Today’s the Day! Launch of The Lifeline #WW2 #Fiction

Confession. I have never been to Norway. I have never been to Shetland. Normally I would have done both. When writing and researching a book I like to do as much ‘on the ground’ research as possible. But this year it just wasn’t possible, because of the virus.

This book takes place in Nazi-occupied Norway, and though I could have visited Norway, my experience of it wouldn’t have been the same as those who lived through the occupation by the Nazis in WW2. In one sense, the past can never be revisited, and every historical fiction author must supercharge their imagination to conjure the past into being. In this instance, I relied on archive material, books, websites, memoirs and facebook interest groups, as well as a native Norwegian to guide me through the research.

research by Deborah Swift for The Lifeline

Shetland was a lot closer to home, but visitors from the mainland UK, especially virus-ridden Lancashire, were still not exactly welcome. So, I was indoors much of the time finishing my research from my desk, and watching videos of men fishing in the Northern waters, or Shetlanders farming the windswept Shetland hills. In depth research is as much to do with the quality of attention that you pay to it, and how you use it, as to do with what you actually see.

One of the pleasures of writing historical fiction is that you learn so much about the events of the past that might have been forgotten or overlooked, and you can bring these back to life for other people to marvel at and enjoy.

So The Lifeline is out today, published by Sapere Books. I hope it will give people an insight into what life was like for ordinary teachers caught up in the Nazi indoctrination machine, and how they risked their lives to rebel against it.

And I hope more people will get to know about the brave Norwegian men who risked their lives in bringing arms and intelligence to the Resistance across icy waters and under enemy fire.

The Lifeline by Deborah Swift


Blog Featured writing life

The Lifeline – characters who brave mountainous seas, enemy fire, and below zero temperatures

The Lifeline by Deborah Swift #WW2My new novel, The Lifeline is now ready to pre-order, and is the third in my series of WW2 books. I became interested in it because I discovered a book about The Shetland Bus in a second-hand bookshop when I was browsing the WW2 shelves.

I had never heard of The Shetland Bus, but started to research, and find out more about the brave Norwegians who helped their country by supplying the Resistance with arms and intelligence from Scotland.

You can find out more about The Shetland Bus here at the Scalloway Museum There is a video and a documentary on their website which explains how the men who operated these small fishing boats between Shetland and Norway were recruited and trained, and about the dangers they faced. Enemy fire, mountainous seas, dark cold winters with below freezing temperatures – all in a night’s work for these courageous men who were a vital part of Norway’s resistance against the Nazis.

The Lifeline
Wikicommons Scandinavian archive

As the story developed I realised that I wanted to include a male point of view character, as I had in my previous WW2 books. My main male character in The Lifeline is Jorgen Nystrom, a Norwegian wireless operator trained in Scotland. He becomes involved with the Shetland Bus missions, and eventually must set off to rescue his girlfriend, Astrid, from Norway.

Other male chracters I enjoyed writing were Isaak Feinberg, a German Jew who came to Norway to escape the Nazis, but now finds himself trapped by them once more. And finally, Karl Brevik, a Norwegian agent for the Nazis.

The Lifeline - Quislings in Norway
Quislings (Nazi sympathisers) in Norway

Karl Brevik was interesting to write because he’s a mercenary – a man with a shifting moral compass, who has learnt how to win through competitive ski-ing, and to him, winning and survival is all that matters, and at any cost. He’s a man easy to admire, but hard to understand.

Writing an untrustworthy character relies a lot on the use of body language. What Karl says, and what he is thinking are often at odds with each other, so his true intentions need to be conveyed in a way other than words. The fact he makes others uncomfortable, for reasons they can’t articulate, also helped me to make him more believable.

People lacking any moral compass are also hard to empathize with, but I did want readers to empathize with Karl, and for him to form some kind of friendship that would have value for him. For me, writing WW2 fiction is all about exploring moral boundaries, on both sides.

My female characters are Astrid, a teacher who resists teaching the Nazi curriculum, and is persecuted for it, and Morag, a secretary working for the Special Operations Executive in Shetland.

Shetland Bus
The Shetland Bus via The Scalloway Museum

The Lifeline will be published by Sapere Books on 5th January 2021. but is available now at a special pre-order price.


Blog Writing Craft

Author in Search of a Character – Why James Burke?

I’m delighted to Welcome Tom Williams to my Blog today to tell us about how he came to write the Burke series, described succinctly by Paul Collard as ‘James Bond in Breeches.’ Over to Tom:

Why James Burke? Would it make any sense to say I did it for the money?

If I’m being honest, it can’t really have been for the money, because I know that writing fiction (and particularly historical fiction) is never going to make you rich. But I started writing about Burke as a (sort of) commercial exercise.

Let me explain.

My first novel was The White Rajah. It was based on the life of James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak. Like most would-be novelists with my first book, I desperately wanted to write the Great British Novel. I was fascinated by Brooke’s character and the history of how he had come to rule his own kingdom in Borneo and I tied this in with ideas about colonialism and the morality of British rule around the world. Just in case I hadn’t weighted the book down with enough “significance”, Brooke was almost certainly gay and there’s a whole subplot about that. And, as the cherry on the cake, the whole thing is written in the first person and (given that this first person was writing in the mid-19th century) not in the most accessible language.

Despite this, I got an agent! And the agent got rejections from every major publisher he approached. It was, they all claimed, “too difficult” for a first novel. “Why don’t you,” he suggested, “write something more accessible? Still historical, but more the sort of thing people are going to want to read?”

I was stumped. I asked friends for ideas. I even asked Jocelyn, an Alaskan tango dancer I’d met in Buenos Aires (as you do).”Why don’t you,” she said “write about the early European settlers in South America? They have some brilliant tales to tell.”

Jocelyn does not like stories with a lot of violence. I think she was looking more at the explorers and the politicians, or even the ordinary people who left Europe in vast numbers to build a new world in the New World. But when I started randomly looking for European figures in the early colonial history of South America, the one who caught my eye was James Burke.

Burke was a soldier, but we have good reason to believe that he spent most of his time as a spy. The first book I wrote about him, Burke in the Land of Silver, is very close to his true story. Sent to Buenos Aires to scout out the possibility of a British invasion, he explored what is now Chile, Peru and Bolivia, returning to Buenos Aires to assist with the British invasion when it finally came.

I’ve obviously never met Burke, but the little we know about him still gives a strong idea of his character. He was an Irish Catholic who had joined the French army because the British Army did not offer an impecunious Irishman much possibility of advancement. We know he was something of a snob, at one stage changing his name to something that sounded more prestigious than Burke. He ingratiated himself with rich and powerful men, but he does seem to have been good at his job. In any case, there was a James Burke on the Army list long after the Napoleonic wars were over, so he did seem to be kept busy doing whatever it was that he was doing.

It’s this uncertainty about his career that makes him an ideal candidate for a series of books. (If you want to sell nowadays, it’s best to write a series – like Deborah’s excellent trilogy based around Pepys’ life.) He was a spy. He moved in the dark and nobody is quite sure what his missions were. So I can make them up. And what a brilliant period of history it is to make up spy stories about. I’m in a long tradition of sales of derring-do about spies during the wars with France, from the Scarlet Pimpernel to O’Brian’s Stephen Maturin and Iain Gale’s James Keane.

Each Burke story is set around a different Napoleonic campaign. After the British invasion of Buenos Aires (Burke in the Land of Silver) we see him in Egypt’s during Napoleon’s invasion that country (Burke and the Bedouin) and in Paris and Brussels during Napoleon’s textile and returned to power (Burke at Waterloo). The latest story (though not told in chronological order) finds him fighting in the Peninsular War, specifically around the battle of Talavera.

The Burke of Bedouin and Waterloo is entirely fictional, but his adventures in the peninsula are based on another real-life spy, Sir John Waters. In all the books, whether Burke’s adventures are entirely fictional or based on fact, the military and social background is as accurate as I can make it. In fairness I can’t make it all that accurate, but I have gradually found a network of people who really understand the Napoleonic Wars and who have been generous enough to share their understanding with me.

I like James Burke as a hero because he is often far from heroic. Cynical, snobbish, and an inveterate womaniser with an eye for the main chance, it’s easy to dismiss him as an arrogant officer who relies on the solid good sense of his servant, William Brown, to achieve anything. But Brown will be the first to disagree with you, pointing out that when the chips are down Burke will, often reluctantly, always do the right thing. The fact that the right thing isn’t always what his military masters would want him to do, just makes it more interesting. When push comes to shove, he is not only physically but morally brave.

I have come to be quite fond of James Burke. His next adventure will see him in Ireland in 1793 where he is charged with infiltrating the Irish nationalist movement. Perhaps this early mission explains much of his cynicism, for it is his darkest and most morally dubious adventure in the series. But that’s to come. For now, we can relax and enjoy the fun as his schemes, fights, and romances his way through the chaos that is the Peninsular War.

Burke in the Peninsula will be published on 25 September. It is available on Amazon at £3.99 on Kindle and £6.99 in paperback.

You can read more by Tom Williams on his blog, His Facebook page is at and he tweets as @TomCW99.

And The White Rajah did eventually see publication and is worth your time. Here’s the link:

Blog Reviews Seventeenth Century Life

The appeal of the 17th Century to a novelist by Jemahl Evans

this_Deceitful_Light (2)

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jemahl Evans  to my blog to tell us why he’s chosen to write three novels set in the 17th Century. Over to Jemahl.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Seventeenth Century; it is the great turning point in British history. The divisions of the civil war got fixed into our politics: royalist or roundhead; Tory or Whig; Conservative and Liberal (later labour). Our political parties and system is the product of the period. When I looked at a map of the areas that voted leave and remain in the brexit referendum, there is a remarkable correlation between the areas that declared for the king or parliament. Correlation is not causation, of course, but it does make you think about history’s long claws.

The initial spark for writing about the Civil War and its impact was a very bored Year 8 class on a wet Friday afternoon. I ended up telling them the story of William Hiseland (the last cavalier) who fought at Edgehill and then served the colours for the next sixty or so years, even serving under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709. Hiseland lived to the grand old age of 113, dying in 1733 as one of the first Chelsea pensioners. His life was feted and he had been granted pensions and awards for his service to the crown.

JemahlThe last roundheads were not so fortunate: pensions promised by the commonwealth were rarely honoured, estates were confiscated (or returned to their rightful owners depending on your point of view), and whilst the restored royal regime was not overly vindictive in 1660, political careers were finished and fortunes lost, at least in the short term. When I remembered that Hudibras, a satirical poem by Samuel Butler, was about Parliament’s Scoutmaster General the story all sort of fell into place – a bitter old man, mocked by the poets of the age, decides to get his version of events down.

By 1719-20, when Blandford is writing his fictional memoir, there was a massive trend for looking back to the civil war. It was just falling out of living memory (much like world war two is for us today) but the impact was still close enough to touch. There was a plethora of memoirs and recollections in the first couple of decades of the eighteenth century (and books like Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier or De Sandras’s D’Artagnan). I really wanted to capture that longer view of the events and the passing of an age. It was trying to find that genuine Seventeenth Century voice and make it accessible and appealing to readers. Although saying all that, there is a lot of my grandfather’s humour in the irascible old man. One of my cousins pointed that out to me the other day.

Thanks for this insight Jemahl.

Of_Blood_Exhausted (3)Of Blood Exhausted

Having read the other two books I knew I was in for a treat, and a total immersion in another age, but you don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy this. One of the things I loved about this book is its sheer complexity; it has been lovingly and exhaustively researched. Now don’t let that put you off, because the plot is easy to follow, and it’s a cracking good read. The main protagonist, the rogue Sir Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy has an impressive network of contacts; he is well-travelled, well-connected, and has his finger in any number of pies. A somewhat unlikely spy, he is after an assassin called the Black Bear, and this leads to all sorts of shenanigans – rooftop chases, toll-gate fights and desperate duels on the stairs. Although I still have a soft spot for the Parliamentarian Candy, it is the minor characters that I loved;  The redoubtable Sarah Churchill, Candy’s Wapping-born black servant, John, the strangely likeable Thurloe the spymaster, Candy’s love-interest Meg (not above a fight with a whip herself) – and there are warm portraits of Prince Karl Ludwig and Princess Sophia and even the sword-wielding d’Artagnan (of Three Musketeers fame).

‘The rage of a victorious army is a terrifying sight to behold’  the novel says, and the scenes at the Battle of Naseby are gut-wrenching and real. This is the climax of the book and is well-handled giving weight to both sides. The fate of the Royalist baggage train is covered in this book, but I won’t reveal more because of spoilers.

There are footnotes in the text leading to copious amounts of information at the end of the novel for those wishing more detail. There are also appendixes on things like money, and the religious factions of the English Civil War.

A novel that both informs and keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you love this period of history, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can buy Of Blood Exhausted in the UK here or in the US here.

Jemahl Evans’s website

Read more about Jemahl in this interview in Historia.


Of Camels and Napoleon – Burke and The Bedouin

Burke BedouinMy guest today is Tom Williams

When Deborah suggested I write about an object associated with Burke and the Bedouin (published by Endeavour Press), I really struggled to think of one. The story does feature the odd camel (there’s a clue on the cover) but I felt that an olivewood carving dating from a trip to Israel in 1972 didn’t really count. What objects are there that have intimate associations with Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Egypt in 1798? It’s not as if I have any Middle-Eastern Napoleonic artefacts lying round the house.

I don’t, but the impressive Napoleon exhibition at Les Invalides in Paris has a few. When I visited, I think that one of the ones that impressed me most was Napoleon’s telescope.

Ironically, the telescope was made in Britain, but it is supposed to be the one that he used in the Battle of the Pyramids, which features prominently in my book. The Battle of the Pyramids did not actually take place at the pyramids, but they were visible from the site of the battle and “the Battle of the Pyramids” sounds a lot better than “the battle quite near the Nile where you could see the pyramids on the horizon”. There’s not that much interest in it in England, as no British forces were involved, but it was a conclusive affair, ending Mameluke rule in Egypt. When I visited the pyramids, I was able to look towards the Nile and imagine the vast Mameluke army riding across what is now a Cairo suburb, before being turned by the French and driven to their deaths in the river. In Paris I was amazed to look down on the telescope through which Napoleon would have surveyed the fighting. For good measure there is an Arab dagger in the same case, which was also owned by Napoleon. It’s obviously a presentation item, though, rather than a working item, so I feel the telescope brings you closer to the man. Napoleon (like most generals of the time) was a very ‘hands on’ leader and he would have watched the battle, staff officers riding to carry his orders to the units engaging the enemy. A good telescope was an essential tool of his trade.

Burke TelescopeAfter the Battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon was able to occupy Cairo, the remaining Mamelukes retreating south along the Nile. It’s quite possible that Napoleon plans to march his men overland into India. He even suggested that some sort of canal might be possible and engineers did some test diggings which were remarkably close to the modern site of the Suez Canal.

Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt could have been a strategic masterstroke for France, but the destruction of his fleet at the Battle of the Nile left the Army isolated. Nobody knows why the French left their Navy exposed and vulnerable against the Egyptian sure, but Burke and the Bedouin does suggest one possible solution. Although the book is fiction, the idea that Napoleon’s orders for his admiral may have been intercepted en route may well be true. Could it have been the work of a British spy? We will never know.

Burke and the Bedouin is a light-hearted (if occasionally violent) romp where Burke finds himself alone and pitted against the might of Napoleon’s invasion force. Not that he lets a little thing like saving Egypt’s from French domination get in the way of his attempts to free Spanish slave Bernadita from her cruel Turkish master. As in Burke in the Land of Silver, swashes are buckled and bodices ripped before Burke wins the day for Britain. While Burke’s adventures this time are entirely imaginary, the historical background is not. The details of Napoleon’s invasion, the Battle of the Pyramids and the destruction of the French fleet all draw heavily on contemporary accounts.

James Burke: making the history of the Napoleonic Wars painless (and even fun).

Read more about it from Tom in Historia

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Riding with the gauchos – Burke in the Land of Silver

Gaucho 6

I’m delighted to welcome Tom Williams to my blog today, to tell us all about riding with the gauchos, and his new book.

Burke in the Land of Silver tells the story of the doomed British invasion of Argentina in 1806 and the role that may well have been played by real-life spy James Burke. There are beautiful women, evil villains, daring deeds and dastardly plots, but the whole thing is based around real events. Burke’s adventures on the pampa and in the Andes drew a lot on my own experience, as well as fascinating descriptions of life on a cattle ranch at the time by, of all people, Charles Darwin. His journey round the world wasn’t all giant tortoises and Galapagos finches!

Most of the action in Burke in the Land of Silver takes place in what is now Argentina. Our hero is spying for the British who are planning to drive the Spanish out of Buenos Aires. Burke discovers that the cattlemen out in the country (the pampa) have no love for their Spanish rulers and he tries to win them over to the British side. In the story, Burke spends some time with the gauchos, as the cattlemen are called. I particularly enjoyed writing this part as I have spent a short time riding with the gauchos of today, whose lives are, in many ways, remarkably unchanged. They are still magnificent horseman, often wearing their traditional dress as workaday garments.

Gaucho 2 Gaucho 3 Gaucho 5






The object above is something that shows the enormous skill of the gaucho on horseback.

The ring is supposed by some people to represent a wedding ring and it is said that Gaucho 4 gauchos used to play this game to win the hands of their sweethearts.

The clip fastens the ring to a rope stretched above the head of a man on horseback. The gaucho rides at the rope holding a cone shaped metal object in his hand which he has to pass through the ring whilst maintaining at least a fast trot. To win the game, you must carry away the ring without dropping it. What is amazing is how often the gauchos are successful. The photographs show how it is done.

The riders stand in the stirrups, well clear of the saddle, his horse moving so smoothly that the rider can catch up the ring as he passes beneath it.

In the third picture above, the young man has passed the ring without catching it. No congratulations from a beautiful Señora for him.

Riding these Argentinian horses was a strange experience for me. I’m not a particularly good horseman and I have only ridden on a European saddle, so first I had to get used to the Western saddle and the different way of using the reins on an Argentine horse. The biggest difference, though, came when I pushed with my heels. The horses at the ranch where I was riding are “cutting out horses” used for moving into a herd of cattle and cutting out the ones that are to be lassoed for whatever reason. The slightest pressure of the heel moves them into a full gallop immediately. When the gauchos aren’t playing the game with the ring, they enjoy racing each other over very short distances, where victory or defeat depends on just how quickly the horse can start its gallop. I’ve seen horses start by jumping into the air and landing immediately into a gallop with no walk or trot or canter.

You’d think that riding horses like this would be a terrifying experience, but I have never felt so safe on a horse of my life. Riding a full gallop across the pampa when some cattle crossed my path and my horse swerved to avoid them should have had me clinging on in terror, but instead I was able to stay comfortably in my seat, absolutely convinced that my mount would do nothing that might throw me off.

My time spent riding on this dude ranch and, later, in the rather more challenging conditions of the Andes above the snow line, was some of the best days of my life. Strangely, I have hardly been in the saddle since I got back to England: it just doesn’t feel the same.

Burke in the Land of Silver has just been republished by Endeavour Press, and is available from Amazon.

Catch Tom on his Blog 


Of Carrion Feathers by Katherine Pym

contrast cloudscape, dramatic sky just after storm
One weekend, while my sister and I visited, we both admitted we were intellectual snobs, but we had one fallen virtue in common: we both read historical romances.
How hard could it be to write one? I ventured, so we agreed to co-write a historical romance novel. We pondered on an era, and decided on the French Revolution. By the end of the weekend, we settled on the hero and heroine, some of the plot, but neither of us knew anything about the time frame.

My sister went home, and I took to the library. I found some really good books, mostly of Danton and Robespierre. While I read through those heavy tomes and took notes, I saw a picture of Camille Desmoulins, a pamphleteer and journalist whose real life reads like a tragic love story.The historical romance concept dropped from my thought processes. I scoured libraries from across the nation (book lending) until everything blurred. Historical texts always fill the pages with government decisions, not the people who gather to make those decisions. Not all research texts have correct information. I found inconsistent time lines, out of order facts, and not a lot on Camille Desmoulins, so I sold everything lock, stock, and barrel, and moved to England, a nation that had been around during that time. Newspapers, journals, and historical texts should have something America did not. I wanted new and more interesting material.

Almost immediately, I found what I wanted, and in the months that ensued, The First Apostle was born.I digress, but not a lot…
One day, in between chapters of The First Apostle, I went to the town centre, grocery shopping. While there I wandered into a used bookshop and found a full set of Samuel Pepys diary. I bought it, and took it home, but did not read it until the French Revolution novel finished.Once done, I opened the first volume of the diary, and began to read. So many books with such little writing of everyday mundane stuff. I was overwhelmed. I had to find out what the whole was before I could understand the detail. I needed to learn early modern England’s language so I could see through layers of how good folk handled the incredible change that marked the Restoration.Current events packed every year of the 1660’s decade, from religion to advancement in the sciences. There was so much excitement, change, and confusion. I decided to write a novel per year, until the great old town burned to the ground in 1666. This meant my research had to deal with a particular year. I could not write of Isaac Newton in 1660 because he was still a youngster, and in school. I could not write of the rake Rochester because he didn’t come onto the scene until mid-1660’s.
So what happened in 1660 vs 1661, or 1662? In 1660 the king returned from exile, and in 1661 he was crowned. There had to more, so my head went down once again into mighty tomes, and found it amazing what you learn doing research.I read a comment from one man to another he was perplexed so many women came to him to beget children. It astonished him a large amount of men within London’s city walls must be impotent or sterile, and wondered what was wrong with the air. Ding! Stud service.

I took that and used it in Viola, A Woeful Tale of Marriage which takes place in 1660. Then, I found during the time, there was a great deal of misunderstanding of the rules of marriage, so the crux of Viola’s story is her clandestine marriage is a sham, and her husband a bigamist.
It’s usually the small statements while researching that make the difference. One day a footnote in tiny print, brought about Twins, my second novel (London 1661). There was a superstition that a man can sire only one child at a time. When a woman gives birth to twins, she was clearly an adulteress. Ding! Another novel.

The twins (a boy and girl, which makes it worse) must deal with this all their lives, but the story also involves a London merchant’s life, how he handles the loss of a ship in the Mediterranean to pirates and local corruption.

So, we come to London in 1662, and Of Carrion Feathers, the reason for this little essay.

I found a volume on espionage during Charles II reign which was really very informative. I also found another little story where bakers could be dishonest. I created a bakeshop as a den of nonconformist plotters against the Crown, and the heroine in this story is Beatrice Short.

Beatrice is a reflection of my mother who was a slightly naughty person. She was brilliant, and bored, an artist and a poet, and she drove my dad crazy. I love her for her beautiful soul and creativity, her bohemian nature, and her great sense of humor.Beatrice wants to go into the theatre, (King Charles II brought back the French way of theatre, which allowed women on stage.), but she is a servant and can’t afford to pay for music and dance lessons. She stumbles into the Crown’s burgeoning spy network, and her first duty is in a London bakeshop.

USA Amazon link:

Want your book to feature on Royalty Free Fiction? Then send me a post about your inspiration for the novel, a cover photo and a buy link. Books must be historical, be available in paperback (not only ebook) and include no Kings, Queens or Royalty as major characters! Mail submissions to