Mastodon The Writing Desk: 2023

30 December 2023

How to Survive in Tudor England, by Toni Mount

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Imagine you were transported back in time to Tudor England and had to start a new life there, without smartphones, internet or social media. When transport means walking or, if you’re lucky, horseback, how will you know where you are or where to go? 

Where will you live and where will you work? What will you eat and what shall you wear? And who can you turn to if you fall ill or are mugged in the street, or God forbid if you upset the king? In a period when execution by beheading was the fate of thousands how can you keep your head in Tudor England? 

All these questions and many more are answered in this new guidebook for time-travellers: How to Survive in Tudor England. A handy self-help guide with tips and suggestions to make your visit to the 16th century much more fun, this lively and engaging book will help the reader deal with the new experiences they may encounter and the problems that might occur. 

Enjoy interviews with the celebrities of the day, and learn some new words to set the mood for your time-travelling adventure. Have an exciting visit but be sure to keep this book to hand.

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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

29 December 2023

Book Review: The Traitor's Apprentice (Lord's Legacy Book 2) by Eleanor Swift-Hook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Late September 1642. A bloody civil war is tearing the kingdoms apart. But, in Yorkshire, some are striving for a countywide Treaty of Neutrality, in the hope of maintaining peace and order.mon those loyal to the crown to fight for him against his own Parliament.

This is the second book I've read in Eleanor Swift-Hook's 'Lord's Legacy' series, and although each would work as a 'stand alone' I recommend reading these books in order, to appreciate the nuances of her storytelling. 

The start of 'The Traitor's Apprentice' is worthy of an Agatha Christie mystery as a succession of people are found dead under suspicious circumstances. Surprisingly no one seems too concerned, so it falls to lawyer turned mercenary, Gideon Lennox, to turn detective.

His efforts culminate in a riveting 'trial', and although I expected Lennox to survive, it was by no means certain he could do so unscathed.  

I particularly liked the way the author continues to develop all the characters, but particularly Gideon Lennox and the enigmatic Philip Lord. Secrets are revealed which raise more questions, and the looming English Civil War leaves little doubt where we will be going with book three in the series!

Tony Riches 
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About the Author

Eleanor Swift-Hook enjoys the mysteries of history and fell in love with the early Stuart era at university when she re-enacted battles and living history events with the English Civil War Society. Since then, she has had an ongoing fascination with the social, military and political events that unfolded during the Thirty Years' War and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. She lives in County Durham and loves writing stories woven into the historical backdrop of those dramatic times. You can find out more about the background of Lord's Legacy on her website and find her on Twitter @emswifthook

See Also:

18 December 2023

Book Review: Pomp and Piety: Everyday Life of the Aristocracy in Stuart England, by Ben Norman

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I expect I'm not alone in thinking of the Stuart aristocracy in terms of their impressive portraits, but these are of course all posed and offer an 'edited' view of sitters. This fascinating new book from Ben Norman takes a look behind the paintings at life in Stuart times, by examining what they ate and drank, how they lived and loved, and how they differed in their views from today.

Much of their world is surprisingly modern, as they struggle to raise their children, pay the bills and enjoy life. At other times I found myself having to re-read to make sure I'd not misunderstood. For example, Lady Isabella Wentworth wrote to her thirty-year-old son, 'I wish you a good wife before Easter, and have found a match that will please you. She has four thousand a year and is very pretty, but what will please you most is she is four years old.'

More so than before, (or after) the aristocracy were defined by the quality of their houses, and competed with each other to create the most magnificent talking points. Old castles and Tudor mansions were swept away to follow new fashions, such as building the highest chimney stacks. (This 'backfired' on baronet Sir Edward Osborne when seven of his tall chimneys collapsed in a storm, smashing through the roof and killing his young son.)

I found the chapter on servants particularly interesting, both for how badly some were treated and how well others were rewarded. Even here the spirit of aristocratic competition found a new outlet in 'footman racing' where hapless staff were pitted against each other, often with huge bets on the outcome.

The biggest difference with modern life was the Stuart attitudes to illness and treatment.  Many died of diseases such as smallpox, and tried and tested 'cures' included 'plucking a score of snails from the garden walls, pulverising and boiling them in badger grease and applying, warm,  to the infected parts.'

Supported with useful notes about the people mentioned, this is a book that will find a place on my shelf, and I am happy to recommend to anyone who wants a richer appreciation of the Stuarts.

Tony Riches

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About the Author 

Ben Norman grew up in South Cambridgeshire, in a 700-year-old farmhouse that was supposedly visited by Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century. He has always found the past a fascinating place, with a particular interest in the strange but familiar world of early modern England, and holds a master’s degree in Early Modern History from the University of York, for which he achieved a distinction. When not immersed in history Ben enjoys writing fiction, spending days doing absolutely nothing, and indulging in his favourite science fiction film franchise. He currently lives and works in York.

Blog Tour: Beautiful Ghost, by Milana Marsenich

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

During the fall of 1918, the influenza pandemic crosses the nation and reaches the mining town of Butte, Montana. 

Excerpt: The Wolf Dog
The wolf dog wanders through the town where mining fumes singe the air, and tin shacks, thrown together in desperation, sit next to French mansions and yards flagged with cobblestone. He rambles past the Cabbage Patch, where bootleggers and criminals live in downtrodden shanties and the king of the Patch rules the poor with an iron club. 
   The dog walks through Dublin Gulch, a rough bit of Butte, inhabited by stubborn Irish people and sour-faced old women, who rarely shop for fine china or cast-iron pots at the town’s one department store. He continues his journey through Chinatown, past the opium dens, and down to the train depot on East Front Street.
He sits on the platform, under a center overhang, out of the rain, and watches the passengers disembark. Soot covers every surface of the depot, and, as the sky darkens, the wolf dog feels something coming. Something rising up out of the ground, on the wind, or perhaps in a blanket. 
   Or maybe, a young woman carries it in her lap as the train roars across the country from the east to Montana. This tiny thing is barely a whisper. But it’s there, wanting to live and live strong. It floats among the people hugging and kissing in the depot’s large waiting room. It lights on jackets of men smoking, and hovers in the perfumed air where women tend to private matters.

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About the Author

Milana Marsenich lives in Northwest Montana near Flathead Lake at the base of the beautiful Mission Mountains. She enjoys quick access to the mountains and has spent many hours hiking the wilderness trails with friends and dogs. For the past 20 years she has worked as a mental health therapist in a variety of settings. As a natural listener and a therapist, she has witnessed amazing generosity and courage in others. She first witnessed this in her hometown of Butte, Montana, a mining town with a rich history and the setting for Copper Sky, her first novel.  She has an M.Ed. in Mental Health Counseling from Montana State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. She has previously published in Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal, The Polishing Stone, The Moronic Ox, BookGlow, and Feminist Studies. Find out more at and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @milanamarsenich

15 December 2023

Blog Tour Spotlight: Millie's Escape (Hartford Manor Book 4) by Marcia Clayton

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1885 North Devon, England.  It is winter in the small Devon village of Brampford Speke, and a typhoid epidemic has claimed many victims. Millie, aged fifteen, is doing her best to nurse her mother and grandmother as well as look after Jonathan, her five-year-old brother. One morning, Millie is horrified to find that her mother, Rosemary, has passed away during the night and is terrified the same fate may befall her granny, Emily.


Annie arose early the following day and hurried to the nursery to feed the twins. She paused to peer into Selina’s bedroom, and, for once, the little girl was still fast asleep. Annie tiptoed away quietly and gently opened the door of the room in which Jinnie and Eliza were sleeping. She was pleased to see that they had not yet awoken. Paul and Martin were in the next room, and the sound of sobbing reached her ears before she even opened the door. Annie found three-year-old Paul in tears and Martin trying to comfort him.
   “Good morning, boys; what’s the matter, Paul? Are you poorly?”
   The toddler shook his head, clung to his brother, and wouldn’t meet Annie’s eyes. She looked at Martin, wondering why the boy was so distraught.
   “What’s wrong with Paul? Has he had a bad dream?”
   “No, ma’am, but he’s wet the bed. I’m so sorry. I’ll help him take the sheets off and wash them; we don’t want to be any trouble.”
   “Oh, don’t worry about that; Selina still has an accident now and then. It happens, and I expect you were tired last night.”
   The younger boy lifted his face and stared anxiously at Annie in bewilderment. The tears were still flowing down his cheeks, and his nose was running; his frail body shook with sobs.
   “Are you going to beat me?”
   Annie was shocked.
   “Goodness me, no! Of course, I won’t beat you; why would I do that? You didn’t wet the bed on purpose, did you?”
   “No, ma’am; I didn’t know it was wet until I woke up.”
   “No need to worry then. Do you ever have little accidents like this, Martin?”
   “No, ma’am, luckily I don’t, but you see, if this happened in the workhouse, Paul would get a hiding, so he didn’t tell anyone if he could help it; he’d just sleep in the same wet bed the next night.”

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About the Author

Marcia Clayton is the author of five books in The Hartford Manor Series, a heart-warming family saga stretching from the Regency period to Victorian times. A sixth book is to be released in 2024. Marcia was born in North Devon, a rural and picturesque area in the far South West of England. When she left school, Marcia worked in a bank for several years until she married her husband, Bryan, and then stayed at home for a few years to care for her three sons, Stuart, Paul and David. As the children grew older, Marcia worked as a Marie Curie nurse caring for the terminally ill and later for the local authority managing school transport. Now a grandmother, Marcia enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She’s a keen researcher of family history, and this hobby inspired some of the characters in her books. A keen gardener, Marcia grows many of her own vegetables. She is also an avid reader and enjoys historical fiction, romance, and crime books. Find out more from Marcia's website: and find her on Facebook and Twitter @MarciaC89111861

14 December 2023

Book Review: Kingmakers: How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier, by Timothy Venning

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I learned a few interesting things from this highly detailed account of the history of the Welsh Marches. I'd wondered about the name in the past, and now know it derives from 'mark', which appropriately is to do with borders. I also found that Pembrokeshire (where I live) falls within the definition of lands of the 'Marcher Lords.'  

Unsurprisingly, there are very different accounts, depending on who is telling the story, about the ebb and flow of control of the Welsh border. The Welsh chroniclers talk about invaders pillaging their lands, while the Anglo Normans saw it as bringing civilisation to impoverished rural communities, in return for huge territories of land.

Timothy Venning livens up his account with blunt asides, such as 'after they surrendered the leader was blinded and his men mutilated' and manages to keep the complex narrative lively and interesting I'm happy to recommend this book, particularly to anyone living close the border with Wales.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Timothy Venning studied history at Kings College, London to PhD level, winning the London University History Prize in 1979. He has written articles for the Dictionary of National Biography, as well as a book on Oliver Cromwell and reference works on British office-holders and the chronology of the Byzantine Empire. He also contributes to major biographical publications and his research forms the basis for many other publications. 

8 December 2023

Blog Tour Guest Post by Justin Newland, Author of The Mark of the Salamander

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1575: Nelan Michaels is a young Flemish man fleeing religious persecution in the Spanish Netherlands. Settling in Mortlake outside London, he studies under Queen Elizabeth’s court astrologer, conjuring a bright future – until he’s wrongly accused of murder. Forced into the life of a fugitive, Nelan hides in London, before he is dramatically pressed into the crew of the Golden Hind.

My latest historical fiction novel, The Mark of the Salamander, is hot off the press. It’s the first title in a two-book series, The Island of Angels, which tells the epic story and secret history of England’s coming of age during the Elizabethan era.

This blog relates the true story of a slave who have a profound impact on the life of Sir Francis Drake, a story which features in the novel. 

Diego—his surname is not known—was an African man who was enslaved by the Spanish and transported to Panama. He escaped and banded together with other Cimarrons, runaway Africans who established their own settlements in the Panama hinterlands. 

An idealised version of what Diego may have looked and dressed like. 

At the time, the Spanish pilfered much of their wealth from the Aztec temples and dug it out of the ground in places like the silver and gold Pitosi mine in Peru. Every year, this huge yield was shipped up the Pacific coast of South America to Panama, where it was loaded on a mule train and hauled across the Isthmus to Nombre de Dios on the Atlantic side, before being shipped to Spain on the annual treasure ship.

When the English buccaneer Francis Drake and his company attacked the port of Nombre de Dios in 1572, Diego bravely ran through a hail of bullets and persuaded the English to let him join them. Diego then helped the English combine with the local Cimarrons to launch a successful attack on the annual Spanish mule train. After that escapade, Diego returned to Plymouth with Drake. 

The Isthmus of Panama

Diego’s knowledge of the geography of the Isthmus of Panama (shown in the image) was, in a strange way, instrumental in changing the fortunes of Drake, as well as of England, and in some ways, the world. 

Because during the 1572 escapade, Diego took Drake to a unique hill. He climbed a tree, and made his way to a rickety platform that had been assembled near its crown. Drake stood on it, and was perhaps the first Englishmen to see the panorama that spread out before him. 

Because looking east, he saw the vast expanse of the Pacific, but turning west, and gazing across the narrow Isthmus, he glimpsed the Atlantic. Both oceans at once! This was a vision that he never forgot, and Drake promised himself that he would return to sail in the Pacific Ocean, and one day he did.  

On 15 November 1577, Diego joined nearly 170 men to set sail with Drake on his vessel The Pelican from Plymouth to sail around the world. On board ship, Diego acted as Drake’s personal manservant, preparing his clothing and serving his meals. Diego had experience of long sea voyages, and was fluent in Spanish and now English, which made him an valuable interpreter. Like the rest of the crew, Diego was paid wages. 

In April 1578, the five vessels in the fleet reached Brazil, sailed south down the coast of South America before crossing the Magellan straits. By the time Drake had successfully rounded Cape Horn, his was the only ship of the fleet remaining. That was when it was renamed The Golden Hind. The image of his boat is shown here. It made history – the first English vessel to sail around the globe.

On 25 November 1578, Drake and his crew landed on Mocha Isle off the coast of Chile. After their horrendous passage across the straits, they were desperate for fresh water and food. To their delight, the island’s inhabitants gave them food, and told them to return the next day for drinking water. That night, they enjoyed a welcome feast. 

The next morning, Diego, Drake and ten other men set out for the island. This time they were met not with friendship, but with a flurry of arrows. The natives’ sudden change of heart seems to have been caused by a misunderstanding over the translation of a word. 

Whatever it was, arrows rained down on the boat. Men died. Drake was hit by an arrow in the face. Diego received more than 20 wounds. Despite his multiple wounds, Diego survived for nearly another year, and died as the Golden Hind passed the Indonesian Moluccas on the way home. 

This was a sad end to an extraordinary life that started in Africa, took him to South America, England, Brazil and Peru. 

In my novel, I imagine the relationship between Drake and Diego in which Drake learns some of the arcane arts of seamanship from Diego, who also told the crew some of the extraordinary myths of his African people. 

Long live Diego the Cimarron, the runaway, who didn’t run away and turned and faced his enslavers. 

Justin Newland

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About the Author

Justin Newland's novels represent an innovative blend of genres from historical adventure to supernatural thriller and magical realism. His stories explore the themes of war and religion, and speculate on the human’s spiritual place in the universe. Undeterred by the award of a Doctorate in Mathematics from Imperial College, London, he conceived his debut novel, The Genes of Isis (Matador, 2018), an epic fantasy set under Ancient Egyptian skies. Author, speaker and broadcaster, Justin appears on LitFest panels, gives talks to historical associations and libraries and enjoys giving radio interviews and making podcasts. Born three days before the end of 1953, he lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England. Find out more at Justin's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @JustinNewland53

7 December 2023

Charles I's Private Life, by Mark Turnbull

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The execution of King Charles I is one of the well-known facts of British history, and an often-quoted snippet from our past. He lost the civil war and his head. But there is more to Charles than the civil war and his death. To fully appreciate the momentous events that marked the twenty-four years of his reign, and what followed, it’s important to understand the man who was at their epicenter.

Both during his lifetime, and in the centuries since, opinion of Charles is often polarized; he is either Royal Martyr or Man of Blood. Amidst these extremes, what is frequently overshadowed is the man himself. Propaganda still clouds his personality, as do the events of his last seven years of life.

The first half of his life has not been explored in detail. As a sickly second son of the first King of Great Britain, these years shed light on the development of Charles’s character. Key elements of his final days also remain lost to us, such as certain identification of his executioners. Investigating new evidence, an entirely new candidate is proposed. Persistent myths surrounding his health and supposed unwillingness to compromise are also addressed.

There are many biographies, but this most intimate work draws upon fresh viewpoints and contemporary letters, some never before used. Penetrating the veil of monarchy and getting to the heart of the man through his relationships, the reader is brought closer than ever to the real Charles Stewart.

A brave, principled and dutiful man, he was politically flawed and lacked the ruthlessness needed to steer his three kingdoms beyond the crossroads at which they arrived. Above all, he is a character who shares much in common with us all.

"This is the story of the spare who became the heir: what shaped him - and what became of him. Mark Turnbull helps us understand Charles the king as Charles the man" - Leanda de Lisle

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About the Author

Mark Turnbull thoroughly enjoys reading and writing about this overlooked period of history and bringing it to life. He has written articles for magazines, newspapers and online educational sites and has also re-enacted battles with The Sealed Knot. He is currently working on the sequel to Allegiance of Blood, as well as a non-fiction overview of the first six months of the English Civil War. Find out more at Mark’s website, or social media pages, where he regularly posts articles about all aspects of the war and those who fought in it. Find out more at Mark's website and find him on Facebook, Twitter @1642author and Bluesky

6 December 2023

Special Guest Post by Maggie Craig, Author of Storm Tossed Moon (Storm Over Scotland Book 3)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Edinburgh, January 1744: Scotland stands on the brink of armed and bloody conflict. Travelling secretly across Europe from Rome, Prince Charles Edward Stuart is determined to claim his birthright. His fervour is matched by homegrown Jacobites who long to see the House of Stuart restored to the British throne.

I write Scottish historical fiction and non-fiction and find the two genres complement each other very well. My Glasgow & Clydebank family sagas tell the imagined stories of families, friends and lovers living through the hard times of the first few decades of the 20th century.

There’s the turbulence and excitement of Red Clydeside when working people fought for fairer pay and better living and working conditions. There’s the unemployment which followed the Great Depression of 1929 and led to the cancellation of the building of the Queen Mary at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank. There’s the elation when work resumed and two years later when the great ocean liner was launched. I began writing the novels first and then realized I could make a non-fiction book out of it all: When the Clyde Ran Red: A Social History of Red Clydeside.

In non-fiction the facts are sacred. As a novelist, I believe I can add another layer by some (sparing) intelligent speculation on how people buffeted by dramatic events might have felt. In One Week in April: The Scottish Radical Rising of 1820, I wrote about the Greenock Massacre. A crowd gathered in the Clydeside town protesting about Radical prisoners being brought to Greenock Gaol. They shouted ‘Remember Manchester!’, referring back to the Peterloo Massacre of the previous year. 

It was noisy and rowdy and some people started throwing stones at the local militia. Panicking, they opened fire. Eight people were killed, including a boy of eight. Fifteen were seriously wounded. A contemporary observer wrote, ‘… by 11 o’clock the town was as quiet as ever I saw it.’ This led me to paint a brief picture of people ‘sitting by their firesides talking in low, shocked voices about the tragic events of the early evening.’ 

My editor thought that ‘too novelistic.’ I didn’t. I won. 

Back in 1997, I published my first book, Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45. Last year Penguin Random House brought out a fully-sourced 25th anniversary edition.  DRB, as it is known in our house, had a working title of Not Flora Macdonald. 

I have nothing against that brave woman but I had started researching for a big, sweeping novel about the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46 and found lots of brave women playing their parts. They’re all in DRB. After ‘rave rejections’ from several publishers – I was a new author, the book was too long – the big, sweeping Jacobite novel was slid onto the back burner. 

I’ve recently self-published the third novel in a different but related Jacobite series, Storm Tossed Moon. Which makes me, so I’m told, a hybrid author, both traditionally published and self-published. I just think I’m a writer. 

I write in the mornings and start early, find my brain and imagination work best at that time of day. I’m not a great plotter. I prefer to start with one character meeting another on the page and waiting – or encouraging – the sparks to fly. Give them something to disagree about. Roll a few boulders into their path. This needn’t only be for romantic novels. We’ve all taken an instant liking or dislike to other people or had a rivalry with them. 

I often have some idea of the final scene but no idea how I’ll get there. It’s more fun that way. This approach apparently makes me a ‘discovery writer’. 

I’ll always be grateful to the Two Sheilas, as I know many other fellow Scottish authors are. Sheila Lewis and Sheila Aird ran a weekly writers’ workshop in Kilmardinny House in the Glasgow suburb of Bearsden back in the 1980s. One of the first exercises they set us was to write a scene in which two characters are having an argument. 

They added a piece of advice. Remember all five senses, not only what we and our characters see and hear but also touch, taste and smell. You probably won’t use all five in one scene but using them where appropriate will enrich your writing. 

I also learned a lot about writing by doing it. I see a lot of advice out there about different techniques, such as Save the Cat. I tried it recently for a WIP on which I’d got stuck. It has some interesting insights but for me the system required me to squeeze my writing into what I found to be a constricting framework. 

If STC and other techniques work for you, go for it. Otherwise, I’d say let your imagination flow. The log jam in my WIP cleared when I walked away from the manuscript and did other, non-writing things for a few days. Crochet worked well!

Like many of us brought up not to blow our own trumpets, I find marketing difficult. However, if you’ve written a book you’re proud of, you want to point readers towards it and this is most definitely not ‘shameless self-promotion.’  

In my experience, paid advertising eats money but BookBub promotions help increase visibility. Writing your own blog and accepting a kind invitation to write a guest blogpost also helps. As does joining writers’ organizations. Not only networking but a chance to meet and learn from others and to make writing pals. 

I’m currently working on book three of my Storm over Scotland series. It’ll take a while but once it’s done and dusted, I’m going to pull my other big, sweeping Jacobite novel forward from the back burner, revise it and send it out there to seek its fortune. 

Maggie Craig

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About the Author

Passionate about Scotland and its history, Maggie Craig is the acclaimed writer of the ground-breaking Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45. She is also the author of six family saga novels set in Glasgow & Clydebank, where she grew up. Find out more from Maggie's website and find her on Facebook, Twitter @CraigMaggie and Bluesky

5 December 2023

Book Review: The Mercenary's Blade (Lord's Legacy Book 1) by Eleanor Swift-Hook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, September 1642: The King has raised his standard in Nottingham to summon those loyal to the crown to fight for him against his own Parliament.

Eleanor Swift-Hook's 'Lord's Legacy' series is set in the pivotal moment in history when men must decide if they fight for king or parliament. In this first book, we experience this complex time with Gideon Lennox, an likeable but naive young lawyer, who encounters the mysterious Philip Lord, a notorious mercenary leader.

What follows takes us into the murky world of witch trials and corruption, and enough adventure and intrigue to keep the story moving from a slow start into a fast paced page-turner. 

Eleanor's style is to make the reader wonder about her character's motivation, and why our narrator never gets around to telling his love interest, the mysterious 'Zaharia' about his feelings for her.

I particularly liked the glimpses of the research into the history behind this series, and the way we gradually learn more about Philip Lord and his band of men, who become compelling characters, always with a hint of something important yet to be revealed.

I recommend reading these books in order. I already have the next one in the series on my Kindle and look forward to finding out what happens next.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Eleanor Swift-Hook enjoys the mysteries of history and fell in love with the early Stuart era at university when she re-enacted battles and living history events with the English Civil War Society. Since then, she has had an ongoing fascination with the social, military and political events that unfolded during the Thirty Years' War and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. She lives in County Durham and loves writing stories woven into the historical backdrop of those dramatic times. You can find out more about the background of Lord's Legacy on her website and find her on Twitter @emswifthook

Blog Tour Spotlight: How to Dress Like a Tudor, by Judith Arnopp

Available From Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Have you ever hankered to dress like a Tudor lord or lady, or perhaps you prefer the status of goodwife, or costermonger, or even a bawd?

For beginner historical reenactors, the path to authenticity can be bewildering and sometimes intimidating. Judith Arnopp uses her own experience, both as a historian and a medieval/Tudor lady, to make your own journey a little easier.

The author traces the transition of fashion from the relatively subtle styles popular at the court of Henry VII, through the carefully constructed royal grandeur of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I to the pinnacle of majesty and splendid iconography of Elizabeth I.

In contrast to the magnificence of court come the ordinary folk who, subject to sumptuary laws and regulations, wore garments of a simpler cut and cloth – a strata of society that formed the back bone of Tudor England.

This brief history of sixteenth century fashion examines clothing for both rich and poor, adult and child, and offers tips and tricks on how to begin to sew your first historically inspired garment, this book is aimed at helping the beginner learn How to Dress like a Tudor.

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About the Author

Judith Arnopp is the author of books set in the Anglo-Saxon/early medieval period and the Tudor court. All books are available in Kindle and Paperback format, and The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Kiss of the Concubine and A Song of Sixpence are on Audible. Find out more at Judith's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp

2 December 2023

Book Review: Tudor Children, by Nicholas Orme

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nicholas Orme's research brings a wealth of knowledge to the lives of children in Tudor England.  One of the most striking things about Tudor Children is the high mortality rate among children. In the 16th century, about one in four children died before the age of five due poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition, and the spread of disease. 

As a result, parents often had large families in the hope that at least some of their children would survive to adulthood. Despite the high mortality rate, Orme shows that childhood in Tudor England was not all hardship. 

Children from wealthy families enjoyed a relatively privileged upbringing, with access to good food, clothing, and education. They also had the opportunity to play games and learn songs that are still familiar to us today.

Children from poorer families had a more difficult time. They were often expected to work from a young age, and they may not have had access to formal education. However, Orme shows that even these children found ways to enjoy themselves, playing games and singing songs that were passed down from generation to generation.

Orme does a good job of balancing the harsh realities of Tudor childhood with the more positive aspects. He shows that even though children faced many challenges, they also found ways to enjoy themselves and make the most of their lives.

I appreciated Orme's use of primary sources to illustrate his points. He quotes from a variety of sources, including diaries, letters, and household accounts, to give us a firsthand look at the lives of Tudor children.
I also liked the way Orme connected the experiences of Tudor children to our own lives. He shows that many of the things that children did in the 16th century are still familiar to us today, such as playing games, singing songs, and telling stories.

I found  Tudor Children  informative, and thought-provoking. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about childhood in Tudor England.

Tony Riches

Nicholas Orme is a British historian specialising in the Middle Ages and Tudor period, focusing on the history of children, and ecclesiastical history, with a particular interest in South West England. He is an Emeritus Professor of History at Exeter University. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, and has worked as a visiting scholar at, among others, Merton College, Oxford, St John's College, Oxford, and the University of Arizona.

1 December 2023

Book Launch Guest Post by Fiona Forsyth, Author of Poetic Justice

New from Amazon UK 

9 CE: Rome’s celebrated love poet Ovid finds himself in exile, courtesy of an irate Emperor, in the far-flung town of Tomis. Appalled at being banished to a barbarous region at the very edge of the Empire, Ovid soon discovers that he has a far more urgent - and potentially perilous - issue to address. A killer is at large in Tomis.

Shakespeare and Ovid

Ben Jonson May have sneered that Shakespeare had “small Latin and less Greek” but I think he was being unfair! Maybe Shakespeare did not go to University, but all the evidence points to a very good Classical education. Not only are some plays very definitely set in the ancient world – Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar for example - Shakespeare’s plays reflect the classical authors whose works were the staples of any educated Elizabethan. After all, Queen Elizabeth I herself at the age of twelve translated Katherine Parr’s published Prayers and Meditations from English into Latin, French and Italian.

Binding probably embroidered by Elizabeth as a cover for her trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations, 1545: British Library from its digital collections. (Catalogue entry: Royal MS 7 D X)

There was a grammar school in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, the King’s New School, and it seems likely that he would have attended. It was only a short walk down the road from the family home, and it was relatively cheap to attend, though it is thought young William may have had to leave early when his father got into financial difficulties. Any pupil at such a grammar school would have received an education in Latin exhaustive enough to be the equivalent of a modern day Classics degree. Popular authors studied were Cicero, Sallustius, Vergil, Horace - and Ovid. 

Ovid was a poet of immense versatility and wit. He lived from 43 BCE to (probably) 17 CE, breaking into the literature scene with love poems the Amores, and going onto more serious poems such as the Fasti, in which he aimed to cover the major religious festivals of the Roman calendar in verse. Of particular interest to Shakespearian scholars is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with its myriad tales of transformation. The work was popular enough to be published in an English translation before Shakespeare was born A fascinating aside is that the Bodleian Library in Oxford has a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses printed at Venice in 1502, with a signature ‘Wm Sh’ on the title page. It even has the added note ‘This little Booke of Ovid was given to me by W Hall who sayd it was once Will . Shaksperes. T N 1682.’ It would be lovely if this could be absolutely proven to have belonged to Shakespeare, but certainly during his lifetime he would have encountered Arthur Golding’s famous translation of 1567.

Title page of The XV. Bookes of P. Ouidius Naso: Entituled, Metamorphosis … Translated out of Latin into English meeter by Arthvr Golding.

Shakespeare’s work makes it clear that he was familiar with Ovid. To give just a couple of examples, the story of his narrative poem Venus and Adonis comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and in Cymbeline, before going to sleep, Imogen reads the same book. 

“She hath been reading late
The tale of Tereus; here the leaf’s turn’d down
Where Philomel gave up.”

Cymbeline Act 2 Scene 2

This passage shows that Shakespeare expected at least some of his audience to be familiar with the myths retold by Ovid, and indeed, Shakespeare’s debt to Ovid was noted in 1598 when Francis Meres wrote in his Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury: “The witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare.” 

In 2017, the 2000th anniversary of the poet’s death, the Royal Shakespeare Company held a celebration of Ovid, in particular his work Metamorphoses, because he had influenced Shakespeare so much. Gregory Doran, the RSC’s artistic director at the time said “Ovid was probably Shakespeare’s greatest inspiration and his stories are sprinkled throughout his plays, most prominently the comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe performed to much hilarity by Bottom and his friends in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Typhoo Tea produced these cards of “Characters From Shakespeare”. Bottom gets a Metamorphosis of his own!

Ovid, I think, would have taken it in his stride to be so admired by our country’s greatest poet. He was never a modest man, and this is how his Metamorphoses ends:

I shall be carried above the stars, my name will be forever.
Wherever the power of Rome spreads over conquered lands,
People will recite me, my fame lasting through the years, and
If the prophecies of poets are true - I shall live.

There is an echo of this in one of Shakespeare’s most famous works. Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare the to a summer’s day?”) ends with this couplet.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Fiona Forsyth 

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About the Author

After reading Classics at Oxford, Fiona Forsyth taught at a boys’ public school for 25 years. A move abroad gave her the chance to write and now she is back home, writing books firmly set in the political upheavals of Rome in the 1st centuries BC/AD.  Find out more at Fiona's website and find her on Twitter @for_fi

26 November 2023

Book Review: Women of Power: Formidable Females of the Medieval World, by Teresa Cole

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Historian and author Teresa Cole has taken six 'formidable' women of the medieval world, and explored their influential lives in this intriguing new book. 

We start with Emma of Normandy, who she calls 'The Great Survivor'.  Emma did survive being married to two kings, which in itself is a rare accomplishment, but I was particularly interested in how she managed the narrative in what seems a very modern way by overseeing the written account of her life - although the anonymous author doubted he was up to the job.

I recall how Queen Emma 'resurfaced' in a recent documentary about DNA testing the bones in Winchester Cathedral, which were scattered during the English Civil War. One again, Emma wins, as she was the only female, so her bones were happily reunited.

I knew less about Matilda of Tuscany, whose story was nearly cut short by her plan to retire to a nunnery after being accused of adultery with the Pope and of ordering her husband's murder. Instead, Matilda fought back against the misinformation campaigns of her enemies, who called has a 'Jezebel' and a heretic. One of the most important leaders of the Italian Middle Ages, Matilda  has the distinction of being buried in three different tombs, the final one being at St. Peter's Basilica, where her inscription says she was 'a woman with a man's soul.'

15th century portrait of Empress Matilda (Wikimedia Commons)

The stories of Empress Matilda and Matilda of Boulogne which follow requires close reading, as we switch from one to the other, and it does not help that they have the same name. Both stories are complex, and worthy of anything in 'Game of Thrones', so it was a relief to move on to Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem, and finally a favourite of mine, Eleanor of Aquitaine. 

Tomb effigies of Eleanor and Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey
(Wikimedia Commons)

All these women left their mark on history, and inspired artists in a way few of their male contemporaries did, yet often their stories are of hardship and survival against the odds. I found myself remembering my own history lessons and wondering if each generation sees them in a different light, judging the extent of their success as 'Women of Power' by the standards of the time.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Teresa Cole was a teacher for many years before turning to writing. She is the author of Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt 1415, and three books about the Normans – The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror’s Subjugation of England, After the Conquest: The Divided Realm 1066-1135, and Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England. 

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

22 November 2023

Book Review: School of Aces: The RAF Training School that Won the Battle of Britain, by Alastair Goodrum

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I followed my father into the Royal Air Force, and ended up teaching the theory of flight at the central training school, so I have a keen interest in the history of RAF training.

School of Aces is a meticulously researched and detailed story of the work of RAF Sutton Bridge, up to the end of what became known as the 'Battle of Britain'. The one training base specialised in a seven week  training programme, from which 525 Hurricane pilots graduated, and 390 becoming a key part of the mostly young men we remember as 'The Few'.

In October 1939 No. 266 Squadron reformed at RAF Sutton Bridge as a fighter squadron, and from January 1940 became the RAF's second Spitfire fighter Squadron after RAF Duxford.

Hurricane Mk I, R4118, similar to what would have been flown at RAF Sutton Bridge and used during the 'Battle of Britain' 
(Wikimedia Commons)

The detailed history of RAF Sutton Bridge is brought to life with plenty of first-hand accounts which serve to remind us all of the great risk and sacrifice made by these young men.  

RAF Sutton Bridge is now vanishing under an industrial estate, and marked only be a memorial plaque and a few remaining buildings, which is why books such as this are important part of the history of the Royal Air Force.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Alastair Goodrum is retired and lives in Lincolnshire. He has written aviation history articles and five books since 1984, and has given illustrated talks to a variety of clubs for more than twenty years. 

21 November 2023

Special Guest Post by Samantha Wilcoxson: Masterworks ~ Historical Short Fiction Inspired by Works of Art

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Strolling through an art gallery gives art appreciators a glimpse at the heart of creativity artists from across time and distance have poured onto canvas, into clay, through wood, metal, and stone. Art inspires us and helps us connect with emotions and ideas. But have you ever wondered what inspired the artists themselves? Perhaps it was a loved one, a moment of suffering or despair, a celebration, or a victory. Have you ever wondered what stories these works tell?

Masterworks is an anthology of short stories curated by Historical Writers Forum. This is HWF’s third annual collection, and the 2023 theme is stories inspired by works of art. Eleven participating authors explored stories behind famous works, lives of artists, and even the point of view of a portrait through time.

The artwork I chose for my Masterworks story is a marble statue of Alexander Hamilton that was sculpted by Robert Ball Hughes in 1835. This statue captures Alexander as most of us envision him, in the prime of his life, handsome, and ready to take on the world – or at least Thomas Jefferson. This statue was destroyed in New York’s Great Fire of 1835 less than a year after its installation and after James, Alexander’s son, failed in his efforts to save it.

I am currently writing a biography of James A Hamilton for Pen & Sword, so this short story enabled me to share some of my research and write about James with the freedom of fiction. I enjoyed delving into James’s role as the son of a famous, some might say infamous, father and whether he felt he had lived up to the Hamilton name.

 James shared his father’s intellect and passion for law and finance. His Reminiscences include pages of economic and banking advice sent to presidents and other government officials. He was a quieter man than his father, only serving as temporary Secretary of State and never grasping at a permanent cabinet position. James also was much more diplomatic. Alexander Hamilton famously said too much with excessive candor. James made friends among people with diverse political beliefs and explored Europe making favorable connections everywhere he went.

While writing this story, I was able to include some fantastic lines that are taken directly from the writing of James and his brother, John, such as, ‘Can freedom loving Americans stand before the world as a great republic that holds people in fetters while tyrants free their slaves?’ As the Civil War tore the country apart, the Hamilton brothers boldly spoke out against slavery and in favor of abolition.

This story not only shines a light on James, but also on the era between the American Revolution and Civil War, which I hope causes readers to contemplate how much more complicated of a task it was to form a new nation and compromise on laws and issues that seem non-negotiable to us. As James thinks to himself in my story, ‘It had seemed reasonable to them to leave some problems for their sons to solve. And so here I am.’ Instead of accusing historical figures of failing, perhaps we should be more willing to do our own part in the present.

Stories in this anthology take place throughout history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the 20th century, and feature interesting characters related to diverse works of art. Readers can get these stories and maybe find their next favorite author for only .99 on Kindle or free with Kindle Unlimited.

Samantha Wilcoxson
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About the Author

Samantha Wilcoxson is an author of emotive biographical fiction and strives to help readers connect with history's unsung heroes. Her historical fiction novels include the Plantagenet Embers series, Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl, and But One Life, a novel of Nathan Hale. Saantha also writes nonfiction for Pen & Sword History. Her most recent work is Women of the American Revolution, which explores the lives of 18th century women, and she is currently working on a biography of James Alexander Hamilton. Samantha loves sharing trips to historic places with her family and spending time by the lake with a glass of wine. Find out more at Samantha's Blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter/X @carpe_librum