Friday, 12 October 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Ethyl Smith

Series image- Dunkeld Cathedral

I can hardly believe Friday has come round again, so soon. 

It's time again for another wonderful contribution to my Friday "Aye. Ken it wis like this..." historical series, and today I'm joined by a new visitor to the blog- Ethyl Smith

Ethyl's sent some fabulous (and some disturbing) images with the excellent 'potted history' background to her writing set in 17th Century Scotland, so take a deep breath, get comfortable and enjoy! I have to confess that part of my Open University History degree some decades ago included a course on 17th Century England, Oliver Cromwell being a leading player, but my knowledge of what went on in Scotland during those troubled times was woefully lacking. I'm now glad to be addressing that.
Welcome, Ethyl. Please tell us a bit about the historical setting of your main character...

Thanks Nancy for allowing me the space to share my passion for a particular time in Scottish history. At speaking events I find people know little but want to know more which is encouraging.
So here we go as I try to spike your interest.
17th century Scotland was a strange place, fascinating but more than a little disturbing. The lust for power and political intrigue has aye been. Today 'nowt seems to have chainged'. One review says of my Time series … ‘this reminds us that the past is neither as distant nor as complete as we might think.’
It was not a happy time to live through but one that makes a good story.

My writing is fiction based on fact. It covers 1679-89, a ten-year period within all the mayhem. This is because my main character John Steel was on the run from the law for this length of time, never caught and lived to tell the tale. To have the law on his tail for ten years … wow … to never be caught … well he has to be a special kind of person.

To understand where he’s coming from, to have a believable setting has meant extensive reading, research, site visits etc to try and gain a handle on the full picture.
Nancy says:I can't imagine not doing heaps of research before writing historical fiction. 
An unexpected bonus has been contact from Steel descendants both here and abroad.

Courtesy of Ethyl Smith
Along the way many interesting people have been willing to share their knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm for this period. Those involved in re-enactment are particularly helpful telling me about everything from the difference between a Flintlock musket and a Matchlock musket, to how a surgeon operated, how people dressed, what materials were available, how they were sewn. And don’t forget what was cooked and eaten. So what was available? Underlying it all was how might a 17th century mind tick, their beliefs, where they came from, who influenced them, the social strata?
Hope you’re beginning to get the idea.
Courtesy of Ethyl Smith

It all starts with the Stuart kings and their belief in the Divine Right of Kings, that God has given them the right to rule and preside over all matters civil and temporal. Scottish Presbyterians believed, and still do, in a direct line to God with no need for an intermediary. Such opposing views can cause trouble … And they do.

In 1637, Charles 1 tries to bring the Scottish Kirk and the English church closer together. With no consultation he replaces John Knox’s Book of Discipline for Kirk organisation then orders the English Book of Common Prayer to be used.

Outraged Scots see this as an attempt to destroy their national identity and a movement gathers momentum across the country. February 1638 men from all classes sign a National Covenant and the trouble begins.

Meanwhile Charles falls out with his English parliament. Civil war starts. King loses war and his head.
Cromwell and the Corpse of Charles I- Delaroche

The Scots turn to the next Charles who declares his approval of the Covenant and is crowned at Scone in 1651.
Leader of parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell reacts, invades Scotland, Charles retreats to France leaving Cromwell in control of Scotland till his death nine years later.

Charles invited to return as king and thereafter ‘the baw is on the slates.’
He wastes no time in re-introducing Episcopacy in England, renouncing Covenants and ordering Scotland to do likewise.
Kirk ministers resist, over 400 are expelled from their parishes and begin preaching in open air which become known as ‘conventicles.’
Armed rebellion is attempted, fails, resentment deepens when attendance at Conventicles becomes treasonable and actual preaching a capital offence.

Courtesy of Ethyl Smith
By 1679 enough is enough. Covenanters kill an archbishop for his persecution of the kirk. Declarations against king and government follow. Things hot up when John Graham of Claverhouse’s platoon disturbs a field-meeting only to be seen off in disgrace. A few weeks later he has his revenge at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. Prisoners are marched to Edinburgh, imprisoned in Greyfriars Kirkyard before many are shipped off to the colonies as slaves.

Resistance is forced underground. Rebel preachers travel the wild spaces and attract huge congregations. Ministers such as Alexander Peden, Donald Cargill, Richard Cameron, James Renwick keep the resistance alive and pay the ultimate price when caught … They all were caught except Peden who died of natural causes only to be dug up again … But that’s another story.

Courtesy of Ethyl Smith

The crown tightens control. Life becomes very difficult for ordinary men and women with the Oath of Abjuration which means allegiance to the crown or be declared a traitor. 
Many refuse. Terrible repercussions follow. What is known as the Killing Times begins.

Charles 11 dies in 1684. His brother James, a Roman Catholic, is next in line. More protests follow, Earl of Argyll attempts another rebellion which again fails and he is quickly executed.

Torture-Courtesy of Ethyl Smith
James now offers Scotland an Indulgence of Toleration. This allows religious freedom provided individuals swear allegiance to king. But how can any Covenanter swear allegiance to a man who believes in the Divine Right of Kings?

English nobles are not happy either, especially when James’ wife gives birth to a son. A Catholic heir to the throne.

They contact the Protestant prince William of Orange, who just happens to be married to James’ eldest daughter Mary who is also a Protestant. He is offered crown, accepts, sets out with an armada to land at Torbay and be welcomed. James flees to France then asks his main supporter John Graham to rally Scotland for his cause.

The faithful Graham does his best and gathers considerable sympathy in the highlands where many are Catholic. A further battle follows at Killiekrankie where Graham’s men win decisively but he is killed.  A 2nd battle at Dunkeld gives Prebyterians the upper hand.
The long awaited ‘Glorious Revolution’ happens. William of Orange restores Presbyterianism to Scotland.

After all this is Scotland now a happier place? Not really. But as they say this is another part of the story for another time.

This is very much a heavily edited version of the background to my series, much has been left out but I hope it gives you some idea of the twist and turns. Main one being that the so called great and the good of Scotland, who’d been avid persecutors of the Covenanting Cause, turned their coats with William … Like I said at the beginning ‘naethin hus chainged.’

Ethyl Smith 
Incase you might be interested I dae daft snippets fur readers on
Can also be found wandering through twitter  @ethylsmith

Thank you for reading.

Thank you for visiting today, Ethyl. My very best wishes to you with your series and for all future writing.


Monday, 8 October 2018

#historical research #Trimontium Roman Fort Melrose #Scotland

Monday Moments! 
There may well be some memorable moments this Monday, but right now I'm writing about my fabulous trip last Friday to the... 

Trimontium Museum 5th Oct 2018

I could not have picked a better day to drive the roughly 180 miles down to Melrose on the Scottish Borders. The sky was almost uniformly blue all the way from Aberdeenshire (NE Scotland) down to Edinburgh. The traffic was fortunately light and I managed to negotiate the Edinburgh City Bypass, even though it was my first time on that particular stretch of road.

I had two route choices leading south to Melrose. The A7 was not the route Google Maps directed me on – Google Maps suggested the A68. I wasn’t too keen on the A68 because the map showed signs of two areas of major road works but it was less clear how to exit onto the A7.

I’m a map person with no GPS system in my car, so I prepared my journey with print outs and lovely little post-it notes with the routes marked in large letters, easy to read  along my dashboard without taking my eyes off the road for more than a second as I was driving.

Fortunately for me, the A7 was easy to access so I ventured south. I didn’t know till afterwards that the railway that was often to be seen at the side of the road was the newish Borders Railway line. The drive was stunning, the autumn colours absolutely breathtaking but sadly it is not a road where it is easily possible to stop and take photographs. Driving down through the endless valleys and hills was exactly what I needed to get a feel for the layout of the land since one of my main characters in Book 5 spends time in the area some 2000 years ago. The current trees and vegetation might be relatively newly planted but the actual contours of the valleys is mainly unchanged except for the fact that a paved road was carved into the area a long time ago, and latterly the new railway line.

My 4 hours estimate to drive to the small town of Melrose was pretty accurate. Having left my house at 8 a.m., I arrived at Melrose a little after midday. I found a local Baker’s shop with an integral coffee shop and spent a short while having lunch and a rest.

The main street in Melrose isn’t large so it was easy to find the Three Hills Ancient Roman Heritage Centre sometimes known as the Trimontium Trust Museum (Newstead). The actual Roman fort currently named Newstead (named Trimontium by the map maker Ptolemy) was situated a short way out of Melrose and was established by General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, Commander of the Britannic legions and Governor of Britannia from C. A.D. 77-84. 

Agricola is a main character in Agricola's Bane , Book 4 of my historical fiction series and he will play an important role in Book 5 (work in progress and currently named Beathan the Brigante)   

Eildon Hills , Melrose (Trimontium) 
It’s almost easy to see why the Romans named it Trimontium - two of the three hills are backdrops visible from within the town of Melrose and from outside the town all three are a stunning and arresting geographical feature.

The Trimontium Parade chamfron (replica)
-Trimontium Trust Museum, Melrose 
The Museum is the old- fashioned kind that I love to visit. The relatively small space is jam packed with display information; glass cases; tightly packed reconstructions- the finds from the Newstead fort absolutely amazing. I personally am so glad that the Museum Trust was formed in the 1970s to ensure that some of the wonderful objects uncovered at Newstead remain on view in the area of Melrose. It was a huge undertaking to set up the original museum and remains the same as the Trust currently raises funds to pay for a new extension which will allow them to modernise (hopefully not too much) and display items that have been decades in storage.  

The bulk of the finds from Newstead Roman Fort are either on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh or in their main storage facility. I visited the National Museum of Scotland in June 2018 and was suitably impressed by the items excellently displayed there, in very modern museum style.

I took almost two hundred photographs which I need to process and label – expect to see a trickle of them since I cannot post all of them.

The whole experience of visiting the museum and of driving around the area was exactly what I needed for imagining Beathan (Book 5 of my Celtic Fervour Series) in the locality of Newstead in A.D 85.

Given time, look forward to further posts about the importance of  Trimontium Roman Fort! 


Friday, 5 October 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Wendy H Jones

Dunkeld Cathedral

It's Friday and "Aye. Ken it wis like this..." time again. 

Today, I welcome versatile author Wendy H. Jones who has come to this blog series with yet again something a little bit different. Wendy writes a very successful crime series for adults but she's here today to tell us about some of her work in other genres - historical novels for older children. The second book of the series The Haunted Broch has recently been launched.  

Welcome to the series, Wendy. Please give us the historical background to your recently published historical fantasy fiction for teens.  

Bringing History to Life for Children

Thank you for inviting me to join you on your blog, Nancy. It is an absolute honour and privilege to be here. I’m even more thrilled that I’m able to talk about three of my favourite subjects – crime writing, history and Scotland.

At first glance, I may not seem the ideal candidate for this historical fiction blog but let me explain. The first series I wrote, The DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries, was contemporary crime with only the odd hint of history. A little bit of ancient Greek salted with a liberal dose of Dundee through the ages. Yet, contemporary none-the-less.

This all changed when I was asked by a publisher to pitch a series of mysteries for ten-to-fourteen-year olds. This was my chance to have a bit of fun and I fully intended to do so. I wanted these books to be a rip-roaring adventure but with some history and learning thrown into the mix. I came up with the idea of mixing fact and fiction, using a contemporary mystery based on what could have been historical fact. It is fair to say that whilst much of the history is true to life, some of it has been embellished to allow the contemporary story to be developed.

Nancy says: That's very similar to my aims for my Rubidium Time Travel Series for teens. My adventure is paramount but with a sound historical backdrop that I want my readers to appreciate and enjoy as they learn. 

The first book in the series was based around the idea of Ancient Egyptian Curses. My research was thorough to ensure that the Kings and Queens fell into the correct era and that the names of any historical characters were correct. I also researched tombs, ancient artefacts and even the cost of buying these artefacts in contemporary society. Hieroglyphs were researched in detail and used as the basis for codes used in the contemporary mystery. I alternated chapters with the historical setting and the modern-day story. This led to a couple of teens saving Dundee from a curse which has been laid on Dundee following the theft of an ancient Egyptian Dagger. The dagger itself made an appearance at the book launch, fully sharpened and with its own personal security guard.

Broch of Gurness, Orkney - Wikimedia commons 
For the second book, The Haunted Broch, I moved nearer to home with the historical context. Not Dundee but Stirling in Scotland. Brochs, iron age, dry stane, round dwellings, are found only in Scotland. There are around 500 of these, some of which have been excavated and others which are still in the process of being excavated or can only be seen by x-ray. There is one Broch which has a particularly interesting history and is known as Scotland’s Lost Broch. It was recently discovered, and funds are being raised to commence excavation.

Nancy: There are so many new exciting archaeological developments happening all over Scotland just now. I try but can't possibly keep up with them! 

Christian Maclagan
Why is this Broch of so much interest and why was it lost in the first place? Both good questions deserving of an answer. The answer is a fiesty Victorian lady called Christian Maclagan (1811-1901). Coming from a wealthy family she was a woman of independent means and is widely credited with being Scotland’s first female archaeologist. She catalogued many of the prehistoric sites of prehistoric Scotland and also devised a method of doing rubbings from sculptured stones. Due to the fact she was a woman, the establishment refused to take her seriously. She was refused Fellowship of The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Therefore, in what I assume was a fit of pique, she sent all her documents and rubbings to The British Museum of London. One of her major discoveries, Livilands Broch in Stirling, was overlooked and remained undiscovered. This became known in the last few years as Scotland’s Lost Broch.

Keir Hill by Christian Maclagan
Christian was also a great philanthropist and played a major part of clearing the slums in Stirling and providing habitable housing for the poor. This, and her interest in archaeology, helped me to shape her character in the historical sections of the novel. The Book itself finds our intrepid fourteen-year-old detectives on an archaeological dig at Scotland’s Lost Broch. However, like all good detective books there are dastardly deeds and strange happenings. One would almost think the Broch was haunted. Is Christian exacting revenge on those who dare to disturb her Broch?

This was so much fun to research, and it was even more fun to weave the contemporary mystery with the historical facts in a way which educates whilst entertaining. It is such a privilege to be able to write these books and to weave fact and fiction together in one big madcap adventure.

About the Author

Wendy H Jones is the Amazon Number 1 best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers’ Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the forthcoming Christmas Anthology from the same publisher. Her first children's book, Bertie the Buffalo, will be released at the end of October 2018. / others public domain images

Thank you so much for contributing today, Wendy. It's so great to feature yet another aspect of historical fiction. Best wishes with all of those exciting new projects. 


Tuesday, 2 October 2018


Tuesday thoughts...on Amazon pricing

I transferred the printing of a number of my paperback versions from Createspace over to Kindle Direct Publishing on Sunday past, as requested. The process seemed to go easily, and I thought I had successfully managed to ensure that the ebook version and the paperback version of each title appeared on the appropriate page as one item.

Just by chance, I looked at Amazon again today to find it's a bit of a BARGAIN day, Instead of my new Ocelot Press paperback versions showing, it seems they must have 'found' some of the previous edition paperback copies and are flogging them off at very cheap prices even though the previous Crooked Cat Books stock seemed to have been sold weeks, if not months, ago.

So its... Bargain prices today!

A Paperback version of Book 3 is  @£1.52

and weirdly the ebook version is also @£1.52

There just might be an old copy of The Beltane Choice going for even less than a £!

Try this and see...

And here's a latest version of my Twitter add for the series. Especially good if you're on KindleUnlimited since you can read it for #FREE.


Sunday, 30 September 2018

#Review 30 of my Goodreads Challenge for 2018

Here's the third update on my recent reads!

The Dead Virgins by K.M. Ashman

This was a really absorbing read. I love to read historical fiction and love mysteries almost as much, so the combination of history and mystery in this novel was a fabulous mix. I already knew a little of the ancient cult of the Vestal Virgins and by the end of this novel feel I know more - so well was this fictional story written that it all appears entirely authentic.

The threads of the Ancient Roman story and that of the contemporary investigators blend perfectly in this breath taking, rapid search in different European locations. The main characters of India and Brandon are portrayed excellently in a way that makes India’s historical knowledge shine, and Brandon’s ‘military’ expertise seem realistic without being overbearing as they interact. There are some other lovely characters but since I don’t do spoilers, I won’t mention their involvement towards the end of the story.

There were a few instances that jolted me out of my absorption of the story as in things like "How did she have her passport handy?" or some of the dialogue set in the Roman 'Nero' era which seemed to be 20th century phrases but in general I was so intrigued by the story that I just wanted to read on... and on. 

I’ll be stacking my kindle with the next India and Brandon adventures.


#Review 29 of my Goodreads Challenge

This is the second of my latest batch of reviews. 

In Love with a Portrait by Francine Howarth

Can you fall in love with a portrait? Maybe someone could, but it seems a much easier proposition for Cassandra when the flesh and blood man is right in front of her. 

Ms Howarth’s stories are always entertaining and this one is perfect for steeping yourself in the period. When I want to enjoy a simple and quick read, I'm never disappointed when I reach for a novel, or novella, by this author.

Historical detail is well-embedded, and I enjoy the author’s use of language since the dialogue plunges me right into the historical setting, as though I was reading a novel that actually was written in the Georgian era. That may not be to every reader's taste but it appeals to me.

I liked Cassandra and her hero, Francis - though, as was intended, I didn’t find much to like in the mischievous Sarah even though her character is also very well written. The plot lines may be simple, and maybe even a tiny bit predictable in a Georgian romance, but I found it a very enjoyable read.


Review 28 of my Goodreads Challenge Fire and Sword

Happy Sunday to you!

Book reviews? They seem to have been neglected of late and yes, I'm still behind with my reading challenge. I spend plenty of time reading non-fiction research books but my time spent on fiction has been woefully limited, of late.

That said, over the last few weeks, I have slowly been squeezing in some personal recreational reading. The fact that I have taken days to read a book is nothing to do with their quality, but more to do with my organisation of personal time. At the end of a day, exhaustion has sneaked in and left me unable to manage more than a handful of pages, even when I've been desperate to read on.

I now have a few books to mention that I've recently enjoyed and here's the first of them. 

Fire and Sword by Louise Turner  

This was a thoroughly engrossing read. At first I wasn’t sure if John Sempill had the strength of the hero, though it wasn’t long before I enjoyed the fact that his strength of character had to have been more important at a time when most things were measured by a man’s aggressive involvement in physical retribution- ie the physical slaying of opposite clan factions. 

In such a time of political upheaval, survival must have taken many forms and I really appreciated the author’s portrayal of how the relatively young John Sempill stuck by own decisions and his principles - even when they seemed to be contrary to most of those in his locale environment. An old head on a young shoulder was a burden, but it comes across very well in this portrayal. The other characters are also well drawn and the historical setting so well done it makes me impatient to learn much more of this historical era.

I've recently read other novels set during this era of Scottish history that used to be relatively neglected. I'm delighted to find that more effort has been expended over the last couple of decades to shed much more light on what happened during these troubled late 15th century times. 

If you enjoy Scottish historical fiction, I have no qualms in recommending Fire and Sword. I look forward to reading more of Ms Turner's work. 


Saturday, 29 September 2018

#Publishing tip- #The last Plantagenet? with Ocelot Press

Jennifer C. Wilson

Happy Saturday to you! 

I don't have any particular theme running on Saturdays just now, but today a good friend of mine has popped in with information about a different publishing venture. 

Jennifer has visited a number of times before though on those occasions she''s generally been discussing 'Kindred Spirits:... ', her highly original and entertaining historical fiction/fantasy series published by our mutual publisher - Crooked Cat Books. 

Today, her post is about a different sub-genre of writing that she's been involved in. 

I'm absolutely thrilled to say that Jennifer's here today to share with us that The last Plantagenet? will soon be re-published under the Ocelot Press banner.

As always, Jennifer, welcome.  Please give us an update...

In January 2017, when I had just submitted my second Kindred Spirits novel, I was looking about for what I wanted to work on next, and remembered a project I had begun a few years back, a timeslip historical romance, which looked like it might end at the ‘awkward’ length of ~15,000 words, and no longer fit the planned brief. 

The Last Plantagenet? had started life as a possible submission to the Mills & Boon Historical Undone imprint, but it wasn’t meant to be, and it had been consigned to the metaphorical bottom drawer and all but abandoned. Now though, with two books published, I was feeling a bit more confident, and besides, it featured Richard III, and I’d just spent a year working on a book set in Scotland, which hadn’t featured my favourite monarch at all, so why not have a bit of a break, do something different, and see if I could finish the project?

Having decided, I pressed on, and by around April, it was finished, now at ~20,000 words, and feeling a lot more like a rounded story, thanks to help from the writing group I attend. Speaking to my publisher, they confirmed what I had expected; it was too short for them to publish. Not knowing where else it could be placed, and now having other things I wanted to move onto as well, I decided that self-publishing was the answer, and set about those two critical items – a full edit of the text, and a great cover design.

I’d gone through both these processes before, but it was completely different going it alone. Yes, there’s more control (not that I have had any issue with what’s been done with Crooked Cat Books), but there’s also no safety net, that if you come up with an idea, say for a cover, and are adamant about it, there’s no publisher to gently tell you that it really won’t do you or your book any good. Nope, all decisions rest with you. Happily, I had a great design from SoQoQo Designs, and a reliable editor I could trust in Victoria Watson, so ‘all I had to do now’ was get myself set up with Amazon.
Amazon tackled, the ebook was released on, what else, 2nd October 2017.

The last year has been a learning curve, but an enjoyable one. The key things I’ve discovered:
·       People are incredibly helpful. Yes, I already knew this to an extent through the great support network within Crooked Cat, but in this case, nobody ‘has’ to help you. Instead though, I’ve found that if you ask for help, writers in general are more than willing to help. And helping others back, helping build that lovely sense of community, makes everything win-win.

·       Forward-planning is key. Working to your own schedule sounds like you can sit back and relax, but I found that setting a release date at the very start really helped me. If I hadn’t, I suspect I’d still be thinking about releasing it now, rather than being almost a year down the line! Also, being wholly responsible for every aspect means getting blog posts sorted, marketing set up, and any edits sorted well in advance, or you could risk missing the boat.

·  You never know where an opportunity will take you. Taking advance from a writing friend at Swanwick this year, I’ve decided to start responding to the call-outs for guest blog spots which I’ve seen for the last couple of years, but never felt brave enough to respond to. One thing you can risk doing with a supportive group, is basically writing the same things to the same people every couple of weeks – it’s important to find ways to break out of that from time to time, getting you and your work further afield.

So what’s next for The Last Plantagenet? Well, I’m thrilled to be part of Ocelot Press, an independent co-operation of Crooked Cat Books authors (past and present), who have come together to support each other in editing, producing and marketing our books, while we individually retain our control as authors. To this end, I’ve reissued The Last Plantagenet?, under the Ocelot Press banner, and it’s really exciting to be part of this new venture.

The past year has been a great one in terms of learning new things, meeting new people, and honing skills – I cannot wait to see what the next year might hold in store!

The Last Plantagenet? is available as an ebook, or on Kindle Unlimited, here.

The Last Plantagenet?

The fireplace hadn't looked like a time-portal.
All Kate had wanted was a fun, relaxing day out, watching the knights jousting at Nottingham Castle. What she ended up with was something quite different.
Transported in a heartbeat from 2011 to 1485, how will Kate handle life at the Ricardian court? Even more importantly, how will she cope when she catches the eye of the king himself?
Find out in this 'giddily romantic' romp, set just prior to the Battle of Bosworth.

About Jennifer
Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.
Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her Kindred Spirits novels are published by Crooked Cat Books and available via Amazon, along with her self-published timeslip novella, The Last Plantagenet? She can be found online at her blog, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Thank you for visiting today, Jennifer, and for sharing your information. Best wishes for your 2nd October 2018 official launch of The Last Plantagenet?. I'm thrilled that you're my colleague at Ocelot Press and look forward to having lots more books published under our mutual Ocelot Banner. 


Friday, 28 September 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Marie Macpherson

Series image- Dunkeld Cathedral
I love Fridays, especially so because it's time again for my #Aye. Ken it wis like this... historical blog series. 

Today, my guest Marie Macpherson brings a really super post with lots of brilliant illustrations to share with us, but she's also offering something different - read on to find out details of her #FREE GIVEAWAY of a Signed Paperback copy of the The First Blast of the Trumpet. 

Welcome to my blog, Marie. Please give us the historical setting to your fiction series based on the life of John Knox. 

St. Mary's 
Thanks for inviting me as a guest on your blog, Nancy, and for the opportunity to share the background to my trilogy set in 16th century Scotland, in particular Haddington, the cradle of the Scottish Reformation.

Growing up in Musselburgh, on the site of the Battle of Pinkie, within sight of Carberry Tower and Fa’side Castle, I’ve always been haunted by the stories and legends set in the turbulent reign of Mary Queen of Scots and the Reformation. 

John Knox
Now the rich history of the ancient burgh of Haddington provides the inspiration for my trilogy based on the life of the firebrand preacher, John Knox

This often raises eyebrows for why should I, a woman, choose to write about the pulpit thumping preacher forever labelled a misogynist for his polemical pamphlet, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women? The louring figure of Knox has cast a long shadow but, love him or loathe him, revere or revile him, there’s no denying the impact this iconoclastic figure has had on our history and culture.

We’re all familiar with stereotypical, Calvinist caricature, but what was Knox really like? Who was the man behind myth? That’s what piqued my interest. What drove the Roman Catholic priest to become one of the most famous Protestant reformers in history? And was he, as so many claim, a rampant misogynist? Not only does his life story read more like adventure thriller than history, but Knox turns out to be quite the ladies’ man – he had two wives, fathered five children and had a large female following.

Memorial Plaque marking
John Knox's birthplace
Most of what we know about him is filtered through Knox himself, in his History of Reformation, more an autobiography than a historical account. He clearly wanted to draw a veil over the first 30 years of his life before 1540, which led to many misconceptions. For many years it was assumed he was born in Gifford, a village near Haddington in 1505, and that he attended Glasgow University. Even the great historian Thomas Carlyle, who planted an oak tree with a memorial plaque, was taken in. 

John Knox's Birthplace-
Giffordgate Haddington (Canmore)
It’s now established that he was born c. 1513/14 in Giffordgate, a suburb of Haddington, and was orphaned at an early age.

Being a resident in the episcopal see of St Andrews, Knox studied at the university there and not Glasgow. Knox describes himself as a ‘man of base estate and condition’ which puzzled me. How could a poor orphan afford a university education and train to become a Notary Apostolic, an ecclesiastical lawyer?

Hailes Castle
That led me to conjecture a compelling link with his feudal superiors – the Hepburns of Hailes, granted the earldom of Bothwell – under whose banner his father had died at Flodden. A member of this powerful family, Elisabeth Hepburn, was Prioress of St Mary’s Abbey, where the Treaty of Haddington – betrothing Queen Mary to the French Dauphin – was signed in 1548. A strong relationship with the prioress drives The First Blast of the Trumpet. 
Wishart martyrdom

At some point Knox fell under spell of the charismatic Protestant preacher, George Wishart, who pulled him from ‘the puddle of papistry’. He dropped everything to follow his master and when Wishart preached in Haddington in 1546, Knox was standing at the foot of the pulpit wielding a two-handed sword. However, he failed to prevent his arrest by Patrick Hepburn, (3rd Earl of Bothwell and father of the infamous James) , on the orders of Cardinal Beaton who had Wishart tried as a heretic and burnt at the stake in St Andrews. His death instilled a lifelong fear of the pyre in Knox – who nevertheless died in his bed in 1572.

Sir David Lindsay
Another important influence in his life was the poet and playwright, Sir David Lindsay,

Lindsay author of Ane Satire of the Thrie Estates – a scathing attack on the Roman Catholic church. Lindsay was exiled to his castle at Garleton, outside Haddington and may have met the student Knox at some point. 

Later, he persuaded Knox to preach his first sermon during the siege of St Andrews Castle. Arrested by the French, Knox was sentenced to toil in the galleys – where I left him at end of The First Blast of the Trumpet.

Garleton Castle 
The Second Blast of the Trumpet follows Knox in exile after his release from the galleys in spring 1549.  A pariah in Scotland, Knox was welcomed by English Reformed church who sent him to be pastor in the frontier town of Berwick-upon-Tweed and then to the court of Edward VI until the king’s untimely death. 

Mary Tudor
In Berwick, Knox met Elizabeth Bowes, a middle-aged mother of 15 children and religious hypochondriac, who developed a crush on the charismatic firebrand preacher. His tender letters to her – and to other female followers – shed a completely different light on Knox and contradict his reputation as a misogynist.

When Knox married her 16-year-old daughter, Mrs Bowes left her husband to follow them to Geneva where Knox had fled to escape Mary Tudor’s persecution.  In 1558 he penned his infamous treatise on the ‘Monstrous Regiment’ – not an attack on the female sex in general – but directed at the unnatural regime of female Catholic rulers: in particular Mary Tudor in England, Mary, Queen of Scots and Mary of Guise in Scotland.
Mary of Guise

Knox’s First Blast was not only misjudged – it drew howls of horror from all sides – even from the arch Calvinist, Calvin – it was grossly mistimed. Despite his famous gift of prophecy, he failed to foresee death of Mary Tudor in November 1558 or the accession of another queen. Elizabeth I was not at all amused and refused to allow him back in England.

I’m now working on The Last Blast of the Trumpet which begins in May 1559 when Knox lands in Scotland, called by the Lords of the Congregation to lead the Protestant Reformation. His famous sermon at Perth against idolatry sparked a wholesale riot by the ‘rascal multitude’. As civil war raged, four deaths in fairly quick succession had a great impact on Knox. In July 1559, the French King Henri II died from a jousting wound, making Mary queen of France. A year later, in June 1560 Mary of Guise died of dropsy. Later, in December, Knox’s young wife, Marjory died unexpectedly as did Mary’s husband, Fran├žois. No longer queen of France, Mary returned to Scotland to claim her throne – much to Knox’s annoyance. In The Last Blast, I’m covering well-trodden ground as Mary enters the scene to begin her tragic decline and fall. 
Mary Queen of Scots

To be continued ....

Marie Macpherson

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Fabulous post, Marie, packed full of really interesting information. Thank you so much for contributing to my Friday series. My very best wishes to you for happy writing - current and future! (I just wish I had loads of time to read this period of history, as well as have another read of my very old copy of 'The Three Estates' -see below) 

List of Illustrations
St Mary’s Haddington
John Knox Statue Haddington
3 . Memorial marking John Knox’s birthplace
4. Birthplace of John Knox
5. Hailes Castle
7. Sir David Lindsay
8. Garleton Castle
9. Mary Tudor
10. Mary of Guise
11. Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox by Samuel Sidley, Towneley Hall Art Gallery

My copy of 'The Three Estates'  - Heinemann Ed bought 1970 at 16 shillings. An adaptation created for Tyrone Guthrie's play production at the Edinburgh Festival 1948. A set text during my B.Ed English course of 1970 at Glasgow University/ Jordanhill College of Education.