Monday 21 December 2020

#Jolabokaflod Christmas Blog Hop post for 21st Dec.

Hello again.  The HWF #Jolabokaflod only has a few more posts to go! 

Today's #Jolabokaflod post is a lovely little story for anyone needing to settle down an excited child a couple of days before Christmas! 

Hop over to Nicky Moxey's blog  - read her free story and check out her gift for a lucky winner. Click the link HERE  and enjoy. 


Saturday 19 December 2020

#Giveaway and #Jolabokaflod post for the 19th December

 Hello again! 

Today's post for the #Jolabokaflod HWF Blog Hop is by Paula Lofting who takes the reader back to the 11th century and to the era of the Viking influence in England.

Pop over and read an excerpt; take up Paula's offer of  a #FREE copy of Sons of the Wolf; and get to know Paula the person and the author.

Click HERE  to go to Paula's blog

...and enjoy all the wonderful books that have been shared during this blog hop. And the HWF's #Jolabokaflod isn't done yet-  there are more posts to follow during the next few days. 


Thursday 17 December 2020

#Jolabokaflod Christmas Book Flood!

Welcome to my post for the Historical Writers Forum #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop. 

This #Jolabokaflod (Christmas Book Flood) Blog Hop is an exciting way for HWF members to share a bit of their writing, especially if it's set at Christmas time. It's also about entering into the tradition of gifting of a book since that's what the Icelandic #Jolabokaflod is all about. The gift of a book for Christmas Eve means a fabulous excuse to settle down, read and just....enjoy! 

You'll find details of my gift for you at the end of the post. 

Most of the Blog Hop contributions, so far, have included excerpts that are set during the Christmas period. I have just a wee bit of a problem with that because I've never included a 'Christmas' scene in any of my historical Celtic Fervour Series novels, or in my time-travel historical The Taexali Game. Since my historical novels are set in the late 1st C AD, and early 3rd C AD, my historical characters led a much more pagan lifestyle. In their day, a Christmas celebration - as is presently celebrated - was not yet invented. 

However, I have made a mention of a December Christmas-related tradition in Topaz Eyesmy contemporary romantic mystery thriller. Topaz Eyes has a deep and complex ancestral plot, my way of adding multiple historical aspects to a mystery. The story is effectively a 'somewhat deadly' treasure hunt for the missing 'Tiru Salana' emerald collection. They are fabulous pieces of jewellery - once owned by a Mughal Emperor - which were acquired by the Hoogeveens in the 1880s, an Amsterdam family who owned a jewellery business. The last family mention of the jewels was in 1910 when the matriarch separated the collection and gave it to her daughters.

My two main characters are Keira Drummond from Edinburgh and Teun Zeger, an American of Dutch descent. 

Keira, initially, has no idea why she's been included in the Hoogeveen family quest. She's not descended from the Hoogeveeens but she soon realises that she did know one of them quite well - an old lady named Neela. 

It IS Teun's family but he knows very little of his grandmother Marijke's life in Holland before she moved to the U.S. in the early 1930s. 

Keira and Teun pair-up to see if they can find any traces of the jewels in his uncle's house in Minnesota, and in items belonging to Teun's father who is currently in a nursing home. Though Keira and Teun have only met very recently, there's a little bit of a sizzle happening...

[Note: Teun's aunt was Marta (his father's sister); his grandmother was Marijke; and his great-grandmother was Martine. Neela, it transpires, was Marijke's sister.]


A pile of letters from the loft landed with a soft plop in Keira's lap, while Teun tackled the smaller pile from his dad’s stored possessions.

It struck her as being an infringement of privacy to read letters sent to his Aunt Marta, but Teun decided it was necessary. The first few were from friends: nothing in them about jewellery, or any historical references.

A small pile of carefully folded papers lay on her lap, tied with a faded pink ribbon. Reverently untying the bow, she opened the first one. It wasn’t in English. She wasn’t familiar with the dialect and reread the first paragraph again before it clicked she wasn’t reading German. Of course! It was written in Dutch. Confirmation came when the sender’s name was revealed. She just as carefully undid the rest of the pile and laid them flat on her knee: all from the same sender.


“Teun!” She nudged him with her knee. “This pile is to your grandmother Marijke from her mother, Martine.” As up in the loft, she couldn’t contain her excitement. Surely the letters had to have significant information?

He shifted beside her and lifted the first one, saying nothing till after he’d scanned it. Disappointment wafted from him. “I can read the Martine at the bottom, but nothing else.”

Keira absorbed his silent question as his grey eyes deepened, his brows a tight frown.

“I can make a reasonable guess at some of it, but I’d much rather it was properly translated by someone who is Dutch.”

“We can do it later.” Teun’s voice was clipped. “Let’s see what you can come up with first. Are you willing to try?”

They sat in front of Keira’s laptop, all six letters smoothed flat. In no time at all she’d downloaded a Dutch dictionary. She then made sure the letters were read in date order of earliest first; thinking that if it was her mother who wrote to her, the first letters would be about more practical things – like settling into a new home in a new country.

That was exactly what Martine’s first three letters were like, the letters over a period of three months during 1934. It was a multiplicity of questions which Keira was able to translate; reflections of day-to-day living. Both she and Teun found Martine’s writing style amusing as she translated, written Dutch much easier for her to read than she had expected, many words being similar enough to German though the grammatical structure was not alike. In the letters, Martine asked Marijke lots of questions, but also posed what appeared like enquiries about her own exploits. She’d written things like… I suppose you’ll not guess who I met at the Opera last week. Whether Marijke had been interested or not, the answer followed in a flowing style.

“Look, Teun!” She almost jabbed her finger through the fragile paper. “Martine’s talking about Neela bringing Gabriel Henke to their house.”

“Don’t keep it a secret.” He looked amused since she was all but hopping up and down on her chair. “Read it to me.”

“Give me a minute.” She mumbled at first, focusing on the meaning of a phrase she’d no clue of. A few clicks later, she turned to him. She couldn’t stop grinning. “I think she says something like… Neela brought this little know-all of a man home and introduced him to us. Marijke? You can have no idea of the dread in my stomach. He clearly adores our Neela, but he’s the funniest looking little man. His smile is constantly like the child who has won the only treat from Sinterklaas.”

“Who?” Teun nudged her to get an answer, since she was laughing her head off.

“St. Nicholas. Were you never told about Sinterklaas coming to little kids on the 5th December and giving the children gifts; sort of early Christmas presents?”

He struggled with an elusive memory. “Grandma told us lots of things. I don’t remember anything about this Sinterklaas guy, but she did say her Dutch traditions didn’t always fit well in Minnesota.”

She clapped him on the shoulder in commiseration, her chuckle whispering at his ear. “Ah well, that’s maybe because Sinterklaas comes up to Holland by boat from Spain, with all his booty in his sack…so maybe your grandmother thought coming across the Atlantic was just a bit too much, too far-fetched? And perhaps it’s why she embraced American traditions like Thanksgiving, which is quite close to Sinterklaas Day.”

They continued with the letter, Teun interrupting occasionally for clarification. “So, was Gabriel a weird looking guy?”


Sinterklaas -Oude Pekela, Gronigen 

The tradition of Sinterklaas arriving by boat lives on in Holland. The image below is of him arriving at Tilburg in 2019. It's generally in the late afternoon, or early evening of Dec. 5th that the kids in Holland receive presents from Sinterklaas. (prior to St. Nicholas' Saint Day on 6th Dec) 

My own children were too young to remember the occasion now, but one year when we lived in Holland, we visited friends on Dec. 5th. Their kids were a little older and had learned about Sinterklaas at their Kleuters class (pre-school/Nursery) Sinterklaas very kindly stopped by the house and not only left a gift in the kids' shoes left out on the porch, but Sinterklaas and his Swartje Piet helpers popped in to the house to meet the kids. (This happened in 1981, but nowadays Sinterklaas'  Piet helpers no longer wear the 'Swartje' blackening make-up that was once traditional.)

On that occasion our Sinterklaas and his helpers were my friend's Dutch neighbour and his sons. A pretty usual circumstance at the time, and possibly still the case. 

Sinterklaas arriving by boat from Spain- 2019 Piushaven canal- Tilburg

AND now for my #Jolabokaflod gift to you.

A #FREE ecopy of Topaz Eyes can be download from Amazon between Thursday Dec. 17th and Sunday 20th Dec.  Click the link HERE

But...if you would rather read a historical novel, my time-travel The Taexali Game is also #FREE in Amazon Kindle from Thursday Dec 17th to Sat. Dec. 19th.  Click HERE 
(NB. The Taexali Game is intended for a wider readership from early teens onwards, but adults have told me they love it, too!) 

You are. of course, welcome to download both copies and fill your Kindle even more.

Enjoy the rest of the #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop. Still to come will be posts from the following authors (links will be updated each day on this blog as the posts become live): 

Dec 18th Tim Hodkinson

Dec 19th Salina Baker

Dec 20th Paula Lofting

Dec 21st Nicky Moxey

Dec 22nd Samantha Wilcoxson

Dec 23rd Jen Black


Dec 24th Lynn Bryant

Happy reading, be safe, and enjoy what you can during this very unusual Christmas period of 2020. 


Wednesday 16 December 2020

x2 titles #FREE already on Amazon!

 Good Morning!

In anticipation of my turn to post on the #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop tomorrow, the 17th Dec., I set two of my eBook titles to #FREE across the Amazon network for a few days, as they are my gifts to you. You'll be able to read tomorrow why I've been so generous in giving away two of my titles as Free gifts, and not just one, but for now...

This morning I find that Amazon are very quick off the mark to change the prices on the UK site, so I can tell you now that the eBooks for my contemporary thriller Topaz Eyes, and my time travel The Taexali Game , are both #FREE to download for the next five days. 

If you've not read them yet, this is a great opportunity and if you do download them I'd truly love your opinions on them. A very brief review on Amazon would really help to get my novels more widely known. 

Thank you in advance and enjoy! 

Here are the links:

Topaz Eyes 

The Taexali Game 


Tuesday 15 December 2020

Another #Jolabokaflod offer for the 15th Dec!

Today, 15th December,  it's the turn of Wendy J Dunn on the Historical Writers Forum #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop

You can read an excerpt from her latest book on her blog, and enter a draw to win a personalised copy of it Click the link HERE and enjoy. 


#Ocelot Press adds another title!

I've exciting news from Ocelot Press to share today! 

My fellow Ocelot Press author - Sue Barnard - is adding another title to our Ocelot Press listings and Never On Saturday is one that readers will love. I've already had the opportunity to read this novella and was very taken by Sue's ingenuity in using a traditional tale to weave a very interesting contemporary and historical combination in this time slip romance. 

Welcome to the blog today, Sue. Please tell my readers about your news.


Today (15th December 2020), a new title joins the Ocelot Press catalogue.  Never on Saturday is a timeslip romance novella with a hint of mystery and a touch of the paranormal.  It is set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales, and is based on an old French legend.

Unfortunately I can’t be more specific at this stage about the legend itself, as that would give away too much about the story.  But here is the blurb:

Two stories, two heartbreaks: one past, one present…

Leaving her native France and arriving in North Wales as a postgraduate student of History and Folklore, Mel is cautiously optimistic that she can escape from her troubled past and begin a new and happier life. 

She settles into her student accommodation and begins work on her thesis, concentrating particularly on one fascinating manuscript: a compelling and tragic tale of a cursed medieval princess.

Then she meets Ray – charming, down-to-earth and devastatingly handsome. Within days, Mel’s entire world has transformed from lonely and frustrated to loving and fulfilled.  Despite her failure with previous relationships, she allows herself to hope that this time, at last, she can make it work.

But Mel’s dreams of happiness are under constant threat.  She is hiding a dark and terrible secret, which Ray – or indeed anybody else – must never ever discover… 

And here, to whet your appetite, is a short snippet:

Bangor, North Wales


“Wow, it’s impressive, isn’t it?” Mel gazed at the long, ornate Victorian structure [Bangor Pier], stretching out across the Menai Straits. From one angle, it appeared to reach almost as far as the Isle of Anglesey on the other side of the water.

Ray nodded. “I quite often come for a walk along here. It’s particularly good when the tide’s out; you see all sorts of seabirds on the mudflats.”

“Are you a birdwatcher, then?”

“Not a serious one, but if I see one I like to know what it is. I learned a bit about them when I was at uni.”

“Oh, yes? Why was that?”

“I studied marine biology.”

“Oh!” Mel gasped.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” Mel lied. She prayed that he hadn’t noticed her alarm. “It’s just that…” She thought quickly. “Well…I didn’t expect to find a marine biologist working in a coffee shop!”

“I must be honest,” Ray sighed, “working in a coffee shop wasn’t exactly my first choice! But jobs in marine biology are pretty few and far between. And even unemployed marine biologists have to keep body and soul together somehow. But hey, that’s more than enough about me. What about you?”

“What about me?” Mel asked nervously.

“What are you doing in Bangor? You’re at the university, you said?”

Mel stared out across the Straits, as if admiring the view of the island, as she tried to compose an answer. She didn’t want to tell an outright lie, but how much – or how little – could she get away with telling him?

“I’m studying history and folklore,” she began cautiously, without taking her eyes off the view.

“Oh yes? That sounds fascinating. Are you familiar with the Mabinogion?”

“No – what’s that?”

“It’s a collection of traditional Welsh tales. I studied it at school. I’ve got an English edition I can lend you if you’re interested.”

“Thank you.” Mel turned to him and smiled with genuine enthusiasm. “That would be lovely.”

“So, you come from France? Which part?”

“From the Vendée. It’s on the west coast, just south of Brittany. There’s a castle called Lusignan near the town of Vouvant. Or at least, there used to be – I think it’s just a ruin now. I’ve always understood that it was built by one of my ancestors. I think that’s where my surname comes from.” She smiled wistfully. “I don’t know how true that is, but it’s a nice story.”

Ray grinned. “I’ve heard people say there are some parts of Wales where you feel you could be anywhere in Brittany. Is that what’s brought you here?”

Mel shook her head. “Not entirely,” she answered quietly. “My parents died, and I felt as though I needed a new start somewhere else.”

Ray whistled under his breath. “I’m sorry to hear that. I…” His voice trailed off.

Mel got the impression that he was even less comfortable talking about this than she was. There was an awkward pause.

“But I’ve sort of got used to it now,” she said eventually. “I try not to think about it too much. And I love it here. I’m very much an outdoor girl. I walk, I swim, and, yes, I like birdwatching too.”

Ray’s face brightened visibly. He waved an arm across the Menai Straits towards the Isle of Anglesey. Its bright colours – the greens, reds and yellows of the landscape contrasting with the sharp blue of the sky above and the mellow green of the water below – sparkled in the late afternoon sun.

“Have you been across to the island?”

Mel shook her head. “As I said, I’ve only recently arrived here.”

“Well, how do you fancy going for a birdwatching walk over there? There’s a super beach down on the south coast where you can see all sorts of things.”

Mel beamed. “Thank you, that would be lovely. When did you have in mind?”

“How about tomorrow?”

Merde, Mel thought. Here we go again…

“Sorry,” she muttered, staring at the ground. “I can’t manage tomorrow.” Please don’t ask me why not

“Well, how about Sunday, then?” Fortunately, Ray appeared to accept her answer without seeming to be too inquisitive.

She forced her face back into a smile before looking up at him. “Sunday would be lovely. Thank you.”


But why can’t Mel meet Ray on Saturday?  You can find out by reading the rest of the story.  And for a limited time, the Kindle edition is available at the special early bird price of just 99p.  

Click here to be taken to your local Amazon store.


Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who believes that an immaculate house is a sign of a wasted life.  Thus, her house is chaotic but her life is anything but dull.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4's fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as "professionally weird." The label has stuck.

She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She is also very interested in family history.  Her own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Sue lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.   

You can find her on Facebook

Twitter (@AuthorSusanB)


or her blog

Also by Sue Barnard:

The Ghostly Father

Nice Girls Don’t

The Unkindest Cut of All

Heathcliff: The Missing Years

Finding Nina

Thank you for visiting today, Sue. Best wishes with your Ocelot Press launch of  Never on Saturday. 


Monday 14 December 2020

HWF #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop 14th Dec.

 Hello everyone! 

I hope you are enjoying our Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop and taking advantage of the opportunities to get some wonderful books, either totally free or at a reduction in price. My Kindle is stuffed and there are still plenty of posts to come. 

Here is the link for today post for the 14th December from Sue Barnard. It's a great book- enjoy! 


Sunday 13 December 2020

More from the #Jolabokaflod Blog hop!

The #Jolabokaflod post for the 13th Dec. is by Vanessa Couchman!

There is another wonderful opportunity today to read a lovely excerpt from Augustine, written by my Ocelot Press author friend Vanessa Couchman. And...there's an opportunity for you to win a copy of Augustine. The prequel to Vanessa's series gives a great insight into rural France many decades ago.  

Click HERE to hop on over to SW France- if only virtually. 


Saturday 12 December 2020

#Jolabokaflod post for Dec 12th!

The fantastic #JOLABOKAFLOD Historical Writers' Forum Blog Hop continues with enticing excerpts and wonderful #GIVEAWAY opportunities! 

The post for Dec. 12th is by Janet Wertman and you can find it HERE 

If you love to read Tudor history, you won't want to miss the opportunity to get a copy of her novel Jane the Queen.  Enjoy the excerpt, and the novel. 


Wednesday 9 December 2020

Dec 9th -The busy #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop continues

The December 9th post on the Historical Writers Forum #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop comes from Angela Rigely.  She is offering FREE copies of her dual timeline novel - The Peacock Bottle- across Amazon for the next few days. 

Click HERE to read about this great opportunity! Enjoy. 


Tuesday 8 December 2020

#Jolabokaflod for Dec. 8th!

The Historical Fiction Writers #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop continues today with an excellent excerpt from the pen of Danielle Apple.

You can read a chapter from a work not yet published and enter to win what sounds like a very intriguing anthology.

Click HERE for more details. Enjoy!


Monday 7 December 2020

#Jolablokaflod post for Dec 6th

Here is the link for the Dec. 6th post for the Jolablokaflod Christmas Giveaway Blog Hop organised by the Historical Writers forum. 

On Dec. 6th, my Ocelot Press fellow author - Jennifer C Wilson -  invites you to a sing along! Well, not quite but she does ask you to think about favourite Christmas songs. 

Hop on over to read her post by clicking HERE and take part in her super #GIVEAWAY. I've read the Raided Heart already and can highly recommend it. 


Saturday 5 December 2020

The #Jolabokaflod Blog Hop continues!

Here is the link to today's post (Dec. 5th) for the Jolablokaflod Blog Hop!

Learn about a German tradition for Dec. 5th and 6th and read about the fantastic offer that 

Cathie Dunn has organised for you! 


Friday 4 December 2020

 December is here and so is the Jolabokaflod Blog Hop!

This December, the Historical Writers Forum decided to do something a little different from the previous Blog Hops where a participating author has published a blog post that's been historically appropriate for the era they write in. December 2020 is more about the authors sharing and gifting an opportunity to experience their actual writing perhaps more directly than before. 

The essence of the Icelandic Jolabokaflod is to gift someone a book on Christmas Eve for them to 'coorie doon' (Scots) and have a great read. 

You'll find wonderfully interesting content on the author's post but you're also likely to find an exciting offer you won't want to miss out on. 

The participating author list and their general blog link is below. Remember to pop into each blog on the scheduled day and enjoy the read.

Dec 3rd Sharon Bennett Connolly

Dec 4th Alex Marchant

Dec 5th Cathie Dunn

Dec 6th Jennifer C Wilson

Dec 8th Danielle Apple

Dec 9th Angela Rigley

Angela Rigley – Welcome to The Writing Den

Dec 10th Christine Hancock

Byrhtnoth | A boy who became a man. The man who was Byrhtnoth.

Dec 12th Janet Wertman

Dec 13th Vanessa Couchman 

Dec 14th Sue Barnard

Dec 15th Wendy J Dunn

Dec 16th Margaret Skea

Home - Margaret Skea, Author

Dec 17th Nancy Jardine    

Dec 18th Tim Hodkinson

Dec 19th Salina Baker

Dec 20th Paula Lofting

Dec 21st Nicky Moxey

Dec 22nd Samantha Wilcoxson

Dec 23rd Jen Black


Dec 24th Lynn Bryant


Saturday 28 November 2020

Ocelot Press #SALE!

Black Friday has already been and gone for 2020!

However, at Ocelot Press we decided to keep our reductions in place till... you've probably guessed it...Cyber Monday!

That means a few more days to take advantage of the 99p/c purchases from our growing selection. You'll find that roughly half of the fantastic Ocelot titles are at 99p/c. 

Since 3 of my own titles are reduced for this SALE, you'll find that means lots of choices from my books are offered at 99p.

Hop on over to Amazon using this link and see just how many of mine can be snapped up at this mega-bargain price. HERE

Do a search for Ocelot Press on Amazon to find the reduced titles from the other Ocelot Press authors who are participating: Sue Barnard; Vanessa Couchman; Cathie Dunn; Yvonne Marjot and  Jennifer C. Wilson.

Enjoy the excellent reads, which I can heartily recommend since I've read them all. 


Monday 9 November 2020

Late #Regency or #Victorian decorating?

Monday musings! 

It's definitely a murky grey morning, the famous Aberdeenshire haar (mist) blanketing far inland. When I was growing up in Glasgow we might have called it a 'Pea Sooper' (soup), except in the 1950s and 1960s the stench of sooty coal-smoke added to the general fug, making it even more dense. 

However, the haar means it's atmospheric enough for me to wonder about the Georgian era walls in the room I'm currently renovating. The dining room, a sizeable room, doubles as my study when not used for feeding guests. Since the Covid 19 situation prevents even family gatherings (we're presently not allowed to visit anyone else's house), I could say it's an opportune time to do renovations. 

This story started with my need to improve the energy efficiency in my largely 200-year-old house. The house has an interesting history, and was the home and workplace of the village doctor (s) for generations up until the 1970s. I haven't yet found out who the very first doctor was who inhabited the house, but it was a definitely a doctor who built a purpose-built granite-walled extension as a surgery in approximately 1900. A further addition was made around the 1960s (?) as a dedicated patient waiting area with a toilet, but that was a fairly short-lived use of the room. The surgery became surplus to requirements in 1973 when a large health centre was created in the nearby market town, and the incumbent doctor took himself off to be based there rather than working from home. 

My house doesn't follow typical Aberdeenshire granite house proportions since the downstairs reception rooms range around 26-30 square metres, probably double the size of the rooms of a traditional average Aberdeenshire two-up, two-down granite house. The walls are typically three-feet thick granite blocks which means, though sturdy, the house is a challenge to heat and to make energy efficient! 

Two open fires burning coal or logs were only used occasionally, the central heating being the prime heating source. This meant that although the chimneys were a source of air flow, they could also be draughty and the expensive energy used to heat the rooms blithely went up the chimneys. The other problem was that being uncapped, the chimneys pots were a fine place for the local crows and blackbirds to nest-build, and it wasn't too unusual to have to get a live bird out of the lounge or dining room when it had fallen down the chimney.

I debated long and hard about changing to multi-fuel burners but eventually decided that it was time to go electric since the fires are likely to be only decorative and occasionally used, rather than daily-functional. I hate destroying history but energy saving had to be a priority. It was time to get rid of the 1930s built fireplace which was an ugly piece that I'd grown used to. You can decide for yourself if you think it handsome! 

I'm not sure which doctor would have been in situ when the green-mottled, sort-of Art Deco fireplace design was chosen but it probably replaced a larger Victorian mantel if the re-plastering shadows around the chimney breast are anything to go by. 

But back to the chimneys and specifically to the very decorative square chimney pots that remain undated. They are not at all typical of Aberdeenshire styles and have probably been imported (maybe from England) at some point. When investigated by the chimney sweep, they were found to be cracked and most of the six matching pots needed replacing. That may sound easy enough, but it proved not to be the case. They appear to be pretty unique around here and, though we tried, we could find no matching ones via the usual sources for recycled chimney pots across the United Kingdom. No current manufacturer makes the same style either, so if I had bought new ones they would not have been exact matches. An option might have been to spend literally thousands of pounds on having them created to my specific design. 

I hate to destroy history, and I really love the chimney pot design, but since the pots and chimney were going to become redundant anyway spending a small fortune was neither practical, nor sensible. My chimney stacks now have 6 new round ones that don't look too much out of place - they're less decorative but at least they all match. And...I'm incredibly glad the old ones have been replaced because I watched the slater remove the first one. All it took was for him to rock it back and forward a couple of times and he then lifted it right out of its slot, even though they are incredibly heavy. Since we've had some fierce storms lately, watching the very weighty chimney pot being removed so easily gave me some very scary moments.

A reclamation yard might take the sound ones but the others are destined to become garden planters which I'll be delighted to place in situ and then never move them again! 

My new simple-styled hearth is of different proportions from the previous one, so there is a bit of plastering work ongoing and I now need a joiner to replace the now-too-short, moulded, early Victorian era (?) skirting. My joinery and plastering skills are zilch but what I can do is the redecorating. i.e. wallpapering and painting. I've already made a start on painting the ceiling panels. This will be a slow process since I'll be doing some contrasting paintwork on the decorative ceiling cornices. Since the walls are 2.4 metres high, it means a lot of ladder climbing as I'm only 5 feet 2. (approx. 1.56m). 

When I stripped the walls of two top layers of paint and at least two of wallpaper, it has revealed some earlier design work. Since the house is believed to date to the early 1820s, it was constructed during the reign of George IV. The period style of that time is sometimes referred to as late Regency since George IV only acceded properly to the throne after his father, George III, died in 1820. From then George IV's full reign is sometimes termed late Georgian till he died in 1830. Victoria didn't become queen till 1837 after the death of William IV, George IV's younger brother. I have no way of knowing what the room originally looked like and Aberdeenshire house decoration may, of course, have reflected something quite different from what was typical elsewhere across the UK. 

The walls have three lines painted in dark-red durable paint very high up the walls. The painted lines  (an early oil paint?) are possibly original decoration separators with the rest of the walls whitewashed, or distempered when that type of paint became available. Or the painted lines may have been guide lines for the joiner to add the wooden architrave rails which were used to hang pictures or paintings from, in Victorian style decor rather than the original late Regency or late Georgian style. What I need to do now is do a little bit of research to see if my theories are anything like reasonable.

My main questions would be at what point were the guidelines created? Would it have been early on during its Regency era beginnings, or later on during the Victorian era?

The typical architrave 'dado' rails were set at the relatively low height of the top of a dining chair, the intention being to prevent the chair denting the plaster if the wood collided with the wall when being vacated. There are some plastered over holes around the room at this level which may indicate there was a dado rail in situ at some point but not enough to be sure. Of course, I have presently no evidence of how long the room has been used as a dining room, except knowing it has been used for dining since the early 1980s -  the owner we bought it from having used it as a dining room. 

One corner near the 'box' bay window shows signs of the entry door to the room having originally been at that location. The plaster there is different, according to the plasterer who has tidied up the area around my new fireplace, and he reckons that the lathe and plaster wall at that end above the radiator has a different 'sound' to it when he tapped it. The skirting board has also been extended below the 1970s radiator and there is a vertical line of dark-red paint which may have been a border edge around the door frame, which would back up the idea that for a while there may only have been a painted-on picture rail for some time. 

Behind the radiator was the Regency striped wallpaper you see below, but at a guess it was 1960s or 1970s wallpaper and not original Regency! 

Living in an old house means lots of that lovely research that I love to do! 

Much work has yet to be done in what will be my new study so till next time...


Tuesday 3 November 2020

#Vindolanda Roman Fort

Happy Tuesday!

What follows is more of my expanded Beathan The Brigante notes as I file away a lot of my research. Today's focus is on Vindolanda Fort which features in Beathan The Brigante. To Beathan, Vindolanda  Fort is a source of deep resentment but also supreme satisfaction. (It would be huge spoilers if I give more details here!)

I planned a visit to Vindolanda for June 2020 but, with the Covid 19 restrictions still current, it wasn't possible. So, rather than giving first-hand experience after a visit, I still have to rely on textbook and internet references. However, Vindolanda by Robin Birley (first published 2009) has provided me with useful information, as have my many other Roman Britain sources. Also sadly, I have no photos of my own and have to borrow them from the internet till I can get some of my very own. 


Extensive bathhouse,
though of a much later fort than the original.
Wikimedia Commons

Knowledge of the very first fort at Vindolanda is slight compared to later uses of the site. Due to the earliest remains being at a depth of between 2 and 3.5 metres below the levels of the latest stone buildings, only about half of the earliest remains have been uncovered. One of the important reasons that anything survived is due to the site not originally being level and that subsequent new development meant that the ground was filled in with deep turf layers, or debris, to improve the flatness for the next builders. The climate is rainy much of the year, which hampered the excavations at Vindolanda, but the ground itself is actually only slightly damp. What lay below was preserved as each successive new layer was created. The remains on the lowest levels are in surprisingly good condition due to the seals made when each new layer was prepared and, since very little oxygen is present, bacteria has not eroded too much of the materials. `

The first fort at Vindolanda was probably built around AD 85, which puts it around the time of General Agricola’s withdrawal back to Rome. Tacitus does not tell us how many of Agricola’s troops remained stationed in Caledonia after he left, but archaeology supports a continued use in many of the Caledonian forts for at least a year or two after Agricola left in late AD 84, or perhaps early AD 85. (In my Celtic Fervour Series, I’ve favoured an early AD 85 withdrawal for General Agricola)

Trimontium (Newstead) and Coria/ Corstopitum Supply Fort (Corbridge) also continued to be garrisoned which would have meant sufficient control of activity to the immediate north of Vindolanda when it was being built.

The site of Vindolanda is about half way across the narrow stretch of land between modern-day Carlisle (west) and Newcastle (east). It was around 30 miles from Carlisle, though just 12 miles from Corbridge which was an easy day’s march. Corbridge being a supply fort would perhaps have scheduled deliveries e.g. the necessary iron work for the initial timber construction at Vindolanda.   

The Vindolanda tablets record a garrisoning by the 1st Cohort Tungrian auxiliary unit during the pre-Hadrianic era who may, or may not, have been the original builders, since the unit was stationed there for some time. Tungrian forces were said to be part of Agricola’s armies at the battle named Mons Graupius by Tacitus, so it’s possible that they went south with General Agricola, or sometime fairly soon after him. At least some of those Tungrians could have been deployed in building the first Vindolanda fort, which may have been around 1000 strong (if a usual double strength 1st cohort), and covered around 2 ha (c. 4 acres)

The land around the Vindolanda fort was largely wet meadow, pasture and heathland, some of which was likely to have been farmed by the local Iron-Age tribes before the Romans chose their site. Though – as today  – it would have been hard subsistence farming, battling against the vagaries of the wild weather. The name Vindolanda is thought to have been Latinised from a local name meaning white fields, or white ‘lawns’. The initial fort was built on a relatively flat promontory with good natural defences to three sides, with burns flowing on three sides which fed into the River Tyne.

The Roman writer Vegetius, of the 2nd century AD,  was to write that fort gates should face the enemy or face south, but that was probably not the case at the original Vindolanda fort. The initial fort was aligned East-West, which seems significant because it was part of a line of defences which protected the main road from east to west, which was later named the Stanegate. Free passage along the Stanegate was important for the constant flow of military communication, personnel, and goods across what later became the western frontier.

One theory I’ve read is that the soldiers who initially built and garrisoned Vindolanda, may have also been the Stanegate road builders. This seems a reasonable assumption if the indigenous tribes to the south of the Stanegate were under control (mainly Brigantia), and the troops still stationed in southern Caledonian forts and fortlets were also controlling any serious opposition to the north. The geography of the land north and south of the Stanegate probably played its part, since the wild moors of the Southern Uplands and North-Pennines meant a relatively sparse local population to keep control over. There are few mentions in the Vindolanda tablet records of the indigenous population and it’s unlikely many, if any, would have hung around after the first wave of Romans descended upon the area. It’s unlikely there would have been much resistance (at least not till joined by others) and the idea of slavery would probably have deterred people from hanging around.  

The tree cover around Vindolanda would have been unlimited for the earliest timber fort. There’s evidence of alder, mature birch, hazel, willow, ash and even some pine. Sufficient supplies of very old oak were used to create the initial structural timbers of the wooden praetorium and principia, though it appears that these major command buildings were replaced in stone by the late AD 80s. Evidence of the first fort buildings indicates that they had interior wattled and daubed walls, and panelling was used for separating areas. Exterior walls seem to have been plastered and whitewashed. Some interior walls also seem to have been whitewashed and roofs of the initial buildings were covered with timber shingles. The bulk of the floors were of beaten earth which was layered with bracken, though at some point stone flagging and planking was also laid in places. 

The most surprising fact I read during the research of the first Vindolanda structure was that some buildings appear to have been glazed. Glass would been used sparingly in Rome, but for any of it to be used in construction on the western empire frontier was quite amazing. 

The construction order seems to have been that deep foundation trenches were dug and base beams were laid into these trenches. After this stage was completed, the timber uprights were bolted to the base beams and packed with stones for security. Unfortunately, those earliest builders had not counted on the amount of subsidence that seems to have plagued the initial ditches on the site. There’s evidence that some door accesses had to have steps formed to counteract the subsidence problem. These flights of stairs were needed for entry from outside, but also to move from room to room which (I think) would have been unusual in a fort, and inconvenient.

There’s sufficient evidence around the fort that supports the husbandry that was an integral part of the fort day-to-day-running. There would have been paddock areas where animals grazed inside the fort and field areas used outside.  Oxherds (bubulcarii, adiuvencos); swinherds (ad porcos) are mentioned in the Vindolanda tablets, which provided meat supplies, though the meat ration for the general soldier was perhaps only small quantities. There’s also evidence of early brewing (cervesarii) on the early fort sites. Unfortunately, the building of later levels has obscured most of the original wooden fort, so knowing what the interior layout was is presently impossible.

It’s clear that the sources for the main building materials were to be found close to hand around the Vindolanda environment, but in addition to local timber there were extremely valuable local deposits of iron ore; sandstone; coal; limestone(necessary for mortar bonding the stones of the stone forts); and even veins of lead. Whether these deposits were worked by the earliest soldiers at Vindolanda is hard to tell, but over the hundreds of years of Roman occupation the deposits were definitely worked using Roman toil.

A stone altar found in Beltingham churchyard, a couple of miles from Vindolanda, is dedicated to a goddess named Sattada and was commissioned by the ‘Curia of the Textoverdi’. This may mean the locals were from the Textoverdi tribe but this is still conjecture until more evidence can prove it. It could be that the church site was previously a local Iron-Age tribal site of Celtic religious significance, or the stone may have transported from some other origin.  

As I wrote the ‘Vindolanda’ scenes in Beathan The Brigante, I added tiny details from my research. Beathan sweeps Commander Verecundus’ praetorium and lays down new brackens as draught-proofing.  The Vindolanda tablets refer to a Commander Verecundus being in post in one of the earliest forts but it's not definite that Verecundus would have been there at the same time as my fictitious Beathan is used there as a fort slave. 

And later on in the story, Beathan's friend Torrin is detailed to free the animals from the animal pens during a raid on Vindolanda – but you can read all about this thrilling event in the novel!

One of the amazing things about writing fiction based on roman Britain is that often after I've completed the novel I find yet another gem for researching. That can be a book or it can be a video. This one was only discovered long after I completed and published Beathan The Brigante. I'm adding it here because it's one that I'm sure to return to again and again. 


[Check out the other video possibilities below - you might also find them interesting. ]

If you haven't read Beathan The Brigante yet here's the link! CLICK HERE