Saturday, 30 December 2017

The kitchen sleuth

Death at the Manor by Celina Grace

This was the shortest story I’ve read for some time but it was a well written, well edited and very enjoyable one. 

Written in the first person, the main character Joan’s tale is told with an economy of words – what’s needed is used to further the description and the plot with no unnecessary details. 

The story quickly unfolds, the murder mystery revealed in an interesting way, which contrarily is the only part of the story I find a little implausible. Though why shouldn’t a kitchen maid be able to present the police with both a deep suspicion and fairly conclusive evidence?  

The fact that the tale takes place during the early 20th century means that repercussion of removal of evidence from the scene of the crime seems to be more acceptable than in current times. 

It whetted my appetite sufficiently that I might dip into more of the cosy mysteries of Celina Grace. 


Brittle as meringue

Oh! What a Pavlova by Isabella May

This was a quick read and would be enjoyed by those who like chick lit books about females who eventually find their way. 

At times, I didn’t understand where Kate was coming from, and wanted to give her a good shake for continuing her lifestyle which was clearly destructive in more than one way. Staying with Daniel, who isn’t a nice guy, was a bit too weird for me to accept since Kate mostly projects the confident woman. 

Disguise is, of course, what can perpetuate caustic situations.

The foodie references are interesting and a cunning promotional draw. 



Heart of Stone by John Jackson 

Heart of Stone was an interesting read even though some of the characters are thoroughly nasty. 

Robert Rochfort, and his brother George, are typical of the tyrannical landlords of the first half of the 1700s who believed they had the right and the might to browbeat everything in their path- wives included. The mistreatment of wives went mostly unpunished, the law being in the husband’s favour, but some of those battered women managed to snatch some of life’s pleasures.

And so it is eventually the case for Mary who agrees to become Robert’s wife. Finding quite quickly that he is not the prince of her dreams throws her into some turmoil. Meeting and falling in love with Arthur, the third brother, means a very complicated tangle.

Brotherly ties can be strong but that’s not the case at all in the family of Robert, Lord Belfield. The harm and destruction, which the viciously jealous Robert brought upon his wife and brother, makes for some difficult reading in Heart of Stone.

The characters are well drawn in this harrowing tale that is also a nicely detailed historical romance.

p.s. I’m glad the author gave the reader a happy ending to the tale and not the true life horror. 

This was a 4 star read that I recommend to those who enjoy a more detailed historical romance. 


A regency novel with a difference

Lord of the Abbey by K R Richards

I persevered with this story mainly because of the multiple mystery threads that ran through it and because I was intrigued about how the author would tie in ‘Holy Grail’ aspects to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the Tudor era. There was certainly plenty of action for the large cast of characters, most of whom were very likeable and lots of finds by the end of the story. The references to friends and relatives of Jesus at the end seemed rushed and misplaced but they made me intrigued sufficiently to investigate further any true historical connections.
There were some aspects that spoiled my read; otherwise the grade given would have been higher. There were many instances of repetition throughout the novel that a thorough edit should have eliminated and which should have tidied up other inaccuracies in sentence construction which jarred me out of my reading flow.

I rated this with 3 stars.


The Holiday Blur


It's now the 30th December and Christmas has been and gone in a flurry of catching up with a young relative not seen for 9 years. Festivities happened but they were curtailed due to illness in the family- and I include myself in that scenario. It may not have been FLU proper but it's a disgustingly nasty viral infection that still gripping me in its claws.

When I'm off my food AND not able to read much than I really am sick. 

However, that said, I do have some reviews of novels recently read that I need to catch up with so that they join my Goodreads quota for 2017.

The best of my December reads was Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep by Michael Staton. This novel was set during the American Civil War 

I thoroughly enjoyed this Civil War novel. Though interested in all periods of history, I confess to not knowing much at all about the American Civil War as it never featured in my British and European historical studies in past decades. 

It was good to learn some aspects of the bloody conflict through the eyes of the main characters, all of whom were portrayed admirably by the author.

War does indeed change people, but it was an enjoyable process to read of Bill Stamford’s maturing as the war years progressed. To survive such conflict intact and unaffected would have been unrealistic, and he has his fair share of trauma to contend with, but I think the author managed very well to show how Bill was able to accommodate the changes wrought around him yet still retain a certain natural naivety.

His two ‘ladies’ also come across as women who were worth knowing and would have been good to meet. I’m giving no spoilers in saying that I’m glad about how his love life ends in the novel.
Many family names cropped up in the story that seemed very familiar, perhaps common to the geographical areas involved, and they were all an added bonus to an excellent read.

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes an action adventure with a good dash of humanity. 

I rated this with 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. 

(p s I'll be posting a couple more reviews when I summon the energy and stop coughing. )


Thursday, 21 December 2017

#Yuletide greetings to you!

Merry Yule! 

Today, 21st December, is officially the December Winter Solstice for those of us in the northern hemisphere, and for those who inhabit the southern hemisphere it's their summer solstice.

I've written about the solstice before on this blog so won't repeat that but you can read about the posts HERE if you're interested.

The winter solstice, for me, marks the turn of the year when the days begin to lengthen again and the darkness of night shortens. Since we're often in the throes of poor winter weather it doesn't seem as though the days are lengthening, but astronomically they are from today onward till the summer solstice. 

In days gone past, for thousands of years, the Pagan festival of Yule began on the solstice and for many neo-pagans they still celebrate Yule on this day and for some days to come. It's natural to celebrate the return of the sun for longer daylight spells and the festivities reflect this return to the sun's warmth and the new growth the sun can engender.

For me this day of the winter solstice is a day of looking after my grand kids for an early  morning slot. It's a time for catching up with some promotions on Facebook for the December Discovering Diamonds daily theme and for reminding people on Facebook and Twitter that the Crooked Cat Advent Calendar continues its largess where anyone can download a FREE ebook if you pop over to their website and see what Santa is hiding.

I'm also preparing for a visit by a far flung nephew from Australia who is spending Christmas with us. Since his arrival is early tomorrow I'd best get off to the shops soon to buy in the groceries for our festive YULE meals. If all goes to plan 11 of us will be feasting together on Christmas Day, and on other days it will be anything from 3 to 11.

My Scottish shortbread is baked; my Rich fruit cake is done and iced but I need to find time today to  bake the mincemeat pies.

Whatever you do on this solstice day, the beginning of Yule, I wish you a happy time! 

ps. I still have a ** competition ** going for a signed copy of Topaz Eyes, running till Dec. 23rd!


Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Good morning! It's Tuesday and getting closer to the end of December festivities 

It's been a while since I interviewed anyone so I'm absolutely delighted to have fellow Crooked Cat author, Alice Castle, here today. This is one of those huge-on-the-calendar days for Alice because it's the launch of 'The Girl in the Gallery', the second in her mystery crime series. 

Alice Castle
Welcome to my blog, Alice. Make yourself comfortable. It's still icy outside for the umpteenth day up here in Aberdeenshire but the fire's on so it's lovely and cosy. Let's get to know you a bit better...

Some form of writing has been your career since leaving school. Can you please give us an idea of your ‘writing’ life before becoming a published author?
For many years I was a journalist on national newspapers including The Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph and The Times. I was a feature writer and interviewed P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, amongst others.

Crooked Cat Books is one of your publishers but could you tell us a bit about your other novels, please?
My first novel is a chicklit story split between Brussels and London, about a woman who’s obsessed with chocolate. Much to my surprise, it got picked up by the German publisher Ullstein and was a bestseller in Europe, selling out its first print run in two weeks. It’s available online in German with the title Schokoherz or in English as Hot Chocolate.

That was an excellent start to your published writing! Today’s launch is for The Girl in the Gallery, Book 2 of the London Murder Mystery series published by Crooked Cat Books. What are the 5 most important traits of Beth Haldane, your main character.
I think Beth’s five most important traits are her determination, her sense of justice, her feisty spirit, her reckless edge and her boundless affection for all those she holds dear.

Brilliant traits to have! Are the settings for the series all in and around the London area? Can you give us an idea of anything distinctive about the locations of the stories?
The stories are all set in and around Dulwich, where Beth lives. Dulwich is quite an unusual area of London in that it’s been largely unchanged for 150 years, despite two world wars and the huge growth of traffic and population in the capital city. It has a distinct village feel and people tend to stay for generations, giving it quite an air of a St Mary Mead locked into central London (St Mary Mead is the fictional village where Agatha Christie’s super-sleuth Miss Marple lived). It’s surrounded by less well-heeled districts like Camberwell, Peckham, Catford and Deptford and a lot of the future stories will involve these areas, though always coming back to Beth’s home in Pickwick Road, SE21.

In Book 2, The Girl in the Gallery, would a reader of Book 1 of the series – Death in Dulwich – find that Beth Haldane has become more adept at sleuthing? Or is she using similar skills learned for the first mystery?
Once again, the mystery comes to Beth, piquing her sense of responsibility and getting her involved almost despite herself. I wouldn’t say that Beth has really become more adept as a sleuth but her developing relationship with Detective Inspector Harry York means that she is in on more of the police side of the case this time.

A little about yourself. Please answer in a maximum of 5 words.

Ø      Describe your writing space – I write in my kitchen – after I’ve cleared up the breakfast!

Ø      Your favourite reading material or genreWhodunits, of course.

Ø      Your most loved leisure pursuit – Crochet, I find it very therapeutic and love making blankets and useful-ish things for the home.

Ø      Your aspirations as an author – I just want to keep on going with Beth and my London Murder Mystery series.

Ø      Your favourite tipple – red wine. Trying to cut down. Always trying…

Ø      Food you hate and avoid eating – any kind of offal.

Great answers, thank you. Red wine? Is there ever too much... ;-) Here's some information about The Girl in the Gallery.

The Girl in the Gallery by Alice Castle

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Dulwich…

It’s a perfect summer’s morning in the plush south London suburb, and thirty-something Beth Haldane has sneaked off to visit one of her favourite places, the world-famous Picture Gallery.

She’s enjoying a few moments’ respite from juggling her job at prestigious private school Wyatt’s and her role as single mum to little boy Ben, when she stumbles across a shocking new exhibit on display. Before she knows it, she’s in the thick of a fresh, and deeply chilling, investigation.

Who is The Girl in the Gallery? Join Beth in adventure #2 of the London Murder Mystery series as she tries to discover the truth about a secret eating away at the very heart of Dulwich....

Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European best-seller which sold out in two weeks.
Alice is currently working on the sequel to Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series. It will be published by Crooked Cat next year and is entitled The Calamity in Camberwell. Once again, it features Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.
Alice is also a top mummy blogger, writing DD’s Diary at
She lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.
Links to buy books:,

Thank you for Alice for subjecting yourself to a Q and A session! I wish you the very best for your launch today of The Girl in the Gallery.


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?

The contest will run until Sat 23rd December 2017. 


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.