Mastodon The Writing Desk: February 2024

29 February 2024

Book Spotlight: Secret Voices: A Year of Women's Diaries, by Sarah Gristwood

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A captivating collection of daily extracts from women's diaries, looking back over four centuries to discover how women's experience – of men and children, sex and shopping, work and the natural world – has changed down the years. And, of course, how it hasn't.

In this expansive anthology – from 1 January through to 31 December – you’ll find Lady Anne Clifford in the seventeenth century and Loran Hurnscot in the twentieth both stoically recording the demands of an unreasonable husband; Joan Wyndham and Anne Frank, at much the same time, but in wildly different settings, describing their first experiences with sex; and Anne Lister (TV’s Gentleman Jack) in eighteenth-century Yorkshire exploring her love affairs with women alongside Alice Walker in twentieth-century California.

Organised around the calendar year, with several selections for each day, this book is a fascinating record of how women were thinking, feeling and reacting to historical events. From Virginia Woolf relishing her new haircut and Oprah Winfrey meditating on her career to Emilie Davis chronicling the death of Abraham Lincoln and teenage Ma Yan yearning for education in poverty-stricken China, Secret Voices contains a rich mix of well-known diarists and less familiar ones, and often the voices echoing down the centuries sound eerily familiar today.

"United across centuries, these women's voices open doors to lost worlds and make them seem familiar. A modern classic." —Alison Weir

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About the Author

Sarah Gristwood  is a best-selling Tudor biographer, former film journalist, and commentator on royal affairs. After leaving Oxford, Sarah began work as a journalist, writing at first about the theatre as well as general features on everything from gun control to Giorgio Armani. But increasingly she found herself specialising in film interviews – Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro; Martin Scorsese and Paul McCartney. She has appeared in most of the UK’s leading newspapers – The Times, the Guardian, The Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) – and magazines from Cosmopolitan to Country Living and Sight and Sound to The New Statesman. Turning to history she wrote two bestselling Tudor biographies, Arbella: England’s Lost Queen and Elizabeth and Leicester. Sarah was one of the team providing Radio 4’s live coverage of the royal wedding; and has since spoken on the Queen’s Jubilee, the royal baby, and other royal stories for Sky News, Woman’s Hour, Radio 5 Live, and CBC. Shortlisted for both the Marsh Biography Award and the Ben Pimlott Prize for Political Writing, she is a Fellow of the RSA, and an Honororary Patron of Historic Royal Palaces. She and her husband, the film critic Derek Malcolm, live in London and Kent. Find out more at Sarah's website and find her on Twitter @sarahgristwood

Book Launch Spotlight: Young Elizabeth: Princess. Prisoner. Queen, by Nicola Tallis

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Elizabeth I is one of England's most famous monarchs, whose story as the ‘Virgin Queen’ is well known. But queenship was by no means a certain path for Henry VIII’s younger daughter, who spent the majority of her early years as a girl with an uncertain future.

Before she was three years old Elizabeth had been both a princess and then a bastard following the brutal execution of her mother, Anne Boleyn. After losing several stepmothers and then her father, the teenage Elizabeth was confronted with the predatory attentions of Sir Thomas Seymour. The result was devastating, causing a heartbreaking rift with her beloved stepmother Katherine Parr.

Elizabeth was placed in further jeopardy when she was implicated in the Wyatt Rebellion of 1554 – a plot to topple her half-sister, Mary, from her throne. Imprisoned in the Tower of London where her mother had lost her life, under intense pressure and interrogation Elizabeth adamantly protested her innocence. Though she was eventually liberated, she spent the remainder of Mary’s reign under a dark cloud. On 17 November 1558, however, the uncertainty of Elizabeth’s future came to an end when she succeeded to the throne at the age of twenty-five.

When Elizabeth became queen, she had already endured more tumult than many monarchs experienced in a lifetime. This colourful and immensely detailed biography charts Elizabeth’s turbulent and unstable upbringing, exploring the dangers and tragedies that plagued her early life. 

Nicola Tallis draws on primary sources written by Elizabeth herself and her contemporaries, providing an extensive and thorough study of an exceptionally resilient youngster whose early life would shape the queen she later became. The heart racing story of Elizabeth’s youth as she steered her way through perilous waters towards England’s throne is one of the most sensational of its time.

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About the Author

British Historian Nicola Tallis graduated from Bath Spa University with a first class BA Hons. degree in History in 2011, and from Royal Holloway College, University of London in 2013 with an MA in Public History and her PhD from the University of Winchester. Nicola also worked as a historical researcher, most notably for Sir Ranulph Fiennes whilst he was working on his 2014 book, Agincourt: My Family, the Battle and the Fight for France. Find out more at Nicola's website and Twitter @NicolaTallis

28 February 2024

Book Launch Guest Post by by Amy McElroy, Author of Women's Lives in the Tudor Era

Available from Amazon UK

Women in the Tudor age are often overshadowed by their male counterparts. Even those of royalty were deemed inferior to males. Whilst women may have been classed as the inferior gender, women played a vital role in Tudor society.

I'm pleased to welcome author Amy McElroy back to The Writing Desk to talk about her new book, Women’s Lives in the Tudor Era:

Tell us about your latest book

When writing Educating the Tudors, I became even more interested in the role women played in Tudor society. I found it fascinating how women were relied on for many aspects of life by the men in their lives but were still largely treated as inferior subjects. I wanted to delve into the ways women spent their days, the different milestones in their lives and how they contributed to society. 

The end result is Women’s Lives in the Tudor Era. I have tried to follow the life stages from birth through to death, focusing on stages which changed their lives. These stages include adolescence, marriage, motherhood and widowhood amongst others and each meant a change to a woman’s status as well as the expectations placed on her. I did not want to focus solely on the well-known Tudor women, though they are of course included, but wanted to compare the experiences of classes to provide a view of everyday life.
Women’s Lives in the Tudor Era will be out in February 2024 but is already available for pre-order and I am so grateful for the team at Pen & Sword for the beautiful cover, I love it.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I still work full-time so my writing routine usually consists of evenings and weekends. I usually try to do all my research first so I can start writing once that is done, but I usually end up down a rabbit hole or two even after I think I have finished researching! If I don’t have much time, I may do something different such as updating my bibliography, searching for images, or adding to my index to save me a job at the end.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Choose a subject you are genuinely interested in so it does not really feel like ‘work’. I would also say find your own rhythm, it is very easy to hear authors writing thousands of words a day and panicking but we are all individual. All progress is progress, so even if you choose to write 100 words a day, that’s ok too. All that matters is that you enjoy it.

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

I have found social media to be great, especially Twitter, which I can thank you for introducing me to! There is such a wonderful history and book community on there and now developing on threads, it is brilliant! I also had the wonderful opportunity to appear on an episode of the Talking Tudors Podcast with the lovely Natalie Grueninger, that was completely unexpected and an amazing experience as I am a regular listener myself and quite often buy books from listening to episodes.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I would not necessarily say it was unexpected but it still surprises me that married women were not allowed to write a Last Will and Testament without the permission of their husband. A large portion of society didn’t need a will as they didn’t have much to leave but seems bizarre that a woman could not dispose of her own property how she wished to without consent. Also, I find it interesting that many women who did leave a will sought to ensure their female relatives were provided for, rather than leaving their goods to their male heir. Women often bequeathed their female relative’s money, clothing and even livestock.

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently researching and writing for my third book, Mary Tudor, Queen of France. The younger sister of Henry VIII is absolutely fascinating and I only hope I can do her justice. Following that I will be moving on to a book about Desiderius Erasmus but that is a while off yet, though I do find myself researching him whenever I have a little free time.

Amy McElroy
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About the Author

Amy McElroy was born in Liverpool and lived there until she moved to the Midlands for university where she studied Criminal Justice followed by Post-Grad Law. Amy is currently a civil servant, working full-time alongside her writing. She also has a blog where she reviews historical fiction and non-fiction. Amy’s first book, Educating the Tudors, was published in January 2023 and focuses on the education of all classes, the subjects they learned and who taught them. Her second book, Women’s Lives in the Tudor Era is out February 2024 and she is currently writing her third book, Mary Tudor, Queen of France. Amy also has a fourth, Desiderius Erasmus, in the pipeline, with a few more ideas up her sleeves for the future.
Amy enjoys seeing her family back in Liverpool, especially her little furry assistant in the form of cavapoo Cooper, and visiting her dad in Spain, especially in the summer. You can find out more about Amy at her blog - and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AmyMc_Books

27 February 2024

Kateryn Parr: Henry VIII's Sixth Queen, by Laura Adkins

New on Amazon UK 
and pre-order from Amazon US

Katheryn Parr is mainly remembered today as being the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, the one who ‘survived’. Katheryn was not only a wife but a queen, mother, reformer, and author.

Katheryn would face a number of events in her lifetime including being held to ransom during the Pilgrimage of Grace, being placed as regent while Henry was in France, a role which only one of his five previous wives held, her namesake Katherine of Aragon, and overcame a plot which would have led to her arrest and execution. While Queen she was able to unite the Tudor family and establish some form of happiness for Henry VIII’s three children.

Raised by her mother Maud Parr, under a humanist education, Katheryn was intelligent enough to understand her role in life and was not afraid to do her research. Although raised a Catholic, Katheryn became a reformer and went on to write a number of religious texts, being the first female in England to ever have a book published under her own name. 

She was loyal not only to her family but her servants and the women of her court. She loved her stepchildren and provided them with a mother's love and a role model which her stepdaughters could learn from. Her views on what was expected of her placed her into an open conflict with her brother-in-law Edward Seymour and his wife Anne.

This book explores the various roles she had in her lifetime and the passion and duty she put into them, even if it meant putting others first. It will explore her love for Thomas Seymour and how it blindsided her and led to a sad end of her life, and the book will finally look at her legacy - the influence she had on Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I.

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About the Author

Laura Adkins has had a passion for history, especially medieval and Tudor eras, since being inspired by her history teacher in secondary school . She writes her blog the Local History Blogger which focuses on her home county of Essex, England. In her past jobs, she has been fortunate to work in historic locations such as the Tower of London and Banqueting House, Whitehall where she gave public talks on its history and talks on the Tudors and Stuarts. Her other passion in life is her daughter who now joins Laura on her history trips and outings. When she is not exploring Laura enjoys reading and adding to her growing collection of books. Katheryn Parr: Henry VIII's Sixth Queen is her first book You can follow Laura on Twitter @TLHBlogger

Book Launch Guest Post by Alison Morton, Author of EXSILIUM: A Roma Nova Foundation Story (Roma Nova Thriller Series Book 11)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Exile – A living death to a Roman

AD 395. In a Christian Roman Empire, worshipping the traditional gods is a death sentence. Three Romans, Maelia, Lucius and Galla, faithful to their beliefs in Rome’s thousand-year religion and values, must choose. Do they stay, hoping for the best, or leave Rome forever – a rupture from everything they know – to search for a safer life?

Writing a sequel to a successful book is like a double-edged sword, possibly a Roman gladius which has the ability to slash as well as jab. You hope your message hits the target as well as entertaining the reader, but sometimes it can slash aimlessly in every direction.

Enough of this swordplay talk! 

EXSILIUM is the sequel to JULIA PRIMA where we followed the fortunes of Julia, the daughter of a prince ruling as a client of Rome in Noricum, north of Italy in the late 4th century. She was caught in a political and religious trap. Then she met Lucius, a disgraced Roman tribune, and took the biggest gamble of her life. JULIA PRIMA received various accolades including the Historical Novel Society’s of being selected as Editors’ Choice. 

But I hadn’t finished the story I promised my readers – the beginnings of Roma Nova at the dusk of the once mighty Roman Empire. There was too much to recount in one book. I needed to write a sequel to the prequel, hence EXSILIUM. But they can be tricky things…

A sequel must be its own story and not merely answering a cliff-hanger in the earlier book. (As a reader, I really dislike cliff-hangers!) For new readers, a little background should be filtered in about the characters’ previous actions and where they stand now, but without repeating so much that readers of the previous book will be bored or dislike such repetition. 

A good way is to take the point of view of a previously secondary character and show how they saw some of the events of the previous book. In EXSILIUM, Maelia Mitela and Lucius Apulius let us know about Julia and her impact on their lives. In this way, we can also catch up on events in intervening years, in this case from AD 370 to AD 383. 

Another way is to grow the characters who were in the previous book. Sometimes you can do this literally, with children or adolescents in the first book now appearing as adults in the sequel. 

Although a sequel must be complete in itself, it should move the overall story arc forward, but not at the expense of requiring the reader to read the first book. However, I always hope the reader will be motivated to explore the others in the Roma Nova series!

Happy reading! 

Alison Morton

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About the Author

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but use a sharp line in dialogue. The latest, EXSILIUM, plunges us back to the late 4th century, to the very foundation of Roma Nova. She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.  Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Find out more at Alison's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @alison_morton.

26 February 2024

Book review: MI9: A History of the Secret Service for Escape and Evasion in World War Two, by Helen Fry

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Allied fighters were trapped behind enemy lines, one branch of military intelligence helped them escape: MI9. The organization set up clandestine routes that zig-zagged across Nazi-occupied Europe, enabling soldiers and airmen to make their way home. Secret agents and resistance fighters risked their lives and those of their 
families to hide the men.

You often hear that people never talked about the heroic work they did in the war, and this is particularly true of those in the intelligence services. The work of the SOE has become a mainstay of wartime dramas, yet I knew next to nothing about MI9 before reading this book.

Drawing from thousands of recently declassified records, memoirs, and personal testimonies, Helen Fry  gathered enough to fill several volumes. This book is therefore packed with fascinating details and stories of this secretive branch of British military intelligence, responsible for assisting Allied airmen and soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in their dangerous journeys back to safety.

I particularly liked the personal accounts of the bravery of the men and women navigating the perilous landscape of wartime Europe. There are harrowing tales of captured personnel, the ingenuity and dedication of MI9 operatives, and the courage of civilians who risked their lives to hide escapees. 

The book includes previously untold aspects of MI9's operations, the challenges faced in establishing escape lines in Italy due to communication difficulties and the surprising level of vigilance in Italian POW camps. This nuanced perspective adds depth and complexity to our understanding of the organisation's efforts.

Helen Fry shines a light on this hidden world, and the people who faced impossible odds. "MI9" has a unique blend of historical detail and thrilling human drama. Her engaging writing style and meticulous research make this book a valuable tribute to the unsung heroes who operated in the shadows, tipping the scales in favor of the Allied cause. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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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 

24 February 2024

Book Review: The Secrets of Crestwell Hall, by Alexandra Walsh

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1605: Bess Throckmorton is well used to cunning plots and intrigues. With her husband Sir Walter Raleigh imprisoned in the Tower of London, and she and her family in a constant battle to outwit Robert Cecil, the most powerful man in the country who is determined to ruin her, Bess decides to retreat to her beloved home, Crestwell Hall.

I've enjoyed reading the new dual timeline novel, The Secrets of Crestwell Hall, by Alexandra Walsh, which switches between the present day and events leading up to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot.

The suspense simmers as we get to know the likeable central characters, Isabella Lacey, her ten-year-old daughter, Emily, her Aunt Thalia - and the enigmatic Lady Elizabeth Raleigh.  

I'm always fascinated when new Tudor primary sources turn up, such as the 2023 discovery of a jewelled fifteenth-century prayer book in Trinity College Library depicted by Holbein in his portrait of Thomas Cromwell. I was therefore hooked as Isabella searched the dark corners of Crestwell Hall for lost Elizabethan relics.

I particularly liked the focus on the wives and female relatives of the Catholic 'Gunpowder Plotters', and their different point of view of the planned revolution. 

There is a genuine 'well, I wasn't expecting that!' twist in the final chapter, which brings together several stands that kept me guessing. I highly recommend The Secrets of Crestwell Hall, which I'm happy to award five out of five stars. 

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

23 February 2024

Special Guest Post: Writing and Researching “The Other Gwyn Girl” by Nicola Cornick

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1671 – London: The Civil War is over and Charles II, the ‘Merry Monarch’, is revelling in the throne of his murdered father and all the privileges and power that comes with it. Sharing the spoils is his favourite companion, the celebrated beauty, actress Nell Gwyn.

I have an attraction to the stories of women – and the occasional man – from the footnotes of history, historical characters whose lives have either been ignored or erased from the historical record, or about whom the slightest of tantalising clues reach us. 

Those shadowy characters who have previously inspired me range from Mary Seymour, the lost daughter of Queen Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour, to Catherine Catesby, wife of Gunpowder plot ringleader, Robert. All have been eclipsed in some way by other more famous characters in the historical narrative. All have a story to tell even if the evidence for it is faint or well-hidden.

My dual-time novel about Rose Gwyn, the sister of the far more famous Nell Gwyn came about in much the same way as the others. A relative had acquired a new portrait for his collection which claimed to be Nell Gwyn. I had a general awareness of Nell as an actress from the Restoration era and one of the more famous mistresses of King Charles II but the portrait prompted me to read more about her, and one line in a biography jumped out at me:

“Nell and her elder sister Rose both worked as orange girls in the theatre…”

I knew about the oranges – they could almost serve as Nell Gwyn’s emblem and sometimes unofficially do, but the bit that caught my interest was that Nell had an elder sister, Rose. 

Finding any references to Rose Gwyn in the historical record was almost impossible. She was more than elusive, almost invisible. There is a lot of information on Nell Gwyn and from that one can infer some elements of her sister’s life, particularly in their shared upbringing and early life, raised on the backstreets around Covent Garden and in the brothel where their mother worked. 

However, much of what is written about Nell is gleaned from letters, diaries and contemporary observations rather than official records. Many of these are biased depending on the author. A lot of what we “know” of Nell including her wittiest comments and the anecdotes such as her dangling her elder son out of first floor window until the King gave him a title, are hearsay and legend, no doubt embroidered in the retelling. So where does that leave a sister about whom no one bothered to record much at all?

The first official record of Rose Gwyn is from 1663 when she was imprisoned for theft and wrote to the King to petition for bail (or someone wrote on her behalf as both she and Nell had no formal education). One chronicler refers to her as the “notorious thief Rose Gwyn.” 

In her letter, Rose stated that her father had “lost all he had in the service of the late King.” Her petition was successful, supporting the genealogical data that suggests their father was Captain Thomas Gwyn, who died in a debtor’s prison shortly after Nell was born. Like many of the minor Royalist gentry, the Civil War had left his family destitute.

Both Rose and Nell sold sweet oranges to the audiences who flocked back to the theatre after Charles II’s restoration in 1660 but whilst for Nell this was a springboard into an acting career, Rose had no such talent. The next we hear of her she was married to a highwayman called Captain John Cassells. In 1670 Rose helped one of his fellow “knights of the road” to gain a pardon from the King for his crimes, presumably by asking Nell to intercede for him. What happened to John Cassells is a mystery – he was no Dick Turpin and his story has not come down to us through history – but we know that he pre-deceased Rose and that she married for a second time.

These then, were the meagre facts of Rose Gwyn’s life which provided a framework for my story. Had I been writing a non-fiction book I would have struggled but the gaps in the historical record give a novelist ample space to allow their imagination to roam. As this was a dual time novel, I wanted the contemporary narrative to be a mirror of the historical one in some senses, weaving together as the story progressed. And in one respect I was fortunate; there is some evidence that for the first few years of their life, Nell and Rose Gwyn grew up in Oxford. 

I was able to visit the parish that was said to have been their home, and to wander the city streets, picturing them back in the 17th century when Oxford played such a key role in the Civil War, and later when Charles II located his court there during the plague. That seventeenth-century Oxford is close beneath the surface; visiting the city, it is possible to shut out the present day and recreate in your mind’s eye the place that Rose Gwyn knew. 

 Nicola Cornick

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About the Author

Nicola Cornick grew up in Yorkshire and studied History at the University of London and at Ruskin College Oxford where she was awarded a Distinction for her Masters dissertation on heroes and hero myths. She worked in academia for a number of years before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of acclaimed dual-time mysteries as well as of award-winning historical romance. When she isn’t writing, Nicola volunteers as a guide and researcher for the National Trust at the 17th century hunting lodge Ashdown House. She has given talks and chaired panels for a number of festivals and conferences including the London Book Fair, the Historical Novel Society and the Sharjah Festival of Literature.  Nicola also gives talks on history topics to WIs, history societies and other interested groups. In her spare time she is a bookseller at Wantage Bookshop and a puppy walker for the Guide Dogs charity. Find out more at Nicola's website and follow her on TwitterX @NicolaCornick

21 February 2024

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

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Spring 1880. St Petersburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise for Roger Morris:

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

17 February 2024

A Court of Betrayal: The gripping new historical novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author Anne O'Brien

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Welsh Marches, 1301: Strong-willed heiress Johane de Geneville is married to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, at just fifteen years old.

Soon Johane finds herself swept up in a world of treacherous court politics and dangerous secrets as her husband deposes Edward II and rules England alongside Queen Isabella.

Yet when Roger is accused of treason, she is robbed of her freedom and must survive catastrophic events in her fight for justice - with her life, and her children's, hanging in the balance...

Will she pay for her husband's mistakes, or will she manage to escape from a terrible fate?

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About the Author

Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history. She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life. Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien

13 February 2024

Special Guest Post by Deborah Swift, Author of The Shadow Network (WW2 Secret Agent Series)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1942: Having fled Germany after her father was captured by the Nazis, Lilli Bergen is desperate to do something pro-active for the Allies. So when she’s approached by the Political Warfare Executive, Lilli jumps at the chance. She’s recruited as a singer for a radio station broadcasting propaganda to German soldiers – a shadow network.

The Aspidistra Radio Transmitter by Deborah Swift

The Shadow Network which forms the title of my latest book refers to the fake news radio stations set up by Sefton Delmer in WW2. These secret radio stations operating in WW2 pretended to be genuine German radio stations and employed German prisoners of war or other German speakers to make their broadcasts. 

The broadcasts were deliberately racy and were designed to capture the hearts of ordinary Germans and make them believe they were listening to a forbidden radio station from their own country. Their popularity spread, and they got wide audiences for their programmes.

The radio signal for these ‘fake news’ radio stations needed to be strong enough to appear as though it came from Germany and had to be more powerful than anything that was then available.

Harold Robin

By coincidence, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) had created two high-powered radio transmitters which could not be used in the US, because of a change in American law. The RCA were eager to sell them to Britain. So Harold Robin, a Foreign Office radio engineer, saw their potential, and travelled to America to examine them, and then worked to improve them. 

He adapted a transmitter so it was able to move frequency in a fraction of a second, at the flick of a switch.The powerful ex-RCA transmitter, eventually installed in Sussex, England, was named Aspidistra, referencing the popular Gracie Fields song ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World’, in which an Aspidistra houseplant grows until it ‘nearly reached the sky’.

In fact, most of the technology was buried underground at the site at Crowborough, though its antennae were visible – three guyed masts, each 110 metres tall, directing the signal broadly eastwards. The Art Deco–style transmitter building was housed in an underground shelter which had to be excavated by the Canadian army troops who were stationed nearby.

Intrusion operations

The Aspidistra mast was so powerful it could be used to intercept German frequencies. During Allied air raids, German radio transmitters were switched off so the Allies couldn’t use them to locate their installations.
As soon as the Germans switched off their masts, Aspidistra began transmitting on its frequency, just like the German station. The transition was seamless and German listeners believed the original station was still broadcasting. Aspidistra operators would then insert pro-British propaganda and fake news into the broadcast as if it was coming from official German sources.

Radio Transmitter

After the war, Aspidistra was used by the BBC. It made its final transmission on 28 September 1982, before being finally switched off by Robin, the man who had been responsible, forty years earlier, for bringing the transmitter from the US and setting up the station at Crowborough.

In my novel based around the Aspidistra transmitter and the fake news radio stations, I include a fictional plot to blow up the transmitter. Although fictional, this is not unlikely as there were several attempts by the Germans to sabotage infrastructure and communications systems in England at the time.
If you’d like more information about Radio Aspidistra I recommend this Nuts and Volts Magazine article.

Deborah Swift

Deborah Swift is the English author of eighteen historical novels, including Millennium Award winner Past Encounters, and The Lady’s Slipper, shortlisted for the Impress Prize.  Her most recent books are the Renaissance trilogy based around the life of the poisoner Giulia Tofana, The Poison Keeper and its sequels, one of which won the Coffee Pot Book Club Gold Medal. Recently she has completed a secret agent series set in WW2, the first in the series being The Silk Code. Deborah used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV and enjoys the research aspect of creating historical fiction, something she loved doing as a scenographer. She likes to write about extraordinary characters set against the background of real historical events. Deborah lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. Find out more at Deborah's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory

10 February 2024

New Audiobook Sample: The story of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan Court, Narrated by Nigel Peever.

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US
and from Audible

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favorite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Continuing the story of the Tudors, begun in Tony Riches’ best-selling Tudor trilogy, this epic tale of loyalty, love and adventure follows Robert Devereux from his youth to his fateful rebellion.

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About the Narrator

Nigel Peever is a northern based actor with thirty years experience in Theatre and TV and especially pantomime. Originally gaining equity status the traditional way through weekly rep at the Lyceum Theatre in Crewe straight from school and college and his first professional production with The Rollingstock Theatre Company when he was aged just 14. Since turning pro aged 19 in 1985 Nigel has worked extensively in Theatre and TV. He also produces audiobooks at home working in conjunction with authors and rights holders for sale at Amazon, Audible and Itunes. Find out more from Nigel's website and find him on Twitter @NigelPeever 

9 February 2024

Special Guest Post by Melita Thomas, Author of 1000 Tudor People

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The product of years of diligent research, this ambitious title brings the incredibly varied lives (and deaths!) of 1000 Tudor people into a single, accessible volume. Illustrated with historical portraits and a wealth of detail, including specially designed family trees to chart the links between major Tudor figures.

Writing 1000 Tudor People has been a labour of love over three years. I began it in the autumn of 2020 and handed the final sections to the publisher towards the end of 2022. It then took a further year to bring together all the illustrations and the timelines, proofread it, and turn it into the weighty volume that will hit the shelves on 28th March 2024. 

The idea behind the book was to give readers information about a much wider range of people who lived during the Tudor period than just the usual suspects who appear in books or on-screen. Of course the panorama of the royal family with their sneaky courtiers and scheming councillors is fun to read about, but there was so much more to the Tudor age. 

It was a period of massive change: life in 1485 was not very different from life in 1385, but by 1600 things had altered considerably, not just because of the Reformation, but also because of the expansion of knowledge brought about by the printing press, the introduction of plants and food that came from discoveries in the New World, the changes in the economic fortunes of England and Wales, and the expansion of mathematical and scientific knowledge.
Choosing the thousand people was difficult. At the beginning, I thought that I might struggle to find enough individuals whose lives were sufficiently interesting or important to merit sharing, but once I began the research, I was quickly overwhelmed with quirky and fascinating characters, and I have a long list, which continues to grow, of people whom I have had, reluctantly, to leave out.

Sir Richard Martin, Lord Mayor of London © British Museum

Although I wanted to expand from just the rich and famous, I had to include them. You can’t have a book about Tudor People that doesn’t include Henry VIII or Thomas Cromwell. But once I had dealt with the monarch, the royal family, and the principal politicians, I turned to the arts. Shakespeare, of course, was high on the list, so I consulted the research I had done on him for the feature on the Tudor Times website. 

© Folger Shakespeare Library Christopher Saxton. Atlas of the counties of England and Wales. London, 1590?

This led me to his colleagues and friends, so I added them, and as I researched each one, I found more names. Gradually, a great network of writers, philosophers, theatre-owners, entrepreneurs, gardeners, mathematicians, and even criminals evolved.
One of the difficulties of writing about fifteenth and sixteenth century people is the inequality in records available, particularly of women. Even high-ranking women are much less represented in the records than men, and women below the level of nobility usually only appear in the records if they seriously transgressed social norms – consequently, a disproportionate number of the women included were considered to be criminals. 

Another challenge I had to address was the massive change in our approach to the past, which has happened in the last twenty to thirty years. This is partly about more inclusion of women, but also a different perspective on elements of our history. Older historiography has a fairly uncritical attitude towards individuals who have been seen as heroes for centuries – such as Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, and the other ‘sea-dogs’. 

Sir Walter Raleigh (Wikimedia Commons)

Today, historians are grappling with more honest interpretations of these men’s activities and I needed to seek out a wide range of sources to present a balanced view, without having the luxury of a word count that would enable me to explore these varied perspectives in detail. Unsurprisingly, I have some favourite characters – some of whom I’d like to meet, but others who might be rather scary in the flesh. 

One of the latter is Katherine Howard, Lady Berkeley, who was such a stickler for protocol that she made her manservant practise one hundred bows to get it absolutely right – I like her because she kept her pet hawks in her bedchamber, and did not care if her dresses got dirty. Another fun entry is Twm Sion Cati – otherwise known as Thomas Jones. He was a trickster who relieved his victims of their belongings by tricking them, rather than by violence. 

Ralph Rishton was another conman, who, at the time of his death had no fewer than eleven ongoing law suits relating to his matrimonial entanglements. Then there are the incredibly sad stories, such as those of Anne Askew and Margaret Clitherow (nee Middleton), who were martyred for their faith - one Protestant, the other Catholic.

Margaret Clitherow (Wikimedia Commons)

I hope that when the readers delve into 1000 Tudor People, they will find stories to entertain, as well as inform them about the Tudor period. Hopefully, the book will also be a manual to be on hand every time the reader opens another book or watches a film or television programme about the Tudors, to find the key facts about all of the people involved.
Melita Thomas

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About the Author

Melita Thomas is the author of non-fiction works The King’s Pearl, and The House of Grey and co-author of the Tudor Times Books of Days series of gift books. She is a doctoral candidate at UCL, researching the social and political networks of Mary I and is the co-founder and chief contributor for Tudor Times, a repository of information about the Tudors and Stewarts 1485 – 16625. In her spare time, Melita enjoys long distance walking. You can find her on and on Twitter @melitathomas92 and @thetudortimes.

7 February 2024

Book Launch Spotlight: To the Wild Horizon: A captivating story of love and endurance on the Oregon Trail, by Imogen Martin

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Missouri, 1846: In the frontier town of Independence the sound of a gunshot shatters the night. As the pistol drops from her hand and clatters to the ground, Grace knows she has no choice but to leave. Now.

In this inspiring and deeply moving story of love, courage and endurance, a young woman on the run from the law sets off on a desperate journey of survival on the treacherous Oregon Trail.

Terrified she’s wanted for the murder of her landlord, Grace is certain that, even though she acted in self-defence, no one will believe her. Quickly packing the few belongings she and her little brother Tom possess, they race to join the line of dusty wagons preparing to leave for Oregon.

As they set off, over the perilous Great Plains, knowing the wild rivers and the Rocky Mountains they must cross, Grace vows to do whatever it takes to protect Tom and get them both to safety. She will prove herself capable of surviving the hardest journey of her life.

This unputdownable and heart-wrenching historical novel shows the true strength and resilience of a woman’s heart, even when she has everything to lose and the odds are stacked against her. Fans of Kristin Hannah, Amy Harmon and Olivia Hawker will lose themselves in To the Wild Horizon.

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About the Author

Imogen Martin writes sweeping, historical fiction. Her first two novels are set in nineteenth century America. As a teenager, she took the Greyhound bus from San Francisco to New York. Over those three days of staring out of the window at the majestic mountains and endless flat plains, stories wound themselves into her head: tales of brooding, charismatic men captivated by independent women.
Since then, she has worked in a coffee-shop in Piccadilly, a famous bookstore, and a children’s home. She has run festivals, and turned a derelict housing block on one of the poorest estates in the UK into an award-winning arts centre. During 2020 Imogen was selected by Kate Nash Literary Agency as one of their BookCamp mentees, a mentorship programme designed to accelerate the careers of promising new writers. Married with two children, Imogen divides her time between Wales and Sardinia. Find out more at Imogene's website  and find her on Facebook and Twitter @ImogenMartin9