Welcome to the Dark Ages and the Land of King Arthur: Guest post by Mary Anne Yarde @maryanneyarde

If I wasn’t writing about the 17th century, I would be exploring the time of King Arthur. I’ve been drawn to the Arthurian legends for as far back as I can remember in all their variations.

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming to the blog an author whose historical fiction novels are inspired by the old Arthurian legends. Mary Anne Yarde is the author of the Du Lac Chronicles series, which is set in the turbulent era after the death of King Arthur. Mary Anne combines my favourite elements in her novels: historical fiction with romance and adventure. Including an Arthurian backdrop is definitely icing on the cake!

Mary Anne joins us to discuss the Dark Ages, Arthur, and her upcoming release The Du Lac Prophecy which will be released August 28th. As an added treat, she’s included an excerpt of The Du Lac Prophecy.

Take it away Mary Anne!

Welcome to the Dark Ages. Welcome to the Land of King Arthur

By Mary Anne Yarde.

I have been fascinated with the life and times of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table since I was a child — I guess growing up a stone’s throw from Glastonbury (The Ancient Isle of Avalon) may have had something to do with that.

Screenshot 2018-01-12 16.04.05

© Mary Anne Yarde

My book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, tells the story of what happened after the death of Arthur and continues the story of his Knights and their sons. But to write about the end of Arthur’s reign, I needed to know about the beginning. A not so easy task, it turned out.

The history of a historical Arthur is not written in stone but is, instead, engraved in folklore, and that brings its own set of challenges.

Firstly, where did Arthur come from? Well, that is an easy question to answer…

King Arthur was English. No, he was Welsh. Arthur was Scottish. He was from Brittany. Oh, for goodness’ sake, he was a Roman General!

Which is right? Arthur is so famous that everyone wants to claim him and, over the years, there have been many names thrown out there as to who he really was. But we mustn’t forget that when we are dealing with Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We can make Arthur fit wherever we want him to, and that is where the problem lies. It is very easy to make mistakes, and I have read many books that claim to have found the real Arthur, only they haven’t, it is just a theory, sometimes a very shaky one.

The same can be said for Arthur’s famous castle, Camelot. There have been many possible locations for one of the most famous castles in history. Tintagel, Cadbury Hill, Caerlaverock Castle, have all been put forward. However, during all this excitement and discoveries we have overlooked a fundamental issue — there was no Camelot. It was an invention of a French poet in 1180! How can you look for something that was never there to begin with?

The King Arthur statue at Tintagel. The statue is called Gallos, which is Cornish for power. The sculpture is by Rubin Eynon

King Arthur statue at Tintagel Castle, by Rubin Eynon

The Dark Ages, in which my books are set, is equally challenging to research because there is a lack of reliable primary resources. What was written down was written down for a purpose and that purpose was usually politically motivated, which in itself is fascinating, although not so helpful. Now, in these early texts when Arthur is mentioned, there is nothing about him being a king. Nennuis describes him as a warrior on par with Ironman, but no mention of a crown.

It isn’t until the 12thCentury when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes his great work that the Arthur we know is born. The History of The Kings of Briton was meant to be a historically accurate account of British History and for many, many, years what Monmouth wrote was considered factually correct. Of course, we now know it was anything but. However, that does not mean that Monmouth’s work is of no particular value. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore, and it is his story that drives the legend of Arthur and his Knights forward. I think Monmouth’s book is incredibly important as it tells us a great deal about, not only the era but also about the people who were listening to his stories. And if we dig a little further, we can discover that it wasn’t only the populous who loved listening to Arthurian tales. Those ever practical monks at Glastonbury Abbey did as well.

Let’s take a journey back to 12thCentury England…

A terrible fire had spread through Glastonbury Abbey, and unfortunately for the monks, they did not have the coffers to pay for the repairs. If only they could encourage more pilgrims to come to the Abbey. What could they do?

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Abbey — Pixabay.

Thanks to Monmouth’s book “Arthur Fever” had gripped the nation. People would pay good money to go on a pilgrimage to Arthur’s final resting place. All that was needed was a good story and a grave. The monks of Glastonbury announced to the world that they had discovered Arthur’s final resting place. That brought in the crowds. Glastonbury Abbey soon had the coffers to make the repairs and then some. There was as much truth in the story of Glastonbury Abbey and King Arthur’s grave as there was in The History of the Kings of Briton. But for hundreds of years, both the Abbey and Monmouth were believed.

My books are not just set in Britain, but France as well, so I needed to have a good understanding of what was happening in both of these countries in the 5th/ 6thCentury to keep the history real in the telling. But, before I could look at France, I needed to have an understanding of what was happening in the Western Roman Empire during this time. By 476 C.E. the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire had been overthrown. The stability that the Roman Empire had brought to Western Europe for over 1000 years was no more.

This dawning new era brings us some of the most fascinating historical figures that ever lived. These were the days of men such as Clovis. Clovis won a decisive victory against Rome, at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486. But, Clovis’ ambition didn’t stop there. Roman Gaul and parts of Western Germany fell to him as well. He forged a new empire through blood, war, and marriage. He made Paris the capital of his new kingdom, and he was the first King of a united Frank (France).

Tomb of Clovis I

Tomb of Clovis I at the Basilica of St Denis in Saint Denis —Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons

The Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest. It was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

While all this was going on, the Church was creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be considered of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his Knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, as T.H White so elegantly put it — The Once and Future King.

King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler (1903)

King Arthur by Charles Earnest Butler — [Public Domain] via Wikipedia Commons

I have tried to show what life was like in the 5th /6th Century in my books, but I have been heavily influenced by folklore because when you are dealing with this period in history, you cannot dismiss it. Brittany, for example, is terribly difficult to research historically during this era, because what was written was unfortunately lost during the Viking invasion. However, when it comes to folklore, Brittany is rich and if that is all she is going to give us, then so be it.

carnac-stones Brittany

The Carnac Stones, Brittany — Pixabay; Local Legend claims that the stones were once a Roman Legion. The great sorcerer, Merlin, turned the Legion to stone.

Folklore is its own particular brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about a people by the stories they tell, and people are still fascinated by this larger-than-life King, which I think, says it all. Arthur may well have been a general, or a knight, he may have been English, he may not, but it doesn’t matter because his story is timeless, it will never grow old.

About The Du Lac Prophesy (book 4 of the Du Lac Chronicles)

KINDLE The Du Lac Prophecy 7 August 2018 final

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

Available on August 28, 2018, through Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon CA.

Excerpt from The Du Lac Prophecy 

“I feared you were a dream,” Amandine whispered, her voice filled with wonder as she raised her hand to touch the soft bristles and the raised scars on his face. “I was afraid to open my eyes. But you really are real,” she laughed softly in disbelief. She touched a lock of his flaming red hair and pushed it back behind his ear. “Last night…” she studied his face intently for several seconds as if looking for something. “I am sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t know who you were, and I didn’t know where I was. I was scared.”

“You certainly gave me a walloping,” he grinned gently down at her, his grey eyes alight with humour. “I think you have the makings of a great mercenary. I might have to recruit you to my cause.”

She smiled at his teasing, but then she began to trace the scars on his face with the tips of her fingers, and her smile disappeared. “Do they still hurt?”

“Yes,” Merton replied. “But the pain I felt when I thought you were dead was a hundred times worse. Philippe had broken my body, but that was nothing compared to the pain in my heart. Without you, I was lost.”

“That day… When they beat you. You were so brave,” Amandine replied.

Her fingers felt like butterflies on his skin, so soft and gentle. He closed his eyes to savour the sensation.

“I never knew anyone could be that brave,” Amandine continued. “You could have won your freedom and yet, you surrendered to their torture to save me. Why? I am but one person. Just one amongst so many.”

“Why do you think?” Merton asked shakily, opening his eyes to look at her again, hoping she could see the depth of his love in his scarred and deformed face.

“I gave you these scars,” Amandine stated with a painful realisation, her hand dropping away from his face. “You are like this because of me,” her voice was thick with unshed tears.

“No, not because of you,” Merton immediately contradicted. “My reputation, Philippe’s greed, Mordred’s hate, and Bastian’s fear, gave me these scars—”

“I should not have gone back to your chamber. If they had not found me there, then they would never have known about us. If they had not known, then you would have had no cause to surrender. Bastian would not have taken your sword arm.” Amandine touched what was left of his arm. “Philippe would not have lashed you.” She touched his face again and shook her head. “I am to blame.” She sat up and her eyes filled with tears, her hand fell away from his face. “I am to blame,” she said again as a tear slipped down her cheek. “How can you stand to be near me?”


Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

Connect with Mary Anne through her Website, Facebook, and Twitter (@maryanneyarde). For information on new releases, follow her on her Amazon Author Page and Goodreads.

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Dropping Anchor to Talk about Pirates – Helen Hollick @HelenHollick #nonfiction #pirates #blogtour

Who doesn’t love pirate stories? Tall tales of adventure and daring have fueled our interest in these daring swashbucklers of the high seas. But what do we really know about pirates?

I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Helen Hollick as a guest on the blog. Helen’s list of literary accomplishments run long and deep. She’s the author of one of my favourite series, The Sea Witch, which blends historical fiction with a touch of fantasy. Most recently, she has released her non-fiction book, Pirates: Truth and Tales through Amberley Publishing. Today she’s here to talk about pirates.

So pull up a seat, pour a cup of rum (or any other libation you’d like) and join me in welcoming Helen!

Dropping Anchor to Talk About Pirates, by Helen Hollick

a typical pirate canstockphoto3695931The fictional world of pirates, represented in novels and movies is somewhat different to the base reality, but what draws readers and viewers to these notorious ‘bad boys’ of the past? What are the facts behind the fictional fantasy? Where does fact end and fiction begin? Helen has written a series of nautical Voyages based around her fictional pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, Sea Witch, but her latest UK release in paperback is a non-fiction book – Pirates: Truth and Tales published by Amberley Press, which explores our fascination with the real pirates and those who are favourites in fiction. Today, Helen drops anchor for the first ‘port of call’ in her on-line two-week Voyage around the Blogs… she has  a pirate or two with her  for company…

Pirates. What is the fascination with these rogues from the past? Let’s face it, they were not very nice people, not exactly the sort to invite you to tea and cake on a Sunday afternoon. They might, if you were lucky and kept your wits about you, share a bottle of grog (rum) though. And if you were very lucky, they wouldn’t shoot you during or after the merry-making!

Pirates. The terrorists of their era – which was, primarily, a somewhat short ‘Golden Age’ centred around the Caribbean from about 1715– 1722ish, although piracy was known during the time of the Greeks and the Roman Empire and is still known (and feared) today, but hear the word ‘pirate’ and we automatically think of the Jolly Roger Flag, a gleaming cutlass, a bottle of rum and a swashbuckling life geared towards collecting as much (stolen) treasure as possible.

The image is partially true.

Pirates. What we think we know about them comes, on the whole, from the movies, TV and fiction. Who does not remember Captain Hook from Peter Pan? Long John Silver from Treasure Island, and of course Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean Disney franchise? You probably know a few of the factual names of real pirates as well: Blackbeard, Charles Vane, William Kidd, Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Mary Read… You might also have heard of Black Sam Bellamy, Stede Bonnet and Howell Davis. Most of them hanged or died forlorn deaths – a pirate’s life was a short but merry one. Or was it as merry as we like to think?

It was certainly a hard life, but then life was hard for everyone who did not have the blessing of a good birth and access to the family fortune. In the early years of the eighteenth century the rich were rich, the poor were poor. (For the pedantic and picky people perusing this article, the same is true throughout history, but I’m waffling on about the 1700s, savvy?) Conditions were, well let’s not be gentle, very smelly, very dirty, very unhygienic and by our modern standards very unpleasant. Medical knowledge was limited, as was variety of diet. You worked from dawn until dusk for very little reward. If you were a woman you could expect to die in childbirth, and you were old at fifty – if you lived that long. Piracy was, for that short Golden Age, an attractive prospect. It was still a hard life, death was still a very real prospect courtesy the hangman’s noose, from injuries received, or severe illness from things like dysentery, plague, scurvy or sexually contracted disease such as syphilis. But being a pirate meant a certain amount of freedom: they went where they liked when they liked. They had access to relatively decent food and plenty of rum – albeit they had to find a ship to steal it all from first, and then go about actually acquiring it. And the added bonus? They could end up rich. Very rich indeed if they happened across a Spanish ship taking a cargo of gold from Mexico to Spain, or a merchantman laden with a cargo worth a fortune when sold.

Some pirates did end up rich: Blackbeard did alright for himself until the Governor of Virginia decided enough was enough and sent a Royal Navy crew out to put an end to him, and Samuel Bellamy possibly became the wealthiest pirate. He had a reputation for mercy, gentlemanly and generous behaviour, amassed a fortune but had a short piratical career of little more than a year. Born in Devon in late January or early February 1689 he drowned at the age of twenty-eight when his ship, the Whydah Galley, went down in a violent storm off the coast of Cape Cod. Perhaps he was one of the lucky ones. Most pirates – including William Kidd, Charles Vane and Jack Rackham died on the gallows.

In most fiction tales where the pirate is the hero he escapes the noose. But that is the stuff of fiction. Reality is never quite so clement. But then fiction is about entertainment and for all their reality faults, the fictional pirates are always entertaining aren’t they? Give me a made-up hunk of a hero pirate over a real, very nasty one, any day!

© Helen Hollick

Pirates: Truth And Tales published in paperback in the UK July 2018 and November 2018 in the US – but available for pre-order.


♦   Buy Pirates: Truth & Tales and Helen’s other books on Amazon – Click here 

♦   Sign up for Helen’s Newsletter and be entered for an annual prize draw. One name ‘picked from the hat’ in December will win a £10/$10 Amazon gift voucher. Subscribe HERE.

Connect with Helen through her Website, Main Blog, Facebook, Twitter (@HelenHollick), and Discovering Diamonds.

Follow Helen’s Tour:

These links will take you to the Home Page of each blog host – Helen says thank you for their interest and enthusiasm! For exact URL links to each article go to Helen’s website:  www.helenhollick.net  which will be updated every day of the tour.


30th July: Here with me, launching the Pirate tour.

31st July: Anna Belfrage  https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/ Ships That Pass…

1st August: Carolyn Hughes https://carolynhughesauthor.com/2018/08/01/pirates-of-the-middle-ages-by-helen-hollick/ Pirates of the Middle Ages

2nd August: Alison Morton   https://alison-morton.com/blog/ From Pirate to Emperor

3rd August: Annie Whitehead https://rwranniewhitehead.blogspot.com/ The Vikings: Raiders or Pirates?

4th August: Tony Riches http://tonyriches.blogspot.co.uk/ An Interview With Helen Hollick (and maybe a couple of pirates thrown in for good measure?)

5th August: Lucienne Boyce http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.com/ Anne and Mary. Pirates.

6th August: Laura Pilli http://fieldofbookishdreams.blogspot.co.uk/ Why Pirates?

7th August: Mary Tod https://awriterofhistory.com/ That Essential Element… For A Pirate.

8th August: Pauline Barclay http://paulinembarclay.blogspot.com/ Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be?

9th August: Nicola Smith http://shortbookandscribes.uk/ Pirates: The Tales Mixed With The Truth

10th August: Christoph Fischer https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/ In The Shadow Of The Gallows

11th August: Debdatta http://www.ddsreviews.in/ What Is It About Pirates?

12th August: Discovering Diamonds https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/ It’s Been An Interesting Voyage…

13th August: Sarah Greenwood https://www.amberley-books.com/blog Pirates: The Truth and the Tales

14th August: Antoine Vanner https://dawlishchronicles.com/dawlish-blog/ The Man Who Knew About Pirates

All about Helen

2 Helen MediumHelen Hollick moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King) explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers.

Helen is published in various languages.

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Quackery and 17th Century Medicine by Deborah Swift @swiftstory #Stuarts

I am especially pleased to be able to turn over the blog today to acclaimed author, Deborah Swift. Deborah is best known for her historical fiction novels which are set during the Restoration. Her stories are rich in historical detail and are a direct portal to the 17th century.

Deborah’s latest series revolves around some of the women mentioned in Samuel Pepys’s diary. The first in the series, Pleasing Mr Pepys, was one of my favourite reads this year. I couldn’t put it down. The second book in the series, A Plague on Mr Pepys, has just been released July 5th and is as great a read as is the first!

In addition to writing page-turning historical fiction, Deborah writes excellent articles about everyday life in the Stuart Era. In this guest post, she discusses the Great Plague and the treatments concocted to ward off the pestilence.

Welcome Deborah!

Quackery and 17th Century Medicine by Deborah Swift

British Library HS 74/1512 (6)Whilst researching The Great Plague for my latest novel, I became fascinated with the idea of ‘Quackery’ – the fake remedies sold to unsuspecting purchasers as ‘cures’ or ‘preventions, by unscrupulous con-men.

The 17thcentury saw some significant scientific discoveries (such as William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood (1628) and Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s research into what became known as bacteria (1683), but physicians still did not know what caused disease. So when an infection like the Plague became an epidemic, doctors were powerless. Quacks then came sneaking out of the woodwork to prey on people’s fears, and great amounts of money could be made by ‘cures’.


The most common cause was to blame vapours or ‘miasmas’, in other words bad smells, which led to the popularity of tobacco and smoking as a remedy, and many common treatments consisted of making the room and the patient smell sweet.  This is why doctors wore full body suits – with a leather ‘beak’ that was crammed with flowers and herbs – so that they would only smell the sweetness of the pot-pourri.Those employed in the collection of bodies frequently puffed on pipes to avoid catching the plague. In 1665 the College of Physicians issued a directive that brimstone ‘burnt plentiful’ was a cure for the bad air that caused the plague.

Bring Out Your Dead

Animal Magic

Plague Thomson_George-Loimotomia_crop1-300x252Many quack cures were based on the use of animals, something we would find totally abhorrent today.

For example in 1641, Thomas Sherwood, a London “practitioner in Physick,” wrote a book of cures called The Charitable Pestmaster.  This featured, amongst other useless remedies, “the puppy cure.” The cure was especially useful for the old and weak, Sherwood explained:

“Therefore you may lay upon the pit of the stomach of the sick a young live puppy, and if the sick can but sleep the space of three or four hours, they shall recover presently, and the dog shall die of the plague.”

 Another physician, George Thomson, performed an examination of a plague victim and, as a result of found himself the victim of the plague. He tried to cure himself using his own chemical remedies—but all his usual remedies failed. Fearing he would die, he resorted to a method that was apparently in common use; the “toad cure.”

Thomson prepared his toad “in as exquisite manner as possible,” and wrapped it in a linen cloth. He then put the toad on his stomach and left it for a few hours. Weirdly, the dried toad swelled up “to the bigness that it was an object of wonder.” According to Thomson, the dried toad “doth draw the pestilential poison so into its body.” Other animals used included chickens and pigeons. It must have been an odd sight to see patients strapped into bed with such a menagerie. It is also interesting to realize that the more extreme remedies were actually not considered quack remedies at all, at the time.


Common potions were Theriac– a mixture of treacle and various herbs. Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it, until you realize it also contains viper flesh and opium. The brew was left to ferment for several years to thicken and increase its potency. It was applied as a salve or, unlikely as this sounds, it would be eaten.Other popular ingredients includedmercury and arsenic. It seemed to follow the principle of “the hair of the dog,” in which a concoction containing poison from a serpent would counteract other poisons.

I can’t help feeling that the cures were probably also responsible for quite a few deaths. Many potions were sold by pedlars door to door, a process known as ‘making gold from goose-grease’, because many ‘cures’ contained no active ingredients at all, just lard, or water and dye.

 Quack’s End

Large cities such as London attracted quacks up until the 19thCentury because England had weak regulations against their practices, whereas other European countries had harsh regulations to protect the public and maintain the ‘professional’ status of trained physicians. In 1748 an attempt was made to stop the sale of medicines by anyone except doctors, but by then many were fond of their cunning-women, astrologers and quacks, just as we are fond of our reiki healers, acupuncturists, herbalists and dieticians today, and there is a large debate about the efficacy of certain medicines or cures even today.  It was only in 1858 that a ‘Medical Register’ of qualified doctors was set up, and effective medicine is an ever-moving target.

My Favourite Quack Plague Cure

This has to be Bradley the Botanist’s coffee cure of 1721. Unfortunately it was too late for my characters in ‘A Plague on Mr Pepys.’ In his treatise;The virtue and use of coffee, with regard to the plague, and other infectious distempers’’ Bradley wrote that coffee  “is of excellent Use in the time of Pestilence, and contributes greatly to prevent the spreading of Infection.”

He was obviously quite a public-spirited individual;“At this time, when every Nation in Europe is under the melancholy Apprehension of an approaching Plague or Pestilence, I think it the Business of every Man to contribute, to the utmost of his Capacity, such Observations, as may tend to the Service of the Publick.”

Bradley explained that in Turkey where the Plague is almost constant, it is ‘’seldom mortal in those Families, who are rich enough to enjoy the free Use of Coffee.” So there you have it. Should the plague approach, your nearest Starbuck’s is as good an answer as any.


The Elizabethan Underworld – Gamini Salvado

The Great Plague – Moote and Moote

Maldies and Medicine – Evans and Read

British Library: Advertisement for Medicine to Cure the Plague

William Eamon

The Recipes Project 

BBC History: Samuel Pepys: Teacher’s Resources

About A Plague on Mr Pepys

A Plague on Mr Pepys, the second book based around the women in Pepys’s famous Diary is out now.

‘a great story that explores the workings of the hearts of the characters, touching on themes like family, social crisis at the time of the plague, and the morbid desire to gain wealth at any cost … A Plague on Mr Pepys is a historical novel that scores on multiple levels’ Readers Favorite 5*

‘Laced with emotional intensity and drama’ Readers’ Favorite on Pleasing Mr Pepys

A Plague on Mr Pepys is available in eBook and paperback through Amazon. Connect with Deborah onTwitter (@swiftstory), Facebook, and her Website.

A Plague on Mr Pepys - new



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The Battle of Hamilton (or Hieton)

One of the best aspects of being a historical fiction writer is learning about the lesser known events in history. This is often the by-product of our historical research. In some cases, it could be a small footnote that serves as the invitation down the rabbit hole, or it could be that you’re leading your characters into an arena that you need to know more about.

My interest in Hamilton came as a result of needing to know what my character, James Hart, was specifically walking into on his journey to join the king in Scotland. Quite a bit, as the case would be and the timing couldn’t have been better. Along with having to repel an invasion by Cromwell, Scotland had to tame internal factions that threatened to withdraw their support for the king over religious and moral grounds. Not that these factions were for Cromwell either. This concoction of conflicting agendas makes for a very interesting drama set in the south Lanarkshire region.

The action at Hamilton isn’t as famous or widely covered as Dunbar or Inverkeithing, but we know about the Battle of Hamilton (or Hieton) because of a young man and a courtship.


Taken by User:Supergolden) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Eighteen-year-old “Young” Cambusnethen, (who would eventually become the eleventh Lord Somerville), fell deeply in love with Mistress Martha Bannatyne of Corhouse, but he needed his father’s consent to wed his lady-love. Time is usually of the essence in most affairs of the heart, so our young man promptly embarked on a journey to obtain this consent and stumbled into the middle of a war. Fortunately, he had enough foresight to write about it.


With the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. One might have expected that the Scots would have had all the time in the world for the Stuarts, even show more tolerance with Charles I, James’s heir, when he tried to impose Anglicanism and a Common Prayer Book on Scotland. But he was encroaching on matters of religion and Scotland had pledged herself to the Presbyterian Covenant. Besides, Charles I was more English than Scottish, no matter his bloodline. This precipitated a war between England and Scotland in 1639 and led to the English Civil War.

Though the majority of Scotland opposed Charles I, his execution at the hands of Parliament in 1649 shocked them. They entered negotiations to proclaim the Prince of Wales, Charles Stuart, as King of Scotland provided that he swore to uphold the Covenant, to which he agreed. This alarmed England who considered their actions a threat to their new Commonwealth. In July 1650, Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland.

The Road to Hamilton

Even with the Scottish Parliament’s support for Charles, there was still a significant faction of staunch Presbyterians who did not approve of Charles, no matter his vows. Colonel Strachan, leader of the Western army, was one of the more extreme instigators behind an official rant known as the Remonstrance of the Western Army that urged Scotland to abandon the King and not engage against Cromwell. Between September and October 1650, Strachan made overtures to Cromwell to negotiate terms for the removal of English troops in exchange for Scotland withdrawing her support for the King. But in the end, the talks fell apart.

The heated rhetoric contained in the Remonstrance became an embarrassment for the Scottish Parliament. By October 1650, Central Army had had enough of Strachan’s posturing. They cashiered him and gave command of the Western forces to his second, Colonel Gilbert Ker. This did nothing to dampen the movement, for Ker’s views were no different than Strachan’s. Any hope that Central Army would assimilate the Western Army was shattered when Ker did one up on Strachan. He broke from the Central Army and announced his autonomy. Worse, Ker’s defiant streak extended to Cromwell, and he also declared war on the English.

Now, Ker was in an unenviable position to be at war with two major armies, and both were converging upon him.

Battle of Hamilton

Enter Young Cambusnethen.

The Central Army in Perth dispatched Colonel Robert Montgomery on November 27th with approximately 3,000 horse to subdue the Western faction. That same day, Cromwell left Edinburgh with another three thousand and headed toward Hamilton with the same intent. Cromwell’s plan was to rendezvous with General Lambert, who was occupying the area around Peebles with his two thousand men.

Two days later, Cambusnethen ran into Montgomery’s forces near Campsie Fells and parted company to continue on his heart’s mission, but not before promising Montgomery that he’d keep his eyes open for the Western Army’s movements. He arrived in Renfrew the next day on the 30th and stopped in on an old friend who was a coronet in Ker’s troop.

While they were catching up, the coronet received an urgent summons to report for duty. Ker had received word that Lambert had entered Hamilton unopposed. Fortunately for the Western Army, Cromwell had been forced to return to Edinburgh, having found the Clyde un-fordable, so he did not add to Lambert’s forces.

Ker gathered his men, approximately 3,000 horse and 1,000 dragoons, and marched toward Hamilton. Cambusnethen postponed his own mission in favour of accompanying his friend and fulfilling his promise to Montgomery.

The Western Army reached the town of Rutherglen (approximately ten miles from Hamilton) by three in the afternoon and stopped to reconnoitre. After some debate, Ker decided to take the offense and launch an attack.

Around midnight of December 1, 1650, Ker dispatched a forlorn hope of 140 troopers. According to Cambusnethen’s account, it was a clear night with a quarter moon rising. The ground was hard with frost, which did nothing to muffle their advance. Lambert must have felt secure for he did not post sentries outside the town, and the forlorn hope reached Hamilton without anyone raising an alarm.

The attack was sudden and the English, assuming the worst, believed a sizeable force had set upon them. There were fierce pockets of resistance and skirmishes in the streets. Lambert was captured briefly but managed to escape into a nearby inn, Sarah Jean’s Close. The English took what shelter they could and barricaded themselves in houses and inns.

By dawn, Lambert realized his mistake and rallied his troops for a counter-strike while Ker arrived with his forces and occupied the banks of Cadzow Burn, just outside the town.

Cadzow Bridge

Viaduct over Cadzow Burn Becky Williamson [CC-BY-SA-2.0] Wikimedia Commons

Ker was unsure of the status of the town, and as he debated his next move, a pair of soldiers arrived to give him the false news that the Scots had beaten the English from the town. Cambusnethen called them “rascals, that was more for plunder than fighting,” and they had no difficulty in convincing Ker that the way was clear. When Ker started his advance, Lambert sprang his attack and engaged the Scots at Cadzow Burn.

It was a rout. Ker’s troopers floundered in the river and spongy riverbank while Lambert’s men had the advantage of the high ground and firmer footing of the east bank. Though the Scots recovered briefly, the English rallied and drove them back. The Western Army had no choice than to beat a retreat, and it quickly became a free-for-all. Stung by their poor initial showing against a forlorn hope of only 140 men, Lambert’s army pursued the fleeing army even as far Ayr. During the battle, Ker was wounded and tried to escape, but he was eventually caught and taken prisoner.

The Western Army fell apart following the Battle of Hamilton, and the Scottish Parliament was able to shore up support for King Charles to present a united front against the English. In the end, it only slowed Cromwell down.

As for our correspondent, Young Cambusnethen survived the battle unscathed though his friend, the coronet had been shot in the mouth and cheek during the battle. Cambusnethen helped his friend to safety and later that evening they encountered Montgomery’s forces when he finally arrived to trounce Ker. Though Montgomery was too late to deliver Central Army’s brand of remonstrance against Ker, his three thousand horse discouraged the English from pressing north toward Stirling.

And what of Mistress Martha Bannatyne of Corhouse, the reason for our Young Cambusnethen to have been so entangled with the Western Army? I’m happy to report that they were married and lived happily ever after.

Memorie of the Somervilles: Being a History of the Baronial House of Somerville. James Somerville (1815)
Cromwell’s Scotch Campaigns: 1650-51 by William Scott Douglas

This article was original appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. 

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Writing Historical Fiction: Make Sure You Write the Right Thing

I had the pleasure of getting to know E.M Powell, initially when she was one of the co-editors of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, and continuing through our work on the HNS Social Media Team for the Historical Novelist Society. She is a bestselling author of medieval historical thrillers and has always been very generous with her time and encouragement of other writers.

I first approached E.M Powell to participate in a genre discussion about how historical fiction and historical romance often co-mingle in works not typically considered romantic. The result is this wonderful guest post about understanding one’s genre, invaluable advice for all writers!

Writing Historical Fiction: Make Sure You Write the Right Thing, by E.M Powell


Tristan and Isolde by Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When Cryssa asked first asked me if I’d like to be interviewed on her blog, my answer was of course a resounding ‘yes.’ It’s always a compliment to be approached by a fellow historical fiction author who’s willing to share their blog space, and especially so when it’s a committed professional like her.

She sent me some carefully crafted questions, among them being some about writing my first novel, The Fifth Knight. That book was published back in late 2012 and was the start of my career as an author, one for which I am profoundly and eternally grateful to the Writing Gods. It came as no surprise at all that Cryssa’s questions were relevant and thoughtful.

But what was unexpected was how much they made me think about my journey to publication. They also made me reflect on the lessons I’ve learned along the way, lessons which, had I learned them earlier, my path might have been that bit straighter—and shorter. So in the spirit of writerly cooperation and support, I thought I’d share them here. I thought of a number of grandiose titles for this post but settled on one which is pretty straightforward: ‘Writing Historical Fiction: Make Sure You Write the Right Thing ’.

Now, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, Cryssa summed up the premise of The Fifth Knight beautifully: ‘The Fifth Knight is a historical thriller with a romantic subplot that deals with the murder of Thomas Becket. Powell’s hero and heroine are at the wrong place at the right time and they are thrown into a race for their lives.’ She has, in fact, managed to pitch my book far more effectively than I ever did, of which more later.

It’s a book that has appealed to readers. To date, it has sold over 90,000 copies as well as many thousands more in its German translation as Der fünfte Ritter. It may seem that this post should be more suitably titled ‘The Many Books I Have Sold & How It Was A Breeze’.

I can assure you it most certainly was not. Because nobody wanted The Fifth Knight, at least not in its earlier versions. I initially wrote it as a historical (medieval) romance.  I had had some Romance Writers of America (RWA) contest wins and agent near-misses with a previous medieval romance, so I thought romance was my forte. I thought all I had to do was write historical romance better. This new story, focused on the relationship between my titular hero, Sir Benedict Palmer, and my heroine, the religious, conflicted Theodosia would be the one to get me into the published world.

Again, it did well in contests. Again, I got a lot of interest from agents. But ultimately, nobody wanted it. Nobody. I have hundreds of rejections and while many of those said my writing was good, and some said it was excellent, it boiled down to the same thing: it wasn’t quite hitting the right market. Or, more precisely, it wasn’t hitting the particular market that is historical romance. One agent said it was straddling the line between historical romance and other genres.

I was somewhat perplexed. This was absolutely a romance, wasn’t it? Never mind that I had a blast writing the action scenes and took a lot of questionable joy in finding creative ways to off the bad guys. The relationship between Benedict and Theodosia was front and centre.

Then I received feedback from the New Writers Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) in the UK, to which I had submitted The Fifth Knight. (A quick pause here to give huge congratulations to Cryssa. Not only was she accepted onto the scheme, she’s now been shortlisted for its prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers for Traitor’s Knot!)

I got my feedback from the NWS and was delighted with the many positives in there. Yet the answer was still a ‘no’: I was not going to be accepted onto the NWS. But that report held feedback that with hindsight is practically written in flashing lights. And that feedback was‘it’s more about the chase, the kind of plot beloved of thriller writers.’  Did I pick up on that? Did I heck.

When I entered the novel in the RWA’s Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers, I didn’t final. I got some great scores. But one judge had firmly ticked the ‘Not a Romance’ box. Of course, that judge was correct. Could I see that? Nope. I sulked for days.

By now, there will be readers of this blog post shouting at their screens over my lack of self-awareness. I was in two minds about mentioning the TBR pile on my Kindle and elsewhere. For laughs, I will. Would it surprise anybody to read that yes, while it had a fair share of romantic suspense, it consisted mostly of crime, mystery and thriller novels? No. Of course it wouldn’t.

The penny finally, finally dropped for me in 2011. The novel won the unpublished Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. The Daphne is a writing contest, run by RWA’s Kiss of Death Chapter ‘for published and unpublished authors of romantic suspense, mystery, suspense, and thrillers with romantic subplots and mainstream mystery, suspense and thrillers.’What’s more, The Fifth Knight won the unpublished Mainstream mystery/suspense category, defined as ‘any manuscript where the mystery/suspense is the main plot’. What’s more, an editor from a major publishing house, having read the first three chapters, requested the full manuscript.


Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

To say I was excited didn’t even come close to my response. I started to read through the manuscript again, to make sure it was the best it could be before I sent it. And then it hit me. I’d been writing it the wrong way round. So much of the novel was romance with thriller and mystery elements when it should have been, as Cryssa described it to me, ‘a story which includes a romantic thread in what is essentially a mystery-thriller.’

I spent almost five months rewriting it and ruthlessly deleting entire chapters. Contest-winning love scenes between Benedict and Theodosia went out. It became a lot darker, for I was now writing a thriller. Then I sent it to the major editor, who never replied. I was disappointed, but not bitterly so. For now I knew what I had written and, more importantly, I had loved reshaping it.

Within another few weeks, I had three agents competing to represent me. The peerless Josh Getzler won. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to hear that he loves to represent mysteries, but especially historical ones. It is he who coined the unforgettable phrase that I write ‘car chases with chain mail’.

The Fifth Knight found a publisher with Thomas & Mercer, the crime/thriller/mystery imprint of Amazon Publishing. That was a full ten years after I had first written a novel. Amazingly for me, Thomas & Mercer also published the next two books in the series, The Blood of the Fifth Knight and The Lord of Ireland. While the books still featured Sir Benedict Palmer as the hero and contained some romantic elements, they were secondary to the main plots of mystery, suspense and thriller.

And now I have a new historical crime series coming out from the same publisher. The Stanton & Barling mysteries are set in the same 12thCentury world. Aelred Barling, a cynical middle-aged clerk at the court of Henry II, is a stickler for the rules. Hugo Stanton, his amiable young assistant, is a disgraced royal messenger with an uncommon talent for rooting out the truth. They live in an age of violent murder and swift revenge, but together they are tasked with imposing the King’s law on an unruly populace—even when it means putting their own lives on the line.

I’m writing stories about ruthless judgements, brutal punishments…and bloody murder. I couldn’t be happier. Because now, I’m writing the right thing. The right thing for me.

Reader, if you do nothing else: write the right thing for you, too.


God Speed by Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

E.M. Powell Author Headshot 2E.M. Powell’s historical thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Her new Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series starts with THE KING’S JUSTICE, which is due for release in 2018. She is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society.

Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.

Connect with E.M Powell through her WEBSITE (www.empowell.com), BLOG (click here), Facebook (click here), Twitter (@empowellauthor), and Goodreads (click here).

The King’s Justice is now available for pre-order through Amazon and will be released June 1, 2018. Purchase your copy HERE.

The Fifth Knight is available through Amazon. Purchase your copy HERE.

Posted in Author Spotlights, Guest Blog, Writing, writing tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Tony Riches: Author Spotlight

Today I’m very pleased to welcome UK author Tony Riches, best known for his Tudor Trilogy. Not only is Tony a best-selling historical fiction author, he is on Richtopia’s Top 200 Most Influential Authors in 2018All three books of his Tudor Trilogy reached #1 on Amazon in the UK, U.S and Australia. His latest novel appears to be another winner.

I had the opportunity to ask Tony about his novels, and his approach to writing historical fiction. Welcome Tony!


Please tell us about your latest book, MARY –Tudor Princess.

MARY ~Tudor PrincessTony: Hi Cryssa, thanks for inviting me. I researched Mary Tudor’s early life for my last book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the Tudor Trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother, King Henry VIII, and marry for love.




Everyone loves the Tudors. What new angle are you bringing to historical fiction readers about the Tudor era?

Tony RichesTony: I was born in Pembroke, within sight of the castle where Henry Tudor was born, so I’ve always been keen to know more about how he became King of England. Like most people I knew all about Henry VIII and his six wives, but very little about the life of his father – or grandfather. I’ve now become an expert on the Tudor dynasty and want to help readers understand the true stories behind the myths. Last year I was part of a community group which raised the money for a statue of Henry Tudor in front of Pembroke Castle, so his importance to the town will never be forgotten.

Henry Tudor statue at Pembroke Castle 

Q-2How do you balance historical accuracy with compelling story telling?

Tony: They say the events of history can be stranger than anything you could make up. I know from readers that they appreciate my hard work to keep my books as factually accurate as possible. The early Tudors were of course surrounded by servants and people such as clerics and physicians whose lives are lost to history, so there is plenty of scope to be creative. I find it particularly useful to have a ‘sidekick’ or companion for my main characters, as it helps provide the interaction and conflict of the storytelling.

Q-2How does setting influence your stories?

Tony: I enjoy visiting the actual locations in my books to have a real understanding of the setting. My research has taken me to some amazing places. I followed the footsteps of Jasper and Henry Tudor through the secret tunnels under the town of Tenby, to their exile in remote Brittany, and visited Henry’s magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey.

Q-2How do you flesh out your characters greatest sorrows?

 Tony: There is a famous quote by Pulitzer prize winning poet Robert Lee Frost ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.’ I become so immersed in the lives of my characters that something like the loss of a child can be quite emotional. Mary Tudor was a princess and Queen of France, but she suffered greatly after the death of King Louis, so I had plenty to work with.

Q-2What are you working on next?

 Tony: When I was writing about Mary Tudor I researched the life of her second husband, Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and visited his tomb at Windsor Castle. He was Henry VIII’s best friend and a champion jouster and adventurer, leading an army into France even though he had no military experience. Then he breaks his promise to Henry and secretly marries Mary. I’m now writing Brandon – Tudor Knight, which will tell the story from his point of view.

Q-2Where can readers buy your books?

 Tony: All my books are exclusive to Amazon and available worldwide in eBook and paperback. The Tudor Trilogy is also available as audiobooks and an audiobook edition of Mary – Tudor Princessis currently in production.

Purchase your copy today: Amazon UK,  Amazon U.S, Amazon AU

About the Author

Tony Riches AuthorTony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors.

For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.


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The Art of Daydreaming

Six impossible things

Have we lost the art of daydreaming? I ask myself this as I make my through my daily commute. I see people checking their smart phones on the way to the subway, standing in the elevator, or waiting for their next bus. There’s very little talk happening on these phones; no one is speaking to one another. With each ping, our brain fires, turning us all into Pavlovs who crave that next notification from Facebook or Twitter.

Sad young woman and a rain drops

I remember when my commute included time for daydreaming. It seems like so long ago. I’d listen to my music, with my head resting against the window pane of the bus and watch the landscape zip past. The music allowed my mind to wander and before the end of the commute, I’d be imagining a story that mirrored the mood of the music or the lyrics. This was a time of rejuvenation and recharging. I’d look forward to this down time after a long day at work. It was a way to clear my head, to transition between work and home with possibly a bit of time-travel kicked in for good measure.

Today, I use my commute to multitask, checking emails and catching up with news feeds. It’s exhausting. I’m sure I’m not alone. Before smart phones, we had down time and time to be bored. Today, there isn’t a moment when we aren’t plugged in. How many people use their smart phone as an alarm? How many reach over at odd times in the night to check on missed notifications? I’ve turned off social media notifications to disable my Pavlov response, but it doesn’t help. I’m still darting in probably more frequently to check notifications. It’s like putting yourself on a carb-free diet only to binge on carbs more than ever before.

Synergies of MusicI feel that I’ve lost access to my creativity by not unplugging, by not allowing myself time to daydream. Music is my gateway between the hard world of here and the beguiling land of story. I write to music. With the right soundtrack, I can tap into an emotional moment and even conjure a vivid scene. But for this faerie engine to work, you need to lull that active part of your mind. Staring out through a glass as the world slips by is meditative. All those pings and dings breaks the trance.

But I am determined to make a change–to reclaim daydreaming, even in little chunks. I’ll start with my morning commute. Instead of bringing my laptop, I’ll bring a notebook. I’ll give myself permission to write, or not, and if I choose to write, I can either do it in the notebook or in my mind. Either way, I will use that time for daydream.

Virtual Abstract Landscape

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