21 March 2018

My Top Tips for Completing a Novel #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Let's start by assuming you have your great original idea, amazing locations and cast of compelling characters - how do you now turn all that into a wonderful manuscript?  There answer is different for everyone, as some like to wing it, others obsessively plan every minute detail. 

There is no shortage of well-intended advice, from Stephen King's 'shut yourself away from the world' to my own favourite,'write just one a page a day and that's a book in a year.'

I replaced the word 'writing' with 'completing' in the title of this post, as we all have so many distractions, it takes self-discipline to write a full length novel. I've written at least one novel each year for the past nine years, (three of which have become international best-sellers) so I'm happy to share what works for me.

1. Put together a simple outline in Excel for 25 chapters of 4000 words, with columns for progress and notes. This should enable to you arrive at a first draft of 100,000 words for editing. The actual chapter lengths can be whatever you suits your writing style (mine range up to 4500 but never less than 3000, although I read a book recently with some chapters of a single page.)

2. Set yourself an achievable word count target to reach every day.  As I write historical fiction, there is a lot of fact-checking and research, so my minimum target is 500 words a day. (Sometimes I've passed 500 before breakfast and others I might do more than 3,000 - but by sticking to my minimum I know I can have my first draft in 200 days.)

3. Keep a simple tally of how many words you actually write each day. I use another page of the same Excel file, as I find it motivating to see I'm ahead of target.

3. Keep going forward and avoid doing too much revision as you write. There's plenty of time for that later. (I picked this up from doing 50,000 words in 30 days for NaNoWriMo.)

4. Make sure you have a reliable back-up system and use it. Ever since I lost a few chapters when a laptop crashed, I've been a bit 'belt and braces' with a solid state drive for my daily backup and weekly versions to the cloud. (Never overwrite old backups, as you never know when you might want to restore something.)

5. This approach suits the way I write, but its a good idea to develop your own writing routine based on what works best for you - and make sure those around you understand and respect it. 

Happy writing!

Tony Riches

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

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

20 March 2018

Blog Tour: La Reine Blanche, Mary Tudor a Life in Letters, by Sarah Bryson

 New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Author Sarah Bryson has returned to primary sources, state papers and letters, to unearth the truth about this intelligent and passionate woman. This is the story of Mary Tudor, told through her own words

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

At just eighteen years of age Mary Tudor, younger sister of King Henry VIII, was married to the aging French King Louis XII. Less than three months later, on the evening of 1 January 1515, Louis XII was dead and Mary a widow. The now Dowager Queen of France would not stay in a state of widowhood for long. A mere two months after her first husband died Mary took her life into her own hands and dared to marry a man of her own choosing. This man was Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

But who was this Charles Brandon and how did he, a newly made Duke and far beneath the station of the dowager queen, become her second husband? First it is important to look back at Brandon’s youth to understand his rise at court and how he came to be in the position to marry a member of the royal family.

Brandon was born to William Brandon and Elizabeth Bruyn sometime during 1484, in France, while his parents were in exile with Henry Tudor. William Brandon accompanied Henry Tudor and his army back to England where Henry laid claim to the English throne. On August 22 1485 the Battle of Bosworth at Bosworth Field took place between the forces of Henry Tudor and Richard III. William Brandon was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer and was killed by Richard III. Brandon was only around one year of age when his father died.

The date of Charles Brandon’s return to England is unknown. However he spent his early years under the care of his grandfather, also called William Brandon, and then his uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon. Thomas was a member of Henry VII’s court and the king’s Master of the Horse. It was under Thomas’ care that Brandon began to learn the ways of court.

During his youth Brandon and Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII, became friends. Brandon was six years older than the Prince and it was through Brandon that Henry could live his youthful experiences of jousting, flirting with women and other fun activities at court.

At around the age of twenty six Brandon married his first wife Anne Browne at Stepney church. After the birth of their first daughter Brandon left Mary to marry Margaret Neville, Dame Mortimer. Dame Mortimer was many years older than Brandon and on 7 February 1507 Brandon had licence of Dame Margaret's lands and began to sell them off in quick succession, profiting over £1000. After seeking to have his marriage to Dame Mortimer annulled Brandon returned to Anne Browne and married her in a public ceremony at St Michael Cornhill. The couple had a second daughter before Anne died in 1511.

In 1513 Charles Brandon was contracted to marry Elizabeth Grey, Viscountess Lisle, daughter of John Grey 2nd Viscount Lisle, who had died in 1504. On May 15 Brandon was created Viscount Lisle and received a number of grants to signify his new position. Also in 1513 Charles Brandon flirted with Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy causing a huge scandal by stealing a ring from her finger! Rumours spread that Brandon and the Duchess would marry and while Henry VIII may have at first supported the prospect of the marriage, ultimately he had to deny any involvement and publicly reject the prospect of a marriage.

On 23 April 1513 Brandon was elected to the Order of the Garter. He continued to go from strength to strength and on Candlemas Day, 2 February 1514, Charles Brandon, Viscount Lisle was formally invested as the Duke of Suffolk. The ceremony took place at Lambeth and was conducted by the King.

A mere thirteen months after this, Brandon was married in secret to Mary Tudor. Toward the end of 1514 the eighteen year old Mary married the fifty two year old Louis XII, King of France. The marriage was one of the terms of a peace treaty England and France. However, before Mary left for France, at Dover, Mary made her brother promise that, should Louis XII die before her, she could remarry a man of her own choosing.

Mary’s marriage lasted less than three months and on 1 January Louis XII died. With his sister now a widow in France, she was a valuable pawn in the political game that could be married off by Francis I, now king of France. Henry VIII sent Brandon to France to bring Mary, and as much of her dowry as possible, back home to England.

Before Brandon left for France Henry VIII made the Duke promise not to marry his sister in France, but to wait until they both returned to England. This promise suggests that Henry knew that Brandon had feelings for the young dowager queen. If Henry VIII had any intention to keep this promise remains questionable, neither does it suggest that he remembered his earlier promise to his sister. 

In addition to this just before Brandon’s arrival in France two English Friars met with Mary. They were sent to turn Mary’s mind against Brandon, adding that the English Privy Council would never consent to her marrying Brandon. They added that Brandon and Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s right hand man, had performed witchcraft to turn Henry VIII’s mind towards their will – namely Brandon’s marriage to Mary. What this meeting highlights is that, in addition to Mary’s promise extracted from her brother, and Henry VIII’s words to Brandon, is that both Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor had feelings for one another and that their minds, even before her wedding to Louis XII, were turned towards marriage.

Brandon did bring Mary home to England, however he did not keep his promise. By the beginning of March 1515 Brandon and Mary were married and in doing so Brandon had committed treason by marrying the King’s sister without permission. The pair threw themselves at the mercy of Henry VIII and decided to lay the blame for the secret wedding upon Mary – after all how could the king punish his most beloved sister? Henry however, had to appear furious at the news of the wedding. It had been undertaken without his permission and he could not be seen as being taken for a fool. He demanded all of Mary’s dowry, her jewels and plate as well as fining the couple £24 000. However six years after their marriage the couple had only repaid £1324, which makes one wonder just how angry Henry VIII was about them marrying.

The newly married couple return to Dover on the 2 of May and are married again on the 13 May at Greenwich in front of the king and queen. Brandon and Mary went on to have four children, a son named Henry after the King, born on 11 March 1516 between ten and eleven o’clock at night. A daughter named Frances born on the 16 July between two and three o’clock in the morning. Another daughter named Eleanor born sometime between 1518 – 1521 and a second son named Henry born in 1522.

After Brandon and Mary’s return to England the Duke continued to serve his king, despite not always agreeing with his decisions. In late 1526 Henry VIII’s eye famously fell upon Anne Boleyn. Daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Anne was educated in the European Courts and being highly intelligent she more than a match for Henry VIII. Dissatisfied with his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and desperate for a son and heir, Henry sought to take Anne as his second wife. Personally Brandon strongly disliked Anne Boleyn, the two never seeing eye to eye. Brandon silently sympathised with Katherine of Aragon and resented Anne Boleyn’s rising position that resulted in his own influence with the king slipping. In addition, his wife Mary was a loyal friend of Katherine and deeply resented Anne Boleyn’s influence and displacement of Katherine whom she believed to be the only rightful queen. Despite his personal sympathies, Brandon remained loyal to his king and supported Henry VIII throughout the resolving of The King’s Great Matter and the subsequent annulment of the royal marriage.

On January 25 Henry and Anne married and on Sunday 1 June 1533 Anne Boleyn was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. Charles Brandon’s role was to walk before the future queen carrying her crown and then during the coronation he stood close to the queen holding a white staff of office. Brandon then acted as Lord High Steward and Constable at Anne Boleyn’s Coronation feast, which was held at Westminster Hall. He wore a doublet covered in pearls and rode a charger covered in crimson velvet up and down the hall.

Less than a month later on the 25 June Mary Tudor died. It was a great loss for Brandon, not only was he no longer brother-in-law to the king, but he lost Mary’s French pension. In desperate need of money, on the 7 September 1533 Brandon married Katherine Willoughby. At the time Brandon was forty-nine and Katherine fourteen! Despite it not being uncommon for a man to marry a woman much younger than himself, this extreme age gap brought about several mutterings of disapproval at the time.

In 1539 Charles Brandon was appointed The Lord Grand Master/Lord Steward of the Household. Brandon was responsible for the household of the court below stairs, including such things as the running of the kitchens, the provision of fuel for the household, drinks and other domestic responsibilities as well as overseeing the maintenance of the grounds and gardens of the household. Brandon was also responsible for felonies or offences committed by the king’s servants. Brandon was also the head of the Board of Green Cloth.

During the last ten years of his life Brandon was very active in military matters. On 1 October 1536 The Pilgrimage of Grace began. The Pilgrimage was a protest against the suppression of the monasteries, complaints against various taxes being imposed or rumours of taxes and importantly complaints against those people who were working for the king, including Thomas Cromwell. Over the coming weeks it was reported that the rebels had gathered 40,000 men to support their cause. On the 9 October the rebels dispatched their petition of grievances to the king. Charles Brandon was chosen by Henry VIII to keep an eye on the rebels. Brandon arrived in Huntingdon on 9 October at 6am, then on the 15 October Henry VIII wrote to Brandon again detailing that he should instruct the rebels to surrender their weapons and give all the information they can about how the rebellion started. If they would surrender. they would be dismissed without any further problems. By early 1537 the Pilgrimage was finally subdued and the rebels dispersed. 

In the early 1540’s relations between England and Scotland were breaking down. There had been many ‘hit and run’ attacks conducted by the English into Scottish towns just across the border where English forces had burned villages and stolen livestock. The king needed someone he could trust to guard the English Scottish borders and once more he turned to Brandon.

Brandon was appointed as Royal Lieutenant of the North and sent to the Scottish borders in January 1543, staying there and overseeing the defences until March 1544. His duties did not just include protecting the border from Scottish invasion, piracy or insurrection by the local Scots, he was also entrusted with overseeing trials and administering punishments accordingly, as well as following the directions given to him by the king and the Privy Council. A tentative peace treaty with Scotland was signed at Greenwich on 1 July 1543, ratified on 25th August 1543, but rejected by the Scottish parliament in the December of that year.

Soon after Henry VIII turned his attention to war against France. This would be Henry VIII’s final hurrah against his old enemy and he sought to align with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in an attempt to capture P.aris. A peace treaty between The Holy Roman Emperor and England had been signed in February 1543, but at the time Scotland was causing difficulties and the king’s attention had been turned to his northern borders. Now that Scotland was no longer an issue Henry VIII returned his sights to invading France

Brandon was called to action and at the age of fifty nine/sixty he went to war once more. While Henry VIII’s initial plan was to take Paris, he abandoned this plan and decided it was more strategic to take Boulogne because by occupying it, the town could be held for ransom. Brandon was appointed lieutenant & Captain General of the army and tasked with the taking of Boulogne; and it would seem that he was excited about what lay ahead as he made jokes with the other members of the Council about the forthcoming war. Meanwhile the Duke of Norfolk was ordered to besiege Montreuil.

By the end of June 1544 Brandon and his men were in France and shortly afterward they began the great siege against Boulogne. Brandon was firmly in control of his men and the campaign working with his council to ensure that not only his men but also the horses that had been brought across had enough food and water for the campaign. Brandon saw that no mercy was shown to the town of Boulogne. Over a period of six weeks he ordered approximately 100,000 gun stones fired into the town. In addition to this bombardement, tunnels were dug under the city walls in order to weaken the outer ring of defences of the city.

Even when the king arrived on the battlefront, albeit at a safe distance, the organisation and operation of the siege was left to Brandon. Boulogne finally surrendered on 14 September 1544 at 10am. Brandon was granted the honour of riding into Boulogne signalling the surrender of the city. Brandon’s friend and one time brother-in-law, King Henry VIII of England, could not have granted him a higher honour as it should have been the king who first entered the city.

Satisfied with this victory the king returned home, but not before ordering Brandon to provide aid to the Duke of Norfolk at Montreuil. However, before Brandon could provide this aid, on 18 September Francis I and Charles V signed the Treaty of Crépy-en-Lannois leaving England alone against the French. Poor weather and lack of supplies saw Brandon, Norfolk and their men retreat to Calais. Peace between France and England would not be concluded until 7th June 1546 with the signing of the Peace of Ardres.

Less than a year later, on 22 August 1545 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon Charles Brandon died at Guildford. Although wishing to be buried in the college church of Tattershall in Lincolnshire without any pomp or display.

The king was struck with grief at the loss of his longest and most loyal friend. Upon hearing the news of Brandon’s death Henry VIII declared that Brandon had been one of his best friends. He went on to say that Brandon had always been loyal and generous and that he had never taken unfair advantage of a friend or enemy and was truly fair towards all his political enemies. On the 9 September Brandon was buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor near the south door of the choir at the king’s expense. This was the final gesture of friendship and honour that Henry VIII could bestow.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk had a successful court and military career and died one of the Henry VIII’s most beloved and dearest friends. He had married the king’s sister, Mary, without permission and thus had become brother-in-law to the king of England. He was a loyal, dedicated friend and courtier and one of the 16th century’s most intriguing men.

Sarah Bryson


Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1877.
Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 4, 1527-1533, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1871.
Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, World Public Library, http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/Charles_Brandon,_1st_Duke_of_Suffolk; viewed 18 December 2017.
De Lisle, L; Tudor: The Family Story; Chatto & Windus, London. 2013
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.: 2015 ‘The Most Noble Order of the Garter’; http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/226255/The-Most-Noble-Order-of-the-Garter; viewed 18 December 2017,.
Gunn, S; Charles Brandon, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire, UK. 2015
Hall, E; Hall's chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J. Johnson, London. 1809
Hutchinson R; The Last Days of Henry VIII, Phoenix, London. 2006
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1862-1932.
Levitt, E; “A second king”: chivalric masculinity and the meteoric rise of Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk (c. 1484- 1545)”, University of Winchester - Gender and Medieval Studies; 2014.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Brandon, Charles, first duke of Suffolk (c.1484–1545), 2015, Oxford University Press, < http://www.oxforddnb.com/>; viewed 18 December 2017.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Brandon, Sir Thomas (d. 1510), 2015, Oxford University Press, < http://www.oxforddnb.com/>; viewed 18 December 2017.
Richardson, D & Kimball G Everingham; Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families; 1st Edition, Genealogical Publishing Co., USA. 2004: 2nd Edition - Createspace 2011.

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About the Author

Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She is the author of Mary Boleyn in a Nutshell and Charles Brandon: The King’s Man. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment, and wishes to return to England one day. Find out more at Sarah's website sarah-bryson.com and follow her on Twitter @SarahBryson44.

19 March 2018

Blog Tour ~ Pustules, Pestilence and Pain: Tudor Treatments and Ailments of Henry VIII, by Seamus O’Caellaigh

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Henry VIII lived for 55 years and had many health issues, particularly towards the end of his reign. Historian Seamus O'Caellaigh has delved deep into the documents of Henry's reign to select some authentic treatments that Henry's physicians compounded and prescribed to one suffering from those ailments.

Author Interview with Seamus O’Caellaigh

How did you go about researching the health of Henry?
I investigated the health of Henry VIII by working back from the better-known things about his conditions, then created a more detailed picture by adding letters from his court and the written works of his physicians. We know that his health affected the relationships he had with his six wives. Those relationships are notorious and the Tudors have become a well-known family because of it. Established Tudor history tells us the story of his life and some of the illnesses he had, but I wanted to go back to the people that saw him every day and to what they said about his fitness. From there, I studied the treatments his physicians used, using their written works.
How did you set up and take such stunning photos?
Henry VIII was visually impressive, many of those that visited his court said so in the letters they sent home. It is fitting that, if we are examining his health, the pictures would be equally impressive. My photographer did a wonderful job as they worked with me to capture images of the apothecary, Tudor medicine, and Tudor history. I compiled ingredients, made the treatments, and then spent hours over a series of days working to get everything as visually pleasing as possible. I am overwhelmed with how well my vision became the amazing photos in this book - a new and stunning way to look at Tudor life and the story of Henry VIII.
Was it difficult to find the primary sources on his illnesses?
It's not difficult to read about Henry VIII and the dramatic changes he made to the history of England and Europe. It is, however, more difficult to find primary sources about his illnesses and the treatments used. Physicians of the time did not keep the same sort of medical records that modern ones do. One source I used, in particular, is handwritten and stored in the Royal British Library, only available by requesting copies directly from them. The prescription book of Henry VIII took a while to find too, with many leads ending to dead ends. We are lucky that so many of correspondence to and from his court are recorded but it is a double-edged sword, as that increases the number of letters to look through to find the desired information.
What makes your book different to others on Henry's life?
The health of the monarch was at the forefront of many people's thoughts in the Tudor era. My book does not directly look at the six wives of Henry, the break with the Roman Catholic church, or the rebelling of the northern lords. Instead, it looks at the treatments of the Tudor period, those that Tudor Physicians recommended for a patient suffering from small-pox, fevers, and various injuries. The Tudor era was an important time in the history of medicine, filled with many advancements, and at the same time drawing off of the diagnostic practices of the past. While other books about Henry VIII look at the other aspects of his life, I have chosen to focus on his health and how this was a huge factor for the way his life played out.

Seamus O’Caellaigh
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About the Author

Seamus O’Caellaigh has always been interested in the Tudor dynasty and the many uses of plants. He grew up learning about plants from his grandmother Anne Kelley and mother Diane Prickett. Their love of plants has manifested in Seamus through his love of being out in the wild looking for medicinal plants, through his spending lots of time in the family garden and through spending time in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. He is most often seen with his head down, looking at the plants along the path and not at what lies ahead. Having joined a pre-1600s recreation group, Seamus found a way to incorporate his love of the Tudors with a study of medicinal plants from that time period, along with the many herbal books written from the 1st century to the turn of the 17th century. Nothing makes Seamus happier than finding an obscure reference, or his son Jerrick bringing him a plant for “Dad’s Plant Projects.”

18 March 2018

Guest Interview with Author Halimah Bellows

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The path to a fulfilling new career is a journey of many steps. Champion Your Career has been written to serve as a helpful guide and companion on every step of that journey.

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Halimah Bellows:

What made you want to write your book? 

I was inspired to write Champion Your Career: Winning in the World of Work because I felt a comprehensive career development book for the 21st century was needed to address the critical concerns of our time—the workers who are victims of downsizing and outsourcing, the “boomers” who are at retirement age but cannot afford to retire and the recent college graduates who are faced with an avalanche of confusing information and are clueless about how to pursue an appropriate career path. 

What is your background Halimah?

As a career counsellor/coach, I’ve been able to bring together my innate abilities and passions and the skills that have naturally flowed from me since I was a child. People have always fascinated me, and the world of work fascinates me as well.  After completing my undergraduate studies in Social Science and English at New York University, I earned an MA in English Language Teaching at the University of Exeter in England and then taught English as a Second Language in England and Indonesia. 

Returning to the United States, I earned my MS in Counselng Psychology at San Francisco State University and received intensive Certified Coach Training at The Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, California and Retirement Options in St. Louis, Missouri to become a Certified Retirement and Professional Coach. Additionally I have obtained graduate certificates in Training Systems Development and Educational Drama. I hold Washington and California Community College Teaching and Counseling Credentials and am a Certified Dependable Strengths Articulation Process Facilitator. I served on the executive board of the Puget Sound Career Development Association for two terms.

I am also employed as a teacher of English as a Second Language at South Seattle College where I have worked for over 20 years.  I also volunteer with several community theatre groups and for community events like Folklife Northwest. I participate in and am considered an elder in my spiritual practice.  I do yoga and pilates.  I love to travel, have lived in Asia and Europe and am married to a British citizen.  

What plans do you have for your writing?

I’m not really planning another book right now though am working on a 2nd edition of it with updated career resources.   I am also looking at making an audio book of Champion Your Career, and there is always the possibility of expanding on some sections of Champion Your Career—such as a book specifically for retirees.

How do you raise awareness of your book?

I fully utilize my own network, and a good public relations consultant can open many doors you might not be able to open on your own. The importance of a good book cover cannot be overemphasized.  If you are able to find your own graphic artist to work with, it is worthwhile to do so.  I am active on social media and have my own, twitter, facebook author and book page as well on Linkedin and having the book listed on Goodreads and other online book sites.

What advice would you offer to new authors?

I feel that having a passion for one’s subject, as I have for mine, is essential for any author. My method for developing my book was an approach that worked for me. Much of the material came from a radio interview show that I had done earlier, based on my twenty years of experience as a career coach. I was given the rights to the tapes from the show, and, with the help of my developmental editor, I turned the interviews into prose and added updated information, resources and social media platforms. I was fortunate to be able to work with a developmental editor who was comfortable with my speaking and writing style—a process which I recommend to writers who have the kind of active public life that I have. 

Halimah Bellows
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About the Author

Halimah Bellows completed her undergraduate studies in Social Science and Education at New York University, then went on to earn an MA in English Language Teaching at the University of Exeter in England and taught English as a Second Language in England and Indonesia. Returning to the United States, she earned her MS in Counseling Psychology at San Francisco State University and received intensive Certified Coach Training at The Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, California and Retirement Options in St. Louis, Missouri to become a Certified Retirement and Professional Coach. Additionally she has obtained graduate certificates in Training Systems Development and Educational Drama. She holds Washington and California Community College Teaching and Counseling Credentials and is a Certified Dependable Strengths Articulation Process Facilitator. Halimah has appeared as a guest on a number of local radio talk shows in the Pacific Northwest and on internet TV. Find out more at Halimah's website http://championyourcareer.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @HalimahBellows

17 March 2018

Book Review ~ Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower, by Susan Higginbotham

Available from Amberley Publishing
and on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The true story of 'The King's Curse';
the extraordinary life of Margaret
Pole, niece of Richard III, loyal
servant of the Tudors.

I should begin by saying I'm an avid reader of Susan Higginbotham's historical fiction, so I've been looking forward to reading her non-fiction biography of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, one of the last surviving members of the House of York.

Perhaps unfairly, Margaret Pole is best remembered for her botched execution and a rather unflattering portrait of a thin-faced woman holding a sprig of honeysuckle blossom (a sign of love and faithfulness.)  Interestingly, when I saw the portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, it had been classified as 'Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Pole'.

This new book should go some way to restoring Margaret Pole's place in Tudor History, as Susan has done an excellent job of setting out the facts of her complex life and explaining the historical context. Readable and informative, this book falls short of answering my question about why Margaret was executed at the age of sixty-seven - but I suppose we will never know.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Susan Higginbotham  runs her own historical fiction/history blog, History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham, and owns a bulletin board, Historical Fiction Online. She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Apex, North Carolina, with her family. You can find out more about her books at www.susanhigginbotham.com. Find Susan on Faceboook and follow her on Twitter @S_Higginbotham

16 March 2018

Special Guest Post by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger, Author of The Breach: Reschen Valley Part 2

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Burying the past comes at a high price… It’s 1922 and a year after the Italian Fascists marched on Bozen. Nationalism in the Tyrolean Reschen Valley creates enemies out of old friends and Katharina Steinhauser fiercely protects the identity of her daughter’s father from both her family and her community.

Beneath the Surface: The (hi)Stories We've Never Before Heard

Imagine driving south over the Austrian border into northern Italy. The top is down. The sun is shining. You start to run through what Italian you know, and as you cross the Reschen Pass—still a German name—you encounter the first pizzeria on the side of the road and, “Yes! We’re in Italy!”

Other than that little bit of Italian signage, not much has yet changed. The landscape still looks like the Austrian Tyrol: mountains, fields, a bubbling creek, the sturdy, wooden alpine architecture. Right next to the pizzeria is a Speck and Äpfel stand. Because you’ve been in Austria for at least a day, you already know that these are the signs for that incredible smoked bacon you had with your dumplings, and those delicious apples were in the last guesthouse’s strudel.

At first, you might believe some Tyroleans migrated over the border, maintained their “brand” and wrote their signs in German. Except, that’s not it. The first town you encounter, Reschen, also has another name: Rescia. Graun—the sign indicates—is also called Curon Venosta. The valley itself is both called Obervinschgau and Val Venosta. And then, coming over a ridge, you gasp. Where once there was fertile farmland, now a beautiful 4-mile-long reservoir, nestled in the Alpine peaks, stretches to the southern horizon. You slow down because something else has caught your attention and everyone on the road is pulling off to the right. You follow them because you can’t believe what you’re looking at. About 200 yards from the eastern shore, and rising out of the water, is a medieval church tower, fully intact.

The first time I saw it, all I wanted to know was what in the world happened here?

Step into the time machine, dear reader. Let’s go back to just before the outbreak of World War I and illustrate the situation: the Austro-Hungarian Empire had its reach into a good part of today’s northern Italy, just above the Po Valley. A good majority of that land also belonged to the autonomous province of Tyrol, which had earned its hard-won freedom after the Napoleonic Wars. However, in Italy, a large group of disgruntled nationalists held to the belief that the lands to the Brenner Frontier (if you Google this, look just south of Innsbruck) were rightfully Italian. After all, that line of mountains was a wonderful natural barrier against potential enemies to the north.

The thing is, Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had little conflict with one another. In the Tyrolean province, Italian migrants were generally welcomed with open arms. They worked there, lived there, filled in the jobs that needed filling, especially in agricultural labour.

So what happened? It’s called the Treaty of London. Signed in 1915, the Triple Entente promised huge swaths of land to the Italian nationalists if Italy took up arms against its neighbours and Germany. And there you go. Now imagine Giuseppe and his family work on your Tyrolean farm. He’s called to service. He has to cross the line to the south, pick up his weapon, turn around and face his employer in a war where not one single Italian unit ever crossed into Tyrol. Not one. The battles were all fought south of the line.

Enter the good ol’ U-S-of-A, the end of the war, and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, specifically number 9, which stated:

“IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

Now, Imagine you’re Wilson, stirring your cup of tea. The French, the Russians and the British pull you aside and say, “With all due respect, we’re going to have to ignore point number nine in the case of Tyrol, at least starting at the south of the Brenner Frontier.” And, they added, there were also places like Trieste that wouldn’t count in this imaginary “line of nationality” because, ehem, there was, ehem, a secret treaty.

Wilson was not prepared to budge on this, so Italy’s prime minister, Vittorio Orlando, arrived with his delegation and debated how the Brenner Frontier was absolutely Italian. He rolled out some maps and pointed out that this was naturally true. The rivers, look! They flowed from the south to the north.

Nobody checked to see whether they really did. And they didn’t. The Italians had fudged the maps.

Very simply put, Wilson was in a pickle. Italy was granted the new frontier and the Tyroleans were faced with a cultural pogrom not unlike Stalin’s over Ukraine: the German language and culture were systematically oppressed and eradicated starting in 1920. When Hitler and Mussolini created a pact, they demanded the Tyroleans stop complaining and choose to either be Italian or German citizens. Those who voted German were relocated to new territories within the Third Reich (an ironic drama in itself for those who were relocated to farms seized in the Sudetenland). Those who chose to stay in Italy were threatened with relocation to the colonies in Abyssinia. Either way, the Tyroleans were facing displacement. If World War II had not broken out, who knows how things would have turned out? But when Hitler marched on Poland, the whole program came to a halt.

And what of this church tower? What happened at this lake on the Reschen Pass?

The Austro-Hungarian Empire had laws in place, which dictated that no man-made structure could be built if it affected over a certain percentage of the locals’ livelihoods. Those laws protected the Obervinschgau Valley from a proposal to raise the lakes of Reschen and Graun by five meters for the purposes of producing electricity. The plan was reneged. Dead in the water, so to speak, before it could find its legs because it would have affected too much of the fertile farmland in the valley.

But Italy suffered in World War I. They had barely managed to hang onto their breeches and one of the first things that occurred was a very strong force that swore that would never happen again. Enter stage right: Benito Mussolini. Italy was in chaos and, after wresting control from the monarchy, he laid out a plan to make Italy the strongest industrial nation in Europe. The race against America began.

In order to build machines and technology, you need power. You need electricity. And the new territory of the Alto Adige / Südtirol, or South Tyrol, had a treasure trove of areas for reservoirs and dams. But how do you get around those old laws? You write new ones.

The Reschensee / Lago di Rescia is just one of perhaps a thousand stories about the misdeeds enacted against the German-speaking Tyroleans but the way this particular reservoir was built reads like a thriller. Corruption, greed, and prejudice were the key cornerstones in making this beautiful reservoir possible. Beneath the surface, lie seven villages, wholly and completely destroyed and a history of families who were ripped from their homes. The only thing the Fascists were not able to take down? The church tower. A story in itself.

Discovering the plight of the Tyroleans to the south of the Brenner really got under my skin. The more I dug into the history, the more I could understand why there is—to this day—a film of discontent, a bitterness that lies just beneath the surface, still hot to the touch.

On subsequent visits to the reservoir—regular trips that had taken on the form of a pilgrimage—the history began to unfold. On one such visit in 2005, I sat on the water’s edge and watched as—from the surface—an entire village of characters rose like ghosts from the destruction beneath the lake. They clambered into my little Fiat and never left. I’m telling you, I’ve got a story to tell.

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

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About the Author

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger was born in Minnesota, USA, in 1969 and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of "Nordeast" Minneapolis. She started her writing career with short stories, travel narratives, worked as a journalist and managing editor of 14 magazines before jumping the editor's desk and pursuing her dreams of writing and traveling. In 2005, she self-published a historical narrative based on her relatives' personal histories and experiences in Ukraine during WWII. In 2000, she moved to western Austria and established her own company. She now primarily writes historical fiction, with two series set to be launched in 2018/2019. You can find out more at www.inktreks.com and follow Chrystyna on Facebook and Twitter @ckalyna

15 March 2018

Book Launch ~ The Breach: Reschen Valley Part 2, by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Burying the past comes at a high price…

It’s 1922 and a year after the Italian Fascists marched on Bozen.

Nationalism in the Tyrolean Reschen Valley creates enemies out of old friends and Katharina Steinhauser fiercely protects the identity of her daughter’s father from both her family and her community.

Meanwhile, the Fascists have wrested control from the monarchy and momentum behind the Reschen Lake reservoir increases with plans to wipe out the Reschen Valley's towns and hamlets. Katharina risks writing to Angelo Grimani, the man in charge, and begs to have the project reassessed.

But Angelo is hemmed in by a force that steers him far from his dealings with the Reschen Valley and that which binds him to Katharina. It's the opportunity the Fascists have been waiting for.

No Man's Land: Reschen Valley Part 1
FREE on Amazon UK and Amazon US 
15th-17th March

"An authentic, rich story." Laurel Busch
"Well-executed…powerful…moved me to my core.” Ann Howard Creel, The Uncertain Season

“…vivid and intriguing…transports you to another time and place.” Kristi Saare Duarte, The Transmigrant

“Utterly atmospheric. I could not put this down.” Louisa M. Bauman, Sword of Peace
# # #

About the Author

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger was born in Minnesota, USA, in 1969 and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of "Nordeast" Minneapolis. She started her writing career with short stories, travel narratives, worked as a journalist and managing editor of 14 magazines before jumping the editor's desk and pursuing her dreams of writing and traveling. In 2005, she self-published a historical narrative based on her relatives' personal histories and experiences in Ukraine during WWII. In 2000, she moved to western Austria and established her own company. She now primarily writes historical fiction, with two series set to be launched in 2018/2019. You can find out more at www.inktreks.com and follow Chrystyna on Facebook and Twitter @ckalyna