Wow! Fantastic Prize for indie or unpublished authors!

The SilverWood Team - lovely ladies producing lovely books
One of the things I like about my UK indie publisher, SilverWood Books is that they work immensely hard at creating exciting opportunities not only for their own authors but for other writers as well. 

At SilverWood's recent Writing & Self-Publishing Open Day, Publishing Director Helen Hart announced that SilverWood had teamed up with Kobo Writing Life to offer a writing competition. The prize…? A digital publishing deal! At the Open Day, she and KWL’s UK Manager, Diego Marano, outlined how the competition would work.

(Diego is such an interesting guy to listen to on the subject of ebooks, if you ever get the chance!). Since then, Helen Hart has let me know that she’s negotiated for Berforts, one of SilverWood’s regular book printers, to sponsor a paperback edition too. So the lucky winner will now receive a digital and print publishing package, while the runner up gets a Kobo Aura H2O (their new waterproof e-reading device…might have to check that out myself for relaxing reading in the bath!).

If you’ve written a novel, or you’re in the process of writing one (and you’re unpublished or self-published) then this competition is a fantastic opportunity. Entrants are asked to submit a one-page synopsis (no longer than 500 words) of the plot of the book they would like to publish along with first chapter (no longer than 5,000 words).

One Winner and one Runner Up will be selected by a dedicated review panel on the basis of the combined strength of the synopsis and the single chapter submitted. 

Find out more about the Open Day Writing Competition on the SilverWood site here and on the Kobo Writing Life site here. 

One of the competition judges is writer and television presenter Dr Sanjida O’Connell. She’s the author of eight books including the historical novels ‘The Naked Name of Love’ and ‘Sugar Island’. Spotting the historical fiction connection, Helen Hart introduced me to Sanjida so we could produce this article for my for Tuesday Talk Slot: 

Sanjida, what are you working on at the moment?
I'm writing a psychological thriller set in Yorkshire. It's part of a two book deal with Corvus; the first one is coming out in spring 2016.

What are you most looking forward to in judging the Open Day Writing Competition?
I'm looking forward to being immersed in someone else's imaginary world, being absorbed by their use of words and transported by their story.

What is best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? 
Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike - just write! Set aside time, a few times a week if you can, dedicated to writing, researching or editing your manuscript. The rest of the time, carry a notebook with you to jot down any ideas, quirky scenes you observe or conversations you overhear!

Do you have a top tip about promoting books online?
Content is crucial but presentation is also key - so I would make sure you use a good technical editor  and/or copy editor and who will also proof read the final draft.  Also use a graphic artist to create a stunning and eye-catching book jacket, that will work well at thumb nail size as well as full scale. I know many writers say that using these professionals is expensive - but isn't your work worth the best you can afford? 

Thank you, Sanjida!

To enter the writing competition please visit Kobo Writing Life’s 
online entry form

And if you want to get a flavour of what SilverWood’s recent 
Open Day was like, check out their film 
here on You Tube 

I must confess to having a small role myself, and the chance to give my little book ‘Discovering the Diamond’ a wave… and Helen Hart’s just reminded me that ‘DtD’ is a good read for anyone polishing their manuscript before entering a competition! You'll be able to find me quite easily in the video - just look for my 'trademark' hat! 

If you want to find out more about the competition, drop the SilverWood team a line (

visit us on Facebook 

or connect on Twitter @SilverWoodBooks

Tuesday Talk: Meet Susan Keogh's Jack Mallory...

by Susan Keogh

First and foremost, my Jack Mallory trilogy is a sea story. However, there is nearly as much happening on land as well, specifically Charles Town, Carolina (modern day Charleston, South Carolina). So you could say Jack’s two worlds are specific colors: blue and green. I thought I would tell you a bit about those worlds and the real life inspirations behind the settings of my novels.The story starts in 1685, but most of the adventure takes place in 1692.

The first novel, The Prodigal, begins in the Caribbean, both on land and sea, but the majority of the story takes place at sea as Jack’s pirate brig, Prodigal, sails to the waters off the colonial province of Carolina (which included both modern-day North and South Carolinas) as he searches for James Logan, the pirate responsible for the murder of Jack’s father and the kidnapping of his mother. 

The Prodigal herself was inspired by a modern-day replica of the U.S. brig Niagara, which sails out of Erie, Pennsylvania. The Niagara, however, is from the War of 1812, some 120 years after Jack Mallory sails, so her design has many differences from the Prodigal, including her sail plan. For example, the Prodigal did not carry jibs or staysails. Those came into use a bit later. Yet the Niagara is a brig (two-masts), and so I could learn about the sails and rigging and how such a vessel performed by studying her.
I was fortunate enough to sail upon her multiple times, once as a crewmember (and I recommend anyone visiting Erie to sign up for one of their many day sails; it’s an experience you won’t forget)..

Jack Mallory’s time at sea takes him as far north as James Town, Virginia, the oldest settlement in the United States. This visit occurs during the third and most recent novel, The Fortune.

James Town is preserved as a national historic site, another place I highly recommend for a visit. As you can see in the photo I took below during my research trip, archaeological digs continue to progress there, revealing more and more about the history of America’s first settlement.

In the background of the picture is the James River. Temperatures the day of my visit hovered above 100 degrees F. I purposefully went during the same time of year that Jack had gone there so I (a Yankee from Michigan) could get a feel for the environment.

The ending of The Prodigal takes place off the Outer Banks of modern day North Carolina, and this is also where the second book, The Alliance, picks up the story. My visit to the Outer Banks, of course, reflects a much different landscape than back in Jack Mallory’s day—beaches lined with mile after mile of vacation rental homes.

But there are still signs of piracy on those shores.

The sections of the stories that take place on land are primarily set at Leighlin Plantation outside of Charles Town, some twelve miles up the Ashley River. The name of the plantation is taken from a small town in Ireland, the birthplace of the plantation’s owner (the town of Leighlin is known today as Leighlinbridge). Non-Irish readers will no doubt pronounce its name as Lee-lin, but the correct pronunciation is closer to Leck-lin. Leighlin is presented as one of the first Carolina plantations to grow rice, a crop that would eventually become the colony’s greatest export and thus one of the reasons behind the importation of thousands of African slaves.

When I wrote the first draft of The Prodigal, I had laid out the interior of Leighlin House pretty well but was still a bit sketchy about the exterior. It wasn’t until I went to Charleston for my first research trip that I decided what the house truly looked like, both inside and out. I visited three plantations while I was there, one being Drayton Hall, which is a National Trust Historic Site and a place I urge all visitors to Charleston to experience.

Drayton Hall is a magnificently preserved plantation house, originally built in the early 1700’s, its architecture inspired by Andrea Palladio.

Symmetry is in all things. One can virtually cut Drayton Hall down the center and find equal halves in each side. Each of the two floors has a central room—the Great Hall on the first level and another on the second, with two rooms leading off each side. Those chambers are nearly mirror images of one another.

The lowest level of the house is a raised English basement. In Leighlin House, this area is used not only for plantation stores but its connecting rooms are occupied by the house servants and the handful of white workers.

I fell in love with Drayton the first time I toured the house. I knew the minute I stepped inside that this would be the design on which I based Leighlin House. From the outside it seems immense, but the interior somehow provides a feeling of a much smaller house, of a certain intimacy and charm.

When it comes to the land surrounding Leighlin House, I knew I wanted something grand and unique. And there are few places as grand and unique as Middleton Plantation, located just up the Ashley River from Drayton Hall. (A bit of movie trivia for you: the grounds of Middleton were used for a scene in the Mel Gibson Revolutionary War movie “The Patriot.”)

I spent hours on both of my visits wandering the lush, manicured grounds with its glorious, huge gardens. While I didn’t include the intricately-designed garden for Leighlin (I used only a small part of it while the overall design I used for Wildwood Plantation), I knew I wanted to use many of the other features of the land, such as the bluff on which the house sits, the river view, and the ornamental ponds. 

The path in the photo above leads to beautiful green, sweeping terraces. Below the terraces are the two ornamental ponds that form the shape of butterfly wings. While I didn’t get as elaborate as the wings, I did incorporate the ponds into Leighlin’s landscape.

Beyond the ponds would be Leighlin’s main landing, for in those days the river was the only way to travel to and from Charles Town as well as to ship products downriver to be sold and shipped by sea to distant markets.

So now when you read the Jack Mallory trilogy, you will have a good image of where many of the scenes take place. There are sword fights and ship-to-ship battles aboard the Prodigal when Jack is at sea, and when he is ashore there is intrigue and more than one lady to keep him busy, all set to a backdrop of early colonial America.

Tuesday Talk : Auto de Fe - Edward James

My Guest this Tuesday - Edward James talks about an event occurring in Mexico during the long years of the Spanish Inquisition - not a very pleasant period by the sound of it....

Auto de Fe

February 28th, 1574. The great square in Mexico city, the largest city on earth, is crammed with thousands of Mexicans and hundreds of Spaniards. The everyday life of the city has come to a halt as people from across New Spain have gathered to watch a show trial, a mass condemnation and a public execution by fire.

A huge stage has been built in front of the cathedral to seat the accused, the accusers and most of the dignitaries of Church and State in the Viceroyalty. The privileged sit under ornate canopies; the rest, including the seventy prisoners, sit unshaded in the glare of the Mexican sun. This is an Auto de Fe, an Act of Faith, organised by the Spanish Inquisition, its first in New Spain, although Autos have been a feature of life in old Spain for almost a century since the first Auto in Seville in 1481. It promises a blend of sadism and spectacle unparalleled since the days of the Roman gladiators.

The Spanish Inquisition grew out of the violent anti-Semitism of late Mediaeval Spain. The Iberian kingdoms had once been known as the Land of the Three Faiths - Christianity, Judaism and Islam -  and they had lived in a harmony remembered as the convivencia.  This began to break down in the late 14th century, with a wave of anti-Jewish riots starting in Seville and spreading across Spain and culminating with the total expulsion of the Jews in  1492. Not surprisingly many Jews chose to become Christians to escape the violence and discrimination, becoming the so-called Conversos or New Christians. They were mainly town dwellers and often successful in commerce and the professions.

Conversion was an insecure refuge. Anti-Converso riots replaced ant-Jewish progroms. The Inquisition, which had its origins in the Cathar wars in southern France in the 13th century, was introduced into Spain in 1481 to root out crypto-Judaic practices; that is to rob, torture and burn Conversos. Known as The Holy Office it developed a large bureaucracy with its own courts and prisons and a host of informers ('familiars'), which owed only nominal allegiance to the Pope. Attempts at Papal 'interference' were strongly resisted with the support of the Spanish Crown. Whether the Crown controlled the Inquisition or vice versa is problematic. Probably it was like the relationship of Party and Government in a one-party dictatorship - they used each other for their own  ends.

But on this morning in February there were no prisoners on the stage of Jewish descent.  Most of them were English sailors driven to New Spain by a storm six years earlier. They had arrived as a gang of smugglers led by John Hawkins and Francis Drake, who were trying to break into the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  After trading illegally around the Caribbean they were forced by bad weather to take refuge in the harbour of San Juan d'Ulloa, the out-port of Vera Cruz, the main entry to New Spain. By bad luck they arrived at the same time as the fleet from Spain bringing the new Viceroy. Hawkins tried to bargain his way out but the Viceroy sprang a surprise attack and only two of the five English ships escaped.

One was the little Judith, captained by Francis Drake, who spent the rest of his life revenging himself on Spain.  The other was the Minion, an obsolete warship hired from the Royal Navy commanded by John Hawkins, loaded with survivors from the other ships.  There was no hope that this battered vessel could get them all home, so about 400 of them were stranded on a beach south of the Rio Grande.

Most of the stranded men decided to march south to trust themselves to the mercies of the Spaniards but a large party chose to head north into the unknown.  Eleven months later four of them arrived in Canada and reached England in a French ship. The southbound party was rounded up by the governor of the northern frontier of New Spain and force marched to Mexico city. There they were imprisoned for a while before being paraded in the main square and given away as 'servants' to whoever cared to take them.

Some of them did very well for themselves. Miles Philips, who was fourteen when he was stranded, was sent to a silver mine to superintend the Indian workers and made a considerable amount of money illegally making and selling religious ornaments.  Many of the men found Mexican consorts and had settled into society when the Inquisition struck.

The first Inquisitors landed at Vera Cruz in 1571 and set up shop in Mexico city.  In 1573 they launched a series of raids across New Spain to seize as many of Hawkins' crew as they could find. Sixty to seventy were brought to the Inquisitorial prison in Mexico city and held there for about eighteen months to be 'put to the question' (i.e. tortured). The preferred 'instrument of persuasion' was el potro, the water-board.

The prison was not escape proof.  While researching this piece I discovered that the original of an arrest warrant issued by the Mexican Inquisition was on sale on a web site for a firm of dealers in antique maps.  It was for the arrest of two of Hawkin's men who had tunnelled out of their cell in 1573. There is no other record of this  incident and we do not know what became of the escapees.

All the prisoners were accused of heresy. Strictly speaking the Inquisition had authority only over Catholics, to seek out lapses of faith, but since England had been a Catholic country before 1558 most of the prisoners had been baptised as Catholics. Miles was four years old when England changed religion.

Being a Catholic was no salvation. William Collins of Oxford had at one time intended to be a priest and had been arrested in London for  his Catholic sympathies. He was convicted at the Auto on 68 charges and sentenced to serve as a galley slave.

The Auto was carefully rehearsed, not least by the prisoners. They spent all night rehearsing the procession from the prison to the square, clad in their penitential robes, including the tall conical cap or sanbenito, holding lighted candles and chanting a Latin hymn, and then climbing the stage and taking their seats in the proper order. Once there they sit for much of the day, listening to the bishop's sermon and then being called to the front one by one to be sentenced. Only those condemned to die had been told their sentences, and that only the night before. Like an awards ceremony, the lesser sentences were dealt with first, building up to the finale.

At the end of the day two Englishman and Irishman are burned at the stakes standing ready on the other side of the square. The other prisoners are given varying  sentences of public flogging and penal servitude, including several sent to the galleys in Spain. The low body count was typical for an Auto.  The Holy Office killed thousands but it was not genocidal. It preferred to confiscate, torture and enslave and the stage elaborate spectacles to create a climate of terror.  Mary Tudor's five year reign of terror in England killed at a far faster rate so that even her husband, Philip of Spain, urged restraint.

The puzzle is why the Inquisition bothered to put on such an elaborate show to punish a group of English sailors who had lived peaceably, if sometimes nefariously, in the country for six years. They wore their Protestantism lightly, never evangelised and all recanted as soon as they were arrested. There was certainly no 'Lutheran' threat. The theory I put forward in my book, Freedom's Pilgrim, is that the Inquisition did not yet feel strong enough to take on the Conversos, many of whom held important positions in New Spain and preferred to make their mark on a group of foreigners without influential friends.

The Holy Office at length got to grips with the Conversos. The Converso captain who had rounded up the wandering Englishmen and who later became governor of New Leon on the Rio Grande himself died at an Auto in Mexico in 1596, together with his wife and five sisters. In all Mexico city witnessed 60 Autos (the last in 1820), the greatest being in 1649 when one hundred and nine Conversos were convicted and thirteen burned. This sustained persecution drove the Conversos out of public life and suppressed their lingering Jewish practices, but clearly the Jewish bloodline still survives in present day Mexico and the South-West United States.

Mile Philips, the teenage silver merchant, was sentenced to slavery and later escaped to make his way back to England eleven years later after an amazing series of adventures, which he told to the chronicler Richard Hakluyt who published them in his compendium Principal Navigations and Discoveries of the English Nation in 1589. I have based Freedom's Pilgrim on this story, but including things Miles would not dared to have revealed, including the identity of the senorita he brought home with him.

I will  be putting some more background pieces on my blog  such as the strange and eventful voyage of the Minion and the long trek of the Englishmen who walked from Mexico to Canada by way of Florida which sparked off England's interest in colonising North America. The last years of Miles' exile were spent in Spain, so I may write something about the Barbary pirates and the last Moslem rising in Spain.

Principal Navigations, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation,              Richard Hakluyt, 1589
 Inquisition, The Reign of Fear, Toby Green, Macmillan 2007
 Various internet searches, including material from the Encyclopaedia Judaica


Fun for Halloween


And following on from yesterday's Halloween fun....

~ ~ ~ 

A selection of Halloween-based smiles:

Bright Blessings to all, and welcome to all those friendly spirits who return to say hello tonight!