Sunday 31 July 2016

Lughnasadh is coming!


Lugh's Spear by Harold Robert Millar
Wikimedia Commons 
Lughnasadh, one of the four main Celtic Festivals of the year would have been celebrated this evening of 31st July, the Celts' new day beginning at dark or nightfall. Lughnasadh, celebrated on the 1st august, is a time of joy to mark the bounty of the first harvests.

Named after the god Lugh it is also a time to mark the point where the sun’s descent becomes more obvious as it travels towards the darkness of winter.   

The god Lugh is often referred to as the sun god but he is a god of many aspects. He is associated as being a fierce warrior but also of being associated with thunderstorms. The raven, crow and lynx are creatures associated with him and he is said to have had a magic hound. An invincible spear is said to be one of his magic weapons, a spear which never failed to miss its target and was so restless it often moved of its own volition.

There are many sites on the internet with lengthy stories of Lugh and his son Cu Cuchlainn if you’d like more information on the Ulster Cycle of tales.  

Lughnasadh also brings with it an anxiety because although the 1st August traditionally begins Lughnasadh not all of the crops are quite ready yet for harvesting and storing. As daylight reduces and the weather varies from summery to more autumn like the harvesting conditions are crucial for the cropping and storing of fruits and cereals which are meant for long storage.

In the time of my Celtic Fervour Series characters there would have been considerable watching of the ripening of the crops at this time of year. They would have had plenty of experience of checking the crops till they were at the correct stage of ripeness. I’m sure in north-east Scotland almost two thousand years ago, in the lands of the tribes that Ptolemy referred to as Taexali, they would have anxiously watched the weather and made judgements about harvesting depending on what they though the coming days or weeks would be like. Too much rain would have been devastating to crops which were liable to go to mould very quickly if not processed and safely into their underground grain pits.

The advance of General Agricola around AD 83 or 84 to north-east Scotland, said to have been late in the campaign season, would probably have been the absolute worst time for the indigenous tribal people who were essentially farmers. Agricola certainly made his impact on my characters in Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks after Lughnasadh.

Lughnasadh also features in my Teen Time Travel novel The Taexali Game. Here's a little extract from Chapter Seven for your free Sunday read!

A bardic druid?
Aran’s excitement soared. He’d read that bardic druids told stories of the Celts in song and verse as well as being priests of the faith. That they were skilled secret agents was an even more thrilling thing to remember.
Tuadh surged onto his feet, his fist rising high into the air, the noise dwindling to nothing. Furious, yet heartily rousing, his voice boomed over the seated people.
“People of Balbath, of the ancient Taexali, and now allies of the Caledon Federation of tribes – the Roman army again marches across our lands, even though the legions of Emperor Severus trod our soil flat last Lughnasadh. You know how destitute we have been of grain crops over the snows and days of darkness because they carried off the best of our harvest before they burned the remainder, and left us scrabbling for winter fodder for our animals. How many of you had to glean food from our revered forests in the depths of winter, risking the wrath of our god Cernunnos, because the woods and streams were our only source of food?”
A tide of mumbles rumbled around the room.
“Aye! They left us lean and hungry. Now the news is that Emperor Severus flies in our face yet again. The Roman legions stride south towards us, again killing everything in their path that shows a hint of resistance.”
Appalled gasps halted Tuadh.
An old female elder’s frail question broke into the disgust. “Are our constant attacks not sufficient to rout them from our lands?”
“Did their ships not take them away from the northern shores of our Vacomagi neighbours?” asked a warrior alongside her.
“Why do they return? What have we left that they can steal from us?” This wail came from another of the elders.
Tuadh’s shout was meant to calm the disorder… and it did. “We do still have our successes when they infiltrate our woods and hills, but that only happens when we lure in small numbers of them. One Celtic tribe cannot fell a legion of Romans when each soldier wields his powerful gladius and uses his shield like a snail cowering into its shell.”
One of the warriors opposite Tuadh jumped up, his sheer fury evident in his clenched fists held fast to his thighs. “After they left us in dire straits last Lughnasadh it was said they would not return to Beinn Na Ciche and our Garioch area since they had already laid waste to our soil. We were told that they would sail back to Rome using their fleet of vessels which we have noted many times, plying back and forth off our Taexali shores. Why has this not happened?”

“Listen well to our druid brother who has the latest tidings from north and south. He can explain all to us.” Tuadh’s hand rested briefly on the tall man’s shoulder before he sat down again.


Lughnasadh greetings to you! 


Friday 29 July 2016

Friday Fun with Ailsa Abraham!

It's Friday again and I'm delighted to say that I've got my lovely friend, Ailsa Abraham, paying a return visit to contribute to my summer writing theme. 

Ailsa's no stranger to these pages but today she's here to give us a summer update on what has prompted her to do some of her recent writing. 

Ailsa Abraham
Welcome again Ailsa! What's new with you?

Hello Nancy, thanks for inviting me over. I'm glad to get out of my house at the moment because a war is raging. No, not between me and the Ancient Mariner, it's my characters. Do you find that?
I don't know how many other writers find that their inventions take over their lives but it certainly happens with me. Of course, we all start out with them in our heads but I wonder if other, better-adjusted authors then put them away in a box like ventriloquists' dolls.

No, I'm totally disorganised. You know that I wrote Book 2 of my Alchemy series first, don't you? Then when the readers were complaining about lack of background I had to return and write Book 1 as a prequel. That's about standard for me. I didn't plan on it being any more than that, maybe a trilogy characters had other ideas.

The rot set in when I went to visit my darling Aunt Muriel in Scotland. She had seen a talk by Navajo Rangers (John Dover and Stan Milford) advertised and bought us tickets thinking, this is just the sort of thing Ailsa will enjoy.
Courtesy of Ailsa Abraham
She was right! These lovely men specialised in the paranormal and I was fascinated but in the middle of the talk I was being gently kicked in the ankle by a moccasin-clad foot. It was someone who, while not a minor participant, wasn't a lead rôle in Books 1 and 2. 

He is Native American and I was getting very strong messages that he had to have a book of his own further down the line; I dutifully took notes. As he is a Black Shaman and they were discussing Dark Arts and Skin walkers, it seemed that Fate was pushing me.

Readers were informing me at the same time that he was very popular but they wanted more of Iamo and Riga the main players from Alchemy and Shaman's Drum.
Courtesy of Ailsa Abraham

I'm now juggling three Works In Progress including one which had been packaged and tied up until THOSE characters decided they didn't like their names. Whole plot done, spot of polishing to do and I have to start changing both names of both of them throughout. Blessed be the “Search and Replace” facility!

This is why it is war at home. My Native American wants my attention. Riga and Iamo need to tell me of their next quest and the other project is getting very antsy about being on hold for so long. So, yes, I'd love another cup of tea before I get back on my magic carpet and go home to slave over a hot computer. Thanks for having me, darling, and do come on over to the Bingergread Cottage soon. We'd like to hear your news too.

Nancy says: I promise to visit you at the Bingergread Cottage soon, Ailsa!

More about Ailsa Abraham:
...she writes under two names and is the author of six novels. Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman's Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014. Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon. She has  also written gay romance under her brother's name, Cameron Lawton.
She has lived in France since 1990, enjoys knitting, crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell's Angel in town . Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family. She runs an orphanage for homeless teddy bears and contributes a lot of work to Knit for Africa. She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care.

That's a great update, Ailsa. Having had the pleasure of meeting your Auntie Mu a few years ago, I hope she's doing well these days. I can see it as the kind of event she'd love to attend. Thanks for visiting and best wishes with your writing. 


Wednesday 27 July 2016

My reading rate has slowed down recently since there's been a variety of things competing with reading for leisure time but I have managed to read some very different novels during the last couple of weeks.

Here's my thoughts on a book by a fellow Crooked Cat author- Angela Wren who featured on this blog a few weeks ago. Her mystery novel is called Messandrierre and is set in rural France.

Messandrierre by Angela Wren 

Who did what and when? There’s plenty for Jacques Foret to find out in this story that’s a nice cosy / police mystery. There are various interlinked threads in the story and sufficient clues to make it reasonably easy to work out who has done what and why - the dates on the timeline good indicators for this, though the insertions of these are slightly confusing at first.   
I’d like to think that a policeman’s job in rural France wouldn’t normally be so interspersed with disappearances which turn out to have deadly consequences but the situation does make the day a bit busier and a lot more interesting for Gendarme Foret. Amusing interludes and minor dramas of domestic situations in the rural setting are dealt with by Jacques in a competent and sympathetic manner though the reader can tell that this aspect of his job at the beginning of the novel isn’t really satisfying him. A good aspect of these daily dealings is that it allows the author to introduce a neat range of secondary characters for Jacques to interact with. However, investigation is much more appealing to him yet he’s not an intense and driven cop.

Beth has previously had some emotional traumas to deal with, and new shocks to contend which seem even worse, yet I’m afraid I didn’t really empathise with her. She initially comes across to me as very selfish, though that’s less evident towards the end. The romantic element adds a bit of tension as the story progresses and works towards a happier conclusion.

This was quite an engrossing read! I recommend it to the lover of cosy 'whodunits'.

You can get a copy of it:


Monday 25 July 2016

Summer Suns are a-Glowing' with Miriam Drori

It's time again for my Monday Moments slot and the summer theme of 'Summer Suns are a Glowin'.

Today my friend, Miriam Drori, has popped in to tell me how the summer affects her writing. Miriam has a great chance of getting more warm sunny days than I tend to do in Scotland, as you'll see in her excellent photos, but I'll let her describe to you why that's the case...

Hello Nancy and Nancy Jardine’s readers. It’s always a pleasure to be here.
Here in Jerusalem, we have perfect weather. That’s not to say we don’t complain about it. After all, every country has rain that falls on drying clothes and washes out sporting events. But of the options – rain all year round, rain mostly in summer or rain only in winter – we have the last and I think it’s the best.
Nancy says: That sounds like a perfect combination to me! 
Courtesy of Miriam Drori- Miriam writing in her garden
In addition, Jerusalem, being high up, has better heat than, for example, Tel-Aviv. It’s dry and usually cools down in the evenings.
All this makes Jerusalem a perfect place to write outside – in the summer. And that’s even truer when you have a garden as fantastic as ours, planned and maintained by OH and enjoyed by us both.
So I pick a spot in the shade, put my phone down beside me and sit down with my notebook and pen. Yes, the phone makes noises sometimes, but I can ignore them in a way I can’t ignore notifications on the computer when I’m typing on said machine. It’s to do, I think, with the fact that they flash up in front of me or beep straight at me. An email, a Facebook message. I must just have a quick look. An hour later, it’s time for lunch. Where did all the time go?
In the garden, I look at the phone during a natural break. I control the phone. When I’m typing, the computer controls me.
Nancy: Ah, such control, Miriam! 
What am I writing this summer? I’m finishing off a project in which I’ve been collaborating with Emma Rose Miller, joint author of Five Guns Blazing. It’s based on the painting The Women Friends by Klimt and the first novella in the series will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing early in 2017.
I’m writing blog posts, of which this is one.
I’m writing short stories.
And I plan to return to three unfinished novels. I don’t plan to finish all three this summer!
Courtesy of Miriam Drori
I look up from my writing to watch the fish lazily swimming around the stalks below round green leaves and pink flowers. There’s a gold-coloured fish, a silver one and a red one. There are smaller fish, born in our pond. Water trickles into the pond. Nature is all around. If I ignore the sound of traffic on the road below, this is perfect.
About Miriam:
Despite having lived in Jerusalem for much longer than her previous home town of London, Miriam Drori still likes the flavour of salt ’n’ vinegar crisps and always adds milk to her tea.
Following careers in computer programming and technical writing, she’s been writing fiction for about twelve years. She’s the author of Neither Here Nor There, a romance set mostly in Jerusalem, and is excited about the soon-to-be-published, above-mentioned novellas. As well as being published by Crooked Cat, Miriam also edits for them.

When she’s not writing, Miriam loves doing Israeli folk dancing.

Find Miriam at:

Thank you for contributing to my summer theme, Miriam. It's great to see your lovely photos and to read that there's someone, like you, who has such great control over NOT using the computer for writing! I confess that I hardly ever write with pen and paper these days but it makes more sense in summer since I can't ever get the shading correct to do writing outside on my computer. The bleeping of Facebook and other things  - I agree are a terrible distraction. 
You're always welcome, Miriam, so pop in again soon and give us an update to your summer plans. 

Today is meant to be one of my few writing days of the week but it's actually warm and sunny outside, my grand kids are already physically popping in and out of my house and garden (living next door makes that so easy with open doors) but I'm definitely aiming to do a few good hours of writing today! 

Missed that Saturday post!

Last Saturday, 23rd July 2016, was so busy that I missed publishing a reference to my Writing Wranglers and Warriors post for that day. 

It was my son-in-laws 40th birthday celebrations and time was at a premium...and I suppose if honest I just got too tied up in preparations that I didn't have time to mention it here.  It's an important post for me so I'm now doing a quick REBLOG of it here.  My Monday Moments post will follow...

What’s in a cover?

Some people say that book cover design is the make or break aspect of a novel that ensures success. It’s that ‘will the prospective buyer choose this book over another because it ‘calls’ to them more than the one further along the shelf’? - Literally on a bookstore bookshelf, or in a line of books available from an on-line bookstore.

I do think the cover design is very important but there are many other marketing factors which clearly lead to the success of a book. However, in this post I’m sticking to covers.

As the author, I’ve been asked to give my two different publishers the general gist of the book and the genre tone but I’ve actually found that very tricky. Because I’ve been published by small independent publishers I’ve had some say in what goes on my cover via a choice of options given to me. Those initial images have mostly been selected by my publishers-though not all. 

I, personally, prefer a book cover design to reflect the content of what’s inside the story and I’ve been known to be disappointed in the past when a reading of the novel doesn’t live up to its cover. I find it annoying to see a design with a woman wearing what’s clearly a medieval garment but then find on reading the blurb that it’s a Regency novel. Or another example was looking at the iconic image of the Taj Mahal and then finding that the story was completely set in darkest Africa. Mmm. Nope. I didn’t buy it.
partial view of old cover

My first New York State (romance only) publisher came up with a Scottish Castle for my fun mystery Take Me Now. The main male character does live in a restored castle on a Scottish island so that aspect was very good for the cover. The floatplane was also great as was the couple image at the top of the cover (I can't show the full image here as it's out of copyright- at least I think I can't.) The main drawback was that they used an image of Eilean Donan Castle which is probably the most iconic castle in Scotland. When I told the publisher it wasn’t suitable they disagreed and went ahead and used it – telling me that no one would know. They don’t live in Scotland! Many times a customer came to me at my signing/ selling table at Craft Fairs saying they’d love to read a story set in Eilean Donan. The RESULT- no sale when I was honest enough to say it wasn’t set in Eilean Donan. I guess I could have kept my mouth shut and deceived the potential customer, but I couldn’t.

Now I love my current cover for Take Me Now. It's a different and less heated romance driven version of the story that’s currently published by Crooked Cat, my Edinburgh publisher, possible since the initial contract with the US one was only for 2 years.  Crooked Cat haven’t used a photograph of a castle at all but have got the gist of the story in a different way.

Crooked Cat didn’t initially have a large budget for design so the earliest covers tended to be fairly minimalist- leaning towards ‘a little means more’. That has changed slightly now and some of their titles are being recovered, including one of mine.

Having had the negative experience of Eilean Donan Castle, I was very wary of what should go on to my cover for my more complex mystery Topaz Eyes when Crooked Cat launched it in late 2012. They suggested a montage of the European cities my protagonists travel to but since they travel to quite a few- the potential cover design looked like a travel guide. Instead, I asked for a very simple cover and got this one with these 2 jewels on it that I had seen on an image site. 

I still love this cover for my AWARD FINALIST novel but it has maybe proved to be a mistake on my part since the minimalism is perhaps just too much. If I’m honest, sales of the novel could be a lot better and I think perhaps the cover design had a lot to do with it- though another main factor is the amount of time I've spent marketing it. 

 When Crooked Cat said they'd re-cover Topaz Eyes they asked me to look at a bundle of images with possible designs. I still find that quite difficult when it should now be an easier process since I've done it a few times now. 

Crooked Cat have come up with one that I love. The lady in the image is clearly wearing pearls and not emeralds or topaz but on a reading of the story you’ll see why those jewels are still fine! The essence of the story is in the image. 

Jewellery is at the centre of the novel. The female projects a sense of mystery. The darkened background, sepia like finish, gives it a hint of a time gone past and although it’s a contemporary mystery what happened in the past is central to the whole story.  There’s a hint of malice, a gist of the unknown as the female looks back over her shoulder and that’s also appropriate for the thriller aspects of the story.

I love my new cover!

So far I’ve learned the hard way that a cover needs:

  • An image that portrays the essence of the story, the subject matter - in this case a woman with jewels
  • Something in the image which might give a feeling of the era/s of the story – there’s a timeless quality about the woman below (at least I think so)
  • Some aspect that will give a potential reader an idea of the genre and ambience of the story– there’s a mystery thriller in there as she subtly looks over he shoulder rather than being overtly scared.
  • The fonts are simple and clear on the page – The word mystery is highlighted (It fits the covers of other Crooked Cat mysteries so although not a branding for me personally, it’s a sort of in-house style)
  • There isn’t an abundance of colour – in fact the sepia like choice enhances the time aspects of the story.

Useful techniques: change to image size to a very low resolution to see how it fares on a book selling site which shows very small images. Try changing the image to black and white to see how it stands out should it end up on a black and white newsprint page.

What traumas and travails have you had with cover design, and with personal choices for your own book covers? 

I'm now about to update all my sites with my new Topaz Eyes Cover! 


Friday 22 July 2016

Summer Suns are continuing with...Katharine Johnson

Today my summer writing theme continues.

I'm joined this time by a new visitor to the blog- Katharine Johnson- a new author with Crooked Cat Publishing. Her novel Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings was published last week. I didn't manage to the launch but I now have a copy of her novel on my kindle and I look forward to reading it!

Welcome, Katharine. It's lovely to have a new guest that we can get to know a little better. In the spirit of my current theme, have a seat and tell us how your writing is affected by the onset of summer? 

Get set for summer writing

Hello Nancy and thank you for inviting me onto your blog. 

Well, the sun is shining today so perhaps summer has finally arrived! We’re nearly at the end of term – a particularly exciting one in our family as it’s been my eldest child’s last term at school (assuming the A Levels have gone well) and my youngest’s last at primary school.

And me? I’ve just launched my debut novel, Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings. A bit like handing your child over at the school gates for the first time, a part of you wants to keep hold of it but there comes a point when you just have to let go.

But I’m at the very pleasant stage now when I can look towards my next project.

With exams and Sat tests out of the way, anticipation for our summer holiday is high. But with the freedom from routine comes a certain anxiety. How easy will it be to get any writing done?

Combining writing with a family holiday is always going to be a balancing act - but what I’ve found over the last few years is that time spent differently is not time wasted.

When our children were very small, my husband and I (both freelance) took the decision that trying to work through the summer holiday was pointless. While the pay for freelance work is low and sporadic, and childcare costs for three children prohibitive, the advantage is that your time is flexible.
We bought a cottage in Italy (blog coming soon) and we spend a month there in the summer, taking a different route each time, stopping off in different countries. Getting a glimpse of life in other cities gives me ideas for writing.

Katharine in Portofino- courtesy of Katharine Johnson
Travel frees your mind and opens you up to new experiences. Sometimes we need to get out of our familiar surroundings in order to get inspiration. 
Sometimes we’ve travelled by train – I was bitten by the Inter-rail bug as a student and never quite shook it off – other times we’ve driven all the way. Last year we drove across Spain and then the French Riviera.

We’re lucky in that the children have never minded long journeys – in fact sometimes they’re so absorbed in a DVD it’s a struggle to get them out to admire the wonders of a beautiful town - but we all have our favourite places we’d like to return to.

Travelling is also great for catching up on reading (not when I’m at the wheel!) I have a stack of books I’m itching to get through this summer.
When we arrive at the house in Italy there are invariably problems to deal with. One year trees brought down by a hurricane had snapped the electricity cable, leaving us with no power, another year there was no water. And yet there is also peace in which to work without the usual distractions and I wrote quite a lot of my novel there.

I’ve found it’s best to set manageable goals.

If you set out to write a whole novel in a week or a month you probably won’t achieve it (or if you do it won’t be worth reading).

But if you set a series of small tasks that can be done between trips to the pool/beach/theme park/town - like editing one chapter, improving the dialogue in one section or creating a new scene, you’re more likely to accomplish it and feel time has been well spent.

I’m currently researching a novel set in Italy so what better way to do it than be there, absorbing the atmosphere, observing the customs and hearing people’s stories?

Nancy says: Many wise words there, Katharine. I agree that time spent differently isn't always lost- you're right that at some later date something may surface.  

A little more about Katharine: she was born in Bristol and now lives in Berkshire. After studying History at Cambridge she trained as a journalist. She has been a magazine editor and now works freelance predominantly for home and lifestyle magazines. She has had short stories published in Take A Break Fiction Feast, The Journeyman and Writers’ Forum.

Find Katharine at:

It’s 1931. 

Nothing much has gone right for Jack since he graduated last year. His career has failed to take off, his fiancée has ditched him for someone with better prospects and now he’s received an invitation to their wedding. He dreads going to the wedding alone, surrounded by his high-achieving friends, so when he meets a beautiful girl who offers to accompany him he jumps at the chance. 

But by accepting her invitation he finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue and murder.

Get book from Amazon HERE

Congratulations and thank you for coming today, Katharine. Best wishes with your writing- present and future! 


Monday 18 July 2016

Summer Suns are a-glowing well with Angela Wren!
My Monday Moments feature is having a 'new look' for a few weeks over this summer. 

I've invited some friends to tell me about how the summer affects their writing - positive and negative. You'll find that some Fridays will also have a guest author, so look forward to them telling us about their summer as well. 

My personal problems over the summer are needing to spend more time actually tending my garden which takes away potential writing time, and working out a way of typing away outside on my laptop when I can hardly see the text on the screen. Then, there's the lure of taking my grand children out and about at least 2 days a week over the summer weeks. 

Angela Wren
However, the details of all the above can be for another day since, today, I've got a fellow Crooked Cat author - Angela Wren - here to tell me about her summers. I can tell you that her description fairly makes my mouth water and her photos are very enticing. France is an unexplored country for me, apart from Paris and the border area with Belgium, so it's great to imagine appreciating what Angela is describing for us today.

(BTW- I've just started her new novel Messandrierre and will update on that soon.)

Welcome to my blog, Angela! Please tell us something of being...

In the kitchens of France

Normande Timbered Houses - Courtesy of Angela Wren
I’ve spent much of the last 12 months writing about France, the scenery, the history, the geography, and, I’ve suddenly realised, not once mentioned the food.  This is a very grave error and I sincerely hope none of my French friends are reading this dreadful admission.  So Nancy, thank you very much for inviting me to your blog today, and I hope that you won’t mind if I take this opportunity to put right the aforementioned mistake.

I’ve come to realise that the vastness and diversity of France can be encapsulated in the food and the wine.  Normandy, a lush green area ideal for dairy herds and orchards immediately brings to mind cider and its stronger cousin Calvados.  ‘Tarte Normande’ says everything you need to know about this area of France.  Each family has their own version but my favourite includes that buttery almond paste with a dash of Calvados between the apples and the pastry and is always dusted with icing sugar when cold rather than glazed. 

Market Day  - Courtesy of Angela Wren
Burgundy is known for its cream sauces with just about everything.  The rich and intricate pâtisserie sits in the shop windows tempting you to buy and the smooth, fruity and full-bodied red wines from vineyards are bathed in bright yellow sunshine.

To the west is the Limousin and 'Clafoutis' made with the tiny sweet black cherries that grow there.  But the volcanic soil of the Massif Central is also ideal for mushrooms – cèpes, morilles and the small button mushrooms from Paris – in a sauce made of sautéed shallots and garlic and cream.

South to the Cévennes and, with my eyes closed, I can breathe in the remembered scent of sweet chestnuts, gamy wild boar in a creamy Armagnac sauce, and hams being slowly oak-smoked to eat later in the year. 

Nancy says...YUM!
Cevennes - Courtesy of Angela Wren

‘Châtaignier’ (chestnut trees) grow wild in this untamed landscape and once underpinned the economic base of the Cévennes, which earned the tree its local name ‘arbre à pain’.  The wood was used for housing and furniture, the leaves to feed the cattle, wood splinters and sawdust were used in the tanning industry and the chestnuts themselves were fashioned into any number of dishes, including being ground and used in preference, or in addition, to flour to make biscuits and some types of bread.

Some of my favourite dishes are from this area.  Roast veal with chestnuts is delicious on a cool evening.  The sweetness of the nuts compliments the delicate flavour of the meat and the mushrooms bring a subtle earthy flavour to the buttery sauce.  ‘Flan aux Marrons’ takes patience to make but is well worth the effort as the resulting dessert is light, sweet and yummy.

I suppose, I could claim to have eaten my way through all the regions of France as a look at my French atlas shows numerous handwritten notes detailing restaurants, bakers and pâtissiers on just about every page.  And these detailed notes tell me things like ‘the absolute best Tarte au Citron’ can be found at the pâtisserie on ‘Grande Rue’ in Prémery (Nièvre) and the best ‘Moules Marinière’ can be found at ‘Eric’s place’ in Notre-Dame-de-Riez (Vendée) and so on.  All of which probably means that I need to get out more!

Ah- indeed, Angela! Stunning description- thank you. Getting out to appreciate the scenery wars with the desire to sit in and write about all sorts of things, including our novels.  The photos you've sent along are beautiful and if any of the readers of this blog are interested in reading a lot more about France, pop in to Angela's Blog HERE

Here's a little about Angela: 

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.
I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre

But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won't give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.

Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?

Messandrierre – the first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.

Here are details for buying a copy of Angela's novel and how to keep up with her news:

Facebook : Angela Wren
Goodreads : Angela Wren

Once again, my thanks for coming today, Angela, to give us a glimpse of what makes these areas of France so popular. Best wishes with your summer writing!


Tuesday 12 July 2016

Review of Pica by Jeff Gardiner

Happy Tuesday to you!

It's been a day of garden catch ups for me. Sadly, I have an area of my garden that's rarely tamed and where horsetail weed likes to pop up in a trice and flourishes all too well through the granite chipped paths.

If you're a gardener, and you've had this very invasive plant spring up, you'll know just how difficult it is to get rid of it, and even to keep it under control. Before laying the granite chipped paths, I put down breathable membrane rather than black plastic which tends to sour the soil. That was a mistake because weeds like horsetail take no heed of the barrier and break through with alacrity!

For years I've tried lots of different weedkillers. I've tried the 'burn off' technique with a butane weed wand. I've tried vinegar. I've tried salt. And it still returns.

A weed is of course just a plant that isn't wanted in a particular place. Actually, I'd prefer that horsetail never returned to my garden paths and though I try to let most of my garden plants grow naturally I really don't want to plod my way along a pathway of deep horsetail.

It's a powerful plant indeed...and that brings me to a powerful book that I read last weekend.

The book I'm referring to is Pica by Jeff Gardiner.

There’s an intriguing beginning to the story where the reader is introduced to Luke, who is not a particularly likeable teenager- he’s selfish, self-absorbed, mean to people and creatures and has little strength of character. However, the author weaves a skilful tale and by the end of the book Luke is a changed lad. It takes a lot of effort and patience, though, on the part of the enigmatic Guy to introduce Luke to a whole different way of looking at the world around him. Yet that in itself is also intriguing because at first Guy seems a very wishy-washy character, although it quickly becomes clear that he has such hidden depths he doesn’t seem to be of this world… Being part of a narrow-minded, bullying, peer group palls for Luke but only after Guy offers him a much better code of conduct to follow.

There are a number of different themes explored in Pica, all well handled by the author. The nastiness of uncaring, bullying youth is contrasted with Guy’s totally empathy, and more, with the nature around him. Ostracising someone for their beliefs, or sexual orientation, is dealt with sensitively by the author in Pica, though not all readers might agree with the effect of steps taken by Luke's school. Not taking things, and people, at face value is also well developed throughout the novel. Teenagers can be unbelievably hurtful, and there are plenty of examples in Pica, but again that’s balanced by the development of Luke to becoming a much altered person.

Nature is a 'motivating' theme. Guy shows Luke that nature is all powerful though most humans have lost the harnessing of it. As I read Pica, images of Australian and North and South American indigenous peoples flashed up, some of them still very in tune with the earth and its secrets. But it takes a painful nudge in the right direction before Luke is forced to learn how to change his…character. There were parts of the book that I didn’t actually like to read, yet I appreciated they were all part of the issues of the whole tale.

The ‘numen’ aspect reminds me of Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’ - though the use is different. 

I'm definitely keen to read the next in the Gaia Trilogy series and don't hesitate to recommend Pica to you. 


Monday 11 July 2016

Toot! Toot! A read and review of Pride and Regicide.

Yesterday (Sunday 10th July), I had the pleasure of being on what I was told was the only train that was running north of Aberdeen, Scotland, and my journey wasn’t a short one!

There was a huge disruption to rail services across the UK. As far as I can tell, the reasons for strikes in north-east Scotland were over the issue of trains running with only a driver and no guard. I don’t use the rail service, since we have no trains stopping in my Aberdeenshire village (proposed for 2019), but if I were a regular commuter, I’d prefer that the train had a guard.  

Anyway…I consider myself extremely fortunate that my Special Tour yesterday actually took place and wasn’t cancelled. The Scottish Railway Preservation Society Tour yesterday went from Aberdeen all the way north to Inverness and then further north and then west to Kyle of Lochalsh. (see my previous post about my journey )

All of these SRPS tours are run by volunteer staff, unpaid people who generously give of their time and expertise to ensure that the railway heritage of Scotland (and the UK) is preserved. Being a volunteer means no Union affiliation and therefore no pressure to strike.

But…since the rail stock used yesterday (British Rail Mk1 coaches of the early 1960s and a class 47 diesel locomotive back and front) travelled on the current main railway lines, almost the whole journey, I’m very glad we were given the necessary ‘tokens’ to ride the tracks. The exception to the main line being used was that we had clearance to use a 'bypass' stretch using the 'Rose Street Line' to avoid going through the main railway station at Inverness. 

Because the lines used from Aberdeen to Inverness and Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh are single track the driver must have a ‘token’ permission from the signalmen to use the track safely. That meant that there were normal railway staff (non SRPS volunteers) available yesterday to ensure our driver could haul our vintage carriages along the route - though I’ve no idea if those men that I saw along the way were volunteering their time or were putting in a normal shift.
At Kyle of Lochalsh - a long train

The return journey took around 10 hours and gave me plenty of time to appreciate the varying countryside as we passed by and also time to read. During the outward journey I did a lot of watching, took notes and imagined the stretch between Inverurie and Inverness as planned. On the return journey, while the vegetation at the edge of the track pinged and whipped furiously at the roof and windows of my comfy carriage, quite a scary noise till I got used to it, I opened a new book Pride and Regicide by Cathy Bryant. At only 90 pages long it was a quick read and just perfect for when the rain started to spit then run in rivulets down the by then very smeary windows of the carriage. By then all hopes of taking photographs was gone. Every now and again I popped up my head to see what I could but since it was the return journey it wasn’t so bad to miss the scenery as I’d been more watchful on the outward journey.

Here’s what I thought of Pride and Regicide by Cathy Bryant.

It’s definitely Jane Austen-ish and I love Jane Austen’s books. Pride and Regicide was a very quick and enjoyable read from start to finish. The characters spring to life through the excellent depiction of the author though I do have to admit that what I was envisaging were the actors from my favourite TV version of Pride and Prejudice. The conversational tone of Pride and Regicide exactly fits that of Austen’s, the writing style very similar. Mary being given centre court attention in this book means that the author can give us a different sort of ending to that of the Austen books I’ve read. The ending of this one leaves me wondering if Mary will go on to have another adventure and perhaps solve another crime…or will the marriage mart be her next adventure. There were definite pointers to the latter but- I give no spoilers here! Mrs. Bennet is a gem as always.  Mr. Bennet has softened just enough towards Mary, in the absence of his favourite Lizzie. And Mary hasn’t just ‘grown up’, I think she’s lost just the right amount of seriousness! I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone who loves a traditional Regency Novel and even to Austen enthusiasts.

Happy Reading to you, whatever your choice is.


Saturday 9 July 2016

Fun Adventure!

It's said that authors appreciate the time it takes a reader to write a review, and I most certainly do. 

Sometimes I regret that I don't notice them right away and that's what's happened with this one below for my contemporary romantic mystery thriller Topaz Eyes. 

ByNicoleon February 26, 2016
I do love romantic suspense novels and Topaz Eyes by Nancy Jardine was just that! The story drew me in immediately, Jardine’s description of a stunning ring feels so real you wish it were on your finger. Keira the main character is perceptive, brave and considerate and takes you on an adventure all over the world with a slew of intriguing characters in hopes of finding pieces of the Tiru collection.
This story holds a series of twists and turns as you join Keira and Teun, whose cousins keep things very interesting. Secrets, betrayals are many and there are moments you try to put the pieces of their puzzle together before the end. There are plenty of characters in this story to keep you guessing. This story definitely keeps you on your toes and though I really felt the spark between Keira and Teun I wish there was more between the two characters. This story definitely awoke the travel bug in me, that’s for sure!

Thank you, Nicole, for this great review. 


Ah, the joys of research!

Happy Saturday wishes to you!

It's time again for me to post at the Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog so I'm REBLOGGING it here as well. 

..."Research? Or sheer indulgence?

Tomorrow, I’m embarking on a journey part of which was roughly trod by the Ancient Roman Armies of General Agricola in AD 83/84, and of the Roman Emperor Severus in AD 210, when they came to explore my part of north-east Scotland.  

The route shown on the map follows the current rail lines from Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland to Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast. I’ll be making a return journey by train from Inverurie all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh—though how far the Ancient Romans marched beyond Inverness is still anyone’s guess.

Archaeologists have confirmed evidence of Ancient Roman Marching Camps at regular intervals from Aberdeen to Inverness. Elgin (the angle change on the map above) the camps were large enough to shelter upwards of 20,000 men. After that ‘angle change’ (Camps of Muiryfold and Auchinhove) the Roman camp sizes get smaller, meaning they sheltered fewer and fewer Roman soldiers, as they progressed along the coast of the Moray Firth towards Inverness. Why that happened is open to conjecture and I’m having a lot of fun writing my version of the advances of Agricola’s forces in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures.

These camps lie roughly along the same route as the railway, some being only a few miles from the rail lines. Between Inverurie and about 16 miles south of

Current archaeological digs are underway to find out if there’s any evidence of further Roman Camps beyond Inverness and I’m very keen to hear the updates of these because it might be important when I eventually get around to writing Book 5!

I’ve driven the same route to Inverness and beyond many times, since the main trunk road (A 96) also roughly follows the rail lines, but naturally I’ve not been able to appreciate the landscape in the way that I hope to do tomorrow. From the comfort of the train, I’m really looking forward to seeing the terrain in a more detailed way and doing a bit of imagining of what it was like some 2000 years ago – during the eras of my historical novels.

Now, you might be asking yourself -Why isn’t she just taking the train to Inverness? Why go all the way to the west coast?

Tomorrow’s train journey isn’t on just a regular service train. I’ll be journeying in a vintage railway carriage that’s probably almost as old as I am!
SRPS Maroon Mark 1 Coaches

In Scotland, like many other countries, we have many heritage societies. One of them is the Scottish Railway Preservation Society. This was formed in 1961 at a time when many rural railway services were being axed by the government and the enthusiasts who formed the society were determined to preserve as much of Scottish railway history as they could. By the mid-1970s, my husband and I were enjoying the society’s special tours all over Scotland, some of which were steam hauled on shorter routes and some by diesel engines for longer treks.

Tomorrow’s special tour will use a restored diesel engine and the restored carriages will be Maroon Mark 1 stock, which were probably built in the 1950s. The return journey is expected to take approximately 12 hours with a stop at Kyle of Lochalsh of 1 ½ hours. Just enough time to stretch our legs and have a wee wander, though it might include a coffee stop since the inevitable Scottish rain is forecast for the west coast!  I’m looking forward to having an elegant lunch and dinner on the train as we journey along the spectacular Kyle Line – named as ‘One of the Great Railway Journeys of the World’ passing moorlands, mountains, rivers and lochs.   

I’ll also be having a wee read since I’ve just stocked up my kindle with new books. My publisher, Crooked Cat, has a SUMMER SALE going on this weekend (7-10th July) All Crooked Cat ebooks are 99p/99c –including my own, so if you fancy reading about the Romans who trod that pathway noted above, you can get my Celtic Fervour Series for less than £3!

Or if you’d like to try my stand alone mysteries you can get them for the same price if you’re really quick!

Whatever your weekend is like- happy reading!

 Here's some links to more information on my rail journey.