Mastodon The Writing Desk: May 2023

30 May 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Eagle and the Wolf. The complete Edge of Empire series, by Alistair Tosh

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

"An excellent, exciting debut. Gripping, gritty, and blood-spattered. Fans of Roman historical adventure will love it! Alistair Tosh is a writer to watch." Matthew Harffy, Author of the Bernicia Chronicles.

Siege:  AD 139

Lucius Faenius Felix arrives in Britannia to command the First Nervana, a renowned cohort drawn from the homelands of the fierce Nervii tribe. The soldier has been recently cheated out of his ancestral estates - and is still grieving from the mysterious murder of his father.

Along with Cai Martis, a veteran cavalry Prefect, the young officer uncovers news of a conspiracy. The resurgent Novantae, a ferocious tribe led by the determined war-chief, Barra, aim to put the Romans to the sword and win back the province.

Surrounded and cut off by their enemies, Lucius and Cai must lead their cohort through hostile territory. Conquer or be conquered.
The Romans attempt to send a message through enemy lines.

The First Nervana make a desperate final stand behind the walls of their fort. Did the message get through? Lucius and Cai know all too well what is at stake. Victory or death.

Hunt: Northern Britannia AD 149.

Roman Tribune, Lucius Faenius Felix and his friend the veteran Prefect of cavalry, Cai Martis, have survived and been victorious against the combined force of the northern tribes.

The battle for the Sack has saved the north, but victory has turned to despair.

Cai’s woman, Alyn, and widow of his dead friend Adal, is missing, taken captive by the fleeing barbarians. His love for Alyn and the need to honour his oath to Adal, impels Cai to act.

The veteran must seek the help of his defeated enemy Barra, the Novantae chief, and venture into hostile territory. It is his only hope.

Cai, Lucius and a small band of soldiers set off. The hunt is on. But a new enemy stands in their way. An ambitious Damnonii war chief, called Blue Dog. The band uncovers intelligence that he may have taken Alyn. All that is known of him, is that his lands are on a remote island. And he is mad.

The hunters may soon become the prey. To protect those that he loves, Cai must first kill a king and save a kingdom.

Praise for the Edge of Empire series:

"A taut bowstring of a story with a climax sharp as a warrior's blade." Alistair Forrest, author of Sea of Flames 

"Tosh takes his band of heroes through an ancient heart of darkness. An epic adventure that will leave warriors changed and have the reader's pulse-rate soaring." Fiona Forsyth, author of the Lucius Sestius Mysteries

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About the Author

Bestselling author, Alistair Tosh was born in Dumfriesshire, a place filled with ancient place names such as Torthorwald and Caerlaverock. But it was his visits, as a boy, to nearby Burnswark Iron Age hillfort and its Roman siegeworks that first fired his interest in Roman and Dark Ages history. On leaving school he began a 35 year communications career, firstly with the Royal Navy, that included covert riverine and seaborne operations during the height of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, before moving into the corporate telecommunications world. Military life is unique, and Alistair aims to reflect an authentic view of that experience and its language in his stories. When not writing or researching, Alistair likes to spend time with family. He and his wife also love hill walking and have spent a great deal of time exploring the mountains of both the UK and Andalucia accompanied by their dog Hurley. Follow Alistair on Twitter @alistair_tosh

29 May 2023

Book Review: Whispering Walls: First World War Graffiti, by David Crossland

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The soldiers of the First World War left a little-known legacy in forgotten caves along the Western Front: thousands of inscriptions and wall carvings that tell stories of courage, pride, hope and fear.Limestone quarries and bunkers along the front lines in north-eastern France, where the men sheltered, have been rediscovered by 
archaeologists in recent years.

As well as inscriptions on the walls of churches and farm buildings, there are over four hundred caves in Hautes-de-France region of north-eastern France (formerly Picardy) which have graffiti left by soldiers of the First World War serving on the Western Front. Thousands of men took the trouble to leave their name and number, some even carving entire altars from the limestone walls. 

Many were in their teens, and must have been wondering about their chances of survival. Some of the caves inevitably changed hands with the ebb and flow of trench warfare. There are examples of French names next to some in German - and both sides seem to have respected the inscriptions of the other.

I was interested in how it has been possible to trace actual individuals using recently digitised records. Perhaps some of these young men hoped their handiwork would help ensure they are not forgotten.

Whispering Walls guides the reader through some of the most striking graffiti, inscriptions and carvings, and is illustrated with over a hundred photographs that hint at stories of courage, hope and fear.

David Crossland's fascination with this fragile legacy of a bitter conflict shines through in this intriguing book which I recommend to anyone with an interest in the stories of the men who fought in the First World War.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

David Crossland was born in Bonn to British parents, and has been a journalist and photographer, covering German and European affairs with a focus on history and the far right. He is based in Berlin and has been visiting the Western Front  for over twenty years, and has written extensively about the First World War. Find out more from David's website and find him on Twitter @DavidCrossland3

28 May 2023

Special Guest Post by Anne M. McLoughlin, Author of Irish family sagas the 'Lives' Trilogy

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Emotional tales of emigration from Ireland to America, spanning three generations and set against a background of major historical events – the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic.


Tells the story of young Irish girl Johanna McNamara, who, in 1877 leaves her quiet life on the family farm in County Clare and emigrates to America to join her successful businessman brother Hugh.

Full of hope, she is determined to make a success of her life. However, tragedy strikes before she finds her feet in this new world, and she must put the care of others before her own needs.

Back in Ireland, farming life for the family continues through the seasons, with her brother Art struggling to deal with his troubled son Declan. Sending him to America is an option that might help turn him into a man. But little does Johanna know what lies ahead with the arrival of her nephew – his act of betrayal will blow her life apart.

Set in Ireland, Boston, San Francisco and Nova Scotia ‘Lives Apart’ explores sibling relationships and how a disastrous action can reverberate through the lives of the extended family. It also looks at the experience of emigration, both for those who had the courage to venture across the Atlantic and those they left behind.

Amazon/Goodread reviews:

“This book carries the reader along a journey through time and between continents. The writing style brings you easily into the heads of the different characters, and the story paints the drama of individual lives onto a canvas of great historical events. Some of the more contemplative moments are really vividly and finely portrayed - this writer knows how to paint colour pictures!”

“The author, having introduced Johanna to us reels us in masterfully with her beautiful, authentic prose and leads us step by step, thought by thought, through her hopes and dreams . As I read the book I was genuinely moved by the plight Johanna found herself in. . . . a beautiful build up to the major events and a harrowing account of their consequences. The descriptive passages throughout the book are stunning . There is no doubt that this story came from the heart of the author. Only somebody who has a genuine interest in and great empathy with others could so authentically capture the characters in this book and portray them so movingly.”


Focussing mainly on Johanna’s niece, the beautiful, but emotionally fragile, Bridie, a young bride, full of hope and courage, who, following a tragedy, emigrates from Ireland to build a new life in America.

After her involvement in an affair that would rock society were it to be discovered, she is forced into making a heartbreaking decision. She returns home to Ireland with her arsenal of secrets, in her search for peace and the meaning of life.

Hidden lives, memories of the past – who knows what lies beneath the surface we present to the world?

Amazon/Goodreads reviews:

“From the first sentence of this story, the author had me hooked, captured in a web of beautiful descriptive prose, a delicious assault on my senses and drew me irrevocably into the lives, the joys, the agonies, the minds and very hearts of the two main characters. The author is wholly in tune with the vagaries of country living and is truly at her best when she writes about events and community interactions in vivid detail. With scenes like the reciting of the rosary at a village wake, the quiet night-time atmosphere of the lambing shed, she manages to bring life in rural Ireland alive. Her authentic dialogue comes from the very heart and soul of her characters."

“. . . a beautifully written, evocative story of that time. It tells of an Ireland long gone, capturing memories of rural Ireland that will resonate with anyone with an Irish connection and will delight those who don’t. What makes this novel stand out from others in the genre is McLoughlin’s lyrical prose, you can almost see the places she describes, the landscape of her characters’ lives.”


Quiet, gentle Catherine falls for the charming but controlling Thomas who manages to destroy the family in a way that no-one could ever have envisaged.

Eileen returns from America for her mother’s funeral but finds herself having to stay to look after a father she despises.

All her life, Dorothy has hidden an unmentionable secret. Everyone has their suspicions but nobody can give voice to them.

It may take a lifetime, but secrets seldom remain buried.

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About the Author

Anne McLoughlin was born in Ireland and having spent most of her life making television programmes with RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, developed a serious interest in writing late in life, hoping to achieve her ambition to write a novel. The inspiration for her ‘LIVES’ trilogy came after researching her own family tree. The stories she stumbled upon gave her lots of ideas for a novel based on a fictional family. In the past she had written stories for children's television programmes and also published a series of social history books on the Macamores in County Wexford, but it was being highly commended in the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Competition in the Wexford Literary Festival that gave her encouragement to move on to a bigger project. Success in a ‘Meet the Publisher’ competition for a novel at the same Festival led to a three-book contract with Poolbeg Press and the birth of her ‘LIVES’ trilogy. You can follow Anne on Facebook and Twitter @annemcloughlin0

27 May 2023

Special Guest Post by Sharon Bennett Connolly, Author of King John's Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’.  Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him.

Nicholaa de la Haye: Lincoln’s Formidable Constable

On 18 October 1216, as he lay dying, King John appointed Nicholaa de la Haye as sheriff of Lincolnshire. Nicholaa was the first woman to ever be appointed sheriff, and truly deserving of the honour. Nicholaa was a stalwart supporter of King John and held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. She was King John’s ‘beloved and faithful Nicholaa de la Haye.’ But who was she?

The Baroness of Brattleby in Lincolnshire, Nicholaa de la Haye was hereditary constable of Lincoln Castle, just like her father and grandfather before her. Unlike many Normans, Nicholaa could trace her Lincolnshire roots, through her grandmother, to before the Norman Conquest; her grandmother’s grandfather was Colswein of Lincoln, an English lord who had found favour with William the Conqueror in the years after the Conquest. 

Nicholaa’s father was Richard de la Haye, whose family originated from La Haye-du-Puits in Normandy, and was distantly related, through marriage, to William the Conqueror. Nicholaa’s mother was Matilda de Vernon, a niece of Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Devon, the first magnate to rebel against King Stephen when he stole the throne from Empress Matilda. As the eldest of Richard de la Haye’s three daughters, Nicholaa inherited his position as constable of Lincoln Castle on Richard’s death in 1169.

Nicholaa was born in the 1150s and married, firstly, to William Fitz Erneis, but he died in 1178, leaving Nicholaa a young widow with a daughter – and a castle to command. But women could not command castles and so Nicholaa was soon remarried. Her second husband, Gerard de Camville, held Lincoln Castle by right of his wife, and was also sheriff of Lincolnshire for Richard I.

Nicholaa first comes to the attention of the chroniclers in 1191, when Prince John led the opposition to his brother’s chancellor, William Longchamp. Longchamp wanted Lincoln Castle for one of his friends and determined to take it. Gerard sought the help of Prince John swearing fealty to him at Nottingham, leaving to Nicholaa to hold the castle. William Longchamp hired a force of mercenaries and laid siege to the castle in Gerard’s absence. The formidable Nicholaa refused to yield, holding out for 40 days before Longchamp gave up and went home. Amusingly, Richard of Devizes said of this defence of Lincoln Castle, that she did it ‘without thinking of anything womanly’.

In 1194, on the king’s return, Lincoln Castle was confiscated with Gerard and Nicholaa only having it returned to them on the accession of King John in 1199. Gerard would also be sheriff of Lincolnshire for the next six years. They were in attendance on the king in November 1200, when John met with William I, King of Scots, in Lincoln. William did homage to John outside the city walls. The meeting of the two kings was immediately followed by the funeral in Lincoln Cathedral of Hugh of Avalon, Bishop of Lincoln, who would later be made a saint. King John acted as a pallbearer for the bishop who would be canonised just twenty years after his death.

As we all know, King John’s reign was not exactly smooth sailing. He lost his French lands and was held to account by the barons of England for numerous examples of maladministration, corruption and outright murder. In June 1215 he had been forced to seal the Great Charter, or Magna Carta, in order to avoid war. Although it eventually came to be considered a fundamental statement of English liberties, as a peace treaty Magna Carta failed miserably. Within weeks John had written to the pope, claiming he’d agreed to it under duress, and the charter was declared null and void; the barons were up in arms.

Nicholaa and Gerard remained loyal to King John. Gerard de Camville died at the start of 1215 and, although now a widow, it seems the castle remained in Nicholaa’s capable hands. On one of King John’s visits to inspect Lincoln’s defences in 1216, Nicholaa met him at the gates and presented the king with the keys to the castle, claiming she was too old and weary to continue in her duties. John refused to accept her resignation, instructing Nicholaa to keep hold of the castle until he ordered otherwise. 

Whether Nicholaa ever intended to give up Lincoln, or the event was staged so that John could demonstrate his continued trust in Nicholaa, is open to debate. I suspect it was the latter. John was in the midst of civil war and running short of allies. Nicholaa had already demonstrated her abilities in defending Lincoln, and her loyalty to John – he would have been hard put to replace her. However, the event gave John the opportunity to reinforce his trust in Nicholaa in front of his barons.

In late 1215, intent on continuing the war, the rebel barons invited the king of France to take the throne of England. The king refused, but his son, Louis (the future Louis VIII), accepted the offer and was hailed as King of England in London in June 1216. That summer, Nicholaa prevented another siege of Lincoln Castle by paying off a rebel army, led by rebel Lincolnshire baron Gilbert de Gant, who remained in occupation of the city of Lincoln but lifted the siege of the castle. 

As Louis consolidated his position in the south, John fell desperately ill, probably from dysentery, as he travelled through East Anglia. He moved on to the bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Newark, from where, just hours before his death, John appointed Nicholaa de la Haye as Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right. She was the first ever woman to be appointed sheriff in England.

King John died at Newark on the night of 18/19th October 1216, with half his country in the hands of a foreign invader and his throne now occupied by his 9-year-old son, Henry III. The elder statesman and notable soldier William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was appointed Regent and set out to save the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Gilbert de Gant renewed the siege of Lincoln Castle, receiving reinforcements from Louis’ forces, under the Comte de Perche, in early 1217. Now in her 60s Nicholaa de la Haye took charge of the castle’s defences. 

For almost seven months, Nicholaa was surrounded, as siege machinery bombarded the south and east walls of the castle. On 20 May 1217, William Marshal arrived, from the north-west, with a relieving force. His army forced their way into Lincoln and attacked the besieging forces and, after about six hours of fighting, routed the enemy; the French commander, the Comte de Perche, was killed in the fighting, and the rebel leaders captured. Marshal had gambled everything on one big battle and had succeeded. It was the beginning of the end for the rebels.

In a magnificent demonstration of ingratitude, four days later, Nicholaa’s was relieved of her position as Sheriff of Lincolnshire, which was given to the king’s uncle William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury. Salisbury’s son was married to Nicholaa’s granddaughter and so the earl believed he had a right to administer the inheritance that would – one day – be his son’s. He took control of the city and seized the castle. Not one to give up easily Nicholaa travelled to court to remind the king’s regents of her services, and request her rights be restored to her. She was not reinstated as sheriff, but Nicholaa did, at least, get her castle back.

Salisbury would spend the rest of his life trying to get his hands on Lincoln Castle, to no avail.
A most able adversary for some of the greatest military minds of the time, and a loyal supporter of King John, Nicholaa de la Haye was unique among her peers. One cannot fail to feel admiration for a woman who managed to hold her own in a man’s world, who fought for her castle and her home in a time when women had so little say over their own lives – and at such an advanced age. Her bravery and tenacity saved Henry III’s throne.

Sharon Bennett Connolly

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About the Author

Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS is the best-selling author of 4 non-fiction history books, including Heroines of the Medieval World, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, and Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Sharon has studied history academically and just for fun – and has even worked as a tour guide at a castle. She also writes the popular history blog, Sharon regularly gives talks on women's history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Find out more from Sharon's Blog: and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Thehistorybits

25 May 2023

Special Guest Post by Lucretia Grindle: The Historical Background to The Devil’s Glove

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Northern New England, summer, 1688. Salem started here. A suspicious death. A rumor of war. Whispers of witchcraft. Perched on the brink of disaster, Resolve Hammond and her mother, Deliverance, struggle to survive in their isolated coastal village. They're known as healers taught by the local tribes - and suspected of witchcraft by the local villagers.

1688 was a leap year. It was also the year when the first Englishmen set foot on the continent of Australia, the year when amnesty was offered to pirates who had been plaguing shipping in the West Indies, the year a massive earthquake killed some 10,000 people in the Kingdom of Naples. And the year King James II issued his Declaration of Indulgence suspending the penalties against Catholics that he ordered to be read from every Anglican pulpit in England – an act which, more or less, led to his son in law, William of Orange deciding to invade and claim the British throne in what became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution.’

All of this is well known. What is not so well known is what was going on in the British American colonies at the same time, especially in the area called The Eastward, which is now the coast of Maine. There, trouble was boiling, and so was the weather. The summer of 1688 was one of the hottest and driest in living memory, a fact that may well have contributed the anxiousness, paranoia and fear that contemporary accounts refer to simply as ‘The Panick.’

When I was in school we didn’t really learn all that much about the early years of the British American colonial experiment. Sure, we knew all about Plymouth rock and the Mayflower, and went on a lot of field trips to reconstructions of colonial villages that mostly featured a lot of people wearing black and white calling each other ‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ and, for some reason, making an awful lot of candles and soap. Any ten year old might reasonably have come away thinking that all colonists were not only Puritans, but also awfully clean and well lit. So, it came as something of a surprise when I started to really look into that world, and found it almost completely different from what I had thought I knew.

The world The Devil’s Glove takes place in was more varied, more sophisticated, more violent and more complex than I had even begun to suspect. It was also older, seasoned with an history of conflict that never really featured in all those soap-making reconstructions. A flood of recent scholarship has contributed to broadening and re-framing the hackneyed old picture of early colonial life in New England. For a start, by 1688 New England had been the site of two vicious wars. The Pequod War, 1636-1638, and King Philip’s War, 1675 -1676, both of which were fought between Anglo-European settlers and Indigenous tribes.

Between the two, the New England colonies had experienced The Great Migration, a flood of settlement, mostly from England, which kicked off gradually in the 1620s, and peaked in the late 1630s. By the early 1640s when it began to wind down, something in the region of 21,000 migrants had arrived in New England. Traditionally, it was taught that they were mostly Puritan. More recent scholarship has revealed a much more varied group. While some were certainly driven by religious conviction, but an awful lot of people were simply getting out of England looking for a better life, more opportunity, and especially, land.

While land is the canvas New England’s history played out on, it is also its motivator, and driving force, and the root of conflict. As Wendy Warren points out in her brilliant, New England Bound (Norton, 2017) most colonial endeavors prior to the colonization of North America, and especially New England, had been carried out with the goal of extracting resources. On the American continent, the French were after furs, the Spanish wanted gold. The English, however, wanted land. And that posed a problem. Because the land was already occupied.

By 1688, a confederation of Abenaki tribes in northern New England had banded together under the leadership of an especially charismatic leader called Madockawando. His seat of power, in what is now Castine, Maine, on the upper edge of Penobscot Bay, was known as the Pentagoet. Having watched what happened first in the Pequod war and then in King Philip’s war, Madockawando, his sons, and the sachems who joined him, had decided that Anglo-European settlement had gone far enough. From their perch in New France, the French agreed, and threw their support behind Madockawando in the form of a French baron called de Castine who married one of the sachem’s daughters and made his home at the Pentagoet. As the summer of 1688 boiled on, tempers, and terrors, stoked on both sides, boiled with it.

Who were the Europeans who dared moved north from Boston and Salem to stake claims in what is now Maine? When I began work on The Devil’s Glove, I really didn’t know. The answer, like almost everything else I uncovered, was something of a surprise. They were both more varied, and more cosmopolitan than I had expected. Some were Puritans, but a very great many were not. In fact, some of the lure of the Eastward was precisely that it was far enough away from Boston that you could get out from under the heavy thumb of Puritan godliness.

By 1688, the Portuguese, Spanish, and French as well as Italians and the British had been fishing off the Newfoundland banks for the better part of two centuries. So, The Eastward, at least its coast, was fairly well known to Europeans. There had, for instance, been an active fishing camp on Matinicus island, off what is now Maine’s mid-coast, for at least a hundred years, probably longer. Trade was thriving in Salem, and spread – mostly by water since the roads were dire – north along the coast. A polyglot group of Anglo and a smattering of European settlers and fishermen, including French Huguenots thrown into exile and a suprisingly large number of enterprising men and women from the British channel island of Jersey, made up most of the population. Most of them were primarily interested in trade, mostly in fish and furs with a component of lumber thrown in.

There was also an export in Indigenous slaves. Mary Ellen Newell’s Bretheren by Nature (Cornell, 2017) lays out the degree to which Anglo-European colonists in New England put Indigenous peoples into slavery, both for their own domestic labor, and for export and profit. Wendy Warren has also demonstrated the degree to which African slavery impacted New England, thanks to Atlantic trade. People held in slavery would not have been an uncommon sight, even in the Eastward settlements. Nor were they uncontroversial.

A large number of the migrants who arrived in New England in The Great Migration were essentially middle class. It was one of the reasons they needed so much help with labor, and took so long to build functioning infrastructure. On the flip side, most were literate, and many were well educated. By 1688, New England was populated by the second generation of their families. Many of these were people with connections and relatives across the Atlantic world who were well aware of ‘hot topics’ in London where resistance to slavery was becoming vocal. 1688 saw the publication of Aphra Behn’s anti-slavery novel, Oroonoko, which was so popular it was adapted for the stage. Aphra Behn herself, a woman who made her living as a successful novelist and playwright, was a sign of the times. The Enlightenment had not arrived, but it was coming.

And yet, belief in magic, in the force of spirits, in witches, still lingered and, as Salem would prove four years later, could be deadly. Oliver Cromwell’s head had been stuck on a spike on London Bridge. In England, the Puritan experiment was not only over, but had been pretty soundly rejected. If the reign of Charles II, dubbed The Merry Monarch, proved anything, it was that. So, in Boston, the last bastion of the Puritan experiment, people like the Mathers had a lot to prove, and a lot to lose.

So, the world of The Devil’s Glove is a world of tensions, of uncertainty and seismic change – and thus, of fear. These people are not primitive. But they are isolated, especially in Falmouth, a northern frontier town barely a day’s sail from The Pentagoet. They have varying opinions, varying histories, varying priorities, allegiances and loyalties. Mostly, they are trying to survive.

The Devil’s Glove is fiction, but the story it tells is true, and the background that story played out against is as accurate as I could make it. It is a story of a fragile place where fear and superstition, prejudice and misunderstanding upend lives, sparking the fuses that ignite King William’s war and, four years later, The Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Lucretia Grindle
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About the Author

Lucretia Grindle grew up and went to school and university in England and the United States. After a brief career in journalism, she worked for The United States Equestrian Team organizing ‘kids and ponies,’ and for the Canadian Equestrian Team. For ten years, she produced and owned Three Day Event horses that competed at The World Games, The European Games and the Atlanta Olympics. In 1997, she packed a five mule train across 250 miles of what is now Grasslands National Park on the Saskatchewan/Montana border tracing the history of her mother’s family who descend from both the Sitting Bull Sioux and the first officers of the Canadian Mounties. Returning to graduate school as a ‘mature student’, Lucretia completed an MA in Biography and Non-Fiction at The University of East Anglia where her work, FIREFLIES, won the Lorna Sage Prize. Specialising in the 19th century Canadian West, the Plains Tribes, and American Indigenous and Women’s History, she is currently finishing her PhD dissertation at The University of Maine.  Lucretia is the author of the psychological thrillers, THE NIGHTSPINNERS, shortlisted for the Steel Dagger Award, and THE FACES of ANGELS, one of BBC FrontRow’s six best books of the year, shortlisted for the Edgar Award. Her historical fiction includes, THE VILLA TRISTE, a novel of the Italian Partisans in World War II, a finalist for the Gold Dagger Award, and THE LOST DAUGHTER, a fictionalised account of the Aldo Moro kidnapping. She has been fortunate enough to be awarded fellowships at The Hedgebrook Foundation, The Hawthornden Foundation, The Hambidge Foundation, The American Academy in Paris, and to be the Writer in Residence at The Wallace Stegner Foundation. A television drama based on her research and journey across Grasslands is currently in development. THE DEVIL’S GLOVE and the concluding books of THE SALEM TRILOGY are drawn from her research at The University of Maine where Lucretia is grateful to have been a fellow at the Canadian American Foundation. She and her husband, David Lutyens, live in Shropshire. Find out more from her website

22 May 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: An Unsuitable Heiress, by Jane Dunn

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

‘Do you realise, Corinna, just how hard it is for a young woman of irregular birth, without family, fortune or friends in the world? Marriage is the only way to get any chance of a life.’

Following the death of her mother, Corinna Ormesby has lived a quiet life in the countryside with her cantankerous Cousin Agnes. Her father's identity has been a tantalising mystery, but now at nineteen Corinna knows that finding him may be her only way to avoid marriage to the odious Mr Beech.

Deciding to head to London, Corinna dons a male disguise. Travelling alone as a young woman risks scandal and danger, but when, masquerading as a youth, she is befriended by three dashing blades, handsome and capable Alick Wolfe, dandy Ferdinand Shilton and the incorrigible Lord Purfoy, Corinna now has access to the male-only world of Regency England. And when she meets Alick's turbulent brother Darius, a betrayal of trust leads to deadly combat which only one of the brothers may survive.

From gambling in gentleman’s clubs to meeting the courtesans of Covent Garden, Corinna’s country naivety soon falls away. But when she finds her father at last, learns the truth about her parentage and discovers her fortunes transformed, she must quickly decide how to reveal her true identity, while hoping that one young man in particular can see her for the beauty and Lady she really is.

Sunday Times bestselling author Jane Dunn brings the Regency period irresistibly to life in a page-turning novel packed with romance, scandal, friendship and colour. Perfect for fans of Jane Austen. Janice Hadlow, Gill Hornby, and anyone with a Bridgerton-shaped hole in their lives.

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About the Author

Jane Dunn is an historian and biographer and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The author of seven acclaimed biographies, including Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters and the Sunday Times and NYT bestseller, Elizabeth & Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens, her first fiction outing is a trilogy of novels set in the Regency period, the first of which, The Marriage Season, was published in January 2023. She lives in Berkshire with her husband, the linguist Nicholas Ostler. You can find Jane on Goodreads and Twitter @JaneDunnAuthor

20 May 2023

Book Review: Daughters In Exile (An Irish Famine Trilogy Book 2) by Bridget Walsh

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Annie Power and Jane Keating are forced to leave Ireland at the height of the Famine. Annie takes her brother and sister to their aunt in New York. She is determined to help other young exiles like herself. Jane is transported as a convict to New South Wales. Vulnerable and alone, she vows to meet Annie again, and dreams of them both 
returning home to Ireland.

Daughters In Exile follows two stories, one set in New South Wales and the other in New York, either of which has enough tension to support a full novel. We move between the lives of the two friends, exiled to different continents, and it's hard to decide who has the most challenging time.

Bridget Walsh shows her storytelling skill when she explores what it must have been like for families and orphans to arrive in a strange new country and make their way in life. Often with little more than the clothes they arrive in, they must find courage and learn to make the best of any opportunity. 

There is a poignant undercurrent to the book which means the reader is always prepared for the worst, yet Daughters In Exile also manages to be a heartwarming tribute to the men and women - and children - who risked everything to escape the famine in Ireland.

I'm looking forward to reading the third book in this memorable trilogy. Highly recommended. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Bridget Walsh is descended from Irish immigrants in Leicester, England, and says,  "I was steeped in Irish Catholicism and surrounded by my Irish uncles and aunts, my father’s siblings, who had followed him over to find work in England when there was non to be had in Ireland. As a second generation Irish woman, I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between Ireland and Britain over many hundreds of years. I read about Democracy, Empires and Colonialism. I read lots of non-fiction about An Gorta Mór, the Irish Famine, but I was particularly interested in how women and their families managed in this terrible time.' When Bridget retired from full-time work in Further Education, she gained a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and began her Irish Famine Trilogy. Find out more from Bridget's website and find her on Twitter @bridgetw1807

18 May 2023

Special Guest Post by Carol McGrath, Author of The Stolen Crown

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Princess Matilda is eighteen years old, tragedy strikes the royal family, and she becomes the only child of the king of England - the de facto heir to the throne. As her dying father persuades the barons to pledge allegiance to her, Matilda returns to England - but the lords and clergy do not like an independent woman. And Matilda is nothing if not headstrong . . .

The Empress Matilda and the Stolen Crown

When I began to write Empress Matilda’s story I wondered if anybody even knew who this twelfth century princess was. Most have heard of the conflicts between Cromwell and Charles I or that between King Harold and William the Conqueror, but how many, if asked, would be able to tell you about Matilda and the Civil War that raged through England during the mid-twelfth century.
Why would I write a novel about this couple and their struggle for England’s throne? Their story is a surprisingly intriguing one based on Historical facts including double-crossing, thrills, jeopardy and, most importantly vivid and unforgettable characters. It’s a twelfth century Game of Thrones and these personalities’ stories provide a gift for any writer of Historical Fiction. In dramatizing History writers create gripping narratives and try to recreate past worlds peopled by believable and fascinating protagonists. Below is a short background to the story.

Henry 1 had around nineteen illegitimate children but only two legitimate heirs, William and Matilda. In 1120, when his son William died in the White Ship disaster, Matilda, also known as Maud, became his only surviving legitimate heir. As a child, she had been given in marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, William the Lion. In 1125, Matilda’s husband, the Emperor, died so Henry I recalled her to England. He insisted that his barons and bishops take an oath to recognise Maud as Queen after his own death.

Empress Matilda

A woman as a queen in her own right rather than as a Queen Consort was unheard of. William of Malmesbury, witness to these events, wrote about the oath taking: ‘…if he [Henry] should die without male issue they [barons and bishops] would without delay or hesitation accept his daughter Matilda, the late Empress as their sovereign…observing how prejudicially fate had snatched away his son.’

Maud was a woman of great pride, intelligence and power. But then, her father wanting a grandson as double insurance for the continuity of his ruling House and the security of Norman borders, brokered a marriage for her to the fifteen year old, handsome, red-headed, arrogant youth, Geoffrey of Anjou. She was insulted and only agreed reluctantly. Initially this marriage was a disaster. Possibly she would have preferred marriage to the noble Brien Fitz Count but he was already married to doughty Tilda of Wallingford. 

 Either Geoffrey sent her back to her father or she left but she was peremptorily sent back to Anjou to try again. Interestingly, this time, the reunited couple had three sons in quick succession.
When Henry died in 1135 from the much quoted surfeit of lampreys to which he was allergic, Maud’s cousin Stephen seized the crown of England with the help of bishops and barons in contravention to their oaths to Henry. A number of nobles lost out during Stephen’s first three years of kingship. One of these was Matilda’s loyal half-brother Robert of Gloucester. Another was Brien Fitz-Count of Wallingford and the third, Miles of Gloucester, was a brilliant bear-like warrior and strategist. Loyal to their oaths, they sought her return to claim her ‘stolen crown’.

King Stephen born around 1096, was the son of William the Conqueror’s daughter, Adela and the Count of Blois-Chatres, a principality wedged between Normandy, Paris and Anjou. Stephen grew up at Henry I’s court and became an accomplished courtier. ‘This’, writes his biographer, David Crouch, ‘was partly through his natural disposition and partly through alertness to the culture of court. He was even-tempered and good-humoured, the necessary qualities for a courtier.’ Henry 1 arranged a handsome marriage for Stephen to Matilda, heir to the county of Boulogne. The marriage facilitated trade which pleased London merchants.

Stephen soon upset many of his co-conspirators. This was the signal for Maud’s half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, to persuade her to secretly return to England and claim her stolen crown. It is now that Matilda’s story becomes utterly thrilling. It’s a narrative of sieges, pursuit and chase, the capture of a King, two competing queens and a series of escapes. Maud’s attempt to be crowned at Westminster collapsed in the face of opposition from the residents of London. 

She was never formally declared Queen of England but given the ancient Saxon title ‘Lady of the English’. Contemporary sources say she was considered arrogant by London’s Burghers; that she deepened her voice to appear like a man. The truth is she made mistakes, tried to force a tax, and would not take advice.

After Maud’s aborted crowning there were two queens on the chessboard, both capable politically. Stephen’s queen, Matilda of Boulogne, takes up the King’s cause. Amongst a gallery of interesting characters there is also the scheming Bishop of Winchester, Stephen’s brother, a man who saw the best chance and was adept at changing sides.
Further thrilling events follow including a double siege at Winchester. Matilda was besieged in Oxford Castle during deep mid-winter and forced to escape across the Thames in the snow to Abingdon. This was a time described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as one ‘when Christ and his Saints slept’ because large parts of the country were in the control of independent barons. Law and order disintegrated. Meanwhile, Geoffrey of Anjou was successful fighting for Normandy which was currently part of the English crown. He was a surprisingly brilliant captain of war. A settlement over England’s destiny is reached eventually, but it took time.

Woven into the Historical narrative are imagined characters and sub plots which add depth and colour to the novel’s storyline. It is a very human and moving story with many twists and turns, triumphs and setbacks. Giving life to the personalities involved in these events was a challenge that I have loved. To find what happened next to the protagonists of this story do read The Stolen Crown which is published by Headline on 18th May.

Carol McGrath

William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen
The Birth of Romance, An Anthology Trans by Judith Weiss
The Empress Matilda, Marjorie Chibnall
Matilda, Empress, Queen, Warrior, Catherine Hanley
The Reign of King Stephen, 1135-1154, David Crouch
The Gesta Stephani

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About the Author

Carol McGrath is the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves Trilogy, which began with the hugely successful The Silken Rose and continues with The Damask Rose. Born in Northern Ireland, she fell in love with historical fiction at a young age, when exploring local castles, such as Carrickfergus, and nearby archeological digs- and discovering some ancient bones herself. While completing a degree in History, she became fascinated by the strong women who were silenced in record. Find out ore at and follow Carol  on Facebook and Twitter @CarolMcGrath

17 May 2023

Special Guest post by Deborah Swift, Author of The Silk code

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1943: Deciding to throw herself into war work, Nancy Callaghan joins the Special Operations Executive in Baker Street. There, she begins solving ‘indecipherables’ – scrambled messages from agents in the field. Then Nancy meets Tom Lockwood, a quiet genius when it comes to coding. Together they come up with the idea of printing codes on silk, so agents can hide them in their clothing to avoid detection by the enemy. Nancy and Tom grow close, and soon she is 
hopelessly in love.

Jack King and the Fake Gestapo Cell of WW2

During WW2 the government did its best to suppress the British Union of Fascists (BUF), but MI5’s effort to prevent fascist activities was hampered by the government’s advisory committee on internment. This advisory committee consisted of members who were influential in society, friends of aristocrats and the upper classes. They were there to make decisions about who should be removed from society as a threat to the war effort. But members of the BUF had friends on the committee who frequently recommended the release of their upper-class colleagues despite their fascist sympathies.

Oswald Moseley and the British Union of Fascists (British Library) 

Determined to stop this, MI5 set about forming a fake Gestapo cell. It was led by Eric Roberts, an unassuming-looking bank clerk who worked for the Westminster Bank. Roberts was a former fascist sympathiser, but he had changed allegiance and now became an undercover agent in the BUF.

Roberts was supplied with a fake Gestapo identify card and then assumed the alias of ‘Jack King’, supposedly a German agent who’d been recruited in Britain in early 1939 to compile information on those who would be ‘loyal to the Fatherland’ in the event of Nazi domination.
Pic identity Card (National Archive)

Over the next three years, ‘Jack King’ put together a network of hundreds of Nazi supporters. His aim was to channel all the information given to him back to MI5 whilst pretending that this intelligence was being fed back to the Gestapo in Berlin. Jack King maintained his nerve and was able to successfully defuse many of the plans made by Hitler’s supporters in Britain.

Jack King (Eric Roberts) Wikipedia

Central to the BUF network were two ardent fascists, Marita Perigoe and Hans Kohout, who also feature in The Silk Code. Marita Perigoe had a grudge against the British because her husband Bernard, a committed fascist, had been imprisoned by the internment committee. Marita made herself King’s second-in-command, and unbeknownst to her, MI5 housed her in a specially bugged flat in central London so they could track her conversations and contacts.

Spies like Marita provided ‘Jack King’ with maps showing the location of Britain’s petrol and aviation stocks, top secret research on new types of engines for fighter planes, and reports on experimental tanks. Some recruits spied in their home towns for information on possible targets for German bombers, or for sites of military bases and civil defence.

Some were even happy to gloat over the death and injuries caused by air raids, incorrectly putting their success down to intelligence they had provided, when in fact none of the information ever got to Germany.
When Oswald Moseley was released from prison he tried to revive his plans for a fascist Britain, but this failed. So in 1949 Marita Perigoe left England and headed for Australia where she had several further marriages and became a costume designer for theatre.

She died in 1984, never learning that she had been fooled by ‘Jack King’ in WW2. Read more about it on the BBC website.

Deborah Swift

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About the Author

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

16 May 2023

Special Guest Post by Bridget Walsh, Author of Daughters of the Famine Road

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

When they meet, Jane and Annie have much in common. As young Irish women in the 1840s, they both know the value of family, home and friendship. Even more importantly, they understand the need to survive against a backdrop of famine, disease and cruel colonial rule. With Ireland crumbling around them and peril at every turn, can these tenacious women overcome the arc of history and create a better life?

On writing my first novel. By Bridget Walsh

"The Great Hunger" inspired me. It is the classic history book that inspired me to write about the Irish Famine, or, as it is known in Irish, An Gorta Mór.

Cecil Woodham-Smith, née Fitzgerald, spent many years researching the causes of the Famine and how the people of Ireland suffered during the Famine years between 1845 and 1849. She published the book in 1962.

 My copy is a bit battered and by now I almost know it by heart. The first sentence reads, "At the beginning of the year 1845, the state of Ireland was, as it had been for nearly seven hundred years, a source of grave anxiety to England."

The book goes on to recount the struggles between Britain and Ireland that would result in one million deaths with another million survivors fleeing for their lives to North America and England.

I began writing my first novel, "Daughters of the Famine Road" in 2012. I wanted to read a story about the struggles of women and girls in this terrible time, so I took Toni Morrison''s advice and began to write one.

What is my connection to Ireland?

My own parents had emigrated from Ireland in the 1940s, one hundred years after the Famine. Emigration had not ceased. Twentieth century emigration was to find a life where my parents could find work and marry and raise a family. There was very little employment for working class men and women in Ireland at that time. 

The economy was rural based, my father had done some part-time labouring in a country house garden for a local Wicklow landowner, then enlisted in the Irish army for the duration of the Second World War. 

Photo taken in Passage East, Waterford in 1978 of my mother and father and my daughter: Bill Doyle, Julia Doyle and Nancy Carnell, nee Walsh.

My mother had worked as a skivvy in another country house near her home in County Waterford until she followed her sisters to England during the War and signed up for the ATS. There were no prospects and no money for them and thousands of other young Irish women and men in mid-twentieth century Ireland.

I was the child of these immigrants and had, and still have, an abiding curiosity about the country of my ancestors. This heritage has led me to write these three novels about the Irish Famine.

Back in 2012, I wrote up the first chapter of what would become "Daughters of the Famine Road." I left the chapter in a folder because I didn't know where to go with it, or what my protagonist might do. Annie Power was the main character from the beginning. She was a young Waterford woman, as that was an area of Ireland that I was familiar with. As an adult,  I had lived and worked there for twenty years. I  married and raised my children there.

I continued to read about nineteenth century Ireland and discovered Jane Elgee, a historical character more famous now for being the mother of Oscar Wilde. I discovered that Jane Elgee was a poet and a Nationalist during the Famine years and knew straight away that I wanted her to be in my novel. I also researched the Young Irelanders who wanted to free Ireland from the British Empire that had colonised their country for hundreds of years.

Study, work and writing

Between 2012 and 2019, I was working full-time at a Further Education College in Northampton and that job took up most of my time and energy. I wrote some poetry in my spare time and continued my research.

Eventually I was able to retire and decided that I needed to sort out my writing skills if I was ever to finish the novel I had started. I signed up for a Masters in Creative Writing with the Open University and began. I used the first chapter I had written as a basis for my studies. One of the things I learned was that a main character needs a friend to confide in and to talk to. I created another female character, Jane Keating, and the story began with the appearance of the potato blight in 1845.

I had all the characters I needed, both Jane and Annie had families and both young women would both come into contact with the middle class nationalists in Dublin through Jane Elgee, (or Speranza, the pen name she used). I had my cast of characters. The novel felt as if it needed a further instalment, to complete the story so I decided I'd go for broke and write a trilogy.

I self-published my first novel in March, 2022. At first, while I was still studying and writing assignments on the Masters’ degree, I submitted the novel to various publishers and agents. Unfortunately, no-one wanted it. 

I got to the point where I felt that I had wasted a lot of time submitting. I was convinced that all my hard work would stay on my lap-top if I didn't try to get it published. I then looked at self-publishing as a way to get my story out into the world. At the time, I was working on the second novel, "Daughters in Exile".

Self publishing

I began to research how to self-publish a novel. I found Reedsy Free Book Editor ( and uploaded my Word doc. Reedsy is a free online writing tool that allows authors to format and create professional ePub and print-ready files. With my files  ready, I then signed up to a free KDP account ( and uploaded both to create a paperback and an e-book version of my novel.

I decided to invest in a professionally designed cover and chose Latte G. on Reedsy's Marketplace. I uploaded my beautiful cover and was ready to publish.

My story is out in the world, I published the second in the trilogy, Daughters in Exile, in October 2022. I am now working to publish the final story, "Daughter of Éireann". 

I feel that I have done some justice to the many women and girls who left Ireland, with nothing, to make a life for themselves over the last almost two hundred years. One of them was my dear mother, Julia Doyle, nee Heffernan, from Passage East, County Waterford, Ireland.

Bridget Walsh

# # #

About the Author

Bridget Walsh is descended from Irish immigrants in Leicester, England, and says,  "I was steeped in Irish Catholicism and surrounded by my Irish uncles and aunts, my father’s siblings, who had followed him over to find work in England when there was non to be had in Ireland. As a second generation Irish woman, I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between Ireland and Britain over many hundreds of years. I read about Democracy, Empires and Colonialism. I read lots of non-fiction about An Gorta Mór, the Irish Famine, but I was particularly interested in how women and their families managed in this terrible time.' When Bridget retired from full-time work in Further Education, she gained a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and began her Irish Famine Trilogy. Find out more from Bridget's website and find her on Twitter @bridgetw1807

15 May 2023

Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: Founding an Empire, by Matthew Lewis

Available  from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Although I've always been fascinated by the Plantagenets, my knowledge of Eleanor of Aquitaine owes more to TV dramas than historical research. This new book from Matthew Lewis offers a picture of a surprisingly modern, resourceful and resilient woman, doing her best to deal with a troubled King Henry.

Heiress to the greatest Duchy in France, and nine years older than Henry, Eleanor had excellent preparation for her task. As Queen of France she'd survived her first marriage, to the hapless King Louis, scandal and the dangers of his ill-advised crusade to the Holy Lands.

Henry II might have raised an eyebrow when he read Eleanor's letter proposing marriage (if he was interested) but she 'ticked all the boxes', as she had two daughters, her own fortune and Aquitaine lands. The fact they were related to the same degree of consanguinity which enabled her divorce from the King of France didn't seem to bother either of them.

Matthew Lewis brings the story of Henry and Eleanor to life with a wealth of intriguing stories, fascinating details, and well-researched context. Highly recommended.

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

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Matthew Lewis is an author and historian with particular interest in the medieval period. His books include a history of the Wars of the Roses, a biography of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and two novels of historical fiction telling the life of King Richard III and the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth. He also writes a history blog, sharing thoughts and snippets. Find out more at Matthew's website and find him on Twitter @MattLewisAuthor