A Great Review

via Wolves of War by Martin Lake

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The Swiftness of the Vikings

One of the secrets of the Vikings’ success was the speed at which they moved. Their longships were probably the fastest things on earth over long distances and they could land and witthdraw their raiding bands far more quickly than their more settled adversaries could mount defences against them.

When the Great Heathen Army landed in England they decided to combine the speed and flexibilty of their ships with the ability to move fast across land. Within a year they had demanded a vast tribute of horses from the kingdom of East Anglia and proceeded to journey across the country to attack every English kingdom.

Within ten years they had conquered Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia. Their only remaining foe was Wessex. King Alfred has his back to the wall.

The movements of the army at this time were swift and complex as they criss-crossed England in pursuit of treasure and lordship. This map, which you can find on Wikipedia, is the best I’ve yet come across.

I hope you find it as interesting and useful as I did. Just search Wikipedia for the Great Heathen Army to find it.

If you’d like to take a look at Wolves of War, my book about the Viking invasion of England please click, tap or paste here:


Wolves of War eBook Proof II






Posted in Anglo-Saxon era, Historical fiction, Uncategorized, Vikings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wolves of War

My new novel, Wolves of War, will be published next week. It’s set in the time of Alfred the Great but from the point of view of his enemies, the Vikings. Here’s the cover, designed by Jenny Quinlan of Historical Fiction covers and the opening of the book.

Wolves of War eBook Proof II


Leif worked the bellows furiously and watched the fire blaze stronger with each gush of air. Sparks from the flames leapt into the air, burnt bright for an instant and then died. Sigurd watched the fire intently, and the sword burning within it. Then he lifted the blade and turned it in the light of the forge.

‘It’s the finest sword I’ve ever made,’ he said.

‘Then it’s wasted on that scoundrel, Eohric,’ Leif said. ‘He has an ill-favoured look.’

Sigurd shrugged. ‘Eohric has given two thirds down-payment and that’s enough for me. I don’t care how a man looks as long as he pays.’

‘It is no wonder you don’t care about appearances, brother,’ Leif said. ‘You don’t have to look at yourself as I have to every day.’

Sigurd grunted, his form of laugh.

Ever since they were children, people had commented on how different the brothers looked. If they had received a cup of ale every time they’d heard it they would have spent their days drunk.

Sigurd looked like his father. He was tall, broad-chested, round-faced and had a mass of golden yellow hair. Leif sometimes called him ox. He did not mind. He admired oxen for their stolid strength. He admired them for their endurance.

He followed his father’s trade as well. But where Orm had been an accomplished smith, his son was more. Sigurd could work metal like a baker works bread. His swords were masterpieces of death and miracles of beauty. He was sought out by many to make their weapons.

Leif could not have been more different. He took after his mother who was a Moor from Seville. She claimed she was a princess but one of Orm’s friends said she was the daughter of a spice merchant so incompetent he lost his money, his home and his pride and had to sell his only daughter to the Vikings. She was dark as a damson, small and lithe as a cat.

And she could tell tales to keep men enthralled. Leif learned every one of them, then added more from his own imagination. His friends called him a poet, his enemies a liar. He acted as story-teller, a Skald to Klack, the head of the village though, in truth, Klack did nothing worthy of note, the village forever slept like an old dog and all Leif’s tales were woven in his head.

Leif continued to pump, intently watching the flames darken as Sigurd plunged the blade back into the fire.

‘What name does Eohric want for his sword?’ Sigurd asked.

Leif shook his head. ‘I couldn’t find him this morning.’

‘Then find him now. You might as well do something useful. You’re pumping as feebly as a little girl.’

Leif grinned and headed out of the smithy.

He took a deep breath. It was a bright, cold morning but the air was heavy with the promise of spring. Sea birds cried loudly in the sky, vying for territory, boars snuffled amongst the huts, scenting females in heat, young men glanced swiftly at young women, hoping to see some sign of interest in return.

‘Is the sword finished?’ said a voice.

Leif turned towards it.

The stranger did, indeed, have an ill-favoured look. He was a young man, skinny as a ferret and had neither beard nor moustache. His face was narrow as if from a life-time of sneering. Now he stared at Leif with a hungry look.

‘Almost,’ Leif said. ‘We need to know the name you wish to call it.’

Eohric glanced around, as if fearful his words would be overheard. ‘It shall be called Havoc.’

Leif just managed to hide his grin. ‘You choose an awe-inspiring name.’

‘It is not my choice. It is not my sword.’

Leif stared at him intently then shrugged. ‘It matters not. You have paid.’ He paused. ‘The final payment?’

Eohric untied a heavy purse from his belt.

Leif held out his hand and Eohric poured out half a dozen gold coins.

‘Byzants,’ Leif said in surprise. He weighed the coins in his hand. ‘We agreed twenty.’

‘You get the rest when the sword is finished.’

Leif nodded, reluctantly. He decided to ask friends to be close by when the exchange was made, in case Eohric chose to flee with both sword and purse.

‘It is a fine sword,’ he said. ‘The best my brother’s made. The weapon of a mighty warrior. I have to say that you do not look such a man.’

‘The sword is not for me,’ Eohric said. ‘I was commanded to come here to see it made. By a very mighty warrior.’

‘Who is he?’ Leif asked, intrigued. ‘Who will wield the sword? I must know this for the naming.’

Eohric shook his head. ‘I cannot tell you.’ He crossed his arms in a belligerent manner.

Leif sighed. ‘As you wish. Though this will not help in the naming.’

He returned to the darkness of the smithy. Sigurd was pumping at the bellows, more strongly than Leif could ever hope to do.

‘Well?’ he asked. ‘What’s it to be called?’


Sigurd whistled. ‘Eohric must think himself a famous warrior.’

‘It’s not Eohric’s sword. He wouldn’t tell me who will own it.’

Sigurd picked up his hammer. ‘A shame. Do what you can.’

He pulled out the sword and began to beat upon the glowing metal, sharp blows running up and down the blade to give it the final tempering.

Leif watched for a little while, taking the rhythm of Sigurd’s blows into himself, watching the sparks fly and die in the darkness.

And then he began to chant. ‘All-Father Odin, you have given my brother Sigurd the power and skill to make mighty weapons. You have loaned him the strength of your son Thor to hammer out the steel and make it strong. Lend now the fierce valour of the war god, Tyr, that the sword may deal terror to the enemies of its lord.’

He fell silent, watching Sigurd beat the metal with ever more careful blows.

‘All-Father Odin,’ he continued. ‘This weapon will be named Havoc and shall, if you will it, unleash havoc upon its adversaries. The wielder of the blade, whose name we don’t unfortunately know…’

Sigurd glanced at him in surprise, pausing for an instant before continuing with his hammering.

‘The wielder of this blade,’ Leif continued, ‘whose name is unknown to us but known, of course, to you, All-Father, this warrior will cleave to this sword as a brother and the sword will cleave unto him likewise. And so it will prove a stupendous sword, a blade of rumour and of legend. A blade worthy of Odin, Thor and Tyr.’

Sigurd gave the sword three final taps, gentle now, to seal the words of the spell within its heart. Then he plunged the blade into the water-trough.

The water crackled like a sea struck by lightning and steam surged up, a fierce mist which dimmed their sight.

But as Leif watched he thought he saw a shape within the mist. His heart almost failed him. He knew it to be the god Loki, lord of cunning and mischief. But a moment later Loki veiled himself as if he had not been.

‘It is done,’ Sigurd said.

He held the sword in front of him, eyeing it carefully. It was long, beautifully tapered, and the delicate tracery which ran down the blade glittered from the fusion of fire and steel.

‘What do you think of it?’ Sigurd asked.

Leif shook the image of the falsest god from his mind and bent closer to examine the sword. ‘I’m glad it doesn’t belong to Eohric,’ he said. ‘The man’s not worthy of it.’

‘But he’s paid for it,’ Sigurd said. ‘So let’s give it to him.’

He held the sword carefully as he walked towards the entrance of his forge, as if it were a new born child.

Eohric took a step towards them. ‘I cannot take it from you,’ he said. ‘You must give it to the man who will wield it.’

‘Then where is he?’ Leif asked, irritably. ‘My brother cannot hold it all day. Who is this mysterious man?’

‘The man who commands those ships,’ Eohric said, pointing towards the sea.

Leif gasped. A vast fleet of ships was heading towards the shore. They filled the sea, like a huge flock of seabirds, three score or more.


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Four years ago today…..

Four years ago today I self-published my novel, A Love Most Dangerous.



It was an unusual venture for me who had, up until then, written books about the Norman Conquest, the Crusades and the adventures of the Artful Dodger.

This book was set in Tudor times and was in the voice of a young woman, Alice Petherton.

It soon started selling well and then, to my great pleasure, better day by day. By the end of the month it had sold 100 copies. And then it really took off.

In early July, Lake Union Publishing approached me and asked if I would like to re-publish it with them. This was the start of a fantastic relationship which taught me so much about writing and publishing. My writing career really took off.

It all started with my doodling on my computer. Alice appeared from nowhere and spoke in a voice which surprised and fascinated me. Here’s the opening:


To be a servant at the court of King Henry is to live with your heart in your mouth. This is so whether you are young or old, male or female. Some, of course, have more cause for concern than others. I am young and I am female. So the danger to me is considerable.

The danger is the more acute because I am pretty and the Queen is in the last month of her confinement.

Henry has divorced one wife and executed the second. But that is far from the whole story. A string of shattered hearts lies strewn across the land like pearls from a necklace broken in rage. Aye, it’s true that complicit fathers, brothers, uncles and even husbands have got rich by leading their women like heifers to the courtly market. It is the women who give the most and suffer the most grievously.

Unless of course, they are clever.

It does not do to be too clever. Anne Boleyn taught us this. For make no mistake, King Henry is more clever than any man in the kingdom now that Thomas Wolsey is dead. And he is as subtle and wily as even the most cunning of women. Anne’s head rolling from the block is testimony to that.

The trick is to show your cleverness to just such a degree that Henry is intrigued by it but not threatened. The second trick is to intimate that your cleverness is at his disposal even more than your own. And the third trick? Ah, the third trick is to be willing to bed the great beast of appetites and to know when to do it.

My name is Alice Petherton and I am seventeen years of age. I came to court as a simple servant but I caught the eye of Anne Boleyn when she was newly crowned. I was good at singing, could dance like an elf and made her laugh and think. She took me as one of her maids of honour and my slow approach to the furnace began.

I was very fond of Anne. She was not pretty but there was something alluring about her, some promise of carnality which affected all who knew her, King and subject, man and woman. I must confess that on more than one night I awoke hot with sweat having dreamed I had been bedded by the Queen, worn out and used by her, alive and half-deadened, exultant and dismayed.

There came one morning when she stroked my cheek and kissed me swiftly on the lips. I gazed into her eyes that day, telling her that I was willing. But she merely laughed and told me to get on with my sewing. So are we played with by those we must learn to call our betters.

I will become one of these betters, I determined. I will be fawned upon and bowed to some day.

Not that I aspire to be a queen, you must understand. That is too deadly by far. King Henry appears to be in love with Jane Seymour. He would, of course, for she carries his child. His greatest lust is for a male successor; even more than for any pretty face and shapely form. There is no sense in seeking to usurp Seymour’s place as Queen; no hope. If she proves to be a good brood mare he will rest content for a little while. But in the meanwhile he hungers. The furnace grows hotter by the hour.

You can buy it here: myBook.to/ALoveMostDangerous

Posted in A Love Most Dangerous, Alice Petherton, Amazon, Books, Historical fiction, history, indie author, Lake Union Publishing, publishing contracts, Publishing your ebooks, Tudors, Women in historical fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where I Write – Alison Morton

I’m delighted to feature Alison Morton in my series ‘Where I Write.’ Alison has proved a very helpful friend to me and is a great source of help and inspiration. So, without further ado, it’s over to her.

Alison MortonNov16_sm


Artists traditionally write in a garret preferably in Paris, but I write in a basement in the middle of rural France.

View across the valley

Actually, it’s a sous-sol, a half-basement common in French houses until the late 1980s.The house part is a three-bedroom single storey building of 110 square metres but underneath lies treasure: another 110 square metres of precious garage, utility area, garden shed equivalent, boiler, massive storage area, husband’s ‘radio shack’ (Don’t ask!), downstairs loo and wine cellar. But the jewel in this crown is our 3.6 x 3.6 metre office.

Shortly after emigrating to France, we converted a chunk of the sous-sol into a work space that wouldn’t be out of place in any UK office. I already had two full workstations, wall cupboards, filing cabinets, book shelves, computers, printers and office paraphernalia from the UK where I had run my own translation business. The builder built the office around the size of the desks. The final addition was a large Parker Knoll sofa bed: we had nowhere else to put it but it makes a perfect writer’s sofa!

The Office

Whether it’s aging/decrepitude, I have a chronic back problem (Don’t let’s go there.), so my ever-resourceful husband, Steve, fortified by his ‘O’ level Woodwork, converted a redundant bedside table into a standing desk unit for my Mac. It can be lifted off easily: no desk was harmed in the making of this unit.

When I can sit down to work, I tap away on my faithful MacBookAir on the proper desk and the whole thing is linked through the cloud-thingy. I don’t ask – Steve was an IT and radio engineer in his Real Life, so I’m pathetic and leave all the technical stuff to him. I’m an artist, darling.

But I’m a simple artist. I used boring old Word. I started computing in DOS over twenty-five years ago and drove programmes like Wordstar, SuperCalc and Dbase on commands only. When Windows came along, WordPerfect gave Word a run for its money, but sadly WP has gone the way of Betamax.

AMM at work

Pixelmator and PowerPoint are my standard programs for fiddling about with photos and the standard Office programmes like the Excel spreadsheet keep track of character ages, features/characteristics, sales stats and accounts. Some of my research is paper-based, i.e. a library of books, but most of it is digitally stored or linked. I use Protopage to keep all my links neatly arranged so I don’t get my Roman gladius dimensions mixed up with the fifth floor in Macy’s department store (You’ll have to read INCEPTIO to see why I needed both of those in the same book.)

 You asked me about planning, Martin, and said we weren’t talking house extensions. My book ideas start with a character, then expands to those around her. I give her some background, including the reason why she is like she is, then I throw a big problem at her and see how she reacts. This ‘mulling’ phase can last a few days or weeks or even years. After all, the Roma Nova idea took several decades to burst out of my head. But I was living my Real Life over that time with zero ambition to become a novelist.

These days, mulling time is shorter so I sit down and write (theoretically) 30 lines of plot notes; the inciting incident, three crisis points, the Black Moment, the climax and resolution. My books are thrillers and this is the classic structure that readers expect. It shouldn’t be formulaic, but this process gives my writing a structure. That’s the 15% of plotting. After that, I fly off into the void by the seat of my pants.

Turning to the production path, what happens when the first draft is finished? Well, I resort to two non hitech solutions: the one-and a-half spaced printout and the red pen. I use a process I evolved in my early writing days and it catches all sorts of little horrors. But you’d expect that from self-editing a first draft. The next stage is to read the amended draft on my Kindle as a complete book to check whether the story has legs and/or if there are any gaping plot holes. Then it’s off to my critique partner for her thoughts. If I say she has the eyes and instincts of a velociraptor combined with an unfailingly polite way of expressing herself, you can guess how cathartic a process it is. But this is where you need brutal literary love from somebody you trust.

Next, I send full-length books (100,000 words) to a structural editor, then after the inevitable revisions, the final version will go to the copy editor to be tidied up and given a final polish. Then, and only then, does it go off to be made into a book.

Until recently I used an outside company to produce my books and have been very grateful for their expert introduction to independent publishing. But now I’m off on my solo flight path with my own imprint, Pulcheria Press. Recently, I’ve discovered the delights of Vellum, very user-friendly software which formats and prepares files ready for uploading to eBook retailers and print book producers and distributors. My first ‘experiment’ has been on my new novella, CARINA, eBook release date 23 November. So far, so super-smooth

The middle of nowhere in the Poitou-Charentes where I live has some lovely undulating scenery, mostly caused by the River Thouet and I take time out most days to walk by it and gather an impressive collection of insect bites.  Down by the River Thouet



Apart from that, some garden pottering, the occasional sortie to meet real people for lunch and the need to sleep, I am lured to and chained to my writing desk for most of the day.


Alison Morton bio (CARINA)


Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.

All six Roma Nova full-length novels have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller.


A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.

Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.


Social media links

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5783095.Alison_Morton
Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon

Buying links for CARINA

Amazon: http://myBook.to/CARINA

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/fr/en/ebook/carina-7

CARINA blurb

Carina Mitela is still a young inexperienced officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces. Disgraced and smarting from a period in the cells for a disciplinary offence, she is sent out of everybody’s way on a seemingly straightforward mission overseas.

All she and her comrade-in-arms, Flavius, have to do is bring back a traitor from the Republic of Quebec. Under no circumstances will she risk entering the Eastern United States where she is still wanted under her old name Karen Brown.  But when she and Flavius discover a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Roma Nova, what price is personal danger against fulfilling the mission?







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Helen Hollick Where I Write


Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Silly, of course, but a bit of fun which we all need. So, I’m especially delighted that the author of a number of books about pirates is contributing to my series Where I Write. I’m talking of course about the talented and ever-helpful Helen Hollick who has written books, not only on pirates, but on a very wide range of subjects.

I used to live in Somerset so know the delightful part of the world where Helen lives very well. It seems an idyllic place in which to write.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Where I Write

by Helen Hollick

! BlueBorder Facebook Square

Well, being truthful, I write a lot in my head in the small hours of the morning when I wake up and after visiting the bathroom, can’t get back to sleep again. I plan out entire chapters, complete with conversation, action, romance or whatever… so not surprising I don’t fall asleep again is it?


Of course, by the time I do have to get up (after having finally slept), had a shower, breakfast etc, booted the computer up, answered emails and the routine daily tasks (I run an historical fiction review blog called Discovered Diamonds, which requires daily updating) I’ve forgotten most of what I had intended to write. Once I get going, though, the ideas flood back.


It also depends on what I am writing. If non-fiction for a book I’ve been commissioned to write, or maybe a blog article for my own blog or as a guest spot on someone else’s, there may be research to do. Perhaps my monthly newsletter needs writing or a review for the above review blog – whatever, I guess I get through several thousand words a day. No wonder I wear out keyboards pretty quickly!


So where is this physical place where I park myself to write the next (hopeful) bestseller? study 2 april 2017I have a ‘study with a view’. It’s actually a conservatory-type extension to the 18th century Devonshire farmhouse I live in. Built in 1769 it was a dairy farm until the mid-nineteen-seventies, although hay has always been grown and cut in the fields, alongside grazing cattle, sheep, geese, hens and horses. Now, we occasionally play host to our neighbouring farmer’s sheep, but alas no cattle just the geese, ducks, hens and horses.

Oh and a donkey.

Bertie 2 24.4.16



My view out of the windows overlooks our orchard, the slope down to the Taw Valley and the rolling hills beyond. I love watching the colours change, depending on the time of day, the sun and shadows or the (frequent) showers of rain. You would think the Devon countryside was just green, but since moving here in January 2013 I’ve realised how many varied shades of green there are – from almost yellow to the darkest hues.


There are also the birds. We have a bird table quite close to the house, so even with my fading vision I can see them hopping about. Chaffinches, verities of sparrows and tits, nuthatches, robins, yellowhammers… I’ve just glanced out – there is an enormous hen pheasant squeezed on to the table. Think rugby ball shape and size! She is one we rescued and reared two years ago, her ‘mum’ had been run over in the lane. We got out of the car to remove her and found five day-old chicks nearby. Four made it to maturity and they still live in the orchard. We also have woodpeckers, buzzards and a pair of barn owls are nesting nearby.


Before moving to Devon I lived in north-east London (hated it there) but I came to Devon a couple of times a year as my editor used to live not far from Barnstaple. I would get the train from Paddington, change at Exeter on to the Tarka Line. Little did I know that I was passing the house I now live in – I can see a little bit of the  line from my bedroom, and I enjoy watching the trains go by twice an hour as they clickety-clack over the bridge. It is rather like having your very own full size train set!


I love Appledore, Instow and the confluence of the Torridge and Taw Rivers, one flowing past Bideford the other, Barnstaple


So of course I had quite a bit of inspiration for the fourth of my Sea Witch Voyages, Ripples In The Sand which is set in the vicinity. My pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, goes up the River Taw at night to the town for a specific reason, but I’m not letting on what – *spoiler*! I am also thinking of writing a murder-mystery series which I will initially base here in North Devon.


Taking a break from writing, usually for lunch or an afternoon cup of tea I wander up to our stable yard where my daughter keeps our horses. Kathy showjumps the two competition horses (she also rides side saddle), and we have three Exmoor ponies, all of which were once wild ponies on the Moor. ponies 2 april 2017




Then there are the two dogs, Baz and Eddie, who keep me company either while I am writing or on nice walks up the lane or down to the woods.Dogs Top Field


I expect you’ve gathered by now that I love my study and my home – although I have another confession: I do tend to spend more time looking out the window than writing!

Well, there is always something interesting happening! Maybe the farmer across the valley is ploughing or cutting the hay, maybe the roe deer (or even sometimes, red deer) appear in the field beyond the orchard. Or I spot the barn owl hunting, or it has been raining and the sun comes out. Suddenly there is the most beautiful rainbow arcing across the valley.

view 1 april 2017

I do get the writing done eventually, after all I am about to start the sixth in my Sea Witch Voyages series, Gallows Wake and I have a book about smugglers planned…

All Books 2017


Website: www.helenhollick.net

Main Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com

My Author Page on an Amazon near you : http://viewAuthor.at/HelenHollick

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick

Twitter: @HelenHollick

Discovering Diamonds Review Blog: https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.co.uk/

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

Thank you very much, Helen and good luck with all your forthcoming books.

Posted in Author's Writing Places, Historical fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments


I’m delighted to welcome Annie Whitehead as guest blogger for my series Where I Write. Annie writes novels set in the Anglo-Saxon era, a period where many of my books are set. In fact, we’ve both written books which feature Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great. I’ve put a link to her books and blog at the end of the post, together with links to where you can find her books.

Over to you, Annie.

Annie Headshot

I had three kids in under four years. That’s not a boast, or a complaint; it’s just a fact. It meant that any attempt at writing was a bit like a bank robbery in an Ealing Comedy film – smash, grab, hope for the best, but expect that the getaway car will have four punctures.

It got a wee bit quieter during the playgroup and primary school years, but by then I was rushing between four part-time jobs, as a freelance Early Years music teacher. I would write, with a fountain pen (I love the smell of Quink!) in Paperblanks notebooks, leaving notes for myself, so that if I had to rush off mid-idea, or mid-scene, to the next job, or to do the school run, I would be able to pick up where I left off. These three books contain the first draft of Alvar the Kingmaker, (my second published novel, but in fact the first book I wrote.)Annie.Notebooks






Life moved on; with such a small age gap between them it wasn’t long before the kids were all at secondary school, and I was able to progress to the modern age. I bought a lap top, which quickly became so outdated that I didn’t dare connect it to the internet, so I got a little Chrome Book, too.

With longer school days, I was able to commandeer the dining room table, stopping at 4pm when the kids came home.

Nowadays the house is an empty place. Just as the kids went off to school in quick succession, so they left home equally swiftly. Recently I celebrated securing a new teaching project and a publishing deal by buying a new computer. I also swung the table round 90 degrees. Since the two of us can comfortably eat at the kitchen table, this is now my desk. As you can see, now that there is no need to tidy away, I don’t. Annie.Phases of the table








So that’s the set-up, but the desk is not always where the writing happens. Sometimes I need to just let the ideas percolate, and I have a weekly opportunity to do this. Most of my teaching contracts necessitate my getting into the car, but I have a long-standing ‘gig’ at my kids’ old primary school just over a mile away. I always walk there, while listening to music. This is when I don’t plot, so much as tune into the emotions that the music is conveying, using that to gain insight into my characters’ make-up, their likes and dislikes, their passions and their hopes.

As you’ll see from the pictures, what passes for a main road here is often traffic-free, and being farming country, there are plenty of gates where I can stop, lean, stare and not think.

I empty my mind, stop actively thinking about my stories, and the ideas will come into the space I’ve created. The music helps; I listen intently to the words, perhaps out of respect for the lyricist’s hard work, but also because I like to understand. Thus as I walk, or lean on the gate, I become aware of the emotions driving the song and will have a moment of clarity, realising that the real reason for my protagonist’s fight with his wife is her underlying concern about something else.

Annie. Walk to school -thinking time

When I was a child I was forever playing ‘make believe’, running through the woods as if I were Arthur of the Britons from the TV series, or acting out my own stories. The summer after I’d drafted my first book, I went on many long walks, noting what it felt like to have brambles scratch your ankles. As I scrambled down a hillside, observing how one must place one’s feet in order not to fall, I imagined my character Alvar as he ran down the hill to the village of his true but forbidden love, and how she’d feel if she were the one with those scratches stinging her legs. How would she respond to him; as a perfect heroine, or a real person, distracted by the pain? Working on To Be A Queen, and walking on an inclement day, I thought about what it feels like to trudge into the maw of a cold easterly when you’re tired and all you want to do is rest, not fight. Grown-up ‘make believe’.

Writing can be very small, sometimes. Small words, small letters. Full stops, commas. The physical act of writing is technical, and needs to be precise (well, eventually, after the first to umpteenth drafts are done.) Outdoors, in the fresh air, the writing gets plumped up, rounded, fattened like the lambs in the fields.

It can take months, even years, to research an historical novel, and this is where I always start. I need to know the whens, the wheres, and the whos. But outside, away from the dates, the charters, the chronicles, that is where I find my people, my characters. It’s where they become more than names in a history book. A particular song came up on my playlist just last week and I found myself considering how the female protagonist in my new novel would have felt about her grown-up sons leaving home. I fused my own experience of what that feels like, with what I know about the social expectations of her time, and got to the heart of the scene.

Yes, the research needs to come from books, documents, libraries, colleagues. The writing implements are important; fountain pen and acid free paper for long-hand, comfortable sized screen and ergonomic mouse for typing. But mostly where I write, is in my head.


Annie Whitehead is an historian and novelist, writing about the Anglo-Saxon era:

To Be A Queen is the story of Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great.

Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the reign of King Edgar and begins with a royal bedroom scandal and ends with regicide.

Annie.Both books with awards


She was also a contributor to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor of the EHFA blog. Currently she is working on a contribution to a non-fiction book to be published by Pen & Sword Books in the summer of 2017.



Amazon Author Page
Thanks very much for a fascinating post, Annie. As you make clear, writing’s never all done at the desk.
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This is a really fascinating series. There’s not one contribution which hasn’t made me a little envious. But the really nice thing is to see the diversity of places people write.

Today’s contribution is from Colin Falconer. I think you’ll enjoy it.


 Colin Falconer

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every writer, in search of a small fortune, needs a quiet place to work.

Some authors also need a 2H pencil and a bookshelf surrounded by their own personal library with a thesaurus, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and a dog-eared copy of William Strunk Junior’s ‘Elements of Style’.

I am not one of those writers.

I can and will write anywhere. All I need is something to write with. I prefer a laptop. But a pen will do. A blunt piece of crayon. A Sharpie. Lock me in a cell with a knife and I will scrawl on the walls with my own blood.

For a short while anyway, until it runs out.

But every writer needs a study, some special place to work, right? A place where they can pose with a profound look for author photos?

where i work

‘Where I work now. The puppies wouldn’t keep still for the photo.’

I had one of those, once. It was the size of a basketball court. It was very nice but I don’t miss it. Over the years, I have worked at various kitchen benches; at a dining room table in a rain forest with a python stalking the busk turkeys on the veranda; on a balcony with a view of the Sagrada Familia and a little box in Sydney with a view of a wall.

All the same to me.

At this very moment, there are two puppies brawling in the corner with a cocker spaniel going psycho in the other. For me this is bliss.

In truth, I take my study with me everywhere. Here is a picture: gaetan leePhoto credit: Gaetan Lee





Actually, that’s not even my brain. That belongs to a chimpanzee, so it’s probably twice the size of mine. But you get my point.

All I need to work, anywhere, is my weird, strangely-wired mind that looks at a photograph in a magazine or overhears a conversation and immediately finds a narrative. It got me into a lot of trouble at school.

“Falconer! (Weird that Mrs Burns knew my pen name in grade five, but teachers are psychic like that.) Falconer, explain to the class what were we just saying about how clouds form?”

*** dead silence. Falconer is still gazing out of the window, oblivious ***

The shape of things to come.

I have no routine – but I am not typical, it seems. Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer whose work has been translated into 50 languages. He gets up at four every morning, writes for eight hours then runs for ten kilometres and swims 1500 metres. EVERY SINGLE DAY UNTIL HE FINISHES THE BOOK. He compares writing to survival training.

(What’s Japanese for “Holy Shit!”)

wakarimasita of Flickr 

Haruki Murakami: photo courtesy ‘wakarimasita of Flickr’




Maya Angelou used to rent a room in a local hotel. She had them take down all the pictures and stocked it with a Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary and a Bible. Housekeeping were not allowed in, they had to slip notes under her door: You haven’t changed the bed sheets for 2 months, we’re worried they might go moldy.  She didn’t even SLEEP there. She went home in the afternoons to edit what she wrote there in the morning.

Starting to feel halfway normal now? Me too.

Hemingway and Nabokov used to stand up to write; Agatha Christie and Victor Hugo wrote in the bath. (I tried that but spent all my time playing submarines.) Mark Twain and – wait for it – Amy Lowell smoked cigars.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote with his cat on his shoulders. It kept the ravens away, I suppose. Charles Baudelaire composed essays and poetry with a pet bat in a cage on his desk.

Byron, of course, said he had to have sex in order to write. While he was writing? Don’t know. Maybe.

Honore de Balzac used to drink 50 cups of coffee a day. (Beat me by one!)

Søren Kierkegaard would pour sugar into a coffee cup until it was above the rim. Then he dissolved the white pyramid with strong black coffee and then gulped the whole thing down in one go. Cool.

Others needed even stronger stimulants. Samuel Taylor Coleridge took two grains of opium before writing. So did Keats. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote sixty thousand words in six days using cocaine. A real Jekyl and Hyde characters, our Bob.



‘Robert Louis Stevenson. Note the dilated pupils.’



John le Carré wrote his debut novel on his ninety minute scommute into London, Sir Walter Scott composed while on his horse, Gertrude Stein wrote in the front seat of her model T Ford. D.H. Lawrence preferred to write under trees.

John, Walt and Gertie were the normals. Benjamin Franklin insisted on working naked while Edith Wharton wrote in bed; when she was finished with a page she let it flutter to the floor – where it was retrieved by her maid for her secretary to type up.

ben franklin 

‘Ben Franklin, wearing clothes.’

Dame Edith Sitwell liked to lie down when she wrote as well – in a coffin.

At last I see what I have been doing wrong all these years. I’m off into town now to get a box of Cubans and a raven, maybe try and score some coke, then pop into the funeral parlour and order a catafalque.

Yep. I can feel a bestseller coming on already.

Thanks very much for this, Colin and especially for not giving us the picture of ‘Ben Franklin, naked.’You’ve shown how it’s possible to write anywhere the imagination takes you (and some where maybe it shouldn’t have) and still produce good books.

You can find out more about Colin and his good books by following the links below:

Falconer Facebook Club: http://bit.ly/2eOYEHu

my web page: http://colinfalconer.org

Amazon page for new book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y3J3297



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Mandy Hager – Where I Write

This week, I’m delighted to feature a guest blog from the award winning novelist Mandy Hager. MandyShe has written a number of novels for young adults, and a marvel of a book about a boy, a girl and a whale. Her latest novel is about Heloise, the 12th century intellectual.

Over to Mandy.

I’m very fortunate to have my own writing space, tucked away for my sole use. I love this room! It looks out onto our lush garden and courtyard, with windows on three sides. To see green from every window is calming indeed.

My writing room is the one place in the house where I can totally indulge my hoarding whims – and every wall is covered with either bookcases, photos, pictures or framed awards.

I find it comforting to have the wall filled with paintings and photos of my family at my back, as if they perch upon my shoulder to encourage me!

Mandy's room.01

And when I despair after an unsatisfactory day’s writing, I can comfort myself by gazing at my wall of awards to keep me on track! Because it’s not a public part of the house, I don’t need to feel embarrassed for showing them off – just a little private pick-me-up when I need it! The one that gives me the most pleasure is an award my daughter presented to my husband, announcing he had successfully completed his Advanced Course in Step-fathering Skills! It always makes me smile!

My desk was made for me by my husband, lovely and large so I can spread out my mess.

Mandy's room.03

It’s made from Kauri, a beautiful golden timber native to New Zealand.

I have a filing cabinet and file boxes hidden behind a Tibetan wall hanging and to keep me company I share my space with a blow-up version of Munch’s ‘Scream’, which I joke is the outward manifestation of what’s going on in my head! Mandy's room.06

My small grandson is fascinated by it – comes in and talks to it; knows it as ‘Scream’ (God only knows what I’m doing to his brain development and understanding of the world!)

The paintings include two oil portraits of my Austrian grandparents, the canvasses rolled up to transport when they and my father had to flee Vienna in 1937 to escape Hitler. Between them is a tinted photograph of my maternal grandfather, who worked as a doctor in East Africa from the 1930s to 1950s (my mother was born in Zanzibar!) Others are by my children over the years, and a rather strange one of a bear-like creature, holding a baby while overlooking a sailing ship approach, was painted by a friend. I love it, strange though it is; it makes me think of colonisation and how native populations were treated as animals by their colonisers, despite having all the same emotions and intellectual capacity as the new intruders (Who is the civilised one? Who is the Beast?) I’m not sure if that’s what she thought as she painted it, but I’ve spent a lot of time gazing at it, and this is what it says to me. Well, that, and perhaps that we all share the same traits, no matter where we come from or who/what we are.

The old gold corner suite is an original of the 1970s from my family home. I can remember when it first arrived – it seemed so modern and grand! It’s very comfortable for whiling away a brain-rest moment or two – or if I want to watch something via my computer. I can stretch out to relax and still see what’s on the screen. Mandy's room.02

There are boxes of work for my teaching job piled in one corner, mostly well organised! And beside them rests a hula hoop, in case I feel the need to move and stretch! The bookshelf to the left of my desk is filled with research and resource books for my writing and teaching, while the shelf to my right contains my children’s book collection, many from my own youth or my children’s, or from my primary school teaching days. It’s layered two books deep to fit them all in!

This is the room I love to work in, and when I’m away I miss it terribly. There really is something to Virginia’s Woolf’s need for ‘a room of one’s own.’ I feel very lucky to have somewhere that makes me feel embraced by those I love and feeds my somewhat quirky soul.

Heloise will be published on 15 May.

 Product Details
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This is a fascinating series. I’m really grateful for the authors who have taken the time to show us a glimpse into their world. Today I’m pleased to have a piece from Ruadh Butler. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.


‘Where I write’ is an interesting title. Does it mean the desk where I scribble down the story? Or might it also be a question about the setting into which I drop my characters? A Butler

Luckily, for me the answer to both questions is the same. Where I write is Ireland – both in the sense that I am physically standing on that little yapping, dog-shaped island off the shoulder of Europe as well as the Emerald Isle being where my books chiefly take place.

Ireland plays a considerable role in my work. More than merely a location or a backdrop, Ireland’s landscape has become as much of a protagonist in my stories of the 12th century Norman invasion as any of the human characters. It moulds and influences the story. Ireland’s geographic features become challenges to be borne, overcome or avoided.

The Ireland where I live and the one in which I write are very different places. The green fields now identified so closely with the country were only created in the centuries after the invasion of Ireland. Before 1169 it was largely a forested land of few roads and impassable bog.


It is a landscape all but lost in favour of ordered fields and agriculture. Pockets of that old world can still be found, however. To help me imagine it I don’t have to go very far from my desk. Rather I can take a couple of steps back and so look out of my window towards the Sperrin Mountains. At Davagh Forest or the mountain bogland around An Creagan, at Beaghmore Stone Circle or the ancient tombs at Creggandevesky, I can get a feel for the Ireland into which the Normans journeyed in the 12th century. Even today it can be a tough landscape in which to walk, but back in the medieval period it must’ve been one of the most challenging terrains imaginable. Foliage would’ve been stifling, conditions underfoot treacherous. Wide grasslands would’ve suddenly disappeared into impenetrable bog, rivers into unnavigable marsh. Throw in the unpredictable Irish weather and you have a landscape which could defeat any army before it ever had the chance to swing a sword in anger.

In my books I try to use this unique landscape to give insight into the emotional state of the lead characters. The feeling of being surrounded is one experienced by Robert FitzStephen in Swordland, the first in my Invader Series. This sentiment is reflected in the landscape around him: encroaching woods, looming mountains, and brimming bogs. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In part two, Lord of the Sea Castle, it is Raymond de Carew’s fear of being overwhelmed by a larger force that dogs him as he journeys to Ireland. I hope that my use of coastal features mirrors the state of mind in which we find Raymond and gives clues to how he will overcome the dread that he will be engulfed.


My writing desk is actually a three-deck open-fronted curio. The keyboard sits on deck two with the laptop/monitor at head height on the top. Ergonomically speaking, standing up to write is one of the best changes I ever made. Most of Swordland was written during lunchtime breaks when I worked as a journalist. Folded up over a laptop, sandwich in hand and feet on my desk, it wasn’t long before I began to suffer with a very sore back. As helpful as it proved, I was not a fan of shelling out money to a physio and knew a change was required. I remembered Michael Jecks and Giles Kristian mentioning that they stood while writing and thought I would give that a go. The back end of Swordland and the entirety of Lord of the Sea Castle were written in this manner and I haven’t had a sore back since.

The curio once belonged to my great-grandmother’s family, the Newtons, who owned an estate in the Blackstairs Mountains from the middle of the seventeenth century. The piece might even have been built from trees felled in County Carlow in the 1800s. I like to think that using the curio gives me a tangible link to the region in which many of the events of the Norman invasion took place. It was below Mount Leinster that Diarmait Mac Murchada and Robert FitzStephen made their last stand in the face of a vast army under the High King in the winter of 1169. It may have been by a nearby mountain pass that they made their triumphant return to Ferns after defeating the Osraighe at Gowran 848 years ago.

Facing into the corner of the drawing room means fewer distractions. Yet despite having my nose less than twenty centimetres from the screen and with little more than a light fitting and a globe in my eye line, I still seem able to find diversions. Tea is a constant requirement while the hockey stick at my side is doubly useful as prop sword for plotting fight scenes and as a diversion when I am trying to think of a particular word or plot point. Damage to the rear of the seat nearby is testament to how often the hockey ball is bashed around in frustration!

Music is always playing in the background as I write. Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez would be on most often, but I go through periods listening to bands like Explosions In The Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Oh Hiroshima, and We Lost The Sea. Mostly without lyrics, this is mood-setting music of the highest order. The same bands have been helping me as I continue to write part three of the series. I still stand before the same curio, envisioning the harsh terrains from whence it came. And Ireland will be the setting because, after all, that is where I write.




Website: www.ruadhbutler.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ruadhbutler

Twitter: @ruadhbutler




AMAZON UK – Swordland

AMAZON UK – Lord of the Sea Castle



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