Mastodon The Writing Desk: June 2023

30 June 2023

Book Launch: The Queen's Frog Prince: The Courtship of Elizabeth I and the Duke of Anjou, by David Lee


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Between the years 1579 and 1581, a courtship between Elizabeth I of England and François, Duke of Anjou took place. 

Though this courtship is often dismissed as a political tactic on Elizabeth’s part to create an Anglo-French alliance during the Wars of Religion, 

The Queen’s Frog Prince presents an alternative interpretation. In this book, David Lee pores over some of the surviving love letters exchanged between Elizabeth and Anjou, whom Elizabeth affectionately nicknamed “my frog.” L

ee suggests that although the courtship suited Elizabeth I politically, it also blossomed into something much more complex, an affectionate bond, and that to understand Elizabeth I as a woman, she must first be seen for who she was beneath all the vainglory and iconography.

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About the Author

David Lee is an Irish historian specialising in women's history, in particular, Tudor women's history. David earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Maynooth University in 2019 and recently, a Master's Degree specialising in nineteenth-century women landowners and heiresses. He is currently also writing a joint biography of William and Robert Cecil. David lives in South Dublin, Ireland

29 June 2023

Bestselling author Alexandra Walsh reviews Penelope - Tudor Baroness


New From Amazon UK and Amazon US

A complex and fascinating woman, her life is a story of love, betrayal, and tragedy. Discover how Penelope charms her way out of serious charges of treason, adultery, and forgery, and becomes one of the last truly great ladies of the Tudor court.

Penelope Devereux has long since fascinated me, so I was excited to read Tony Riches book, Penelope – Tudor Baroness which follows her life and it did not disappoint. 

The daughter of Lettice Knollys, the granddaughter of Catherine Carey and the great-granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, Penelope has a female lineage which was bound to create a woman of determination and destiny. The hardest part of capturing such a vivid character on the page is to make her seem real, human and relatable, something Tony Riches does with ease. 

From the opening page I was in Penelope’s world, mesmerised by her surroundings and walking by her side as she experienced both the delights of being a wealthy, connected young woman in the court of Elizabeth I, to the horror of being forced to marry an unpleasant stranger rather than the man she had loved and thought would be her betrothed. 

Penelope has long been known to have been the muse for Tudor poet, Philip Sidney, when he wrote his extraordinary poem, Astrophel and Stella, a relationship which Tony Riches captures with thought and care. As her marriage disintegrates, she copes by taking a lover and living a life thought scandalous by many. 

Every step of Penelope’s journey is packed with intrigue, colour and life. Throughout the book, Tony Riches has recreated this real historical figure as a believable, determined character; the very epitome of a strong Tudor woman. I loved her story from the first page to the last and was sad to say goodbye to this extraordinary and feisty heroine. 

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: www.alexandrawalsh.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter @purplemermaid25

28 June 2023

Special Guest Post by Clemmie Bennett, Researching The Apple and the Tree


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

London, 2020. Grief-stricken Ella inherits a ring from her late grandmother, only for it to accidentally send her to the court of a young King Henry VIII. In a world where voicing the wrong opinion about church or state comes with a price, her priority is to survive until the opportunity to travel back to her own time emerges.

A very honest, straight-forward fact is that I am not a qualified historian. This does not mean that I am happy to twist history and historical characters into making them what I need them to be. I wanted to be as accurate as possible. Of course, since it is a time-travelling story, as soon as my main character changes details of the past we dive into an alternate history. But the setting remains the same: England, early sixteenth century.

I consider myself very lucky to have been able to access the informations I needed so easily: I have an Internet connection, a library at the end of the road, and several bookshops near my house. I started carrying with me a pink and gold notebook, even to work – I am a nanny. 

When the children in my care would take their nap, I would read websites and articles about the sweating sickness. I ended up googling quite a few odd bits, like how sixteenth-century people coped with constipation. Internet has proved to be as useful as unreliable, so I would always try to find at least two sources telling me the same thing about a given topic.
 
I had divided my notebook in different categories: male and female fashion, food and drink, hygiene, medicine and diseases, religion and beliefs, royal palaces, court life, royal households organisation... I did really try to cover everything. To see more clearly, I also wrote down a timeline of Henry VIII’s reign, year per year – only the years relevant to the story, 1510 to 1522. 

From Queen Katherine’s pregnancies to King Henry’s military campaigns, from outbreaks of the plague to any relevant death that I could use in the story (Sir Thomas Knyvett on the battlefield, but also the beheadings of the Earl of Suffolk and the Duke of Buckingham), treaty signatures, pope elections, or King Henry’s personal health scare with smallpox. On the side, I also drew a timeline of Thomas Wolsey’s rise to power, as he gradually becomes an important character in the story, and a timeline of Martin Luther’s works.
 
Only a handful of the characters in the story are fictionnal. The others are historical figures, with documented appearance and personnality. I also had to respect this aspect of history, especially for King Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. 

It was important to me to be faithful and fair to who they were at a given moment of their lives: King Henry from 1510 and King Henry from 1546 are two very different people, as is Anne Boleyn from 1521 and Anne Boleyn from 1535.
 
It took me several months to be confident that I had enough material. In fact, I had to force myself to stop researching and start writing. The research phase was comfortable. Jumping into the actual writing of the story was, in comparison, slightly terrifying.

Clemmie Bennett

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About the Author

Clemmie Bennett has been working on her debut novel for over three years, but writing a book has been on her bucket list for as long as she can remember. When she is not writing or reading, she can be found wandering about ancient royal palaces or abbey ruins, most likely despairing that time travel is not a reality - like it is for her main character. Originally from France, Clemmie is now based in London, where she works as a professional nanny. You can follow Clemmie on Twitter @ClemmieBennett_

27 June 2023

Special Guest Interview with Kelly Evans, Author of Turning the World to Stone – The Life of Caterina Sforza, Part One 1472 to 1488


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

“Could I write all, the world would turn to stone.”

Vilified by history, Caterina Sforza learned early that her life was not her own. Married at age ten, she was a pawn in the ever-changing political environment of Renaissance Italy. Resigned to her life as a fifteenth-century wife, Caterina adapted to the role she was expected to play: raising and educating her children, helping the poor in her new home, and turning a blind eye to her husband’s increasingly shameful behaviour. But Fate had other plans for her, and soon Caterina’s path would be plagued by murder, betrayal, and heartbreak.

I'm pleased to welcome author Kelly Evans to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest novel is called 'Turning the World to Stone: The Life of Caterina Sforza Part One'. As the title suggests, the story is about Caterina Sforza, a kick-ass Renaissance woman who was married to the Pope's nephew at only 10 years old and was expected to conform to Fifteenth Century norms for noblewomen. As you can tell by the length of the story, and the fact that it's only part one of her life, she did NOT want to conform at all. The first half of her life was filled with tragedy, heartbreak, and triumph. And it's all true! 

What is your preferred writing routine?

I not only write historical novels, but I also work on described video scripts for visually impaired people so my day varies depending on deadlines (I've worked on some VERY exciting tv shows and movies!). When I have no DV projects, I tend to get my admin / emails / marketing done in the morning (as well as errands etc). I'll sit and write solidly from around 1pm to 6, then stop for dinner, then do any needed follow up research for a couple of hours in the evenings. (Writing hist fic means there are always little bits of history to look up and confirm). 

On project days I'll spend most of the day writing the described video scripts and try to get a few hours of novel writing in at the end of the day. 

What advice do you have for new writers?

I don't believe in forcing yourself to write everyday, unless it works for you. If you can't, don't beat yourself up. Try to establish a consistent writing routine but remember that life gets in the way! 

Write your novel's back blurb first, before you even start writing the story. That way you'll keep to the story you want to tell and you'll have a back blurb ready when you're done. (Also useful for querying agents if that's the route you choose). 

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

Talking! I engage as much as I can on social media. I'll reply to comments, answer questions, and make short clips about the interesting things I learned while writing my novels.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I study medieval and Renaissance medicine and include it in all my novels. While researching Caterina, I found a book of 'recipes' she wrote herself with hundreds of cures and treatments for various illnesses. One thing I found was a way to remove stones from toads. I did a bit of digging and discovered that people used to think ancient small fossils they'd found from millions of years ago were actually stones from toads. If you could remove a stone from a toad's head, the stone could be used to protect yourself from poison! 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I struggled a bit with the first time Caterina had to get really angry and stand up to her jerk of a husband. Up to that point she'd been struggling in silence, and I wanted her outburst to be in character but to also hint at the person when was becoming. I also really enjoyed it because it was a bit of a turning point. 

What are you planning to write next?

Part two of Caterina's life! I had originally intended her story to be one book, but she proved just too big for a single novel so I've spilt her life into two. If you think she did a lot in book one, wait until you read about the second half of her life! We've got Medicis, Borgias, Popes, Cardinals, castles, and some storming of those castles. Stay tuned!

Kelly Evans

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About the Author

Kelly Evans was born in Canada of Scottish extraction, graduated in History and English then moved to England where she worked in the financial sector. While in London Kelly continued her studies in history, concentrating on Medieval History, and travelled extensively through Eastern and Western Europe. Kelly is now back in Canada with her husband Max and a rescue cat. She writes full-time, focussing on illuminating little-known women in history with fascinating stories. When not working on her novels, Kelly writes Described Video scripts for visually impaired individuals, plays oboe, and enjoys old sci-fi movies. Find out more from Kelly's website: https://www.kellyaevans.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @ChaucerBabe

26 June 2023

Special Guest Interview with Nancy Northcott, Author of The King's Champion (The Boar King's Honor Book 3)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US


American reporter Kate Shaw and English Major Sebastian Mainwaring clash from the moment they meet on the beach at Dover. Kate has just escaped the hellscape of Dunkirk with a troop of English soldiers when Sebastian turns up, seizes her camera, and refuses to give it back. Kate needs the photos inside to prove to her boss back home that England’s fight against Hitler is a story worth covering and that she, woman or not, is the reporter to write it. Sebastian sympathizes, but controlling information about the war is his job.

I'm pleased to welcome author Nancy Northcott to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book 

My latest book, The King’s Champion, is the concluding volume of my Boar King’s Honor historical fantasy trilogy.  It’s set during the summer of 1940, one of my favorite periods. The book opens with the Dunkirk evacuation and ends during the early days of the Blitz. The heroine, Kate Shaw, is an American photojournalist posted to London and sent to France to cover the British Expeditionary Force. When the Germans rolled into France, she was caught up in the fighting and then the evacuation. What she doesn’t know at first is that she’s also a wizard and a seer.

The hero, Sebastian Mainwaring, Lord Hawkstowe, is a British army officer and a wizard who also possesses the seer Gift. As Britain stands alone with Nazi military might threatening from across the Channel, he’s desperate to convince Kate to use her abilities to help the British cause. First, though, he must persuade her to believe in those abilities.

Sebastian is part of the Merlin Club, a covert organization of wizards sworn to defend Britain. The club’s headquarters masquerades as an exclusive gentlemen’s club near St. James’s Square in London. As Kate’s visions and Sebastian’s reveal an invasion fleet massing on the French coast, he enlists his magical comrades, including a group of Scottish wizards, to stop it.

The King’s Champion also wraps up a subplot that has run through the trilogy, the efforts of the Mainwaring family to lift a curse laid on them by an ancestor. This ancestor unwittingly abetted the murders of the King Richard III’s nephews, Edward IV’s sons, who’re known as the Princes in the Tower by the Duke of Buckingham’s agents. 

Because of the political situation, King Richard III ordered him not to speak out until the king gave him leave, but King Richard was killed at Bosworth Field before doing so. The Tudors who succeeded him blamed him for the boys’ death and generally painted him as villainous. Speaking out would’ve cost the wizard his life. Torn by guilt, he cursed his entire line so that none of their heirs would rest in life or death until the king’s name was cleared.

I’ve always found the mystery surrounding the fates of Edward IV’s sons intriguing. I chose the scenario I did for the story because it was fairly simple and straightforward. Over the years, my thinking has shifted, and I’m now convinced the two boys probably survived Richard III, but no one knows for certain. The mystery allows plenty of room for authors to play. 

Tower of London – photo by Nancy Northcott

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I don’t have a particular daily routine. I just try to squeeze in two or three hours at least every couple of days but will sometimes write for most of a day if everything is flowing.

I prefer quiet. If I can’t have it because of noise in the neighborhood, I use classical music or movie soundtracks to drown it out. Music that has lyrics doesn’t work for that—at least not for me—because I can’t string words together when other words are coming into my head.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Treat every book as a learning experience. Read a lot, and notice how authors you like handle foreshadowing, conflict, and character in particular. For goodness’ sake, pay attention to paragraph and dialogue form, punctuation, and spelling.

Get feedback from people you can trust to tell you unpleasant truths. If something in the book isn’t holding readers’ attention or is making them dislike a character you want them to root for, it’s better to hear that privately from someone you trust than to read it in a review after your book is out in the world.

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

So far, review services—where the author pays the service, not the individual reviewers—and newsletter list builder promotions help. Blog tours seem to work best when the tour company works with bloggers whose readership is a good fit for a particular book.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

The English Channel was unnaturally flat and calm during the evacuation. The prologue to Sinclair McKay’s Dunkirk – From Disaster to Deliverance, Testimonies of the Last Survivors (2014; pp. xii-xiii) quotes a veteran who was there as saying the sea had not been like that again in the 75 or so years since then.

English Channel from Dover Cliffs photo – Photo by Nancy Northcott

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

It’s difficult to pick just one. The scenes on the beach at Dunkirk come quickly to mind. I don’t like writing carnage, maybe because I prefer not to think about it. But the soldiers on the beach were vulnerable and trapped, and many of them died. I couldn’t have Kate on the beach and pretend none of that happened. So I had to choose how much to show of the horrors she would’ve experienced.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m working on the last book in a four-book contract with Falstaff Books for a series of historical fantasy novellas, The Merlin Club. They’re set in the world of the Boar King’s Honor trilogy, but they’re all in different historical eras. 

This has been fun! Thanks again for having me, Tony.

Nancy Northcott

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About the Author

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realised it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. Nancy earned her undergraduate degree in history and particularly enjoyed a summer spent tudying Tudor and Stuart England at the University of Oxford. She has given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s play about that king. In addition, she has taught college courses on science fiction, fantasy, and society. The Boar King’s Honor historical fantasy trilogy combines Nancy’s love of history and magic with her interest in Richard III. She also writes traditional romantic suspense, romantic spy adventures, and two other speculative fiction series, the Light Mage Wars paranormal romances and, with Jeanne Adams, the Outcast Station space mystery series.  Find out more from Nancy's website https://www.nancynorthcott.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @NancyNorthcott

24 June 2023

Special Guest Post by Jemahl Evans, Author of The Last Roundhead (Sir Blandford Candy Adventure Series Book 1)


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1642: England has been plunged into a Civil War. Blandford Candy is sent to London, after an illicit affair, and joins the Roundhead army to fight against the King, taking part in the Battle of Edgehill. A reluctant hero if ever there was one, he becomes a spy for the cause - and, through luck or judgement, uncovers more than one Royalist plot. His love of wine and the fairer sex prove both a curse 
and a blessing for the agent.

The idea for The Last Roundhead came to me on a wet Friday afternoon in 2009. My Year 8 class (who were remarkably efficient in sidetracking me from my lesson plans to tell them historical anecdotes) were supposed to be finishing the English Civil War as a topic - Cromwell’s death and The Restoration. As we started the lesson outline and objectives, a young man (I shall call him Chuckles because, a, I cannot remember his real name, b, everyone called him Chuckles, and c, he really did chuckle a lot) put his hand up.

‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Is that it?’ asked Chuckles.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Is that it; what happened next? What about all the Roundheads and Cavaliers? The King comes back and they all party?’
‘Well,’ I said, and then stopped myself, realising just how big the question really was and that it was a blatant attempt to avoid written work. But, it was last lesson on a Friday; it had been a very long week, and I had detention for my year group when the lesson finished.

How do you explain in a lesson the long shadow the Civil War cast, the Wars with France, the Glorious Revolution, the American colonies, the slave trade, pirates, The Enlightenment, theatre and literature, Isaac Newton, Whigs and Tories, the birth of modern Britain in 40 minutes flat?

So, I told them the story of William Hiseland - the last cavalier. Hiseland had been born in 1620, fought for the King at Edgehill, and followed the colours for the next seventy years fighting under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709, became one of the first Chelsea Pensioners, and married at the grand old age of 100, only dying in 1733. Look him up, he had an amazing life!


William Hiseland (Wikimedia Commons)

As my class filed out, Chuckles chuckling happily (without realising I had just delivered one of my better off-the-cuff lessons), I started thinking about the last roundheads. The men who fought under Cromwell faced an uncertain life after the restoration. It was those men that fascinated me: the men who had won and then lost everything.

In 2010, I came home to Wales when my father died and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Teaching part-time and caring for Mum gave me time to start scribbling things down. In the summer of 2013, I began trying to put my first novel together from all those scribbles written in hospital waiting rooms. 

All of the books in the main series take the form of a Georgian Apologia by an unreliable, and irascible, narrator out to clear his rather sullied reputation. An anti-Hiseland, if you will.

The power of the written word during the period really influenced me, newsbooks, letters, journals, memoirs - people wrote about everything, all the time. I think in our modern world of the internet, TV, film, radio, pro sports etc, it is very easy to forget just how important poetry, the theatre and the bible were to ordinary people. 

The Seventeenth Century was highly literate and the printing press really was a contemporary information superhighway. It meant lots of literary references that would be natural to someone born in the period, and language style that mimics the period vernacular. There is some language that could be described as a bit fruity, but all of it comes from period letters and poems. When you quote the Earl of Rochester that can happen! Like writers in the Seventeenth Century, the books are filled with allusions and jokes. 

I wanted it to be as an authentic a voice from the past as a modern writer could muster, whilst also keeping it accessible to a reader. The books are also full of self referential fictional meta-fiction – which is a incredibly long winded way of saying lots of Easter eggs.

The Last Roundhead was first published in August 2015 with good reviews in The Times and from the Historical Novel Society. I followed that with three more in the series (all available from Sharpe Books) and there are many more planned. 

The series has taken Blandford across England and Europe, and the last episode – The Emerald Cross – saw him decamp to the nascent American colonies on an ‘Boys Own’ treasure hunt. It was left on a bit of a cliff-hanger, and I have had some emails asking me about the next one which is certainly overdue. My current wip is Blandford related, he’s the narrator, but it’s not part of the actual series, and I hope to get that finished before the end of the year before getting on with Blandford 5. 

Writing has been very much on the backburner for the last eighteen months as Mum’s breast cancer returned. Fortunately she is now on the mend, and much like in 2013 I have a lot of words written to edit.

Jemahl Evans

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About the Author

Jemahl Evans was born in Bradford Upon Avon to nomadic Welsh school teachers, and brought up in a West Wales mining village during the 70s and 80s. He has pursued a lifelong passion for History, inspired by his grandfather’s stories and legends. Jemahl was educated in Christ College Brecon, St Mary’s University College (Strawberry Hill), and U.W.E. Bristol. Jemahl graduated with an MA in History, focussing on poetry and propaganda during the Wars of the Roses, and then worked for IBM in London. At the turn of the millennium, he left the grind of the office and spent a couple of years travelling and working abroad. After time spent in India, Australia, and South East Asia he returned to Britain and took up a teaching post in West London in 2005. He left his role as Head of Year in the Heathland School in 2010, and returned to Wales citing hiraeth. Jemahl now spends his time teaching, reading history, listening to the Delta Blues, and walking his border collie. Find out more from his website http://jemahlevans.wix.com You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @Temulkar

23 June 2023

Special Guest Post by Amy Maroney, Author of The Queen’s Scribe


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.

In 2020, I began the Sea and Stone Chronicles, a new series about ordinary people living under the rule of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St. John in medieval Rhodes, Greece. As I delved into books and articles about the knights, I learned they had a long history in Cyprus, too. In fact, one of the historical figures I planned to write about, Grand Master Jacques de Milly, had spent part of his career in Cyprus. Curious, I dug deeper.

I was astonished to learn a teenaged, widowed queen had ruled Cyprus for a moment in time during the exact era of my research. In 1458, fifteen-year-old Queen Charlotta took the throne alone, held off her power-hungry half-brother’s massive siege and—when her second husband Louis of Savoy proved a weak leader—sailed around the Mediterranean entreating allies to help save her crown. Furthermore, she was in Rhodes visiting Jacques de Milly when he died in the summer of 1461.

When I unearthed the fact that, several years later, Queen Charlotta had her infant son interred in Jacques de Milly’s tomb, I became even more intrigued. Though the histories don’t reveal much about either of these leaders’ personal lives, this detail sprang out at me. Whatever their relationship had been like, she chose to bury her only child alongside him. I imagine her husband, King Louis, had no say in the matter. He was not in Rhodes at the time.

At that moment I knew I had to write about this woman and her world. I chose to tell Queen Charlotta’s story through the eyes of fictional Estelle, daughter of a falconer. She’s a character who has inhabited my heart since I first wrote a story starring her in an anthology a few years ago, and she plays a minor role in my novel Island of Gold.

Estelle became a skilled scribe in childhood, and developed a talent for languages once she arrived in Rhodes from France with her family. Plus, as a French-born person, she offered value to the Lusignan court of Cyprus, which was steadily losing touch with its French roots all through the late medieval era. This became especially apparent in the mid-fifteenth century, after King Jean married Queen Eleni Palaiologina, who turned the court rapidly Greek.


Queen Eleni and her daughters

Though their daughter Charlotta grew up for all intents and purposes a Greek girl in her mother’s apartments, she had to communicate with her husbands and potential allies in French. By all accounts, her French was terrible. The need for trusted interpreters only grew stronger as civil war loomed between the queen and her half-brother. While Estelle is fictitious, the royal court of Cyprus depended on skilled interpreters and scribes to carry out its diplomatic work, and there were undoubtedly people like Estelle working closely with the queen.


Kyrenia Church Ruins

During the medieval era of the Lusignan kings. Cyprus was a true melting pot and a magnet for travelers. French was the language of high administration while Latin was used for writing trade contracts. The locals spoke a blend of Greek, French, Arabic, and Italian (all essential for trade). I refer to this language in the book as “the Cypriot dialect”. By the fifteenth century, Cypriots who claimed French roots used an oddly accented, archaic French of the middle ages. Travelers visiting the island in that era from France could not understand them. This is why Estelle’s status as a French-born person was so unusual in the Cypriot court, as was her ability to speak, read, and write the French that Westerners used.

In The Queen’s Scribe, Estelle’s language skills become as valuable as gold when the royal court retreats to Kyrenia Fortress and a civil war begins between the queen and her half-brother, Jacco. When the queen crosses the Mediterranean Sea beseeching allies for help, Estelle is at her side, witnessing every triumph and every disaster along the way.

I hope that by shining a light on this extraordinary queen whose ambition and courage burned bright for a few short years in the fifteenth century, The Queen’s Scribe builds awareness of a woman of power who has been lost in the mists of time.

Amy Maroney

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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 award-winning historical fiction trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Her new historical suspense series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus. Find out more from Amy's website: https://www.amymaroney.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wilaroney

22 June 2023

The Square of Sevens: the stunning new historical novel from Laura Shepherd-Robinson


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Laura Shepherd-Robinson's The Square of Sevens is an epic and sweeping novel set in Georgian high society, a dazzling story offering up mystery, intrigue, heartbreak, and audacious twists.

A girl known only as Red, the daughter of a Cornish fortune-teller, travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient method: the Square of Sevens. When her father suddenly dies, Red becomes the ward of a gentleman scholar.

Now raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendour of Bath, her fortune-telling is a delight to high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?

The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholomew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red's quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads into her grave danger . . .

The Square of Sevens dazzles with heart, mystery and breathtaking detail. I doubt I’ll read a better book this year' — Chris Whitaker, bestselling author of We Begin at the End

A richly immersive panorama. . . With its twists and turns and revelations of those lies that bind and truths that rend asunder, this story is a deep pleasure to read' - Sunday Times

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About the Author

Laura Shepherd-Robinson was born in Bristol in 1976. She has a BSc in Politics from the University of Bristol and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics. Laura worked in politics for nearly twenty years before re-entering normal life to complete an MA in Creative Writing at City University. She lives in London with her husband, Adrian. Find out more at Laura's website  https://www.laurashepherdrobinson.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @LauraSRobinson

20 June 2023

New Historical Fiction Spotlight: Betrayal (Sisters of Wartime England Book 3) by Madalyn Morgan

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US


As a new Special Operations Executive, Claire Dudley is determined to do her part for her country. But when she is sent to rural France, she never expects what happens next…

Scouted for her incredible language skills and recruited to work undercover for the French Resistance in occupied France, Claire must learn to evade the enemy and help her allies in secret. Amidst the danger and hiding from the Gestapo, Claire falls in love with striking French-Canadian captain Alain Mitchell. But no one can know about their feelings for each other, and everything is at stake.

When Mitchell is taken prisoner by the Germans, just as Claire discovers she’s pregnant, she’s put to the test like never before. With her baby daughter always in her thoughts, Claire embarks on a dangerous mission to reunite their family, all while helping the French people to resist the most terrible enemy the world has ever known.

From the streets of Paris to the London blitz, Claire must navigate a world of danger and betrayal. What would you risk for your country… for your own happiness? The answer lies in the pages of this sweeping, epic tale of love, loss, and the unbreakable bonds of family.

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About the Author

Madalyn Morgan was an actress for more than thirty years working in repertory theatre, the West End, film and television.  In 1990, Madalyn gave up acting for love and became a radio presenter, taught herself to touch type, completed a two-year creative writing course with The Writer's Bureau, and wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. After living in London for thirty-six years she has returned to Lutterworth, swapping two window boxes and a mortgage, for a garden and the freedom to write. And she is loving it. Find out more at Madalyn Morgan's Blog: https://madalynmorgan.wordpress.com/ and follow her in Facebook and Twitter @ActScribblerDJ

19 June 2023

Book Review: John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father of Another, by Kathryn Warner


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Did you know John of Gaunt's military career began at the age of ten, he had over forty grandchildren? The Duke of Lancaster, he was the fourth (but third surviving) son of King Edward III, father of King Henry IV and grandfather of three more kings.


Kathryn Warner shines a light on the less well known story of this medieval legend, with a wealth of well-researched background that provides a useful context for understanding John of Gaunt's complex life.

I liked the way the author brings a personal angle to his story, particularly concerning his third wife, Katherine Swynford, whose descendants, the Beaufort family, played a major role in the Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Yorks and Tudors.

Among the many fascinating details in this book is the suggestion that John of Gaunt lived in fear of being buried alive. He insisted his body was not to be embalmed or buried until forty days after his death, and fifty marks should be given to the poor on each of the forty days. 

It could not have helped that during his last weeks, he heard rumours that he was already dead, or that he fell in to what we would now describe as a 'coma' - so the risk seems to have been a real one.

The book ends with some analysis of John of Gaunt's will, his children and grandchildren, and made me think about his legacy. His life certainly changed history, and I recommend this book to readers who want to understand how and why.  

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Kathryn Warner grew up in the Lake District in the north-west of England, and gained a BA and an MA with Distinction in medieval history and literature from the University of Manchester. She is a specialist in the history of the fourteenth century and has been researching and writing about Edward II's reign since 2004, and have run a blog about him since December 2005.  Find out more at Kathryn's blog and find her on Twitter @RoyneAlianore

See Also:

Blood Roses: The Houses of Lancaster and York before the Wars of the Roses, by Kathryn Warner

Richard II: A True King's Fall, by Kathryn Warner 

18 June 2023

Book Launch Spotlight: The Warriors' Prize: A Border Reiver historical romance by Jennifer C. Wilson


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Stirling Castle, 1498 

Visiting court for the first time since her father's death, Lady Avelina Gordon finds herself drawn to the handsome warrior, Sir Lachlan MacNair. But as a woman who has seen too many of her friends lose everything for 'love', she keeps her heart guarded.

Castle Berradane, 1502

Lady Avelina is unceremoniously told to expect her new husband within the month. The man in question: Sir Lachlan.

Lachlan arrives in Berradane carrying his own secret, and a determination to control his heart. As attraction builds between the couple, they find themselves under attack and fearful of a traitor in their midst.

Can the teamwork they've shown in adversity so far pull them through one final test, and will they find the strength to risk their hearts, as well as their lives?

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Jennifer C. Wilson joined a creative writing class, and has been filling notebooks ever since. Jennifer won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014, and in 2015, her debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Books. The full series was re-released by Darkstroke in January 2020. Jennifer is a founder and host of the award-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle, and has been running writing workshops in North Tyneside since 2015. She also publishes historical fiction novels with Ocelot Press. She lives in Whitley Bay, and is very proud of her two-inch view of the North Sea. Find our more at Jennifer's blog: jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @inkjunkie1984

16 June 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Crimson Child (Empire of Shadows Book 2) by R.N. Morris


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Spring 1880. St Petersburg

While on an outing with his family in a leafy park, a retired general encounters a mysterious child dressed in red. The child leads him to a secluded spot. And a violent death.

The shocking crime, committed in broad daylight against a respected member of the establishment, strikes terror at the heart of the city.

It also draws the attention of the powers that be, who put pressure on magistrate Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky to solve the case quickly.

But with no witnesses, apart from a drunken fantasist who may or may not have seen the murderer making their escape, Virginsky faces one of the most challenging and bizarre cases of his career.

Then an unexpected confession brings a sudden breakthrough. Or does it? For Virginsky, it’s all a little too convenient.

Meanwhile the tsar’s trusted adviser, Count Loris-Melikov, pushes Virginsky to undertake a dangerous mission. He must find a way to infiltrate a group of disaffected reactionaries with whom the dead man was associated.

Could this shadowy group be behind the general’s murder? And what will they do to Virginsky if they find out he is there to spy on them?

As he closes in on the murderer, Virginsky uncovers a dark history in which the crimes of the past give rise to further crimes.

And the desire for revenge culminates in a devastating tragedy.
R. N Morris is the author of eleven novels. His series of St. Petersburg novels revolving around the character of Porfiry Petrovich include A Gentle Axe and A Vengeful Longing, which was shortlisted for the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Novel and was Highly Commended in the CWA Ellis Peters Prize for Best Historical Crime Novel in 2008. He also wrote the libretto to the opera When The Flame Dies, composed by Ed Hughes.

Praise for Roger Morris:

"Morris’ recreation of the seamy side of 19th-century St Petersburg is vivid and convincing … As to who did it, Morris keeps the reader guessing until the end.” The Independent.

“Morris has created an atmospheric St Petersburg, and a stylish set of intellectual problems, but what makes A Gentle Axe such an effective debut is its fascination with good and evil.” Times Literary Supplement.

“Morris’s descriptions of the horrors of insanitary slum dwellings in St Petersburg are extraordinarily vivid, but the most striking feature of the novel is the way in which Porfiry’s sophisticated understanding of human nature compensates for the limited investigatory tools at his disposal.” The Times.

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About the Author

Roger (R. N.) Morris is the author of thirteen novels. The latest is Fortune’s Hand, a historical novel about Walter Raleigh.  He is also the author of the Silas Quinn series of historical crime novels and the St Petersburg Mysteries, featuring Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Crime and Punishment. Find out more at Roger's website rogernmorris.co.uk and find him on Facebook and Twitter at @rnmorris

15 June 2023

Special Guest Post by Heather R. Darsie, Author of Children of the House of Cleves: Anna and Her Siblings


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Children of the House of Cleves describes and analyses the lives of Sybylla, Anna, Wilhelm and Amalia, the children of Johann III, 
Duke of Cleves. 

Martin Luther and the House of Saxony

Sybylla of Cleves, Anna of Cleves’ elder sister, married into the powerful ruling Saxon family. Several members of the family, all prince-electors and including Sybylla’s husband Johann Friedrich, protected Martin Luther. In particular, Sybylla’s father-in-law John the Steadfast, embraced Lutheranism and did not avoid rubbing it in the Holy Roman Emperor’s face. From the beginning, the Electors of Saxony saw the value in protecting Martin Luther and allowing his ideas to flourish,

Excerpt from Children of the House of Cleves :

In October 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on Wittenberg castle’s chapel door. The act of posting the 95 Theses in and of itself was not odd or rebellious…It was what followed from Luther’s action that was odd, and increasingly powerful. Frederick [Elector of Saxony] supported Martin Luther initially more out of duty to the Saxon legal system than because Frederick agreed with Luther’s position on theology. Additionally, Luther became a major attraction for potential students to Frederick’s new university in Wittenberg…. 

19th-century painting by Julius Hübner of Luther's posting
of the Theses before a crowd. (Wikimedia Commons) 

In 1518, an Imperial Diet was held at Augsburg to discuss who would become the next Holy Roman Emperor...At the same Diet, the topic of Martin Luther’s teachings arose. Frederick secured a meeting with the papal legate, who promised that Luther would only be interrogated. This satisfied Frederick for the time being... It slowly dawned on Frederick that keeping Luther in Saxony was dangerous for the Electorate….

By December 1518, Frederick threw caution to the wind and asked Luther to stay on at Wittenberg University. Frederick managed to maintain a neutral stance toward Luther. He never formally declared in favor of Luther’s burgeoning religion. Frederick chose to protect Luther because Frederick felt it was his duty, as a Christian prince, to allow for the cautious exploration of Luther’s teachings just in case Luther was correct….

[In 1521, at] the Diet of Worms still sitting, Martin Luther was ordered to appear on 17 April at 4:00 in the afternoon. Frederick did not agree with Luther being put on trial at the Imperial Diet, and believed that the proper legal protocol was for Luther to be interrogated in Saxony, first, before the issue was put before the Empire. Nevertheless, Luther was questioned, and his answers displeased Charles V. 

In May 1521, the Edict of Worms was issued…Luther was allowed to return home. Frederick, fearing for Luther’s safety, intercepted him by Wittenberg and took Luther into custody. Frederick then hid Luther in Wartburg castle in Eisenach. Luther took up the disguise of ‘Junker Jörg’ or ‘Young Lord George’. 

The Lutheran church grew in Electoral Saxony in part because Frederick looked the other way….”

If Martin Luther did not have the support of Saxony’s ruling family from the very beginning, one can imagine that at least German, if not European, history would have been quite different.

If this excerpt piqued your interest, consider reading Children of the House of Cleves: Anna and Her Siblings, set for release in the UK on 15 June 2023 and in the US/Internationally on 12 September 2023. Can’t wait until September? The US Kindle version is released on 15 June, too! You might also like to read Heather R. Darsie’s biography on Anna of Cleves, the first researched and written from the German perspective, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister, which is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Heather R. Darsie

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About the Author

Heather R. Darsie works as an attorney in the US. Along with her Juris Doctorate she has a BA in German, which was of great value in her research. She completed multiple graduate-level courses in Early Modern History, with her primary focus being the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V. She runs the website MaidensAndManuscripts.com, and is a co-host of Tudors Dynasty podcast.  Find out more at maidensandmanuscripts.com  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @HRDarsieHistory

14 June 2023

Special Guest Interview with by Julie Maxwell, Author of The Image of the King


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1648. King Charles I is a prisoner on the Isle of Wight. He has lost the civil wars. He now stands to lose his head. Escape is imperative - but it seems increasingly impossible. No one proves more enterprising than the king's spy-mistress Jane Whorwood. Yet no one poses more of a threat to his image as a family man.

I'm pleased to welcome author Julie Maxwell to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Image of the King is the story of two men, King Charles I and John Milton. Milton is now famous as the poet of Paradise Lost. But in his own day he was infamous as the writer who defended the trial and execution of King Charles. It was the first time in history that a head of state had been impeached by his subjects and brought to account for crimes against his own people. The novel alternates between the viewpoints of Milton and the monarch in order to explain how each man reached this extraordinary juncture in his life.
What is your preferred writing routine?

I write best in the morning. The brain’s transition from sleeping to waking is often very productive for me, so I go straight to the desk to write everything down. Later in the day I find it helpful to switch from word-processing to writing longhand with a favoured fountain pen that is a real physical pleasure to use. I draft dialogue, sometimes whole scenes, in notebooks while I am away from my desk and then type it up afterwards with improvements. 

I usually work on a novel for an intense spell of several months. Then I might put the draft aside for a very long time so I can look at it with fresh eyes again. I like to reread my own work as though I am encountering it as a reader, not as its writer.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Write the book you feel compelled to write. A novel is a marathon that is sure to involve several laps of the hurdles. It is hard to sustain unless you feel driven by the need to write this particular novel and, conversely, by the conviction that this book really needs to be written. 

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

This is a question that I am still trying to answer. The novelist Joanna Kavenna once described me as ‘an original and witty writer who deserves to be better known’. If you are traditionally published, then a lot depends on the marketing budget and the effectiveness of the publicist. There is also, of course, an element of luck. 

My debut You Can Live Forever and my second novel These Are Our Children both had ‘Big Five’ publishers. As a result there were reviews in the national press, Sunday magazine features and radio appearances. With The Image of the King, my first venture into historical fiction, I am trying something new. Sharpe Books is a digital-first publishing company which has achieved many Amazon bestsellers. Recently I have been lucky enough to appear on the podcast ‘1666 and All That’, hosted by Paul Lay and Miranda Malins, and to write a piece on ‘Milton the Historian’ for Aspects of History. I joined Twitter rather reluctantly just a few months ago, but I am glad of the opportunities it has given me to connect with other writers and readers. 
Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research
The received image of King Charles I is of a slightly aloof, tragical martyr. His death distorts him into a permanently solemn historical figure, the one who stares so miserably out at us from van Dyck’s masterly portraits, as though he is already waiting for the axe to fall. What I discovered in the course of researching his life story, however, was how many blackly comical moments there were. The novel starts, for example, with a bungled attempt to escape Carisbrooke Castle that leaves the King farcically stuck in a window frame!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The scene that is now chapter two was originally the beginning of the book. I had never written historical fiction before and I knew that it needed to be an immersive experience, so I chose to describe a disaster scene. I also needed to establish a main character, decide how I would handle the dialogue of historical figures, and draw on my research without allowing it to impede the narrative flow. It was a lot to do all at once and it took me many attempts. I always find, however, that the beginning of a novel takes much longer than everything else. Once you know what you are doing, then the rest can follow relatively quickly. 

What are you planning to write next?

The sequel to The Image of the King. After eleven years of Cromwellian rule, the Stuart monarchy is restored. The biggest manhunt in British history, for the killers of the former King Charles I, is soon underway. As a notorious apologist for the regicide, Milton goes into hiding to save his life. How will his great poem Paradise Lost ever be finished now?

Julie Maxwell 

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About the Author

Julie Maxwell was born in Southall in 1975 and educated at Christ Church, University of Oxford. Her debut novel You Can Live Forever (Jonathan Cape) won a Betty Trask Award and was Book of the Month on BBC Radio 5 Live and a TLS Book of the Year. These Are Our Children (Quercus) was an Observer Book of the Year. She has thrice been the recipient of an Authors’ Foundation award from the Society of Authors. The Image of the King (Sharpe Books) is her first historical novel. Julie Maxwell is also a literary critic and has held Fellowships in English Literature at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. She co-edited Shakespeare and Quotation (Cambridge University Press) and has written on numerous contemporary literary topics for Areté magazine. You can find Julie on Twitter @JMaxwellAuthor