Sunday, 19 August 2018

#reviews 16-21 of the #Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge

This is a large reviews catch-up since I seem to have been remiss in noting down my Reading Challenge on Goodreads books.

The following occur in reverse order from my reading- purely because it's the easiest way to catch up!

Kindred Spirits Westminster Abbey by Jennifer Wilson 5 stars

I found myself drifting down the aisles of Westminster Abbey in the wake of some of the important ghostly personages who appear in this third book, as though, I too, was listening in - yet not one of the living Abbey visitors. And…I got some virtual exercise since there are plenty of notable characters to follow! The refreshing originality of the series continues where we glean snatches of how the ghosts interact with each other, many of them after centuries of benignly haunting the area. There was one ghostly character new to me, so it was a lovely digression to find out about him, and that’s as much as I will divulge since I always avoid spoilers! 

Jane : A retelling by Lark Watson 4 stars

I’ve read a few retellings lately and most have been fairly engrossing. The varying strands of the original tale are well incorporated into contemporary life in this one. An enjoyable read. 

The Reluctant Duchess by Francine Howarth 4 stars
I enjoyed the author’s portrayal of this Regency hero who is just a little bit different from what we expect of the typical Regency male. Liliana seems a bit slow off the mark at first, but she’s young with plenty of time for her feelings and, indeed, her intentions to mature. An entertaining read.

A Perfect Bride by Ginny Sterling 4 stars
 This was a gently developing romance set in extremely turbulent times. The plight of the native population during their re-settlement (not always the word used) to another state was a harrowing process though I think the author portrayed some of those horrors that must have been a daily, and very deadly, reality. The lines blur between being the enemy and a tentative friend. I’m sure it wasn’t a simple thing to avoid carrying out the harshest of orders for the soldiers involved, and neither was it easy to be accepted by the displaced tribes as being helpful and genuinely sympathetic.

The Silence by Katharine Johnson 5 stars

I enjoyed this story immensely. It was so easy to immerse myself in the Tuscan landscape. The Villa Leonida had many surprises and the author reveals them in a highly dramatic way. Living in the Villa was definitely not boring, though I’m not convinced that I’d be making real friends with many of the excellently portrayed characters. I think that kind of quiet life in the Tuscan countryside isn’t quite to everyone’s taste and wellbeing.

The Roman Conquest of Britannia: The History and Legacy of Roman Britain from Julius Caesar to Hadrian
By Charles River editors 4 stars
This was a fairly concise summary of the early history of the Ancient Romans in Britain. If you know very little of the invasions of the Romans, and only want a broad overview, then you’ll find this a readable and informative book, without too much fine detail. I've now read so many books on Roman invasions of Britannia so for me this was a recap, though there were a couple of instances where I learned something not read before.

Since I've read 23 books in my challenge of reading 50 by the end of 2018, it means I've missed adding a couple on here. 

Happy Reading. 


Friday, 17 August 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Margaret Skea

Series image- Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday blog series continues...
where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. The series continues with excellent contributions which I'm thoroughly enjoying, taking us to various parts of the globe and today, we're back to Scotland.  

For this entry, I'm delighted to welcome Margaret Skeaa writer I met at the end of last year for the first time. Margaret's novel writing is excellent, well-recommended and I'm looking forward to reading her latest book in the series. In addition to the usual never ending task list for launching and promoting a new novel, Margaret's also an organiser for this year's Historical Novel Society Conference that's being held in Cumbernauld near Glasgow, Scotland. The conference kicks off one week from now, so Margaret's day is full of conference business and I really appreciate her taking the time to write her excellent blog post for today. 
Margaret Skea

Margaret's chosen era for writing is a turbulent one and the ongoings of the families involved were complex and pretty brutal, but I'll let her enlighten us. Margaret, please give us the background to your novels...

The Ayrshire Vendetta.

‘Blood feud was the custom of the times.’ So wrote William Robertson in Ayrshire. Its History (1908) Feuding between Scottish clans wasn’t a new phenomenon, nor was it confined to Ayrshire. There are many well-documented, long-standing feuds, from the Scotts and Kerrs in the Borders, to the Campbells and MacDonalds in the west and the Gordons and Stewarts in the Highlands. However the Ayrshire Vendetta, is a classic example; the Cunninghame and Montgomerie families dubbed the ‘Montagues and Capulets’ of Ayrshire.

So why was violence the first resort for dealing with dispute in Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries?

James IV of Scotland - Wikimedia Commons
Foremost was the weakness of the Crown.  Of the seven Scottish monarchs of this period only one (James IV, aged 15) was able to rule in his own right from accession. Of the others, three were infants (James V, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI) two under ten (James II and III), and one (James I) was captured at twelve, still uncrowned, and detained in England for eighteen years. The years of successive minorities were characterized by a nobility jostling for precedence and for control of the monarchy, allied to a general acceptance of the rule of ‘might’ regardless of ‘right’.

On his accession in 1488 James IV set out to establish stable government at local level, appointing representatives in each district to dispense justice - a laudable aim, marred in Ayrshire by an error of judgement when he passed control of the bailiwick of Cunninghame to Hugh, Lord Montgomery, thus sparking the 150 + year feud.

The years that followed were punctuated by repeated acts of brutality and murder, separated by periods of temporary quiet. In 1505, Cunninghame of Craigens was attacked and wounded by the Master of Montgomery; and in 1507 the Cunninghames retaliated, attacking the newly created Montgomery Earl of Eglinton, with lives lost on both sides.

Meanwhile the issue of the bailiwick became the subject of arbitration, the decision in favour of Eglinton in 1509 failing to satisfy the Earl of Glencairn, head of the Cunninghames, the antagonism between the two families continuing.

Sword of James IV - Public Domain 
However, as is so often the case when a country is threatened by an external enemy, private grievances are set aside. So it was in the years before Flodden, clans uniting in the face of the English threat. The Scottish losses, whether one accepts the lower estimate of 5,000 or the higher of 10,000, decimated the nobility and left the country once again with an infant king.

Both Eglinton and Glencairn were on the same side in the unsuccessful conspiracy to depose the Duke of Albany, Regent for James V, but even that failed to diminish the ill-feeling between the two families.  Just four years later, in 1517, hostilities flared again with the wounding of John, Master of Montgomerie and the killing of his followers.

Though Albany extracted an agreement from both factions to lay aside their quarrels, it served only to delay revenge, Cunninghame of Auchenharvie and of Waterston becoming the next victims. 

The infant Mary, Queen of Scotland
These tit-for-tat murders led to one of the most significant episodes in the vendetta, when in 1528 a large force of Cunninghames rode through Montgomery territory, causing wholesale destruction: decimating crops, stealing and killing stock and burning the dwellings, leaving the tenantry penniless and homeless. The raids culminated in the burning of Eglinton Castle itself, destroying all the contents, including tapestries, furniture, paintings, armaments and most important of all, family records going back as far as the Norman Conquest, as well as their Charter to the Montgomery lands. This time the Montgomery earl, perhaps tired of violence, or feeling his increasing age, accepted a cash settlement as compensation, and for a period of almost sixty years there are no records of atrocities, though whether as a result of external pressures or a genuine attempt at peace is hard to gauge. 

The external pressures were certainly significant - war with England, the Scottish defeat at Solway Moss and the subsequent death of James V; resulting in the accession of 6-day old Mary and a new cycle of government by regency. Then came the ‘Rough wooing’ as Henry VIII tried to force a betrothal between his son Edward and Mary, the English incursion into southern Scotland, and two battles: Ancrum Moor, where the Scots were victorious, and Pinkie Cleugh where the honours went to England, precipitating the smuggling of the young Queen Mary to safety in France.

But it seems that old enmities are hard to stifle and when the country was once again secure, with James VI on the throne and hopeful of inheriting the English crown, the feud erupted once more, with the massacre at Annock in 1586. This river may look peaceful now, but in April 1586 it ran with blood.
River Annock-Courtesy of Margaret Skea 
Most sources agree on the main facts: a small group of Montgomeries stopped at Langshaw en route to the court at Stirling, the Cunninghames, having been alerted to their presence, lying in wait at the ford to ambush them. Though the numbers killed appear to have been small, the aftermath was brutal and wide-ranging, as Robertson put it ‘All the country ran to arms, either on one side or the other, so that for some time there was a scene of bloodshed and of murder in the West that had never been known before.’ One person’s fate seems particularly poignant: Lady Margaret of Langshaw, a Cunninghame by birth, but married to a Montgomery, was held responsible for the ambush and forced to remain in hiding for many years - a heavy price to pay for a family name.

This massacre was the catalyst for my first novel Turn of the Tide and the Cunninghame / Montgomerie feud runs through the whole series, which follows the fortunes of a fictional family trapped at its centre.

James VI, determined to outlaw blood feud, brought forward laws restricting the carrying of firearms, and in an amusing gesture, commanded opposing lords to process hand in hand up the High Street in Edinburgh as a symbol of the new, peaceful order. It wasn’t quite the end of the Ayrshire Vendetta though, for in 1606, while Parliament was in session, a battle of three hours duration was waged on the streets of Perth.

But in contrast to Shakespeare’s ‘Montagues’ and ‘Capulets’, the marriage of William, 9th Earl of Glencairn to Margaret Montgomery, daughter of the 6th Earl of Eglinton, did finally seal the peace in 1661.

And in an interesting postscript - the Lord Lyon recognized a new chief for Clan Cunninghame in 2013. His name? Sir John Christopher Foggo Montgomery Cunninghame.

Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the 'Troubles', but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. You can find more details, including why chocolate is vital to her creative process, on her website 

 Click HERE to go to Margaret's Amazon author page

Margaret's latest novel, Book 3 in The Munro Scottish Saga is available from Amazon HERE  

Thank you for coming today and making the history of Ayrshire -  and beyond -  much easier to understand, Margaret. 

I confess that when I was a brand new primary teacher in a Central Region school named Westquarter, my headteacher Charles Stewart (honestly that was his name) really set me a huge challenge. 

I had a Primary 6 class of almost 40 pupils and he told me he intended to 'drop in' every week to listen to me delivering a Scottish history lesson. He was a man ahead of his time, in many ways, and it was only later I truly appreciated his desire to ensure the kids at his school learned something of their heritage. At that time (1975), the history books available taught mainly 'British History' which wasn't written from a Scottish perspective, and it was only with his guidance that I had some material that was a little more attuned to the Scottish slant. I loved teaching those lessons and appreciated his constant interruptions because they were an excellent learning curve for me! 

Sadly, I have poor recall of the eras of James IV, V and VI, and tend to have jumbled facts churning around on the tip of my tongue.  Your excellent post has helped put some of them back into place, Margaret - again many thanks!  


Thursday, 16 August 2018

Why reviews boost the spirits!

Thursday Greetings to you.

My morning was considerately brightened when I popped onto my Goodreads page. I don't check the site regularly, but I do use it when I have a review to post for a book that I've recently read.  Last week, I added a batch of reviews of books I'd read during the precious weeks, but didn't have time to see if any had been added for my own novels.

This morning I checked, mainly because The Beltane choice has been on a special FREE promotion on Amazon from last Saturday to Tuesday 14th, and is at a special price of 99p for today. To date, reviews following a FREE promotion have never yet come to me but I live in hope.

To my surprise I found a lovely 5 * review for Monogamy Twist. It's only a couple of sentences but they are so welcome because that reader cared to spend a few moments writing them. 

My thanks to the reviewer.

Here's what she had to say: 

"A wonderful story packed with intrigue and romantic tension. I was immediately drawn to the mystery surrounding the house and its tangled secrets and enjoyed the way they were revealed."

It reminds me that I finished reading a novel a couple of days ago, and need to go off now to write and post my appreciation in a review on Goodreads and Amazon for it! It also adds another book to my Reading Challenge for 2018 which I'm very slightly behind with.