Mastodon The Writing Desk: 2024

22 June 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Firebrand: Previously published as Queen’s Gambit, now a feature film starring Alicia Vikander

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Now a major motion picture, Firebrand shows the tumultuous darker side to the marriages of the notorious King of England, Henry VIII, and the wife who survived.

My name is Katherine Parr.

I’m thirty-one years old – already twice widowed.
I love a man I can’t have.
I’m to wed a man no one would want.

He has cast aside two wives and watched another die in childbirth.
Two more have had their heads struck from their bodies, on his order.

What will become of me as Henry VIII’s sixth wife?

I will have the king’s ear. With that comes power.
But power means danger in the Tudor court.

Many have fallen.

Will I fall too?

Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one, Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. Instead, she attracts the amorous attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII. 

No one is able to refuse a royal proposal. Haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and rely on her wits and the help of her loyal servant Dot to survive the treacherous pitfalls of life as Henry’s queen. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

Dive into Elizabeth Fremantle's vivid Tudor England and meet the woman who survived Henry VIII.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Freemantle lives in London and is the author of seven historical novels. Her first, QUEEN'S GAMBIT is about the last wife of Henry VIII and has been adapted into the feature film FIREBRAND starring Alicia Vikander and Jude Law which premiered to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival 2023. Publishing July 27th (UK) & August 1st (US) is Elizabeth's most recent novel DISOBEDIENT recounting a year (1611) in the life of the young Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi and the terrifying obstacles she was forced to overcome in order to become the foremost female painter of the Renaissance. The brilliant Emma D'Arcy of House of the Dragon has recorded the audiobook. Following on from QUEEN'S GAMBIT are three further Tudor set novels that follow on from each other: SISTERS OF TREASON, WATCH THE LADY and THE GIRL IN THE GLASS TOWER, all focusing on noted women whose lives were shaped and endangered by their proximity to the Tudor throne. Find out more from her website and find her on Instagram and Twitter @LizFremantle

21 June 2024

Discovering the life of Frances – Tudor Countess

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Frances Walsingham is the only surviving child of Queen Elizabeth’s ‘spymaster’ Sir Francis Walsingham. Better educated than most men, her father arranges her marriage to warrior poet Sir Philip Sidney. After Philip Sidney is killed in battle, Frances becomes Countess of Essex, and is banished from court after her husband Sir Robert Devereaux’s rebellion against the queen. Can she marry for love, if it means turning her back on her faith and all she knows?

Over the past ten years I’ve built an extensive reference collection of books on everything Tudor and Elizabethan, from medicine to recipes, childbirth to government, as well as numerous biographies of key players in the story of the Tudors. All this research provides the backdrop within which the real lives and relationships of my chosen subjects develop and evolve.

I decided to explore the enigmatic Queen Elizabeth through three of her favourite men, Drake, Essex and Raleigh. Each saw her very differently, as Drake was in awe of her, Essex was like the son she never had, and Raleigh became captain of her guard. I also realised I would need to make the Elizabethan books a series of six, rather than a trilogy, and explore the complexity of Queen Elizabeth through the eyes of three of her ladies. 

I had plenty to choose from, but found the most interesting were Penelope, eldest daughter of the queen’s nemesis, Lady Lettice Knollys, Frances, the only surviving child of the queen’s spymaster, Walsingham, and one of her ‘Gentlewomen’, Bess Raleigh.

I had the advantage of already having written about Frances as the Countess of Essex, and her ill-fated marriage to Earl Robert Devereux. I also knew plenty about her father, as he has appeared in several of my books, yet the real character of Frances remained elusive. Sadly few of her letters survive, and even the date of her birth is not recorded, (although historians agree it must have been in 1567).
The only solution was diligent historical ‘detective work’, tracing where Frances lived, who she would have been with, and picking up tiny clues from biographies of her contemporaries.  Of the many biographies I’ve studied, an unexpected source I found useful was Daphne du Maurier’s work on Francis and Anthony Bacon, who became important advisors to Frances in her struggle to understand and influence events at the Elizabethan court.

When I set out on this ‘journey’ to tell the story of the Tudors I had no idea how much I would learn about fascinating women such as Frances Walsingham, who witnessed the key events of the Elizabethan era first-hand, yet is so little known – until now.

Frances – Tudor Countess is new from Amazon in eBook and Paperback, and an audiobook edition will be produced this year:

Tony Riches

Blog Tour Spotlight: Humility and Tolerance, by Noni Valentine

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Humility and Tolerance: A sequel to Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice.

Seven years after Elizabeth Bennett married Fitzwilliam Darcy, they are still deeply in love, with two small children. But paradise is showing cracks now that Darcy’s aged housekeeper has died and Elizabeth must take up her duties. It’s more than one woman, even one as capable as Elizabeth, can manage.

Her sister Kitty, with Elizabeth and Jane’s help and a heroic effort on Kitty’s part, has outgrown her silly youth and matured into a sensible young woman—who, being sensible, spends as much time away from her parents and visiting her sisters as possible. 

Darcy’s sister Georgiana, with perhaps more influence from Elizabeth than is good for her, has become a confident, independent woman who is nevertheless ripe for romance. Charlotte Collins, newly widowed, is searching for a way out of the household of her husband’s crabbed patron, Lady Catherine, that doesn’t involve returning to her parents’ house.

Elizabeth sees a way to restore order to Pemberley and give herself a chance to to breathe: she offers Kitty a job as housekeeper of the estate, and Charlotte a job as governess of her adored children.

With these four women under one roof, chaos and the unexpected are inevitable. Both Kitty and Georgiana meet and begin falling in love with honorable, interesting men, neither of whom are gentlemen and therefore not considered eligible matches for them. 

Charlotte has the opposite problem: a childhood acquaintance who is now a Lord has become fixated on her and begins diligently wooing her, when all she wants is a quiet life and a chance to recover from eight years of marriage to a man she never loved.

When Elizabeth and Darcy learn of their sisters’ budding romances, each has the same reaction: delight at their sister-in-law’s choice and outrage at that of their sister. Now throw a ball into the mix, with Elizabeth’s mother bringing up forbidden topics from the past and her father hiding from the noise, Jane and Bingley attempting to calm the waters, Elizabeth trying to set up all three of the younger women, and Charlotte’s Lord pursuing her all over the dance floor—and an explosion is sure to happen.

This charming romance will delight all lovers of Jane Austen’s masterpiece who have ever wondered, “What happened next?”

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About the Author

Noni Valentine grew up in the north central part of the U.S., but moved away after graduating from high school, and never again stayed in one place for long. She has been writing for most of her life, but discovered Jane Austen as an adult and fell in love all over again. 

18 June 2024

Blog Tour Spotlight - Rolling Home: (Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail Book 5) by David Fitz-Gerald

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the heart of the rolling village, dissent brews as the stubbornest naysayer refuses to continue the journey. With an ominous early snowfall and memories of the ill-fated Donner Party haunting the pioneers, Dorcas Moon faces a new wave of challenges. Just when she believes things can't get worse, a disastrous river crossing claims their wagon and submerges their belongings.

As the rolling village approaches the final leg of the journey, the looming threat of outlaws intensifies. The notorious bandit known as The Viper and his ruthless brothers are determined to rob the greenhorns, sell their stock, and kill every last one of them. The pioneers had heard tales of their brutality, but now, with Dorcas' daughter kidnapped and Dorcas captured, everyone is in danger.

What will become of Dorcas Moon, her family, and their friends? Will anyone survive the perilous journey?

Rejoin the expedition and witness the thrilling end to a gripping saga.

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About the Author

David Fitz-Gerald writes westerns and historical fiction. He is the author of twelve books, including the brand-new series, Ghosts Along the Oregon Trail set in 1850. Dave is a multiple Laramie Award, first place, best in category winner; a Blue Ribbon Chanticleerian; a member of Western Writers of America; and a member of the Historical Novel Society. Alpine landscapes and flashy horses always catch Dave’s eye and turn his head. He is also an Adirondack 46-er, which means that he has hiked to the summit of the range’s highest peaks. As a mountaineer, he’s happiest at an elevation of over four thousand feet above sea level. Dave is a lifelong fan of western fiction, landscapes, movies, and music. It should be no surprise that Dave delights in placing memorable characters on treacherous trails, mountain tops, and on the backs of wild horses. Find out more from his website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @AuthorDAVIDFG

17 June 2024

Book Review: What is Better than a Good Woman?: Alice Chaucer, Commoner and Yorkist Matriarch, by Michèle Schindler

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Michèle SchindlerI drew me into the amazing life of Alice Chaucer (granddaughter of poet Geoffrey Chaucer) with the news she was widowed at the age of eleven when her husband died of the flux at the Siege of Harfleur in Normandy.

Alice inherited his fortune, despite her unconsummated marriage, and married her second husband, the Earl of Salisbury. He already had a daughter confusingly named Alice, of a similar age. Sadly for them all he would die from horrific injuries when hit in the face by cannon shot when standing at a window at the Siege of Orleans. during the Hundred Years War. 

Her third husband, William de la Pole, once the 'power behind the throne', was subjected to a mock trial at sea while crossing to Calais, and executed by beheading. His body was later found on the sands near Dover, his head fixed to a (symbolic?) pole.

I was particularly interested in the chapter on  the relationship between Alice and the enigmatic Margaret of Anjou. These two powerful and influential women were said to become close companions, yet Margaret turned from patron to Alice's prisoner.

Tomb of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ewelme. (Wikimedia Commons)

The picture of Alice which emerges from this fascinating new book is of a beautiful, intelligent woman, strong willed and quick witted, at the centre of events. Michèle Schindler has produced a well-researched and informative account of Alice's life which I am happy to recommend. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Michèle Schindler studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, reading English Studies and history with a focus on mediaeval studies. At the same time she worked as a language teacher, teaching English and German as a second language. In addition to English and German, she is fluent in French, and reads Latin. You can find Michèle on Facebook and Twitter @FLovellInfo
(A review copy of this book was kindly prtovided bt Amberley Books) 

16 June 2024

Special Guest Interview with Robin Burnage, Author of The Threat In The Atlantic (The Merriman Chronicles Book 8)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Barely months after returning from the Adriatic, Captain Sir James Merriman is enjoying some rare time with his wife and children. But his nation is exhausted by an apparently endless war and Napoleon’s continental system is denying Britain crucial supplies. Worse still, the French 80-gun ship Hercule has captured numerous British ships near the Cape of Good Hope. Captained by a wily veteran known as the lone wolf, the Hercule presents Merriman with his greatest adversary yet.

I'm pleased to welcome author Robin Burnage to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

The Threat In The Atlantic’ is the eighth in the series, but can be considered my debut novel. My late father (Roger Burnage) was the creator of “The Merriman Chronicles.” He had a long-term love of the sea and sea stories, fully rigged ships, and the life of men at sea during the age of sail. The writings of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian amongst others were the inspiration for him to start writing when he retired. He had a plan for some forty or fifty titles – he manged nine in total. Shortly before he passed away, he asked me to continue writing the series.

I have tried to pick up the story directly where my dad left off. At the end of book seven “The Threat In The Adriatic” we see Captain Merriman and his ship HMS Thunder recalled to England following a mission in the eastern Mediterranean. In book eight, we catch up with Merriman getting some rare time at home with his wife and young family. Merriman’s time at home gets interrupted with a letter from The Admiralty. Duty must come first, and he heads to London to find out what is required of him.

Inevitably at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, there is trouble brewing with the French. An 80-gun ship of war called Hercule is terrorising shipping around the Cape of Good Hope and causing losses of essential supplies for the Royal Navy. The country is under pressure from years at war and Napoleon’s continental system blockading trade within Europe.

He learns of the French captain known as ‘the lone wolf’ who is zealously attacking and capturing ships in the name of France and Napoleon. He is also out and to avenge the deaths of his own brothers, killed at the hands of the British. Merriman’s mission is simple – capture, sink or destroy Hercule and restore the trade route.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Honestly, I don’t really have one. My previous professional life was very structured with reports, meetings, and all that the typical nine to five entails. I sold my business to go sailing with a dream of being free from all of that. I manged a few years sipping beer in the sunshine and relaxing without a care in the world. Now I am back on land, I’m getting back into a more normal routine.

I have tried to use the old habits to structure writing sessions – planning how the day will be organised, how many words to write etc. I find that impossible, so writing happens as and when inspiration hits and that can be anytime day or night. I have read about authors who advocate writing something – even if it is bad – every day. That approach doesn’t work for me, it’s too rigid. If I am in the groove I go with it, if not I have plenty of other things to be involved with, not least promotion and marketing. I will say though, I  bsolutely agree with the saying “If you can’t write anything, then read something.” My TBR list is huge!

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

With the latest book there was an immediate audience of people who read my dad’s books and were left waiting for more. That is a double-edged sword of course – they have to accept me as the right person to keep Merriman going. So far the responses have been tremendously positive. With Dad’s first book “A Certain Threat,” my involvement started because he couldn’t find any representation. He had given up with query letters and trying to land an agent. I found out about self-publishing and published his book, then started getting the word out on social media.

I am still active on X (formerly Twitter) and building a following on Facebook and Instagram which helps. Giveaway offers on Goodreads have worked well too. I had 752 people apply for the one hundred copies of Book Eight which means it is getting seen by potential readers. Paid advertising on Amazon, X and META is what really reaches a new audience. It costs, but there is a certain reality about “speculate to accumulate.” Big companies spend fortunes on advertising for a reason!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Not one scene in particular, but getting the technical aspects right, especially of ship handling took some doing for sure. At one stage I was mapping out scenes using paper cutouts of ships on the kitchen table. Working out how an encounter would progress, passing to larboard and firing a broadside, tacking across the wind, and trying to come alongside again with the starboard battery to bear, the commands shouted to the crew, death and mayhem, throwing in a wind shift to add a complication. 

All fun to write, but it’s easy to get carried away with overly complex details of manoeuvring a fully rigged ship that can bog down the pace of the action. As a sailor (RYA Yachtmaster) I am familiar with being in command of a vessel. Much of the terminology we use has been around for centuries and certainly used in Merriman’s time. Tacking a modern yacht is second nature to me – even sailing solo - but getting a third-rate ship of the line through the wind is another matter. All those ropes and sails and the numbers of men working under intense pressure to make it all happen. How they managed to do this in the heat of battle is extraordinary!

What are you planning to write next?

I already have ideas sketched out for the next adventure for Merriman and a timeline of events up to the end of his career. Unfortunately, I cannot really give any details as it could prove to be a spoiler for the end of book 8 and start of book 9. I will leave some hints though - Merriman’s decisions are put in question and he starts to face political headwinds from senior figures as his career progresses.

I am also working on another series about a soon to be retired Police Officer in the Metropolitan Police. The first book is about 65% done, but I honestly don’t know when I will get the time to get
it finished.

Robin Burnage
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About the Author

Robin Burnage is a first-time author taking on the challenge of continuing his late father’s series “The Merriman Chronicles”. His debut novel “The Threat In The Atlantic” picks up the story of Captain James Merriman on his return from his mission in the Adriatic in 1810. Previously a property professional (for which he does actually have recognised qualifications), sailing and travelling always had a greater pull than accounting and spreadsheets. He sold his business in 2012, bought a yacht and headed off on a five-year adventure as a full time liveaboard sailor. He also then travelled through Europe in an old Land Rover and then a motorhome before settling back in bricks and mortar. He lives in Wales overlooking sand dunes and the Irish Sea, and is already dreaming of his next adventure. Fin out more at Robin's website and find The Merriman Chronicles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @Merriman1792

15 June 2024

Book Review: The Forgotten Palace: A timeslip novel by Alexandra Walsh

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Three women divided by time but connected by the long-hidden secrets of the past. As their stories join in a golden thread, a terrible injustice might finally be undone…

In this clever timeslip novel Alexandra Walsh takes us from the present day to the famous excavations in Knossos, Crete led by Arthur Evans in 1900.  

Part of the palace at Knossos, as controversially reconstructed 
by Sir Arthur Evans. (Wikimedia)

I particularly liked the evocative sense of place, which made me want to visit Crete. I also enjoyed following the Grand Tour of Alice Webster and her family, from London to Crete, a story strong enough to carry the book.

What makes The Forgotten Palace special is the counterpoint with the quite different 'journey' of  the main character of Eloise De’Ath,  Both women fail to escape their pasts, have unexpected connections, and there are intriguing clues to where it all will lead. 

‘A labyrinth has one route in and one route out while a maze has multiple pathways, many leading to dead ends. Mazes are about choice and strategy, labyrinths are spaces of continuous flow, like life.’ Alexandra Walsh, The Forgotten Palace

I highly recommend The Forgotten Palace, which I'm happy to award five out of five stars, and do hope there will be a sequel with more about what becomes of Alice and Eloise.

Tony Riches
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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: and follow her on Facebook, Twitter @purplemermaid25 and Bluesky


Book Launch Guest Post by Sharon Bennett Connolly, Author of Heroines of the Tudor World

New from Amazon UK
and direct from Amberley

In the Shadow of the Crown

If you ever needed it, the three Grey sisters are proof that, in Tudor times, being close to the throne was not always an advantage. Of Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey, Jane is of course the most famous, but each of them had a remarkable story to tell – of ambition, love, disobedience and lost potential. Their close proximity to the throne meant their lives were never going to be easy or anonymous, and each, in turn, suffered for their royal blood.

With an impeccable family pedigree, the three sisters were the daughters of Henry Grey, third Marquess of Dorset, who was a great-grandson of Edward IV’s Queen Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband, the Lancastrian knight Sir John Grey of Groby. Henry Grey married Frances Brandon, the eldest surviving daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, by his third wife, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and sister of King Henry VIII. Frances was therefore a granddaughter of Herny VII and his queen, Elizabeth of York.

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, grandparents of the Grey sisters

Frances never expected to inherit the dukedom from her father. Although her brother Henry died in 1534, Charles Brandon would have more sons. Following the death of Mary in 1533, Brandon married Katherine Willoughby, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting Maria de Salinas. By Katherine, Charles Brandon had two more sons, Henry in 1535 and Charles in 1537. It was the tragic deaths of these two boys, in their late teens, on the same day in July 1551 that saw Frances Brandon become duchess of Suffolk in her own right, two days before her thirty-fourth birthday.
Frances and Henry Grey had been married in 1533, at her parent’s residence of Suffolk Place in Southwark. As the eldest surviving child of Mary Tudor, Frances was fourth in line to the throne after the children of Henry VIII; Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. When settling the succession, the king had instructed that his younger sister Mary’s line should be preferred over that of his older sister, Margaret, Queen of Scots. As a consequence, Frances was frequently at court.

The Grey’s first child, a son, died young. They had three surviving daughters. The eldest, Jane, was born in October 1537, about the same time as her cousin Edward, the future King Edward VI; with the birth of the longed-for heir to the throne, Jane’s own birth went almost unnoticed. She would have been named after Henry VIII’s tragic queen, Jane Seymour, who died within two weeks of Edward’s birth. Next came Katherine, born on 25 August 1540, again, probably named after Henry VIII’s queen of the time,

Katherine Howard, who had been married the month before Katherine Grey’s birth. And lastly, Mary was born sometime in April 1545. As the great-granddaughters of King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York, these three sisters’ fortunes rose and fell due to their proximity to the Tudor throne. The most famous by far is the eldest, Jane Grey, known to history as the Nine Days’ Queen. Her two younger sisters’ stories are overshadowed by Jane’s spectacular rise to the throne – and dramatic fall. But Katherine’s and Mary’s stories are no less remarkable and tinged with tragedy.
The girls were raised at the family home of Bradgate Park, near Leicester. Frances and Henry Grey are said to have been very strict parents who were not prone to expressions of love and affection; the children were used to sarcasm, cuffs and criticism. In her teenage years, Jane herself is said to have complained to the visiting scholar Roger Ascham:

‘When I am in the presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) … that I think myself in hell.’
Though she enjoyed study and excelled in all fields, including Greek and philosophy, Jane struggled with the duty of obedience. There is no record that her parents were displeased with her, or either of her sisters in any way. Girls in Tudor households were raised to be obedient and dutiful; they were taught to stand straight and show respect to their elders, to only speak when spoken to and to adhere to social etiquette. They were expected to eat nicely, to observe the correct precedence at table and to show gratitude for any praise.

However unhappy Jane’s childhood might have been, she was afforded a first-class education and from 1545 her tutor was John Aylmer. Aylmer had been sponsored through his studies at Cambridge by Jane’s father, the Marquess of Dorset, and was a brilliant academic. All three girls were educated in household management and in cooking and sewing. As future courtiers, they were given lessons in dance and music; probably including the popular instruments, the lute, spinet and virginal. Jane, in particular, was to excel in her academic studies and after learning to read, write and basic mathematics, she was taught French and Italian. By the age of eight, Jane – and later Katherine – was also learning Greek and Latin. In religion, Jane and her sisters were raised as ‘evangelicals’, the common word in the first half of the 16th century for Protestants.

From the age of nine, Jane’s mother would have taken her to court from time to time, to familiarise her daughter with court life and her future duties as a Maid of Honour. Frances was at the time serving as a Lady of the Privy Chamber to the king’s sixth wife, Kateryn Parr.

In January 1547, King Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Edward VI. Jane and Edward were first cousins, once removed, and it is entirely possible – even likely – that Frances and Henry harboured hopes that Jane would marry the young king. It was Henry VIII’s will that shaped and dominated the future of all three of the Grey sisters. More than ten years before his death, 

Parliament had granted Henry the right to bequeath the crown where he desired, rather than by strict primogeniture. In his final will, dated 26 December 1546, Henry excluded the Stuart line of his elder sister Margaret and settled the succession, should his children die without heirs, on the descendants of his younger sister, Mary, Dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. Should Edward, Mary and Elizabeth all die without producing a child of their own, Jane would be queen; although King Henry probably still held out hope that Frances would produce a son who could inherit ahead of the sisters.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, by Paul Delaroche (Wikimedia Commons)

It was this Act by Henry VIII that would shape the lives of all three sisters, leading to the executioner’s block for Jane, and imprisonment and thwarted love for Katherine and Mary. The shadow of the crown was long…

Memorial within the Tower of London marking the executions of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.

Sharon Bennett Connolly

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About the Author

Sharon Bennett Connolly is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and best-selling author of historical non-fiction. She also writes the popular history blog, She co-hosts the podcast A Slice of Medieval, alongside historical novelist Derek Birks. Sharon regularly gives talks on women's history, for historical groups, festivals and in schools; her book Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest is a recommended text for teaching the Norman Conquest in the National Curriculum. She is a feature writer for All About History and Living Medieval magazines and her TV work includes Australian Television's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Her latest book, Heroines of the Tudor World, looks at some of the most remarkable women of the period. Follow Sharon on Facebook and Twitter @Thehistorybits

14 June 2024

Blog Tour Book Review of The Fortune Keeper, by Deborah Swift


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Count your nights by stars, not shadows ~ Italian Proverb

Winter in Renaissance Venice: Mia Caiozzi is determined to discover her destiny by studying the science of astronomy. But her stepmother Giulia forbids her to engage in this occupation, fearing it will lead her into danger. The ideas of Galileo are banned by the Inquisition, 
so Mia must study in secret.

The Fortune Keeper is the third book of novel of Deborah Swift's Renaissance series adventures. Based in Venice, the page-turning action will keep readers gripped to the dramatic ending. This is not the Venice familiar to tourists, but a world of mystery and danger, overseen by a vindictive Inquisition keen to root out any sign of heresy.

I particularly liked the development of the heroine, Mia Caiozzi, from a naive girl to a resourceful woman who is not afraid to paddle her own gondola through the murky canals of intrigue and duplicity.

I was impressed with Deborah Swift's research of the period, and recommend reading the author's notes at the end, which I found fascinating. My only regret is that I didn't start with the first book of the series, which I recommend.

Tony Riches   
# # #

About the Author

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

13 June 2024

Blog Tour Excerpt: Katharine’s Remarkable Road Trip, by Gail Ward Olmsted

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the fall of 1907, Katharine decides to drive from Newport, Rhode Island to her new home in Jackson, New Hampshire. Despite the concerns of her family and friends that at the age of 77 she lacks the stamina for the nearly 300-mile journey, Katharine sets out alone. 

Excerpt on Kathgerine's work as a volunteer nurse on a floating hospital ship during the Civil War

It was a most exciting time. Exciting, dirty, loud, and frightening, if I am being honest. On my very first day on board, I was responsible for 250 men, their first day as well, most of them suffering from typhoid. The men with high fevers were the most difficult to help, moaning and incoherent. I gave them brandy and water and if they could eat, bread and butter with tea. 
    We took care of their diets, dressed their wounds, and comforted them. Mornings were a special challenge, as they all needed to be washed and given breakfast before the doctors made their rounds. Oh, and when they did.... They would open the wounds, apply ointments and liniment, and then replace the bandages.
    I admit that for the first few days, I sat with my fingers in my ears, trying to block out the sounds. If I allowed myself to be drawn back to those days, I could clearly recall the cries of pain, loneliness and despair from the wounded and dying men. 
    I eventually grew accustomed to the noise and chaos but I could never become numb to it either. Mrs. Griffin, the senior woman on the ship, had given me this advice, and I never forgot it. ‘You must work past the horror of all that we see and hear day after day, but you must never become immune to it, either. It is what will inspire you to give your very best to these brave men every day of your service.’

Gail Ward Olmsted 

# # #

About the Author

Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a full time basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary. After penning a pair of contemporary novels featuring a disgraced attorney seeking a career comeback (Miranda Writes, Miranda Nights) she is back to writing historical fiction featuring an incredible woman with an amazing story. Watch for Katharine's Remarkable Road Trip on June 13th. For more information, please visit her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @gwolmsted

12 June 2024

Special Guest Interview witth Nancy Jardine, Author of Novice Threads: An emotional Coming of Age Scottish Saga (Silver Sampler Series)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1840s Scotland: Being sent to school is the most exhilarating thing that’s ever happened to young Margaret Law. She sharpens her newly-acquired education on her best friend, Jessie Morison, till Jessie is spirited away to become a scullery maid. But how can Margaret fulfil her visions of becoming a schoolteacher when her parents’ tailoring and drapery business suddenly collapses and she must find a job?

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

What is your preferred writing routine?

I like to get any promotions for social media posts done soon after I’m at my desk in the morning, after I glance at the email pile that never seems to lessen. If domestic or writing related emails need to be tackled first, then that’s what I do. Then, depending on what is arranged for the day, I get on with some writing. I’m a great procrastinator, though, as I have a large garden that demands a lot of my regular attention.

I sometimes opt in to what is termed a ‘Writing Day’ by my Romantic Novelist Association fellow authors in the Scotland-based group. We begin a writing day with a quick hello via Zoom. We each give an indication of what we want to achieve by around lunchtime, and then at 5 pm we update on our day’s progress. The tasks we set ourselves can vary from adding a particular number of words or chapters; creating promotional materials; pre-Beta read self-editing; formatting or final edits. The fun is that we encourage each other to get on and write!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Stick at it and take progress as it comes. Too much angst over success does nobody any favours., as far as I’m concerned.

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

That’s such a great question, and if I had the answers I’d be over the moon. I’ve tried many different promotional strategies over the last decade using various Social Media outlets. Few have had a lasting impact but some give a temporary boost to sales. If I were younger I might be more aggressive about marketing, but I’m currently just glad when I hear that someone has loved my characters and my settings!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

I’ve used different sources for research – books; maps; official documentation (e.g. birth/death certificates); but some provincial newspapers have actually been incredibly amusing regarding certain historical events. I’ve chuckled my way through many articles, not quite knowing if the newspaper reporter of the 1860s has really intended to be so witty.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I’ll try to do this with a ‘No Spoiler Alert’.

There is a point towards the end of Novice Threads where the death of a young person becomes inevitable. The child has been in decline for many months, and nothing can be done to save her. The family household circumstances are also very fragile so that compounds the miserable, and potentially volatile, situation between the house owners and the domestic staff, my main character being one of the latter. I find that rereading that particular segment makes me cry all over again.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m working on Book 2 of the series which takes my main character, Margaret Law, from the age of 16 to about 30. Over the course of the three books of The Silver Sampler Series, my plan is to cover Margaret’s whole life to a ripe old age well into her mid-eighties. So I can probably say that all of my writing energy will be devoted to those books in the coming months, though hopefully the writing of the rest of the series won’t take as long as Book 1, which has taken a good while.

However, if I need a break from the Victorian era, I’ll indulge myself and write some more short stories about the adventures of minor characters in my Roman Scotland Celtic Fervour Series set in late 1st century AD/CE. They’ll either be compiled as one book of short stories, or published as tiny novellas.

Nancy Jardine

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About the Author

Nancy Jardine writes historical and contemporary fiction. 1st Century Roman Britain is the setting of her Celtic Fervour Series. Victorian and Edwardian history has sneaked into two of her ancestry-based contemporary mysteries, and her current Silver Sampler Series is set in Victorian Scotland. Her novels have achieved Finalist status in UK book competitions (People's Book Prize; Scottish Association of Writers) and have received prestigious Online Book Awards. Published with Ocelot Press, writing memberships include – Historical Novel Society; Romantic Novelists Association; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland; Alliance of Independent Authors. Find out more at nancy's website: and find her on Facebook and Twitter @nansjar

11 June 2024

Book Launch Spotlight: That Was Then, by M.K. Tod

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Andrea Larson never imagined she would have to face her worst nightmare again. But when she discovers that her rapist is running for Governor of Massachusetts, she knows she can't stay silent. 

With the help of her identical twin, Andrea hatches a plan to take down Brad Greiner and expose his true nature to the world.

Set against the backdrop of the cutthroat world of politics, That Was Then follows Andrea as she infiltrates Greiner's inner circle, using her skills as a journalist to gather evidence against him. But the closer she gets, the more dangerous it becomes. 

The stakes get even higher when a group intent on controlling American democracy gets involved. Someone knows what the twins are up to. And they’re closing in.

"A page-turning tale filled with rich characters, family secrets, love, politics, ambition, and risky journalistic pursuits.” Lisa Barr, New York Times bestselling author of Woman on Fire

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About the Author

Mary Tod worked at an executive level in management consulting before her research into her grandparents’ lives during two world wars turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction. She has two adult children and lives with her husband in Toronto, Canada. Find out more from her website and her blog 'A writer of History'.  You can also find Mary on Facebook.

10 June 2024

Special Guest Post by Sonia Velton, Author of The Nightingale's Castle: An evocative gothic historical novel

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US
(US Paperback released 30th July)

1610, Hungary: Erzsébet Báthory, the infamous 17th century Hungarian noblewoman, has a cult following of horror fans. Even those who don’t know her by name may well have heard of the Blood Countess who murdered numerous young virgins and bathed in their blood to 
preserve her youthful looks.
I first came across Báthory in Guinness World Records which describes her as the most prolific female serial killer of all time; she allegedly tortured and murdered more than 600 girls. That seemed like a pretty full-on slaughtering schedule for a busy countess, so I decided to find out more. What I discovered was so extraordinary it inspired my new novel, The Nightingale’s Castle.

Elizabeth Báthory (Wikimedia Commons)

Countess Báthory lived in Čachtice Castle, situated in what is now western Slovakia. Far from being a depraved killer, she appears to have been a well-educated patron of the arts, who was proficient in Hungarian, Latin, Greek and German. In her surviving letters, she comes across as intelligent and spirited, tackling a range of issues from seeking justice for abused women, to berating staff for stealing her cannabis crop. How, then, did she go down in history as such a diabolical character?

Čachtice Castle (Wikimedia Commons)

For a start, she was a rich and powerful woman. When she was widowed, at the age of 44, she continued to manage her estates with characteristic independence and efficiency in an age when women were valued primarily as wives and mothers. By the time Báthory was almost 50, and still hadn’t ceded her vast wealth to her male heirs, she had truly ruffled the feathers of the men who ruled Hungary.

Meanwhile, there were strange goings-on in Čachtice Castle. Girls were dying, sometimes many at the same time. Pastor Ponikenus, the vicar of Čachtice and one of Báthory’s most vocal detractors, described nine maidens being buried in one night, all of whom had died of “unknown and mysterious causes”. Tales of welts and wounds, bruises and burns began to proliferate. No one was particularly bothered about the odd dead servant, but when noble girls began to die — the high-born young ladies who attended the countess’s Gynaeceum where they learned social graces and wifely duties — something had to be done.

The campaign to bring down Báthory was orchestrated by György Thurzó, the Count Palatine of Hungary for the Habsburg King Matthias. Thurzó began an investigation into the unexplained deaths of so many girls. Dozens of serfs were interviewed, many of whom had never been anywhere near Čachtice Castle. They all repeated the same rumours, but could not speak to anything they had witnessed themselves.

Portrait of György Thurzó 1607 (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most challenging aspects of my research for The Nightingale’s Castle was trying to understand the different motivations key players might have had for desiring Báthory’s downfall. When Pastor Ponikenus preached from his pulpit that she was a jezebel, was he influenced by religious tensions arising out of the fact that he was a Lutheran and she, a Calvinist? When King Matthias wanted Báthory to be tried and executed, did he have in mind the huge debt the royal treasury owed Báthory, which would not need to be repaid if she were found guilty? And what of the Count Palatine himself? Why did Thurzó pursue his case against her so doggedly?
We are fortunate that some of the original letters passing between Thurzó, the king and Báthory’s powerful sons-in-law survive. They provide a fascinating insight into the scheming that went on, behind the scenes, before Báthory’s spectacular arrest. I began to see parallels between Erzsébet Báthory and Anne Boleyn. Both were women whose very existence, albeit for very different reasons, simply became inconvenient to the powerful men around them, at which point, they were both accused of crimes bordering on the preposterous. The go-to allegation against women in that era — sexual impropriety — was not available in relation to Báthory (a woman of 50!) so her trial took an even more sinister turn.

Báthory was arrested on 27 December, 1610. It was a bitterly cold and snowy evening when the Count Palatine and his men trudged up the winding dirt track towards the looming Čachtice Castle. The countess was having dinner in her manor house when the soldiers burst in on her. Later, Thurzó would claim that he happened upon her in the very act of murdering a girl. In order to obtain further evidence, he gave his men the macabre task of digging up the bodies of the dead girls.
The countess was not arrested alone. Her four “accomplices” were also taken: a servant, a washerwoman, the former wetnurse to the countess’s children and a boy who was the castle factotum. A rather unlikely group of mass murderers, perhaps. When the show trial began, it was only her accomplices who gave evidence. Despite her many requests, the countess never succeeded in persuading Thurzó to allow her to defend the allegations against her. And what a trial it was. Like a perfectly-scripted courtroom drama, just when it seemed the case against the countess couldn’t get any more grisly, someone came forward with the startling revelation that the countess owned a secret box, and that inside was a list of all the hundreds of girls she had murdered…

But when did the countess become a vampire, draining her victims of their precious blood? Like the portraits of her that still exist, our lasting image of Erzsébet Báthory has been layered up over time. After the trial, the records were locked away in archives. There they remained for two hundred years until they were discovered by a Jesuit priest in 1720, and the long-forgotten Blood Countess was unleashed into 18th century society where vampires and gothic horror were all the rage.

It is now almost impossible to know whether Báthory was guilty or not. In The Nightingale’s Castle I simply put forward an alternative narrative, thereby giving Countess Báthory the voice that she, like so many women in history, was always denied.

Sonia Velton

(A version of this article first appeared in Historia Magazine.)

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About the Author

Sonia Velton, a former lawyer, is the author of two other books. Her historical debut, Blackberry and Wild rose was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Prize, optioned for film and was longlisted for the HWA Debut Crown Award. She spent eight years being an expat Mum of three in Dubai and now lives with her children in Kent. Find Sonia on Instagram and Twitter @soniavelton