Wednesday 28 December 2016

#SALE at Crooked Cat Books!

Wednesday update...a late one, but for me it's still the 28th December! 

My publisher Crooked Cat has just announced a 3 day #SALE of their ebooks across Amazon!

There's loads to choose from, including my 6 novels, so why not pick them up at the bargain price of 99p/c equivalent!

This link will go to my author page  and if you want to browse more of Crooked Cat just type that name in the search box and have fun choosing!


Sunday 25 December 2016

Christmas pressie for you!

Merry Christmas!

My Christmas/ holiday/ whatever you want to call the day gift for you is a FREE e-copy of The Taexali Game. It will be FREE on 25th and 26th December.

Pick up your copy using this link HERE 

Feedback would be really welcome so whoever reads my time travel adventure, please pop a Review on Amazon or drop me a note.  

Wishing you a very good day.


Saturday 24 December 2016

Advance warning! #The Taexali Game is my seasonal gift to you!

Antoine Callet - Wikimedia Commons
Saturnalia is over now and it's Christmas Eve as I post this.

The Saturnalia celebrations in ancient Rome would be over but they'd be gathering their strength for a new round of celebrations since the Romans seemed to have loved almost any excuse to have a great time.

When the rousing, riotous Saturnalia celebrations  were over it was time for the masters to assume their former superiority and for the servants and slaves to don the aprons again, back in their subservient roles. The 'Lord of Misrule' time, which came down to the medieval merrymakers in a fairly unchanged way, was short but no doubt very sweet. So when the roman household returned to normal, I imagine it would have been a time for the master to settle down and read the latest bulletin scrolls and what passed as leisure reading for the time. I don't say novels because I don't think there were any!

Today when it gets to Christmas Eve, as it is now as I write this, the time is approaching for many to relax and enjoy a few days of leisure. Settling down with a grat book is what I aim to do when not our partying and preparing the Boxing Day meal.

However, I have already been on Amazon making sure that I've got new books on my kindle to keep me going for the coming days. Have you?

Whatever your religious persuasion, or if you have none, I have a SPECIAL SEASONAL OFFER for you.

THE TAEXALI GAME will be FREE across Amazon on December 25th & 26th, so if you haven't read it yet here's a great chance to grab a copy of my Teen Time Travel novel set in AD 210, northern Britannia when the Ancient Roman Emperor Severus tramped his legions into Taexali territory.

THE TAEXALI GAME is being read by adults as well as younger readers so don't miss out on this great adventure.

What do my time travelers - Aran, Brian and Fianna - experience in THE TAEXALI GAME? They have a neat little game task list to fulfil AND they must solve a local mystery. How do they do that? #

One way to find out is to grab your copy tomorrow (Dec 25th) or Dec 26th and.... read.

One last thing - I'd really love feedback when you've read the story so please either pop a Review into the box on Amazon, or send me an email  

Have  a very Merry Christmas when it comes.


Wednesday 21 December 2016

The Ancient Places - #Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice Venues 

Aberdeenshire, #Scotland, is full of ancient places dotted around the countryside, open to the eye and available to the touch— should anyone wish this. 

Loanhead of Daviot, Aberdeenshire
Neolithic standing stones and stone circles abound, many of which are thought to have been set down in perfect alignment with the seasons and were most likely used as lunar calendars, all executed with an impressive astronomical knowledge. Yet, it would appear that the Neolithic locals who frequented some of the stone circles also had other purposes beyond getting a seasonal marker that told them to expect the days to lengthen after the winter solstice.

I wrote a blog post earlier this year on my own blog HERE about a site named the Loanhead of Daviot where there is a Neolithic recumbent stone circle, the horizontal stone being laid down in line with the moonset on the winter solstice. My earlier post wasn't inspired by the Winter Solstice so some of the information today may be a little different.

There are cremated remains at the base of some of the upright monoliths, buried under small cairns (piles of stones mounded up). It’s thought the burial urns and beakers found there were possibly buried during the construction of the circle approx. 4000-5000 years ago. There are also cremated remains beneath the large cairn of stones which once filled the interior of the standing stone circle at Loanhead of Daviot. Though whether this burial area predates the construction of the circle, or whether the grave area was set out sometime after, is unknown. And sometime later, between 1500 and 500 B.C., a nearby circular area was also used as a cremation cemetery, an excavation in the 1930s finding remains of over 30 individuals.

The cremation evidence gives indication that the site was possibly used for ceremonial purposes of some sort and seems to indicate some link with revering the dead who were buried there. Whether there was any particular use of the circle at Loanhead of Daviot, and indeed all of the other Neolithic circles, during the winter solstice is unknown, but it is an intriguing possibility. The physical human effort expended in creating the circles was huge and to not use them regularly over the millennia and centuries seems wasteful.

It’s not known if druid winter solstice festivals were common among the indigenous late Iron Age tribes of Aberdeenshire. However, since there is some evidence of parallels in Celtic roundhouse dwelling and lifestyles, it’s possible that the ritual and belief system across Aberdeenshire was similar to the druidic customs of south western Britain and parts of mainland Europe. If some form of druid conducted ceremony was common before the invasion of the ancient Romans then there were plenty of ancient stone circles and potentially sacred groves to choose from! 

Many winter traditions in Scotland have very ancient roots, like the festivals of Yule and Hogmanay, and I suspect some traditional pagan use of the standing stone circles of Aberdeenshire lingered well into the Christian era, even though the use would maybe have been frowned upon by the local Christian church. The remoteness of many of the circles from what would have been the towns and cities of the day would have meant that old pagan rites could have quite happily co-existed with Christian ones, even if conducted in a semi-clandestine manner.

It’s historically documented that the Christian Church, in its earliest centuries, quite readily used existing popular pagan festival times, renaming them as Christian celebrations. The re-use of pagan temples as Christian churches is also documented across the later Roman Empire and (I think) ‘absorption’ of sorts may have happened with some popular pagan sites, and maybe even of the associated rituals, in Scotland.
Midmar Kirk- Wikimedia Commons
Midmar Kirk in Aberdeenshire, ~10 miles from my house, is a perfect example of the practice of building Christian monuments adjacent to Neolithic sites (also found elsewhere across the UK). At the Midmar Kirk site, there’s a recumbent stone circle, a Christian church and a Christian graveyard all within a small area. There's open farmland around the church so, even during the time of the church construction in 1787, there would have been other sites to choose from for building a new church at Midmar. However, it’s documented that the site was purposely chosen because there was an 18th Century belief that the stone circle was a Druid religious structure and that Druidism was thought (at the time) to be an offshoot of Christianity. I'm not sure yet how local a thought that might have been. 

At Midmar, excavations have revealed what was probably a Neolithic cremation cairn at the centre of the standing stone circle, though the evidence has largely been destroyed at some past time—possibly when the church was built in 1787. What’s also interesting about Midmar is that the standing stones have been ‘tidied up’ in the past, possibly also around the time of the church construction. One of the stones is probably not in its correct order around the circle since the upright stones in a recumbent stone circle usually range in order of highest stones flanking the recumbent stone and grading down to the smallest on the opposite side of the recumbent.

The building of a Christian church at Midmar indicates that reuse of a spiritual area that had been used by ‘pagans’ for thousands of years wasn't in conflict with local Christian doctrine. The graveyard you see in the photograph was used for burials from the early 1800s, close up to the ancient stones. That isn't unusual in Aberdeenshire, either. The visitor to the shire will find many churchyards which contain ancient menhirs, Pictish symbol stones dated from post AD 400 after the Roman invasion of Britain, and gravemarkers from medieval times to more recent ones...but they will have to be covered in another blog post.


The eternal #Winter Solstice
Wednesday welcomes to the Winter Solstice!
Today marks the Winter Solstice and I always look forward to this time knowing that after today the days will get longer and the nights shorter. Though, to be perfectly honest, in my part of Scotland, it takes a good few days to actually FEEL it being any different. 

As a hobby historian, I’m enthralled by everything I read about the Winter Solstice. Though, I confess to sometimes being a tad confused as to what all of the possible historical meanings and traditions surrounding the winter solstice might be.

There are current neo-pagan winter solstice ceremonies held in my part of the world, Scotland, which hearken back to the past, to a time when the people of the land—hunters or farmers—spent most of their time out of doors. Worshipping the sun was natural and when the dark days of winter descended it must have seemed like their sun god was neglecting, or forsaking, them. For these ancient peoples, respecting the sun god as a wheel which indicated the turning and changing of the seasons was common from The Norse Lands to the Mediterranean. The winter solstice was a time for killing the livestock they knew they couldn’t feed over the harsh winter. It was a time for drying off, or perhaps smoking, some of the meats and feasting with what could be afforded for celebration. The small beer supplies would have been stored and a current brew ready for merrymaking! When the days are short, grey, wet and cold at the winter solstice it’s a perfect time for boosting the spirits.

For some the Winter Solstice marks the beginning of YULE, a period of celebration that lasts some days. The Christian festival time of Christmastide was conveniently re-named from the existing pagan winter festival time - weren't the earliest Christians practical people? 

There are various spellings of the word Yule (jul/jol/Iul/ geola) but the days following the winter solstice were a time for lighting fires and keeping warm, for feasting and telling stories of the return of the sun. It’s unknown exactly how the winter festival ceremonies during the Neolithic or Iron Ages were actually conducted in Aberdeenshire but it’s nice to speculate that they would have been similar to what probably went on in mainland Europe. We have some ancient writing by notable Romans, like Julius Caesar, who briefly mention the druids of the continent, in Gaul and other geographical areas. From those ancient sources many interpretations of what druid devotees did have been formed over the intervening centuries. Similarly, much of the information I've included here has been interpreted from ancient sources.
Mistletoe- Wikimedia Commons
Druid cutting of mistletoe to use in fertility rites is a common modern image, leading to the current use of kissing under the mistletoe sprig—yet real mistletoe isn’t easily found. Yes, it can be cut from the oak tree (and other tree species in which it inhabits) but being a parasite, it won’t be found in every tree! However, the oak tree was powerfully sacred in the druid faith and any white mistletoe berries growing on it were seen as a symbol of life during the dark winter months.

My home-made holly wreath hearkens back to ancient druidic rituals when the dark green evergreen leaves of the holly (Ilex) represented the desire for nature to keep the earth beautiful during the ‘dead’ period of winter.

 The Celts set branches and leaves of holly around their dwellings during winter to provide shelter to the fairy folk and to give harbour to other small creatures, an extension of the welcome they gave to human strangers who stepped into their homes. 

I like the idea that my holly can be used for shelter!

The deep red berries of the holly are also said (by some) to represent the sacred menstrual blood of the Celtic goddesses, a life affirming aspect of womanhood. The wearing of holly to attend druidic religious ceremonies embodied some form of protection against malignant spirits of the wood, like the god Cernunnos who was claimed to be fickle in his dealings with humans.

Today, the Christian use of holly symbolises eternal life; the thorns a reminder of the crown Jesus wore during his crucifixion; and its red berries Christ’s spilled blood. 

That these ancient traditions are still adhered to in some form is testimony to the blending of religious practices and adherence over the centuries, and the country that I live in has many prime examples of this. Winter solstice traditions may have indicated different religious adherence in days gone past, and even perhaps today, but the one constant of the winter solstice is that it marks the ‘standing still’ of the sun before the shortest day leads in to days becoming longer and longer, with the sunlight becoming more predominant than the dark days of the moon.

Aberdeenshire is full of historical artefacts dotted around the countryside, open to the eye and available to the touch— should anyone wish this. Neolithic standing stones and stone circles abound, many of which are thought to have been set down in perfect alignment with the seasons and were most likely used as lunar calendars, all executed within an impressive astronomical knowledge. Yet, it would appear that the Neolithic locals who frequented some of the stone circles also had other purposes beyond getting a seasonal marker that told them to expect the days to lengthen after the winter solstice.

By the late Iron Age, what the locals of 'Aberdeenshire' did around the standing stones or did at the Winter Solstice isn't known either but I'll be including a short scene in my current writing, the still unnamed Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series. 

And today?

Whether or not any of these stone circles are used by modern neo-pagans is something I’d have to find out…

I'll be writing more about Aberdeenshire stone circles very soon so look out for that and for news about a special seasonal OFFER!


Tuesday 13 December 2016

Taking a breather….now and then!

Taking a breather….

Phew! What exactly might that mean?

Is it my daily dose of reading a new post at  #Christmas with The Crooked Cats on Facebook? Yes, it might be. There's a fantastic opportunity to WIN a Crooked cat book every single day in December and you can't get much fairer than that! 

It could be a little bit of downtime like I’m currently claiming, after a hectic period of pre-Christmas madness having been involved in novel signing & selling sessions since early November at various Christmas craft venues, my table all decked out in its festive glory. 

Last Saturday was my last ‘Fair’ of the year and I’m now looking forward to having free Saturdays over the winter months to do whatever seems natural- hopefully a lot more writing!

This mid-December downtime isn’t real though, since it coincides with a busy family time fitting in visits to Pantomime, Santa’s Grotto and meeting friends for ‘Christmas Nights Out’. Not to mention the traditional family get together when we buy our real Christmas tree, have lunch with my daughters (if there’s time during a work lunch hour), and afterwards when I have the pleasure of decorating both tree and house! As of yesterday, my tree is bought and decked out in its finery, some of which dates back to the 1950s, the glass decorations belonging to my aunt and my mother.

Still to do is the posting of my great nieces' and great nephews' gifts, and the wrapping of the ones already bought so that I can pop them under that tree. There's also that moment when I check the gift list to make sure I've not forgotten anyone. And I sometimes do! Oops, then there's another check of the menu for the Boxing Day meal that I'm cooking since one daughter is hosting Christmas Day and the other New Year. The table's likely to be set for a dozen but the numbers can fluctuate! 

Did I mention taking a breather? During the mid-winter time that can be dreary and dark, it’s really important to recharge the batteries… because of what is yet to come.  

It makes me think about what the winter festival actually means for me. Christmas and New Year are times to enjoy my family even more than normal. It’s a time to make more fuss than would be typical. Our Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Ne'erday fare is more elaborate. Its a time set aside for us to be together as an extended family - in-laws included - when we play board games and do other fun stuff. There will hopefully be some snow on the ground for my grandson and granddaughter to build a snowman, yet we hope the weather isn't too hazardous for the family to drive to the host’s house.

We enjoy our cosy celebration in heated surroundings, holly and ivy decking the halls (easy since I have very large badly-needing-pruned holly trees and wild ivy dotted around the garden) - the holly and ivy being traditional symbols which harken back to a time and religion of long ago.

But …A cosy mid-winter celebration isn’t what’s happening to one of the characters in my current historical writing and the trees she is surrounded by are quite different.
Enya is also taking a breather but not because she’s about to have a hectic festival season. She’s actually quite miffed about that because her people are not in a position to celebrate anything!

It’s AD 84 and Enya lives in northern Britannia. The festival of the winter solstice is coming very soon when the sun god, Lugh, seeps out a tiny bit more light and makes the days begin to lengthen. Enya’s people normally look forward to a celebration in mid-winter to mark the time when the earth’s cycle hovers momentarily and then the long dark nights become shorter, and the daylight gradually becomes longer. 

In good times, Enya’s people feast well and enjoy a great gathering - the bards singing the praises of their famous ancestors. Young, fledgling warriors like Enya are heralded to fully branded status during happy ceremonies but that’s not likely for her this coming winter festival time – though she’s proved her worth already by killing a Roman soldier in the recent battle at Beinn na Ciche. Her people have no time to celebrate or to mark the success of their young warriors. Elevation of her official status to full warrior must wait for more settled times. Thousands of Roman soldiers are still encamped nearby and might pounce at any time. 

Enya's feeling out of sorts with the gods and goddesses but it doesn’t mean she's given up on them completely. She regularly gives praise to her favourite deities, ones which are common to many tribes around the European continent, but most of all she currently pleas for the goddess, Scathach, to favour her. Scathach is a mentor of women warriors and Enya desperately needs the goddess to help her thwart the Roman scourge. Under the command of General Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the legions of Rome continue to harass her people The goddess Scathach is also known as goddess of the dead, ensuring the passage of those killed into the otherworld, but the way Enya is presently feeling she doesn’t care  how many dead Romans Scathach helps along the way  - so long as it’s a lot.

This is the point at which I have a dilemma as an author. Scathach is a warrior goddess of the Ulster Cycle so I can't be sure that she would have also been a goddess of what is now north east Scotland during the era of AD 84. What I feel more sure of is that there would have been some similar local warrior deity that Enya would have favoured. So, do I use the name Scathach in my work or do I invent a new name? 
Another problem is the fact that, in general, the Celtic people/ late iron age tribes of Scotland made no representations of their gods and goddesses for us to be acquainted with, so I can use no definite image for Scathach. 

However there are some very gifted and fanciful artists who have made their visions of Scathach available on the internet. Spoiler alert! If you don't like sexy goddesses- don't click the link! 

Like her Garrigill clan, Enya’s just suffered a humiliating defeat when the forces of Agricola faced the allied Caledonian tribes in battle at Beinn na Ciche. (Book 3 Celtic Fervour Series) She now knows for sure that pitched battle isn’t the answer to defeating the Romans but she vows to find other ways of defending her people. She also prays to Scathach to aid her during her quest to find out the fate of her brother and cousin.

What Enya is currently doing is taking a breather… she’s gathering her strength before she goes off to find her missing relatives.  

I wish you a merry festive season if that's on the cards for you!


If you've still got time today for a little extra coffee time read, what follows was removed from my manuscript for Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series. Some form of it may be eventually be included in the final version of Book 4 but here's a little taster of my writing... 

At this point near the beginning of the story, 14 year old Enya is on surveillance duty in the forest with a few of her fellow warriors. It's only 9 days after the devastating Battle at Beinn na Ciche where the congregated forces of the Caledon allies faced the mighty Roman armies of General Gnaeus Agricola. Roman soldiers are like ants around the countryside seeking out any surviving tribespeople...  

“Cernunnos? I fear you are not a happy god.”
Enya’s whisper was for herself. The forest god favoured neither her, nor her Brigante kin.
A deep chill, accompanied by intermittent sleet mixed rain, had descended after dawn causing a last cascade of colourful leaf drop to glide down from the birches. She might have found the red-gold butterfly flutters appealing had the day been a fair one but Cernunnos demonstrated his anger at the bloody deeds of men in his precious territory. The mush of twinkling, soggy leaves was treacherous underfoot.
Down the slope from where she took cover, the deep thundering of capercaillie panic in the undergrowth of the forest was followed by the strident tapping of a woodpecker.
“Tchik…tchik” The double woodpecker call repeated itself, increasing in volume each time.
Two of them!
Enya’s insides knotted as she pressed her back closer to the damp tree trunk, her teeth clenched tight together to suppress the urge to rant. After pulling the edges of her bratt tighter across her freezing cheeks for more protection, she sneaked her head round to peer down the hill. They had not been the truest of capercaillie or woodpecker calls. The warnings had been issued by Colm of Ceann Druimin and Nith of Tarras, members of her scouting patrol. Their alert meant that two Roman soldiers were in the vicinity but she had no sight of them, yet. She had not encountered any of the Roman bastards since the disastrous battle fought at Beinn Na Ciche.
Slithering sideways to the shelter of the next bole, there was a pause while she drew breath, her life force thumping in her chest, ears strained for further cautioning. She snatched a gaze down the steep incline, though still saw nothing human. A side to side check, and another to the hillside above her, revealed no signs of the enemy there, either. Why would two of the Romans have separated from their companions? It had been drummed into her that Roman army training was not inclined to encourage a few soldiers to break from the smallest fighting unit. Except if they were the ones Uncle Lorcan called exploratores, the lone scouts who evaluated the territory in advance of the arrival of the legions. She hitched in another large gulp of air when a new thought occurred.
She bit back on the whispered words, her head shivering when she squeezed her eyelids tight to dispel the foolish notion. The Roman General Agricola could not possibly be long enough in Taexali lands to be sending out those Uncle Brennus, and his new hearth-wife Ineda, named speculatores. Ineda knew well about those special soldiers who pretended to be visiting Celts, but were spies who infiltrated the local tribes to gain information to send back to the Roman commanders.
Enya allowed a tiny nervous twitch of admiration to break the freeze at her cheeks. Ineda was a woman that she would like to get to know much better because Ineda had been a successful Brigante spy for many winters whilst a slave of a Roman tribune. The woman was as fearless as any who was warrior trained.
Feeling truly brave was not yet a customary emotion that came to her but her warrior skills were sound. Her father, her uncles and aunt Nara of the Selgovae, had seen to that. She worked hard every sunrise counter the alarm that still came unbidden inside her, even if what she showed to others seemed coldly fearless. Since the carnage on the foothills of Beinn Na Ciche she awoke each new day with renewed resolve. Somehow she would find her missing brother and cousin, and she would fight against the Roman usurpers with her last breath to achieve it.
“Tchik…tchik.” More repetitions to remind her to keep vigilant. 
Enya swallowed down the spit she wanted to blast onto the leaves below her feet but such a gesture of contempt might be too noisy. Speculatores pretended to be to Celts. Many of them originally were before they had joined the Roman auxiliary units, but they were now in the thrall of the Romans who rewarded their tribe by absorbing their land into the Roman Empire. Another bile laden grimace was forced down her throat. Imposed conscription to the Roman army during the bulk of their adult years, for a good number of their male warriors, seemed a poor reward for those subsumed tribes.
If Uncle Lorcan and Uncle Brennus were correct, she would never have to face that fate. A dry laugh was suppressed. Dull-witted Romans! She knew many female warriors who fought just as courageously as the males of their tribe but the detested Romans would never allow a woman to become one of their soldiers. They enslaved captive women and that was a much worse fate. Local women had already been taken as prisoners but she would never let that happen to her!
She snatched a peep down the slope but nothing seemed changed. A light sleet still fell in the pale grey gloom but the leaf drop had ceased, the early morning wind having long died away. The sight below meant it was difficult to focus on particular markers in the way her father, Gabrond, had taught her one tree merging into another where the white flakes clung but somewhere down there were two Roman soldiers, blending into that murkiness.
It was in the hands of the forest gods who would be seen first.
According to Uncle Brennus, speculatores intermingled after their arrival at Celtic settlements making friends of local tribesmen, after which they sneakily wormed out information before disappearing into the morning mists, never to return. As a result of their spying, Roman legions followed in their wake to wreak havoc and devastation. She drew in a large breath, closed her eyes and rested the back of her head against the tree trunk. Holding her body immobile she vowed that if she met one of these speculatores, she would throttle him with her bare hands.
Enya shuddered and not just from the cold. The territory near Ceann Druimin was littered with displaced tribesmen from near and far—just like her and her Brigante kinfolk—so how could Chief Lulach of Ceann Druimin be expected to decide who was genuine and who might not be? There was a deep scrutiny of new arrivals at Lulach’s hillfort, yet new bonds had been forged quickly. So many strangers needed to become instantly reliant on each other. A degree of trust had to be entered into since it took every available warrior to keep the clanhold of Ceann Druimin safe from marauding Roman patrols. Like the ones threatening her now. 
When the new series of woodpecker taps echoed around, followed by the deeply croaked repeated kraa of a crow, the pause between each series of kraas unnaturally long, she checked that the fourth member of her band, Feargus of Monymusk, was still close by.
Remain vigilant was Nith of Tarras’ command and his warning came from somewhere far down in the dip of the pine forest. Reining in her anxiety, she blew on her freezing fingers before she curved her hands around her partly open mouth and sent her answering crossbill call.
The rapid series of choops acknowledged she understood there were now three enemy auxiliaries skulking below. Hunkering down behind the trunk, she shook off the icy layer from her bratt then slapped the ends of the sodden wool back over her shoulders, her fingers numb and clumsy as she tucked in wayward strands that had escaped her plaited hair. The measure was poor protection for her chittering body, the relentless pelt of hail stinging her cheeks like she imagined a branding tine would do, though she had yet to experience that. Such happy celebrations to acknowledge her recently gained warrior status had been delayed and were likely to be deferred for a long while. Becoming a fully branded warrior might never happen! 
She was not normally inclined to be morose but nothing was fair. The invading Roman bastards ruined everything in their wake!  
The slightest slip of slushy leaves sparked her attention, her gaze tracking the movements made alongside.
The soft nudge at her shoulder had her rising again to create room for Feargus of Monymusk: his sidling in next to her not unexpected for each was set to guard the other. Restrained exasperation clouded the light-grey glance he darted her way before he again searched the vicinity. It was an age till he whispered, during which her shaky breathing seemed loud in the absence of natural forest noises, the woodland inhabitants warm and tight under cover, unlike she was. Only humans were foolish enough to be out in such unpleasant weather. 
“Vengeance must be harnessed, yet again, Enya. If Nith can only spy three of them then we must hold back an attack. More of their contubernium group of eight will be close by, though they are as yet unseen by us.”
Feargus’ deep voice was the merest flight of wind tickling her ear lobe, his fledgling red chin whiskers an itch she had learned to bear. She was becoming used to the young warrior, barely older than her fourteen winters, who had been her constant lookout companion during her last two days on surveillance duty.
 Enya avidly scanned the surroundings on her side and down the slope, her response mouthed rather than actually heard. “I cannot see Nith, nor any of these Romans, yet his call came up clearly enough.”
“Have you spied Colm down there?”
Feargus sounded casual yet she knew he most likely was as anxious as she was about the fourth and youngest member of their patrol. Of the four of them, Colm of Ceann Druimin was the only one who was bred in the area but he had the least experience of Roman conquest, having been at the rear of the battlegrounds at Beinn Na Ciche. He had not even been confronted by any of the Tungrian or Batavian forces of Agricola. “Nay. I have heard no further capercaillie distress signals, so those Roman auxiliaries must still be at some distance. Nith must surely be making use of Colm’s local knowledge of the dips and pitfalls of these woods. ”
Enya felt the censure when Feargus turned to grunt at her. “Cease your fretting. Nith of Tarras needs the advice of no man about forest surveying.”
She could not prevent the compressing of her lips, nor the shivers. “Aye. It is true enough but Nith should not be out scouting yet. His battle wounds remain raw and this relentless chill will have his breathing rattling like the drumming of warrior fingers at the feast of Beltane.”
Feargus’ disapproval continued though his tone held a hint of admiration. “You know well enough by now that Nith will not be constrained to take rest. His blood vengeance still lingers too high for that.”
Enya was vexed that the foolish warrior from the Selgovae hillfort of Tarras would undo the careful tending he had received at sunrise, the worst of his battle-gained injuries having been cleaned and wrapped anew by Aunt Nara. Nith was a hardy young man, his unshakable persistence in seeking Roman retribution an enviable trait but he was not nearly back to full strength. Eight nights was not sufficient for full healing of the deep chest lacerations he had received. Each first light since her arrival at their encampment at Ceann Druimin, Nith’s pallor had grown greyer as had his disposition.
Her teeth clattered together when she answered. “N…Nith has not trekked this far from Tarras to succumb to the infernal early winter that you have here in Taexali lands.”
Feargus’ wide grin broke some of the tension, his headshake a denial which resulted in droplets of sleet to spatter from his bristly chin hair. “Caledon. Remember this is Caledon territory and these hills are different from my Taexali flatlands. Yet even here in the Caledon forests, early snow like this does not usually fall till closer to our shortest day of the winter solstice. Our gods send a message to those who battle around them.”
Enya huffed, a small quiet agreement. “It would be good to know who of us that the gods punish the most. Is the disfavour mainly for my fellow fleeing Celts from Brigante territories to reflect on, or is it directed at our invading Roman destroyers? Perhaps if you pray harder to your local gods our plight will be alleviated?”
The softest of chuckles escaped Feargus’ lips. “Praying to my Taexali gods would not be the answer. The Caledons of these woods and rolling hills have their own deities. It may be the Cailleach Bheur we need to pray to but I do not have words strong enough to pacify the blue hag. You will need to consult with Colm’s father, Lulach of Ceann Druimin. Though these parts do not lie so far from my Monymusk Taexali territory, the folk hereabouts have their own ways and Lulach knows all across his land.”
A tight smile broke free before Enya again peeped around the tree for a quick survey. Her gaze whipping back to Feargus, she answered, “Lulach may have given my displaced Brigante kin the shelter of his valley but I greatly dread the man and his barbed tongue.”
Feargus’ nod was slight. “Aye. Your Brigante tribespeople have suffered dearly at the hands of the Roman bane for much longer than my fellow Taexali have. But that can also be said for all of the tribes north of Brigantia who have been routed by the troops of the Roman Empire as they storm their way over our tribal lands. I doubt there are many surviving of the Selgovae that you lived amongst for half of your life.”
Enya stared at him. “How can you know that?”
Feargus grinned. “I have been listening well to the tales around the night fires. Travellers from far afield are always interesting to learn about—their stories so unlike our own. I am one of many who are eager to know more of the Garrigill Brigantes and the Tarras Selgovae who have trekked so far north.”
Enya poked her head around the tree and snatched another quick look. When satisfied all was safe her answer came tiredly. “Aye. We have had no home to call our own for such a long time but I did not realise we were gossiped about at the firesides.”
Doubt raised Feargus’ eyebrows, his grin gone. “The reason for your kin being in Taexali and Caledon lands is worth listening to. You have come from a great distance and have knowledge of many Celtic tribes, most of whom were nameless to me before your arrival. Most people hereabouts have rarely left the sight of Beinn Na Ciche.”
Enya was aware that the peak named The Mither Tap, part of the range of hills of Beinn Na Ciche, was a prominent sight on the landscape. During her own trail northwards Uncle Lorcan had been told to head for the peak because somewhere within sight of it was the gathering place for the tribes of the Taexali lowlands and for the Caledon warriors of the mountains. The assembly for battle on the foothills had, indeed, recently happened but the result had been drastic for the Celts. She supposed that many of the Caledon and Vacomagi warriors who had been slain by the Tungrian and Batavian auxiliary forces of Rome had probably only left the safety of their tribal homeland for the first time ever to fight the Roman armies of General Agricola.
After another quick survey she nudged Feargus. “Have you never ventured far? I mean before Agricola’s Roman invasion?”
“Nay, I have not, at least no more than the trek of a day, or two, to the waters of the coast. My mother’s kin are from Baille Mheadhain.”
Enya’s gasp was louder than she intended. “Nay! That is where Agricola’s fleet are based.”
Feargus’ eyes glistened. “Aye. I greatly fear for my mother’s kin. Your uncle, Brennus, told me that prisoners from the area have already been shipped off to the south, to be sold as slaves of the Roman Empire.”
Enya purposely ignored the hitch in his voice. He was a proud young warrior. She still had some of her kin around her but Feargus sounded like he had none left. His gaze was towards the trees alongside them though she imagined his focus was inward.
“My father’s people were farmers at Monymusk. Now, it seems I have no kin left and no fields to tend. Or my family is like your brother and cousin: lost to me for now, until I find them again.”

Enya’s feelings erupted at the mention. Where could her cousin Beathan, and her brother Ruoridh, be? The searches after the battle had found no trace of them, dead or alive. “I hate the Roman bastards. I hate what they have done to people who just want to be left alone to live their lives in their own way. ”

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Are you a Crooked Cat Reader yet?

The delight in being a Crooked Cat Reader

Generally my posts are to do with the fact that I'm a Crooked Cat author rather than a Crooked Cat Reader but this is the other way around.

I joined a Crooked Cat Author Webinar recently and the fun pre- Christmas task was to prepare something to talk about for a 3 minute slot. Since I was late to be added to the attendees, I had to think of something quick and the fact that I'd just started to write a short review of the last Crooked Cat book that I'd read gave me the impetus for my topic.

To narrow my talk/slot down to just less than 3 minutes, I had to do a bit of slash editing but what you read below is more like the original pre-edits. Since it's an important topic and very dear to me, I'm sharing it with you all!

Why I love being a Crooked Cat Books READER

Would you believe me if I said it’s because I love reading books written by people who are becoming familiar to me, some through virtual channels and others that I've met in the flesh? Is it solidarity to support fellow authors at Crooked Cat? there a deep subliminal reason for me liking CC novels?

Like in the ‘My Fair Lady’musical  “By George! I think she’s got it!  
This is where I sing: The Crooked Cats are truly Crooked Categories!

Crooked Categories. Exactly. - but what’s the subliminal deal?

I'd like you to Time Travel with me back to 1957. 
I’m 5 and reading everything I can lay my hands on. Cereal boxes, HP sauce bottle, Sunday Post Children’s Page. What's that? Get our coats on? We're off to the local library with my Dad. He goes every week and loves his reading as well. For him it's an escape to adventures that happen way beyond our Glasgow City streets. My tomboy sister, 4 years older than me is a very good reader, but she prefers playing outside, on her bike or with her friends. I'm too young for my own ticket but her ticket gets me 2 books every week. Yay! I’m already a reading junkie! 

I’m 7 now and reserving Enid Blyton books to make sure I read all 150 plus books that she wrote. And I love fairy tales; myths and legends of Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. I’m a happy bunny in the book neuk!

I’m 9 –and I'm still reading Enid Blyton but I'm onto the much bigger fatter books like her Adventure Series. I love adventures! The Chalet School books are great too and Nancy Drew mysteries. Girls books, boys books, everything in between & I’ve got weekly comics as well- my Bunty, Judy, Diana, June & School Friend. (No idea who her friend was!) 

Looking back I think maybe Wee Slavey – the drudge of the Victorian Kitchen - probably introduced me to historical fiction and Sandra of the Secret Ballet kept my interest in mysteries going as well. 

Big Sis is too old for her comics now, at 13,  but mum still buys them for me - Dandy, Beano, Topper and Beezer. I devour the boys stuff as well…though I don’t think Desperate Dan and his Cow Pie introduced me to Western romance – the jury’s still out on that one! 

I'm often reading under the covers with a torch… illicitly since I still share a room with my sister, and mum complains if the lights on too late. Books are doable under the blankets but comics make a hell of a newsprint mess. Mum wonders if I’ve been kissing the coalman!

I’m 12 and reading absolutely every spare moment. Rider Haggard adventures; classics…I have to wait till I'm 14 before being allowed to get out adult books from the library but my dad lets me read ones he's read and thinks are okay for me.  

I’m 17 and gobbling up heaps of genres for my Higher English Certificate at school and lots of others for the sheer hell of it.

19 already! Sugar! For my Glasgow University English course I’ve got 23 texts to study, as well as all of my Education stuff and my French course is punishing! AARGH! I've got zero time for personal genre choices now.

Skip to the Year 2000.  Being a full time primary teacher and a mum of 2 first year University students means I’m brain dead by 9 pm… but I still need my reading fix!  Phew! Just as well that I can cope with historical fiction, mysteries and romances. What's regarded as the best of literary fiction leaves me cold - I just don't have the energy for it. I dissect novels with my 11 year old Primary 7s in class but in my leisure reading I don't want to read anything that needs that level of concentration.  

Roll on to 2011. It's no surprise that I’m writing historical adventure and contemporary mysteries. But having read countless over those decades, I want my work to be different! The Ancient Roman invasion of northern Britain is bloody hard to research so I’ve mixed the genres of romance, historical & adventure but find that publishers aren’t so keen on hybrids.

2012! Yipee! Crooked Cat love to publish something different that crosses genres.  

YAY! Now I'm back to reading all kinds of genres. mainly those published by Crooked Cat (but I am reading other authors as well) 
Crime; Fantasy; Paranormal; Romance; Chick-lit;  Dystopian; Horror; Political Thrillers; Spy Thrillers
...and you've guessed it -  Mysteries and Histories!

What’s not to like? 

So...that's mine but what's your favourite genres? 


Monday 5 December 2016

Monday Moments at Arbeia

Monday Moments at South Shields,_The_Lawe,_South_Shields,

Sadly, no, I’m not having a flying visit to the River Tyne near Newcastle, England, but I have been delving into its past as part of my FutureLearn #FLHadrian’s Wall course. At the Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum there are some very fine reconstructions that I must get back down to see because when I last visited, sometime around the millennium, I remember seeing the ground layout of the fort but I don’t remember much about the Gateway.

And what have my moments been about today? Finding out about the changes to the fort made by the Emperor Septimius Severus somewhere around AD 208-211, though I now read that there’s a possibility that the new construction of the time just might have been instigated for Severus by the then Governor of Britannia, Alfenus Senecio.
Septimius Severus 

Today’s main puzzle has been to make an estimate of how far the stocks of the granaries could go when feeding Severus’ Legions of the AD 208-211 period. Given the dimensions of the granary, and the amount a sack of grain would weigh, and the fact that a soldier’s daily ration was about 0.8kg, and that Severus probably had 4 Legions plus another 10 cohorts- how many days would they get out of that granary?

Well, my maths is a little shaky but I gave it my best shot. Of course, I did have to add comments on that being a very basic estimate and had to think about what might have made the grain stocks last less than my basic estimate, and I should have added what might have made the stocks last longer than my estimate.

Are you following?

Well, I did add that not all legions were an exact 4,800 soldiers. And a Cohort wasn’t always exactly 480 men. The mice and rodents would have had a fine time nibbling the stock and lots of it would have gone mouldy because northern England is just about as damp as Scotland is, and it rains a lot there, too. Don’t forget the mist that’s also very damp! And then there would have been all the other attendant people of the regiment who would have eaten some of the grain, some immunes and slaves and wives and children and the ‘bidie-ins’ (as in non married women and maybe children) who may or may not have been transient. And then there would have been accidental dropping of grain and maybe poor measuring of rations. And someone else on the course quite rightly suggested other kinds of damage like accidental fire ...or theft! Heavens forbid if you were found trying that trick.

And then I added a suggestion that if the horses got any grain then that’s another whack gone.

I’m really loving this course and honestly…I’m not being glib to poke fun of the course…not at all— but my maths is perhaps a trifle lacking and today was fun! 

Just click the link and make your own estimate. I dare you! 

Meanwhile, I'll try to squirm some of this new knowledge into my current WIP but it will be to do with General Gnaeus Julius Agricola's stores rather than that of Severus. 


Wednesday 30 November 2016

St. Andrew's Day? Yer Aye learnin'

Happy St. Andrew's Day to you! 

The 30th November is St. Andrew’s Day in Scotland and I've blogged about various stories about St. Andrew on previous posts. (To see them use the 'archive' box on the right sidebar of this blog and type a search of 'St. Andrew') 

I'm not repeating those posts but I will add something new because there is always yet another snippet associated with St. Andrew, Patron Saint of Scotland. I find something different every year! 

This year's browsing led me to a new observation, one which I find extremely modern yet flattering to Andrew of saintly reputation! The Scotland dot org site has an article which suggests that St. Andrew had exceptional people skills -  as in him being the person who brought many strangers to the meetings of Jesus and also one of the disciples who was very good at coercing the people around Jesus to share their food! Someone very good at 'working the crowds'. Thus, the suggestion is that he could become the Patron Saint of Social Networking! 

St. Andrew's patronage extends to maidens, old maids, and women wishing to become mothers as well as those with gout, sore throats and are fishmongers!

Today, you'll find that I've also posted on the Wranglers Blog about St. Andrew's day where there's a little more explanation. Since I researched for a really good painting I'm including this one here. I like this 17th Century depiction of the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by someone anonymous. The canvas (I believe) can still be found in the Scottish College in Paris.

Though not religious, I find the imagery of this one interesting and in the way of a lot of medieval and renaissance painting historically inaccurate. The buildings in Patras, the city where St. Andrew was said to have been crucified might have had stone buildings. I'm not sure that the style here is accurate but the type of ship in the background is probably not accurate for AD 60. It doesn't look like a trireme to me but I'm happy to be put right. Exactly how the poor man is managing to hang there with such loose ties is quite an amazing feat. Again, please feel free to enlighten me.

Paintings aside, in honour of St. Andrew's Day 2016, I'm intending to make some stovies for dinner, served with oatcakes and beetroot. 

HERE  is the source of the photo above and using corned beef is one of the fastest recipes for making stovies. The texture of the stovies in the photo here is not actually the easiest thing to acquire but the real taste needs the whole stew to become a sort of mush to qualify!  Today, I'm using sausages instead of left over beef which is usual in the north-east of Scotland, though I've made stovies with lamb, mince and pretty much any kind of meat. 

Nicola Sturgeon, the first Minister of Scotland has made a St. Andrew's Day video, one which matches very well with the aspirations of the SNP party in Scotland, as in one of inclusion but sadly, I can't work out how to share it here except by this method.

Other news of the day is that I'm pacing on with my #FLHadrian course.

1.    Those who are friends of mine on Facebook might have seen that I’ve made a few mentions about doing a 6 week course right now, via Newcastle University…and I’m loving it! I'm now into Week 4 of the course and so glad that I decided to do it!
I thought I already knew a reasonable amount about the famous Hadrian’s Wall structure that was built by the Ancient Romans from west to east across northern England but I live with the adage that ‘Yer Aye Learnin’ and there’s always something more to absorb.

The time period of the building of the wall at c. AD 122 sits nicely between the two eras that I’ve written about in my historical adventures. The Celtic Fervour Series for adults is set in Agricolan northern Britannia of AD 70s - 80s. My Time Travel Adventure for Teens is set in Severan Scotland in AD 210. Bridging that historical gap is a very good thing!

So again, Happy St. Andrew's Day to you. 

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Par for the course

Happy Tuesday greetings to you!

I missed my Monday Moments, yesterday, since I've got my hands more than full these days with general domestic duties including grandkid minding, new writing, pre-Christmas selling of my novels at various venues and,,,my FutureLearn course on Hadrian's Wall, which I'm really loving. I've now completed Week 3 of the 6 Week course and have just started Week 4.

What did I learn new last week?

...A number of things including the mixture of people who lived along the wall both military and civilian. I looked at frontier communities, including men who were stationed on the wall and who probably would have preferred a warmer location. The men stationed there came predominantly from Gaul & northern Germania, areas we'd now call France, Belgium, Holland and northern Germany. There were others, of course, from different empire locations over the few hundred years of occupation, including north western Africa and Syria. And some came from 'Romanised' tribes from south of the wall.
The tombstones of Victor and Regina

Victor and Regina -Courtesy of Newcastle University

The course is designed to pose many questions for the student to make answers to, even when there is no definitive answer. We're exploring these possible answers in the 'comments section'  - a discussion room for students to chip in their views and opinions.

In archaeology there is supposition, conjecture and a good degree of guesswork based on known sets of information. We briefly looked at inscriptions and iconography on tombstones and tried to formulate some answers for certain people being in the location of the wall, in forts and vici (settlements outside the wall fort) - as testament on their commemorative tombstones and friezes.

Students from Newcastle University in Roman dress researched and put together as part of a Roman dining seminar.

Courtesy of Newcastle Univ - Students from Newcastle University in Roman Costume

The final stages of last week were tough. The little forensics exercise was a challenge which I rose to quite well - apart from making a mistake with the age of a child via the evidence of an already erupted molar tooth. I should have got that one correct!

Week 4 began yesterday and already we are into looking at the Rituals and Religions along the wall forts, So far, there are some fine image examples to look at and I look forward to updating about my new learning this week. But for now, it's a Tuesday so I'm on grand children duty and have to go and waken them up now.
Depiction of female with long hair being bathed
Courtesy of Newcastle Univ.

Let's see how I can squeeze in some new course work, food shopping, baking  and writing whilst looking after my 5 year old granddaughter and 2 and 1/2 year old grandson, today. I know which of those have to take priority.

Whatever you're doing - enjoy!


Tuesday 22 November 2016

Squamata! And it's real...

Tuesday teaser!
What's squamata?

I blogged yesterday about my visit to The Mc Manus Gallery in Dundee. Today I'm posting some more images, photos that I took at the museum. Unfortunately, although you are allowed to photograph (no flash, of course) the exhibits are behind glass cases and my photography skills are not brilliant. Enjoy the best you can!

The answer to the question above is that it's one of the types of chest mail used by some ancient Roman soldiers. It can also be referred to as scale mail. The example below is highly prized by the museum since it was found near Dundee at the site of the fort of Carpow, built/ rebuilt by Emperor Severus approx. AD 209-211. The scales were individually sewn to a backing in overlapping rows, a painstaking business and no doubt a lengthy one.

Squamata mail - McManus Gallery Dundee Scotland

Here are some further examples via Wikimedia Commons. 

File:Roman scale armour detail.JPG

From Trajan's Column.

Lorica Squamata worn by a reenactment Roman soldier at Cricau Festival. 


File:Cricau Festival 2013 - Lorica squamata - 2.jpg
The Emperors Antoninus Pius and Severus both wear lorica squamata in the collection of marble portrait busts  from the Gallo -Roman villa of Chiragen near Toulouse. (Sadly, I can't locate them at present.)

You can view some reenactors wearing squamata on Pinterest. This is only one possibility.


Monday 21 November 2016

Monday Moments on and off the wall!

Monday Greetings to you! 

My Monday, so far, has been mostly sedentary but a good one. That's because I've been able to get on with some of my writing. There's always new decisions to be made in any work in progress and today was one of those days - again. I've a great habit of re-reading my work and telling myself that something doesn't quite make sense and needs a little more tweaking. So, some tweaking has been done and I'm moving on and getting in more action. Well, it is an adventure!

Courtesy of Futurelearn  - Hadrian's Wall Course - Newcastle University. 
As well as new writing, I've now started week 3 of my FutureLearn Hadrian's Wall course and I'm loving it. There's always something new to learn, even when I've previously read a lot about Roman Britain. I really like the structure of the course, organised by Newcastle University and FREE to the public. The constant repetition about how interpretation is the key in archaeology, since being 100% sure of everything is very unlikely with finds, is salutary.

One thing I don't seem too good at learning is organisation of my stored files for the course. Even though it's only been two weeks since it started, I'd already haphazardly saved some information in one folder entitled FutureLearn Hadrian's Wall. When I went to clarify something, I realised that  it was a dog's breakfast so a bit of file management was in order. One hour later, I'm hopefully ready to store things properly into folders for: general info; PDF transcripts; videos; word documents...

McManus Gallery, Dundee, Scotland

Other recent updates are that I had a lovely day last Friday (18th Nov) at the McManus Gallery in Dundee, Scotland. I spent my short slot of two hours in the small Celts Exhibition - a special short-term feature - which was conveniently adjacent to the Roman section. I found some really interesting information, and talked to a lovely young man - a very helpful member of the museum staff who was on duty in the 'Celts' room. Some of the ideas are already appearing in my new writing.

Having gone down by coach  meant 4 different coaches for the return trip, but I read a lot of the way and looked at the lovely scenery, as well, since the day was really fine weather-wise.

I imagined Agricola's armies trudging up the Tayside countryside, into Angus and on into the Mearns of Aberdeenshire way back in AD 84. The flatlands between the east coast of Scotland and the Grampian Mountain passes  (Gask Ridge forts and fortlet areas) would have looked different from now, but I'm sure there would have been some strip fields where the scrub and intermittent woodland would have been cleared and drained...and maybe some marsh and bog draining had gone on as well.

On such a clear day like Friday was, it was so easy to imagine just how far a Roman soldier would have been able to see from a typical watchtower. It was also easy to imagine being a local tribesman on top of one of those ridges watching the snaking column of Agricola's legions tramping along one of the tracks that was already there going northwards. I can also imagine that ancient byway track being widened and flattened further by the thousands of military feet that padded along it.

Can you imagine that with me? 

Nancy Jardine- near Stracathro (Roman Fort)

L - Iron Lynch pin R- Harness fastening 

Ancient Roman coins found in Tayside

Bog iron! That's the hot topic for today. I know it sounds sad but it could very well be a great key to a problem I've been wrestling with for a wee while. Meanwhile I'm adding some lovely images of my trip to the McManus Gallery.

Mirror - on loan from The British Museum.