Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Fear of Fear at C.J. Suttons' blog

Happy Tuesday to you!

It's been a hectic day already. I managed a little bit of writing this morning, and spent the rest of the day with my grandkids doing lovely things like baking a lovely sponge cake, and playing around and about at everything and nothing.

I've also been busy in the virtual sense since I'm over visiting C.J. Sutton's blog today. His theme was an interesting one- 'Writing Fears' and you can find my post HERE.  Topaz Eyes features since it fits that theme fairly well!

There are some excellent posts on his theme that you can check out as well.


Monday, 21 May 2018

#Monday Matters- #How Did That Happen? #historical sites

#Monday Matters...

where my theme is to interpret "How Did That Happen?" I'm using the slot today to explain how 'names' happen to be chosen for my novels. 

Writing a novel can involve some very interesting decisions over the use of names. My Celtic Fervour Series includes many different types of names – names of characters, names of places, names of rivers, names of tools and implements, even names of units in the Ancient Roman Army.

I’ve always found great pleasure in finding a name that really suits what I want to describe, yet I’m also always careful, and incredibly cautious, about choosing names that are as accurate as can be. In The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of the series I wanted a credible location to site the clan members who would be the main characters of the novels. I looked at Ordinance Survey maps and chose sites which had been marked as of historical significance, sites which had been identified as having Celtic hillforts.
copyright Nancy Jardine for Book 1 The Beltane choice 

Since I decided to start my series in the area where the Ancient Roman Army began to infiltrate and subdue the ‘barbarian’ north, the land settled on by the Brigantes Federation of tribes was the sensible choice as a start-point. Archaeological evidence seems to indicate that the Romans had some major confrontations with the Brigantes around the time of Queen Cartimandua’s demise/ disappearance, these engagements backed up by a small amount of historical record – around AD 69. During the previous couple of decades (approximately AD 50-69)  Queen Cartimandua’s dealings with Rome seems to have kept her territories relatively stable, but her rift with her husband King Venutius changed the political stability of the region. The year of the Four Emperors in Rome, AD 68/69, meant military volatility throughout the Roman Empire but that was also happening in Brigantia since Venutius’ troops were in revolt, a civil war against the forces of Cartimandua.

copyright Nancy Jardine for Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn
It’s thought that a site named Stanwick in present day Yorkshire was the main hillfort of Queen Cartimandua or of her ex-husband Venutius after she divorced him. Which ruler used it didn’t matter for my purposes, since I chose not to use Cartimandua or Venutius as my main characters, though I knew they would be mentioned in the novel. My clan was going to be fictitious so I chose a location further north in Brigantia, a place marked on the OS map that had the remains of a Celtic hillfort nearby. My clan then were named Garrigill after their Garrigill hillfort.

The battle, which is mentioned at the end of Book 1, I named as the battlegrounds of Whorl. This is purely fictitious but I chose Whorlton on the OS map for a particular reason. There’s no historical or archaeological evidence for this being a Roman/ Iron Age tribal battle site but the Celts tended to choose a location that had a low foothill flanking a flat plain, where the infantry would be terraced on the foothills with a good flat valley floor for the chariots to ride back and forth. The hill of Whorlton seemed a perfect location for me, convenient because Stanwick isn’t too far off and the area in between a good mustering site for the forces of King Venutius and for the Roman Legions led by General Petilius Cerialis to march to.

Other locations in my series have also been chosen with great care, because I love the research involved and like to know they really work for me!


Friday, 18 May 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Tim Hodkinson

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 Tim Hodkinson whom I've met on the Historical Novel Society page on Facebook. Tim's here to share a new novel with us which has the dark undertones of an early Victorian society who did things a bit differently from I'd expect to happen now. In addition to an excellent post, he's also sent along some gruesome illustrations! 

Welcome to my blog, Tim. Please share your setting with us...

Tim Hodkinson
My name is Tim Hodkinson, I am a Northern Irish writer and Nancy has kindly offered me a slot on her excellent blog this week to talk about the historical background to my latest novel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the title, “The Undead of Belfast” is set in what is now the capital of Northern Ireland, but in 1839 during the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria. The book is (hopefully) a chilling tale that sprang from my love of classic Gothic fiction.

Belfast has become famous for many things over the years, from building the Titanic to being a battleground for the Irish Troubles, however the elements that form the basis of my novel may come as a surprise to some.

My book is set at a very exciting time for Belfast. The early nineteenth Century saw it grow from a small village to an industrial giant. Alongside that growth came wealth and a surge in learning, the arts and progressive politics that gained the town a nickname it shared with Edinburgh, “The Athens of the North”. A college, a museum, a society for the promotion of learning and a botanical garden all arose at this time.

However it was, as my book puts it, a town that was “blossoming but already beginning to rot”. Population movements had already brought the first sectarian riots to Belfast’s streets. Outbreaks of violence led to famous political cartoons that portrayed “The Irish Frankenstein” - a violent monster created by radical political thought. More recently, The "Frankenstein Chronicles", a TV Series starring Sean Bean, were partly filmed Northern Ireland. However something a lot of folk, even from Belfast, seem unaware of, is that the town has a more fundamental link to Mary Shelley’s original novel “Frankenstein”, first published in 1815. 
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

In Chapter 20 of Shelley’s book, Victor Frankenstein ends up washed up in Ireland - somewhere on the north coast - either Antrim or Donegal. He is wrongly accused of murder and ends up being transported "about one Hundred miles south in the County Town" to stand trial. This could only be Belfast, and this is the central premise for my book: Someone in Belfast begins resurrecting the dead using the secrets discovered by Victor Frankenstein. When the undead turn murderous, Captain Joseph Sheridan, a consulting detective from Dublin who specialises in investigating the supernatural, travels north to probe the mystery. In Belfast, he joins forces with a Belfast policeman, Abraham Harpur, and Emily Brunty, a school mistress hiding her secret desire to be a journalist, to investigate the mystery.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

Joseph Sheridan was named after one of my favourite gothic writers, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. Emily Brunty’s name is a nod to another gothic writer with surprising Northern Irish connections. The father of Emily Brontë, the genius author of “Wuthering Heights”, came from a small village about thirty miles from Belfast called Rathfriland. His name was actually the more Irish sounding Patrick Brunty. When he won a scholarship to Cambridge University, Patrick changed his name to the rather more elegant sounding Brontë, and it was this name he passed down to his illustrious daughters. Anne Brontë came to her father’s home on honeymoon. We can only wonder what she made of Rathfriland. My Emily escapes her limited life as a school mistress in a small country school there to try to break into the male dominated world of Belfast Newspapers.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

Any self-respecting mad doctor bent on resurrecting the dead needs a supply of bodies. Also like in Edinburgh, early Nineteenth Century Belfast also saw a flourishing trade in body snatching. Corpses were stolen from local graveyards and shipped in Whiskey barrels to the Anatomy Schools in Edinburgh and Dublin. When we first meet Constable Harpur in my book he is enduring a freezing night in Belfast’s New Burying Ground cemetery on watch for the “Resurrection Men”, as the body snatchers were known here. 

It was two ex-patriots from Ulster who became perhaps the most notorious merchants involved in this gruesome trade. William Burke from Urney in County Tyrone and William Hare from Poyntzpass, near Rathfriland, settled in Edinburgh and got themselves into the body snatching business.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson
However digging up fresh corpses in dark cold graveyards was hard work, and Burke and Hare realised it would be easier to create their own fresh corpses, moving from body snatching to murder. 

When their scheme was discovered the resulting scandal moved Parliament to action and the Anatomy Bill was passed in 1832. This meant that the bodies of the destitute who died in the Poor House could now be used for dissection and there were always plenty of them. Overnight, the market for illicitly obtained corpses dried up and the body snatchers were driven out of business.

Burke and Hare -Wikimedia Commons

As for Burke and Hare, proving that there is no honour among thieves, Hare was the first person to "turn King's evidence" in a British Court of Law. In return for immunity from persecution, Hare testified against his colleague and Burke was found guilty. Burke was hanged in January 1829. Ironically, his body was then dissected and his preserved skeleton is still on display in the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare was officially last seen heading for the English border. A report in the Belfast Newsletter some years later, however, relates how he turned up in a pub in Poyntzpass. A local recognised him and he was run out of town by a stone throwing mob. A man like Hare had the sort of skills that would be useful to the man who is the villain of my book.

So that is my novel, The Undead of Belfast. It is set in a town you will probably have heard of but at a time when there was a lot going on that might surprise you about the place. I would love to think it’s a scary read, but really it’s a bit of fun. As one reviewer on Amazon describes it, “a classic ripping yarn”.

Ireland, 1839. Belfast is a city that is blossoming but already beginning to rot. Amid its crowded streets, linen mills and factories body snatchers are on the loose and a homicidal maniac is on a killing spree. Witnesses claim that the murderer is an executed criminal who should be dead and buried.

Captain Joseph Sheridan is a consulting detective from Dublin who specialises in investigating the supernatural. Bereaved by the death of his beloved wife, his work has been a ten year forlorn quest for evidence that there is any life beyond death. Sheridan travels north to probe the mystery. In Belfast he joins forces with a Belfast policeman, Abraham Harpur and Emily Brunty, a school mistress hiding her secret desire to be a journalist. Together, they seek the truth behind who is resurrecting the murderous dead. 
Buy in paperback from Amazon 
Buy in ebook format from Amazon 
Read more about the novel on Facebook  

A bit about Tim:
Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After several happy years living in New Castle, New Hampshire, USA, he and his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters have returned to a village in Ireland called Moira.

You can find lots more about Ulster history and my other books on Tim's BLOG  and Tim's  Amazon author page

Thank you for visiting today, Tim. I knew a little of Burke and Hare's exploits in Edinburgh, and knew there was an Irish connection, but I didn't know those interesting 'Frankenstein' details that you've given in the above post. Your novel might be a bit too scary for a 'feartie' like me - but it's sure to have a firm following! My very best wishes with all of your writing projects.


Monday, 14 May 2018

#Monday Matters- How Did That Happen? with Joan Livingston

#Monday Matters...

is back again where authors are invited to interpret my "How Did That Happen?" title in any way they choose.

Today, I'm welcoming back a Crooked Cat Books author friend - Joan Livingston - who has a fabulous post to share with us. Her topic is essentially 'her mother', and it can't be all that often that an author actually includes her/his mother in their latest novel. 

I'll hand over to Joan and let her explain How did That Happen! 

My Mother is a Character

Algerina Medeiros
In real life, my mother, Algerina Medeiros is a smart and spunky 94-year-old woman. She’s also the inspiration for Isabel Long’s mother in my new mystery, Chasing the Case, and being a big reader, she gave her approval. Yes, my mother is indeed a character in my book.

Both Isabel and her mother, Maria Ferreira are widows. Maria, who is 92, came to live with her in the town of Conwell in Western Massachusetts because both were tired of living alone. Also, Isabel has the most room of her siblings.

Maria likes to stay up late reading and watching TV. Being Portuguese, she makes family favorites like kale soup. And when Isabel takes on her first case, her mother not only gives her wholehearted support, she helps out.

I like Maria. She’s got a quick sense of humor. Isabel says she inherited her nosy gene, which came in handy when she was a journalist. Now, it will help her as a P.I.

Isabel’s first case involves disappearance of a woman 28 years earlier in Conwell, which only has a thousand people. She has the time, given she lost her job as the managing editor of the newspaper where she worked for thirty years. And, she has a Watson in her mother.

Here is a brief excerpt. Isabel is burying a dead pet cat in the backyard.

I dig the shovel’s point into the earth. I chose a spot in the backyard away from my vegetable garden. Damn, it’s cold for late October. The ground isn’t frozen yet, thank goodness, or I’d have a problem today. I’m in a sweatshirt and wearing gloves. I swear I see snowflakes when I glance up from my digging.

I hear a tap at the kitchen window. My mother’s face is in the glass. Ma came to live with me this summer. Her name is Maria Ferreira. She didn’t want to be on her own, and I’m her kid with the most room, lots of room, actually. She’s been a widow a few years. Having your ninety-two-year-old mother move in could be a pain, but not my ninety-two-year-old mother. She hasn’t lost her edge. She stays up past midnight, later than me, watching TV and doing puzzles. I got her interested in some of the stuff in our dinky town, plus there are the kids and granddaughter.

Ma still drives. She’s got a heavy foot like she’s behind the wheel of the getaway car in a bank robbery.

The other day I told her, “Ma, you’re moving a little bit fast.”

She joked, “No, it’s the car.”

I laughed.

I let her drive me around, so she doesn’t forget. That will change this winter. My commute to the newsroom was at times an adventure, snow, and the worst, ice. Sometimes I had to find a place to sleep in the city. The road crews do their best, but the weather can be unpredictable and fast.

Ma checks my progress. I asked her not to come outside because it’s so cold. I give her a wave and keep digging.

My mother read Chasing the Case, plus my other books. Actually, I credit her for my love of reading — she took us to the library at least once a week. She says she loved the book, but she did have a question. How about writing a historical romance next? Oh, my mother.

Joan Livingston
Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Chasing the Case, published by Crooked Cat Books, is her first mystery and the first in a series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I.
An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and most recently the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.
After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including Chasing the Case and its sequels.

Website: www.joanlivingston.net.
Twitter: @joanlivingston

Goodreads: www.Goodreads.com/Joan_Livingston

Chasing the Case

How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That's a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve.
Isabel has the time given she just lost her husband and her job as the managing editor of a newspaper. (Yes, it's been a bad year.) And she's got a Watson — her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who lives with her.
To help her case, Isabel takes a job at the local watering hole, so she can get up close and personal with those connected to the mystery.
As a journalist, Isabel never lost a story she chased. Now, as an amateur P.I., she's not about to lose this case.
Chasing the Case officially launches May 18.

Here’s the link to order Chasing the Case in paperback, or the Kindle version: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

Your mother sounds like a very interesting person to know, Joan, and the book a very entertaining read that I'll look forward to. 

It was my father who took me to the library as a kid. At that time, my mother always said she had no time, or energy to read at night. She also had the excuse that when she was growing up her own mother frowned upon my mum, or my aunts, (the female siblings) spending time reading, though it wasn't a problem to my grandfather who was a well-educated shipyard worker on the Clyde, in Glasgow. Of course, my grandmother had no issue with my uncles if they picked up a newspaper, or a book! 

By the time I was in my late teens, my mum was visiting the library and taking out a couple of books each week. She liked historical sagas and romances but to me, she was a very slow reader. I could read about five books in the time it took mum to read one novel, though the time taken was immaterial. By then, she loved being immersed in a book.

Thanks for sharing your mum with us today, Joan. Best wishes with your newest book launch that's coming up very soon (18th May 2018)! 


Afternoon Tea? Why not!

Saturday was such a fine day!

St. Giles
There was nothing particularly usual about it, since I was up around 5.30 a.m. to get organised for a long bus/coach journey to Edinburgh. Breakfast over, showered and dressed, I was ready to leave the house at 6.45 a.m. to catch the local bus into Aberdeen. I had about a 15 minutes turn-around before boarding the next coach to Edinburgh- just long enough to buy a bottle of water and visit the Ladies (Yes, there is a toilet on the coach but I'm not a lover of using it).

Fiona, Me, and Ann
I love going down to Edinburgh but I don't drive down - the coach is so much more relaxing and there's no problem about finding an extortionate parking space. The downside is that it takes me around 4 and a half hours by 2 buses (each way), whereas driving down might be around 3 hours. Taking the train is possible, but I'd still have a journey into Aberdeen to pick up the train. The train isn't cheap, so that would be added expense, and since it only costs me £1 to book a seat on the bus - I go by bus!

My thanks to the #Scottish Government for arranging my 'Free' bus transport around Scotland- I can't thank you enough for this pleasure. I don't use my free bus pass all that often, but I really appreciate having its occasional use.

A short walk from the bus station in Edinburgh and I was at the venue for my Afternoon Tea meet-up with the ladies of the Romantic Novelists Association Scottish Chapter and what a fine afternoon it

The best thing wasn't the very beautifully presented food but it was being in the physical company of other like minded authors who are usually only virtual names. It was excellent to be a part of such a short but very important event on the RNA Scottish calendar.
Writers Museum 

I also had a little time to walk around the busy Edinburgh streets before our meeting. The Royal Mile being near our venue -The Scotsman Hotel. Sadly, it was too short to be involved in any of the numerous Tourist Trap tours. Once again I got to 'The Writers Museum', but had no time to browse around inside. That can be for another visit and another day!


Friday, 11 May 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Jane Bwye

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 back Jane Bwye who has been a very good author friend for more than five years, since we have the same publisher in Crooked Cat Books.  

Jane Bwye
Though my series image is of a snowy Dunkeld Cathedral, Jane is about to transport us to a different part of the world, one where she uses her personal experience of living there to write her excellent novels. Ditch the fleecy jackets for now, because Jane is about to transport us to a lovely sunny place. 

Welcome again Jane, and please tell us about the historical background to your novels...

Thank you, Nancy, for asking me back to talk about a subject dear to my heart – the historical background to my first novel, Breath of Africa.
I lived in the East African country of Kenya for over half a century, and readers suspect the book is an autobiography. They are right to a certain extent, but I’ve let my imagination run riot in many places. That’s the joy of writing fiction.
The book covers a thirty-year period between 1952 and 1982. At the start of each of its four sections I have included a summary of political history, and there is a Glossary at the end, which provides translations as well as extra snippets of information, which would have spoiled the flow of the novel.
The story starts with two girls breaking out of school during a curfew at the time of the Mau Mau emergency. This triggers a drama of psychological terror fuelled by an oath administrator, Mwangi.
Courtesy of Jane Bwye

Ten years of tribal, racial and politic turbulence became the catalyst for Kenya’s swift transition to Independence. Nobody was ready for it.
There was a major exodus of settler farmers in the run up to Independence in 1963. The large Indian middle class huddled together in trepidation, feeling vulnerable to takeovers of their thriving businesses. The Africans rejoiced, but they quickly learned that governing their diverse citizens was more difficult than they could ever have imagined.
And there was the dim world of those of mixed race. Nobody wanted to acknowledge these unfortunate products of secret liaisons. They were shunned by Africans, Caucasians and Indians alike - swept under the carpet.
My book addresses this problem, weaving a love story which links the main characters: the daughter of a white settler, Caroline; the son of an African farm guard, Charles Ondiek, who defies prejudice and graduates from Oxford University; and Teresa, the result of a coupling between a “poor white” and an Indian coolie who had worked on building the railway.
Kenya’s railway had marked the beginning of colonialization in Kenya. The British believed they would have a head start in the scramble for Africa if they built a link between the coast and Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile. And it forms a backbone of the country to this day.
Menengai  Crater- Courtesy of Jane Bwye
Caroline takes her son on the night train from Nairobi to the coast. There is a romance about the gentle rocking motion as the wheels clack along the track and the occasional haunting whistle sounds in the night. In the dining car they eat from crockery marked EAR&H (East African Railways & Harbours), using silver service cutlery and they wipe their mouths with starched damask table napkins. When the train pulls into a station at dead of night, she hears the guard shout and sees him exchange the token key – a long stick with a basketlike top, much like a lacrosse racquet.
There is another side to Kenya’s history. The country has been mainly Christian since the missionaries first explored the interior in the 19th century.

My characters are Christians, but superstition clashes with their faith when they are targeted with Mwangi’s curses. And Charles’s family are especially torn, as they are the spiritual custodians of a secret ancestral cave in the desert, and Kenya is known as the cradle of mankind…

Jane - experiencing the desert
… which brings me to what many people have identified as the main character of Breath of Africa: it’s amazing scenery and ancient extinct volcanos; and its expansive deserts, which comprise two-thirds of the country.

I hope you will enjoy reading the book:

And its sequel, which brings the story of Kenya up to the present day:

Jane’s website: http://janebwye.com/

A bit about Jane:
Jane has been an intermittent freelance journalist, a businesswoman and mentor for most of her life. She has written three novels, a cookbook, a 50-year history of her local church, and coming out this summer is a beginner’s guide to starting your own business, called “Going It Alone”. Her children and grandkids are scattered over three continents, so she developed a taste for travel, and in 2001 “walked” round the world, buying a bird book in every country she visited. Now “retired” in the UK, she gives talks, and indulges her love for playing bridge, judging dressage, and watching tennis.

Thank you for contributing to my series, today, Jane. It's alway a pleasure to read your wonderful novels, and I wish you the very best with all of your future writing related projects. 

Till the next 'Aye. Ken it wis like this' post, have a great week.


Thursday, 10 May 2018

#review 15 of 2018 - The Corsican Widow by Vanessa Couchman

Fiction ...and non-fiction- I need a bit of both! 

My reading is quite varied just now, and I'm catching up with writing short reviews of books recently read. Much as I enjoy reading non-fiction for my own writing purposes, I need to have the balance with some fiction purely for enjoyment, and I especially love it when the fiction is really beautifully written. 

I've read Vanessa Couchman's novel- The House At Zaronza - and knew the kind of tale that Vanessa can weave in the hot sunny climes of Mediterranean Corsica. I really looked forward to reading her new one, and wondered how she would be linking that House at Zaronza to a different time period. I can definitely say I wasn't disappointed, and I probably liked The Corsican Widow even more than the first story of that house at Zaronza. (fickle memory means I can't quite remember the feelings as  I read the first story, for comparison!) 

Here's what I thought of The Corsican Widow by Vanessa Couchman

This was an engrossing read. It wasn't always a comfortable read, some very old Corsican customs not quite being what we're used to today, but they did make it very easy to empathise with the main character, Valeria. Being so very biddable at the beginning of the novel was compatible with the expectations of the time for a young woman on Corsica, although the author showed that Valeria was already stepping out of the mould before her traditional, and essentially forced, marriage to an older, if kindly, man. 

Those little hints of escape, from the tight restraints of adhering to family respectability, are built upon as the story progresses to the point at which Valeria is able to fend for herself, when she finds life turns very nasty for her. 

Some of the male characters who feature in the background are easy to like as well, others definitely not so much, but as this is essentially Valeria's story their appearances are very well portrayed in this well-written and well-edited tale of Corsica and beyond.

I liked learning a little of the history of Corsica, and would definitely recommend it as a good holiday read for a Mediterranean trip, or for someone who likes to read light historical fiction with a hint of intrigue.
I really enjoyed this 5* read. 


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

#review 14 of 2018 The Roman Conquest of Britannia

My brief thoughts on a book I've just finished.

The Roman Conquest of Britannia by Charles River Editors

This was a fairly concise summary of the early history of the Ancient Romans in Britain. If you know very little of the invasions of the Romans, and only want a broad overview, then you’ll find this a readable and informative book, without too much fine detail to slow down the reading pace.

I had already read of most of what was written in this book but it was good for me as a recap. 

Though the coverage of the establishment and rise of Londinium was very brief that part was of interest to me.

Though, as with most books on Roman Britain, details are very scant for northern Britain which is of greater interest to me.


#guest posting at Jane Bwye- creating #crediblesettings

On Tuesday 8th May 

...I popped over to visit my lovely friend, Jane Bwye. On her blog, I wrote about creating credible settings. 

That post is here   Below is a reblog of my post. (c. Nancy Jardine)

Research generally plays a large part in the preparation for a historical novel. Depending on the era chosen, that can be a fairly simple process of going to prime sources, text books or academic papers to locate the information that can be used to create a credible setting. 

In my case, since my historical fiction series is set almost 2000 years ago in northern Roman Britain, prime sources for this are non-existent. Some copies of ancient works I have to use with caution, because they are likely to be translations, and have possibly been subject to miscopying and/ or scribal misconceptions. There are plenty of non-fiction books I can read that give me useful general information on Roman Britain, but they are based on interpretations of what the era might have been like, and few of these books mention the barbarian areas of north-eastern Scotland. My task, when writing my fiction is to amalgamate lots of those interpretations and use them in conjunction with the archaeological record for the areas involved. But sometimes I need even more than that.

My imagination has to work hard, but not so hard it becomes historical fantasy. To date, readers and reviewers of my Celtic Fervour Series have enjoyed that I've striven to create credible scenes, and that's my future aim, as well.

The organic nature of my research is very exciting, because there's always some new theory or interpretation formed from the latest archaeological investigations using fancy new techniques which, sometimes, supplant interpretations of the previous decades.

While writing Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series, Agricola's Bane, I've had to use additional sources of information to those already mentioned above to give me a better feel for what my setting was like. My characters in Book 4 inhabit their lifestyle much as in Books 1, 2 and 3. Their clothing, and the other daily trappings in their houses, is similar but the physical landscape they live in has become much more important because the countryside is deeply related to the plot of Book 4.

Bennachie, Aberdeenshire (c. Nancy Jardine)
The action in Book 4 moves further north into new parts of north-east Britannia (current northern Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Moray). While writing about the setting, there have been some niggling aspects of geography for me to solve before I've been happy with my story development. 

The physical landscape of the few higher hills around the area hasn't changed appreciably in shape and elevation from 2000 years ago, since there have been no major earthquakes, or anything that would make noticeable differences. What has changed is the vegetation across the region, so whether describing the higher areas, or the valley floors, I can't assume they looked as they do today.
(Forest of Birse) Blanket Bog 

2000 years ago much more of the land was covered in blanket bog which encroached right down to lower levels. Since the 1700s, mechanisation improved farming techniques, gradually at first, and then the pace picked up during the twentieth century. 

Lots of that original blanket bog stretching from the surrounding hills down towards valley floors was successfully drained, and is now well maintained, so what I can see now are the fertile fields of Aberdeenshire and Moray – though to be fair, the Laigh of Moray (flatlands) had the best fertile fields of 2000 years ago, but they were not as extensive as they are now. 

How do I know this? I've used information from the Forestry Commission; Woodland Trusts; History of Farming in Aberdeenshire; and soil sampling research from archaeological excavations.

The sea coast of Aberdeenshire and the Moray Firth have also changed, a little, over those 2000 years, mainly due to coastal erosion. What I can visit today, is not necessarily what was there 2000 years ago, when General Gnaeus Agricola marched his Roman legions up and down the area.

Dunnicaer, Aberdeenshire
(Dunnicaer is at the centre top of this image)
In some coastal bays, like those near Stonehaven, what are now sea-stacks of rock standing proudly separate were once joined to the land as promontories, or perhaps by a land bridge of some sort. The rugged-sided stack named Dunnicaer, a short distance from the iconic Dunnottar Castle, has been of great interest to me during the last few years.

Dr, Gordon Noble and his teams from the Department of Archaeology at Aberdeen University have been scaling up the stack with support from a trained mountaineer, to excavate what remains of the top surface. Their findings have been impressive and prove fort habitation back to the Pictish era AD 400-600. Someone of high status appears to have lived there in a small wooden hall surrounded by stone fortifications. (The Pictish word for fort is 'dun') It's unlikely they climbed up and down every day like the archaeological team, so some fairly major form of erosion has occurred to separate the area from the bay cliffs. The natural erosion has left the team with only a small part of the fort to excavate, since the seaward side has already tumbled down into the sea.

If Dunnicaer was inhabited around the fifth century AD, then I like to wonder if it was also occupied during my era of AD 84. The concept of 'kingship' seems to have been absent during the time of the Roman invasion of the area, but that doesn't rule out the possibility there was a roundhouse village there because it is an incredibly commanding position whether for defensive purposes, or purely for the view afforded from it. However, if I did include habitation there in my novel, I would probably be straying into the fantasy of authorial licence.

 A recent hypothesis is that the fort on Dunnicaer was possibly abandoned sometime around the 6th century AD and the 'kingship' site moved to the promontory where Dunnottar Castle stands today. Dunnottar is likely to have been the site of a siege (Duin Foither in AD 681 - Annals of &Ulster). The ruins in the photo are of a later medieval castle, but I think the photo shows how natural erosion can separate land to become a sea-stack.

Dunnottar Castle
The erosion of the Moray Coast beaches has been slowed down due to the planting of specific woodlands since the seventeenth and eighteenth century. That means that the extent of the waters of the Moray Firth has changed from 2000 years ago, so a simple mention of General Agricola's Ancient Roman Classis (fleet) sailing past the sites of Dunnottar and Dunnicaer, up the Aberdeenshire coast to the Moray Firth, might just need adjustments by me to be more accurate.

Would my readers know any of this information? Maybe not, but I do!


Images from Wikimedia Commons/ Creative commons licences.

Monday, 7 May 2018

#Monday Matters-How Did That Happen & Formatting Tips

#How Did That Happen?

It's #Monday again and I'm jumping for joy! I've eventually got all 3 of my  Celtic Fervour Series novels published in both ebook and in paperback formats. However...

The paths to my paperback self-publishing have been littered with some interesting, and very irritating, little pebbles. Not huge boulders, just annoying little bumps along the road.

I really thought a good few weeks ago that my paperback publishing venture with Createspace was going to be much easier than publishing the 3 ebook versions of my Celtic Fervour Series. Not so, I'm afraid!

I got what I thought were my final fully professionally edited versions of the novels into the specially designed Createspace templates. Publishing with Createspace is meant to be a relatively easy process, and they offer a range of free templates, depending on the finished size of the required book. I wanted to publish as 5" x8", since those are the sizes of my Crooked Cat Books versions and it's much easier to stack and sell a similar size on my tables at Book Fairs, Craft Fairs, Highland Games etc.

After the stage of ensuring the formatting was as perfect as it could be inside the Createspace template for my 5"x8" – taking into account things like the amount of rows down the page that a Chapter Heading might sit; the sizes and styles of fonts used; the margins chosen to maximise the amount of text of the page (fewer pages means a cheaper book); the placing of the images for maximum impact; the Front matter in the desired sequence, and the End matter also in order after the end of the story. I thought I had all of that sorted when I realised I'd not added page numbers to my original manuscript Word file.

Adding page numbers to my main story seemed easy enough, and instead of having a 'Page Break' between the front matter and my Page one of the story, I learned I needed to insert a 'Section Break'.  No problem! That meant I could number the Front matter pages in Roman numerals, similarly for the End matter to differentiate them from the main story.

All done - or so I thought.

I had decided that although the preparation was done for the paperbacks, I wanted to publish the ebook versions first, so the templates for the paperbacks were temporarily mothballed.

After the ebooks were published, I went back to the paperbacks and began the publishing processes. It proved to be not so simple after all!

My first irritating issue was that I was unable to load a version of Adobe Flash Player. The Adobe Flash player is essential for using the Createspace Interior Reviewer programme for checking the files for the covers and interiors. I couldn't check properly without the Interior Reviewer programme, but since I was confident my files were good, I was able to order a Proof copy at considerable expense for the 3 books. $45 including shipping isn't cheap, but I decided to do it before ordering multiple copies for selling locally.

The 'expedited' Proof copies arrived very speedily, within three days, which was amazing.  However, in the intervening days between ordering and receiving my proof copies, I was very annoyed about the Adobe problem so I contacted Createspace and told them of my problems with checking the files. To their very great credit, they emailed almost immediately, given the time differences, and gave me a solution for installing the Adobe Flash player  - which was in fact already on my computer, installed at source, but hidden and unknown to me.

NB Createspace 'contact/ help' were very efficient! 

The proof copies arrived and the front covers were AMAZINGLY beautiful! The spines looked great too, but I realised I'd not picked up on the fact that the blurb text was too small, too light, and ragged. This wasn't an immense problem to solve, but my cover designer was on holiday and that meant a slight delay to get them fixed. 

I opened the inside of the proof copies to find a very strange line above the numbering. And on Book 1, The Beltane Choice, there was a very strange DOT printed on every page in the Footer area.

Again this wasn't a massive issue, but my proof copy wasn't as good as it could be. I set to working out why these had printed. Of course, if I'd had the Adobe Interior reviewer to check with, these strange issues would have surfaced before I ordered the proof copies.

After a lot of fruitless searches on various sites, I found that the Createspace template as seen on my 2003 version of Word has the line above the number as a standard and if not wanted, it has to be deselected using the Format> Borders and Shading options where I had to choose >None.

It was during these searches, I found that my strange DOT had inserted itself during the numbering process, and it also had to be manually removed from the Footer.

If you have intimate knowledge of your Microsoft Word version, then you might have known that, but my excuse is that I was a primary teacher and only learned to type when I had the need to!

Yes, I have picked up many bad habits when using Microsoft Word for word processing, and I am gradually eliminating them.

I'm now extremely hopeful that the 30 copies of each book that will arrive at my doorstep within the next couple of months will be as perfect as can be.

So, to round up this post, my advice if self-publishing via Createspace is - DO make sure you have the Interior Reviewer facility that needs Adobe Flash Player to run it. DO check for little issues that detract from the overall great publishing. And Google your version of Word for answers, if the problem doesn't seem to be covered in the extensive Createspace Help forums.

I'm a happy author now, and more than ready to complete Book 4 of the series and get it through all the necessary stages. Watch this spot in the coming weeks for more news on that!