Monday 29 May 2017

#8 Books Recently Read - Search For The Light by Rosemary Noble

Monday Moments are with...

Search For the Light by Rosemary Noble

This is yet another historical novel that I've just finished reading. 

A moment's foolish mistake costs sixteen-year old Nora her freedom and her family. Sentenced to transportation she has to grow up fast to survive prison, the long journey and then life as an assigned servant in Van Diemen's Land of the 1820s. She is sustained by real friendships with other prisoners, Sarah and Helen. Can anyone of them overcome the pitfalls of convict life to become pioneering settlers of modern day Tasmania? This is a story of love and friendship amidst the trials of 19th century Australian colonial life.

My thoughts on the novel:

This was an engrossing story woven around the realities of female convicts sent from the United Kingdom to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) around 1825: the convicts often having had little or no proper trial before their sentence was pronounced. It was a fact that Australia and Tasmania needed women, there already being masses of male convicts whose sentences were almost played out and who needed a female to work the land they would be able to acquire after their ‘jail’ time was done. An expedient way to populate the country was to impose seriously harsh sentences for almost no crime. 

Though I knew of the practice of sending convicts there, from school history lessons, I knew none of the detail.

This novel sets a fine background for the harsh treatment these women had meted out to them, both in prison before they sailed, during the long arduous voyage and when they arrived at Van Diemen’s Land. The story doesn’t dwell too much on the horrors of the voyage but I’m sure it was a lot worse in reality. It was easy to warm to the characters of Nora, Helen and Sarah.

I found the point of view changes a bit abrupt at times, but got used to it. The ending also seemed a little rushed as it jumped over the decades. There were instances where the quality of editing was poorer than throughout the bulk of the story. 


Sunday 28 May 2017

#7 Books Read Recently Who Does He Think He Is by Emily Kerr

It's still Sunday and here's another of my catching up with reviews posts! 

In early May, I took a day out to go and have lunch in Edinburgh with members of the Romantic Novelists Association, Scottish Chapter. I chose to spend a lot of hours on a coach rather than driving the 280 miles round trip. The drive would take me a little less than 3 hours if there were no hold ups along the route but parking in Edinburgh is diabolical- hard to find and cost prohibitive. Instead, I went by coach, which thanks to the Scottish Government issuing a Free Bus pass to people of my sensitive age, was a longer time away from my house but so very relaxing. To get to Aberdeen Bus Station I have a bus journey of about an hour so that was a good start for me into a new book- Who Does He Think  He Is? by Emily Kerr, published by Crooked Cat Books. 

The journey to Edinburgh is slightly less than 3 hours so I was able to nap...and to continue the read.

Here's my thoughts on this contemporary romantic comedy novel that has some mystery elements attached which is always guaranteed to appeal to me!

Lady Aurelia Osbourne-Lloyd has long wished her bank balance was as big as her name. But her home, Leydale Park, is more of a pile in a state than stately pile, and with her father off ‘finding himself’ in Thailand, it’s up to her to turn the family fortunes around by entertaining demanding tourists.

When – thanks to her father’s interference – a Hollywood production company chooses the estate as a location for a Regency movie, a whole new level of chaos enters Aurelia’s life. Her quiet days shattered and privacy non-existent, she has no choice but to go with the flow and let them take over.

Never mind the added distraction of dishy leading man, Xander Lord, who may have an ulterior motive for wanting to get close to her…

Can Aurelia keep her cool in light of all the upheaval?

My thoughts on this 5* read ...

Ah, what happens when the money runs dry, you live in an ancestral pile that’s in need of repairs and your titled father prefers to live far away in the sunshine of the Far East?  What does Aurelia have to do to put some meagre food on her table? Diversify, of course. Becoming a tour guide isn’t the most ideal job for Lady Aurelia but it’s either that or giving up her heritage and that isn’t to be countenanced. Aurelia is a fun character. She has naturally shy instincts but a tour guide has to pull out the acting hat and she does that so very well.

Along comes a film company needing an authentic building for their project. In a lead role as actor /director is the charismatic, gorgeous, slightly mysterious but pretty down to earth actor Zander Lord. Meredith, the other half of the Dawson /Lord Company plays the nasty ‘other woman’ vying for his attention extremely well – so well I wanted to have her towed away in the Winnebago more than once!  The mystery of the film company’s descent on Leydale Park is revealed, the cunning involvement by her father one that Aurelia despairs of.

The secondary characters play a lovely role and I particularly enjoyed the small village feel of the elderly, nosey, twins who run the local shop and who look after Lady Aurelia in their own way. Aurelia’s friend Lucy is the kind of loyal, fun loving character most people would love to have. The mystery of Zander is unravelled towards the end, the drama of the situation an amusing interlude.
This was a lovely quick read almost in the style of a dramatic farce.

I recommend this if you like chick-lit type romantic comedy! 


Recent reads #6 Taming The Tango Champion

Good Morning!

Sunday is here and I'm still posting about novels I've recently enjoyed. Today's first one is Taming The Tango Champion by Cait O'Sullivan, a novel by Crooked Cat Books.

If you're looking for a satisfying easy read that you can zoom through in one sitting if you've got a few hours to spare, this is the kind of story I'd be reaching for. It'll keep you engrossed as you find out what the backstory is to the conception of Ava Whittaker's little boy.

I don't watch the dance shows that have been on TV during the last few years but If you do, then you've probably even more reasons to enjoy this novel. Here's what I've thought....

An entertaining romance…

Do I dance the tango? No, but if I had a partner like Matthias de Romero I’d probably want to practise till my legs fell off!  He comes across as a very sexy guy. The setting of the dance show is a refreshing change in a romance and the story flows nicely to a successful and happy ending for Ava Whittaker and her toddler - as all romances should. This was a fun quick read for me which pleasantly whiled away a long coach trip. However, I might have to read a second time to work out why Matthias was considered expert enough to be on the panel of judges- that is apart from his ability to be hot on both the dance floor and the bedroom! 

If it sounds like your kind of read, click the link near the beginning of this post.


Saturday 27 May 2017

Fit's a broch aboot?

Happy Saturday wishes to you! 

The sun is shining for the third day in a row and it's nice and warm which for the north east of Scotland is pretty exciting. (it's not seriously hot, mind but at c.18 Deg C it's comfy) It makes me want to be at home lazing about and trying to write outside, battling the inevitable screen glare issue rather than being elsewhere. It makes me really appreciate having a home and garden to step into. 

For these reasons, I'm re-blogging a post that I created for my slot last Wednesday (24th May) for the Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog. It is particularly apt. I think, since it's about ancient homes that were typical in Scotland some thousands of years ago. Mostly though the post is about a special kind of building that's almost exclusively found in Scotland. Yes, there are some examples in Ireland and in England but BROCHS are predominantly a Scottish ruin. 

The title of this post is in my best Doric, the dialect of the north east of Scotland and translated means 'What is a broch about'? Was it a home? Or was it built for defence? Or did it serve another purpose?  

Home Sweet Home…or was it?

You’ll find a multitude of sayings about ‘home’ on the internet. These few are particularly useful for my topic today.

Home is where the heart is.  Pliny the Elder
He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A man's home is his castle. Proverb

Skara Brae 1986
We all know of the huge variety of domiciles that we could call home, nowadays, but an assortment of architectural house styles wasn’t always the norm.

As a hobby historian, I’m quite fascinated by the earliest types of habitation and the effort it took to create them. Admittedly, I’m more familiar with the most primitive dwellings in my homeland area of Scotland than those in other parts of the globe.

I’ve crawled into a reconstruction of a hunter gatherer’s hide, a very primitive covering made from sewn-together skins, but that’s not quite the same as walking your way around someone’s home that’s connected to others, making them into a tiny communal hamlet. 
Skara Brae 1986
Probably the earliest type of collective living I’ve wandered around were the homes of ‘Stone Age’ Neolithic people on the island of Orkney at Skara Brae. What remains of these stone dwellings is totally remarkable, though only because they lay under sand dunes for millennia before the wind and waves uncovered them in the mid 19th century.

At Skara Brae we can envisage a day in the life of the people. The delineated areas of the homes (minus original roofs) are easily visible as in a ‘bird’s eye view’. Their cupboards are built into the wall, the fireplace is central and their sleeping cots are blocked off with large slabs. There is even a built-in channel that is essentially primitive drainage, as in for toilet use: functional but effective buildings.

Ring of Brodgar
Were the Skara Brae houses fortified in any way? It doesn’t seem the case but there are some new theories going around (resulting from recent excavation) that the nearby timber/standing stone circles in the Orkney Isles may have had a community aspect to their construction. 

It’s now believed by some current archaeologists that the earliest of these stone henges pre-date that of Stonehenge in England and that the culture of building such henges may have travelled southwards, rather than northwards. Regardless of the direction of architectural influence, the massive wooden and stone circles were most likely built for religious observance and of people to congregate for positive reasons without the need for defence from outside entities, as in human raiders. In the Orkneys some archaeologists now think there was a religious community living alongside the henge monument.

 This recent BBC programme covers the issues-albeit a little dramatically and some critics might say fancifully.

Celtic Roundhouse Wikimedia Commons
Skip forward a couple of thousand years and sail south to mainland Scotland. Archaeologists have to work much harder to find evidence of Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age ‘Home Sweet Home’. Mainly because wooden constructions last a lot less than those that were stone built.

The Bronze Age and Iron Age tribes seemed to have mainly lived in hut circles, some with stone foundations (probably where wood was less available) and the bulk in wooden ‘Celtic’ roundhouses. There’s sufficient evidence around Scotland for some variety in shape - some were oval though most were circular.  Some individual roundhouse dwellings have been found but it was more common for them to have been erected in a small cluster situated near strip- field farms.

Crannog dwellings built on wooden platforms are a fine example of Bronze and Iron Age living. By the time crannogs were erected out over the water of inland lochs they were probably fortifying themselves mainly from marauding wild animals rather then marauding tribesmen. However, along with the Bronze Age and Iron Age technology—effective weaponry in particular—there came a greater need for tribespeople to defend themselves.

I’m currently very interested in a type of dwelling that’s almost exclusively found in Scotland – the Broch. But was it Home Sweet Home or not?

Dun Carloway - Wikimedia Commons
Broch building is very difficult to define. Until recently not enough time or effort was given to investigating this unique style of building. Broch remains are found in southern Scotland but the bulk are to be found in northern Scotland, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

So how does a Broch differ from a Celtic roundhouse, or from a crannog?

A Broch is a massive drystone built hollow-walled tower. Some of these towers were thought to have been as high as 50 feet with walls of around 4 feet thick- like the Broch of Mousa in Shetland. Staircases wind their way up the hollow wall structure to give access to upper levels and some of the evidence shows there could have been multiple platforms, circular balconies or partial floors, inside a broch.
Interior staircase Dun Carloway- Wikimedia Commons
Many brochs are thought to be from the Neolithic period but intriguingly others situated towards the south of Scotland have been dated to 1st century AD, during the Roman occupation.

Brochs have no windows and only one low entrance way so the interior would have been extremely dark. How damp they were inside, I don’t even want to imagine! What the roofs were constructed of is a matter of interpretation: possibly thatched like roundhouses. A corbelled stone roof is thought to be less likely, though that would have been a remarkable feat of engineering and the technique not unknown because Neolithic people used it in structures like the Maes Howe chambered cairn on Orkney.

Mousa, Shetland Isles - Wikimedia Commons
Earliest archaeological thinking was that Brochs were built as a defensive structure but that’s hard to believe since there were no windows to give access for repelling invaders. 

Some experts then thought they were built more as a status symbol by the local chief to show his superiority in the region. The broch at Mousa, Shetland is certainly impressive enough for that!

However, some recent archaeologists aren’t ruling out the idea that people maybe ‘holed up’ in them like in a self-sufficient ‘siege’ when invaders threatened the area, and that they normally lived outwith the broch in some other form of dwelling house. I’m not sure I’d want to be inside one for months on end.

The theories are all fascinating conjecture!

I’ve been following a Facebook page named the Caithness Broch Project which has an aim of properly identifying the multitude of Brochs that litter Caithness. They also intend to build a replica Broch to satisfy the curiosity of tourists like me. I’m eagerly waiting for that to be built so that I can pop up and visit it though that’s likely to mean a 400 mile round trip for me.

 What's your favourite ‘Home Sweet Home’?

Whatever you do today- enjoy! I'm doing more new writing and some gardening. See you later...


Friday 26 May 2017

Friday! Books read #5

It's Friday already and I've some more catch up today of books read and reviewed in April and May. 

Today's feature is The Other Side of Dusk, another novel set in Britannia, this time on the west coast of what we now know of as Scotland. The date of the story is not specified but the story features Roman soldiers, people of Scotti origin and Picts. This mixture of peoples makes it difficult to pinpoint a decade, or even a century, and introduces a certain element of creative history according to the known archaeological and historical records, as I know them. But as fiction it's an interesting blend of cultures, legacies ... and characters.

To give a flavour of what it may have been like to be living in Roman occupied territory in northern Britannia, using the known record, is an extremely difficult task for any author. In The Other side of Dusk I'm finding it very intriguing to try to match the known historical timeline that I've learned with the author's visionary fictionalised timeline!

I'm deliberately giving my thoughts on the novel first in this post...and then afterwards the multitude of questions the story has raised for me regarding the known and attested historical timeline and how an author can use parts of it for their own purposes.

BLURB: NOTE: May contain triggers. A boy sold as a slave is used by a Roman woman to get pregnant so the master may have an heir. But it all backfires when an old soldier who serves her household takes pity on the boy. He teaches him to fight and when the child is born, helps the slave escape with his son. He is home but...his people aren't sure he is fit to take his father's place when the time comes. The Picts are ready to revolt against Roman rule and the Scotti may be caught in the middle. To make matters worse, the master is seeking his stolen son.

This is my short 'no spoiler' review...

The Other Side of Dusk by Cherime MacFarlane 

I really enjoyed the story of Ualan and was intrigued by the author’s interpretation of what the situation might have been like towards the end of the Roman occupation of Britannia when the Scotti tribes were probably vying for supremacy over the Picts on the west coast of Scotland. It's a very intriguing historical era that I love to research, and to read about, though there’s actually very little written for an author to dip into to create fiction. Cherime MacFarlane has added some beautifully evocative description of the landscape which I can relate to very much since I know the west coast of Scotland very well, though admittedly I can only surmise it wasn’t too different during the time she writes about. I really like the choices of Gaelic names since their meaning can add more depth to a character, though I’ll not spoil the story for a new reader by giving particular examples. The story of Ualan’s capture and slavery is slowly revealed as the tale progresses, having been tantalisingly introduced at the outset of the story. The intermingling of Picti and Scotti tribes (and even rivalry) after the withdrawal of the Roman influence must have created some difficult times for families who essentially just wanted their own territory to farm and tend. 

...And these are the questions, and information, that came to mind as I read the novel, all of which made me want to delve back into what I've already learned of the Roman occupation of Britannia. 

A 'turf wall' is mentioned in the story. If it alludes to The Antonine Wall, that wall was constructed c. A.D. 142. It's likely from historical evidence that the forts along the Antonine Wall were manned for a couple of decades till around A.D. 165 after which the forces were documented as having been withdrawn south to Hadrian's Wall when the Romans redrew the western frontier limes of the Roman Empire. Normal Roman practice on withdrawal from the forts was to set fire to and lay ruin to the wooden buildings so that the local tribes could find nothing useful to use from them. After the withdrawal of troops from the Antonine Wall, according to experts and the archaeological record as presently known, there would have been no further Roman presence. However, the turf wall remained as a huge 'Roman' statement for the local populace for many, many centuries.

By the early A.D. 200s (some 35 years later) there may have been renewed Roman presence at some parts of the Antonine Wall in preparation for the campaigns of the Emperor Severus, though the evidence is for that to have occurred at the eastern end. According to written accounts, c. A.D. 208, Severus marched northwards from Eboracum (York) with 50 thousand troops to 'teach the tribes of the north a lesson'. The Caledonians had been unruly and had not kept to treaties for some time -of course, this is the account seen from the Roman perspective  By c. A.D. 210 Severus seems to have been campaigning in what we now call 'Aberdeenshire' though his forces seem to have been reduced to around 30,000. What decimated them is not clear- were there huge casualties as a result of local tribal attacks? Or were some of the troops sent to other parts of the empire? Or was a deadly sickness a factor? By A.D. 210, Severus was a very sick old man who appeared to have gout or some really debilitating health condition. He is documented as going south to Eboracum where he died in February A.D. 211.

From the perspective of the actual historically known timeline, and till more archaeological evidence is uncovered, it seems Severus kept his line of march up and down the eastern side of Scotland. 

Around A.D. 210, Britannia was split into 2 provinces, the northern part being named Britannia Inferior (Lower Britain). This delineation made either by Severus (or his son Caracalla who became the new emperor) meant a reduction and withdrawal of troops from the north, yet again. Both Caracalla and his younger brother Geta abandoned their campaigns to subdue the Caledonians of the north and they went back to Rome. Whether the recently refurbished or renewed Antonine Wall forts (i.e. Crammond near Edinburgh) remained manned with even the most basic legionary presence is to be proven. It's likely though that civilian use of the fort surroundings went on for decades, even centuries- though use of buildings would only have taken place if they had not been deliberately burned by the departing Romans.

In The Other Side of Dusk the author mentions a Roman Cohort- the Cohort Delmatarum. The Cohors II Delmatarum (an auxiliary regiment from Dalmatia on the Adriatic) appears on record on an undated altarstone that's thought to date from the early 3rd Century.  It was found near Carvorum by Hadrian's Wall. The Roman military influence lasted nearly 300 years at Hadrian;s Wall though the civilain use of forts along the wall continued for some time after the withdrawal around A.D 400. (Coins minted A.D. 403/406 were found at Birdoswald fort) 

Pictii and Scottii
Skip to around A.D. 250. The Scotti tribes (possible origin Iberia) are thought to have invaded the west coast of Scotland and what is now northern Ireland.

It isn't till c. A.D. 295 that the first references to a people named the Picts is recorded, those tribes likely to have come from the north and north-east of Scotland  However, the use of the work 'Pict' to describe the Late Iron Age/ Dark Ages tribes of Scotland is often confusing. (Julius Caesar c. 55 B.C. mentioned 'painted people' though I don't believe they were officially named by the Ancient Romans as  'Pictii' at this point in history.)

The term 'Picts' is often as confusing as the use of Celts to describe the cultural lifestyles of the Later Iron age tribes of Britain and Continental Europe. As an author, I personally needed to use a generic term for my characters and decided that 'Celtic' was the most descriptive. In the same way some authors use the term 'Picts'.

Some historians thought that 'Pictii' were themselves an invader people to north-east Scotland but more and more it is appearing that 'Picts' was just a contemporary term for the grouping of indigenous Late Iron Age tribes by A.D. 295. It's a reasonable enough theory that the descendants of those who survived the brutal occupation of Emperor Severus around A.D.210 would have banded together over a broader area and renamed themselves 'Picts'. This is especially relevant in the context of the adoption of the new religion of Christianity which brought its own symbolism and practices.

I'm off now to write my own version of what happened in the aftermath of the Battle of Mons Graupius because there is nothing available;e to me to know what General Agricola actually did in north-east Scotland in A.D. 84!


Wednesday 24 May 2017

Wednesday Summer Surprises #2

Welcome to my Wednesday feature - Summer Surprises! 

Today, I'm featuring two books I've recently read by Tim Walker- Abandoned and Ambrosius.

The period of the novels is the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Ancient Roman Armies in Britannia. According to the few records available, the 'official' end came around AD 410 when the last of the Roman soldiers of the garrisons in Britannia were recalled back to Rome by the (Western) Emperor Honorius.

Honorius  - Emperor at the age of 8
Wikimedia Commons
In AD 210, the Emperor Honorius was around 26 years of age and had been ruler of the Western Roman Empire since his father's (Theodosius I) death in AD 395, the Eastern Empire being ruled by his brother Arcadius. During this time there were many tribal conflicts across Honorius' western part of the empire and Rome itself was sacked by Alaric of the Visigoths.

By AD 210, the Roman Empire was in disarray and the remote garrisons of Britannia were told to get out/or look after themselves because Rome would provide no more support.

In reality, any legions who fled Britannia were probably deployed elsewhere across the Empire when they quit the shores of Britain- their destinations depending on the allegiances made with other rival Legionary commanders - and never ever set foot in Rome itself.

For me, the interest lies in those who were left to prop up a broken down society. Who continued to live in those garrison forts when the bulk of the armies of Rome left? Were the buildings, by then, already in a sorry state and just left to tumble into ruination because the Roman Empire had been under funding those garrisoned in Britannia for decades?

What was the situation of retired soldiers who had taken up the offer of land as part of their remuneration settlements- were they content to remain and continue their Roman way of life as much as they could? (given that they may have married local 'Celtic' woman and had families) Did these old veterans feel trapped into remaining on their property in Britannia when they would rather have removed themselves along with their fellow soldiers?

Were the patriarchs of the new generations of romanised Britons, formed from marriages or relationships with locals during the centuries of Roman occupation, well accustomed to their 'hybrid' status and content to create new dynasties with mixed religious beliefs and customs?

How much influence did the new versions of Christianity play in the lives of those left living around the abandoned fortresses and forts?

I have many questions but little is written about these times. 

In late 2016, I was delighted to find that my OpenLearn 'Hadrian's Wall' course dealt a little with this turbulent period. I'm also pleased to read the interpretations of authors who write fiction set in these times because their visions often differ from the most recent archaeological, and historical, interpretations. Sometimes the fiction writer's vision is added to by dipping into the legends that probably sprang up at the time, the oral traditions just as clouded in interpretative controversy but which can add colour and intrigue!

In my own historical writing, I try to interpret according to the archaeological and historical record and have, so far, tended to shy clear of the legacy of the legend -  but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading a version that merges the fantasy and the history.

It's for these reasons that I'm featuring Tim Walker's writing on this Wednesday Summer Surprises slot. Here are my reasons why I really enjoyed reading the following books...

Britannia lies shocked and exposed by the sudden departure of the Roman legions in the year 410. A hero arises - Marcus Aquilius - to protect the town of Calleva from an invading Saxon army. The townsfolk must decide if their town and way of life is worth fighting for, or if they should flee to the forest and revert to a tribal lifestyle. Marcus knows he must embrace change and makes his own personal journey to emerge as Marcus Pendragon.

Abandoned (Light in the Dark Ages Book 1) by Tim Walker 4*

This was an interesting interpretation of what might have happened in the aftermath of the Roman occupation of Britannia. I love novels set in the era and looked forward to reading this one. I’m sure there would have been some chaos and a lot of societal breakdown after the structure, and strictures, of Roman rule broke down. I can easily imagine scenes where the inhabitants of what would have been a well run fortress were in a state of limbo after the withdrawal of the Roman troops. After some 300 years of Roman rule, those who regarded themselves as natives (non-military) were probably very well integrated with the Roman way of life, especially with the fortress being in southern Britannia. However, the question of how quickly those locals shed off any Romanisation and reverted back to their Celtic inheritance is one that might never be resolved.  The lack of Roman routine in ‘Abandoned’ opens the doors for new invaders and those settler survivors really needed a strong leader like Marcus Aquilius to marshal them into as credible a fighting force as possible. 

Britannia lies open to barbarian invasions as it slowly adjusts to life after Roman rule. Cruel high king Vortigern has seized control and chosen to employ Saxons in his mercenary army. But who is the master and who the puppet?

Enter Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Roman tribune on a secret mission to Britannia. He is returning to the land where, as a child, he witnessed the murder of his noble father and grew up under the watchful eyes of an adoptive family in the town of Calleva Atrebatum. He is thrown into the politics of the time, as tribal chiefs eye each other with suspicion whilst kept at heel by the high king.

Ambrosius finds that the influence of Rome is fast becoming a distant memory, as Britannia reverts to its Celtic tribal roots. He joins forces with his adoptive brother, Uther Pendragon, and they are guided by their shrewd father, Marcus, as he senses his destiny is to lead the Britons to a more secure future.

Ambrosius: Last of the Romans is an historical fiction novel set in the early Dark Ages, a time of myths and legends that builds to the greatest legend of all – King Arthur and his knights.

Ambrosius: Last of the Romans – by Tim Walker 4*

I really look forward to reading novels set in Roman Britain, the era being of particular interest to me. It’s such a hard period to research, there being very little written evidence available for the author to use as authentic background so I think the author has written an engrossing tale which blends some known historical and archaeological evidence with the fantasy of the oral tradition handed down to us in the form of legends. Just as the historians and archaeologists put forward their interpretation of evidence, Tim Walker has created a credible cast of characters with very human traits to fit the turbulent times that came after the withdrawal of the Roman Armies a little short of 400 A.D.

My best wishes to Tim Walker for great sales of the above and thank you for allowing me to feature them today. 

I'll be back soon with more of my recently read novels.


Tuesday 23 May 2017

Recent Reads in April and May #2

Tuesday Tale

I'm continuing my intention to post short reviews of books I've read recently. Today's one was by fellow Crooked Cat Books author, Ailsa Abraham. I've enjoyed reading Ailsa's writing already and like myself she writes in different genres. The book I'm featuring today is one that she came to feature a few months ago, when it was launched.  Attention to Death is a contemporary crime novel, not one of her fantasies.

In thought this to be a 5* read!

Attention to Death by Ailsa Abraham

After hours…and keeping secrets.

This was an excellent read from start to finish covering tricky themes of murder within a tight knit group of British Army soldiers, and a still frowned upon sexual relationship between the two very likeable main male characters. There are other strands tackled as well as homophobia- there's racial and religious prejudice to contend with, too.

The pace is fast, the writing is crisp and the whole read compelling. The two specialist Military Police Officers have a particularly violent murder to solve while attempting to ignore an inevitable attraction. Love isn’t always easy but it’s heartening that Angus and Raff find a way.

There are gruesomely explicit details to work through; murder in most forms being violent, but the author has skilfully interwoven those horrors, balancing them with the tenderness of a new relationship.

Some aspects of the gay relationship in the novel may not be to everyone's taste but the novel isn't explicit, just sufficient to engage the reader as the both the romantic relationship and the details of the murder unfold.


Monday 22 May 2017

Monday Moments-Books read #1

Welcome to my Monday Moments slot! 

During the past weekend, I've been out selling my novels at a FOCUS Craft Fair in Aboyne on Royal Deeside but I've also been catching up with writing short reviews for novels I've personally read during April and May. Similar reviews to what's on this blog have been posted on Amazon UK and Goodreads for the authors since I know how useful it is to have reviews for helping to raise the book's ratings.

To kick off a series of reviews that will appear on this blog this week, here's a 5 * read that I really enjoyed:

Dirty Weekend by Deirdre Palmer

What people say and what they don’t tell…

This was a very enjoyable and, at times, an amusing read though the themes running though it are not so funny at all. Hearkening back to 1966, the author tackles what would have been a very difficult subject to mention to anyone. I found the character of Jeanette a bit undeveloped at first, her loyalty to her friend Carol-Anne a little ambivalent but she changed towards the end as her 'horror' was revealed. I imagine a real victim (as in what Jeanette suffered) during the 1960s would have ended up keeping their own counsel, if there was limited parental support involved.

The four main characters are well portrayed with realistic, likeable characteristics that ring true for the era. The ‘Swinging Sixties’ are successfully evoked in all the little details mentioned by the author, some of which made me smile and others laugh outright! Particulars are remembered by readers who lived through the 1960s but there's social information included in the text which would also be valuable for a younger reader interested in learning more about the times.

A very enjoyable read which I can easily recommend.

Click the link above if you'd like more information from Amazon, or to buy.


Friday 19 May 2017

Another go!

Happy Friday wishes to everyone!

Some Fridays are just the beginning of the weekend for me and other Fridays are charged with something different.

I've blogged a little before on attempts to encourage more book sales, some of the attempts being partially useful and others a total waste of money. Sometimes these 'special' events are also quite time consuming and as such, often a waste of precious writing time.

Never say never has to be the motto though, so I'm trying something new today.  From 1 p.m. GMT (my romantic mystery thriller Topaz Eyes is being promoted by a paid promotions site called 'eBookSoda'.

My fingers are crossed that I can sell a lot of ebooks at 99 cents/ 99p and equivalent to cover the cost of the promotion. The Ebooksoda promotion only lasts for 1 day, so...

If you've not yet read it, hop on over to Amazon and pick up a rivetting read for a truly bargain price since it took me at least 5 months to write it.

Looking back, I loved those exciting 5 months and I hope it shows in my writing. I really got a buzz when creating my family tree for the mystery and I loved making sure that the timeline fitted perfectly because it's quite an intricate and demanding mystery to solve.

Can you solve it before the last few pages?

HERE is the link for Amazon but it's also available from


Wish me luck...

Meanwhile I'm getting ready for the 2nd of my local paperback books sales and book signing events with FOCUS Craft Fairs. Tomorrow, Saturday 20th May the event is on Royal Deeside at the Victory Hall, Aboyne (Scotland) If you're anywhere near, pop in and say hello. You can browse my new table layout while you're there.


Wednesday 17 May 2017

Flight of fancy!

I'm guest posting today! 

You'll find an article by me that's now live on the One Stop Fiction Website Blog for Readers section.

Click the link HERE to find out about how I write "Fiction from Reality".

Here's a teaser image to see if you can guess which of my novels is featured in the post.

So, which do you think it is?


Wednesday...Summer Surprise 1!

From Pixaby via Katharine Johnson
Summer Surprises!

Summer Surprises is the name of my new Wednesday theme which I intend to run for the next 14 weeks. 

I'm delighted that the series begins with a guest post by fellow Crooked Cat author, Katharine Johnson. Katharine's not new to the blog but her latest work  -The Silence - is. 

Her nail-biting tale, set in Tuscany, is due to be published on June 8th (2017) but she's come today to give us a sneak peak as my first Wednesday Summer Surprise

Katharine's also here with more surprises because there's an exciting invitation for you and a chance to win some surprises in her 'goodybag'. Make sure to read on to find out about them!
Katharine Johnson

Welcome again, Katharine. It's many years since I was on a Venice, Verona and Florence trip which meant a train ride through the Tuscan countryside. I don't remember all that much about that journey back in 1974 except that it was quite long, very hot, the train was overcrowded and for much of it we stood in the corridor there being no spare seats. But... I do recall being highly impressed by the sight of the hills clad with tall and stately cypress trees. I'm sure, though, that your latest novel The Silence will kick start my memories. That Italian trip was also memorable for me because it was my honeymoon (I'll say no more about that) but please tell us about how your characters find Tuscany... 

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog, Nancy to talk about my new novel The Silence which is published on 8th June. 

The story is about a summer in Tuscany that goes tragically wrong.

Here's the blurb
Can you ever truly escape the past? Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle - and a secret that could destroy everything. When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.

Abby is sent to stay with her aunt and uncle in Tuscany while her father and stepmother are on honeymoon. Still traumatised by the death of her mother the previous year, she's a shy, anxious child whose life is transformed by her rebellious, free spirited cousin Philippa who has a theory about everything and a plan for the perfect crime. Abby is intrigued as to why Philippa's family left England so suddenly without telling anyone - but it soon becomes clear that everyone at the villa has something to hide.

From Pixaby via Katharine Johnson
I wrote it because it's the book I wanted to read. I like stories where people are taken out of their comfort zone and where a split-second decision changes the course of someone's life.

I chose Tuscany as a setting because I wanted the past event to take place somewhere that was beautiful, remote and very different from Abby's usual surroundings, a place with a dream-like quality which would make it easier for Abby to convince herself afterwards that none of it had really happened. It had to be somewhere hot so that as the temperature creeps up the tensions between the people at the villa also rises. 

Nancy says: I think the past often comes back to bite you and not always playfully! 

From Pixaby via Katharine Johnson
Here are some teasers...

"It was impossible to imagine now, just as it was impossible to recapture the blinding heat, the clouds of dust that peppered your legs as you walked and the incessant nagging of the cicadas"

"People drinking in the bars below the villa or lazing under the umbrellas around the pool must look up into those forested hills hundreds of times in a day and have no idea what they were concealing."

Special offer
Buy before 8th June at the special preorder price of 99p/99c Amazon - The Silence

Nancy says: It's a done deal, thank you! 

Here are some more Specials for you

Katharine says: "Show me proof of order (pm or email ) and you'll be entered into a goodybag prize draw which includes prosecco and chocolates, Amazon gift card and a signed paperback copy of my first novel Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings."

Nancy: Mmm... I'm quite partial to a glass of cool prosecco on a summer afternoon! 
Come to the party!
I'm having an online launch party on Facebook on 8th-9th June and would love you to come along. Discover more about the book, meet some visiting authors and win prizes. More details here: The Silence launch Party

From Pixaby via Katharine Johnson

Thanks Nancy. I hope you have a lovely summer. I'm off to Tuscany to work on the next Villa Leonida story.

Nancy says: Your image of the typical Italian red scooter reminded me of the little yellow 'Vespa' that I brought home last May from a visit to Rome for granddaughter. It has its very own spot on my granddaughter's 'special' bedroom shelf. 

About the author: Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for crime novels, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. She plays netball badly and is a National Trust room guide.

Find Katharine at these places:
 Amazon - The Silence

Thank you for visiting today, Katharine. My best wishes for a great future for The Silence. 

p.s. Maybe some day I'll be visiting a National Trust Property and you'll be the guide, Katharine. You'd probably be saying 'Does this woman's insatiable questions never end?' I love to make use of the guides because I always learn lots of little extras that way. :-) 


Sunday 14 May 2017

Roe Doe!

Welcome to a partially sunny Sunday update! 

Here's a little more about Roe deer that might feature in my current writing which is set in the north east of Britannia (Aberdeenshire) in October, AD 84. Has the species change very much since then? I doubt it because the Roe deer has been indigenous in this area of Scotland since the Mesolithic period. What follows is a description of what I'd be looking for if I were the one who was in the locale in October AD 84 and was a character in #4 of my Celtic Fervour Series.

How would I recognise a Roe deer? 

Wikimedia Commons
The adult female doe stands around 60 - 75 cm at the shoulder and weighs 10 - 25 kg. That means that the back of a female doe would be about half of my height (152 cm) perhaps coming up to my waist.

The Roe deer I’d expect to see around Tap O’Noth (Aberdeenshire) would turn from their reddish brown summer coat to a more greyish pale brown coat by October, giving them more camouflage in winter conditions.

I’d expect to see a black muzzle area and probably white patches at the rump. The buck’s short antlers are ridged with three tines.

Roe deer would be browsing within an original Caledonian forest habitat of Scots Pine, birch and alder (possibly other species) nibbling on the softer tree shoots. In the locale near Tap O’Noth they would likely be seeking the berries of late brambles, blaeberries (bilberries) junipers and other nutritious berries.  

Wikimedia Commons
Above the tree line, the natural point at which it is impossible for trees to successfully grow given the weather conditions and climate (anything which does survive the conditions are stunted and exposed), the heather moorland of ling and bell would provide good grazing. The roe deer are fond of heathers but the moorland would also be home to crossleaved heath, cotton grass, though in the wetter parts there would be a plentiful supply of slippy sphagnum moss- probably to be avoided.

The breeding season occurs July-August and if I was interested in any of the sometimes aggressive, chasing, mating ritual I’d need to be fairly limber to see them in the woodlands near Tap O’Noth. Territorial fights can result in serious injuries before the winner takes over the territory and the awaiting doe, or does, who then maintain a ‘catch me later’ policy till they are ready to mate. It is common for males to mate with several females and vice versa has also been observed.

Wikimedia Commons
Interestingly though mating occurs by mid August the fertilised egg passes into a ‘dormant no-embryonic’ stage till it is fully implanted and begins to grow (foetal growth) in January and continues for approximately 5 months, the does giving birth May-June.  (The technicalities of this require my further research some other time). I can see why nature has ‘delayed’ the gestation process so that the does do not give birth till well after the winter season is past. However, in today’s climate the seasons are not so defined to be sure of when winter conditions – including snow, frost and bitter winds – will occur. Living in north east Scotland for almost 30 years I’d say the most common time for snowfall is probably mid February but I’ve seen snow fall in September and June and all months in between. During a really harsh winter with lingering snow cover the more common time is probably December to January.

Roe deer tend to be solitary, though they also form small groups in winter. Their most active periods tend to be dawn and dusk though the hours of dark can be good grazing times if there’s strong moonlight.

What would alert me to Roe deer being nearby?

They give a short, often repeated, bark if alarmed by potential predators. If I hear a high-pitched piping call the doe is attracting a buck who in turn would be making wonderful rasping noises. At such times, I’d be best to make myself scarce!

I'd best get back to my writing now...


Saturday 13 May 2017

Roe deer or Red Deer? A Bambi question!

Happy Saturday to you!

When I’m writing there are all sorts of distractions that come along. Questions pop into my head which need clarification.
In my ongoing current writing, my character Enya is stealthily moving across a landscape that’s flooded by General Agricola’s Roman legionary and auxiliary troops. It’s the month of October, AD 84, and approximately a half moon after a major battle confrontation at Beinn na Ciche (my version of Mons Graupius in # 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series). 

Enya is travelling in a west-north-westerly direction from the sands of Baile Mheadhain on the north east coast of Scotland towards Tap O’Noth where she’s learned there’s a congregation of Celtic survivors of the battle. Those warriors at Tap O’Noth just might have some good information for her.

Along with her friends, Nith and Feargus, she reaches her destination and is welcomed by the local warriors. Food isn’t often plentiful but their hosts have killed a deer which is nicely roasted by the time Enya and her friends climb up to their camp at the ancient hillfort of Tap O’Noth.

My distractions today have been…
  1. What kind of deer would most likely have been killed at this time of year in that locale, almost two thousand years ago?
  2. Was Tap O’Noth hillfort already ruined by then or was it inhabited during the time of this first Roman infiltration of the area? 
The first question is easier to decide since I’ve learned that only the Red deer and Roe deer would have been indigenous in the early first century AD. I’ve had to imagine what the landscape would have been like back then for the other books in my series so when writing # 4 of the series I have my own impression of the terrain.

Tap O’Noth is the remnants of an ancient iron age hillfort which had at least two known occupations from the identification of two different building phases.

Today, some parts of the lower slopes of the Hill O’Noth, which lies below Tap O’Noth, are covered in maintained planned forestry with cultivated fields on the valley floor. Two thousand years ago, I imagine there would have been some stands of ancient Caledonian woodlands above a few cultivated Celtic strip fields on the valley floors around the base of the hill but there would also have been uncultivated sphagnum mosses and damp areas. Above the natural tree line the hillside, I imagine, would have been heather clad, possible a little ferny, but otherwise fairly barren of vegetation.

If a deer had been killed, which type would it most likely have been?  
Wikimedia Commons

Roe deer only stand around 70 cm high at the shoulder. Red deer are much larger at around 110-120 cm at the shoulder. During October the rutting and mating season is over for both species and both types of animal tend to be solitary. If it was a Roe doe, she would not be giving birth till the following year- typically January - similarly for the Red hind.

Roe deer are fond of moist grass, their preferred habitat a woodland one, so I’ve decided that’s the species I’ll use.

There will maybe be more to follow soon on both Roe deer and on Tap O’Noth.