Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A tribute to a favourite writer, Willa Cather


I first encountered Willa Cather as I was browsing in a second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.  Not an unusual occupation for me – browsing in bookshops, that is, not encountering Cather regularly.  That would be extremely difficult as she died 71 years ago today.
Born in Gore, Virginia, in 1873 and named Wilella Sibert Cather, she grew up to be a novelist of some repute, winning the Pullitzer Prize in 1922.  Her many books are still available as reprints or paperbacks, but modern copies don’t really interest me – hence my many hours of browsing.
My first purchase, on that occasion in Hay, was Sapphira and the Slave Girl, published in 1940.  My copy (not a first edition, unfortunately) is in pristine condition even though it has been read and re-read by me.  This was to be Cather’s last novel, published at a point when Europe was in absolute turmoil and occupied.  Something that made Cather fear for the future.  Although I didn’t know it at the time of my first reading of the novel, this book is one of the darkest she ever produced.
Cather wrote a dozen novels. One of Ours (1922), My Antonia (1918), A Lost Lady (1923), Shadows on the Rock (1931) and Sapphira being her most well-known. 
Something that I hadn’t realised that day in Hay, was that I had encountered Cather before, but in another guise.  Some years later, in another haven for books in Alnwick I found a collection of her poetry from 1913.  Once home again, I started reading through it and found a sonnet that I had used as a teenager for one of my Poetry Society exams.  It has since become a favourite and, as it is the anniversary of her death, I thought I would share it with you.



Sonnet

Alas, that June should come when thou didst go;
I think you passed each other on the way;
And seeing thee, the Summer loved thee so
That all her loveliness she gave away;
Her rare perfumes, in hawthorn boughs distilled,
Blushing, she in the sweeter bosom left,
Thine arms with all her virgin roses filled,
Yet felt herself the richer for thy theft;
Beggared herself of morning for thine eyes,
Hung on the lips of every bird the tune,
Breathed on thy cheek her soft vermillion dyes,
And in thee set the singing heart of June.
And so, not only do I mourn thy flight,
But summer comes despoiled of her delight.

                                        Willa Cather 1913  





Willa Cather December 7th, 1873 – April 24th, 1947.  Her grave is behind the Meeting House in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. The Willa Cather Foundation is centred in Red Cloud, Nebraska and the US postal service and mint honoured her by issuing stamps and a medallion, respectively. In 2011, she was inducted into the New York Writers’ Hall of Fame.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Flowers and Shakespeare

For World Book Day - which is also the date of the Bard's birth and death - I'm celebrating with sonnets and flowers...


Sonnet XCIV

They that have the power to hurt and will do none,  
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation;
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with the base infection meet,
The basest weed out-braves his dignity;
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.



Sonnet LIV

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-looms have full as deep a dye
 As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
 Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly,
 When summer’s breath their masked buds           discloses;
 But for their virtue only is their show,
 They live unwooed, and unrespected fade,
 Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
 Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made;
 And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth;
 When that shall vade, my verse distills your truth.






Sonnet XCIX

The forward violet thus did I chide;
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells, 
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red not white, had stol’n both
And to his robbery had annex’d thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or colour it had stol’n from thee.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Please welcome, friend and author, Alex Macbeth...

... to my blog today.  Hello Alex, and thanks for making time in your busy schedule to be here.  So what have you got for us?
AM  I have an excerpt from The Red Die, my crime fiction thriller set in Mozambique.
CHAPTER 7
When the Comandante arrived at the former comando, he found Samora moving a desk and two chairs into a room that still had some roof over it. Two builders were hoisting a few new sheets of zinc onto the holes in the ceiling while Samora watched closely, his index finger hurriedly tapping his watch. In no time the zinc plates were in place and Samora and Felisberto were once again alone.
Good morning, chefe,” said Samora, shoving a cup of tea with condensed milk and an egg roll Felisberto’s way. “I took the liberty of getting the place ready for work,” added Mossuril’s police deputy. “Mozambique’s greatest detective can’t work with holes in the roof.”
Felisberto sipped the tepid tea and looked out through the window onto the bay. A group of local women were collecting crabs on the beach. Further out, two passenger dhows crossed each other in the bay halfway between Lumbo and Mossuril. Felisberto had read that the Aga Khan, the influential religious leader and philanthropist, had honeymooned with a famous US actress called Rita Hayworth at the Hotel de Lumbo in the 1940s. The  Comandante imagined the two rich and successful VIPs sailing in the same bay over sixty years before. Mozambique had since fought a war of independence with Portugal, its former coloniser. The country had then endured another sixteen years of war to safeguard that independence from foreign interests. Now the Hotel de Lumbo, once the haunt of global celebrities, was a complex of ruins slowly being returned to nature with the assistance of termites, rain and wind. Its only remaining seasonal guests were the swallows that weaved in and out of the fallen rafters.
A brown eagle glided in and out of Felisberto’s viewfinder and the Comandante followed it as it flew towards Ilha de Moçambique, the country’s former capital. Felisberto sipped his tea and looked across the bay in the other direction towards Quissanga. Nothing he did, it seemed, could escape the spell of Stokes’ death and the trails it had left. The sight of two children playing with dice refocused the Comandante.


about the book... The body of a man with a red die in his pocket is washed ashore near a quiet village on the coast of the Indian Ocean in southern Africa. But what looked initially like a corpse that came in with the tide soon turns out to be a murder case that will lead Comandante Felisberto and his team to the edge of danger and despair as they uncover a trail leading up to the highest echelons of power in their country.

Can Felisberto and his 'motley crew of rural investigators' solve the case - and survive?


You can follow Alex on Amazon on his website
Twitter and on  Facebook

Monday, 16 April 2018

Meet the Crooked Cat Authors

Tim Taylor, myself and John Jackson

Come and meet us at Tickhill Library at 2.00pm on Thursday April 26th


Fellow Crooked Cat author, Tim Taylor will be joining me on Thursday April 26th, to read from and talk about his book, Revolution Day.  The book centres on a dictator clinging to power and a vice-president eager to sieze it. The ex-first lady is unknowingly drawn into his plans.

Tim lives in Meltham near Huddersfield. He writes contemporary and historical fiction and has published two novels.  He also does part time teaching and research in Ethics at Leeds University.

 Also joining me on Thursday will be yet another Crooked Cat author, John Jackson.  John will be introducing his book, Heart of Stone.  The story of a girl who is owned by an Earl, but loved by his brother.

John is a retired ship's Captain and he lives in York.  He writes historical fiction, based on his remarkably colourful family tree!  In his own words, 'For a Historical Novelist, a Family Tree is the gift that keeps on giving'.

 And then there's me. I will be talking about my second Jacques Forêt novel, Merle.  In this story my investigator, Jacques, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent.  Yet again, it's up to Jacques to work out who is behind it all…and why?

So, come and join us at Tickhill Community Library, Market Place, Tickhill, Doncaster. DN11 9QU at 2.00pm on April 26th.  Please telephone the library on 01302 742871 and let them know you will be there.  Tea/Coffee and bickies will be available.

We are all looking forward to seeing you. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Jottings from the Journals... Villefranche-de-Rouergue

... I've been taking a look back through my journals and came across this entry. As I read it for the first time in more than two years, I found I could remember the scents and sounds of the place... 
  
River Averyon, Villefranche
Thursday, 26th

Market day in Villefranche, today.  A twenty-minute stroll from the campsite along the west bank - or is that the right bank? - of the river Averyon into town.  From Quai de la Sénéchausé I follow the criss-cross of narrow, shaded streets through to the Halles des Marchés which is a relatively modern building located on the site of an ancient cemetery.  And that's where the regular market begins. 

The bustle of people was just ahead of me and the smell of the market was potent.  The aroma of roasting chickens and potatoes. The hint of herbs and spices, olives, shallots, vegetables in general, underlined by the pungent sock smell - always there at a French market - of the cheese!  A plethora of local cheese in all its finery.  At one of the cheese stalls, I breathe in the musty smell, lightened by a bit of smokiness and the metallic accent of the blue cheeses. It just speaks fresh French cheese to me.
Place Notre Dame
In rue Durand, on my left is a stall selling nougat. I pause momentarily to read the labels detailing the flavours of the vast rounded mounds of sugar and fruit and nuts.  Honey and lavender flavoured with lightly toasted almonds. Honey and red fruits of the forest. Vanilla and walnut.  I know instantly which one I want.
'You can try a morsel,' says Monsieur.
'No thank you,' I reply as I move on.
I meander around place Notre Dame.  Vegetables, fruit and more and more people and after twenty minutes I'm back in rue Durand again with the nougat seller.  I can't get enough of those wonderfully sweet scents.  He recognises me and catches my eye again - French men are very good at doing that, I've noticed.  I reluctantly give in to my sweet tooth.
'A small piece of this one please,' I say pointing at the large semicircle of lusciousness in the centre.
'But you must also try this one,' he says.  It's made with honey and lightly toasted almonds.  It's a new flavour that I am trying.'
Reluctantly I accept a 'morceau' but I know what I want.
'So, which would you like?'  He asks, French charm oozing and a gorgeous smile on his face.
'This one please.'
He then places the knife carefully and says in English, 'you tell how much. I put the knife here and you tell me how much.'
OK so I've been rumbled, but his smile is cheeky and clearly tourist-bound!
'You must have a lot of English customers,' I grin.  'And that's enough,' I say in French.
Lusciousness!
He then tells me that the nougat will keep for up to 6 months providing I don't put it in the fridge.  'It's made of honey, not sugar and honey crystallises if you put it in the fridge.'
‘Of course,' I respond in French.
He packages my slice of nougat and weighs it and puts it in a tiny paper bag.  'So, you can keep this for 6 months, or 6 weeks or 6 days or maybe 6 minutes.  That is the record!'
I smile and tell him that I'm going to save it at least until I get back to the campsite.
He gives me my change and his most charming smile yet…

If you want know more about Villefranche from a different perspective, check out 'French Collection', an anthology of stories written by friend and author, Vanessa Couchman.  There will be more jottings from my journals over the coming months.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Recipe for an Anthology

A while ago, when I was asked to contribute to an anthology of stories, I was very, very pleased to have been included.  Having submitted my story, I've taken time-out to reflect on how the project moved from initial idea to finished product. Read on...

Ingredients
  • take 9 enthusiastic writers
  • add a location to meet
  • a feature character
  • a single and primary setting
  • a title
  • a blurb
  • a cover
Method
  • gather your writers together for some blue-sky thinking
  • allow the initial thoughts to ferment for a month or so
  • bring the writers back to the meeting location to create the character common to all the stories and to name her
  • at the same time agree the location that is to be used as the model for the single and primary setting for the fictitious world of the book
  • leave the writers' thoughts and ideas in a marinade for a month or so
  • gather your writers together and discuss, ensuring that the resultant stories are well mixed and cohesive
  • let the writers braise their stories slowly on a low heat for two months, remembering to check the seasoning occasionally
  • once fully cooked, allow to cool before decorating with the cover
  • dress with an agreed title and a blurb and serve immediately to the reading public
I’m very pleased to be able to tell you the Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings is available on Amazon

about the book... Sometimes what you need is right there waiting for you...

Miss Moonshine's Wonderful Emporium has stood in the pretty Yorkshire town of Haven Bridge for as long as anyone can remember. With her ever-changing stock, Miss Moonshine has a rare gift for providing exactly what her customers need: a fire opal necklace that provides a glimpse of a different life; a novel whose phantom doodler casts a spell over the reader; a music box whose song links love affairs across the generations. One thing is for certain: after visiting Miss Moonshine's quirky shop, life is never the same again...

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this collection of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This intriguing mix of historical and contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry, and believe in the happy-ever-after.


I’ve really enjoyed working with my writing colleagues on this project and am immensely proud of our collective achievement.  I hope you enjoy the book.

Friday, 30 March 2018

The Great Crooked Cat Easter Sale....

Want to find a bargain???





Then visit the great Crooked Cat Sale, loads of titles - including Messandrierre and Merle - for 99p/c or international equivalent.


There are romances, mysteries, crime, thrillers and lots, lots more all available from Amazon. Treat yourself whilst you have the opportunity! 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Please welcome, friend and author...

... Anne-Marie Ormsby.  Hello Anne-Marie and thanks for being here.  Tell me, what is your current release?
AMO  My current release is Purgatory Hotel, a whodunit set in the afterlife.  A young woman is murdered and wakes up in Purgatory, a mouldering old hotel, with no memory of how she died or what she could have done wrong to end up among rapists and murderers.

AW    What first got you into writing and why?
AMO  I have always been an avid reader, since I was a small child. My parents read loads so they encouraged me the same way.  When I was nine I read a book that was one of my Dad’s favorites – The October Country by Ray Bradbury - and I decided that I wanted to be able to make people feel the way he had made me feel with just words.  His stories made me feel totally immersed in what he was writing about and I just wanted to learn how to write like that.
AW    And is Ray Bradbury a favourite of yours too? Do you have other favourites?
AMO He was and still is a favourite author.  Other favourite authors include Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, Denis Lehane and Douglas Coupland. I also take great inspiration from music and movies - favourite artists being Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Johnny Cash, Interpol, David Lynch and David Fincher.

AW   You write paranormal fiction.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
AMO  With this book it was mostly imagination but I did do some research into police procedures and into a real life series of murders that I included in the narrative.

AW    And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
AMO  I started out writing short stories, then poetry for a long time and eventually novels.  I’ve also written a few screenplays which I really enjoyed.  One was actually produced as a short independent movie a few years ago.

AW    Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
AMO  Not currently as I have just recently moved, so I will be trying to find my space there soon.  I generally just need a comfortable space and music to help set my mood.  And wine helps too…

 AW   Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
AMO  It changes all the time, but I’d really like to meet my paternal Grandfather. He died in 1958, the year before my parents got married, long before I was born. He lived in Cork City in Ireland and was a policeman there through the troubles in the early part of the 20th century.  I’ve heard a lot of stories about him and his experiences, but I’d love to just spend an afternoon with him and hear all the stories from him.

about the book… Dakota Crow has been murdered, her body dumped in a lonely part of the woods and nobody knows but her and her killer.  Now in Purgatory, a rotting hotel on the edge of forever, with no memory of her death, she knows she must have done something bad to be stranded among murderers and rapists. To get to somewhere safer she must hide from the shadowy stranger stalking her through the corridors of the hotel and find out how to repent for her sins. But first she must relive her life.
Soon she will learn about her double life, a damaging love affair, terrible secrets and lies that led to her violent death.
Dakota must face her own demons and make amends for her crimes before she can solve her murder and move on - but when she finds out what she did wrong, will she be sorry?
You can get the book from Amazon

about the author… Anne Marie grew up on the Essex coast with her parents and six siblings in a house that was full of books and movies and set the scene for her lifelong love of both.
She began writing short stories when she was still at primary school.  In her teens she continued to write short stories and branched out into poetry, publishing a few in her late teens.  In her early twenties she began committing herself to writing a novel.
She wrote Purgatory Hotel over several years, but kept it aside after several rejections from publishers.  Luckily, she found a home for her twisted tale with Crooked Cat Books.
Anne-Marie recently left London for Margate where she lives, amidst books and DVDs, with her husband and daughter.

You can follow Anne-Marie on her Website on her Blog 
or on Twitter  Facebook  Pinterest  and on Goodreads 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Celebrating World Poetry Day



Today is World Poetry Day and I thought I would celebrate with a poem that I first discovered as a teenager in school.  Written by Mervyn Peake in 1949, it may be short, but it is as full of detail and meaning as his many, many illustrations for other authors.

This particular poem, since I first discovered it, has remained in my conscious ever since.  It helped me through exams - my most pressing need at that paritcular time of discovery - and has brought me calm at other and more distressing periods of my life.  My copy of the poem resides in a book on the second shelf of my poetry bookcase in my 'writing shed'.  And now, when I find myself stuck for a word, or phrase, or even an idea, I take it down and re-read it, even though I already know it by heart.



The Vastest Things


        The vastest things are those we may not learn.
        We are not taught to die, nor to be born,
        Nor how to burn
        With love.
        How pitiful is our enforced return
        To those small things we are masters of.

                                                             Mervyn Peake (1949)

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Celebrating St Patrick's Day with Ailsa Abraham...

Patrick, ONE of my patrons


Friend and author, Ails Abraham
Having been a French national for over twenty years, I am still stuck with two of my original accents and saints.  This allows me to make a joke which breaks the ice whenever people ask where I'm from.  Changing nationality is a complicated process, which in my case took over two years and finished, as ever, with going to the Préfecture (County Hall) to receive my papers.  So these days I can explain that normally one is issued with the appropriate accent with the ID Card but, my week, they had run out so I was stuck with my general purpose British or Scottish ones.
At least I am not English.  We suffer from the English/British problem.  Because the language is called English, anyone who speaks it is dubbed that too.  I explain that Belgian people speak French but are Belgian, not French.
Oo that is a bit of a poser, never thought of that!  Think my audience.
So, allow me to complicate things a little further...my husband is English.  We speak English to each other but, (dah dah dah) I'm NOT!  I slip into my Scottish accent while speaking French and explain that my family is equally divided between Scotland and Ireland.  My interlocutors, by now completely fuddled by my Edinburgh-French, try to follow as I show them the triangle of Edinburgh, Pitlochry and “the wee black north” in Ireland.
Even I can be fooled by the family swapping around.  The young woman to whom my mother always referred as “the Nanny” turned out to be a cousin from Ireland and not hired help at all.
So I have choices.  There will be no doubts if someone plays the Marseillaise!  I leap to my feet and join in, singing the French National Anthem with gusto.  Trois fois Celte (Three times Celtic) as they call me here and as the warning reads on my van “Caution! Female Celtic Driver!”

Thank you Ailsa.  You can follow Ailsa on Amazon on her Website and on Facebook  and on Twitter

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Friend and author, Jennifer Wilson…

By anonymous, British School. -
RoyalCollection.org.uk
… has set feee one of the characters from her book Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile  It is with great pleasure that I can introduce you to, David Rizzio. Thanks for being here David and why don't you tell me a little about your story
 DR   It’s a strange thing, to label a man as a good friend, when he was once part of a plot which resulted in your murder.  Even stranger though, that an Italian musician somehow became somebody seen as important enough to need murdering. But there we are.
 AW   I see… I think!
DR   I should introduce myself properly.
AW  Yes please… I am a little confused to say the least!
DR  My name is David Rizzio, and I was of noble birth, not what you might have thought, for a man who started his courtly life in Scotland as a lowly musician.  I was a good musician mind, and finding no particular means for improvement in my position in Italy or France, I asked a friend for some guidance.  James Melville it was, and he got me a position in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots.  She was a fine woman, and an excellent queen, just, perhaps not the best chooser of husbands.  But more on that later.  Well, I’m a good man as well as a good musician, and I can make myself useful.  After only a couple of years, I found myself promoted to the Queen’s Secretary, with a healthy salary to go with it.  Alright, I might have over-reached myself and my powers once or twice, but I was a man Her Grace could rely on, somebody who wanted only to help her.
AW  But you mentioned murder…
DR  The rumours started. I suppose it is only natural, when a young man begins to give advice to a beautiful young queen; people love a scandal, especially when it concerns affairs of the heart.  I loved Queen Mary, but as her servant, and employee, not an actual lover.  And she returned these feelings, platonically.  She still does, I am proud to say.
AW  Go on…
DR  Back to the murderer/friend thing though.  As I say, people got jealous, and angry, especially her husband, Lord Darnley.  Nothing but a wastrel if you ask me.  Then and now.  He decided I was a threat to his position and power, and that I needed to be removed.  Oh, how I was removed… They burst into one of the smallest rooms in Holyrood Palace, whilst Her Grace was dining with a small group of us, and they, well, how could they do this – they held a pistol to her pregnant stomach as they dragged me out of the room.  I’m not ashamed to say I was terrified.  I hid behind her, even tried to cling to her skirts as they pulled me away.  It was no use.  Over fifty stab wounds, I endured.  All that blood.
It only took a few minutes to work out that I’d become a ghost.  I was looking down on my own body, the way poor Queen Mary sobbed over me, the way those cowards had run away, it was somehow hard to turn away.  So I didn’t.  I stayed with her until the end. Another two decades of following her progress, and being there as much as I could do. Then of course she joined me on this side of the divide.
AW   And then what?
DR  I never imagined I could go back to the way things were, but somehow, that is exactly what has happened.  Of course, I don’t stray too far from Edinburgh these days, not like her, always off adventuring, but when she is in the city, myself, Janet (Lady Glamis) and Sir William Kirkcaldy serve her as an inner circle of sorts.  And that brings me back to the start. Sir William was an accessory to my own murder.  Meeting him again in this life was a strange, strange thing, but he had returned to serving my queen by the time he died, another man who gave his life for this poor woman, and we have reached an arrangement.  After all, with so many centuries now passed, there is plenty else we can discuss.  Such as how to deal with Darnley, when that wretch turns up in the city.  Something will have to be done, that’s for sure; the way he torments me and the queen is quite unfair.
In truth, things are just as busy in Edinburgh as they ever were.  His Grace King James V is still about, although granted not as outgoing as his daughter.  And Queens Marie of Guise and Madeleine of Valois are incredibly nice ladies, albeit quieter than Queen Mary.
That’s me and my current situation then.  In truth, I have more friends in death than I did in life, and from so many walks of life.  It is true that it can get a bit rowdy from time to time, when the likes of Boots starts haunting the punters of those ghost tours they do, but most of the time the haunting is calmer.  We are quite a noble clan up here, after all.  You should come and say ‘hello’ – we’re a friendly lot, most of the time.  If you want to read more about our adventures, then Jennifer has, at least, found time to write those down.  And she hasn’t done too bad a job in capturing us, to be fair.
AW  Well, David, thanks for the invitation to come and join you.  I'm rather hoping that I won't need to take you up on that for quite some time yet.  But before you go, can you tell us a little about the books?
DR   Her best book (i.e. the one with me in it) is Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, released in June 2017, but there was one before that too, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London.  That one’s alright.  All about Richard III and Anne Boleyn, from what I can tell.  There’s a third one, Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey, coming out this June.  My beloved Queen Mary is featured in that one, so it must be good.  Jennifer has also self-published a historical timeslip romance, The Last Plantagenet?
AW  Lastly, can I just say thank you for being here today… David? Where did he... Jennifer… Are you there Jennifer?  Is there anybody there?

You can  follow Jennifer Wilson on her website, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s website. 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Please welcome friend and author...

... Nancy Jardine to the blog today.



AW  Hello Nancy and thank you for being here.  Writing about times 2000 years ago... umm it’s all a bit of guesswork, isn’t it?  
NJ  Well, no, not totally.  That's a question and an answer that are pertinent to writing historical fiction in a period that’s considered to be pre-historic - though my era of choice is actually on the cusp!  
AW  So, what, exactly, does pre-historic mean?
NJ   Essentially, for me, the term covers the period before written sources were created.
AW  So, why is your writing on the cusp?
NJ  My Celtic Fervour Series of historical novels are set in late first century A.D. (CE), northern Roman Britain (from Yorkshire northwards into Scotland): a time and location that’s not covered by many authors.  It’s easy to see why because it initially seems like there isn’t much material to research to ensure a story is as realistic as possible without veering into the realm of a fantasy.  There are sources like Cornelius Tacitus’ Agricola, and occasional references in the work of other Ancient Roman writers about late first century northern Roman Britain but all of these prime sources need to be used with caution as their accuracy is considered to be lacking in historical terms.  The works I refer to were never intended to be an actual historical record, they were written for something more like political propaganda or entertainment, often both at the same time.
The Celtic Fervour books
AW   How interesting!
NJ   More was known about Iron Age tribes in Europe during the late first century, so some interpretations for the tribes of northern Roman Britain are extrapolations based on scant evidence.  Even calling my novels the ‘Celtic Fervour Series’ throws up problems for some people who don’t like my use of that generic term for tribes living in my location.  Other experts conclude that there’s sufficient evidence about the daily life in ‘Aberdeenshire’ to broadly term them ‘Celtic’ tribes.  What I know is that to describe my series it’s much easier to say ‘Celtic Fervour Series’ than ‘Roman Britain Iron Age Tribes Series’.
AW  I couldn't agree more!
NJ  Not having a lot to go on initially is what I love about writing in this era because, although it’s extremely hard work, there’s always something new to discover that’s ‘under the surface’.  Every other word I write in my work in progress throws up a mystery that needs to be solved first.  (Perhaps that’s why I also write contemporary mysteries?)  Simple examples might be: Can I say that my Roman Scotland Iron Age characters are tucking into bread every day?  That sounds pretty normal but was it usual two thousand years ago in what is now Aberdeenshire, Scotland?  I can’t write that in my novel before I check.  If it’s a Scottish setting would they be nibbling on oatcakes and cheese?  Check! What kind of animals would they be hunting for food?  Check!  Did they eat the plentiful fish from local rivers and lochs?  Check! Were there forests nearby for hunting boar or deer?  Check!  What was the weather like?  Check!
AW   Hmm, I see what you mean.
NJ  Today, specialist scientific disciplines, used in conjunction with archaeology, have interpreted that the farmers in ‘Aberdeenshire’ of 2000 years ago ‘tended’ more stretches of grazing for sheep than they cultivated fields of grain.  The wheat of today wasn’t grown in Aberdeenshire though they did grow some spelt - an earlier form of wheat - according to soil deposit samples.  However, the main cereal crops were ‘6 row’ barley and, to a lesser extent, oats (field core samples and midden heap faeces sampling).  So, my characters
Nancy's experimental baking -
unfortunately there was none for me to try!
could perhaps have the occasional bit of unleavened spelt bread and eating some kind of oatcake is probable.  Brose or soup is thought to be the most likely daily food made from barley, oats or a mixture of both (again faeces samples from midden heaps backs this up).  Vegetables for soup were rare and not what I’d be buying in the supermarket today.  Fat hen (we’d call that weeds) was used as was a type of wild garlic but most of the vegetables of today aren’t indigenous.  The Romans actually introduced some of today’s veggies to Britannia but since I write about the Roman invasions it’s too early to refer to my ‘Celts’ eating leeks, cabbage, peas or onions, though my Romans can tuck into some assuming their supplies have not been attacked by my resourceful Celts.

AW   Again, something else I didn't know!
NJ   You can read more of the aspects that I need to constantly check for my 2000 years ago setting on my own blog.  Finding out that spelt was being grown by my ‘Aberdeenshire’ Iron Age tribes 2000 years ago was interesting but what was really exciting during my research was finding that a local Aberdeenshire farmer is currently growing spelt as a trial because it is a highly nutritious form of wheat and good for people who cannot tolerate high intensities of gluten.  Spelt has a considerably lower gluten content.
AW   Have you tried it?
NJ   I bought some spelt flour and so far have made scones and pancakes.  When I can clear some more time for experimental baking, I’ll try some bread!  There's more about my spelt baking Here and Here

... about the books My Celtic Fervour Series published by Crooked Cat Books will no longer be available after the end of February 2018, though they will return soon under a slightly different guise.  Look out for new versions later in the spring!  My Crooked Cat Books contemporary mysteries are definitely available just now, easily seen via my author page below.

… about the author Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries; historical adventure fiction and time travel historical adventure. She regularly looks after her grandchildren and sometimes her garden can look quite creative. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society. She’s published by Crooked Cat Books and has delved into self publishing.

You can follow Nancy on her Blog Website  Facebook & Author Page  Twitter  Amazon
and on Goodreads  you can  email Nancy at nan_jar@btinternet.com