Wednesday 31 January 2018

#Review 5 of 2018 Frosted Shadow

This novel was recommended via one of my email oriented book promotion sites. I had seen the name Nancy Warren before so decided to give it a try. Sometimes I'm looking for a quick contemporary read and this was perfect foe the job. If you're only looking for entertainment, as I was, and not to learn anything new then this is a good choice.

Frosted Shadow: a Toni Diamond Mystery by Nancy Warren

This was an entertaining read, the setting one which I’d personally run a mile from but it seemed very realistic. The cutthroat (maybe not literally) world of the ‘make up’ reps is one that Toni Diamond revels in but she finds it’s not possible to plan for everything. I sussed out the culprit before the end but that was no problem because there was still more to come- and how!

The characters are nicely portrayed. Toni has plenty of depth and there’s just more to learn about the lovely Detective Luke Marciano. Nasty characters? Yes, there are some of them as well.
If you’re looking for a cosy crime that’s an amusing read, I’d recommend this one. 

(Review posted onGoodreads and Amazon. )

And now onto more reading but what might that be? I've a number of novels in my Kindle TBR pile and a couple of paperbacks as well. Lots of novels out there and lots of choice! Happy Reading.


Monday 29 January 2018

#4 #Monday Meanders with #David W. Robinson

It's time for some more #Monday Meanders!

Today, I'm welcoming back a very prolific (and extremely helpful) Crooked Cat author friend-  David W. Robinson.

The location featuring today is one of those seaside resorts that I almost went to in my teens. My parents went there for a holiday without me but don't worry! -  No, I wasn't a neglected child, I was on holiday with my aunt who lived in Corby, Northants!

It wasn't till a couple of decades later that Yorkshire became 'go-to' destination for me, so much so that parts of it have featured in my own novels. However, today David's here to tell us all about his favourite part. 

Welcome again, David. Let's #Meander...

If it’s Yorkshire, it must be Scarborough

Asked about a location where I’ve set a novel, Scarborough was the first place that sprang to mind, but technically I’ve never actually set a novel there.

Scarborough Spa Complex- courtesy of D.W. Robinson
Sitting in two bays about 20 miles north of Flamborough Head, Scarborough lays claim to the title, Yorkshire’s Premier Resort, and with good reason. From the fine, sandy South Bay where all the usual souvenir shops, bars, restaurants, amusement arcades and chippies are located, to the permanent dockside funfair, round to the spa complex and theatre, which still attracts biggish show business names, to the more sedate North Bay, complete with its Sea Life Sanctuary and Peasholm Park, where, if you time your visit correctly, you can witness famous sea battles recreated with radio controlled model ships, Scarborough has just about everything.

Unfortunately for a man of my advancing years, it also has more than its fair share of humongous hills. Luckily, it also enjoys not one but three funicular railways to get you from the bottom to the top.

Nancy says: My dad found that in a lot of the seaside resorts they visited the hills were an absolute challenge because he always loved to walk around to get a really good 'feel' for the places! 
The  Grand Hotel, Scarborough  -courtesy of D.W. Robinson

Scarborough has always loomed large in my life. We were there as recently as a month ago, spending a couple of nights at the Grand Hotel, a place with a history to match its name.

In 1967, on holiday with my parents, I recall watching the absolute final episode of ‘The Fugitive’ and a flood of relief as David Janssen was finally proved innocent. I remember thinking about him as I walked round the ruins of the castle wall, looking out over the whole town and of course, the North Sea.

Scarborough Castle - courtesy of D.W. Robinson

Almost 40 years ago, I met my wife in the nearby resort of Filey, and we pay at least one visit to the area, but our focus tends to be on the shopping areas of the town centre. Over the years, my wife, a Mancunian by birth, has developed a taste for the cakes, pastries and buns of Cooplands. A well-known bakery on the East Coast, they never ventured into the North West. Manchester, you don’t know what you’re missing.

I’ve been a writer for over thirty-five years, and when a minor heart wobble compelled me to retire seven years ago, I turned to writing full-time, and within a year the first book in my Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries appeared under the Crooked Cat imprint. Entitled The Filey Connection, while Joe Murray and his gang of born-again teenagers are trying to solve a couple of murders in Filey, a good proportion of the book is set in Scarborough, where I recreate an Abba tribute show which my wife and I actually attended somewhere around 2006. I even have one of the characters suffer a mugging near the funfair.

My homage to this favourite Yorkshire resort doesn’t end there. I’m widely known for my light-hearted, or blatantly humorous works, but there’s another side to me, a darker side, one that yearns to turn out hard-bitten thrillers.

Under the pen name Robert Devine, I’m working on just such a series, based in the Yorkshire coastal resort of Landshaven. And Landshaven bears a remarkable resemblance to Scarborough, right down to the harbour, nearby funfair, and the ruins of a Norman castle on the towering north promontory of the bay.

As we meander into 2018 anticipating the lighter, warmer months, my wife and I are looking forward to a week of unabashed hedonism in Benidorm. I need that annual dose of Mediterranean ultraviolet and cheap beer. The rest of the calendar remains blank.

But I know that before long we’ll pencil in a visit to Scarborough.

The Filey Connection, Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery #1 is available as an e-book and paperback, exclusive to Amazon.

If you would like free, sample e-books , visit:

Thank you for sharing Scarborough (and Filey) with us today, David. Enjoy any visits you and your wife make, including to those other sunny parts that aren't Scarborough or Filey! 

I can definitely recommend The Filey Connection to anyone who loves a good cozy crime mystery and to anyone who just loves a darned good story. (Somewhere on Amazon there should still be a review of it that I posted when the novel came out.) 

Till our next #Monday Meander have a good week! 


Sunday 28 January 2018

#FREE days. Worth it? Yes or no?

Sunday wishes to you! 

Whatever you're doing today, the very best is wished for you. My day is mainly devoted to new writing but this is a good time to take a break and update my promotion of last week.
Being signed up to Kindle Direct Publishing for The Taexali Game, there is the opportunity to set the novel FREE for up to 5 days within a 90 day period. So far, I've not taken up Amazon's official opportunity though on a few occasions I have set the price Zero. Since first published in 2015, those few FREE days have not made any impact on my sales, and indeed not many copies were downloaded. For those previous promotional days I was only promoting via Facebook and a few Tweets so, I admit, there was a lacklustre attempt to promote. 

This time I decided to run an experiment. I organised a 3 day FREE opportunity via KDP ( 23rd, 24th and 25th Jan) and simultaneously paid for promotion during the middle day (24th). The FreeBooksy promo cost about £45- money I really cannot afford, but I feel the need to try more promotional avenues. Paying for a promotion to tell potential readers that a book is available FREE, with no royalties coming to me as the author, seemed an insane thing to do and that's why I've avoided that tactic in the past.

However, this time my aim was not for royalties but for visibility. And that did happen!

Tuesday 23rd I logged in to The Taexali Game Amazon page expecting to note an rank of around 700,000 - not uncommon - and UK much the same - but to my surprise at 10 a.m. Tuesday the ranks were at

  • U.S> #76,805 ( #39 Greek and Roman; #121 Time Travel; #108 Historical Fiction) on the FREE charts. 
  • UK>#38,446 (#83 Time Travel; #126 Hist fiction; #18358 Lit & Fict) 

N.B.Amazon manipulates the Genre categories after my initial setting of Fiction/ Historical/Time Travel/ Fantasy

Now all that meant was that a few FREE copies had already been downloaded that day.

At the end of my Tuesday (GMT)

  • US ># 5,678(#10 G&R; #22 Fantasy Time Tr; #38 Hist Fic) 
  • UK> 2,216 (#10 T Travel; #18 Hist Fic; #1753 Lit & Fic)
Over the 3 days promotion, as far as I can tell, there were the following downloads for a novel that had mostly been ignored on Amazon. 
  • Tues 101
  • Wed 1510
  • Thurs 226
It's clear to see that the paid FreeBooksy promo had some noticeable effect. When I logged on to the Goodreads site on Friday 26th it tells me that a few people are currently reading it and at lest 15 have added it to their 'To Be Read pile. 

Now I wait and hope for lots of lovely reviews. It may be an unrealistic outcome but it's more positive than the hole in my bank balance! And I now have a January poster for using on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy Sunday reading to you.


Saturday 27 January 2018

#3 Saturday Shorts - with#Carol Maginn

Happy Saturday wishes to you!

It's time for another short and snappy interview and today's guest is author Carol Maginn that I've met through Crooked Cat Books. Thank you for joining us today for a super fast interview to get caught up with your writing life.

That big fat leather chair is all yours!

Briefly introduce yourself, please. 

Hello, Nancy, and thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog.
I’ve lived in a variety of cities, including Manchester, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Rome and Kokopo, but I’m back for the time being in my watery home city, Liverpool.
I’ve also done a variety of work, in law and English language, and I enjoy the mix.

Carol Maginn

When is your best time to write?

I learnt a long time ago that setting aside Saturdays (and some Sundays)  worked best for me. It meant that I didn’t constantly feel guilty if I wasn’t writing while tired on a workday evening, and I had a solid block of time to get stuck in. I still write on Saturdays, though these days I manage to sneak some mid-week hours in as well.

Which social media platforms do you find most comfortable to use?

My son and daughter-in-law introduced me to Facebook quite a while ago, and I’ve stuck with it. I’ve ventured onto Twitter, but haven’t set aside quite enough time to figure out properly how it works, so I’ve become a phantom Twitterer. But one of these days…!

Nancy says: I'm on Twitter but I have never really grasped it properly. It's a dabble share here ...and an 'Oh, that's a good one' share there! 

Please tell us a little about your work:

I seem to have taken a very emphatic step back into history. My third novel is set in a Liverpool hotel in 1856, and my fourth, Taking New York, is set in that city in the 1880s. I’m also writing a radio play about Kitty Wilkinson, a Liverpool heroine from the 1830s. An extract of it will feature in Liverpool’s Light Night, in May (when everything stays open until late in the evening, and entry is free) which I’m very excited about!

Nancy: I've projects started that are also in the Victorian era which is great to research and write about (lots out there compared to my Roman Britain era). 

What's your latest book about and what genre is it?

Taking New York is intended as a sprawling, 19th Century kind of thriller, which follows the lives of three young women who together are able to topple one of the city’s most corrupt politicans.

Did anything in particular influence you to write it?

My third novel, The Case of the Adelphi, required research into 19th Century Liverpool, and that in turn led to New York. At that time, the two cities were both developing at a chaotic and dizzying rate, and there were a lot of connections between them.

Did it require any specialised research?

I’ve got  19th Century maps of New York, but obviously I’m going to have to pay a few visits – just to confirm the geography, you understand….

Nancy: I love pouring over old maps as well and there are now so many available to view on the internet from the National Library collections!  

Who is your main character?

There are three young women, each on her own in this pretty unforgiving city, all with knowledge, skills and abilities which enable them to survive and combine to bring a corrupt political career to an end.  There’s a suitably wide supporting cast of characters as well, both good and bad….

What are your main characters' greatest weaknesses?

Being a single female in New York was incredibly difficult. Wages were pitifully low, and rents high. Many girls and young women ended up as sex workers. I’ve learnt why 19th Century writers were so fond of long-lost relatives and surprise bequests in wills – these were the only ways that women without wealth, family or a husband could change their destinies.

What are their greatest strengths?

These are resilient and creative young women. They have courage and imagination and they win against the odds in the end!

Are you a lover of editing your work?

Yes, I think I am. I’ve certainly done a lot of it, and my work is always improved as a result. I murder my darlings on a regular basis.

What’s your favourite occupation? (apart from writing!)
I like cooking, dancing, and gazing vacantly into space. And music.

Do you have a favourite place to ‘hide’ out from life?
My most favourite place (where I’m writing this blog piece) is the Picton Library, a lovely, renovated 19th Century library within Liverpool Central Library.

Nancy: That sounds like an amazing place to write! 

Favourite food and drink?
I like nearly all food and nearly all drink – with the exception of vodka and lime, which is the work of Satan.

Links for Carol's books: 

My current, and last, Crooked Cat title is Daniel Taylor, a contemporary thriller set in Rome. It’s available as an ebook or a paperback.

Click HERE for Daniel Taylor

You can find Carol on Amazon HERE

Facebook: Carol Maginn

Thanks for coming today, Carol. It's been great to get your updates. My very best wishes for all of your future writing projects. 


#3 Someone to #Lean on -#Mr. Sykes

NOTE: My apologies for this post being a day late. This is part of my Friday theme but I must have had a 'senior moment' when scheduling it since it didn't post yesterday. 

Friday means it's time to give those supporting secondary characters a bit of the limelight!

Today, I'm joined by my Crooked Cat author friend, Sue Barnard, who has chosen a really interesting character from her contemporary novel Nice Girls Don't. It's a while since I read the novel, so it's been great to get reacquainted with him and to enjoy the ancestry aspect again, which is something I love to dabble in.

Welcome to my Friday series, Sue. I'll let you explain a bit about Mr. Sykes and thank you for bringing an except with you so that my readers can get to know him better!


Mr Sykes is a widower in his mid-sixties.  He had been devoted to his wife, and had taken early retirement to take care of her after an accident had left her seriously disabled.  During the two years since she died, he has gradually begun to rebuild his own life.

One of his favourite activities is a daily visit to his local library, where he spends the morning in the reference section completing the cryptic crossword from The Times.  It is because of his visits to the library that he meets the main characters in the story: Emily (who works there) and Carl (who is a library customer).

Although Mr Sykes is technically a secondary character in Nice Girls Don’t, his role in the story is pivotal.  One of his areas of expertise is genealogy, and when he learns that Carl is seeking to research his own family history, he offers to help.  Without Mr Sykes’ invaluable assistance, it is very likely that the whole project would never have got off the ground.

Here, he tells Emily and Carl about what his own research has revealed:

Emily smiled. “You seem to know a lot about this, Mr Sykes.”

The old man’s eyes twinkled. “Well, I have been doing it for years, on and off!”

“How far back have you managed to trace?” Carl asked.

“Quite a long way – so far, at least. I’ve got back to around 1800 with one branch of the family, and a little further back than that with another.”

Carl whistled under his breath. “That’s pretty impressive! Have you found any skeletons in the closet?”

Mr Sykes grinned. “One or two.”

“Oooh! What sort of skeletons?” Emily asked, intrigued.

“I found one ancestor who ended up in prison for assaulting a policeman. And another who I think might have been a bigamist, but I haven’t so far been able to prove that for certain. Though it seems that bigamy was much more common than most people realise.”

“Why would that have been, do you think?”

“Probably because it was very difficult to get a divorce in those days.”

Emily nodded. “That would figure, I suppose.”

“But one of the biggest shocks I had,” Mr Sykes went on, “was when I discovered my grandparents’ guilty secret.”

“What was that?” Carl and Emily asked, in perfect chorus. They looked at each other and laughed.

Mr Sykes chuckled. “Well,” he went on, “my grandparents celebrated their Golden Wedding when I was fourteen. I remember it particularly because I’d just left school a couple of months earlier. And it was quite a party – they’d had nine children altogether! But years later, when I started researching the family history and looked for a record of their marriage, I couldn’t find it.”

Emily raised her eyebrows. “How intriguing!”

“It was indeed. But then, quite by chance, I found it – and that was when I realised that I’d been looking in the wrong place.”

“What do you mean?” Carl asked, equally intrigued.

“I’d based my calculations on the date of their Golden Wedding party, so I’d subtracted fifty years from that and searched the marriage records for that year. But it seems that they hadn’t got married when I thought they had. The day and the month were right, but the actual date of their marriage was a whole year later. It seemed that they’d celebrated their Golden Wedding a year early.”

 “How strange!” Carl remarked. “Have you any idea why they might have done that?”

“Oh yes!” Mr Sykes grinned conspiratorially. “It all became clear when I started to check the birth records. My Uncle Sam was their first child, and their Golden Wedding party was a very respectable sixteen months before his fiftieth birthday. But if they’d celebrated in the correct year, it would have become obvious to the whole family that they’d only taken four months to produce him!”

Sue continues: 
I based the character of Mr Sykes on two real people:  my father-in-law (whose abiding passion was family history and who taught me most of what I know of the subject) and a friend’s father (who was kind, knowledgeable and helpful and who had a wonderful sense of humour).  I am reminded of both of them every time I think of him.

As the story developed I found I was growing more and more fond of Mr Sykes, and realised that he needed a happy ever after of his own.  But you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is…

Nice Girls Don’t is published by Crooked Cat Books, and is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook format.

You can find out more about Sue and her books  on her BlogFacebook,  G+ and Twitter

Thank you so much for coming today, Sue, and being a part of my mini series. As always, best wishes with your writing.


Thursday 25 January 2018

To #Robert Burns!

It’s Burns Day! Happy Burns Day wishes to you!

I’ve tried to post something slightly different each Burns Day 25th January since I started this blog—here’s what I have today. Unfortunately, the images are likely to be a bit repetitive, my collection being limited. 

The Scottish poet Robert Burns died in 1796 aged 37. Many of his friends mourned his passing and in 1801, five years after his death, some friends of Burns decided to meet together in honour of their friend. They chose to meet at the cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire, where Burns was born. However, the day they congregated there was the 21st July, the 21st July being the day on which he had died.   

That same year of 1801 the Greenock Burns Club, the first ‘Burns Club’, was formed by people who had known Burns and admired his work. Unfortunately, when they decided their gathering would honour his birth and not his death they got the date of the first meeting wrong. They met in Alloway on the 29th January 1802. Someone queried the date and someone was dispatched to check the Church Parish Records, their being no official government Birth and Death Records at that time. It was verified that indeed Robert Burns had been born on the 25th January.

family heirloom plate Burns Cottage Alloway c1905 
Henceforth all celebrations in honour of the birth of Robert Burns have been on the 25th January (though practicalities often mean the celebrations now take place many days before/or many days after that date, the rarities being when 25th actually falls at the weekend!)

It’s comforting to know that the Greenock Burns Club held their celebration in 1803 on the correct date regardless of which day the 25th fell on.

I will be eating my haggis, neeps, n’ tatties tonight but I also eat haggis throughout the year because I love it. My favourite kind is from the Edinburgh firm Macsweens but that’s because I like mine moist, others prefer a more peppery one.
Family heirloom Burns as in Naysmith version plate c. 1905 
Here's another of my favourite poems by Rabbie Burns, though it's true I have many favourites! 

The Steeleye Span version of this song (click below to hear it) was played over and over during the 1970s  since they were one of my favourite bands at the time. I still have the vinyl album in one of my cupboards. 

The two ancient Burns commemorative plates are on my kitchen wall and have been there for decades. When I was growing up in Glasgow some of my friends might remember those plates were on the hall wall above the frieze i.e. above my father's favourite tartan wallpaper. And no, tartan wallpaper on walls was not common in Drumchapel during 1960s and 1970s. 

Enjoy the music, the sentiments of the poem/ song are poignant for me and many people of my ilk in Scotland. 

The version below has been copied from my Souvenir Edition of Burns.

A Parcel of Rogues In A Nation

Fareweel to a’ our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory!
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam'd in martial story!
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An’ Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands—
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue
Thro' many warlike ages
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane—
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

O, would, or I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay
Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration:—
‘We're bought and sold for English gold’—
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Now I'll go and check up on the progress of The Taexali Game,  my time travel historical set in Roman Scotland, since the promotion only has a few hours left to run on Amazon (23rd -25th Jan) organised in honour of Robert Burns. 

Last I looked it was #1 on the US site for Time Travel, keeping fabulous company with H. G. Wells - a fact that would have delighted my dad, I 'm sure, because he loved to read H.G. Wells. It certainly delights me and if it was the Paid site then I'd really be doing the happy dance! 

This time around my promotion is to gain exposure for the novel and it's worked! I'm also hoping for some reviews from the FREE downloads since they really help with Amazon algorithms- visibility of genuine reviews helps that process. 

Wednesday 24 January 2018

#FREE x 3 days in honour of #Robert Burns

Wednesday has dawned windy and wild. 

Storm Georgina is making her presence felt but-no matter! It's one day short of Burns Day which in my calendar is a really fine time. Burns liked a good tale, i believe, so since tomorrow is the anniversary of his birthday (January 25th) I decided to make The Taexali Game, my time travel novel on Amazon, available for nothing for the days leading up to Jan 25th. (23rd-25th)

They say we all love a good bargain and I'm no different. However, if I take the opportunity to get a FREE copy of an ebook I really do try to review the book afterwards on Amazon. I admit that there have been a few instances where the novel has been pretty awful and I've not been able to give a book a minimum of 3 stars. If I'm unable to do that, then I don't post any review.

I'm certainly hoping that if anyone chooses to download my FREE ebook this week that after reading it they'll feel able and willing to post a review on Amazon. It would be the greatest courtesy and would give me a lot of pleasure, assuming that the reader has enjoyed most or some of my novel.

To get your FREE copy click HERE.


Monday 22 January 2018

#3 #Monday Meanders with #Jodie V. Baptie

Good Morning! It's Monday but not a manic Monday for me (I hope).

My #Monday Meanders series continues and for me it's rather nostalgic. I'm welcoming an author friend, Jodie V. Baptie, who is new to Crooked Cat Books. Jodie's novel The Forgotten won't be published by Crooked Cat Books till June but it's very exciting that she's here today to give us a really early taste of what her novel is all about!

The nostalgia aspect? Read on... Edinburgh 1970s sent on by Jodie V Baptie

Welcome to my blog, Jodi. #Monday Meanders is all about the locations of a novel so what can you tell us about the setting of The Forgotten...

The Forgotten is a crime fiction thriller set in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland during the 1970s, a fascinating and somewhat overlooked post war era in Scotland
For much of this decade there was rising unemployment, social change, picket lines, crime and murder, an interesting setting for any crime novel. Poverty was rife in Scotland on a scale unimaginable today, with many families living in rat infested one bedroom tenement slums. Not forgetting the strikes and the three day week.

Glasgow-public domain via J V. Baptie
It wasn’t all bleak during the 1970s. For my main protagonist, Helen Carter, it’s a time of hope, opportunity and social freedom that earlier generations of women couldn’t have imagined – and Helen wants to live it. Throughout her life she has found herself at the pinnacle of change. She is degree educated from Glasgow University, she played football at a time when the Scottish Women’s Football Association was founded and she got to play in the first Women’s league. 

After university she found herself in dead end jobs, tiring of these she decided to follow her father’s footsteps into Glasgow City police as a WPC gaining a promotion afterwards.  Glasgow Cross Station. Demolished 1977. (image 1973) 

Glaswegian Helen is still learning Edinburgh but on a rare occasion she’s on a day off. You might find her shopping in Goldbergs, or meandering along Princes Street, or having a quiet drink in the White Cockade. If there’s a good gig on she’ll be at one of the many dance halls.

Nancy says: That definitely reminds me of living in Glasgow, which I did till 1975. I'm going to be looking out for Helen when she pops onto the printed page. 

It's probably too early for a final Blurb and Cover design but here's a gist of the novel:

They want revenge. They will never be forgotten.
Newly promoted into CID, acting Detective Constable Helen Carter has a lot on her hands. When a body is found in an abandoned cinema, no one in the team has seen anything like it before and when the business card of an ex-cop private detective is found, the case takes a chilling turn.
As the body count mounts can Helen find the killer while her own life is falling apart?

About Jodie
J.V. Baptie graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2017 with an MA in Creative Writing. When not writing, she is also an actress and has appeared in a variety of children’s show and stage plays. JV lives near Edinburgh where her novel is set.

JV has a short story collection on Amazon at the moment. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited, and all proceeds go to Pancreatic Cancer UK. The Forgotten will be released on June 13th 2018 and its follow up, The Departed, later on in 2018.  Follow me on Twitter @jvbaptie, or on my website at

Fabulous! Thanks for coming today, Jodie, and the very best wishes for The Forgotten when it launches. Come back and update us later in the year!


Sunday 21 January 2018

Well, it looks like this....#ancientmaps

Happy  Sunday to you!

If you've had a day off, I hope it's gone well. If you've been working, then equally I hope the day has been fine for you. 

I've spent a lot of the day researching extremely old maps and cartography. Why? Well, that would be because General Agricola in my current manuscript is amassing details for his itinerary which isn't a map but does record details of the landscape that he's invading in northern Britannia. I find it so hard to imagine him marching across land without having some sort of a map to guide him. Maybe he did have something very general and it's been lost over the centuries since A.D. 84. 

Whatever the truth I believe he must have had something to work from as he invaded Britannia. When growing up it was noted that he was perhaps 'too fond' of philosophy so I think he was quite an astute scholar and would definitely have been in  contact with anyone who had cartographic knowledge of Britannia. 

One 'map' he may have seen, or have used, is the one originally begun by Marcus Agrippa for Augustus Caesar. What we see below is a representation of it since the original was lost long ago. It was reconstructed in the Middle Ages from the data written down by Agrippa. 

Here is that same map rotated 90 Deg. It's not exactly how we see this part of the globe today but it's not that bad for Britannia! I's basic but it's all pointing in the right direction unlike that of Ptolemy's created around 120 years later. 
What is below is also a reconstruction,created according to the observations of Ptolemy of around A.D. 150 

However, the quirkiest map I've come across today is the one named 'Fool's Cap Map. The map maker remains unknown but from data around the map it's thought ot have been completed somewher between 1570-1590. 

Here's the same map in colourised version. Which do you like best? 

I'm off now to write a bit more of Agricola's attempts to make his own maps.


Saturday 20 January 2018

#2 Saturday Shorts- Rhia Ashton from #Monogamy Twist

Happy Saturday wishes to you!

It's time for another short and snappy interview but instead of a fellow author, today it's a character from my contemporary romantic mystery #Monogamy Twist. The questions are only a little different to those I'd be asking my author friends, so if you've not yet read the novel, meet the main female character, a lovely young lady...
Welcome to my blog. please tell us a little about yourself. 

Hello there! My name is Rhia Ashton. I’m an ancestral family tree researcher who used to work in the cut-throat world of the museum scene in London but I swapped that to come and live in rural Yorkshire. I now run my own ancestral research company and love living in my small cottage just along from the gates of Greywood Hall. My main company now is my fabulous Irish Wolfhound, Thor- though very soon that’s about to change…

When is your best time to write?

Thor is a large, energetic dog that needs walked at least a couple of times a day so I tend to be up early for him and at my desk somewhere between 8 and 9 a.m. I try to set aside most of the day for my researching, and note-taking so there isn’t really a ‘best’ time for me. I confess to often writing my reports in the evening though I’m not a workaholic! 

Which social media platforms do you find most comfortable to use?

Ah, what a question. That can very much depend on whether I have a good internet connection, being out in the boondocks! I left most of my friends and acquaintances behind when I left London but I use Facebook when I want to connect with by best buddies.

Please tell us what your latest work is all about.

Well, here’s the strangest thing. Right now I hardly know the answer to that because, as of yesterday, not only have I got myself involved in a new research job up at Greywood Hall, I’ve also entered into a completely different sort of contract alongside that job. I don’t want to jinx things too much by talking about it before the ink is properly dry on the contract—actually I’m expecting to sign that later this morning—but the best I can tell you is that I’ve also signed up to be an official errr... companion to the new owner of Greywood Hall. 
Once the contract is signed I can give you lots more details about the whole weird situation but I can tell you that I’m absolutely itching to get into the rooms up at Greywood Hall to see what I can find there.

Did anything in particular influence you to take this new contract?

Well, let’s say there was a bit of persuasion, maybe even a touch of coercion by the brand new owner of Greywood Hall who, by the way, is probably the most gorgeous man I’ve ever clapped eyes on. Now (i.e. since yesterday afternoon) I’m beginning to realise he’s manipulative but also one of the most attractive men I’ve ever met. 
Can you see my dilemma here?

Will the research at Greywood Hall be particularly specialised?

I imagine my skills learned at University and my previous work in a London museum will be well used to unravel the secrets that are up in that old house. My main task is to find evidence which will support why Luke Salieri, the new owner, was chosen as the beneficiary of Amelia Greywood’s Dickensian will- and I really do mean the quirkiest will conditions anyone is likely to come across!  

What do you know of Luke Salieri?

At the moment? Not a lot! He was born in Australia. His mum is an Aussie but he said his dad was Italian, hence the Italian surname. He told me his background has been in the construction business but he came to England some years ago and has been mainly involved in renovating sizeable old properties, making them fit for corporate retreats and hotels with conference facilities- that sort of thing.

What’s Luke’s greatest weakness?

You’ll have to ask me that when I get to know him properly.

What’s his greatest strengths?

From one meeting, I’d definitely say he’s persuasive, maybe even ruthless.

Do you think you’ll enjoy the new job?

I’m going to adore all of the historical research and all of the cataloguing up at Greywood Hall. The other aspect of the contract, living with Luke Salieri for a whole year, just might be an unbearable burden!

What’s your favourite leisure occupation?

Taking Thor for long walks!

Do you have a favourite place to ‘hide’ out from life?

Well, that’s essentially why I moved to my cottage in Yorkshire. It was to hide away from my past life in London, not to mention being somewhere that I’d never meet up with my conniving ex- partner ever again.

Favourite food and drink?

I love a really rare steak and a glass of Malbec to wash it down. Mmmm. You're making me hungry. I have to  pop into the kitchen for something to nibble on. 

Thanks for being a great interviewee, today, Rhia. Best wishes for that new job of yours, you've a lot of challenges ahead! 

Buy a copy HERE


Friday 19 January 2018

#2 Someone to #Lean on - #Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange

Friday means it's time to give those supporting secondary characters a bit of the limelight! 

Today, I'm joined by my Crooked Cat author friend, Jennifer Wilson, who has picked a really great secondary character to feature. I've read Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile  and felt that Sir William was a lovely guy who went all out to help those he loved though, at that point, I didn't know much about his background. Jen's going to tell you more about his turncoat tendencies (Oops did I say that? So many courtiers of the era turned whither and thither many times). Please read on...

Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange Wikimedia Commons 
Hi Nancy, and thanks for inviting me over today, to talk about a secondary character, and one who I was really chuffed to include.
I’m glad to say that for both Kindred Spirits: Tower of London and Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, my main characters have been there before a single word was written. Richard III and Mary, Queen of Scots were shouting at me to be written about – I just needed to find a story that worked for them.
After them though, the supporting casts proved trickier. London and Edinburgh have a lot of possible ghosts to pick through, even if you narrow it down to just a handful of locations! For the Royal Mile though, one man stood out: Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange. 
I had first come across Sir William in a novel, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, by Linda Root, as I was stocking up my shiny new Kindle for a trip north of the border. I’d never heard of him before, but his tale stayed with me, and I knew he would fit into Mary’s ghostly court perfectly, even though, as far as I can tell, there’s no record of his ghost being recorded anywhere.
Born around 1520, Sir William was a fascinating character, who found himself both ally and enemy to Queen Mary, and took part, as a young man, in the infamous murder of Cardinal Beaton in 1546. He then turned his hand to spying, known by the code-name Corax to Edward VI of England. Well, to his advisors, anyway.
Mary, Queen of Scots - Blairs Museum
Wikimedia Commons
In Queen Mary’s trials with her court, he started in opposition to her, against her marriage to Lord Darnley, and became embroiled in another infamous murder, that of poor David Rizzio. Happily, my versions of Sir William and Rizzio see fit not to discuss the issue, but as with William Hastings and Richard III, it cannot be easy, spending eternity with one involved in your murder.
For the final years of his life, Sir William switched to Queen Mary’s side of the debate, and held Edinburgh Castle for her from October 1571 to its surrender in May 1573. Despite many standing in his defence, he was hanged in the city in August that year.
It was this final act in favour of Queen Mary that won Sir William his place as ghostly Mary’s most trusted friend and advisor. He was so interesting to write about, capturing that heroic edge, and, after all, who doesn’t love a knight in shining armour, willing to fight and lay down his life for his lady? It all gets very Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for this romantic!
I’ll not give the game away as to the plot of Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile (because what would be the point of that?!), but I knew I couldn’t let Sir William go passing through his white light, and vanishing from my Kindred Spirits world. As a result, there is always the chance he’ll make a reappearance at some point in the future. After all, with all that living he got through, he’s bound to have plenty of places to get his haunting teeth into…
About Jennifer
Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked in marine environmental consulting 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 develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, with Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile following in June 2017. 
She can be found online at her website, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s website
Her timeslip historical romance, The Last Plantagenet? Is available for download from Amazon.

Thank you for coming, Jen. Sir William is definitely one to watch. I don't see him as being a completely nasty character from that portrait - there's a hint behind the eyes of some hidden depth, a softness, although he must have had to be quite ruthless at times. 

I added the one of Mary, Queen of Scots which is in the Blairs Museum near Aberdeen. I remember being very impressed with it when I visited some years ago with a class of primary school kids. I stood discussing it with a small group of 10 year olds who came to the same impression as me that there was a calculation in Mary's eyes, a cold watchfulness. I'm sure that she had to be very watchful for a good part of her life.  

Portraits could never hide all the traits of the person being painted, in my opinion, so a really good look might just reveal some tiny little aspect of their character. 

Till the next supporting character visits...enjoy the days between.


Tuesday 16 January 2018

#Review 4 of 2018 Spiral of Hooves

Tuesday Late...

If I made any resolutions at the beginning of this year it was to try to make sure to post a review as soon as possible after finishing a novel. This is the latest fiction I've read during the last week though I've been doing a lot of non-fiction research. How I quantify that as books read on Goodreads just isn't so easy.

If you're a lover of watching horse riding programmes on TV then this intriguing tale may be for you!

Spiral of HoovesSpiral of Hooves by Roland Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this tale of intrigue which kept me on my metaphorical toes, especially towards the end. There were many surprises unravelling that I hadn’t anticipated even though I did manage to work out a few of the mysteries. There were parts of the description which made me feel as though I was watching a horse riding event on TV- which I used to enjoy years ago but haven’t indulged in for some time.
Various themes are covered in this complicated plot- coping with a physical issue that others may not need to organise their life around; genetic manipulation of stock; illegal drug use; sabotage and murder – to name some of the themes.
Though Armand Sabatier is a tortured soul at the beginning, and there’s a wee bit of repetition of this, it’s worth reading on because I felt he was a character who blossomed very well as the plot unfolds. There are some lovely characters and some who made my teeth grit frequently but I’ll leave the new reader to work out if they feel the same after finishing this action packed story.

Happy reading to you and to me! My next reading is something I'm a little embarrassed about because I'm going to reread a couple of novels, hopefully skim read them, because for some reason they're still on my Kindle to be read pile even though I'm sure I've read them. There are no reviews to be found so I'll be having a quick reminder what they're about since I read them a couple of years ago and after that amount of time, I rarely remember more than the gist of novels.


Monday 15 January 2018

#2 Monday Meanders with #Katharine Johnson

Good Morning -it's #Monday Meanders!

It's a windy, cold, almost snowy day here in my part of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, but it's okay because my new #Monday Meanders slot is designed to transport me, and hopefully also you, to other gentler climes.

This week's new destination, I'm delighted to tell you, comes via my talented Crooked Cat author friend Katharine Johnson. She's sharing information with us about her forthcoming book The Secret  (published by Crooked Cat Books) though we'll have to bide our time till later in the year to get our hands on it. The new novel sounds like just the ticket to take me to a brand new location, especially so since Katharine has included some truly wonderful photographs for us to get a real feel for the place.

Settle in and enjoy both Katharine's photos of the locale and her wonderful description of it.

Welcome to my #Monday Meanders feature, Katharine...

Hello Nancy - thanks so much for letting me visit your blog to talk about the setting for my next novel which comes out this summer.

Courtesy - Katharine Johnson
The Secret is set in a fictional Tuscan village called Santa Zita. It’s the same village as the one in my previous book The Silence, which was published last year. Although it’s a standalone story it’s about another secret harboured by Villa Leonida, the house at the centre of The Silence. This time, however, it’s a wartime secret.

One of the things that drew me to Tuscany as a setting was that it has such a rich, multi-layered history. A house like Villa Leonida would have experienced several reversals in fortune and would have many stories to tell. 

The isolated position of some of the mountain villages makes them hard to access and it's easy to imagine a secret being contained within their walls for many years.

Courtesy - Katharine Johnson
The Secret's about two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy and a secret they share that has devastating consequences reaching right up to the present day.

Santa Zita is perched precariously on a mountain and from below the houses look in danger of tottering down the hill but it has a wonderful view of the valley below with its rooftops and bell towers and the surrounding mountains.

The streets are steep and narrow, criss-crossed by arches and washing lines. There's a central square which houses the church of Santa Zita, a bar and a restaurant run by two eccentric, warring brothers. 

The village is surrounded by chestnut forests, and a fire is lit for three months during winter in the the chestnut drying tower at Villa Leonida to dry the chestnuts which are used for making flour. 

Courtesy - Katharine Johnson
Also on the slopes are vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards.

When Martina and Irena are growing up the village square is the social hub and the focus for celebration suppers after the grape and olive harvests when long tables are set out across the square and lanterns strung among the trees. Martina’s wedding to Gianni is also celebrated in the square.

Courtesy - Katharine Johnson

Martina and Irena sit on the wall of the fountain in the square each day to wait for Gianni who lives in Villa Leonida to join them so they can walk to school together. Gianni’s family is highly respected, the wealthiest in the village, and Villa Leonida the most prestigious dwelling. 

Martina who lives in a small, terraced house below Villa Leonida often imagines what it must be like to live there and take part in the glamorous events she hears about. So when Gianni asks her to marry him she’s thrilled. But neither life at Villa Leonida nor marriage to Gianni are as she imagined.

When war breaks out all their lives change dramatically. Loyalties are divided, food is scarce and friendships betrayed in a climate of fear and suspicion. 

Seventy years on, Martina and Irena’s children have a chance to put right a wrong but doing so carries a risk that one of them would do anything to avoid.
Courtesy - Katharine Johnson

Although the village and its events are entirely fictional, the story is inspired by the history of many villages in Tuscany where I’ve had a home for a number of years. 

Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for books, 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.

The Secret will be published this summer by Crooked Cat Books. 

The Silence, which is also set in Villa Leonida but is about a secret from the 1990s is available to buy now


Since Katharine shared another brilliant photo I'm going to add it here because that bridge is just begging to walked over so that we can admire the peaceful water! 
Courtesy Katharine Johnson
Thank you so much for sharing your new novel with us today, Katharine. I'll be watching out for the launch so that I can uncover its secrets! Best wishes for all of your writing projects in 2018.