Mastodon The Writing Desk: July 2024

24 July 2024

Blog Tour Spotlight: Her Own War (Château de Verzat Series) by Debra Borchert


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

As Napoleon rises from the ashes of the French Revolution, one woman dares to spy against him.

Imprisoned for the crime of impersonating a man, Geneviève LaGarde fears giving birth in an asylum could be certain death for her and her unborn child. Desperate for her release, her husband, Louis, trades his freedom for hers and must join Bonaparte’s army in Egypt.

As Geneviève wages her own war against the tyrannical general, she not only risks her own life but also those of her children and the four hundred families who depend on the Château de Verzat estate. Knowing her desperate actions could cause the government to confiscate the entire vineyard, she sacrifices everything to save her husband and protect the people who become her family. A captivating tale of the power of love, hope, and courage, and the strength of community.

“A compelling story of love, war, and fierce family loyalty."

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About the Author

Debra Borchert has had many careers: clothing designer, actress, TV show host, spokesperson for high-tech companies, marketing and public relations professional, and technical writer for Fortune 100 companies. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Writer, among others. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and independently.  A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, she weaves her knowledge of textiles and clothing design throughout her historical French fiction. She has been honored with a Historical Novel Society Editors’ Choice, Publishers Weekly BookLife Editor’s Pick, and many other five-star reviews. Find out more from her website: https://debraborchert.com/  anf fnd Debra on Facebook and Twitter: @debraborchert

23 July 2024

Anne Neville: Queen and Wife of Richard III, by Rebecca Batley


Available from Amazon UK 
and pre-order from Amazon US

Daughter, Wife, Princess, Widow and Queen: Anne Neville had many faces.

Shakespeare presents her to us as a woman consumed with rage, bitterness and grief. He has her cursing the killer of her husband and father, before marrying him and condemning herself to despair. She rages, screams and weeps but ultimately she is shown as nothing more than a passive victim of the men who used and exploited her.

This could not be further from the truth. Born into one of the most powerful dynasties in medieval England, Anne knew her worth, and her power. She was a great survivor escaping the tide of blood that consumed England not just alive but emerging with a crown on her head.

Tragedy would untimely engulf her, the death of her son ended all her hopes for a lasting legacy and her premature death was subject to rumour and speculation. But there is undoubtedly more to Anne than her marriage and her end.

She is fascinating, elusive, a powerbroker and very much her father’s daughter.

This is Anne’s story.

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About the Author

Rebecca Batley is an archaeologist and historian, with a particular interest in women's history. Her work can be found in numerous publications including "New Scientist, Gay and Lesbian Review" and "AHM". She regularly writes for "Ancient Origins" and has worked for, amongst others, MOLA and Wessex Archaeology.  Find out more from https://thetravellinghistorianclub.wordpress.com and find Rebecca on Instagram

22 July 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Becoming the Twilight Empress: A Theodosian Women Novella by Faith L. Justice


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In a tumultuous time of violence, betrayal, and ruthless evil, can one charismatic young woman survive the bloodshed?

Ravenna, A.D. 408. Placidia is watching her family fall apart. When her emperor brother accuses their powerful foster father of treason, the naive imperial princess tries to reason with her sibling to no avail. And after her foster father is lured out of sanctuary and brutally executed, she flees the toxic court to avoid a forced marriage… but to dubious safety.

Braving increasing peril on her journey to Rome, Placidia barely survives impassable swamps, imperial assassins, and bands of barbarians. When the Goths besiege Rome and a starving populace threaten civil disorder, the daughter of Theodosius the Great must navigate fraught politics to become a vigilant leader… or face an early death.

Can she rise above an empire descending into chaos?

Becoming the Twilight Empress is the breathtaking prequel to the Theodosian Women biographical historical fiction series. If you like tenacious heroines, vivid settings, and nail-biting drama, then you’ll love Faith L. Justice’s captivating coming-of-age adventure.

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About the Author

Faith L. Justice writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites. Find out more at Dawn's w
ebsite: https://faithljustice.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @faithljustice


21 July 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight: A Song of Courage: A gripping WW2 historical novel based on a true story, by Rachel Wesson


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

This unforgettable novel is based on the incredible true story of two unsung heroines who risked everything to save countless lives in the lead-up to WW2.

Connie Fitzwalter never imagined that her passion for music would lead her into a world of danger and intrigue. When her old family friend Stephen, who works for the foreign office, tells her the true scale of the violence in Germany and Austria, she can stand aside no longer. Together they devise a daring and perilous mission to help innocent people escape the clutches of Nazi persecution.

Under their cover as music enthusiasts travelling to high-society concerts in Europe, Connie and her sister Dottie begin helping desperate families escape to safety into England. As the sisters travel into the heart of Nazi Germany, defying the border guards, patrols and Gestapo agents takes every ounce of courage they have.

One misstep, one whisper of suspicion, and they could lose everything—their freedom, their futures, and even each other.

A Song of Courage is a testament to the unbreakable bond of sisterhood and the strength of the human spirit  based on the real-life story of the Mills & Boon novelist Mary Burchell/Ida Cook and her sister Louise Cook.

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About the Author

Rachel Wesson was born in Kilkenny, Ireland but considers herself to be from the capital, Dublin as that’s where she spent most of her life. She grew up driving everyone nuts asking them questions about what they did during the War or what side they were on in the 1916 rising etc. Finally her Granny told her to write her stories down so people would get the pleasure of reading them. In fact what Granny meant was everyone would get some peace while Rachel was busy writing!  When not writing, or annoying relatives, Rachel was reading. Her report cards from school commented on her love of reading especially when she should have been learning. Seems you can't read Great Expectations in Maths.  Rachel lives in Surrey with her husband and three children, two boys and a girl. Find out more from Rachel's website https://rachelwesson.com/ and find her on Twitter @wessonwrites

19 July 2024

The Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series, by Pam Lecky


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series

When No Stone Unturned was published back in 2019, I couldn't have predicted the series' popularity. Now, so many years later, the series has found a new home with Storm Publishing and, hopefully, lots of new readers will discover Lucy and Phin’s adventures.
Having devoured historical fiction and crime since my teens, it was inevitable that I would write books combining mystery, crime and a sprinkle of romance. Initially, Lucy Lawrence was only supposed to be a supporting character in Phineas Stone’s world. But her voice grew in strength to the point I had to rewrite the entire book from her point of view… And the Lucy mysteries were born!
 
Depending on their class, women in the Victorian era faced strict rules and lived a highly restricted life. I wanted to explore how a young woman, with a strong personality and high intelligence (but poorly educated - parents bothered little if you weren’t the heir), would cope within the confines of a troubled marriage. Would she accept her lot or chafe at the bit? 

But in Lucy’s case, with no money and estranged from her family, she could not walk away. Doing so would result in social ruin. However, when circumstances finally release her (her husband’s sudden death), she struggles to find her way. Almost every man in her life so far has betrayed her on some level for their own ends. As a result, Lucy finds it difficult to trust her fate to any man.

There is a pivotal point in No Stone Unturned when Lucy realises she must take her destiny into her own hands and she sets out on a dangerous adventure in pursuit of the truth about her late husband and his less than legal activities.
 
Another theme, which emerged as I explored Lucy’s story, was the strong reliance on female friendship. I suspect this is what sustained many Victorian women, finding themselves in similar circumstances to Lucy. As the plot unfolds, Lucy comes to rely more and more on her maid, Mary, who also begins to shine with talents hitherto unknown, namely a penchant for spying and intrigue. And when trouble does strike, it is often her friends, Judith and Sarah, Lucy turns to.

Combining my two great loves - Victorian adventure with a feisty heroine and ancient Egypt - the second book in the series, Footprints in the Sand, will resonate with me the longest. My research included Amelia Edwards’ book, A Thousand Miles Up The Nile (1873). I cannot deny that the Egypt described presented countless possibilities for mischief to a mystery writer. 
Her descriptions of Cairo and the many sites she visited transported me back to Victorian Egypt like none of the other dry contemporary source did. My heroine shared some of Miss Edwards' qualities of curiosity and determination and so Footprints in the Sand quickly transformed from a vague plot idea to a novel.

In the third book of the series, The Art of Deception, Lucy is back in London. You might think she is about to settle down, but, of course, that would be no fun at all. And as Lucy admits to Phineas, trouble seems to follow her. However, when Lucy’s ‘help’ in an art theft case triggers a murder and Phineas becomes the chief suspect, Lucy must use her wits to save him.

The fourth book in the series, A Pocketful of Diamonds, is a brand new murder mystery, set on beautiful Lake Como in Italy. It is slated for release by Storm Publishing in September 2024 and will be available for preorder very soon.
Pam Lecky

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About the Author

Pam Lecky
 is an Irish historical fiction author with Avon Books UK/Harper Collins. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, The Crime Writers' Association, and the Society of Authors. She is represented by Thérèse Coen, at the Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency, London. Pam has a particular love of the late Victorian era/early 20th Century. Her debut novel, The Bowes Inheritance, was awarded the B.R.A.G Medallion; shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize 2016; and longlisted for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award. Her short stories are available in an anthology, entitled Past Imperfect, which was published in April 2018.  Find out more at Pam's website https://pamlecky.com/ and find her on Twitter @pamlecky

18 July 2024

Book Launch Blog Tour: The Lost Queen, by Carol McGrath


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Lost Queen is a thrilling medieval story of high adventure, survival, friendship and the enduring love of a Queen for her King.


It is 1191 and King Richard the Lionheart is on crusade to pitch battle against Saladin and liberate the city of Jerusalem and her lands. His mother, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine and his promised bride, Princess Berengaria of Navarre, make a perilous journey over the Alps in midwinter. They are to rendezvous with Richard in the Sicilian port of Messina.

There are hazards along the way - vicious assassins, marauding pirates, violent storms and a shipwreck. Berengaria is as feisty as her foes and, surviving it all, she and Richard marry in Cyprus and continue to the Holy Land. England needs an heir. But first, Richard and his Queen must return home . . .

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About the Author

Following a first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in English from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this highly acclaimed trilogy. Mistress Cromwell, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, was republished by Headline in 2020. The Silken Rose, first in a medieval She-Wolf Queens Trilogy, featuring Ailenor of Provence, saw publication in April 2020. This was followed by The Damask Rose. The Stone Rose was published April 2022. Carol lives in Oxfordshire, England and in Greece.  Find our more from Carol's website: www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk and find her on Facebook and Twitter @CarolMcGrath

16 July 2024

Blog Tour Spotlight: The Agincourt King (The Plantagenet Legacy Book 5) by Mercedes Rochelle


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

From the day he was crowned, Henry V was determined to prove the legitimacy of his house. His father's usurpation weighed heavily on his mind. Only a grand gesture would capture the respect of his own countrymen and the rest of Europe. He would follow in his great-grandfather Edward III's footsteps, and recover lost territory in France.

Better yet, why not go for the crown? Poor, deranged Charles VI couldn't manage his own barons. The civil war between the Burgundians and Armagnacs was more of a threat to his country than the English, even after Henry laid siege to Harfleur. But once Harfleur had fallen, the French came to their senses and determined to block his path to Calais and destroy him.

By the time the English reached Agincourt, they were starving, exhausted, and easy pickings. Or so the French thought. Little did they reckon on Henry's leadership and the stout-hearted English archers who proved, once again, that numbers didn't matter when God was on their side.

"A lavish depiction of one of the most famous battles in English history, which was won by one of England's most beloved kings."

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About the Author

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. She believes that good Historical Fiction, or Faction as it’s coming to be known, is an excellent way to introduce the subject to curious readers. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story.  Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves. Find out more at her website https://mercedesrochelle.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @authorrochelle

15 July 2024

Three Bridgerton Historical Inaccuracies that "Work" for the Plot — and One That Doesn’t, by Savannah Cordova



Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t deny that Netflix’s TV adaptation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton book series has been the talk of the ton on several occasions, especially with the recent release of its third season.

While the series doesn’t always provide the most historically accurate portrayal of England in the Regency era, I’ve found that this can sometimes work in favor of the plot. So in this post, dear reader, let’s look at some Bridgerton inaccuracies we could arguably forgive — as well as one issue that this author believes should’ve been paid more attention to in the writers’ room.

In favor of the plot

1. Names in Lady Whistledown’s scandal sheets

Scandal sheets did exist during the time of Bridgerton — apparently, even high society back then couldn’t resist slander and rumors! Gossip columns in real life, however, notably didn’t mention the full names of members of the ton due to libel laws. That said, the initials of any subjects of gossip were sometimes included, and anyone who was in the know could easily discern who was being written about.

In Bridgerton, however, Lady Whistledown is not afraid to go ahead and publish the names of everyone who has spurned her. Perhaps libel laws don’t exist in the show’s alternate version of Regency-era England? Regardless, for the sake of moving the plot along, it’s important that Lady Whistledown cuts right to the chase and avoids relying on initials or other vague identifiers when penning her scandal sheets.

For more efficient storytelling, it becomes quickly clear to whom the anonymous gossip columnist is referring. That way, instead of the show turning into an Agatha Christie-inspired mystery where we watch members of the ton spend days — even weeks — debating over the possible subjects of scandal, they can devote their screen time to more entertaining matters.

2. The pairing of a Bridgerton with a prince

While the Bridgerton family never existed in real life, Netflix’s popular series does include several characters based on actual people, such as Prince Friedrich. The royal, who appears in three episodes of Season 1, is portrayed onscreen as the nephew of Queen Charlotte. While visiting London for the season, he gets roped into one of his aunt’s matchmaking schemes.

In real life, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz did have a distant nephew known as Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig of Prussia. However, unlike Bridgerton suggests, Friedrich did not fall for a viscount’s daughter like Daphne Bridgerton. Instead, he purportedly expressed interest in Princess Charlotte of Wales: the daughter of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick (so many royals, so little time). Despite this, he ended up marrying Princess Louise of Anhalt-Bernburg for political reasons.

Although Friedrich’s portrayal in Bridgerton isn’t completely accurate, it’s undeniable that his presence was key to the plot of Season 1. When Simon Basset (aka the Duke of Hastings) notices how much attention Friedrich — a worthy rival — has been paying to Daphne, he takes action and makes his true feelings for her known.

This wouldn’t have been as effective if Friedrich had simply been a regular member of the ton, given that Simon is already a cut above as a duke. It’s unlikely that Queen Charlotte would have encouraged her nephew to court someone who isn’t of royal blood in real life, but thankfully, Bridgerton disregards this minor fact for the sake of the plot.

3. The absence of chaperones

The first season of Bridgerton often highlights the importance of a chaperone whenever single men and women are in each other’s company. These women had to keep their reputations flawless, lest they face persecution from society and lose all hope of securing suitable matches. 

However, the third season in particular throws several rules of propriety out the window, with Penelope and Colin meeting often to chat — without any other person in the vicinity! 

While this wouldn’t have been allowed in real life, it’s pretty imperative in Season 3 of Bridgerton; after all, you wouldn’t dare to hold a flirting lesson in the presence of a relative or your maid, would you? The private conversations between Penelope and Colin are crucial to progressing Season 3, serving to both deepen their bond and help Colin realize Penelope is indeed the love of his life.

It’s safe to say that historical fiction authors and showrunners need to take some creative license in order to appeal to a contemporary audience, but it can be a fine line to balance. So what about when it doesn’t work?

Against the plot

Despite being one of Netflix’s most popular series of all time, Bridgerton is not immune to heavy criticism. One of the most recent, glaring issues would have to be Season 3’s unforgivable inclusion of just a few too many modern elements.

Given that Bridgerton is set in England in the 1810s, the dialogue of our most esteemed characters should reflect the time period in which they live. However, certain moments have caused this author to raise a perfectly arched eyebrow.

For example, instead of declaring her affection for Colin Bridgerton in a poetic manner, Penelope Featherington resorts to a modern type of confession: “I have feelings for you.” Other characters are not exempt from this — Penelope’s sisters, Prudence and Philippa, often say “pregnant” instead of “with child,” the former being considered much less polite by formal society in the early 1800s.

One could argue that this reflects the crudeness of their characters, but it stands out as just a little too anachronistic in this context. Even Lady Danbury has uttered at least one phrase inspired by popular sayings in this day and age (“Don’t come for my cane,” anyone?). And while these meme-worthy moments can certainly be fun, the repeated usage in Season 3 is more distracting than diverting.

Another major anachronism: eagle-eyed viewers have pointed out that Penelope wears acrylic nails throughout the latest season of Bridgerton. While their origins have been disputed, many historians believe that an American dentist named Dr. Fred Slack created them to fix a broken nail at work in the 1950s — over a century after Bridgerton takes place. In addition to acrylic nails, characters such as Penelope and Francesca Bridgerton can also be seen with more contemporary cosmetic inventions, such as smoky eyeshadow and false eyelashes.

Bridgerton may be historical fiction, but its viewers’ suspension of disbelief can only go so far. When too many modern elements are incorporated into a period drama, this reminds engrossed audience members that they are watching something fictional, which can lead to a jarring experience and create a sense of distance.

These viewers may also end up feeling upset with the series, its showrunners, and its writers, asking questions such as: Did they do enough research for this show? Did they take enough time and effort to work on this season, or is this just lazy writing (or an unfortunate oversight)?

If you have been inspired by Bridgerton and are considering penning your own historical fiction, you have artistic license to add certain details that may not be 100% authentic. However, dear reader, take heed and remember to ensure that any inaccuracies you include will enhance — not detract from — your story. Happy writing!

Savannah Cordova

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About the Author
 
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with publishing professionals to help them edit, design, and market their books. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading and writing short stories. Naturally, she’s a big fan of historical fiction — when it’s done right. Find out more at reedsy.com and on X @ReedsyHQ.

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


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Alice Chaucer, Countess of Salisbury and Duchess of Suffolk, is one of the very rare people, and the only woman, not born to nobility who became an important political player in the upheaval of fifteenth-century England. 

Widowed, remarkably enough, at the age of 11, that ‘marriage’ nevertheless set her on the road to power and riches. Her second husband, the Earl of Salisbury, would die at the Siege of Orléans during the Hundred Years War. 

Her third husband, William de la Pole, was Henry VI’s Chief Minister ‒ and paid for that allegiance with his life, murdered and thrown into the English Channel. Alice survived all this and more – including a state trial in 1451 – and at the same time was a patron of the arts, commissioning artworks depicting empowered historical female characters, notably St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. Alice possessed a large library. 


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

As late as 1472, Alice became custodian of Margaret of Anjou, her former friend and patron. She ruthlessly protected the inheritance of her son John de la Pole, and three of his four sons would pursue the Yorkist claim to the throne against Henry VII: they would all die in the attempt. 

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About the Author

Michèle Schindler studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, reading English Studies and history with a focus on mediaeval studies. At the same time she worked as a language teacher, teaching English and German as a second language. In addition to English and German, she is fluent in French, and reads Latin. You can find Michèle on Facebook and Twitter @FLovellInfo

14 July 2024

Book Review: Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn, by Stephen Porter


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US
(UK Paperback 15 Aug. 2024)

First published in 2016, this book brings together much of the work on Tudor London by the late historian and author Stephen Porter. Best known for his work on the many outbreaks of plague and the sweating sickness which made the city such a dangerous place,  Everyday Life in Tudor London looks at the roles of churches, trade and recreation.

Despite the famous names of the title, Stephen Porter's focus is more in terms of ordinary Londoners, and he paints a vivid picture of merchants in bustling marketplaces and theatergoers flocking to the Bankside to enjoy Elizabethan drama.


I recommend this book as a valuable resource for anyone interested in the Tudor period, and Stephen Porter's engaging writing style is aimed at a wide audience, from those with little knowledge to dedicated scholars. If you're looking to step back in time and explore the dynamic world of Tudor London, this book is an excellent place to start.

Tony Riches

13 July 2024

Blog Tour: Courage of the Conquered (Quest for New England Book 3) by Anna Chant


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

An epic voyage concludes…

All the wonders of the Mediterranean have not prepared the English for the splendours of Constantinople. As Siward of Gloucester settles into the city, he is grateful to have finally found what he was looking for: A fine god-fearing lord he is proud to serve and a safe place where he and Oswyth can await the birth of their child.

But as the months pass, doubts creep in. Emperor Michael proves to be a weak ruler, continually threatened with rebellion. Determined to keep the English army close to him, his promises of reward grow increasingly vague.

With the tension in Constantinople rising, Siward and his friends are caught up in the power struggle. While Bridwin maintains his loyalty to the Emperor and Siward continues to trust in the friendship of the cunning Alexios Komnenos, Frebern grows close to John Bryennios, a man whose ambitions may include the imperial throne itself. With the friends drawn in different directions, Siward fears they could find themselves fighting on opposing sides.

Desperate to escape, he renews his efforts to find the home the English have so long craved. But the beauty of Constantinople conceals dangers that go far beyond Siward’s fears as sordid secrets and ruthless betrayal stalk the lives of those he holds dear.

As the English prepare for battle yet again, will Siward’s quest for New England end in heart-breaking tragedy?
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About the Author

Anna Chant grew up in Essex, with her first home a tiny medieval cottage. Aged 18 she moved to Yorkshire to study history at the University of Sheffield. In 2015, inspired by her love of medieval history and her Scottish ancestry, Anna started writing her first book with Kenneth’s Queen, the tale of the unknown wife of Kenneth Mac Alpin, published the following year. Taking inspiration from both history and legend, she particularly enjoys bringing to life the lesser known people, events and folklore of the past. When not writing, Anna enjoys walking the coast and countryside of Devon where she lives with her husband, three sons (if they’re home) and a rather cheeky bearded dragon. Find out more from Anna's website https://darkagevoices.wordpress.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @anna_chant

12 July 2024

Special Guest Interview with Neal Rabin, Author of FLAT: A voyage of accidental discovery


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A swashbuckling adventure, teeming with betrayal, romance, murder, sea battles. Between the final breath of the Spanish Inquisition, and Magellan's epic voyage, join unintended explorer, Lanning Delaford, plus an eclectic cast of characters as they traverse southern Europe
onto the unknown Great Sea.

I'm pleased to welcome author Neal Rabin to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book

FLAT is a seafaring tale about a man’s search for self and how each of the characters confronts the challenges of their own fears. 

How do we deal with our fears? When we are confronted with the unknown, or unexpected edges of our lives do we stop at that metaphorical edge, or take the next step forward? How do we navigate the chaos in life, politics, social structures, religion, and beyond?  These are the main themes I wrapped inside the rapid fire, 16th century swashbuckling adventure tale that is Flat. Also — pirates!

1519 in the south of Spain was a time of upheaval and transition. Not limited to the shape of the planet – flat or sphere – the world had a long list of unknowns to contend with for every level of society. Centering in the age of exploration gave me a bountiful palette for weaving both a fast-paced tale, and the chance to explore some of the deeper questions about the nature of our humanity.

The story is wedged in between the tail end of the Spanish Inquisition and Magellan’s epic voyage of discovery. As mentioned, there are pirates, royals, an eclectic cast of characters, heaps of satire, all mixed in with betrayal, romance, and murder. Philosophical exploration can definitely be riveting entertainment!

What is your preferred writing routine?

My goal is based not on word count, but on desk time. I show up every day. Facing the blank page is always the toughest part of the process. I commit to sitting at my desk for at least two hours a day when starting something new. I often surpass that goal, but it is vital to feel successful each day. You may not have written like Mozart, but you have written! 

Relying on some arbitrary word count, for me, creates far too much pressure and only ends up generating piles of terrible, incoherent chopped word salad.  With my previous novel, 23 Degrees South, I wrote exclusively in the morning. FLAT turned out to demand an afternoon-early evening process. I can’t say why, I just rolled with what the book wanted. 

What advice do you have for new writers?

Recently at a book launch event I was asked about my process. From my view there are two types of writers – those who write with a map and those who prefer to use a compass! I’m a compass writer. Compass writers have a general sense of direction, but no hard and fast scaffolding. I set off in a direction and experience the journey much like the reader does; hopefully not wandering too far afield from my intended path. 

I enjoy the unknown pathway inherent in the discovery process. As it turns out, my process means I often create more material than needed to construct the fast-paced novels I prefer. In the case of FLAT, I turned in 92,000 words to my editor. The final book contains about 80,000. That’s a solid 40+ pages of extra content we sliced out and filed back in my own personal word warehouse. Maybe they will appear in some other shape or form down the road.

Neither do I worry about writer’s block, nor a dearth of ideas. I am fortunate in having the composer Philip Glass as a very old pal. He is a highly disciplined artist. We were talking about the creative process, and he offered me some sage advice. He told me, with confidence, that beneath his desk (or piano) he knows there exists a free-flowing river of abundant creativity. If he showed up at his desk each day, he would be able to tap into that stream, and so he never worried about a lack of ideas. I have adopted that mindset in my practice as well. 

For new writers, show up, be patient, persevere, and things will occur. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I spent a lot of time asking questions from a very generous University of Madrid history professor. I asked him mostly mundane questions – “what did folks do on a Friday night? Did they even have a ‘Friday night’? What did people wear and why? What might the job market options be for a common citizen?” He suggested tons of reading material to supplement his extensive knowledge of the era. It felt important to create the most realistic setting for the story I wanted to tell. With that as a goal I set about giving myself an intensive, months-long dive into 16th century everything! Art, literature, horseback riding, common foods, events, plus the key figures from history during that era. 

What emerged after my self-inflicted master’s course? For better, or often worse, I realized that human nature has not perceptibly changed over these many millennia. Exactly how long does behavioral evolution take for us as a species? Are we destined to constantly repeat our patterns with minimal upward traction? I had hoped for better. 

Given the premise that we haven’t changed much over time, the events of today predictably overlay seamlessly onto most events from any time period in human history including our own. 
FLAT puts fiction and fact in a blender. The book includes prominent figures that readers will easily recognize —Ferdinand Magellan and Ignatius Loyola are two examples. 

Magellan set off to prove the world was anything but flat! He had personal financial gain as a key motivation too. Expanding the trade horizons for Spain would vastly enhance his own personal wealth as well. Historical figures are not mythical beings, possessed of unique magical qualities that led them down the paths to immortality. Like all of us, they are human and subject to the fragility of the human condition.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

I had to write a complicated sea battle at one point – multiple ships, cannon balls, weather, etc. Not being a student of sailing, military battles, or extreme conditions on the ocean, I recall feeling incredibly daunted by the task. So, I applied something I’ve learned as a guitarist. When learning a piece of music, a particular guitar solo for example, always break the music into bite size pieces. Never try tackling the whole thing at once. 

After breaking the battle up into smaller sections, I then did the needed research on those parts before moving forward. It took several weeks to get it right. Then, of course, during subsequent drafts it morphed and evolved. I read a ton of books for research, and even watched a few old Errol Flynn films to ratchet up the cinematic scope of the novel. Every little bit helps.

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently working on some pieces for NPRs Moth radio, but that’s all I’m going to say about that for now!

Neal Rabin 

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About the Author

Neal Rabin is the co-founder of Miramar Systems, a Santa Barbara-based global software company, of which he was CEO for 15 years. Before that, Rabin graduated from UCLA; worked for Club Med as a tennis and surf instructor; stocked refrigerators; and served as a “fetch” for Time Life Films. Now, Neal is an instrument pilot who divides his time between mentoring tech start-ups, writing, surfing, volleyball, and tennis. He lives in Santa Barbara with his wife, two daughters, and a flock of chickens. Find out more from Neal's website https://nealrabin.com/

Blog Tour Review: Daughters of Tuscany, by Siobhan Daiko


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Two women, one community, everyone’s war…

Set in the Tuscan countryside, this compelling new book from Siobhan Daiko takes us into the lives of two very different women as they deal with the consequences of life in occupied Italy. Emma, the daughter of the wealthy landowner,  has a promising future ahead of her, while hard-working Rosa is already widowed by the war.

Siobhan has a talent for evocative details and developing convincingly complex relationships. Both of these women face impossible choices and must risk everything to save the people they love.  

The idyllic start soon builds as the region becomes a dangerous battlefield, and they are drawn into supporting the resistance. Impeccably researched, Daughters of Tuscany offers an insight into rarely explored events of the second world war, a story of courage and resilience which deserves to be told.

Tony Riches 

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About the Author

Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a Siberian cat. Siobhan was born of English parents in Hong Kong, attended boarding school in Australia, and then moved to the UK — where she taught modern foreign languages in a Welsh high school. She now spends her time writing page-turners and living the dolce vita sweet life near Venice. Her novels are compelling, poignant, and deeply moving, with strong characters and evocative settings, but always with romance at their heart. You can find more about her books on her website www.siobhandaiko.org and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @siobhandaiko

11 July 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Sea Witch Voyages, by Helen Hollick


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Trouble follows Captain Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake...

The early 1700s: from the sun of the Caribbean to the eerie mists of England’s Exmoor in Devon, the Sea Witch Voyages follow the adventures (misadventures?) of Captain Jesamiah Acorne. Orphaned at almost fifteen Jesamiah escaped his home in Virginia and the bullying of his half-brother to join with his father’s old friend, Captain Malachias Taylor – a kindly man, but also a rogue of a pirate.

Jesamiah eventually captains his own ship, but at Cape Town, South Africa, he is to meet the girl who becomes the love of his life – Tiola Oldstagh, a midwife, healer... and a White Witch with the gift of Craft.

Accepting amnesty from Governor Woodes Rogers of Nassau, Jesamiah turns to a legal, married, life, except various governors, ex-lovers, bad-tempered pirates, lingering ghosts and other non-human entities seem to have different ideas.

Jesamiah Acorne: a swashbuckling amalgamation of Hornblower, Jack Aubrey and Jack Sparrow mixed with Indiana Jones, James Bond and Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe.

Voyage with Jesamiah aboard Sea Witch and sail into the ocean realm of fast-paced, exciting nautical adventures...

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About the Author

Helen Hollick Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, was accepted for traditional publication in April 1993 by William Heinemann (Random House UK) a week after her 40th birthday.  The Trilogy has been widely acclaimed since then – and gone through several different editions. Helen moved from Random House UK in 2006 and went ‘Indie’, now in 2023 to celebrate she has brought out her own fabulous new editions! (The Trilogy is published mainstream by Sourcebooks Inc in USA/Canada. The publisher was offered the new cover designs for free, but declined.) Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  She writes a nautical adventure/fantasy Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Sea Witch Voyages and has also branched out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant. Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon with a variety of pets and horses. Find out more from Helen's website https://helenhollick.net and find her on Facebook and Twitter @HelenHollick

7 July 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight Humility and Tolerance, by Noni Valentine


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A 'sequel' to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author

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


6 July 2024

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Colour of Sin: A Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery, by Toni Mount


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Come with Seb Foxley, Rose and their enigmatic friend Kit, a priest with a shadowy past, as they join a diverse group of pilgrims on what should be an uplifting spiritual journey to Canterbury Cathedral.

Beset by natural disasters and unexplained deaths, the dangers become apparent. Encountering outlaws and a fearsome black cat, every step is fraught with peril.

Amidst the chaos, Seb finds himself grappling with the mysteries surrounding him, as well as his own demons, while Rose's reunion with her family sets off a chain of events with unforeseen consequences.

But the greatest threat lies in the shadows, where sinister forces unleash evil upon the unsuspecting pilgrims. In a world where trust is a scarce commodity and even allies may harbour dark intentions, Seb must uncover the truth and protect his fellow travellers.

Prepare to be enthralled by a tale of betrayal, intrigue and redemption as Seb Foxley races against time to unravel the malevolent secrets hidden within the heart of the pilgrimage. Who can you trust when even friends prove false?

Praise for Toni Mount's Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery Series:

"An evocative masterclass in storytelling." - Tony Riches, author of The Tudor Trilogy

"It’s superb. What a plot. What characters" - Carol McGrath, author of the She-wolves trilogy

"Toni mount gives you a real sense of actually being there"

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About the Author

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript. Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies. Find out more at Toni's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @tonihistorian

Bestselling Author Alexandra Walsh Reviews New Book in the Elizabethan Series: Frances – Tudor Countess


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

"Once again, Tony Riches takes us into the world of a forgotten Tudor woman in a story rich with detail and fascinating from beginning to end." 

The eponymous countess is Frances Walsingham the daughter of Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Frances is painted as an intelligent, believable and relatable woman who used her mental prowess to help her father decipher codes and letters, eventually running a spy network of her own. With vivid detail of the turbulent period around the Babington plot and Mary Queen of Scots arrest and execution, the story gripped me from the beginning. 

Frances was married three times and Tony Riches leads us through her long and adventurous life with deftness and skill. The marital heartache she suffers while being married to a man in love with another is palpable, while the fear of dealing with a quicksilver spouse in the shape of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex leaps off the page in stark detail. As tragedy befalls her, Frances displays a quiet strength to continue, always believing there is good in the world. 

Tony Riches has a vast knowledge of the Tudor and Stuart periods and this is apparent in Frances, Tudor Countess. The passing of time includes a huge amount of history but it never outweighs the story of Frances’s life and is introduced in clever ways to keep the reader aware of the politics of the time. 

I loved walking through time with Frances and learned a great deal about her later years. She steps from the pages as a real woman, a person who coped with tragedy, joy, subterfuge and loss, yet she never lost her belief in love and the hope that one day, she would find her soul mate. 

If you want a summer read that will transport you back to Tudor times, let Tony Riches take you by the hand and introduce you to the fascinating and extraordinary woman that was Frances Walsingham. You won’t be disappointed. 

 Alexandra Walsh

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About the Author

Alexandra Walsh is a bestselling author of the dual timeline women’s fiction. Her books range from the 15th and 16th centuries to the Victorian era and are inspired by the hidden voices of women that have been lost over the centuries. The Marquess House Saga offers an alternative view of the Tudor and early Stuart eras, while The Wind Chime and The Music Makers explore different aspects of Victorian society. Formerly, a journalist for over 25 years, writing for many national newspapers and magazines; Alexandra also worked in the TV and film industries as an associate producer, director, script writer and mentor for the MA Screen Writing course at the prestigious London Film School. She is a member of The Society of Authors and The Historical Writers Association. For updates and more information visit her website: www.alexandrawalsh.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter @purplemermaid25 and Bluesky @purplemermaid25.bsky.social