Friday, 13 July 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Eric Schumacher

Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday blog series continues where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. 

Today, I'm delighted to welcome Eric Schumacher who takes us back towards the end of the first millennia A.D. Eric shares some very difficult aspects of writing historical fiction, set in an era that's so distant it's not only the fine details that are virtually unknown, it's more that even the whole picture and tapestry of life is often shrouded in interpretive conjecture. 

Author's writing in what's essentially prehistoric times (me), and in the so-named 'Dark Ages' (Eric), have a sense of what might have been to work with, but it's what we do with the scant knowledge to-hand that makes or breaks the novel for the reader. But it's over to Eric to explain more of that! 

Hello Eric, please give us the background to your novels.

Eric Schumacher
First of all, thank you Nancy for having me on your blog. I very much appreciate the opportunity.

Nancy: You're very welcome, Eric. I love having new guests to the blog who share their writing focus and their own writing journeys. 

The subject of my novels is Hakon Haraldsson, also known in history as Hakon the Good. He lived in the first half of the 10th century A.D. A portion of his life was spent in the Christian courts of England, but the majority of it was spent in Viking Age Norway. 

There are many fun challenges I find in writing about him and these ancient people, but on the top of the difficulty scale is trying to put myself into their ancient mindset. I am not talking about a character being angry because his stew was cold. I am talking about the larger themes of the day and how characters might have thought about them or allowed those themes to influence their thoughts and actions.

In the case of the Viking Age, there are three themes I find particularly challenging. I call them a sense of place, a sense of honor, and a sense of something greater.

A sense of place refers to that place where he/she may have been born and to which he/she identifies. For much of the Viking Age, what is now England or Norway or Sweden were not kingdoms with inhabitants who viewed themselves as one people, e.g. English or Norwegians. In the era in which my books take place (circa 900 A.D.), the notion of a “nation” under one king is just beginning to take hold. Scandinavia, in particular, was a mix of petty kingdoms which evolved out of tribes of people, such as the Geats, the Svear, etc. The idea of thinking of themselves as one people who hailed from one country would have been a foreign concept. Rather, it is far more likely that people viewed themselves as hailing from regions (e.g. Trondelag), and subregions (e.g. Fosen, Orkdalen, etc). They may also have viewed themselves as part of ancient tribes (e.g. Geat), and they most certainly identified with their bloodlines.

Nancy: Having just been on a cruise in the Baltic Sea and having visited parts of Denmark, Sweden and Norway I think you're entirely right about that! I learned a lot about the Scandinavian countries during the 'talks' on board, in addition to what I experienced during our shore trips. This was added to knowledge gained on previous trips to Norway and Iceland.

What’s more, it is unclear how much people knew of the greater world. The traders, adventurers and nobles were, at least partially it seems, aware of a world beyond their shores. They knew of the various trading towns, and had at least heard of cities and regions and kings in far flung places. But there may also have been a fair number of folks who knew little or nothing of the greater world. Their world was their steading, the area around it, and perhaps the closest town. Maybe they knew more of the world, but we don’t know exactly what was known by whom, so it’s left up to the writer’s imagination to create something that seems plausible.

The second theme is a sense of honor. We know something of ancient Scandinavian laws and the consequences of breaking them, but not everything. And we know, too, that in the case of the Scandinavians, honor and reputation were everything, and often contradicted law. Men knew killing another innocent man was wrong; but often, a slight to a man’s honor, or his lord’s honor, or his wife’s honor, could lead him to kill, the legal consequences be damned. This is a foreign idea for most modern writers, but an important distinction that is critical to understand.

Connected to that honor is that idea of vows, oaths and promises. During the Viking Age,  society relied on the spoken word rather than written contracts, so a person’s words meant everything and were not spoken lightly. Oaths were the binds that tied men together -- a bind that was intricately linked with honor. Wrapping my modern head around this notion took me some time; and when I write scenes, I often ask myself whether the motivations of my characters hold up to the litmus test of their brand of honor.

The final theme relates to religion and spirituality. In ancient Scandinavia, gods and spirits were part of everyday life. Omens were everywhere. God’s controlled the weather, the crops, the tide, the rotation of the sun and moon, and everything in between. A person’s fate was controlled by the Norns, who were the weavers of a person’s life thread and who had the power to cut that thread at any time. Add to that that different people worshipped different gods, and that a person’s choice in a god could shift over time, and it becomes a tricky task for the writer to navigate the waters.

During the period in which my books take place, Christianity is just beginning to work its way up into the areas that are now Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Christian god was gaining more and more ground. Tensions between those who worshipped the old gods and new Christ were high. Some regions fought the new religion bitterly. Others seemed to accept this new god as yet another god in their pantheon. Still others abandoned the old gods. Because religion controlled so much of what men did and believed, the spiritual struggle must have been ever-present and woven into many aspects of thought and action. Understanding this swirling storm of beliefs is hard enough, but I also found I had my own preconceived notions of Christianity and Norse mythology, which were quite modern. As with the other ideas above, I found myself having to hold my characters’ thoughts and actions up to a constant litmus test to ensure I was at least trying to create something believable and plausible for the time, given the information I had.

This task, of course, is not unique to ancient Scandinavia. Every era has its own mindsets for writers to capture. Since we don’t live in those time, it is hard for us to be exact when weaving those thoughts and motivations into the mind’s of own characters; but we must try, for capturing those mindsets well helps readers lose themselves in the illusion of your historical story.

Nancy: I totally agree that we must strive to create believable scenes even when they may seem against our natural 21st century inclinations. 

About Eric Schumacher
Eric Schumacher is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005. Its sequel, Raven’s Feast, was published in 2017. A third, yet-to-be titled book, is currently in the works and due out later this year.

For more information, connect with him at one of these sites:
Twitter: @DarkAgeScribe

About God’s Hammer
History and legend combine in the gripping tale of Hakon Haraldsson, a Christian boy who once fought for the High Seat of a Viking realm.

It is 935 A.D. and the North is in turmoil. King Harald Fairhair has died, leaving the High Seat of the realm to his murderous son, Erik Bloodaxe. To solidify his claim, Erik ruthlessly disposes of all claimants to his throne, save one: his youngest brother Hakon.
Erik’s surviving enemies send a ship to Wessex, where the Christian King Athelstan is raising Hakon. Unable to avoid his fate, he returns to the Viking North to face his brother and claim his birthright, only to discover that victory will demand sacrifices beyond his wildest nightmares.

About Raven’s Feast
It is 935 A.D. and Hakon Haraldsson has just wrested the High Seat of the North from his ruthless brother, Erik Bloodaxe. Now, he must fight to keep it.

The land-hungry Danes are pressing from the south to test Hakon before he can solidify his rule. In the east, the Uplanders are making their own plans to seize the throne. It does not help that Hakon is committed to his dream of Christianizing his people – a dream his countrymen do not share and will fight to resist.

As his enemies move in and his realm begins to crumble, Hakon and his band of oath-sworn warriors must make a stand in Raven’s Feast, the riveting sequel to God’s Hammer.

Thank you for sharing your work with us today, Eric. It's a fascinating time period that I love reading about in both fiction and non-fiction, and learning about during holiday visits. Scotland, of course, also has a Viking past that's equally absorbing!  

My very best wishes for your current and future writing. 


Friday, 6 July 2018

#Aye, Ken it wis like this...with Wendy Teller

Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday historical series continues...
where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. 

If you've been following the series, you'll have gleaned that every author's story is so personal and very different, all affected in some way by the author's life journey. Wendy Teller is visiting today to give us the background to her entry into the sphere of publishing. 

Welcome to my blog, Wendy. I confess to having difficulty with novels being classified as 'historical' when they are set just outwith the '50 year' era. For me, that was within my lifetime! It doesn't matter the setting - US,  Scotland, or wherever - I find it very hard to conceive that writing about the 1950s, or 1960s, is actually now considered to be historical. 

I had similar issues when teaching back around 2005. As a primary teacher, I was expected to teach my 11-12 year old pupils all subjects. Around 2005, the planning for the 'history' element changed. Normally, I was expected to teach The Victorian or WW2 eras, but the new plans across the region introduced the 1960s and 1970s as a topic! Teaching a historical topic (then integrating all subject areas where possible) for a whole term of 10 weeks  on the 1960s and 1970s was effectively intruding into my life! Once I got over the initial shock of it (at just over 50 years old the concept made me FEEL really old), I found during my research and pre-planning of the lessons that some aspects seemed to have passed me by. And that's what history is all about really- what happens to someone might not be happening to another person who lives in a different location. 

Wendy has a slightly different story regarding that last statement. Please give us your background, Wendy...

Wendy Teller

When I started writing my debut novel, Becoming Mia, I did not think of it as historical fiction; I was simply writing a story based on my experiences as a young woman. True, the story took place more than 50 years ago, but, frankly, I was a little shocked when people called it “historical.”
Fair enough. At least the story takes place in Berkeley, California, in the colorful 1960s, when the flower children played, whiffs of pot mingled with the odor of tear gas, and students demonstrated for free speech, civil rights, and against the Vietnam War. I was there. I knew this time and place.
Nancy says: I was driven around the 'Berkeley' area while on a visit to California about 1989, but that was well after the era you write about! 
Or did I?
As I started talking to my friends about various events, I discovered all kinds of details that I missed.
I discovered the Free Speech Movement, which I only vaguely remembered, was initially a dispute with the university over where and how students could organize their support for the civil rights movement. Originally the Free Speech Movement was not about the Vietnam War.
I discovered Berkeley’s schools were not really integrated in the 1950s and 1960s. It was true there were no laws that segregated the schools, but in fact there were two school systems, one for whites and one for blacks, based mainly on the housing patterns. By the time a child got to Berkeley High School, if he were black, he would almost certainly be placed into the lower, non-college preparatory, technician track.
I discovered that the black community was far from unified. There were blacks who had settled in Berkeley in the late 1800s. They were the families of the porters employed by Southern Pacific Railroad, a porter being an elite job for a black man. This black community had lived with the Berkeley whites for decades, and although they were discriminated against, they felt they were able to make progress toward equality by working with the white community. During World War II, large numbers of blacks from the South came to the Bay Area to work at various wartime jobs, for example ship building. These blacks stayed after the war and more blacks from the south joined them. These blacks had experienced Jim Crow in the South and were much more militant in their push for change. Relations between these two groups of blacks were strained and this complicated the blacks’ efforts to gain equality in Berkeley.
I discovered shades of the anti-war movement. Veterans told me that they were attacked while off-duty in the US, but in uniform. These attacks included physical violence. I had heard that such attacks took place during the riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968, but I did not know military personnel were attacked at other times. Members of the SDS told me of infiltrators from groups they called “Maoist,” who orchestrated violence in a demonstration which was supposed to be peaceful. Other SDS members reported government spies who reported on the group’s activities. Both Maoist and government spies might well have been present, clouding the anti-war movement’s activities.
Publishing a historical novel which is still in living memory has its delights. People will tell me of their experiences during those difficult years. I’ve heard stories of being swept up in a demonstration, of working the tables of the Free Speech Movement in Sproul Plaza, of discussions of going on an anti-war strike, of enlisting in the army. This connection to my readers is a benefit I had not expected, but it makes me believe that I have portrayed the era realistically.
Now I am working on my next novel, Ella, based on my maternal grandmother’s life in Hungary in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I long for the days when I knew details about the times, like whether Ella had indoor plumbing. These details are important to give the story authenticity, but the details of attitudes and actions are even more important. I learned from Becoming Mia I must look at all sides of the controversial issues of the times. These differing perspectives give my story depth and make it more realistic, which is what I am after when I write historical fiction.
1964 to 1970 were turbulent years in the United States. The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was ramping up, as were the protests against it. Both became more violent as the sixties wore on.
In the fall of 1964 Mia Brower left her hometown of Berkeley, California, to begin her freshman year at Harvard University, determined to become an outstanding architect.
But her freshman year was a disaster.
Her dreams shattered, her confidence destroyed, can Mia find within herself the determination and strength to succeed on her own terms, even as the culture tears itself apart around her and puts both her friends and her family in danger?

A bit about Wendy

Wendy Teller received her AB from Harvard University and her MA from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a systems and software engineer in the process control and telecommunications industries. Now that she is retired, she writes fiction, memoir, and history. Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Naperville Sun, and Rivulets. Her story Dusting the Towels received the Richard Eastman Prose Award. Wendy’s debut novel, Becoming Mia, which takes place in the 1960s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Berkeley, California, was published May 1, 2018. Her next project, Ella, takes place in the early 1900s in Hungary. Wendy and her husband live on a cliff in the woods near Bloomington, Indiana.

Click the following link to read more about the novel: including an interview, historical documents, reference books, and pictures of locations in the book. HERE

Thank you for contributing today, Wendy. My historical series is intended to cover as many eras, and locations as possible and to date I'm absolutely delighted with the range of posts, including this one which is at the opposite end of 'history' from my own. My very best wishes with sales for Becoming Mia and with your future writing projects. 


Wednesday, 4 July 2018

#Chill with a Book Awards!

Happiness comes in many forms!

For an author it might be great reviews, or the achievement of getting to the close of a manuscript, or it might be achieving an unexpected award.

The Beltane Choice won a 'Chill With a Book Award' last week and just days ago I was informed that the same novel had also achieved the status of being the June Cover Design Winner at 'Chill with a Book'.

These Blogger awards are so crucially important to an author and cover designer, and I'm really delighted for Karen Barrett, the graphic artist who designed all of the covers for my Celtic Fervour Series.

Well done Karen and thank you to the 'Chill with a Book' organisers.


Friday, 29 June 2018

#Aye, Ken it wis like this...with Jerri Schlenker

Dunkeld Catherdral
My Friday historical series restarts... (after my holiday) where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. 

Not all of us who are writing today started in youth. Many authors, like me, may have dabbled with the idea of writing novels at an earlier date, but only had the time and effort available to pursue actual publication after retiring from the day job. Today, Jerri Schlenker shares her journey to her fascinating historical writing. Welcome to the blog, Jerri and please tell us about your really interesting main character named Sally.... 

J Schlenker
I didn’t begin writing until I was contemplating retirement. My husband asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, “I don’t know.”

While cleaning out some bookshelves he pulled out a notebook of poems I had written in high school. He said, “Why don’t you write?”

My next question was what do I write about. While walking out in the woods, an idea came to me. I get a lot of my ideas while out in nature. Sally came to mind. I can’t even remember when I thought of Sally last. But the memory of the one time I met her came to me as clear as on the day I actually did meet her.

Later that same day, as synchronicities would happen, or some might call them coincidences, when two angles come together to form something, in this case, it was the beginning of the fruition of my idea of writing about Sally, I heard about Gather on NPR. I immediately checked it out on line and joined. Gather was a community of writers or wanna be writers like myself. My husband, while driving home, heard the same thing on NPR and said, “Jerri, I heard about this thing on public radio, a place where you can contribute stories.”

I told him, “Yep, heard it, too, and I’ve already joined.”

I can’t even remember the first thing I wrote, but I remembered how nervous I was to hit the submit button. But, back to Sally. Sally Ann Barnes (I didn’t even know her last name at the beginning) was born in 1858 into slavery. She lived to be 110, dying in 1969. I met her in 1961 when I was eight. She was 103 and mopping the floor.

Sadly, I didn’t start researching Sally’s life until about 2007, the same time I joined Gather, and by the way, Gather is now defunct. But, it provided a great start. I researched Sally’s life for three years. A lot of what I got were mysteries. On Gather I wrote what I called Sally Shorts. Things about her life came up that I would have never have dreamed of, one being the lost Jonathan Swift Silver Mine. Besides doing the regular online research, visiting courthouses, libraries, and historical museums, I made blind phone calls, visited cemeteries and knocked on doors. I talked to so many old people. Eleven years later, I find myself in that category. That is one of the things I miss, hearing their stories, and they had great ones to tell. Not everyone welcomed me with open arms, but most did.

As time went by, I began to partially unravel the mystery of Sally. I discovered a lot about where I live as well, Eastern Kentucky. I hiked over many of the same places Sally would have trekked. My husband was totally supportive, driving me places, hiking with me, and visiting cemeteries.

I discovered NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The first thing I attempted was to write Sally’s story. I don’t want to say I failed. It was practice. It just wouldn’t come together for me. I was trying to write non-fiction, even though I would never have all the facts. My husband kept telling me to write it as fiction. I had never written fiction before.

I skipped NaNoWriMo for a couple of years and then began again. This time I wrote something entirely different, Jessica Lost Her Wobble. It spanned the time period from 1900 to roughly 1980. I sent the unfinished manuscript to the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Contest and became a finalist in 2014. I self-published Jessica Lost Her Wobble in December 2015. I kept participating in NaNoWriMo. My second novel, The Color of Cold and Ice, was the result of National Novel Writing Month, as well. It won an IndieBrag award.

It was during the NaNoWriMo of 2016 I attempted Sally again. I still couldn’t get it right. But, as fate would have it, I was walking out in the woods and how to write Sally came to me. There was only three days left of NaNo. I wrote furiously around the clock, getting my fifty-thousand words in, the goal set forth by NaNoWriMo. But, I felt there was more to find out, and as synchronicity would have it, there were still some people left alive that could tell me things. It was almost as if Sally was sending them my way so I could complete her story. I self-published Sally in September of 2017.

Once again, November rolled around. I began to write about my own family during NaNoWriMo. The story would begin in the late 1800’s. I only got 17,000 words into it. Like Sally, it just wasn’t coming. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, 2017. My husband and I were walking out in the woods, probably over the same ground that Sally may have walked. Suddenly, all of these animals started talking to me, a peacock in particular. After we got back to the house, I started writing A Peculiar School, a fantasy, something I never thought I would write, but then I had no idea I would ever write a novel to begin with.

A couple of months ago I was beginning my editing process of A Peculiar School. The main character is Miss Ethel Peacock. My cousin who I hadn’t seen for several years came by. He wanted to tell me he had read Sally. He also wanted to give me something that had belonged to Sally. I only ever knew of one other thing of Sally’s that was left, a tin cup she used, and it belonged to one of the ladies I interviewed about Sally. Sally had given it to her as a child. My cousin’s mother as a young child had sometimes stayed with Sally. She had given her a piece of Carnival Glass, and the handle was broken, but my aunt had kept it because it had belonged to Sally. My cousin thought if anyone should have it, it should be me. When I examined it, tears came to my eyes. The image on it was a peacock. I took it as a sign Sally was smiling upon my new story.

Nancy says: I agree that many things can happen which seem really coincidental and lead to a writer choosing a particular subject. My own historical focus of writing about Roman Scotland seems inevitable due to my having lived in at least 3 houses in the close proximity of ancient sites of Roman occupation- my current one really close! Serendipity? Coincidence? 

Jerri Adds: There are several articles concerning Sally on the website, including pictures concerning her life. There is also a picture of the Carnival Glass.

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story today, Jerri. Sally sounds like an amazing woman. Best wishes with sales for the novel and with all of your writing projects.


Post Holiday #Hectic-ness!

Can it possibly be Friday again?

Since I returned home from my Baltic Cruise last weekend, I've been intending to write a blog entry every day. But first there was the inevitable unpacking and laundry of two full cases of daytime wear and then the changes for the evening. I love cruising but it's a lot harder work than wearing a T-shirt and jeans all day long!

Then there was the preparation for an author presentation that I did on Wed 27th June to a group of around 35 men at their PROBUS (professional and business retirees) club in the nearby town of Banchory, Aberdeenshire. Their agreed subject was Roman Scotland with emphasis on Roman Aberdeenshire - and with a mere mention of my novels at the end and how they fit in with the invasions of the two main known Ancient Roman aggressors in Aberedeenshire: General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola (A.D 84) and Emperor Septimius Severus (A.D. 210). I have a basic template for this type of talk but I do tweak it to suit the group I'm attending and give as local a tie to it as possible. The time frame can also mean some adjustments.

Some of the groups I've attended want no more than a half hour of presentation and then 15 minutes questions.  Others, like Banchory PROBUS men's group (I've already spoken to the women's group  some time aga) want a full 45 minutes presentation and 10 minutes of questions.

I practised my timings on Monday in between visits from my grandkids, whom I'd missed a lot on my holiday. Tuesday was an official childminding day for me,  so there's no realistic time for writerly things with a 4-year-old boy around me, and a 6-year-old girl joining us after school. I'm delighted I put in the effort to tweak the PowerPoint presentation because the timing was excellent and I don't think I forgot anything I wanted to mention!

The audience were extremely receptive, especially given the heat in the conference room was about 25 deg C. The questions were excellent, most likely the best I've ever been asked. Thankfully my general knowledge of Roman Britain was able to stand up to them.

I didn't sell as many books that day as I'd have liked, but chances are that some will be bought when the guys have access to cash, which a few said they don't bring to their meetings, not expecting to pay for anything on the day. I declined a lunch with them afterwards, though I was very tempted to join them.

It was encouraging to be asked if I would talk to another PROBUS group in the city of Aberdeen - to which I definitely said I'd be delighted to.
Septimius Severus -Wikimedia Commons

Last night, I picked up an email from one of the attendees which complimented my talk. The gist being that  "This article in the Independent shows your talk to Banchory Probus was right up to date."

I can think of no better compliment than that since the article was about the almost perfect bronze "Hand of Jupiter Dolichenus' which was recently uncovered at Vindolanda fort on Hadrian's Wall. Though I didn't refer directly to the 'hand', I had mentioned the fabulous finds at Vindolanda. What I had mainly referred to was the brutal campaign of Emperor Septimius Severus in Scotland in A.D. 210.

The article in the Independent newspaper by Archaeology corespondent David Keys is definitely worth a read - in my opinion - though nowadays you have to read the comments section with a pinch of salt, just like you have to read Tacitus and Cassius Dio.

I'm now back in harness, writing-wise so expect another post today (very soon) which will restart my Friday Historical Series.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to Banchory to sign and sell my novels at the FOCUS Fair in the Town Hall. Pop in and say hello, if you live anywhere near.


Wednesday, 20 June 2018

#11 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral - Gothenburg


This is the second last destination on my Baltic cruise and the weather has turned rainy. After so many days of wonderful weather, I had to work hard not to let it take the shine off visiting this wonderful new city.

Sailing into Gothenburg harbour on the Gota alv River (forgive the lack of proper accents), the city ranges on both sides of the river its buildings nestled into low and craggy foothills. Remnants of the city’s shipbuilding past are still arresting on the skyline, some of the large cranes left as reminders of the golden days of Gothenburg shipping and maritime history.

Once again, I was onto a coach to do a 3-hour tour of the city’s highlights. The viewpoint at the Masthuggskyrkan (church) affords fabulous views of the city, even on a rainy day.

Botanic Gardens Gothenburg Sweden
After a short photo stop at the Masthuggskyrkan, I was whisked off through narrow city roads to the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens. Wandering up the pathways towards the summit of the gardens, the plantings were spectacular the drizzly rain not a problem at all. I’m not convinced the guide took us up as far as we could possibly go, and we only covered a small area of the whole gardens, but the walk of close to an hour was really excellent since I’ve been cooped up on coaches for a lot of the time on this trip. That was my choice, and I’m not complaining about what’s been achieved, but the fresh air today was lovely. It was light rain, and not cold at around 14 deg C. I’m sure The Botanic Gardens are a very popular spot on a sunny day. The tour guide pointed out other public parks as we traversed the city, in part giving the city its name of being a ‘green’ city.

Another stop took us to the fantastic Fish Church - Feskekorka. What a plethora of fish there is for sale in this cute building that really does resemble a church. The tour guide joked that people go there not to worship God but to worship COD. And I did see cod being sold among the many other fishes that I couldn’t identify since the names meant nothing to me as I read them.

Poseidon Gothenburg
We stopped for a very quick photo stop at the top of the Avenue (Kungsportsavenyen) at Gotaplatsen to admire the cultural area. Buildings around this square include the Museum of Art, Concert Hall, the City Theatre - with the main Library close by. The highlight of this square is the Statue of Poseidon. It’s a fairly large sculpture by  Carl Miles, the naked Poseidon having quite an arresting face that has a ‘fish’ quality to  it that I find hard to explain.

After a few more photo stops and a very interesting commentary, I was almost back to the Balmoral. One last stop was made to an area that had an interesting past. David Carnegie (not Andrew) came to the area to set up a sugar industry on the quayside and in doing so he imported both personnel to run his operation and also reminders from Scotland. He built a tiny community around his industry with housing, school and other associated buildings. One of the fine remains of his community is the small church he built which is said to have been a replica of a church in Balquhidder, Scotland.

As I sail out of Gothenburg after yet another whistle stop tour I’ll be dining at ‘The Grill’ the more exclusive dining experience aboard the Balmoral. It isn’t the last formal night- that’s likely to be tomorrow or the last night on board but my husband and I will be sprucing up for our special dinner.

One more port to visit tomorrow and that will be Oslo, Norway! Another city I’ve never yet been to.


Tuesday, 19 June 2018

#10 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral - Stockholm

Stockholm Skyview!

Since my time in Stockholm wasn’t long, I opted for a city tour with the added highlight of a ride in the Skyview and then had time for a short stroll around the old town before embarking the ship once more.

There was a minor time constraint at Stockholm that hadn’t yet happened on this cruise, but did occur on my Greenland cruise last year. The Balmoral ship was at anchor a short way out from the harbour at Stockholm and anyone leaving the ship had to be ferried by Balmoral ‘tenders’ back and forth to the shore, a journey of only a few minutes. This was incredibly well-organised by Olsen representatives, on the way to the city and there was only a slight wait of some ten minutes in a queue to return to the ship.

Like other cities already visited on this cruise, Stockholm has many beautiful buildings built in the classical styles with pastel facades. However, one difference in some of these buildings is that builders in Stockholm had (have) access to local stone, and granite is a popular building material.

Stockholm is another city that has many islands (14) connected by bridges (57) across bodies of water, like St. Petersburg, Copenhagen and Tallinn. Our guide, however, was fond of telling me that it’s really only 2 masses of water that have to be crossed in Stockholm -  a lake and the Baltic Sea.   

I really enjoyed the commentary as my coach made its way around the islands, one in particular that I’d like to have spent more time on. This was a small island that houses many museums including a Viking Museum, The Abba Experience, and numerous other small museums. My guide was also at pains to tell me that Sweden has no Viking remains of note. No Viking ships have been found, and nothing else that she considered to be substantial Viking remains - unlike those that have been found in Norway and Denmark.

My Skyview experience was similar to many other lifts and city tower-top viewing platforms that I’ve visited, all of which give a circular view of the cityscape from the top. My main impression on overlooking Stockholm was that I didn’t expect the city to be so flat, though with some 7 million inhabitants (according to the guide) I’m sure they’re quite happy that their bridge building didn’t need the additional infrastructure needed to wend around foothills as well.

The Skyview, however, does boast of itself as being a unique feature. The gondola scales the outside of the World’s biggest dome. It comes to rest for some 6 minutes at the top and a 360 deg panorama can be appreciated by Skyview visitors. I’m glad that the day was only a little cloudy because the view really is very good from the top.

The Skyview Dome is part of a complex of four arena spaces that house many different forms of entertainment. Ice hockey, football, major concerts and gigs are only a few of the options for entertainment in these huge spaces.

After my coach tour dropped me back at the harbour-side there was time for a quick walk around the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan- the old town of Stockholm. The ones I wandered onto were narrow, mostly pedestrian and full of coffee stops and eating places. Since I had to be in the queue for a ‘tender’ back to the ship by 3 p.m., I opted not to eat lunch out in case it took too long.


#9 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral - St. Petersburg

More fabulous St. Petersburg delights! 

My other two guided tours in St. Petersburg were a city coach tour and a trip to the Gulf of Finland. The first mentioned tour gave me a 3 hour taste of the main public buildings which are absolutely fantastic considering their age and the climate.

I’m very glad to have been given a brief overview during the port talks by Ian Gunn and Simon Rees because I’d otherwise not have realised that the fabulous buildings are brick built rather than made of solid stone. The harsh winters must be severe on the facades of the mainly neo-classical buildings but it’s clear that massive expense is being shouldered to repaint them on a regular basis.

Being driven around the city centre was actually a much more pleasant experience than in Copenhagen. There was a lot of traffic in St. Petersburg and some of the streets were also relatively narrow but the traffic seemed to flow more easily in St. Petersburg. I will have to find some time slots when I return home to make new Pinterest Boards from my hundreds of photos taken in St. Petersburg.

The second trip out to the Gulf of Finland gave me the opportunity to see a lot of what’s considered the social housing of St. Petersburg. Our guide had said that almost everyone lived in apartment buildings and I was keen to see if there was a big difference between those in the city centre and the outskirts. I was delighted to find that the high-rises of the suburbs seem to compete equally in terms of trying to make each building a tiny bit different from its neighbour. Some post WWII housing was pointed out to us, but it was clear that many of those blocks are undergoing current renovation programmes and we drove through no areas of deprivation. That cannot be said for a lot of UK cities that I’ve been to in recent years.

Our Lady of Kazan
The stop at the Church of Our Lady of Kazan was fairly brief but I’m always amazed to find incredible architecture in the middle of what seems to be the forest fringes.

Built in the traditional Russian Orthodox style, the church is an overload of fancy but amazing to look at. It wasn’t nearly as old as I thought, having been built at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth centuries. Inside was a wealth of gilded Russian Orthodox iconography.

The road we took out of the city to the Gulf of Finland was a single carriageway road that was very busy but the fact that our tour left at 8 am gave us an advantage in using the road early. Our guide pointed out that the wide bay area from St. Petersburg around the Gulf of Finland is popular for city dwellers to visit their ‘dachas’ or other second country homes- of varying sizes. An escape to the forest and countryside is common but the fact that my visit occurred during exceptionally fine weather meant more St. Petersburg dwellers were taking advantage of the weather window.
pavilion at Ilya Repin's Penaty estate

We visited the Penaty Estate ‘Dacha’ Museum of famous Russian artist Ilya Repin. We were unable to gain inside access but the building had a fascinating construction. I expect what I saw was a simple and fairly typical frontage but the building had a most impressive multiple-glazed roof area to the rear of the building which I imagine maximised the light at all times of day in different rooms of the house. Repin had also built a retreat in the garden, the front columns of which resembled an Egyptian temple.

The last bit of the tour was a paddle in the Gulf of Finland at one of the tiny beach areas. Though not compulsory at all, I dipped my toes into the Gulf but have to say it actually wasn’t that clean. A greenish hue to it wasn’t particularly natural though there were locals swimming in it. A fellow coach traveller pointed out a dead fish floating only a quarter of a metre from my feet, so I decided that the experience was over!

St. Petersburg is an altogether fascinating city that needed a lot more time spent on it than I was able to on this cruise. I’m totally delighted to have been able to sample even just a taster session.


#8 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral-St. Petersburg Hermitage

The Hermitage Museum - St. Petersburg

The Winter Palace- Hermitage Museum

My short visit to the Hermitage Museum was as impressive as the one I made to the Vatican Museums, Rome, in 2016. My Vatican Museums tour was around 5 hours so I saw a lot more there than my 3 hour tour of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Both museums are equally grand and both show displays of obscene wealth. However, putting the origins of the funding for the construction and collection acquisition aside, since I love history, art history, and architecture, I can appreciate the glories for their stunning visual impacts and for the efforts of the artists in creating the masterpieces.

But… it’s always hard to equate the lavish budgets that were spent on acquiring the exhibits in comparison to the living conditions of the poor who were, in general, heavily taxed in some way to help pay for  them- whether they were the faithful Roman Catholic flock, or the serfs of the Czar.

My initial impression, after visiting the Vatican multiple museums, was that the best aspect of the Vatican acquiring those treasures over centuries is that they have managed to keep the treasures secure for centuries. The limited access to members of the general public for a very long time (centuries) is now widened to anyone who can stump up the entry fees. This now allows millions of visitors like me to appreciate the artistic effort that the millions of exhibits represent.

Similarly, the galleries of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg are now available for people like me to view because the collections have been protected from what could have been situations of utter devastation to them. The Hermitage treasures were sent to Siberia to escape the ravages of German bombardment during WWII and the collections returned to the Winter Palace and associated buildings during safer eras.

During my guided tour, I only visited a few of the very many possible rooms and galleries available, but they clearly showed the impressive collections that monarchs like Catherine the Great had accumulated. The tour guide gave an excellent commentary via headsets that were the best I’ve ever used.

The trip was far too short but it was a very good introduction to what is a massive collection of fabulous art and architecture. Sometimes when the walls are so full of artwork it's hard to remember to look at the floors and ceilings and appreciate them because they are tremendously stunning as well. I look forward to revisiting them when i return home and make a new Pinterest board of my photos. 


#7 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral-St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg…15th and 16th June

Two fantastic days that need much more than this diary extract. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to join 3 different tours in St. Petersburg, the most incredible city.

Tour 1: The Hermitage Museum
Tour 2- General city sightseeing
Tour 3- The Gulf of Finland

Equestrian Statue of Peter the Great

The influence of Peter the Great is everywhere. The classical buildings are plentiful and impressive in their condition. When the state of bombardment of the Second World War is accounted for it’s amazing that any of the buildings have survived.

According to our very knowledgeable tour guide there is a current ongoing programme of ‘keeping up’ the state of many of the oldest buildings, by the ‘state’. She didn’t go into the intricacies of the funding details but it’s clearly important in St. Petersburg to show off the oldest buildings to great advantage. I am highly impressed by the tasteful decorative colours of the buildings given a little knowledge of the history of their creation. It would be so easy to paint what are essentially brick buildings in garish colours, but that’s not what currently happens in St. Petersburg.

The most important and impressive ones have arresting tones. One could even say ‘Pastel Perfect’ in many cases, maybe even most cases. The classical styles that Peter the Great wanted for his city are so incredibly well-planned and well-maintained. Having visited a few places of his inspirations like Versailles and Rome, the architects that Peter the Great used so long ago did a very fine job in an area that had few of the resources available to the original architects in Rome or Versailles.

I’ve lived in Holland for three years and know just how much effort it takes to form the foundations for building magnificent palaces and large public buildings. Peter the Great’s St. Petersburg land was swampy and needed the innovative creation of canals and reclaimed land to make a port on the Gulf of Finland worthwhile. The lack of local building stone was also a problem that many of the northern European countries, like Holland and Denmark, had to overcome. Brick was a reality yet the products needed to make bricks also had to be imported. The effort put into the creation of the buildings of Peter the Great’s era was immense. And so lastingly worthwhile.

The highlight of the 3 event visit to St. Petersburg was my visit to the Hermitage, though the rest was also very impressive.

Look out for the next post on The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg - contents that are as impressive as the Vatican Museums.


Sunday, 17 June 2018

#6 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral -Tallinn


I’ve really been looking forward to visiting Tallinn - mainly because I’ve heard friends and family who have visited raving about its beauty, but more so because it was one of the few locations that I’ve written about in my contemporary mystery novels that I’d never been to.

Spires of Tallinn
Now I can truly say I’ve been to Tallinn even if only for a very short time. In fact, the duration of my visit was probably on par with Aela’s in ‘Take Me Now’! I didn’t’ kayak in the wide bay at Tallinn but I did manage to get some photos of the area I wrote about and look forward to using them in promotions when I get home.

The tour I booked skirted the old town area but took other parts of the city. We visited a ruined monastery, and some other viewpoints but the highlight for me during the trip was the cream slice and tea at a historical building turned into visitor centre /Fishing Museum.

While enjoying the cream roulade we were entertained by two lovely local women who played traditional Estonian instruments that are unique to the country and resembled a zither. They wore traditional costume and gave us a background to both their national dress and the instruments. Excellent stuff and we bought a CD to play at home.

I’d love to have wandered the old town cobbled streets but that wasn’t suitable for hubby so we compromised on the coach tour. There’s still very good reason for returning to Tallinn!

I need say little about the food and drink back on board - it’s always of superior quality and so beautifully presented.  


#5 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral

Cruising…and more of those lovely talks, Wed 13th June 2018

Today was another day of cruising from Copenhagen to Tallinn, Estonia.  

The port talk on offer today was about Gothenburg by Ian Gunn, and my second ‘historical’ talk was about Peter the Great and his Architects by Simon Rees.

Peter The Great -Wikimedia Commons
Both talks were excellent, again providing lots of lovely details. 

I particularly enjoyed learning more about Peter the Great since I’ve watched some TV series about him via Amazon Prime earlier this year. The Russian-produced series picked a very good look-alike in the actor who portrayed Peter, he definitely resembled him in this painting by Pieter der -Grosse. Peytr was an incredibly productive and intelligent man who created such an unbelievable legacy, whether or not the excesses of Czarist Russia are to your tastes. 

I’d love to say that I did a lot of writing today but it isn’t quite true. I did manage some editing but spent more time being frustrated over the internet connections. Unlike other types of holidays, the ethos of cruising is about chilling out and meeting new people. People can be so different when randomly encountered for the duration of a quick drink.  

Again the musical interludes both afternoon and post dinner were excellent. As was the fabulous haute cuisine and Malbec!


#4 Cruising The Baltic with #Fred Olsen’s Balmoral- Copenhagen

Copenhagen!... 12th June

There were no talks today since it was up for an early breakfast and off for our City Tour of Copenhagen.

I’d been to Copenhagen sometime in the early 1980s (1984?) but my memories were very dim. All that seemed memorable from that trip was my kids both having a nasty cold and being out of sorts, though they did sleep on a coach tour out of the city to the Castle of Elsinore/ Esbjerg.

This time around, I was seeing the city with fresh eyes. The highlights of the tour were good choices but the traffic made moving around the city centre a very difficult job for a large and very full coach. Knowing a little bit about the architectural styles from the talks was really useful as we slowly wended our way around the centre.

There were a few short photo-stop opportunities to get a better feel of the surrounding buildings. At the Amalienborg palaces of the current Queen Margaret of Denmark my tour guide had explained that there were royals in residence at two of the three palaces in the ‘oval’ square. One flag bore the emblem of her son and heir, but the guide explained that was a little confusing since the Prince was currently in Brussels signing a NATO treaty or something similar. She reckoned he might be in residence later which explained his flag flying from the rooftop mast.

The other flag was for other members of the Royal family and she guessed that it might be the middle sister of Queen Margaret, who also became a widow sometime recently like the Queen whose French husband died earlier in 2018. Just as the guide was giving more info on the status of the Danish Royals, their State funding etc a limo approached me with a very low key toot. The car was about a metre away from me as it glided slowly past. My guide surreptitiously glanced into the back seat and declared that it did indeed contain Queen Margaret’s sister who was whisked into the underground car park of the palace building that flew the general Royal family flag.

I loved the tour information which enhanced the ship talk, the guide able to fill in a lot of current politics and situations that the population currently find themselves in regarding health, education and well-being.

Our tour included a drive around the Nyhavn harbour area. I found it quite incredible that the terraced housing that was built hundreds of years ago for the Danish Royal Navy is still being lived in, though some buildings are currently used as naval offices. It was all so orderly and so very practical!

There was no opportunity to be inside ‘The Tivoli’ Amusement park but it was fascinating to find out the history and ideology behind its creation, many other parks aping themselves on the Tivoli conception - including the Disneyland park in California.
Ah, that Little Mermaid! 

No tour of Copenhagen can ever be complete without taking in a short visit to see ‘The Little Mermaid’. Small it may be for a national statue but she a cute one- even if the original Hans Christian Andersen story of her is a little bit gruesome. The mermaid’s transformation wasn’t without much pain and neither has the statue had an easy time of it. She has already had lots of bits repaired due to damage inflicted by protesters and others. Her head has been replaced 3 times, her arm once and explosives I 2004 knocked her off her pedestal. Paint splattering has also defaced her but the Danish have soldiered on and had her restored to her full glory, regardless.  

Dare I write it? The day and evening continued with far too much excellent food and wine …and even more entertainment from the excellent musicians aboard the Balmoral.