Mastodon The Writing Desk: March 2024

31 March 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight: This Whiteness of Swans: The Surface and the Deep: Story of Anna of Cleves, by G. Lawrence

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Swan Castle, Cleves, 1521: Nestled deep in a land rich in myth and fairy-tale, within the changing politics and religion of the Holy Roman Empire, a young girl grows to adulthood, watching war and faith tear the world she knows asunder.

Sheltered within the court of women in which she and her sisters live, Anna of Cleves may be protected, but she is not in ignorance of the world outside her castle walls, and when the Tudor King of England begins to cast his eye upon Cleves, seeking a fourth wife, she is only too aware of the peril that may be placed upon her life, as the ring is slipped upon her finger.

This Whiteness of Swans is Book One of The Surface and the Deep: Story of Anna of Cleves, by G. Lawrence.

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About the Author

Gemma Lawrence is an independently published author living in Cornwall in the UK. She studied literature at university says, 'I write mainly Historical Fiction, with an emphasis on the Tudor and Medieval periods and have a particular passion for women of history who inspire me'. Her first book in the Elizabeth of England Chronicles series is The Bastard Princess (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles Book 1).Gemma can be found on Twitter @TudorTweep

30 March 2024

Book Review: 1000 Tudor People by Melita Thomas

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.

Melita Thomas has created an invaluable reference work that shines a light on the real people who populated the English Tudor period from 1485-1603. Going beyond the familiar figures, this is an impressively comprehensive exploration of the nobles, courtiers, clergymen, soldiers, explorers, and early colonists who all left their mark on this transformative era of English history.

I particularly liked the stories of relatively unknown figures like Jane Dormor, one of Queen Katherine Parr's ladies who was accused of heresy, or Roger Pratt, a sailor on John Cabot's voyages to North America. In her author's note Melita explains that by choosing as man lesser known Tudors with 'quirky' stories as possible she can offer a glimpse of the vibrancy, diversity and colour of Tudor life.  

The book's A-Z format makes it easy to locate biographies of major players like Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare, and Walter Raleigh.  At over 450 pages, the book's scope is breathtaking - from power players like Cardinal Wolsey to lower-class yeomen whose living circumstances illustrate the sociology of the age.

Highly recommended for anyone wanting to build a vivid, populated picture of 16th century English life and society in all its fascinating complexity, Melita Thomas' 1000 Tudor People is an indispensable guide which brings the world of the Tudors to life.

Tony Riches

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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

29 March 2024

Book Launch Guest Post: The Dartington Bride, by Rosemary Griggs

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1571, and the beautiful, headstrong daughter of a French Count marries the son of the Vice Admiral of the Fleet of the West in Queen Elizabeth’s chapel at Greenwich. It sounds like a marriage made in heaven…

In 1559, on a hot summer’s day in Paris, the course of French history took a dramatic turn. The unexpected events that unfolded on that fateful day would also transform the life of a young girl, Lady Gabrielle Roberda Montgomery. Her story inspired the latest novel in my ‘Daughters of Devon’ series, The Dartington Bride, due for release on March 28, 2024.

Everything was going well for King Henri II of France. The succession was guaranteed, as he had four sons with Queen Catherine de Medici. The French army had reclaimed Calais from the English. The 60-year-long Italian wars had finally come to an end. Through successful negotiations with the Hapsburghs and Queen Elizabeth of England, he had achieved The Peace of Cateau Cambresis.

King Henri II of France (1519-1559) after Francis Clouet
(Wikimedia Commons) 

In June 1559 lavish festivities were held to celebrate the peace agreements and two royal marriages. The festivities reached their peak with a magnificent tournament, held near the Place des Vosges, and set to last for 5 days. On the third day, June 30, forty-year-old King Henri himself would take on challengers.

King Henri had been training hard to excel in the joust. But Queen Catherine was troubled by the alarming predictions of her astrologers, Nostradamus, and Luca Gaurico. They foretold that Henri’s reign would end with an eye injury he would sustain in a duel. Gaurico, the astrologer of the Medici family in Italy, went as far as writing a letter to the king, advising him to:

‘… avoid all single combat in an enclosed field, especially around his forty-first year… for in that period of his life he was threatened by a wound in the head which could bring about blindness, or death.’

Under the scorching sun, a crowd gathered on Paris’ widest street, the rue Saint-Antoine. Colourful banners fluttered from the surrounding buildings, adding to the festive atmosphere as the spectators vied for positions in the stands. Queen Catherine begged Henri to let others take the field in his place. But he was having none of it. The anxious queen looked on as, proudly wearing the colours of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, Henri rode out.

Despite winning the first contest, he faced a formidable challenge from his second opponent, who nearly knocked him off his horse. The Duke of Savoy and Queen Catherine both urged him not to ride again. But Henri was stubborn. He insisted on another contest and commanded Gabriel de Lorges, the Captain of his Scots Guards, to ride against him.

Gabriel de Lorges, Count of Montgomery, (5 May 1530 – 26 June 1574)
(Wikimedia Commons) 

From the fifteenth century, the King’s Scots guards served as an elite personal bodyguard to French monarchs. A few years before the tournament, Gabriel took over from his father as their captain. A handsome and fit soldier, he was at least ten years younger than King Henri. At first he resisted, but he dared not disobey his king.

The two horses thundered towards each other. Gabriel’s lance struck the king in the right shoulder and, in a move that was not the usual practice in the sport, held onto his lance. The impact caused the lance to splinter, sending wooden shards into Henri’s forehead. In his haste to prove a point, the king may have let down the visor on his helmet without fastening the buckle, making him especially vulnerable. The visor failed to protect his right eye, and a shard of wood from the lance pierced it, reaching into his brain.

At first, Henri stayed in the saddle. But when his attendants saw how serious his injury was, they lifted him from his horse. They carried him into the nearby Hôtel des Tournelles, where, according to an eyewitness, Bishop Antoine Caraccioli, Gabriel begged for forgiveness at the king’s bedside. He even asked that the king cut off his head and hand. Henri refused, saying that Gabriel had merely followed his orders.

Ambroise Paré, the renowned barber-surgeon and French court physician, hoped to operate and save the king. According to some sources, he may have even practiced eye surgery on prisoners in the Bastille to refine his technique. Additionally, Philip of Spain sent his physician, the equally renowned anatomist Andreas Vesalius, all the way from Brussels. They tried everything. Despite the combined efforts of the two learned men, King Henri died on 10 July 1559. After his death, jousting declined as a sport, particularly in France.

On his deathbed, King Henri again declared Gabriel blameless. However, Queen Catherine would never forgive him. From that day, she took the broken lance as her emblem. Gabriel de Lorges had become the French regicide.

Gabriel, who became Count of Montgomery after his father’s death in 1562, came from a noble family of Scottish descent. His father, Jacques, had forged a successful career as a soldier under King Francois II. In 1545, during the Anglo/Scottish wars, known as Henry VIII’s ‘Rough Wooing,’ he led a French force to support the Scots. Jaques married his third wife, Charlotte de Maille, in 1550. 

It was a double wedding as Gabriel married Charlotte’s daughter, Isabeau de la Touche, on the same day. Gabriel and Isabeau would go on to have had four sons and four daughters. Gabrielle, affectionately known as Roberda in the family, was about five years old at the time of the tournament.

After the accident, Gabriel spent a few days in the ‘Montgomery Tower’ within the wall of Philippe Auguste in Paris. Then, still in fear of his life, he fled. He went first to the family home at Ducey in Normandy. By mid-July, he had travelled to Jersey. In December, diplomatic papers mentioned him being in Venice.

In the spring of 1560, Gabriel arrived in England. He met many influential people, including Lord Robert Dudley. He also made, or renewed, his acquaintance with Sir Arthur Champernowne of Dartington Hall. The two men may have first met some years earlier, in1554. Once the investigation into his supposed participation in the Wyatt rebellion had concluded, Queen Mary released Arthur from the Tower of London and permitted him to travel to France. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Sir Arthur, a staunch Protestant, held the important position of Vice Admiral of the Fleet of the West.

While her husband was in England, Isabeau embraced the teachings of John Calvin, joining his followers, the Huguenots. By the time Gabriel returned to Ducey in December 1561, he too had converted to the Protestant faith.

Religious tensions had been simmering in France for some time. They came to a boiling point on 1 March 1562 when the troops of the powerful Catholic leader, the Duke de Guise, murdered a group of Protestants in a barn at Vassy. The massacre marked the start of the bitter wars of religion that would engulf France for the next 30 years. As France spiralled towards war, Gabriel joined forces with Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, and emerged as a Huguenot military leader.

Isabeau was, by all accounts, a formidable woman who gave her unwavering support to her husband. When she followed Gabriel on the battle trail, she took all of her children with her. In October 1562, the entire family was at the heart of the fighting in the besieged city of Rouen. The sights Roberda and her siblings witnessed there must have had a profound effect on them.

In 1565, Gabriel granted Isabeau full power of attorney to act on his behalf in all matters concerning his estate and finances. She began negotiating marriages for their children, seeking alliances that would strengthen Gabriel’s position as a war leader.

Isabeau is probably the French lady Sir Arthur Champernowne entertained in Plymouth in 1568. Katherine Astley, one of Sir Arthur’s sisters, had been Queen Elizabeth’s childhood governess. Until her death in 1565, Mrs Astley was Chief Lady of the Privy chamber and a trusted confidante of the Queen. No doubt Gabriel hoped that an alliance with the well-connected Sir Arthur would strengthen his position when seeking support from Queen Elizabeth for the Huguenot cause.

After a good deal of discussion, Roberda left her family in France and started a new life in England. Researching and crafting Roberda’s story has been both challenging and fascinating. The Dartington Bride explores themes that resonate with us today; the devastating impact of war on innocent populations and societal attitudes towards refugees. It also reveals startling insights into women’s lives, and attitudes to marriage amongst wealthy families in sixteenth century England.

The Dartington Bride is available to pre-order as an ebook and as a paperback. An audiobook version follows soon.

Rosemary Griggs

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About the Author

Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. An avid researcher, she is now a speaker on Devon’s history and leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall.  She also creates and wears sixteenth century clothing which she often uses to bring history to life for local museums and community groups.  Rosemary lives in Devon with husband David, and her first novel, a Woman of Noble Wit features many of the county’s well loved places.  Find out more on Rosemary’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @RAGriggsauthor

28 March 2024

Blog Tour: The Dartington Bride, by Rosemary Griggs

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1571, and the beautiful, headstrong daughter of a French Count marries the son of the Vice Admiral of the Fleet of the West in Queen Elizabeth’s chapel at Greenwich. It sounds like a marriage made in heaven…

Roberda’s father, the Count of Montgomery, is a prominent Huguenot leader in the French Wars of Religion. When her formidable mother follows him into battle, she takes all her children with her.

After a traumatic childhood in war-torn France, Roberda arrives in England full of hope for her wedding. But her ambitious bridegroom, Gawen, has little interest in taking a wife.

Received with suspicion by the servants at her new home, Dartington Hall in Devon, Roberda works hard to prove herself as mistress of the household and to be a good wife. But there are some who will never accept her as a true daughter of Devon.

After the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Gawen’s father welcomes Roberda’s family to Dartington as refugees. Compassionate Roberda is determined to help other French women left destitute by the wars. But her husband does not approve. Their differences will set them on an extraordinary path…

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About the Author

Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. An avid researcher, she is now a speaker on Devon’s history and leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall.  She also creates and wears sixteenth century clothing which she often uses to bring history to life for local museums and community groups.  Rosemary lives in Devon with husband David, and her first novel, a Woman of Noble Wit features many of the county’s well loved places.  Find out more on Rosemary’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @RAGriggsauthor

27 March 2024

Book Launch Guest Post: Riddle of the Gods: A Viking Age Novel (Olaf's Saga Book 4) by Eric Schumacher

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD 976. Olaf Tryggvason, the renegade prince of Norway, has lost his beloved wife to a tragedy that turns the lords of the land he rules against him. With his family gone and his future uncertain, Olaf leaves his realm and embarks on a decades-long quest to discover his course in life.

Inspiration for Riddle of the Gods

To understand the inspiration behind Riddle of the Gods, it’s best to start at the beginnig and provide the impotus behind the entire series, since this is a follow-on book to the previous three. 

My stories take place in the Viking Age, and are all focused on actual characters taken from the pages of the ancient Norse sagas. I was not yet done telling tales about this fascinating period, despite having spent years researching and writing Hakon’s Saga (the previous series). I knew I had at least one more saga in me, and so I began to search for a suitable character and story that stood out to me.

I landed on Olaf for a number of reasons, the least of which were his raiding years. His raiding was not so unlike many other Vikings that came before and after him, nor are the stories of his violence. What made him truly stand out to me was his arc as a character. He begins his life as a noble, becomes a slave, and rises again to the throne of Norway. 

In addition, his is a life that began as a pagan and ended as a Christian, though a Chistian known for his violence rather than his goodwill. And, it was a life filled with adventure and exploits. There was much there to work with and I wanted to explore it all. I wanted to unearth the man, not the myth, and put meat on his bones. Who was this handsome, gifted, violent man? 

In addition, Olaf’s life spanned the known world of the Vikings: Scandinavia, the Baltic kingdoms, the Slavic kingdoms, and what is now Western Europe. In him was a chance to explore each of those places in the 10th century and the various cultural divides between them. That, too, really piqued my desire to write about him. 

The first book in Olaf’s Saga, Forged by Iron, tells of Olaf’s childhood and his frightening life on the run from his kin-killing cousins. The second novel, Sigurd’s Swords, explores Olaf’s adventures in the land of the Rus. Wolves of Wagria (Book 3) dove into his tumultuous time in what the Vikings called Wendland, and more specifically, a kingdom called Wagria. I’ve written several blog posts about those exploits and the history surrounding them on my own blog. 

What this book unearths is Olaf’s time on the move, not only as a raider in Western Europe, but also as a person. But, I did not want to just write a travelogue (dare I say, raiding-logue) of his years on the seas. I wanted to focus on what happened to him personally during that period, and so I landed on his time in Ireland.

Olaf in Ireland

We do not know much about Olaf in Western Europe. We know only that he raided extensively, including in Ireland. At that point in time, Ireland was a land in turmoil, divided between royal families/clans who countrolled separate kingdoms that were often at odds with each other. Adding to that dangerous mix were the Vikings, who founded or fortified bases and towns along the coast – Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Cork and Wexford – from which they could raid into the land and trade internationally. It was into that environment that Olaf sailed in the latter half of the 10th century.

At about that time, an Irish king named Malachy dispelled the Vikings from Dublin, freed the slaves kept by the Scandinavians, and installed his half-brother as ruler of the city. While the locals may have been pleased with the change, there were others who saw it as an invitation to take the town for themselves, including a Viking leader named Ivar of Waterford. In other words, the politics of the land were rife for adventurous souls like Olaf who, like most Vikings, saw opportunity in chaos.

Religiously, Ireland was a Christian land, as were many Western European kingdoms. However, there were still many among the Vikings who had not yet embraced this new faith. Having followed the old gods his entire life, Olaf was curious about this Christian god. This, of course, creates a level of tension between his men, and within himself, that I wanted to investigate more deeply.

I will not give away any spoilers here, but the stage is set for what becomes Riddle of the Gods, a fast-paced retelling of Olaf and his time on the western seas. I hope you enjoy it!

Eric Schumacher

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About the Author

Eric Schumacheris the author of seven novels and one novella, all set in the Viking Age. By day, Schumacher is a PR consultant for early-stage technology companies. By night, he ventures into the past, using known history and ancient tales to create stories about real people living in turbulent times. From the earliest age, Schumacher devoured books about castles and warrior kings and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Those stories, coupled with a love of writing, led him to the completion of Hakon’s Saga (published by Legionary Books), which tells the story of the young Norwegian king, Hakon Haraldsson, and his struggles to win, unify, and protect what was not yet Norway. Schumacher began his current series, called Olaf’s Saga, in 2019. The first three books in the saga, Forged by Iron, Sigurd’s Swords and Wolves of Wagra respectively, were all Amazon best sellers, and are now available across e-tailers. Riddle of the Gods is the fourth book in that series. Find out more at Eric's website: and find him on Facebook and Twitter @DarkAgeScribe

25 March 2024

Blog Tour Excerpt: Riddle of the Gods: A Viking Age Novel (Olaf's Saga Book 4) by Eric Schumacher

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Riddle of the Gods is the riveting fourth novel in the best-selling series chronicling the life and adventures of one of Norway’s most controversial kings, Olaf Tryggvason.

It is AD 976. Olaf Tryggvason, the renegade prince of Norway, has lost his beloved wife to a tragedy that turns the lords of the land he rules against him. 

With his family gone and his future uncertain, Olaf leaves his realm and embarks on a decades-long quest to discover his course in life. 

Though his journey brings him power and wealth, it is not until he encounters the strange man in the streets of Dublin that his path to fame unfolds. 

And in that moment, he is forced to make a choice as the gods look on – a choice that could, at worst, destroy him and at best, ensure his name lives on forever.

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About the Author

Eric Schumacheris the author of seven novels and one novella, all set in the Viking Age. By day, Schumacher is a PR consultant for early-stage technology companies. By night, he ventures into the past, using known history and ancient tales to create stories about real people living in turbulent times. From the earliest age, Schumacher devoured books about castles and warrior kings and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Those stories, coupled with a love of writing, led him to the completion of Hakon’s Saga (published by Legionary Books), which tells the story of the young Norwegian king, Hakon Haraldsson, and his struggles to win, unify, and protect what was not yet Norway. Schumacher began his current series, called Olaf’s Saga, in 2019. The first three books in the saga, Forged by Iron, Sigurd’s Swords and Wolves of Wagra respectively, were all Amazon best sellers, and are now available across e-tailers. Riddle of the Gods is the fourth book in that series. Find out more at Eric's website: and find him on Facebook and Twitter @DarkAgeScribe

21 March 2024

Book Launch Spotlight: The Book of Secrets ~ The dark and dazzling new book from bestselling author Anna Mazzola

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Book of Secrets is inspired by real events that took place in 17th century Italy.

Rome, 1659:.Months after the plague has ravaged Rome, men are still dying in unnatural numbers, and rumour has it that their corpses do not decay as they should. The Papal authorities commission prosecutor Stefano Bracchi to investigate, telling him he will need considerable mettle to reach the truth.

To the west of the Tiber, Girolama and her female friends are at work, helping other women with childbirths and foretelling their futures. Elsewhere in the city, a young wife, Anna, must find a way to escape her abusive husband. But in a city made by men for men, there are no easy paths out.

Stefano's investigation at the Tor di Nona prison will introduce him to horror, magic and an astonishing cast of characters. He will be left wondering if certain deeds should remain forever unpunished...

'Utterly compelling, brilliant and rage-inducing' CAROLINE LEA

'Deeply unsettling in all the best ways. Absolutely loved it!' JAMES OSWALD

Compelling and brilliantly atmospheric' ANDREW TAYLOR

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About the Author

Anna Mazzola Anna is the award-winning and bestselling author of four Gothic historical novels. Her debut novel, The Unseeing, won an Edgar Allan Poe award. Her third novel, The Clockwork Girl, set in 18th century Paris, has been nominated for two CWA Dagger awards as well as the Dublin Literary award. Her fourth novel, The House of Whispers, a ghost story set in Fascist Italy, reached number 7 in the Saturday Times Chart and is a Sunday Times historical fiction pick for 2023. When not writing or tutoring, Anna is a human rights and criminal justice solicitor, working with victims of crime. She lives in South London with her husband, their two children, a snake and a cat. Find out more from and find Anna on Facebook and Twitter @Anna_Mazz

20 March 2024

Bringing Your Setting to Life with the Research Arsenal, by Steven Dacus

Research Arsenal provides access to thousands of primary documents including photographs, letters, diaries, ordnance returns, quartermaster specifications and more.

When writing historical fiction, it’s the little details that bring your world to life, that take it from a flat background to a vivid landscape that engages your readers and lets your plot and characters shine through. Unfortunately, doing historical research for a setting is often difficult and you can find yourself spending hours trying to nail down a little detail without knowing where to search.

As a historical database focusing on the American Civil War and mid-19th century life more generally, the Research Arsenal has a wealth of information for writers creating works in this era. Our focus is on primary documents, so you can learn about the era from the people who lived it as well as browse through thousands of photographs that are keyword-tagged to help you know what you’re looking at.

Building a Setting through Letters

If you’re planning to write a story based in a specific state or region of the United States, you can begin by searching for letters from that state or written by soldiers from that state. Letters written by civilians often have a great deal of information about community life as well as concerns about running farms and other businesses during that time.

Letters are also a great source for learning about customs and traditions that fell away in later generations. For example, many letters contain good natured grumbling from older siblings that they were forced to dance in a pig trough at a younger sibling’s wedding. This is an old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that is seldom heard of today, but was very common at the time.

You can also keyword search to find letters addressing specific topics. As surprising as it sounds, a frequent topic in letters is the price of various goods like butter, cheese, apples and various types of clothing. This can save you hours of tedious research if you want to make sure any spending in your stories matches prices of the time.

Many letters also have vivid descriptions of camp life, including what soldiers ate, how they set up their tents, the things they carried with them, the various types of plants and trees they encountered on the march, and the things they did throughout their day. When they wrote, they wanted to paint a clear picture of their lives for their loved ones at home, and for modern readers those letters serve as an invaluable glimpse into the life of a soldier.

Building a Setting through Images and Other Documents

In addition to the letters the Research Arsenal has at your disposal, we have thousands of period photographs available as well. These range from portraits of soldiers, to the aftermath of battles, to soldiers on guard duty in towns, and much, much more. Browsing through photographs is a sure way to get a feeling for the times and help paint a vivid scene in your mind.

Photographs have the same comprehensive metadata tagging as letters, so it’s easy to search for specific items like “coffee pots” and bring up multiple images that contain the exact item you’re looking for. Our collection also includes an extensive amount of civilian images and portraits, which makes it possible for you to get a detailed look at clothing from the time.

Along with images, the Research Arsenal also has the complete quartermaster’s and ordnance specifications for the military. These specifications contain exact details on how every item used by the military should be made, the exact dimensions it should have, and other details that give you a thorough description of each item.

These specifications are so detailed that they will even tell you where specific types of ammunition should be placed in an ammunition chest, and what items should be kept in each drawer of a medicine cabinet. There are also specifications for surprising formulations for everyday items. For example, the Quartermaster’s Manual contains detailed instructions for making a type of glue out of cheese.

Enhancing Dialog through the Research Arsenal

A character’s voice is often the most distinctive part of who they are. When it works, we know who is speaking even without a dialog tag telling us who said the words. By drawing on real phrases and expressions from the mid-19th century, you can be sure your characters will have an authentic feel and more engaging dialog.

The best way to understand how mid-19th century Americans spoke is through reading letters. At the Research Arsenal, we have thousands of letters written from across the nation by both men and women. Not only do these letters reveal their honest thoughts and feelings about life in the 1850s and 1860s, but they are also an invaluable resource in learning the frequent phrases and slang of the day. It is hard to read more than three or four letters without finding the writer lamenting things that have been “played out” or noticing how much more often a writer will say “on account of” rather than “because.”

Reading letters also gives you a sense of the different belief systems people held and how those guided them. Some letters will have very strong religious language, while other writers will never make a single mention of God, focusing instead on their day-to-day realities. The more letters you read, the better sense you’ll have of what drove people and what their hopes and fears were.


The Research Arsenal is the best way for you to quickly and easily take a deep dive into the life and times of mid-19th century Americans. Through our collection of primary documents, you can learn about the details of everyday life, develop a vivid picture of the setting in which they lived, and get a feel for how people of the time thought and spoke. 

Keyword searching through the documents makes it easy to answer the million small questions that come up when building a setting, saving you countless hours of trawling through academic papers and history books trying to find an answer. Finally, reading letters and documents from the Research Arsenal may even inspire your next story. Perhaps you’ll stumble upon a heartfelt love letter or be inspired by a tale of courage and daring. Whatever type of stories you write, the Research Arsenal can help answer all of your tricky questions about crafting a setting and help you create a full, believable setting worthy of your plot and characters.

Steven Dacus

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About the Author

Steven Dacus grew up in Casper Wyoming and even as a child, had a deep interest and desire for American History. When the movie "Dances With Wolves" came out in 1990, it solidified his passion for the American Civil War. After graduating from Oklahoma State University with a BS in Fire Protection Engineering, Steve fought fire as a wildland firefighter with a variety of federal and state agencies and settled back in Casper, Wyoming when he accepted a position as a firefighter/EMT with the Casper Fire Department. After moving back to his hometown, he started volunteering at Fort Caspar Museum as a docent and helped plan and execute the 150th Anniversary of the major conflict at the fort in 2015. He started becoming a "hobby-historian" while researching western cavalry and quickly became obsessed with primary records and researching at local, state, and federal archives. After becoming frustrated with having hundreds of folders on his computer in an effort to organize all of the different primary records,  dozens of spreadsheets, and countless notes, he decided to make his own research database that would make it easier than ever to search and access all the primary records he had scanned. That initial effort quickly escalted into the public database known as the Research Arsenal. Steve's mission with the database is to tell "the rest of the story" of the soldiers who fought and died in the American Civil War, as well as their wives, mothers, and loved ones left at home. Steve's objective is to accent the amazing work that and have done and help expand on the story of that time period of American History.  Find out more at on Facebook and YouTube

Blog Tour 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?

First of all, thank you, Tony, for hosting me on your blog on EXSILIUM’S tour. Even after thirteen fiction and two non-fiction books, I still feel excited when the new book goes out into the world.

EXSILIUM and its immediate predecessor, JULIA PRIMA, are different from the other books in the Roma Nova series set sixteen hundred years later in the 21st and 20th century. Those modern ones are firmly part of the alternate history genre where the historical timeline that we live in split in the distant past and the world developed differently. The modern society based in a small part of central Europe is a Roman one with Roman values but run by women. They’re very proud of their heritage which they’ve guarded fiercely through sixteen centuries but they’re very much at cutting edge of the digital revolution. 

Back in the past, JULIA PRIMA and EXSILIUM, set between AD 369 and early 395, before Roma Novan timeline split in late spring 395, means they are both standard historical novels. Well, to be accurate, the split occurs during EXSILIUM. When Maelia, Lucius and Galla take the first steps down Rome’s Alta Semita street towards the Porta Flaminia in the city walls, the timeline starts to divide. So perhaps the last part of EXSILIUM does verge on alternate history!

EXSILIUM is set in the last hundred years of Ancient Rome – not that Romans of that time were aware it was coming to an end within that short a time. People couldn’t help noticing things were going to the dogs, but every generation throughout human history has said that! Late fourth century sources are not plentiful, so the novelist must fill in the gaps as competently as possible and strive to show the historical period as accurately as they can. Grief and joy were the same human feelings in 4th century Rome as they are today. 

For the vast majority of people living until fairly recently, life was short, grindingly hard and socially restricted and where hunger and early infant death were normal. But in a complex society like the Roman one, there were thriving professional, artisan and trading classes as well as strong career paths in the military. Social and financial advancement were indeed possible, but so were demotion and loss. It wasn’t always only peasants vs. lords.

The strong romantic streak in JULIA PRIMA is essential as it’s the story of when the founders of Roma Nova met, but it takes account of the legal and economic aspects of marriage which were considered at the time to be much more important than emotional connection. Rules governing families, property and paternal power ebbed and flowed over the 1,229 years of Rome’s existence in the west, sometimes becoming more restrictive, other times more relaxed. 

EXSILIUM progresses the foundation story and considers how outside forces are closing in around the characters we met in JULIA PRIMA. Time has moved on and the next generation is coming to the fore. As a serial series writer, I love seeing my characters grow and mature. Sometimes, new ones are born and others die; this reflects life. 

Conflict moves a story along and provides plenty of tension in a story and nobody does intrigue and conspiracy like the Romans. EXSILIUM’s characters face a choice between staying in Rome and taking their chances – mostly of persecution by the Christianised Roman state which could end in execution – or leaving everything they have ever known. When tolerance disappears, this is the stark choice faced by people under severe pressure from religiously motivated authoritarian regimes past and present. 

But…However strong a message we wish to convey, we should remember we’re writing fiction, not a historical essay. The personal experiences ¬ of our characters living in their natural environment (comfortably or poorly) must be at the forefront. As novelists, our job is to entertain our readers. Without smacking people in the face with our message, we should highlight how people in the past may have lived, loved and dealt with the challenges of their times. And the people in EXSILIUM certainly have challenges, as we do today.

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.

19 March 2024

Blog Tour: The Royal Women Who Made England: The Tenth Century in Saxon England, by M J Porter

Available from Amazon UK 
and for pre-order from Amazon US

Throughout the tenth century, England, as it would be recognized today, formed. No longer many Saxon kingdoms, but rather, just England. Yet, this development masks much in the century in which the Viking raiders were seemingly driven from England’s shores by Alfred, his children and grandchildren, only to return during the reign of his great, great-grandson, the much-maligned Æthelred II.

The daughter of Æthelflæd of Mercia, Ælfwynn

Ælfwynn, the daughter of Æthelflæd of Mercia and her husband, Æthelred, was born at some point in the late 880s or early 890s. It is believed that she was an only child, although it does appear (in the later accounts of William of Malmesbury) that her cousins, Athelstan, and Edith/his unnamed sister were sent to Mercia to be raised by their aunt when Edward remarried on becoming king in 899. There is a suggestion that it might have been Alfred’s decision to do this and that Athelstan was being groomed to become king of Mercia. As such, Ælfwynn might have had close links to her Wessex cousins.

Ælfwynn is named in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the C text under 919. ‘Here also the daughter of Æthelred lord of the Mercians, was deprived of all control in Mercia, and was led into Wessex three weeks before Christmas; she was called Ælfwynn.’

And from there, we hear nothing more of Lady Ælfwynn, the second Lady of the Mercians. Even though this is the first record of a ruling woman being succeeded by her daughter. 

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About the Author 

MJ Porter is the author of over fifty fiction titles set in Saxon England and the era before the tumultuous events of 1066. Raised in the shadow of a strange little building and told from a young age that it housed the long-dead bones of Saxon kings, it’s little wonder that the study of the era was undertaken at both undergraduate and graduate levels. The Royal Women of the Tenth Century is a first non-fiction title. It explores the ‘lost’ women of this period through the surviving contemporary source material. It stemmed from a frustration with how difficult it was to find a single volume dedicated to these ‘lost’ women and hopes to make it much easier for others to understand the prestige, wealth and influence of the women of the royal House of Wessex. Find out more at and Twitter @coloursofunison

18 March 2024

Book Review: The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life, by Jan-Marie Knights

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Jan-Marie Knights follows her previous book, The Plantagenet Socialite with this new venture into the world of the Tudors.  This probably explains the title and subtitle of 'A social calendar of Tudor life'. 

In fact the book is less a social calendar and more of a diary of many of the key events of the Tudor dynasty, from the Fiked of tge Cloth of Gold to the Span ish Armada.

Some events are limited to a brief paragraph, while others have a page or two, and the book is full of fascinating 'soundbites' of the Tudor world.

None have referenced sources, and although there is a long bibliography, many of the books listed are Victorian.  Our understanding of the important social context around the key events of the Tudors has come a long way since tben, and I would have liked some acknowledgement of this, perghaps with examples.

The main value of this book is therefore as a series or 'prompts' organised by date, which budding historians could use as a starting point for further research. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Jan-Marie Knights is an ex- editor and journalist who has worked on many newspapers and magazines and is a keen researcher of local and Tudor history. She lives in the area known as the ‘Dukeries’ with her Tonkinese cat called Ashi.

15 March 2024

The Marsh House, by Zoë Somerville

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The haunting second novel from the author of The Night of the Flood. Two women, separated by decades, are drawn together by one, mysterious house on the North Norfolk coast.

December, 1962

Desperate for a happy Christmas after a disastrous year, Malorie rents a remote house on the Norfolk coast for herself and her daughter Franny. Yet when a furious blizzard traps the pair indoors, the strained silence between them feels louder than ever.

Escaping to the attic, Malorie finds the discarded diaries of Rosemary, who lived at the Marsh House through the Thirties. As she reads, she finds herself inexorably drawn into Rosemary's lonely existence – until past and present begin to blur entirely...

Praise for The Marsh House:

'Zoë Somerville is a born storyteller and this page-turner delivers plenty of creepy thrills.' The Times

'A satisfyingly dark, gothic tale where the past is never far behind you.' Rhiannon Ward, author of The Quickening

'Beautifully written, atmospheric as hell, and elegantly constructed, the story of The Marsh House will draw you into its grip and never let go till the final word.' Jane Johnson, author of The Sea Gate

'Deliciously eerie and unsettling, The Marsh House had me bewitched from page one. I loved its layers of history and secrets. A haunting gem of a book.' Susan Allott, author of The Silence

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About the Author

Zoë Somerville is originally from Norfolk, but has settled with her husband and children in the West Country. She works as an English teacher. Her debut novel, The Night of the Flood was published in September 2020. Her second novel, The Marsh House, was published in March 2022. She is currently writing her third novel.  Find out more from Zoe's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @zessomerville

13 March 2024

Blog Tour: A Matter of Time: Henry VIII, The Dying of the Light (The Henrician Chronicle Book 3) by Judith Arnopp

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

With youth now far behind him, King Henry VIII has only produced one infant son and two bastard daughters. More sons are essential to secure the Tudor line and with his third wife, Jane Seymour dead, Henry hunts for a suitable replacement.

Excerpt: August 1541 Henry at Lincoln taking recompense for the recent uprising

The people are waiting to receive us. The gentry, the mayor, and citizens of Lincoln, and the clergy of the cathedral. 
   Traitors all, who should rightly be hanged for their crimes. I take my stand and look coldly above their heads.
   One by one, the various groups come forward. The clergy is first; their chosen leader makes a hesitant speech, a speech full of regret, full of apology. A speech that begs my forgiveness. 
I would like to draw my sword and strike off his head, but I have already spied the coffer that he means to bestow upon me by way of recompense. He hands me a rolled copy of his apology and I accept it and, without reading, I hand it to Norfolk. Everyone kneels; only the queen and I are left standing. I look across the bowed heads of the company to the sky where crows are circling, and the pennants of the city hang limp in the bright blue sky.
   “Jesus save Your Grace!” they cry, while I look on dispassionately. A te deum begins, the voices of the choir soaring to the heavens. Katherine turns to look at me, and my eyes soften, as they always do when I look upon her. I was wrong to be displeased with her earlier. What does it matter if she is a little impetuous, a little lacking in discipline? She is young; it is all part of her charm. Too soon, she will grow up, and her passion for life will be dampened, her limbs will stiffen with ague, she will be old before she knows it. She should enjoy life while she is still young enough to dance.

Judith Arnopp

Judith’s trilogy The Henrician Chronicle, comprising of A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years. A Matter of Faith: Henry VIII, the days of the Phoenix, and A Matter of Time: the Dying of the Light, is available now on Amazon Kindle and paperback.

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About the Author 

Judith Arnopp is a lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader with a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies. She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She is best known for her novels set in the Medieval and Tudor period, focussing on the perspective of historical women but recently she has completed a trilogy from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.  Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria which is when she began to experiment with sewing historical garments. She now makes clothes and accessories both for the group and others. She is not a professionally trained sewer but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly historically accurate clothing. Her non-fiction book, How to Dress like a Tudor was published by Pen and Sword in 2023. Find out more at Judith's website and find her on Facebook, Bluesky, Threads and Twitter @JudithArnopp

12 March 2024

Special Guest Post by Irina Shapiro, Author of the Redmond and Haze Mystery Series

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

When the body of a young man is found stuffed into the tomb of a medieval knight, Parish Constable Daniel Haze is tasked with investigating his first solo murder case. Suspicion instantly falls on the only stranger to arrive in the village of Birch Hill just before the crime took place, but the American captain proves to be an unexpected asset. A former soldier and a skilled surgeon, Jason Redmond is not only willing to assist Haze with the investigation but will risk
his own safety to apprehend the killer.

When I was invited to discuss my latest release, I initially thought I’d talk about The Lost Colony, which is a bit of a departure for me. I loved writing this twisty psychological thriller, but I’m better known for historical murder mysteries, and the series readers are most familiar with is the Redmond and Haze mysteries. Murder of a Hangman, A Redmond and Haze Mystery Book 13 was just released in January, and the next instalment, Murder of Innocents, is coming in October.

Although I started my career writing time travel and Gothic romance, I eventually gravitated toward writing murder mysteries. Some might think I have a fascination with murder, but the truth is that the murder itself is secondary. What I really enjoy is creating an intricate puzzle where the pieces do not easily fit together and the big picture is not complete until the final clue is in place. And given my love of all things historical, naturally all my series are set in the past, in this instance the foggy, gaslit streets of Victorian England.

My protagonists, Jason Redmond and Daniel Haze, are as different as two men can be, with each man bringing a unique brand of reasoning and justice to the investigations. At the start of the series, Daniel Haze is a parish constable. He’s steadfast and conscientious, and not at all the sort of person to question social constraints imposed by a closed-minded and rigid society. 

Jason Redmond is an American doctor who served as a Union Army captain during the American Civil War and spent a year in Andersonville Confederate Prison. Having been raised in a country that celebrates equality and democracy, Jason has mixed feelings about claiming the title and an estate that are his due, but as the only surviving descendant of a noble family, he can hardly refuse to honor his legacy. 

Jason is intelligent, courageous, and all too aware of life’s injustices and the age-old prejudices that govern polite society. He is not afraid to speak his mind or question the status quo, nor is he disdainful of the common people who turn to him for help, his philanthropy turning his peers against him.
Although there is an ever-changing cast of supporting characters, Victorian England is a character in itself, the time period setting the stage for not only some truly puzzling crimes but also friction between the two men.

I have been fascinated with Victorian England since I was a child and read my first Sherlock Holmes story. There are those who romanticize the era and imagine a life that was charming and quaint, but the nineteenth century had a dark side, its misery and danger personified in readers’ minds by characters like Oliver Twist and Jack the Ripper. 

Victorian England was riddled with crime, plagued by poverty, and governed by people who didn’t care to waste resources on protecting its most vulnerable citizens. London was truly a study in contrasts, with some living in glittering opulence and others struggling to survive, often preferring to live on the streets than accept the hospitality of London’s many orphanages and workhouses, since those establishments were a ticket to an early grave.

It was during this time that a fledgling police force was just coming into its own, the newly minted detectives relying on their own wits, experience, and underworld informers to apprehend criminals who were as clever as they were numerous. Victorian policemen had virtually no training, carried no firearms, and were too few to police a metropolis the size of London. Crime scene photography was just coming into use, and fingerprinting suspects was still years away. It was a time when all a policeman had to rely on was his courage and powers of deduction, and he wasn’t expected to adhere to established procedure. In other words, the absolute perfect time to set a mystery series since anything went.

As attached as I am to the time period and setting, one ever-present challenge of writing Victorian mysteries is maintaining historical accuracy. I am forever looking up customs, inventions, and period-appropriate phrases, but the one area of research that always takes me down the proverbial rabbit hole is nineteenth-century medicine, which was way scarier than I ever imagined and remembered for filthy instruments, brutal amputations without anesthetic, a complete disregard for patients, and a stubborn refusal to learn or evolve that led to countless deaths that could have been avoided even by the simple act of handwashing.

Some of the hardest scenes to write focus on street children and prostitutes, who were achingly young and horribly mistreated and made up a surprisingly large percentage of the population. Thousands of children were orphaned and lived on the streets, and countless women fell into prostitution and were shunned by a society that chose to brand them as lascivious and immoral rather than acknowledge that these women were struggling to survive and try to help them.

In the course of their investigations, my protagonists encounter individuals from all walks of life and find themselves not only in the grand drawing rooms of the nobility but in some of London’s worst slums and crime-infested rookeries. The unlikely duo goes on to solve multiple murders, each man relying on his beliefs and life experiences to unravel the most baffling of mysteries. As the series evolves, Jason and Daniel experience upheaval in their personal lives and learn much from each other, especially in situations where their partnership is sorely tested. 

Although I’m still working on new instalments of Redmond and Haze, I have recently started a new Victorian mystery series, the Tate and Bell Mysteries. This new duo is a pairing of a Crimean War nurse and a rather jaded detective who secretly dreams of leaving it all behind and going to America, where he just might join the Pinkerton Detective Agency. 

Gemma Tate and Sebastian Bell are very different from Daniel Haze and Jason Redmond, their views and methods unique to their experiences and standing in society. The first book in the series, The Highgate Cemetery Murder, was released on February 29, 2024, with book two, The Murder at Traitor’s Gate, coming in June 2024. I hope you will check them out.

Irina Shapiro

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About the Author

Although initially known for her time-travel series, Irina Shapiro was always intrigued by the foggy, gaslit streets, shadowy hansom cabs, and brutal underworld synonymous with Victorian England. These images are the backdrop to her series of gripping mysteries that feature Lord Jason Redmond and Inspector Daniel Haze, a crime-solving duo as complex as the cases they investigate. Through their eyes, readers experience both the opulence of upper-crust society and the gritty reality of those less fortunate, as Redmond and Haze solve mysteries that delve deep into the historical context of the time. Irina is currently working on a new historical mystery series, the Bell and Tate Mysteries, which will introduce Scotland Yard Inspector Sebastian Bell and nurse Gemma Tate, whose personal histories and unique talents make them the perfect, if at times reluctant, partners as they investigate grisly murders in Victorian London. Find out more at Irina's website