21 October 2017

Book Review: Wolf's Head (The Forest Lord Book 1) by Steven A. McKay

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals. When they are betrayed, and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends
 seeks bloody vengeance.

I’d been intrigued by the success of Steven A. McKay’s Forest Lord series so decided it was time to take a look. The ‘Forest Lord’ in question is Robin Hood, and the story has been told countless times since medieval ballads. I was amazed to see the list of TV and film versions has more than I can be bothered to count, and ranges from a Disney cartoon version to a squeaky-clean Kevin Costner in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ and a more earthy Russell Crowe as ‘Robin Longstride’ (complete with Australian accent.)

I’m pleased to say Steven McKay’s series is a masterclass of how to breathe new life into well explored stories. He handles the multiple characters with the skill of a forest archer, picking his moment to surprise the reader. I liked the historical references to the Lancastrian revolt that provide a backdrop to the narrative and found his reading style engaging.

There must be something we can all identify with in the story of Robin Hood, a universal battle for fair treatment in the face of overwhelming odds. Steven A. McKay doesn’t flinch from the darker side of the tale and this is a series I’m happy to recommend. 

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, Wolf's Head, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. Blood of the Wolf is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series. Steven is currently researching and writing a brand new tale - tentatively titled "The Druid" set in post-Roman Britain. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up. Find out more at his website
https://stevenamckay.com/ and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay

20 October 2017

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Pleasing Mr. Pepys, by Deborah Swift

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London 1667. Set in a London rising from the ruins of the Great Fire, Pleasing Mr Pepys is a vivid re-imagining of the events in Samuel Pepys's Diary. Desperate to escape her domineering aunt, Deb Willet thinks the post of companion to well-respected Elisabeth Pepys is the answer to her prayers. 

But Samuel Pepys's house is not as safe as it seems. An intelligent girl in Deb's position has access to his government papers, and soon she becomes a target of flamboyant actress Abigail Williams, a spy for England's enemies, the Dutch. Abigail is getting old and needs a younger accomplice. 

She blackmails Deb into stealing Pepys's documents. Soon, the respectable life Deb longs for slides out of her grasp. Mr Pepys's obsessive lust for his new maid increases precisely as Abigail and her sinister Dutch spymaster become more demanding. 

When Deb falls for handsome Jem Wells, a curate-in-training, she thinks things cannot possibly get worse. Until ñ not content with a few stolen papers ñ the Dutch want Mr Pepys's Diary.

"Swift brought Deborah Willet, the Pepyses, and the London of the 1660s to life in an exciting and sometimes touching way...I didn't want to put it down, and found myself thinking about the story when I went about my day." - Andrea Zuvich, Author of His Last Mistress

"Deb Willet, Elizabeth Pepys's maid and the object of Samuel Pepys's attentions, is finally given centre-stage after 350 years, and her tale was worth waiting for. This is exceptional story-telling." - L. C. Tyler

"Laced with emotional intensity and drama, Pleasing Mr Pepys... (has) an intricate plot that features red herrings, unexpected twists, and surprises that will take readers on a very delightful ride." - Arya Fomonyuy, Readers' Favorite

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About the Author

Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website www.deborahswift.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory.

Blog Tour Schedule

Thursday, September 28 Review at The Maiden's Court Guest Post at Books of All Kinds Friday, September 29 Guest Post at Let Them Read Books Spotlight at What Is That Book About Monday, October 2 Review at History From a Woman's Perspective Tuesday, October 3 Review at The Lit Bitch Feature at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots Wednesday, October 4 Feature at A Holland Reads Thursday, October 5 Review at CelticLady's Reviews Friday, October 6 Feature at Passages to the Past Monday, October 9 Review at 100 Pages a Day Tuesday, October 10 Review at Locks, Hooks and Books Wednesday, October 11 Review at Book Nerd Friday, October 13 Review at Poppy Coburn Monday, October 16 Review at Just One More Chapter Review at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen Tuesday, October 17 Review at Laura's Interests Interview at Suzy Approved Books Wednesday, October 18 Review at Jo's Book Blog Thursday, October 19 Feature at T's Stuff Friday, October 20 Review at A Literary Vacation Guest Post at The Writing Desk


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a signed copy of Pleasing Mr. Pepys to one lucky winner! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below. Giveaway Rules ñ Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on October 20th. You must be 18 or older to enter. ñ Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY. ñ Only one entry per household. ñ All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. ñ Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. Pleasing Mr. Pepys

17 October 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Last Lancastrian ~ A Story of Margaret Beaufort, by Samantha Wilcoxson

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Margaret Beaufort is remembered as a pious and formidable woman. Before she was the king's mother, she was a young wife who was desperate to secure her son's future. Take a peek into the life of Margaret Beaufort before she dreamed of a Tudor dynasty.

The Last Lancastrian is a prequel novella to the Plantagenet Embers trilogy, which begins with Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York.

About the Author

Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Her 2015 novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, features Elizabeth of York and was selected as an Editors’ Choice by the Historical Novel Society. 

Samantha lives on a small lake in Michigan with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two cats. This crew provides plenty of good times and writing inspiration. When she is not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys travelling and learning about new places. Find out more at her blog http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @carpe_librum

14 October 2017

Book Launch Guest Post by K.M. Pohlkamp, Author of Apricots and Wolfsbane

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia Maud finds her instincts as an assassin tested by love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron. With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.

Finding Writing Inspiration From History

Through thousands of years of human history, we’ve done some pretty crazy things. We’ve invented, discovered, survived and destroyed. We’ve cultivated a varied mélange of settings across the world, spanning a vast array of cultures and technological marvels.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next manuscript, consider exploring the annals of our own story.History inspired my historical fiction thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane, which follows the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England. Last fall I read an article about “Forgotten Females of History” and learned the world’s first serial killer was a woman. The fact struck me and curious, I devoured everything I could find about Locusta, the poison master from Gaul.

In AD 54, Empress Agrippina conspired with Locusta to murder her husband, Roman Emperor Claudius, with a batch of poisoned mushrooms in order to place Agrippina’s son, Nero, on the throne. While Locusta was subsequently imprisoned in AD 55, Nero sought to secure his rule by contracting Locusta to craft a poison to murder Claudius’s son. When the concoction failed initial tests, Nero flogged Locusta with his own hands. Her second attempt succeeded and Nero bestowed Locusta with pardons, lands, and lavish gifts. He also sent pupils to study with the poison master.

But in AD 68, the Roman Senate tired of Nero’s rogue practices and the Emperor took his own life with a dagger before facing punishment. The Senate’s attention then turned towards Locusta, and without protection from the Emperor, she was convicted with an execution sentence. Some accounts say she was raped to death by a giraffe and then torn apart by wild animals. While that tale tantalizes the imagination, it is more likely she was led through the city in chains and executed by human hands.

Not much else is known about Locusta, which incited my imagination. As a female engineer for my day job, I related to the challenge of going against traditional female stereotypes. I imagined the challenges she must have faced and wondered if Locusta’s gender ended up being an asset in a field where surprise would provide an advantage. That’s when a story began to weave in my mind.

Being inspired by history is distinctively different than providing a fictional telling of historic events. The plot of Apricots and Wolfsbane is inspired by Locusta’s life, but is not a replication. It is mixed with the product of my own imagination, and while those familiar with Locusta will recognize bits of her inspiration, they are still in for the unpredictable ride. This is the distinctive difference between writing an alternate history or pseudo-history, and using history as inspiration.

One of the ways I reinterpreted my inspiration was by changing the setting. I lifted the aspects of these Roman legends and placed them in my favorite time period, Tudor England. I gave my assassin, Lavinia, parts of my personality, pouring my own experiences and viewpoints into the narrative. The message I wanted readers to take away also affected how I told the story, and further separated Lavinia from her Roman idol.

Whether history has inspired an author’s novel, or they seek to more closely reinterpret, research is paramount if the novel’s setting remains period. It is the little details of a historical fiction piece that bring the world alive to the reader, that transport them back in time. And getting those details correct is time consuming and challenging.

Thankfully, as authors, we a have the world at our fingertips through the internet. [Insert the obvious rant about verifying the validity of your internet sources here.] While writing I predominantly use the internet in three ways (other than distraction and procrastination…)

1) Looking at a picture helps me describe my scenes. Searching for period paintings, art, and photographs on Google images can help place your imagination in the setting of your novel.

2) When researching, primary sources are always best. Google Scholar is a fantastic way to find trustworthy sources.

3) When all else fails, historic author groups on Facebook and internet sites are an invaluable source of assistance. I have a seen all sorts of detailed plot circumstances crowd-sourced researched this way - and have used that resource myself.

The voice of a historical fiction piece also brings the world to life. While most readers would not suffer through 350 pages of Olde English, finding a balance with our modern slang is critical. Anachronisms and contemporary words are jarring in a period piece and take the reader out of the setting. I write with a thesaurus open to quickly look up the word origin of uncertain words and then have other options readily available as required.

History can provide inspiration for an entire novel, or just a solution for a small road block. As authors, we draw inspiration from everything around us - just don’t forget to look back in time as well.

K.M. Pohlkamp

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About the Author

K.M. Pohlkamp is a blessed wife, proud mother of two young children, and an aerospace engineer who works in Mission Control. She operated guidance, navigation and control systems on the Space Shuttle and is currently involved in development of upcoming manned-space vehicles. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain her sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. Pohlkamp’s historical fiction thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane, was published by Filles Vertes Publishing in October.

Find out more at the author's website https://kmpohlkamp.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KMPohlkamp.

Using Vellum as a publishing tool #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I enjoy having control over all aspects of the publishing process and for the last six years used a range of tools that produced good results. Then I saw this post by Joanna Penn (who helped me start self publishing)  Why I’ve Moved From Scrivener To Vellum For Formatting Ebooks

Like Joanna, I'd been alerted by a reader to an ebook formatting problem that didn't show up on my Kindle. (Line breaks to show change of scene had closed up on her e-reader) This made me wonder how any other readers had said nothing - and if it had cost me sales.

The solution seemed too good to be true. One easy to use tool that could import my Word document, allow me to design the layout based on good practice and produce perfect print and ebook editions with a single click. The problem was Vellum isn't available in a Windows version, so I finally had to make the switch to Mac.

I now wish I'd done this ages ago, as my new MacBook Pro (with context-related touch bar) is a joy to use, after putting up with the vagaries of Windows updates for years. I bought the full version of Vellum as a download and had no problems installing it, so was up and running right away. 

There are useful tutorials on YouTube, such as this one by USA Today best selling author Sara Rosett:

I found the interface so intuitive I rarely had to resort to using the online help. I particularly liked the way you can preview the results as a print book or on any of the popular e-readers:

Vellum makes tricky tasks such as handling images and layout of poetry and quotations really easy. There are enough options to satisfy most needs and the results were validated on Amazon and CreateSpace with no errors. 

Over the past month I've converted all my books to Vellum editions and am happy to recommend this wonderful tool to anyone considering self-publishing.

Tony Riches

Do you have some great writing tips you would like to share?
Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.

13 October 2017

New Book Review: Apricots and Wolfsbane, by K.M. Pohlkamp

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia Maud finds her instincts as an assassin tested by love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron. With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.

This dark, fast-paced tale keeps you guessing from the first page.  Pushing the boundaries of the historical fiction genre, K.M. Pohlkamp evokes a world where the usual definitions of right and wrong are the first casualties.

Obsessed with her quest to discover the perfect poison, it seems nothing is going to stand in the way of Lavinia Maud. Inspired by accounts of Locusta, Emperor Nero's notorious poisoner of ancient Rome, the relocation of the setting to Tudor London provides K.M. Pohlkamp with more than enough people to poison  - and reasons why.

I was impressed by the detailed research that must have gone in to writing this book, as well as the character development. This is perhaps not the best book to read to your children at bedtime - but one I'd love to see made into a movie. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Originally from Wisconsin, K.M. Pohlkamp lives with her husband Jon in Houston, Texas, and is the  proud mother of two and a Mission Control flight controller. 

Find out more at the author's website 
https://kmpohlkamp.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KMPohlkamp.

11 October 2017

Guest Post by Apple Gidley, Author of Fireburn

 New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Fireburn tells of the horrors of a little-known, bloody period of Caribbean history. Anna weathers personal heartache as she challenges the conventions of the day, the hostility of the predominantly male landowners and survives the worker rebellion of 1878.

Writing is an intensely personal business. Until, that is, the manuscript is ready for someone else’s eyes. Letting go of those neatly typed pages, or pushing send, is achieved only after an agony of indecision. What, in the weeks and months of diligent research, in allowing the characters to invade every waking moment, to getting the actual words down, leads up to that pivotal moment and coalesces into a maelstrom of doubt. Is it good enough? 

What seemed lyrical prose becomes saccharine; witty dialogue dribbles into cliché-ridden twaddle and the plot line becomes riddled with holes, non sequiturs and repetition. And so procrastination sets in. A tweak here, a rewrite there, the deletion of tracts of what at one stage seemed integral to the story.

Finally courage is grasped with both hands, the stamp licked, the button pushed and the waiting begins. If lucky, encouragement is given to continue along the path started with a vague idea.

My first book, Expat Life Slice By Slice, was relatively easy to let go. It was memoir and therefore could either be enjoyed, or not, believed, or not. It was the story of a life spent in twelve countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea and Holland, Equatorial Guinea and Singapore, with another eight thrown in for good measure. It told of the ups and downs of a nomadic life, it offered encouragement and admitted to errors made in a world where traversing cultural differences can sometimes be fraught. And it had a ready-made audience. Other people like me, or who were about to embark on a global adventure.

The launch of Fireburn on October 1st this year was a wholly different affair. Those initial agonies returned tenfold. This wasn’t fact, this was my imagination on sale. Until writing this novel I had never truly understood Graham Greene’s words in his memoir, Ways to Escape, when he wrote, “there is a splinter of ice in the heart of the writer” and that “a writer’s job demands an aloofness”. That most prolific and wonderful of writers, is right.

In Fireburn, writing violent scenes between Anna and her husband, a rather unpleasant chap called Carl Pedersen, was straightforward at the time but reading them later was hard. Did people wonder if I’d ever been treated so brutally. I haven’t. But at the time of writing, the words flowed almost unbidden as Anna took over. 

And that is the trick I have learned to writing believable dialogue. The characters must be heard. Not just the actual words, but the nuances. 
Fireburn, set in 1870s St Croix (Croy) in the Danish West Indies, now the US Virgin Islands, is written in four voices: Anna, a young Anglo-Danish woman; Ivy, her lady’s maid from the East End of London; Emiline, a West Indian cook and weed woman; and Sampson, the black estate foreman. Each speaks in a different manner and Sam is able to switch between Crucian patois and standard English with an ever-increasing ease.

I have always been an inveterate eaves-dropper. To the extent my husband has at times chastised me for not listening to him but rather a conversation at an adjacent table. I am that person who does not mind being delayed in travel. I love airports for the endless mix of people and cultures, and even accents between the only language I speak with any great facility, English. As my imagination has run riot, innocent men, women and children have been turned into conniving, murderous villains, or cuckolded spouses, or stolen infants unaware of their true heritage. Just sometimes they have a happy life.

I use public transport to listen to conversations around me - no plot or incident ever written, certainly in historical fiction, hasn’t happened somewhere in the world. Just read the agony aunt columns. There is no end to our ability to disappoint, to cheat, to be cruel just as there is no end to the kindness and compassion around us - we just have to listen for it and then transpose it into words coming from our characters.

I have always loved to read, and writing historical fiction is a wonderful excuse to read. And research can be both fact and fiction. If we fudge history it doesn’t matter how believable our characters, we are doing our readers a great disservice. Our imagination might be at play but the facts must bear scrutiny.

So the novel is finished, the button pushed. The elation is as effervescent as champagne when the manuscript is accepted. The bubbles can though evaporate very quickly as the editing process begins. If you’re lucky, as I have been, arguments for keeping certain passages, certain phrases and words are respected, though at times a graceful acceptance that the editor knows best is by far the wisest option. They are the professionals and want only to showcase the writer in the most favourable light possible.

It is now nine days since the launch of Fireburn, the terror of rejection for a story from my imagination has not yet abated - perhaps it never will, but that fear will not stop me from writing the sequel, Transfer of the Crown. As I said, writing is an intensely personal venture, and I love it!

Apple Gidley
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About the Author

Apple Gidley is an Anglo-Australian author whose life has been spent absorbing countries and cultures, considers herself a global nomad. She currently divides her time between Houston, Texas and St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. She has moved 26 times, and has called twelve countries home (Nigeria, England, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Papua New Guinea, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Scotland, USA, Equatorial Guinea), and her experiences are described in her first book, Expat Life Slice by Slice. Her roles have been varied - from magazine editor to intercultural trainer, from interior designer to Her Britannic Majesty’s Honorary Consul. Now writing full time, Apple evocatively portrays peoples and places with empathy and humour, whether writing travel articles, blogs, short stories or full-length fiction. Find out more at Apple’s Blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter @expatapple.