Mastodon The Writing Desk: November 2022

29 November 2022

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

Tell us about your latest book  

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

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

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

What is your preferred writing routine?  

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

What advice do you have for new writers?  

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

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

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

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research  

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

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?  

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

What are you planning to write next?  

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

Lora Davies

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About the author

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

28 November 2022

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

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

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

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

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

“Hello Jesamiah Acorne,” I said.

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

And I swear that story is true.

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

There will be more!

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

Cádiz, Spain 1719

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

Helen Hollick

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About the Author

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

24 November 2022

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

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

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

History and Story in A Treasonous Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. P. Giuliani 

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About the Author

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

23 November 2022

The Final Year of Anne Boleyn, by Natalie Grueninger

Available from Amazon UKAmazon US 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 November 2022

Special Guest Post by Dr Nicola Tallis, Author of All the Queen’s Jewels, 1445–1548: Power, Majesty and Display

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

From Margaret of Anjou to Katherine Parr, All the Queen’s Jewels examines the jewellery collections of the ten queen consorts of England between 1445–1548 and investigates the collections of jewels a queen had access to, as well as the varying contexts in which 
queens used and wore jewels.

A Peek Inside … the Queen’s Jewel Coffers

The jewels worn by royalty throughout history are endlessly fascinating, and continue to inspire both admiration and awe. When we consider the jewels that belonged to the queens who form the subject of my new book, All the Queen’s Jewels, 1445-1548: Power, Majesty and Display, though we have a great deal of information about the way in which these women wore and used jewels, as well as – sometimes – what they owned – what we sadly lack is the majority of the jewels themselves. 

Most of these were broken up or melted down and recycled, for what was fashionable to one era was not so to the next. There are, however, enough surviving contemporary jewels to allow us to ascertain what those owned by the queens of England in this period would have looked like. Here are a few examples:

Fifteenth Century Reliquary: Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 69738.

This beautiful cross was found in 1866 on the site of Clare Castle, Suffolk, and it has been suggested that it may have belonged to Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. Made of gold and decorated with four pearls, the cross is certainly typical of the kinds of pieces that would have been owned by the English queens in this period, all of whom are known to have had items of religious jewellery in their possession. It contains a cavity at the back in which tiny fragments of wood were found, indicating that the cross served as a reliquary.

Miniature Whistle Pendant, 1525-30: V & A, 

This tiny object, shaped like a pistol, was, according to family tradition, the first gift given to Anne Boleyn by Henry VIII. Though the King certainly made regular gifts of jewels to the woman who would become his second wife, it is highly improbable that this was one of them. It is nevertheless a beautiful example of the kinds of pieces that would have been seen at Henry’s court, and would have been worn attached to a masquing costume. It was more than purely decorative though, for not only did it feature a whistle, but also an ear-spoon and a toothpick!

Horse Pendant, c. 1590: Burghley House.

Although this elaborately decorated piece dates from the Elizabethan period, it is nevertheless a superb example of the kinds of pendants that the Tudor queens would have been familiar with. Similarly beautiful pendants are to be found in the jewel inventories of Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr, fashioned to include initials, clocks, and other designs that had either been given to them or were personal to the queens. 

This pendant contains an enamelled horse (enamelled pieces are often to be found amongst the jewels of Henry VIII’s wives), and is decorated with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. The voyages of discovery ensured that precious stones were more readily available – at a price – and this in turn is reflected in the jewel inventories of Henry VIII’s queens.

Dr Nicola Tallis

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About the Author

British Historian Nicola Tallis graduated from Bath Spa University with a first class BA Hons. degree in History in 2011, and from Royal Holloway College, University of London in 2013 with an MA in Public History and her PhD from the University of Winchester. Nicola also worked as a historical researcher, most notably for Sir Ranulph Fiennes whilst he was working on his 2014 book, Agincourt: My Family, the Battle and the Fight for France. Find out more at Nicola's website and find her on Twitter @NicolaTallis

16 November 2022

Following in the footsteps of the Tudors to Mill Bay in Pembrokeshire

After following the long exile of Jasper and Henry Tudor in Brittany I followed them back to Pembrokeshire in West Wales.  The Tudors had made an unsuccessful attempt to invade England in 1483 but learned from this near disaster. On Monday the 1st of August, 1485 they sailed again from the mouth of the Seine with their mercenary army of some four thousand men to challenge King Richard III for the crown.

It seems the sea voyage led by the Poulian De Dieppe, flagship of their capable captain, Guillaume de Casenove, was uneventful and had the benefit of favourable winds. They made landfall at Mill Bay, a secluded, pebble-strewn beach in the far west of Wales just before sunset on Sunday 7th August. 

Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire
On going ashore, Henry Tudor kissed the ground and recited a Psalm in Latin. Some accounts suggest it was Psalm 23 but the consensus was Psalm 46: ‘Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.’

I also read that Henry’s French mercenaries were reluctant to come ashore – and had to be tempted with offers of ale and fresh bread. The ships were unloaded in the fading light and Henry’s army made the short trek to the nearest town of Dale, where they camped for the night and made preparations for the long march through Wales to confront the army of King Richard.

I visited Mill Bay and was pleased to find the bronze plaque commemorating Henry’s landing there. I also found a post placed there by the HistoryPoints Website which celebrates Welsh History. The bay is far enough from Dale for them to have landed undetected, although the path up the hill is steep. The Tudors brought artillery and ammunition from France, so it must have been quite a haul, despite the number of men.

The final stop on this journey in the footsteps of the Tudors is to Bosworth Field, where there is an Anniversary Battle Re-enactment Event on 20th & 21st August.  See for more details.

Tony Riches

 See Also:

About the Author: 

I am an author of historical fiction and non-fiction books. I live in Pembrokeshire and specialise in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the lives of the early Tudors. For more information please visit my website and find me on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches. 

15 November 2022

Special Guest Post by Eric Schumacher, Author of Wolves of Wagria: A Viking Age Novel (Olaf's Saga Book 3)

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

It is AD 972. Olaf Tryggvason and his oath-sworn protector, Torgil, are once again on the move. They have left the Rus kingdom and now travel the Baltic Sea in search of plunder and fame. But a fateful storm lands them on the Vendish coastline in a kingdom called Wagria. There, they find themselves caught between the aggression of the Danes, the political aspirations of the Wagrian lords, and the shifting politics in Saxland. Can they survive or will they become just one more casualty of kingly ambitions? Find out in this harrowing sequel to the best-selling Forged by Iron and Sigurd's Swords.

Inspiration for Wolves of Wagria

Since Wolves of Wagria is the third book in a series, I will start at the beginning and provide the impetus for the series as a whole before getting into this book specifically. 

To this point, my stories have taken place in the Viking Age. I was not yet done telling tales from this fascinating, turbulent time, despite having spent years researching and writing Hakon’s Saga. I knew I had at least one more saga in me, and so I began to search for a suitable character and story that stood out to me.

I landed on Olaf for a number of reasons, the least of which were his raiding years. His raiding was not so unlike many other Vikings that came before and after him, nor are the stories of his violence. No. What made him truly stand out to me was his arc as a character. He begins his life as a noble, becomes a slave, and rises again to the throne of Norway. 

It's a life that began as a pagan and ended as a Christian, though a Christian known for his violence rather than his goodwill. And, it was a life filled with adventure and exploits. There was much there to work with and I wanted to explore it more. I wanted to unearth the man, not the myth, and put meat on his bones. Who was this handsome, gifted, violent character? 

In addition, Olaf’s life spanned the known world of the Vikings: Scandinavia, the Baltic kingdoms, the land of the Rus, Constantinople, Germany, France, Ireland, Scotland, England, etc. In him was also a chance to explore each of those places in the 10th century. That, too, really piqued my desire to write about him.

However, I knew two things from the beginning. First, I knew I wanted to write a book from the first-person perspective, since I had just spent years writing from the third-person POV. And, I knew I could not tell this story through Olaf’s eyes. As I read more about him and his life, I felt I would have a difficult time building the audience’s sympathies for him. 

He is indeed fascinating, but he is also a head-case. For that reason, I decided to tell his tale through someone else’s eyes. Someone close to him. In the pages of the old sagas, I found a reference to his childhood friend, Torgil. That, I decided, would be the narrator. 

The first book in Olaf’s Saga tells of Olaf’s childhood and his frightening life on the run from his kin-killing cousins. The second novel, Sigurd’s Swords, explores Olaf’s adventures in the land of the Rus. This novel dives into his tumultuous time in what the Vikings called Vendland.

Only, my research uncovered an area that I had never heard of before and a kingdom and people who have long since vanished. A place called Wagria ruled by a prince named Burislaf.

Finding Burislaf and Wagria

Vendland is a general term used to describe the southern shoreline of the Baltic Sea. At that time, the population of that shoreline were Western Slavs, whom the Scandinavians called Vends (or Wends). The sagas tell us that Olaf is brought to the court of a king named "Boreslaw" (Burislaf), who had three daughters. Some have thought this Burislaf to be the son of the Polish king, Meiszko I, who existed at that time. But there were problems with that. 

First, the timing was off. Meiszko I’s Burislaf wasn’t born until roughly AD 967, which would make him only five years old when this story unfolds. There was no way he could have had a daughter (let alone three) at the time that Olaf was in Vendland.

Then, there was an issue of alliances. The sagas tell us that Olaf goes to fight with Burislaf when Otto II calls upon him. Not only did Otto II not become sole king until AD 973, but even if Burislaf, son of Meiszko I, were of fighting age, his father owned no allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire. Not to mention at the time of this particular fight, Meiszko I was actually fighting the Germans, not allied with them. So, it had to be another Burislaf. 

It was then that I ran across Omeljan Pritsak’s study on Olaf called "On the Chronology of Olaf Tryggvason and Volodimer the Great: The Saga's Relative Chronology as a Historical Source." In it, Pritsak suggests that the Burislaf in question may have been a Slavic king ruling the realm of Wagria.

At that time in history, Wagria was a West Slavic kingdom located to the southeast of Danish Hedeby in what is today Holstein. Then, the Wagrians were a constituent tribe of the Obodrite confederacy that stretched along the south Baltic coast, though they owed allegiance to the Christian kings of Germany, namely Otto I and later, Otto II. While not much is written about Wagria or its leaders, the case Pritsak makes in his study is compelling and plausible, both from the standpoint of timing and alliances. 

HIstorical fiction writers attempt to stick closely to known history. The problem with writing about Vikings is that many of the sagas were written decades and even centuries after the historical figures lived. There are very few contemporary resources, and many of those mention historical figures by names that could apply to many different people. 

Still, I do my best to match historical references to saga tales, while still telling a page-turning story. My research was telling me something didn’t add up. Pritsak’s study had similar questions and offered a plausible suggestion. And so I chose Wagria as the center of the story’s action. 

Much happens in Wagria during Olaf’s time in the kingdom, but I will not divulge any secrets here. You will have to read the book to learn all about his time and his adventures in that almost-forgotten place. 

The book releases on November 15, but you can pre-order it today for 50% off the normal price. I hope you enjoy it!

Eric Schumacher

Praise for Olaf's Saga

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

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

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About the Author

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

10 November 2022

Book Launch Interview with Gemma Hollman, Author of The Queen and the Mistress: The Women of Edward III

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The riveting story of two women whose divergent personalities and positions impacted the court of Edward III, one of medieval England's greatest kings. There were two women in Edward III's life: Philippa of Hainault, his wife of forty years and bearer of twelve children, and his mistress, Alice Perrers, the twenty-year-old who took the king's fancy as his ageing wife grew sick. After Philippa's death Alice began to dominate court, amassing a fortune and persuading the elderly Edward to promote her friends and punish her enemies. 

I'm pleased to welcome author Gemma Hollman to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My book is called The Queen and the Mistress: The Women of Edward III and it is a detailed look at the lives of the two women who had the heart of King Edward III: his wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault, and his mistress, Alice Perrers. Edward III was one of medieval England’s longest-reigning kings, and many important things happened under his rule, such as the creation of the Order of the Garter and the start of the Hundred Years War against France. 

But whilst there have been plenty of books and articles about Edward himself, the women in his life are often written out. His mother, Queen Isabella, gets a lot of attention because of her role in leading a coup against his father, Edward II, but despite being married to Philippa for over 40 years, I found so many books barely mentioned her!

Although medieval England is seen as a man’s world, women played a central role in the royal court, and I wanted to share the lives of these two fascinating women who had relationships with the king. Philippa was a European noblewoman with links to various royal families, and her marriage to Edward was undertaken as a political contract between Edward’s mother and Philippa’s father. But the couple quickly fell in love and had a very successful marriage. 

Philippa followed Edward throughout his many military campaigns and worked very hard to help him in his goals. From visually aiding his propaganda as a rich and powerful king, to drawing upon her European connections to bring him allies for his wars, to being a very popular queen with her subjects for her generosity, Queen Philippa was seen as a model medieval queen.

By contrast, Alice Perrers was a lower-class enigma who was lucky to have ever found herself at the royal court. She joined Philippa’s household as Philippa started to grow sick, and though she was probably over half his age, the king’s eyes soon wandered over to her. Edward had been loyal to Philippa throughout their marriage, but now this goldsmith’s daughter took his affections. Alice and Edward had three children together whilst Philippa was still alive, and once the queen died their relationship became public, despite the moral implications. 

Because of Alice’s low status, she could never marry the king, but Edward lavished her with attention, bought her beautiful gowns and expensive jewellery, and made it clear that she was now the only woman in his life. Alice used her heightened position as the king’s lover to build up a landed empire, gathering manors, castles and land across the kingdom to enrich herself. But as Edward’s own health began to fade, Alice became a target at court, hated for her influence and her power as a single woman. She was eventually put on trial and had everything taken from her.

These two women came from completely different stations in life, with completely different upbringings and expectations. But in the end, both of them won the heart of the same man, and both of them used their femininity to exert power at court. Philippa followed traditional roles of women by being a good mother and a loyal wife, whilst Alice used her sexuality. 

Both women were wildly interesting, and in The Queen and the Mistress I give each woman her time in the spotlight, exploring their lives and, by placing them side by side, show their similarities and differences and what it meant to be a woman at court in fourteenth-century England.

What is your preferred writing routine?

It can be quite difficult to have a full routine, as I write alongside a full-time job. But generally I try to get all of my research out of the way first, making comments and questions in my notes that I want to come back to explore later. Once I am happy with my amount of research, I use weekends to just sit and write all day! In the mornings I will sit and read over what I wrote in my last session to familiarise myself with where I left off, and also to do any minor edits that need doing. 

I then write throughout late morning and into the afternoon, generally finishing by dinner (but when deadlines are close it can be into the evening!). I use weekday evenings to do smaller tasks that I can dip in and out of, such as formatting and checking sources, but again when deadlines near I often try and write a paragraph or two instead!

What advice do you have for new writers?

I would say do your research and be confident in your ideas, and then just sit down and do it! If you think something is interesting or a solid idea, it probably is, and if you want to be the one to share that idea then just think about what it is you want to say with your work. With me, I want to focus on women in medieval England who might not be known to the general public, despite their status and importance at the time. 

This means that I am then inspired to focus the story on the women and so it narrows down what I want to say – I try to keep the narrative on the women as far as possibly, trying not to let it wander from them for too long. And don’t be afraid to put pen to paper! Lots of research is good, but we can often use it as an excuse to delay writing – “I’ll just read one more article”. But all that research means nothing if it’s not written down eventually! So just get writing. They always say you can’t edit a blank page. Try not to worry about making everything perfect the first time around, just focus on getting your ideas onto paper and then you can shape it afterwards.

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

I think the most important thing is to be open to trying anything! I have my own blog and so have a following there that I can advertise my books to, but I also have a network of other bloggers and podcasters that I know that I can draw upon to share my research with and raise awareness of my books. I have also written articles for magazines and give talks in person. For me, the online community is very important for raising awareness. 

People will always find your book in bookshops if they are looking for something to read, so you want to reach out to people who may not know they need your book! And consistency is key – algorithms and the vastness of content online means that people won’t always see your social media posts or will miss you uploading a new blog post. Keep sharing and posting and you’ll find someone new every time. Even now, 3 years after the release of my first book, I still find new people who didn’t know about my book whenever I post about it on Twitter! 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I think for me, it was finding small little interesting tidbits that were most unexpected for me. For example, I found that Queen Philippa is credited with introducing the cultivation of rosemary in England, and that a dress she wore that was decorated with images of squirrels, recorded in the household accounts, is the first known instance of the word squirrel being written in English. It was fascinating that things like this could be pinpointed to a certain point in time, to one particular person. I use rosemary all the time, and would never have thought it would have any connection with an English queen! So definitely an unexpected surprise there that has stuck with me.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest was definitely the opening of my section on Alice Perrers where I attempt to explain her origins. That section was rewritten more than any other in my manuscript, and I asked more people to look at it and make suggestions than any other part of the book. Alice has been an unknown figure for centuries, but within the last two decades the work of two historians, Mark Ormrod and Laura Tompkins, has shed ground-breaking light on our understanding of her.

 I wanted to be able to explain our changing knowledge of who Alice actually was over time, whilst not being too academic or longwinded. I initially wrote pages and pages which just didn’t work – it was too complicated, with too much back and forth, and a lot of detail that ultimately wasn’t needed for what I was trying to put across. After lots and lots of cutting, which I think probably reduced the section by about two thirds, I was finally happy with it!

What are you planning to write next?

I have a few ideas in the works, so the problem is narrowing down exactly what I want to focus on next! But I have definitely been taken by the 14th century whilst writing this book, and I think my next book is going to take a slightly different twist on my previous work which has focused on medieval women. I want to try something a bit bigger and ambitious, which is equal parts exciting and scary! So keep a look out…

Gemma Hollman

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About the Author

Gemma Hollman is a historian and author who specialises in late medieval English history. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, her first book 'Royal Witches' was published in 2019 and her second book 'The Queen and the Mistress' was released in November 2022. She has a particular interest in the plethora of strong, intriguing and complicated women from the medieval period, a time she had always been taught was dominated by men. Gemma also works full-time in the heritage industry whilst running her historical blog, Just History Posts, which explores all periods of history in more depth. Find out more at Gemma's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @GemmaHAuthor and @JustHistoryPost

Special Guest Post by Linnea Tanner, Author Skull’s Vengeance (Book 4 Curse of Clansmen and Kings series)

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A Celtic warrior queen must do the impossible—defeat her sorcerer half-brother and claim the throne. But to do so, she must learn how to strike vengeance from her father’s skull.

Research behind the Novel, Skull’s Vengeance

Skull’s Vengeance (Book 4 Curse of Clansmen and Kings series) is a historical fantasy based on a blend of history and mythology of southeast Celtic tribes in Britain before the invasion of the Roman Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. The biggest challenge in researching this project is the Celts left almost no written records. Historical events had to be supplanted by Greek and Roman historians and medieval writers who spun Celtic mythology into their Christian beliefs. Archaeological findings from this time period also help fill in some of the gaps.

The political backdrop to Skull’s Vengeance is based on the Celtic tribal kingdoms in southeast Britain known as Britannia by the Romans. These kingdoms evolved differently than those in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. After Julius Caesar’s military expeditions to this area in 55–54 BC, Rome maintained strong influence over the politics and trade in southeast Britain.  Rome demanded hostages from this region to ensure treaty agreements were met. Hostages were frequently young males, although taking females was not unheard of, and they came from royal families. 

They were allowed to move freely in public places with minimal security measures to prevent their escape. The Roman patrician watching over them could serve as patron, father, and teacher. Many of the first century British rulers were educated in Rome and adopted the Roman taste for luxury goods. To support their extravagant lifestyles, pro-Roman kings warred with other tribal territories to supply the Roman Empire with slaves. Powerful Celtic kings expanded their territories and minted coins.

Although there is no written account of any Roman expeditionary forces sent to Britain before Claudius’s invasion in 43 A.D., there are recorded incidents of pro-Roman rulers pleading for Rome’s help to intervene on their behalf. Client kings, paying tribute to Rome, could rule their kingdoms independently, similar to Cleopatra’s reign in Egypt. 

Although the Celtic society was becoming more paternalistic, women were still held in high regard and could rule. There is historical evidence that Celtic women fought in battles and took on military leadership. The Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, described Celtic wom¬en in Gaul (modern day France) as “…usually strong and with blue eyes; especially when, swelling her neck, gnashing her teeth, and brandishing her sallow arms of enormous size, she begins to strike blows mingled with kicks, as if they were so many missiles sent from the string of the catapult.”

The Roman historian, Tacticus, writes the British were accustomed to women commanders in war. Boudicca was a warrior queen who united the Celtic tribes in Britain and almost expelled their Roman conquerors in 61 AD. She was also known as a powerful druidess who Romans claimed sacrificed some of her victims to the war goddess Andaste.

Statue of Boudicca (Wikimedia Commons)

Archaeological evidence supports that Claudius’s invasion was nothing more than a peace-keeping mission to halt the expansion of the anti-Roman factions led by Cunobelin’s sons, Caratacus and Togodumnus. There may have already been a Roman military presence that protected the areas of Britain vital to trading with the empire. The tribal names used in the novel are based on Ptolemy’s map of Celtic kingdoms generated in 150 AD.

Most of the Celtic characters in this novel are fictional except for Cunobelin, King of the Catuvellauni (referred to as the King of Britannia by the Romans), and his sons, Adminius and Caratacus. Based on coin distribution, Adminius ruled over the Cantiaci but was deposed in 39 or 40 AD. His fall may have been the result of a revolt of the Cantiaci people against the Catuvellauni rule. He fled to continental Europe and surrendered to Emperor Caligula, who falsely heralded this as a great victory over Britannia. Epaticcus, the brother of Cunobelin and the ruler of the Atrebates Tribe at Calleva (modern-day Silchester), is another historical figure introduced in this book.

The characterization of Catrin is based on historical figures such as Boudicca and on the complex archetypes of ancient Celtic goddesses whose functions embrace the entire religious spectrum from healing to warfare, from creation to destruction, and from birth to death. In Irish mythology, war goddesses were associated with fertility and sovereignty. Many of the Irish goddesses were destructive and promiscuous, and personified warlike strength to defend their land so it could flourish.

Though many of the Roman characters are fictional in Skull’s Vengeance, some are some based on historical figures during the tumultuous rein of Emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus. Tiberius was the second emperor of Rome. Though he’d been an able general and diplomat, his final years as emperor were tyrannical. Rumors abound of his sexual perversity and child molestation. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Tiberius loathed his mother and sent Caligula to deliver her funeral oration in 29 A.D. while he remained isolated on Capri. 

Statue of Tiberius (Wikimedia Commons)

During the period that Skull’s Vengeance takes place (27-28 AD), the infamous Praetorian Prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus, over-reached to gain power from Tiberius through murder, conspiracy, and betrayal. At the pinnacle of Sejanus’s power as consul in 31 A.D., Tiberius unexpectedly had him arrested and mercilessly executed. It came to light that Sejanus may have been involved in the conspiracy to poison Tiberius’s son in 23 AD.

Antonia Minor is another character introduced in the novel. She was the daughter of Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and Octavia, the sister-in-law of Tiberius, and the half-sister of Iullus Antonius. As a confidant to Tiberius, Antonia Minor may have had a role in the downfall of Sejanus due to her fears that her grandson, Caligula, could meet the tragic fate of his older brothers who Sejanus arrested and imprisoned. 

Bust of Antonia Minor (Wikimedia Commons)

Lucius Antonius was the son of Iullus Antonius and the grandson of Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony). Little is known about Lucius Antonius except that he lived in Gaul after his father, Iullus Antonius, was accused of treason and forced to fall on his sword. It is unclear whether Lucius had any children, but it is speculated he may have been the father or grandfather of the famous Roman general Marcus Antonius Primus, who was born around 30 AD. One of the burning questions I had during my research is how would Lucius react if his son (Marcellus) went down the same pathway as his forefathers who were brought down because of their liaisons with powerful women?

Linnea Tanner

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About the Author

Award-winning Author Linnea Tanner weaves Celtic tales of love, magic, adventure, betrayal, and intrigue into historical fiction set in Ancient Rome and Britannia. Since childhood, she has passionately read about ancient civilizations and mythology which held women in higher esteem. Of particular interest are the enigmatic Celts who were reputed as fierce warriors and mystical Druids. Linnea has extensively researched ancient and medieval history, mythology, and archaeology and has traveled to sites described within each of her books in the Curse of Clansmen and Kings series. Books released in her series include Apollo’s Raven (Book 1), Dagger’s Destiny (Book 2), and Amulet’s Rapture (Book 3). Skull’s Vengeance (Book 4 Curse of Clansmen and Kings) is anticipated to be released in late October 2022. A Colorado native, Linnea attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. She lives in Fort Collins with her husband and has two children and six grandchildren. To learn more about the author and her books, you can visit her website and find her on Twitter @linneatanner