Monday, 18 December 2017

Diamonds? Did you say #Discovering Diamonds?

Happy Monday Moments to you!

Today is a wonderful Monday since I’m out guest posting over at the Discovering Diamonds review blog, courtesy of Helen Hollick. It’s an extremely special visit that I’m delighted to be making because I’m one of some 20 or so authors, most of them historical, who have collectively produced daily posts of brand new writing or excerpts from currently available novels. The binding theme for the ‘every day of December till the 23rd’ feature is, appropriately for the blog, something to do with diamonds!

My association with the Discovering Diamonds Blog has been due to my Celtic Fervour Historical series but since diamonds weren't a feature in early Romano British life I chose to use an excerpt from one of my contemporary mysteries. Topaz Eyes is a reasonable choice, though, because although it is a contemporary novel the essence of the story centres around the curious belongings of an Amsterdam lady, Geertje Hoogeven. In the 1880s, Geertje mysteriously acquires an impressive collection of jewellery some of which are unparalleled diamonds. What happens to her jewels between the 1880s and the present day is what her descendants want to find out. 

Where can the jewels be? 

Topaz Eyes doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with diamonds but it has… Many of the supremely precious pieces of jewellery in the former Tiru Salana jewel collection are diamond studded. Since the collection left the hands of its original Mughal emperor owner and has been changed and altered to suit new eras and new ownerships, there’s a lot of mystery about what the pieces currently look like which give my characters a difficult task in amassing the whole collection after more than a century.

Some of the diamonds and precious gems have been reset and some have even been cut down but you’ll have to read Topaz Eyes to find out which pieces of jewellery that Keira Drummond and Teun Zeger uncover have the most stunning diamond settings.

So what is it about diamonds that you think makes them so special—either mounted singly, or as companion stones around other gems in precious jewellery items?

Pop your answer to that question in the comments box and you’ll be entered into the draw for a FREE signed paperback copy of Topaz Eyes (offer open worldwide).
Good luck! And if you’re the winner, enjoy reading Topaz Eyes. I truly enjoyed writing the treasure hunt mystery that’s also appreciated for it’s thrilling settings and dastardly deeds!

Read the excerpt that features on the Discovering Diamonds blog today to whet your appetite.

Topaz Eyes: Keira Drummond, becomes entangled in the search for a hoard of exceptional jewels last seen in Amsterdam, in 1910. Pairing up with Teun Zeger to find the once Mughal Emperor owned collection, the trail leads from Heidelberg to other European cities and the US. Greed, suspicion and murder are balanced by growing family loyalty, trust, and love.

Topaz Eyes ticks many genre boxes and is liked for many different reasons. A recent reader said: "..loved it... because it wasn't a crime novel and yet crime was a central permeating element that kept her reading on and on!" 

A reviewer on Amazon wrote: "The central characters meet for the first time in a café in Heidelberg and the shared chemistry between the two of them sizzles up from the pages. The playful verbal fencing is something that continues throughout the narrative and kept me smiling all the way to the end."
Yet another wrote: "...A velvety trip packed full of history, mystery and suspense."

Remember to leave a comment in the comments box to enter the draw! 

Here's the question again: 
What is it about diamonds that you think makes them so special—either mounted singly, or as companion stones around other gems in precious jewellery items?


Thursday, 14 December 2017

#2 Diamonds and Valkyries!

Diamonds and Valkyries!

My intention was to post something about diamonds a few more times before Christmas but the joys of meeting up with old friends from my primary school days was way too appealing to miss, so having been AWOL a few days I'm now back to my keyboard harness and addressing that lack of posts.  

I haven't totally forgotten to promote the Discovering Diamonds Blog December 'Diamonds' feature  during the last few days though it wasn't as often as I'd intended to ( my work will appear there on the 16th Dec). I had earmarked a 'diamond' topic to post early this week but one of my daily newspapers 'The National' had a feature yesterday that caught my eye as being completely appropriate to my theme of diamonds. It was all about Valkyrie imagery set into an impressive piece of jewellery.

Arthur Rackham- Wagner Das Rheingold

Those famous winged helmets as depicted above by Arthur Rackham are so iconic for Valkyries. The feature in the newspaper, however,  was about another interpretation of a Valkyrie winged headdress.

Who would not be startled by this image in that newspaper of such an amazing headpiece?

image from 'The National' Newspaper

The combination of stunning diamonds and Valkyrie imagery is redolent of the operatic symbolism of Wagner’s ‘The Ring Cycle’ so I was delighted when I read about the forthcoming possibility of viewing a superb piece of jewellery which will be shown at the brand new Victoria and Albert Museum of Design (V & A ) in Dundee in 2018.

Click here to watch a video of this stunning tiara. 
The diamond winged tiara features more than 2500 diamonds—yes; you read that correctly—set in a gold and silver frame. It truly is a spectacular piece that is currently owned by a private collector who believes its splendour should be shared by the viewing public.

The piece was created by diamond maker extraordinaire Cartier in C. 1935 for a wealthy Scottish aristocrat. Designed to mimic the imagery of Valkyrie mythology, the two wings can be detached from the headband and can be used as separate brooches, or used in tandem. It was designed and made for Mary Crewe-Milnes, Duchess of Roxburghe. Mary, a member of the Rothschild family, was a high society figure who attended the current UK Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation as a train bearer in 1947. (I’d have to research further, or watch footage of the ceremony, to see if she wore this stunning piece during that ceremony, though I think it would have been way too showy for such an event!)

Mary Crewe-Milnes married into Scottish aristocracy in 1935 becoming the wife of the Duke of Roxburghe and settled into Floors Castle. Their happy lifetime was not to be, however, and if sources are accurate, they had a tempestuous and acrimonious marriage split. She did not seem inclined to leave the seriously impressive Floors Castle but the Duke took some interesting lengths to force her to vacate the marital home. He succeeded and, I believe, she eventually settled in London after being granted a divorce on grounds of his adultery. That personal story can be read elsewhere on the internet. 

Mary Crewe-Milnes, ‘former’ Duchess of Roxburghe died in 2014 at the age of 99. Her spectacular headpiece is now being put on display to be shared by the general populace who visit the museum collection. I intend to visit Dundee when the new museum opens and will hope to view this wonderful piece of jewellery.

The ‘feathered’ wings of the tiara are set in coiled springs to flutter when the wearer moves her head. 

More about diamonds to come...


Monday, 4 December 2017

FREE Gifts Galore in the #Crooked Cat Advent Calendar!

***Crooked Cat Advent Calendar***

Things have been pretty hectic for me lately and fitting everything in at all of the relevant places has clearly been unsuccessful.

I made mention of the Crooked Cat Advent Calendar on Facebook and Twitter since the 1st December but I've now realised that I didn't pop the details on here. I'm involved in two really important December promotions and one of them is the Crooked Cat Advent Calendar. (The other is the Diamond Tales mentioned in yesterday's post.)

Every single day in December till the 24th, Crooked Cat have a FREE novel for anyone to download. All you have to do is find the cute little Santa on the Crooked Cat Website, click on him to reveal the calendar and click again on the relevant day. Follow the directions to download your FREE copy of the novel.

One of my novels will be available for a FREE download but even I don't know which day so I'm going to be clicking every day to see if there are novels that I can send to my kindle, ones that I haven't read yet. As it happens, I've already read those that were available from Day 1 to Day 4, not a surprise since I truly have read and enjoyed loads of Crooked Cat novels of many different genres.

Keep checking this link every day and get your FREE copy for that day. Of course, if it's not a genre you normally enjoy you can browse the site to see the other kindle/ebooks to buy from Crooked Cat (mostly £0.99- £2.99 /$ dollar equivalents).

The links to both of the December promotions that I'm involved in should be on the sidebar for easy access, so look there and click through every day.

Happy clicking and happy reading!


Sunday, 3 December 2017

#1 The Hope Diamond

The information this month on spectacular diamonds is in addition to the wonderful reads you can find on the daily Diamond Tales  on the Discovering Diamonds Blog. 

For some lucky people a delightful diamond gift for Christmas might be what they receive, if they're very lucky and 'keep their nose clean' (as it were). For others, being presented with a diamond of any size would be completely unattainable so even thinking about it would likely be a waste of precious time.

However, historically speaking, the lure of possessing a spectacular diamond has sometimes been just too much of a temptation and some dastardly deeds have occurred in the acquisition of a fabulous one.

Today's example is 'The Hope Diamond'.

Mystery and rumour surrounds the origins of the spectacular 112 3/16-carat diamond that was said to have been a stunning violet colour ...but it may have been the case that a French Merchant named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier purchased it from the Kollur Mine in Golconda, India

The more dramatic tale is that Tavernier stole the gem from the eye of a holy Hindu statue damaging the stone slightly in its hasty removal.

However he acquired it, Tavernier  subsequently sold it to King Louis XIV of France in 1668. Some years later, in 1749, the stone by then known as the ‘French Blue’ was re-cut into a 67 1/8-carat stone by Louis XV’s court jeweller for the Order of the Golden Fleece. It remained in the possession of the French crown till 1792 when it was transferred from the Royal Treasury into the hands of the Revolutionary Government from where it was stolen during the tense upheaval.

An approx. 44 carat stone of ‘French Blue’ characteristics was owned by a London diamond merchant, Daniel Eliason, in 1812. It’s speculated that this diamond was acquired by the British King George IV but was likely sold after his death in 1830 to pay off the enormous debts that the monarch had amassed.

By 1839, the stone reappeared and was known as the Hope diamond, named after the then ‘owner’ Henry Philip Hope, a British financier and gem collector. It remained in the hands of the Hope family till around 1901 when it was sold to a number or people before eventually being bought by Pierre Cartier in 1909. The ownership changed a further two times to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean of Washington D.C. who had it mounted on a headpiece surrounded by a three tiered circlet of white diamonds. She later had it reset again into its current presentation as the centrepiece of a pendant. After she died in 1947, her jewellery collection was bought by Harry Winston who donated the Hope diamond to The Smithsonian Institution in 1958, after it had been sent on a decade long world tour.

The Hope diamond is said to be the largest diamond in a US public institution and available for public view.

It’s interesting to read that it started out as a 115.16-carat diamond and is now assessed as being 45.52. It seems to me that there must be a lot of bits of the original diamond in lots of other jewellery and that mystery would be to know where the pieces are!

As to the curse? Well, if the story is true that Tavernier did steal the jewel from a Hindu statue he must have endured the curse that was set upon the thief by the vengeful priests who discovered it to be missing. What some claim as being a bad aspect to ownership is that King Louis XIV and his Queen Marie Antoinette were both beheaded. 

If you can bear with a site that has lots of adverts etc then you'll find a list of curse victims HERE

You can find more information about the Hope diamond HERE. 


Diamonds are delightful!

I've got some fantastic 'diamonds are delightful' news! 

There's a real treat in store for you throughout December, a tale every day from today onward that's just the right amount of reading for a FREE coffee break read. 

December is now underway and one of my daily December delights will be to dip into the Diamond Tales shared by my fellow author, Helen Hollick of the Discovering Diamonds blog. She is presenting excellent short stories and extracts written by a host of talented authors from today (December 3rd) onward all the way through to the 23rd of December.

All stories are original short stories or extracts from already published novels. The common link is DIAMONDS! To find out how diamonds are relevant to each story just click the link below.
(I'll be aiming to update the link each new day)
The very first story of the interlude before Christmas - Diamonds - from Richard Tearle can be read HERE It's a delightful, poignant read so don't miss it.

p.s. An extract from my novel Topaz Eyes will be featuring on the 18th December.

Follow the Tales…
and Discover some really delightful Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett  A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey  A Suitable  Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December     Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December     Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December     Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December      Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December     Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December      Diamonds … In Sound & Song

And as an added extra on some days I'll be adding a new post that about a special diamond. Look out for my next blog post on 'The Hope Diamond'.


Happy Saturday travels

Saturday update! 

The first official Book Fair that I've attended and taken a 'table' at was when I participated in yesterday's Auchterarder Book Fair!

It was great to be in the Aytoun Hall, Auchterarder, in the company of around sixteen other authors, with a few other authors' books being sold in absentia. There were a couple of other authors who write historical novels and were 'sort of' in direct competition to my Celtic Fervour Series, albeit that their eras were much later than my late first century novels.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take any photos but it was a worthwhile day for me drive the distance to experience the BookWeek Scotland event.

I consider that selling 6 novels was not bad considering the visitor numbers were not high and those who were buying had specific types of books they wanted to read. I'm never able to predict which of my novels will sell best at small events but yesterday it was the 3 copies of The Taexali Game that
put it into the 'Bestseller' of the day category. 

My thanks go to Kathleen and Barbara who did the organising for the event- the coffee and cake was very welcome!

And now... I've got a few special December promotions to share. Look out for the details very soon.


Friday, 1 December 2017

Visits and more visits....

It's Friday of BookWeek Scotland!

BookWeek Scotland has been another exciting week for me. On Monday 27th November, I visited Hill of Banchory Primary School, Aberdeenshire, to give an author talk to the pupils of Primary 7 and Primary 6.

The kids were brilliant and listened attentively to my PowerPoint presentation about me as an author and the novels I write.  The reading from The Taexali Game, which was a suitable novel for the age group, seemed to be well received from some of the reactions to the attack by Ancient Roman soldiers on the Taexali tribe of Balbath. The faces of some of the Primary 7 girls was exactly what I was aiming for.  Sadly, my visit couldn't be long and I know that there were some pupils who had questions but didn't get to ask them. I'm hoping to be able to address that if the kids send along an email with some questions for me to answer for them.

Tomorrow, Saturday 2nd December, I'm off to Auchterarder down in Perthshire for the BookWeek Scotland Auchterarder Book Fair. I'll be meeting some other Scottish authors and signing/selling novels alongside them.

The snow has melted away and I'm hoping for a clear drive down early tomorrow morning, the journey to Aytoun Hall in Auchterarder expected to take around 2 and a half hours. 

I'll post updates on what is going to be my very first 'Book Fair' attendance - if you exclude going to the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2014 when my novel The Beltane Choice was one of those in the festival bookstore. 


ps I didn't forget about St. Andrew's day yesterday, 30th November. I have posted a number of times about St. Andrew's Day in years gone past, and though I didn't update anything on this blog, I did have my Haggis, Neeps 'n Tatties dinner last night. Yum. I love haggis and eat it all through the year.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Outlander Book 1 - A recent Read!

Outlander (formerly published as Cross Stitch) – By Diana Gabaldon

I read it during the 1990s, and remembered really enjoying it, but since I’ve been totally engrossed in watching the current TV series of Outlander, I decided to do the re-read. This meant I could appreciate what was inevitably left out of the book since it’s a very lengthy novel. I think the current film for TV version is fairly true to the story and I’m glad to see that the bits that have been used by the director are really exciting parts. There are many others in the book as exciting though there are some parts I found quite slow reading. 

The author is a master at lengthy description which as a reader I love since it makes me really feel I’m right in there with the characters. This expertise means the settings are vividly portrayed and the time shift scenes handled very well with no confusion for me as I read the story. 

I find Claire can be a bit overpowering and arrogant, at times, but that’s well balanced by the easily lovable Jamie and many of the other characters. Randall is definitely not so lovable in the novel and the re-read reminded me that there are some quite shocking themes that run through the story. I now intend to read books 2 & 3 when I can set aside enough time since they are also long stories. 

A thrilling 5*  read .


Saturday, 25 November 2017

Saturday! Lovely Icy Saturday…

Happy Saturday to you! 

It’s still November but preparations for the season are already running me off my feet. There are two major November events on my writing calendar that are looming and which have taken some preparation time, so that means less writing time on my current WIP- writing in progress.

As I write this, I’m snatching a few moments here and there from speaking to potential customers, and the people like a recent customer who couldn’t decide on which mystery to buy herself so she bought a double pack at £1 off. A good deal for both of us. The venue is a local Town Hall and I’m at my last FOCUS Craft Fair of the season.

It’s hovering on freezing outside so it’ll be really good to see people cross the door, those hardy souls who are braving the cold. Snow isn’t forecast for the area but it’s Scotland, so who knows!  
My main preparations haven’t been for the fair today but more for the BookWeek Scotland events that I’m involved in next week. BookWeek Scotland is week of events arranged through  the Scottish Book Trust and one that I've done something for every year since 2012. 

On Monday 27th, I’m doing 2 presentations and book readings to 10 and 11 year olds at an Aberdeenshire Primary School. It’s going to be a challenge to tell them about me the author, what I write and why, using a short PowerPoint presentation. I’ll also be doing a ten minute read from The Taexali Game (my only suitable novel for the age group) and need to leave time for questions - all within a 40 minute slot. And when I’m finished with the first 60 kids I’ll be changing class to do it all again with the other year group!

I wonder what they'll think of Ptolemy's map of Britannia with the Taexali tribes marked in the slot that's currently Aberdeenshire, Scotland? 

Ptolemy Map of AD. 130ish
Then next Saturday, I’m off to my very first official Book Fair at Auchterarder in Perthshire. This is another BookWeek Scotland event. I’m really looking forward to meeting up with other Scottish authors and taking a table alongside them. I’m an old hand at selling/ signing my novels and speaking to customer/readers at my usual Craft Fairs but not used to being in a room with more than one other author. Paul Henke writes espionage thrillers which are a totally different genre from my mysteries and historical fiction. So, going to a Book Fair will a group of other authors be a novelty, but I also hope a great learning curve for me.  

There are hundreds of BookWeek Scotland events going on during the days 27th Nov – to 3rd Dec. If you’re interested, this site HERE has a list of the official events, though there are also many others, like the ones I organised during the last few years. some of my previous events were very local and others were on line events.

Then, of course, Thursday coming, 30th November, is St. Andrew’s Day. I’m not booked for any outside events but I will be planning and cooking our St. Andrew’s Day menu which is often based around haggis, or some other Scottish produce like venison!

Updates sometime later on my November exploits.


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Love in la la land by Lynn Forth

Sunday Update! 

In between reading Books 1- 3 of the Outlander Series,  each of which are long historical time slip novels, I've sandwiched in a quick read. I'll probably do this between the next two novels in the series, as well, since my kindle queue is pretty large and some novels have been waiting to be read for a while already.

Here's my latest quick weekend read. 

Love in La La Land by Lynn Forth. 

This quick read would be good for taking on holiday, for someone who wants a ‘one-sitting’ read or if you want a sheer flight of improbable fantasy.  

The dialogue flows nicely and the main characters are likeable within an exceptionally ideal and slightly naïve situation. Others who are very fleetingly experienced by Jane display less pleasant characteristics but they don't impinge since their appearance is very brief.

Some of the plot seems so questionable as to be impossible to me but it was an entertaining jaunt from reality as, I think, the author intends it to be. 

Jane’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune as a novelist with her debut novel being turned into a film is definitely the food of fiction! 

Having been to Los Angeles, the setting is redolent of the hot balmy air and the luxurious plantings around the mansions of the rich. I haven't toured the film 'lots' but I have met a couple of Hollywood's 'thousands' of scriptwriters who live in LA. Some of them might eventually earn a reasonable living but it seems that very few of them ever find themselves in the seriously rich categories. LA is definitely a place for making connections though:  knowing who to speak to, and who else to speak to up a very long chain is their lifeblood. The scriptwriters I met were lovely people but they really do live in a kind of warm, sunshiney, Hollywood bubble of a La La Land. 

Jack? Jack Clancy has some great connections to start with. The author keeps him enigmatic and pleasant but I wanted to know a bit more about his current status, financial and domestic. More of what made him tick. There were a few situations where he was interacting with Jane that seemed undeveloped in the novel and left me wondering about what his normal working day would be like.  The author touches briefly on the hierarchy within Hollywood which definitely seems to exist making it very difficult to be in contact with 'the top People'. However, across Hollywood there have to be many genuinely nice people who can maintain friendships across the earnings levels- Jack being one of them. Does his final decisions in the novel mean a change in character development? I think so but I'm not convinced. I didn't really get inside his head to understand what Jane has essentially has changed in him, not enough clues being dropped for me, apart from the obvious one of losing her if she goes and he stays.  

Jane? At times, I wanted to shake Jane out of her gullibility. She's portrayed sometimes as being self-sufficient yet she's incredible naive- though if that was the author's intention then it really worked for me! She gets herself to LA with her agent but where is he when various things happen to her? LA hotels are hugely expensive, so I can see her not wanting to pay for one if its not necessary and accepting Scott's hospitality however, Scott's insistence that she be looked after by him rang lots of bells that Jane is too innocently deaf to hear. But that aspect of the plot confused me just a little. Her naivety over her previous lover taking her to the cleaners doesn't seem to have made her more savvy about how to handle the Scott situation. She's a nice person but when nice intelligent, as she is also meant to be, get their fingers burned they generally learn from their mistakes. Jane insists on being financially independent enough to help solve her sister's medical bills but she's not independent enough to get herself back to her hotel when she needs a change of underwear. As an author, and a successful one, she doesn't seem to have done her LA homework before embarking on her journey. 

I read on hoping to bond better with Jane but I'm afraid  it didn't really happen. 

Why did she have to go through the 'almost tourist' route to get into the film 'lot'. As the original author I'd have expected her to have much better communication with the script writer. Of course, maybe that depends on what sort of contract is signed! Note to self and other authors- beware of the 'tiny writing' clauses in your film contract! (*wink) and (* sigh) The sigh being that few authors find themselves in Jane's position!

Other minor situations jolted me out of what was a fairly predictable narrative. 

Could a flight for such a sick child be arranged so quickly- even if the grandfather has medical connections? If I had the time I might do some research.

Writing romantic comedy- being transported from the normal into the unrealistically abnormal - is the fun of the sub genre, and getting to know the characters an essential part of the ride. 


Saturday, 18 November 2017


Happy Saturday to you! 

and happy slightly belated birthday to Vespasian.  

Vespasian -Wikimedia Commons
I should have got this information posted yesterday on the 17th of November but new writing had me sidetracked and the day disappeared. Though perhaps not the most famous of the Flavian emperors, the one below started the family tradition of claiming emperor status. In a sense, though, he is the most important Ancient Roman Emperor for me as I write my Celtic Fervour Series. He was the emperor of the Roman Empire during Books 1 and 2, and for a part of Book 3. 

General Gnaeus Julius Agricola is mentioned in Book 3 but does not become a proper character till Book 4 of the series. However, what Agricola orders is very relevant to what my character Gaius Livanus Valerius undertakes. And, in turn, Agricola as general of the Brittanic armies and as Governor of Britannia is under orders of the Emperor Vespasian. 


Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus
Vespasian - Jewish Revolt 
Generally known as Vespasian, he was born on the 17th November A.D. 9 in Falacrinae, a village north east of Rome. His paternal grandfather, Titus Flavius Petro, elevated the otherwise undistinguished family when he became a centurion and fought for Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus. Vespasian’s father, Titus Flavius Sabinus, became a customs official and gained himself further status when he married Vespasia Polla whose father was a camp prefect and her uncle a senator.
As the second son, Vespasian was not expected to achieve much his elder brother, Titus Flavius Sabinus, having pursued the cursus honorum. His brother progressed through the ranks of being a military tribune serving in Thrace, then as quaestor in Crete and Cyrene. By A.D. 40 Vespasian’s brother was a praetor, favoured by Caligula.
Vespasian, like his brother spent time in Thrace and Crete but his route to high office was different from his brother. When Claudius became emperor in A.D.41, Vespasian was appointed as the legate of the Legio II Augusta which was then stationed in Germania but by A.D. 43 the Legio II Augusta was on campaign under the command of Aulus Plautius during the Invasion of Britannia.

Nero sends Vespasian to Jerusalem 
His military career was interrupted by periods as Governor of Africa Province but by A.D. 66 he was back in command of a couple of legions, supported by considerable mounted forces and auxiliary units. His success in suppressing the ‘Jewish Revolt’ earned him a reputation for being fair, perhaps ruthless at times, but mostly just.
When control of the empire collapsed with the death of Nero in A.D. 68, Vespasian was in a strong position to overthrow the third of the temporary leaders during the civil war Year of the Four Emperors in A.D. 69. Galba had taken control after Nero but was soon murdered by supporters of Otho. In turn, Otho was defeated by Vitellius. The natural next leader for the supporters of Otho to turn to was Vespasian.
The Senate in Rome declared Vespasian emperor in his absence since he was in Egypt securing the all too needed grain supplies.
Vespasian does not feature as a character in my Celtic Fervour novels but during his reign as emperor he was instrumental in what happened during the campaigns in  Britannia from A.D. 69 through to A.D. 79.
Vespasian - Ostia

The construction of many major building programmes were authorised under Vespasian, the Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum) being one of them. Before the foundations could be laid for the Colosseum the decadent Domus Aurea (Golden Palace of Nero) had to be demolished. The huge lake at the heart of the Domus Aurea was drained and the foundations for the Colosseum laid in its place. 

The Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace) was also constructed during the reign of Vespasian – a building that is briefly mentioned by General Agricola in my current manuscript.

Vespasian sestertius A.D. 71 reverse 'Judea Captured',_from_Ostia,_69-79_CE,_Palazzo_Massimo_alle_Terme,_Rome_(13643233603).jpg


Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Civilised Society? Polite, or what?

Wednesday already?

The weekend vanished in a flurry of preparing for and attending one of the largest Christmas Craft Fairs in Aberdeen, Scotland. The AWA (American Women's Association) has been organising very popular Fairs for more than 2 decades and generally have very high turnout of shoppers. Sunday past was one of the good days. I had a great time, sold 25 novels and maybe a few ebooks.

But to the matter in hand...

For too long I’ve been struggling to write Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series. There was the not being disciplined enough thing. Not allocating enough of my ‘free’ time to the task.  But my slow rate of progress hasn’t really been an inability to type lots of words. My not feeling satisfied with what I was writing, and the path that the story arc was taking, was the crux of the matter. Till recently, it just wasn’t working for me—my ‘dump’ bin being larger than the current manuscript of around 80 thousand words is a bit telling.

Is that civilised, I ask you?  Not being refined enough is exactly the problem!
A Roman Art Lover - L. Alma Tadema Wikimedia Commons

One of the main issues I’ve had to ponder (A LOT) about is what the Ancient Roman General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola found worthwhile during the invasion of Northern Britannia (Northern Scotland) in the autumn of AD 84, and what wasn’t worth bothering about. As a patriotic Scot, that phrase ‘worth bothering about’ is a hard one for me to swallow but the truth, in my opinion, is that Northern Britannia  i.e. the lands of the Caledonian allies, would not provide Rome with the revenues it needed for the territory to be part of the Roman Empire. 

So what did Agricola actually do in Northern Britannia? He marched his armies to the current Moray Firth (reasonable ground evidence for this).
He maybe had a big battle at the elusively referred to battlegrounds of Mons Graupius (biased written evidence for this)… and then he left quite soon after to go back to Rome.
From written records we know Agricola was back in Rome by late A.D. 84 (or perhaps early A.D. 85). That, of course, does not necessarily mean his whole army retreated southwards with him because there’s ground evidence, as  at the supply fortress of Inchtuthil, to suggest the Roman legions remained in parts of the north for about a couple of years after Agricola was recalled to Rome.

Lovely questions loom. Was Agricola recalled because his efforts in subduing the Caledon allies were unsuccessful? Was it because he could find nothing worthwhile to send regularly back to Rome? Was it purely political in that the current Emperor Domitian didn’t like the success Agricola was having in Britannia? Those answers remain enigmatic but give me plenty of leeway for writing my fictionalised version!

Essentially what it boils down to is that northern Britannia was going to be far too expensive for the Roman Empire to deal with. To ensure that sufficient future revenues were going to pour into the Roman Empire coffers from northern Britannia, the Roman Empire was going to have to spend a huge amount of effort, and loads of money, in maintaining thousands of troops in the north. It is notable, though, that Agricola (or whoever organised the building of Inchtuthil) seemed to be making long term plans for using it as a campaign and supply base- probably for the invasion of the rest of the north and for maintaining order after such events.

Wikimedia Commons
For years, one of the touted reasons for the retreat of the Ancient Roman armies from northern ‘Scotland’ was that the Caledonian tribes and their allies were so fierce, and so good at guerrilla warfare, that Rome couldn’t handle them. That has to have been partly true, there’s enough written references and some archaeological excavations on the ‘Gask Ridge’ to likely back this up. But I believe that ‘Society’ or more specifically a lack of ‘Civilised Society’ was the reason for 'Rome' choosing to retreat.

Amalgamated Dictionary Definitions
Society: - the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community. Synonyms: the community, the public, the general public, the people, the population….band, federation, union, alliance,
Civilised society: - marked by well-organized laws and rules about how people behave with each other. A civilized society must respond to crime with fairness and justice; has a well developed system of government, culture, and way of life and that treats the people who live there fairly: A fair justice system is a fundamental part of a civilized society.

What the Caledons,  Taexali, Venicones and all of the other northern Late Iron Age tribes lacked was a ‘Civilised Society’. An already established society that Rome could plunder with relative ease, without huge expenditure of money, without entailing major  ‘military man hours’ of effort, and a society that could be forced to do Rome's bidding afterwards.

The Late Iron Age tribes (I use the broad term Celtic to describe them) of the north were not structured in a way that Rome would call Civilised Society. However, in no way were they barbaric.

In northern Britannia, the population of the tribes would have been relatively small compared to some of the tribes in southern Britannia (the south of England).  Approximately 2000 years ago, living off the land was a harsh life. If the farmers didn’t have sufficiently good harvests they starved,  especially if they had no other means of survival like stored commodities. An average lifespan was much shorter than now and early death from disease, or some other nasty reason, was common. Surplus stock, of anything, was probably a rarity.
Giovanni Panninni Wikimedia Commons

And surplus stock was what Rome needed from the lands across its Empire because the City of Rome some 2000 years ago had a population of around 1 million inhabitants. The countryside around Rome could not provide enough for feeding the City of Rome so they needed stock from the wider empire.  A massive grain supply, and other foodstuffs were also needed to feed the thirty plus Roman legions stationed across the whole Roman Empire.

According to the most recent archaeological excavations in northern Scotland the iron age tribes lived in small communities, perhaps a half dozen roundhouses, farming a small workable area that had been cleared of forests and the boggy land having already been drained. (It seems that the north east was generally pretty swampy, mossy or unproductive scrub land.) There would have been rules of behaviour and a code of conduct but within what would have been mostly an extended family situation, any infringements being locally dealt with.

Did northern Scotland not have any larger settlements, larger than a small village or a hamlet? According to finds by recent archaeologists it seems that no large Roman era towns have been identified. There’s no dated evidence of ‘kingship’ or larger tribal centres in the north /north-east of Scotland till after the Roman period in Britannia.(post A.D. 400) Since northern Britannia seems to have had no 'Ard Righ' (high king) to establish Roman society, the only way to ensure that future production was plentiful and civilisation of the tribes took place would have been to leave a huge amount of soldiers in situ i.e. 'Rome' doing all the work of civilising the natives.

The Baths at Caracalla
The lack of a local ‘king’ or tribal leader of a considerable amount of people would have been a huge disappointment: a severe frustration for Agricola. In previous invasion campaigns, after a Celtic tribe was subdued and treaties signed, the Roman general would have appointed the tribal chief as the person responsible for conducting Roman Law in a proper and just manner. That same chief (along with Roman officials) would have been responsible for ensuring that Roman ways were adopted in a relatively peaceable manner, and they would have been responsible for collecting the taxes due to Rome (harvest products, goods, and slave labour rather than money).

I'm glad as an amateur history enthusiast that the Romans came to my part of Scotland...but in a way I'm also very glad they didn't stay!
  • Civilised: -behaving in a polite way instead of getting angry
What price civilisation? I'm not sure what they would have done to the local natives during their 'take over' bid would have been polite and I'm very sure some tempers would  have been raised -A LOT!

Of course, there might have been sumptuous baths like those portrayed here by L. Alma Tadema. Wikimedia Commons. Have I ever mentioned I love his paintings- even if they are not quite what would have happened at the baths.


Friday, 10 November 2017

The House at Ladywell is coming soon!

Friday Greetings to you!

Actually, I can hardly believe that I've not posted for days. Time has run away with me again and this week has been mainly spent focusing on completing Week 5 of my FutureLearn #FLVirtualRome course which was thoroughly enjoyable. It's now a 'done and dusted' deal with the certificate on the way but I'm sure it won't be the only Ancient Rome research that I do because there's still so much to learn about Ancient Rome. That took care of most of my research reading this past week. 

As for my fiction reading for pleasure that continues to be my re-reading of Diana Gabaldon's first 3 'Outlander' novels. I'd forgotten just how long they were back in the early 1990s when I first read them. 

After they're finished I've a kindle worth sitting waiting for me - an exaggeration, for sure, but I do have quite a few in my kindle queue. I also have a couple I can't quite access yet, and one of those is The House At Ladywell by Nicola Slade which is on pre-order just now from Amazon. I won't ahve too long to wait, though, since it's being published next week on the 14th of November 2017 by Crooked Cat Books

It sounds just a tiny bit scary but very intriguing. See what you think from the blurb and the very arresting cover! 

Here are the details: 

Nicola Slade

A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her to leave the past behind?

Had I gone completely crazy that first day? To open the door, take one astonished look round, and decide on the spot that I would live there?
To fall in love with a house?’

When Freya Gibson inherits an old, run-down property she has no idea she is the last in a long line of redoubtable women, including the Tudor nun who built the house. Unknown to Freya these women, over centuries, fought with whatever weapons came to hand – deception, endurance, even murder – to preserve their home and family.
Freya falls in love with the house but her inheritance includes an enigmatic letter telling her to ‘restore the balance’ of the Lady’s Well. Besides this, the house seems to be haunted by the scent of flowers.

 In the past the Lady’s Well was a place of healing and Freya soon feels safe and at home, but she has demons of her own to conquer before she can accept the happiness that beckons.
Pre-order and Buy Link HERE
Happy weekend reading.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Busy, busy!

Saturday Greetings to you!

My week has been extremely busy writing wise, most of which has been out and about talking about and selling my novels.

On Wed 1st November, I spent a lovely evening with 30+ ladies from the Kinellar SWI who had asked me to give them a talk/ presentation about my novels. They wanted a mixture of my writing background; the novels I've had published to date; and a little bit more about Roman Aberdeenshire- all of which I was delighted to give them along with a PowerPoint presentations of relevant images.

They were an extremely appreciative and intent audience, some of whom asked brilliant questions afterwards. I sold some books and though I live only some 4 miles from the venue, the travelling expenses were welcome.

Friday and Today 3rd and 4th of November, I'm out selling (and signing) my novels at Thainstone  Centre Christmas Craft Fair. The durations are Friday 5 hours and today (Saturday) 6 hours, so a longer time away from the keyboard. The weather is fine so we're (the attending crafters) all looking forward to a good turnout. Yesterday evening, the Fair being from 3 p.m. till 8 p.m. we were in competition with the Kintore Bonfire and Fireworks night (only 2 miles away from Thainstone Venue) but today there will hopefully not be any other large event taking away the local custom.

Here's hoping it's a good shopping day because I'm hoping to sell a lot of my stock! Yesterday, and Wednesday evening, the popular one was Topaz Eyes. Updates later...


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Crappit Heid an 'a!

Welcome to my Wednesday post. 

Today was my turn to post at my regular x 2 per month Writing Wranglers Blog. Since Hallowe'en is now over and I have done a post on Scottish Hallowe'en already for them, I decided to post some interesting facts about Scotland.

Here's a bundle of random facts...

Loch Morar is Scotland’s deepest loch. As Loch Ness is home to the famous monster Nessie, Morar’s monster is named Morag. It might be new knowledge that sightings of Morag hit the headlines well before those of ‘Nessie’! I'd love to see Morag since she's said to be a lot more like a mermaid. 

Crappit Heid. They say that Scots are canny with their money and very practical people who hate wasting anything. I’d say that’s true for many and I personally hate waste but I wouldn’t go so far as to make and eat ‘Crappit Heid’. I love fish and seafood, eat them frequently but I’m not keen to try an out of fashion Scottish fish dish of ‘stuffed fish heads’. Like many other subsistence foods of yesteryear crappit heid is as nutricious as the other more edible parts of the fish- it was all about inventing a simple recipe with available staples to make every part of the fish acceptable for eating. BTW – There is a old Scottish word ‘crap’ which means to stuff or fill hence crappit heid being stuffed heads. I won’t offend sensibilities here by showing an  image but click this link if you dare… and see how Crappit Heid looks when ready.

Haggis will soon be available in Canada after a ban of some 46 years (not sure yet about the US regulations). This is because my favourite Haggis producer—Macsween of Edinburgh—have produced a recipe that tastes exactly like traditional haggis but without the banned bits of sheep’s lung. I love haggis and eat it throughout the year with mashed neeps (orange turnip/swede) and tatties. A wee dram doesn’t pass my lips because, would you believe it of me? I don’t like whiskey. However, Scotland also produces some nice gins!

Wikimedia Commons
The tallest and longest  hedge on earth is said to be a European Beech hedge at Meikleour (A 93 road, Perth and Kinross, Scotland). It is in the Guiness World Records as being 100 feet high and about 1/3 mile long. It was planted in 1745 by Jean Mercer and her husband, Robert Murray Nairne on the Meikleour Estate. Some say it reaches the heavens because Robert Murray Nairne and the men who planted it, as Jacobite sympathisers, were killed at the Battle of Culloden. (The hedge is trimmed approx. every ten years and I totally sympathise with that because I used to hate trimming the beech hedge that lined my driveway. That was about 9 feet high and took me a whole week of my school summer holidays!)

Wikimedia Commons
Staying with horticulture: The oldest Yew tree in Scotland  is the ‘Fortingall Yew’. Said to be around 5000 years old, there are many tales associated with the Fortingall Yew and its surroundings. Near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, it has connections with early Christianity in Scotland. In 1769, the circumference was measured at 52 feet but what remains are the relics of the original tree. In the field opposite the village of Fortingall there is an ancient cairn (pile of stones) known as the ‘Cairn of the Dead’. During the 16th century the Great Plague (Galar Mhor) ravaged Scotland and many in the area died. Legend has it that an old woman, unmarked by the plague, carried the plague victims on a horse drawn sledge to a mass grave and placed a cairn there to mark their resting place.

Skara Brae is the oldest village in Scotland inhabited around 3100 B.C. It’s the best preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe.
Step inside the reconstructed neolithic house and experience what it was like before you wander the ruins of the village.

The shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world is from the Orkney island of Westray to Papa Westray.  Given good weather conditions the flight is less than ONE MINUTE.

Braveheart was the name given to Robert the Bruce not William Wallace so in the film ‘Braveheart’ Mel Gibson was using a fair bit of artistic licence!

There are approximately 790 islands in Scotland but only c. 130 are inhabited. People pride themselves in Munro bagging across Scotland (climbing mountains over 3,000 feet) but so far I’ve never heard of anyone ‘bagging Scottish islands’!

Scotland may be famous for images of a red stag but the official animal of Scotland is the unicorn. The unicorn has been a Scottish heraldic symbol since the 12th century, the coat of Arms seen here the one that was in use from the 12th century (William I) to King James VI of Scotland 1603. 1603 was the year of the Union of the Crowns, when King James VI of Scotland became the ruler of both Scotland and England. In 1604 he decreed he’d be known as King of Great Britain. By 1606 he created a new flag combining the crosses of St. Andrew (Scotland) and St. George (England). It was named the Union Jack, the ‘Jack’ part being a reference to Jacobus the Latin version of James.

The image below was taken on Abbey Strand Edinburgh. 

Wikimedia Commons


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Axe wielding Vikings!

Shieldmaiden by Marianne Whiting

This was an enjoyable novel. It has similarities to other Viking novels I’ve read (very reasonable due to the scant historical detail available) but there is freshness to ‘Shieldmaiden’ that keeps the interest high. 
It was a little bit confusing though, to find things about Cumbria that made me think twice about what I was reading, though I would have to do a lot of Viking Britain research to know what are the best know facts about Viking invasion of northern Britain, and when. 
 Vikings are so well known for their pillaging and plundering strategies but the fact that they left their own lands to find foreign land to farm was an essential part of their domination of parts of the UK
Heroine, Sigrid, has interesting links to Norwegian nobility that elevates her status but in essence the tribulations of surviving a harsh winter at a more, or less, subsistence level means she comes across as a very practical and hard working individual- if a little bit arrogant and naive at the beginning of the story. Ragnar, the love of her life, plays a less strong role in the novel but that emphasises Sigrid’s many strengths. She wields a mean sword but the tale is not overly gory! 
The duality of Viking pagan worship and new found Christianity comes across in the book as very realistic- I'm sure it was expedient to profess to of one faith or another depending on the life and death situation a person found themselves in at this time many hundreds of years ago.  A wavering faith also seems realistic when one faith is almost forcibly supplanted with another. 
I found the ending a bit abrupt but I’m thinking a read of Book 2 will no doubt solve that problem. 


You win and you lose....

Saturday Greetings! 

I'm late posting today since I've been out attempting to sell my novels at a local venue. Some of these days are fantastic and some a lot less so. Today was the latter but on the novelist front I did come home to find another new 5* review for The Taexali Game on Amazon UK. That is definitely the kind of boost every author needs! 

It's taken over two years to get some reviews for this novel but since the six reviews I now have are all 5* I'm glad people genuinely find it a great read. first post of the day is the lovely accolade for my time travel novel. My thanks go to Karen E. Proctor who took the time to write this lovely little review. 

She says:

"I’ve always been drawn to novels with a time travel element but find few novels deliver on their promise. The Taexali Game takes the idea of Time Travel and sets it in a computer game thereby making the concept wholly believable. I thoroughly bought into the idea. This is a fast paced, well written and thoroughly absorbing novel."

Find the reviews HERE

If you've also read The Taexali Game and have enjoyed reading it I'd really appreciate you giving it a similar mention on Amazon. If it gets something like 50+ reviews of high standard (5 or 4 stars) then Amazon just might begin to give the book more of a boost! I live in hope...