Mastodon The Writing Desk: December 2022

15 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Wolves of Wagria: A Viking Age Novel (Olaf's Saga Book 3) by Eric Schumacher


Available 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.

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 

13 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Fortune Keeper, by Deborah Swift

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Count your nights by stars, not shadows ~ Italian Proverb

Winter in Renaissance Venice: Mia Caiozzi is determined to discover her destiny by studying the science of astronomy. But her stepmother Giulia forbids her to engage in this occupation, fearing it will lead her into danger. The ideas of Galileo are banned by the Inquisition, so Mia must study in secret.

Giulia's real name is Giulia Tofana, renowned for her poison Aqua Tofana, and she is in hiding from the Duke de Verdi's family who are intent on revenge for the death of their brother. Giulia insists Mia should live quietly out of public view. If not, it could threaten them all. But Mia doesn't understand this, and rebels against Giulia, determined to go her own way.

When the two secret lives collide, it has far-reaching and fatal consequences that will change Mia's life forever.

Set amongst opulent palazzos and shimmering canals, The Fortune Keeper is the third novel of adventure and romance based on the life and legend of Giulia Tofana, the famous poisoner.

'Her characters are so real they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf' - Historical Novel Society

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About the Author

Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory

9 December 2022

Special Guest Interview with Jacquie Bloese, author of The French House

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In Nazi-occupied Guernsey, the wrong decision can destroy a life...

Left profoundly deaf after an accident, Émile is no stranger to isolation - or heartbreak. Now, as Nazi planes loom over Guernsey, he senses life is about to change forever. Trapped in a tense, fearful marriage, Isabelle doesn't know what has become of Émile and the future she hoped for. But when she glimpses him from the window of the French House, their lives collide once more.

I'm pleased to welcome author Jacquie Bloese to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The French House is set on Guernsey, during the German Occupation of World War 2, and it’s about two estranged lovers: Émile, who lost his hearing in a tragic accident, and Isabelle. Both unhappily married to other people, the German invasion throws Émile and Isabelle together again, through their work at the ‘French House’ – Victor Hugo’s former residence-in-exile. And as their lives become enmeshed with that of the enigmatic German press censor, Schreiber, loyalties are blurred and dangerous secrets form ...

What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to devote quality time to writing – and thinking, which is such a crucial part of the process - rather than writing in snatched moments. On a day where I’m writing, I’m at my freshest and most productive in the mornings, then I’ll break for lunch, and go back to it in the afternoon – I find changing locations helps, so I can often be found in the local library! I find Sundays a good time to really get stuck in too.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Build resilience – it’s a tough industry and everyone, both published and unpublished, experiences knockbacks along the way. Seek out other writers who you feel comfortable sharing your work with and whose opinions you trust. Establish a routine. Take classes, either online or in person. Don’t give up, even if it feels tempting. And … make sure you finish!

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

I’ve actually found word-of-mouth through friends, family and colleagues very helpful – occasionally I post on LinkedIn and these posts always seem to gain far more traction than anything on Twitter or Instagram!

My advice to debut authors, like myself, would be to be pro-active in terms of publicity. Be bold and pitch yourself to local literary festivals, local radio etc. It all helps and importantly, it gives you as the author a feeling of agency.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

It wasn’t uncommon for German soldiers who had been billeted with Guernsey families to strike up friendships, and return for holidays when the war was over. And how living in a time of extreme uncertainty was just as psychologically distressing as food shortages and loss of freedom.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

It was probably the prologue as it’s based on real events, endured by my great-grandfather. It re-tells the story of how he fell down an unlit elevator shaft, as a very young man, newly arrived in Canada – an accident which resulted in permanent hearing loss.

What are you planning to write next?

My next novel, The Golden Hour, is set against the backdrop of the underground trade in erotic photography in late Victorian Brighton, and is about three women from different classes, all fighting against their constraints of their circumstances. But in their quest for freedom, have the women become more trapped than ever?

Jacquie Bloese 
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About the Author

Jacquie Bloese grew up on the Channel Island of Guernsey, an upbringing which provided lots of inspiration for her debut novel, The French House. Her interest in travel, languages and other cultures led to a career in ELT publishing, a job which has taken her in and out of classrooms all over the world. Writing fiction is her first love and her work has been shortlisted for the Good Housekeeping First Novel Award, Caledonia Novel Award, and the Mslexia Novel Award. The French House is a Richard and Judy December book club pick. After many years in London, Jacquie now lives in Brighton, with her partner. Find out more at her website and find Jacquie on Facebook and Twitter @novelthesecond

8 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Son of Anger (Ormstunga Saga, Book 1) By Donovan Cook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ulf is like a storm, slowly building up its power, he grows more dangerous with each passing moment. And like all storms, he will eventually break. When he does, he will destroy everything in his path.

Ulf is one of a long line of famous Norse warriors. His ancestor Tyr was no ordinary man, but the Norse God of War. Ulf, however, knows nothing about being a warrior.

Everything changes when a stranger arrives on Ulf’s small farm in Vikenfjord. The only family he’s ever known are slaughtered and the one reminder of his father is stolen -- Ulf’s father’s sword, Ormstunga. Ulf’s destiny is decided.

Are the gods punishing him? All Ulf knows is that he has to avenge his family. He sets off on an adventure that will take him across oceans, into the eye of danger, on a quest to reclaim his family’s honour.

The gods are roused. One warrior can answer to them.
The Son of Anger.

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About the Author

Donovan Cook was born in South Africa but raised in England, and currently works as an English tutor. He is the author of the Ormstunga Saga, which includes his debut novel Son of Anger and the follow up, Raid of the Wolves. His novels come from his fascination with the Viking world and Norse Mythology and he hopes that you will enjoy exploring this world as much as he did writing about it. When Donovan is not teaching or writing, he can be found reading, watching rugby, or working on DIY projects. Being born in South Africa, he is a massive Springboks fan and rarely misses a match. Find out more at Donovan's website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DonovanCook20

7 December 2022

Book Launch: Queens of the Age of Chivalry: England's Medieval Queens, Volume Three, by Alison Weir

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Packed with dramatic true stories from one of European history’s most romantic and turbulent eras, this epic narrative chronicles the five vividly rendered queens of the Plantagenet kings who ruled England between 1299 and 1399.

The Age of Chivalry describes a period of medieval history dominated by the social, religious, and moral code of knighthood that prized noble deeds, military greatness, and the game of courtly love between aristocratic men and women. It was also a period of high drama in English history, which included the toppling of two kings, the Hundred Years War, the Black Death, and the Peasants’ Revolt. Feudalism was breaking down, resulting in social and political turmoil.

Against this dramatic milieu, Alison Weir describes the lives and reigns of five queen consorts: Marguerite of France was seventeen when she became the second wife of sixty-year-old King Edward I. Isabella of France, later known as “the She-Wolf,” dethroned her husband, Edward II, and ruled England with her lover. In contrast, Philippa of Hainault was a popular queen to the deposed king’s son Edward III. Anne of Bohemia was queen to Richard II, but she died young and childless. Isabella of Valois became Richard’s second wife when she was only six years old, but was caught up in events when he was violently overthrown.

This was a turbulent and brutal age, despite its chivalric colour and ethos, and it stands as a vivid backdrop to the extraordinary stories of these queens’ lives.

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About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband. Find our more at Alison's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks

6 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Hearts of All on Fire, by Alana White

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Florence, 1473. An impossible murder. A bitter rivalry. 
A serpent in the ranks.

Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci returns to Florence from a government mission to find his dreams of success shattered. Life is good—but then a wealthy merchant dies from mushroom poisoning at Guid’Antonio’s Saint John’s Day table, and Guid’Antonio’s servant is charged with murder. 

Convinced of the youth’s innocence and fearful the killer may strike again, Guid’Antonio launches a private investigation into the merchant’s death, unaware that at the same time powerful enemies are conspiring to overthrow the Florentine Republic—and him. 

A clever, richly evocative tale for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere, The Hearts of All on Fire is a timeless story of family relationships coupled with themes of love, loss, betrayal and, above all, hope in a challenging world.

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About the Author

Alana White's passion for Renaissance Italy has taken her to Florence for research on the Vespucci and Medici families on numerous occasions.  There along cobbled streets unchanged over the centuries, she traces their footsteps, listening to their imagined voices, including that of her protagonist, Guid'Antonio Vespucci and his friends, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Lorenzo de' Medici.  She is a member of the Women's National Book Association and the Historical Novel Society, among other organizations.  She loves hearing from readers, and you can contact her at her website, and find her on Facebook and Twitter @AlanaWhite1480

5 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Her Castilian Heart (The Castilian Saga Book 3) by Anna Belfrage

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge. He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

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About the author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.  Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards Find out more about Anna, her books and her eclectic historical blog on her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

4 December 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Colour of Poison and the Colour of Gold, by Toni Mount

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A unique collector's edition.

Visit the narrow, stinking streets of medieval London. Dark and dangerous places where burglary, arson and murder are every-day events and the gossips whisper of alchemists making gold for the King.

Meet Sebastian Foxley, a talented yet challenged young artist, as he tries to save his brother from the hangman's rope. Will he find inner strength in these, the hardest of times? Can the Duke of Gloucester or his friend Francis Lovell help? One thing is certain - if Seb can't save his brother, nobody can.

A wedding is planned, and in medieval London, this should be a splendid occasion, especially when a royal guest is attending. Yet for the bridegroom, the day begins with disaster when a valuable gold livery collar goes missing. From the lowliest street urchin to the highest noble, who could be the thief? Can Seb save the day, despite a young rascal and his dog causing chaos?

Re-live the fun and adventure, the bustle and the stench of medieval London in this perfect combination of the first two Sebastian Foxley murder mysteries, the most popular Colour of Poison and the entertaining Colour of Gold.

To make this 456-page volume even more special for Foxley followers, you will love the new bonus material including a detailed map of the Foxley's neighbourhood, additional background details, fun quizzes and much much more.

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About the Author

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript. Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies. Find out more at Toni's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @tonihistorian

1 December 2022

Special Guest Post by Catherine Meyrick, Author of The Bridled Tongue: Household medicine in sixteenth-century England

Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US

England 1586: Alyce Bradley has few choices when her father decides it is time she marry as many refuse to see her as other than the girl she once was—unruly, outspoken and close to her grandmother, a woman suspected of witchcraft. Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer, inspires fierce loyalty in those close to him and hatred in those he has crossed. Beyond a large dowry, he is seeking a virtuous and dutiful wife. Neither he nor Alyce expect more from marriage than
mutual courtesy and respect.

Good housewives provide ere a sickness do come: Household medicine in sixteenth-century England

Until the advent of modern medicine, most ordinary medical care took place in the home, usually administered by the women of the household. Consequently, there was an expectation that women would possess skill and knowledge in the use of herbal remedies. Their medical care extended beyond the immediate household to their tenants and labourers. Thomas Tusser recognized this in Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie (first published in 1573):

Good huswiues prouides, ere an sicknes doo come,
of sundrie good things in hir house to haue some.
Good Aqua composita, Vineger tart,
Rose water and treakle, to comfort the hart.

Cold herbes in hir garden for agues that burne,
that ouer strong heat to good temper may turne.
While Endiue and Suckerie, with Spinnage ynough,
All such with good pot herbes should follow the plough.

Margaret, Lady Hoby, (1571-1633) is the author of the earliest known diary written by a woman in English. A well-connected Puritan woman, she began her diary as a religious exercise but, as time progressed, she recorded her ordinary daily activities, particularly at her manor at Hackness, Yorkshire. 

Her days always began with private prayers, often followed by attending those who came to her with their injuries and ailments. She seems often to have held two clinics, one in the morning either before or after her breakfast, and one in the late afternoon. She speaks of dressing the injuries, sores and cuts of her tenants and servants. Some were serious, such as the hatchet wound on the foot of her servant, Blakethorn. Despite her deep piety, Lady Hoby also attended to injuries on Sundays.

In her diary, Lady Hoby talks of reading her herbal some evenings or having it read to her by one of her women. She also made up medicines and salves as well as distilling oils and aqua vitae. Unfortunately, she never provides detail of the medicines she made or their ingredients. And although she talks often of being busy in her garden, and in one case of giving herbs to a woman from Everley to plant in her own, she does not mention what her herbs were.

Lady Hoby visited the sick at home and mentions reading to a sick maid in her house and sitting with her husband whenever he was ill. She also records attending births, both for family members and tenants.

That Lady Hoby was given respect for her skills is obvious as in August 1601 a child, presumably a newborn infant, was brought to her. The child had been born with ‘no fundiment’. Lady Hoby was asked to cut the child to see if a rectal passage could be found which she did to no avail. She mentions no more of the incident but one would assume the child died.

We can gain some idea of the range of medicines and remedies that could be made at home from the papers of Grace, Lady Mildmay (c.1552–1620). She is noted as having written the earliest known autobiography of an English woman. She bequeathed to her daughter over 2,000 medical papers and several books, as well as devotional meditations. The inventory of her stillroom is almost industrial in its extent and organization. Her extensive collection of ingredients included herbs, seeds, spices, gums and flowers as well as metals and minerals. She made juleps, syrups, cordials, oils and tinctures and also prescribed purges, ointments, plasters and bloodletting.

Lady Mildmay’s understanding of illness was based on the theory of humours and her treatments aimed to restore the body’s humours to balance. She did not perform surgery of any sort nor does she mention attending childbirths, visiting the poor or physically nursing the sick. She did practice her medicine daily, possibly having patients come to her at her residence the way Lady Hoby did.

Like most women, her education in household medicine had taken place at home. She was taught by a Mrs Hamblyn, her father’s niece. As well as direct instruction, Mrs Hamblyn encouraged Grace to read books like A Neww Herball by William Turner (1551) which could be used to identify herbs and their properties and uses.

Stillrooms, where many of these medications were made, were common in manor houses. When Sabine Johnson (c1521-1597?), the wife of John Johnson, a draper and wool stapler, moved to the Old Manor House at Glapthorn, Northamptonshire she requested that her brother-in law Otwell Johnson obtain articles for use in the stillroom: a still, a mortar and pestle, and a chafing bottle. Sabine also ordered seeds and herbs for her gardens. While there is little detail of her medical care of the family, the health of the household was mentioned in almost every letter she wrote.

Frontispiece of the The grete herball (1526), popular throughout the sixteenth century

Herbals published in the sixteenth century described a range of herbs and their uses including information on the qualities of the herbs and when best to harvest them according to their nature and the alignment of the stars. As the century progressed, books intended for the general public simply listed medical conditions and methods of dealing with them. 

The Widowes Treasure (1595), contains a wonderful collection of handy hints as well as medical advice and recipes from confectionary, scented oils, dyes, syrups and cakes to a range of medicinal recipes much like the many personal recipe or ‘receipt books’ kept by women that remain from the seventeenth century.

Women like Margaret Hoby, Grace Mildmay and Sabine Johnson offered medicines and treatments as part of their care for those within their households and on their estates, no money changed hands. Their services, particularly in rural areas where there were few if any doctors, filled a need and were not seen as being in competition with the professional medical men.

Most housewives at all levels of society would have had their own favoured remedies. Many, particularly those at the lower levels of society, also had their aliments treated by local herb wives or cunning men and women. In fiction, on occasions, women’s herbal and medical knowledge and skills is enough to make them targets of those intent on sniffing out witchcraft in their communities. 

This makes for a compelling story but is not a reflection of reality. It was rare even for cunning folk to be accused and tried of crimes involving witchcraft. As modern scholarship has shown, accusations of witchcraft arose for myriad interrelated reasons.

Skill with herbs and healing was an expected part of a woman’s domain, a legitimate and essential element of a good housewife’s skills, and fitted well within nurturing role expected of women.

Catherine Meyrick 

Select Bibliography

Davies, Owen Cunning-Folk: Popular Magic in English History. New York : Hambledon and London, 2003.

Moody, Joanna The Private Life of an Elizabethan Lady: The Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605. Stroud: Sutton, 1998

Pollock, Linda With Faith and Physic: The Life of a Tudor Gentlewoman, Lady Grace Mildmay, 1552-1620. London: Collins & Brown, 1993.

Sharpe, J. A. Instruments of Darkness : Witchcraft in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

Winchester, Barbara Tudor Family Portrait. London: Johnathan Cape, 1955.

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About the Author

Catherine Meyrick lives in Melbourne, Australia but grew up in Ballarat, a large regional city steeped in history. A former customer service librarian at her local library, she has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist. The lives of Margaret Hoby and Sabine Saunders provided inspiration for some of the elements in Catherine’s novel, The Bridled Tongue, which also follows a witchcraft trial from suspicion and accusation to trial and beyond. Catherine has written two other novels. Forsaking All Other is set, like The Bridled Tongue, in England in the 1580s. Her latest novel Cold Blows the Wind is set in Hobart Town, Tasmania in the years around 1880 and is based on fact. Find out more at Catherine’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @cameyrick1