Thursday 30 April 2020

Augustine launches today!

Today is a day for congratulations!

Augustine, by my fellow Ocelot Press author, Vanessa Couchman launches today and the cover is  as beautiful as the story! 

Vanessa writes late 19th/ early 20th century historical fiction set in rural France, and on Corsica. The settings are full of historical accuracy with evocative, atmospheric vocabulary to steep the reader in the life and times of the era. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Marie-Therese in Overture - Book 1 in the L'Alouette Trilogy (others to come) - where the reader is also introduced to Marie-Therese's parents. At the beginning of Overture, the attitude of Augustine and Joseph might seem a bit stern, but today's new launch addresses issues that have shaped their maternal/paternal judgement and decision making. 

Since the story is about Augustine and Joseph, this means that Augustine is set in 1880, a bit earlier than Overture. It gives the reader a wonderful glimpse into the daily norms of south-west rural France and of the strictures that people were under in forming relationships. Many details are such a huge contrast with twenty-first century morals and conduct. 

I've been very honoured to be a beta reader for Augustine and loved the story. I'll be writing a short review later on, once I've dipped back into my brand new Kindle copy of the final version that arrived today via Amazon. My thanks to Vanessa for the privilege of the early rad.
Whatever you might be reading- Enjoy.  


Wednesday 22 April 2020

What? No flour?

Good morning - Wednesday! 

Today is my day to post on the Ocelot Press blog. Every week one of the Ocelot Press fellow authors post on our joint blog and it's now my turn.

It might look as though my post is about our current COVID 19 health crisis but, it's actually not. However, since flour has been scarce, of late, it made me think of situations of 2000 years ago in the Roman Britain I write about. 

My post begins like this:

Social distancing has recently been making the process of normal food shopping a much longer one than usual, during the current ‘COVID 19 pandemic’ lockdown situation, though this post isn’t about our current global health crisis. It’s about a very ancient issue of feeding people when the supply chain is either interrupted, or needs to be established.
I bake quite often so my larder generally contains baking supplies, though not a sufficient amount for many months. Re- stocking has become an issue, of late, because flour became scarce almost overnight as a result of panic buying and stock-piling, at the end of March. (And we’ll not talk of toilet rolls! … till maybe later ­čśë)
Being mindful of waste, quantities for bread making, pizza dough, shortbread – and even my breakfast porridge – have been scrutinised more than normal. And in an odd way, this fits in well with my current fiction writing, since I’m often considering what my characters might be eating some 2,000 years ago in Roman Britain...

But you can hop over and read the rest of my post HERE

Meanwhile, I'm still solving many little glitches in my transfer from my old laptop to my new one. (which included finding access to this Blogger account)


Friday 10 April 2020

#Up in the clouds

Getting it all in perspective. Best foot forward!

Boots from Vindolanda Roman Fort
I joined an on-line organisation named 'Academia' a while back to get access to more academic information on Roman Britain, and the world of Celtic Europe. I had been able to download a few articles FREE before then but realised that there were many other possibilities to look at. I can't presently remember exactly how much the annual fee is (~ £50?) but I coughed up the cash since I try to pay for access to information when the price is reasonable.

And now I have a fabulous wee problem... :-)

Once signed up, I was asked to state my main historical interests and although (I think) I plugged in Roman Britain, I might have added Celtic Britain; and The Roman Empire; and The Ancient Roman Army...and probably a lot more? The moment I became a member I received almost daily emails with links to papers that would likely interest me - and they definitely do! I studiously read the first ones, some shorter and many longer beyond a thesis length.  I won't ever use more than the tiniest amount in my roman Britain fiction but I love researching about the eras I write about.

Very soon after signing up, other reading priorities took over and new additions via email from Academia were popped into a file in my email storage system. To read later... as well as my fiction TBR pile.

And the problem now is...
I've around 250 papers/ articles/ books (PDFs) still to read and I want to read them all!!  So, how do I stretch time? I'm currently transferring all manner of files from a limping 6 year-old laptop to a new one that was ordered before the COVID 19 lockdown. The first brand new laptop arrived by mid-March 2020, but had a fault and had to be returned. Unable to send me a replacement new Dell, I got the money back and now have brand new HP - an upgrade of my now 6 year-old HP.

I'm clearly not good at deleting unrequired email and word files from my local laptop disc since I've spent days doing just that. And I've also spent days saving lots of text and image files from my failing laptop to my external hard drive, and some of the most important files also onto a USB stick. (paranoid? Yes, I am terrified I lose important stuff!)

I want to download all of the PDFs from Academia in one fell swoop - but can't. (and... I don't want to lose the email links either when I move to my new lappie). My OH is currently trying to remember how to transfer all of my Mozilla Thunderbird saved emails to the new HP. He managed it when I renewed the current laptop in 2014, but that was a long time ago...AARGH!
Albrecht Durer- goddess Fortuna 
I'm now at that horrible and scary stage of working across 2 different laptops. The new Office 365 package that I bought last Nov 2019, is about to be replaced by the most up to date version on the new laptop which will see me not only working with the 'cloud' but I'll probably be in the 'cloud' - cuckoo land  that is by the time all is up and running on the new.

Technology- don't you just love it?

Just as well I have a techie daughter who is helping me - her at her house and me in mine. True social distancing rules!

Updates to come later, when I'm doing my new WIP writing on the new laptop.

Wishing you a happy Easter Holiday, or just Friday, or whatever. I won't say normal because the whole world isn't normal just now with the current COVID 19 crisis.


Wednesday 8 April 2020

8th April Caracalla's favourite day?

Bad day for Caracalla!

The 8th of April AD 217 was not his best time. Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus appears in The Taexali Game, my time travel historical. His full name was a bit of a mouthful so, from my point of view, I'm glad that he went by a nickname. The caracalla may, or may not, have been a particular type of short hooded cloak that he favoured wearing, but it is a much easier name to remember than the man's full title. 

Did Caracalla get a 'bad rep'? I'm not so sure, but some historians believed he may have been made out to be much more horrible than he really was. 

Given the status of Caesar Augustus (joint ruler) by his emperor father - Septimius Severus - at the very young age of 10 years old, may have given the boy Antoninus ideas of grandeur that he did not deserve. It may also be true that he would have, at that time ,been 'guided' by men other than his father, who had ideas of improving their own status while the boy was still young.

Emperor Septimius Severus-
Wikimedia Commons
The man who became 'Caracalla' was born Lucius Septimius Bassianus, names inherited from both his mother and father's sides of the family. His mother, Julia Domna, may also have been a hugely influential guiding force when he was young, since she brought an elevated status to her marriage to Septimius Severus. The daughter of a family of Arab descent (Bassianus, part of the Emesan Dynasty - a client kingdom of Rome), who had links with the priesthood of Elagabalus, she came to Septimius Severus with a background of breeding and education.  

It was a few years after 'Caracalla's' birth in AD 188 that his father became Emperor of the Roman Empire in AD 193. Skip forward to AD 195 and his father Septimius Severus decided that both his sons (Geta born a short time after Caracalla) needed to have names that matched their new status as sons of the emperor. 'Caracalla' was renamed Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in AD 195, acquiring some highly revered Roman names.

Young Caracalla
Power at a young age, even if it was nominal at first, seemed to have been a corrupting force. Emperor Septimius Severus was a military man who spent a lot of his time around the Empire, so may not have been around to personally give guidance to his sons.  He may have wanted his sons to be strong, worthy, and upright rulers but it it seems his sons became reckless, cruel and tyrannical.

Forced to marry his second-cousin at 14, Caracalla was said to have detested his bride, Fulvia Plautilla. The reasons are unknown but the dynastic marriage never resulted in any official children. Her father, a well-known Roman was later executed for treason in AD 205 (probably on Caracalla's orders, aged 17). Fulvia Plautilla was banished at that point and was later murdered in AD 211 (also possibly on Caracalla's orders after his father Septimius Severus was dead).

In c. AD 208, Septimius Severus, possibly tired of his sons wild behaviour (Geta was said to be nearly as awful as his older brother), decided to take them to Britannia during his Caledonian campaigns. It was written by early historians that Geta was left to rule the settled parts of Britannia  (roughly everywhere south of a lateral line through York/ Eboracum) while Severus and Caracalla campaigned in the north to  quell those nasty barbarian Caledonians. 

Caracalla- Wikimedia Commons 
Caracalla and Severus feature as characters in my time travel novel set in north-east Caledonia (current Aberdeenshire) though Geta only gets a tiny mention. The novel is set around that drastic invasion of the area that some recent archaeologists and historians believe was a time of deliberate genocide on the part of Severus and Caracalla. No huge battles were recorded by ancient historians but current academics and soil scientists believed the landscape was so ravaged that genocide is a distinct possibility. 

My intrepid time travellers from Kintore, Aberdeenshire, become well acquainted with the nasty deeds of Caracalla as the adventure unfolds.

After Severus death in February AD 211 in Eboracum (York), it was written that Caracalla and Geta took the urn containing their father's ashes back to Rome pretty sharpish, after concluding some sort of treaties with the troublesome Caledonians. The boys did not like each other very much growing up and, by AD 211 and Severus death, they seemed to like each other a lot less. After Severus' death, Geta inherited the  joint rulership of the Roman Empire but it was not to last. Geta was dead by December 11th AD 211, said to have been at the hands of the Praetorian Guard, and cradled in the arms of their mother Julia Domna. The Praetorian guard, special forces to guard the emperor,  were probably acting under orders from Caracalla... and some historians wonder if also with collusion by Julia Domna? 

After Geta's death, Caracalla set in motion a purge to cleanse 'Rome' of friends of Geta, and pretty well anyone who would challenge Caracalla's authority. The name of 'Geta' was expunged from almost everywhere possible - statues, documents, official records. It was estimated that some 20,000 people were killed as having been somehow tainted by association to Geta.
However nasty that was, Caracalla instituted some important reforms which were said to have been better received by the 'common folk' which included: a new army pay structure; an official grant of citizenship to all free men across the empire; and he made it official that a soldier could take a wife. Unfortunately, he had also accumulated many enemies and opposers, and he was assassinated on the 8th of April AD 217, aged 29. There are rumours abounding that his death was not heroic and that he performing  a 'delicate bodily function' situation when assassinated. 

Whatever his actual end, the 8th April AD 217 was not a good day for Caracalla. 

If interested in buying a copy of The Taexali Game from Amazon click the link HERE 

The Taexali Game: “The plot was clever, weaving together the historical conflict, and the attempts of the main characters to resolve the tasks they were sent into the game to deal with.”


Tuesday 7 April 2020

Missed the 6th!


I was so busy reading my new copy of The Illustrated Declaration of Arbroath yesterday, that I forgot to post more about it! I do intend to do a bit more about the 700th Anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, when the official celebrations actually happen, though who knows how long that may be.  A big gathering of any kind won't be happening till COVID 19 is under control. 

Today, only a few images borrowed from Wikipedia to show where I would have been sunning myself if I had been on our planned cruise Holiday. 

Santa Cruz, Tenerife.
On the 6th of April 2020, I was supposed to have been having a short on shore coach tour of Santa Cruz, Tenerife.

The beach looks pretty short and stony - not much different from many Scottish beaches but it should have been so much warmer. Our tour would, hopefully, have taken me to lovely places to take wonderful photos of. 

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
Today, the 7th April we should have been taking a shore trip to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.  I was looking forward to seeing something of the old town and its architecture. 

And tomorrow, the 8th April,  we were to have one more shore trip to Arrecife, Tenerife. I was looking forward to going a bit out of the city and into the hinterland, though not quite so far as Mount Teide. 

Instead, I've been spending time doing garden jobs that I'd have had to do when I came aback from my holiday - so all is not lost. Should I visit any of these places another time, I'll take tons of photos to remind me of the heat and the sun.

(ps to be fair it was sunny in Scotland today, and maybe 13 deg.C, so okay with a jumper on!)


Sunday 5 April 2020

The Illustrated Declaration of Arbroath

Happy Sunday to you
in lockdown or however you find yourself!

I'm never short of reading material and the latest book has queue jumped, since it's the 'Right Time To Read It'. 

I knew I would not be able to go on an independence march in Arbroath, Scotland, on Saturday 4th April 2020 when the organisation All Under One Banner announced it. The reason I could not attend was that I expected to be on my cruise holiday, and by the 4th April was expecting to be spending a few onshore hours in Funchal, Madeira, going to tourist spots I didn't go to on my last Madeira visit in 6 years ago.

My OH, knowing how keen I was bought me a book as a consolation prize for not getting to Arbroath and it's a beauty. As well as Beta reading for a fellow Ocelot Press author today, I'm reading my copy of The Illustrated Declaration of Arbroath by Andrew Redmond Barr, and it's a fabulous production.  

The letter written to the pope 700 years ago, with the attached seals of the many important men in Scotland, is itself relatively short but Andrew Barr has made some beautiful illustrations to flank the historical background that makes the letter of the Declaration of Arbroath still be so important and very relevant today. 

The 700th celebrations of the Declaration of Arbroath have had to be postponed due to the the COVID 19 pandemic lockdown, but I'm so pleased to be able to celebrate the date myself, in my own small way.

So far, I've read half of the book and will complete it later tonight. The illustrations are so brilliantly done- published in black and white  -  that they really make me want to reach for some colouring pencils to do some colourising. 

Now, if I had 2 copies of this lovely book I'd do exactly that.  ;-) 


Saturday 4 April 2020

#Dunera Cruise 1967 photos

Update! To my post about my school cruise on the Dunera cruise ship in 1967.

I knew I had some photographs and here are a few of them. I'm a rubbish photographer now, was even worse back then, but here are a few of them in all their (mostly) black and white glory. I can vaguely remember having a very neat little (point and shoot) Kodak camera which loaded cartridges. It appears I wasn't very skilled at deciding on light factors etc...ahem!

I have posted those I have on my Facebook page in the hope that my fellow Waverley Secondary pupils will add details to them.  (I don't know how to highlight specific posts but they were all posted on 4th April 2020 if that helps find them)

Lisbon was our first port. I think I remember running back down this huge avenue.

Lisbon- Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Port 2 was Gibraltar

Gibraltar- the ubiquitous  GB phone box

Port 3 was Oporto.

Unknown destination but maybe Oporto?

Port 3 was Oporto but I have nothing definite to show of it. Or of Vigo (port 4), the place we visited after our coach tour, from Oporto - apart from the Winery label posted yesterday.

Port 5 was Zeebrugge, Belgium, where we took a coach to Bruges to do some sightseeing. We obviously went to the Cathedral since this photo is of the Michelangelo statue of Madonna of Bruges! 

I do have more, very poor quality photos, but they contain people I have no names for. If you were also a pupil at Waverley Secondary School, Glasgow in 1967 you night know some of the people in the photo albums on my facebook page (link above)

I found a few useful links to Dunera cruises that are worth a look, if you need to while away some hours during this Coronavirus lockdown. It seems she may have been the first schools cruise ship but was also decommissioned in 1967, after I was on it but not my fault! (It was a bit of a tub) :-)



Friday 3 April 2020

Oporto and Cale

How did Cale get to become Oporto?

I’m becoming quite fascinated in the origins of words which often lead back to very early times. When the possible meaning, or derivation of a word, has associations with the early Celtic speaking peoples then, for me, it’s a bonus.

Yesterday, I mentioned I’d maybe do a little on the history of Oporto, so here’s a bit that interests me. I hope you can find the same fascination!

Iberian Peninsula circa. 100 BC - Wikimedia Commons 

The Roman general Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus conquered the region we now refer to as Portugal, and founded the Roman ‘port’ city of Portus Cale in around 136 BC. The city ‘port’ he founded was at the mouth of the Douro River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, a strategic place to have a maritime base back then, as it still is now.

The people who lived in that north-west Iberian area were possibly known as Callaeci, Gallaeci or Gallaecia, though also named as the Castra people. The names Callaici and Cale are the origin of today's Gaia, Galicia, and the -gal in Portugal. The meaning of Cale or Calle is possibly a derivation of the Celtic word for port which would confirm very old links to pre-Roman, Celtic languages. (Read on to the end of the post)

Other historians put forward the idea that the Greeks were the first to settle Cale and that the name derives from the Greek word ╬Ü╬▒╬╗╬╗╬╣¤é kallis, 'beautiful', meaning the beauty of the Douro valley. Others have put forward the notion that the word Cale came from the Latin word for 'warm' (Portus Cale thus meaning 'warm port').

If you know anything about the name structures for men in Ancient Rome, you may already know that a conquering general of the republican era, or an emperor of the imperial era, often added a fourth part to their name which gave an important geographical indication of where their campaign took place. e.g. An emperor might have added Britannicus to his name to indicate a triumph in Britain. Or Germanicus for a triumph in Germany. I believe that Decimus Junius Brutus added the fourth agnomen of Callaicus to indicate a triumph over the Callaici people.

After D J Brutus' campaigns, the territory between the Douro and Minho rivers and some surrounding area was controlled by Rome.  By the end of the 1st century BC, under the reign of Augustus Caesar, north Portugal and Galicia were fully absorbed into the Empire and controlled by Rome.

Eventually the Roman Empire waned and when trade collapsed, Portus Cale also went into decline. Various other conquerors arrived and by 584 the Visigoths dominated the region around Cale and they changed the name to Portucale. After them, the Moors came, and in 868 it was reconquered by V├şmara Peres, a Christian warlord from Gallaecia. The First County of Portugal or Condado de Portucale was founded.

Galician pipers during a St. Patrick's Day parade in New York. - Wikimedia Commons
And now for the bits that appeal to me even more. In today's Irish and Scottish Gaelic, the word for port is respectively caladh and cala. Cala or Cailleach was also the name of a Celtic goddess. In Scotland, the Cailleach Bheur is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter. And back in the times of the early Celtic nations, the land of a specific people was frequently named after its deity.

Beira - Wikipedia 
Portugal and Spain are often referred to as the Iberian Peninsula. I imagine that Beira, queen of winter, was just as popular there as in what we now know of as Scotland.

The Cailleach Bheur is mentioned quite a few times in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Saga. My Garrigill characters Enya and Nith are not afraid of the ‘Blue Hag/ Cailleach Bheur’ but the local lad - Feargus of Monymusk - definitely fears her!

Click HERE to rad the Wikipedia article about Beira, the blue hag. 

Stay tuned. I'm not doing the official A to Z Blog Challenge this year, but I do intend to post something every day in April 2020. (That's the plan!) 


Thursday 2 April 2020

A cancellation and some memories of #Oporto.

Thursday 2nd April 2020
Had all things gone according to plan, and the horrendous situation with Coronavirus had not happened, I would have been in Oporto, Portugal, today.  It would have been the first port of call on my 2020 Fred Olsen cruise, destined for Madeira and the Canaries. However, I’m heartily glad to be writing this in ‘COVID 19 Lockdown’ from my home, and not from the isolation of a cabin on the Balmoral cruise ship, even though it had a balcony and Fred Olsen cruises are superbly luxurious. 

I had been eagerly anticipating a re-visit to Oporto because I have no real memories of visiting in 1967 when I was 15 years old, and on the school cruise ship called the Dunera. I know I brought back lots of souvenirs from the trip, lots of beautifully tooled leather items and wooden ornaments, but can’t remember exactly what was bought where. I remember the ‘blazing white’ sunshine when on shore, vaguely remember visiting lots of market stalls, and remember paying out hundreds of Portuguese Escudos and centavos. Counting out the vast denominations was an excitement in itself.

Oporto Winery label, Luggage Tag and 'Payment Book'
My main memory of Oporto, however, was doing the tour of a ‘Famous’ winery. Part of the tour was, of course, sampling a tiny tot of Port wine. I had tasted port before, since my grandfather tended to have that as a New Year half-bottle rather than whisky (or maybe as well as?). Many of my school friends hated the stuff, so I can remember being a bit tipsy, having had lots of extras thrust upon me. Perhaps that’s why I like red wine today!

I don’t remember any history of the port but might have had ‘lessons’ on it since part of the day was sometimes spent on some educational pursuit, or other. I intend to do another blog post on the Roman history of Oporto very soon, but this one is dedicated to schoolgirl nostalgia.
Dunera Itinerary c. Nancy Jardine

Oporto was the 3rd port of call on the Dunera, the ship having left from Greenock, near Glasgow. It presumably sailed down the Irish Sea into the Atlantic, and south to Lisbon (destination 1).  From Lisbon it travelled further south to Gibraltar (destination 2), and then back north to the port of Leixoes, a few miles north of Oporto (destination 3).

After our tourist pursuits in Oporto, we boarded a coach which drove us northwards out of Portugal into Spain, and on to Vigo (destination 4). I can vaguely remember driving though some very leafy countryside on that journey to Vigo, which seemed to be quite a long drive. We embarked our cruise ship Dunera where it stayed overnight in port. 

I can’t remember details, but from the itinerary it looks as though we had some shore time in Vigo the following day before we sailed north to Zeebrugge in Belgium (destination 5). From Zeebrugge we sailed north again to the post of Grangemouth, on the east coast of Scotland, not far from Edinburgh. After that it was a bus back home to Drumchapel, Glasgow.

If any of my former school friends were on that cruise, and remember a lot more than me, please feel free to add more details. I only have a few photos from the cruise but few of them have famous landmarks on them. When I find them I'll add then if I can.  

One of the top images shows the 'Payment Card'. The full cost of the cruise was £46 but having been  given a grant of £8, I only had to pay £36.  The total amount of pocket money allowed was £10 though I doubt I had that much saved. 

The 'Kit List' is a bit of a laugh these days but things have moved on from 1967.  

I had to have an inoculation for typhoid but not for Smallpox. You only needed that for cruises that went to destinations in the Mediterranean Sea, and North Africa.  

(It's amazing the bits and pieces I've kept for 50+ years!) 


Wednesday 1 April 2020

A gift in time of need #FREE copies

Wednesday Welcomes! 

Many of us are finding ourselves with more time on our hands due to the current Global COVID 19 health crisis. If you’re an avid reader, like I am, then it’s a good time to escape into a book and into another world – even if it’s just for a short time. 

During this last week, I have personally taken advantage of some of the great bargains, or Free copies available via Amazon. I heartily thank all of those authors who are doing what they can to make it easier for multitudes of readers to while away some delightful time.

For the next few days (1st – 3rd April 2020) I will also have two of my Ocelot Press titles FREE on Amazon and three other novels at 99p.

Just click the links if you have not yet read them, and want to escape into a historical novel or a contemporary mystery! I do hope you’ll enjoy my characters and the fabulous settings you’ll find them in.

If you can spare the time after reading the stories, it really does help to pop a few words on to an Amazon or Goodreads review. That way other readers will get an idea of how the book has been received, and hopefully thoroughly enjoyed.

Stay cool and take care!

Click here for My Amazon UK author page to see all of my novels

FREE 1st -3rd April 2020

#2 Celtic Fervour Historical Saga Series – After Whorl: Bran Reborn 

Contemporary Mystery Thriller - Topaz Eyes  

And… Have a look for the others at 99p!

Happy Reading.