Mastodon The Writing Desk: February 2023

28 February 2023

Spotlight: A Mistake of Murder, by Helen Hollick

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The third Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery

Was murder deliberate - or a tragic mistake? January 1972. The Christmas and New Year holiday is over and it is time to go back to work. Newly engaged to Detective Sergeant Laurence Walker, library assistant Jan Christopher is eager to show everyone her diamond ring, and goes off on her scheduled round to deliver library books to the housebound – some of whom she likes; some, she doesn’t.

She encounters a cat in a cupboard, drinks several cups of tea... and loses her ring. When two murders are committed, can Jan help her policeman uncle, DCI Toby Christopher and her fiancé, Laurie, discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?

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About the Author

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen 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 has also branched out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with her Jan Christopher 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 with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, England, and occasionally gets time to write…. Find out more at Helen's website and find her on  Facebook and Twitter @HelenHollick

27 February 2023

Special Guest Interview with Trish MacEnulty, Author of The Whispering Women

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Louisa Delafield and Ellen Malloy didn’t ask to be thrown together to bring the truth to light. But after Ellen witnesses the death of a fellow servant during an illegal abortion, Louisa, a society columnist, vows to help her find the truth and turn her journalistic talent to a greater purpose. Together, these unlikely allies battle to get the truth out, and to avenge the wrongful death of a friend.

I'm pleased to welcome author Trish MacEnulty to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is book #3 of The Delafield & Malloy Investigations. It’s titled Secrets and Spies. Here’s the book description: “After the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, New York society writer Louisa Delafield and her assistant Ellen Malloy join in the hunt for German saboteurs who are trying to stop America from aiding the Allies. 

The spies have infiltrated all levels of American society, and they’ll do anything from churning out propaganda to committing cold-blooded murder to further their mission. Can Louis and Ellen expose them? In Secrets and Spies, both women sacrifice their personal happiness as they dive into a world of subterfuge and deception.” 

I absolutely loved writing this book. I learned so much about what was going on in New York before America entered the Great War. The German ambassador to America was both a socialite and a spy! I was also fascinated by the story of the sinking of The Lusitania by a German torpedo. There were so many unnecessary deaths because of poor management. Half the lifeboats couldn’t even be used. The ship sank in about eighteen minutes. I found a lot of accounts by survivors, and there were several stories of heroism. One of the Vanderbilts was on board, and he saved several lives before perishing. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I’m a morning person so I generally write for about three hours every morning. Then in the afternoons I do research, edit, read other works of historical fiction or work on marketing. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The obvious answer is to read widely in your genre. For historical fiction in particular, it’s important to do your research first. Know the time period thoroughly because it will actually impact your story. 

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

I’m still working on that! I do think that Amazon ads, sweepstakes, Bookbub, Facebook, Twitter and Tiktok all help. Blogs such as this are also a great way to reach readers who are interested in your particular genre. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I was pleased to discover that the American-born wife of the German count who was an American spy in World War I despised Hitler and the Nazis and came back home to die. It was also interesting to read the memoirs of Germans who had been involved in the sabotage of American vessels when America was a neutral country and to learn their rationale for their actions. After all, what we in America saw as treachery, they saw as patriotism. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The sinking of the Lusitania was a tough one. So many people died, including infants. The survivors had to search through the Cunard sheds in Ireland to find the bodies of their loved ones, but not all bodies were recoverWhat are you planning to write next?

I’m excited to write about a woman who was influential in establishing freedom of the press. That’s all I can say about it at the moment because I haven’t even started my research yet. Of course, after that, I plan to return to my series.  

Trish MacEnulty

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About the Author

Trish MacEnulty is a bestselling novelist. In addition to her historical fiction, she has published novels, a short story collection, and a memoir. A former Professor of English, she currently lives in Florida with her husband, two dogs, and one cat. She writes book reviews and feature articles for the Historical Novel Review. She loves reading, writing, walking with her dogs, streaming historical series, cooking, and dancing. Find out more from her website  and find Trish on Facebook and Twitter @pmacenulty

25 February 2023

Book Review: Henry VIII: The Heart and the Crown, (The King’s Pleasure) by Alison Weir

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US
Described as ‘Alison Weir’s most ambitious novel yet’, I looked forward to reading her latest work, Henry VIII: The Heart and the Crown, (entitled ‘The King’s Pleasure’ in the US). At some six-hundred pages, this is indeed an ambitious attempt to cover the life of one of our most notorious, complex, and controversial kings.
Having given each of his wives the chance to put her point of view, Alison says Henry deserved the right of reply, and it was time for this book to be written. She does confess to wondering if she could do justice to such a ‘larger than life’ figure.

I was initially thrown by her decision to name the king ‘Harry’ throughout, in the interests of making him seem more accessible. (I kept picturing another controversial red-bearded Harry, his distantly related descendant through King Henry's sister, Margaret Tudor.)

Alison stays faithful to her policy of historical authenticity, sticking to the known facts as far as possible. I’m sure she has some interesting theories about his motives for behaving as he did, and readers would welcome a little more speculation about his feelings, particularly for his wives.

For those new to Alison Weir’s Tudor books, I recommend reading The Heart and the Crown before the six wives series, as the book provides a rich context for understanding the key players in Henry’s world.

Tony Riches

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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 out more at Alison's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks

(A review copy of this book was kindly provided by headline UK)

24 February 2023

Special Guest Post by Sally Jenkins, Author of Hit or Miss?: 33 Coffee Break Stories - How to Write Short Stories – Six Top Tips

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Sally Jenkins has brought together 33 of her short stories to give YOU the chance to test your judgement against that of competition judges and women’s magazine editors. Delve into twisted tales, slices of life and touches of history and then determine which stories were hits 
and which missed their target.

How to Write Short Stories – Six Top Tips

Most fiction writers (including me!) start their writing careers creating short stories, with the misconception that the word ‘short’ also means ‘easy’ or ‘easier than writing novels’. It is true that a short story may take ‘only’ weeks to hone to perfection, compared to the years it might take to write a novel, but it still requires a skill with words and story structure plus the willingness to constantly re-write the piece after the first draft is complete.

The following tips will get you started in the short story sphere:

1. Keep the number of characters to a minimum. In a short story there isn’t the room to flesh out several characters and to give the reader the opportunity to get to know and empathise with each of them. Too many shallow sketches of characters will confuse the reader, meaning that he won’t care about any of them or about the story itself. Try to limit the story cast to between one and three characters.

2. Use only one location. Blockbuster movies and doorstep size books have the space to build worlds, journey across continents or travel through space. In a short story keep the action in one place. There are not enough words to believably describe or evoke more than one room/street/shop/field or wherever the action is set.

3. Keep the elapsed time period short. Short stories have the greatest impact when all the action happens within a short time frame. It might be one minute, one hour or one day. The shorter the time period, the more immediate and intense the story becomes. If the action stretches over weeks or months, the reader’s mind starts to relax and wander because the tension of a short time period is missing. I had a story published which took place entirely within the few seconds that it took a learner driver to brake.

4. The protagonist must change within the course of the story. For example, through the course of the story’s events, the main character might discover they are braver/have more confidence/are more lovable than they initially believed. Consider the cowardly lion becoming brave in The Wizard of Oz or the way that Eleanor blossoms in Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.
5. The ending must be satisfying. Avoid characters waking up and discovering that it was all a dream. Twist endings can work well but not those that deliberately hoodwink the reader, for example where the narrator turns out to be an animal rather than a person. Satisfying stories generally start with the protagonist hitting a problem or crisis and end with the character overcoming this obstacle through their own endeavours, i.e., the solution is not provided by another character. In so doing, the character becomes a better person (see point 4 above).

6. Understand your target market. If you want to see your work published, it is imperative that you study your target market, be that a magazine or a competition, and write specifically for that market rather than for yourself. Take note of the required word counts, themes and style. For those aiming at the UK women’s magazine market, the Womag blog is a good place to start when researching fiction guidelines.

If you would like to test your judgement of what works within a short story, take a look at my short story collection Hit or Miss? This comprises 33 short stories, some of which have found magazine or competition success and some of which were rejected. Rejections don’t necessarily mean a story is ‘bad’, just that it wasn’t right for that particular market at that time. Can you identify which stories were spot on and which missed their target?

Sally Jenkins 
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About the Author

Sally Jenkins writes novels, short stories and articles. At the end of 2022 she signed a three book contract with Ruby Fiction, the first of these, Little Museum of Hope, will be published in April 2023. Sally is based in Birmingham, UK and enjoys walking, church bell ringing and talking about writing. Connect or follow her on Twitter @sallyjenkinsuk, Facebook or via her website and blog

23 February 2023

Spotlight: The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell, by Caroline Angus

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thomas Cromwell was King Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, the only man the king ever openly regretted executing. But Thomas Cromwell came to royal prominence late in life, and had 45 years of family, friends and experiences behind him before catching Henry’s eye.

Born a common boy at a time of significant change in England in 1485, Cromwell grew up in a happy, close-knit family, before heading to Europe for dramatic adventures. Returning to England a decade later, Cromwell emerged with the skills of a lawyer and merchant, with the European language skills and connections to match. Marriage, children, friends, family and manor homes all furnished Cromwell’s life, a man happy and settled in London. But more beckoned for the Italian-Englishman, when a special friendship with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey grew, along with the attention of the king.

Tragic personal loss affected Cromwell, hidden behind the more-recorded professional accolades. But friendships remained throughout time, changes in allegiance and even religion. Men who had met the young Cromwell stuck close to him through the years, and Cromwell never forgot a single loyal friend. Cromwell’s desire to support his son saw Gregory become brother-in-law to the king himself, only for more tragedy to harm the ever-growing Cromwell family.

Far from the seemingly dour, black-clad, serious man, Cromwell lavished those around him with gifts, parties, extravagant games, entertainments, animals and outfits. But the glamour and beauty of Cromwell’s life would come to a sudden end, leaving a trail of devastated men and women, and an extraordinary manor home, Austin Friars, scattered to the wind.

Using a wide variety of primary material, this exciting biography weaves a new narrative on the indefatigable Thomas Cromwell, illustrating him more vividly than we've known him before.

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About the Author

Caroline Angus is a New Zealand-based author raising four sons. Caroline studied a History at Universitat de València, Spain, spending ten years dedicated to the Spanish Civil War and the resulting dictatorship. Caroline went on to study with King's College London, specialising in Shakespeare and British royal history.  After a decade of writing fiction, including the Secrets of Spain series, focusing on the lives of Valencian interviewees between 1939 - 1975, and the more recent Queenmaker Trilogy, eleven years of Thomas Cromwell and his fictional attendant Nicòla Frescobaldi, Caroline is now creating non-fiction works on the surviving papers of Thomas Cromwell. Find out more from Caroline's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Writer_Caroline

21 February 2023

Special Guest Post by Fiona Forsyth, Author of Rome's End (Lucius Sestius Mysteries Book 1)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

45 B.C.E:  Rome is under a Dictator. Caesar has won the final battle of a bloody Civil War, and Romans are ready for peace. So, when Lucius Sestius Quirinalis, an aspiring lawyer, is called into his father’s study one autumn morning, he is thinking of nothing more than the family’s latest case. The charge against the historian Sallust is his corrupt rule in Roman Africa. But it is his research into the twenty-year-old Catilinarian Conspiracy which is proving unsettling for some. The Sestius family are alarmed when their friend Caecilius is killed in mistake for Lucius. Their involvement in the case has brought murder to their own house, 
and Lucius is in danger.

The Denarius

One of my most precious possessions is a small Roman coin. It is a tiny sliver of silver, a denarius minted in 43 BCE in Asia Minor for the army of Brutus: yes, that Brutus, assassin of Julius Caesar, the addressee in “et tu, Brute?”. 

Along with his fellow assassin Cassius, Brutus had fled to Asia in the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s assassination, and he was busy collecting troops and money so that he could fight Mark Antony and Octavian (later Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus) for control of the Roman Republic. This coin would have been used to pay his troops, and he entrusted the task of minting it to a junior official, Lucius Sestius.

The head on the coin is that of the goddess Liberty, with Sestius’ name around the edge. 
The strange implements on the coin’s other face are the instruments of sacrifice - a tripod, a ritual ladle, and an axe. 

With this imagery, Brutus is justifying his assassination of Caesar - he has made a sacrifice to Liberty, with Caesar as sacrificial victim. If we dig a little deeper, we discover that Brutus also sacrificed his personal friendship with Caesar. 

An interesting connection not often mentioned is that Brutus’ mother, Servilia, was Caesar’s favourite mistress, and Brutus himself had been greatly favoured by Caesar, giving rise to the rumour that he was Caesar’s son. But he was persuaded, probably by Cassius, that Caesar threatened Rome’s liberty. (Another connection - Cassius was married to Brutus’ half-sister, Junia Tertia.) Brutus’ final sacrifice came at the Battle of Philippi: when he realised that he had lost, he committed suicide.

Now for the other man who put his name on this coin. Lucius Sestius Quirinalis is not a famous Roman, but he pops up in our sources several times. Dig around again, and you will find out that Lucius survived the Battle of Philippi, and twenty years later was honoured by the man against whom he fought – the emperor Augustus. The historian Cassius Dio tells us:

“Augustus appointed as consul Lucius Sestius– a man who had worked and fought for Brutus and even now honoured Brutus’ memory. Not only did Augustus not begrudge Sestius’ loyalty and affection for Brutus, he even honoured it.”

My coin tells us just a little about the ramifications of one fateful day in Roman history, but if you want to explore more about the end of Rome’s Republic and the men who fought a bitter Civil War over it, I heartily recommend Robert Harris’ excellent Imperium trilogy. There is also my own trilogy about Lucius Sestius (Rome’s End, The Emperor’s Servant and Blood and ^) and The Third Daughter, the story of Brutus’ sister, Junia Tertia. All found on Amazon!

Fiona Forsyth

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About the Author

From the age of six when she was introduced to the myths of Greece and Rome, Fiona Forsyth wanted to explore the differences between our world and theirs. Curiosity led her to study Classics at a time when most people told her that Latin was not useful: she then earned a living teaching it for twenty-five years before a family move to the Middle East gave her the opportunity to write about it. Now back in the UK, she has published four novels with Sharpe Books, and is working on number five. Find out more at Fiona's website and find her on Twitter @for_fi

20 February 2023

Special Guest Interview with Kevin J. Glynn, Author of The English Corsair (Elizabethan Sea Dogs)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Robert Lawton is a young shipmaster who returned home from a disastrous privateering voyage to the New World only to be imprisoned in the Tower of London as a political scapegoat. After securing his freedom, he is stalked by powerful factions seeking his knowledge 
of a lost treasure ship.

I'm pleased to welcome author Kevin J. Glynn to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

I will mention two because they are one continuous story: Voyage of Reprisal details the fictional voyage of an English galleon that joins a squadron of privateers on a mission to plunder a Spanish treasure fleet during the reign of Elizabeth I. The crew of the galleon faces storms, battles at sea and ashore, mutiny, desertions, and retribution after their controversial sea captain breaks off from the fleet to seek a secret source of Spanish silver bullion. 

The English Corsair, a sequel, tells the tale of a young shipmaster who was confined to the Tower of London as a political scapegoat but secured his freedom only to find himself stalked by powerful factions seeking his knowledge of a lost treasure trove. He longs to search for missing colleagues and lost treasure in the wilds of the New World, but he must first undertake a secret mission to France and Spain and participate in Sir Francis Drake’s 1587 raid on Cadiz. 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I treat writing as a job, so I am my own task master. I spend time each day just thinking about what I want to achieve, then I write down my ideas in outline form for each chapter and I spend a few hours each day (when able) drafting the chapter to keep up the momentum.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Authoring a novel takes a tremendous investment in time and effort, so it is important to pick a genre for which you have passion and to craft a plotline that will keep the reader engaged. Step outside of yourself and go big. Build compelling characters. Research or prepare the novel’s milieu thoroughly and know where you want to take the book – what you intend to achieve - before committing yourself to writing it. Prepare outlines that ‘frame the house’ so that when setting down each chapter, you know generally where you are going and can focus on making the magic happen ‘between the frames’ with crisp, inspirational, prose. 

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

I have found social media to work best for me so far. Having a professional-appearing web page and a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Amazon are a must. Advertising is a mainstay but finding the right target audience for the paid ads can be a challenge. Getting good reviews on Amazon is important though challenging as many readers do not want to be bothered.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

In 16th century (Elizabethan) England, the distinction between an ‘honest’ merchant trader and a pirate was very thin. Queen Elizabeth would issue ‘letters of reprisal’ (a piracy license) that shielded the privateer from prosecution in the High Court of Admiralty if he limited his depredations to the ships and settlements of Spain and Portugal. 

Private joint stock companies financed these piratical enterprises. Any profits made by the ventures earned the Queen a 20% cut. Interestingly, despite the privateers’ often barbaric and treacherous actions abroad (including mutiny, summary executions, thefts, and betrayals amongst themselves), their grievances were often settled back home in the law courts. Many of these court records survive and provide lurid details of dramatic voyages.  

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

It took me several months to write one chapter that detailed a galleon preparing to depart a crowded anchorage amidst the actions of wind and tide. This entailed descriptions of raising and stowing the anchor, letting out sails, steering the ship, and setting out onto the open ocean. I had to wrestle with archaic terminology and comprehend the complexities involved with operating a ship during the early era of the age of sail. I think I achieved my goal of educating the reader with flowing prose that was not too bogged down with details. 

What are you planning to write next?

I am in the process of writing a novelized account of the Battle of the Spanish Armada. The book will be appropriately entitled Armada: A Novel. I am already into the fifth chapter and am enjoying the experience immensely. Like any good historical fiction novel, the story has plenty of accurate details about the period, the locales and the historical characters depicted. Although I mainly portray real people and events, I also weave in complementary original sub-plots and minor fictional characters to round out the story and increase its entertainment value. Some of the fictional characters provide a bridge to my earlier works because this is the third instalment of a three-part series called ‘Elizabethan Sea Dogs.’ In these collective novels, I have striven to educate as well as entertain the reader. 

Kevin J. Glynn

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About the Author

Kevin J. Glynn earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Rhode Island and is a former U.S. Navy Reserve Officer. He hails from Connecticut, and he traveled the world as a Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. He is retired and resides with his wife Frances in South Carolina. His first novel, "Voyage of Reprisal," took him 11 years to write and edit while he was employed and helping to raise two children. Once he retired, he was able to write, edit and Indie-publish a sequel, "The English Corsair," in one year. He is planning a third instalment, "Armada: A Novel." His nautical fiction books fall under a series called "Elizabethan Sea Dogs" which is set in the age of sail during the 16th Century Renaissance period. Find out more at Kevin's website and find him on Twitter @GlynnAuthor

19 February 2023

Book review: The Final Year of Anne Boleyn, by Natalie Grueninger

Available from Amazon UK, Amazon US

This is a book to treasure, to keep in pride of place, and return to.  I wish I could set aside all I thought I knew about the final year of Anne Boleyn’s life as, like most people, my memory is tainted by the many myths and stories going right back to my history lessons at school.

For example, even the story of Anne's body being placed in an elm arrow chest due to lack of a coffin does not stand close scrutiny, as the original source, thought to be the diary of the surveyor of ordnance at the Tower of London, is long since lost.   

Natalie Grueninger paints a compelling  portrait of a woman trapped by circumstance, yet almost winning against the odds.  The tragedy of her final months is one of the most haunting of Tudor history, so I understand why so many accounts are over simplified and embellished. 

This book offers a authentic and fresh perspective, and I found it fascinating to reconsider the well-known stories in such a well-researched context. 

Inspired, I revisited the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London and stood in contemplation at Anne's final resting place.  I feel I know her a little better now, but there are still many questions raised by Natalie Grueninger's thought-provoking account of this intriguing woman.

Tony Riches 

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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

17 February 2023

Special Guest Interview with Micheál Cladáin, Author of Hammer: The Iron Between,

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Genonn's tired and dreams of a remote roundhouse in the Cuala Mountains. However, sudden rebellion in Roman Britain destroys that dream because the Elder Council task him with delivering Lorg Mór, the hammer of the Gods, to the tribes across the straits of Pwll Ceris. Despite being torn between a waning sense of duty and his desire to become a hermit, Genonn finally agrees to help. When his daughter follows him into danger, it tests his resolve.

I'm pleased to welcome author Micheál Cladáin to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

Hammer is a tale that combines Irish mythology with Romano-British history. It comprises two POVs, Genonn the seeker (once a druid) and Agricola, a banded tribune seconded to the staff of the governor of Britannia, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.

It is 60 or 61 years after Christ was born, about twenty years after the Battle of Gairech, where Queen Medb of Connacht and King Conchobar of Ulster fought over the Brown Bull of Cooley. I cover the story extensively in Milesian Daughter of War, August 2020. Boudica is about to rebel in the east of Britannia. The druid Elder Council on Mona (Anglesey) tasks Genonn with delivering the hammer of the Gods, Lorg Mór, to the queen to aid the warriors of the rebellion. Few believe the hammer is magical, but the Elders believe in the power of its symbology. To protect Genonn, the council leader Fedelm, Genonn’s wife, sends the warrior Oengus with him. Oengus is wanted for murder, but Fedelm believes him innocent.

Roman Cavalry at the fords of Pwll Ceris

On the other side of the fords at Pwll Ceris, Agricola is suspicious of his commander’s behaviour. They suspect an uprising is imminent, but Suetonius orders the Fourteenth Legion west, away from where the rebels are likely to strike.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I am a full-time writer, so I treat my day as though I am at a nine-to-five job in Dublin. I leave for the office at eight in the morning, kiss the wife goodbye and pat the dogs on the head before a gruelling five-second walk to the office.

I go over what I wrote the previous day. Take a break and then spend five or six hours writing new material or planning a new book. I take a one-hour lunch break where I go to the gym and spend the last couple of hours each day either researching or trying to plug my books.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I am often asked this question, and my answer never varies. Do not give up. Other cliches are associated with it: read a lot, write a lot, and the Urban myths, like Tolkien submitted The Lord of the Rings 129 times before he got a publisher. Today’s publishing world differs entirely from when Tolkien fought to be heard. I was at a Nielsen conference recently, where the presenter gave us the stat that 60 000 books are published each week globally. That news is a sobering thought. 

How can anyone compete in that market? One answer is to stand out from the crowd. Have a USP. In today’s market, quality is a unique selling point. Most of the novels released today are not edited. I am not restricting that statement to self— and Indie-published works. I read several traditionally published books in 2022, most of which had not been edited, even by reputable publishers like Penguin Random House. 

So, my top tip, get your books edited by a professional. That will make sure they stand out. 

We writers need to be aware that self-editing does not work. I am a professional editor and still have my books edited by someone else. The reason? The mind reads what it expects to see and not what is written. This is true of all reading but exaggerated when reading your own works. We’ve all seen those texts where the letters are anagrammed with the statement, “if you can read this, you’re a genius”, which is nonsense. What is happening is your mind is deciphering the words and giving you the answer. This occurs whenever we read.

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

This is a difficult one. There are tried and tested methods that everyone cites: get a mailing list, run ads on Facebook and Instagram, and Tweet continually. Get a large social media following. My books are published by a small Indie publisher based in Wexford, PerchedCrowPress, and they do not have the same budget as large publishing houses. I would hire a publicist to plug my work if I had the budget.

Without a sizeable budget, I have found book promotion to be the most challenging part of being a novelist. However, the feel-good stories are there. I recall reading about a book (which might have been Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve) that languished until it was noticed by “a name” in the steampunk world, after which it took off. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I read classical studies at Uni, so what I read in prep for Hammer is information I have researched many times before. As such, I am not sure I “discovered” anything unexpected during my research. I think I did put an interpretation on the Boudiccan uprising that I have not hitherto done. I won’t reveal it here because it would be a massive spoiler.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I always find the first and the last scenes challenging to write. Can I say the hardest? I don't think I can. My writing methods are systematic, so the most challenging part of writing for me is creating a scene plan. Once that is done, the actual writing is quite a stress-free process.

What are you planning to write next?

I am working on Iron, the second book in The Iron Between trilogy (Hammer, Iron, Anvil). I am in the planning stage. The only thing I know so far is that it all starts with Agricola catching sight of a woman through a foggy morning in Rome who he thinks is Clíodhna, Genonn’s daughter.

Micheál Cladáin

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About the Author

Micheál Cladáin has been an author for many years. He studied Classics and developed a love of Greek and Roman culture through those studies. In particular, he loved their mythologies. As well as a classical education, bedtime stories consisted of tales read from a great tome of Greek Mythology, and Micheál was destined to become a storyteller from those times. Find out more from his website: and find him on Facebook and Twitter @cladain_m

13 February 2023

The Shell - An African Adventure

Available on Amazon Kindle and paperback

The holiday of a lifetime becomes a nightmare as two lovers face life changing danger. Lucy is bound and helpless, taken far from the safety of the world she knows. Nothing has prepared Steve for what he needs to do. He has to find and rescue her - and risk his life in the 
desperate search for Lucy. 

His journey takes him deep into the African wilderness, where death waits for the unwary. Lucy’s journey is mental as well as physical. The protective shell of her old world is gone - with everything she took for granted. Her life becomes a fight for survival, one day at a time. Based on actual events this fast-paced adventure explores the tensions in the developing country of Kenya.

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My father was in the Royal Air Force and stationed in British East Africa when I was seven years old. I was old enough to realise the significance of Jamhuri (Independence) Day, when Jomo Kenyatta drove in proud procession through the streets of Nairobi. It was the birth of the new Kenya and I remember the excitement and celebrations. The Kenyan flag was flying everywhere you looked and there was a real sense of history in the making.

We also felt the heightened sense of danger for a young British family living in the middle of it all. There was an ‘Askari’ on guard duty outside our front door at nights and my parents had to defend the house against intruders. My memory of those times is a happy one but the risks were always present. We travelled in convoy for safety and on a family holiday to Mombasa my mother warned me to watch out for the men who sailed the dhows.

I always knew I would return to Kenya but it wasn’t until forty-three years later that my wife and I went on a holiday there. It was a surprise to be told it was too dangerous for us to visit Nairobi, although we did drive through the city and I was impressed at the progress that had been made. Mombasa had also changed.  The staff at the hotel advised that, for our own safety, we should never go outside the hotel grounds without one of their men to escort us.

One afternoon we forgot the advice and walked further than intended along the beach. Realising the danger we were in, we nervously made our way back. That was when the idea for this book first came to me. What would we do if we were attacked, far from the safety of our hotel? 

I was several chapters into writing the first draft when I heard the news that a British couple had been attacked at the Kiwayu Safari Lodge, a coastal resort north of Mombasa. I set the draft to one side for nearly a year but returned to it after reading about the continued violence in northern Kenya.  

Sadly the attack on September 11th 2011 resulted in the death of David Tebbutt and the kidnap of his wife Judith. Judith Tebbutt was freed six months later when her family paid a ransom to the kidnappers. David was a hugely respected director of one of the last independent British publishers in London. Stephen Page, Faber’s publisher and chief executive, said ‘David always took a great interest in those coming to the industry from diverse backgrounds and was characteristically generous with his time and energy towards them.’

Tony Riches

10 February 2023

Book review: West: Tales of the Lost Lands, by Martin Wall

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK

In his foreword musician Robert Plant says, ‘I stand aside as Martin Wall illuminates and weaves in conversation and narrative.’  I understood as I began to read this uniquely whimsical book. There is no question that Martin Wall is a talented storyteller, yet our journey into the ‘lost’ lands, which I would call the Welsh Marches, is not straightforward.

The author leads us down an ancient path full of unexpected twists and turns. Partly autobiographical, his interest in the history of the places he refers to is lively and interesting – yet often unexpected. For example, an unlikely ‘sighting’ of the ghost of Lady Jane Grey turns into an exploration of her short life.

His lyrical style is captivating, and this is a book you can open at any page and learn something, if only that there is always another point of view. 

Tony Riches

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

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About the Author

Martin Wall inherited his passionate interest in local history and folklore from his father and has been writing about these subjects for ten years. He lectures historical groups on a variety of subjects and acts as a gallery interpreter in his spare time. He is the author of 'Warriors and Kings', 'The Anglo Saxon Age' and 'The Magical History of Britain'. He has a long-standing interest in Adult and Community Education.

8 February 2023

Special Guest Interview with Angela M Sims, Author of The Rose of Florence

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1478: Gianetta and Matteo have a happy life, working in service to the wealthy Rosini family. They are used to entertaining rich and powerful members of Florentine society in Palazzo Rosini, where Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici, and Botticelli are regular visitors. Even when the Medici brothers narrowly escape the Palazzo with their lives (an accident, surely?), Gianetta and Matteo can’t imagine that the growing unrest in the streets of Florence would ever
spoil their happiness.

I'm pleased to welcome author Angela M Sims to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book. I like the sound of that. My latest book is actually my first book, but perhaps it’s the first of many. I hope so! The Rose of Florence is an historical fiction based in Renaissance Florence in 1478, the time of the Medici, of Botticelli, of da Vinci and other great names. 

To have such rich pickings in the same small city is a story-teller’s dream. Many have been there before me, and I’m sure many more will after, but any book is driven by its characters, and I hope my characters will remain with my readers for a long time. One of my reviewers described the book as “young love meets power politics”, which sums it up very well. We have a love story, murder, intrigue and betrayal – all my favourite ingredients for a story.

Talking of ingredients, I have presented the story in the form of a meal, the prologue being the antipasti, designed to whet the appetite, and the final chapters, the dolce, something sweet and satisfying to end the story. (Of course, I’ve included some of my favourite recipes too!)

What is your preferred writing routine?

My preferred writing routine…do I have a writing routine? I’m not sure that I do, really. As I am still juggling my writing with my day job as a University lecturer, I write when I get chance and when inspiration hits.

If I were able to have a preference, however, I know how it would work. Many plot knots tend to work themselves out at night, either as I’m dropping off to sleep or at the most inconvenient time in the middle of the night. Given the chance, I would then be up early to get that writing done. I work much better in the morning and can lose myself for a good few hours. The tough part is coming out of that little bubble and remembering how to converse with real people.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I can only speak for what has worked for me at this early stage of my writing career.

Read! Read as much as you can in your chosen genre. Even the books that you don’t enjoy so much can teach you a lot about what you want to write.

Write! Yes, obvious, I know, but just start writing. I am a procrastinator extraordinaire and will plan to the nth degree, but magical things happen when you just start to write. My characters told me what they wanted to say. I even had a character introduce himself to me out of the blue. Now he’s one of my favourites.

Chat! Get involved in writers’ groups – Facebook, Twitter, whatever suits you. Join a relevant association. For me, the Romantic Novelists’ Association was a great help. Whatever anyone tells you, writing is not a solitary business.

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

Well, I’m still working on that. The writers’ groups that I have just mentioned are very supportive and will publicise your books on their own platforms. The writing world is a very generous world, and other authors are on your side.

Don’t be afraid to contact people to ask for help. That big author whose books you’ve always admired? Ask them to share your work. Most of them are more than willing to help. I’m always looking for new ideas though!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Oh, so many things! I’ll just mention two.

Florence in 1478 was a small city, not at all as big or busy as it is today, but you could wander the streets and bump into Lorenzo de’ Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Niccolò Machiavelli among many others. What a fascinating time and place it must have been!

On a more mundane topic – kitchens. Having been brought up on programmes such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, I was surprised to learn that the kitchens in rich houses, such as the Palazzo in my story, were situated upstairs. On reflection, it made a lot of sense to do that. A kitchen, especially in a hot, dry environment like Florence, is a great fire risk. Should a fire break out, then the flames will travel upwards and not affect the main rooms of the house. Similarly, cooking smells will drift upwards and not disturb the families below. Obvious really, isn’t it?

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene had to be the murder in the cathedral. This isn’t a spoiler. The Pazzi Conspiracy is a well-known historical fact and was what started the story of The Rose of Florence in the first place. It was essentially an assassination attempt on the lives of the ruling Medici brothers, during Mass in the cathedral. 

I couldn’t play with any of the facts (apart from the precise date – I did change that!), but I also had to capture the terror of the day, the bloodiness, the shock. I had to make sure that my fictional characters were a part of it, that they felt every bit as confused and frightened as anyone there that day. It took me a few attempts, and I revisited it more than once, but I was happy with how it turned out.

What are you planning to write next?

I’ve mentioned that I have an affection for some of The Rose’s characters, and I’m not ready to leave them yet. So, I plan to revisit them a few years later, to see how things have changed. However, there is another episode in Florence’s history that has captured my imagination, and that is one of the many floods that they have had. The biggest of these occurred in 1966. There are some obvious links with the time of The Rose, so I am planning a dual timeline story.

I’ve plotted and planned, but now, to follow my own advice, I must write and see where it takes me!

Angela M Sims

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About the Author

Angela’s background is in healthcare, working in the NHS for many years, and she has been a University lecturer since 2010. Her writing experience was limited to a Masters dissertation, purely academic, but the research skills learned during that process were soon put to use in researching her favourite topic, the Italian Renaissance. It didn’t take long before the seeds of a story began to germinate, and The Rose of Florence blossomed. She joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) and the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) in 2020 and found the encouragement and resources available taught her so much about the process and skills needed to write fiction. She is also a member of the Historical Writers’ Association (HWA) and the Society of Authors (SoA). Her debut novel, The Rose of Florence, was published in January 2023 by Romaunce Books Ltd  On a personal level, Angela lives in Cardiff, South Wales, with her husband and two cats. She has two grown-up daughters and a gorgeous granddaughter. When not working, reading or writing, she loves to cook, spend time in the garden, and at every opportunity, travel to Italy to eat, drink and absorb the wonderful atmosphere. She likes to call that research! Find out more at Angela's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @AngelaMSims1

Historical Fiction Spotlight - A Rip in the Veil, by Anna Belfrage

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

On a muggy August day in 2002 Alex Lind disappears. On an equally stifling August day in 1658, Matthew Graham finds her on a Scottish moor. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew.

Alexandra Lind is thrown three centuries backwards in time to land at the feet of escaped convict Matthew Graham.

Matthew doesn’t know what to make of this strange woman who has seemingly fallen from the skies—what is she, a witch?

Alex is convinced the tall, gaunt man is some sort of hermit, an oddball, but she quickly realises the odd one out is she, not he.

Catapulted from a life of modern comfort, Alex grapples with her new existence, further complicated by the dawning realization that someone from her time has followed her here—and not exactly to extend a helping hand.

Potential compensation for this brutal shift in fate comes in the shape of Matthew, a man she should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him. But Matthew comes with baggage of his own and on occasion his past threatens them both. At times Alex finds it all excessively exciting, longing for the structured life she used to have.

How will she ever get back? And more importantly, 
does she really want to?

# # #

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.  Her Castilian Heart is the third in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In the second instalment, The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain. This latest release finds our protagonists back in England—not necessarily any safer than the wilds of Spain! Anna has also authored The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode!  All of 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 enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, and find her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

7 February 2023

Special Guest Interview with Helene Harrison, Author of Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Throughout her reign, Elizabeth I had to deal with many rebellions which aimed to undermine her rule and overthrow her. Led in the main by those who wanted religious freedom and to reap the rewards of power, each one was thwarted but left an indelible mark on Queen Elizabeth and her governance of England

I'm pleased to welcome author Helene Harrison to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

My debut book is entitled Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason and it examines the English rebellions of Elizabeth I’s reign – the Northern Rising of 1569, the Ridolfi Plot of 1571, the Throckmorton and Parry Plots of 1583, the Babington Plot of 1586, and the Essex Rebellion of 1601. 

It looks at how and why these rebellions happened, what was the progress of the rebellion, what the monarch’s and council’s response was, and the consequences. Each rebellions gets its own chapter, after the first chapter which briefly examines the earlier Tudor rebellions under Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I, and what Elizabeth I could have learnt from them. It discusses the development of the first real government spy network, how rebellions led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and how these plots helped to create the myth of Gloriana.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I work full-time alongside my writing so I tend to do my research on a weekday evening once I’ve finished work, along with any hand-drafting, then I spend my Saturdays writing largely, sometimes drifting over into the Sunday, and then I spend my Sundays relaxing with a stitching project or a book. It’s important for me to get that relaxation time alongside my job and writing, much as I love to write and research!

What advice do you have for new writers?

The best advice I can give is just to write. A friend gave me some great advice and told me that what’s important is just to write; get any ideas down on paper (or computer) and you can always go back and re-write and move things around later. The important thing is just to get writing and even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense at first, some spark of a great idea can come from just writing things down and getting them out of your head.

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

I’ve found social media to be a really good way of raising awareness about my book, and not just by posting about my book, but by posting lots of other things as well. People seem to like one post and then will go to my profile and like a book-related post, which is really lovely to see. Instagram is my preferred though I also use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I think that the most unexpected thing I found was just how much Mary Queen of Scots was at the heart of Elizabethan rebellions. The only one that didn’t involve her took place fourteen years after her death, and the first Elizabethan rebellion was within a year of Mary arriving in England from Scotland. I knew Mary Queen of Scots was a constant undercurrent in England but I don’t think I realised just how disruptive her presence was, or how close England came to invasion so many times because of her. It’s so intriguing to read and write about.

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently working on my second book for Pen and Sword about executing the Tudor nobility, so it won’t look at the likes of Thomas Cromwell, or Mary Queen of Scots, but the men and women of noble Tudor blood who ended up under the executioner’s blade. People like Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, as well as the more well-known ones like Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. It will cover the whole of the Tudor period from Henry VII to Elizabeth I.

Helene Harrison

# # #

About the Author

Helene Harrison studied at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, achieving both a BA and an MA in History before going on to complete an MSc in Library Management. Her passion for Tudor history started when studying for A Levels and completing a module on Tudor rebellions. Her Masters dissertation focused on portrayals of Anne Boleyn through the centuries, from contemporary letters to modern TV and film adaptations. Now she writes two blogs, one Tudor history and one book-related, and loves visiting royal palaces and snuggling up with a book or embroidery project. Find out more at her website and find Helene on Facebook and Twitter @tudorblogger