden one night – a larger-than-life King Edward VIII, just weeks before his 1936 abdication. How is this possible? A grown-up and still petulant King outside, while his childhood self sleeps soundly in the nursery? Annabelle struggles to get her mind around the unsettling events of 1897 blending with 1936, but soon realizes that the grown-up David is the key to her escape and return to 2019 and her much-missed life Canadian life.

Time is running out for Annabelle, as some household staff get more suspicious by the day. Annabelle must risk a daring escape. She’s discovered the secret of the house, and can’t waste another minute for fear that her 21st century self will be revealed.  Do Ryan and Annabelle reunite? What is the secret of the house? Did Annabelle make any impact on her young royal charges? You’ll have to read The Royal Key to find out. 
   
Why did I write a time travel novel?

I wanted to explore the idea of a modern-day teacher travelling back to Edwardian Britain to perhaps influence the personalities of future kings. I also wanted to set the story in a house that will be familiar to royal followers – but not obvious until well into the story. Above all, I wanted to share Annabelle’s healing journey as she comes to terms with her own personal losses, and future happiness.

What did I discover about the royal children’s childhoods? 

Young Princes David and Bertie suffered at the hands of a very nasty nanny early in their childhoods. I personally believe this trauma may have affected them both physically and emotionally for the rest of their lives. Add the repression of the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, and you can understand why young David never really grew up, and Bertie suffered lifelong stomach problems and the famous stammer – both of which he overcame to be an incredible wartime king. 

What are my impressions of King Edward VIII and the abdication crisis?  

As with all my books, I did extensive research on the reigns of both King George V and King Edward VIII. I found that the adult David was in many ways a spoiled child that insisted upon his way, no matter the cost. He was determined to abdicate in order to marry the divorced American Wallis Simpson, and desert his kingship as soon as possible.

My personal belief is that he was horrified at the boredom and duties that came along with ruling England and the empire. I think Wallis did the world a favour by marrying David, as the Duke of Windsor would probably have been a weak monarch, and even our modern-day democracy could have been at stake.

Can I tell the secret of the house in The Royal Key? 

I’m afraid not. You’ll have to read The Royal Key to find the extraordinary secret of the royal country house where Annabelle found the strength and courage to find her way home. I hope you enjoy the book and welcome your feedback!

Deb Stratas

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About the Author

Deb Stratas is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. She’s a proud royalist with a lifelong passion for the British monarchy. Deb is best known for her Diana Spencer historical fiction trilogy with its accompanying non-fiction At Home with Diana. Go back to Edwardian England in The Royal Key. Her latest book The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz explores WWII London through the eyes of brave sisters, Tillie and Maggie. Deb cherishes spending time with her two amazing adult children, their spouses, and two grandchildren. Find out more at Deb's website https://www.debstratas.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @deb_stratas

25 July 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Clash of Empires: A Novel of the French Indian War: Volume 1 (The Mallory Saga) by Paul Bennett


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 1750, the Mallory family moved to the western Pennsylvania frontier, seeking a home and a future. Clash of Empires reveals the harrowing experiences of a colonial family drawn into the seven-year conflict between the British and French for control of the continent - the French and Indian War.

Follow the Mallory family as they attempt to live a peaceful life on the PA frontier in 1756. They face tragedy and loss as they become embroiled in The French and Indian War - Clash of Empires. In Paths to Freedom, the colonies are heading to open revolt against King George III, and the Mallory's are once again facing the spectre of war. 

Crucible of Rebellion continues the Mallory story through the early years of The Revolutionary War. Book 4, A Nation is Born completes the Revolution and The Mallory's have played their part in the victory. In book 5, A Turbulent Beginning, the nascent nation finds it hard going to establish a peaceful existence. The Natives of this land resist the westward expansion of white settlers.

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About the Author

Paul Bennett was born in Detroit when the Big Three ruled the automobile industry, and The Korean Conflict was in full swing. A lifelong interest in history and a love of reading eventually led him to Wayne State University where he majored in Ancient History, with a minor in Physical Anthropology. However, to make ends meet, those studies were left to the realm of dreams, and Paul found himself accidentally embarking on a 50 year career in computers. A career that he has recently retired from in order to spend more time with those dreams….7 grandchildren will help fill the time as well. He now resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Daryl, just a few minutes’ walk from the North River, and the site where the Revolution almost began.  Find out more at Paul's website https://clashofempires.wordpress.com/ and find him on Facebook and Twitter @hooverbkreview

23 July 2022

Book Review: Book One of The Du lac Chronicles, by Mary Anne Yarde


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

If all you had left was your heart, would you give it to your enemy?

A generation after Arthur Pendragon ruled, Briton lies fragmented into warring kingdoms. The powerful Saxon King, Cerdic of Wessex, spent the last twenty years hunting down Arthur’s noble knights. Alden du Lac, the once king of Cerniw and son of Lancelot, has nothing. Betrayed by Cerdic, Alden’s kingdom lies in rubble. Annis, daughter of King Cerdic of Wessex, has been secretly in love with Alden for what seems like forever. She will not stand by and see him die. She defies father, king, and country to save the man she loves from her father’s dungeons. Alden and Annis flee Wessex together.

Mary Anne Yarde draws on the Anglo Saxon Chronicles for inspiration. An evocative, timeless saga of love and betrayal, it has rivalry and treachery enough for any ‘Game of Thrones’ aficionado. We follow the journey of two young lovers. Alden Du Lac is the defeated yet heroic former king who falls in love with Annis, beautiful daughter of his sworn enemy, the Saxon King Ceric of Wessex.

The brutal reality of life in ancient Britain is tempered with light touches of humour as the young lovers battle for survival against impossible odds. At first they don’t even share the same language and have to communicate in Latin, yet omnia vincit amor.

I particularly liked the development of the relationships between the Du Lac brothers once the action moves to Brittany, as well as the references to Arthurian legends. I reached the last page surprisingly quickly. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.  Find our more at her website and follow her on Twitter @maryanneyarde

19 July 2022

Blog Tour Excerpt from The King’s Inquisitor, By Tonya Ulynn Brown


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The queen of Scotland is dead. Her almoner’s son, William Broune, has fulfilled his father’s wish that he should serve the king, James VI, at court. William finds himself caught between loyalty to the king or loyalty to his conscience. As William is forced to serve as the king’s inquisitor in the North Berwick witch trials, he must make a decision. Will he do what the king asks, and earn the wife, title, and prestige he has always desired, or will he let a bold Scottish lass influence him to follow his heart and do the right thing? If William doesn’t make the right choice, he may be among the accused.


Excerpt from The King’s Inquisitor:

I made my way once more to the dreaded establishment. Ten more witches had been arrested, and I wanted a chance to question them before Seton got his hands on them any further. The morning was bitter, and I cursed having to leave the warmth of my bed. The biting wind, blowing in from the Firth of Forth, brought gusts of snow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the soft, fluffy snow, but tiny ice crystals that stung the face and threatened to burn one’s ears off. I pulled my collar tighter about me and kept my head down. But as I drew closer to the daunting structure of the tolbooth, a small figure wrapped from head to toe in a brown earasaid bent, shoving a tiny, wrapped parcel through a hole in the tolbooth wall.
   “What in the name of all that is holy do you think you are doing?”
   The woman jumped at the sound of my voice, but otherwise did not acknowledge me. She continued to shove the package through a crumbling hole in the wall. Passersby shuffled around her, clearly uninterested in the woman’s activities. However, grubby fingers reached from within and removed the package from her hand. I sprang into action.
   Only a few strides were needed to be at her side. I grabbed the woman’s arm in annoyance, irritated that she chose to blatantly disregard me.
   “Unhand me, ye beast.”
   I stepped back abruptly. It was Ailsa. Her voice was low and passionate, and her eyes shown with a rebellious fire. I instantly released her and held my hands up, palms facing her. “My apologies. I meant no harm.”
   “I will not be manhandled thusly. I am not your property, Master Broune, therefore ye cannot command me as ye will.”
   “Even if you were my property, I shouldn’t have grabbed you. It was a reaction.”
   Her right eyebrow shot up in irritation. “So, ye think a woman can be your property then?”
   “I, no, of course not. That’s not what I meant at all.” She was twisting my words and that irritated me even more. I had apologized and had already shown this chit much more tolerance than what she deserved. I stepped closer to her. She would hear me.
   “I just caught you scheming with the prisoners.” I jabbed a finger toward the hole in the wall.
“That is my business to command.” I stood so close to her now that I could see the faint hint of freckles scattered across her nose. They were charming, and I had to resist the urge to brush the pad of my thumb across her cheek to catch one or two of them. Her cheeks were rosy, more than likely from the fierce wind, and tiny ice crystals clung to her long dark lashes. Even her adorable button nose was red. She’d been out here for a while; I was sure of it.
   “I am not scheming,” she whispered harshly, looking about her. “Is it a crime to show the compassion of Christ to these poor starving souls?” She reached into her basket again, pulling out another small bundle.
   “It is when they are witches.”
   She scoffed at that then turned her face on me fully. “Master Broune, I am disappointed. I thought ye a man that might be prevailed upon to do the right thing. Ye are the arm of justice for His Majesty, the King, and all power is in your hands to help these poor victims. They are accused, not convicted. Any advocate worth his salt would justly want to find the truth, not just believe tainted accusations from a sadist whose position has gone to his head. Perhaps that is your affliction as well?” She looked up at me then, all innocence.
   I flinched at her words. I was not intoxicated with the power King James had bestowed upon me. And I certainly gained no pleasure from it. In fact, I loathed it. But she had no way of knowing that. If only I could make her see that I wasn’t the blackguard here.
   A gaggle of children went bustling by, screeching at the top of their lungs as they clung to a wagon that pulled them along the High Street. The puddles of water on the road had frozen overnight and the children found great delight in slipping and sliding along behind the wagon as it pulled them across the icy road. Ailsa’s expression also showed smug delight in the noisy interruption of my lecture.
   When the commotion had died down, I turned back to her. “I beg to differ, you, you—” I searched my mind for an appropriate way to address the little chit. She was mouthy, and opinionated, and all the things that a lady of the court was taught not to be. And I was fascinated with her.
   “I think the words ye are looking for are, Mistress Blackburn.” There was that smirk again. I felt my body tense at its appearance.
   “Listen, Mistress Blackburn,” I said, irritated. “I am not a sadist, and I’m certainly not on some kind of power-hungry rampage.”
   “I was referring to Bailiff Seton.” She brushed her comment away with the wave of her hand.
   Irritation pulsed through me at her comparison of me to David Seton. I straightened. “It just so happens that I prefer to seek justice for the accused, not swift punishment without a trial. But I also recognize that there must be no contact with outsiders while the prisoners are in our custody. What is in the package, Ailsa?”
   “It’s a wedge of cheese and a small loaf of bread. These prisoners are starving.” She pulled the paper open to reveal the contents and shoved the fare toward me. “They are also exhausted and freezing. And the longer they are tortured, the more likely they are to say something, anything that will bring relief from their affliction. Ye would do well to find a different way to obtain the truth ye seek.”
   “What do you suggest?” I truly was curious as to her opinion. She seemed to have a lot of them, surely there was something of use amongst the many.
   She closed her eyes for a moment. “I don’t know,” she breathed, barely above a whisper. Her frosty breath rose above our heads and hung suspended as if it too awaited her suggestion. Opening her eyes to look at me again she said, “But if there is truth, there has to be some humane way to find it.”
   I watched as a horde of emotions flickered across her face. Hurt, anger, hopelessness, and an emotion that made my blood run cold: defiance. I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out.
   “If the accused truly had something to do with Queen Anne’s storms, do ye really think it was on their own volition? The devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” she quoted the Holy Writ. “They are as much the victims as Her Majesty.”
   “Are you sympathizing with the witches?” I stepped back, feeling as if she had slapped me.
   She sighed and looked away from me. “Men like you will never understand.”
   “Try me.”
   Raising her eyebrows, she looked at me with amusement. “You are so cut and dry. Black and white. Right or wrong.” She cut her hand through the frozen air, chopping at nothing as she tried to make her point. “Will you never understand that some things just aren’t that easily explained?”
   “You speak as if you know me, Ailsa.” I closed the gap between us again, but she took a step back. I wasn’t sure if it was the use of her given name that alarmed her, or my closeness, but if we were going to speak as if we knew each other, then I would address her as such.
   Puffs of warm air escaped her parted lips, curling into tiny spirals that dissipated into the air. “Ye mean to intimidate me.”
   “Not at all.” I studied her, noticing her shoulders rising and falling more rapidly and the puffs of air increasing as she took quicker breaths.
   “Then why do ye stand so close to me? And why do ye call me by my given name? I gave ye no such permission.”
   “I stand close because I do not wish our conversation to be heard by every wagging tongue that passes by.” Then, allowing a smile to spread across my face, I said, “And I use your given name because you presume to know me so well. I thought perhaps we were on more familiar terms than I had previously realized.”
   Balling her hands into fists, she let out a short grunt that sounded a mixture of clearing her throat and huffing, similar to my mare, Cleopatra. Pulling her earasaid tighter about her face, she said, “I have nothing more to say to ye, Master Broune. Good day.”
   I fought the urge to let out the laugh that I held inside. I enjoyed teasing this woman, for her reactions were so tantalizing. But the seriousness of our conversation soon resurfaced, and I was left to ponder what she had said. Will you never understand that some things just aren’t that easily explained? She was right about one thing: I saw only the black or white, right or wrong. Evidently another quality I inherited from my devout father. And I served a king who ruled in the same manner. Even if I had the ability to see the gray areas, how could I convince James of such? No matter. I didn’t see the gray. I was committed to justice, but that could only be obtained by finding the truth. And I was determined to do just that.

Tonya Ulynn Brown

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About the Author

Tonya Ulynn Brown is an elementary school teacher. She holds a Master’s degree in Teaching and uses her love of history and reading to encourage the same love in her students. Tonya finds inspiration in the historical figures she has studied and in the places she has traveled. Her interest in medieval and early modern British history influences her writing. She resides in rural southeastern Ohio, USA with her husband, Stephen, two boys, Garren and Gabriel, and a very naughty Springer Spaniel. Find out more at Tonya's website www.tonyaubrown.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MrsBrownee2U

16 July 2022

Special Guest Post by John Pilkington, Author of A Reluctant Assassin (Will Revill Thrillers Book 1)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

London, Autumn, 1589: In the turbulent year following the near-disaster of the Spanish Armada, ex-artillery captain Will Revill is summoned by the Queen’s Vice-Chamberlain and spymaster Sir Thomas Heneage. Revill is given a secret mission: to travel to the Surrey manor of Sir Abel Stanbury – and kill him.

Looking at the various aspects of Tudor life I’ve explored in previous mystery series, I realised I’d barely touched on the military (though one or two characters are ex-soldiers). So, on the lookout for a new protagonist to feature in a forthcoming trilogy of novels, I stumbled on Will Revill: a captain of artillery, scarred both mentally and physically by his service in the war in the Low Countries. I was interested to explore the dilemma of a man who does not want to take human life again, but is brought to it by force of circumstance.

Elizabeth the 1st disliked wars, reportedly saying that they had such unpredictable outcomes. Yet at times she felt she had little choice but to intervene in other people’s conflicts (notably in France and in the Netherlands), during the seemingly endless struggle between the forces of Protestantism and Catholicism for mastery of Europe. 

Eventually, with the growing threat from Spain, the superpower of the day, she signed the Treaty of Nonsuch in 1585 and committed troops to Holland to assist the Dutch rebels in the desperate struggle against their Spanish overlords. The war would drag on for decades, bringing England itself close to invasion and, some would say, to within a hair’s breadth of becoming a Spanish province. The first book in my trilogy is set in 1589: the year after the notorious Armada. 

Like other protagonists of mine, Will Revill is an outsider: a university drop-out from a farming family in Devon (disclosure: I live in Devon and once worked on a farm). For better or worse, like other restless men he has ended up in the army, taking ship for the Low Countries with the Earl of Leicester’s forces, and eventually involved in such brutal engagements as the siege of Bergen op Zoom. Instead of a cavalry soldier or infantryman, however, I wanted an officer of a different stamp - which led me to the artillery. 

In fact, this (sometimes overlooked) aspect of Tudor warfare had always interested me. Now I had to embark in detail on a new area of research: the gunnery of the Elizabethan era, to the point where I knew my cannons and demi-cannons from my culverins, demi-culverins, falconets, sakers and robinets; what size of ball each carried, and how much powder was needed to fire it. It was intriguing to learn about, for example, the equipment used by a gunnery crew, the number of horses required to haul a siege gun across country and the sheer, back-breaking work needed to get it into position and make it ready. 

Who knew that the largest gun of all, the basilisk, could throw a ball weighing sixty pounds – but needed sixty pounds of powder just to fire it? Or that, if a gun’s barrel was not allowed sufficient time to cool after firing a few shots, it could explode, likely killing and/or maiming its entire crew? Not me, but I’m learning. Most illuminating of all, perhaps, was the video I saw on Facebook showing how a cannon of the period was loaded, aimed, fired, then cleaned, cooled and reloaded: an often dangerous and unpredictable business.

The first Will Revill thriller, A Reluctant Assassin, sees Revill undertake a murky ‘dirty-ops’ mission which he loathes but is forced into - hence the title (no spoilers on how it turns out!). But for his second book he is back in military service – with a twist, of course. 

The gunners of Elizabeth’s army are at times an underrated force. I hope to shed a little light on their world, its trials and dangers – and tell some intriguing tales in the process. 

John Pilkington

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About the Author

About the Author

An author for over thirty years, John Pilkington has written plays for radio and theatre as well as television scripts for a BBC soap, but now concentrates mainly on historical fiction set in the Tudor and Stuart eras. He has published over twenty books including the Thomas the Falconer Mysteries, the Marbeck spy series and the Justice Belstrang Mysteries (all pub. By Sharpe Books). He is also the author of a children’s series, the Elizabethan Mysteries (Usborne) and two Restoration tales featuring actress-turned-sleuth Betsy Brand (Joffe Books). His recent mystery The Tivoli Murders (Sharpe) marked a brief venture into the dazzling world of the Victorian Music Hall. His new book Yorick: A Jester’s Tale (Sharpe) is a departure into speculative fiction, telling the Secret History of the famous ‘mad rogue’ whose skull features in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Born in the north-west of England, he now lives in a Devon village with his partner, and has a son who is a psychologist and musician. He is currently at work on the first book in a new Tudor trilogy. Learn more by visiting his website at www.johnpilkington.co.uk or find him on Twitter @_JohnPilkington

14 July 2022

Special Guest Interview with Deb Stratas, Author of The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

London 1939. Identical twins Tillie and Maggie Kingston thrive as Lyons Corner House Nippies, blithely ignoring the war preparations surrounding them. But as WWII breaks out, the young women can't avoid the inevitable. Tillie bravely starts driving an ambulance, while Maggie joins the Women's Voluntary Service, throwing herself into danger on a mobile canteen van.

I'm pleased to welcome author Deb Stratas to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book, The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz was published in March 2022. We are introduced to twins Tillie and Maggie Kingston, Lyons Corner House Nippies in 1938 London. War preparations are all around them, but the sisters refuse to believe it’s actually coming until it is officially declared. 

Tillie volunteers to drive an ambulance while Maggie serves much-needed refreshments to emergency workers from a Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) canteen truck. Both carry on bravely despite daily danger and harrowing experiences. All the while, both seek love in the Blitz. Tragedy strikes the Kingston family, and they gather to give each other the strength to face the ongoing atrocities of war. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I don’t have a set daily writing routine. I love the research phase, and spend months exploring websites, reading books, talking to eyewitnesses, watching documentaries, and validating key details for all my books. In fact, I find it difficult to stop researching and start writing! I continue to fact check throughout the writing process. 

When I’ve settled on enough research (do I ever?), I set myself a schedule to complete a certain number of chapters per week. This is spaced out over a four-five-month period. I’ve written six books and I’ve always beaten my own deadlines. Then, editing by is done in a prescribed manner, including specific edits by topic (timelines, British spelling, geography, etc.) as well as using read-aloud in MS word - tedious but critical. ARC readers and professional editing follow before publication.

What advice do you have for new writers?

My advice for new writers is to write about something you love. You’ll be researching, writing, editing, thinking, and talking about it for years to come, so you must have a passion for it. When I decided to write my first book, Diana, A Spencer in Love, I chose the subject of Princess Diana because she was endlessly fascinating to me. And after five years, she still is! 

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

Like many writers, I dread the necessary marketing and promotion required to raise awareness for my books. I’ve tried various approaches, and now use a combination for broad coverage. I publish a monthly newsletter, and try to keep up a steady drumbeat of social media posts to connect with my readers (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). 

I’ve developed relationships with royal correspondents and superfans who will promote for me. I like to speak at local Author Talks to raise awareness and sell books. I’ve recently started interviewing other authors for my newsletter and look forward to doing more of this.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

During the research for my latest book, The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz, I was able to locate the original 1872 Earl’s Court floor plans for the London house where I placed the Kingston family. Being able to navigate the rooms in their earliest layout was incredibly helpful. I always want even the smallest details to be as historically accurate as possible, so this was a great find. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?


In the final instalment of my Diana Spencer series Diana, A Spencer Forever, I wrote about Princess Diana’s tragic death and the aftermath. Wanting to handle this with sensitivity and respect, I presented it realistically and with impact, without gratuitous material. As I got further and further into the story, I dreaded coming to this point.  I cried writing it, and when I read it now, I still get teared up. 

What are you planning to write next?

The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz is the first in my new series. Watch for The Kingston Twins, Wartime Heart in 2023.

Deb Stratas

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About the Author

Deb Stratas is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. She’s a proud royalist with a lifelong passion for the British monarchy. Deb is best known for her Diana Spencer historical fiction trilogy with its accompanying non-fiction At Home with Diana. Go back to Edwardian England in The Royal Key. Her latest book The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz explores WWII London through the eyes of brave sisters, Tillie and Maggie. Deb cherishes spending time with her two amazing adult children, their spouses, and two grandchildren.  Find out more at Deb's website https://www.debstratas.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @deb_stratas

13 July 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Girl from Oto (The Miramonde Series Book 1) by Amy Maroney


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A Renaissance-era woman artist and an American scholar. Linked by a 500-year-old mystery…

The secrets of the past are irresistible—and treacherous.

1500: Born during a time wracked by war and plague, Renaissance-era artist Mira grows up in a Pyrenees convent believing she is an orphan. When tragedy strikes, Mira learns the devastating truth about her own origins. But does she have the strength to face those who would destroy her?

2015: Centuries later, art scholar Zari unearths traces of a mysterious young woman named Mira in two 16th-century portraits. Obsessed, Zari tracks Mira through the great cities of Europe to the pilgrim’s route of Camino de Santiago—and is stunned by what she finds. Will her discovery be enough to bring Mira’s story to life?

A powerful story and an intriguing mystery, The Girl from Oto is an unforgettable nov-el of obsession, passion, and human resilience.

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About the Author

Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she's not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the au-thor of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Amy's new series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, features ordinary people seeking their fortunes under the rule of the medieval Knights Hospitaller in Rhodes, Greece. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy Maroney’s readers' group at www.amymaroney.com, and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wilaroney

12 July 2022

Book review: The Girl from Bologna, by Siobhan Daiko


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Bologna, Italy, 1944, and the streets are crawling with German soldiers. Nineteen-year-old Leila Venturi is shocked into joining the Resistance after her beloved best friend Rebecca, the daughter of a prominent Jewish businessman, is ruthlessly deported to a concentration camp. In February 1981, exchange student Rhiannon Hughes arrives in Bologna to study at the university. There, she rents a room from Leila, who is now middle-aged and infirm. Leila’s nephew, Gianluca, offers to show Rhiannon around but Leila warns her off him.

This is one of those books that draws you into the lives of compelling characters, and haunts your thoughts long after you reach the end. I knew little of Bologna, or what happened there during1944, but Siobhan Daiko uses the inspired device of a memoir in progress to take us back from the present day to explore past events.

I particularly liked the interplay between the main character, Leila Venturi, and her young guest, Rhiannon. Rhiannon's curiosity allows the story to emerge naturally, with the fascinating city of Bologna providing the unique historical context. Leila’s nephew, Gianluca, is also a well rounded character,  and forms the perfect link between the two women.

Anyone visiting Bologna after reading this book will have a deeper appreciation of the hardships faced, and the bravery of those who fought in the Italian resistance during WW2. Some of the most chilling scenes involved the Fascist regime, which pitched neighbours against each other, yet Siobhan Daiko uses these past traumas to explore their legacy for the present.

Highly recommended.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a rescued cat. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time indulging her love of writing and enjoying her life near Venice. Find out more at Siobhan's website https://siobhandaiko.org/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @siobhandaiko

7 July 2022

Special Guest Post by Alexandra Walsh, Author of The Jane Seymour Conspiracy (The Marquess House Saga Book 4)


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

London, 1527: Nineteen-year-old Jane Seymour arrives at court to take her place with Queen Katherine of Aragon. Discovering a court already beginning to divide into factions between Katherine and Jane’s second cousin, Anne Boleyn, Jane finds herself caught between the old world and the new. Determined to have a son, the king appears to be prepared to take whatever steps he deems necessary to secure
the Tudor dynasty.

The Secrets of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII

In The Jane Seymour Conspiracy, the fourth book of The Marquess House Saga, I explore the relationship between Henry VIII’s first three wives: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, as seen through the eyes of Jane. 

The lives of these three women were inextricably linked through the king and, through him, all their lives were blighted. One died alone, separated from her estranged husband and beloved daughter. One died on the executioner’s block, her head severed by a Frenchman’s sword in response to fabricated charges against her and one died from infection after childbirth, having finally delivered the king his heart’s desire: a legitimate male heir, Prince Edward, who would become King Edward VI.

The lives of Henry VIII’s first three wives, the women who provided the future Tudor monarchs, were woven together in a way that is rarely discussed. Both Anne and Jane were ladies-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon. Jane was lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. Jane and Anne were second cousins. 

All these women were in thrall to the king who held their lives in the balance. Each relationship may have begun with love but this did not last. In The Jane Seymour Conspiracy, I have tried to show how frightening it must have been, as a woman, to know you were often only a glance away from being forced into the king’s bed and all the danger this could involve. 

During the 1530s, Henry VIII was obsessed with two things: money and dynasty building. Due to lavish overspending and mismanagement, Henry’s royal coffers were dangerously low. This led to debasement of the currency in order to gain extra bullion for the king, even while causing hardship to his subjects. Despite seeing his wealth increase, Henry wanted more and the debasement was followed by the spectacular idea of stripping the monasteries of their wealth and selling their land to the highest bidder. 

In order to assuage his conscience, Henry claimed this was all done in the name of God, leading him to declare himself as head of the Protestant church in order to achieve his other ambition: siring a legitimate heir, which is when Jane appears on the scene. 

The Third Wife

Jane Seymour was a character I first wrote about in an early draft of Book One in The Marquess House Saga: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. The scenes were later deleted as they did not sit comfortably in the story as it developed. However, I kept them on file because despite flaring only briefly in the pages of history, Jane, like Catherine Howard, intrigued me. 

Catherine was queen consort for nineteen months and Jane for seventeen. One was beheaded, one died in childbirth. One Henry supposedly mourned for two years, one he refused to mention again. These two young women whose lives were destroyed by Henry VIII were both queen of England and have both been treated harshly by history. I wanted to rediscover both their voices. 

Catherine was, for many years, described as a flirt, flighty, promiscuous, therefore earning a reputation as a good-time girl, the suggestion being, she got what she deserved. Meanwhile, Jane is her polar opposite; routinely described as pious, devout, unworldly and obedient. Yet, she was able to woo a king away from his wife, hold her nerve while Henry arrested Anne on trumped up charges and had her executed in order to marry Jane. 

As Anne languished in the Tower of London, Jane prepared her marriage chest. When she was queen consort she is said to have tried to persuade Henry to return to Catholicism, however, when she realised such a request would put her in danger, she was more than happy to do an about-turn and accept gifts of gold and jewellery from the monasteries as Henry and Thomas Cromwell stripped them bare.   

These actions either take a calculating heart of stone and a ruthless streak a mile wide or a terror so great it is impossible to resist being coerced into such an untenable situation. Whichever scenario you prefer, Jane’s actions do not suggest someone who is pious, devout and unworldly. 

Through sleight of hand, in their descriptions of her behaviour, historians have portrayed Jane as a paragon of virtue while her actions, if studied in more detail, suggest otherwise. Catherine Howard, however, a teenage girl thrust into Henry’s arms by her ruthless uncle, is treated with far less respect, as she was accused of having an affair. It was these contradictions which were so interesting.

Creating the Conspiracy

To enable me to create a viable story, I make vast timelines, giving a day-by-day account of my characters and their whereabouts, while fitting them into what is happening in the world around them. These take time but when I’m writing, having this amount of information in chronological order makes it easier for me to capture the characters on the page and also to spot any anomalies that can be spun into a conspiracy theory. 

It also enables me to include as many documented facts as possible. Laying out the information that is known about Jane Seymour proved to be a gift from history because as it was revealed chronologically, so were many anomalies. 

Through searching Jane out in other people’s biographies – as my characters do in the book – and from reading the few biographies there are about Jane, I discovered quite a strange tale. 

Reading it with no agenda or desire to fit her into the ‘pious’ camp, it was a revelation. 

In brief, Jane was roughly nineteen (there are no detailed birth records to corroborate exactly) when she first arrived at court at some point between 1527 and 1529. Her position was secured for her through help from her eldest brother, Edward Seymour, and another second cousin, the notorious spy and libertine, Sir Francis Bryan. It is thought she was summoned in order to serve the then queen consort, Katherine of Aragon. However, a later source, Jane Dormer, the daughter of Jane Seymour’s only known suitor before the king wooed her, suggests she was there to serve Anne Boleyn. 

At this point, Anne’s star was in the ascendant but she did not yet have her own ladies-in-waiting, so it’s an interesting point of speculation. Jane, meanwhile, is listed with Katherine of Aragon’s women, where she remains as the court ruptures into two factions. Jane remains with Katherine until August 1533 when she vanishes from the records for four years. 

Where was she? The obvious suggestion is that she returned home to Wulfhall in Wiltshire to live with her parents. This cannot be dismissed but as there are no remaining records from Wulfhall at this period we cannot say she was there with any form of authority. Was she with Queen Katherine? She is not listed in the records of Katherine’s court, nor does she appear on any lists of Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting. For me, this was a gift. Four years to play with, enabling me to twist Jane into a conspiracy theory. 

There is one suggestion that Jane might have been at court over the New Year celebrations of January 1534 when one of the queen’s ladies a ‘Mrs Seymour’ is presented with a gift by the king. Many historians assume this was Jane but it could equally have been her sister-in-law, second wife of Edward Seymour, formerly Lady Anne Stanhope, who was at court. Jane’s main biographer suggests it is odd that this would refer to Jane as she does not appear in any further court records until 1536 when she suddenly catches the eye of the king. 

A Strange Lack of Suitors

The other interesting point about Jane was the fact there were no marriages suggested for her even though she was the elder sister of the ten Seymour children (NB: not all survived to adulthood). Her younger sister, Elizabeth, married Sir Anthony Urghtred c. 1528. The only known suggested proposal for Jane was Sir William Dormer.

In Elizabeth Norton’s biography Jane Seymour: Henry’s True Love, she explains that Sir Francis Bryan felt a sense of responsibility for the Seymour children, suggesting he had probably been looking for a husband for Jane. Norton surmises Bryan may have seen a hint of attraction between Jane and William, which is why he suggested the match.

William Dormer was the heir of Sir Robert and Lady Dormer, a country family who lived in Eythorpe in Bucks not far from Wulfhall, the home of Jane’s parents, Sir John and Lady Margery Seymour. Although Jane and her parents were in favour at court, the Dormers were horrified at the idea of this match. 

The rumour was that the Dormers wished to reject the proposal because they did not approve of Sir Francis Bryan, which seems odd. However, not wishing to offend Sir Francis Bryan who was a close friend of the king, Sir Robert agreed to negotiate terms. Lady Dormer was having none of it. She took her son William to London to see Lady Anne Sidney, wife of Sir William Sidney and hastily arranged a marriage between their eldest daughter, Mary, and William. Understandably, Jane was upset by events. 

The Missing Days

For someone looking for a conspiracy theory, this lack of marriage proposals and four missing years presented some interesting suggestions. As did one other anomaly. Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 and incarcerated in the Tower of London while charges were brought against her and a trial was organised. Jane, meanwhile, had been whisked away to Nicholas Carew’s house, Beddington Hall, in Surrey, to distance her from events. 

The lovesick Henry claimed he could not live without Jane and on 17 May 1536 she returned to London to a house on the river a mile from court. However, between 20 – 30 May 1536 there are no records stating where Jane was during these ten days. Norton states she stayed in London preparing for her wedding. Another rumour suggests she returned to Wulfhall and the wedding was held in the barn there, all of which is Victorian romance. Where was Jane? We will probably never know but it gave me even more wriggle room. 

Discovering there were so many gaps in Jane’s real story was a gift from history, enabling me to spin a conspiracy theory within it. I have kept to the facts for the vital parts of Jane’s life: including her timed returns to court, the moment the king first noticed her and the fear of being told you are about to marry a man who is murdering his wife in order to honour you with his proposal. Drawing on other events taking place at the time, a conspiracy quickly presented itself to me and, as with the other Marquess House books, slotted in very neatly. 

I hope you enjoy this new instalment of The Marquess House Saga and forgive me for twisting history into such intriguing knots. 

Alexandra Walsh. 

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About the Author

Alexandra Walsh is a bestselling author of the dual timeline women’s fiction. Her books range from the 15th and 16th centuries to the Victorian era and are inspired by the hidden voices of women that have been lost over the centuries. The Marquess House Saga offers an alternative view of the Tudor and early Stuart eras, while The Wind Chime and The Music Makers explore different aspects of Victorian society. Formerly, a journalist for over 25 years, writing for many national newspapers and magazines; Alexandra also worked in the TV and film industries as an associate producer, director, script writer and mentor for the MA Screen Writing course at the prestigious London Film School. She is a member of The Society of Authors and The Historical Writers Association. Alexandra is currently writing the fourth book in The Marquess House Saga, The Jane Seymour Conspiracy, which will be published in July 2022 by Sapere Books. For blogs, updates and more information visit her website: www.alexandrawalsh.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @purplemermaid25

5 July 2022

Blog Tour Interview With Renee Yancy, Author of More Precious Than Gold


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author : Renee Yancy to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

A young woman refuses to become a pawn in her grandmother’s revenge scheme and forgoes a life of wealth and royalty to pursue a nursing career as America enters WWI and the Pandemic Flu of 1918 wreaks havoc in New York City. 

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I don’t really have one, as I am still working as an RN.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Don’t send in your first completed manuscript too soon.

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

I’m still working on that!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

That the Pandemic Flu of 1918 affected mainly young people in the prime of life, ages 20 to 40.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There is one scene that was difficult, as it was based on a true nursing experience I had with a young child on a Pediatric unit. I don’t want to say too much on that, as I don’t want to give that away.

What are you planning to write next?

I have ideas for an American Western/Frontier trail series, as well as a WWII story I homage to my hometown of Buffalo, NY, which is heavily Italian and Polish. Pierogi! Pasta!

Renee Yancy
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About the Author

Renee Yancy is a history and archaeology specialist who works as an RN when she isn’t writing historical fiction or traveling the world to see the exotic places her characters have lived. A voracious reader as a young girl, she now writes the kind of books she loves to read—stories filled with historical and archaeological detail interwoven with strong characters facing big conflicts. Her goal is to take you on a journey into the past so fascinating that you can’t put the story down.  When she isn’t writing, Renee can be found in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband and a rescue mutt named Ellie. She loves flea markets and collecting pottery and glass and most any-thing mid-century modern. Find out more at Renee's website https://reneeyancy.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @YancyRenee


2 July 2022

Special Guest Post by Maria Wingfield Digby, Author of Sir Walter Raleigh


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

This Pitkin historical title provides a brief overview of one man’s ascent from relatively humble origins to international legend. To many, Walter Raleigh was a pirate, traitor, scholar, coloniser, explorer, soldier, poet, adventurer, scientist, cartographer, botanist, fashionista and Favourite of a queen. He is credited with introducing tobacco and potatoes to England. Although not everything he did resulted in success, his exploits never lacked ambition or self-confidence. He left his mark
on England, parts of Europe and America.

A closer look at Raleigh’s connection with Sherborne Castle

Sir Walter Raleigh is one of the best-loved characters of the Elizabethan period. He is credited with introducing tobacco and potatoes. He left his mark on England, parts of Europe and America.

Raleigh sought a house in the West Country. Sherborne Castle was owned by the Bishops of Salisbury.  Legend has it that riding by, he pointed it out to his companions. His horse stumbled he and he fell into the mud. Laughing, he said he had taken physical hold of the land he coveted.

Raleigh petitioned Queen Elizabeth to help him acquire this valuable property. He presented her with a jewel worth £250. In 1592 Raleigh’s secret marriage to Bess Throckmorton, one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, was discovered and in fury, she sent them both to the Tower, afterwards exiling them from court. However, she relented when it came to Sherborne and allowed Raleigh to keep the property.

Thus it was as exiles that Walter and Lady Raleigh came to live in Sherborne in 1592. The building Raleigh acquired was what we now call the ‘Old Castle’. It had been built in the 12th century and was deemed old-fashioned. Raleigh set about modernising it but soon went over budget. He decided to build a smaller house in the Deer Park, across the valley from the Old Castle.

Raleigh built a new house called Sherborne Lodge, in the latest architectural fashion. He and Bess came to love living at Sherborne and he called it his ‘Fortune’s Fold’. The estate Raleigh acquired from the Bishop comprised several thousand acres of prime agricultural land and Raleigh added to it by purchasing the manors of Pinford and Primsley including Limekiln Farm close to Sherborne. Raleigh’s estate still forms the core of the Digby estate today.

Raleigh proved himself to be a great gardener. Here, he planted many exotic plants brought back from his travels. His garden included pools, canals and waterfalls.

He is credited with popularising tobacco smoking. He is recorded as blowing smoke rings to the delight of Queen Elizabeth. Here in the garden he loved to sit in his Seat and enjoy a quiet pipe. Legend has it that his servant dowsed his master with ale, thinking he was on fire.

In his Study, he planned voyages to the Americas with his friends and fellow explorers, Laurence Keymis, Thomas Harriot and his half-brother, Adrian Gilbert. Dr John Dee, the mathematician and astronomer plotted routes and provided charts.

Talk also turned to religion and Raleigh was accused of holding a ‘School of the Night’ and spreading non-belief, a crime close to treason at that time. He was put on trial at nearby Cerne Abbas, and acquitted, although the stain on his character remained. 

In 1597 he made his will, making provision for his wife and son. In it he expresses his desire to keep his precious estate at Sherborne in his family. On the death of the Queen in 1603, his fortunes declined. The new King, James I, did not trust him and when Raleigh’s name was linked to one of several plots to remove him from the throne, James quickly sent him to the Tower.

After a show trial, Raleigh was convicted of Treason, but his execution was halted at the last minute, and he spent the next 12 years in prison. During this time, he formed a friendship with Henry Percy the ‘Wizard’ Earl of Northumberland with whom he conducted scientific experiments. Bess, his wife was allowed to join him, and another son, Carew was born in the Tower.

The Crown lawyers began looking through his title deeds to Sherborne, and found a vital error in the Trust Deed. They declared that all his possessions were forfeit, including Sherborne. So there could be no doubt, they drew up a Deed of Surrender in 1614:


In 1616 he was allowed on licence out of the Tower to undertake a voyage to find El Dorado in South America. Despite orders to the contrary, his men engaged with Spanish troops, and Wat Raleigh was killed. Returning home a broken man, Raleigh was arrested when he reached Plymouth. On the journey back to London, he took his guards to see Sherborne Castle, telling them that, ‘all this was mine, and it was taken from me unjustly’.

He died under the executioner’s axe in Old Palace Yard on 29 October 1618. Someone in the crowd cried out, “We have not such another head to cut off”.

Maria Wingfield Digby

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About the Author

Maria Wingfield Digby lives in Sherborne Castle, Sir Walter Raleigh’s home, so it is only natural that she should become intrigued with his life and exploits. Four centuries on from his execution she revisits the life of one of the Elizabethan era’s best loved characters. Through the use of the Castle’s original documents and his personal possessions she sheds a new light on this intriguing character. For more information about Sherborne Castle please see http://www.sherbornecastle.com/ and follow on Facebook and Twitter @sherbornecastle