22 May 2018

Special Guest Interview with Philip K Allan, Author of On The Lee Shore (Alexander Clay Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome author Philip K Allan:

Tell us about your latest book On the Lee Shore

My Alexander Clay books are set in the Royal Navy of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. On the Lee Shore is the third book in the series. Alexander Clay is asked to take command of a troubled frigate, the Titan which has mutinied against its previous sadistic captain. The ship is sent to join the Channel Fleet blockading their French opponents in Brest. 

Stationed amongst the reefs and rocks of the Brittany coast, he finds the dangers of this notorious lee shore and its French defenders are the least of his worries. Corrupt officers, determined mutineers and rebellious Irishman all combine to insure that the main threats that he must face will come from within the wooden walls of his new command.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Each of my books are broadly set in a different year of the war – so my starting point is to research the events of that year to supply me with the context for the novel. Then I plan out the arc of the story and the various plot lines. I try not to over-plan, as I find that new ideas will emerge as I write, and these can be some of the most interesting. 

I try and write at least two thousand words a day. Once I have a completed manuscript that I am happy with, the next phase is to have it checked by my sternest editor, my wife Jan. I want anyone to be able to pick up one of my books and enjoy it, whether they have a knowledge or interest in the sea or not. If I have pitched it wrong, Jan will let me know, and I go away and re-write the offending passage. The result seems to work well – I get positive feedback from both naval enthusiasts and landlubbers alike.

What advice do you have for new writers?

I have found that my own writing is part “art” and part “craft”. The art part is the story, the characters, the plot and the scenes. It is the emotional, creative element that comes from within. But while a cracking story, with well thought out characters and plot is the essential starting point for a good book, it is not enough. 

The second part is the craft of writing – how you turn the idea in your head into compelling prose on the page. Like all crafts, I find it needs to be worked at, and in my experience you become better at it with practice. Since I became an author, I now read the work of other writers with a very different eye, trying to learn from their method. If a character is seamlessly introduced, for example, I now find I go back to see how they did it. In writing, I find that practise makes perfect. When I am struggling, I remind myself that I can always delete it and try again. 

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

I am published by a small independent US publisher, which is both nice and challenging. The good side is that they look after me very well; the challenge is that they do not have the marketing resources of the giant houses. This has meant that I have to be very active online. I publish a weekly blog on a subject around ships and the sea. This gives people a chance to sample the way I write in advance of trying one of my books. 

I also regularly post on Twitter and Facebook. I am fortunate in that my books have generally been getting good reviews, and readers of naval fiction seem to be very active in spreading the word to each other. I do like the social media side – it is lovely to hear directly from readers who have enjoyed your work, and I almost always learn something new from reader reaction to my weekly blogs.   

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

The naval blockade of Brest is one of the great untold stories of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. For over twenty years the Royal Navy maintained a fleet in all weathers, month after month, off one of the most dangerous coasts in the world. Nine days in ten the prevailing westerly wind tried its best to drive their ships onto the dangerous reefs and cliffs of Brittany. And on the tenth day, the wind would be favourable for the French fleet to come out of Brest. 

Some of the ships spent more than a year on station, with all their needs, including water, food and clothes, being brought out to them from Plymouth. Later in the war, the navy occupied a few of the small islands off the coast that had been abandoned by the French. They grew fresh vegetables on most of them, and even dug wells to provide additional sources of fresh water. 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

In my second novel of the series, A Sloop of War, I introduced a black sailor who was a run slave, and who has grown to become one of the more important lower-deck characters. Because his experience and life are so remote from my own, I have found getting into his feelings, motivation and thought process to be very challenging as well as rewarding.

What are you planning to write next?

The next book in the series is with my publisher for editing, with a view for a late summer publication – it takes the story into the Mediterranean. I am pleased with it – it has a nice mix of my own storylines woven into historical events and characters, including Nelson and Emma Hamilton. It will also contain a bit of a whodunit on the lower deck, when a series of crimes are committed, which I thoroughly enjoyed writing.

Philip K Allan
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About the Author

Philip K Allan comes originally from Watford in the UK, and still lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two teenage daughters. He has an excellent knowledge of the 18th century navy. He studied it as part of his history degree at London University, which awoke a lifelong passion for the period. He is a member of the Society for Nautical Research and a keen sailor. After over twenty years as a senior manager in the motor industry he has now become a full time writer. His debut novel, The Captain’s Nephew was published in January 2018, and immediately went into the Amazon top 100 bestseller list for Sea Adventures. The sequel, A Sloop of War, was published in March. On the Lee Shore is the third book in the series, and came out in May. His inspiration for his books is to build on the works of novelists like C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian. Like O’Brian’s his style is immersive, using period language and authentic nautical detail to draw the reader into a different world. But his books also bring something fresh to the genre, with a cast of fully formed lower deck characters. Think Downton Abbey on a ship, with the lower deck as the below stairs servants. Find out more a Philip's website https://www.philipkallan.com/ and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @PhilipKAllan 

21 May 2018

Book Launch Spotlight: Queen of the North, by Anne O'Brien

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US

‘O’Brien cleverly intertwines the personal and political in this enjoyable, gripping tale’
The Times

To those around her she was a loyal subject.

In her heart she was a traitor.

1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.

To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow
of the axe.

To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head.

‘Once more Anne O’Brien takes her readers on an emotional rollercoaster ride through the lives of people that history has largely reduced to entries on a medieval family tree. In this gripping novel Elizabeth Mortimer’s story joins the growing list of female lives Anne has gloriously rescued from history’s recycling skip’ Joanna Hickson 
‘Enthralling … with masterful skill Anne O'Brien takes the reader on an action packed journey back to the tumultuous and uncertain days of the fifteenth century. O'Brien's beautifully crafted narrative is full of wonderful details and dangerous intrigues that draw the reader into the dangerous world of Elizabeth Mortimer. A medieval masterpiece.’ Nicola Tallis
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About the Author

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

20 May 2018

Special Guest post by Caroline Angus Baker, Author of Frailty of Human Affairs (Queenmaker Series)

Available on Amazon UK, Amazon US

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.
That man needs to be the Queenmaker.
Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

It would easy to dismiss books on Thomas Cromwell, as the market has felt saturated in recent years. But when people ask why I chose to write a trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, I am happy to say there still feels plenty of room to create a fresh face for a man often covered in fiction. The first book in this unusual tale is already available, with plenty more still to come. 

A new perspective

Frailty of Human Affairs (an expression used by Cromwell himself in 1534), starts in 1529, when Cromwell is still devoted to Thomas Wolsey, just prior to the legatine court assembling to rule on King Henry’s marriage to Queen Katherine. 

This pivotal moment in history brings in a new character, Nicòla Frescobaldi, the son of a wealthy merchant in Florence. Nicòla’s father, Francesco Frescobaldi, was the man who found a young starving, homeless Englishman on the Florentine streets in around 1500 and took him in as an apprentice. 

For Cromwell’s beloved patron’s only son to arrive in England on his doorstep gives Cromwell the opportunity to rekindle the mysterious years he spent in Italy before returning to England as a refined and educated man. 

A complicated reality

Cromwell’s life in the years between the legatine court of 1529 and the birth of Princess Elizabeth in 1533 were ones of a remarkable rise, borne out of a combination of charm, education, savvy law-making and a fervent passion to save English religion from itself. 

Cromwell desperately wanted to give the king what he wanted – Anne Boleyn – and this novel delves into the perspectives of Cromwell and Frescobaldi, who combine their talents to win the trust of a king, but also personally suffer as the king holds power over their complicated weaknesses.

But why read?

Frailty of Human Affairs tells the complex tale of a well-known period, seen through the eyes of both Cromwell and Frescobaldi, two people skirting around the big names of history. Cromwell is a baseborn Englishman and Frescobaldi is the bastard child of a wealthy foreigner tied to the powerful Medici dynasty. 

There is no need for a hero or a villain, as Cromwell and Frescobaldi are both, whether a cardinal need to die, a king needs to be consoled, a mistress needs to be entertained or a family needs to be healed. Cromwell and Frescobaldi have many similarities and remarkable differences that create a loving bond no one else understands.

A darker chapter

Shaking the Throne (Sept. 2018) tells the story of Cromwell and Frescobaldi’s involvement in the destruction of the Catholic Church and the beheading of Anne Boleyn, covering the years of Elizabeth’s 1533 birth to the Pilgrimage of Grace in late 1536. 

Power and influence mean little if you have no safety, but Cromwell and Frescobaldi continue to rise high. Total loyalty from the king, a strong friendship with Henry Fitzroy, having friends in every position and even having the ear of Anne Boleyn might not be enough when powerful Catholic forces come together. Cromwell and Frescobaldi’s secrets will be exploited by the Seymour family to change the course of English history.

How many heads will be claimed?

No Amour Against Fate (Sept. 2019) details the crushing of the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, the creation of Anne of Cleves and Cromwell’s final betrayal that led to his rapidly regretted death in 1540. Whether Frescobaldi’s small head is alongside Cromwell’s on a bloodied spike is something readers need to wait and see. 

While history can answer many questions about the life of the incredible Thomas Cromwell, by adding in new fictional characters, stemming from real-life friendships, means that readers can be entertained to the last page.

The best and worst

The best part of writing the Queenmaker Series is getting to see how far I can push readers to still side with Cromwell and Frescobaldi, even when they are wrong. I like to have protagonists who do good and bad and take readers along for the ride.

The worst part is once the book is out and reviews are needed. I am terrified of reviews but still rely on them for the book to survive in Amazon’s difficult algorithms. Always review books when you read, positive or negative!

Caroline Angus Baker

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About the Author

Caroline Angus Baker is a sailmaker turned author based in Auckland, New Zealand. Having studied, worked and lived in New Zealand, Spain, and the U.K, she has produced modern-day thrillers with the bestselling Canna Medici series, and then the Spanish Civil War based Secrets of Spain series, created after studying in mass graves and bullfighting rings. The Queenmaker Series is the first in a large set of English history novels. Find out more at Caroline's website https://carolineangusbaker.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Writer_Caroline

19 May 2018

Visiting St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle

On this historic day of the royal wedding, I'd like to say a little about the amazing history of the venue, St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. By coincidence, the wedding falls on the anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn - and the happy couple will walk over the tomb of King Henry VIII, who will be only feet away from the ceremony.  The subject if my current work in progress, Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, will also be only a few yards away.

St George’s Chapel is within the grounds of Windsor Castle and was founded by King Edward III. Many successive royals have made their own ‘improvements’ and the chapel was seriously damaged by looters during the English Civil War.

There is a real sense of being at the heart of English History as you enter, as it is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and burial place of many kings. I spotted the portcullis badge of Margaret Beaufort everywhere, as well as the Dragon and Greyhound of King Henry VII.

The chapel is also full of surprises. I found I was looking at the tomb of King Edward IV, buried with ‘Elizabeth Widvile’.  The tomb had been ‘lost’ then rediscovered during restoration work in 1789, which explains its modern appearance. (When the tomb was found many ‘relics’ were taken, including locks of Edward's hair – and liquid from the bottom of the coffin!)

I was listening to the audio tour as I entered the quire and was amazed when I was asked to look up to the left of the altar. That morning I’d been writing about Catherine of Aragon watching Henry VIII’s jousting from an ornate wooden gallery.

There above me was another - the wooden gallery from where Queen Catherine would sit to watch services in the chapel, as well preserved as if she is expected to arrive at any moment.

I think Catherine would have approved of Prince Harry's marriage - and would perhaps have some useful advice about the challenges of being a young, foreign princess in the English royal family!
Henry VIII’s tomb occupies the middle of the quire and is surprising both for its simplicity and the company we’ve chosen for him to keep in eternity – as well as Jane Seymour, Henry is buried with the beheaded body of King Charles Ist and a stillborn son of Queen Anne. (If you’d like to know more about Henry’s tomb see Natalie Grueninger's post at 'On The Tudor Trail'.)

Having failed to find the tomb of Charles Brandon, I sked a guide and discovered it in the south transit, half covered by a wooden bench seat and under a life-sized portrait of King Edward III adjacent to the tomb of King Henry VI.  Interestingly, it refers to Mary Tudor as ‘Married Mary daughter of Henry VII, Widow of Louis XII King of France.

And what about Mary Tudor’s tomb? She died in Suffolk on 25 June 1533 and Charles Brandon paid for a fine tomb Bury St Edmunds Abbey. When the abbey was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, her remains were taken to St. Mary’s Church, also in Bury St Edmunds, and placed under a modest slab – another long trip from Wales which I'll be talking about soon!

Tony Riches

18 May 2018

Tudor Book Spotlight: The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, by Suzannah Lipscomb

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

On 28 January 1547, the sickly and obese King Henry VIII died at Whitehall. Just hours before his passing, his last will and testament had been read, stamped and sealed. The will confirmed the line of succession as Edward, Mary and Elizabeth; and, following them, the Grey and Suffolk families. It also listed bequests to the king's most trusted councillors and servants.

Henry's will is one of the most intriguing and contested documents in British history. Historians have disagreed over its intended meaning, its authenticity and validity, and the circumstances of its creation. 

As well as examining the background to the drafting of the will and describing Henry's last days, Suzannah Lipscomb offers her own, illuminating interpretation of one of the most significant constitutional documents of the Tudor period.

‘I was gripped by Suzannah Lipscomb’s The King is Dead, an elegantly written forensic examination of Henry VIII’s last will and testament, one of the most significant constitutional documents in British history.’ (Saul David, Evening Standard)
Lipscomb 'deserves admiration for taking on some of the heavy-hitters among Tudor historians and for holding her own....This is a book that deserves to be read. Lipscomb has produced an entirely credible interpretation of a contentious issue. Her sober but still engaging prose thankfully lacks that sweet sentimentality that so often characterises popular histories of the Tudors. Her analysis of the available documents seems sturdy. With admirable authority, she provides an interesting allegory about how misplaced trust can undermine the best-laid plans of a powerful king.' (Prof. Gerard DeGroot, The Times)
‘Scholars have long jousted over the provenance, authenticity and validity of Henry VIII’s 1546 will, making it one of the most contested documents in British history. Lipscomb approaches the debate as a series of ‘mysteries to be solved’, bringing us directly into the corridors of 16th-century English power by supplying, in an appendix, the document itself. …Challengers to the will’s validity contend that a cabal of courtiers took advantage of a fading monarch to manipulate the endgame. But Lipscomb makes the case that the will was exactly as a dying but still leonine Henry wished it… Both wonkish and elegant, The King is Dead allows us a peek inside.’ (Jean Zimmerman, New York Times Book Review)
‘Nimbly scrutinizes Henry VIII’s unusual final will to lend insight into the king’s state of mind and religious beliefs during the last months of his life while also settling potential timeline incongruities.’ (Publishers Weekly) 
‘A gripping, forceful and forensically detailed investigation into the most controversial document of Henry VIII’s reign’. Jessie Childs
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About the Author

Dr Suzannah Lipscomb is Senior Lecturer and Convenor for History at New College of the Humanities, London, and also holds a post as Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. For three years she was Research Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, based at Hampton Court Palace; she is now a Consultant for Historic Royal Palaces and on their Research Strategy Board. Find out more at Suzannah's website http://suzannahlipscomb.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @sixteenthCgirl

Guest Post by Bett Rose, Author of A Week in Time

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Whilst the men and able bodied were away fighting, those left behind faced a daily struggle to keep up a semblance of normal life. The neighbours all 'pulled together' and 'mucked in' as Harold would have it. Eliza enjoyed her independence and Joanie found an inner strength and knew that Reg would be proud of her. Ruby? Well they all knew about Ruby! Francis? Increasingly fragile and a worry to them all. 

I was inspired to write A Week in Time after watching so many seemingly dark programmes on TV and wanting to bring a little light into the world. My dad and brothers were all employed in the Coventry motor trade, and many times I would quietly sit behind 'dad's chair' listening to the dark and numerous stories of everyday survival during WW2. Very few of the tales were about the actual fighting, more about being 'bombed out' , or rationing or 'making do!'

A Week in Time is a story of everyday lives and relationships, of 'working class' neighbours and families living in close proximity, living out their reality of WW2 Britain. Just a short story, that includes laughter and light and hope and disappointments and spirituality.

Most importantly, to me, a happy ending. I wanted to encourage others who have dreamed of writing and not yet made a start.

My book was published in November 2017.  I'm now working on a story about family and homelessness, inspired by a walk through the city centre, mid afternoon , and seeing so many youngster 'sleeping out' in the cold. I hope to publish in November 2018.

There are editing and publishing companies that will guide a writer through this process, without them A Week in Time would still be a story on an A4 notepad.

Bett Rose
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About the Author

Bett Rose was born in Coventry, UK in the early 1950's, the youngest child of six. After retiring from a career in nursing, Bett and had time to enjoy reading more and writing a few letters to magazines. For many years she wrote relaxation scripts for patients and philosophies for her church, which proved to be good preparation for becoming an author.

17 May 2018

New Historical Fiction: Jane Seymour, the Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens), by Alison Weir

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Acclaimed author and historian Alison Weir continues her epic Six Tudor Queens series with this third captivating novel, which brings to life Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII's most cherished bride and mother of his only legitimate male heir.

Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and as an adult, Jane is invited to the King's court to serve as lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. 

The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumors of Henry's lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn--also lady-in-waiting to the queen--all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a hauntingl incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures Anne as his new queen--forever altering the religious landscape of England--he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King's affection and earn favor for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son, or will she be cast aside like the women who came before her?

Bringing new insight to this compelling story, Alison Weir marries meticulous research with gripping historical fiction to re-create the dramas and intrigues of the most renowned court in English history. At its center is a loving and compassionate woman who captures the heart of a king, and whose life will hang in the balance for it.

Praise for Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession: 
"A stunning, engaging, comprehensive and convincing novel . . . important, page-turning biographical fiction, hauntingly and beautifully told in first-person narrative . . . psychologically penetrating and packed with wonderful, vivid scenes. [Alison] Weir's characterisation is superb."--Historical Novels Review
 "A persuasive attempt to restore the humanity of a tragic, misrepresented figure . . . Weir's fictional Anne is ferociously smart and guilty of nothing but craving the power that's rightfully hers to claim."--NPR
"A richly detailed rendering of the familiar Tudor drama . . . Weir brings considerable expertise to her portrait of Anne as 'a flawed but very human heroine, a woman of great ambition, idealism and courage' [and] vividly depicts court life."--Kirkus Reviews
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About the Author

Alison Weir lives and works in Surrey. Her books include Britain's Royal Families, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Children of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII: King and Court, Mary, Queen of Scots and Isabella: She-Wolf of France. Find out more on Alison's website www.alisonweir.org.uk and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AlisonWeirBooks