Mastodon The Writing Desk: May 2024

26 May 2024

Book review: The Boleyns: From the Tudors to the Windsors, by Amanda Harvey Purse

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Anne Boleyn and her family have an enduring place in history, and I hoped to discover some little known details from this new book from author and historical researcher Amanda Harvey Purse.

The subtitle, From the Tudors to the Windsors, makes it clear that the narrative soon moves on to increasingly distant (and actually not proven) descendants of Mary Boleyn, such as the ill-fated Elizabethan 'rebel' Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, culminating in an epilogue on Queen Elizabeth II. I was surprised that a book released this month makes no mention of the late queen's passing in September 2022 or the crowning of her son, another possible Boleyn descendant, King Charles III.

As a specialist in the history of the Tudors I am likely to be better informed than most readers about the Boleyn family, but  I like Amanda Harvey Purse's accessible writing style and am sure readers will find this a readable and informative series of prompts for further research. 

Her research skills shine through in every chapter, and historian Dr Owen Emmerson says in the foreword that this innovative and revealing book has significantly challenged his perception of of the Boleyns.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Amanda Harvey Purse is an author and historical researcher for London-based museums. She has spent the last twenty-five years studying the Victorian period and is a member of The Royal Historical Society. She has studied the Tudors at the University of Roehampton and is the founder of Tudor Secrets and Myths Facebook Page.
Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Amberley Books. 

23 May 2024

Book Launch Special Guest Post by Justine Brown, Author of The Private Life of James II

Available from Pen & Sword Books
and for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The personal side of James II and VII has long been obscured by the propaganda storm emanating from the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, one of the great founding myths of modern Britain. Justine Brown unveils James the man, teasing out a fresh dimension. The Private Life of James II details the romantic adventures of a true Cavalier―handsome, courageous, loyal, pleasure-seeking, lusty, determined and soulful.

My Mother’s Daughter

Let me begin with what I have learned from observing my mother, who is an author too: writing is above all a labour of love. The fact is that only a tiny number of people make real money writing books. (I can confirm this because I once had an internship at a literary agency and worked on contracts.) 

My mother is not one of these few moneyed writers, although she has gained well-deserved recognition. She is one of the hardest-working people I know. Serious writers must establish good—nay, inflexible—habits. They have to, otherwise the book doesn’t get written; if you’re a writer, that book has to come into being.

Some of my very earliest memories involve the sound of the typewriter very early in the morning. Even if word processors had been available back then, she still would have needed a typewriter, since we lacked electricity in our villa. Mum habitually got up extremely early, before I, or later my little brother, woke up; this way she could concentrate and produce those crucial daily pages. 

Another reason to rise early was to make the most of the cool morning air, since we were living on the Mediterranean island of Formentera, off the coast of Spain; it gets hot rapidly there, and when it does, the sea beckons and so does a siesta.

My mother had been awarded a government arts grant to write a novel, and to make it last we had to live somewhere cheap and cheerful. Formentera, with its herb-scented air, was inexpensive as well as beautiful; it was perfect. Nearby Ibiza was already built up by then. 

Because life could be lived simply and pleasurably on Formentera, it was becoming an informal artists’ colony. And so we joined it. My mother, in her twenties then, was learning to build her life around the practicalities of writing.

There are two essentials in the above scenario: 1) the thing that needs writing, and 2) the practises for getting the work done. You will know for certain that you “have a book in you” if you are haunted. When I was that child, my mother would talk about the protagonist of a novel she was writing. Her name was Sarah, and I believed she was real. 

In a way, she was. Characters--people who live in imagination and memory--will nudge you, often quite persistently. They may visit you in dreams, or keep popping into your field of perception. Such entities are asking to take shape on the page. Sometimes they need coaxing. Keep a file, I would suggest a physical file or scrapbook, on these promptings and build your file into a book proposal. This will increase your sense of focus in addition to hopefully getting you a publisher.

The character could be a historical personage whose story needs fresh eyes—yours, to begin with. You may simply be curious about this figure. I had this experience with writing my new work of history, The Private Life of James II: 

I had a nagging conviction that King James had been side-lined for political reasons, and that his charms, his many adventures and accomplishments as Duke of York were scarcely known. He seemed to want me to tell his story. The more I learned about him, the more I wanted others to know. Cultivate that type of curiosity and build a project out of it.

Create the conditions for good writing to happen. A routine doubles as a ritual, and ritual makes inspiration more likely. Most people can find it only during certain hours. If you’re lucky, these will coincide with the only hours you have to yourself—you need solitude. For my mother, it was early in the morning. 

For me it’s the hours between 11am and 4pm. It is as if a portal opens, and, while it is ajar, I can invite the people who need their stories told. Once the portal shuts, I am confined to other work, such as editing, which is less creatively demanding-- but still absolutely necessary of course. I leave my new paragraphs alone for a while before I edit them.

Try to write in the same quiet place every day, building on custom. Your desk will become a kind of shrine to the people whose stories you are trying to tell. Create an atmosphere. Put up pictures of your subjects, either real pictures or pictures that suggest the characters in question. 

It helps to play certain music—I write period pieces these days, and so I play Baroque music from the 17th century to evoke the right atmosphere. I chose music that I know King James actually played, for example. You may want to burn scented candles or incense and allow the sense of smell, which is tied to memory and imagination, to help bring forth the images and words you want. These things prompt your mind: These are the things I sense when I write.

I was a teenager when my mother got her first word processor, so there was no more familiar typing sound early in the morning. By this time we had lived in London, New York, a cabin in the British Columbia forest, and the city of Vancouver. Each move was a wrench for her because it meant setting up a new office. But my mother kept on producing because she took those firm habits with her wherever she went. Fortunately, the characters followed along too.

Justine Brown

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About the Author

Justine Brown lives in London with her husband, and is the daughter of Joan Haggerty and author of several books on a Utopian theme. Born in Vancouver, Canada, Justine travelled widely from a young age. She holds an M.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto, where she developed a broad interest in seventeenth century culture. There she became a Junior Fellow of Massey College. The author of three Utopian-themed books, she runs a YouTube history vlog, Justine Brown’s Bookshelf. Find out more from Justine's website and follow her on Twitter @brown_bookshelf

20 May 2024

HistoricalFiction Spotlight ~ Lady of Misrule: Drama and intrigue at the Tudor court (The Marwood Family Tudor Saga Book 4) by Amy Licence

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Has time run out for Queen Catherine of Aragon…?

1528: The mood at court is sombre. The fractures in the royal marriage are spreading and King Henry’s desires are threatening the stability of the realm.

Eighteen-year-old Thomasin Marwood feels aged beyond her years in service to Queen Catherine of Aragon.

Her time as a lady-in-waiting has exposed her to intrigues and dark plots that have cast a shadow over her future.
And now King Henry is becoming more open in his plot to divorce the queen and marry Lady Anne Boleyn.

Queen Catherine has sent for her daughter, Princess Mary to join her at court and remind Henry of his fatherly duties. But Anne Boleyn is always at Henry’s side, resplendent in her lavish gowns, reminding the king of her youth and ability to carry an heir.

Thomasin is loyal to her mistress, Queen Catherine, but she finds herself noticed by the Boleyns and she fears her position at court may soon change.

What will happen to Thomasin if the king is successful in his petition for a divorce? Will Queen Catherine be cast out of court?

And will Lady Anne Boleyn finally get the throne she has been lusting after…?

Lady of Misrule is a page-turning historical drama set at the court of King Henry VIII and featuring Anne Boleyn. It is the fourth book in the Marwood Family Tudor Saga Series.

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About the Author

Amy Licence is an historian of women's lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also a fan of Modernism and Post-Impressionism, particularly Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Cubism. Amy has written for The Guardian, the BBC Website, The English Review, The London Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement and is a regular contributor to the New Statesman and The Huffington Post. She is frequently interviewed for BBC radio and in a BBC documentary on The White Queen. You can follow Amy on Twitter @PrufrocksPeach or like her facebook page In Bed With the Tudors. Her website is

18 May 2024

Special Guest Post: Ascent: A tale of danger, adversity, and love (House of Normandy Book 1) by Cathie Dunn

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Story of Poppa of Bayeux

AD 890: A brutal Viking raid heralds the dawn of a new, powerful dynasty: the House of Normandy
Neustria, Kingdom of the West Franks Fourteen-year-old Poppa’s life changes when Northmen land near Bayeux. Count Bérengar, her father, submits to them, and she is handfasted to Hrólfr, the Northmen’s heathen leader, as part of their agreement.

Thank you for inviting me today, Tony. I’m so delighted to be here, and to talk about Poppa of Bayeux, often forgotten wife of Rollo the Viking. In my view, Poppa was a courageous young woman whose loyalties were often tested, and who had to face serious challenges.

I visited Normandy for the first time in 2007, and I was immediately drawn into the dramatic history of the county. In those days, my main focus was on the Anarchy, and the movements of the Empress Matilda, and on Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, so I gave little thought to Poppa and Rollo (Hrólfr in my novel, to give him his Norse name). 

Bayeux in 2007 was a pretty town, bustling with tourists yet sleepy at the same time. I loved the atmosphere there. And, of course, we saw the beautiful, world-famous Tapestry. I was sneaky as, when I reached the end, I went right back to the start, taking it all in. It’s such an incredible piece of work. Truly amazing. 

It was only much later did I cross paths with Poppa again. In the last two years, I always wanted to take a road trip north, but thanks to Covid, nothing came of the plan. In the meantime, I worked on other projects, but Poppa kept invading my head. So, eventually, I had to sit down and write about her. And boy, did she talk!

Not much is known about Poppa, other than that she was handfasted in the Danish custom (in more danico) to Rollo, and they had two children, a son and a daughter. The dates are all still vague, and I’ve found pretty conflicting details. In the end, I chose the years that made most sense to my (her!) story. 

She is said to have been the daughter of Count Bérengar of Bayeux. Or of Rennes. Or both! Or perhaps her father was called Guy de Senlis, but there’s no record him as such. So I stayed local and kept him Count of Bayeux, minor nobility. That made her Lady Poppa.

Some sources claim Poppa was set aside when Rollo and King Charles of the West Franks signed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 911, where he agreed to to defend large tracts of Neustria in exchange for lands, likely a title, and the hand of the king’s illegitimate daughter, Gisela. Rollo also had to convert to Christianity, which he did.

Around the same time of his baptism, his two children by Poppa, William and Geirlaug (who took the baptismal name of Adela) were baptised. This means that prior to his conversion, his children were possible or Norse faith. 

There is no record of Gisela, although the offspring of Frankish kings were fairly well recorded in those days, so why was she invented? Perhaps to add legitimacy to his own, and later his son’s, claim to Neustria / Normannia? That would be my guess. Nonetheless, I have included her in the novel, as it provides Poppa and Hrólfr with a true dilemma.

Another issue is that of the title. There is no record that Rollo was made a duke. I think it’s highly unlikely that he would have become a duke. In those days, the title passed to members of the Royal family, usually younger sons, and it was inherited through the bloodline. (Yes, there’s the ‘Gisela’ argument again, but would a former heathen, an attacker, really be given such a prestigious and powerful tool?)

It’s more likely that Rollo was made a count or earl – jarl in Norse, matching the title of the earls in the north of Scotland. Given his heritage, I think that’s far more likely. He gained power and prestige, but not to get too close to the Frankish high nobles. Many still regarded him as a usurper, and his son William had a continuous fight on his hands to defend his inheritance, but that’s for the next novel about his more danico wife, Sprota the Breton…

As you can see, whilst we don’t know much about Poppa’s life, the snippets that were recorded – such as her handfasted marriage, her children, their flight to East Anglia and subsequent return – gave me plenty of material to begin with. 

The rest, I’ve told in Poppa’s very own words!

Thank you again for having me here, Tony. I hope your readers enjoyed my post about Poppa of Bayeux.

Cathie Dunn 

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About the Author

Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance, all with strong, courageous women. Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.At the moment, Cathie is working on two novels: Betrayal (working title), the second in the House of Normandy series about Sprota the Breton, and The Alchemist's Daughter, #2 in the Affair of the Poisons series.Cathie's stories have garnered readers' awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past. Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors. After many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in south of France with her husband, a cat that turned up on her terrace one day, and a rescue dog. Find out more at her website and follow Cathie on Facebook and Twitter @cathiedunn

16 May 2024

Book Launch Spotlight ~ The Importance of Wives: Chronicles of the House of Valois, by Keira Morgan

Available for pre-order

Recently orphaned Duchess Anne of Brittany is not quite 12, yet her situation could not be more perilous. She is a girl, she has just inherited one of the richest duchies in Europe—and enemies surround her.

It is 1488, and men do not believe that women can rule. The French want to seize her duchy. Across the channel, the English hover, ready to attack. And Anne’s guardians want her power for themselves. They plot to marry her to their chosen candidate, and rule in her stead. It is the traditional fate of heiresses.

But Anne has ideas of her own. She is strong-minded and trained to rule. When she refuses to obey, she finds herself in a civil war, supported by only a few loyalists. Then France invades. Will a girl so young be able to defend her duchy against two adversaries?

Even her most trusted allies advise her to marry. Must she sacrifice her beliefs for her people? Can even a husband save her from the invading French? Must she give up her duchy? Or will she find another way to guard her inheritance?

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About the Author

Keira Morgan retired from training and management in the Canadian Public Service to follow a career as an author. She now writes from Mexico where she lives happily with a husband, two cats and two dogs. Her doctoral level studies in Renaissance history underlie her historical fiction. She writes about the turbulent sixteenth-century French Renaissance. Her stories tell of powerful women who challenged tradition to play crucial roles in French affairs.  Keira also maintains a non-fiction website, All About French Renaissance Women, where she writes about the lives of Frenchwomen during the era. She plans to collect their biographies into a book. Find out more at Keira's website  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KJMMexico 

14 May 2024

Blog Tour Excerpt: The Lost Women of Mill Street, by Kinley Bryan

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1864: As Sherman’s army marches toward Atlanta, a cotton mill commandeered by the Confederacy lies in its path. Inside the mill, Clara Douglas weaves cloth and watches over her sister Kitty, waiting for the day her fiancé returns from the West.


Never before had Clara witnessed a stillness in the town as complete as on that Sunday morning. The grand homes, with their wide verandas and bold columns and tall windows, stood eerily silent. It reminded her of the farm she and Kitty grew up on, in the minutes before a storm: the way everything went quiet, the squirrels and the birds and the livestock all finding places to hide.
   The cotton and woolen factories were quiet, too, but only because it was Sunday. That the mills continued normal production as its landed gentry fled had surprised even the journalists covering the war. As Clara and Kitty walked to church that morning, Clara recalled one evening weeks earlier when the fighting was about seven miles outside of Marietta. She’d been approached by a paunchy gray-haired man as she sat on her front stoop. A reporter for the Atlanta Southern Confederacy, he’d wanted to ask her a few questions.
   “Do you have any plans to leave in advance of the Federals?” was his first. When Clara said she did not, the reporter shook his head. “I’ve been to nearly every home in Roswell, the grand ones near the square,” he said. “Most are empty. Yet the factories are running like there’s no enemy for hundreds of miles.” The reporter squinted at her. “I’m curious, what do you and the other operatives plan to do?”
   “Do?” she shrugged. “Keep working, same as always.”
   “Even if the Federals come knocking on the factory door?”
   “It’s not like we got wagons and horses to take us anywhere,” she’d replied, unable to hide the irritation in her voice. “Or a place to stay if we did.”
   “You all must be frightened.”
   Clara shrugged again, unwilling to admit fear to this stranger, this man who had the luxury of observing the war as if from a great distance, even as he walked right up to its edges. The reporter thanked her and continued along Mill Street.

At church that morning, Clara and Kitty sat in the same pew they always had near the back, despite the many empty rows further up. Though the reverend gave a sermon as usual, his voice was changed. It could have been the heat. Even with the doors and windows open, the church was stifling, and the reverend periodically wiped a cloth across his brow without slowing his rhythm. The box pews blocked any breeze that might have found its way through the church’s open doors.
   Clara came to church less often than she used to, and when she did, it was for one reason: to feel closer to her mother. Some of her earliest memories were of going to church together. Leaning against her mother’s arm while Kitty, still a babe, slept in their mother’s lap, she’d close her eyes and let the rhythm of the reverend’s words lull her. At the time, she’d had no sense of the words’ meaning, but the way in which the reverend delivered them—the rise and fall of his voice, the conviction of his gestures—this, combined with her mother’s closeness, had brought forth in her a profound contentment.
   Today’s sermon, however, brought Clara no sense of her childhood or her mother or contentment. It was the change in the reverend’s voice. It wasn’t the heat; this became clear as his sermon progressed. Though he spoke in generalities about courage and God’s providence in war, the underlying message was that they must gird themselves for the onslaught of the enemy.
   His forehead shiny with perspiration, the reverend addressed the women, who that morning comprised most of the small congregation. “While you may not fight on the battlefield,” he said, “do not think you have no critical part to play! Cheer on your husbands, your brothers, your fathers. Brace them for the challenges to come. Bolster them with your love!”
   Clara quietly cheered on her betrothed, though not for reasons the reverend would approve. Benjamin wasn’t about to lay down his life for the benefit of the rich men who’d plunged them into war. When the Confederacy started drafting men into its army, he’d left for the Nebraska territory to stake his claim on 160 acres, courtesy of the federal government. Clara only wished he’d write and let her know how he was faring. And when he would return for them.
   The reporter who’d asked her those dire questions weeks earlier had offered a decidedly hopeful view of their situation in his article, which Clara had read in the company store a few days later:
   This factory is of immense value to our government and is operating chiefly for its benefit, and the natural advantages surrounding will enable our forces to hold Roswell against overwhelming numbers should the enemy attempt a raid upon the place. We have sufficient artillery to command every approach and the heights are well fortified.
   Clara fanned herself in the humid church. The truth of that reporter’s assessment could fit in a thimble, and they might all see for themselves soon enough how swiftly the town could fall.

Kinley Bryan

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About the Author

Kinley Bryan's debut novel, Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury, inspired by the Great Lakes Storm of 1913 and her own family history, won the 2022 Publishers Weekly Selfies Award for adult fiction. An Ohio native, she lives in South Carolina with her husband and three children. The Lost Women of Mill Street is her second novel. Find out more from Kinley's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @kinleybauthor

10 May 2024

Blog Tour: A Rose In The Blitz, by Ann Bennett

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Escape into the dramatic world of London during the Blitz in this sweeping family saga of love, war and betrayal.

Northamptonshire: 1980: Wealthy landowner, Hadan Rose, is dying. His daughter, May, rushes to his country estate, Rose Park, with her daughter, Rachel, to nurse him through his final days.

In the afternoons, while Hadan sleeps, May tells Rachel about her wartime experiences.

In 1940, Three of the four Rose sisters leave Rose Park to serve the war effort. May, the youngest is left behind. But she soon runs away from home to join an ambulance crew in London. She experiences the horrors of the Blitz first-hand but what happens to her there has remained secret her whole life.

In 1980, at Rose Park, Rachel wanders through the old house, looking at old photographs and papers, uncovering explosive family secrets from ninety years before. Secrets that her grandfather wanted to take to his grave.

At the local pub, Rachel meets Daniel Walters, a local journalist and musician who takes an interest in her. But can she trust him, or does he have an ulterior motive for seeking her company?

As the secrets of the past gradually reveal themselves, both Rachel and May realise that their worlds are forever changed.

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About the Author

Ann Bennett is a British author of historical fiction. Her first book, Bamboo Heart: A Daughter's Quest, was inspired by researching her father's experience as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway and by her own travels in South-East Asia. Since then, that initial inspiration has led her to write more books about the second world war in SE Asia. Bamboo Island: The Planter's Wife, A Daughter's Promise, Bamboo Road: The Homecoming, The Tea Planter's Club, The Amulet and her latest release The Fortune Teller of Kathmandu are also about WWII in South East Asia. All seven make up the Echoes of Empire Collection. Ann is married with three grown up sons and a granddaughter and lives in Surrey, UK. For more details please visit Find out more at Anne's website:  and find her on Twitter @annbennett71

9 May 2024

Book Launch Guest Post by Deb Stratas, Author of The Code Girl from London - A WWII Historical Fiction Novel

Available for pre-order

England, 1944. On a classified Navy base situated atop the cliffs of Dover, telegraph operator Katie Kingston toils day and night intercepting and translating enemy transmissions in Morse Code, hunting for the next piece of information that will give Britain the edge in the ongoing war.

I'm pleased to welcome author Deb Stratas back to The Writing Desk to talk about her latest book:

Tell us about your latest book

The Code Girl from London is the third historical fiction in my 'Kingston Sisters' saga, following Tillie and Maggie’s WWII London adventures in: The War Twins of London and A Burning London Sky. Starting as Lyons Corner House Nippies, the girls are swiftly thrown into the dangers of wartime service - Tillie as a London ambulance driver, and Maggie as an anti-aircraft gun operator. Throughout the Blitz and into the hard years of the war, they struggle to serve, while seeking love and post-war happiness – no matter how far away that seems.  

The Code Girl from London picks up the story where A Burning London Sky ends – on the eve of D-day. The heroine of this story is the youngest sister, Katie, who has always felt lost in the shadow of her glamorous older sisters. 

As a Naval WREN, Katie finds her confidence growing as a wireless telegraphist, taking down essential German messages to help the Allied effort. She is immediately drawn to Irish paratrooper Ciaran McElroy - but he is about to embark on the most dangerous Allied mission in the war – a coordinated attack on French shores to take back the occupied territory from the Germans. Both triumphs and tragedies follow for the Kingston family until the ultimate victory and joyous celebrations on VE and VJ Days. 

Katie comes into her own as the love affair between her and Ciaran slowly develops. Tillie and Maggie face their own challenges in London, as their families grow. Christmas 1945 has the family together again at last, although still grumbling about wartime rationing. Will a Christmas wedding cap off the adventures of the brave Kingston sisters?  

Why did you write a sequel to The War Twins of London and A Burning London Sky?

Katie Kingston lurked in the background of my first two books – the spunky younger sister, full of cheek and a tad reckless. Her story emerged and needed to be told. I wanted her to be a WREN (Women’s Royal Navy) with a job in Special Forces. Many women signed the Official Secrets Act, swearing never to tell anyone of their secret and vital work. I loved researching these fascinating roles and wanted to feature them in the Kingston family saga. 

I also wanted to continue Tillie and Maggie’s journeys as they settled into war work and marriages, as a new generation of Kingstons came into the world. It was important to tie up everyone’s stories (with some surprises along the way!) as the war came to a jubilant end with a complete Allied victory.  

What have you learned about writing a series? 

A huge lesson I learned about writing a series is to keep it simple. When I first started The War Twins of London, the Kingston family had two parents, four children, and other close family members. By the end of the third book, with all the love interests of the Kingston children, friends met along the way, and new babies – I had so many characters to juggle that it was sometimes overwhelming. I even created a spreadsheet to keep track of all their birthdays! Next time, I will focus more on the main characters and keep the others more in the background. 

I also focussed on the growth of each of the main characters. It was crucial that I showed that Maggie, Tillie and Katie had matured, changed, and grown significantly as individuals throughout the war years.

Are you still interested in interested in the brave women of WWII England?  

YES! The more I research about the courage and fortitude of the women in WWII England, the more I want to write about them. Whether it was in the services – army, navy, air force – or in vital roles in the land army or factories; or at home taking care of their families while their husbands and sons were in serious danger, they carried on no matter what. Facing the terror of constant bombing, evacuation of their children to the country, the drudgery of queues, cooking with rations, and making do and mending, they valiantly looked after their families and made huge contributions to the war effort. 

As these real-life heroines are passing out of living memory, telling their stories and keeping them alive is even more important. We must never forget the sacrifices made by so many for freedom for us all. 

How did you conduct your research for The Code Girl from London

I was lucky enough to do lots of on-the-ground research in England. The most exciting aspect was visiting Dover Castle in Kent. The castle itself is amazing, but I really loved the underground rooms that are open to the public. I walked the halls that a WREN like Katie would have followed on her way to an ops room. I saw an ack-ack gun pointed towards the sea. And looking over the White Cliffs of Dover towards France brought the dangers of D-Day to life. Churchill’s War Rooms and the Imperial War Museum in London were also key research sites. 

As always, I read many books on wireless telegraphy and the role of women in difficult message-taking and codebreaking. There are too many online resources to name, but I found first-hand accounts and videos that gave rich historical detail of D-Day and VE Day to ensure the ultimate realism in my novels.

Is this the end of the series for the Kingstons? 

No! I had planned all along to write a Christmas book as I wanted to delve deeper into the highs and lows of the Christmases throughout the war. I’m delighted to announce that Wartime Christmas with the Kingstons (working title) will be published later in 2024. The book spans the years 1938-1946, exploring the Christmas seasons for each of the Kingstons. I’m thrilled to report that it has been shortlisted in the Historical Novel Society’s First Chapters Competition. Watch for it this fall! 

Deb Stratas
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About the Author

Deb Stratas tells well-researched and highly readable stories about powerful women in extraordinary circumstances. Readers are transported to other times and places, inspired to be authentic in their own lives. In 2023, Deb signed with ReadMore Press to re-launch her WWII Kingston Twin series: The War Twins of London and A Burning London Sky. As The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz, the first book was a finalist in the regional fictional category of the 2023 Next Generation Indie Awards.  2023 also saw her enjoy her fourth intensive research trip to London (her happy place!) and complete the Cheshire Novel Prize Summer School and Advanced course. She is based in Oshawa, Ontario, and when not researching or writing, she cherishes spending time with her two amazing adult children, their spouses, and two sweet grandchildren. Find out mor from her website and follow Deb on Facebook and Twitter @deb_stratas

Book Review: Mary I Queen of Sorrows, by Alison Weir

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Adored only child of Henry VIII and his Queen, Katherine of Aragon, Princess Mary is raised in the golden splendour of her father's court. But the King wants a son and heir. With her parents' marriage, and England, in crisis, Mary's perfect world begins to fall apart. Exiled from the court and her beloved mother, she seeks solace in her faith, praying for her father to bring her home. But when the King does promise to restore her to favour, his love comes with a condition. The choice Mary faces will haunt her for years to come - in her allegiances, her marriage and her own fight for the crown. Can she become the queen she was born to be?

I've learned to go to the author's note before reading Alison Weir's books, and this one is particularly poignant.  Alison talks about how, like Mary, her own parents separated when she was eleven years old.  This experience means she can identify with the first crowned Tudor queen in her retelling of a familiar story.

Mary inherited a country in a social, political and economic mess, and did little to change the life of the people for the better, yet she emerges as a woman deserving of understanding, if not our sympathy.

Alison ran a competition for suggested subtitles for the book, and a popular suggestion was the enduring epithet 'Bloody Mary'.  After having read the book I agree the eventual choice of 'Queen of Sorrows' was the right one. 

Although a work of historical fiction, the story of Queen Mary is based on sound historical sources, and I'm happy to recommend this book to anyone wanting a more nuanced understanding of one of our most troubled queens. 

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband. Find out more at Alison's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks

(A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers, Headline UK)

5 May 2024

Special Guest Post by Louise Morrish, Author of Operation Moonlight

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Wartime France, 1944: Trust absolutely no one. This is the only advice newly recruited SOE agent Elisabeth Shepherd is given when faced with the impossible. Her mission: to enter Nazi-occupied France and monitor the Germans' deadly long-range missiles.

Guildford, 2018: Betty is celebrating her 100th birthday when she receives an invite from the Century Society to reminisce on the past.  She remains mysteriously tight-lipped about her past, however. And then her carer, Tali, discovers a box full of maps, letters and a gun . . .

My passion is discovering historical women, forgotten women, secret women, who achieved incredible things in the past but whom no one now remembers. I've been reimagining their lives in my fiction for many years, but it wasn't until 2019 that I got my break into publishing when my debut novel Operation Moonlight won the Penguin Random House First Novel competition. At last, I could share these incredible stories of inspirational women from history with the world.
Operation Moonlight was inspired in part by an article I read in a newspaper archive back in 2018, about a reclusive woman who'd been hiding a secret past. When Eileen Nearne died, alone in Torquay, no friends or family could initially be found, so the council was tasked with clearing out her flat. They discovered letters and medals from the war, and it transpired that Eileen had once been a secret agent with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War 2.
As I researched Eileen’s story, I became fascinated by the tales I discovered of other female secret agents. These women then undertook extraordinarily brave missions in enemy occupied countries during the war, but their stories have mostly been lost to the mists of time.
Operation Moonlight tells the story of Betty Shepherd - named after my own maternal grandmother, a huge inspiration to me when I was growing up. Betty is a reclusive centenarian hiding a huge secret. She once worked as a secret agent for the SOE, but she's never told anyone about her tragic past. But her secrets threaten to emerge when her carer, Tali, discovers a suitcase in the cellar containing letters from the War Office and a gun.

Research is one of my favourite parts of writing a novel, and I undertook a lot of it for Operation Moonlight. As a librarian, I know my way around the shelves, and I read over 200 books on all aspects of the war, spies, occupied France, and much more. 

I visited museums such as Beaulieu, Bletchley Park and Tangmere Air Museum. I even travelled 800 miles by train from my home to the far northwest of Scotland, to experience the place where many of the special agents underwent paramilitary training. 

I do practical research for my novels, as much as possible. So, I hired a self defence expert to teach me the SOE skills of unarmed combat and ‘silent killing’, I practised navigation in the countryside, and I even parachuted out of a plane. Never, ever again! Operation Moonlight was published in 2022, and my new novel, Women of War, comes out later this year.

Women of War is set in the First World War, and was inspired by more forgotten women in history. In the summer of 2012, I came across the fascinating memoir of a young Edwardian woman called Dorothy Lawrence. Born illegitimately in 1896, Dorothy longed to be a journalist, but her sex, background and lack of education held her back. 

She wasn’t going to relinquish her dream easily, though. So, in 1915 she travelled to France and managed to disguise herself as a male soldier in the British Army. Her aim was to become the first female journalist to report the truth from the battlefields.
She fought alongside the Royal Engineers for ten days, until an injury brought her identity to light. Arrested on suspicion of being an enemy spy, Dorothy was court martialled, and finally sent home under strict orders never to return or write about her experiences.
I couldn't get Dorothy out of my mind. What sort of woman had the courage to travel to an enemy occupied country in the middle of a war, disguise herself as a man, and risk her life in battle? A fascinating woman, and one who deserved to be remembered.
So, I began to reimagine Dorothy’s story. At the same time, I came across the incredible achievements of two female doctors. Louisa Garrett Anderson (1873 – 1943) was a surgeon, a suffragette, and the daughter of the first female doctor to qualify in Britain, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Flora Murray (1869 – 1923) was a Scottish anaesthetist, a suffragette, and the life partner of Louisa.

When war broke out in 1914, Louisa and Flora founded the Women's Hospital Corps (WHC), and offered their services as doctors to the War Office. They were rejected, told that women were not capable of performing military surgery. So instead, Louisa and Flora and their all-female team appealed to the French Red Cross, who gratefully accepted their offer of help.

The WHC established two military hospitals, the first in Paris, the second in Wimereux near Boulogne on the French coast. Casualties from the battlefields flooded in, filling the wards with traumatized men suffering horrific injuries, the likes of which the medical establishment had never faced before. 
But the women rose to the challenge, and soon their success came to the attention of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). By providing exceptional care to wounded soldiers, Louisa and Flora and their team demonstrated that they were equal to their male counterparts.
Women of War is a work of fiction, the characters created from my imagination, but strongly inspired by Dorothy, Louisa and Flora. The locations that feature in my novel – the hotel in Paris, the chateau in Wimereux, the War Office in London - and the challenges my characters face are all taken from real places and events.

Louise Morrish
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About the Author

Louise Morrish is a historical fiction writer and librarian from Hampshire. She writes stories inspired by the lives of women in the past, who achieved extraordinary things, but whom history has forgotten. Her debut novel Operation Moonlight was published by Penguin in 2022. She is currently writing two more historical novels for Penguin. Women of War is available for pre-order, and the sequel will be out in 2025. Find out more at Louise's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @LouiseMorrish1

Operation Moonlight Audiobook preview: 

2 May 2024

Book launch: Thorns, Lust and Glory: The betrayal of Anne Boleyn, by Estelle Paranque

New from Amazon UK 
and pre-order from Amazon US

Anne Boleyn has mesmerized the general public for centuries. Her tragic execution at the Tower of London on the 19th of May, 1536—orchestrated by her own husband—never ceases to intrigue. 

How did this courtier's daughter become the queen of England, and what was it that really tore apart this illustrious marriage, rendering her the whore of England, an abandoned woman left to be executed on the scaffold? While many stories of Anne’s downfall have been told, few have truly traced the origins of her grim fate.

In Thorns, Lust, and Glory, Estelle Paranque takes us back to where it all started: to France, where Anne learned the lessons that would set her on the path to becoming one of England's most infamous queens. At the court of the French king as a resourceful teenage girl, Anne's journey to infamy began, and this landmark biography explores the world that shaped her, and how these loyalties would leave her vulnerable, leading to her ruin at the volatile court of Henry VIII.

A fascinating new perspective on Tudor history's most enduring story, Thorns, Lust, and Glory is an unmissable account of a queen on the edge.

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About the Author

Dr Estelle Paranque completed her PhD in Early Modern History at University College London, and is currently a Lecturer in Early Modern History at New College of the Humanities at Northeastern where she teaches courses on Early Modern Britain, Early Modern Europe, and the Early Modern World. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and she is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is also a co-convenor of the Tudor and Stuart Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London. She has been teaching at university level for the last nine years and is dedicated to share her passion for history with the next generation. Her research interests are royal and diplomatic studies. She works on Anglo-French relations during Elizabeth's reign and on monarchical representations during the early modern period. Estelle is also very interested in public engagement and has participated in the popular historical documentary Secrets d'Histoire on France 2, BBC Radio 4, and numerous podcasts (BBC History, Viral History, Hidden Stories with Helen Carr for HistoryHit). Find out more at her website and find her on Twitter @DrEstellePrnq