Saturday 30 January 2016

My parliament’s an unpolitical hoot!

It's my every second Saturday day to post at Writing Wranglers and Warriors Blog but I'm reblogging a slightly different post here. 

My parliament’s a hoot!
My newest owl doorstop
I have a collection of owls. Some are tiny. Some are large. 

They’re made from glass, volcanic lava ( from Mount Etna in Sicily), resin, clay, stone, iron, copper, paper, plastic, gourd (South American), cuddly fur, jacquard, cotton, polyester. 

They’re to be found all over my house and surprise, surprise—some are even in the garden. 

What I don’t have is a live owl.

There’s generally some catalyst that begins a collection and in my case the habit was formed during my teaching years at Kintore Primary School, the owl being a school symbol to be found in many of the public areas of the school, in different forms. 

In my own classroom, I used my personal collection of owls as a weekly symbol of excellence. The current ideology was for mixed ability table groupings in the classroom and the table which had the best performance (i.e. via a points system) —based on effort, group co-operation and participation in activities, and general behaviour— ‘won’ the award for the week. This meant their table gave home to whichever of my owls was used that month. When I look back, I’m amazed that my lava owl survived seen in the top shelf above, the large black one at second left!

Burgh Coat of Arms 1959
The village of Kintore, where I live, has evidence of having had some form of school operating since 1574; though education for the local people was possibly even earlier since the official status of Royal Burgh was granted in 1506 (this was, in fact, a reaffirmation of an earlier status) and money for a school was gifted at this time by the Burgess of Kintore.

For centuries after 1574, Kintore remained a Royal Burgh giving it prestige not granted to many other villages. However, it wasn’t till 1959 that Kintore was granted an Official Coat of Arms, any previous insignia used for a long time had never been recognised by the Lord Lyon, King of Arms in Edinburgh! The tree of knowledge became central to the design, the other aspects reflecting historical traditions in Kintore.

As a special event in 1959, the school was also given its own official set of ‘arms’ which could be used as a school badge. 

The tree of knowledge symbol was used in conjunction with the open books to reflect excellence in a school in Kintore. 

cloth blazer badge of 1959
In 1959, this official charter cost the Provost of Kintore a whopping £50! 

I’m not exactly sure, since I’ve not done the research, but I don’t believe many other schools in Scotland would have had this status!

(Apologies for the image quality. My original photos are stored on floppy discs & can no longer be accessed via this computer. )

1960s Kintore School blazer
By the late 1980s, the wearing of a school blazer had gone out of fashion and a new version of the school symbol was decorating the new school sweatshirts. 

The tree of knowledge and the open books became central as a shield inserted into a symbolic owl image. From then on the school image was in black and white and stamped onto school products.

The owl had arrived at Kintore School!

Kintore School owl symbol

 Why an owl? 

The owl is also a long recognised symbol of knowledge and has had its own place in the myths and legends across the globe. 

It also has, regrettably, an equal reputation of being a ‘dark’ symbol.  

In Scotland it was said to be ‘bad luck’ to see an owl in daylight. 

I’ve even read on the internet that in the US there’s a lovely saying that “You must return the call if you hear an owl cry, or if you can’t do that you need to remove an item of your clothing and put it on again inside-out.” 

Owls are revered in some cultures as being birds of power; feared in others for a similar reason of emitting negative power. Varying versions of superstitions are around regarding owls—you’ve maybe heard of some yourself?

The owl has a long tradition in Celtic lore details of which can be found in many internet sites like this one:

Owls (Cailleach, Oidhche, Comachag) were most often associated with the Crone aspect of the Celtic Goddess but were also seen as a guide to and through the Afterworld—the state inhabited after a person died and before a soul re-incarnation phase. The owl was lauded as a creature of keen sight in darkness, a silent and swift hunter. An owl was also thought to help unmask those who would deceive you or take advantage of you.

In my Ancient Roman studies, I’ve learned that the hoot of an owl presaged death- as with Julius Caesar "...yesterday, the bird of night did sit Even at noonday, upon the market place, Hooting and shrieking" (from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar). During the period I focus on in my novels—84 AD to 211 AD—if a traveller dreamt of an owl, it would mean they’d be shipwrecked or robbed. The ancient Romans believed that witches transformed into owls and sucked the blood of babies. Nailing an owl to a door warded off evil and lightning: a superstition which persisted in the UK into the 1800s. Owl eggs and cooked owl has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia. 

In England, owl egg was used to treat alcoholism. Some mothers gave their children raw owl eggs believing it would give a lifetime of immunity to drunkenness. Cooked till only ashes were left, owl eggs were used in a potion to improve eyesight. The one I like best of all is that children suffering from Whooping-cough were given owl broth.

Much of owl superstition is negative, i.e. bad things are going to happen, so I was delighted to also find that in northern England seeing an owl is considered Good Luck! That’s just as well since I see them every day in my collection. 

One thing I often wish is that I could be a true night owl regarding my writing. I’ve sometimes felt that my best writing has been penned late at night but my problem is that I’m not also a lark. I can’t cope by day if the night has lingered into the wee owl hours!

How about you?

Another site with info:


Friday 29 January 2016

#Friday's Feature is Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson
My Friday Featured author is Jennifer Wilson.

Jennifer is a fellow Crooked Cat Author who is one of the specially featured paranormal authors on the Crooked Cat Books Facebook page for this coming week 29th Jan -5th February. 

As well as the two excellent paranormal books featured (I've read both)- Jennifer's Kindred Spirits: Tower of London and Shani Struthers The Haunting of Highdown Hall  - there's also the charity anthology collection FEAR written by various Crooked cat authors. 

Jen's here to tell us a bit about her passion for the Tower of London and the historical mysteries within it which in turn led to her writing Kindred Spirits - a novel I very much enjoyed and reviewed it on this blog some months ago. (You can scroll down the archives to find it, if you'd like to) 

Welcome, Jennifer! I have an inkling you're just a wee bit fascinated by The Tower of London. Please tell us about it...

Despite taking until I was almost thirty to get around to visiting, I can comfortably say that the Tower of London is probably now one of my favourite historical buildings.

I’ve always loved imagining the lives which went on in such places, and with the Tower, what a choice! Yes, I’ve taken a couple of liberties, but as far as I see it, if a ghost is haunting one place, then I don’t see why it shouldn’t move about a bit. So Richard III is to be found at the Tower, along with his brother, despite both being buried elsewhere (now famously so, in Richard’s case).

Although I love the peace of St John’s Chapel within the White Tower, my favourite rooms in the Tower complex are the suite of refurnished chambers in the Medieval Palace. Decorated in the style of the late middle ages, you get a sense of how bright and inviting the rooms would have been, and how the wealthy nobles and courtiers would have lived within the Tower walls.

That was where it was easiest to hear the whispers of the Tower’s ghosts, even those from different eras, who would never have seen the rooms in that style the first time around. And the idea of those who did know them, reliving their memories, was also so tempting – I couldn’t resist.

As part of Crooked Cat Publishing’s paranormal-themed week, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London is reduced to just 99p/c. I hope you enjoy meeting the ghosts as much as I did.

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London:

A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers…

In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews.

Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury.

With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave? But foremost – will the young Plantagenet Princes join them?

About Jennifer:

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.

Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her debut novel Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015.

Key Links:

To buy- International Amazon link:

To buy - Smashwords link:

Thank you for featuring here today, Jennifer. Best wishes next week as a featured Crooked Cat author.


Wednesday 27 January 2016

Refugees then…refugees now

There is only one more day left of The Beltane Choice being one of the three featured Historical novels at Crooked Cat Books page on Facebook.

Here's another insight about aspects of the novel...

Flee or be subsumed…

 “…Nancy Jardine has done an outstanding job seamlessly weaving their story into the history of that time. She captures the fear of having one's home overtaken by foreigners, and the heat of falling into a love forbidden by all. Her use of language is exquisite and her writing style a joy to read…” The partial review quote homes in on one of the very important themes I’ve tackled in The Beltane Choice.

A strong theme in my Celtic Fervour Series is that of the displacement which happens during war situations. In effect, it was also a refugee crisis situation in my Celtic Fervour Series during the years AD 71- 84.

The historical background
When the usurpers thrust their way into new territory, as the Ancient Roman Army did in the north of Britannia in approximately AD 71 (possibly earlier *see below), many innocent people were caught up in the conflict. I don’t need to write here of the mirroring of similar current situations across the globe—they’re still happening right now where there’s a wresting of land from people under extreme duress.

In the late first century AD, the Roman Emperors Nero, Vespasian and Domitian were on a big expansion spree across the known world to add territory to their growing Empire. Britannia was a key player in the sense that those Emperors wanted the land to exploit any riches within and also gain political kudos in Rome for being successful with military strategy on the frontier. Southern Britain was in some ways happier than the north to become Romanised because a number of southern tribes already had successful trade links established and wealth accumulated from the practice. However, by AD 69, no longer satisfied with only maintaining control of the south, the Roman legions marched northwards into Brigantia, a large swathe of land (modern day Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumberland) held by the Brigante Tribal Federation.

During the years between the Claudian invasion of AD 43 and AD 69, Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, and initially also her husband King Venutius, had largely kept Brigantia free of Roman presence by making arrangements with Rome. In becoming a ‘client queen’ it seems that some sort of understanding meant the Roman Army largely steered clear of her territory, but also kept the Brigantes from being attacked by other hostile tribes to the south. This arrangement seemed to last fairly well for some time during the reign of Emperor Nero but things changed when Nero pulled out one of the four legions in AD 67, which had been stationed in Britannia. Legio XIV Gemina Martia Victrix left, perhaps the intention for them was to strengthen the troops in the Caucasus regions, but it seems they never got there.

Wikimedia Commons 
Unfortunately if Britannia had seemed stable to Nero, it clearly wasn’t so. The Governor of the time, AD 67, Trebellius Maximus, had to focus plenty of his more limited resources in quelling rebellions in present day Wales. However, it’s possible from some evidence finds further north that there may also have been a need for the Romans to establish their physical presence in the north west of Britannia in the lands of the Carvetti and the Cornovii to the west and the south west of the Brigante Federation. Carbon dating not being exactly precise, the earliest some of the small fortlets found in the north may have been established is during the tenure of Trebillius Maximus, though more likely in the time of his successor  Bolanus. 

During the first forays of Roman infiltration in Brigantia, small skirmishes were recorded and according to Tacitus, the Roman historian who gave us most of our knowledge of the era, there were also some larger face-to-face battles. The Brigantes didn’t give up their land easily but ultimately they were unable to force the Romans to retreat.

From approximately AD 71 (*probably even earlier if some carbon dating of wooden remains from northern Cumbrian fortlets is accurate) the Roman presence made itself more permanent in the building of numerous guard towers, fortlets, forts and eventually fortresses- as at Eboracum (York) and Deva (Chester).

The Beltane Choice
At the beginning of Book 1 of the series—The Beltane Choice—full scale war between the Brigantes of the north and the Roman Empire is looming. My aim in this part of the novel is to indicate that although the Celtic warriors were fierce fighters they were no match for the Roman army machine. I feel that there had to be some of the Brigantes of AD 71 who realised that each separate tribe—even a huge one like the Brigante Federation—could not defeat the progress of the Roman expansion. As such, I have my Brigante negotiator Lorcan moot the idea that the tribes even further north of Brigantia need to join forces since the Roman footsteps will soon be on their soil, too.  The Selgovae were the tribe situated just over the Cheviot Hills in what is modern day central southern Scotland.

I’ve read enough to have an idea that the tribe to the east of the Selgovae, the Votadini, probably wouldn’t have been interested because there’s a reasonable assumption that the Votadini had probably already been in some sort of negotiation with Rome in exchange for leaving their territory free of legionary domination. There is sufficient lack of Roman forts/ fortlets in this area to the east which indicates that the heavy Roman presence wasn’t necessary—i.e. resistance was less likely. The Votadini flatlands were agriculturally likely to be productive and, as such, very important to Rome via some sort of trade deal.

By the end of the book full scale war has directly affected my Brigante characters. Initially my warriors defend their way of life by riding off from their home hillfort of Garrigill to go to war at Whorl, a battle site near the stronghold of the Brigante King Venutius. Devastatingly, the battle at Whorl is a crushing defeat. Many Celtic warriors are killed. Others hirple their way home, as my maimed Garrigill warriors do, but the fact is that the mighty Roman armies are too strong, too well drilled and too well armoured for the brave but less battle trained Celtic warriors to overpower.

At the end of The Beltane Choice, the take over of land has already happened in Brigantia. The Roman legions under the governorship and command of General Petilius Cerialis have flooded the northern reaches of Brigantia making it untenable for my warriors to remain at their home. They flee northwards to Tarras, the Selgovae hillfort of Nara’s birth, north of what we now name the Cheviot Hills (to Dumfriesshire). Their safety at Tarras doesn’t last all that long though because some seven years later the Roman legions are also on the march across Selgovae territory.
All through this trauma that's affecting my characters life, of sorts, goes on. Love still plays a part and some relationships strengthen, though some decline. Though the background of the novel is of war essentially the story is about developing relationships and love blossoming regardless. There's also a theme of inevitability! 

The next 2 books of the Celtic Fervour Series deal further with the fleeing Brigantes who eventually move systematically further northwards to Taexali lands (modern day Aberdeenshire) to avoid being subsumed into the Roman Way of Life. My Garrigill warriors are not totally cowed, though. They are seeking a young and vibrant leader who will amass a Celtic Army to face the Roman legions under General Agricola at what was named by the Roman historian Tacitus as The Battle of Mons Graupius’.

Does that end their flight? History says no since the battle of Mons Graupius was ‘won’ by the Romans and some 20,000 Celts fled to the high hills- again according to the only written source, penned by Tacitus.

Read a sample here or buy at only 99p!


In The Shadow by Joe Stephens

In The Shadow: A Shalan Adventure by Joe Stephens

Joe Stephens is a fellow contributor to the Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog which I write for every second Saturday. I expected the novel to be a gripping one from comments I'd read elsewhere about the novel, but I certainly didn't expect the ending in all it goriness. Joe's personal religious convictions shine throughout the novel, but even if you're not of the same inclinations the convictions of the characters are convincing.

If you're a fan of the gritty, gory private detective novel, you'll probably love this one. 

Here's what I put on Amazon and Goodreads - as well as here.   

This was a gripping story which dealt with some extremely difficult subjects, though the interlinking of what was happening to the protagonists was very neatly done as the story progresses. Very sad things happen to the adult main characters, Harry and Dee, but their faith takes them forward out of the abyss of traumatic situations. The reader finds young Jennifer’s shadowed past isn’t over. Potentially extremely serious harm is  awaiting her but Harry is a stalwart at her side, his vow to keep her safe one he will not lay aside. The main characters are all easy to like but I also took a shine to Otis the policeman friend of Harry and Dee. Whether or not you have the same religious conviction as Harry and Dee, it’s good that the book highlights the kindness they extend to Jennifer, who is essentially a vulnerable stranger to them. The dire deeds of the ending became almost unbearable to read, and the new reader to the story needs to be prepared for some shocks at the end.

I hadn't realised that this was book 3 of the series but when I've got through my current TBR list, I'll be picking up the first two books and reading them.


Tuesday 26 January 2016

Imagining the setting of the novel

Imagining the setting…of The Beltane choice - one of the three featured historical novels on the Crooked Cat Books page on Facebook this week. 

Lakes, mountains, streams, rolling countryside – you’ll find them all in The Beltane Choice except what you’ll find is my image of what the land was like almost 2000 years ago.

When writing the novel, I had to see the Cumbrian landscape of almost 2000 years ago through my main male characters’ eyes. After a lot of deliberation, I decided that the actual land itself was probably not too dissimilar from what I’d see today. Any habitation would naturally be different and I’m pleased that reviewers have mentioned that they could picture the roundhouse settlements and the crannog dwellings from my vividly clear descriptions.

What would have been a bit different would have been the buildings near the field areas on the lower slopes. Again, I aimed to provide sufficient detail for my readers to superimpose my descriptions of the outlying roundhouse farms on a photo of today showing a typical hill farm. The building of dry stone dykes was done during the Iron Age so the fields we can see today that are bordered by stone walling might just be repaired and replaced stone versions of those from all those centuries ago. Fencing would be different - a wattled type of woven wooden fencing would have bordered the animal pens in the Late iron Age farm but that kind of fencing would have been used for shorter stretches of separation than those wooden fences you'd find today at the verges of the roads. Cereal crops and animal husbandry went on during the late Iron Age – though animal power would have replaced any machinery used today. Horses were quite plentiful on Celtic farms though the type of horse would have been different. The typical Celtic horse was quite small, more of the size of a pony.  
Cheviot hills

There would have been natural mixed woodland tree cover, if any, clothing the hillsides rather than the Forestry Commission plantations of conifers that you'd find today. The lakes would maybe have slightly different defining edges but in general the waters would be fairly similar. Rolling countryside that’s good for arable farming now would have been farmed back then as well. The differences would maybe be in field uses- more different crops now. Sheep would probably not have had the free wanderingthat they have today but the small Celtic sheep would have been out there (a bit like the Soay sheep variety of today found in the Hebrides) . 

The mountain tops, I believe, would be very similar. The trek taken by Lorcan from what was Brigante territory (Cumbria/ Northumberland border) over the hilltops to Selgovae territory (Dumfriesshire) where he encounters Nara for the first time would be little different from the same trek done across the Cheviot Hills today.  

The Beltane Choice is available from: Amazon UK  ( Only 99p)  Amazon US   NOOK   Smashwords

and lots of other places.


Monday 25 January 2016

#Monday Moments with Robert Burns

My #Monday Moments are with Robert Burns, National bard of Scotland, since today 25th January is Burns Day.

Tonight I will be eating haggis, neeps n' tatties a) because we eat it often and b) it give us the excuse to have a 'wee dram' to celebrate the bard. 

I've particulary chosen this image (left) painted by Alexander Naysmith in 1787 because the date was close to the event written about in the poem below.

Robert Burns – the great self marketer or just one who liked to buck the trend?

I’ve always loved the poems and songs of Robert Burns, indeed I’ve posted some on this blog in past days. There’s a saying that he was a ‘man of many parts’ and today I’m thinking he just might have been into self-marketing long before the word was even invented! More likely it was just his manner of not bowing to the morality of the society around him.

It’s fairly common to read that Robert Burns was a man who was ‘awfu fond o’ the wimmin’—a man who loved many women and left some proof of it. What I’ve just noticed in the poem below is that he was not averse to using his situation to become a man and presumably a poet more talked about. In essence, the more who knew him and his reputation perhaps the better it would be for him as an earning poet?

On the 22nd May 1785 the first of Robert Burns’ illegitimate children was born. Elizabeth Paton, a servant of the Burns household, bore him a daughter- also named Elizabeth/. Burns’ mother would have been happy for him to marry the girl but it was not to be- Robert Burns was counselled against this by his brother Gilbert and his sister Isabella on the grounds that the girl was coarse and uneducated.

The baby grew up in the Burns’ household at Mossgiel for many years till Robert Burns died after which she was given into her mother’s care, Elizabeth Paton having married a farm servant named Andrew. From the words below, it would be lovely to believe he always felt the same about this illegitimate daughter. The fact that he made provision for her on his death means he didn’t forget her but I do hope he was always kindly to her, as at the beginning.

There are a few versions of the following poem but this is the one in my Souvenir Edition copy, Edited by James Barke, Collins Publishers, 1969 edition.


Thou’s welcome, wean! Mishanter fa’ me,  (mishap befall me)
If thoughts o’ thee or yet they mammie
Shall ever daunton me or awa me,
My sweet, wee lady,
 Or if I blush when thou shalt ca’ me
Tyta or daddie!
What tho’ they ca me fornicator,
An’ tease my name in kintra clatter?  (country gossip)
The mair they talk, I’m kend the better;
E’en let them clash! (tattle)
An auld wife’s tongue’s a feckless matter (feeble)
To gie ane fash.  (annoyance)
Welcome, my bonie, sweet, wee dochter!
Tho’ ye come here a wee unsought for,
And tho’ your comin I hae fought for
Baith kirk and queir;
Yet, by my faith, ye’re no unwrought for—
That I shall swear!
Sweet fruit o’ monie a merry dint,
My funny toil is no’ a tint:  (not all lost)
Tho’ thou cam to the warl’ asklent,  (world askew)
Which fools may scoff at,
In my last plack thy part’s be in’t  (coin)
The better half o’t.
Tho’ I should be the waur bestead,  (worse)
Thou’s be as braw and bienly clad, (provided for)
And thy young years as nicely bred  (comfortably)
Wi’ education
As onie brat o’ wedlock’s bed
In a’ they station.
Burns Cottage - where Robert Burns was born

Wee image o’ my bonie Betty,
As fatherly I kiss and daut thee, (pet, dandle)
As dear and near my heart I set thee,
Wi’ as guid will,
As a’ the priests had seen me get thee
That’s out o’ hell.
Gude grant that thou may ay inherit  (God)
Thy mither’s looks a’ gracefu’ merit,
An’ thy poor, worthless daddie’s spirit
Without his failins!
‘Twill please me mair to see thee heir it
Than stockit mailins. (farms)
And if thou be what I wad hae thee,
An’ tak the counsel I shall gie thee,
I’ll never rue my trouble wi’ thee—
The cost nor shame o’t—
But be a loving father to thee,
And brag the name o’t.


Sunday 24 January 2016

Conveying an ancient scene- with some 'big' words

Happy Sunday wishes to you! 

It's been a while since I've done a 'Sunday Snippet'. Since The Beltane Choice is one of the featured historical novels this week at Crooked Cat Books page on Facebook, I've chosen a section that I vividly remember toying around with many times at the draft stages of the novel. 

I'm always eager to convey the image I have of the surroundings in a scene through the use of highly descriptive prose. For me, that tends to mean using words that immediately pop into my head as the best fit - even if they are words now regarded by many readers (and sadly for me, authors and editors as well) to be too 'big', too uncommon, and sometimes need a dictionary to find the particular meaning of them.

As an ex-teacher of 11-12 year old pupils during their formative years, I always felt that learning at least ONE new word each day was essential. I aimed for MANY new words during each day for the more receptive children. Rightly or wrongly, I hope my strategies were appreciated at a more mature time by a good number of my Primary Seven pupils - the typical class roll being 33 kids.

The English language is FULL of fabulous words - so why dumb them down? Why not learn something new? Enrichment can be very rewarding. I know that's an old fashioned idea but I feel that if I become lazy about something - I am lazy. If I need to do something because I've said I would - completing the task makes me a lot LESS lazy. I feel the same about the English language. If one particular word is a much better fit to give a better impression of something, then I want to use it.

In The Beltane Choice I purposely used a form of 'archaic' speech in an attempt to convey the ancientness of my setting. The inclusion of 'harder' words is quite natural to me - even though I'd not fare all that well if I were a contestant on one of the TV programmes that are based on a 'Do you know the meaning of this word'.

I set a challenge to the readers of this excerpt from The Beltane Choice. Are there words you would remove and put in a simpler word? If so, which ones and why?

At this point in the story Nara, of the Selgovae tribe, has been taken prisoner by Lorcan who is of the Brigante tribe and a neighbouring Celtic enemy. She is being taken back to Lorcan's home hillfort of Garrigill but they stop en route at the Crannog settlement of Gyptus. Brennus is Lorcan's brother and one of the Brigante band of men who have her as their captive.


Above the noises of the marsh creatures and the flapping of birds rising out of the boggy waters Nara heard sounds of people at their daily work as Brennus padded behind her, keeping her moving at a steady lope. A child cried somewhere, but the direction was impossible to tell. The marshes deadened the sounds, muffling them, baffling inexpert ears like her own, and tall marsh plants set up an odd sort of disorientation. The sounds of iron on an anvil hummed close by; a voice sang a merry accompaniment. The acrid reek of the forge mingled with the smells of the waterside and the nauseating stench of tanning leather.
Brennus forced her into a large clearing close to the lake’s edge, Lorcan’s warrior band having spread around the perimeter, where they sought somewhere sound enough to tether their horses. Nara had no need to do so as Brennus kept a tight grip on Eachna’s rein.
“Lorcan!” Brennus’s laughing tale was imparted deliberately across the clearing, loud enough for all around to hear. “You will be glad to hear your Selgovae captive did not succeed in her futile escape attempt.”
A glower, wild as a thunderstorm, raked her for long moments before Lorcan spoke to the warrior beside him, the torque and armbands adorning the young man proclaiming his rank at the crannog settlement.
Nara felt the back of her throat thicken as she tried to ignore the umbrage in Lorcan’s gaze, his saying nothing making failure feel even more acute. Anger she could rally against; ignoring her was more hurtful to her frayed emotions.
The ground Brennus then forced her over was solid underfoot, constructed of hard packed earth reinforced with binding materials to keep it firm. A timber walkway, some twenty paces long, led out across the lake water to platforms accommodating two crannog roundhouses with adequate space all around them. One dwelling was of the usual size; the other a smaller one for storage. Two horses were tethered alongside the smaller in a covered but wall-less enclosure. A forge just outside the larger roundhouse spewed out dense black smoke while a smith plied his craft, hammering a rhythmic ring-ting as he fashioned a metal tool.
Grond called out to the sweating smith Nara could see hunched over the anvil.
“Look after these horses for Lorcan. I will send a boy to help you. We go to see my father.”
Grond took another pathway leading out of the clearing, Lorcan following him. Just before they disappeared out of sight, Nara felt Lorcan’s gaze fleetingly alight on her, as though making sure she was still there. Though he was across the opened space, his eyes held hers in silent censure before he trudged on, the downturn of his lips marking his displeasure.
Willing herself not to be upset by it Nara pretended indifference…but it hurt to see condemnation in Lorcan’s eyes. And that was foolish. He was her enemy as much as every other Brigante around her.
Head down she trawled behind as the warrior-band followed Lorcan, making their way along another reinforced pathway and across a log causeway bordered by wattled walls. Brennus followed in her wake, taking his guarding seriously. Once into the open at the lake’s edge she could see the roundhouse they approached more clearly, no longer obscured by the tall reed and fronding light-green willow cover.
The crannog dwelling sat tall and proud, this one a little larger than a typical roundhouse. Built out over the water, its circular wooden platform sat on stilted foundations, the walkway access edged with a waist-high woven wall of willow, with an infill of thinner twigs. The wattle and clay daubed wall of the dwelling was low, no higher than Nara’s head, the thatched roof beams protruding over the top of it, creating a shady overhang. On the outer circular platform edge two children played a game on a wooden board with marked coloured stones. Close by, a young woman stood weaving at a tall upright loom under the overhang near the children. A little further round, Nara could just glimpse a skin-covered coracle and a dugout boat floating at a protruding landing stage, accessible from the platform edging.
“Mother,” Grond called ahead, “Lorcan is here to visit Father. Where is he?”
On their approach the children scurried away, an older woman appearing immediately. Then, more slowly, an older man whose smile was a beam of sunshine came out.
“Lorcan. Welcome!” The older man clapped Lorcan on the shoulders, greeting him warmly while he gave an invocation of hospitality to all. “It is long since we talked.”
“My thanks, Gyptus. It is good to be here again.”
Lorcan’s confident smile as he and Gyptus walked round to the landing-stage made Nara feel neglected. She wished the smile was for her, now her own situation was back to threatening. A lone Selgovae, she was surrounded by even more Brigantes; from the hostile look on their faces none happy with her presence.

Are you up to that challenge? Please pop your thoughts in the comments section. 


Saturday 23 January 2016

Five Guns Blazing- An enjoyable adventure set in the early 1700s

Five Guns Blazing by Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen. 
I've just finished reading this excellent historical adventure, published by Crooked Cat, and it just so happens to also be another of the 3 featured historical novels on the Crooked Cat Books page on Facebook during the week beginning the 22nd January - like The Beltane Choice is. 

Here are my thoughts on Five Guns Blazing, an enjoyable adventure set in the early 1700s though it also has darker aspects to it. 

This was an engrossing read from the outset- a well written, enjoyable romp set in the early 1700s. The novel is packed with interesting historical details making the different settings come vibrantly alive. The gritty horrors of the workhouse, convict ships and plantation life aren’t glossed over, at least not too much since it’s for general readership. Laetitia Beedham is swept up into situations which seem almost farcical and yet the documented evidence proves that life in the workhouses of London; the convict and slave ships; and the Caribbean plantations was horrendous during that era.

I had a little trouble believing that her guise as Nathaniel could last so long but when needs  must… pirates come in all shapes and sizes, some of whom are just a tad more wicked than others! You'd have to read yourself to find out just how wicked Pirate Jack Rackham is in Five Guns Blazing. 

I gave this 5 stars on Goodreads and Amazon. 


Friday 22 January 2016

Convincing? You bet!

During the week beginning 22nd January, The Beltane Choice is one of the 3 featured historical adventures on the Crooked Cat Books FaceBook page. You can see those books HERE

This is the first of a few articles that I'll be posting this coming week about The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures. 

“Most of all, I would say that The Beltane Choice is one of the most convincing evocations of Celtic Britain that I have ever come across, and the central romance stands out against that background with great passion and immediacy.” 
Quote from a review of The Beltane Choice on Amazon UK.

All authors love reviews which home in on the purpose of their writing and this quote from a 4 star review is one of my favourite sentences written about The Beltane Choice.

What was my purpose when I started to write The Beltane Choice? Did I set myself a challenge?

Absolutely! And why would that be? The answer is total fascination in the era which I’m not sure will ever cease to plague me.

Writing about Celtic Britain
Mostly I wrote The Beltane Choice because I was desperate to write fiction set in a time period that not many authors write about. Pre-historic Britain fiction, and in my opinion particularly pre-historic northern Britain, was sorely neglected.

I’ve always been an avid reader. Though quite eclectic over the decades regarding genres, my preference has always veered towards the historical novel and historical romances. It was rare for me to come across novels set in pre-historic times but, when I did, I devoured those by authors like Jean M Auel. I read plenty of historical novels set in Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt and also loved those eras, especially liking the stories if they gave excellent representations of the life of more ordinary people. I had great fun reading stories set in Roman times, like David Wishart’s Corvinus mysteries and those detective Falco mysteries of Lyndsey Davis. When I read Bard by Morgan Llywelyn, I was doubly entranced by the mystique of those early time periods in Britain and Ireland.

Which Celtic Britain location?
When I eventually made the change from ‘reader only’ to ‘author as well’, I desperately wanted my first novel for an adult readership to be set in Celtic/Roman Scotland. I wanted my story to be about Celtic tribespeople whose daily lives are drastically altered by the threat the Roman Empire brings to them. I’d no interest in basing my tale on a recorded king or queen from northern Britannia, like Queen Cartimadua or King Venutius—a few novels I’d read had included them. As it happened, my initial research provided no names at all of Celtic kings or queens north of the Brigante lands ruled by Cartimandua and Venutius i.e. modern day ‘Scotland’. If they existed, there was no documentation of them during the post-Claudian invasion era of Britannia (AD 43 onwards). 

I chose not to invent any king or queen. The echelon of the Celtic hierarchy that I’ve targeted in The Beltane Choice is that of chieftain because, I felt, it gave my characters sufficient freedom of movement for me to make the story a historical adventure! (BTW- Speaking with a Scottish dialect, I DO pronounce the ‘h’ in historical)

I believe pre-historic Scotland is neglected by authors simply because it’s not easy to research—yet that was no reason for me to abandon the idea! As an ex-primary teacher, I had a very broad overview but that wasn’t nearly enough knowledge for me to write a historical novel which was a ‘convincing evocation(s) of Celtic Britain’.

Endless research began, an absorbing bug which I can’t and don’t actually want to shift! There are few prime source texts to refer to for details of northern Britannia.  Those available were written by Roman or Greek historians and are somewhat biased but the ‘Agricola’ by Tacitus became my best source, limited though it is.
Wikimedia Commons-
When and where to start?
The biggest shock to my system when planning The Beltane Choice was that as I investigated further it made more sense to write about the impact of the Roman Empire on northern England first before I wrote about its impact in Scotland. This was because the main advance into Scotland largely came after around a decade of hard Roman campaigning in present day Yorkshire. But what prompted this action by the current Roman emperor?

The Roman Emperor Nero concluded the Julio-Claudian dynasty of emperors, his spectacular suicide coming in AD 68 which thrust Rome into civil war. Thus began a short period of ‘superior dog eat dog’ period of disruption. However, at this time it wasn’t only Rome itself which was in turmoil. There had been many revolts across the empire as well as in Britannia during Nero’s 14 year tenure as emperor, some of which had occurred in northern Britannia. In AD 69, after the very unsettling civil war period of the ‘Year of the Four Emperors’, Vespasian took the helm of Rome.

At this same time Brigantia was having its own civil war with the forces of Venutius at war with his ex-wife Queen Cartimandua. This created mayhem in Brigantia. There was civil war within the Brigantes Federation of tribes, some of whom were also warring against Roman incursions into what had become an unstable area. The days of Queen Cartimandua’s dealings with as a client queen ruling over lands ‘protected’ by Rome were over.

By AD 71, the Roman forces under the new Governor of Britannia, Petilius Cerialis, forged a strong pathway northwards.

That was it! My start point for writing The Beltane Choice (and subsequently for beginning my Celtic Series) was AD 71.

After a little deliberation, I realised I could still have a ‘Scottish’ dimension to the story. I could have a Selgovae female character (Nara)—the Selgovae tribal lands being southern central Scotland—and Brigante male lead (Lorcan), though the action in the story is mainly in Brigantia.

Themes in the novel?
My purpose in The Beltane Choice was to write about the horrendous impact those Roman usurpers had on Lorcan’s kin from his home hillfort of Garrigill. I wanted to convey the limited choices the northern tribes had when the Roman legions eventually marched northwards to absorb Brigantia into the Roman Empire, having largely left it alone for around two decades whilst Cartimandua was under the protection of Rome. But because my bias was going to be about the Celtic perspective, I had to find a way of uniting those northern tribes, Selgovae and Brigante. I needed to find a way of bringing them to some unity so that together they could attempt to repel the Roman horde that descended upon Brigantia.

I’d read sufficient romances to know that a popular theme was ‘the marriage bargain’. I decided to use that theme and make this first book of my Celtic Fervour Series have a strong romantic element, balanced by a sound historical context. The bargaining between the normally warring Selgovae and Brigante tribes, however, wasn’t going to be a simple one. The Beltane Choice bargaining turns out to be more complicated than even Lorcan envisages when he decides to use his captive, Nara, as a bargaining tool!

Another 5 star reviewer states that The Beltane Choice has all the right ingredients of a fine historical novel.”

The Beltane Choice includes as many historical details as I could muster at the time of writing and, as such, has more background elements than an average historical romance.

Another reviewer states: “Jardine is a wonderful writer, whose words took me back to another world, to another way of life and enabled me to 'see' what was happening. I found all the details about the Celtic way of life, customs and attire, fascinating. The plot kept me reading, turning the pages to see what was going to happen, and at no stage was the end (for me) predictable…”

I've not had any new reviews lately for The Beltane Choice, on Amazon or anywhere else that I know of, but if you've read my novel and agree with the reviewers quoted here it would be lovely to have some new endorsements that my original tasks regarding The Beltane Choice were successful. 

What more can I say? Reviews are wonderful for the author soul! 


Monday 18 January 2016

#Monday Moments ...& pitching it local!

My #Monday Moments are delighted ones!

It's time to do a bit of self promotion and share the news that I just sold 10 copies of The Taexali Game, my Teen/ YA time travel historical adventure, to my local primary school.

I'm absolutely delighted that this has happened because I now hope that my story will be read and discussed by local teens in their class reading group. My intention when writing the novel was for exactly this to happen, so I now have the task of 'pitching the novel' to other schools in the local area having given them a credible reason to buy a set for as an addition to their reading scheme.

One large question occurs to me- do I send a snail mail letter, or do they tend to prefer an email these days? Meanwhile...

Everyone loves playing advanced interactive computer games, don’t they?

Callum Fraser’s games are totally awesome but when his Rubidium Time-Leap flips Aran Bruce and his best friends—Brian and Fianna Fraser—back to AD 210, the reality is incredible. They have a task list to fulfil, which includes solving a local mystery, but it’s a nightmarish business when Ancient Roman Emperor Severus and his legions heap death and destruction on the Taexali Celts of northern Britannia.

Giving help to Celts and Romans alike becomes a lethal assignment—some Celtic chiefs are as foul as Severus and his beastly son Caracalla. Dicing with death becomes the norm for the time travellers from Kintore, Aberdeenshire.

Will they complete the mission and return to Callum unscathed?

You can buy your copy HERE ...

or contact me via my EMAIL for details to buy a specially signed copy. 


Saturday 16 January 2016

Out blogging again...


It's time for my every-second-Saturday post at the Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog. 

You can find my post here where I discuss the sadness affecting me lately and what is most precious. 

Click HERE to see the post. 


Friday 15 January 2016

The Craigsmuir Affair by Jen Black

My thoughts on The Craigsmuir Affair by Jen Black 

I've read a couple of Jen Black's novels already, enjoyed them and I looked forward to reading this new one, published in 2015.

I have times when I want purely to be entertained and to read something relatively uncomplicated. This week was like that since a family bereavement was casting a very sad shadow and my mood was pretty fragile. I needed something to lift my spirits and make me forget the realities. When I scrolled down my tablet to see the books in my TBR pile, I was confident that this novel would do the trick...and it did. 

I very much enjoyed reading this Victorian romantic mystery. The settings are well drawn and the characters are likeable- at least most of them are, those being the ones you're meant to like! High handed and autocratic Adam Grey might be but he comes across as the man you really would want to sit beside at a formal dinner table. Even though attending to the rituals is a bit of a trial for him he does it with affable manners. However, that doesn’t mean he’s averse to breaking the occasional society rule or two as he gets to know the attractive, if a little na├»ve 18 year old Daisy Charleton. Most of the wealthy house guests have a 'trade' background rather than inherited title and I liked the lack of snobbery over this at a time when Victorian high society was still riddled with condescension. 

The Victorian house parties aren’t tedious when both Adam and Daisy attend them. Solving the mystery of the stolen artworks is fairly simple if the reader picks up the well inserted clues. Recommended for those who enjoy Victorian Romance.

I gave this fun story 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. 


Wednesday 13 January 2016

Kildrummy Castle

Kildrummy Castle
Wikimedia Commons
The location that I’m currently writing about in my WIP is Ceann Druimin – Kildrummy, Aberdeenshire. 

As part of my ongoing research of the area I’ve digressed from wondering what it was like in AD 84 and have been fascinated by its later, superb, claims to fame.

Kildrummy Castle was one of the most impressive Castles of Mar, and perhaps even in Scotland
The Castles of Mar are so named since they are sited on the very large province of MAR, a huge tract of north-east Scotland which was one of the 7 divisions of the Pictish Kingdom of Scotland. The province of Mar, it’s believed, was named after the Mormaer (N.B. there are different spellings of the word). A mormaer is the Scottish Gaelic name for the steward of each province, who was the next level down from the Pictish king. These 7 areas, later named earldoms, were found north of the Central belt i.e. north of the line between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The earldom of Mar was a huge tract of land in northeast Scotland and was politically important because of its strategic location. Around 1250, the imposing castle at Kildrummy was built by William de Mar, who was the current Mormaer and Chamberlain to Alexander III King of the Scots.  Kildrummy guarded the main routes from the south before they came together to wend north into Moray and Buchan.
model of what it may have looked like during the 13 and 14th centuries

During the reign of Alexander III, Scotland had become more prosperous- trade was flourishing which allowed the king to engage in building more castles and monasteries throughout the land- Kildrummy Castle being one of his new buildings. Scotland remained stable and well ruled till the death of Alexander III in 1286.

Unfortunately, Alexander III’s sole surviving heir was his granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway, who nominally became queen at the tender age of 3 years. For the ensuing five years, she had 6 guardians who ruled Scotland in her name. When she was 8 she was betrothed to Prince Edward, the eldest son of King Edward I of England. Having set sail from Norway she sickened, and died after the ship put into harbour in Orkney.

With no obvious heirs (Alexander’s second marriage in 1285 to Yolande, Comtesse de Montfort, produced no live children) Scotland was in dynastic turmoil. Edward I of England had been in good relations with Alexander III and was asked to mediate between the contenders to the Scottish throne. Edward I agreed to arbitrate but only on condition that the claimants swore fealty to him as the feudal superior of Scotland. From 13 contestants he whittled the number down to 3, descendants of the daughters of David I (Earl of Huntingdon). The three ‘finalists’ were John Balliol, Robert Bruce and John Hastings. Edward chose John Balliol but Robert Bruce’s claim was just a good since he was the grandson of David I.

John Balliol was crowned King of Scots in 1292 but it was immediately apparent that he could not prevent Edward I from dominating him. By 1294, Edward I was demanding soldiers from Scotland to engage in his war with France. John Balliol might have been weak but his fellow countrymen weren’t agreeing to Edward’s demands. They set up a council to rule instead of John Balliol. Shunning Edward I they began the 'Auld Alliance’ with France which was to last for the next 300 hundred years.

In 1296 and 1303, Edward I of England visited Kildrummy Castle as a guest but resistance to his demands was strengthening. By 1306, Robert Bruce was crowned King of the Scots and this dramatically changed relations between Scotland and England. When the English invaded Scotland, Robert Bruce sent his wife and daughter to Kildrummy Castle, to safety, but that was not to be. Kildrummy was left in the care of Robert Bruce’s brother Neil. However, when the English besieged the castle and the defenders capitulated after a blacksmith turned traitor, Neil was captured. He was hanged, quartered and decapitated.  Bruce’s wife and daughter were imprisoned and part of the castle was destroyed by the English to prevent further use by the Scots.

During the fourteenth century the castle was damaged and repaired a number of times after attacks by the English,  though on at least one occasion also by the Scottish forces of King David II against the pro-English Earl of Mar in 1363.

During the fifteenth century, King James I seized the castle to curb the power of hos wayward noble, the castle being afterwards in the stewardship of a royal constable who only answered to the king.

Kildrummy Castle also played a role during the Jacobite era. The sixth Earl of Mar (the earldom having been reinstated when the Erskines took over the property) used Kildrummy castle as a base to launch the early Jacobite Rebellion in 1715 but his defeat at the Battle of Sherrifmuir meant he had to flee to the continent. The castle was never again used as a noble residence and gradually fell into disrepair.

In 1898, Colonel James Ogston bought the castle and over the next thirty years attempted to restore parts of it. Having been used as an unofficial stone supply for building elsewhere it was a massive challenge that he took on. 

The property came to the hands of the state in 1951.


Tuesday 12 January 2016

Lulach's Stone

Wikimedia Commons
Lulach's Stone—a highly impressive menhir in Kildrummy, Aberdeenshire. Thought to be of Bronze Age origin, it’s almost 9 feet high above ground, wider at the shoulder. It bears no cup-marks or tooling. The grey schist is partly moss/ lichen covered.

Why Lulach?

The name may have origins from the gaelic ‘liath’ meaning ‘grey’ thus the ‘grey stone. Since most of the solitary standing stones I’ve seen in Aberdeenshire are grey, I find that would be repetitively simplistic…except that in former times – even back in the late Iron Age - the stone perhaps didn’t have a name and had no need for a specific name. If a direction was physically pointed towards the nearest menhir perhaps no other identification was necessary.

One source I found indicated that even as recently as the Victorian Era the Lulach Stone may have been even taller above ground, maybe standing at more like 11 feet high. if so, perhaps a bit at the top has sheered off or the ground level of the field had altered. Whatever its original height, it would have taken a good degree of strength, man hours and cooperation to set it into place.

Another explanation for the name is that it refers to King Lulach, son of lady Macbeth of Shakespeare fame. There are 2 standing stones named Lulach in Upper Donside which bear the name Lulach. Folklore states they were the place where Lulach was killed some 6 months into his reign as King of Scots (1057-1058), having succeeded as stepson to Macbeth. (He was followed by Malcom III and the succession of Scottish Kings removed from the ‘Moray’ line)

My Caledon chief in my current WIP is named Lulach after the stone and his roundhouse village is at Ceann Druimin (Kildrummy), the same location as the menhir mentioned above which would already have been in Lulach’s field for many centuries before he became the caretaker of his tribe c. AD 84.

Is my Lulach a 'grey' man? You'll need to wait to find out. (imagine a smiley face emoticon here)

If anyone knows any other reason for the stone to be named Lulach, please tell me!