Saturday 30 May 2015

Forever Mine by Zanna Mackenzie

Happy Saturday to you! 

I've got my friend Zanna Mackenzie visiting today to share information about her latest book in the Amber Reed Mystery series. I've read the others, really enjoyed the quick quirky reads and I'm looking forward to reading this new one, too-it's on my kindle and waiting! 

 I love the taglines for her stories in this series:
 “Romantic comedy meets celebrity cozy mystery." and her covers are fantastic.
Forever Mine
Amber Reed Mystery Book Three
By Zanna Mackenzie
When celebrities need a crime solving quickly and discreetly they call in the experts – the CCIA, otherwise known as the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency…

Stalkers, shootings and sexy special agents.
All part of being famous, right?
Well, they are for Oscar-winning actress Amelia Kingston when she starts getting deeply disturbing and threatening notes left by a stalker – in her bedroom!
When her boyfriend Ty is shot she calls in the CCIA. The agency sends its newest recruit Amber and her sexy special agent partner Charlie undercover to Amelia’s luxury mountain chalet to track down the person terrorising her.
But circumstances force the agency to pull Charlie off the case, meaning Amber has a new crime fighting partner to try and catch the stalker with – and he’s trouble with a capital T!  He throws Amber’s life into chaos, making her question herself and her abilities as well as her relationship with Charlie.
When events in Los Angeles involving Charlie are splashed across newspapers around the globe Amber’s world comes crashing down.
But before she can even attempt to sort herself out she has to team up with her rogue co-worker and solve this case. Can the two of them manage to pull together and stop the stalker before anyone else gets shot?
Check out this new cozy mystery series with oodles of fun, romance and smart, sassy special agents from the CCIA.

Forever Mine was released on May 28th and is available at the special price of just 99p/99c!

Universal buy link / pre-order link for Forever Mine:

Zanna's sharing an excerpt with us...

 “Who’d want to be famous?”
Charlie and I are hovering in the airport’s baggage reclaim area, hoping our luggage has managed to find its way to France too. 
“Before I got this job I thought being a star was all glamourous living, oodles of money in the bank and being worshipped by all your adoring fans.”
The baggage carousel emits several loud clunks closely followed by a high pitched screeching noise before slowly starting up.
 “But now,” I continue, lowering my voice, “I know being famous makes you a target for all the stalkers, murderers and crazies out there. One minute Amelia Kingston is receiving her Oscar for best actress in the blockbuster movie Forever Mine. The next she’s well, you know....”
Beside me Charlie nods and grabs his battered holdall from the baggage carousel. Then we have to wait for what seems like an eternity before my bright purple suitcase puts in an appearance too.
“Still not got the hang of this travelling light business have you?” he says hauling my own case from the conveyor belt.
“We’re staying in a luxury mountain chalet in the French Alps. Who knows what outfits I might need? I can’t pack light for this,” I retort whilst feeling a tad guilty about just how much I have crammed into my case. I had to sit on it to force the lid closed.
He shakes his head. “We’re working, Amber.”
“Yes, but we’re working undercover and the other guests will be glam celebrities wearing designer outfits so I’ll need to have some half-decent clothes with me. I can’t just turn up for dinner every night in jeans and a sweater.”
“Why not? I am,” he replies as we head for the exit, Charlie tugging my suitcase behind him.
Outside the wind is bitingly cold and almost blows me off my feet as we exit the airport terminal and head for the car hire offices. We left behind a warm spring day in the UK but here it feels more like February than May. I pull on a jacket.
See, that’s another reason why I needed to pack quite so much. The weather in the mountains is notoriously fickle. A girl needs to be prepared for sun, snow and rain where we’re going.
This is my second case as a support officer for the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency (otherwise known as the CCIA) and I’m still nervous about the whole catch-a-killer side of my work. OK, it’s mainly for the fully trained CCIA agents to do that side of the job whilst I provide, as my job title suggests, support on the case.
I do have a tendency to get a little bit carried away sometimes though and find myself in, shall we say, tricky circumstances. Like on my first case when I ended up in a cave on a deserted beach with a murderer who had a knife at my throat.
Anyway, technically, it’s the agents who are the guys with the special ‘clearance’ to do all sorts of things (sometimes against the law) to solve a case and get murderers put behind bars. Charlie even carries a gun. Which, to be honest, freaks me out just a little.

Zanna Mackenzie lives on the Derbyshire/Leicestershire border in the UK with her husband, 4 dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read.
Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!

Find out more about Zanna on her blog, on Twitter via @ZannaMacKenzie or on Facebook at


Friday 29 May 2015

Late first century weapons-Celt and Roman

Some Celtic and Roman weapons of the late first century

I've written about weapons in previous posts during the last few years, and parts of this article may appear to be a repetition, but what follows are examples of what some of my characters in The Beltane Choice may have been wielding. 

The Beltane Choice and the other books in my Celtic Fervour Series are set around AD 71 – 84 Britannia. The following information I found useful for this era.

Celtic Weaponry
When facing the shining array of Roman equipment, what would the typical Celt have had to fight with? Would he have looked like this warrior?

Whether clad or unclad, as some Roman historians would have us believe, the weapons carried would have varied depending on the actual location in Britannia, and the warrior's status. The completely naked Celt is less likely in northern Britain, if the weather was fairly similar to that of today. A Celtic warrior may have worn woollen braccae though he may have forgone a tunic and cloak since either, or both, might hamper the wielding of weapons. If, as documented by Roman historians, some Celts painted themselves with woad or some form of bluish dye, then it makes sense to show off those patterns on bare torsos.

Since evidence of the wearing of helmets in northern Britain is scarce and Roman and Greek recorded writings state it wasn’t common, the only headgear worn might have been for ceremonial reasons- perhaps a pre-battle statement by whoever was leading the charge.

Swords were likely to have been carried by only some of the higher echelons of the tribe, since to own a sword would be to possess a valuable item. The typical sword of the era was likely to have been of the longer variety, perhaps some as long as 27 inches, probably double sided and with a hilt generally made from bone, horn or wood.

Wikimedia Commons - Museum of Scotland
Since the use of the small two-wheeled chariot was still a common feature, swords had become longer during the late Iron Age to accommodate the longer stretch to reach an opponent from the chariot. These extremely sharp weapons were carried in a scabbard made from two hinged iron plates hinged which was hung around the waist suspended from a belt of iron links.

Fashioning these swords was a fine skill, the development of a form of steel enhancing the overall capability of the sword wielder as the impact on the enemy was greater and the tougher metal was capable of cutting through chain mail. They were not designed for any stabbing motions and therefore did not have a sharpened point. The slash and cut was what it was intended for. The movements need to use these swords meant that the Celtic warriors needed space to wield the sword and could not easily cluster together like the Romans could with their shorter gladius.
Celtic spearmen were likely to have been much more plentiful than sword wielders. The spearman would have carried a number of these and would have led the charge, running on foot to barrage the enemy with a volley of fired spears. These javelin types were intended for long range reach and the sheer numbers of spears thrown were intended to fell the front ranks of the enemy, or to seriously dent the front line, even if they had huddled in tortoise formations close together to repel an attack as the Romans did.

The Celtic thrusting spear had by late first century developed into something resembling a lance with a slimmer leaf shaped head, suitably sized for piercing the lorica hamata (chain mail)-of the Roman auxiliary and for penetrating between the metal plates of the lorica segmentata (plated mail) of the legionary soldier. The spear head was simply fashioned from iron or steel, attached with a riveted pin through a wooden shaft of ash or a similar durable and strong wood. It seems to have been common for some either very brave, or depending on how you view it, very foolhardy Celtic warriors to have run forward after the first volley was fired to collect up the fallen weapons to reuse them. Scurrying back to a distance far enough off to be able to use them again could not have been easy or even all that successful.

A dagger or a long knife was a likely possibility and this would have had a sharp point, the shorter blade intended for neck slicing or stabbing motions. A leather sheath, hung from a belt at the waist, would have protected the warrior from inadvertent cuts from the sharp blade.

Slings and sling stones seem to have been used frequently, and very skilfully, and these would have been stored in a pouch suspended from the belt or from a thong angled across the chest. The bow and arrow does not seem to have been generally used in battle - it was deemed not a worthy weapon since the need to fire at a great range was not an honourable way to kill the enemy, and the Celt in battle was a fiercely proud warrior. 
Wikimedia Commons

The typical Celtic shield may have been small and circular or oval shaped, generally hide covered over wooden frame, or made from light wood and painted. The spectacular 'Battersea shield' is possibly from an older era but any shield such as this would have only seen ceremonial use. 

The chariots used might be classified as weapons by some enthusiasts. During the era I write about they were two-wheeled, they mostly had light strapped sides and they had a flat bed to stand on. They were drawn by a small Celtic horse, or horses, and were manned often by a driver who was accompanied by a dedicated spearman. 

In battle, the small chariots were used to confront and taunt the enemy front line and to create breaks in the defence wall. After some noisy posturing and skilled taunting, it's thought the driver and spearman would jump from the vehicle to engage in hand to hand combat, the vehicle remaining nearby for a quick getaway. In practice, it seems that the chariots caused a lot of chaos when the horses became disoriented or were injured.

Roman use of the gladius was significant, but it was the whole armour and defensive package which often defeated the Celts during the battles fought in Britannia and across Europe.

Roman Weaponry
The Roman soldier, whether auxiliary or legionary, was significantly different from the typical Celt in what he wore and what he carried. Unlike Celtic warriors, Roman military equipment was standard and the soldier was at great pains to ensure his equipment was maintained to a high standard. The mandatory paying for missing or damaged items was avoided whenever possible. Damage during a battle was unavoidable, at times, but the typical Roman soldier made sure damage was not due to lazy maintenance. That meant unvarying vigilance in certain climates. This constant striving to have the best maintained equipment was for weapons but also for the armour that was constantly worn.
Roman Swords
Wikimedia Commons

Infantry Sword: Gladius

The most typical Roman Gladius, with its searingly sharp double edge and formidable triangular-shaped tip, was not thought to be originally a Roman weapon. The type of blade originated in ‘Hispania’, now named Spain, but was used so effectively against Roman troops during the early Roman conquest of the area that the Romans adopted the shape from the Celtic locals and fashioned their own versions around the 4th – 3rd century BC.

During those earliest Republican Roman invasions of Iberia (Spain) the natives used two types of sword. The first was a hook-handled sword called a falcata. This type of weapon was used to hook and slash, the deadly curve on it being most effective for angled slicing, though it was very effective in disabling a conquering Roman.

The Roman army chose the Celt-Iberian second weapon shape as their new weapon of choice. This second weapon was the gladius.

The gladius had a straight double edged blade but there are sub types of the gladius with marginal differences depending on the location needs when the Romans campaigned in hostile territories. These styles of gladius shapes developed over the centuries of usage.

(Apologies - I'm no artist and my drawings are not great but they help me to envisage what a soldier might be wielding)
  • The Hispaniensis Gladius - the basic version is the one adopted from Spain which was slightly leaf shaped- narrower near the centre. 
  • The Mainz Gladius - this type was used in the northern European regions. It typically had a long point.
  • Pompeii Gladius - the most popular type of gladius. This was the shortest blade length with parallel cutting edges and a triangular tip.  
  •  I also found references to a type named the Fulham Gladius which appears to be the type used in Roman Britain which had straight edges and also a long triangular tip. This type was most likely the one my Celtic Warriors would have had experience of combatting.

The tip could be used for both stabbing motions, particularly useful for gutting an opponent between the ribs, or directly into areas of the body which had the most vital organs. The gladius could also be used for swiping in both directions since each side of the blade had a searingly sharp cutting edge. This was particulary useful for disabling the enemy if a strike was made behind the knees, crippling the opponent before the sword would be used in a stabbing manoeuvre to finish off.

When the Romans adopted their form of the gladius, the soldiers were taught to always draw the gladius from the right side with their right hand (there is a little conjecture over this but the consensus favours the right-hand use). This allowed for effective use in formations where tight clusters were possible, with less chance of a neighbour being accidentally maimed. Since the gladius is designed to be used one-handed, it fit well with the skilled and practised military manoeuvres used to defeat attackers. The light weight of the gladius meant it could be wielded for longer, the user tiring more gradually. More about scutum formation will be covered in another post.

The handles of the gladius were usually formed from hardwoods for the average soldier. Brass, silver and ivory handles were reserved for the officers and higher ranking Romans. The scabbards were often very ornate with metal ornamentation and it was fairly common for the name of the owner to be etched on the blade for identification.

See this site for some fabulous scabbards and decorative elements.
Match the fearsome gladius short sword with the rest of the armour of the Roman legionary, or auxiliary, and the result was almost a foregone conclusion when the soldiers fought in typical Roman formations. However, the Roman infantry soldier who ended up fighting in one-to-one combat often had a harder battle to win, since the unarmed Celt might be fleeter of foot and more able to manoeuvre than the heavily armoured Roman.

Equestrian Mounted Force Sword - Spatha

The Roman Cavalry’s primary sword was the Spatha which had a longer blade, thus a longer reach to the opponent. The straight blade of the Spatha was ideal for thrusting and stabbing movements. Many of the examples of spatha are very ornate.

One of the huge successes of massed amounts of the Roman Empire’s soldiers over the Celts of northern Britannia was due not just to the stabbing gladius but to everything else in the arsenal of the soldier.

In my Celtic Fervour Series, when my Celts in Britannia have engagements with the Roman Army, the leaf-shaped pugio seems to have been part of the uniform for some of the soldiers and mounted cavalry (Late first century AD). What is not clear is whether the pugio was standard issue to some soldiers only, or whether it was an optional weapon of choice by particular soldiers who gained some kudos from the wearing of it. The lack of sufficient written evidence, backed up by physical evidence makes proving this a difficult task.

Wikimedia Commons
The Roman historian Vegetius seems to indicate that the pugio was like the gladius in that the favoured use was for stabbing, though there are depictions of them being used for slashing or cutting. 

However, there is much conjecture over the actual use of the pugio. The name pugio may have its origins in the word pugnus meaning fist- the closed fist position of the hand necessary around the hilt to retract it before using the weapon effectively by the left hand. Alternatively, it could also be derived from the stabbing or punching movement a pugilist would make during a fist fight.

Evidence of pugiones and their scabbards seem to indicate the dagger had more than one function. Some of the daggers have very ornate designs etched on them and many of the scabbards found are works of art. The conclusions drawn are that by the late first century AD the pugio held some prestige value as well as being a secondary weapon- the weapon having gone through some changes in shapes during the first century AD. Two different shapes of blade appear to have been used: the leaf-shaped version and a slimmer version with a tapered point were also used.

Whether the wearing of the pugio was earned, or acquired through having sufficient money saved to purchase one is still undecided. Till conclusive evidence appears of the use of them, we can make our own conclusions.

This site shows some very ornate scabbards for Roman pugiones.

See some examples on my Roman Research Pinterest Board. 


Tuesday 26 May 2015

Imagining…the Crannog lifestyle

...of my late first century Celtic characters in The Beltane Choice.

What might the living conditions of my characters have been like if they were the son and daughter of a chief?

Wikimedia Commons
Celtic roundhouse settlements and crannogs have been reconstructed in various parts of the British Isles which can give us a semblance of what daily life might have been like for my characters: Lorcan of Garrigill, a Brigante, and Nara of Tarras of the Selgovae. I’ve not yet been to a reconstructed roundhouse settlement but I have visited The Scottish Crannog Centre at Loch Tay in Perthshire, Scotland.

My first visit was in 2002; about five years after The Scottish Crannog Centre opened its doors to the public. Prior to the visit, I’d read that as part of the archaeological aerial surveys of Scotland during the late 1970s, there had been 18 artificial islands identified on Loch Tay as crannogs. This wasn’t totally new information because hundreds of years ago it was known that there were a number of artificial islands on the loch which had been inhabited during the last three thousand years. The 1979 survey pinpointed to 18 definite artificial islands which had been submerged in the peaty waters of the loch.   

The Scottish Crannog Centre
In 1980, underwater archaeological investigations began on one of these artificial islands called Oakbank Crannog and in a sense that work still continues as part of the continuous running of The Scottish Crannog Centre.

Because the water of the loch is generally cold, the underwater archaeologists found that the remains of the Oakbank Crannog dwelling were in a good state of preservation. Timber piles had been driven into the water in a circular pattern above which would have been a horizontal platform which supported the beams of the roundhouse. Forty elm and oak posts had been laid down to support a walkway which led to the shore. The discovery of other artefacts in the surrounding silt and loch bed give authentic details of the way of life in such an early Iron Age dwelling. Remains of wooden domestic utensils, woodworking tools and agricultural tools were found in such good state that recreation was possible.

Pollen deposits, plant remains and insects found below the crannog dwelling make it possible to glean a good idea of daily life. The latter discoveries were possible because over time layers of stones had covered these remains, minimal water erosion having occurred. It’s thought that the Oakbank Crannog was inhabited for around 200 years and had perhaps as many as six phases of construction or repairs to it.

The results of the investigations were huge and a full size reconstruction was begun in 1994. Construction methods were used to mirror the original methods as much as possible- though for a visitor centre health and safety has naturally forced compromises.

Between my first visit in 2002 and a subsequent visit in 2014, many improvements and changes have been made to the Visitor Centre Shop and surrounding area but the crannog dwelling itself remains very similar. Like all wooden and thatched constructions, continual repairs have been necessary but these are implemented during times when the centre is not open to the public.

Inside the roundhouse, there’s a wonderful feeling of living in the past and the resident archaeologists/staff give a fantastic tour. A visit to the site also includes demonstrations of all sorts of daily life situations: fire making; cooking; pottery; weaving; wood carving; drilling with wooden tools... are only a very few of the experiences the centre offers its visitors.

When I came to write about Lorcan of Garrigill’s settlement, and in particular the roundhouse of his father Tully, the chief of Garrigill, I was able to make a clear mental picture of it. When I wrote about Nara of the Selgovae being dragged to the Crannogs of Gyptus I imagined myself walking along the shores of somewhere similar to Loch Tay. Memories of my visit to the Scottish Crannog Centre were immensely important when I came to describe those parts of The Beltane Choice—though what a reader has on the page is my interpretation of what a slightly different setting might have been like.

The Scottish Crannog Centre is a fantastic place to visit.

I’m sure that a visit to any of the reconstructed Celtic roundhouse villages would give the visitor similar lasting impressions.

The Scottish Crannog Centre has my Celtic Fervour Series—including The Beltane Choice—for sale on the shelves of their lovely little shop. 


Monday 25 May 2015

Why AD 71? (Reflections on Celtic Obsessions- Part 5)

Why AD 71?

Why did I choose to set The Beltane Choice in AD 71?

What prime source documentation can be looked at in relation to what was happening in northern Britain in AD 71? There aren’t too many that I’ve found so far.  

For centuries, historians have been relying on the work of the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote about events a decade or two after they happened. Since his account isn’t first hand, it isn’t reliable. Few people nowadays would take Tacitus’ words as truth and they can be confusing to the non professional—especially translated from Latin for someone like me who isn’t versed at all in Latin. Suetonius likewise was born in approximately AD 69 and therefore his accounts are also second hand.

(Image from the Nuremberg Chronicle- Wikimedia Commons)

AD 69 wasn’t only the likely birth year of Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillis) it was also a year of incredible turbulence in the Roman Empire, a time of military uprising and civil war. After Nero committed suicide in AD 68, he was succeeded by Galba. His tenure didn’t last long before he was supplanted by Otho in AD 69, and then came Vitellius, and Vespasian—still in AD 69.

Vespasian - Wikimedia Commons
When Vespasian assumed the mantle of the Emperor, he re-stabilised the armies of Rome and set about bringing order to the chaos that had ensued during the previous year, instilling a more lasting Imperial loyalty throughout the Roman Empire. In ensuring forces who would be loyal to him, he sent a new Governor to Britannia in AD 71. This was Petilius Cerialis who had recently proven his worth in Germania. Cerialis was also familiar with Britannia since he had been stationed there in AD 60— though he’d not actually done so well in keeping order during the revolt of Queen Bouddica.

Cerialis set his armies to quell the unrest in the north. (i.e. England and at that time all of the whole island of Britannia that had been almost subdued) King Venutius, the ex-husband of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes (Cartimandua had faded into obscurity around AD 69), was stirring up the north and it needed to be suppressed. Cerialis wasn’t only using his own forces, Legio IX, to make this happen as he marched from the encampment which grew to become the huge military base at Eboracum (York) but he also commanded Gnaeus Julius Agricola to come northwards in a pincer movement with the Legio II Adiutrix from Lincoln. King Venutius was vanquished.    

“And Petillius Cerialis at once struck terror into their hearts by invading the commonwealth of the Brigantes, which is said to be the most numerous tribe of the whole province: many battles were fought, sometimes bloody battles, and by permanent conquest or by forays he annexed a large portion of the Brigantes.”

Reading that translation which comes from the works of Tacitus was sufficient to make me choose to site my battle between the Brigantes and the forces of Rome at Whorl, not far from Stanwick. I have no evidence to substantiate that there was a battle there but on Ordinance Survey maps of the area, there is a hill called Whorlton which has suitable topography. The layout of land would be a good choice for a battle.

The plot of The Beltane Choice grew. I wondered what would make Celtic tribes come together to fight against Rome and Petilius Cerialis. What bargains might have had to be made, to make these accustomed enemy tribes across a common border unite and fight alongside each other for more than loyalty to King Venutius? I decided that there would be a battle mentioned in my plot but I wasn’t setting out to be a military history novelist so the military technicalities of it wouldn’t play a major role.

However, how the inevitable battle would affect the daily life and love of my characters was crucial in what I wanted to describe. My focus was on the complete upheaval that an incursion by the forces of Rome would make to my characters and their families.

Lorcan of Garrigill, a Brigante chief’s son is a key character in The Beltane Choice—as is Nara, a daughter of a Selgovae chief, yet the plot isn’t actually so simple as man meets woman.

The manuscript that was published by Crooked Cat Publishing contained as much of my general knowledge of the Celts as was reasonable and I’d implemented all the helpful editorial suggestions I’d received.  The result is a novel that’s much more than a romance but is a tale of family loyalty; loyalty to the King (Venutius); complete upheaval to daily life amid treachery and cunning demands by Celts and Romans; the current political unrest in Brigante country in AD 71 and the tremendous threat that came to it from the usurping Roman Empire.


Reflections on Celtic Obsessions – Part 4
The first draft of The Beltane Choice wasn’t the first novel I attempted to write and the following account wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t mention both of the manuscripts that I’d started.

I already had the ongoing manuscript for a time travel novel for Middle Grade/YA readers mentioned in Part 3 of this series. (This was eventually what morphed into The Taexali Game though it was initially set in Agricolan Aberdeenshire in AD 84) Because of that work in progress, I didn’t want to get myself confused as a new novelist about the story for the adult market since it was going to have romantic elements in it. I deliberately set about choosing a different location and time for what became The Beltane Choice.

I’d read a few historical novels which were set in first century AD—primarily about Bouddica, Queen of the Iceni. They were located in southern Britain but I wanted to write about northern Celts. Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes was a possibility but there were already novels ‘out there’ about her; and there were also novels about druids. I wanted something fresh and different.

I investigated what was going on prior to the Agricolan campaign in north-east Scotland and my studies led me to the conclusion that it was more logical to begin The Beltane Choice at a time of Roman expansion in northern England rather than target the Roman activity in Scotland. By doing that I could see me taking the action northwards in a more realistic way. I initially homed in on activity in the territory held by the Brigantes in AD 71.

In the first drafts of that manuscript for the adult market—occasionally pulled out and worked on during the long school summer holidays—I made my main protagonists a Brigante male and a Selgovae female which made me feel happier about getting in a ‘Scottish’ bit since the Selgovae tribe lived in southern Scotland. Using my general knowledge of the era of first century Britain I made them high echelon members of their Celtic tribes but they weren’t kings or queens. No specific notable people appeared as characters and I used no fixed dates. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that very satisfactory and I felt that if I wasn’t happy I guessed my readers wouldn’t be either. That version was shelved.

I eventually submitted a different draft of The Beltane Choice to an editor in the US. That version had a central romance but it was overshadowed by the depth of historical detail and the political and military struggles that were going on in northern Britannia in AD 71. The editor gave it a quick overview and rejected it—but also gave me two pages of changes that in her opinion would make it acceptable as a historical romance for her publisher. Receiving those pages was a devastating moment, yet also a very salutary one.

By early 2012, I had made huge changes to The Beltane Choice. When I submitted it to Crooked Cat Publishing, it was accepted and only minor changes were made. It was launched in August 2012.

More will follow about the political and military landscape in the era of the Beltane Choice. 


Reflections on Celtic Obsessions—Part 3
My first proper foray into learning more about Celtic Studies for teaching purposes was around 1998 when I was teaching a Primary 5 class and doing my very first whole term project on Celts and Romans.

I can remember the excitement! 

At last, I was able without guilt to justify spending a lot of time reading about Celts. I bought as many books as I could afford—admittedly many of them for children and for use in the classroom, many of which I still own. I adored teaching the topic and was fortunate to be sited in an ageing mobile classroom which stood at the edge of the playground with a field area around it. Being set apart from the main school building meant immediate access to the outside. There were better opportunities to try our hand at making our own roundhouse models out in the fresh air with no time lost in transporting kids and materials to an appropriate place. 

We collected willow sticks and other pliable twigs and made small wattled panels, which we were afterwards able to bind together with muddy daub during our art and craft lessons. Mosses and dried grasses were ‘thatched’ onto the roof. Our roundhouses were tiny but were fantastic. 

We carded sheep’s wool and spun it into rough strands which we hand wove into cloth on small wooden looms. We then dyed the cloth with grasses and lichens to make into small Celtic garments and decorative wall hangings. We cooked ‘fat hen’ soup from nettles and herbs. I believe most of the kids thought it as much fun as I did and they loved the mess!

We didn’t neglect the Roman side. We made helmets, gladii and shields from cardboard—Celtic ones too. (Half the were kids nominated as Roman and half Celts) We had a Roman banquet and ate lying on our sides out on the grassy field. (No puking allowed, though, to make room for more!) The whole term focus was on Celts and Romans in a very general way; other curricular areas were never neglected but incorporated where possible. Celtic artwork adorned the classrooms walls along with story writing, poetry and descriptive pieces of writing about the topic.

What I wasn’t really aware of in 1988 was that our activities on the field—our Roman marching to ‘Sin/ Dex/ Sin/ Dex…’ was over ground that literally had been occupied by ten thousand Roman soldiers! The playing field was part of the Deer’s Den Roman Marching Camp!

By 2002-2004, that field area became an enclosed archaeological dig because the area was designated for a brand new school building. All such development sites across Aberdeenshire needed to be investigated by a team of archaeologists. What they found at Deer’s Den—the site having been identified in Victorian times as a Roman Marching Camp—was staggering. From the Victorian era right through to the 1970s there had been an estimate of roughly under a legion, some 4000 soldiers. The dig of 2002-2004 identified sufficient ‘Roman Bread Ovens’ and outside perimeter turf wall traces to increase that estimate to around 10000 men.

During one school session (approximately 2004), the whole school was involved in Celtic/ Roman studies. I was delighted to have the third opportunity in my teaching career to teach a Celt/Roman project. That year I was with the oldest age group in the primary school. My Primary 7s were 11 going on 12 years old and could really get their teeth into the study.  

Many of the activites I'd done with younger kids were 'scaled up' and the results were impressive. The end of term 'round up' short stories of a local Celtic settlement being attacked by Romans were so good I joked with my pupils that some day I'd write a full length companion novel to be used in conjunction with a Celt/Roman project- a novel that could be used as a class reader. 

A first draft of that novel was started and over the ensuing years it was lifted, worked on and archived but it has now eventually become The Taexali Game, Book 1 of my Rubidium Time Travel Series of Adventures

A second Celtic/Roman novel for the adult market was started which eventually became The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of The Celtic Fervour Series. 

More on that coming soon.


Reflections on Celtic Obsessions – Part 2

My Celtic Obsession continued... 

I went straight into primary teaching after leaving college. After a brief sojourn in an incredibly rough Glasgow school, a house move meant a change of school. The second school within my first year of teaching was in Westquarter, near Falkirk in the Central Belt of Scotland, which had a head teacher who insisted that Scottish history be taught in class. I was delighted because in the 1970s a thorough programme of Scottish History wasn’t being taught throughout Scotland. The head teacher, Charles Stewart, was very particular about all lesson plans but he seemed particularly interested how Scottish History was taught and each year group had specific targets to meet. 
teaching- minus the microphone 
This aspect of the curriculum was still very didactic, though learning maths and reading was run along what was at that time ‘modern’ group teaching lines. 

Yet, having history targets wasn’t the end of it! I couldn’t just have a lesson noted down on my term and weekly plan—I had to prove I was conducting that lesson efficiently when I said I would.

If a Scottish History lesson was on the weekly plan for the hour after lunch on a Thursday, I expected him to do a ‘drop in’ to class so that he could ensure I was giving accurate information to my pupils—though it was unpredictable exactly when he’d turn up during that hour or so. However, I never ever resented his visits as an intrusion. In fact, I actually looked forward to his popping in because he could always add to what I’d learned up on since he was a mine of information: a head teacher of the old school variety and one with an excellent memory.

With regard to my interest in Celtic Studies, the tiniest drawback was that I was teaching Primary Six, approximately 38 ten/eleven year old pupils, and I was expected to cover the period from Malcolm I onwards (approximately 900AD)— to around the Union of the Crowns in 1603. This was 'too late' for the early Celtic period or even what we still called back then…the Dark Ages. 

Malcolm I of Scotland
Image: "Malcolm I". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -"

However, when Mr. Stewart dropped in he often managed to add something local which harkened back to earlier times. It was always entertaining and educational. I just wish I had a really good memory but sadly, the information sifted through the colander that is my brain.  

Looking back, I realise his assiduous encouragement about teaching Scottish history fed my need to continue to find out more about it in general but further study of earlier ‘Celtic’ eras had to wait for quite a while.

My teaching of Scottish History ceased in 1979 when I went to live in Holland for three years and a ‘career break’ followed till 1989. During that time, I hadn’t totally shelved my interest in history since I’d started an Open University degree in 1987. The subjects chosen were culture based across the Arts and covered: Victorian studies; The Enlightenment; 17th Century England and a Shakespeare course. All had sound historical aspects of study as well as Art History (which I loved), Politics, Philosophy, Architecture and Popular Culture. 

All fantastic courses but not one of those was Celtic Studies!

After moving to Aberdeenshire, Scotland,  in 1988, I used the public library system to investigate the really ancient history on my new doorstep—standing stones which are plentiful; burial mounds and areas marked on the map which plot Celtic Roundhouse settlements. There were some local historical records available about written investigations re: pre-historic times; some of these only available for reading in the library and not able to be taken home. The Garioch Heritage Society also had reference only materials but sadly, my free time for research was limited. Teaching needs and finishing up my BA Open University degree took

Again, my interest in Celtic Studies was largely shelved for a few more years.

More of this long story to follow soon...


Sunday 24 May 2015

Reflections on Celtic Obsessions-Part 1

Happy late Sunday!
What follows is the first part of a highly personal view of my forays into Celtic studies which ultimately led to my writing Celtic novels...

Some people might say I’m just a tad obsessive about Ancient Roman Britain and they might be right.

I’ve always been a voracious reader so by a real count that would realistically be for the last 55+ years. As a child, I read everything and anything. As a teenager, I read what I chose from the public library and all that I needed to read for school. That actually meant a lot of reading since my reading for pleasure wasn’t neglected—even though I had a very active school and after-school timetable which included sports and other activities associated with the Girl Guides.

a treasured possession
I loved to read about ancient civilisations, especially tales of the ancient Greeks and Romans. One of the few books I've kept from my childhood is this Robert Graves book.  The image below of Zeus is indicative of the illustrations which accompany the incredibly condensed stories, some only a coiple of pages long, but for a younger reader it was an excellent book to fire the imagination and make me want to read more lengthy versions when I was older.

At the end of my second year at secondary school, it was necessary to make a choice of study between geography and history. My grades were on par in both subjects but there was really no conflict. I wanted to take history.

The first two years of lessons in my history class in Glasgow, in approximately 1964/5, were quite basic and very general covering pre-history through to around 1603—the Union of the Crowns era in Great Britain. There was almost no Scottish history covered: it was never a major focus.

Having elected to study History for my third and fourth years of secondary school, we ‘picked up’ and moved on with a summary of British History from the early seventeenth century through to early Edwardian times. For my Higher History programme of work, I chose to do European History which was intended to give me a general overview of how ‘linked’ European history was due to the intermingling of the monarchies of the countries involved.

Still no in depth Scottish History in any of the above. 

It was when I went to college at 18 years of age that I realised I’d never learned anything of the early inhabitants of Scotland.

At Jordanhill College of Education, Glasgow, Scotland, which I attended since I was destined for the teaching profession, there was a course called Celtic Studies. This was on the Bachelor of Education programme which was affiliated with Glasgow University. It sounded so interesting and part of the course was learning Scottish Gaelic. However, back in 1970, learning about Celtic history or even learning Gaelic was considered by many as a waste of time. Gaelic was seen almost as a ‘dead language’ which would fade into obscurity in time and a study of the Celts would be equally a misuse of learning opportunities.

Those commonly held opinions didn’t mean a whit to me, I was intrigued by the course but unfortunately I was locked into studying French and English and it wasn’t possible to swap to another programme of study. The opportunities of ‘mix and match’ available to students nowadays weren’t an option back in 1970.  The reason I was ineligible was because my English and French grades were better than my History grade in my Scottish Higher Education Exams. 

In retrospect, and that’s always dangerous, I regret missing that opportunity to learn more of the history of the Celts and I really regret not learning Scottish Gaelic.

More of this tale very soon.