Mastodon The Writing Desk: August 2023

31 August 2023

The Forgotten Tudor Royal: Margaret Douglas, Grandmother to King James VI & I, by Beverley Adams

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

As the daughter and cousin of queens and the granddaughter and niece of kings, Lady Margaret Douglas was an integral part of the Tudor royal dynasty. A favorite of her uncle King Henry VIII and a close friend of Queen Mary I she courted scandal which saw her imprisoned in the Tower of London on more than one occasion. Against the orders of Queen Elizabeth I she plotted the marriage of her eldest son Lord Darnley to Mary, Queen of Scots with disastrous consequences.

She came as close to the executioners block as she did to the throne of England, with some believing she had a right to be queen. A devout Catholic all her life, she lived at a time when religious division split the country in half yet she remained steadfast in her beliefs. 

A respected and revered lady on both sides of the border, Lady Margaret Douglas, later Countess of Lennox through her marriage, suffered much heartbreak and loss. Her husband and son were both murdered at the hands of the Scots and she outlived all her children.

Despite these tragedies she never gave up on her dream of uniting the thrones of England and Scotland which was realised through her grandson King James VI/I.

The story of her life is a remarkable tale of intrigue and survival and deserves to be more widely told.

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About the author

Writer and historian Beverley Adams holds a Masters Degree in English and has written several non-fiction titles for Pen and Sword Books, including The Rebel Suffragette: The Life of Edith Rigby. Her work focuses on bringing the lives of inspirational women back to life. She is passionate about local history and has contributed numerous articles for the local press. She lives in Preston, Lancashire. Find our more at Beverley's website and find her on Twitter @WriterBeverleyA

30 August 2023

New Tudor Book Launch: Crime and Punishment in Tudor England: From Alchemists to Zealots, by April Taylor

Available from Amazon UK 
and pre-order from Amazon US

Crime and Punishment in Tudor England: From Alchemists to Zealots tells the story of the enactment of law and its penalties from 
Henry VII to Elizabeth I.

The sixteenth century was remarkable in many ways. In England, it was the century of the Tudor Dynasty. It heralded the Reformation, William Shakespeare, the first appearance of bottled beer in London pubs, Sir Francis Drake, and the Renaissance. Oh, and the Spanish Armadas―all five of them! Yes, five armadas and all failures.

It was a watershed century for crime and punishment. Henry VII’s paranoia about the loyalty of the nobility led to military-trained vagrants causing mayhem and murder. Henry VIII’s Reformation meant executions of those refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy. 

State-controlled religion―summed up through the five reigns as Roman Catholic; Anglo-Catholic; Protestant; Roman Catholic, and Sort of Protestant but I don’t mind so long as you swear the Oath of Supremacy―became an increasingly complex, not to say confusing, issue for ordinary people.

Although primary sources are rare and sometimes incomplete, the life of criminals and the punishments meted out to them still fascinates.

Read about: John Daniell and how he tried to blackmail the Earl of Essex. The Stafford insurrection of 1486, the first serious opposition to the new king. The activities of con-man extraordinaire, Gregory Wisdom, and many more.

Crime and punishment didn’t start with the Tudors and this book summarises judicial practices built on tradition from the Roman occupation. It covers often gory details―what happens to the body when it is beheaded, burned, boiled, or hanged?

Arranged in alphabetical order of crimes, it recounts tales of blackmail, infanticide, kidnapping, heresy, and sumptuary laws. Told with occasional low-key humour, the book also includes Tavern Talk, snippets of quirky information.

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About the Author

April Taylor was born in the historic county of Lincolnshire in the UK. Having caught the history bug from a young age, April has always been fascinated by the physical manifestation of times past in particularly the Tudor period. This interest deepened when she discovered one of the most important events of Henry VIII’s reign, the Lincolnshire Rebellion that led to the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, started eight miles from where April was born. April has always ensured her research is as meticulous as possible. During her study of the Tudors for her fictional Luke Ballard books, April was intrigued by frequent references to Henry VIII’s charisma. Choosing a career in librarianship, April honed her research skills but always leant towards the history of the area in which she lived. This led to numerous talks to schools and local groups, especially in Worcester, yet another place of historic importance in the UK. April Taylor now lives near the rugged coast of north-east England in close proximity to one of the priories that fell victim to Henry VIII’s Reformation. She frequently walks her golden retriever in local forests using that time to work through complicated plotlines. She sings in the medieval church and occupies her down-time dressmaking and cross-stitching. Find out more at her website and follow April on Twitter @authAprilTaylor

28 August 2023

New Tudor Book Launch Spotlight: Heirs of Ambition: The Making of the Boleyns, by Claire Martin

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Heirs of Ambition: The Making of the Boleyns uncovers the story and the family behind England's most obsessed-over queen, Anne Boleyn.

From the fields of Norfolk to the royal court, via city commerce, local government, liberal education and numerous wedding bells, the Boleyns emerge as just one of many newly prosperous and ambitious families seeking to make the best of a changing world. As they struggle upwards, England is visited by famine, plague, revolt and civil war – but also opportunity.

Struggling peasants in dirt-floored cottages scratch a living on tiny scraps of land. More than half are swept away by plague while revolt soaks the south-east in blood, but hope lies in the teeming, timber-framed streets of London amongst ambitious merchants who speculate and scheme. 

Meagre rations become venison pasties and straw-filled mattresses, featherbeds, but some things remain the same. Disease has no respect for gold and silver; war takes sons whose lives have barely begun. While the Boleyns' new-found wealth delivered power and status, they still lived in a violent world and life could be precarious, even for a queen.

From steady climb to bone-breaking fall, the Boleyns' story is medieval life at its messy, prejudiced and unstable best.

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About the Author

Dr Claire Martin has been a writer, historian or professional archival researcher for over ten years. She studied first at St Peter’s College, Oxford and later at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her 2008 PhD, entitled Transport for London 1250-1550, examined the road and transportation developments in the late Medieval city of London. She began working for the research agency behind the television series Who Do You Think You Are, while still studying full time and subsequently worked as a part-time teaching fellow at Royal Holloway University and Queen Mary’s University. She has carried out research for a number of London Livery Companies, for the Museum of London and The Museum of London Archaeological Service as well as for companies, private individuals and fellow academics. She has previously written for BBC History Extra. Find out more at and find her on Twitter @DrClaireAMartin

27 August 2023

Book Review: A Rip in the Veil (The Graham Saga Book 1) by Anna Belfrage

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

On a muggy August day in 2002 Alex Lind disappears without a trace. On an equally stifling August day in 1658, Matthew Graham finds her on an empty Scottish moor. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew, who doesn’t know what to make of this strange woman who has seemingly fallen from the skies—what is she, a witch?

I'd been aware of Anna Belfrage's Graham Saga for ages, but I recently read Kate Mosse's multi-million selling Languedoc Trilogy, and this seemed a good series to compare how others handle the potential of the 'time slip'. genre.

I like the way we share our feisty heroine Alex Lind's confusion, and have to be prepared for anything. I found myself wondering how I would cope with the same situation - and realised how little use my knowledge of the future would be.

Anna Belfrage's skilled storytelling shines through in her character development, particularly Matthew Graham, who grudgingly reveals the story of his past life, and leaves us wanting to know more.  The glimpses of the historical context also made me want to find out more, which is always a good test. 

The only disappointment is that nothing is resolved - but this is of course the first book in a nine-book series, and I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.  Her Castilian Heart is the third in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk.  Anna has also authored The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode!  Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, and find her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor 

26 August 2023

Experimenting with AI Microsoft Designer for Generating Book Promotion Social Media Posts

I admit to a wary fascination with the exponential developments we are seeing in AI (Artificial Intelligence), having studied it for my first degree many years ago.

Tools are now emerging which have the potential to force us to adapt in different ways. One of these which I welcome is to produce images to support social media posts.

I've recently been experimenting with Microsoft Designer, which takes a 'prompt', such as:

Create an animated Instagram post promoting the historical fiction book 'Essex - Tudor Rebel'. Use an Elizabethan style to evoke the adventurous spirit of the book.  

(This prompt was actually suggested by the AI after a couple of attempts by me, which were enough for it to 'understand' what I wanted.)

You can upload any images, such as your book cover - here's the original:

The software does the rest in a few seconds, offering a selection of design ideas:

You can select any of them to change the generated background images (such as a modern tarmac road) the wording, fonts and colours as you wish, then download the results:

I haven't spent much time but have tried asking for a 'Tudor house in the background':

I'm encouraged by the initial results and will experiment with my other books sometime.

Here's a link if you would like to have a go:

Tony Riches

25 August 2023

Book Launch Excerpt from Women in Intelligence: The Hidden History of Two World Wars, by Helen Fry

New from Yale Books 

A ground-breaking history of women in British intelligence, revealing their pivotal role across the first half of the twentieth century 

Across the twentieth century, women took on an extraordinary range of roles in intelligence, defying the conventions of their time. Across both world wars, far from being a small part of covert operations, they ran spy networks and escape lines, parachuted behind enemy lines and interrogated prisoners. And, back in Bletchley and Whitehall, women’s vital administrative work in MI offices kept the British war engine running.

In this major, panoramic history, Helen Fry looks at the rich and varied work women undertook as civilians and in uniform. From spies in the Belgian network ‘La Dame Blanche’, knitting coded messages into jumpers, to those who interpreted aerial images and even ran entire sections, Fry shows just how crucial women were in the intelligence mission. 

Joan Osborne, female spy

Filled with hitherto unknown stories, Women in Intelligence places new research on record for the first time and showcases the inspirational contributions of these remarkable women.

Excerpt from Women in Intelligence

It was two decades after Margot Morse died in 1994 that her family went through her jewellery box that had been in storage and they discovered an assassin’s pen. It left them with a number of unanswered questions – had she ever used it? What covert life had she hidden from them? Margot was one of the ‘Baker Street irregulars’ who worked in utmost secrecy for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her file has now been declassified, but its slim contents raise questions about the work she really did for SOE. 

Margot is typical of the thousands of women whose stories have been obscured behind official secrecy. Charting the contribution of women in intelligence from the First World War, through the 1920s and 1930s and into the Second World War is a monumental task. The challenge is underlined by the fact that some aspects will never be known as they are still classified by the Official Secrets Act. My book is the hidden history and legacy of women’s involvement at the heart of British intelligence operations, espionage, deception and unorthodox methods of warfare across two world wars.  

SOE assassin pen

‘Full of danger and deception, sabotage and secret codes, and some brilliant, unstoppable women.’ Clare Mulley, author of The Spy who Loved

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About the Author

Historian and biographer Helen Fry is the author of the bestselling book The Walls Have Ears: The Greatest Intelligence Operation of WWII, Spymaster: The Man who saved MI6, MI9: The British Secret Service for Escape & Evasion, and more than twenty books on intelligence, prisoners of war, and the social history of World War II. She appears regularly in TV documentaries, media interviews and podcasts. In 2022 she was recognised as a Woman of Achievement in the Women of the Year Lunch 2022. Find out more at Helen's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @DrHelenFry

22 August 2023

Book Review: Labyrinth (Languedoc Trilogy Book 1) by Kate Mosse

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

July 2005. In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig, stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery-two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth. 

I was on a motorcycle trip to the South of France when I first saw the magnificent medieval walled city of Carcassonne. I could not resist a visit. I'm glad I did, as it helped me understand Kate Mosse's fascination with this unforgettable place.

My visit was the main reason for reading Labyrinth, but I was also intrigued by the story of how the book was picked up as a book of the week on the 'Richard and Judy' TV show, (praised by guest reviewers Carol Thatcher and Bettany Hughes),  and became an instant number one, and an international multi-million best seller.

I found it took perseverance to follow the complex dual time format, but worth the effort as the story picks up pace and we start to care about the characters, particularly Alais. I wondered if the dual time device, with inept police was really necessary, as the story of Alais and her father was strong enough to support the narrative.

By the time I reached chapter 69, (which is taken up with one character explaining the complicated plot to another), I felt as if I'd been following a labyrinthine path which could lead nowhere, but Kate Mosse delivers at the end, and I will be reading the next book in the series.

I recommend reading the end notes, as I particularly liked the guided tour of Carcassonne, illustrated with pictures of locations used in the book, as well as the questions for reading groups.  

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Kate Mosse is the author of ten novels & short story collections, including the No 1 bestselling The Joubert Family Chronicles – The Burning Chambers, The City of Tears and The Ghost Ship – as well as the multimillion selling Languedoc Trilogy. In 2019, Kate was honoured to be presented with a medal for services to culture by the City of Carcassonne. It is because of buying a tiny house in the shadow of the medieval city walls of Carcassonne in 1989 - and becoming inspired by the landscape, the beauty and the history of the region - that Kate became the writer she is. Find out more from kate's website

21 August 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Kings of War (The Brunanburh Series Book 2) by MJ Porter

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Can the King of the Scots and the Dublin Norse triumph against a united England?

AD934: King Athelstan of the English has been successful in uniting the many kingdoms of Britain against one enemy, the Viking raiders. But men who are kings don’t wish to be ruled.

Constantin, King of the Scots, rebelled against the Imperium and was forcibly brought to bend the knee to Athelstan and England at Cirencester.

His son Ildulb seeks bloody vengeance from Athelstan following the battle at Cait and the death of his son.

Olaf Gothfrithson, king of the Dublin Norse, having asserted his power following his father's death has his sights set on reclaiming Jorvik.

Can the united might of the Scots and the violence of the Dublin Norse, descendants of the infamous Viking raiders, bring King Athelstan and his vision of the united Saxon English to her knees?

An epic story of kingsmanship that will result in the pivotal, bloody Battle of Brunanburh, where only one side can be victorious.

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About the Author

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, and in Viking Age Denmark. Raised in the shadow of a building that was be-lieved to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set. MJ Porter has also written two twentieth-century mysteries. Find out more at and Twitter @coloursofunison

20 August 2023

Special Guest Post by Wendy J. Dunn, Author of The Light in the Labyrinth: The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. (The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn Book 3)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

In the winter of 1535, young Kate Carey lives with her mother and her new family, far from the royal court. Unhappy with her life and wanting to escape her home, she accepts the invitation of Anne Boleyn, the aunt she idolises, to join her household in London. But the dark, dangerous labyrinth of Henry VIII’s court forces Kate to grow up fast as she witnesses her aunt’s final tragic days — and when she discovers a secret that changes her life forever.


I’ve been thinking a lot in recent days about this writing road of mine. On September 7th, a new edition of The Light in the Labyrinth, my second Anne Boleyn novel, is stepping out into the published world with a lovely new cover, two short stories, and even a poem, all inspired by Catherine Carey. 

Also stepping out into the published world in September is Mi hermana, Mi reina, the Spanish translation of All Manner of Things (the second part of my Katherine of Aragon story through the eyes of Maria de Salinas) – not forgetting its audio book. Then Henry VIII’s True Daughter: Catherine Carey, A Tudor Life, my first full length nonfiction work, also about Catherine Carey, is available for pre-order before its publication at the end of November. They are all important writing milestones. Treasured milestones.

The new edition of The Light in the Labyrinth is a milestone because it marks nine years since this novel first stepped out. Dear Lord — nine years! The nonfiction book because it is my first full length nonfiction work. And, of course, having a novel translated into another language — both written and spoken — is simply a wonderful and exciting milestone.

Writing a nonfiction book about Catherine Carey was truly an unanticipated detour on my writing road. I never expected to be approached on twitter by Pen and Sword Books and offered three projects to choose from to write. Writing about Catherine Carey was one of these projects. I couldn't pass up this opportunity to prove – to myself and others – that she's Henry VIII's daughter and learn more about her.

Researching the work was not an easy feat. Thanks to two very long Melbourne COVID lockdowns not forgetting not having the money to travel, I was stuck in Australia. So, distance and lack of money made it impossible for me to research Catherine Carey's life in British library archives — or to discover letters written by Catherine herself. Fortunately, the internet gave me access to primary materials that salved my frustration somewhat and enabled me to complete my book.

So, I have been thinking about my other important writing milestones — from the time I signed my first publishing contract in 2002 until now.

Passion drives writing. I am passionate about the Tudor people I write about — especially Tudor women.

The Tudor period kept so many women silent in their patriarchal society. This was a time when fathers, brothers and sometimes sons controlled and determined women’s lives. Catherine Carey is a perfect example of how history can write the life of an important Tudor woman as a brief footnote to the lives of her male kin. Even recently, I read an old Tudor history book that described Francis Knollys as Elizabeth I's cousin, but failed to mention Catherine, who was her real cousin and maybe half-sister.

We cannot ignore how this male control shaped the lives of Tudor women — too often in ways they did not want or desire. Tony Riches’ vivid Penelope Devereux in Penelope - Tudor Baroness, his most recent novel, offers a powerful illustration of a noble Tudor woman’s life — and the fetters placed upon it. As a writer, I find it fascinating how women – women like Penelope and her grandmother Catherine Carey — have resisted and overcome societal control throughout history.

It was a very different experience in writing a nonfiction work about Catherine Carey to imagining her early life in 1536, when I imagined her witnessing the final days of her aunt Anne Boleyn in my novel The Light in the Labyrinth. There is very little known about Catherine Carey in 1536. We are not even certain about her exact age. It presented me with an enormous gap for my imagination to step into and imagine. A nonfiction book demands something else from a writer. Whatever we write must be backed by evidence or for us to make a good argument for any theory that we put forward in the work.

For me, writing – whether fiction or nonfiction – is always an adventure. Exploring the lives of these women, through the crucible of Tudor times, also results in me ending up making sense of my own life. I may be wrong, but I doubt I will ever write a novel set 100% in the contemporary world. Short stories, yes, but for the larger canvas of a novel I need the fire of passion, heart, soul, and mind to write it. Tudor history does that for me — it gives me the passion to commit to writing a novel. Even my work in progress – which is 75% set in 2010 – is inspired by my Tudor passion.

Yes, writers need passion to write. We need to find those stories which drive us passionately to write them. The stories of Tudor women provide that passion for me, as well as enough material to keep me busy until my last writing breath.

So, again I think about the many wonderful milestones I have passed in this writing road of mine. Writing is a craft which calls for commitment and passion – especially if you desire to find true fulfilment as a writer. I see writing as my calling, and I am committed to growing in my craft. Like for many writers, walking this writing road has not been easy. That is why celebrating all those milestones is so important. It propels me forward to reach the next milestone.

It is true. Perseverance furthers.

Wendy J. Dunn

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About the Author

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel. While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally. Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. Find out more at her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyjdunn

19 August 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: King of Kings (The Brunanburh Series Book 1) by MJ Porter

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the battle for power, there can be only one ruler.

AD925: Athelstan is the king of the English, uniting the petty kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, the Danish-held Five Boroughs and York following the sudden death of his father, King Edward.
His vision is to unite the realms of the Scots and the Welsh in a peace accord that will protect their borders from the marauding threat of the Norse Vikings.

Whilst seemingly craving peace and demanding loyalty with an imperium over every kingdom, Athelstan could dream of a much bigger prize.

But danger and betrayal surround his best intentions, namely from his overlooked stepbrother, Edwin, who conspires and vies for what he deems is his rightful place as England's king.
As ever, powerful men who wish to rule do not wish to be ruled, and Constantin of the Scots, Owain of Strathclyde, and Ealdred of Bamburgh plot their revenge against the upstart English king, using any means necessary.

An epic story of kingsmanship that will set in motion the pivotal, bloody Battle of Brunanburh where allies have to be chosen wisely...

'MJ effortlessly draws you into early Medieval England with this fascinating tale.' - Donovan Cook

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About the Author

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, and in Viking Age Denmark. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author's writing destiny was set. MJ Porter has also written two twentieth-century mysteries. Find out more at and Twitter @coloursofunison

18 August 2023

Special Guest Interview with Regina Felty, Author of While You Walked By

Available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

Twelve-year-old Aden starts to run when an old man comes out of Angelo’s Bakery and catches him hiding, but something about the man draws Aden to him. Terrified and naive to life on the streets, Aden was forced to forge his own survival in the face of dangerous predators and violence after his mother abandoned him almost a year ago. Can Aden trust the gentle old man who offers him food and a hand of friendship? Will Ben be able to forgive himself and look for his son?

I'm pleased to welcome author Regina Felty to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your book
While You Walked By was my debut novel and had pieces of my own life story woven into it. I wrote about what was closest to my heart. The story is a heartwarming, coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old homeless boy, named Aden. Aden was abandoned by his mother at a homeless shelter but decides not to stay and, instead, takes to the streets of Philadelphia. Ben, an old man who struggles with his own demons, befriends him. This story is about both of their journeys toward healing, restoration, and friendship.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I love to pour a cup of hot coffee and sit at my desk to write. I have character photos tacked on the walls in front of me that make me feel like I’m sitting with each of my characters as I write about them. In fact, it’s not unheard of for me to have brief conversations with them: apologizing for writing a painful scene that involves them or asking them what they want me to write. Yeah, anyone walking by my office would think I’m a little crazy.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Silence the inner critic! Sit your butt in the chair and write the words. One of my favorite quotes is, “You can’t edit an empty page.” Just know that your first draft will be awful. Accept it and improve it. It’s a lot of work, but when you hold that finished work–that BABY!--in your hands, it will be worth it!

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

Social media, running ads, etc. are all necessary engagements, but it’s also about giving back to the community. Give away a few free books to reading clubs, homeless shelters, etc. Offer to help other writers by reading their work and helping them get the word out about their books. They’ll do the same for you. The writing community is very supportive of one another.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Each novel has its own scene that is hard. For While You Walked By, it was two scenes. They were when I wrote the scene about Aden forgiving Ben and the one about Aden’s mother (don’t want to give away too much!).

What are you planning to write next?

I’m finishing up a Young Adult Christian trilogy right now. The third book releases in early 2024. Simultaneously, I’m working on another stand-alone. My novels tend to deal with a social or emotional issue that the characters need to work through and learn from. I also want to raise awareness among my readers about the tough things people face in real life. The next stand-alone coming up will touch on domestic abuse, among a few other topics. 

Regina Felty

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About the Author

Regina Felty was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she claims you can find the finest Italian hoagies and soft pretzels on the East Coast. Although she had always kept a journal and wrote short stories for fun, it was during her turbulent teen years in a foster home that Regina turned to writing as a source of personal therapy. Besides dividing her time between being an author and her career as an American Sign Language Educational Interpreter, Regina also manages her personal blog, It’s a Felty Thing, and has a special place in her heart for troubled youth. Find our more at Regina's website at and find her on Twitter @ReginaFelty 

17 August 2023

Young Queens: The gripping, intertwined story of Catherine de' Medici, Elisabeth de Valois and Mary, Queen of Scots, by Leah Redmond Chang

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The boldly original, dramatic intertwined story of Catherine de' Medici, Elisabeth de Valois and Mary, Queen of Scots – three queens exercising power in a world dominated by men.

Sixteenth-century Europe: Renaissance masters paint the ceilings of Florentine churches, kings battle for control of the Continent, and the Reformation forever changes the religious organisation of society. Amidst it all, three young women come of age and into power in an era of empires and revolutions.

Catherine de' Medici's story begins in a convent stormed by soldiers intent on seizing the key to power in Florence – Catherine herself, a girl barely 11 years old. It ends with her as the controversial queen mother of France, a woman both revered and reviled.

Mary, Queen of Scots' story begins in Scotland and ends in England. A queen turned traitor, from the confines of her English prison she longs for the idyll of her childhood in France.

Elisabeth de Valois' story begins in France, where she is born the beloved daughter of a king. It ends tragically in Spain as a cherished queen consort and mother – one who must make the ultimate sacrifice for her kingdom.

Catherine, Mary and Elisabeth lived at the French court together for many years before scattering to different kingdoms. These years bound them to one another through blood and marriage, alliance and friendship, love and filial piety; bonds that were tested when the women were forced to part and take on new roles. To rule, they would learn, was to wage a constant war against the deeply entrenched misogyny of their time. A crown could exalt a young woman. Equally, it could destroy her.

Drawing on new archival research, Young Queens masterfully weaves the personal stories of these three queens into one, revealing their hopes, dreams, desires and regrets in a time when even the most powerful women lived at the mercy of the state.

'Alluring, gripping, real: an astonishing insight into the lives of three queens' Alice Roberts 
'Takes us into the hearts and minds of three extraordinary women' Amanda Foreman
'Conveys the vitality of the past as few books do. An enviable tour de force' Suzannah Lipscomb

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About the Author

Leah Redmond Chang writes biography and literary non-fiction, with a focus on women’s history. Trained as a literature scholar, her books draw on her extensive research in the archives and in rare book libraries. A former tenured professor of French Literature and Culture at The George Washington University, she has also been an Honorary Senior Research Associate at University College London. She lives with her husband and three children in Washington DC, and spends as much time as possible in London. Find out more at her website and find her on Twitter @leahrchang

15 August 2023

Special Guest Post by Robb Pritchard, Author of Usurpers: Foundation of the Dragon: Book 2

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A modern retelling of the Dream of Macsen Wledig from the
ancient Welsh legend, the Mabinogion

Magnus Maximus is a former general with such a fearsome reputation that even emperors fear him. Magnus’ fear is that he will be assassinated, but fate has other plans, and he is given the command of the three legions stationed in Britannia.

The idea to write my previous book, Brethren, popped into my head one windy day on the top of Dinas Bran, the famous castle above Llangollen in Wales. Welsh resistance to the English invasions and brutal occupations in the middle-ages are fairly well-known, but about those who lived within the barely discernible ditches over a millennium before the iconic castle was built up there, I realised that I knew next to nothing.

From the very start, I didn't want to just write one book, I wanted to be a writer. And so after countless hours online reading up on all I could find about how to be a successful self-published author, I followed what seemed to be the best advice for long term success; choose a unique niche and write a series.

The mysterious, semi-mythical foundation of my native Wales has not been written about before, and so the Foundation of the Dragon series was born. The dragon being the flag, of course, officially the coolest flag in the world! Brethren was set in the first century, and the story was about the last of the native ‘Celts’ fighting the Roman legions. 

And if anyone has read it, they will understand why there can be no sequel. For the subsequent long centuries of the Roman occupation many tumultuous and history-changing events took place across the known world, but not so much in the back-water province of Britannia Secunda, the mountainous province that would one day become Wales.

The earliest historically attested story that can be set there comes almost at the end of Roman rule with the figure of Magnus Maximus, or Macsen Wledig, as he is known in the collection of early Welsh literature the Mabinogion. His legend still endures and is still celebrated in Caernarfon, one of my favourite places in North Wales. And his story in the historical record, of how he managed to rise from almost forgotten general to the Western Emperor, a position he held quite successfully for five years, I found fascinating. You don’t get a much better historical fiction character arc than that, and a really rewarding one to write.

In Brethren, both Cadwal and Brei, were both perfect people, not a streak of badness in either of them. However, my favourite genre to read is grimdark, so I wanted the POV of a more morally questionable character to add some contrast and some depth to the narrative. Conan Meriadoc (In the book spelled as Kennan as Conan conjures up images of SFF and Arnold) is recorded in the, admittedly largely fictional, Historia Regnum Britanniae, as averting a garrison of British troops clashing with Magnus' entourage as soon as he landed. 

Out of jealousy, he then led an invading barbarian army from beyond the wall against him, so his conflicted reasonings coming from a place of fear and weakness, were great to write. And what he ended up doing to the women settlers of Brittany (which will be in Book 3) is one of the most grimdark stories I've ever come across. I wanted to explore what would lead a young man to do something so abhorrent that two thousand years later, it still has the power to shock.

When it came time to put pen to paper, the first issue I had was that Magnus' story is wrapped up in legend and there aren’t any common threads to connect the mythic Macsen Wledig of the Mabinogion with the historical Magnus Maximus. But I wanted to include the dream of Macsen Wledig as a way of paying homage to our Welsh literature heritage… and so I needed some way of bridging the mythical and the real... 

Randomly, while I was mulling on this, I saw a YouTube video of a rather irate Miriam Margolyes giving someone a piece of her mind. Wide eyes, finger-wagging, wild hair... and a woman with powers beyond those of even an emperor was born. I absolutely love Miriam, and she is the inspiration for the cheeky 'auger' is my favourite character. This character is also a link back to Brethren.

Weaving the Mabinogion story in the plot was a lot of fun and, as a Welsh historical fiction writer, quite a privilege as well. I hope I did it justice. For the established facts about the actual historic person, the book Magnus Maximus: The Neglected Roman Emperor and his British Legacy by Maxwell Craven was an invaluable source of information and, so far, is the most academic story of Magnus Maximus I've come across. 

As with any historical fiction research, five different sources will give five different dates and ages, but wherever there was some ambiguity, or some leeway for a bit of creative license to meld facts into the plot structure, I more often than not went with Craven’s conclusions.

Initially, I intended Usurpers to cover the whole eight years of Magnus' story from outcast to emperor, but at only half way with the text at over 100,000 words, rather than edit the life out of it, I decided to split it in two. 

So the stories of Magnus, Elen, Kennan and his grumpy Master of Horse Andragathius will get wrapped up in Book 3, which I intend to have out this winter, around Christmas, if I don't have too many Ferrari and Porsche stories to write in the meantime - which is the day job. I am already 20,000 words in. I don’t know if it’s what other writers do, but I began with the rather harrowing ending… a bloodsoaked rainbow. You’ll have to wait a few months to find out what that means.

Moving forward to summer 2024, Book 4 will cover the struggles of Vortigen, a figure I've been interested in for a very long time, and the tumultuous period of the fall of Roman rule in Britain. And perhaps I'll do something with King Arthur... although at the moment I'm a little reluctant to do so as this story has been done to death over the last few hundred years. I am not sure what unique angle I can take to write about him. Perhaps some readers will have some suggestions?

Robb Pritchard

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About the Author

Robb grew up in North Wales but left for a life of travelling when he was a teenager. After living in a dozen different countries around the world over nearly thirty years, he became nostalgic for his home country. Hiraeth, in Welsh. For the day job, he has the unbelievable privilege of travelling the world to test drive, and write about, classic Porsches and Ferraris and the occasional crazy off-roader and has lived off his writing, and some half-decent photos for the last fifteen years. The passion though, has long been writing novels. It took a few long years for him to get here but Brethren is malting its fluffy fledgling feathers and has been released into the wild. Hopefully, he wrote it well enough that it can fend for itself. Find out more from Robb's website

9 August 2023

Blog Tour Interview with Mary Anna Evans, Author of The Traitor Beside Her: The Justine Byrne Historical Mysteries

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Traitor Beside Her is an intricately plotted WWII espionage novel weaving together mystery, action, friendship, and a hint of romance perfect for fans of The Rose Code and Code Name Helene. Justine Byrne can't trust the people working beside her. Arlington Hall, a former women's college in Virginia has been taken over by the United States Army where hundreds of men and women work to decode countless pieces of communication coming from the Axis powers.

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

Tell us about your latest book 

The Traitor Beside Her is a WWII-era suspense novel about two young women, Justine Byrne and Georgette Broussard, who are assigned to go undercover in a room housing the most critical code breaking operation in Washington, DC. Justine and Georgette know that one of cryptanalysts is an enemy spy, selling some of the most Allies’ most critical secrets to the Axis powers, and it’s their job to find out who it is. The Battle of the Bulge is raging, so the brillian code breakers working alongiside the spy are desperately needed, but they’re useless until Justine and Georgette can find the traitor. The only advice their boss can give them is a short sentence, three words long: “Trust no one.”

What is your preferred writing routine? 

I like to get up early and get a cup of coffee. (Actually, it’s a latte that my sweet husband makes for me.) Then I settle into my writing chair, which is a comfy recliner, and get started. I like to write in big blocks of time. I can get so much more done in one three-hour writing session than in three one-hour writing sessions, but life is busy. I use the time I have available. When the coffee’s gone, I usually go get a Coke and a Hershey bar to keep the creative juices flowing.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Read a lot and write a lot. I teach writing classes for college students, so I obviously believe that it helps to have someone with experience to guide you, but you can still be a writer if a mentor isn’t available. I didn’t have one when I was getting started. Check out books on writing from the library. Find a supportive writing community online. Do whatever makes sense for you personally to keep you motivated to write, and then just sit down and do it. And don’t forget to be proud of yourself for pursuing your writing dreams.

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

I’m active on social media, and I rarely turn down a chance to speak in public. My basic premise is that people can’t buy what they don’t know about, so I am always looking for ways to reach potential readers.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research 

While I was writing The Traitor Beside Her, I needed to write a scene where an intelligent, successful man is taking out a woman he wants to impress. I found a photo and a description of the interior of a fabulous 1940s Washington, DC dinner club. I found a description of the entertainment. I found the menu. I found the drink menu. And one of the drinks had the same name as the secret agent weapon that Justine has hidden in her evening purse. It was just too perfect. I’m very fond of that scene, and I wish I could spend an evening at that dinner club.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing? 

At the climax of Findings, the fourth book in my Faye Longchamp series of archaeological mysteries, four people suddenly encounter each other. Person One and Two love each other, although neither of them has ever admitted it. Person Three and Four need Person One and Two to be dead. Person Three loves Person Four. Person Four has played Person THree for a fool, because she loves only herself. 

Person Three wants to save Person Four, so he fires his gun at Person Two. Person One loves Person Two, so he throws himself in front of that bullet. Person Four sees that she can only escape if she is the only person left standing, so she shoots Persons Three and Two. Then she takes the only boat on the island and leaves behind a dead person, a gravely injured person, and a person who is badly injured, but not so badly injured that she isn’t able to shoot and kill the evil Person Four as she flees.

This action takes place in minutes, maybe less than a minute, but it took pages for it to play out on the page. Writing that scene taught me how to use point of view to stop time. A character would squeeze a trigger and then I would switch point of view to a character who is watching it happen and deciding what to do. Then I would switch point of view to the person who is deciding to sacrifice his life to save someone who doesn’t even know he loves her. That scene was a heckuva lot of fun to write.

What are you planning to write next? 

I’m working on a Gothic novel that I pitched as Rebecca-meets-Who’s-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-meets-Dark-Academia. It’s about a young woman whose father dies on the day her mother goes missing, leaving her to pick up the pieces of a life built completely on lies. But she lives in a fabulous house on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River, so how terrible can it be, right? (Too bad she doesn’t have enough money to keep the house and too bad that getting a job to help with all those bills is pretty hard for a woman in the 1940s….)

Mary Anna Evans

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About the Author

Mary Anna Evans is an award-winning author, a writing professor, and she holds degrees in physics and engineering, a background that, as it turns out, is ideal for writing her Justine Byrne series, which began with The Physicists’ Daughter and continues with her new book, The Traitor Beside Her. She describes Justine as “a little bit Rosie-the-Riveter and a little bit Bletchley Park codebreaker.”  Mary Anna’s crime fiction has earned recognition that includes two Oklahoma Book Awards, the Will Rogers Medallion Awards Gold Medal, and the Benjamin Franklin Award, and she co-edited the Edgar-nominated Bloomsbury Handbook to Agatha Christie.  Find out more at her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @maryannaevans

8 August 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Light in the Labyrinth: The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. (The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn Book 3) by Wendy J. Dunn

Now available for pre-order
from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

In the winter of 1535, young Kate Carey lives with her mother and her new family, far from the royal court. Unhappy with her life and wanting to escape her home, she accepts the invitation of Anne Boleyn, the aunt she idolises, to join her household in London.

But the dark, dangerous labyrinth of Henry VIII’s court forces Kate to grow up fast as she witnesses her aunt’s final tragic days — and when she discovers a secret that changes her life forever.

All things must end—all things but love.

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About the Author

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel. While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally. Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. Find out more at her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyjdunn