Thursday 30 July 2020

Join me in Conversation with #HistoricalFiction author, Ellen Alpsten #AuthorInterview #History #Russia @EAlpsten_Author

Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to Historical Fiction author, Ellen Alpsten.


Mary Anne: I am so excited that you could join us today for a little chat! Your debut novel, Tsarina, has been described as “A vivid page-turner…” How were you drawn to writing Marta’s story? How did you ‘discover’ her?  

Ellen: Marta’s rise from the illiterate, illegitimate serf to first ever reigning Empress of Russia, which morphed from backward country to superpower – fascinated me ever since I discovered her character while reading a book called ‘Germans and Russians’, when aged 13. Author Leo Sievers charted the shared millennial history of those two people. When I had matured enough to be an author, I was stunned to see that nothing more could be read about her: no thesis, no biography, no novel. At times I believe I was destined to find her, a bit like Howard Carter ‘discovered’ Tut Ankh Amun!  


Mary Anne: Why do you think she has been overlooked by history in favour of her name-sake Catherine the Great?  


Ellen: Most people assume that ‘Tsarina’ is about Catherine the Great, who arrived in Russia as a German Princess, the bride-to-be for the heir to the throne. Not to belittle her achievements, but she -’my’ Catherine’s grand-niece - became the Empress her education had prepared her for and had 34 years of rule to make her mark. The two decades following the death of Peter the Great in Russia form an extraordinarily complicated tableau of opposing forces threatening to tear the country apart. His death left his realm stuck mid-reform, settling into a fragile peace, fearing the lingering threat of attack by either of its neighbours, its government at the mercy of foreign fortune-hunters. If Catherine’s reign was brief – two peaceful and prosperous years, an exception in the Russian history – she continued his strive for discovery and improvement. Her final act was to finance Bering’s ships, allowing the explorer the quest for his eponymous strait.  


Mary Anne: How did you immerse yourself in 19th-century Russia? How and where did you start your research?  


Ellen: I had of course read ‘The Russians”, such as Tolstoy, Gogol, and Pushkin, as well as Russian fairy-tales, which offer invaluable insight into a country’s imaginary: the storyteller invariably gets rewarded by eating honey! The research proper for ‘Tsarina’ was more focused on the early Romanovs, such as watching Sukorov’s take on the Dogma movie, ‘Russian Ark’, or reading the often hilarious and shocking travel diaries of the 17th century German merchant Adam Olearius, visiting Russia and the first Romanov Tsar. My ‘bible’, however, was Prof. Lindsey Hughes’ tome 'Russia in the time of Peter the Great'. Regrettably, I was never able to meet her. Following a year of research, I dared drafting the novel’s opening sentence. Also, I had a very stringent writing-routine, as I worked as a presenter on Financial breakfast TV, often leaving the house at 2.30 a.m. I wrote every afternoon, after a nap and a run in Hyde Park, half a dozen books surrounding my pc, their pages marked with post-its and highlighter.   


Mary Anne: Marta’s story is a real rags-to-riches Cinderella tale – what sense did you get of her character? 


Ellen: Initially, I fell for her life’s catchphrase: from serf to Empress, from backward nation to superpower. Yet there is so much more to it: A rising Empire in the turmoil of change. The madness of war. The reckless brutality of an absolute monarchy in which nothing is as abundant and as dispensable as human life. My fascination grew proportionally to my research. How impressive are her psychological make-up and her physical strength? She never surrendered; but enhanced her strengths while going with the flow and worked on her weaknesses. Her mind was never academically schooled; instead, she acted with courage and cunning. The Russians are a communal people - the word for happiness ‘shast’ye’ means being part of something bigger – and she counted on family and friendship. Yet if many women wanted what she had, woe the one who attempted to take what was hers!   


Mary Anne: How did her meteoric rise change her do you think?  


Ellen: Catherine’s life may seem like a milestone in female empowerment, and whilst she matured, change might be too big a word.  Her world of ever shifting circumstances bore too many threats for her not to have been hard headed and steadfast from the beginning on. For all its apparent splendour, her life was as incalculable as any Russian’s. Nowhere the wheel of fortune spins faster, and with more fanciful ferocity. From the moment she relied on her own wits for survival, she pushed herself relentlessly: constantly pregnant, yet accompanying Peter the Great into the fields of the Great Northern War, and on his travels in Russia, Europe, and Central Asia. She displayed courage and prudence, next to maintaining a forgiving nature: those traits never changed.  A contemporary wrote: ‘She wasn’t beautiful, but as warm as an animal,’ describing her innate indomitable spirit, as much as about her smouldering sex-appeal.  


Mary Anne: What was the most surprising thing you learned from your research? 


Ellen: Researching and writing ‘Tsarina’ made me contemplate the female condition. People speak of the 'good old days', longing for more social cohesion and the comfort of limited horizons, yet for normal women those were frankly terrible days. No education, early marriage, annual childbirth - which was a gamble of life and death -, no privacy, no horizons. Life was marginally better for high-born women. The Petrine laws of inheritance changed this - as often, war was a harbinger of progress. If all men are in battle, women have to run the trade. If sons stay in the field, unmarried daughters ought to inherit. So, while equality brings its own challenges, I do prefer to live today. The choices we have are a tremendous luxury and a true achievement.  


Mary Anne: What one thing would you like readers to take away from your book? 


Ellen: The French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu coined the immortal phrase: ‘Plus ça change, plus ça reste pareil. That is the case for Russia, too: What surprises us today was already present in the nation’s social make-up back then. Winston Churchill said: ‘Russia is once more a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. Putin is a quasi-absolute ruler – a Tsar - of Russia. If ‘Tsarina’, who observes her adopted home-country with the keen eyes of a foreigner, helps a reader t understand the Russian soul further and inspires him to learn more about this mighty country, I am delighted. I perceive the novel as a piece of literary diplomacy!  Catherine overcomes a fate raging against her. Her ascent bears testimony of the strength of human nature and the will to survive. When looking at her portraits today, people might struggle to see her appeal – that, too, is a very modern message. You can succeed without adhering to any norms, let alone beauty ideals.  


Mary Anne: Why did you choose to write Marta’s story in the form of a novel rather than as a work of non-fiction? 


Ellen: The sheer scope of it required the sprawling canvas and the huge cast that only a novel can offer. Her life was marked by opposites as surprising as the Russian Soul: callous cruelty and overwhelming empathy; overt hostility towards all things foreign, yet selfless hospitality to strangers; freezing, interminable winters - zima –, and the summers’ balmy white nights. There are tantalising blanks in her life, which I filled with my imagination.  


Mary Anne: Thank you so much for stopping by and chatting with me and The Coffee Pot Readers!


If you would like to find out more about Ellen’s fabulous book, Tsarina, then you know what to do — SCROLL DOWN!




By Ellen Alpsten

Spring 1699

Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta has survived the brutal Russian winter in her remote Baltic village. Sold by her family into household labour at the age of fifteen, Marta survives by committing a crime that will force her to go on the run. A world away, Russia's young ruler, Tsar Peter I, passionate and iron-willed, has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire. Countless lives will be lost in the process. Falling prey to the Great Northern War, Marta cheats death at every turn, finding work as a washerwoman at a battle camp. One night at a celebration, she encounters Peter the Great. Relying on her wits and her formidable courage, and fuelled by ambition, desire and the sheer will to live, Marta will become Catherine I of Russia. But her rise to the top is ridden with peril; how long will she survive the machinations of Peter's court, and more importantly, Peter himself?


Praise for Tsarina

"Makes Game of Thrones look like a nursery rhyme..."

Daisy Goodwin

"Alpsten's colourful narrative does full justice to her extraordinary career..."

Sunday Times

"A vivid page-turner of a debut..."

The Times

Pick up your copy of


Amazon UK • Amazon US • Bloomsbury •  Waterstones • Indie-Bookshops

Ellen Alpsten

Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, where she dressed up her many pets and forced them to listen to her stories.

Upon graduating from the 'Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris', she worked as a news-anchor for Bloomberg TV London. While working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work, a nap and a run. So much for burning midnight oil! 

Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint, and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons, and a moody fox red Labrador.

'Tsarina' is her debut novel.


For more information about her literary life follow her on social media:

Website • Instagram • Facebook

Check out Catherine Stine's fabulous book — Witch of the Wild Beasts

Witch of the Wild Beasts
By Catherine Stine

When Evalina is imprisoned for witchcraft, will her supernatural bond with animals be her curse or salvation?

In 1854, Evalina Stowe witnesses the murder of her brother by Dr. Dowdrick, an enraged client at the tailor’s where they work. Desperate to stop him, she rouses a swarm of wasps that sting the doctor while she stabs him with scissors, and then flees. At a subsequent job when birds race to her defence, Evalina is declared a witch and sent to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary.

While imprisoned, Evalina is horrified not only to learn that Dr. Dowdrick is still alive, but he’s experimenting on inmates. Determined to get inside his Eclectic Medical School, to expose his nefarious activities, she’s passionate about protecting fellow prisoners, especially Lewin, a child thief who knew her brother, and Birdy, a kind, resilient Welsh man serving time for a worker’s death while blasting granite for the railroad.

Evalina, her friends and her “wild beasts” work against time to unmask Dowdrick’s crimes when she participates with him in a symposium, showcasing Philadelphia’s premium doctors. If they fail, not only will the doctor’s evil deeds continue unchecked but Evalina and her crew will surely be hung.

The Coffee Pot Book Club


Highly Recommended

Read the full review HERE!

Pick up your copy of
Witch of the Wild Beasts

Catherine Stine

Catherine Stine is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fantasy, sci-fi thrillers, paranormal romance and YA fiction. Her novels have earned Indie Notable awards and New York Public Library Best Books for Teens. Catherine's newest historical fantasy, Witch of the Wild Beasts, was a second prize winner in Valley Forge's 2019 RWA Sheila Contest.

She loves spending time with her beagle, writing about supernatural creatures, gardening on her deck, and meeting readers at book events. Catherine suspects her love of dark fantasy came from her father reading Edgar Allen Poe to her when she was a child.

Connect with Catherine: Website • Twitter • Instagram • Pinterest • BookBub • Goodreads.

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Check out Alice Poon's fabulous book — Tales of Ming Courtesans #womansliterature #HistoricalFiction #GreatReads @alicepoon1

Tales of Ming Courtesans

By Alice Poon


From the author of The Green Phoenix comes a riveting tale of female friendship, honor, and sacrifice for love, set in 17th Century China. Inspired by literary works and folklore, Tales of Ming Courtesans traces the destinies of three of the era’s most renowned courtesans from the seamy world of human trafficking and slavery to the cultured scene of the famously decadent pleasure district of Nanjing, evoking episodes in Memoirs of a Geisha.


Jingjing is reading her mother Rushi's memoir. A wretched adolescence barely behind her, Rushi, being a courtesan, loses her true love to the tyranny of conventions. Social scorn and ill fate keeps stalking her.


The memoir inspires Jingjing to uncover the tragic fates of Rushi's two sworn sisters, also courtesans. Yuanyuan is first trapped in brutal slavery and then forced to let go of her lover and enter an unhappy union with a brutish general who later becomes a traitor. Xiangjun incurs corrupt courtiers' wrath when she warns her lover of their trap laid for him. When the outbreak of war plunges the three women into deeper woes, they mull over a daring idea to preserve hope. In piecing the three sisters' stories together, Jingjing slowly unravels the secret of who she really is.


Pick up your copy of

Tales of Ming Courtesans

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CABarnes and NobleEarnshaw Books



Alice Poon


Born and raised in Hong Kong, Alice Poon steeped herself in Chinese poetry and history, Jin Yong’s martial arts novels and English Literature in her school days. This early immersion has inspired her creative writing.


Always fascinated with iconic but unsung women in Chinese history and legends, she cherishes a dream of bringing them to the page.


She is the author of The Green Phoenix and the bestselling and award-winning non-fiction title Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong. She now lives in Vancouver, Canada and devotes her time to writing historical Chinese fiction.


Connect with Alice:




Check out John Anthony Miller's fabulous book — Sinner, Saint or Serpent #HistoricalFiction #Mystery @authorjamiller

Sinner, Saint or Serpent
By John Anthony Miller

New Orleans, 1926
When a leading businessman is found murdered, investigative reporters Justice Harper, known for his fairness, and Remy Morel, his sassy counterpart, are determined to find the killer. There are three suspects, all prominent women in New Orleans society. The sinner is Blaze Barbeau, a real estate magnate with a checkered past. The saint is Lucinda Boyd, who lost her family business to the victim. And the serpent is a spooky voodoo queen named Belladonna Dede.

The Coffee Pot Book Club


Highly Recommended

Read the full review HERE!

Pick up your copy of
Sinner, Saint or Serpent

John Anthony Miller

John Anthony Miller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a father of English ancestry and a second-generation Italian mother. Motivated by a life-long love of travel and history, he normally sets his novels in exotic locations during eras of global conflict. Characters must cope and combat, overcoming their own weaknesses as well as the external influences spawned by tumultuous times. He’s the author of the historical thrillers, To Parts Unknown, In Satan’s Shadow, When Darkness Comes, All the King's Soldiers, and For Those Who Dare, as well as the historical mystery, Honour the Dead. His latest novel, Sinner, Saint or Serpent, is a jazz age murder mystery set in New Orleans. He lives in southern New Jersey with his family.

Connect with John: Website • Facebook • Twitter.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Welcome to Day #3 of the blog tour for The Last King #BlogTour #CoffeePotBookClub #TheLastKing @coloursofunison

The Last King: England: The First Viking Age

(The Ninth Century Book 1)

By M J Porter

They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough.

Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.

Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.

To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.


Today we are stopping over at The Writing Desk for a fabulous Author Interview.

Click HERE!

Check out Anselle Frère's fabulous book — Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel #HistoricalFiction @Laclosprequel

Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel

By Anselle Frère


How did the Marquise & Valmont first meet?

What made their love so dangerous?

The answers lie in this discovered manuscript –

--Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel

Lost for 250 years, here are the very first letters which passed between the young Marquise-to-be and the young Vicomte de Valmont. These reveal the beginnings of their dangerous attraction, their posturing, their powerplay.

Here also are the letters of their friends, foes and family: characters who fight to assert control over the young Marquise-to-be and Valmont.

The key to Sophie, the Marquise-to-be lies here: why she disdains to live by the rules of society of the ‘ancien regime’, why she throws off the constraints placed upon her sex, why she seeks control over the young male libertines who surround her –

--including the Vicomte de Valmont.

As her private letters unfurl, it becomes clear that not all predators are men:

---‘[I was] born to avenge my sex and to dominate yours’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Letter 81.


Praise for Dangerous Liaisons:The 



“Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel (Volume I) is wonderfully accomplished. Stylistically it's elegant, diverse and rich…this is the bottom line - it's a really good story…”

John Taylor – BBC Radio 4 producer of multiple adaptations including Proust and C.S. Lewis



Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel

(Volume 1)


A novel presented in the form of a collection of correspondence.


1. A NOBLEMAN to the CHEVALIER D’IVRY (sent from PARIS, 9 AUGUST 1776)


In the off-season, a young man’s thoughts may turn to the seduction of another man’s wife. The wife might choose to fall prey to this seduction - the notion of ‘choice’ here being a treacherous one. It is this sort of treachery which brings to mind the great Rousseau who writes that ‘women are strong enough not to succumb unless they want to’…and this is a theme which now we must explore.

Monsieur, I put you on notice that for these two months past, your wife has chosen to take up a passionate liaison with me. It was not difficult to persuade her to break the sacred bonds of her marriage to you. Had I asked it of her, she would have stained all her future, reputation and society to be kept under my protection indefinitely. Never did her conscience cause her a moment’s hesitation and this, I was surprised to find, had its own curious charm.

There lies a reason behind my seduction of the Chevalière, your Hélène, but it does not yet suit my stratagem to disclose it. Every action leads to a series of events and there is one event, consequent to Hélène’s fall, which I hope to bring into effect. Unfortunately for you this means that your wife’s transgression must be made public.

I cannot yet provide you with my name but, after your wife’s faithlessness becomes generally known and after the result which I desire has occurred, I will uncloak my identity. You may then demand satisfaction from me with a weapon of your choosing, in the usual manner, et cetera, et cetera.

May I save you the trouble of pressing your Hélène for my name. She met me out of my région, when I was travelling without the display of liveried retinue and heraldry. Nevertheless, as I wish you to break with her, it is important that you believe she has been unfaithful to you. For this you will need some proofs: she has a tiny, natural, beauty spot, almost perfectly in the shape of a heart, at the top, inner curve of her thigh; there is a little scar underlying the hairline at the nape of her neck. I doubt, from what she tells me of your style of love-making, that you could have discovered either of these. Her face has a wistful beauty, her eyes dark, flecked with hazel.

Further proof, enclosed, is a collection of letters addressed to me (or should I say, addressed to the person she thought me to be), written in your wife’s own distinctive hand.

I have led Hélène to believe I will be at the East Gate of the Bois de Boulogne at dawn tomorrow to rendezvous with her. I shall not be there, but you may choose to take my place. She will have a token of our love in her possession: a strand of her hair and my hair which she has commissioned to be plaited together and captured in a locket of gold and glass, surmounted with our entwined initials, (the initials she imagines I have). The goldsmith was paid from your account; I thank you.

In case your pride demands that you require discretion rather than dishonour in this matter, I have kept back a few of Hélѐne’s letters to me, ones which give ample proof of her identity. These I will circulate publicly within the next se’ennight, in order that you have no option but to fall in with my plan and break with her.

As the author of your misfortune, I have no doubt you would like to avenge your outraged honour. I would suggest, however, that rarely can it be worth two men of stature risking blood over a woman, certainly not to the death anyway.

I suggest you make yourself easy over this event. In my role as libertine, I am captivating. As another author of seduction has penned:

‘when I have busied myself to seek how the woman could escape, I have never seen the possibility’ *1

And this is how it is with me. 

Notwithstanding your sense of outrage, please be generous towards Hélѐne as you break with her. I would not normally plead for this, however, she will be dismayed by my betrayal, and everything now that will ensue.

In this era of ennui, Hélène’s artless surrender touched my soul. She has the tenderest heart in the world. Had you given her a modicum of attention, Sir, never would she have strayed.

À bientôt, a Nobleman.




Dearest Father, I beg that you allow me to return home. I have fled my marriage, and no one dares to offer me shelter. Because I remain the property of my husband, the religious houses are closed to me.

Married life was not as I imagined it would be and I fear I did not submit as I ought to the condition of wife. I do not seek to excuse my own transgressions but my trials in marriage were grievous.

Do not imagine that you will reconcile the Chevalier D’Ivry to me. Do not hope that the cooling effect of separation will soften my idea of him. There is no condition for harmony that can be brokered for our future life.

I entreat you, with all urgency, to permit me to return to home. I am in distress, but my pride does not allow me to write of it.

Please recommend me to the prayers of my mother. I am sure she misses her eldest daughter, her Hélѐne. Recommend me to the prayers of my darling sisters: my Sophie, my Jeanette. I wish to be home in time to be with Jeanette to attend to her in childbirth.

May I ask that you do not pass this letter to my brother, Didier.


3. JEANETTE the MARQUISE DE MERTEUIL to M. LEFЀVRE (sent from the CHÂTEAU DE **** **** 11th AUGUST 1776)


Dearest Father, I beg that you allow me to return home for these final, few days of awaiting the birth of my child. I wish to be at home so that my mother and my two sisters may be with me during this last stage of my confinement. I do not feel equal to face the task alone and I do not feel safe shut away in the château of my husband. I have a great sense of foreboding. Sometimes I feel that I am only the first Marquise. The Marquis insists he will hire a surgeon, but I remember the precept of Diderot:

the best doctor is the one you run to and cannot find’.

I beg of you, my father, please request permission of my husband that I may leave his house and return home to you and my mother. Be so good as to recommend me to the prayers of my mother; I have need of them. I believe she wishes to help her little Jeanette. Please also recommend me to the prayers of my sweet sisters, Hélѐne and Sophie.

I implore you not to pass this letter to my brother, Didier, for the forming of your response.


4. M. LEFЀVRE to DIDIER LEFЀVRE (hand delivered within the LEFÈVRE ESTATE near ROUEN, 13 AUGUST 1776)


Didier, your sisters have wrote; I enclose their letters. I educated they girls so that them do raise my consequence in this région, not obliterate it! Now, read their missives and see how them do turn this educating about! Do ye see how them do fling their learning at me with their philosophisers and their quotations? Do ye see how assuredly them do speak their demands, how casually them do speak of leaving their noble husbands? ‘Tis clear to me that them have had some petty quarrel with their young noblemen and now them do wish to fly off in a fit of bad humour. But your sisters do rate theyselves too high; them do forget their lowly provenance. T’was my hard-won coinage what made their marriages and not their allurements!

Ye, my boy, must reply to they. My writing be not what it ought and them must not be allowed to feel their superiority.

Write that them may not come home. Remind they that them may not make a fool of me. And for goodness sake quote some philosophiser or other!




My sisters, I have spoken to our father; a single letter, copied, will serve for you both.

Hélѐne, Jeanette (you see I rob you of your married titles), how is it that you both wish to desert your noble husbands, situated as you are among all the luxuries and the trappings of their high estate? Every need you have surely is fulfilled a thousand-fold. Every whim you have surely is within your compass. Your father and I can only imagine that you have quarrelled with your young men and therefore that you have forgot the precept of Rousseau when he writes that women ‘must receive the decisions of fathers and husbands like that of the church’.

The function of daughters is to make alliances. Daughters exist to promote the honour of the family name. Once married, daughters serve as the secure vessel through which land and money may pass safely along with the next generation.

How may these conditions be upheld if you leave the protection of your spouses and careen about the countryside in carriages, with your ringlets, your ribands and your reputation flying in the wind?

We do not facilitate you to make fools of yourselves and ourselves. I copy this letter and your letters, to your husbands.




I oblige you, my friend, to place yourself as my spy in the Lefèvre home. I need to know the effect of my actions upon that family. I have just caused the oldest daughter (Hélѐne, I know how bad you are at remembering the names of girls), to be thrown out of her marriage and onto the mercy of her father…


Pick up your copy of

Dangerous Liaisons: The Prequel

Amazon UKAmazon US

Anselle Frère

Anselle Frère gained an honours degree at a UK Russell Group University, where she specialized in 18th century literature. Subsequently, Anselle won a place on a two-year BBC graduate production training scheme. Anselle then became a script editor in the BBC drama department, working on iconic serials and films with award winning producers and writers. Anselle was awarded the BBC Paul Fox prize for her work.