Saturday 26 November 2022


 Happy Saturday to you!

This weekend of 26th and 27th of November 2022, I've signed myself up to be part of the virtual #HistoryWritersDay22  Christmas Book Market organised by @books2cover on Twitter.

I'm not entirely sure of what I'll be doing but I aim to give anyone browsing an idea of why I love to write about the Flavian era invasions of Scotland. 

More posts to come...


Monday 31 October 2022

Samhain and the dark days of winter

Today is Samhain, otherwise known as Halloween to most people nowadays.

I've written before on this blog about the Celtic festival of Samhain (use the Search facility on the sidebar to find them) so, today, I'll try avoid too much repetition. The Ancient Celts likely regarded Samhain as the most important of the four main Celtic celebratory festivals that took place each year. Samhain, beginning on the 31st October, marked the end of one year and indicated the beginning of the new year. Some believe the ancient festival lasted over a 3-day period which would definitely have been time enough to enjoy a good celebration. 

It was highly important for those ancient people to believe that the gods would favour them through the coming winter months and ensure they survived till the next 'turn' of the natural year when the days would lengthen again and natural warmth and new growth would return.

Samhain was essentially a harvest festival which if conducted well would ensure that the crops just harvested would remain healthy and fresh for months to come. Decisions would be made about which animals might be slaughtered to provide hung, or smoked/preserved, meats for during the winter months; and which beasts would be kept alive to provide milk for the inhabitants and for breeding from the following spring. The beasts kept alive would be brought in from summer/autumn pastures and would provide a degree of natural heat in the Celtic roundhouses over the darkest, coldest months. We won't mention any smells that today's generations might find unwanted - it's assumed that the ancients were inured to such and accepted animal waste as part of the natural order of daily life.

It's believed, from the oral tradition, that the late Iron Age inhabitants who followed the druidic faith would leave untended fires in their dwellings while they all went out to harvest the crops on Samhain (beginning on the 31st October). The harvested crops were then laid at their doors for the ancestors in the Otherworld (like a parallel universe) to view. It didn't matter if those roundhouse fires burned themselves out because at the end of the harvesting process the druid priests ceremonially lit a communal fire around which celebratory feasting and drinking would take place. At the end of the festivities a 'new' firebrand from the ceremonial fire would be issued to each household who would then use it to kindle a new fire in their hearth, a symbol of blessed continuity for the coming year. 

Samhain was also regarded as an occasion when the veil between the living and the dead would be so thin that interaction could take place. To light the way for the departed spirits a small 'tallow (?)' torch brand' would be placed inside a carved out neep/turnip. 

The scary faces aspect of a Halloween neep or pumpkin that might be carved out today developed when Christianity introduced the concept of the devil and bad omens to the already popular Celtic tradition. This cat lantern photo, acquired from my grandkids' collection is much more intricate (and much more cute) than the simple light that the ancient Celts would have left for the ancestors to find them.

To prevent unwanted interference from unfriendly spirit visitors a degree of disguise was donned to confuse those bad spirits into believing they were at the wrong door. The tradition of guising in Scotland and Ireland, the dressing up factor of contemporary Halloween, is thought to have developed form that ancient method of repelling bad spirits. 

Will I be guising this Samhain/ Halloween evening? Dressing up is not planned but I do aim to join my grandkids in 'Dookin' fir Aipples' after they have done some guising around the village with their parents ensuring no bad spirits intercept them! Since it's a school day tomorrow, I imagine that the guising won't go on for too long.

There are references to the Samhain festival in some of my Celtic Fervour Series novels, particularly Book 3(You may manage to locate extracts in earlier posts on Samhain)  but I didn't ever use the Samhain festival as the theme of any particular scene. [Perhaps I ought to remedy that in future, maybe in the short story collection that's already started as a companion to the Celtic Fervour Series?]

Samhain Greetings to you!


Thursday 27 October 2022

Style and the Solitary- Launched today by Miriam Drori and Ocelot Press

Ocelot Press has an exciting new release today!

My congratulations go to the newest member of the Ocelot Press clowder - Miriam Drori - who has launched Style and the Solitary - A Jerusalem Murder Mystery, Book 1 of a murder series set in Jerusalem. 

Miriam is no stranger since we have both, in recent years, been published by Crooked Cat. I've enjoyed reading previous work by Miriam and look forward devouring to my brand new ecopy of Style and the Solitary purchased today from Amazon (see link below). 

I'm delighted to welcome Miriam today to tell us more about what prompted her to write this compellingly different murder mystery. 

Miriam writes:

“Where do you get your ideas from?” is one of those questions most authors have probably heard too often. The fact is that ideas come from everywhere, from a childhood memory, an overheard conversation, something you heard on the radio or watched on TV or read in a newspaper. The possibilities are endless as long as you keep your mind open to them. Because everything you experience or hear about could become inspiration for a novel or could fade into oblivion. It depends on you, the author.

How did the story of Beauty and the Beast become an important inspiration for my latest novel – Style and the Solitary? I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember reading about the eighteenth-century French woman who wrote the original story – not as a story for children but as one with a moral for adults – and thinking this would be perfect for the character of Nathalie, who emigrated from France after studying French literature. And if Nathalie could be ‘Beauty’, then Asaf could be ‘the Beast’, the one who could change, not from beast to prince, but from loner to someone else. Naturally, that change wouldn’t be as swift as the beast-to-prince one, and he’d probably never become the life and soul of the party, but at least Nathalie could help facilitate the change to ‘non-loner’.

A radio programme I heard, about victims of rape, included a woman who wanted to testify against her rapist but found she was unable to express herself under pressure in a law court. That stuck with me, as I knew that Asaf would worry about being unable to defend himself.

Jerusalem provided a wonderful backdrop to the novel. From the market to the police station to the Liberty Bell and on, the city just continued to give its all to the story.

And then there was the brooch, silver-coloured and heart-shaped, sent to me when I was twelve by a school friend who’d left suddenly and secretly to emigrate to Canada. Yes, I kept it all these years in the box on which she’d written to me. For the novel, I placed the brooch in a transparent, coffin-shaped box and pretended it was made of real silver.

Miriam Drori

Miriam Drori, author, editor and social anxiety warrior, worked as a computer programmer and a technical writer before turning her attention to full-time writing. Her novels and short stories cover several genres, including crime, romance and uplifting fiction. She has also written a non-fiction book about social anxiety.

Born and raised in London, Miriam now lives in Jerusalem. She has travelled widely, putting her discoveries to good use as settings in her writing. Her characters are not based on real people, but rather are formed from an amalgam of the many and varied individuals who have embellished her life.

When not writing, she likes reading, hiking, dancing and touring.

You can find Miriam at her website, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere.

Style and the Solitary

An unexpected murder. A suspect with a motive. The power of unwavering belief.

A murder has been committed in an office in Jerusalem. Asaf, who works there, is the suspect. But is the case as clear-cut as it seems?

Asaf is locked in a cell and in his own protective wall, unable to tell his story even to himself. How can he tell it to a chief inspector or a judge? The fear would paralyse him.

His colleague, Nathalie, has studied Beauty and the Beast. She understands that staunch belief can effect change. As the only one who believes in Asaf’s innocence, she’s motivated to act on his behalf. But she’s new in the company – and in the country. Who will take her seriously?

She cajoles her two flatmates into helping her investigate. As they uncover new trails, will they be able to change people's minds about Asaf?

Will Nathalie’s belief in Asaf impel him to defeat his own demons and clear his name?

Style and the Solitary is released today ( 27th October 2022) through Ocelot Press

Thank you so much for visiting today, Miriam, and my very best wishes for a super launch today and continued success with Style and the Solitary. 


Tuesday 13 September 2022


 Hello there on a fine Tuesday morning! 

I'm delighted to announce an unexpected win for BEFORE BELTANE, the Prequel to my Celtic Fervour Series that was published in late April 2022. It has won a GOLD Medal award from The Coffee Pot Book Club Books of the Year Awards for fiction set in the Ancient World category.  

It is in incredibly fine company as the other medal winners are truly fine reads ( a number of which I have already read, and more will be acquired for my kindle very soon). 

My thanks go to Mary Anne Yarde, the founder of The Coffee Pot Book Club, and to her team of reviewers. Their time reading and reviewing is much appreciated. 

I'm off now, to get back into the proper swing of writing which has been sorely neglected of late...and, of course, to celebrate winning the lovely Award seen above. 


Wednesday 22 June 2022

My fellow Eboracum Roman Festival Writers!


The day is almost here. Since I'll be heading down to York in about 36 hours, I'm getting the case out ready to pack up everything I think I'll need for the Eboracum Roman Festival. Not having been before, it's going to be a pure guess as to how many books are reasonable to take. Since I have a healthy stock sitting ready in my cupboards for my normal Craft Fairs, I have a bit of a dilemma. Take too few and I'll be annoyed if I could sell more. Too many? Shouldn't be such a problem since I'm now going by car. I'll be hoping for a refund on my return train ticket but whether one transpires, or not, will be for another day. 

I’m incredibly excited about joining some super-special writers who write Roman related fiction and non-fiction. The  Tempest Anderson Hall, York Museum, is the venue for the following authors, many of whom I've heard of though I've met none of them in person. I've read some of their novels already but browsing their stock will be a pleasure I look forward to! 

Assuming they can make their way to York by some means other than the trains, which are definitely on strike, I look forward to meeting these lovely people!  

Click on the link to find out more about them.

 Simon J. Turney

Ruth Downie

Roll on Friday 24th June when I set off for York with my lovely daughter who is accompanying me, keeping me right, and ensuring I don't get lost along the way! 


Monday 13 June 2022

Eboracum beckons!

Monday Matters!

I'm delighted to announce today that my plans are gearing up for the Eboracum Roman Festival, June 25/26th 2022.  

I'm very much looking forward to being there this year with other fantastic authors who write in the Roman Era. I was first booked for the Eboracum Roman Festival in 2020 but, very disappointingly, it was cancelled due to Coronavirus restrictions. 

This year of 2022, approximately 9 authors will be holding book signings, book sales and probably impromptu history lessons in part of the Yorkshire Museum. We will be ensconced in the Tempest Anderson Hall near the reenactment marquees, which sounds like an ideal location.

We hope the author enclave will be very busy during the two days of the festival. If you happen to be in York that weekend, then please do visit our area and have a natter, browse what's on offer, and get your Roman era reading all sorted for months ahead. 

The one drawback to my plans for York is that a nation-wide train strike is planned for three days straddling the Eboracum Roman Festival dates. I have train tickets (booked in early May) but it looks more and more like I will - instead - be driving down to York from Aberdeenshire. Most of the other authors will also need to change travel plans to attend the festival, as will many of the tourists who are planning to be in York that weekend. 

More details of my fellow Eboracum Festival authors to follow this week. 

Happy Reading.


Wednesday 4 May 2022

Reviews Matter!

Wednesday greetings to you! 

Before Beltane is now well and truly launched in both paperback and eBook formats, available from Amazon and in paperback from bookstores like Barnes and Noble, Waterstones and WH Smith. Paperbacks can be ordered via other independent bookstores.

I'm delighted to announce that it already has a couple of good reviews and that is a really great start. Reviews are not easy to acquire, so I'm very very pleased when any appear. 

Here are the first 2 on Amazon - one for the eBook and one for the paperback version (identical reading). 

5 stars

"The Prequel to the Celtic Fervour Series by Nancy Jardine is a very enjoyable read which takes the reader back to the early years of the first century AD in Iron Age Britain before the full Roman invasion of Brigantia. The book gives an early sense of the Celtic people and has something for every reader of historical novels."

4 Stars  - Historical Fiction at its Best

"In this prequel to the Beltane series we are shown into the lives of Lorcan and Nara and their adventures before they meet. Once again Nancy Jardine builds a clear detailed , well researched picture of life in Britain , with tribal differences and Roman invasion. The lives of Lorcan and Nara are ruled by their positions in society, cultural and spiritual rules. A thoroughly enjoyable read."

I need to spend some time tomorrow in making some more promotional material. It's a tough job getting any reviews so it's very good that I enjoy making the promotional posters. 

Happy Reading.


Saturday 30 April 2022

Happy Beltane!

Welcome to Day 30 of my April daily blogs to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Beltane is in the titles of 2 of my Historical Fiction Celtic Fervour Series, though why Beltane? (alternative spellings may be: Bealtaine/ Beltain)

Beltane literally means shining/bright fire, and the Beltane festival has a central fertility theme. Beltane, the end of spring festival, is celebrated roughly half-way between the Vernal equinox and the Summer Solstice. The festival traditionally marked the arrival of the summer, Beltane being one of the larger and more important Celtic festivals. Imbolc heralded the Spring; Beltane the summer; Lughnasadh the autumn and Samhain the winter.

It’s believed by some historians that the Beltane festival was celebrated on the day that the group of stars named the Pleiades appeared on the horizon, at sunrise. Nowadays, it is celebrated by neo-pagans and interested onlookers on a fixed day, the 1st May. You'd need to be up pretty early in my part of the world, to know if that happens this year on the 30th April into the 1st May! Googling it tells me it should happen at 05:21 hrs. 

For the Ancient 'Celtic' Iron Age tribes of Britain, the rituals of Beltane heralded a time of optimism and hope that the coming seasons would be fruitful for the land, the animals and the people. Abundant crops and productive animals were crucial to survival, living off the land the way of life for them as most Celtic tribes were basically farmers. The rituals of the festival were therefore designed to encourage successful growth for the animals and crops. Driving the animals through a 'fire-corridor' was designed to purify them, and to rid them of potentially deadly disease. Fertility of the tribe may also have been an important feature of this particular festival. I leave that bit to your imagination. 

My late Iron Age tribal characters in the Celtic Fervour Series celebrate Beltane when they can – though the invading Roman Legions spoil their festivals on quite a few occasions over the duration
of the series which span a generation!  Beathan of Garrigill, who is the main character in Book 5 of the series, is the amazingly capable son of Lorcan and Nara. Spoiler alert here would be that Bethan is conceived during a Beltane Festival in Book 1. You can work out why this current Prequel to the series is called BEFORE BELTANE and Book 1 is called THE BELTANE CHOICE. 


Tonight into the 1st May 2022, will see a re-start of the Beltane Festival on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland,  after having had to go online due to Covid restrictions. I've never been to view it, but obviously would love to be there. 

You can buy Before Beltane  HERE since it really is properly launched now! 

Happy Reading.


Friday 29 April 2022

Launch Day for Before Beltane!

Welcome to day 29 of my series of blog posts in April that have something to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Today really is launch day for what is effectively Book Zero of the Celtic Fervour Series - Before Beltane. It's a busy day since Before Beltane is being featured on some blogs, for which I thank the blog blog owners very much. 

You can find a post about what Lorcan and Nara are seeing around them, and hearing around them, on Mary Anne Yarde's fabulous Coffee Pot Blog

You'll also find a different post about the reasons for writing the Prequel on my wonderful friend Cathie Dunn's Ruins and Reading blog  She's an absolute star since she has even made a fantastic new banner for my visit! But you need to hop on over to her blog to see it, so click that link! 

The day has flown past in a flurry of making some new promotional material to use online, but since my Before Beltane paperback copies are about to have a very first outing at the FOCUS Craft Fair at the Garioch Heritage Centre in Inverurie, my local Aberdeenshire county town, I've been making some posters to display there as well. 

I have lots of spanking new copies of Before Beltane, for those who can take up the special paperback price - just for tomorrow! 

Happy Reading.


Thursday 28 April 2022

Stanwick- Cartimandua and Venutius

It's an exciting time of the month! It's Day 28 of my April blog posts that have some relevance to Before Beltane, and there are only a few hours left before the official launch of the eBook of Before Beltane (as I write this).

Today's post is about Stanwick Hillfort the stronghold of King Venutius, or Queen Cartimandua,… or both?

So much of this Brigante stronghold of Stanwick is unknown, but many theories abound about it.

Only a tiny part of what developed into a very sizeable Late Iron Age Brigante hillfort at Stanwick has ever been excavated. Starting off quite modest in size, the area now named as ‘Hill of Toft’ was covered by small defences, though were enlarged and grew to being extremely large. Eventually, the rampart and ditch is estimated to have enclosed some 310 ha (766 acres). Those numbers have only come to mean something more tangible to me since I learned that Durno, the largest Roman temporary camp found in Aberdeenshire (to date), covered some 58 ha. Stanwick, in comparison, would be about 6 times bigger than that Roman encampment which might have comfortably sheltered some 30,000 Roman soldiers with plenty of space for horses.     

Wheeler's Wall - Stanwick
Wikimedia Commons

The Stanwick hillfort has been referred to as an oppidum, meaning a larger native settlement which seems to have been relatively rare in the northern areas of Britannia. It probably began as a modest hillfort at some point before the Claudian Roman invasion of Britannia in AD 43. The dealings that Queen Cartimandua and her (then) husband had with the Roman Empire seems to have kept full-scale invasion of the area at bay for a couple of decades, yet there were sizeable expansions of the settlement during that time.

In the early 1950s, the renowned archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler supervised excavations of a small area which dated the site as being first century AD.  Lots of conjectural theories have emerged over who used the site, and what the political situation was at that time. The only main historical prime source for the location and era comes from the Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus. He wrote that Cartimandua (or perhaps her husband as well)  had made some form of treaties with Rome which meant that their lands remained largely uninvaded, probably so long as her Brigantes did not attack any Roman settlements or installations built to the south of Brigante territory (which was extensive across northern England).

A Stanwick archaeological find-
Wikimedia Commons

Some theories to explain the increase of land covered by the settlement at Stanwick cover the ideas that not all Brigantes were happy with Cartimandua’s dealings with Rome. A read of Tacitus indicates that Cartimandua’s handing over of Caractacus in AD 51 to the Romans was a turning point. The ‘betrayal’ of Caractacus, who had been a bastion of Roman resistance, was perhaps a dealing too many for many of the Brigante tribes. At some point between AD 51 and 69, the ripples of insurrection amongst Brigantes came to a serious conflict between those who followed Cartimandua and Rome, and those who followed King Venutius and resistance.  

During those years leading to what is termed the Brigante civil war, the expansion of Stanwick probably happened as the rallying call went out.

By AD 69, it may be the case that  Cartimandua retreated to a southern hillfort (Almondbury?) after a defeat against Venutius. Her fate is unknown, but has been a subject of conjecture amongst scholars for a very long time.

Venutius’ fate is unknown, but it may be that he survived till the end of the period when Petillius Cerialis was Governor of Britannia (71-74).  By the mid to end of the AD 70s, it’s thought that the influence of the Stanwick hillfort had declined, the main reason being that the Roman invasion of Brigantia had been successful and resistance to Rome had been largely stamped out. The hillfort excavations point to the possibility that there was fire destruction, possibly caused during a confrontation with the troops of the Legio IX, under the command of the  Roman Governor Petillius Cerialis.

A grave site was discovered near Stanwick which indicated a burial of some importance. It has been suggested it was the burial site of King Venutius. 

In Before Beltane, I have included scenes where Lorcan of Garrigill is in the company of King Venutius. My details are scant, but sufficient to indicate that the area covered by Stanwick Hillfort is quite extensive. I’ve also included mention that Lorcan is given hospitality by Chief Thoft,  a venerable chief of the area, though I don't mention in the novel that the area of the original Stanwick Hillfort may have been Thoft/Toft's land before being used by Queen Cartimandua and King Venutius!

Happy Reading.


Wednesday 27 April 2022

Cernunnos – the Horned God

It’s now Day 27 of my April daily blog posts to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Cernunnos is the topic of the day. Cernunnos is thought to have been the horned god of the Celtic world. The derivation of the name is unclear but may have an association with the word for horn. References to the god have survived in only a few inscriptions and a few images thought to refer to the god Cernunnos show him wearing antlers. He is deemed to have been the god of the forest and of its creatures.

Gundestrup Cauldron

Varying references name him as a peaceful god, the lotus-style seated position on the Gundestrup Cauldron an indication of this. Other portrayals of Cernunnos are of a fickle god of the forest who can be nasty to humans who disturb his environment in some way.

I saw the incredible Gundestrup cauldron when the Celts Exhibition was on at the British Museum in London (perhaps 2016?), and it is truly awesome to view. Although it depicts objects that were used in central and western Europe, it was found in a bog near Gundestrup in Denmark, which would have been beyond the northern boundary of what would normally be assessed as the Celtic regions of Europe. However, it’s thought that the designs suggest that it was not made in the area but was fashioned much further east. The strange animals and lotus pose of the antlered figure give an Asiatic impression. The scenes all around the cauldron are thought to depict ancient tales that have been lost to us.

I can't legally show on here any of the images of Cernunnos that you'll find on Etsy, or other internet sites, but since Cernunnos features in neo-paganism, there are plenty of highly artistic representations of him. 

Cernunnos is mentioned in Nara's story in Before Beltane when she takes a couple of the younger acolyte priestesses into the forest to give them further instructions in stalking and hunting. Their aim that morning is to kill a young deer that will become a focus of their feast for their Festival of Imbolc (1st Feb). 

Happy Reading.

There are only about 36 more hours (as I write this) to Pre-Order  Before Beltane at the bargain price of £1.99. Launch day is 29th April 2022!


Tuesday 26 April 2022


Welcome to Day 26 of my blog posts about the writing of Before Beltane.

Today's topic is about food and about how tricky it can be to avoid repetition when writing about it. Food eaten in Before Beltane can be as repetitive as describing a roundhouse that either Lorcan or Nara visits, or lives in. They were unlikely to find any dwellings that looked different inside, or foods that were different. 

Unlike the possibilities when describing varied interior decor today, the roundhouses of 2000 years ago were likely to have been fairly similar, though not exactly the same. Tiny details I've added in my Celtic Fervour Series about the construction of curtained-off, or partially-separated sleeping areas in a larger roundhouse - to afford some privacy - are an embellishment. Unfortunately, the archaeology I've managed to study regarding this isn't clear enough to be sure that it was indeed privacy, as we conceive it today, that made those Iron Age settlers choose to separate the areas. Nevertheless, archaeological interpretation gives me an idea to work with, and I try to represent something feasible, though being historically correct is difficult to prove. 

A crannog fire pit. 

It's similar when I describe food eaten in Before Beltane, and indeed in the other books in the series. The archaeological study of human faeces in a waste/midden area, and soil studies, can provide me with information that at a given site, oats and barley were a staple diet of the people who inhabited it during the era of the late 1st century AD. What those studies can't tell me is exactly how the food was cooked. 

Since the central fire pit in a roundhouse provided heat, cooking and a certain degree of light, the cooking facilities were pretty basic. A suspended pot or cauldron was used to produce a thick porridge from flaked or hulled oats mixed with water, occasionally made slightly different by the addition of stored nuts - particularly hazelnuts - which would have been easily collected and stored. There were plenty of hazel and other nut-bearing trees growing in the geographical areas of southern Scotland (Nara) and north England (Lorcan). Fresh fruits in season might also have been added e.g. tiny wild strawberries, bilberries or other locally-sourced edible berries. Berries could be dried and stored to provide a longer season for their use. Honey may also have been collected, and as well as being used to produce a mead-type drink, some honey might have enlivened porridge if the honey stores needed to be used up. Honey also has beneficial healing properties so, again, it could have been added for more than just giving the food a better taste. 

A thin, or thick, brose could have been made from the barley with added water. And as with porridge, nuts and fruits might have perked it up.

Soups (broth) of some sort could have been made in the cauldron with added herbs, stock from fowl,  boiled meats, or other vegetable additions. The vegetables eaten in northern Britannia would have been limited to what could be picked in season, or seeded and grown on the strip farms and harvested. Storage of vegetables would have been less likely than today. From soil samples and midden/ faeces studies it's thought that a plant we now consider to be a weed named fat hen was eaten, as was wild garlic and some indigenous brassicas (cabbage type plants). Some vegetables we think of as being very traditional in Britain like onions were introduced by the Roman invaders, but it would probably have taken some time (even many decades?) for those to have been grown and eaten by local Brigantes or Selgovae tribespeople. Roman soldiers at the fort of Trimontium (Newstead/ Melrose in the Scottish borders) cultivated their own fields- there are plenty of findings of farming tools to prove this - but whether they introduced vegetable crops to the area is something for me to investigate again, since I can't remember any details.  

Both oats and barley could be used to make breads and long lasting biscuits like oatcakes, though without the salt content found in them today. The flat stones around the central fire pit would have been hot enough to slow bake flatbread and bannocks. Results might have varied depending on additions like milk, or eggs, or herbs, fruits and nuts. 

Evidence points to domestic fowl having been at roundhouse dwellings, giving eggs and possibly meat when past their laying-age. Other domestic animals are likely to have been the small form of goats found in the north which might have provided milk as well as meat. Sheep breeds of the era were more like the small Soay variety that can still be found on Scottish islands. These sheep would have provided wool, milk, and also meat. Pigs were possibly less common, but evidence of them has been found in domestic settings. Horses were revered as an indication of wealth and status, but if a horse got to the end of its natural life, or died from some other cause, it's hard to believe that the meat would not have been used for human consumption. The hides of all of the animals provided materials for clothing and other coverings, and for leather scabbards, pouches and wraps. 

Meats obtained from wild animals would have included wild boar; wild goats; deer; and smaller animals like hare and squirrels. However, there are some folk tales handed down orally through the centuries which indicate that for some tribes the consumption of hares was unlikely, if they were thought to be an embodiment of a local god or goddess. Similarly, some believed that in particular areas the human consumption of fish was rare, as they were thought to have had spiritual qualities. Bones of smaller fish do not survive well in the archaeological record, so whether or not they were eaten is a matter of debate. If fish was easily sourced and little else was available, it's difficult to believe (for me) that they would not have been regularly eaten. In coastal areas, there's evidence for consumption of shellfish and molluscs. Meats would have been boiled in a large pot, or roasted on spits over the central fire, the choicest meats given to guests, or to the upper levels of the tribal hierarchy first.

Wild birds would have been killed with spear or sling shot, and eggs harvested when available. 

The above may sound like there is plenty to write about when it comes to food for my Lorcan and Nara -  the trick, for me, is to remember all that I've just outlined! 

Happy Reading.


Monday 25 April 2022

Sacrificial Weapons

Welcome to Day 25 of my blog posts to do with the writing of Before Beltane.

Today’s post is a short one about ancient druid sacrificial weapons. I didn’t find a huge amount of archaeological evidence when I was writing the scene where Lorcan is in the Sacred Groves with the Druid Maran, but found just enough to inspire me to imagine what was used in addition to what I'd term a more regular sacrificial blade.

Lorcan is somewhat relieved to find that the wicked looking sacrificial knife that he sees poised and ready in a crack, on the flat surface of the natural elm table in the Sacred Groves, is used to slice the throat of a young goat rather than him. After some incantations he has never heard before, Maran uses the sacrificial blade to open up the insides of the animal. 

The Chief Druid, Irala, then proceeds to use a pair of special flat spoons to remove and sift the innards before presenting them for Lorcan to view. Lorcan has no idea of what Chief Druid Irala is speaking about as vital organs are dissected and pointed out to him, as Irala divines his future, but he is entirely impressed with the leaf shaped flat spoons used for the process.

Wikimedia Commons

The idea for the flat sacrificial spoons came from some research I did in 2021. I can’t remember my original source, but on renewing a search today I found the same items in a Wikipedia article. If the article is correct, eleven pairs of these flat decorative blades have been found. It's possible that the tiny hole in one spoon was used to 'drip' liquid (blood?) down onto the other blade and the pattern interpreted. 

A read of Before Beltane will decide if I describe my spoons well enough.

Happy Reading.


Sunday 24 April 2022

Slings and Slingstones

Welcome to Day 24 of my April blog posts about the writing of Before Beltane.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about Celtic spears and Roman pila. Today I’m looking at my use of the less imposing, yet still deadly, weapon named a sling. Slings have been around since men first began to hunt. I presume that when early man realised that a stone thrown at an animal could wound, but not quite kill, they worked out that the force of the throw and the distance covered wasn’t quite sufficient. A simple aid was needed which could help them reach their target with greater accuracy and with enough power behind it to stun, or directly kill the prey.

Wikimedia Commons

The artistic impression above of a Balearic slinger depicts a second sling used as a headband for ease of access, should a first sling become unusable during a conflict. 

The earliest slings mentioned throughout the classical world were simply made of natural materials – plant or vegetable fibres, or animal sinews/gut. The act of whirling a stone that’s cradled in a pouch nestled between the two cords, and let fly at the optimum moment, meant a greater force was obtained and the distance of throw was considerably longer than throwing a stone by hand. Slings can be constructed in varied lengths, giving a slinger a wider range of use, and they are easily transported.

Sling stones were made more sophisticated by smoothing stones to a well-rounded shape or, later on, were crafted in metals like iron, or were made of clay. Different shapes were developed to include a shape more like an almond nut.

Sling stone archaeological finds are fairly common, but the actual slings less so since their materials degrade in the ground over time. Since slings are rarely found as grave-goods, it’s thought that slings would have been too ordinary a weapon to add to the weapon stock that a warrior might need in the Afterlife/Otherworld.

Some sling stones found have very interesting properties. A large collection uncovered near the Burnswark Hillfort, southern Scotland, had holes in them. It’s possible that the whooshing/ singing noise those stones made was intended to terrify the enemy.

Slingers on Trajan's Column -
Wikimedia Commons

Both Late iron Age Britons and Roman armies are likely to have had expert slingers in their midst. A sling stone well-fired could kill an enemy outright, or stun them long enough for other action to be taken to kill them using spear or sword. 

Equally, a sling-stone could kill a small animal or bird outright, or stun them long enough for the slinger to reach their prey and kill, before the animal got away. 

In Before Beltane, Lorcan uses a sling to kill moor birds, described as being like grouse or capercaillie. Nara adds her sling and sling stones to her pouch when she ventures out to fend for herself when abandoned at the Hillfort of Tarras. 

You can read about their use of sling-stones in  a Paperback copy, or Pre- order the eBook (Launch day 29th April) 

Happy Reading.


Saturday 23 April 2022

Basic Necessities

It's now Day 23 of my April blog posts about the writing of Before Beltane.

Today's post is about basic necessities. There are a few absolute basic necessities to sustain life and it depends very much on circumstances if a person ever actually gets to a point where they find themselves faced with sourcing basic things to keep them alive. Today, it depends on where in the world you live that you may face this life or death situation more often than others. If a person lives in a drought area of high temperatures, they may face starvation not because of the will of the locals around them to work, it may just be that forces of nature - excoriating heat levels and lack of water - are beyond their control. In other cases, it may be war that makes basic life a day-to-day experience. 

In Before Beltane, Nara finds herself cast adrift. She can no longer live at the priestess nemeton home on the Lochan of the Priestesses. Instead, she is given the most basic of shelters at the hillfort of Tarras, though her father Callan, chief of the hillfort, would rather she be banished altogether.  The roundhouse is dilapidated and has been abandoned for some time. It is entirely bare inside, so she must find ways of keeping herself alive since Callan has ordered everyone at the hillfort to shun her. They must not help her, or they will face severe punishment. 

The most basic needs of life are shelter; water and food. Though distraught over her situation, Nara knows what she must do...

Here is a small excerpt from Before Beltane: 

Fending for herself meant collecting fresh water, a brief forage for food, and a swift gathering of firewood. There was a spring-fed well in the hillfort, but she had no intention of being turned away from it. She would not give her father that satisfaction.

She knew where the nearest spring-fed burn was situated, only a few copses away, so she made water-gathering her first task. As she passed through a hazel grove to get to the burn, she collected the few nuts that she could find still littered under the decayed leaf fall and popped them into her sack. From the dearth of nuts lying around, she could tell that others had been successful in seeking them moons ago, and not just the squirrels in preparation for the long sleep of winter that they were now awakening from.

On reaching the burn, she paused to pay homage.

“I come in great need, Coventina of the spring. Accept my humble thanks for your life-giving waters.”

Unable to donate any of her personal items, she added a pledge to do better on her next visit then bent to fill her water skin. She tied it tightly at the neck and attached it to her belt, knowing from the growing dimness around her that time for her tasks was scarce.

One good thing she knew about dusk was that the small creatures of the forest tended to rise from their rest to look for their own food. Pulling her sling free from her leather pouch, she looped it over her left wrist and fisted some sling-stones, thankful that she always maintained a good supply. Though having a few at the ready did not mean she could throw caution to the winds. The animals of the forest did not make the hunt easy, and nor should they. She would have fed off some oats if she had them, rather than unnecessarily kill any of the small creatures, though it was unlikely she would be having a share of the Tarras cereal crops.

The scurrying of a squirrel descending from one of the oaks ahead set in motion the perfect hunting conditions. Her spear flew from her fist, but shockingly it fell far short of the target. How that had transpired was mystifying; her aim was never normally so poor. She looked down at her hand. It was trembling. And must have been trembling before she fired the spear, though she had been unaware of it.

“Andraste? Have you also deserted me?”

Flurries of the littlest brown birds rose into the upper branches on hearing her wail, but it was one of the slightly bigger ones that she kept in her sight as it tapped away at gnarled old oak trunk. The startlingly coloured feathers striped black and white, with a red underside, meant only a small feast would be had from that type of tree-pecking bird, though it would suffice till the new dawn. Sidestepping very slowly, she concealed herself behind a gnarly-trunked holly tree.

The whirling of her first sling stone only served to warn the bird enough for it to fly off to a nearby rowan, not its preferred place as far as Nara had observed when hunting. Affixing a second stone as silently as she could to her sling, she sent a silent plea to Cernunnos to afford her one small kill. Without unnecessary movement, she sidled around the trunk and let it fly. This time it made its mark and the bird plummeted to the ground from the rowan that was still leaf-free.

Bowing her head over the dead bird when she reached it, she gave thanks to the forest god. “My thanks to you Cernunnos, lord of all the creatures within your domain. I appreciate your bounty. Know that I only kill to survive another day.”

The bird carcass was added to the collection that hung from her belt before she began the task of retrieving her spear.

On the way back to the forest fringes, one by one she plucked up an armful of longer branches and dragged a few even heavier ones behind her. The routine task kept only some of Nara’s swamping thoughts at bay. What mostly filled her mind was what she needed to do to continue to survive her dreadful situation.

Near the edge of the forest she dumped her pile on the ground, removed her short cloak and opened it out. Yanking out her long knife, she hacked at the branches to make them a tidier pile for carrying, and set them onto the opened material. Her last gathering up was of smaller twigs; mosses to dry for tinder; and long dried brackens to make a torch.

When the pile was as much as she could reasonably manage, she bound it up tightly with grass twine from her pouch and swung it up onto her shoulder, bracing her arm around it to balance the weight. She plucked up her spear from where it was propped against a bush, dipped her chin and closed her eyes.

“My thanks to you Cernunnos, lord of the forest. I promise I will use your gifts wisely.”

By the time she was out of the trees, darkness had fallen and the clear dark blue above was being replaced by a deeper bluish-black. Her trek back to Tarras was lit by the goddess Arianrhod, her full silver globe having replaced the yellow disc of Bel.

Nara sighed and awkwardly shifted her burden to her other shoulder, her spear transferring from hand to hand, when the looming presence of the outer ramparts of Tarras came into sight. Few visitors, or tribespeople, entered through the outer defence ramparts at night. She guessed that her arrival would not be a welcome one, but prayed to her favourite goddess Rhianna that she would be given some clemency – especially if it was the hostile Afagddu who was still at the gate.

You can Pre-order Before Beltane eBook  HERE 

 Or buy a Before Beltane  paperback  HERE

Happy Reading.


Friday 22 April 2022

Pilum versus Spear

Welcome to Day 22 of my blog posts on some aspect in Before Beltane.

Today is about the weapon that was commonly used in pitched warfare in northern Britannia during the era I write about.

Lorcan finds that a spear is all too sharp right at the beginning of his story. The spear, having been wielded by a hostile Brigante is of the type used by the Bronze and Iron Age tribes for millennia – a hunting spear.

Warrior- Pixabay

The spear would typically be a wooden shaft with a spear tip for piercing the flesh of the prey. In the most basic spears it would be the wood itself that was sharpened to a deadly point. Some spears would have had a fire hardened wooden tip but others had a bone, flint, bronze, iron or steel point fastened to the pole. The typical tip shape was a triangle, lozenge (diamond), or an elongated leaf.

Later in Lorcan’s story, his young companion from King Venutius’ stronghold finds himself the target of a Roman spear, a pilum.

A Roman pilum, or javelin, was a spear often around 2 metres (7 feet) long. The Roman auxiliary or legionary used the pilum for thrusting towards the enemy, or for a long throw. The Roman pilum usually had an iron shank which was joined to the wooden shaft by either a socket, or a flat bracket. The tip was more of a pyramid shape of hard metal, of iron or steel. The shank was a softer metal and it’s thought, by some historians, that a softer shank would be more likely to bend on impact. Though this theory seems yet to be proven. If such buckling of the shank happened, the weapon would have become useless to the enemy since to pick up an already bent weapon, and throw it back at the Roman lines, would have been pointless as it’s trajectory could not have been guaranteed.

If the pilum impacted on a Celtic shield and buckled, then the Iron Age warrior (Briton) would have had a useless shield. It would have taken time to yank the bent pilum from the shield, time the warrior did not have during an active engagement with the enemy.

Vegetius, a Roman writer of the fourth century AD/CE wrote in his work De Re Militari:

“As to the missile weapons of the infantry, they were javelins headed with a triangular sharp iron, eleven inches [279 mm] or a foot long, and were called piles. When once fixed in the shield it was impossible to draw them out, and when thrown with force and skill, they penetrated the cuirass without difficulty…

…They had likewise two other javelins, the largest of which was composed of a staff five feet and a half long and a triangular head of iron nine inches [230 mm] long. This was formerly called the pilum, but now it is known by the name of spiculum. The soldiers were particularly exercised in the use of this weapon, because when thrown with force and skill it often penetrated the shields of the foot and the cuirasses of the horse.”

 Happy Reading.


Thursday 21 April 2022


Welcome to my 21st April post on something to do with the writing of Before Beltane. 

In Before Beltane, there is a scene where Nara is engaged in teaching younger acolytes the skills of tracking and hunting. To reach the particular woods where they might encounter a suitable deer to kill for their Imbolc Festival, they have to go to the far end of the Lochan of the Priestesses. I haven’t indicated exactly how large the lochan is, but it's sizeable enough for them to use a coracle to return to the Islet of the Priestesses. Though I haven't mentioned it in the text, the implication is that to return by boat is a shorter duration than them walking along the shoreline, or cutting a way through the fringing woods. I write this blog post after my final Before Beltane publishing files are meant to be done and dusted, but now realise that my concept of them returning in a single coracle together, along with a small deer carcass, would need a coracle big enough for three people plus the deer. Alternatively, I still have the opportunity to change the eBook files to indicate 3 coracles are waiting for them for their return journey. 

Today, I’ve looked at the possibility of there being a larger coracle used in southern Scotland 2000 years ago. From previous research, I knew that coracles were not always constructed for just one person. The challenge was to find evidence of larger ones. A secondary challenge was, what changes in design might require to have been made to the woven willow structure, with a ‘waterproofed’ hide covering, to enable more people to be floated in it?

There’s sufficient archaeological evidence for the historical use of a coracle type-boat in Southern Scotland. The word coracle is an English spelling of the Scottish currach, or the early Welsh cwrwgl. It was originally a small rounded boat, with a very lightweight framework of interwoven willow. Animal skins would originally have been used as a covering, with a waterproof coating of some sort of fatty substance like a natural resin from sheep wool. In more recent centuries, and I mean well-beyond the year 71 AD that I write about, the use of coracles for small scale fishing in Scotland was still quite common.

Coracle design is adaptable but does need to conform to the circumstances the vessel might be used in. Whether circular or more oval in shape, the flat bottom is necessary to spread the load, so if a coracle needed to ferry three people plus a cargo of some sort then the diameter or oval would need to reflect the required composite weight balance on the water. Also, the depth of the water the vessel is plied on was an important factor for the builder of the coracle to take account of.

Indian coracle

Unlike a rowing boat, a coracle was designed to move through the water by arm power alone, to minimise disruption to the water below so that the movement created was a float, rather than a more disruptive displacement of water.

In Before Beltane, just imagine that the coracle was made big enough for around four priestesses to be transported over the water...or alternatively three one-person coracles. 

Happy Reading.