Mastodon The Writing Desk: April 2023

29 April 2023

Special Guest Post by Tracey Warr, Author of The Drowned Court (Conquest Book 2)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1107. A kidnap and a devastating shipwreck. King Henry I reigns over England, Normandy and Wales, but his rule is far from secure. He faces treacherous assassination attempts and rebellion. Nuns and bards are tasked as spies to carry dangerous messages across the kingdom.

Untangling the Legend of Nest ferch Rhys

The Drowned Court, the second book in my Conquest trilogy, has just been reissued. The trilogy focuses on the turbulent life of the Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys, and the Norman king, Henry I. The three books cover the protracted Norman invasion of Wales at the end of the 11th century and into the 12th century. 

The central event in The Drowned Court is the kidnap of Nest ferch Rhys by the Welsh prince Owain ap Cadwgan. Owain assaulted a castle belonging to Nest’s Norman husband Gerald FitzWalter and abducted her.

Regan Walker, imagined portrait of Owain ap Cadwgan

Many of the details of Nest’s life are unclear and untangling a credible tale from the legend is a challenge. The primary source for the kidnap is the Brut y Tywysogion (Brut) (Chronicle of the Princes), a chronicle of the deeds of the rulers of the Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys and Deheubarth 681–1282, compiled at and based on the annals of the abbey of Strata Florida. 

Roger Kidd / The west doorway to Strata Florida Abbey, Ceredigion

This abbey was founded in the 12th century by Nest’s youngest son, Robert FitzStephen and given patronage by her nephew, Rhys ap Gruffudd, the Welsh ruler of Deheubarth. Many of the princes of the House of Dinefwr, Nest’s family, were buried here. The fabulous Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym is also buried at the abbey and I use his poem ‘Yr Wylan’ (anachronistically) in my novel.

Uncertainties about the kidnap are legion. The date, place and Nest’s role are all uncertain. Owain’s attack occurred soon after Christmas in either 1106 or 1109. The Brut states Nest was kidnapped with two of her sons and a daughter and a son of Gerald’s by a concubine. This tells us that Nest must have been at least four years into her marriage with Gerald at the time of the kidnap. 

Another uncertainty is the question of when Nest was the mistress of King Henry and whether or not one of the children kidnapped with her might have been the king’s son. Susan Johns suggests Nest’s relationship with the king took place around 1114, after the kidnap, whereas Kari Maund argues Nest was King Henry’s mistress before she married Gerald FitzWalter. If Maund is correct, there is a possibility that her royal son, Henry FitzRoy, was with her (although he could also have been born at the earlier time but reared at Henry’s court). The Brut makes no mention of a royal child, only saying that the incident was an affront to the king’s steward, Gerald.

The Brut describes an assault at Cenarth Bychan, a castle Gerald had just built. Cenarth Bychan has been provisionally identified as Cilgerran Castle, on the border of Prince Owain’s lands, or alternatively as Carew Castle, in modern Pembrokeshire, which was likely Nest’s primary home. The threat of Gerald building Cilgerran so close to the border of the kingdom of Owain’s father seems to make that castle the more likely contender. Carew was deep inside the Norman-held territory of Deheubarth, surrounded by other well-garrisoned Norman castles including Pembroke, Llansteffan, and Carmarthen. Norman castles had generally been unassailable by Welsh rebel fighters. 

Cilgerran Castle. Helge Klaus Rieder, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The possibility that Owain had inside help has to be entertained, however, that doesn’t have to have been Nest herself. Any number of people on the inside could have facilitated this unusually successful attack. One of the Brut manuscripts suggests that Owain and fourteen men came over the wall. Another version states that they tunnelled under the gates.

The Brut describes Nest urging her husband to escape down the castle toilet chute, which speaks to her concern for Gerald’s life. One version of the chronicle states Owain violated Nest. The Brut depicts her negotiating for the return of the four small children to their father in exchange for her staying with Prince Owain. Owain refused to give her up despite the serious political consequences of his actions. 

He was driven into exile and his father, Cadwgan was stripped of his territory by King Henry. The event enabled the king to manipulate the Powys royal family and set them on a course of murderous in-fighting, leading eventually to Cadwgan’s murder. The king intervened with Owain via Richard Belmais, the bishop of London and Nest was eventually returned to Gerald.

Gerald of Wales, Nest’s grandson does not mention Owain’s kidnap of his grandmother at all in his account of his family but he does rant misogynistically about another parallel incident involving an Irish princess:

She [Derbforgaill, wife of O’Ruairc], who had long entertained a passion for Dermitius [Diarmaid] took advantage of the absence of her husband and allowed herself to be ravished not against her will. As the nature of women is fickle and given to change, she thus became the prey of the spoiler of her own contrivance. For as Mark Anthony and Troy are witnesses, almost all the greatest evils in the world have arisen from women.

This appears to be a version of blaming a woman for her own rape.

Was Nest a victim of a violent rape and kidnap or did she collude with her kidnapper? John Lloyd (1911) characterised the story as a romantic affair in which Nest, who he dubbed Helen of Wales, colluded in ‘a fascinating … story of passion and daring’ resistance to Norman rule. Nest is depicted by some commentators as a ravishingly irresistible beauty and Owain is cast as the romantic Welsh hero who saves her from her Norman oppressors. 

So, in another version of ‘it was her fault’, she is seen as causing her own abduction due to her beauty. Rees Davies (2000) has described her as ‘a lady of easy charm and many lovers’, and John Davies (2007) has stated that owing to her ‘numerous affairs’ her seduction by Owain would not have been ‘a novel experience for her’. Irritation with such accounts was one of the initial spurs for my writing a series of novels about Nest.

Susan Johns (2012) analysed Lloyd’s version as romantic nation-building. The kidnap was not just about taking Nest but ‘about the retaking of the nation’. Kari Maund contested the male historians’ interpretations too, arguing that ‘Nest embodies Welsh resistance to, but also integration with, the Normans’. Caroline Dunn (2012) has argued that many medieval women in England arranged their abductions as a smokescreen for their escapes from unwanted marriages or to ‘join their desired lovers’.

It is likely that Nest was attractive. She was (at some point) the mistress of King Henry I and bore him a child. As king, he could select any woman he liked as mistress. The Normans had massacred her family, annexed her father’s kingdom, and reduced her from royal daughter to king’s mistress and steward’s wife. She may well have felt hatred for them and longed for a Welsh prince to rescue her. 

However, she had been living with Normans since 1093, had been married to Gerald FitzWalter for at least four years and had a number of children with him at the time the kidnap occurred. It seems likely she was integrated in Norman life and had significant investment in her marriage and family. Bartering herself to return the children to safety has the ring of truth.

What should we make of Owain’s actions? The Brut notes Owain’s turbulent relationship with his father, Cadwgan, and states Owain ‘unworthily governed’ his Powys lands. The fallout from the incident was detrimental for Owain and Cadwgan. It is credible that Owain’s primary motivation was to contend against the Norman threat to his patrimony. After Nest’s return, Owain was reconciled with King Henry who took the prince on campaign with him to Normandy. However, this strategy of keeping your enemy close was a commonplace for this king and speaks more to Henry’s character than to Owain’s.

And what did the husband make of it all? How did he feel about both the kidnap and the eventual return of his wife? His grandson, Gerald of Wales, describes Gerald FitzWalter as ‘a stalwart, cunning man’. His defence of Pembroke Castle reported in the Brut and his survival of the fall of the Montgomery family, who were his original overlords, all suggest that Gerald was pragmatic and shrewd. 

Gerald of Wales states that his grandfather married Nest ‘with the object of giving himself and his troops a firmer foothold in the country’. Eleanor Searles has convincingly argued that property and succession claims inhered strongly in women in Anglo-Norman society. Marriage to heiresses did not simply enrich men, it legitimised their position within power groups and the bloodlines of their heirs. For the incoming Normans it strengthened their territorial claims. However, we have no way of knowing what degree of affection existed between Gerald and Nest before or after the kidnap.

It is interesting to consider other incidences of adultery in hybrid Norman/Welsh marriages. In the 1120s, Agnes, the wife of Bernard de Neufmarché (her Welsh name was Nest), who was half-Welsh and half-Norman, swore to King Henry I that her son was not her husband’s child. She may simply have hated her husband. The son was disinherited, which suited King Henry. 

In 1153, Mabel, wife of Ranulf de Gernon, may have been involved, along with her lover William de Peverel, in the poisoning of her husband, which eventually led to de Gernon’s death and the exile of de Peverel. In 1230, Joan (the natural daughter of King John), the wife of Prince Llewellyn the Great, was caught in flagrante with William de Braose. De Braose was hanged. Joan was confined for a year but then forgiven by Llewellyn. Perhaps these incidents were the inevitable outcome of forced marriages, often of younger women to older men for territorial reasons.

In 1116, Gerald FitzWalter encountered Owain ap Cadwgan on a routine patrol and there was a skirmish. Owain was killed and Gerald may have taken a death wound. He died soon after. Gerald may have been taking vengeance against Owain for Nest’s sake or simply for the sake of his own honour.

My novel, The Drowned Court, imagines its way into the tangled psychologies and motivations of these characters to create one possible version of events.

Tracey Warr

(See Tracey's  blog for a bibliography of the sources cited above.)

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About the Author

Tracey Warr was born in London, lived in southwest Wales and now lives in southern France. The castles and landscapes of Wales and France inspire her historical fiction. She is the author of five historical novels set in medieval Europe and centred on strong female leads. Her writing awards include an Author’s Foundation Award and a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary. Before becoming a full-time writer she worked as a contemporary art curator and art history academic. Tracey manages author launch interviews for the Historical Novel Society website. She is part of the team organising the next Historical Novel Society UK conference at Dartington Hall, Devon 6–8 September 2024. For more information see and find Tracey on Facebook and Twitter @TraceyWarr1

28 April 2023

Blog Tour Spotlight: 10th Anniversary Edition of INCEPTIO by Alison Morton

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

“It's about Roman blood, survival and money. Mostly yours."

In an alternative New York, Karen Brown is running for her life. She makes a snap decision to flee to Roma Nova - her dead mother's homeland, the last remnant of the Roman Empire in the 21st century. But can Karen tough it out in such an alien culture? And with a crazy killer determined to terminate her for a very personal reason?
Stifled by the protective cocoon of her Roma Novan family, deceived by her new lover, she propels herself into a dangerous mission. But then the killer sets a trap - she must sacrifice herself for another - and she sees no escape.

A thriller laced with romance and coming of age, this first in series is Roman fiction brought into the 21st century through the lens of alternative history and driven by a female protagonist with heart and courage.

This 10th Anniversary hardback edition includes bonus content: Three character ‘conversations’, two short stories and the story behind INCEPTIO.

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About the Author

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is governed by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache with with a sharp line in dialogue. She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history. Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her latest two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Now that JULIA PRIMA has been published, she’s writing the next part of the Roma Nova foundation story.  Find out more at Alison's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @alison_morton.

26 April 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Matter of Faith: Henry VIII, the Days of the Phoenix, by Judith Arnopp

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Finally free of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII is now married to Anne Boleyn, and eagerly awaits the birth of his son. In a court still reeling from the royal divorce and amid growing resentment against church reform, Henry must negotiate widespread resentment toward Anne. But his lifelong dreams of a son to cement his Tudor bloodline are shattered when Anne is delivered of a daughter.

Burying his disappointment, Henry focuses on getting her with child again, but their marriage is volatile and, as Henry faces personal bereavement and discord at court, Anne’s enemies are gathering. When the queen miscarries of a son, and Henry suffers a life-threatening accident, his need for an heir becomes vital. Waiting in the wings is Jane Seymour, a lady-in-waiting, who offers the king respite from Anne’s fiery passions.

But, when Anne falls foul of her former ally, Thomas Cromwell, and the king is persuaded that Anne has made him a cuckold, Henry strikes out and the queen falls beneath the executioner’s sword, taking key players in Henry’s household with her.

Jane Seymour, stepping up to replace the fallen queen, quickly becomes pregnant. Delighted with his dull but fertile wife, Henry’s spirits rise even further when the prince is born safely. At last, Henry has all he desires, but even as he celebrates, fate is preparing to deliver one more staggering blow.

The virile young prince is now a damaged middle-aged man, disappointed in those around him but most of all in himself. As the king’s optimism diminishes, his intractability increases, and soon the wounded lion will begin to roar.

The story continues in Book Three:
A Matter of Time, the Dying of the Light

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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

25 April 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Queen's Scribe, by Amy Maroney

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A broken promise. A bitter conflict. And a woman’s elusive chance to love or die.

1458. Young Frenchwoman Estelle de Montavon sails to Cyprus imagining a bright future as tutor to a princess. Instead, she is betrayed by those she loves most—and forced into a dangerous new world of scheming courtiers, vicious power struggles, and the terrifying threat of war.

Determined to flee, Estelle enlists the help of an attractive and mysterious falconer. But on the eve of her escape, fortune’s wheel turns again. She gains entry to Queen Charlotta’s inner circle as a trusted scribe and interpreter, fighting her way to dizzying heights of influence.

Enemies old and new rise from the shadows as Estelle navigates a royal game of cat and mouse between the queen and her powerful half-brother, who wants the throne for himself.

When war comes to the island, Estelle faces a brutal reckoning for her loyalty to the queen. Will the impossible choice looming ahead be her doom—or her salvation?

With this richly-told story of courage, loyalty, and the sustaining power of love, Amy Maroney brings a mesmerizing and forgotten world to vivid life. The Queen’s Scribe is a stand-alone novel in the Sea and Stone Chronicles collection.

Praise for the Sea and Stone Chronicles:

“Island of Gold is a nimbly told story with impeccable pacing.”—Historical Novel Society, Editor’s Choice Review

“Sea of Shadows is stunning. A compelling tale of love, honor, and conviction.” —Reader’s Favorite Review

Amy Maroney is the author of the award-winning Miramonde Series, the story of a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern day scholar on her trail.

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About the Author

Amy Maroney studied English Literature at Boston University and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series, an Amazon-bestselling historical mystery trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Amy’s award-winning historical adventure/romance series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus.  An enthusiastic advocate for independent publishing, Amy is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and the Historical Novel Society. Find our more from her website: and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @wilaroney

24 April 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: I, Richard Plantagenet, The Prequel, Part Three: Crown In Exile, By J.P. Reedman

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

October 1470. King Edward IV is forced into exile when Warwick the Kingmaker decides to unmake the king he helped put on the throne and reinstall old, sickly Henry VI as a puppet. He flees over the sea to Burgundy; with him, is his loyal younger brother, Richard of Gloucester.

However, Richard’s ship is blown into Holland by a storm—the eighteen-year-old youth, penniless owing to the haste of his departure from England, must find his way through an unknown country and reunite with his brother, the King.

But finding each other is not enough—together the two sons of York must now attempt to raise an army to reclaim England’s throne, but such a task is easier said than done. They hope for aid from Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, husband of their sister, Margaret, but Charles is a hot-headed, temperamental man with Lancastrian leanings…

The third and final book in the I, Richard Plantagenet: the Prequel series, after Road From Fotheringhay and A Vous Me Lie. The life story of Richard III, told from Richard’s own first person viewpoint.

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About the Author

J. P. Reedman was born in Canada but has lived in the U.K. for nearly 25 years. Her Interests include folklore & anthropology, prehistoric archaeology (neolithic/bronze age Europe; ritual, burial & material culture), as well as The Wars of the Roses and other medieval eras. Find out more at her website and find her on Twitter @StoneLord1

23 April 2023

Book Review: Margaret of Anjou, She-Wolf of France, Twice Queen of England, by Joanna Arman

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In 1445 a fifteen-year-old French girl left her homeland to marry the son of the great warrior Henry V. Sixteen years later, her husband had lost his throne and she had fled into exile. For a decade, she struggled to reclaim the throne of England before her final and shattering defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury. It marked the final destruction of the House of Lancaster by Yorkist King Edward IV and his brothers. Margaret lost more than her family: she was also vilified. Shakespeare cast her as a sadistic killer who murdered the noble Richard, Duke of York. History cast her as a manipulative seductress whose destructive ambition was a major cause of the Wars of the Roses.

This is a book I've been wanting to read for many years. I began trying to understand the complex life of  Queen Margaret of Anjou when I wrote about Sir Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known of as the 'Kingmaker'.  Her sworn enemy, in an amazing change of heart, he risks everything to fight for her cause.

I can now begin to understand this enigmatic woman. Joanna Arman's style is highly readable and conveys a far more nuanced account of Margaret of Anjou's life than other biographies I've read. 

It is hard not to feel sorry for Margaret. Forced into marriage to King Henry VI, her critics were ready to seize any opportunity to attack her reputation. Worse still, Margaret is remembered by many as Shakespeare's pejorative 'She-Wolf', and I hope this book will help to go a long way towards a more balanced view.

 Margaret of Anjou in Manuscript illuminated by the Talbot Master
British Library (Wikimedia Commons)

Joanna Arman concludes that Margaret of Anjou was a woman who stepped beyond traditional expectations of her role, and defied social norms. Margaret was on the losing side of history, but that means we must take particular care to understand the truth of her story.

Tony Riches   
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About the Author

Joanna Arman studied for her Masters Degree at the University of Winchester and specialises in Women's History; exploring topics such as 15th century Queens, female landowners in Medieval records or the impact of the Magna Carta on women's marriage rights. She grew up in Sussex, in sight of the stunning South Downs. Find our more at Joanna's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @grumpy_history

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

21 April 2023

Special Guest Post by Jonathan Posner: The impact of the frequent changes of religion in Tudor England

 The Witchfinder’s Well trilogy.

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

As a writer of historical fiction set in Tudor England, I recognise that religion was the key driver of almost every part of life – and therefore every story – set in the period. Belief in God was fundamental to how society operated, which meant that the doctrinal divisions of Protestant versus Catholic were themselves the primary source of conflict. So it has been very important for me to research and understand these divisions as the background to my action adventure stories.

Why? Because setting my stories in the reign of Elizabeth I allowed me to position a Catholic as an easy enemy. But is that simply too one-dimensional? While it is convenient to demonise the Catholics of the period, I believe it is also necessary to understand their background and motives.

In this article I look at the changes in doctrine that characterised the era, and consider what this must have been like for the people of the time.

The Tudor era was a period of massive change and upheaval in the religious life of England. Until this time Catholicism had largely been the unchallenged doctrine, with the Pope in Rome as the head of the Church (I say ‘largely’ because the Protestant movement did not start with Martin Luther in 1517 – earlier philosophers like John Wycliffe had challenged the precepts of Catholicism as early as the 14th Century). But by 1603 and the end of the Tudor era everything had changed. The state-sanctioned doctrine was Protestantism, the head of the Church was the monarch, and Catholicism was seen as both heretical and traitorous.

It had not simply been a linear change; there had been a number of reversals along the way – all of which must have been both deeply challenging and destabilising for the majority of men and women of the time.

Let’s take an example. Meet ‘John’. He’s an educated land-owning Englishman, born in 1500 and therefore baptised a Catholic. By the time of his death at the age of 75, he would have seen his faith state-approved, then de-legitimised, then restored, then completely outlawed. So what caused these changes, and what would it have been like for him?

We start with the period leading up to the English Reformation, which was when Henry VIII broke away from Rome in order to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn. John would, like everyone else, have been secure in his Catholic faith. As a young man he might have heard of the ‘heretical’ teachings of Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Switzerland – but he would have been fairly well insulated from these. His religion came from the priest, who took it from a Latin bible and interpreted it for John and his family in church. 

The Mass was heard in Latin and the principle was that salvation (from eternal damnation in hell) came from following the Catholic teachings and doing good works. The doctrine of Transubstantiation was also fundamental – that the bread and wine of the Eucharist became the actual body and blood of Christ.

The English Reformation, when viewed through the lens of history and the subsequent rise of Protestantism, could be thought of as changing these services and the practice of faith. But the truth is that very little changed for John and men like him. The Reformation was simply a political and administrative change at the top, replacing the Pope with the King as the head of the Church. England remained Catholic in practice, and Henry ultimately opposed the Bible in English, as he shared the Catholic concern that the common man shouldn’t read it for himself, in case this caused dissent.

But I think it is fair to say that by creating the Church of England, Henry opened the door to the eventual introduction of Protestantism. Luther and Calvin’s teachings were becoming more widely disseminated across Europe. They had also reached England, where they were taken up by many intellectuals, such as leading thinkers like Katherine Parr, Henry’s sixth wife.

She was instrumental in bringing up Henry’s son and heir Edward according to the new doctrine, and Edward also had a fiercely anti-Catholic tutor called Richard Cox. So when Edward ascended the throne in 1547, even as a boy of nine, he was staunchly Protestant. His regents – first his uncle the Duke of Somerset, then the Duke of Northumberland – both supported his Protestant faith. And when Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, mandated the English Bible and introduced a new English Book of Common Prayer, Protestantism was truly established.

So our John – now in his late 40s with a wife and children – found that he was expected to reject all he had known and fully accept the new Protestantism. Not only was he told that simply believing in Jesus was enough to ensure his salvation, but he was also expected to have an English Bible and read it to his family. He now had to hear the Mass in English, and to reject the doctrine of Transubstantiation. The reason? In the Protestant doctrine, the bread and wine were now only ‘metaphorical representations’ of the body and blood of Christ.

Imagine how difficult all this would have been for John. Not only did he have to embrace a whole new way of thinking, but there was also a potentially terrifying question to face: what would rejection of his Catholic beliefs do to his immortal soul after death? Would he have to face eternal damnation in hell?

So I am sure that when Edward died in 1553 and his sister Mary I took the throne, John would have been relieved that his Catholicism was to be restored in the Counter Reformation. Mary was determined to reverse the reforms, and had Cranmer and other leading Protestants like Latimer and Ridley burned to death. However, she found many of the changes were harder to undo. The ecclesiastical properties confiscated or sold by Henry were now in the hands of powerful private landowners. These men therefore had a vested interest in preserving the new status quo and opposing any return of their lands, and by association, any return to Catholicism.

Another factor was the appeal of Protestantism to the wider population, with its accessible services and English Bible. While I have assumed our man John remained a Catholic at heart, many of his fellow Englishmen had fully embraced the new faith, and were supported by extensive printed propaganda produced by a strong underground reform movement.

The main problem for Mary was that she only reigned for five years. Even though Protestantism was still new and therefore may have rested on shaky foundations, she didn’t have enough time to turn it around (or even to restore Papal Supremacy).

Then, in 1558, Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth I came to power. As a Protestant, she was determined to undo all Mary’s Catholic changes. Elizabeth had two key reasons for being a Protestant; her mother Anne Boleyn had been a reformist, and Elizabeth had also been brought up by Katherine Parr. So the new Queen set out to restore her late brother’s reforms.

It was fairly straightforward for Elizabeth to implement the Religious Settlement that reinstated Protestantism; between 1559 and 1663 she introduced a number of changes – such as the Thirty Nine Articles that codified the doctrines of the Church of England and the Act of Uniformity that restored Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. Together these meant that the Reformation, started by her father and advanced by her brother, had effectively been completed.

What, then, of John? Now in his early 60s, he had a choice to make. Should he continue as a Catholic, but in secret and at risk to himself and his family? Or should he embrace the reformed faith and stay within the Elizabethan state and ecclesiastical laws? And whatever his choice, what would be the risk to his immortal soul?

It would have been a difficult decision, and I do understand if he opted to remain a Catholic. Initially this would not have been too risky, as Elizabeth took a tolerant position. She is understood to have said ‘I will not make windows into men’s souls’. While she professed to be against the practice of Catholicism, she supported her Catholic subjects, provided that they made no trouble.

But in 1570 everything changed. Pope Pius V issued a Papal Bull called Regnans in Excelcis; a proclamation which declared Elizabeth to be a heretic and usurper.

Pope Pius made it every Catholic’s duty not only to disobey Elizabeth, but actively to seek her death. Not surprisingly for Elizabeth, this turned every Catholic into a potential traitor, and encouraged a succession of Catholic plots to put her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. All of these plots were foiled by Elizabeth’s chief spymaster Francis Walsingham, and Mary was eventually executed in 1587.

Would the Papal Bull have been the final straw for John? For the last five years of his life, would he have decided to give in, and embrace the Protestant faith outwardly in public? And who knows, maybe also inwardly in his heart?

Either way, this would have been the final time he had to choose which faith to follow in a long life of such difficult choices.

Jonathan Posner

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About the Author

Jonathan Posner has been an avid reader of fiction ever since he was old enough to own a torch. He loves creative writing, and has written the book and lyrics for three full-scale Musicals, all of which have been performed by community or professional casts. There have also been two plays, some dubious-quality poetry and several short stories. Jonathan has two adult sons and lives in Exeter. His love of Musicals has led to him presenting shows on local community radio stations featuring songs from stage musicals - for over thirteen years on Marlow FM, and lately on Phonic FM in Exeter. Find out more at Jonathan's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @jonathanposner

20 April 2023

Special Guest Interview with David Bishop, Author of Ritual of Fire (Cesare Aldo series Book 3)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Ceremonial murder has returned to Florence, and only two men
can end the destruction.

Florence. Summer, 1538: A night patrol finds a wealthy merchant hanged and set ablaze in the city’s main square. More than mere murder, this killing is intended to put the fear of God into Florence. Forty years earlier, puritanical monk Girolamo Savonarola was executed the same way. Does this new killing mean his fanatical disciples are reviving the monk’s regime of holy terror?

I'm pleased to welcome author David Bishop to The Writing Desk:

What inspired you to set your books in Renaissance Florence?

Growing up in Aotearoa New Zealand I always wanted to visit Florence. It had a magical quality for me long before I was ever able to go there. During the late 1990s I was in a remaindered bookshop round the corner from the British Museum and stumbled on an academic monograph about the criminal justice system in late Renaissance Florence. The book fell open at a particular page and one sentence leapt out at me. It said the criminal justice system in this period was roughly comparable to a modern police force. That was the lightbulb moment that connects murder mysteries and this period in the city’s history. I spent the next twenty years researching Renaissance Florence and have been fortunate to visit the city several times before I started writing my Cesare Aldo novels.

What challenges did this present to you as a writer?

Renaissance Florence was in many ways a very bureaucratic place that kept written records of its many aspects, much of which have survived the past 500 years. Alas, I can’t speak or read Italian, despite my efforts with Duolingo, but others have gone before me translating and analysing this vast archive. That means much of my research has been text-based using translations and secondary sources. I have two double-stacked bookcases groaning with reference materials.

But reading only gets you so far, especially when many of those alive at the time – most women, people who weren’t literate, citizens marginalised by their faith or sexuality – did not write about their lives. That presents another challenge as I enjoy writing about those much of the accepted history of a period ignores. Happily there are academics and researchers who now look into these neglected parts of Renaissance Florentine society which is very helpful.

Several years of lockdown were challenging for everyone, of course, but they’ve meant I haven’t been able to get back to Florence since 2019. If you want to capture a real place and immerse the reader in that location, it is hugely helpful to walk the streets and alleys. I hope to return to Florence later this year and can’t wait to be there again.

Was the series always planned as a trilogy or have we not hear the last of Cesare Aldo?

The third Cesare Aldo novel Ritual of Fire is being published on June 1st by Pan Macmillan in hardback, audiobook and ebook, but it is definitely not the last in this series. I am already writing the fourth Cesare Aldo novel and – if readers enjoy that too – will get the chance to create more cases for the character to investigate. The fourth book in the series now has a working title, but I’m not allowed to reveal that yet. Sorry!

What advice do you have for writers of historical thrillers?

If you don’t love research and has a genuine fascination for the period where your stories are set, writing historical fiction is liable to seem like a homework chore. Be prepared to do far more research than will ever (or should ever) end up in one of your stories. Just because you spend time learning about something, doesn’t mean it deserves to appear on the page. I devoted a whole day to discovering all I could about growing flax in Renaissance Tuscany as I thought it might be relevant for the countryside sections in Ritual of Fire. None of that ended up in the novel! It doesn’t matter that you’ve suffered for your art, don’t make readers suffer too.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m writing the fourth Cesare Aldo novel right now, hopefully for publication in 2024. I’ll be out of contract after that so we shall see. I have many more cases for Aldo to solve, but there are ideas for standalones bubbling away at the back of my brain that might need unleashing. There is a new character coming in the fourth Aldo book that could well be the protagonist of a spin-off story, she’s that much fun to write. Not to mention the fact I wrote City of Vengeance (my first Aldo novel) as part of a Creative Writing PhD. The book has won awards and been out in paperback for more than a year, but my doctorate remains unfinished. I should probably knuckle down to that sooner rather than later!

David Bishop
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About the Author

David Bishop writes the award-winning Cesare Aldo mysteries set in Renaissance Florence. The first, CITY OF VENGEANCE, received the New Zealand Booklovers Award for best novel, and was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. The second, THE DARKEST SIN, was published in March 2022, and Cesare Aldo returns in RITUAL OF FIRE in June 2023. Bishop was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship while writing CITY OF VENGEANCE. The novel won the Pitch Perfect competition at the 2018 Bloody Scotland international crime fiction festival, and was a Sunday Times Crime Club Pick of the Week. Find out more at the author's website and find him on Twitter @davidbishop
(photo credit: Felix Mosse)

18 April 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Muskets and Masquerades, by Lindsey Fera

Available for pre-order 

Jack and Annalisa are married only five months when, enroute to France, a shipwreck separates them. On different shores, each believes the other dead. 

But when Annalisa learns Jack is alive, she returns to America and discovers much has changed. After a betrayal, she flees town as her alter ego, Benjamin Cavendish, and joins the Continental Army,

Unbeknownst to Annalisa, Jack has also joined the Continentals, harboring shameful secrets from his days in mourning. 

Against the backdrop of war with Britain, façades mount between Jack and Annalisa, and the merry minuet of their adolescence dissolves into a masquerade of deceit, one which threatens to part them forever.

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About the Author

Lindsey S. Fera is a born and bred New Englander, hailing from the North Shore of Boston. As a member of the Topsfield Historical Society and the Historical Novel Society, she forged her love for writing with her intrigue for colonial America by writing her debut novel, Muskets & Minuets, a planned trilogy. When she’s not attending historical reenactments or spouting off facts about Boston, she’s nursing patients back to health. Find out more at Lindsey's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @AuthorLinzFera

16 April 2023

Book Review ~ Of Judgement Fallen: An Anthony Blanke Tudor Mystery, by Steven Veerapen

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Spring, 1523. Henry VIII readies England for war with France. The King’s chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, prepares to open Parliament at Blackfriars. The eyes of the country turn towards London. But all is not well in Wolsey’s household. A visiting critic of the Cardinal is found brutally slain whilst awaiting an audience at Richmond Palace. He will not be the last to die.

I enjoyed reading Of Judgement Fallen, the second novel in Steven Veerapen's Anthony Blanke Tudor Mystery series. Set in 1523, during the reign of Henry VIII. The likeable protagonist, Anthony Blanke, is a black trumpeter and groom in the household of Cardinal Wolsey. 

When an opponent of the Cardinal is found murdered, Anthony Blanke is tasked with investigating, and as he delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a complex web of intrigue.

Steven Veerapen does an excellent job of bringing the Tudor era to life. The novel lingers over well-researched descriptions of the time, from the opulent palaces to the squalid streets of London. Even a short journey by Wherry up the Thames is full of fascinating details.

Of Judgement Fallen is a classic historical mystery, reminiscent of the work of one of my favourite authors, C.J. Sansom, and will keep you guessing until the end. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Steven Veerapen is a writer of fiction and nonfiction and a lecturer at the University of Strathclyde who specialises in sixteenth-century literature. His first novel was The Queen’s Consort, which focused on Mary Queen of Scots’ infamous husband, Lord Darnley. Steven’s other books include the Simon Danforth trilogy, the Queen’s Spies trilogy, and three non-fiction works: Blood Feud, Elizabeth and Essex, and Slander and Sedition in Elizabethan Law, Speech, and Writing. Find out more at and you can follow Steven on Instagram @steven.veerapen.3 and on Goodreads and Twitter @ScrutinEye

15 April 2023

New Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Reluctant Hero (Will Revill Thrillers Book 3) by John Pilkington

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, August 1591. After two years as a soldier turned spy for the Crown, Captain Will Revill embarks on what he hopes will be his final mission.

On orders of Queen Elizabeth’s new spymaster, Sir Robert Cecil, he must join the staff of Lord Ballater, an embittered Catholic, who like most of the nobility is following the Queen’s annual Summer Progress.

Revill’s task is to keep a close watch on Ballater’s staunchly Catholic servants – one of whom Cecil believes intends to make an attempt on the Queen’s life. As the great train of several hundred people traverses the Southern Counties, Elizabeth is often exposed to grave danger.

Things begin badly for Revill. Unwelcome and mistrusted among Ballater’s company, his unofficial presence denied by Cecil, he locks horns with His Lordship’s belligerent steward Saul Harman. Yet Harman seems an unlikely assassin – as does the taciturn ex-soldier Hawkins, or Ballater’s bookish secretary Dickon.

Perhaps Cecil is mistaken. But the mystery takes another turn when, aided by Cecil’s undercover agent John Shearer, Revill uncovers a scheme run by the Crown Purveyors to divert funds from the royal coffers.

When the Queen’s train reaches Chichester, a plot is at last laid bare - and an old enemy comes out of the shadows.

Only a man of Revill’s courage and quick thinking can avert disaster… 
if his luck holds.

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About the Author

An author for over thirty years, John Pilkington has written plays for radio and theatre as well as television scripts for a BBC soap, but now concentrates mainly on historical fiction set in the Tudor and Stuart eras. He has published over twenty books including the Thomas the Falconer Mysteries, the Marbeck spy series and the Justice Belstrang Mysteries (all pub. By Sharpe Books). He is also the author of a children’s series, the Elizabethan Mysteries (Usborne) and two Restoration tales featuring actress-turned-sleuth Betsy Brand (Joffe Books). Born in the north-west of England, he now lives in a Devon village with his partner, and has a son who is a psychologist and musician. Find out more by visiting his website at or find him on Twitter @_JohnPilkington

14 April 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Lawyer's Legacy (The Witchfinder's Well) by Jonathan Posner

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Can true friendship survive a deadly adventure?

1535. Ophelia Williams, youngest daughter of a hot-tempered nobleman, is robbed on the highway. She manages to escape, but cruel Tudor justice means she is the one who faces a public whipping for theft.

When aspiring lawyer Robert Wychwoode comes up with an audacious plan to save her, a strong friendship quickly develops.

Together, Ophelia and Robert then learn about a dangerous Cornish rebellion against Henry VIII, led by a mysterious high-ranking noble. They soon realise that only they can stop it. Can they defeat the desperate rebels by themselves? And will their new-found friendship survive the ordeal? Or will it end up costing them their young lives?

This fast-paced, action packed, historical thriller introduces Robert Wychwoode, the lawyer and spy-master of The Witchfinder’s Well trilogy.

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About the Author

Jonathan Posner has been an avid reader of fiction ever since he was old enough to own a torch. He loves creative writing, and has written the book and lyrics for three full-scale Musicals, all of which have been performed by community or professional casts. There have also been two plays, some dubious-quality poetry and several short stories. Jonathan has two adult sons and lives in Exeter. His love of Musicals has led to him presenting shows on local community radio stations featuring songs from stage musicals - for over thirteen years on Marlow FM, and lately on Phonic FM in Exeter. Find out more at Jonathan's website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @jonathanposner

13 April 2023

The Kingmaking: The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy (Book #1) by Helen Hollick

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Boy Who became a Man:
Who became a King: 
Who became a Legend... KING ARTHUR

There is no Merlin, no sword in the stone, and no Lancelot. Instead, the man who became our most enduring hero.

All knew the oath of allegiance: ‘To you, lord, I give my sword and shield, my heart and soul. To you, my Lord Pendragon, I give my life, to command as you will.’

This is the tale of Arthur made flesh and bone. Of the shaping of the man who became the legendary king; a man with dreams, ambitions and human flaws.

A man, a warlord, who united the collapsing province of post-Roman Britain,
who held the heart of the love of his life, Gwenhwyfar - and who emerged as the most enduring hero of all time.

A different telling of the later Medieval tales.
This is the story of King Arthur as it might have really happened...

"... Juggles a large cast of characters and a bloody, tangled plot with great skill. " Publishers Weekly

"Hollick's writing is one of the best I've come across - her descriptions are so vivid it seems as if there's a movie screen in front of you, playing out the scenes." Passages To The Past

 "Hollick adds her own unique twists and turns to the familiar mythology" Booklist

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About the Author

Helen Hollick Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, was accepted for traditional publication in April 1993 by William Heinemann (Random House UK) a week after her 40th birthday.  The Trilogy has been widely acclaimed since then – and gone through several different editions. Helen moved from Random House UK in 2006 and went ‘Indie’, now in 2023 to celebrate she has brought out her own fabulous new editions! (The Trilogy is published mainstream by Sourcebooks Inc in USA/Canada. The publisher was offered the new cover designs for free, but declined.) 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.  She writes a nautical adventure/fantasy Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Sea Witch Voyages and 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 with a variety of pets and horses. Find out more from Helen's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @HelenHollick

12 April 2023

Special Guest Post by Alexandra Walsh, Author of The Forgotten Palace

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In an underground labyrinth a lost soul wanders, waiting for revenge, waiting for love… 

The Lost Goddesses of Ancient Crete by Alexandra Walsh

In my new novel The Forgotten Palace the story is split between the present day and 1900. One year later, Queen Victoria would be dead and the country would enter the Edwardian era. There was change in the air and my Victorian heroine, Alice Webster, is a modern, forward-thinking young woman who is embracing the new world. In the present day, Eloise De’Ath is recovering from the sudden death of her husband, Josh Winter, and trying to come to terms with her new status as a widow.

Both women find themselves drawn to the island of Crete, origin of the legend of the fearsome Minotaur. As Eloise learns about the story from her late father-in-law’s notebooks and journals, Alice has a more first-hand experience, taking part in the archaeological dig at Knossos, the palace believed to have housed the labyrinth home of the Minotaur, run by Arthur Evans.

This dig was a real event, as was the person of the indominable Arthur Evans who drew the palace of King Minos and the Minotaur from the ancient earth of Crete. Until Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922, Knossos was one of the most famous archaeological digs of its time. Arthur claimed he was not in the business of proving the classical scholars, Homer and Ovid, correct, what he was looking for was an ancient form of writing which would reveal the secrets of the Mycenaean world as hieroglyphics had given insight into the antiquity of Ancient Egypt.

Evans’s desire to discover this elusive piece of the archaeological puzzle was inspired by an event that had taken place thirteen years earlier. On 14 June 1873, in Hissarlik, Turkey, a discovery was made that would cause wonder and controversy. German businessman and amateur archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann and his wife, Sophia, discovered what they believed to be Troy, the site of the legendary battle between Achilles and Hector, the home of the remarkable story of the Trojan horse, the place of Helen and Paris’s doomed love story.

Schliemann had been excavating the site since 1870 and in total uncovered nine lost cities but the day before he was due to finish his dig he discovered a trove of gold. As he and his wife pulled these glittering artefacts from the soil he believed he had discovered Priam’s Treasure. As news of this incredible discovery travelled the world Sophia Schliemann was famously photographed wearing what they believed were ‘Helen’s jewels’.

When Schliemann went on to dig in Mycenae in 1876 and discover what he believed was the Golden Death Mask of Agamemnon, Evans watched the case with interest. However, in his scholarly and detailed mind, while Schliemann had uncovered great treasures of huge interest, Evans believed there was a vital component of the past missing from his discoveries. Where was the writing?

If these cities were indeed the remains of the great civilisations of ancient Greece, the backbone of the tales of Homer and Ovid, then they would have been huge administrative hubs full of thriving businesses with a culture all of their own. If this was the case, there had to be some form of writing. As yet, there were no clues but Evans felt sure some form of language must have been recorded somewhere and it was a matter of finding it.

This led Evans to evaluate all he had discovered throughout his many years of travelling and excavating. Several of his own pieces had marks on them which he believed could be writing and as he investigated further each seemed to lead to Crete. The more he researched, the more convinced he became that this was where the answer lay, hidden underground, waiting to reveal its secrets.

When Evans was finally able to excavate in Crete in 1900, he began to uncover what he believed were seal stones – small tablets used by scribes which were attached to goods describing the contents of jars, parcels etc – as well as markings on walls and vessels. Evans was quick to establish there were two distinct styles of writing which were remarkably different in their composition. Evans named them Linear A and Linear B. Linear A was made up of lines, similar to Roman writing, while Linear B was made of pictorial images, similar to hieroglyphs.

By the time the dig was complete, Evans and his team had discovered over one thousand tablets, a remarkable resource which was one of the greatest finds of the Knossos excavation. However, it would take another fifty years to decipher the secrets of Linear B, something Arthur Evans would not live to witness. The main contributors to the deciphering of the hieroglyphic language were Alice Kober, Michael Ventris, John Chadwick and Emmett L Bennett. Linear A has not yet been translated and it secrets remain a tantalising mystery. However, Linear B has given scholars a wealth of day-to-day information about the lost Bronze Age civilisation of the Minoans, including details of its deities.

The Linear B tablets name many of the traditional Greek gods: Zeus, Ares, Dionysus, Apollo, Poseidon, Hera and Artemis. For some scholars the inclusion of Dionysus, god of wine, was a surprise as it had long been believed he was a later addition to the Olympic Pantheon. The biggest surprise, however, were the number of goddesses who had been worshipped and whose names have since disappeared from history.

The question is: why?  One theory is that by the time the classical Greek scholars were writing, the names of these deities had already faded from the public consciousness. The Minoans or Mycenaeans, as Evans named them, lived from 3500 to 1100 BC. Homer was writing in the seventh century BC and Ovid in the eighth century AD, which is an enormous time span. There is also the possibility that with the destruction of the Minoan civilisation, the names were simply forgotten. In an attempt to give some balance back to the lost pantheon, here are more details of the missing goddesses and the women who were vital to the religion of the Minoans.

The Snake Goddess, whose figurines had been discovered at the Knossos dig in 1903 is the most famous of the lost goddesses. Within the Heraklion Museum are many examples of this famous woman. She stands in bare-breasted magnificence, with snakes winding around her arms, wearing intricately patterned skirts and, in some depictions, with a cat balanced in her head. She was thought to have been the goddess of hearth, home and the purification of water. Whoever she was, her image appears in its hundreds and perhaps one of the names of the lost goddesses should be attributed to her. Sadly, we shall never know.

Another intriguing missing goddess is Diwia, the female equivalent of Zeus, the king of the gods. Would she have been his consort or a ruler of equal status? Unfortunately, there is no more information to be found. Then there is Posidaeia the female counterpart of Poseidon. He is the god of the sea, storms, earthquakes and horses and features heavily in the most famous myth set of Crete, the story of the Minotaur. Is it possible his female counterpart may have played a part of the tale that has since been lost?

Other unknown goddesses include Komawenteia – translated as Long-haired Goddess, along with Pipituna and Manasa, both unknown before the translation of Linear B.

Another term that was prolific throughout the translations was Potnia which is thought to mean Mistress or Lady and was an epithet for numerous deities or important priestesses. There is an extensive list of female deities including: Potnia Hippeia – Mistress of the Horses, Potnia of Sitos – Mistress of Grain and perhaps the most interesting, Potnia of the Labyrinth.

Along with the Snake Goddess, Evans discovered a huge number of depictions of the fertility goddess, Mater Theia translated to the Mother Goddess or Mother of the Gods. This prompted Evans to try and create a sense of order within the worshiping habits of the Minoans, even before the Linear B tablets had been translated and her name was discovered.

In many ways, Evans was a brilliant man but he was also a product of his age. He was a wealthy Victorian gentleman who, perhaps, believed he knew better than anyone else. Therefore, when he hypothesised, his opinion was respected even if there was little or no evidence to corroborate his theories. His views influenced beliefs for many years and his suggestion was that at the height of its power, Knossos was ruled by a priest king and his consort a priestess queen, possibly Mater Theia.

His scant evidence in creating this theory was drawn from the frescoes he discovered. They show a variety of women in elaborate, processional robes, men dressed as princes and, of course, the famous bull dancers who appeared to leap over bulls for sport. Evans may have been correct in his hypothesis but we will never be able to prove it. Other scholars believe the high priestess was a divine solar figure, which could be influenced by Pasiphaë, the Minotaur’s mother, who in the myth, was the daughter of the sun god, Helios. The Hungarian scholar Károly Kerényi believed the most important goddess was Ariadne and she was the Mistress of the Labyrinth who was identified in the Linear B tablets.

Whatever the truth behind these intriguing missing women, the frescoes, the seal stones and the images discovered in the ruins of this once-great civilisation show a culture that worshipped women with the same reverence and fervour as men. Perhaps one day, the tantalising truths of Linear A will be revealed and the whole story of these women will be revealed.

Alexandra Walsh

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About the Author

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