Today, I’m excited to welcome Anne O’Brien to the blog on tour with her fabulous book The Queen’s Rival

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Anne O’Brien to the blog to talk about her fantastic book, The Queen’s Rival, a real favourite of mine. (Find my review here).

I have read Queen’s Rival and I found it riveting. Yet, it is deliciously complex, and there’s a huge amount of both primary and secondary material available for study. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical characters to life? 

The complexity of the Wars of the Roses within the story of Cecily Neville was daunting when I first took it on.  Where to start, where to end.  Should I consolidate into one book, or write a sequel?  While I thought about it, all became clear to me.  Because I write about medieval women and form their point of view, many of the political events and battles must dealt with lightly, made only relevant when they had a bearing on Cecily’s experience, and then rarely in grat detail.  To begin: the day that she became a force in her own right – the events at Ludlow after the debacle at Ludford Bridge when she was left to face the rampaging mob of the Lancastrian army, alone with her three younger children.  To end: with the crowning of Richard III when Cecily must come to terms with the political forces that had removed her grandson Edward V from the throne.  

Who to include in Cecily’s story?

Some major figures would have to be short-changed because they did not develop the plot that was Cecily’s life, but were merely people on the periphery of Cecily’s story.  These included such notable characters as Margaret Beaufort,  Anne Neville,  Henry Tudor.  Even Margaret of Anjou might have demanded a more dynamic role although she is not entirely absent.  This may disappoint some readers but these are characters for another book.  There is a finite length to a novel as my editor is keen to tell me; Cecily and her family must take pre-eminence.

Cecily was the youngest of a large family.  To include all her brothers and sisters would definitely be a bad plan.  I deliberately made a choice of those who would be most useful to me   Her brother Richard of Salisbury of course and his son the Earl Warwick.  Two of her sisters, the eldest and the one closest to her in age.  The rest would sadly have to remain anonymous.

Why write in letter format?  I chose to do this to develop the family aspect of the Wars of the Roses.  These were real people who suffered and rejoiced within their families.  I decided that letters would make this a very personal account for Cecily, and thus make the emotion of her losses and achievements even stronger when faced with scandal and treachery.

Mostly when researching I refer to secondary sources.  I do not always find the need to return to primary sources.  For me this would be like re-inventing the wheel since the history of the Wars of the Roses has been magnificently researched by a number of historians, although I admit to being picky over whom I might use. I find myself returning to the works of  Matthew Lewis, Ian Mortimer, Nigel Saul, Anthony Goodman and Michael Jones.  For Cecily herself , when I was was half way through writing, a new long-awaited biography of Cecily was published:  Cecily Duchess of York by J L Laynesmith which proved endlessly useful for tying up a number of loose ends for me.

For primary sources, the chroniclers of the day are fascinating and encouraged me to write my own version of a Chronicle to help the plot to progress in The Queen’s Rival.  Accounts of Cecily’s pious lifestyle in her later years and the vast detail of her will were both excellent.

Taking the facts, together with the reactions of those who knew Cecily, it is then a matter of historical imagination to create an interpretation of her life as accurately as possible.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?

I don’t have a ‘go to’ book when writing because my medieval women span a number of reigns, but one I find myself referring to frequently is The Senses in Late Medieval England by C M Woolgar.  It opens up the medieval world and life in aristocratic households beautifully, from every possible angle.  I also have quite a collection of books on medieval armour and costume – an essential part of my research, as well as medieval poetry and chivalric tales.  And then there  are the general history reference books …  Altogether my bookshelves are groaning from the weight of medieval history books.

Thank you so much for sharing your process with me. It’s fascinating and I’m in awe of how you managed to fit so much into one novel!

(Isn’t the cover beautiful).

Here’s the blurb;

England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

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Meet the author

Sunday Times Bestselling 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.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Queen’s Rival blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

The Last King is available on audiobook

I’m really excited to announce that the audiobook for The Last King is now available. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has done a fantastic job of bringing Coelwulf and his allies, and enemies, to life.

To celebrate the release, I have 5 Audible download codes for the US and 5 for the UK. If you would like one, send me a quick email, specifying US or UK, and I’ll wing the code over to you, (as well as some instructions on how to redeem.)

For those in other parts of the world, apologies I don’t have codes for you, but you can listen to The Last King with a free trial for Audible, (just remember to cancel after the first month, or you will be charged). If you live in France, Germany, the UK or the US just click the links.

Here’s a little snippet for you. Remember, this is Coelwulf – it’ll be rife with foul language, blood and gore. Enjoy.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Pied Piper by Keith Stuart

I’m delighted to welcome Keith Stuart to the blog with a post about the research he undertook to write his new novel, Pied Piper.

I should say from the start that the novel grew from a very short piece of writing – almost a literary doodle – which I had no expectation of ever becoming a book. I certainly never sat down and said, “I’m going to write an historical novel.” Throughout the development from that initial scribbling into something bigger, it became clear that the historical backdrop offered the perfect setting for the themes I wanted to explore, themes which are contemporary, in fact. 

I have long been fascinated by how notions of masculinity and male friendship have changed in my lifetime. I could count on the fingers of … well, two fingers how many times I can recall my father embracing me. As children he left demonstrations of affection to my mother and as adults we would greet each other with an uninhibited, fulsome handshake! That was not the case with my own two sons: if I ever held my hand out to greet or congratulate them, they would ignore it and throw their arms round me. I was often struck by how unashamedly demonstrative they always were with their male, as well as female, friends. Huge hugs and declarations of “I love you, man,” were open and genuine.

I am also aware that the biggest killer of males between the ages of 17 and 35 in the UK is suicide and I wanted to explore what the implications for all that might have been for a young man in that age bracket, at the time of my father’s youth. The thought of my children being whisked away, to who knew where, hardly bears contemplating and the evacuation, Operation Pied Piper, provided me with the scenario to explore those issues. To my knowledge it is an event most frequently told and visualised through the eyes of the mothers or children and yet how much it must have affected fathers, whom I suspect were less able to express their anxiety and grief.

So, off I set with my story, trawling my knowledge of ‘that time’ from history lessons, reading I have done, films I have seen, but I knew I had to get things right. Internet searches found specifics like the wording of leaflets that parents received through their letter boxes, instructing them about the evacuation: that, I felt would underline the enormity of the scheme on a personal level as well as the scale. 

I knew that it all happened in a governmental (albeit understandable) panic and that many children had returned to London before the Blitz began a year later, but I had to get the timings right both of the story and the war-time backdrop. I needed to check out the weather that year and the timings of blackouts, readying of the undergrounds stations as shelters, etc.

I was, however, writing intuitively, telling a story which was evolving as I explored the emotions of the children’s father. Through lack of forward planning, particular events in the narrative took me into historical cul de sacs from which I could only extricate myself with research. Means of communicating, health care provision, transportation all needed getting right – even details of train routes. Internet searching solved each of these, accurately, I hope! 

All the research was on a needs-must, at-the-time, basis. It is a period of history that does interest me, perhaps because I just missed it, but I wanted to know more to achieve authenticity. The real issues for me, however, were relationships, emotions, male bonding and friendship and mental health (as we now call it).

As I finished Pied Piper during the COVID pandemic, an irony relating to the novel, me and the issues, occurs. I thought I was going to be lucky enough to be part of a generation that avoided something like a world war. We skirted with the Cuba crisis and the Cold War but most political, economic and military crises in my lifetime have been short and not ones which have meant fearing for our lives for months or years on end. And then along comes COVID, though not on the scale of the two World Wars, there has been an extended period where the future of our lives has been in doubt. This current crisis has raised mental health to the forefront and it has reinforced my feeling that it was worth exploring through the main character in Pied Piper, a young father in 1939. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research processes with me. I always find them fascinating.

Here’s the blurb

In September 1939 the British Government launched Operation Pied Piper. To protect them from the perils of German bombing raids, in three days millions of city children were evacuated – separated from their parents. 

This story tells of two families: one whose children leave London and the other which takes them in. We share the ups and downs of their lives, their dramas and tragedies, their stoicism and their optimism. But. unlike many other stories and images about this time, this one unfolds mainly through the eyes of Tom, the father whose children set off, to who knew where, with just a small case and gas mask to see them on their way

This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

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Meet the Author

Keith Stuart (Wadsworth) taught English for 36 years in Hertfordshire schools, the county in which he was born and has lived most of his life. Married with two sons, sport, music and, especially when he retired after sixteen years as a headteacher, travel, have been his passions. Apart from his own reading, reading and guiding students in their writing; composing assemblies; writing reports, discussion and analysis papers, left him with a declared intention to write a book. Pied Piper is ‘it’.  Starting life as a warm-up exercise at the Creative Writing Class he joined in Letchworth, it grew into this debut novel.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Pied Piper blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Dawn Empress by Faith L Justice

Today I’m delighted to welcome Faith L Justice to the blog with a post about the way she researched in order to write Dawn Empress.

Q. How Far Could a Roman Army March in a Day and Did They Wear Socks with Their Sandals?

A: 37 miles and “Yes”—Details in the post!

My mission is to tell interesting stories about little-known, but important women, while entertaining the reader. Because I write biographical historical fiction, historical accuracy is extremely important to me. For every novel, I must answer hundreds of questions like those posed in the title, so I do a tremendous amount of research beyond the facts of births, deaths, wars, etc. The sights, smells, sounds, and descriptions of clothes, food, housing, and transportation helps the reader experience a kind of time travel as they immerse themselves in a past culture. Personally, I find research the most fun part of writing my books. I get to learn new stuff, visit interesting places, and share my passions with readers. 

I ran across the empresses who are the subjects of my three-book series The Theodosian Women when I researched my first novel set in the early fifth century. Pulcheria (Dawn Empress) took over the Eastern Roman court at the tender age of fifteen and ruled as regent for her under-age brother Theodosius II. Placidia (Twilight Empress) ruled over the fading Western Empire for her under-age son Valentinian III. Athenais (work in progress), a pagan philosopher/poet married the “Most Christian Emperor” Theodosius II. These women fascinated me. I wanted to tell their stories, but I had a lot of research work to do.

This was hampered by the times. The fifth century experienced great turmoil as barbarians invaded the Roman Empire sacking cities, disrupting education and culture, and destroying records. This left only fragments of primary sources for future historians to ponder. Archaeology filled in some of the blanks, but there was lots of room for my imagination. My print resources consisted of translated copies of primary sources, general histories by well-respected historians, and a couple of obscure biographies. I still remember the unmitigated joy I felt when I found a used copy of Galla Placidia Augusta: A Biographical Essay by Stewart Irvin Oost and plunked down my money. I wrote Pulcheria’s story later when Kenneth G. Holum’s Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity was generally available. I’ve provided research bibliographies for each of my novels on my website but here’s a visual sample of my research book shelves. 

My first drafts are usually “white room” versions concentrating on the plot derived from the histories. I spend my second draft answering pesky questions about food, clothing, health, religion, architecture, art, technology, trade, and natural disasters—anything that adds color and context to my character’s lives. These details mostly come from specialized books and academic articles. The Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (part of the Oxford Facts on File series) is a good place to start, but I couldn’t write with confidence without the academic articles I find at JSTOR (free with a library card) and Academia.edu.

Research has changed enormously in the past twenty-five years, making it much easier for the casual scholar. For my first two novels, I had to haunt the research branch of the New York Public Library looking up academic articles in dusty indices. About half of the journals seemed to be missing when I searched for them in the stacks. Now with a library card and a computer, anyone can access thousands of academic journals and presentations. I have over 300 titles in my miscellaneous research file alone.

The coolest new tool I’ve found is an interactive website called Orbis the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Created and maintained by Stanford University, Orbis provides travel data in the Roman Empire. I fill in the details and it tells me how long it would take an army to march from Constantinople to Aquileia in January: 26.5 days, covering 1588 km (987 miles) at 60 km (37 miles) per day. Do I have a post rider carrying an important message from Rome to Toulouse in October? How about a trader moving exotic animals from Alexandria to Rome during the summer? No more looking up obscure modes of transportation, determining distance on Google Maps, and hand calculating. Magic!

My all-time favorite research technique is the site visit. I have a dozen books on Constantinople and Ravenna with gorgeous pictures and incredible diagrams, but nothing beats walking the famed walls that lasted a thousand years, feeling the weather change when a storm blows in across the Black Sea, or seeing surviving frescoes and mosaics in fifth century buildings. I took the picture of this stunning mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. 

I also do hands-on history by volunteering at archaeological digs. While working on Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, I got to visit the Vindolanda Roman Fort and see rare correspondence of a young Roman soldier asking his mother to send him knitted socks for the winter, among many other everyday artifacts, such as a doll, grocery lists, and a birthday party invitation written by the wife of the commander. In Tuscany, I helped uncover and preserve a mosaic of Medusa (pictured below) at a dig of a first century Roman villa. All this fuels a sense of awe and respect for these ordinary people who are long gone, but still very human in their needs, which I hope comes through in my writing. 

Museums come in a close second for favorite personal research. We have world-class ones here in New York. I studied 5C Roman clothing, coins, art, and jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, giving me a motherlode of detail to enrich my stories. If this pandemic we’re living through has any upside, it’s that museums around the world have made their collections available online. We can now virtually visit special exhibitions, search collections, and order previously inaccessible images and books. But I’m looking forward to going back in person.

So that’s my research process—lots of reading and note taking, punctuated with museum trips, site visits, and archaeology digs (a.k.a. vacations). After living vicariously in the fifth century for twenty-five years, I have an extensive personal library, but I want to give a hearty shout out to all the research librarians who helped me over the years. For accuracy, I trust “Ask A Librarian” over a chat room on the internet any day. Support your local libraries. They are national treasures!

On a final note, my sincere thanks to MJ Porter for hosting me on this blog tour. It’s always a privilege to meet new readers. If any of you have questions about my research process or my books, feel free to get in touch through my website or other social media. I love to hear from people. Stay safe out there!

© Faith L. Justice 2021

Thank you so much for sharing. A pleasure to have you on the blog. Note for UK readers, JSTOR offers some free articles, and others can be purchased with a subscription package:)

Here’s the blurb;

As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.

After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?

Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews); a “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews). Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.

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Meet 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.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Dawn Empress blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for A Matter of Conscience by Judith Arnopp

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp to the blog with a guest post about her historical research.

A Matter of Conscience is once more set during the reign of the Tudors, a period about which I know you’ve written extensively. Do you feel comfortable in the Tudor era and can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape and people of Tudor England to life?

I feel very comfortable in the Tudor era, or at least in the Tudor world I have created, peopled with characters from history. Since we can never visit the past, no author can ever be 100% certain they have got it right so I don’t worry too much, if I can convince my reader, I am happy. 

I’ve enjoyed the Tudor period since I was a young girl, some forty-five years or more. As a teenager I read all I could get my hands on, both fiction and non-fiction, and later when I went to university as a mature student, I learned the importance of thorough research. At the time, I never dreamed I’d ever write a book, let alone be published. A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years is my thirteenth novel set in the Tudor era, so I know the setting quite well by now. 

When I wrote my first Tudor books, The Winchester Goose and The Kiss of the Concubine: the story of Anne Boleyn, I needed to research from the ground up. I examined the living conditions, the law, clothes, historical figures, customs, buildings, and court etiquette. I probably did far more research than necessary, but I wanted to get it right. I spent ages researching and still rely quite heavily on the essays and notes I made then. There is an extensive university library in Lampeter, close to where I lived at the time, and I used that a lot but now I have moved farther away, I can no longer do so. Luckily, the basics are in my head, so I only need to double check the things I am unsure of. Who was where at what time? Birth dates, death dates, things like that, or palaces or castles I’ve not researched before. 

When I wrote The Beaufort Chronicle, I became so wrapped up investigating Margaret Beaufort’s many homes, I fell behind with the rest of my work schedule and had to scramble for the deadline.

As for contemporary sources, they are much easier to get hold of than they used to be. When I first began to write I had to order them via the university library and sometimes it took weeks to get into my hands. British History Online is invaluable for documents and I recently discovered another online resource called Academia that is also proving useful.

I have many key reference books in my own library, and I can’t resist historical biographies. There are a few good historians that I trust to have researched properly and as soon as they release a new book, it goes on my pile.

Each time I begin a new project, I tell myself I will be tidier and more organised but before I am half-way through, the usual chaos has resumed. I make heaps of notes that I often cannot interpret afterwards, which often means I need to look up some things again. I seem to get there in the end though. There is always a pile of books by my favourite historians on my desk for dipping in and out of for reference and another pile I read from cover to cover. For this novel I’ve relied on biographies by Tracy Borman, Alison Weir, Eric Ives, Suzannah Lipscomb, Elizabeth Norton. I think I have all Amy Licence’s books now and her new one, 1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold was published in timely fashion just as I began work on A Matter of Conscience, and I greatly enjoyed it.  

I also listen to Claire Ridgeway on You Tube while I am sewing in my craft room. She knows all there is to know about Anne Boleyn. There are scenes in nearly all my books of women sewing or embroidering, I can empathise with their sore fingers.

I find it best to absorb a wide variety of opinions and perspectives and then mull it all over and make my own conclusion. But not all the information ends up in the finished book because too much fact in a novel can be dull. I write first person narrative so I don’t tend to over describe the everyday objects they use simply because my character would not have found them extraordinary. My books centre on the psyche, or what I imagine might have been.

When writing in Henry’s voice I must be sure to know only what Henry knew and forget what comes after and the events that occurred behind his back. I live in each moment with Henry, as he lived it. A Matter of Conscience takes place during his childhood, adolescence, and marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so I found Henry quite an easy companion. He might, however, prove harder to live with in Book Two, which will follow shortly.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

I use the Tudor timeline as a skeleton so always have a print out of that to hand. Also, my Who’s Who in Tudor England is invaluable for reference. Looking at the pile on my desk at his moment, I’d say I rely on Amy Licence’s books the most. I find her very accessible, concise, and most importantly, accurate. Elizabeth Norton is another name that appears often on my shelves.

But my research isn’t all books or written sources, there are also portraits and again, thanks to technology, there is no real need to visit museums and galleries to do this. I build Pinterest boards with interesting Tudor faces and costumes which helps immensely, not just with my fiction but with my non-fiction writing and actual historical sewing too. I visit castles and monastic buildings, palaces, and manor houses. I’m not a great fan of the sites that add waxworks and reconstructed ‘rooms’. I prefer to let my imagination do the work. I am lucky to live in Wales where we have so many castles. I am a founder member of a Tudor re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and we love to dress up in our lovely gowns and ‘swish’ about the castles. All our events were cancelled last year, for obvious reasons and we haven’t booked any this year but are waiting to see what unfolds. We will be so glad when Covid19 restrictions end and we are able to visit them again.

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog. It has been lovely.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I can relate to much of it – I am very untidy as well, and never reference anything correctly so always have to find it again.

So, here’s the blurb for the new book. It sounds fantastic. I’ve always been drawn to this particular episode in the Tudor saga.

‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. 

But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.

Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son.

He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.

As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.

A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation

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Meet the Author

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.

She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include:

A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years 

The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle

The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver

Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for A Matter of Conscience.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Under the Light of the Italian Moon by Jennifer Anton

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Anton to the blog, with a post about her historical research. (I love finding out all the details).

Your book, Under the Light of the Italian Moon, sounds fascinating, and the cover is beautiful. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical characters to life? 

Thanks for having me on the blog and thank you for your kind words about the synopsis and cover of Under the Light of the Italian Moon

I started researching the novel in 2006. My grandmother, who grew up in Italy and told me stories of her Nazi occupied hometown, got very ill before she could answer all the questions I had for her. Soon after, I had my daughter and ended up in heart failure. By the time I recovered, my grandmother died, never meeting my daughter. It was then that I decided to research her life and get answers to the questions left unanswered. 

The first place I began was with her sister, my aunt, who had lived with her in Italy. Over coffee, we would sit for hours with my tape recorder and notebook. She then introduced me to people in the U.S., Canada and Italy who could tell me more. I spent hours on the phone and then took many trips to Fonzaso, Italy, where the novel takes place. My daughter accompanied me, first as a toddler, then as a little girl and then as a teenager, as we sat speaking to elderly Italians about my family, life under Mussolini and Nazi occupation. When I spoke with them, their stories came to life in my head. I did not see the older person in front of me, with grey hair and age spots. I saw them as my characters, full of life, surviving and living day to day under difficult times. It was a beautiful experience and every detail they gave me, I tried to include in the novel. 

Researching with Aunt

While collecting first-hand accounts, I was also doing extensive research regarding the time frame. The novel covers a long period: starting in 1914, jumping to 1919 and then to 1923 and beyond. It allows the reader to see the progression of political forces in the background while we experience the life of Nina Argenta, the daughter of a strong-willed midwife who falls in love with a boy who has emigrated to the coal mines of America. I laid out the historical moments under the stories I was told and the other first hand research I was doing. A narrative began to form. 

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?

The most important resources for me were both non-fiction and fiction. From a non-fiction perspective, Victoria De Grazia’s How Fascism Ruled Women and Perry Willson’s book about the Massaie Rurali were critical to understanding life for women during this time. Because the novel deals with a midwife as a central character, women’s reproductive rights, pressures and women in society were important for me to understand. As well, documents from Ellis Island, Fonzaso church records and websites documenting the fascist and Nazi atrocities in the area were incredibly useful. 

But to fill the gaps for the historical fiction narrative, I needed to get into the hearts and minds of the characters. Non-fiction doesn’t help in that area. I sought out books from Bassani and Moravia and found a fantastic book of translated women’s stories from the time from Robin Pickering-Iazzi. This helped me sense check the life I was breathing into my characters for authenticity.

Over a fourteen-year period, I watched every film, read every book and generally filled my hours living in this time period. When I shut my office door, or opened my laptop, I was not in the place I sat, I was in Italy during the interwar years. 

Fonzaso

I hope my novel will also transport you into this time, into the life of Nina Argenta, her mother—a force of nature—Adelasia Dalla Santa Argenta and Nina’s beloved Pietro Pante. Come with me to Fonzaso and experience love and women’s resilience during the rise of fascism and WWII.  

Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating journey with me. It sounds as though your research was both very personal and incredibly interesting.

Here’s the blurb;

A promise keeps them apart until WW2 threatens to destroy their love forever

Fonzaso Italy, between two wars

Nina Argenta doesn’t want the traditional life of a rural Italian woman. The daughter of a strong-willed midwife, she is determined to define her own destiny. But when her brother emigrates to America, she promises her mother to never leave.

When childhood friend Pietro Pante briefly returns to their mountain town, passion between them ignites while Mussolini forces political tensions to rise. Just as their romance deepens, Pietro must leave again for work in the coal mines of America. Nina is torn between joining him and her commitment to Italy and her mother.

As Mussolini’s fascists throw the country into chaos and Hitler’s Nazis terrorise their town, each day becomes a struggle to survive greater atrocities. A future with Pietro seems impossible when they lose contact and Nina’s dreams of a life together are threatened by Nazi occupation and an enemy she must face alone…

A gripping historical fiction novel, based on a true story and heartbreaking real events.

Spanning over two decades, Under the Light of the Italian Moon is an epic, emotional and triumphant tale of one woman’s incredible resilience during the rise of fascism and Italy’s collapse into WWII.

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Meet the Author

Jennifer Anton is an American/Italian dual citizen born in Joliet, Illinois and now lives between London and Lake Como, Italy. A proud advocate for women’s rights and equality, she hopes to rescue women’s stories from history, starting with her Italian family.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Under the Light of the Italian Moon Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Today sees the release of The Last Sword – get back in the saddle with Coelwulf

It’s finally here! The Last Sword is book 5 in the series featuring Coelwulf, and his warriors. (If you’ve not caught up just yet, book 2, The Last Warrior is on special offer for 99p/99c this week only in the UK and US).

Here’s the blurb;

“The three defeated jarls of Grantabridge might be hiding behind the walls of their settlement as winter storms ravage, but the weather is no deterrent for another adversary, and Coelwulf holds a far more personal grudge against Jarl Halfdan.

King Alfred hovers on the border with Wessex, his intentions impossible to determine; his relationship with the Raiders, problematic.

Exposed to the south, in jeopardy from the north; Coelwulf hasn’t fought his last battle yet.”

Taking Coelwulf into the year 875, The Last Sword will reunite my readers with some fan favourites, and not a little peril.

I hope you all enjoy, and thank you to everyone who’s supported the series so far. You’re all loyal Mercians, and he couldn’t do it without you.

(Check out the new covers for the first 4 books in the series).

Want to stay up to date with news about releases and reissues, sign up to my newsletter here.

(This post contains some Amazon Affiliate links – which means that at no cost to you, Amazon may pay me for referring you to their site).

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Two Fatherlands by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Today I’m delighted to welcome Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger and her new book, Two Fatherlands, to my blog, to answer a few questions about the research that went into writing her series.

This sounds like a wonderful book, merging historical fact with a compelling narrative. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical characters/or events to life? 

The research for this series was a journey unlike anything I will ever be able to share in the space available here. It was simply amazing. And daunting.

First, the process. I made the grave mistake of spending almost a decade researching my first novel on Ukraine in WW2, which ended being as much a novel as a documentary is a blockbuster action movie. I was trying to get a grasp on the sheer complexity of a world at war and I lost focus. So, after learning my lesson, I tackled the Reschen Valley series differently. I got the big picture, and had a rough idea of the lay of the land, so to speak, before I started writing. But even that took nearly five years before I could really get started because the majority of my resources were in German, and many more in Italian.

Model of the valley

The other extra challenge I made for myself was that I was a pantser. I did not outline and plot out my books in advance. It wasn’t until I was at Bolzano that I had learned to appreciate outlining and I have never looked back. By the time I started Two Fatherlands, which is the fourth book in the main series (excluding the prequel), writing was all about “what happens to my characters next and how do I get them all to meet up again?”. The historical events take a firm background in the series but they are integral to the plot. I chose specific “drivers” for the different parts of the story. From the beginning, Angelo’s father—Colonel Nicolo Grimani—was my Mussolini rep, steering the Fascist agenda that makes up the main conflict in the series. Therefore, it is Angelo’s story that serves as the catalyst for bringing the historical mile markers to the forefront.

Model of Reschensee Flooding

As I said, the main resources for my research were in German and Italian. I had the idea back in 2005 to write one book about the reservoir before I even started researching. That was before I had any idea how much was involved in the flooding of that valley! And nobody had really written about South Tyrol’s tragic history in English, except for one professor in Innsbruck whose work happened to have been translated thanks to an exchange program with an American university. The other was a Hungarian diplomat from the Sixties, who had written his memoirs about the South Tyrolean conflict in English. That was it! I had to learn German if I wanted to write this story. At the very least. Because the Italians had their own version…

drawing of lakes area that was flooded

I live in Austria. I am one of those language learners who learns by doing. I was immersed in German, I visited South Tyrol at least three times a year (I live half-a-day’s drive away), I pulled up all my Latin language knowledge for the Italian and dug in, trying to interpret the foreign information. It took me over 10 years from the first idea to really getting a grasp on the materials. This was long before Google translator, long before DeepL. I was going with what I could and it was like putting together a million-piece jigsaw puzzle. I didn’t get to work until 2010 and gave myself exactly two weeks to plan my characters and timeline. By the end of the two weeks, I had a three-book series planned. NOT plotted, which eventually put me back quite a bit as well.

the Post Inn in the series Gasthof Trauben in real life

My greatest sources were a museum in Graun and the eye-witnesses whose accounts I recorded about the valley and the flooding in 1950. That was fantastic. One of them gave me three books: someone had gone through all the trouble of recording every single family, every house, drawing out every piece of equipment they used for farming and cooking and cleaning and living, getting down the heritage, culture and lifestyle of the valley into one book. That was amazing. I use a lot of photos when I do research. I also try to travel to the places I write about. It brings so much to life for me. Other than books and books and books, I got copies of the original letters written from the civil engineering department and the offers sent to the landowners with the ridiculous prices. I had logs of how many cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, acres, etc., each farmer had. I got images of the aerial maps. I used the models built by those in the Obervinschgau Valley (the real name of the Reschen Valley) who wanted to demonstrate the absolute annihilation of the valley. I panned the huge model of the towns and villages with a video camera like a filmmaker would. That does not mean I stayed true to all the facts. I put, for example, one of the rivers near Katharina’s farm because I loved the sound that river made and I felt it was important to have her near it. I adjusted the lay of the land and even made her farm up higher than it would have been, because I wanted her to have a bird’s eye view of the valley. There’s plenty I fictionalized, but much, much more that I did not and where I stayed authentic.

Eye witnesses to the flooding at the Gasthof Trauben the inspiration for Jutta Hannys Post Inn

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Yes, Felix Mitterer’s TV mini-series Verkaufte Heimat (Sold Homeland) was absolutely integral to my research. It provided me with plenty of inspiration and brought so much to life for me including clothing, colors, signage, how the rooms and buildings look, the feel and atmosphere, the body language differences when communicating. I study and train cross cultural communication, and so I am fascinated by how different cultures and personalities communicate; what we understand and what we meant to say, or not. I use these to concoct conflicts. By the time I’d seen the series though, I was already into the second book, The Breach, and had very similar storylines already happening based on anecdotes and eye-witness accounts from other research. 

South Tyrol in the 20th Century by Prof. Rolf Steininger and Schöne Welt, Böse Leut (Beautiful World, Evil People) by Claus Gatterer also provided me tons of material. Only about four years ago, I managed to get my hands on a doctoral thesis by Brigitte Mari Pircher specifically related to the Reschensee reservoir and the building of it. Suddenly I had all those pieces about the lake in one very compact, succinct and accessible book. She used a lot of the same resources as I had, but she because she is bilingual, she had suddenly given me access to the Italian materials as well in German, which I am fluent in now. So that was exceptionally helpful. But I’ll tell you one thing, if I hadn’t at least mastered German, this would have been a difficult story to get down.

Typical South Tyrolean Hof

A couple of years ago, a South Tyrolean publisher expressed interest in translating the series. I got a ten-page questionnaire about the research and got corrected on five or six things that I had in the books (which I changed immediately) but 95% of what I confirmed and explained was spot on. It turned out that the translation costs were too high for them. Which is sad, because since then a lot of interest has been drummed up about the reservoir by both German and Italian authors, documentary filmmakers and even a Netflix series has been filmed on the Reschensee.

On a personal note, as a child I read all of the Chalet School books (they were old then), and this sounds like it follows some similar threads. I was enthralled when they had to escape from the Tyrol.

I just looked that up. That’s amazing. Sounds like the kind of series I would have devoured when I was younger!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s fascinating.

Intrigued?

Here’s the blurb;

It’s a dangerous time to be a dissident…

1938. Northern Italy. Since saving Angelo Grimani’s life 18 years earlier, Katharina is grappling with how their lives have since been entwined. Construction on the Reschen Lake reservoir begins and the Reschen Valley community is torn apart into two fronts – those who want to stay no matter what comes, and those who hold out hope that Hitler will bring Tyrol back into the fold.

Back in Bolzano, Angelo finds one fascist politician who may have the power to help Katharina and her community, but there is a group of corrupt players eager to have a piece of him. When they realise that Angelo and Katharina are joining forces, they turn to a strategy of conquering and dividing to weaken both the community and Angelo’s efforts.

Meanwhile, the daughter Angelo shares with Katharina – Annamarie – has fled to Austria to pursue her acting career but the past she is running away from lands her directly into the arms of a new adversary: the Nazis. She goes as far as Berlin, and as far as Goebbels, to pursue her dreams, only to realise that Germany is darker than any place she’s been before.

Angelo puts aside his prejudices and seeks alliances with old enemies; Katharina finds ingenious ways to preserve what is left of her community, and Annamarie wrests herself from the black forces of Nazism with plans to return home. But when Hitler and Mussolini present the Tyroleans with “The Option”, the residents are forced to choose between Italian and German nationhood with no guarantee that they will be able to stay in Tyrol at all!

Out of the ruins of war, will they be able to find their way back to one another and pick up the pieces?

This blockbuster finale will keep readers glued to the pages. Early readers are calling it, “…engrossing”, “…enlightening” and “…both a heartbreaking and uplifting end to this incredible series!”

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Meet the Author

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is an American author living in Austria. Her focus is on historical fiction. She has been a managing editor for a magazine publishing house, has worked as an editor, and has won several awards for her travel narrative, flash fiction and short stories. She lives with her husband in a “Grizzly Adams” hut in the Alps, just as she’d always dreamt she would when she was a child.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Two Fatherlands blog tour from The Coffee Pot Book Club

The Last King is a year old today – thank you to everyone who’s read and reviewed the book

I’m really quite bad at remembering all the publication dates of my books, but The Last King has certainly stuck in my mind. What started quite inauspiciously, with a few die-hard fans preordering the book, has become my most popular series, and most popular book to date.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I am. The book, a few years in development, burst from me in a flurry of excitement early in 2020, when I opted for a ‘harder’ character, a man who is simply so good at what he does, he doesn’t understand that others can’t do what he can. It’s not arrogance. It’s confidence.

So, why the hesitation? It takes a lot to stomp, and I mean, stomp all over a time period made so famous by another giant of the field – Bernard Cornwell with his Uhtred, or The Last Kingdom books. And yet, I couldn’t move away from the temptation of the little known Coelwulf, and the story of Mercia which has never been told.

Yet, I needed to do it in a different way to BC. I remember handing the first few chapters to my critique partner and editor and saying ‘is this edgier?’, ‘would a warrior speak like this?’ It came back with a ‘yes’ and also some pencil marks and a bit more swearing added in, and a comment that if I was going to cauterise a wound, then I needed to do it properly, gore and all.

I’d previously written what I thought would be an opening scene, while sitting in hospital for an appointment with lots of different bits to it – but while that gave me the characters, it didn’t give me quite what I was looking for. Still, you can read ‘A Meeting of Equals‘ over on my author platform on Aspects of History.

And that was almost it (apart from a dose of my own confidence drawn from watching The Gentlemen by Guy Ritchie – which truly made me think ‘anything goes,’ and gave me the idea for the opening scene – if you’ve read the book you’ll know what I mean.) Coelwulf reared his head, and so too did a cast of characters that are unique, complex, enjoyable to write about, and often, a bit pushy.

So, how to celebrate a year since book 1? Well, by bringing Coelwulf ‘to life’ of course.

The ‘new’ covers will be going live at points throughout today, and I’m so pleased with the way he’s turned out. Thank you so much to Shaun at Flintlock Covers for being able to bring Coelwulf to life. I especially love the detail on the sword, which shows the double-headed eagle of Mercia!

And that’s not it. Not only a visual Coelwulf, but also the ‘sound’ of Coelwulf. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has finished work on The Last King, and it will be released soon. There’s a sample below – remember, it’s Coelwulf, it’s going to be pretty full-on from the word go. (18 rated)

The Last Warrior is also about to start the journey to audio, and I’m considering producing some hardbacks as well, but I’ve not yet had the time to devote to that task.

And of course, the story hasn’t finished yet. The Last Sword is released on 29th April (preorder here) and I’ll be starting work on Book 6 even as you read this.

So thank you, to all my readers and reviewers, to my beta readers (you know who you are), to the people I’ve collaborated with on ensuring the word gets out there about Coelwulf.

Here’s to many more such anniversaries.

Book Review – Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford – historical mystery – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“November 1929. A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?”

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is a wonderfully plotted novel, with a cast of unmissable characters that is an absolute delight to read. And the cover is fantastic too.

It made me laugh out loud on many an occasion, and the eclectic mix of cast and events, keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses, from the guinea pig to the motorcycle ‘bad-boy,’ from London to Leeds to Whitley Bay to Scotland. And oh, how I loved the letters from Cousin Alan.

It trundles along at a wonderful pace, filled with exquisite detail and I would struggle to decide on a favourite character because all of them, even the bit part characters, are so well sketched.

This is genuinely an absolute treat if you enjoy a mystery deeply steeped in the times (1929-1930) and with an unmissable cast. Looking forwards to Book 3. And, I have the joy of knowing I’ve not read Book 1 yet.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is released today, 22nd April, and is available from here.

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