Friday, 31 August 2018

#Review 27 of my Goodreads Challenge of 2018

I'm trying really hard to remember to post some short comments on the books read this year whether they be non-fiction or fiction- short or long.

I sandwiched this novella in between current non- fiction and my next fiction that I know is going to take me longer to read. I find that's a successful relaxing technique when the in-between book is easily read, but well-written!

The Adonis Touch by Rosemary Gemmell

This was a really nice, quick and well-written read. Just the ticket for a late summer read when the night's are drawing in.

The idea of the gods and goddesses of Greece /Cyprus still being around in contemporary times is an interesting one. I might have to go back to Cyprus again to check that out since my one and only visit was a good number of years ago. Though maybe the fact that I'm still happily married would nullify a visit to meet Adonis anyway? (Errr, Nope- I'd go just for curiosity's sake!)

Was the relationship between Mike and Katie going to come to fruition anyway without the nudge from Adonis and Aphrodite? That is a big question the reader must ask themselves. When it's love coming around a second time it makes for a different kind of read. Mike's a truly patient guy but Katie seems, at times, a bit too tentative for me but hey!  - When singled out by the god and goddess of love then a certain inevitability must surely follow.

I'm now only 6 books behind schedule on my Goodreads challenge but I'm not trying to cheat by squeezing in some novellas- it just so happens that some have been on my kindle for a few months now and it's time for them to have a turn.

Slainthe!

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Mary Anne Yarde

series image - Dunkeld Cathedaral

Friday means it's time again for my historical blog series - #Aye. Ken it wis like this...

We missed a day last Friday, since I was down at Cumbernauld (near Glasgow, Scotland) for the Historical Novelists Society Conference (HNS) which was a fantastic experience. 

However, I'm very excited to restart the theme with the lovely Mary Anne Yarde who has brought King Arthur for us! The story of King Arthur has produced an endless round of excellent interpretations of his life and loves and I'm delighted to say I will always have room for another version. The controversy of who he was - if he in fact did live at all - and where he was from, produces fascinating debate. Mary Anne Yarde shares a superb post about the background with us today, along with a brilliant selection of images to enhance her descriptions. There's an exciting excerpt for you to read from her newly published novel Du Lac Prophecy after the post, so sit tight and enjoy it all! 

Welcome to my blog Mary Anne and to the series, which I'm really loving with all of it's time periods and sub-genres of historical fiction. Please give us the background to your Du Lac Chronicles series...

Welcome to the Dark Ages. Welcome to the Land of King Arthur.

I have been fascinated with the life and times of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table since I was a child — I guess growing up a stone’s throw from Glastonbury (The Ancient Isle of Avalon) may have had something to do with that.

courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde
My book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, tells the story of what happened after the death of Arthur, and continues the story of his Knights and their sons. But to write about the end of Arthur’s reign, I needed to know about the beginning. A not so easy task, it turned out.

The history of a historical Arthur is not written in stone but is, instead, engraved in folklore, and that brings its own set of challenges.

Firstly, where did Arthur come from? Well, that is an easy question to answer…

King Arthur was English. No, he was Welsh. Arthur was Scottish. He was from Brittany. Oh, for goodness’ sake, he was a Roman General!

Which is right? Arthur is so famous that everyone wants to claim him and, over the years, there have been many names thrown out there as to who he really was. But we mustn’t forget that when we are dealing with Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We can make Arthur fit wherever we want him to, and that is where the problem lies. It is very easy to make mistakes, and I have read many books that claim to have found the real Arthur, only they haven’t, it is just a theory, sometimes a very shaky one.

The same can be said for Arthur’s famous castle, Camelot. There have been many possible locations for one of the most famous castles in history. Tintagel, Cadbury Hill, Caerlaverock Castle, have all been put forward, and last year it was suggested that a small Roman fort at Slack is where the real Camelot once stood. However, during all this excitement and discoveries we have overlooked a fundamental issue — there was no Camelot. It was an invention of a French poet in 1180! How can you look for something that was never there to begin with?

King Arthur by Ruben Eyno
courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde
The Dark Ages, in which my books are set, are equally challenging to research because there is a lack of reliable primary resources. What was written down was written down for a purpose and that purpose was usually politically motivated, which in itself is fascinating, although not so helpful. Now, in these early texts when Arthur is mentioned, there is nothing about him being a king. Nennuis describes him as a warrior on par with Ironman, but no mention of a crown.

Nancy says: I totally sympathise with the lack of reliable primary sources, since I have the same issues. Without them we can only speculate and choose to use other people's interpretations. 

(I really adore this statue of King Arthur. It encapsulates in an airy way the myth surrounding him so well)

It isn’t until the 12th Century when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes his great work that the Arthur we know is born. The History of The Kings of Briton was meant to be a historically accurate account of British History and for many, many, years what Monmouth wrote was considered factually correct. Of course, we now know it was anything but. However, that does not mean that Monmouth’s work is of no particular value. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore, and it is his story that drives the legend of Arthur and his Knights forward. I think Monmouth’s book is incredibly important as it tells us a great deal about, not only the era, but also about the people who were listening to his stories. And if we dig a little further, we can discover that it wasn’t only the populous who loved listening to Arthurian tales. Those ever practical monks at Glastonbury Abbey did as well.

Let’s take a journey back to 12th Century England

A terrible fire had spread through Glastonbury Abbey, and unfortunately for the monks, they did not have the coffers to pay for the repairs. If only they could encourage more pilgrims to come to the Abbey. What could they do?


courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde
Thanks to Monmouth’s book “Arthur Fever” had gripped the nation. People would pay good money to go on a pilgrimage to Arthur’s final resting place. All that was needed was a good story and a grave. The monks of Glastonbury announced to the world that they had discovered Arthur’s final resting place. That brought in the crowds. Glastonbury Abbey soon had the coffers to make the repairs and then some. There was as much truth in the story of Glastonbury Abbey and King Arthur’s grave as there was in The History of the Kings of Briton. But for hundreds of years, both the Abbey and Monmouth were believed.

My books are not just set in Britain, but France as well, so I needed to have a good understanding of what was happening in both of these countries in the 5th / 6th Century to keep the history real in the telling. Before we look at any of these countries, we need to look at the powerhouse of the world at this time, and that was the Roman Empire. However, by 476 C.E. the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire had been overthrown. The stability that the Roman Empire had brought to Western Europe for over 1000 years was no more.

But this dawning new era brings some of the most fascinating historical figures that ever lived. These were the days of men such as Clovis. Clovis won a decisive victory against Rome, at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486. But, Clovis’ ambition didn’t stop there. Roman Gaul and parts of Western Germany fell to him as well. He forged a new empire through blood, war, and marriage. He made Paris the capital of his new kingdom, and he was the first King of a united Frank (France).

Clovis I - courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde
The Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea (The English Channel) to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest. It was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

Brittany, like Britain, wasn’t one united country, but many, and they were a race of warriors. While they were busy fighting each other, they missed the real threat to the kingdom, which eventually would be their undoing and they would find themselves at the mercy of Frank.

While all this was going on, the Church was creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be considered of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

King Arthur by
Charles Ernest Butler -
Wikimedia commons
This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his Knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, as T.H White put it — The Once and Future King.

Nancy: I loved reading this, and probably still have a very battered paperback copy of it in one of my bookshelves. 

I have tried to show what life was like in the 5th /6th Century in my books, but I have been heavily influenced by folklore, because when you are dealing with this period in history, you cannot dismiss it. Brittany, for example, is terribly difficult to research historically during this era, but when it comes to folklore, she is rich and if that is all she is going to give us, then so be it.

Carnac- courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde


Local Legend claims that the stones were once a Roman Legion. The great sorcerer, Merlin, turned the Legion to stone.

Folklore is its own particular brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about a people by the stories they tell, and people are still fascinated by this larger-than-life King, which I think, says it all. Arthur may well have been a general, or a knight, he may have been English, he may not, but it doesn’t matter because his story is timeless, it will never grow old.

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

Mary Anne is sharing a special excerpt with us today. Relax and enjoy!

“They won’t help you,” Bastian stated and Philippe turned to look at him. “The dead. They won’t help you.”

“I thought I was alone,” Philippe said as he looked back at Tristan’s tombstone.

“In Benwick Castle?” Bastian scoffed. “There is always someone watching. You know that as well as I do. Why are you here?”

“I came looking for answers.”

“Did you find any?” Bastian asked with cynicism.

“No.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“Lancelot was a brave man, wasn’t he?” Philippe mumbled the question more to himself than anything else.

“As was Tristan,” Bastian agreed.

“Did you know him? Tristan, I mean.”

“A little. He kept himself to himself for the most part. He was wounded you see, during the battle of Benwick. He lost the use of his legs. He couldn’t walk. But he…” Bastian smiled as he remembered. “He was very wise. And he was happy to share that wisdom. I liked him. Although not everyone did. After Tristan died, there was talk. Some said he was a liar.”

“What did Lancelot say?” Philippe asked.

“I cannot imagine Lancelot being friends with someone who lied to him. But he neither condemned nor defended Tristan. He kept his own counsel. What are you going to do, Philippe?”

Philippe looked up at the sky. The lavender hue had changed to a blue one. He never appreciated how beautiful the sky was, until now. The day promised to be a warm one, but Philippe felt chilled.

“What would you do?” Philippe asked, as he rose to his feet and looked at his general.

“You have two choices. You can abdicate. Hand him the throne. Or...”

“Or...” Philippe encouraged.

“You could kill him,” Bastian said with a shrug.

Buy Links:







Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

You can find Mary Anne at the following places: 


Thank you for coming today, Mary Anne, and for sharing such a wonderful post for my series. My best wishes with your latest addition to the Du Lac Chronicles! I'm convinced it'll be a fascinating read (It's just as well that a virtual shelf on a kindle can be ever expanding ;-) )  

Slainthe! 


Thursday, 30 August 2018

#Reviews 23-26 of my Goodreads Challenge of 2018

#Thursday thoughts

I've just completed a read of another research book on the Ancient Roman incursions into northern Scotland. This particular book was one of a few recommended to me by an interested customer at my last Craft Fair at Stonehaven. 

Even though it was written around 30 years ago I decided to acquire a copy for myself and it's yet another one to add tomy roman Scotland Bookshelves. 

In A Battle Lost, the author poses some interesting questions and provides some good arguments against, and in favour of, various theories which had been postulated by earlier historians. I particularly liked how he included some really old examples of Scottish based amateur historians from centuries past, and how he agreed on their being sound basis for their theories (as in General Roy) or indicates the over enthusiasm of some of those early theories.  

More recent archaeological excavations have increased some knowledge of the campaigns of Agricola in north-east Britannia (NE Scotland) but there are still many of G. Maxwell's questions to be answered. 

This book isn't long. It's well written, and easily read by an amateur, though someone looking for deeper study would need to look elsewhere to supplement the very useful data in this book. 

I had hoped to find something new for me to research further but that didn't rally happen yet, I'm not sorry to have have read it since it consolidates a lot of prior knowledge. 

I do however, like the tiny mentions that Agricola's unknown successor as Governor of Britannia may just have been responsible for some of the temporary camp activity in north-east Scotland. The novelist in me finds that exceedingly appealing! 

2 further novels were added to my Goodreads Challenge for 2018 both written by Kathryn Leveque. I got a box set of 5 novels set in the Middle Ages and those rad to date are the first 2 books.

The Red Lion, and Spectre of the Sword were simple and entertaining reads at a time when I was exhausted after my conference last week, so they fit the bill for me pretty well. I've read Kathryn Leveque's work before, and enjoy it, though I admit to sometimes questioning some of the historical accuracy as I read.  The general gist of the era is definitely there in the read though, and if the premise of the novel grips me enough I know I can find further historical fiction which can fill in further, in depth, historical details. 

Right now I'm only 7 books behind on my 2018 schedule of attempting to read 50 books this year. 

Slainthe! 


Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Costa del Churros is coming soon!


Wednesday Welcomes to Isabella May!

I've a special return guest today. My Crooked Cat friend, Isabella May, has pre- launch news to share with us. Isabella has been a guest here many times before and is always welcome. Her romantic comedy novels are a delight to read, and I'm sure his new one will be every bit as entertaining as those I've already read. 

Good Morning, Isabella. What can you tell us about your soon-to-be-launched novel? 


COSTA DEL CHURROS
Muchas gracias for hosting me on your blog today to talk about my brand new novel with Crooked Cat Books! COSTA DEL CHURROS will launch on September 19th and is another romantic comedy which fuses all things foodie, travel and spirituality. I’m keeping my fingers (and paws!) crossed that it’ll have as good a reception as its predecessors…

Why write about Spain?
My first two books, Oh! What a Pavlova and The Cocktail Bar centred much of their activity around the quirky and mystical town of Glastonbury, UK.  But in actual fact I live in Spain nowadays and much as I relished the opportunity to write about the place where I spent my childhood through to late twenties, it was high time for a change of scene – as well as to prove to myself that I am not a One Trick Pony. Or should that be Cat?

Is Costa del Churros based on a fictional or real part of Spain?
Yes, Costa del Churros refers to the Costa del Sol, here in the gigantic province of Andalusia, where I live. I have traveled all over the country, but nowhere seems to make, eat or embrace churros (fried donut strips, often eaten dipped in a thick, velvety chocolate sauce and/or sprinkled liberally with sugar) with the aplomb of the people in this region. The churros play a central role throughout the book, used as a code word that brings four – very different – women together for flamenco lessons with their highly exuberant teacher, Carmen.

Here’s the blurb:
The rain in Spain doesn't mainly fall on the plain…

Brits abroad Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina need more than the sweetness of churros with chocolate dipping sauce to save them from their unsavoury states of affairs.

Cue Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera, the town's flamboyant flamenco teacher! But can she really be the answer to their prayers?

One thing's for sure: the Costa del Sol will never be the same again.

Are these four women based on people you know?
Not per se!

But Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina are definitely a beautiful fusion of some of the kaleidoscopically colourful characters I have met here over the past seven years. I wanted to paint a truthful picture of expat life in Spain (and quite possibly this will extend to other areas of The Mediterranean too). It’s all too easy to assume that a life in the sun is all soaking up its rays, sand, sea and sangria, but in actual fact, we take ourselves wherever we go! There’s absolutely no running away from your problems when you are home from home, be they romantic, financial, self-esteem based, or all of the above. Often, as soon as the novelty of the new lifestyle wears off, those issues are only exacerbated…

I thought it would make for an interesting (and comical) read to throw four women from four completely different backgrounds together, to add a little magic (a la Carmen) and to watch the fireworks – from a very safe distance.

Tell us a bit about Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera…
Well, she was a joy to write.

And I think all of us could do with a Carmen in our lives. Not only is she a talented flamenco teacher, but she has watched the way Franco’s repression of the female has gnawed away at her mother, and at the lives of countless women around her. So Carmen’s mission is one of empowerment. And she’s particularly passionate about encouraging women to have their cake and eat it. Truly, I’d love for nothing more than to click my fingers and magic her up every time I witness a female friend or family member declare in a cafĂ©/restaurant/gelateria ‘Oh! I really shouldn’t indulge… I’ll start the diet again next week!’

For Carmen is the antidote to any and all of that prescribed female behaviour, an advocate for positive body image on beaches and sun-loungers the length of the coast. She’s a breath of fresh air injecting a much-needed confidence boost to all four of the main characters in the story.

If your tummy has started to rumble… here’s that all important Universal Amazon buying link: 


You can find out about Isabella May’s other books, and follow her quirky cake and cocktail posts at these places:

Twitter - @IsabellaMayBks
Instagram - @isabella_may_author
Isabella May 
 
Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. Having grown up on Glastonbury’s ley lines however, she’s unable to completely shake off her spiritual inner child, and is a Law of Attraction fanatic.
Cake, cocktail, and travel obsessed, she also loves nothing more than to (quietly) break life’s ‘rules’.
Costa del Churros is her third novel.





Very best wishes for a fantastic launch of Costa Del Churros, Isabella. Thank you for sharing it with us and may it be happily gobbed up because it sounds delicious!

Slainthe! 

Monday, 27 August 2018

#HNS Conference Scotland 2018

Weekend Conference Update!

There was no "Aye. Ken it wis like this.." post last Friday and that was on purpose because I knew I would be in transit down to the HNS (Historical Novel Society) Conference 2018 which was held in the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld, near Glasgow. I'm not sure I'll get to any other far flung events but I was determined to attend this year's HNS conference since I was relatively local.

I am so glad I made the effort, and forked out the expense for the residential stay, because it was a fabulous weekend, jam packed with really interesting talks and additional events.

with John Jackson
I was delighted to see that two of my Crooked Cat colleagues were there, one I've met before and one that I haven't - Carol Maginn and John Jackson. As happens sometimes at such events I didn't get around to ensuring a photo with Carol, but I did make sure to get one with John. Apart from them at the outset I had only physically met one other person and a number of others from Facebook Groups contact. It was marvellous to meet up with all of them, in particular Louise Turner.

I'm now home having listened to a variety of talks which covered both traditional publishing information and self-publishing. I loved the talks given by Ben Kane and by Kevin Ashman, though I could be said to be biased since they both have written Ancient Roman novels.

I also liked the information given by two different types of printers who offer self- publishing packages - Ingram Spark and Troubador Publishing. Each representative brought their own bias but I learned something new from both of them which should make it easier if and when I branch out from Createspace for my paperback printing.

The after dinner session on Friday 'Dressing History in film and TV' was entertaining as we had the privilege of seeing some genuine and ancient costumes demonstrated by Graham Hunter who has been involved in the costuming of prestigious projects like Outlander and Game of Thrones.

I had such a fantastic time at the Saturday night ceilidh, danced almost every dance, but I'm ashamed to say that I missed the Keynote speaker of Sunday starting at 9 a.m. -  Sarah Dunant who spoke about The Borgias. However, I hadn't missed Alison Weir, the Saturday Keynote speaker. She was excellent her talk title and book being about Jane Seymour. Her selection of paintings of the Tudor figures who featured was truly impressive as was her knowledge of the era.

The paperbacks but I've even more new ones on my kindle! 
I brought home a load of new signed novels and have plenty of other reading material to keep me occupied for ages to come.

It's time for me to get on now with more new writing and no more procrastination.

Slainthe! 


Thursday, 23 August 2018

Agricola Dies! 23rd August A.D. 93



Gnaeus Iulius Agricola-
Bath (Victorian representation)
Death of Agricola-August 23rd A.D. 93.

1,925 years ago, on the 23rd August, Gnaeus Iulius Agricola died. His death would probably have gone completely unrecorded but for his son-in-law, Cornelius Tacitus, making a note of it in his writing. The reference to Agricola’s death in De Vita et Moribus Iulii Agricola isn’t extensive but what is written is highly important because it points to a potentially suspicious end to the man who was the general in charge of the invasions of northern Britannia.

Agricola is briefly mentioned in the first books of my Celtic Fervour Series, initially as being the commander of Legio XX under the Governorship of Petilius Cerialis, and secondly as being the Governor of Britannia himself by c. A.D 78. When Agricola returned to Britannia c. A.D. 78, as Governor of Britannia, Commander of the Britannic legions and the Classis Britannica he was determined to conquer the whole of the island. In After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series, Agricola is the driving force of my character Gaius Livanus Valerius, a senior tribune of the Legio XX.

In Book 4 of my series, Agricola’s Bane, now a stage closer to publication, Agricola is one of my main characters. It has been a difficult task and yet a wholehearted pleasure to attempt to get into the head of this man who was a complex invader. Total conquest was his aim yet Tacitus gives us a hint of the nature of General Agricola.

Tacitus may well have been glossing over any faults in his father-in-law. He may well have been highly exaggerating any triumphs and conquests that Agricola had in northern Britannia. But sadly, his work is all we have to chart the life of this dedicated man who was perhaps an unusual high ranking soldier of his time.  

Cornelius Tacitus
from an early lithograph
Agricola was instrumental in leading his armies, often in the vanguard according to Tacitus, into barbarian uncharted territory.  It seems clear from Tacitus that although perhaps not the most aggressive of military leaders, Agricola was not afraid of confrontational situations with hostile enemies. It’s also notable that Tacitus credits Agricola as being a very astute and competent Governor of Britannia in that his civic impositions were intended to be adhered to in a fair and just manner. He had spent some time in earlier political posts, e.g. as Quaestor in Asia Province and had learned that corruption was rife. Tacitus infers that Agricola abhorred the practice and was determined to avoid having underhand practices in Britannia.

If Tacitus was not over glossing Agricola’s attributes, then the man was a complex leader, he was more than a military invader and portraying him in Agricola’s Bane had been a challenge. We may never find out exactly what Agricola was like but archaeology is unearthing more and more details of his conquest year by year. The domination of what is now southern Scotland seems a bit earlier than first thought by the amateur historians over the last centuries. It may well have been Agricola who DID march his Legio XX soldiers over the border hills under the governorship of Petillius Cerialis. By the time Agricola marched all the way to north-east Scotland, probably around A.D. 84, he had laid down sufficient traces of his determined attempt to subdue all in his path.

By late A.D. 84 or early A.D. 85, Agricola was in an unenviable position. He had been Governor of Britannia for more years than most of his predecessors. As far as the archaeological records presently record, seven summer campaigns weren’t quite enough for Agricola to have left a trail of temporary camp evidence north of Inverness. I, personally, have little doubt that one more year would have seen him dominating that most northerly area of Scotland as well. (and perhaps he did and we just don't know it yet) 

Emperor Domitian recalling him to Rome at such a juncture in his career leaves so many unanswered questions, some of which I’ve attempted to answer in Agricola’s Bane. Whether, or not, Agricola fell foul of Domitian displeasure Agricola was back in Rome by A.D. 85. Tacitus does tell us that Agricola received triumphal honours, and an official statue was erected (probably lost in antiquity) but there are nuances in the writing that make it seem a grudging acknowledgement on the part of Domitian.

It’s quite an amazing fact that Agricola held no further high office after his return from Britannia at approx. 44 years old. His reasons for refusing the post of Governor of the Province of Africa are unknown. What is recorded elsewhere is that the political situation around the Emperor Domitian was highly volatile. Perhaps Agricola was miffed that he had been recalled from Britannia before his conquest was complete. Perhaps he no longer wished to be surrounded by political corruption. Perhaps he was just tired after a life of being on a campaign trail.

Tacitus relates nothing of Agricola’s actual feelings, but that isn’t too surprising since Tacitus was likely to have been elsewhere around the empire during the approximately eight years that Agricola spent in retirement at his family estates in Gallia Narbonensis (Frejus in modern France).

Recent statue-Frejus, France
Wikimedia Commons
It does seem suspicious that after being in retirement at a reasonable distance from Rome Agricola would have had visits from doctors in the employ of Domitian prior to his death –a rumour that circulated after the death of Agricola.

As a born and bred Scot, I’m torn between admiring the man for his determined attempts to subdue the native Caledons and the other tribes of Scotland, but I’m also glad he did not succeed. However, that doesn’t stop me from wondering what Scotland would be like now if he had successfully converted his temporary camps into stone built forts and fortresses and that Rome hadn’t dismantled the barely begun legionary supply fortress of Inchtuthil.

And then again, there is also the wonderful prospect that I now have so much still to learn via the archaeological record to mull over!

Slainthe! 



Sunday, 19 August 2018

#reviews 16-21 of the #Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge

This is a large reviews catch-up since I seem to have been remiss in noting down my Reading Challenge on Goodreads books.

The following occur in reverse order from my reading- purely because it's the easiest way to catch up!

Kindred Spirits Westminster Abbey by Jennifer Wilson 5 stars

I found myself drifting down the aisles of Westminster Abbey in the wake of some of the important ghostly personages who appear in this third book, as though, I too, was listening in - yet not one of the living Abbey visitors. And…I got some virtual exercise since there are plenty of notable characters to follow! The refreshing originality of the series continues where we glean snatches of how the ghosts interact with each other, many of them after centuries of benignly haunting the area. There was one ghostly character new to me, so it was a lovely digression to find out about him, and that’s as much as I will divulge since I always avoid spoilers! 





Jane : A retelling by Lark Watson 4 stars

I’ve read a few retellings lately and most have been fairly engrossing. The varying strands of the original tale are well incorporated into contemporary life in this one. An enjoyable read. 



The Reluctant Duchess by Francine Howarth 4 stars
I enjoyed the author’s portrayal of this Regency hero who is just a little bit different from what we expect of the typical Regency male. Liliana seems a bit slow off the mark at first, but she’s young with plenty of time for her feelings and, indeed, her intentions to mature. An entertaining read.










A Perfect Bride by Ginny Sterling 4 stars
 This was a gently developing romance set in extremely turbulent times. The plight of the native population during their re-settlement (not always the word used) to another state was a harrowing process though I think the author portrayed some of those horrors that must have been a daily, and very deadly, reality. The lines blur between being the enemy and a tentative friend. I’m sure it wasn’t a simple thing to avoid carrying out the harshest of orders for the soldiers involved, and neither was it easy to be accepted by the displaced tribes as being helpful and genuinely sympathetic.




The Silence by Katharine Johnson 5 stars

I enjoyed this story immensely. It was so easy to immerse myself in the Tuscan landscape. The Villa Leonida had many surprises and the author reveals them in a highly dramatic way. Living in the Villa was definitely not boring, though I’m not convinced that I’d be making real friends with many of the excellently portrayed characters. I think that kind of quiet life in the Tuscan countryside isn’t quite to everyone’s taste and wellbeing.





The Roman Conquest of Britannia: The History and Legacy of Roman Britain from Julius Caesar to Hadrian
By Charles River editors 4 stars
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. I've now read so many books on Roman invasions of Britannia so for me this was a recap, though there were a couple of instances where I learned something not read before.



Since I've read 23 books in my challenge of reading 50 by the end of 2018, it means I've missed adding a couple on here. 

Happy Reading. 

Slainthe! 

Friday, 17 August 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Margaret Skea

Series image- Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday blog series continues...
where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. The series continues with excellent contributions which I'm thoroughly enjoying, taking us to various parts of the globe and today, we're back to Scotland.  

For this entry, I'm delighted to welcome Margaret Skeaa writer I met at the end of last year for the first time. Margaret's novel writing is excellent, well-recommended and I'm looking forward to reading her latest book in the series. In addition to the usual never ending task list for launching and promoting a new novel, Margaret's also an organiser for this year's Historical Novel Society Conference that's being held in Cumbernauld near Glasgow, Scotland. The conference kicks off one week from now, so Margaret's day is full of conference business and I really appreciate her taking the time to write her excellent blog post for today. 
Margaret Skea



Margaret's chosen era for writing is a turbulent one and the ongoings of the families involved were complex and pretty brutal, but I'll let her enlighten us. Margaret, please give us the background to your novels...

The Ayrshire Vendetta.

‘Blood feud was the custom of the times.’ So wrote William Robertson in Ayrshire. Its History (1908) Feuding between Scottish clans wasn’t a new phenomenon, nor was it confined to Ayrshire. There are many well-documented, long-standing feuds, from the Scotts and Kerrs in the Borders, to the Campbells and MacDonalds in the west and the Gordons and Stewarts in the Highlands. However the Ayrshire Vendetta, is a classic example; the Cunninghame and Montgomerie families dubbed the ‘Montagues and Capulets’ of Ayrshire.

So why was violence the first resort for dealing with dispute in Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries?

James IV of Scotland - Wikimedia Commons
Foremost was the weakness of the Crown.  Of the seven Scottish monarchs of this period only one (James IV, aged 15) was able to rule in his own right from accession. Of the others, three were infants (James V, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI) two under ten (James II and III), and one (James I) was captured at twelve, still uncrowned, and detained in England for eighteen years. The years of successive minorities were characterized by a nobility jostling for precedence and for control of the monarchy, allied to a general acceptance of the rule of ‘might’ regardless of ‘right’.

On his accession in 1488 James IV set out to establish stable government at local level, appointing representatives in each district to dispense justice - a laudable aim, marred in Ayrshire by an error of judgement when he passed control of the bailiwick of Cunninghame to Hugh, Lord Montgomery, thus sparking the 150 + year feud.

The years that followed were punctuated by repeated acts of brutality and murder, separated by periods of temporary quiet. In 1505, Cunninghame of Craigens was attacked and wounded by the Master of Montgomery; and in 1507 the Cunninghames retaliated, attacking the newly created Montgomery Earl of Eglinton, with lives lost on both sides.

Meanwhile the issue of the bailiwick became the subject of arbitration, the decision in favour of Eglinton in 1509 failing to satisfy the Earl of Glencairn, head of the Cunninghames, the antagonism between the two families continuing.

Sword of James IV - Public Domain 
However, as is so often the case when a country is threatened by an external enemy, private grievances are set aside. So it was in the years before Flodden, clans uniting in the face of the English threat. The Scottish losses, whether one accepts the lower estimate of 5,000 or the higher of 10,000, decimated the nobility and left the country once again with an infant king.

Both Eglinton and Glencairn were on the same side in the unsuccessful conspiracy to depose the Duke of Albany, Regent for James V, but even that failed to diminish the ill-feeling between the two families.  Just four years later, in 1517, hostilities flared again with the wounding of John, Master of Montgomerie and the killing of his followers.

Though Albany extracted an agreement from both factions to lay aside their quarrels, it served only to delay revenge, Cunninghame of Auchenharvie and of Waterston becoming the next victims. 

The infant Mary, Queen of Scotland
These tit-for-tat murders led to one of the most significant episodes in the vendetta, when in 1528 a large force of Cunninghames rode through Montgomery territory, causing wholesale destruction: decimating crops, stealing and killing stock and burning the dwellings, leaving the tenantry penniless and homeless. The raids culminated in the burning of Eglinton Castle itself, destroying all the contents, including tapestries, furniture, paintings, armaments and most important of all, family records going back as far as the Norman Conquest, as well as their Charter to the Montgomery lands. This time the Montgomery earl, perhaps tired of violence, or feeling his increasing age, accepted a cash settlement as compensation, and for a period of almost sixty years there are no records of atrocities, though whether as a result of external pressures or a genuine attempt at peace is hard to gauge. 

The external pressures were certainly significant - war with England, the Scottish defeat at Solway Moss and the subsequent death of James V; resulting in the accession of 6-day old Mary and a new cycle of government by regency. Then came the ‘Rough wooing’ as Henry VIII tried to force a betrothal between his son Edward and Mary, the English incursion into southern Scotland, and two battles: Ancrum Moor, where the Scots were victorious, and Pinkie Cleugh where the honours went to England, precipitating the smuggling of the young Queen Mary to safety in France.

But it seems that old enmities are hard to stifle and when the country was once again secure, with James VI on the throne and hopeful of inheriting the English crown, the feud erupted once more, with the massacre at Annock in 1586. This river may look peaceful now, but in April 1586 it ran with blood.
 
River Annock-Courtesy of Margaret Skea 
Most sources agree on the main facts: a small group of Montgomeries stopped at Langshaw en route to the court at Stirling, the Cunninghames, having been alerted to their presence, lying in wait at the ford to ambush them. Though the numbers killed appear to have been small, the aftermath was brutal and wide-ranging, as Robertson put it ‘All the country ran to arms, either on one side or the other, so that for some time there was a scene of bloodshed and of murder in the West that had never been known before.’ One person’s fate seems particularly poignant: Lady Margaret of Langshaw, a Cunninghame by birth, but married to a Montgomery, was held responsible for the ambush and forced to remain in hiding for many years - a heavy price to pay for a family name.

This massacre was the catalyst for my first novel Turn of the Tide and the Cunninghame / Montgomerie feud runs through the whole series, which follows the fortunes of a fictional family trapped at its centre.

James VI, determined to outlaw blood feud, brought forward laws restricting the carrying of firearms, and in an amusing gesture, commanded opposing lords to process hand in hand up the High Street in Edinburgh as a symbol of the new, peaceful order. It wasn’t quite the end of the Ayrshire Vendetta though, for in 1606, while Parliament was in session, a battle of three hours duration was waged on the streets of Perth.

But in contrast to Shakespeare’s ‘Montagues’ and ‘Capulets’, the marriage of William, 9th Earl of Glencairn to Margaret Montgomery, daughter of the 6th Earl of Eglinton, did finally seal the peace in 1661.

And in an interesting postscript - the Lord Lyon recognized a new chief for Clan Cunninghame in 2013. His name? Sir John Christopher Foggo Montgomery Cunninghame.

Margaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the 'Troubles', but now lives with her husband in the Scottish Borders. You can find more details, including why chocolate is vital to her creative process, on her website www.margaretskea.com 

 Click HERE to go to Margaret's Amazon author page

Margaret's latest novel, Book 3 in The Munro Scottish Saga is available from Amazon HERE  

Thank you for coming today and making the history of Ayrshire -  and beyond -  much easier to understand, Margaret. 

I confess that when I was a brand new primary teacher in a Central Region school named Westquarter, my headteacher Charles Stewart (honestly that was his name) really set me a huge challenge. 

I had a Primary 6 class of almost 40 pupils and he told me he intended to 'drop in' every week to listen to me delivering a Scottish history lesson. He was a man ahead of his time, in many ways, and it was only later I truly appreciated his desire to ensure the kids at his school learned something of their heritage. At that time (1975), the history books available taught mainly 'British History' which wasn't written from a Scottish perspective, and it was only with his guidance that I had some material that was a little more attuned to the Scottish slant. I loved teaching those lessons and appreciated his constant interruptions because they were an excellent learning curve for me! 

Sadly, I have poor recall of the eras of James IV, V and VI, and tend to have jumbled facts churning around on the tip of my tongue.  Your excellent post has helped put some of them back into place, Margaret - again many thanks!  


Slainthe!