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! 


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