Guest Post: Tony Riches Researching and writing Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer

  Today I'm delighted to hand over the blog to author Tony Riches, whose new release Raleigh -Tudor Adventurer , is out now. Over to you...

Monday, 16 May 2022

Guest Post: Tony Riches Researching and writing Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer

 Today I'm delighted to hand over the blog to author Tony Riches, whose new release Raleigh -Tudor Adventurer, is out now. Over to you, Tony:

Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer, and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh
has been called the last true Elizabethan

My Elizabethan series began when I was researching for an historical novel about Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the town of Pembroke, Wales. I eventually uncovered enough original material to write three books, with Henry being born in the first, coming of age in the second and becoming King of England in the third.

The result was my best-selling Tudor Trilogy, and I decided to continue the stories of the Tudors in a continuous line. I also made a conscious decision to tell the stories through those surrounding King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, so we see different facets of these complex rulers through the eyes of others.

For my Elizabethan series I chose three very different favourites of the queen, who each saw different sides of her personality. Sir Francis Drake showered her with gold and jewels, stolen from the Spanish, in return for the status he longed for. The Earl of Essex was like the errant son she never had, but Raleigh became her protector, Captain of the Guard, and lived to see the last days of the Tudor dynasty.

I’ve developed a system of researching during the summer months, writing through the autumn and winter, then editing in the spring.  For my research, I like visiting the actual locations used in my books, and tracking down primary sources. In the case of Walter Raleigh, I also studied his surviving letters and papers. 

Raleigh’s personal archive was scattered widely, with many of his papers thought to be lost. Fortunately for me, the late Professor of English at Bedford College, Agnes Latham, spent her life discovering and transcribing over two hundred of Raleigh’s letters, assisted by the work of the late Devon historian Joyce Youings, who was Emeritus Professor of English Social History at the University of Exeter. Agnes Latham also collected all surviving examples of Raleigh’s poetry, adding her invaluable commentary.

As well as offering me an authentic sense of Raleigh’s ‘voice’ and how he addressed others of the Elizabethan Court, these letters were a great help in sorting out the often confusing timeline of events. I was of aware of Raleigh’s tendency to exaggerate, flatter and posture in his writing, but there is no better way to develop an understanding of his motives.

Many of the things I thought I knew about Walter Raleigh proved to be wrong. Raleigh is credited with introducing the potato and tobacco to Britain, but I’ve seen no evidence for either, or for the popular tale of a servant throwing water over him when he mistook the smoke from Raleigh’s pipe for a fire!

Sir Walter Raleigh being doused!

I followed Raleigh across the Irish Sea to the sleepy harbour at Youghal, where he had a house and became Mayor, as well as to the bustling city of Cork, where he served in the English Army of occupation. I also visited Raleigh’s house at Sherborne in Dorset, which still has many original features.

Sherborne Castle

Raleigh’s letters, which cover fascinating details of daily life, as well as his great adventures and disasters, are some of the best examples of the Elizabethan period. They reveal his strengths and weaknesses, as a courtier and failed politician, soldier and poet, a man ready to speak up for the poor and to honour his debts. My hope is that my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.

Tony Riches

Book Links: 

Author Bio

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of Tudor historical fiction. He lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the early Tudors. As well as his new Elizabethan series, Tony’s historical fiction novels include the best-selling Tudor trilogy and his Brandon trilogy, (about Charles Brandon and his wives). For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Monday, 9 May 2022

Being an Expat Inspired The Admiral’s Wife

I'm delighted to hand the blog over today to guest MK Tod, whose new novel, The Admiral's Wife, was inspired by her years living abroad:

The Admiral's Wife was conceived as a novel based on the experience of living in Hong Kong for three years. Initially, I created four women who bonded over qi gong and the expat life. Each woman had difficulties and collectively they supported one another through various traumas. Although that version is long gone, when I reread sections of it now, the emotions of that time come roaring back. 

So, what was it like to uproot yourself and live in a foreign country? When my husband and I returned from Hong Kong, friends and family would ask, "Did you love it there?" I always replied that we had an amazing time - which was true. 

After returning to Toronto, I contemplated a non-fiction account about the expat life (never published) titled Thriving in the Expat Cycle. It began like this:

"In July 2004 my husband’s company asked him to consider a three-year assignment to Hong Kong. We hesitated only long enough to consult with our children and our mothers, then plunged into planning for the adventure. We rode the waves of fantasy and euphoria for the next few months. Everything was possible – travel, employment for me, new friends, new culture, learning Mandarin, new foods. We allowed no hint of difficulty to penetrate the excitement.

However, the bite of reality set in after a few months as I struggled to find occupation and purpose that would satisfy my intellectual, social and emotional needs. After thirty years in a full time career, I had no way to define myself in this new environment, nor did I know how to go about being unoccupied. Time for myself had always been a luxury seldom indulged. Suddenly I had nothing but time by myself.

View from the Hong Kong Apartment

Gradually I found my way. And at the same time my husband and I discovered a new definition for the word ‘home’ and renewed strength in our marriage. We made friends and worked hard to keep in touch with old friends. We kept in close contact with family and had the pleasure of sharing the intrigue of Asia with our children, mothers, and others. We developed a personal appreciation for the concept of culture, understood what it means to be the minority, travelled to exotic locales, learned that business is done differently and dealt with our share of crises.

Lamma Island, Hong Kong

Our three years were both wonderful and, at times, difficult. Would we make the same decision knowing what we know now? Absolutely. Would we approach it differently? Definitely.”

Memory is selective. Looking back from the vantage point of 2022, what stands out for me is the gift of experiencing another culture, the challenges and rewards of adapting to a new way of life, the confidence that comes from building a different world for ourselves, the wonder of travel, the welcoming people we met, and finally, the joy of learning to write.

MK Todd Hiking in Hong Kong

That story of four expat women gradually morphed into The Admiral's Wife, a dual-timeline novel that released on April 26. It bears almost no resemblance to the novel I once called East Rising Sun after the name of a qi gong exercise I learned with my friend Tita. Both Patricia Findlay (the main present-day character) and Isabel Taylor (the main 1912 character) experience the displacement of leaving home and moving to Hong Kong. 

Here's Patricia: "It was at about the five-month mark when Patricia’s enthusiasm had screeched to a halt, replaced by loneliness and depression and the realization that her life had spun out of its orbit. The gravitational pull of her personal sun and planets—Andrew’s children, her friends, her work, and the city she’d lived in for fifteen years—had disappeared."

And here's Isabel on the day their ship arrives in Hong Kong:

"I won’t be able to count on Henry, Isabel thought, as she supervised the loading of their trunks and other cases into a delivery van. I’ll have to make my way here on my own.

The prospect was daunting. She should have known her husband would throw himself into his new responsibilities without worrying about her or their daughter. He would assume that Isabel could manage and be puzzled if she found their new circumstances difficult. If she complained, he would say, “You’ve just got to get on with it.” 

Isabel resolved to do just that.

'Getting on with it' was the task I also took on. I found friends and eventually the occasional consulting project. I took Mandarin lessons and volunteered. Ian and I explored the delights of Hong Kong, hiked its hills, golfed regularly, and had some wonderful (in the true sense of 'full of wonder') travel experiences. 

Living in a different part of the world changed us. Ian often says that it was the most profound experience of our lives. When you live in a place where almost everyone is Chinese, you experience being a visible minority. When you make friends with people from different parts of the world, you appreciate our common humanity. When you live in Asia rather than North America, you appreciate our global community in a very different way. When you can't understand the language, you can more readily relate to the immigrant experience. When the news you read is focused on China, you become acutely aware of another world view. When you see the density and cramped spaces of Hong Kong, you understand how fortunate most of us are in North America. When you visit places like India, Vietnam, and New Zealand, you are overwhelmed by the beauty of our world and its peoples.

The Admiral’s Wife by M.K. Tod ~~ The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.

“Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel." -- Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of The Last Rose of Shanghai 

“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS 

“A riveting tale of clashing cultures, ruthless corruption, and the consequences of corrosive lies.” James R Benn, author of ROAD OF BONES and other Billy Boyle mysteries.

In 2014, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.

In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.

As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.

The Admiral’s Wife is available at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble

M.K. (Mary) Tod has been writing historical fiction since 2009. The Admiral’s Wife is her fifth novel. She is also the author behind the award-winning blog,, where Mary and guest writers explore the reading and writing of historical fiction. Mary can be reached on her author website, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at MKTodAuthor

[all photos copyright of MK Tod]

Monday, 18 April 2022

Guest Post: Amy Maroney, author of Sea of Shadows

 It is my absolute delight to welcome author Amy Maroney back to the blog. Amy's new release is called Sea of Shadows and once again she's taking us to Medieval Rhodes. Over to you, Amy:


While we rarely hear about women artists working during the medieval and Renaissance eras, they did exist. Though their work was often made anonymously or attributed to the fathers, brothers, and husbands they worked with, we can sometimes find traces of these women in tax rolls and wills. My new novel, Sea of Shadows, stars Anica Foscolo, a gifted woman artist who is the talent behind the oil portraits and frescoes made by her father’s workshop on the island of Rhodes in Renaissance-era Greece. Anica is fictional, but she was inspired by real women. 

In 13th-14th century Paris, for example, women made up about 10 to 15 percent of all taxed individuals. This number included artisans, widows, business owners—any female earning her own taxable income. Illuminators and embroiderers showed up frequently on the tax rolls, as did silk-weavers, brocaders, and textile finishers. Women were accepted into many trade guilds of the time, usually via family members, but some trades had free entry and accepted all who met their requirements. 

Medieval Woman Painting a Woman, by
Giovanni Boccaccio, French National Library

These women mostly worked in obscurity, but there are some examples of women who worked in family art studios and became renowned painters in their own right. Golden Age artist Artemisia Gentileschi is probably the biggest star among them. Her father taught her to paint. She went on to establish her own art studio, securing commissions by wealthy merchants and nobles during her 17th-century career. 

My first historical fiction series, the story of a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern day scholar on her trail, featured a fictional woman painter named Miramonde de Oto. She was based on the real artist Caterina van Hemessen, who worked with her father in his Flanders studio, churning out portraits of wealthy patrons as well as a mesmerizing self-portrait, which she signed. 

Caterina Van Hemessen, Public Domain Image

One of my favorite artists of the Early Modern era is Clara Peeters, master of the still-life painting. She often hid her name or self-portrait within her paintings, which is a trick my fictional artists deploy as well. I love the idea of women artists claiming their work in sly ways, sending a message to viewers decades or centuries in the future. How many more of them are waiting to be found?

Clare Peeters, Self-portrait, Pubic Domain Image

It’s a question that haunts me. I was thrilled to learn recently of a female artist, Agnes van den Bossche, who was a member of the Ghent, Flanders, artists’ guild for over three decades during the 15th century. Her father and brother were master painters. For her part, Agnes painted mostly on cloth. Her only known surviving work is a banner she was commissioned to produce for the city of Ghent. 

The Banner, Image: Wikimedia Commons

Agnes is that rare person—a woman artist of the late medieval/early Renaissance era whose story survives. Most of her contemporaries are lost to history, their voices and legacies relegated to the shadows. As a writer who specializes in stories about forgotten women artists, I hold up Agnes as evidence that the artists I create in my fiction are based on real women, not just my imagination. 

With my new Sea and Stone Chronicles series, I wanted to focus on unsung, unknown women like Agnes van den Bossche. For every Agnes we can point to in the historical record, there must be hundreds who are lost to history. Women who had every bit as much talent as their male counterparts–and, in some cases, more—but were never acknowledged. 

Sea of Shadows, the second book in this series of stand-alone romantic historical suspense novels, stars an unlikely duo. Anica Foscolo, a gifted painter on the Greek island of Rhodes, is the daughter of a Venetian artist and a Greek woman. Drummond Fordun is a fierce Scotsman renowned for his exploits as a privateer serving the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, who are headquartered on Rhodes. When her family’s honor is threatened, Anica reluctantly turns to Drummond for help. There’s just one problem: she never planned to fall in love with her accomplice.  

Like Island of Gold, its predecessor in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, Sea of Shadows explores the shadowy world of the Mediterranean during a time of adventure, war, prosperity, and risk. 

The Colossus of Rhodes - Public Domain Image

Artists and artisans exploited the wealth in Rhodes Town under the rule of the Knights Hospitaller, setting up studios and workshops within the walled city. Gold-beaters, jewelers, textile workers, stoneworkers, and painters were among the creative classes. Italian-trained artists were commissioned by the knights to create frescoes and paintings for their private residences and for chapels and churches on the island. At the same time, the astounding layers of history in Rhodes offered opportunities for entrepreneurs to sell artifacts to collectors from Italy, who traveled to the island seeking treasures for wealthy patrons.

My heroine Anica Foscolo, the unsung talent behind her father’s dazzling portraits, is a product of her environment, and as such she embodies the conflicting loyalties of her time and place. She’s Venetian (not always an advantage for a citizen living under the rule of the Genoa-loving Knights Hospitaller), but she’s also Greek (and, as such, seen as subservient by the Knights Hospitaller).

Rhodes under the rule of the knights was a goldmine of adventure, scandal, love, and divided loyalties, offering rich fodder for a historical novelist. Though I never found evidence of a woman artist working in Rhodes at the time, there was plenty of evidence about male artists who prospered there. So I created Anica in homage to women working in family studios who never made it into the historical record. She gives a voice to the silenced stories of the past—and serves as a reminder that the historical record is full of holes just waiting to be filled.

Sea of Shadows 

1459. A gifted woman artist. A ruthless Scottish privateer. And an audacious plan that throws them together—with dangerous consequences. 

No one on the Greek island of Rhodes suspects Anica is responsible for her Venetian father’s exquisite portraits, least of all her wealthy fiancé. But her father’s vision is failing, and with every passing day it’s more difficult to conceal the truth. 

When their secret is discovered by a powerful knight of the Order of St. John, Anica must act quickly to salvage her father’s honor and her own future. Desperate, she enlists the help of a fierce Scottish privateer named Drummond. Together, they craft a daring plan to restore her father’s sight. 

There’s only one problem—she never imagined falling in love with her accomplice.

Universal Amazon link

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon CA

Amazon AU

About the author:

Amy Maroney studied English Literature at Boston University and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series, an award-winning historical fiction trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Her new historical suspense/romance series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus.

Social Media Links:






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Amazon Author Page


Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Review: Philippa of Hainault/John of Gaunt by Kathryn Warner

Serendipitously, the paperback version of Philippa of Hainault and the hardback version of John of Gaunt (Philippa's son) came out at similar times, and the lovely people at Amberley sent me copies of both.

Of course, I started with the biography of Philippa. I found Warner's approach refreshing, and very much enjoyed reading the personal story of the wife of Edward III, beginning with what is known of her childhood and the very difficult early years of her marriage when she and Edward were very much in the shadow of his mother and her co-conspirator Mortimer.

What came across so strongly in Warner's narrative is the personalities of those involved in the stories. Whilst the author debunks many myths, including the claim that Isabella and Mortimer were lovers, she imbues her story with anecdotes and snippets which give glimpses into the characters of the people involved. I was left with a clear impression about the nature of Philippa and her husband and they are presented as rounded personalities, while the author remains analytical, sticks to the known facts and cites primary sources without wandering off into any reveries about what they might have done/thought/said. Warner is a skilled narrator indeed.

I felt, however, that the author might have their work cut out in endearing me to John of Gaunt. To me he's never been an attractive character, but it's so rare to be able to read a biography about one historical character and then straight away dive into one about their son, that I was intrigued. Warner gives John of Gaunt a fair treatment, by which I mean all the reasons for his unpopularity are laid out but again, we are given touching little details, such as his proven devotion to his mother. Also detailed and interesting was the examination of Gaunt's relationships with Blanche of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford.

Both of these books are excellent history books, but they are more than that. They are stories of real people, who come to life. I'd not read works by Kathryn Warner before. She is now one of those whose books I'll automatically read, regardless of the title, because I'm so impressed by the way she approaches her subject matter.

Many thanks to Amberley for providing review copies.

Find the author's books here

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Skills Workshops: How to Handle a Gladius with Alison Morton's Carina Mitela

Last year, I invited a number of authors to send suitable characters from their books to interview for an imaginary job in my imaginary company. Now a New Year is upon us, and as CEO of this company I've decided that my workforce needs to learn new skills for 2022. I've invited some more characters along to the blog, this time to deliver some workshops, and my employees have gathered in the gym for the last of the sessions.

In charge today is a Roma Novan captain and two of her centurions. Please stay behind the safety ropes until instructed otherwise and Simons, that does mean you, too...

Over to you, Captain!

[Photo below courtesy of Britannia]

Salve! I’m Captain Carina Mitela from the Praetorian Guard Special Forces of Roma Nova and Dr Whitehead has asked me to come along today to show you some basics about using a Roman gladius. Although as a 21st century military unit we use state of the art weapons, we ‘encourage’ all our soldiers to train with the gladius as it hones close quarter battle skills and survival instincts. 

With fifty centimetres of carbon steel meanness coming at you, you learn to move fast!

Which books am I in?

I feature in four thrillers set in an alternative timeline. INCEPTIO where I start as a sporty but basically innocent civilian hunted by a crazy person and then flee to Roma Nova, my late mother’s homeland. Next, in CARINA, I undertake my first overseas mission as a rookie officer in the Guard. It was supposed to be simple, but you know how these things go… In PERFIDITAS, there’s betrayal – personal, professional and political – and nobody comes out of it particularly well. Last, in SUCCESSIO, I face the worst – heartbreak, conspiracy and a vicious wrecker who threatens my family and Roma Nova itself. 

As we’re descendants of Romans, we use Latin. But don’t worry, we’re good with working in English. And you can no doubt hear my New World accent. I was raised in the Eastern United States – that’s the part east of the Mississippi stretching to the Atlantic coast. West of the river belongs to the Indigenous Nations until you get to the Spanish Empire states on the Pacific coast. 

Centurions Livius and Servla here to help me also have good English. He’s the tall one with blond curls; she’s the short one with the serious look. 

Okay, let’s get to it.

Using a gladius effectively is not an easy skill and it takes constant practice. However, it gets younger soldiers over the mental leap of being in close personal contact with their opponent, something that goes against our natural social inclination against invading another human being’s personal space. 

Today, we’re going to demonstrate some techniques and then invite you to try some of them yourselves. We’ve brought a dozen practice swords, lightweight helmets with hinged mesh masks and leather protective vests lined with Kevlar. The vests will stop a serious wound, although you may get a few bruises. But I understand you’ve all signed the waiver. [AW looks around for the HR representative, who nods assurance.]

You’ll see round shields on the bench which are a similar type to those used by fourth century Romans. The traditional curved rectangular scutum used a few hundred years before weighs between eight to ten kilograms, so we thought adding that into a first training session might be a little ambitious. Maybe another time. 

You’ll notice the three of us instructing are wearing the lorica, a chain mail shirt. It’s lighter than the ancient version and it’s also lined with Kevlar. It’s our standard training wear for gladius practice but weighs about four to five kilograms. Anybody wish to try one? No? Very sensible. Your leather and Kevlar vests will work well enough today.

Okay, some safety rules:

It’s fine to hinge the mesh mask up when watching at the side, but the minute you come to practice, the mask goes over the face.

Do not pick the sword up and wave it around like a klutz. Even the training gladius has a sharp enough edge to draw blood.

Never turn your back on anybody holding a sword.

If you need to stop for whatever reason, shout ‘pax’. Nobody will think any the less of you. If you feel emotions getting too much, also fine to withdraw.

Lastly, forget all the crap you saw in the movies.

Okay, first six buckle up. Get into pairs and check each other. Check all the tabs are firmly closed on the vests and the safety buckles on.  Ditto the helmets and chinstraps. Then fall back into a line behind the yellow marker and one metre apart. That’s three feet in old money.

Livius and Paula will demonstrate the front jab, the classic legionary move. Right foot forward, left foot at an angle to stabilise. Not a lunge or you move too far out of line and risk falling on your face. You also leave your comrade’s flank exposed. The gladius is short, so you don’t need to pull your arm back exposing your armpit – a really vulnerable point. Nor does a jab mean you have to swing your arm to get momentum as you do with a heavier, longer weapon, also meaning you expose that same armpit and often the neck.

At the end of the jab, you twist to horizontal. This can be to cause more damage in your enemy’s flesh or to free it from a dead one’s body. Twist strengthens your wrist but is for practice only, unless some idiot is trying to kill you. Then all that practice pays off.

[Students practice jab in a line]

Using the shield

Now, two volunteers, take a shield each, get a good grip on the handle on the inside with your left hand and try a jab at my colleagues. Don’t hold back!

[Students end up on the floor.]

Okay, that was a little unfair – I apologise. But as you can see, the shield is also a good weapon. It’s not just for defence.  The momentum is directed forward from your left hand, through the metal boss protruding from the front. A targeted shove will knock your opponent off balance or even push the opponent onto the ground where you can finish them off with your sword. Or a shield thrust can Practiced warriors can use the shield to force a chin up and break a jaw or slice and disable legs, arms or anything else. Livius and Servla will demonstrate.

Okay, second six, some jabbing practice, then shields.

[Five minutes allowed]

Okay, stop now. That’s good.  A word about slashing with the edges. The gladius is also very effective for this, but the jab was the key move for Ancient Romans, at least until it got into the dirty and personal part of the battle. A tight line of close-ranked and disciplined soldiers moving as one and with a regular row of lethal weapons was a machine for killing. Each soldier protected the one to their left and could concentrate on bringing the fight to the enemy. But it takes nerve and training to fight effectively that close. Shall we give it a try?

Remember, have faith in your comrade to the right who is protecting you with their shield and use the shield on your left arm to protect your comrade to your left. Okay, move in closer to each, gladius up to the middle of the edge of your shield. Now advance steadily, and jab! Retract swords, advance three more steps, and thrust.

Now, to finish, get into pairs, each with a shield and gladius and have a go at each other. No fatalities, please!

[Five minutes allowed]

Okay well done. Bring your gladius to your side, point down. On my mark, turn toward the wall with the door, then walk slowly toward the bench and lay swords on the bench and shield underneath. Then step over to the table and take the protective vest and helmets off.

Well done, everybody. I hope you enjoyed today. Servla, Livius and I certainly did. 

[AW: Particularly glad to see that Simons has not injured himself, or anyone else.] 

Just to finish, here’s an excerpt from SUCCESSIO when I was practising a specialist manoeuvre with Livius:

I heard cheering, shouting of bets placed, heckling, but filtered most of it out. I had to concentrate on Livius’s weapon slicing the air and jabbing at me and his attempts to defeat me. I was used to the merciless force, but he was wearing me down. Sweat ran down my back and between my breasts with the effort of thrusting and dodging.

I must have been crazy to do this. I felt a rush of fear mixed with adrenalin as I leapt over the chain to avoid a vicious stab. Gods, he was furious now, his eyes as hard as stones. As I dodged faster and faster, I missed my step, he tripped me and I crashed to the ground. As I went down I pulled him to earth with me. As he fell, I used the momentum to throw him over my head while I rolled away. We both scrambled up, panting, measuring each other up.

The violence in his eyes, now tearing with the dust we’d raised, made me determined to finish this quickly. As we sprang up, I feinted to the right, distracting him, leapt into his now opened guard area. Using my whole body, I felled him and landed hard on his chest. Within nanoseconds I had jerked my elbow up to the grey sky, my wrist and arm in one straight hard line. I took a quick shallow breath. The tip of my sword grazed his throat. My hand was poised ready to thrust downwards.

For a few seconds I thought he was going to try something stupid like bringing his sword up from behind and slash my unguarded flesh. His hand was trapped under his body, but his right hand was still free holding the lethal blade. 

‘Drop it.’ I pushed the sword tip harder against the stretched tan skin of his throat, just nicking the surface. A tiny spot of red seeped out.

His eyes narrowed, making them darker. His mouth was still a single hard line. The shouting and heckling from the audience had died. Intense stares lapped at us, but nobody moved.

‘C’mon, Livius,’ I whispered. ‘Give it up. I’m dying for a drink.’ 

The rigid body under me seemed to harden. Suddenly, it relaxed, and I was sitting on softening flesh. The fire in his eyes subsided and a ghost of a grin flitted across his lips. He uncurled his hand and released his blade. 

I stood up and brandished mine in the air with a shout of ‘Victis’. Flavius came forward and, mildly pompous like any referee, declared it finished. I ignored the applause and exuberant shouting around us.

I glanced down at Livius. ‘Friends?’

‘Of course,’ he replied. He smiled then shrugged.

Goody bag!

Don’t forget to pick up your gift bag which contains amongst other things a certificate for today plus a voucher from the Roma Nova tourist office which entitles you to a free pass to all the sites if you visit. Which I hope you will. Thank you for your attendance and for your immaculate and safe performance.

More about our adventures

You can find them here: 

and buy my first adventure, INCEPTIO, here:

And that concludes this series. Our previous guest was Fred Kung and you can see his Q&A session here.

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Skills Workshop: Q&A with Antoine Vanner's Kung Li

Last year, I invited a number of authors to send suitable characters from their books to interview for an imaginary job in my imaginary company. Now a New Year is upon us, and as CEO of this company I've decided that my workforce needs to learn new skills for 2022. I've invited some more characters along to the blog, this time to deliver some workshops, and my employees have gathered in the lecture theatre for a Q&A session with Kung Li, sent by his author, Antoine Vanner:

AW: Settle down everyone, phones off, and let's give a warm welcome to our guest today, Mr Kung Li, a Chinese gentleman called also known as Fred Kung, whom the Royal Navy’s Captain Nicholas Dawlish encountered in Korea in 1882. The main events of Dawlish’s assignment there are described in Britannia’s Spartan. Kung Li appears before us this evening looking much as he did when Dawlish first encountered him in Seoul: 

“When the arrival of the Chinese ambassador’s representative was announced in early afternoon, Dawlish expected a silk-clad mandarin with long sleeves and longer fingernails. But the man who spoke for the envoy of the Son of Heaven wore a shabby European-style jacket with a Paisley scarf at his throat and whipcord riding breeches stuffed into dusty boots. He wore no queue beneath his broad-brimmed hat – his hair was cropped as close as Dawlish’s own – and a revolver protruded, butt forward, from a holster belted over his jacket on the right side.”

Welcome! Would you like to introduce yourself? 

Fred Kung: I’m Kung Li, ma’am – though foreign devils like yourself know me better as Fred Kung. They call me a ‘Yankee Chinaman’ and Chinese call me an American. 

AW: What’s the lesson you’re going to give us, Mr. Kung?

Fred Kung: The most important in the world, ma’am. Don’t just survive. Win.

AW: Excellent. Now, all my attendees have read the resume you sent. They'd like to ask you some questions. First it's Janine, head of overseas trade:

Janine: Your English is fluent and you’ve a strong American accent. Why’s that?

Fred Kung: I came to the States in ’66, just another illiterate coolie shipped across from Kwantung to drill and hack and freeze and die to drive the Central Pacific railroad through the Sierra Nevada in California. (Hey, you there! Let’s see the first picture.) That’s what we looked like and we were used worse than cattle an’ worth less than mules).

But I see you’re been trying to be polite, ma’am, that you’re pretending you haven’t noticed that my right hand is mutilated. Here, let me hold it up. Take a look – I’m not ashamed of it. Just a thumb and little finger. All that’s there, nothing more. That’s why I draw and shoot with my left. And damn well too. If you’d like to step back ten yards an’ hold up a five of spades for me I’ll put a bullet through each pip. I’ve pack with me and –

AW: (laughs nervously) Well, not today! But perhaps some other time . . . Please continue.

Fred Kung: Nitro-glycerine an’ blasting Central Pacific Tunnel Number 6 did for that hand an’ it was best thing ever happened me. They gave me twenty dollars compensation for it an’ cut me loose. The timing was damn lucky too – the rest of my team were buried in a rockfall a week later. 

AW: Pauline from Human Resources has a question

Pauline: I take it that with a shattered hand there was no more work for you on the railroad?

Fred Kung: Take a look at the next picture, ma’am. (Hurry, let’s have it up!)

AW: I knew I shouldn't have let Simons be in charge of the overhead projector... Ah, there we go.

Fred Kung: That was the sort of work it was. I wouldn’t have gone back to it even if I could. And I’d have starved if I hadn’t recognised what all those thousands of poor despised Chinese drudges slaving through the Sierra feared more than death itself – burial in foreign soil, ma’am. I’d got those twenty dollars to start in business with. And those coolies were most of ‘em ready to pay me fifty cents a month for a guarantee that they’d be shipped home to graves with their ancestors. Good business to, and in time I made enough to branch out into deals with ship-owners, an’ into money-lending too. And then a few lines of business that respectable ladies like yourself wouldn’t want to know about. But profitable for all that. Gentlemen in the audience might guess what I mean.

Edward, Chief Accountant: And I gather that you put the profits to good use?

Fred Kung: I could see bigger opportunities, and for that I saw that needed education, western education. I started by paying a washed-up Chinese trader to teach me to read and write what I’d been speaking all my life. Then a drunken American schoolteacher was glad of a few bucks to school me in good English. And when I’d made enough to buy an American education, I bought me one at a Presbyterian college near Oakland. (Let’s have the next picture up!)

That’s me there, Masterson College class of ’72. They thought I’d go back to China as a missionary. Yet for all the talk there about gentle Jesus sweet and mild, and brotherly love, I was still a Chinaman in America, a Chink, a Celestial, a jumped-up coolie, still despised, still unwelcome. But I was one who by now could talk and think and reason like an American as well as a Chinese. So I had something that both Chinese officials and Western businessmen would pay well for – an understanding of the other side’s way of thinking. I could be anybody’s go-between – at a price – and that’s why, after a lot we don’t need to talk about, I was in Seoul, Korea, in 1882.  

AW: What were you doing there when Captain Nicholas Dawlish met you?

Fred Kung: Let’s just say that I was representing the interests of the Chinese Empire and doing jobs for the Chinese ambassador that he couldn’t afford to be seen doing for himself and saying things he didn’t want to be heard saying. China had nominal sovereignty over Korea for centuries but now the Japanese were out to displace us, and they meant nothing nominal about it. They’re impressive, damned impressive, those Japanese, and they’ve made themselves a modern industrial and military power in a way that China hasn’t. They’ve got ambitions, big ambitions, and they’ll stop at nothing. And taking Korea’s to be the first step. The Korean king is a weak fool whom they intended to control. And the only real man at the court is his wife, Queen Min. (Next picture please – even if it doesn’t do her justice!) 

What a woman she is! Smart and beautiful but deadly as a rattlesnake, ready to make a deal with Satan himself if it would keep the Japanese out. And when this British naval officer, Captain Nicholas Dawlish, arrived on a diplomatic mission I saw that he could be useful for the game I was playing. Queen Min saw that too. It turned out to be a more dangerous game than even I expected - and all three of us ended up using the others for our own ends.

Richard, Head of CPD (Continuing Professional Development): Did your previous experience help you then?

Fred Kung: I’ve learned one big lesson in life, sir. It’s that they – whoever ‘they’ are – can do anything to you that you’re not strong enough to stop them doing.  When you’ve started life by being valued lower than an animal – as I did – you can’t afford to think much about good or bad. You think first about survival. 

But if you’re smart you think beyond that, you think of prevailing, of winning. of taking for yourself what nobody wants to give you willingly. So, good or bad, what matters to me is that I can sell my services high, to Westerners, to Chinese, to Koreans, to whoever’s prepared to pay. I may not be liked, but I’m needed, and I’m going to keep it that way. And I must stay alive too when so many would like to see me dead. That’s why my bodyguards are Uighurs from Western China, with no love lost between ’em and their Manchu overlords. They’re mean twenty-four carat sons of bitches who’re loyal to nobody but me, and that only because I pay them well. (Let’s have the next picture up!)

There they are – and they’re worth their weight in gold!

AW: But I gather that Captain Dawlish valued your support, even if he didn’t wholly trust you?  But what did you think of him?

Fred Kung: “Support” isn’t really the word, ma’am. Let’s just say that my interests coincided for a while in Korea in ’82. with those of the Britisher Nicholas Dawlish My own interest’s the only basis on which I judge any relationship. But I like Dawlish, probably more than I can afford to, but to be straight with you, I think he’s something of a fool. He’s clever and he’s brave, but he doesn’t see that his notions of honour and duty don’t profit him. They’ll get him killed at some stage. (Next picture please!) 

That’s the world he sworn himself to, as bound by tradition and notions of loyalty as the Imperial Chinese Court itself. He may bend the rules if he has to, but he still wants to rise in that world. And the people he risks his life for – like Queen Min herself, or his own Queen Victoria – wouldn’t give a damn whether he lives or dies as long as their interests are served. He’s ambitious, no doubt of it, but that idea of honour comes into it for him all the time and financial gain doesn’t enter it at all. He left Korea not a penny richer than when he came. I guess that when you’ve grown up comfortable in a country where the law protects you, then you can afford to think like him. I couldn’t. I’d be dead now if I did.

Jessica, Marketing and Social Media: Would you like to see your own life covered in a book, or books?

Fred Kung: My life could be considered adventurous, and I’ve now got a lot of irons in the fire in places you might not expect in China and South-East Asia, and in California and Nevada and in Oregon too. But I’d prefer that nothing is known about them. I’m none too happy that Dawlish might have recorded more than I’d like known. But if in the future some writer fella gets his hands on Dawlish’s papers, then he’s welcome to write a book about me if it’s after I’m dead. It won’t worry me none then. 

AW: Thank you, Mr. Kung! Perhaps your and Dawlish’s paths may cross again! Let's all show our appreciation and give a round of applause for Mr Kung! He's left some marketing materials which will tell you a bit more about Dawlish and his creator, so don't forget to pick one up before you leave. And Simons, please remove the slides of your stag do from the overhead projector. No one wants to see those...

Find out more about Antoine Vanner here: Dawlish Chronicles 

Next time our guest will be Captain Carina Mitela from the Praetorian Guard Special Forces of Roma Nova (sent by author Alison Morton) and she'll be showing us all how to use a gladius.

Our previous guest was The Earl of Essex

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Skills Workshop: How to Fight a Duel, with the Earl of Essex

Last year, I invited a number of authors to send suitable characters from their books to interview for an imaginary job in my imaginary company. Now a New Year is upon us, and as CEO of this company I've decided that my workforce needs to learn new skills for 2022. I've invited some more characters along to the blog, this time to deliver some workshops, and my staff have gathered in the company employees' gym, where we have erected safety ropes...

AW: Right you lot, phones off, and best behaviour please, because today's guest is a member of the nobility. Let's give a warm welcome to Sir Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex and his assistant, Master Gelly Meyrick!

EoE: Some of you will know me from the second book of the Elizabethan Series, ‘Essex – Tudor Rebel’ by Tony Riches. I’d like to start by making a few things clear. I am of course a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, and yes, I have been known to play cards in her privy chamber until the small hours of the morning, but her Majesty is ten years older than my mother, and I am not her lover. 

[AW: Stop sniggering Simons]

EoE: Secondly, I understand that duelling is strictly forbidden, but there are times when a gentleman has to defend his honour. People might think you short-tempered, of lacking self-control, but if someone calls you a liar, or has otherwise impugned your courage or good name, what better way to restore honour than to fight with rapiers?

Some of you will have heard how I lost a duel against Charles Blount. I’d like to explain I had no idea he was left-handed, which confused me, and Blount delivered his challenge in person, demanding satisfaction for being publicly offended, so I had no choice other than to accept. In truth, I consider I was lucky to only suffer a wound to my thigh!

For this demonstration, I’m using an Italian rapier, designed for duelling. The slender, two-edged blade is counter-balanced to provide greater control. (Swishes the rapier in the air.) This one has a blunted tip to reduce accidental wounding of my sparring partner, my long-suffering and loyal Welsh manservant, Master Gelly Meyrick.

Firstly, there are several ways to grip a rapier, but I recommend wrapping your index finger around the quillion, or cross-guard, which reduces fatigue and provides better point control. Your thumb can point up the flat of the blade, or rest on top of your index finger. A loose grip with the other three fingers gives you a good range of movement.

Now I’d like to talk about your ‘guard’, which is the angle of your wrist, and the position of your body. The more upright your upper body is, the more defensive your posture, and the more you lean forward, the more aggressive your stance. Extending your arm provides maximum defence, keeps your opponent at a distance, and allows you to dominate their blade.

You should not have your left foot forward, as this reduces the coverage of the sword to the body. It also makes it harder to lunge, so keep your right foot forward, and adjust your distance quickly without compromising your guard. To step forwards, move your front foot forwards, and follow with the rear, and to move back, move your back foot first, then follow it with the front. 

Now for the lunge. (Demonstrates with an aggressive lunge at Gelly Meyrick, who moves just in time to avoid being impaled.) The lunge is the extension of your body in line to attack, usually with a thrust, (like this) but also with a cut, (like this). When lunging, as with any attack, you initiate the move with your sword arm, followed by your body, and finally your leg. Your lead foot points forwards, towards your opponent, and your back leg should straighten. The lunge is the fastest way to attack, but there is a lot that can go wrong. (Grins.)

The ‘pass’ is a movement which requires major commitment, and therefore risk. Don’t use the pass to adjust your distance, or change guard with your rapier, as we don’t want to have your left foot forward in guard. The passing step is best used when the distance is closed, and having your left foot forward becomes an advantage. (Demonstrates with a sudden pass at Gelly Meyrick, which catches him off guard.) 

Now what we call ‘stringering’ means to gain an advantage over your opponent by pre-parrying their blade, allowing you to strike or parry on the line that you have positioned yourself with relative safety. Some fights involve a constant game of stringering, disengaging, and further stringers by each swordsman. (The room echoes to the clash of rapiers, as they strike each other’s blades.)

Finally, my teacher, the late Sir Philip Sidney, used to say, ‘when you use a rapier to lunge against someone, it’s not just to kill them. You have to defend yourself at the same time. The lunge is fast, but leaves you vulnerable. The pass keeps you upright, and in a strong position. Strike, and parry your opponent’s blade with a single action!’

(They both bow to the audience)

AW: Let's hear it for the Earl of Essex and Master Meyrick! (And thanks to the St John Ambulance team for standing by, just in case...)

Before you go back to your desks, be sure to pick up the leaflet that tells you where you can find out more about Sir Robert and his adventures:

ESSEX - Tudor Rebel
Book two of the Elizabethan Series

New from Tony Riches, Author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men ofthe Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.


Author Bio

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of Tudor historical fiction. He lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the early Tudors. As well as his new Elizabethan series, Tony’s historical fiction novels include the best-selling Tudor trilogy and his Brandon trilogy, (about Charles Brandon and his wives). For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Our next guest will be Kung Li, also known as Fred Kung, a character sent by author Antoine Vanner. 

[Our previous guest: Catherine Wasson Clyde]