Tuesday 27 February 2018

#Guessing? #Historical writing. Not half!

Tuesday talk to share today. 

I've popped over to a lovely author friend, Angela Wren, today to talk about how to avoid guessing when writing in a landscape of around 2000 years ago. 

You can visit her blog HERE

I'm re-blogging it here so that I remember what I've written...

"It’s all a bit of guesswork, isn’t it? - Well, no, not totally.

That’s a question and an answer that are pertinent to writing historical fiction in a period that’s considered to be pre- historic—though my era of choice is actually on the cusp!  What does pre-historic mean? Essentially, for me, the term covers the period before written sources were created. So, why is my writing on the cusp?

My Celtic Fervour Series of historical novels are set in late first century A.D. (CE), northern Roman Britain (from Yorkshire northwards into Scotland): a time and location that’s not covered by many authors. It’s easy to see why because it initially seems like there isn’t much material to research to ensure a story is as realistic as possible without veering into the realm of a fantasy. Agricola, and occasional references in the work of other Ancient Roman writers about late first century northern Roman Britain but all of these prime sources need to be used with caution as their accuracy is considered to be lacking in historical terms. The works I refer to were never intended to be an actual historical record, they were written for something more like political propaganda or entertainment, often both at the same time.
Drawing from an ancient bust of Cornelius Tacitus
There are sources like Cornelius Tacitus’

More was known about Iron Age tribes in Europe during late first century so some interpretations for the tribes of northern Roman Britain are extrapolations based on scant evidence. Even calling my novels the ‘Celtic Fervour Series’ throws up problems for some people who don’t like my use of that generic term for tribes living in my location. Other experts conclude that there’s sufficient evidence about the daily life in ‘Aberdeenshire’ to broadly term them ‘Celtic’ tribes. What I know is that to describe my series it’s much easier to say ‘Celtic Fervour Series’ than ‘Roman Britain Iron Age Tribes Series’.

Not having a lot to go on initially is what I love about writing in this era because, although it’s extremely hard work, there’s always something new to discover that’s ‘under the surface’. Every other word I write in my WIP throws up a mystery that needs to be solved first. (Perhaps that’s why I also write contemporary mysteries?) Simple examples might be: Can I say that my Roman Scotland Iron Age characters are tucking into bread every day? That sounds pretty normal but was it usual two thousand years ago in what is now Aberdeenshire, Scotland? I can’t write that in my novel before I check. If it’s a Scottish setting would they be nibbling on oatcakes and cheese? Check! What kind of animals would they be hunting for food? Check! Did they eat the plentiful fish from local rivers and lochs? Check! Were there forests nearby for hunting boar or deer? Check! What was the weather like? Check!

Today, specialist scientific disciplines, used in conjunction with archaeology, have interpreted that the farmers in ‘Aberdeenshire’ of 2000 years ago ‘tended’ more stretches of grazing for sheep than they cultivated fields of grain. The wheat of today wasn’t grown in Aberdeenshire though they did grow some spelt - an earlier form of wheat - according to soil deposit samples. 
hordeum Vulgare  -6 row barley
However, the main cereal crops were ‘6 row’ barley and to a lesser extent oats (field core samples and midden heap faeces sampling). So, my characters could perhaps have the occasional bit of unleavened spelt bread and eating some kind of oatcake is probable. 

Brose or soup is thought to be the most likely daily food made from barley, oats or a mixture of both (again faeces samples from midden heaps backs this up).  

Vegetables for soup were rare and not what I’d be buying in the supermarket today. Fat hen (we’d call that weeds) was used as was a type of wild garlic but most of the vegetables of today aren’t indigenous. The Romans actually introduced some of today’s veggies to Britannia but since I write about the Roman invasions it’s too early to refer to my ‘Celts’ eating leeks, cabbage, peas or onions, though my Romans can tuck into some assuming their supplies have not been attacked by my resourceful Celts. 

You can read more of the aspects that I need to constantly check for my 2000 years ago setting on my own blog.

N.B. Finding out that spelt was being grown by my ‘Aberdeenshire’ Iron Age tribes 2000 years ago was interesting but what was really exciting during my research was finding that a local Aberdeenshire farmer is currently growing spelt as a trial because it is a highly nutritious form of wheat and good for people who cannot tolerate high intensities of gluten. Spelt has a considerably lower gluten content.

I bought some spelt flour and so far have made scones and pancakes. When I can clear some more time for experimental baking, I’ll try some bread!

Roman Marching Camp bread oven

I won't, however, be making it in one of the more than 120 Roman Bread ovens found at the Roman Marching Camp in Kintore, Aberdeenshire c. 2003

The references below are about my spelt baking.



Saturday 24 February 2018

#7 Saturday Shorts – with #Gnaeus Iulius Agricola

It's Saturday again and today I have an esteemed 'guest' for my #Saturday Shorts interview.

General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola, one of my main characters in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series (to be published in 2018), has kindly agreed to sit on my comfy interview chair. He's never ever seen anything like it - not on his Campaigns in Caledonia and probably not in Rome either - so, bear with him, he'll probably do a bit of swinging around on it! 

I've tweaked the general author questions used for my Saturday Shorts interview to suit today's guest, though you'll read by only a little if you've been enjoying my other guests.

Welcome to my blog, General Agricola. Pop your helmet on the floor and please take a seat. I hope you can enjoy a little relaxation from your excessively busy campaigns during the interview.

Please introduce yourself:
Wikimedia Commons
My name is Gnaeus Iulius Agricola. I was born and brought up in the colonia of Forum Julii in Gallia Narbonensis, Gaul.  I was educated at Massilia. 
I have no permanent home, and will have none while I remain in the service of the Roman Empire- though I expect I may go back to Rome, or perhaps even Gallia Narbonensis, at some future date. 
I am presently the Governor of Britannia; Commander of all Britannic Armies and all vexillationes currently assigned to me.

When is your best time to work?
There is no best time, I work all day long. If a critical situation arises, I expect to be awakened from sleep. I plan and make decisions from dawn till dusk- both military and civic. I think while I am eating, I plan while on the march. On rare occasions, I am with my wife and…family but those are highly private.

Which forms of communication do you find most comfortable to use?
Communication? I wish I had regular communications. If so, my daily task list would be so much easier. While on campaign, I prefer verbal communication but sometimes details need to be recorded on wax: they are easily transferred to permanent records if required. If the details are travelling a short distance then wood is generally sufficient but coming from a long distance then scrolls travel lighter on the horse. Here in Caledonia the blasted problem is not the method of recording, or the weight of communications a horse may carry- the problem is not having roads laid down! Slow, slow, slow communications are the frustrating result!

Please tell us what your current campaign is about.
When I came into the post of Governor of Britannia, seven summer seasons ago, my task was to ensure the tribes on the fringes of the Roman Empire’s western boundary were subdued- especially the Ordovices. When that was established my next task was to move northwards and acquire more land and subsume more tribes into the Roman Empire.  

Was that a simple process?
Simple? Nothing is simple about bringing the virtues and values of Rome to barbarians. The Brigantes and their neighbours still need to be monitored carefully but by my third and fourth seasons the might of my Roman legions was sufficient to cow the Selgovae, the Novantes and those of southern Caledonia.

I had heard the Votadini were easier to subdue. Is that correct?
Of course. My predecessors- Frontinus and Cerialis - had made seasons worth of treaties with them, so yes, it was easier to march my troops up the east coast of southern Caledonia.

You mentioned you are in your seventh summer of campaigning. Can you describe for my readers those last few seasons?
Certainly. My legions now have control of the southern Caledonian tribes, those of central Caledonia not yet mentioned like the Damnonii and the Venicones of the east. I am currently subduing the Taexali and the Vacomagi of the Varar Aestuarium.

Did anything in particular influence you to undertake this present campaign?
Of course. I want to extend the Roman Empire western boundary and have every step of every mile of the island of Britannia under Roman domination.

What has helped you conduct these campaigns in Caledonia ?
Not a thing. I am the advance forces and I create the new itinerary of Caledonia and its place in Britannia. The barbarian north is unknown till I tame it and call it Roman and I want to prove that the ancient seafarer Pytheas was correct about Britannia being an island.

Who, currently, is your main enemy?
Enemies. The craven Caledons and their allies- the Taexali, Venicones, maybe Vacomagi and who knows who else – who skulk in the Craupian mountains since the confrontation at Beinn na Ciche.

What’s the greatest weakness of your enemies?
They have no structure. The have no proper army, or established discipline, or civic awareness. They do not even have proper trade established in northern Caledonia. They will have none of this till after I defeat them!

What are your enemies’ greatest strengths?
They are sneaky, stealthy and - I really would rather not admit it - good at petty raids and devious murderous attacks on my patrols. Their cowardice in not capitulating is also a strange strength and until we have treaties in place they remain a hidden threat.  

Do you regularly report your achievements to Rome?
Of course I do, when I have something of merit to send. If the Emperor Domitian acknowledged my success more often, I would report more frequently to him. I fear that he is not particularly interested in Britannia.
Wikimedia Commons

What’s your favourite pastime?  
Bathing. I have not had that pleasure for months now. I do not expect such comforts while on campaign but my civic measures and developments in subdued southern Britannia are already establishing daily Roman rituals. The progress being made in the bath complex at Aquae Sulis should make bathing a safer occupation.

I’m confused. Are you saying that bathing is not a safe occupation? Yet, you are promoting it?
Make no mistake. The bathing process is an excellent one. Not only is your body exercised, massaged and well cleansed it is the opportunities for social discourse that are also the huge advantages of public bathing. Civilised. They are civilised proceedings. It is miscreants stealing the property of an individual when he is bathing that must be stamped out. I have organised civic measures to ensure this type of theft is eradicated.

Do you have a favourite place to ‘hide’ out from life?
On campaign? – None at all.

Do you have a favourite food and a favourite drink?
I suppose I’ve learned to suppress any craving when on campaign because the likelihood of fresh grapes or the summer fruits of Gaul are just not possible. The wine transported to Caledonia by the Roman Army is inferior quality so again it is wise to not think about a fresh white Baeterrae wine from my near Gallia Narbonensis - but I do highly recommend it!

Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you, today General Agricola. It's such a pleasure to meet you. I'll let you get back to the business of subduing the Taexali and Caledon barbarians.

Of course, my readers can look forward to a lot more of you in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series - Agricola's Bane- when it's published! 

Details are coming soon of huge changes to my Celtic Fervour Series- look out for that in a few days. 


Friday 23 February 2018

# 7 Someone to #Lean on- #Pierre from Messandriere

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

Today, I'm joined by a Crooked Cat author, the lovely Angela Wren, who has chosen to spotlight a really interesting character from her contemporary murder mystery novel, Messandrierre. I remember a little lad as being a novel and interesting addition but I'll let Angela tell you all about how he came to be included in the very engrossing story. And then you can read the extract that's just perfect for getting to know the character.   

I'm also enjoying the  photographs Angela has sent along to illustrate her post - I hope you do, too. Cevennes/France in snow and Cevennes/France in sunshine - a fabulous variety! 

 Welcome again, Angela... 
Col du Rieutort  - Courtesy of Angela Wren 

My first idea for my series of Jacques Forêt mysteries came to me whilst I was in France.  It was September 2007 and I’d woken up to a snow-covered landscape.  I was in the Cévennes on a favourite campsite that sits at about 1000m above sea level.  So, whilst snow isn’t normal in September, neither is it completely unusual.  Within a couple of days, I had the opening paragraph for the story and a lot of notes about my central characters, the crime, the perpetrator, the victims and I had a village full of people waiting to be written about.

I began the actual task of writing Messandrierre some time in 2011 and continued to work on it through into 2012.  By this time, I knew that I had four stories to tell and I had certain characters allocated to each one.  Pierre Mancelle was one of these characters and I had decided that he would make his first appearance in book 3.  But Pierre had other ideas.

I was working my way through draft 4 of Messandrierre – the first book in the series – when Pierre breezed onto the page.  I deleted him and carried on and a few days later whilst reviewing and revising a later chapter, Pierre ran into the village gendarmerie and plonked himself down on the floor.  That was when I decided that he needed to have a proper role.
Pierre - Courtesy of Angela Wren

Let me introduce him to you.  He’s 5 years old at the very beginning of book 1.  His mum is Marie Mancelle and his father is Martin.  His grandfather is Monsieur Le Maire in the village of Messandrierre.  Marie and Martin both work in the music industry, but this is a fact that doesn’t come out in detail until book 3.

In this scene, Pierre has just had his 6th birthday when he visits Gendarme Jacques Forêt.  Jacques has been trying to determine the final whereabouts of the missing tourist, Rob Myers, and is convinced that the location might be somewhere in or close to, the village.

Hearing the office door open, he looked over the top of his computer screen as the door then closed again, apparently all by itself. Arms folded he sat back and waited. 

“Junior Gendarme Mancelle reporting for duty, sir,” said Pierre as he ducked under the counter and presented himself to Jacques. “And my maman has sent you this,” he added, carefully placing a small pâtisserie box on the desk.

“Thank you, Pierre.” He looked inside and, found a piece of birthday cake. “Happy birthday and I suppose you have lots of presents.”

LaGarde-Guerin - Courtesy of Angela Wren 
“Come and see,” said Pierre darting back under the counter and out into the sunshine. Preferring not to be disturbed at that moment, but not wishing to disappoint the child, Jacques reluctantly left the list of calls on his desk and followed. Outside, he found the youngster astride his brand new red bicycle, a wide grin on his face, and Jacques saw an opportunity.

In the road outside Beth’s chalet, Jacques checked that his assistant had everything he needed. “Chalk?”

Pierre patted the left hand pocket of his shorts.

Jacques squatted down and re-set his stopwatch that was temporarily tied to the handlebars of the new bike. “Ready stopwatch.”

Pierre nodded his confirmation.

“This time pedal as fast as you possibly can to see if you can reach the path leading up to the chateau. All right, on your marks. Get set. And…” He clicked the stopwatch on. “Go!”

Pierre set off, his legs cranking up and down like a machine, his chest held low over the handlebars and his scrawny little elbows, sticking out like ailerons, sliced through the air. Jacques sprinted up the road after him and checked his wristwatch as he rounded the bend. A few steps further on and he saw Pierre slam on the brakes and jump off his bike just beyond the Sithrez property.

“So, Junior Gendarme Mancelle,” he said as he caught up with the boy. “What have you to report?”

A little red-faced and breathless, he carefully laid his bike down on the grass verge and then pointed to a chalk mark in the road with the number 3 beside it. “That’s the best so far,” he said.

“Well done,” said Jacques. He took out his notebook and crouched so that Pierre could see what he was doing. “What we do now is we draw a little sketch,” he said as he turned to a new page. “And then we pace out the distances between the three chalk marks.” He made a few more additions to his drawing. “And now we pace,” said Jacques striding out from chalk mark three, making a note and then doing the same again from chalk mark two with Pierre beside him having to take more than twice as many steps. He handed his notebook over and let Pierre write in his own results.

With his experiment completed Jacques took the track down past the Pamier farm. “Your maman said you had to be home soon so I will come with you to thank her.”

Pierre grinned and chatted all the way back through the village to his own front door.

Pierre is a forward little guy at only five years old but so likeable. 
(ps My grandson is almost 4 now but I can see him doing something similar since he's so inquisitive, but hopefully we don't have murders in my village for him to help solve!)

Find Angela Wren's novels here :

Find Angela at the following: 
Facebook : Angela Wren
Goodreads : Angela Wren
Contact an author : Angela Wren

Thank you for bringing Pierre today, Angela. I'll look forward to catching up with more of your Jaques Foret murder mysteries.


#writing focus Out #blogguesting!

Well how did that happen again?  

I meant to tell you, yesterday, that I was out #blogguesting so that you could pop over there and say hello! (Feb 22nd) 

I went off to visit the lovely Isabella May's Blog where my theme was about me metaphorically putting on different hats for reading and for my writing. I'm not able to share or directly reblog here from A Wordpress blog but my post went like this...

Me and my jaunty fascinator
Wearing different hats for reading and writing.

My multicoloured reading hat…

Some authors naturally gravitate to a particular genre for their writing, often because it’s the type of novel they like to read themselves. Others, like me, who read copiously and enjoy stories across many different genres, choose to write across different genres. My favourite reading is historical and mystery so that’s why I gravitated to those genres as a new author but time will tell if that’s where my writing will stay! To date, I’ve written historical fiction and contemporary mystery for a general adult category; and time travel historical for teens.

My choice of reading genre tends to be all about mood. When reading historical fiction, I don’t expect to be entertained in the same way as I would if reading chick-lit, romance or crime—you could say that I’m wearing a particular reading hat for that genre. Sometimes I want to learn about a particular historical period and expect to do that while reading historical fiction. At other times, I love reading a really challenging mystery because I love following clues to work out what the whole plot is before the end of the mystery. Often the more demanding, the better the read becomes. If I’m tired and my concentration is lacking, then I tend to reach for the lighter reading I’m sure to find in sub genres of fiction like chick-lit; cosy whodunit; or romance: pure entertainment being my goal. I wear plenty of reading hats depending on my mood and all of the genre types can be excellent, satisfying reads so long as they’re well written.

And my different writing hats…

My most comfortable genre to write in is probably historical, my Celtic Fervour Series being set in late first century northern Britain (A.D. 71-84) It’s like a family saga in that the main protagonists are different family/clan members, though they sometimes play a lead role in one book and a secondary role in another across the four books (Book 4 to be published soon). For that genre, I’m wearing a very ancient and well crumpled hooded cloak as I strive to create believable settings in a time period that’s essentially pre-history when the Ancient Roman armies invade the Celtic/Iron Age tribes of northern Britannia. There are only a few written primary sources to use for research so grubbing around with current archaeology findings becomes hugely important for me being as accurate as possible. For my Celtic Fervour Series my metaphorical writing hood needs me to make my characters think differently from a 21st century character. It’s more difficult writing and slower to finish but I really enjoy it.

Contemporary Mystery:
As a break from heavy historical research, I wrote a contemporary mystery between the first books in my historical series. I cheated though in Monogamy Twist because what transpired was a plot that required me to create a fictitious family tree structure, the ancestral threads needing to be unravelled to solve the fairly simple mystery. I totally enjoyed creating that fictitious family and was desperate to design another more complicated one. Think of a pencil used to create a top knot rather than a hat!

In Topaz Eyes, my fictitious family originates in 1880s Amsterdam but by WWII the next generations are scattered across European and global destinations. That meant I was able to create a complicated mystery within the mystery but was also able to write about fabulous cities in Europe and the U.S. that had made a big impact on me in some way as a tourist. My planning sheets for Topaz Eyes and the creation of my family tree gave me the most immense buzz, so much my metaphorical floppy sun hat was squelched almost to pulp!

My third contemporary mystery Take Me Now is romantic comedy suspense, a very light-hearted read with easy to follow clues to solve the mystery. Another kind of writing hat was worn when creating my version of a grumpy, highland hero who is a wee bit different from the swarthy kilt-wearing usual romantic highlander of Scottish romances. Again, I was able to set scenes in fabulous places like Barcelona, Paris, Oman, and The Caribbean yet I was also able to have a Scottish island base. It was great fun to write and I got to wear a jaunty fascinator for that one.

Time Travel Historical:
The Taexali Game is intended for a good reader of c. 10 years of age and above though I’ve found that many adults are really enjoying it! My writing hat for that one was brilliant to wear—think of a metal skipped cap worn backwards looking like an ancient Roman helmet. I loved the freedom of taking contemporary teens and sending them back to a historical era that I love writing about as in Roman Scotland of A.D. 210. My three protagonists ‘speak’ and ‘think’ in what is a normal way for 21st century teens but the secondary characters from the historical era ‘speak’ in a different voice. The Taexali Game was great fun to write and when I get a breathing space the second of this series will be a Victorian adventure.  

Do you have fun wearing different reading and writing hats?
copyright- Nancy Jardine

Stay close for next post - my Friday secondary characters...


Tuesday 20 February 2018

#Review 8 of 2018 The Dissolute Rake by Francine Howarth

Those Regency Rakes are definitely a degenerate bunch, though some are entirely able to be saved from a sad and lonely end. The story heats up almost immediately, no coy hanging around for the two main characters in this Regency tale- though it’s perfectly clear from the disclaimer that it is going to be ‘steamy’.  

It’s a quick read, a mix of well known themes intermingled in this tale from Ms Howarth. Well written, the author finds a distinctive voice, the language displaying a real flavour of the era yet some of the themes also seem to be very modern.  

Finding real love, and satisfying lust, isn’t going to happen within the lovely May Thorne’s marriage but it’s amazing how quickly one man, Marcus Fairweather, can overturn all of her guilt. I’m totally glad it is Marcus who can make May stray because the lawyer, Harris, is an objectionable horror and very well portrayed as such!


#Review 7 of 2018 Caledonii by Ian Hall

The title and the date of the book drew my attention immediately. 

Set around the time of my own writing it's interesting to get the perspective of other authors. The intention of this short prologue is to introduce the books which follow. Will go on and buy them? Yes, I probably will because I don't personally focus on the spiritual aspects of the druids but I think I'll enjoy what Ian Hall brings to his novels regarding the functions and special powers of the druids in the lives of the Late Iron age peoples of northern Britannia. 

(If he has any particular verified ancient sources to share on this aspect of druidism I'd be delighted to read them!) 

There are quite a lot of historical themes in this short introduction which display a good knowledge of the era.

The link with the sons of Venutius, King of the Brigantes is an interesting one. 


#Review 6 of 2018 Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

The thing I liked best about this tale of life at Vindolanda is the fact that the author highlights the fact that there probably were many Roman forts and fortlets along the stretch where Hadrian’s Wall was built some 20 plus years after this story.

The story has plenty of action but the author manages to show that there was also plenty of routine tedium for those stationed on the forts along the wall, so far from their homes and the lives left behind. I wanted to skip past the battle scenes to get onto the next bit of Flavius Ferox's story but didn't dare miss any of the action. 

In this story there’s a bit of know who your friends are and respect your enemies but essentially until proven trust no one.

I felt there was still quite a mystery about Rerox and where his ultimate allegiance might lie - although he was definitely true to Rome in Vindolanda.

One part of the book did make me pause for thought and that was wehn Ferox goes to the settlement/ hillfort of the Iron Age tribes allies. Something about the location of the Vacomagi leader's territory didn't match with what I've learned of the geographical area covered by the Vacomagi. I just might have to resort to reading non-fiction by Goldsworthy- it's not that I've avoided his work it's more that I haven't come across it yet so it hasn't been added to my considerable amount of source material.

Readers who enjoy bloody battle scenes and slicing skirmishes will probably like this one a lot.


Monday 19 February 2018

#7 #Monday Meanders with #Keira Drummond

Today I’m hogging my #Monday Meanders slot to take you on a little trip with my fictional friend Keira Drummond, to Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.  

I love visiting Edinburgh, thoroughly enjoy the culture, the sights, its history. The streets teem with tourists all year long though there are obvious times when it’s even busier than normal and that would be in August when the Edinburgh Festival is in full swing. Yet Edinburgh also has many other festivals throughout the calendar year, so it’s easy for tourists to tune into what’s on whenever they arrive.

unicorn,  Abbey Strand, Edinburgh
As a born and bred Glaswegian there was a kind of rivalry when I was growing up in the 1960s that meant Glasgow was considered to be the city for the manual labourers and that Edinburgh was the place for the banking and white collar workers. The reality was, of course, something of a mixture in terms of occupations though Glasgow did have the edge on having more of the dirty manual labour jobs in manufacturing, shipbuilding and engineering works. I wasn’t very familiar with Edinburgh when I was a schoolgirl but enjoyed my few trips to the capital. I was in my twenties before Edinburgh became a more regular venue for going to the theatres; museums; eating out and even pub crawling. It was a fabulous city for all of that and more and it still is.

When I planned out my contemporary mystery Topaz Eyes I wanted to add a Scottish dimension to it. In deciding to make my main female character Keira Drummond be from Edinburgh it meant I could add in scenes which take place in the capital city of Scotland as well as all of the other fantastic European and US locations.  

In my aim to be realistic, as I am with my historical novels, I went sleuthing to find a name for my lead female that would ‘fit’ Edinburgh. The Keira aspect was because I knew of a Keira who came from Edinburgh and Drummond is a name that has historical associations with Edinburgh city- though it's a clan name that's found in the Outer Hebrides and across much of central Scotland and the borders.

(Colinton 19th century engraving - public domain)

I then decided on where Keira would be from, as in which part of Edinburgh. I’m only a little bit familiar with approaches into Edinburgh from the west—the Corstorphine, Newtown, Princes Street and Royal Mile areas— but I wanted somewhere for her to live that was quite old. I chose Colinton.

Colinton dates back to approximately the 11th century and is around six miles south west of the city centre. However, as the centuries progressed the city grew outwards and by the twentieth century it became a suburb of the city. It still has a range of architectural styles reflecting its age, the ruins of Colinton Castle (not available to the general public as far as I know)  being from the 15th century, Oliver Cromwell having destroyed most of it during his occupation of Scotland in 1650. The author Robert Louis Stevenson spent summers at the Manse in Colinton where his grandfather was the parish minister.  

Although more of the action in Topaz Eyes takes place in other gorgeous locations I’m delighted that I also featured Edinburgh. If you go to the city today there are so many recommendations to fit every pocket and every preference.

  • Like castles and historic houses? Edinburgh Castle; Palace of Holyrood House; Holyrood Abbey; the Scott Monument
  • Enjoy outdoor green spaces? Climb Arthur’s Seat; Princes Street Gardens; Royal Botanic Gardens
  • Love Museums? National Museum of Scotland; Scottish National Portrait Gallery (video above-see below for details) ; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
  • Like Visitor Experiences?: Dynamic Earth; the Edinburgh Dungeon; Underground Vaults; the Real Mary King’s Close
These are only a tiny handful of many, many things to see and do!

All of this talk makes me want to pop down to Edinburgh for another visit. ( A 3 hour drive/coach ride, a little shorter by train)

The video above is of the fabulous front foyer area of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The frieze was designed and painted by William Hole c.1897 depicting notable historic figures important to Scotland. It begins with a seated figure of Caledonia then pans left to Stone and Bronze Ages man and then for the Iron Age it's Calgacus, the Caledonian leader named by Tacitus in 'The Agricola'. The helmeted figure next is Agricola, who 'almost' conquered Scotland for the Ancient Roman Empire c. A.D. 84 - **my Celtic Fervour Series of novels.

Meanwhile, Keira and I are off to have a cup of coffee in Princes Street Gardens. 

Saturday 17 February 2018

#Saturday Shorts – with #Anne-Marie Ormsby

 Saturday has dawned bright and beautiful!

It's wonderful to start a fresh new day with an unblemished blue sky above me - quite rare in my part of the world. It's also lovely to welcome new people to my blog and Anne- Marie Ormsby is one of the newer authors with Crooked Cat Books. 

Without more ado, welcome and please take a pew Anne- Marie. Let's get to know you a little bit better in this Saturday Shorts! 

Please give us a little introduction to you...

In real life I work in administration in a busy secondary school in East London and I live with my husband and our tiny human.

Nancy says: I used to teach in a small primary school and know how much admin staff do to keep the whole place oiled and greased. It's not a job for anyone who wants regular breaks and to file their nails all day!  

When is your best time to write?
I have found that I can write pretty much anywhere these days apart from when my daughter is with me. My favourite way to write is alone, with specific mood setting music and a bottle of wine.
Anne- Marie Ormsby

Which social media platforms do you find most comfortable to use?
I use Facebook, mainly for personal use as I live far away from most of my family and friends, but I do have an author page which is fun, Instagram (a lot because I like taking photos) and more recently got into using Twitter which I wasn’t too interested in before but got into the swing of it during my book promo stuff.

 Aargh! I've still got so much to learn about Twitter after years of joining. 

Please tell us what your latest book is about and its genre.
Purgatory Hotel is about a girl who wakes up dead and cant remember how she died or who she was. She also isn’t sure what she did wrong to end up in Purgatory which is a creepy old Victorian hotel with endless corridors and a library full of books that are the stories of peoples lives.  Our mysterious heroine must dodge the inhabitants of Purgatory and re live her life in order to repent for her crime.
It’s paranormal fiction but I prefer the title Paranormal Whodunnit.

 Oh, that sounds a really interesting read.  

Did anything in particular influence you to write it?
I was inspired by lots of different things, various songs, books and movies played a part in the inspiration, but I think I was deep down inspired to examine what people will do in desperate situations and what bad relationships will do to people.

Did it require any specialised research?
No, not really as most of it is pure imagination. I did spend a bit of time reading old newspaper stories about a series of murders called The Babes in the Woods murders which I tied in with one of my less savoury characters.

I confess to being a research junkie and I'm sure if I chose to write something purely imaginative I'd still find something I'd need to research just for the thrill of it. 

Who is your main character?
Her name is Dakota Crow and shes in her early 20’s

What’s your main character’s greatest weakness?
A man called Jackson Shade.

Now that's an evocative name!

What does the character do to overcome this?
I cant say……


Do you enjoy editing your work?
Not at all…I read and re read the book so many times I was blind to it all eventually. I was very grateful when my editor Miriam stepped in and took over!

What’s your favourite occupation? (apart from writing!)
Working in a bookshop.

Do you have a favourite place to ‘hide’ out from life?
I have a toddler. There is no hiding place.

Too true! I've been a regular grandchild minder these last few years and not even the bathroom is private. It's even worse with two! 

Favourite food and drink?
Cava, olives and cheese.

 I can definitely identify with all  of that!

Find Anne -Marie at the following : 

Thank you for being a great guest today, Anne- Marie. Best wishes with Purgatory Hotel. I've still got some Crooked Cat Books to catch up with reading, yours being one of them, but I will! Also best wishes for your future writing. 


Friday 16 February 2018

# Someone to #Lean on- #Felipe from Revolution Day

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

Today, I'm joined by Tim Taylor, a brilliantly versatile author of contemporary novels, historical novels and poetry, who has chosen to feature an accomplished character from his novel Revolution Day. It's a little while since I read this fantastic 5* novel  so it's brilliant to be reminded of what a sensible, steady and calm character Felipe is, at least that's how I read him to be. Though  Revolution Day is a contemporary novel it has a historical novel feel to it as various memories are interwoven as the story progresses.

Welcome to my Friday series, Tim I'll let you explain a bit about Felipe so that my readers can get to know him better!16th Feb

T. E. Taylor 
Hello, Nancy, it’s lovely to be visiting you again!  I have to say that when you said you were inviting guest posts about supportive secondary characters I jumped at the chance. It is always the way with supporting characters that they don’t get a fair crack of the whip whenever we’ve only got a few words in which to talk about a novel (in the blurb, for example). They often play an important part that is not easily summarised in half a sentence.

Nancy says: I totally agree and you put that so much better than I have!   
So it is with Felipe, private secretary to ageing dictator Carlos Almanzor in Revolution Day. Because the main storyline of the novel revolves around Carlos, his estranged wife Juanita and ambitious vice-president Manuel (who is plotting to seize the presidency for himself), Felipe tends not to get mentioned in straplines and soundbites. I have often felt this to be unfair to him, and am glad of this opportunity to give him his moment in the sun!  
It’s lonely at the top, and Carlos is increasingly depressed and insecure. He is a deeply flawed man who has done many bad things in his long career, but he is not a monster. Felipe sees this, and does his best to steer Carlos towards the light. By doing so he will come to have a significant influence on the events of the novel (though I’m not going to reveal exactly how!) But how does a lowly, gay secretary in his mid-20s influence an elderly, irascible autocrat? Not overtly, for sure, but indirectly, by understanding his boss, earning his trust and knowing what buttons to press.  
Here is an example of how Felipe operates. He has been trying to get Carlos to show a more human face to the world via an informal video blog. However, on discovering an obscene parody of his blog, Carlos angrily threw away his laptop. This passage shows us Felipe’s first step towards getting him to change his mind.    

“What the hell is this nonsense?”
            On the previous half dozen occasions when the President had confronted him at his desk, Felipe’s face had turned red and he had almost lost the power of speech, such words as did emerge being rendered unrecognisable by the return of a stammer that had been largely eliminated in his childhood. Today, however, his face remained its usual agreeable shade of light amber and his reply was measured and clear.
            “I am sorry, Presidente, I should have put a label on the cover of the folder. It is a digest of material about you that has appeared on the internet during the last few days. I thought that, since you have decided not to use a computer, you would wish me to monitor the relevant sites on your behalf.”
            “Do you think that I have time to read through pages and pages of scurrilous drivel every week?”
            “I do appreciate, of course, that your time is heavily committed, Presidente. So I have prepared the digest in such a way that it is not necessary to read it all. See, there is a two-page executive summary here at the front that highlights the main themes. It gives page numbers, in case you want to see more detail on any particular item.”
            Unsure what to say in response, the President expressed his continuing anger in the form of a succession of grunts and growls, allowing his secretary to maintain momentum.
            “Do you not recall, Presidente, that in our discussion last month, you expressed your concern about defamatory material that was appearing on the internet, and your dissatisfaction that neither I nor the Ministry of Information had kept you informed about this? I was merely seeking to rectify that omission. Was I wrong to do so?”
            “I…I am not sure that I recall the discussion.”
            “If I may refresh your memory, Presidente, you were upset when you discovered a parody of your blog. When I said that parodies and other uncomplimentary material about public figures such as yourself were not unusual, you enquired whether the Ministry of Information monitored the internet for such material, and asked me why I had not informed you about it before.”
            The President did not yet look convinced, but he did not challenge what had been said. Felipe took this as an invitation to continue.
            “So the digest is, as I have said, my attempt to find an appropriate way of keeping you informed. Of course, if it does not meet your needs, or if you have decided that you do not require this information after all, I will not trouble you with such a document again…”
            Carlos opened his mouth to speak, but unusually, Felipe did not give way until he had finished what he was going to say.
            “…But might I be so impertinent as to suggest that, before you decide, you at least take a brief look at the executive summary. It will only take a few minutes, and there is no urgent business in your calendar for the day. Then I will be happy either to continue with the digest or to discontinue it, or to modify it in any way you wish.”
            The President opened his mouth once more, left if open for a couple of seconds, then closed it again. He snatched the purple folder off the desk, turned, and walked away, closing the oak door behind him.

If your readers are intrigued, they can find out more about Revolution Day here: http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/revday

Links for Buying and reading about Tim's work: 

Revolution Day on Amazon: http://authl.it/4yo

A bit about Tim: 

Tim ‘T.E.’ Taylor was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1960 and now lives in Meltham, near Huddersfield, with his wife Rosa. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford, and some years later did a PhD in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. He spent a number of years in the civil service before leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing. Tim now divides his time between creative writing, academic research (he has published a book, Knowing What is Good for You, on the philosophy of well-being), and part-time teaching in ethics at Leeds University.

Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, is set in Ancient Greece and follows the real-life struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from Sparta. His second, Revolution Day, is about an ageing Latin American dictator who is clinging to power as his vice-president plots against him. As well as fiction, Tim writes poetry: he won the 2016 National Association of Writers Groups open poetry prize. He also plays electric and acoustic guitar, occasionally in public, and likes to walk up hills.

(You can also find more about Tim's previous visits to this blog by using the 'Search' facility on the right sidebar to access my review and posts where Tim's been my guest.) 

I remember Felipe a lot better now (I read so many novels every year that the details tend to get lost in my memory banks, although I always remember when I loved reading the book as with Revolution Day). 

Thank you for coming today and sharing him with us, Tim. My best wishes for the next steps in your writing, whichever genre that might be in. 


Monday 12 February 2018

#6 #Monday Meanders with Alice Castle

Good Morning Monday!

That means it's time for some more #Monday Meanders. Today, I welcome back my lovely author friend Alice Castle who is going to tell us about her favourite places. Having read her wonderful writing, I can see why she chooses to base her novels where she does. I'm getting to know the locations quite well indeed, and should I ever be in the vicinity I'll definitely be looking over both shoulders and sideways as well, but I'll let her tell you where it is and why.

Welcome again Alice! 

(An early p.s. of sorts - I'm so glad the hunky policeman Harry York gets a look-in again! )

Thanks so much, Nancy, for having me on your blog today for a Monday Meander and giving me a chance to explain why I set my books in south east London.

Alice Castle
There’s a simple explanation. I was walking through Dulwich Village one day, passing the white picket fences, bustling cafes and stunning Georgian houses, when it suddenly struck me that this was the perfect spot for a murder.

(Oh, Alice- how true! I went looking for a lovely image of Dulwich and I found the perfect one which I've tagged on at the end) 

This isn’t a confession to a crime. It’s a declaration of my intent to commit a whole series of shocking killings. But, before you dial 999, I’m just a writer. While I hope you’ll be on the edge of your seat, you’ll definitely live to tell the tale.

In Dulwich, you have the closed circle of suspects, the affluent lifestyle and the beautiful surroundings that made Agatha Christie’s St Mary Mead such a promising hotbed of turbulent emotions. A murder in an apparently tranquil setting is a seismic shock, a blow against the natural order of things that cries out to be solved by a gifted amateur sleuth. The twist is that Dulwich, for all its village feel, is also firmly part of contemporary London, not far from the meaner streets of Catford and Peckham. So as well as the sort of motives Miss Marple would recognise, I’ve introduced modern themes like incest, anorexia, cyberbullying and white collar fraud.

Dulwich College -  Wikimedia Commons
Once I’d had the idea of updating Golden Age crime for a new audience, writing Death in Dulwich and its sequel, The Girl in the Gallery, has been pure pleasure. The books reflect my love for the area, thanks to years living in Dulwich, with my children at schools rather like the ones which play such a large part in the stories. The books are stuffed with characters that I hope fellow Dulwich devotees will recognise affectionately, and either wish they could share a cappuccino with in Gail’s, or would swerve to avoid outside Tomlinson’s.

My single mum detective, Beth Haldane, is the sort of person you might well see at the gates of a school like, say, the Dulwich Hamlet. But, though at first sight Beth seems a typical Dulwich yummy mummy, it’s not just her precarious financial situation that keeps her aloof from the pack. Her love of puzzles, insatiable curiosity and a fair dash of reckless bravery lead her into situations from which I would certainly hang back. Luckily, she has Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York dogging her footsteps, keeping her safe and failing to act on the developing spark between them.

My first book, Death in Dulwich, centres on Beth’s new job as archivist at Wyatt’s, the most prestigious of the (fictitious) Endowment Schools set up by the swashbuckling Sir Thomas Wyatt in the seventeenth century and still going from strength to glossy strength today.

The second instalment, The Girl in the Gallery, is inspired by the extraordinary Dulwich Picture Gallery, one of my favourite places in the world. As well as the wonderful art collection, I’ve always found the building itself fascinating. It was Sir John Soane’s favourite creation, and it doesn’t take much to see why. The mausoleum at the centre of the Gallery has always exerted a morbid fascination for me, seeming to cry out for a starring role in a whodunit, and I’ve been happy to oblige.

My third mystery, Calamity in Camberwell, features Beth battling against the world again. One of her friends has disappeared. Why does no one else take her absence seriously? It’s down to Beth to sort the situation out. If you want a job done, ask a single mother with a million things on her plate. Though the book ventures over to the magnificent Georgian terraces of Camberwell Grove,  Dulwich, as ever, remains at the heart of the book. For her fourth outing, Beth will be venturing down Half Moon Lane into Herne Hill but she’ll be slipping back to the village for the school Nativity play – and the inevitable cappuccinos with friends.

It’s been a joy to plot these books and to weave in the local landmarks I know and love so well. I hope Dulwich residents will forgive the mounting body count, kick off their shoes, get snuggly on their sofas and have fun too, reading about the sort of things that couldn’t possibly happen in Dulwich, darling.

You can BUY  Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery from Village Books, Dulwich Books, Herne Hill Books, Clapham Books and Amazon, via www.MyBook.to/1DeathinDulwich and www.MyBook.to/GirlintheGallery

Alice - Dulwich is indeed a place of inestimable history and for many residents it was mostly a happy one. However, there was one poor guy who loved living there...but... (it's easy to google his story.) 
err...my excuse is that I've been fascinated recently by all sorts of historical engravings. 

Thank you for popping in today, Alice. I do have The Girl in the Gallery in my Kindle queue and I'm truly looking forward to reading it.  It's looking like I'll have to get my skates on (or maybe a new pair of reading glasses and more hours in the day) if number 3 is in the offing. Best wishes with your future writing.