Saturday, 19 April 2014

I love my oats!

O is for Oats

(and I love O.J too! )

As I write this post, I’m spooning my porridge as I go. I’ve always been a lover of oatmeal in almost all forms. I love the most basic of porridges- made with simply ground oats, water and with salt added during the cooking process. I also love the more sophisticated ones with rich cream and fruit, and even Glayva added!

If a rougher type of oatmeal was used, my mum popped a portion into a pot with water and soaked it overnight. When it came to the cooking process, around twenty minutes of simmering at ‘a plop’, she added a little salt. Only a tiny touch of milk might be added before eating, and that was mainly to cool it down rather than to flavour. Sometimes it was my dad who did the preparation of the porridge if he fancied having some for breakfast the next morning.

decadent with milk and jam!
I still like my porridge cooked with water and salt. I also loved the cold remains if too much porridge was cooked. Thick porridge was the common cook, so when any totally cold remains were left in the pot there would be a shiny skin to the slab of cold porridge when it was scooped out. Not many people liked that format, but I loved it!

I could easily see the old tale working well in the crofts around Scotland in earlier times. The story goes like this…

Sometimes it was difficult to keep the oatmeal fresh if the storage place was damp and cold, the results being fusty oats or meal that was totally inedible. A method of getting around that, and to ensure the family didn't starve, was to have a very large pot cooked at the beginning of a week. It was allowed to cool and then laid into a kist (a wooden chest) or into the drawer of a chest of drawers. Each morning the woman of the house cut out a slab of porridge and reheated it for that morning’s meal, leaving the remainder for the rest of the week. I can see that working well when only water is used during the cooking process, though not so well if milk is used.

It's also interesting to note that as well as porridge that bottom drawer was often used for the 'bairn'. Now it would have made a nice wee cot for a young baby ...but with porridge in it as well??? The mind boggles.  Maybe not. 

Today, I still eat porridge every other day but I admit to being lazy sometimes. I mostly use the microwave to cook it- sometimes from the convenience packaging that’s now available for oatmeal with different flavourings (syrup, blueberries, honey…)which I never would have used years ago even if they had been available. Still, every now and then, I get a hankering for just ordinary normal porridge and simmer it on the burner. 

I also use rolled oats as a covering for fish, sometimes for chicken fillets, or for potatoes when making croquettes or similar balled potatoes.

Oats are higher in protein than is perhaps thought by many people and they give slow release energy. I personally can feel the difference on days when I have porridge as compared to other cereals (often wheat based). By mid- morning I feel I need to snack if I’ve had something like ‘cornflakes’, or even some muesli, but with porridge oats I last much longer.
In my Celtic Fervour Series of novels, my warriors of Garrigill eat porridge as part of their staple diet. In books 2 & 3 my Roman soldiers have their frumentum (my F is for Frumentum post for this challenge) which in the far north may have been in the form of oats since that was more commonly grown in northern Britannia. Wheat crops don’t naturally grow very well in cold rainy climates with short seasons. If the climate of AD 71 northern Britannia was anything like it is now in Scotland, then growing many types of wheat would have been a challenge. It is known that some forms of emmer wheat were grown, but if oats and barley grew more readily then I feel confident in suggesting there would have been more supplies of the latter two for the Roman Empire to purloin as their ‘dues’ from the Celtic tribes of the north.  

Oats were grown to feed the horses as well as people so that was another reason for producing oat crops. I'm sure the Roman army, who had a need to feed a lot of animals- horses and mules- would have been pleased to acquire the oat crops from the Celtic farmers of northern Britannia who were forcibly subsumed into the Roman Empire.  

Do you love your oats? 

Also from:


Friday, 18 April 2014

N is for Native Tribes of Britannia

N is for Native Tribes of Britannia

For my letter M in this series of A to Z posts, I used M for Maps. This post is my N for Native Tribes, some of whom ended up on my maps for Books 2 & 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series After Whorl: Bran Reborn and After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks.

When I decided to make the maps, I had to come to terms with the fact that although I was using the descriptor for a Celtic tribe, the name I was using was a Latin one. That seems a bit’ off’ but  the fact remains that since the Celtic tribes of Britannia left us with no written evidence, we have to rely on the few Roman references left by men like Ptolemy and Tacitus.

Which tribes feature in my Celtic Fervour Series? The main ones are my Garrigill warriors- Brigantes - men of the area we now call northern England. Brigante refers to 'star',  so my warriors are of the 'star' tribe.

The Brigantes were a federation of smaller tribes who were named for the goddess Bridgid/ Brigantia. 

Some historians might put up a very credible argument that the Brigantes were the most powerful tribal unit around the time before AD 70 because it seems that, for almost two decades, the Brigantian queen Cartimandua had very good dealings with Rome. After the invasion of Claudian Roman troops in southern Britain things got very nasty for many Celtic tribes when they resisted the supreme forces of Rome. From accounts noted, Cartimandua of the north seems to have come to some ‘amicable’ terms with Rome which left her the ruler of a ‘client kingdom’. As ruler of the Brigantes this meant Cartimandua found ways to ensure her dues were paid to Rome, but that her people were largely unoccupied for many years after AD 43. 

It wasn’t till the unrest of the AD 60s that things went wrong for Cartimandua and her liaison with the Roman Empire. When her ex-husband, Venutius, became a thorn in her paw and encouraged many of her subjects to rise up against her, and her policies with Rome, the tide turned against Cartimandua. It also meant that the relative peace and stability of the north was no longer the case.

I found reading about that particular tribal unrest quite fascinating many years ago, so enthralling that I decided to make my warriors come from a Brigante tribe, and I decided that my series of novels would start just after the fall of Cartimandua. Though there must have been many names for smaller local tribal groups, I felt it might be too complex to use one of those in my first historical romantic adventure. I didn’t know enough local names, and didn’t want to invent them, so instead I chose to use the more universal term of Brigante for my warriors. 

In general, the Brigantes of the north were an agrarian, pastoral people who only took up arms against local tribes for petty infringements to boundaries but were otherwise focused on getting on with their lives within their tribal strongholds and environs. When faced with the threat of Roman advance, in huge numbers, on their precious soil, that was something quite different.

I wanted to write about tribespeople who faced such a devastating threat to their livelihood.

However, being Scottish, I couldn’t resist including something about a southern Scottish tribe who bordered on Brigante soil. What I read of the Votadini made me wonder about their loyalties since something I read seemed to raise a red flag. I now have no idea what the source was but there was a hint that just maybe the Votadini had also made some sort of ‘client kingdom’ status with Rome and who perhaps had not declared this to any of their neighbours.

 -  image from Wikimedia Commons. Pat of the earthworks of a Selgovae iron age hill fort- Castle O'er. 

Instead, my heroine of Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series, The Beltane Choice, is of the Selgovae tribe. The Selgovae were named 'hunters'. Also a border neighbour of the Brigantes, the Selgovae covered a large tract of land. Nara of the Selgovae is a feisty yet vulnerable woman who finds herself caught up in a despicable situation which, thankfully, she finds a way out of. In The Beltane Choice she doesn't come from Castle O'er but I named my Selgovae hillfort Tarras, simply because I liked the name and there is a small place named that on the appropriate current Ordinance Survey Map of the area. I'd love to say more about this tribal group who covered a large tract of land but sadly little evidence is known about them save that like most Celtic peoples of northern Britannia, they were mostly farming peoples who only took up arms when they really needed to defend their property or lands.

It's not known exactly where the Selgovae and Novantae towns were which Ptolemy refers to but this map has an educated guess.


It was encountering maps like the one above, attributed to the historian William Roy in 1793, which made me think about where to have my tribune- Gaius Livanus Valerius - stop off for a short while on the route I've chosen for the Agricolan forces to take on their trek northwards. Gaius becomes responsible for the supply chain of Roman goods coming from the south and spends a little time at the fort of Easg (perhaps not far from Eildon), the fort located on the northwards route laid down by the advance Agricolan forces. Gaius wants to be marching northwards with Agricola but his task is to ensure those forward troops want for nothing as they forge their way into unknown and potentially hostile territory in the north.

Interestingly, I found a reference to the fact that Ptolemy noted that Brigantes were in Ireland, the inference being that Brigantes tribespeople had arrived there having fled the Roman occupation of their land. I used that premise in Book 3 of my series, though the fleeing Garrigill Brigantes end up at Beinn Na Ciche, the site of my battle with Agricola. (This is my version of the battle Tacitus refers to against Calgacus, the Celtic Caledonian leader which I have sited in present day Aberdeenshire)

Look out for some other Celtic tribes in my remaining A to Z posts! (T is for Taexali, and maybe I'll find enough to write about the V for Votadini!)

all books available in print and ebook formats, also from Smashwords, B &N,,

The Beltane Choice   Amazon UK

After Whorl: Bran Reborn

After Whorl: Donning Double cloaks
YouTube trailers for all books:


Thursday, 17 April 2014

M is for Maps

M is for Maps

Tribes mentioned in Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn
 A comment made by a reviewer of The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series, was to the effect that she would have found a map of the area very useful for reference as she read the novel. It was a valid point to make and one which I was very happy to accommodate since it hadn’t occurred to me to create one as I wrote the book. 

Thinking it too late for Book 1 of the series, I set to and made maps for Books 2 and 3 since there were more tribes involved, and much more geographical area covered. 

The person who commented about The Beltane Choice made the point that there were a great many characters in the novel (Book 1) who move around northern Britannia. Some are moving north in retribution for deadly raids by Celtic enemies, and others are moving in all directions as they seek to make alliances with each other, to strengthen their chances when the inevitable battles with the Roman Empire occur. 

When compared with Books 2 and 3 of the series, the geography involved in Book 1 is actually quite centralised around the border area between modern day Scotland and England.

Places named in Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn
For those familiar with Roman Britain, it may have been less of a task to follow and imagine the geography involved. For those new to the era of AD 71 and unfamiliar with the geography of Britain today, the task was clearly a bit daunting for the reader. I could see I had unintentionally created some confusion. When I thought about her comments it made me realise that in addition to a map of place names, it might also be useful to see where the Celtic tribal boundaries might be.

Another commenter, who thoroughly enjoyed Book 1 The Beltane Choice, and who wrote a fantastic 5* review, believed the action in the territory of the Selgovae to be in modern day northern Scotland of the very far north (Caithness) - though it is quite the opposite, in that the action takes place on the Scottish southern and not on the northern border.

Tribes mentioned in Book 3 After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks
Too late to add a map to the first edition, I thought about adding one in the future, in a second edition since the point was a valid one. That hasn't yet happened, but I don't rule it out.

However, what did happen was that I got engrossed in writing books 2 and 3 of the series and made maps for those books.

It was quite a challenge, with no specialised software to use, but I managed to produce a map for the tribes mentioned in each of Books 2 and 3. I also made a map of places mentioned - some of which are historical places, and some invented by me for the Celtic Fervour Series. 

Fitting in such a lot of detail on the places names for Book 3 was a wonderful task of patience and endurance, but I felt much happier having produced something as a reference for my future readers. 

Places mentioned in Book 3 After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks
There are a lot of places mentioned in Book 3, but it is a tale of a long and winding journey made by Brennus of Garrigill to find the one Celtic leader who will take on the mantle of leadership for the great battle against the Roman Empire's armies at Beinn Na Ciche. If you look closely at the map on the right, you can see just how far my characters travel. In AD 73-84, it was a slow process by horse or on foot and over many seasons.

I haven’t yet had feedback about the usefulness of the maps but I do hope they have helped. It’s difficult to produce anything large for the ebook version but I, again, hope that they can be interpreted well enough to see the detail.

If you’ve read the books, please let me know your thoughts.