Saturday, 19 August 2017

Summer Surprises continue with Death in Dulwich by Alice Castle!

Saturday Surprise! 

Alice Castle
I've a special guest today, Alice Castle, who has popped in to share news of her soon to be released novel Death In Dulwich. Crooked Cat Books launch it on the 6th September 2017 but since I'll be away on my cruising holiday I'm sharing the update today, just in case I have no internet access on the 6th. 

Congratulations in advance of the launch and my best wishes that it's a fantastic and profitable day, Alice. I've got it pre-ordered and look forward to reading it very soon! 

Welcome to my blog and please tell us a little about what Summer Surprises are in store for us in Death in Dulwich ....  

A big thank-you to Nancy for having me today on her lovely blog. Nancy writes delicious contemporary romantic mysteries as well as historical and time travel novels so, as my book is a mystery with a dash of romance on the side, I’m hoping there will be a crossover appeal to some of you devoted Nancy fans.

I’m really excited about my book, Death in Dulwich, which is coming out on 6th September. It’s a nod to the Golden Age of crime fiction, in that I’ve set my story in a small, enclosed community where everyone knows each other, with all the joys and strife and intense claustrophobia that brings. The twist is that the community is set in the heart of south east London. As a major world capital, London is not the kind of place where you’d expect the neighbours to know what you had for breakfast. But then, Dulwich is no ordinary part of the city.

My heroine, too, is out of the usual mould. She is a single mum, widowed very young and now struggling to make ends meet and keep up with the mortgage payments. She lands a great job and then, on her first day at work, she stumbles over… oh, but that would be telling.

Suffice to say, she is pitched headlong into a situation where she has no choice but to clear her name. It’s a struggle which brings her up against the police, her bosses and, worse still, the judgemental yummy mummies at her son’s school.

I’m really thrilled to say I’ve already had some lovely reviews for Death in Dulwich. My favourite is, ‘a modern twist on Miss Marple.’ I have to confess, I did rather shout, ‘yesssss!’ when I read that. But the book has also been called ‘a compelling page turner’ and been described as ‘murderously good fun.’

Dulwich is undoubtedly one of the heroes of the book. I lived there for four years, my children went to school there and it is both a wonderful and daunting place to make a life. It’s at the heart of my series. The sequel to Death in Dulwich, The Girl in the Gallery, is coming out next year (also with Crooked Cat) and there will be at least two more instalments in the series to follow. I’m really looking forward to writing them and I hope you’ll read them with pleasure. I’d say the books are quite a light read, but hopefully deal with contemporary issues that affect parents, small communities and the society we live in.

Death in Dulwich
By Alice Castle

Already described by early reviewers as ‘murderously good fun’ (author TP Fielden), a ‘keenly observed page turner … highly recommended’ (Amazon) and ‘well-written, engaging and fun,’ (author Jo Blakeley), Death in Dulwich is the story of thirty-something widow Beth Haldane.

Beth has her hands full – she has a bouncy nine-year-old son, a haughty cat, a fringe with a mind of its own and a ton of bills to pay. She loves her little home in plush south London suburb Dulwich, but life here doesn’t come cheap.

That’s why she is thrilled to land a job as archivist at top local school Wyatt’s - though she has an inkling the post is not what it seems and she doesn’t think much of her new boss, Dr Jenkins, either. Then, on her first day at work, Dr Jenkins is brutally murdered. Beth finds the body, and realises she is the prime suspect, with means, opportunity and a motive.

Beth has no choice but to try and clear her name, bringing herself into conflict with the police and the school. But who is the real culprit? And is the cause of the killing a horrifying secret buried deep in the school’s past, or does evil lurk behind the comfortable façade of daily Dulwich life?

Beth grows in confidence during her dogged pursuit of the murderer and, by the end of the book, is ready for any adventures that may come her way. Which is just as well, because there’s trouble brewing at the Dulwich Picture Gallery ….

Pre-Order your copy  HERE 

Alice Castle
Twitter: @DDsDiary

Alice Castle was a national newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph before becoming a novelist. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, was a European best-seller which sold out in two weeks.
Alice is currently working on the sequel to Death in Dulwich, The Girl in the Gallery. The second instalment in the London Murder Mystery series, it will be published by Crooked Cat next year.
Alice is also a top mummy blogger, writing DD’s Diary at
She lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

Thank you for visiting today, Alice, and once again best wishes! 


Friday, 18 August 2017

Welcome to my Friday Feature! 

Miriam Drori
Today, I'm delighted to welcome a return guest, Miriam Drori, a lovely lady I've met many times both 'in the flesh' and virtually during the last few years. Miriam's a fellow Crooked Cat Books author who has visited this blog a number of times promoting her fiction titles but today she comes with information on a new venture, one fits into the newest category of non-fiction from Crooked Cat Books. 

Social Anxiety Revealed by Miriam Drori will be published very soon on the 22nd August 2017.

I'm very interested in the topic of Miriam's latest book because I believe that Social Anxiety can affect pretty well all of us at some time in our lives. Not all people experience it the same way, and it has more lasting and lingering effects on some more than others.

I'm very keen to have a read of what I know will be a very well polished book and Social Anxiety Revealed by Miriam Drori will be one of the books on my kindle that I hope to read during my coming holidays. I've already Pre-Ordered my copy from Amazon and all I have to wish for now is that I get sufficient access to the internet on my cruise holiday to download it onto my tablet! 

Welcome again to my blog, Miriam. What a great image for your latest book, it really captures the essence of your topic. Thanks for sharing with us your non-fiction journey...

That Question Again

“I’m an author,” I might begin. “I’ve had two books published so far and one more will be released very soon.”

“Oh really,” they’ll say with some surprise, because I didn’t give the impression I’m clever enough to write a book, let alone have it published. “What are your books about?”

“The first is a romance set in Jerusalem. The second is a novella written with another author; it’s the first of a series, based on a painting by Klimt. The third is non-fiction and it’s about social anxiety.”

Eyebrows are raised again. Then they’ll ask that question: “What’s social anxiety?”

And I want to shout at them, “How can you ask such a question? Social anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder there is. It’s the third most common mental health issue. About 12% of people will suffer from it at some time in their lives. And you ask what it is! You wouldn’t ask what depression is!”

But I don’t shout at them and I know I’d be wrong to shout. Because social anxiety, despite being very common, is hardly known about. Most people don’t even know the term and even fewer understand anything about it.

That’s why I’ve been so keen to publish this book: Social Anxiety Revealed, and why I’m delighted that it’s happening now (August 22). It’s a book I first wrote in 2004 and have recently updated. I began it when I became passionate about raising awareness of social anxiety. The reasons for that passion will appear in a different post on someone else’s blog.

The book isn’t just my story. It contains quotes from many other people with first-hand experience of social anxiety. It shows similarities and differences amongst those experiences, because people with social anxiety come from different places and have led different lives. And it contains humour, because humour provides a relief to the tension. And because even those who suffer from social anxiety can see the funny side of its illogicality. It is a fact that several stand-up comedians have or had social anxiety.
Miriam Drori can be found all over the Internet, including:

Social Anxiety Revealed will be available from Amazon from August 22 in paperback and ebook formats.

You can Pre-order Social Anxiety Revealed from Amazon HERE. 

Thank you for coming today, Miriam. Best wishes for a fantastic launch next Tuesday (22nd August) and for great sales of Social Anxiety Revealed


Thursday, 10 August 2017

A classic 'Ancient Roman' bestseller - Eagle in the Snow

Thursday top up...

This is about a recent read that took me a while since leisure reading time has been seriously curtailed over the last week. 

Eagle in the Snow: The Classic Bestseller by [Breem, Wallace]

I can see why this book, written around the 1980s, set a trend for later Roman military history authors. I didn’t find it read as easily as some other Roman legionary battles’ novels that I’ve read recently but the style was similar in that it told the tale via one main protagonist, in this case General Maximus. In parts the tale seemed longer than it needed to be but there was certainly plenty of enjoyable action in other places. Though fiction, I think it’s still a good read for getting a general gist of Roman military life both in settled peaceful times, as in northern Britannia, and in the horrors of engagement on the frontier in Gaul. (I confess to not seeing much in the novel that would have led to the script for a very famous film.) 

I'm not sure the addition of his cousin Julian/ friend of his youth was dealt with adequately. I can believe that some jealousy might have occurred between two youths when one got all the family 'rewards' and the other got less but as Julian pops in and out of the plot it seems irrelevant to the main storyline. 

Having read yet another piece of fiction set loosely around some factual Ancient Roman military details I'm glad I have personally chosen to write my novels predominantly from the Celtic perspective. That said, something like 'Eagle in the Snow' gives me some ideas for the creation of the roman characters who do appear as minor characters in my Celtic Fervour Series.

I'm sure that this novel will appeal to those who love a good tale that's brimful of Roman military details. 


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Travel weary Celtic gods and goddesses

Wednesday Wishes to you! (it's late GMT time but still Wednesday)

My summer surprise today is a whole gamut of questions for you to help me with.

How well travelled were the ancient Celtic gods and goddesses?

This is very much a possibly and probably post!

In my current writing set in A.D. 84, I have a number of *Celtic characters who are working towards a common goal even though their origins are from different areas of what we currently geographically term Great Britain. This means I have to work hard to discover which gods and goddesses might be appropriate for them to pray to since it seems that, in the Celtic culture, belief in their deities was likely to have been strong. Since I strive for historical accuracy whenever possible it means a bit more research to see if I can find any references I can happily use for my protagonists in Books 4 of my Celtic Fervour series.  

My Enya via

My main female character in Book 4 is Enya, a young warrior who was born at the hillfort of Garrigill in northern Brigantia (present day northern Yorkshire). Enya’s young life has been peppered with strife brought about initially by the invasion of the Roman armies of Quintus Petillius Cerialis, Roman Governor of Britannia in A.D. 71. In Book 2 of my series, when Enya is around the age of nine, she’s towed along when her family flee from Brigantia and head to her Aunt Nara’s homeland, Selgovae territory (southern Scotland), which lies north of Brigantia. In Book 3 she’s again on the move as her family move further north to the lands of the Taexali and the Caledons (north-east Scotland) to challenge the domination of General Agricola’s armies. By A.D. 84 (Book 3) she’s one of the young warriors involved in the confrontation that takes place between the armies of General Gnaeus Julius Agricola at Beinn na Ciche. (My version and location for the potential Mons Graupius battle)

Book 4 begins in late AD 84 in Caledon territory (north-east Scotland) and I have to surmise from scant historical evidence that although the peoples of northern Britannia were diverse tribal groups they most likely shared a common language—some form of Common Brythonic—and probably many of their religious beliefs were broadly similar. However, some historic references and archaeological finds seem to point to localised differences in the worship of deities. (e.g. My FutureLearn studies on Hadrian’s Wall makes mention of deities only ever mentioned in this geographical area on ‘tombstone’/monument evidence, though admittedly these remains post date my A.D. 84 period)

What language/s the tribes of north-east Scotland spoke in A.D. 84 isn’t known but from etymology studies it’s thought that some three hundred years later the Picts of the area were likely to have used a P-Celtic Brythonic based language. This form of Celtic is believed to have derived from the original Common Brythonic language which came with people who probably migrated from Europe. The Pictish language is grouped as a Brythonic language along with Welsh, Cornish and Breton and the extinct Cumbric language. For me that link with the language of Cumbria is an interesting one because my fictitious hillfort of Garrigill, Enya’s birthplace, is not so far from Cumbria.  

Back to my search for which gods and goddesses I might use and it seems feasible that I could use some of the god names of Welsh derivation and of Cornish, Breton and Cumbric. Searching for gods and goddesses of Celtic Scotland draws many blanks and few hits but there are more for the Welsh tradition. I have yet to investigate any Breton and Cumbric ones. I have to decide if it’s reasonable to assume that the god names may not have changed all that much from the earliest known Welsh use and before any Latin influences brought by the Ancient Roman usurpers changed some things. Hmmm…

It’s very tempting to use some of the gods and goddesses that are handed down via the Irish, Scottish and Manx traditions but they are grouped as the Q-Celtic Goidelic form of the Common Brythonic language. Here lies one of my big questions—if the language evolved differently in those areas from the Common Brythonic was that only after the Roman invasions?  Were the god and goddess names across Britain and Ireland the same pre- Roman influence and only changed some time after?

I’d love an expert to tell me the answers.

Till I find out otherwise, I’m using a mix of those thought to be the most common gods/goddesses across Europe and some nicely sounding local ones.

The older generations of my Garrigill clan in Books 1-3 have specific favoured gods and goddesses but Enya has not got to a point yet where she has her own favourites. I’ve no doubt that there would have been some powerful influences from parents back then and I’m making the assumption that adoption of personal deities was probably done before the onset of adulthood. (I’m not sure that any particular reference exists which states that everyone had to have chosen their gods etc by puberty-though again,  if anyone knows, please share!). At the beginning of Book 4 Enya’s feeling a bit let down by all of the deities and her faith in any of them is fragile. Will the events of Book 4 make that insecure faith totally crumble… or not? 

Nith- via
Another of my main characters is Nith. He’s a Selgovae and a distant relative of Enya’s aunt. Nith has not lost faith but has chosen to rely on his own guidance rather than the gods who let down his brother and allowed Esk to perish during the confrontation with the Legions of General Agricola at Beinn na Ciche (Book 3). Does Nith turn more to his gods as the book progresses? I definitely think so because he has a couple of agendas to solve…

Then there’s my young Taexali warrior named Feargus who journeys along with Enya and Nith. Are Feargus’ local gods and goddesses the same names as Enya’s or Nith’s? I don’t think so though some of his local deities will have similar functions to some of theirs. My thinking is that a good geographical distance separates the birth places of all three of the above. Feargus’ Taexali territory lies around 200 miles from where Nith was brought up and probably 300+ miles from Garrigill, Enya’s birthplace. Feargus has some well chosen names for his local goddesses which he definitely adheres to with a deep conviction.

(Note to self: I must get a working image for Feargus)

Wikimedia Commons
Another main character who needs his own pantheon of gods to pray to is General Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Governor of Britannia in AD 84 and Commander of all Britannic Legions, including those of the Classis Britannica. His Roman gods and goddesses might have some similarities to some of those of my Celtic clan members worship but my Agricola needs plenty of Roman deities to entreat to aid his decision making. Finding names for Agricola’s gods/ goddesses is proving easier than those of my Celts. Though having said that Agricola was born and raised in a region of Gaul called Gallia Narbonensis ( Frejus, France) and may well have been aware of some of the local Celtic gods and goddesses since his forebears were Romanised Gauls of local origin.   

Which gods might I be using for Agricola?  And which for my other main Celtic characters? That’ll be my next instalment. Watch this space…

*I use the term Celtic fairly broadly because I have no better name for the late Iron Age peoples who inhabited the island the Romans named Britannia by A.D. 71.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Like scary stories? Try The Helland Reckoning!

Novels Read Recently Update 1! 

Are you able to read paranormal horror easily? I really don't think I'm very good at it because The Helland Reckoning by Adrian Martin (published by Crooked Cat Books) was really not a comfortable read for me but it was totally rivetting- at least once I had plucked up sufficient courage. I'm certainly no expert at paranormal, or horror, but get the feeling some people might not find it as scary as I do but might love it for the absorbing storyline. 

Here's what I thought of it,  the review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads...

I have to confess to beginning this novel and then doing something most unusual for me. Once started I normally read through a novel right to the end, even if not all in one sitting.  With The Helland Reckoning I got to around 10% and put down my kindle. Reading this kind of novel in bed and around midnight was way too scary for me. I decided to only read the novel during daylight hours.
I’m glad I eventually plucked up the courage to read on (definitely during the day and not alone) because it was totally engrossing though I’m not really sure why some of the bloodiest bits happened! Closer to the end I was piecing together the interweaving character threads but definitely not the entire plot - there were still some surprises that the author kept under wraps till the end.

Paranormal horror isn't my most favourite genre but if you gravitate to that kind of story then I'm sure you'll love The Helland Reckoning.

Happy reading!


It's a Summer Surprise from Columbkill Noonan!

Happy Wednesday greetings to you!

As part of my Summer Surprises for You theme we continue with a visit from a fellow Crooked Cat Books author Columbkill Noonan who has a very exciting day today. Her novel Barbnabas Tew and the Missing Scarab launches today, the 26th July. Congratulations, Columbkill!

Columbkill Noonan
Columbkill's come to share something very different and entertaining with us,today. It's not often I get to have the publisher, the author and someone who will soon become a very famous person all on this blog at the same time sharing what was a fabulous surprise for all of them.  Grab yourself a drink, get comfy and get to know a little about how today's launch came about.

p.s Pay Barnabas some special attention because he's quite a character!

Welcome to the blog Columbkill- it's exciting to have you stop by and share these moments of sheer joy with us because I know how busy it is for you today. Being nervous about a launch is pretty normal, though not too many of us think about our characters feeling a tad nervous as well. And thank you so much for really giving us lots of other surprises as well as we read on beyond the conversation with 'the publisher' and Barnabas! (I wonder who that publisher is? Wink, wink)

“Surprise!” says the Publisher. “We’ve got a launch date!”
“Ahhh!” says Barnabas, the earnest, responsible, and slightly high-strung detective from Victorian London. He turns a bit red in the cheeks, and shifts nervously from one foot to the other. “And when is this ‘launch date’, I wonder?”
“Why, it’s this coming Wednesday!” says the Publisher. “You’ll be coming out July 26th. Isn’t that wonderful news?”
“Wonderful!” says Me, the Author. “Exciting!”
“Errr….” mumbles poor Barnabas. The red has now spread out from his cheeks to color his face entirely, giving him the complexion of a nearly-ripe tomato. It is a most alarming sight, really.
“Why, what’s the matter?” I say. “You look as though you’re having an apoplexy.”
“It’s just I’m not certain I’m quite ready,” says Barnabas. “I’m not even properly dressed.”He pats awkwardly at his billowing white robe. (Don’t ask why he’s wearing such a ridiculous thing, please; you’ll only upset him and besides, it will all become clear somewhere smack in the middle of “Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab”. Poor Barnabas would never forgive me if I spoiled his story!)
“Now Barnabas,” says Me. “We’ve talked about this. You’ll be fine. You’re completely ready.”
“I suppose,” says Barnabas. “It’s just such a…, well….”
“Yes?”I prompt.
“It’s just such a surprise!” he sighs.

And isn’t that the way of surprises? They can be good, or they can be bad, or they can seem good to one person and bad to another. It doesn’t really matter what the surprise is, it’s how you view it.
I personally love surprises. I think the most magical moments in life are unplanned, unforeseen, and therefore, unforgettable. There is beauty in chaos; a field of wildflowers growing every which where, or a rocky seashore with the waves flinging themselves wildly upon the cliffs. And there is so much to be learned in the unexpected.

Once I was in Frankfurt, all by myself. I don’t speak German (excepting that I can sing all the words to 99 Luftballons, which is, of course, not very useful when one is trying to navigate around a foreign country by oneself. “Hast du etwas zeit fur mich?”is not something one says normally in the course of a day, is it?) Anyway, I decided on an impulse that I wanted to go to Heidelberg, so I walked to the Frankfurt train station (which is enormous) and somehow managed to buy the ticket (I knew the words for train, and which track, and so forth. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know numbers (which are incredibly important when one is looking for a particular train track and there are what seems to be half a billion different tracks), so when the ticket seller told me which track to go to, I was more than a little uncertain.

I ran around in circles for a bit, then found what I thought was the right track, that happened to have a train sitting on it pointing in what I thought was probably the right direction. So I got on the train, and sat there…and started to worry. What if it’s the wrong train? What if it doesn’t go to Heidelberg? But then it hit me: so what? I might not be going to Heidelberg, but I am going somewhere, and maybe I’ll like that place too. So I just sat there and happily waited to see where the train would take me.
Turns out I went to Heidelberg after all, and it was fabulous, and I loved it, and I kind of wish I lived there now.

Nancy says : I've been through Frankfurt Station enroute to Heidelberg as well and know exactly how enormous it is. I also adore Heidelberg, so much so it features in one of my mystery novels! 

Barnabas, of course, is a bit more British about things; he likes everything neat and orderly and predictable. He likes to know where he is, and where he is going. He would be most decidedly unhappy to be on a train with a destination unknown. He thinks roses are their most beautiful when they are trimmed and arranged just so, so that each one is in its proper place. He likes for people to behave the way they are supposed to (in a civilized sort of way, that is to say). 

Of course, fiction doesn’t usually behave in an orderly, predictable sort of way, and “Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab” is no exception. Indeed, beginning almost straightaway, Barnabas (together with his loyal assistant Wilfred, who is just a tad more resilient about things) finds himself in the most unexpected and terribly surprising circumstance. To be stolen from a museum in the middle of
London and thrust into the very strange (and rather frightening) Egyptian Afterlife is about as unexpected and surprising as it gets. But our Barnabas, distraught though he may be, has a job to do, and he knows that it isn’t terribly polite to let one’s feelings interfere with the discharge of one’s responsibilities. 

But I’d better stop talking about that, before I give away too much. I don’t want to spoil all the exciting surprises that are in store for the readers!

Nancy says: Absolutely, no spoilers please because I'm sure I'm going to love reading about Barnabas Tew. 

So, back to the topic of surprises and chaos and order. Isn’t life (and fiction) just a wonderful mix of all of these? And, as the Fibonacci sequence shows, wildness and order are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Maybe Barnabas and I are not so different, after all. We are merely looking at the same thing from opposite sides, we are two sides of the same coin, the yin and the yang, yada yada yada.

I am excited for the launch date, and can’t wait to see what will come from it, what people I’ll meet, which adventures I’ll have. But when I think about it, I am nervous (just like our dear, earnest Barnabas). People will read the book. I hope that they will like it, but of course not everyone will…nothing is universally liked by every single person on the planet. 

So, whilst I tend to be a happy, excited sort of person (the kind who loves surprises!), Barnabas really is a reflection of my more anxious, worrisome side. Really, both sides are required for everything to stay in balance, and to work out the way they should. Sometimes one needs to plan, and sometimes one needs to just go with the flow.

So….Surprise! Chaos and order are both necessary, at the same time.
But, really, what does one wear to something like this? 

Nancy Says: Something cool and comfortable might just do the trick!

“Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab” is now available on Amazon!

Connect with Columbkill: 

Twitter: @ColumbkillNoon1

Thank you for coming today, Columbkill. Congratulations again. Wishing you the very best of launch days and continued success with your writing. 


Monday, 24 July 2017

#The Battle of Harlaw 1411!

Monday Moments Greetings to you! 

I tend to write a lot about the pre-historic Ancient Roman Invasion of the Garioch area of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, but my local Garioch area has been invaded at other times within historical memory.   

The Battle of Harlaw 24th July 1411
One of these times occurred in 1411 on July 24th. This battle was recorded though some details vary according to sources and allegiances of the clans who came to fight at Harlaw, around 1 mile away from the present county town of Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. The actual details may be hazy but the occasion has been remembered for centuries in the Ballad of The Battle of Harlaw.

Words to the Ballad are HERE

This is a great wee video accompanying the Old Blind Dogs version of the ballad. I urge you to watch it  through to the end where you can see the present day monument to the Battle at Harlaw. The footage is an amalgam of shots from various films but I think it gives a credible idea of what they may have looked like- though I'm certainly no expert in medieval Scottish warfare.

Aberdeenshire in this instance wasn’t being invaded by a totally alien army like it was when the Romans invaded in A.D. 84. The Battle of Harlaw of 1411 was a rift between opposing Scottish forces. By the early 1400s, Scotland had been a unified country for approximately five and a half centuries, the first king Kenneth MacAlpin having united the east and the west in A.D. 843 but that didn't mean all was peaceful. 

By 1411, there was huge strife between Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles (head of the Clan Donald) and the Duke of Albany (Robert Stewart of the Royal line) who had taken control of the Earldom of Ross. In 1411, the Clan Donald  had been a worthy adversary of the Clan Stewart for decades, the Stewart dynasty of Kings having ruled from 1371.  

The Stewart take over of Ross was contested by Donald, Lord of the Isles who was married to Mariota, Countess of Ross. Donald, on his wife's behalf, laid claim to the Earldom of Ross. ( Marriages at this time tended to cause dissention as well as sometimes uniting families and clans) Donald set forth from the west with an army of supporters and invaded Ross (shire) in northern Scotland

A battle was fought and won at Dingwall (north of Inverness) by Donald who then continued south with his army, said to be 10,000 clansmen (probably an over inflated count), his intention to control the city of Aberdeen. By 23rd July, Donald’s army had almost reached Inverurie, approximately 20 miles from Aberdeen.

Harlaw Monument - Wikimedia Commons 
The Earl of Mar, the local ‘guardian’ of Aberdeen and the surrounding area, mustered a force of between one and two thousand men at Inverurie (though this was more likely to be several thousands with some highly equipped mounted knights among them). The details of the actual battle are scant but it’s said that Donald lost some 900 of his men in the fierce pitched battle that took place at the fields of the Harlaw on 24th July. Mar is said to have lost some 600 men but by the end of the whole day of fierce battling with swords, bows, axes, long knives and targes (round shields) no clear winner was obvious.

Donald chose to retreat overnight back to the west coast via the north of Scotland. 

Though the Earl of Mar could claim no positive victory in the battle, the city of Aberdeen was saved... and the rest became infamous history in ballad form.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Warrior Poet

Thursday Already? 

This week is flying by for all sorts of reasons. My leisure reading has been limited but I have managed to read something light and easy. 

When I'm in the mood for a simple historical read I often reach for historical romance and the one mentioned today has been on my kindle queue for a little while. 

I've read other novels by Kathryn Le Veque and have enjoyed them so I thought I'd try this one with the intriguing title of The Warrior Poet. I was also interested after reading about the background research for the story having come in part from the poetic writing of a Sir Christian St. John pf the mid 1200s.

The Warrior Poet was enjoyable but less so than other novels by Kathryn Le Veque, like Lespada. The detail is as well researched as her other novels but there seems a slightly more relaxed style to the writing, and some language use that took me out of the medieval period.    

The Warrior Poet by Kathryn LeVeque 

It’s hard to equate a hulking medieval warrior as also being someone who writes the finest of poetry but Christian St. John is just that – and being the most handsome of warriors puts icing on his cake!  Some medieval knights had chivalrous streaks and without adding spoilers some of the St. Johns come across like that. A feud lasting decades between the St. John family and the neighbouring deGares seems to me to be a very believable concept in the northern England of 1266 A.D.

I enjoyed the tale of how Christian and Gaithlin’s romance develops though there are some aspects which didn’t gel with me so well. The use of ‘Honey’ as an endearment didn’t work for me (though, I believe, there’s documentation on its use from the mid thirteenth century). There were also some viewpoint changes that jolted me from what was mostly an absorbing read. 


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Summer Surprises with #The List

Its a Wednesday Summer Surprise for you!

Today, I'm delighted to introduce you to a new guest to this blog who has come with the kind of Summer Surprise that I absolutely love since it means me making a new purchase to add to my kindle queue. 

Graham H Miller
Graham H. Miller is a fellow Crooked Cat author who has a very exciting and busy day since his novel 'The List' launches today! I'll be popping into his launch party on Facebook  (19th July 2017) which is happening HERE 
and I'm sure he'll be delighted to have you pop in, too. (That's a cool hat Graham!)

Welcome to the blog, Graham. I love reading mysteries. I love writing them and although it wasn't my original intention some crime has crept into my contemporary mystery novels- though, unlike yours, mine cannot be termed crime novels. I've yet to read The List but it sounds just like my kind of story.

Can you tell us a little bit about what led to you writing The List?  BTW- Brilliant cover design! It's eerily mysterious...

The List is a crime novel with a mystery at its heart. My main motivation for becoming a writer was always asking myself “what happened next?” when I finished a book. This question really fuelled this book – each section begins with a short scene that takes place twenty years ago. 

The main hero is Detective Sergeant Jonah Greene of the South Wales Police. He feels his career is at a dead end when he returns from stress related sick leave and is pushed sideways into the role of coroner’s officer. His first body is that of a homeless man who froze to death. His bosses want the case closed but he is handed a list of seven names that the man wrote before he died. As he investigates the names, he becomes aware that something terrible happened in the mid-nineties. As he investigates, his career, relationships and finally life are put at risk.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had ideas for books. When I was at university I played role-playing games (the old-fashioned way with paper and dice) and graduated from there to writing stories. As I said, I’ve always been fascinated with the aftermath of big events, even if those events are usually the climax of a novel. 

One of my favourite TV programs of recent times was Broadchurch. Firstly they focused on one crime and studied it in detail, examining its effect on the whole community. Then, when they’d had the big climax with Olivia Coleman and David Tennant finding the murderer, they came back for a second season. This satisfied all my logical cravings as it exposed the faults in police procedure in the original series. It really was a “what happened next” plot.

So, when I was writing The List, I started with The Big Event in the nineties and worked out what would have happened as a consequence. From there I went to the crimes that would happen and finally how Jonah would solve them!

Law Courts, Cathays Park, Cardiff. 
My publisher, Crooked Cat, said that in my book, the location acts like a character. It’s set in Cardiff and the surrounding area in South Wales. In the last few weeks I’ve been visiting locations for this book and the next one to take photos and I’ve always been impressed. It’s such a fertile landscape for a writer to set a story in. 

Cardiff was a small town in 1800 and still has the energy of a city that is newly arrived. It has the old Victorian and industrial heritage side by side with modern areas which were developed less than twenty years ago. Outside the city are the valleys – a place all of their own – together with the coast and the countryside. Really, the possibilities are endless!

Thank you, Graham. That sounds like lots of books set in Wales are set to follow The List! There are so many places I need to revisit in Wales and Cardiff is one of the many that I need to explore a lot better sometime in the future, Graham. 

Your approach to writing The List sounds so 'planned and organised' compared to me since I essentially started off writing as a 'pantser' author. Well done with your organised strategy because I belatedly learned when I wrote one of my mysteries that being organised from the outset was a whole lot better than having to backtrack to tidy up at the editing stages! 

Graham H Miller can be reached at his website on Facebook at and on Twitter @grahamhmiller 

The List is available from Amazon HERE

Thank you for popping in today, Graham. Best wishes with your launch today (which is already looking very promising on Amazon at before 8 a.m.) and for the future success of your writing.


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Another #Discovered Diamond for Book3 #Celtic Fervour Series!

Tuesday continues the smiles! 

After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, Book 3 of my #Celtic Fervour Series has also received a 'Discovered Diamond' Review from Discovering Diamonds.

Once again the reviewer has some very rewarding things to say about my writing which has given my confidence a real boost.

Saying this in the last sentence puts a rosy glow to my face today that's nothing to do with the continued sunshine- "...the entire series is set firmly among the very best of early Romano British novels."

The rest of the review is also very complimentary in that the reviewer has captured the essence of the story with these words:   " a vividly compelling view of life as it may have been after Rome had swept into Britannia and taken everything for their own gain – except they never managed to conquer the hearts and minds of the Celtic people they conquered."

Her saying that the book is "thoroughly exciting" an "enjoyable read" and "wonderfully researched and elegantly written" brings me a lot of joy!

If you've not yet read my series you can pick up a copy from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, KOBO, Itunes,  and other ebook stores.

If you'd like a signed copy of my series  - send me an email and we'll discuss how that can be arranged!

Enjoy the day.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Monday... sMiles today with a Discovered Diamond Award!

Happy Monday wishes to you! 

The sun has been shining today. Yes, believe it or not in my part of Scotland it really is a pleasantly warm 20 ish Deg C. with a light balmy wind.

Even better to make me smile was reading a beautifully insightful review of After Whorl: Bran Reborn, Book 2 of my Celtic Fervour Series posted on the Discovering Diamonds website.

There's such delight for me as an author when a reader, or official reviewer,  writes that they enjoyed my novel and also highlight the most salient points about the work! It's not simple to do that in a few paragraphs but it has been done very well today for After Whorl: Bran Reborn.

After Whorl: Bran Reborn has received their Highly Recommended category and is a Discovered Diamond.

My sincere thanks to Anna Belfrage ( reviewer) and to the team at Discovering Diamonds. It's an amazing feeling when a reviewer says that they find the history vividly portrayed and when added to my "accomplished writing" there's a "delightful and most satisfying read!" 

It's smiles all round for me today.

Please click onto the site HERE  to read the full review...


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Ah, juniper ...and a Sunday Snippet!

Sunday Surprise!

About Juniper... and if you read on there's a bonus Sunday Selection from my current writing. (not edited) 

Juniper -Scotland,  Wikimedia Commons

As I write my current manuscript, I’m wondering what kind of tree or bush growing in north east Scotland 2000 years ago would still have berries in October- Berries that are edible by humans.

One such possibility is Juniper berries. I’m mildly surprised to find that berries can be found on junipers pretty well the whole year round and even more interesting is that juniper berries can be ready for picking at different stages of the year. This is possible because they can develop at different times on the same plant. Initially slow to germinate they tend to take at least two years before they are established enough to set fruits and the fruits are often on the bush or tree over a two year cycle as well. That means, as int he photo below, that the current crop ripe and ready for picking are deep blue but the new ones set that season are green and will take another year to ripen. 

Botanically, junipers are dioecious meaning that individual plants are either male or female. (

Juniper berries, I now find, have been used for ritual, medicinal and for general eating purposes for thousands of years.

Culinary Use
Juniper berries- Wikimedia Commons (blue ripe/ green next years berries) 
A very interesting fact is that juniper berries were used by the Ancient Romans as a substitute to black pepper. I can definitely use that fact in my current writing! 
Similarly used in crushed form, juniper berries were added to sauces, and to dishes for cooking game in Scotland in historic times, the recipes handed down through the last centuries. Juniper berries were used in England to flavour bread and cakes so it may be that some similar use was also made of them on Scotland.  

Medicinal Use
The earliest known recorded medicinal use of juniper berries is found in an Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1500 BC. The potion ingredients included juniper to cure tapeworm infestations. 
Juniper berries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs though some of the varieties of juniper are not known to have been grown in Egypt.  A type of juniper was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun but it’s likely that the berries would have come from Greece.  And it’s possible that the Greeks may have used juniper berries to increase the physical stamina of the Olympians (athletes).

The Romans were known to have used juniper berries for stomach ailments and for clearing out the digestive system.  Culpepper, a medieval herbalist, prescribed them for the treatment of flatulence among other complaints (Juniper oil is still used for digestive tract ailments today).

It’s known now that chemicals in the berries stimulate contraction of the uterine muscles and could potentially be administered during labour which comes as no real surprise because in south eastern Scotland during medieval times if someone gave birth ‘Under the Savin’ it meant the woman was having a juniper induced abortion/ miscarriage (savin being an old name for a type of juniper).

Ritual Use
Juniper when burnt produces limited smoke but it highly aromatic. It was popularly used in ancient times for the ritual purification of temples. The smoke was said to aid clairvoyance and to aid contact with the otherworld. Juniper burning was used in Central Europe to cast out witchcraft and to cleanse places of evil spirits.

Alcoholic Use
The illicit stills of the Highland whiskey distillers were powered by juniper fuel. Hidden away in the glens the smoke produced from the juniper was minimal and the outdoors wafted away the aromatic fragrances which meant detection by the Excisemen was a harder task. 
Today, some whiskey distillers still use juniper berries during a first distillation of  a new ‘still’ though this may be more for traditional and ritualistic purposes than purely for flavouring the casks.

Use in gin
Highland juniper berries were collected for centuries and were carted to the markets in Inverness and Aberdeen to be sent on to Dutch gin distillers.
Though not so plentiful nowadays juniper berries are still used in many different drinks worldwide.  

Herbal and Aromatherapy Use 
Along with natural juniper oils, the berries and other parts of the plant are used in the production of herbal medicines, aromatherapy oils and for other ‘antiseptic/bathroom’ related products.

Current studies revolve around the fact that juniper possibly releases insulin from the pancreas (hence alleviating hunger) and could be used for some types of medical complaints, like particular forms of diet related diabetes.

Here's an added bonus today! Enjoy a Sunday Selection from my current writing and in particular look out for that juniper:

It's A.D. 84. Location: north east Britannia (current Aberdeenshire). Enya, Nith and Feargus are seeking news of Enya's brother and cousin who have not been seen since the disastrous battle against the forces of General Agricola at Beinn na Ciche. Their task is not an easy one as they have to avoid the marauding patrols of the Roman legions. 

Nith returned to the dilapidated roundhouse late the following morning. Sending her a warning call from a little distance away he waited for her reply before entering the decaying dwelling. Regardless of the bad news he had to share with Enya, he could tell from her concerned expression that Feargus could not travel that day.
“The north bank of the river is crawling with groups of Roman auxiliaries. Enya, I cannot be sure that a patrol will not come this way.”
The hint of tears welling in her eyes were dashed aside as she fussed about adding some more wood to the low burning fire in the centre of the room. Her words were venomous, grimly delivered to the weak flames she produced with the wooden switch used to poke the embers. “I detest those bastard invaders more and more come every new dawn!”
He looked over to the makeshift bed where Feargus lay asleep. Placing his spear and sword near to hand he slipped down onto one of the logs he had brought in to sit on the previous night. “We are too near their new encampment to be safe from foraging patrols.”
The look she sent him was one of weird satisfaction. “Then they will find as little, or as much, as I did. This farmstead has been abandoned for many seasons. There are no wandering hens or pigs gone wild and they will find no grain stores either.”
Enya passed him a handful of juniper berries and hazelnuts. “I can pick plenty of these when I find them but you, as well as anyone, know that my hunting skills are only good for killing men and not beasts for the spit.”
Nith swallowed down a smile before popping some of the berries into his mouth.  He knew too well that when hungry Enya could be very snippy. He glanced over to Feargus. “How is he?”   
“His leg swelling is much worse this morning though I have re-wrapped it with a different herb poultice and I have prayed, and prayed some more, to the goddess Rhianna to ease his pain.”
“He has a fever?” Realising he was starving, he grabbed up another handful of berries and nuts from the batch she had piled onto a bit of cloth that lay on a flat stone next to the fireside. It was poor fare but he knew that those particular berries were always good for staving off hunger.
“Aye, he has that too, though I managed to get a feverfew infusion into him.”
Biting down on some nuts he mumbled around them. “He looks peaceful enough. Has he been sleeping since I headed out at dawn?”
Enya nodded before she padded over to the cot. “He is peaceful now but earlier he was very restless, his sleep disturbed.”
After a quick spread of her open palms to Feargus’ cheeks Enya continued her whispering when she settled back down beside him. “He feels much cooler now.”
He looked askance at her. The words made her grey eyes look less anxious as she absently clutched at his arm. A tiny smile curving her lips brought warmth to him that he knew was nothing to do with the flames in front of him. Animation quickened her next words.
“Nith. After you left, I realised Feargus was fevered. Leaving him alone was risky but I went back to the woods. I remembered trampling around some feverfew plants last night when I walked around those bodies. I picked some of the feverfew this morning. The leaves were past their best now that it is after Samhain but I think they were worth a try.”
“If you knew how to use the plant then it will surely help, Enya” He was not in all honesty convinced, knowing very little about which plants the healers used, but Enya clearly needed reassurance.
Her sparkle continued. “I looked again in the daylight and came to the same conclusion as we made last night. Those people were definitely not killed by a Roman enemy. The murderous coward who felled them did not look them in the eye.”
“Do you still think it was only one warrior?”
Her eyes glittered and the clutch at his arm intensified. “From the tracks around the area, including our own, I can only think it was one other person who was in that glade.”
He curled his palm over hers and returned a gentle squeeze. “Enya. That means he, or she, may not be far away. We must be very careful when we meet strangers.”
He hated to see the doubt clouding her soft gray eyes and did not want to make her even more insecure but he could not hold back his words as he looked over to their friend who was stirring in the corner. “We really should move on.”
“Aye, we should but I will not leave him.”
Her expression softened while he held her gaze for a few moments before she rose to check on Feargus.

For as long as he had known her, Enya had always been loyal to those she loved and on this occasion she was no different. He was not sure how that acknowledgement made him feel but regret was part of it. The rest he was not ready to think about. Instead practicalities were more important. “I will watch from the crest of the knoll. That should give me ample time to warn you if they come anywhere near here.”