Monday 30 April 2018

#Monday Matters - #How Did That Happen?

#Monday Matters...#How Did That Happen?

That's the title of my new Monday blog theme. Over the coming months, I am inviting authors to visit me and interpret the question in any way they chose that's related to their writing, or to a particular book.  

I'm not exactly sure what made me chose the theme, but I'm going to begin the slots by talking about serendipity. 

Now, if you look up serendipity in a dictionary you'll get some interesting examples of meaning, even more so when using a thesaurus for alternatives but I'm going to use the one which is essentially about "the accidental discovery of something, pleasant, valuable or useful". Yes, that useful one.

Recently I've been so engrossed in sprucing up the three books of my Celtic Fervour Series to get them republished under the Ocelot Press banner. Ocelot Press is a small co-operative of authors of which I am one and our mission is to share any expertise, give help, and support to the other members as we self-publish our novels. 

It was serendipity my joining the co-operative earlier this year, since at the end of February 2018 my Celtic Fervour series ceased to be published by Crooked Cat Books, my contracts having run out. Ocelot help has so far been varied and invaluable in me getting my ebooks all published on Amazon, and my paperback versions at a stage where there is only a tiny tweak needed for me to self-publish really good quality novels- both to the interior and the exterior.

Serendipity also plays a part in the timing of the re-publishing. Since Book 1 of my series is named The Beltane Choice, it was too fortuitous not to use the fact that the festival of Beltane is tomorrow - May 1st. These last few days I've been promoting my new versions on Facebook and Twitter at a bargain price of 99p/99c till Beltane. Banners galore have been flourishing to encourage people to dip in and get a copy at such a cheap price.

 How Did That Happen? 

The question really is -  was the promotion of Ereader News Today worth the money paid for it? Let's say I'm wishing that I could brag that I got into the top 100 paid categories, but it would not be true. 

However, coming from nowhere on the rankings (860,000 ish) and getting to 6 thousand something on Amazon US and to 12 thousand something on Amazon UK wasn't too terrible. I'd love to say I sold hundreds, but maybe next time?

Target for the coming months will be to keep the pot boiling with the ebooks sales, no mean feat in the jungle of Amazon, but will serendipity keep smiling on them? I certainly hope so. 

Maybe tomorrow I'll find something new to write about Beltane. 

My Beltane wish? I think  you can probably guess…

Now which do you think is is my best banner?


Saturday 28 April 2018

#review 13 of 2018 Another Woman's Man by Carrie-ann Schless

Another novel I read in April...

"An unconventional romance" is on the front cover but I didn't actually find that- what I did find was an engrossing read, even though I couldn't always empathise with the self-destructive paths that Casey was following, in a crazy but fairly predictable pursuit of perfect love.

Wanting to be loved is natural, but Casey's pathway from dependence to a rocky independence isn't, in my opinion, a good  pathway to follow.

I've read a few chick-lit novels with a similar theme recently so they don't seem very unconventional any more but Another Woman's Man is very well written, well edited and flows very nicely.

It's true that you can't always see the wood for the trees and it does take Casey some time to realise that Danny's interest in her is real- for him at that time. The need to have everything perfect in life and love is what makes a chick lit romance move on - and this one moves on at high speed. But so long as readers read fiction for what it is- escapism - then Another Woman's Man is a very absorbing and rewarding read.


#review 12 of 2018 Kenneth's Queen by Anna chant

Those all important short reviews! 

I've a few reviews to catch up on of books read this month, but here's the most recent novel that I've finished. Annca Chart was a Friday guest a week ago, and I was very taken by the sound of her novel Kenneth's Queen that I bought it and, I admit, bumped it up my kindle queue.  I'm very glad that I did because it was a very fine 5* read. 

Kenneth's Queen by Anna Chant 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set in the era of Kenneth Mac Alpin (Cinaed). My knowledge of the time is vague but the story of Kenneth's Queen by Anna Chant -albeit in reality she is historically nameless - is a great read. 

The settings are realistic and the story well crafted, written with ease and a deep familiarity with the subject matter. Since I'm fairly familiar with the present day geography involved it was easy to envisage it back in the Dark Ages, as eloquently described by the author.

Most characters are lovable, flaws and all, even at a time when violent reactions to raids on territory were commonplace and bloody. Cinead's brother, Domnall, is harder to read in terms of his intentions, but he should perhaps get his own story someday. I couldn't quite work out why his love life was not mentioned but maybe that's for another time.

I'd definitely recommend this to historical fiction readers but also to anyone interested in Scottish history because it gives a good sense of the conflicts involved between Scots /Gaels and the Picts.  

I especially liked the passages about the fortress at Dunadd (near the west coast)  where the binding ceremony 'of the king to the land' took place because I have recently visited it, and could easily see what the author was describing- particularly that footprint in the stone which my own foot hovered over.

I stood with my right foot poised over that empty foot-space before overbalancing, but I do remember thinking that someone ought to be writing about it, though not me for while because  I was still mired deeply in the Roman era. That was Aug 2016, and I'm very glad to have found that Anna Chant has written about it!  


Friday 27 April 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this…with #Agricola and #Pytheas

Aye. Ken it wis like this…

I thought I had a guest booked for today but, since that failed to happen, I've written a post myself to keep the pot boiling! 

I can't do history without the geography – Agricola and Pytheas what a combination!

My Celtic Fervour Series is set during the invasions of northern Britannia, my novels beginning in AD 71 around the time that the legions of the Ancient Roman Empire flooded the federation of tribes named the Brigantes.

Agricola- Frejus, France
During the writing of the first couple of books in the series, the related geography I was most interested in was that of Brigantia – what we would now term north England: Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Northumberland. However, by the time I was writing the third and fourth books, I was much more interested in what knowledge the Ancient Roman General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola might have had of the whole of Britannia, the interior and the coastal exterior.

Agricola was no stranger to being stationed in Britannia, in fact he spent the best part of twenty years in it, but my interest was in working out what physical, and what intellectual, knowledge of it he actually had before arriving, and how much he gained afterwards. If he already had a familiarity before setting foot on Britannia, how did he come by the information?

Agricola was likely to have first arrived to Britannia at around the age of 18 in AD 58. He (probably) became a tribune of the Legio II Augusta, though his function seemed to have been as a special military aide, a staff member of General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus who was then in command of the Roman armies in Britannia. That first tribune post lasted about four years, after which Agricola was recalled to Rome.

Emperor Vespasian
Agricola's military and political career was not solely in Britannia, some time was spent in other parts of the Roman Empire as he rose through the ranks and followed a fairly usual career path. He returned to Britannia in AD 69 (after Vespasian became Emperor) to take command of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, and was in this post until AD 73. These two senior postings alone would have given him a reasonably good physical knowledge of the geography, and of the political situation, of a good chunk of England and Wales, if not of all of it.

It's not certain, but it may be possible that during the governorship of Vettius Bolanus (AD 69-71), or Quintus Petilius Cerialis (approx. AD 71-74) , Agricola was involved in sending exploratory Roman troops into what is now termed southern Scotland –recent archaeological explorations are pointing to some form of occupation during this time (small fortlets being created or re-timbered) Whether he accompanied any of these troops, I feel confident that Agricola would have been in a position to keep abreast of any new knowledge of recently explored territory.

When Agricola returned to Britannia in AD 77/78, to take up the roles of commander of all of the Britannic legions and as Governor of the province, his intent seemed to be clear. His aim was to subdue any resisting tribes in what we now call England and Wales, but he also intended to invade and dominate the whole of the island of Britannia. By then he had been in different posts, both administrative and with direct military command. However, I feel that the desire to invade the whole of Britannia came from much deeper in Agricola's past and wasn't born purely of military intent to extend the Roman Empire's boundaries.

What would make me think this?

Cornelius Tacitus
Agricola's son-in-law, Cornelius Tacitus, wrote that Agricola was said to have taken 'an unhealthy interest in philosophy', possibly like the father he had never known and who was dead before Agricola was even walking or talking. Looking at an issue from many approaches, to find practical answers, may not have been typical of all military oppressors but if Agricola enjoyed philosophy as a youth, perhaps that was why it was also written that Agricola was skilled at organising, and encouraging, the civic structure that Rome imposed on subdued tribes across southern Britannia when they were absorbed into the Roman Empire.

Agricola was educated in Massilia (Marseilles) before being sent to Britannia as a tribune. I believe it would have been entirely reasonable that he had been told of, or read of, the Greek explorer Pytheas during his time in Marseilles. Pytheas had been one of Massilia's famous (to some infamous) inhabitants.

Pytheas - Marseilles
During the fourth century BC, Pytheas, a mathematician and seafarer from the Greek colony of Massilia, voyaged into the North Sea. His incredible voyage was known in antiquity but the details of it have now been lost, and we only know of it via some later Roman and Greek writers. Pytheas was said to have been seafaring in search of trading goods, probably including tin, which at the time of his travels was a valuable constituent of bronze. Apart from noting some sources of tin in southern England, it seems Pytheas' voyage was maybe not a complete commercial success.

However, his sailing journal was highly important as he sailed the coastline of what was named the 'Kassiterides Islands' (Britain). His journal details the trip up the east coast of Britain as far north as Orkney, Shetland and possibly a good way into the northern Atlantic towards Iceland and Greenland (Thule/ Hyperborea). Having decided it was impossible to sail through what was like 'water and slush ice', or walk over it; he turned around and sailed home. Derided by other scholars in antiquity, Pytheas' observations of the northern Atlantic deemed too fanciful, his notes are now regarded as being very perceptive of the places and peoples he visited, and relatively accurate in astronomical terms.

Pytheas also claimed to have circumnavigated the Kassiterides Islands and claimed he had 'travelled all over it on foot'. The former is likely, but the latter a whole lot less likely, though he may have set foot on some of it. However, whether Pytheas set foot on any of it, I think that Agricola had heard of the exploits of Pytheas and wanted to prove the seafarer's claim that Britannia was, indeed, a navigable island.

I like to think that the adventures of Pytheas gave Agricola some hunger to find out for himself what the whole island of Britannia was like. It's likely that Agricola's education in Marseilles would have included the military campaign history of the Republic and of the Empire, knowledge which I think he absorbed readily in advance of him coming to Britannia. I like to imagine that Agricola went as a young tribune to Britannia knowing about the landings of Julius Caesar in 55BC, and 54 BC. And he was sure to know a lot more about the invasions of the Emperor Claudius in AD 43 since that was not long after Agricola was born in AD 40.

His aim to control the whole island was ambitious and it was within his grasp, according to Tacitus, but Agricola's recall to Rome in late AD 84 (or early AD 85) probably put paid to Agricola proving his troops had been everywhere – unless new archaeological information surfaces to clarify that Agricola's troops didn't only march to the Moray Firth, but that they marched all the way to Caithness, as well.

What must Agricola have been feeling when he was ordered to return to Rome in late AD 84 (or early AD 85), if he had (personally) come so close to have covered the whole of the island, yet hadn’t quite controlled it all?

Writing about those potentially crushing feelings in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour series has been a very difficult, but strangely rewarding process for me.

The launch of Book 4, Agricola's Bane, is due soon (summer 2018).
NB: This is a sneak preview of my cover design! 

Till next Friday, when I have a guest contributor, have an exciting week.

ps. My Celtic Fervour series is available in ebooks till Beltane/May 1st. at 99p/99c across Amazon


All images from Wikimedia Commons- including this new one

Sunday 22 April 2018

#Self-publishing is easy?


What more can I say? After weeks of re-writes, professional re-edits, and the formatting processes done for all three of my Celtic Fervour Series in both ebook and paperback versions there is progress!

By about the 10th April, I thought I had my three files all ready for paperback publishing in Createspace templates (Microsoft Word) but decided not to go through the publishing processes till my ebooks versions were ready. A few more days took me to roughly Friday 13th April when I was confident my ebook versions were complete and checked.

Next stage was to check that the PDF versions were converted in the programme Calibre to .MOBI files so that I could check them on my Kindle for PC. Disaster! What seemed to be perfect files in .PDF versions were all over the place on my Kindle reader on my PC. There was no proper run on of words on a line, and large gaps between paragraphs.

Sheer panic ensued last weekend, and days were spent re-doing the Word files in case I hidden formatting issues remained. In some cases I did have problems, formatting of paragraph issues. Some paragraphs had 'keep lines together' checked and others not. Laborious checking eventually cleared that up.

It was only by Tuesday 17th that I also realised I was using an old Kindle for PC prog, and not the proper Kindle Previewer!! Once I had that downloaded, the only concern was that my maps were not sufficiently high enough resolution. That problem was solved fairly quickly using my scanner.

Off to KDP I went, and I'm delighted to say the actual publishing process wasn't too bad at all.

Yipee! So all 3 novels are now available on Am US and AM UK as ebooks- the other Am network to follow.

You can get them for a bargain price of 99p ($ equivalent) till after Beltane (2nd May).

Bk 2 

The saga continues on Createspace since I don't quite have the paperbacks up and running, yet. Hopefully soon.


Friday 20 April 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Louise Turner

Aye, ken it wis like this...

My Friday series continues, where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. Today, I'm delighted to welcome another new guest, Louise Turner. She has yet another time period for us to enjoy today, and she's sent an excellent post and some great images to share with us.

Louise's path to writing is one that I find really interesting and, for me, is a prime example of the fact that authors all have different stories to tell about their writing journeys, and what might have come before publication- but I'll let Louise tell all!

Louise Turner
Hello Louise! It's fabulous to have you visit. Can you please tell us what inspired you to write about your chosen era?

I stumbled across the late 15th century quite by accident.  My interest in creative writing led me  to study Archaeology at university, because I thought it might give me ideas and inspiration.  I then became a professional archaeologist,, but perhaps it was inevitable that eventually I’d try my hand at historical fiction.

But – what should be the subject matter?  Perhaps I should have checked out what was selling commercially before putting pen to paper, but that never even occurred to me.  I wanted a story.  A good story.

Nancy says: I think probably most historical authors don't consider what might sell. They just get on with writing the stories that are bursting to come forth

I was unemployed at the time, so for financial reasons I stuck close to home.  I live in the west of Scotland, where everyone knows the Wars of Independence and Robert Burns. The stuff in between is pretty much ignored.  But there are some impressive historic buildings and monuments round here which really should be better known, so I used them as my inspiration and decided to look into the stories behind them.

The Collegiate Church of Castle Semple, Lochwinnoch,
Founded by John 1st Lord Sempill in 1504
Courtesy of Louise Turner
It was while reading a local history book about Lochwinnoch (the Renfrewshire village where I now live) that I came across John, 1st Lord Sempill.  He featured just briefly, but piqued my interest. His father, Sir Thomas Sempill, was Sheriff of Renfrew, and he died defending King James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn in June 1488.  James III was murdered that night, and succeeded by his eldest son, James IV, who fought against his father.

John Sempill took up his inheritance during the regime change, and in the worst possible circumstances, but managed to become a peer just a few years later. How on earth had he engineered this transformation in fortunes?
Answering that question meant researching late medieval Scotland, its important historical events, its principal characters. Thankfully, there were some masterly works available which put the 1st Lord Sempill’s life into context, in particular Norman MacDougall’s book James IV (Tuckwell Press, 1989).

Slotting everything into place, I learned that Sempill was a remarkable man.  His was a very minor role, but seen against the broader political landscape, his actions are way ahead of their time. Late medieval Scotland was notorious for its feuding, where escalating tit-for-tat reprisals play out in response to insults or offences, real or imagined, between groups or familties.  The west of Scotland in Sempill’s time was typical in this respect: it saw the germination of a particularly vicious feud between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames which culminated in the murder of the 4th Earl of Eglinton more than a century later.  There’s no mystery behind these feuds: they are symptomatic of a society which has absolutely no faith in the ability of the official legal system to settle grievances fairly. In the case of the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, the Cunninghames used the minority of the future-1st Earl of Eglinton to obtain certain lucrative offices which had previously passed through marriage to the Montgomeries. By the time the future 1st Earl reached maturity, the Cunninghames were hand in glove with James III; naturally, the future 1st Earl threw in his lot with James IV, who went on to reign Scotland.

As the Montgomeries victimised the defeated Cunninghames, so the Sempills found themselves under attack by another local family: the Darnley Stewarts. Historic documents tell of burnings, hardship and destruction on Sempill’s familiars and tenants, and on Sempill himself, during the winter of 1488-9.  Sempill could have fought back. Instead, he acted with great forbearance, negotiating his way back into a secure position and eventually getting rewarded with the return of his hereditary sheriff’s office and a Lordship.  His actions arguably had implications at a national level.  All over Scotland, those who’d seen defeat at Sauchieburn were making life difficult for James IV and his government.  We always think of James IV as the accomplished, secure Renaissance Prince, who led Scotland onwards to great things until his premature demise at Flodden in 1513. But at this stage in his reign, his coat was – as the popular saying goes – on a very shoogly peg indeed.  His support of Sempill came at a crucial time: by defending him with the full force of the law the unrest was contained, in time allowing James to become established on his throne and to engage in the cultural achievements he should be remembered for.
Linlithgow Palace,
A Favourite Residence of James IV-
Courtesy of Louise Turner

Historians can only follow the evidence so far. But inference is rich fare to the historical novelist: when I was writing my novels, the lack of historical evidence was in a way liberating, because it meant that inference played a major role.  Inference must be reinforced with facts, and so I read copious works which chronicled the allegiances and notable exploits of all the various local families during this time. So far, I’ve found enough source material for two books: Fire & Sword deals with the winter of 1488-9 and how John Sempill negotiated his way back from the brink of annihilation, while The Gryphon at Bay explores the Montgomerie-Cunninghame feud and the murder of the Lord Kilmaurs by Hugh, Lord Montgomerie in 1489. 

Scotland during the late 15th century was as full of intrigue as Renaissance Florence or Tudor England.  It was also a time of change, which must have had a profound impact on those who lived through it. The role of the knight was eclipsed by the rise of artillery; government was increasingly the role of professional lawyers and notaries. Did this give a certain nostalgia to the chivalric past, embodied by the popularity of Malory’s Arthurian tales? Urban centres were becoming increasingly important, and literacy was becoming widespread, leading to a more robust legal system and, ultimately, challenges on the authority of the Church.  Despite having all this going for it, it’s a period which in Scotland remains ignored, because it just isn’t on the commercial radar. Which is a great shame, I think, because it has much to offer both readers and writers, and it should certainly be better appreciated by those interested in Scotland’s past.

Nancy says: I so agree that many aspects of Scottish history have largely been ignored in the past. However, I'm now delighted to say that there is a growing interest in making more of it available to the general public via fiction, but also in non-fiction publications. 

A little about Louise Turner
Born in Glasgow, Louise Turner spent her early years in Scotland where she attended Greenock Academy and later, the University of Glasgow. After graduating with MA (Hons) in Archaeology, she went to complete a Ph.D. in the Bronze Age metalwork hoards of Essex and Kent. She has since enjoyed a varied career in archaeology and cultural resource management. Writing has always been a major aspect of her life and at a young age she won the Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in SF competition with her short story Busman’s Holiday.  Her second novel, The Gryphon at Bay, which follows on from the events described in her first novel Fire & Sword, is set in late 15th century Scotland and was published by Hadley Rille Books in March 2017.

You can buy Louise's ebook version from:
Amazon UK: 

Amazon US

Find louise at the following places: 


Thank you for contributing to my series, Louise, and for sending along such a very good post. I've recently read a little about the Cunninghames, and the Montgomeries, but there's always so much more to learn about that era. Best wishes with all of your current and future writing projects. 


Friday 13 April 2018

Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Anna Chant

Aye, ken it wis like this...

My Friday series continues, where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. Today, I'm again delighted to welcome a new guest, Anna Chant. I love learning about what makes someone choose a particular time period, and hope you like that, too.
Anna Chant

I also love being part of a community of authors who enjoy the mystery of research and the pathways that some piece of information may lead to. I'm totally steeped in my own chosen period of Scottish history, but I'm also fascinated by other eras that are in a wee box in my head that's labelled "some day soon".

The period Anna writes about is also one of those that's not easy at all to find out about- yet there is evidence out there on the ground...but I'll let Anna tell you about that!

You're very welcome to my blog, Anna. Please tell us what the catalyst was for your historical choices.

How the series began

Women of the Dark Ages is the series I never intended to write. Although I have always loved medieval history, I preferred the later period, so when I first decided to write a historical novel, my subject was a fifteenth century Scottish queen.

A historical novel has to start with a lot of research. I love the research stage. To me, this is like a treasure hunt as I never know what I will find. And if you start clicking internet links on Scottish royalty, sooner or later you find one man – Cinaed (Kenneth) Mac Alpin.

Being a great procrastinator, it was far more interesting to read about this warrior king, than to continue my actual research and what I found out was fascinating. The more I read, the more obvious it became that my fifteenth century novel was not to be. My new idea was a series on Scottish queens, beginning at the beginning with the wife of Cinaed Mac Alpin – Kenneth’s Queen.

Dunadd Hillfort
Courtesy of Anna Chant
My next task was to find out more about her. But here I met a major stumbling block. Virtually nothing is known about her. Not even her name. She might never have existed at all except Cinaed had four children he could not have produced alone! I nearly abandoned the idea but something about the unknown woman intrigued me. How could a woman who helped to found one of the most important dynasties of the era be simply erased from history?
Looking back, this was the moment Women of the Dark Ages was born, from my wish to tell the stories of the often forgotten and uncelebrated women of the era. There are currently five books in the series, each one a stand-alone novel. They span the sixth to the tenth centuries, Scotland to Rome, celebrating the part these women played in the tumultuous events of the era.

The background to Kenneth’s Queen

In the ninth century, Scotland was not known as Scotland. Instead there were smaller kingdoms such as the Pict realm, taking up the bulk of the land, the Kingdom of Dal Riata in the west, ruled by the Gaels, while to the south was the Kingdom of Strathclyde. With little in the way of written records we get glimpses into their lives in the form of archaeological finds and intricately carved Pict stones. There are also remains of their dwellings such as Dunadd Hillfort, one of the settings of ‘Kenneth’s Queen’.
Dunadd Footprint
Courtesy of Anna Chant

There you can still see enigmatic carvings, including a footprint in the rock, hinting at an ancient coronation ritual where the king became one with his land.

Between these kingdoms there would have been fights, probably mostly in the form of skirmishes and cattle raids but at times there would be alliances. The legend of the Battle of Athelstanford tells of how the Picts and the Gaels were fighting against the Angles, when the cross of Saint Andrew appeared in the sky to unite them, bringing them victory against all odds. Leading the Gaels was King Eochaidh the Venomous and fighting alongside him, it is said, was his grandson, Cinaed Mac Alpin. But these were not the only people fighting over the land, for ninth century Scotland, like elsewhere in Europe, was under Viking attack.
Iona Abbey Courtesy of Anna Chant

The Isle of Iona today is a scene of idyllic tranquillity but in those days of Viking raids it was a very different story. The Abbey of Iona was raided several times by Vikings as were other locations along the west coast and the northern islands. But again, there were also alliances. There are hints Cinaed was in such an alliance. His son, Causantin (Constantine I) definitely was. Cinaed’s brother, Domnall, (Donald I) is described as ‘the son of a foreign wife’ suggesting he may have had a Viking mother and was therefore Cinaed’s half-brother. In ‘Kenneth’s Queen’ this provided an additional level of drama to the family with tensions and rivalries which go beyond the normal sibling dynamics.

Terrifying as the Viking raids were, it was only to get worse, culminating in a devastating Norse attack in 839. This battle wiped out huge swathes of the Pict and Gael nobility, including both kings, but it was from this catastrophe that Cinaed Mac Alpin climbed to power.

Cinaed the Hardy, the Conqueror, the Uniter is a historical figure, although not completely so. He appears to have been a respected and successful leader with his death in 858 recorded with grief in the Annals of Ulster

Because Cinaed with many troops lives no longer
there is weeping in every house;
there is no king of his worth under heaven
as far as the borders of Rome

Yet his place as Scotland’s founding father owes at least as much to legend as it does to history.
Graveyard at Iona Courtesy of Anna Chant
possibly the resting place of Kenneth MacAlpin
Among the legends of valour there are also dark tales of trickery and bloodstained treachery.  This was, after all, the birth of Scotland, bloody and brutal as births often are. But although her descendants sit on the British throne to this day, on the life of his Pict wife, both history and legend are silent.

Kenneth’s Queen is her story.


Anna- Thank you for sharing this great post with us today. You've reminded me so much of my visits to both Dunadd, and to Iona, made not so long ago (2016)
Like you my climb up to Dunadd Hillfort was a memorable one. Whether, or not, the footprint in the stone was made for kingly coronation rituals seems immaterial when your own foot is right beside it. While walking that pathway into the fort, as in your photo above, it was easy to imagine a thriving community inside the walls. It's a place with an amazing outlook across the landscape, though I believe in the Dark Ages it was pretty swampy, and not as accessible as it is now.

And it's also easy to see why Iona is such a well visited place. I'm not a at all religious, but I was filled with a sense of long history and reverence that potentially many of those ancient kings and monarchs are buried in that graveyard.

Thank you so much for coming today, Anna, and very best wishes with your series. It's one that I'll be making a start on soon, since I've now got Kenneth's Queen loaded and onto my kindle queue! 

My own post about a very nice but windy Dunadd visit is here: 

and for Iona (And more of Dunadd if you scroll down) try here

p.s. Here's another photo Anna's sent along for us to enjoy! 

Dunadd Hillfort


Tuesday 10 April 2018

#review 11 of 2018 Time Tunnel to Londinium by Olli Tooley

#review 11 of 2018 Time Tunnel to Londinium by Olli Tooley

I was intrigued about the era involved in the book and eager to see how the author introduced younger readers to the historical aspects of Roman London. I was pleased to find that there were plenty of prompts in this amusing story to encourage younger readers to investigate Roman London in greater depth. The time-travel aspect is very simple, though not exactly explained, but fine for the main character, David, to have other adventures.

This was a very quick read, suitable for the average child in the age group targeted.


#Review 10 of 2018 Scuba Dancing by Nicola Slade

#10 review

My pleasure reading really has slowed down of late, due to the slow but sure progress that is being made with the republishing of my Celtic Fervour Series. After extremely long days of systematic line-by-line formatting of 3 novels , a very short read (timewise) at night, before crashing into sleep, has been the recent norm. I find it's always easier to read humorous and lighthearted novels when I'm exhausted. 

Scuba Dancing was perfect for the situation and was a very entertaining read!

Who says life ends at forty, or fifty, or …? The characters in Scuba Dancing clearly don’t think so! There are a few younger people in the story, but the bulk of them are a mite older than the fortyish ones. Whatever the numbers of birthday candles they are game for new adventures.

This was a very entertaining read, with extremely likeable and highly-colourful characters. The plot’s an interesting one with some poignant twists, human nature in many semblances well described. I can’t decide which character I liked best but retirement with this cast would never be dull. A gin, or twenty, never goes a miss in this Hampshire village!

If you enjoy a novel with older eccentric characters, then this might be right up your street.

Till my next review coming soon...

Friday 6 April 2018

Aye. Ken it wis like this....with Laura Vosika

Aye. Ken it wis like this...

is the title of my new Friday theme, and I've some absolutely fabulous authors joining me for this venture over the coming Fridays, during the next quarter of the year. Though it sounds as if it's meant to be a Scottish theme, and I'll be delighted to feature fiction set in Scotland, it's not intended to be exclusively Scottish settings.
Laura Vosika

I've invited authors of historical fiction to join me in giving us an overview of the historical period they have been writing about, with specific references to the novels they have published. To start the theme, I'm delighted to welcome a new visitor to this blog- Laura Vosika. Laura's 'Blue Bells Chronicles' are time travel historical fiction, and I'm always delighted to get to know a fellow author who loves to thoroughly research an era they choose to write about, since I can't seem to stop my own researching! 

Laura has sent along a superb post to get us started on the theme, but I'll let her introduce you to her historical era herself. 

About the Books:
The Blue Bells Chronicles is a tale of time travel, miracles and mysteries,romance and redemption.  It begins in the days just before the Battle of Bannockburn. American readers will best know this as the post-Braveheart years. After William Wallace was executed in 1305, Robert the Bruce became the leader of the fight against England. That fight grew, like the crescendo of Bolero, from Wallace's execution to Scotland's greatest battle, at Bannockburn, in 1314. England that Shawn Kleiner, a modern American musician, falls. Rich, famous, and influential in his own time, a notorious drinker, gambler, and womanizer, he must suddenly navigate a world where men settle differences with steel, a world of faith and values very different from his own, a world at war.
It is into these days of impending battle against the power of

In 1314, he is forced to live as Niall Campbell, the devout Highland warrior who looks just like him. Through their adventures fighting with the Bruce and Bruce's greatest friend and military general, James Douglas, through two years of trying to get Shawn back to his own time--where Shawn hopes to make amends to his girlfriend Amy for the way he treated her, and to finally be a father to the infant son he never met--Shawn and Niall move from despising each other to a deep respect and friendship.

One thing I've enjoyed about writing The Blue Bells Chronicles is the intense study of history.  Truth is stranger than fiction, they say. And it's also more amazing. The Blue Bells Chronicles are as historically accurate as I can make them, with thousands of hours logged in study of Scottish and English medieval history, which forms the backdrop of the story, told through Blue Bells of Scotland, The Minstrel Boy, The Water is Wide, Westering Home, and the conclusion, The Battle is O'er, released on March 23, 2018.

At one point in the story, Shawn fights a battle that leaves him in shock. That battle is the battle of Skaithmuir.

The historical Background...

The first Valentine's Day thoughts, as we know them weren't sent until hundreds of years after the death of the Good Sir James.  Nonetheless, it seemed a good title for a piece on how James spent February 14, 1316.

He spent it fighting what he later called the hardest fight of his life, the battle of Skaithmuir (SKAY-mur), near Coldstream in the Borders region of Scotland.  It becomes a scene in The Minstrel Boy, Book 2 of the Blue Bells Trilogy.
Douglas Shield (public domain)

Setting the stage for Coldstream, we'd have to back up to 1286, the year when Alexander III ended his peaceful reign over what many see as a golden age of Scotland, by dying without a clear heir.  (Ironically, as if an author had foreshadowed James's destiny, James' was that same year.)  Into this void stepped Edward I of England, claiming his right to be overlord of Scotland.  On March 30, 1296, after his failed attempt to rule Scotland through a puppet-king, John Balliol, who didn't dance on his strings quite the way he'd expected, Edward attacked Berwick, thus launching the revolts led by William Wallace.  This fight against the English invasion culminated, or should have culminated, in the great Battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, in which Robert the Bruce's small army routed the much larger might of England. 

It was not the culmination because, although Edward II failed to inherit his father's military skill, he more than made up for it with a double dose of the stubborn gene. Though soundingly and humiliatingly defeated, he refused to give a peace treaty agreeing to Scotland's very mild terms which were, essentially, to acknowledge Scotland as the independent nation it always had been, and Bruce as her rightful king.  In short, a promise to leave Scotland alone.

Thus, the First Wars of Scottish Independence continued.
St. Bride's Church, Douglas, Mausoleum

Scotland, lacking the wealth and large armies of England, chose instead to launch a series of guerilla-style strikes into Northumbria. These raids, led most often by the Good Sir James (or The Black Douglas as the English called him) and Bruce's nephew, Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray, served the dual purpose of harrying England into accepting a peace treaty and collecting money to fund the continued fight, which Edward II's refusal to treat made necessary. 

In the winter of 1315-1316, Douglas besieged Berwick, still held by the English.  Heavy rains the previous spring and summer had already led to the beginning of the Great European Famine.  Throw in a little siege, and Maurice de Berkeley, the commander of Berwick, was reduced to begging Edward II for help by October 1315.  Few rations could get through the Scots' blockade, however.
Finally, on February 14, 1316, a company of Gascon soldiers decided they would go get food for themselves.  Under the leadership of a Gascon noble, the knight Sir Edmund Caillhau (or Raymond,  in many sources), this company ventured into the rolling farmland along the River Teviot.  They spread out, looking for cattle. 

One Sir Adam Gordon saw some of them and raced to Douglas to report that there were a few cattle raiders out and about.  Douglas accepted the report and went to intercept them.  Instead of a few cattle raiders, he found a host of well-armed fighting men.
There are relatively few accounts of this battle to be found on the internet.  The most detailed account I have found comes from David R. Ross's wonderful book James the Good: The Black Douglas.  He reports that the incident happened at Skaithmuir (SKAY-mur) a few miles north of Coldstream.  Douglas came upon Caillhau's brigade in the flat, open country of the Merse, perfect for cavalry, but with no natural defenses.  Just the sort of situation James Douglas typically avoided. 

With only seconds to decide whether to retreat or attack, he made the decision he would not run on Scottish soil, on his own marches, of which he was warden.  His men were seasoned fighters, having spent the previous ten years and more fighting the English, and he had great faith in them.  He stationed his men behind a small ford before unfurling his famous white banner with the blue band and three white stars, signaling his intent to fight.

The Gascons charged.  They no doubt expected to easily overcome this small group.  John Barbour, in The Brus, tells about the fight:

The Scotsmen bravely fought them back

There one could see a cruel fight.
And strokes exchanged with all their might
The Douglas there was full hard pressed
But the great valor he possessed
So lent his men courageousness
That no man thought on cowardice.

The BorderMagazine, Volume 12, 1907, adds the picturesque touch that old tales say so much blood was shed in the battle that the river ran red for three days afterward. (The author of the piece seems to doubt it, but it is interesting that such stories would continue for centuries.)

John Barbour, interviewing men who knew Douglas, says Douglas later called it the hardest battle he ever fought.  But, like Bannockburn, it resulted in sound defeat for the larger English force with amazingly few losses at all on the Scots' side.  Douglas himself fought his way to, and killed, Caillhau.  With their leader dead, the Gascons lost heart, and were quickly beaten.  James himself learned a lesson from this, and from that time on, always went for the leader of the opposing armies. 

Most reports on Skaithmuir say there are no records of the size of James Douglas's force, except that it was significantly smaller.  David R. Ross says that Caillhau had 80 to Douglas's 40.   Maurice de Berkeley reported four days after the event that twenty men-at-arms and sixty foot soldiers were missing.
The Good Sir James - Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of Skaithmuir, James Douglas disappeared back into the Ettrick Forest, but afterward, the tale was told by Englishmen of how he fought and won against overwhelming odds, and he was spoken of with awe. 

Happy Valentine's Day, Sir James!

Contact Laura here: 

BUY the
THE BATTLE IS O'ER: Amazon US   Amazon UK 

Thank you so much for starting my theme, Laura, and my very best wishes with your latest addition to the 'Blue Bells Chronicles'.  My kindle will soon have some new additions, and I'll eventually get to  your current launch - Book 5  The Battle is O'er. (I confess, I like to start a series at the beginning).