Monday 30 November 2015

Clootie Dumpling.... for St. Andrew's Day

Happy St. Andrew's Day to all!

ingredients just added to the pot

My St. Andrew’s Day meal

Starter: Cock-a-leekie soup

Why? Because it's Scottish and husband cooked a roast chicken yesterday and I generally make soup with the carcass.

Instead of using some lentils or broth mix, I used rice. 

After popping in some carrots, a leek , an onion, and parsley it was nearly ready. 

You're maybe wondering why the photo on the right looks the right colour for cock-a-leekie and the cooked version has a bit of a reddish orange tinge to it.

That's because I cheated. My cock-a-leekie or chicken soup usually tends to be greenish white.

But today, I added some left over ratatouille from last night – because I’m a mean Scot who tries not to waste food.

Main course: meatballs (What??? Yes, I know!)
We’ve sometimes in the past had haggis, neeps n’ tatties as the main course on St. Andrew’s Day but since we had haggis at the beginning of last week ( we eat haggis neeps n’ tatties all year round) we’ve decided to have venison meatballs instead. The pasta accompaniment won’t be traditional Scottish but 2 out of 3 courses isn’t bad.
First stage in the pot
Dessert: Clootie Dumpling with home made custard

No - I’m not making a traditional ‘Clootie Dumpling’- more’s the pity, but I want to get some writing done today. However, I saw, and shared, a recipe for microwave Clootie Dumpling on my Facebook page yesterday so I made that for dessert. I know a microwave version can’t possibly be as good as a real ‘pillowcase’ Clootie—and it isn’t, but it’s a very nice steamed pudding.
(clootie meaning a piece of cloth)
2nd stage- add flour and eggs 

Here’s the recipe:
Serves: 8
225ml (8 fl oz) water
150g (3oz) caster sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon mixed spice
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger
225g (8 oz) chopped mixed dried fruit
200g (7 oz) sultanas
225g (8 oz) butter
250g (9 oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs, beaten
Line a medium to large microwave safe bowl with cling-film: this makes it easier to remove from the bowl when cooked. Pop the water, sugar, honey, mixed spice, cinnamon, ginger, mixed fruit, sultanas and butter into a pot. Melt the butter slowly, bring to contents to the boil and simmer for about two minutes - a little longer if the peel is still too firm. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and eggs. Pour into your lined microwave-safe bowl and place in the microwave, uncovered. Cook for 10 minutes on full power. Leave to stand for 5 minutes before upending onto a board or plate.

As I said earlier, it’s a nice steamed pudding and it’ll be even better with some warm custard but it’s nothing like a real Clootie Dumpling.

My mother used to make a nice dumpling in her metal ‘steamer’ using much the same recipe as for a ‘Clootie’ but it never tasted the same as one made in a pillowcase, or a special piece of muslin. The absolute best ever Clootie Dumpling I ever tasted was made by an expert called Lily Wallace- my sister-in-law’s mother. Lily’s dumpling was always enormous. It was a deep, dark, rich and very moist dumpling that had the most fantastic thick shiny skin – the bit I loved the best. Lily was a small lady with a very large, make that gigantic, baking bowl. It took huge effort to hand mix in the quantities for Lily’s Clootie Dumpling after which it was tied up tight in the ‘clootie’ and ‘steamed’ over a pan (like a double pan process) for hours and hours and hours- something like 6 or 7 hours. Lily’s ‘Clootie’ was great to eat cold, or hot with a traditional fry up which was what usually happened to the left overs on Boxing Day mornings …or the 2nd January, depending on when we ate it first i.e. as a cold slice after Christmas Dinner, or Ne’erday Dinner.

Yum! My mouth is watering but since I’m not going to get one of Lily’s Clootie Dumplings I guess I’ll accept that my steamed pudding is a poor substitute for St. Andrew’s Day

This afternoon, I've been writing about some of my characters in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series. It's much the same time of year in north east Scotland for them being after Samhain (i.e. after 1st November) but before Alban Artuan (winter solstice /21st Dec) but the year for them is AD 84. 

They're not feasting on St. Andrew's Day since St. Andrew didn't come to Scotland till centuries after I'm writing. And the Ancient Roman usurpers, the legionaries and auxiliaries of General Agricola, have left my tribespeople with little food stocks to see them through the winter. They are managing to make some thin soups to share around but meat is scarce, as are stored fruits since the stocks that the Romans haven't carted off for their own use are shared among many more mouths than would be usual. 

My book 4 of the Celtic Fervour Series continues the plight of displaced people during times of war. The theme of neighbours sheltering refugees is an old, old one but what I love about it is that Celtic hospitality lives! People fleeing from tyranny in my books need help from their Celtic neighbours and in my stories it is given. 

And I'm very proud of that Scottish tradition.


There’s dumping and dumping - a St. Andrew's Day story

My #Monday Moments slot is generally used for promoting the novels of author friends but today here's a short and true (almost) St. Andrew's Day story for you. 

Yesterday, the 29th November, the latest snow storm hit my area of north east Scotland and it wasn’t well timed at all. Snow was forecast, due to arrive in the Aberdeen area at around 4-5 p.m. I love how the weather forecasters are able to be much more precise these days - don’t you? But just sometimes it’s nice to prove them wrong…she says!

I live 15 miles from the city and don’t quite get Aberdeen weather so at around 2.30 p.m. the afternoon was still a pleasant one with occasional blue skies, though a bit cold at around 5 degrees C. I needed to make space in my garage for my swing seat which has a tendency to do a dance across the front patio area, with or without the all-weather cover on. That seems to be because we don’t quite get the ‘right’ kind of wind up here in Aberdeenshire. To be fair, the packaging does state that the product might need to be tied down in high winds but even with sandbags weighing it down my swing seat takes off like a dandelion clock. It’s new this year, copes very well with heavy rain, but I wanted it under cover before snow got dumped on it.

Before I could store it away for the winter there was some clutter in the garage which needed to be dumped to make the necessary space, items which were past the stage of recycling in any meaningful way. I set off to go to the 'dump' i.e. the local recycling centre that's a short drive away, some 4 miles. Normally, I can load up the car, zip along to the dump and be back within 20 minutes. 

Unfortunately, that wasn't what happened yesterday. I forgot that there were going to be road closures and diversions due to a planned St. Andrew's Day Parade in the town of Inverurie, where the recycling centre is. 

Fortunately for me, having been diverted along residential streets which I'd not normally drive on, I approached the town centre almost directly behind the marching throng who were carrying and impressive amount of saltire flags. Having opened the car window to hear the leading pipe band, I noticed that the temperature had dropped a few degrees, though at just above zero it was nothing to worry about.

You can see what the town square looked like at 3 p.m. (last year?) on this page here: 

The pavements at each side were full of hurrying figures who were out in support of the official marchers, old and young, all heading for Inverurie town square. The buzz of festive spirit was almost palpable around my car, brought to a standstill for a few moments. The shop windows were full of cheer, as were the stewards who were removing the last traffic cones which had been blocking the road till the marching crowd had passed through. It was lovely to see, and plenty to smile about - St. Andrew’s day being properly celebrated. The fact that it was a day early doesn’t matter when the organisers need to catch the crowds and allow those working,or at school, on Monday to participate.

Of course, if St. Andrew’s Day was an official Scottish holiday, as has been the aim of many Scottish people like me for a long time, then a march could take place on the actual day!

So there I was stuck behind the flag waving and cheering column unable to do anything except look and wait. Generally such a sight would be a protest of some sort but this was a happy celebration, for a change. Along with the guilt I felt at not remembering to come, I was glad to participate even just a little. I mad my mind up to go to the dump, offload my rubbish then find a parking space with the intention of joining the fun for a little while.

However, plans can change in a nanosecond as I was about to find out.

Waiting in the inching –forward car queue while the end of the marching line of people moved on, I was annoyed that I’d no camera with me. I didn’t even have my phone camera since I’d rushed out in a flurry, though I'd probably have been arrested if taking photos since I was driving- albeit at a snail's pace. My smiles were wide to see such a happy turnout heading down to the town centre even though the journey was taking me much longer than usual.

Eventually I got to the dump at around 3.30 p.m. where it took me only a couple of minutes to offload my rubbish into the appropriate containers. It was easy to dump the glass bottles and the general rubbish - old mattresses for garden chairs that collapsed long ago and some now unwanted toys from 35 years ago - yes they were that old and had belonged to my daughters but now no longer usable since they don’t meet today’s health and safety requirements… and they were just plain old! My sentimental memories will be exactly that - just memories of my girls playing with the items and not physical plastic items clogging up my cellar.

Flattened cardboard boxes from deliveries of my novels were a different kettle of fish to get rid of! They were flying out of my hands before I could raise them high enough to fling them into the high sided container, the wind having taken a very sudden gusty turn for the worst.

The recycling centre is at a slightly higher elevation than the town centre of Inverurie and high winds can often be a problem. Once I’d wrestled the large folded cardboard pieces into the containers, I took a moment to catch my breath. It was totally impressive to admire (if I can use that word) the amazing view across the valley. Directly above me was a late afternoon blue sky (it being around 3.15 p.m.) but in front of me was a mass of seriously dark, dense grey cloud which roiled towards me at fast rate. I don’t ever want to be in the pathway of a pyroclastic storm from a volcano eruption having seen just how quickly ‘normal’ snow clouds can race towards you.

No more than one minute later, I was around five car lengths into the 'diverted' traffic when the swirling snow wiped the visibility down to about five yards. 

The happy throng must have been so disappointed – but I couldn’t see them. Some people, especially those with small kids who had come out ill equipped for a snow storm were hurrying across the town streets attempting to return home or to their cars.

Yes. I’m a wimp. I abandoned the idea of joining the celebrations since all I had on was a garden fleece. I wasn’t equipped either.

My return journey home was painfully slow since the main diversion to avoid the town square was still in place and the swirling snow had visibility on the dual carriageway down to about 10 yards. Thankfully drivers were crawling along at around 40 miles and hour - a sensible speed for the poor conditions. What had started out as swirling wet snow became a little more powdery and was lying snow, though not deep.
In the north-east of Scotland people do have to accept that the days close to the 30th November can be iffy regarding the contrary weather.

So later today I'll celebrate St. Andrew's Day in my own way... watch this space!


Sunday 29 November 2015

Face to face compliments versus written reviews

Is face-to-face complimenting an author's writing as rewarding as reading a written review?

I'm not entirely sure of the answer to that question. On the one hand, it's amazing when someone physically tells you that they loved reading your book. The actual physical buzz from a direct compliment is such an exciting feeling but it's a fleeting one that's very personal and totally lost to the reading population unless shared in some written way.

Yesterday, while I was manning my 'novels' table at the FOCUS Craft Fair in Inverurie, an elderly woman stopped and waited till I'd finished a conversation with a primary teacher I used to work with. At first, I'd thought her to also be a supply teacher since I recognised her face but couldn't do that 'placing her' thing- my memory for faces quite good, but not my ability to remember contexts or names of people.

It turned out that she was, in fact, a previous customer who had bought a copy of my contemporary mystery/ thriller Topaz Eyes and had loved reading it so much she'd ventured out into the cold winds to walk a mile to buy another of my books. She went off saying she was happy to walk back the return mile since she was so looking forward to reading another of my novels.

Telling me she loved reading my work brought a rush of intense feelings - almost of embarrassment because I was taken aback, it being unexpected. Her also telling me that she'd pass the word around her friends about the quality of my novels was absolutely wonderful to hear.

And that is a very good reason for selling my work personally over the counter.

However...and there often is a however involved, that doesn't make it easier for me to sell ebooks as my return customer only reads print books. There will be no glowing review written on Amazon to endorse my writing there and to encourage more people to buy my books.

What I need now is to encourage anyone who has read Topaz Eyes (or any of my novels) to leave a short review on Amazon, or the place they have got the book from if it has a review section. It would be much appreciated and even more so if my novels reach the magical threshold of reviews needed for some promotion sites. Such sites where an author can pay for them to promote a book is only possible if the book already has on average around 10 genuine reviews. (though I believe some sites demand an even higher quota)

I'm personally getting caught up with writing my short reviews on books read because I regularly do write reviews.


Friday 27 November 2015

Roman Britain A New History by Guy de la Bedoyere

I'm catching up with those short reviews again.

I’ve recently been poring over a lot of Roman Britain History books and have found Roman Britain A New History by Guy de la Bedoyere of the best so far. This will be a great ‘go to for reference’ book for me in the future when I want to revisit something the author has included. 

The writing style makes it very easy to read, and the information is given in a continuously absorbing manner. The illustrations are excellent and best of all I like that the author doesn’t fudge any issues. When the evidence for something is thin on the ground- archaeologically speaking- he states it quite clearly and makes no bones about the resultant speculation being just that –speculation. One of the aspects I love about reading Roman Britain texts is the varied interpretations the author puts on something depending on their own viewpoint.

I gave this 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads because it was perfect for my needs; was highly readable; was excellently edited and very well presented.

I'd recommend this for anyone like me who is an amateur historian yet one who wants more detail than the average general history book. 


Black Friday bargain ebooks!

Today is that commercialised frenzy named BLACK FRIDAY! 

If I said I don't indulge I'd be telling lies...but I don't rush out to join massive queues at the lager stores to snap up bargains. I do pick up some fantastic bargains but they're always new ebooks to add to my kindle pile.

Of course, there's more than one way for an author to view a book selling at 99p during the Black Friday Sale on Amazon. Some abhor the practice since they have virtually no royalties from any books sold and I totally understand that monetary (lack of) aspect. On the other hand, there's also the hope that it will encourage more readers to indulge in different genres or indeed the hope that the sales will encourage more people to read novels!

My ebooks are not highly priced at any time, so I'm not making huge returns on the sale of a novel that's never higher than £2.99. When my ebooks are sold at 99p it means almost no profit to me at all but I have to come at it from the less than commercial angle and decide that if I sell 20 ebooks at 99p then 20 more people will hopefully have read my novel. Selling that same book at £2.99 might generate only a few sales over the same SALE duration, which means a lot fewer potential readers.

During a sale like the present Black Friday Sale, I tend to buy Crooked Cat ebooks written by my fellow authors at the Crooked Cat Cattery and some might say that's being a cheapskate. Whether I am,  or not, I can pick up 10 ebooks for £10 rather than only 3, or maybe 4, of the releases from the newer authors. I would probably eventually buy them at whatever price they regularly are sold at but buying at 99p means that I'm likely to read them a bit sooner.

One drawback I have to watch out for is that sometime books bought during sales end up temporarily lost. They're somewhere on my kindle system but because of my 'Buy with one click option' on Amazon, I sometimes forget where to send them to. My Samsung tablet is what I tend to use most for reading novels just now so I'll be sure to look out for my 10 new novels purchased today appearing on them!

All of my novels can be bought today for the ridiculously low price of £ 7.92 (7 novels + a story in an anthology). Just click this link HERE to view them.


Wednesday 25 November 2015

#Welcome Wednesday - Severus and Serapis

I've no guest authors booked just now for my #Welcome Wednesday slot but I'm taking the opportunity to introduce you to Severus & Serapis.

To me, that sounds like the phrase ought to have come from a Victorian hymn though Serapis isn't to be confused with Seraphim.  

There is a religious element to the paired names in the title of this blog, but Serapis is different from the winged angels of Christianity. 

Severus, as in Ancient Roman Emperor Severus, has been mentioned a time or two on this blog in relation to him being a character in my time travel novel - The Taexali Game - along with his nasty son Caracalla. 

Serapis was a Greco/Egyptian deity adopted by some Romans and Serapis got his fair share of worshipping from both Severus and Caracalla.

It’s now approaching the end of November and the season in NE Scotland is hovering between autumn and winter. Deciduous trees have almost fully shed their leaves and the temperature at night sometimes dips below freezing.

Emperor Septimius Severus
It makes me wonder if the seasonal weather and temperatures back in AD 210 northern Britannia (Aberdeenshire) were much different. If there was little noticeable change I can see why the ancient Roman legions of the Emperor Severus and his son Caracalla hot footed it down to Eboracum (York) to winter there. The climate might only have been a shade better but the emperor, and the troops, had real stone or wooden buildings to stay in rather than the tented accommodation they endured on the campaign trail, albeit that I’m sure the emperor's and the senior officer tents were fitted out with the best luxuries possible.

It was written that Severus certainly went back down to Eboracum after some negotiations with the Caledons and Maeatae of the north east of what is now Scotland, probably before the winter set in. The emperor by then was ill and had been for some time. It's also documented that he was extremely superstitious and had had portents at an earlier time that he would journey to Britannia and that it would be the place where he would die. I'm sure that Serapis took up Severus' worshipping time every day as he lived through his final days. On February (4th) AD 211 Emperor Septimius Severus died at Eboracum. 

Whether or not Caracalla went south to York at the same time as his father isn’t clearly documented though a historical reference indicates he stayed a bit longer. If Caracalla remained for a time to teach the northern tribes an even more thorough lesson, then I’m thinking he would have been doing a fair bit of praying to his favourite deity as Alban Artuan (the winter solstice) arrived- praying for some warmth, comfort and a good meal. 

Since it's recorded that Caracalla was at his father's deathbed, then he clearly didn't spend the full winter season in Taexali lands ( north east Scotland). I love this painting by Jean-Baptiste Greuze showing Severus reprimanding Caracalla. (The rumour being that Caracalla tried to persuade Severus' doctors to poison the old man) Severus' deathbed must have been a pretty hot place to be in,  if the naked figure is anything to go by - the irony of the dodgy situation well portrayed! 

Wikimedia Commons
Of course, Caracalla's presence in Eboracum by the beginning of February doesn't mean that he didn't leave some of his troops to experience the inhospitable Taexali and Caledon weather. The archaeological record indicates that large numbers of Severan legions occupied the marching camps at Kintore, Durno and Ythan Wells (possibly as many as 30,000) with a smaller number of troops going on to occupy the camps curving westwards towards the present city of Inverness- according to the estimates that can be made from the hectares occupied by the perimeter ditch and ramparts of the camps. Recent coin finds could indicate the presence of Severan troops in the Moray Firth area though the coins could also have got there as part of a settlement reached elsewhere- as in further south - or as collateral reaching the area through some kind of trade at a later time than Severan date of the coins.

Like Severus, Caracalla is said to have been a follower of the god Serapis, a god which had origins that are Greco/ Egyptian. During the Ptolemaic dynasty the cult of Serapis rose to huge popularity being more acceptable to both Egyptians and Greeks since it combined attributes of Egyptian and Greek deities. Though Alexandria became the centre of the cult, the worship of Serapis spread throughout the Mediterranean countries. Some scholars believe the anthropomorphic deity can be traced back to earlier origins that are neither Greek nor Ptolemaic Egyptian but from Asia Minor.

I don’t know if Severus was interested in the actual origins of the deity, or not, but by the late second century he was an avid worshipper. The iconography of Serapis ( Osiris & Apis the bull) is Hellenistic in appearance and it seems clear that Severus was quite happy to ‘ape’ the god. Severus' curls may have been natural but statues of him seem to me to indicate a certain grooming of his hair and beard to make him appear as a clear manifestation of the deity.


all images from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday 23 November 2015

Monday Moments with Eve: A Christmas Ghost Story

Good Morning!

My Monday Moments are featuring Shani Struthers, one of my Crooked Cat author friends, who has a new story officially launching tomorrow - 24th November. I've read Shani's excellent Psychic Surveys Series already and loved it - it's an entertaining blend of amateur sleuth and paranormal and I'm sure I'll enjoy this new one, too. 

Shani's extremely generously sent along some information for me to share today, including an excerpt- a privileged early peek so make sure to read on for that...  

Welcome to my Monday Moments slot Shani! 

Thank you for hosting me on your blog today! My new book, Eve: A Christmas Ghost Story launches on the 24th November on Amazon and is the prequel to the popular Psychic Surveys series. Featuring two of the Psychic Surveys team – Theo Lawson and Vanessa Patterson – it’s set between 1899 and 1999 and is loosely inspired by a true event.

In my fictional re-telling, Theo and Ness are asked to investigate a town weighed down by the sorrow of what happened 100 years before…

What do you do when a whole town is haunted? 

In 1899, in the North Yorkshire market town of Thorpe Morton, a tragedy occurred; 59 people died at the market hall whilst celebrating Christmas Eve, many of them children. One hundred years on and the spirits of the deceased are restless still, ‘haunting’ the community, refusing to let them forget.

In 1999, psychic investigators Theo Lawson and Ness Patterson are called in to help, sensing immediately on arrival how weighed down the town is. Quickly they discover there’s no safe haven. The past taints everything.

Hurtling towards the anniversary as well as a new millennium, their aim is to move the spirits on, to cleanse the atmosphere so everyone – the living and the dead – can start again. But the spirits prove resistant and soon Theo and Ness are caught up in battle, fighting against something that knows their deepest fears and can twist them in the most dangerous of ways.

They’ll need all their courage to succeed and the help of a little girl too – a spirit who didn’t die at the hall, who shouldn’t even be there…

As Theo turned round to face the double doors, she had a feeling that someone - something - was rushing at her, as fleetingly as whatever had been in Adelaide's house. Refusing to let fear get a stranglehold, she turned back, her aim to confront it. A black wisp of a shape, like wood smoke, sideswiped her, before fading into nothing. Staring after it, wondering what it was, something else caught her attention. At the far end of the second room was something more substantial: a little girl, staring at her.

Theo's eyes widened. "Oh darling, darling," she whispered. She took a step forwards, tried to remember the names of the children on the list from earlier: Alice, Helen, Bessie, Adelaide's ancestor, Ellen Corsby perhaps. Which one was she?

She inched closer still. "Darling, your name, tell me what it is."

The little girl's arms moved upwards, she stretched them out, her manner beseeching although she remained mute. Theo tried again, told the child her own name.

"It's short for Theodora. I bet you're called something pretty."

The girl had a dress on; long, brownish, a course material - linen perhaps? Nothing special but if it was her party dress then maybe it was special to her. Her boots were brown too - lace ups, sturdy looking. She was around eight or nine but it was hard to tell. She could have been older just small for her age. Her hair was brown and tangled; she had a mane of it. Everything about her seemed to be brown or sepia, maybe sepia was the right word, as though she'd stepped out of an old photograph.

"I'm here now, sweetheart, I've come to help. You've been here for such a long time. Too long. You need to go to the light, go home, rest awhile."

Up closer, Theo could read her eyes. The longing in them stirred her pity.

"Let me help you," Theo persisted, her voice catching in her throat. As glorious as the other side might be, she still felt it unfair to be felled at such a young age. Often this was a good existence too and it deserved to be experienced fully.

She was close now, so close and still her arms were outstretched.

Harriet - the name presented itself whole in her mind.

"Your name's Harriet. Is that correct? It's lovely, it suits you."

Was that a smile on the child's lips, the beginnings of trust? Soon she'd be able to reach out and touch her. What would she feel like? Cold? Ethereal?

"Darling, I'm here," she repeated, no more than a foot between them. "I'm here."

Joy surged - one spirit had come forward - it was an encouraging start.

Just before their hands touched everything changed. Hope and joy were replaced with confusion as something sour - fetid almost - rose up, making her feel nauseous.

"Don't be afraid," Theo implored. Yet there was nothing but fear in her eyes now. No, not fear, that was too tame a word - terror.

"I'm not here to harm you," she continued. "I'm here to help."

As the words left her mouth, other hands appeared behind the child, a whole sea of them - disembodied hands that clawed at her, forcing her backwards.

"No!" Theo shouted. "Stop it. Leave her alone!"

But it was no use. Her words faded as the girl did. She'd been torn away, recaptured; the one who'd dared to step forward. Theo could feel sweat break out on her forehead, her hands were clammy. She clutched at her chest, her breathing difficult suddenly, laboured. Her heart had been problematic of late, a result of the pounds she'd piled on. She must go to the doctor to get some medication. Struggling to gain control, it took a few moments, perhaps a full minute, before her heart stopped hammering. And when it did, she remembered something else. The girl's eyes - her sweet, brown, trusting eyes - when the expression changed in them they hadn't been looking at her, they'd been looking beyond her. Was it at the thing that sideswiped her? Theo couldn't be certain. She wasn't certain either if that 'thing' was a spirit or much less than that - something with no soul, but with an appetite, an extreme appetite: a craving. Something, she feared, was insatiable.

That's definitely an appetite whetter, Shani! 

You can get your copy of EVE here: 

About Shani...
Brighton-based author of paranormal fiction, including UK Amazon Bestseller, Psychic Surveys Book One: The Haunting of Highdown Hall. Psychic Surveys Book Two: Rise to Me, is also available and due out in November 2015 is Eve: A Christmas Ghost Story - the prequel to the Psychic Surveys series. She is also the author of Jessamine, an atmospheric psychological romance set in the Highlands of Scotland and described as a 'Wuthering Heights for the 21st century.'

Psychic Surveys Book Three: 44 Gilmore Street is in progress.

All events in her books are inspired by true life and events.

Catch up with Shani via her website or on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Facebook Author Page:

Thank you for sharing with us today, Shani, and best wishes for a fantastic official launch tomorrow. I'll be popping in when I can - grand childminding duties meaning the timing of that will be a little unpredictable.


Sunday 22 November 2015

Book Week Scotland preparation!


I've been busy today getting organised for my Book Week Scotland events. To help celebrate this wonderful week of encouraging the art of reading, I've set up a couple of things.

1) I've reduced the price of THE TAEXALI GAME across the Amazon network to 99p/99c/ 0.99 Euros for the duration of Book Week Scotland 23rd- 29th November. that my friends and readers in Australia and New Zealand have the same time duration I asked Amazon to do this earlier today (22nd) and it's already live.

2) I have 2 signed copies of THE TAEXALI GAME ready to post out to winners of the draw of people 'liking' my Rubidium Time Travel page on Facebook. If you want to ENTER to WIN a signed copy then hop on over to HERE and click the 'liked' button. To be sure I don't miss your name, please add it to thread on the 'Pinned post' so that I know you want to be in the draw.

Thank you and good luck! 

Also, to start off the Book Week Scotland celebrations here's an excerpt from THE TAEXALI GAME for you to enjoy...

(p.s. I wish  I really was an artist  :-( )


“This Beltane must be different, people of Balbath. Let your animals be sacrificed again rather than yourselves.”
The crowd’s low moan was eerie. All around them Aran and the twins could feel the alarm of the people of Balbath…though they could also see determination in their faces. Were the animals going to be sacrificed on these fires? Aran felt Caitlinn burrow in closer to his leg.
“Are they going to burn these poor cows, Aran?” Fianna whispered in his ear.
Aran’s head shaking was her only reply as the druid returned to his prayers. In actual fact, he hadn’t a clue what was about to happen.
“Let these healthy animals aid us to fight our foe as they did last Lughnasadh.” After the druid warned another time, he walked to one end of the spears and gestured to the people ranged behind the fires on that side, his arms waving towards the sky in a wide circular movement.
His silent signal didn’t make any sense to Aran. It still made no sense when the druid walked to opposite end of the spears and made the same gestures.
Returning to his staff, his arms and stag’s head rose skywards in open supplication. His voice reached epic strength as he bawled a prayer to the heavens.
“Oh, mighty Taranis, from your realm above, give our animals your blessing!”
On the last word, the corral of warriors holding back the cows began to split open. The first of the animals was lashed into movement, forced to launch itself down the avenue of fire towards the druid. The thwacking of birch switches, and the cries of farmers alongside the terrified beast, kept it in motion as it howled and screeched through the fire corridor. The rest of the animals surged forwards into the walkway on the hooves of the first. Running alongside the lowing beasts, to keep them in order, the farmers kept up their hollers.
It was like a mini-earthquake as the cows thudded their way up the glowing orange and red channel. Aran watched the people of Balbath kneel down at their place behind the fires as the beasts proceeded through the fire corridor. The tribespeople touched both hands to the earth below them to feel the pounding of the beasts. Women pulled down some now screaming and howling infants as the great charging of hooves rocked the soil beneath them, the reverberations rippling below the whole arena. Aran felt Caitlinn pull him down, Fianna and Brian following suit mimicking the tribespeople, since the elders alongside him had knelt to the ground as well.
The terrified cattle reached Tuadh’s end of the fire corridor. One by one, they hurtled themselves right or left when they were confronted by the line of spears. Once they had turned, they loped away from the crowds to disappear out into the darkness, where other warriors waited ready to quieten them. Aran understood the significance of the druid’s arm gestures now. The druid had been ensuring the space was cleared for the beasts’ exit.
When rounded up, the terrified cattle would be taken back to their enclosures.
As the last few animals started their charge, a huge and totally deafening roar went up from the crowd, drowning out the thunder of the cows as the people heralded the end of their cleansing ceremony. The few cows that remained bucked and swerved, here and there, trying to run off but were completely distracted by the human clamour around them.
One bewildered animal escaped the handlers and swivelled between the last two fires instead of completing the journey along the whole fire corridor. Terrified shrieks rent the air as the beast trampled over two men in the front row, pounding them into the ground, smashing limbs to pulp as the creature blasted headlong for the darkness beyond the kneeling people. Panic set in as the throng scattered in all directions away from the snorting and crazy beast. Not knowing which way to go in its headlong flight, it constantly changed direction.
“Flee!” Orla cried as the beast whirled towards them.
Aran felt his cloak yanked back as he leapt to his feet, the warrior behind him dragging him away. Brian’s shout indicated much the same was happening to him as he, too, cried out.
“Run, Fianna!”
Caitlinn whimpered in front of Fianna, too transfixed to even get to her feet. Scooping her up by the shoulders Fianna whirled the little girl out of the animal’s path, throwing her aside like a Frisbee and straight into the arms of a warrior who rushed to help them. Her back now to the animal, Fianna began to run but she’d only taken a couple of steps when its head pounded into her, pitching her high into the air like a rag doll before it charged off into the now cleared space around her.
Fianna thumped to the ground.



Saturday 21 November 2015

Book Week Scotland & The Taexali Game

If you go up to the woods today… might ask - What's that got to do with Book Week Scotland? What follows is some of my every second Saturday post at my Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog but this REBLOG also has added extras about the history of the Hill of Tuach. 

"The ‘up’ isn’t a mistake when I’m referring to the woods at the top of Tuach Hill (pronounced: too-ah) the hill that I can see from my kitchen window in the village of Kintore. It’s a low hill of approximately 75 metres above sea level, typical of the Garioch area of Aberdeenshire where the landscape is of rolling fertile countryside dotted with low hills and knolls—some natural and some man made. Neolithic long barrows (burial mounds) and ancient standing stone circles are also dotted around the area, many of which have been excavated and documented. To the far right of the photo above are the remnants of an ancient standing stone circle, though you can't see them since they're just tucked in behind the lower tree line.  

It’s important to me that these ancient monuments are still accessible by the public – and by my hunter-gatherer grandkids – but the downside of that freedom is that over the last centuries many of the monuments have been considerably eroded. That erosion isn’t necessarily from intended damage to the stones but constant foot traffic and soil wearing away has taken its toll. Tuach Hill is a well-liked place for dog walkers and it has been a popular spot for teenagers to hang- out in for many decades—probably even centuries. Lots of those users have been, and are still, blithely unaware of the antiquity within the area.

It’s a great place to go exploring when you’re only 4 and 1 and ½ years old—and it’s totally amazing just what grandma sets you to find along the way! Our collection of pine cones, twigs and forest floor debris increases each time we go for a wander, though we’ve yet to find anything seriously ancient.
In 1864, a local historian named Watt identified the Neolithic stone circle on Tuach Hill as having 6 remaining stones of a circle that was originally 24 feet in diameter. He states that there was, until recently (i.e. sometime shortly before 1864), a flat stone supported by smaller stones at the centre and the whole circle was surrounded by a wide trench and bank of 12 feet wide. Excavations made at the site (probably by him) revealed four cremation burials at the bases of the upright stones, three of which had inverted urns covering the remains.  Further cremation burials were suspected at the bases of other stones and more at the central stone. The stone circle on Tuach Hill had clearly been an important ceremonial site for a very long time

Sadly, 20 years later it was recorded that only 2 stones remained upright, though exactly why such deterioration had happened in a very short time is unclear.

Today only one stone is upright with a few other bits and pieces scattered around it. 

A recent small excavation of the site was done in 2011 and the results can be accessed here, the gist of it being that the remains on Tuach Hill are unusual in that they are thought to be of a mixture of those typical of a small henge monument yet they are also common to the settings found in the last types of stone circles to be laid down in the late Bronze Age.
You'll get details of that find here: 

I love visiting the remains of the stone circle at Tuach Hill because they are almost on my doorstep and because I've written about Tuach Hill in one of my novels (The Taexali Game), though I have to acknowledge that there are many other circles in Aberdeenshire which are much more impressive, details of which can remain for another blog post.

The Scottish Gaelic form of Kintore is Ceann-an-Torr . The Ceann part means the head or the end of …and ‘Torr’ means a round hill. This is thought to refer to Tuach Hill which is to the south of the town.

According to tradition, though any paper document as proof is long lost, Kintore was first inhabited in the 9th Century AD. It’s said that the locals helped King Kenneth MacAlpine to fight the invading Danes (Vikings) by covering themselves with oak branches and driving their cattle towards the enemy- allowing Kenneth to rout the Danish intruders. How true that is cannot be proven, and my mind boggles at the images I can create for such a scene, but I can easily envisage it all happening at Tuach Hill. The present heraldic Coat of Arms having been formally granted in 1959 incorporates the oak and the cows of the fabled battle. 

I’d love to find more time to investigate the Kenneth MacAlpin era because he is credited with having been the first proper ‘king’ of the whole of Scotland. Before the time of the above legend involving killing the Danes, Kenneth MacAlpin was King of Dalriada, a huge tract of land in the West of Scotland. Kintore, in pre- MacAlpin times was part of what is loosely named Pictland, the last king of the area thought to have been Drest mac Fethal (IX) who was most likely killed by Kenneth Mac Alpin around AD 848. Why the locals then assisted their new ruler very soon after, approximately AD 850, is intriguing though a good degree of coercion comes to my mind.

Tuach Hill has also been called the Gallows Hill though, to date, I can find no research data which explains why this should be so...though you can find out one theory I've ruled out by reading  The Taexali Game. 

In The Taexali Game, my time travel novel for Middle Grade/YA readers, set in Kintore in AD 210, my local Taexali chief is called Tuadh. In the earlier drafts of the novel he was named Tuach, and then Tuoch, but in my final version I settled on the spelling of Tuadh. The reason for this has to do with the local mystery that my time travellers have to solve, in addition to completing their interactive game task list whilst remaining alive- the threats to them coming from both the invading Ancient roman legions and some local Celtic tribesmen. To know the answer as to why I changed his name- again, you’ll need to read the novel.

A reviewer says:  “(I)… soon became drawn into this fast-paced quest with a strong sense of history, and can only admire the skill of grandmother Nancy Jardine in using a meld of fiction, research and fantasy to educate the young of today in the world of ancient Roman Britain.”

About Book Week Scotland? 

Next week, 23rd to 29th November, is Book Week Scotland. This annual event is a week long celebration of reading during which activities are held throughout Scotland intended to encourage and promote the pleasures gained from reading. In 2013, a local author friend and I held an afternoon Drop-In Quiz at a local cafe, and my 2014 contribution was an author talk at a local Public Library. 

During Book Week Scotland 2015 The Taexali Game will be reduced to 99p (dollar equivalent). There will also be a ‘giveaway’ of signed paperback copies of The Taexali Game via my Rubidium Time Travel Series author page on Facebook.  Look out for the details here on late Saturday 21st Nov :

It’s my way of celebrating this year but I did wonder what else I might have done. What would you have done?


Friday 20 November 2015

The Magician's Bride by Jen Black

My Friday slot is about The Magician's Bride by Jen Black. 

One thing about nursing a nasty cold, is that I don't feel so guilty about taking time out to squeeze in some really pleasurable leisure reading into my restricted reading slots - that is, after my grand childminding duties are over! 

I'm still making headway with my non-fiction Roman Britain history texts, but needing a break and something less demanding, I started The Magician's Bride. 
I've read Jen Black's work before (Dark Whisky road) and looked forward to reading this one. 

Here are my thoughts on it...

If you need some enjoyable escapism, and like a bit of magic mixed in with fast paced adventure, you’ll love the The Magician’s Bride. Gisla, a young woman of great courage, goes to incredible lengths to avoid a marriage to the dastardly magician, Karli Olafsson. Even though she’s a strong willed character, able to make many decisions for herself, it’s good that Gisla meets Olli Ketilsson almost immediately since he is her champion throughout the story- albeit he’s a young man with flaws and slightly immature edges. Thankfully, Gisla’s able to also get support from Flane, Olli’s foster father, who in turn can rely on his sailing crew to aid the young couple when they are beset by the Vikings who are in the pay of the magician.

The locations for this Viking novel are very interesting, though not overly described.Viking travel between the west coast of Scotland (Alba), or northern England (Cumbria), and Dyflin (Dublin) on the east coast of Ireland is easy to imagine at a time when the Vikings dominated over huge swathes of the land on both islands. I’ve not yet studied Viking Scotland - on the 'must do sometime' list- but it seems to me that the author gives a credible picture of what life was probably like at a time when the traditions of the Vikings were being lived alongside an established Christian way of life.

In addition to the main characters in Olli and Gisla, there’s a variety of characters in the novel – bad and good- who enhance the backdrop and plot and add plenty of colour to the tale.

Once I got used to the unusual treatment of point of view in the novel, it was an extremely quick, pleasant, and well-edited read.  


Wednesday 18 November 2015

Squirreling away the facts...

Welcome to Wednesday!

Research. Do you love it or hate it? Do you opt to do some more research just because you feel like it or because it will have some immediate benefit?

Personally I'm hooked and call any historical non- fiction reading that I've been doing lately -all in the nature of research. It's maybe not ALL necessary for any new writing I'm doing for my #Celtic Fervour Series but there's something new to be found on almost every page, or something I'd forgotten from an earlier book. I know that I'm not going to use any new facts immediately in my WIP writing but I'm fairly sure it'll be useful at a later stage for some of my activities whether it be for my fiction writing or for my new pastime- by that I mean my public speaking events.

My recent dabbling into my new book collection has developed into a thorough read of all of the historical non-fiction books that now grace my bookshelves. Homemade bookmarking slips will remain in places as markers for that future day when I want to access the information again. I can do this with my printed books but not so easily with my kindle ones, though the bookmarking facility is there to be learned better!

I'm currently working my way anti-clockwise from the 'English Heritage - Hadrian's Wall' at the one o'clock position, which I read last week. I'm a good way through a thorough read of the book at the top left in the photo (Roman Britain A New History  by Guy de la Bedoyere). It's very readable, the author's interpretation quite an interestingly and refreshingly honest one regarding the unreliability of only taking archaeological interpretative sources as the truth...or alternatively only taking the 'ancient 'historical' texts about Roman Britain as the truth. I like how he is stressing it needs a mix of both ...and then a sensible judgement made.

It's all quite soothing since I'm wabbit and nursing a disgusting 'blocked ear-to-ear' cold. Nodding off for an afternoon nap isn't in the plan but ...I'm not discounting it either.


Monday 16 November 2015

#Monday Moments with Roman Britain non-fiction.

My #Monday Moments are about Roman Britain non-fiction.

My last week passed by in a blur of activities, some of which found me immersed in further Roman research, some in reading fiction for pleasure and much of the week was spent organising myself  for giving further presentations on Roman Scotland. Preparations for selling my novels at Christmas Craft Events also took up a bit of time. All events were very worthwhile!

My new research reading materials, which arrived from mid October 2015 onwards, have mostly been read now, or well dipped into. 

This set of books were ordered with the intention of me improving my knowledge of what was happening in Britain during the years AD 84 through to around AD 96 - though I also feel a need to improve my knowledge of the post Emperor Domitian era of AD 84 all the way to the end of the reign of Emperor Caracalla in AD 217.

I know a little of the Trajanic & Hadrianic periods, and similarly for the era of Antoninus Pius—especially with reference to Roman activity in Scotland, but learning a lot more definitely won’t go amiss!

The English Heritage copy of Hadrian’s Wall (top right in the above photo) was definitely worth the incredibly low sum I paid for it via Amazon. How it can be possible to buy a book like the one I'm mentioning for ONLY 1p (£0.01) is quite incredible, but that was what it cost! It may be because there's a new print run that's either available now, or for the coming seasons in 2016. If so, I don't imagine too much will be changed and I'll get any new developments via other sources. 

As a general guide to the ‘wall’ I wasn’t expecting in depth historical references but I was pleased to find it has fantastic graphics which are very useful since I have sometimes have a tendency to absorb image information better these days than straight text. If you’re looking for a good general overview of Hadrian's Wall, and some information about the milecastles and forts in the wall’s proximity, then I don’t hesitate to recommend it. 

Cheviot Hills - Wikimedia Commons

Since it’s my intention to include some scenes, in areas where Hadrian’s Wall was eventually built, in my current manuscript of (WIP) of Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series this book is useful for imagining the terrain. The chances of the higher landscape of the Cheviot Hills being markedly different some 2000 years ago are unlikely, except perhaps where there is now heavy forestation that has been planted during the last half millennium. Vast areas of the high hills of the Southern Uplands are probably not much changed.

I'll make comments on the other non- fiction books seen above quite soon....


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Monday 9 November 2015

Monday Moments with Nik Morton's Tana Standish

My Monday Moments are with Nik Morton and The Tana Standish Spy Series.

I have to be totally honest and say that I thought that I had reviewed The Prague Papers, #1 of the Tana Standish Spy Series, months ago but when I went to add a review for Book 2 which I've just finished reading, I found no review on Amazon, or Goodreads, or my blog for the first book.

I'm now about to correct that oversight since I actually had written the short review for The Prague Papers and saved it on my old laptop but hadn't managed to publish it anywhere. I'll be posting both reviews on the sites mentioned above asap and will be giving both of them 5 stars since I really enjoyed the storylines and the excellent editing throughout.

So here are my thoughts on both of these excellent reads. I've really enjoyed all that I've read of Nik's work so far and this series makes for great reading as well.

How I found ...The Prague Papers. 

This was a brilliant read from the exciting beginning right through to the end, the pace constant and the story of the young Tana Standish engrossing. Tana is more than just a very excellently trained British secret agent. The addition of her incredible psychic abilities means she’s got the edge on the extraction of information to send back to headquarters. The story has many dark moments but the writing is sharp and crisp making the more gory bits not too awful for the reader who isn’t into serious pain and bloodshed. The locations are very well described – something I’ve noted with other novels that I’ve read by Nik Morton. His research seems faultless to me as an occasional reader of politically based spy thrillers. Tana is a young woman with a mission; in part her drive having been moulded by her background which we glean just sufficiently to make it all believable. I look forward to reading more of Tana’s escapades. 

and... The Tehran Text

I looked forward to reading this novel since I’ve read #1 of this series. I have to say #2 The Tehran Text was quite complicated at the beginning, and keeping track of the characters was definitely a challenge, but overall it was a fabulous and smartly paced read. The points of view of the characters changed pretty abruptly, at times, but I soon got used to it. I wasn’t too familiar with the Iranian situation prior to 1979, but the scenario Nik morton has put forward in The Tehran Text helped me to understand the kind of life circumstances which Tana was inhabiting-for short durations.
Tana definitely leads an exciting life as a British agent extraordinaire, her psychic abilities making her even more successful than normal- though even the best agent can sometimes find themselves in some very tricky and sticky situations! The double life she leads under cover is not for the faint hearted and it was a sad read when some of her locally based activist friends meet their grisly end. Spies and double agents abound in the novel, many with almost comparable psychic abilities to Tana, which make life very deadly at times for her and her fellow British agents. I certainly wouldn’t want to meet the Spetsnaz female agent Aksakov in real life but I am looking forward to reading more of the empathetic Yakunin. The ending left me wanting more of Tana Standish!

Happy reading to you!