Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Wealth, Power and Influence in Anglo-Saxon England

On the EHFA blog this week, I explored the wealth, power and influence of the later Anglo-Saxon Nobility. Boy were these people rich!

Read the article HERE

On the Trail of Dunmail

I recently had an article published in Cumbria Magazine and was given permission to republish it on the EHFA blog:

Read how I found myself halfway up a mountain and discovered Dunmail - twice


Sunday, 29 May 2016

Sunday Chat - with Heather King

Today I am delighted to turn the blog over to author Heather King:~

I asked Heather to tell me about her life, her writing, and her new release. Over to Heather ...

I love mountains, I love rolling hills and fields, and I love the lush greenness of the beautiful British Isles. I also love horses. To put the two together was irresistible.

The idea for Devil’s Hoof arose when I had been talking at a writing group about my pony being stricken with Laminitis, a painful affliction affecting the feet. From that conversation sprang the title, and from there the story grew, almost of its own volition. Many pieces created during writing workshops engineered themselves around the premise and became part of the finished book.

Laminitis has several causes, the most common being the ingestion, by small ponies, of too much spring grass. It also has parallels with human diabetes, in that it is the fructans (a type of sugar) which can trigger an attack. Given the ex-soldier, suffering from PTSD and unable to cope with civilian life, it was an easy step then to envisage my hero with his dark secret.

I have experienced first hand the incredible effects homoeopathy can achieve in curing and controlling Laminitis – often with better results than conventional veterinary medicine – so I knew how Shani could treat Matt. A friend is a Reiki practitioner, so she was able to help me with that.

I have plans for further novels to tell the stories of Matt’s siblings and cousins, and I have written an anthology of Vampire Romance short stories (Vampires Don’t Drink Coffee and Other Stories), but my first love will always be the Regency. To date, I have written four full-length novels, three novellas and several short stories in the genre. Of these, two of the novels, two novellas and a short story are published.

A Sense of the Ridiculous
When a prank goes wrong, headstrong squire’s daughter Jocasta Stanyon wakes up in the bedchamber of an inn with no memory of who she is. The inn is owned by widow Meg Cowley and her handsome son Richard, who proves to be more than a match for the unconventional Miss Stanyon.
Having enjoyed a carefree childhood, Jocasta has refused all offers for her hand in the hopes of one day finding a soul mate who shares her sense of the ridiculous. She is drawn to Richard, but their stations in life are far apart and despite prolonging her stay by devious means, the idyll cannot last. When, by chance, her brother Harry turns up at the Holly Tree Inn, Jocasta has no choice but to return home. She hopes to persuade her father of Richard’s qualities, but then she is summoned to receive the addresses of a fashionable stranger...

I have always been fascinated by words. From first learning to read, I have loved books. When I was about five, I wrote my ‘news’ inside the flowered squares of my bedroom wallpaper. I badgered my grandfather to read Peter Rabbit when he was staying with us after illness – and then promptly sat down and read it aloud to myself! I made up stories involving my dolls and imaginary friends; in my head, I would write sequels to books I had read and spend countless hours in a dream world! However, it wasn’t until I left school that I began writing them down. Those first efforts were dire and will never see the light of day, but one did, after many, many reworkings, make it as far as submission. It wasn’t accepted and life took me in another direction, but one day I may revisit that manuscript and try again.

I am very excited about two forthcoming projects involving other authors, one coming out next summer and one the following year, but I can’t say too much about them at the moment. My plans may change, but the next release will hopefully be a non-fiction work about – surprise, surprise – horses. I have a three-quarters finished novella I want to complete for next Christmas, and I want, at some stage, to launch my mother’s favourite novel, which is also a Regency romance. She discovered the snippet of information around which the story is moulded and it has been waiting in the wings until I could do it justice. Hopefully, I now can.

As a writer, I think the word ‘methodical’ best describes me. I’m not speedy and I have to find the word I want before I can continue; often, getting up and doing a small task (like putting the kettle on!) will trigger my thought processes, enabling me to continue. I like to write in the morning and I am very much a creature of habit, so I do have a routine, but that goes out of the window if the animals need something or I have to go to work. Sadly, I am not yet at a point where I can make a living from writing. I will often continue writing or doing something associated with writing late into the evening. The afternoons are reserved for dog walking!

Ideas can come from anywhere – a snippet of overheard conversation, a smell, a picture, a line of prose, a painting, an experience. Copenhagen’s Last Charge came from a small fact I discovered while researching the Battle of Waterloo for the anthology, Beaux, Ballrooms and Battles. A Sense of the Ridiculous was born following an incident I witnessed with a horse and I began wondering what might happen if that same incident occurred in the nineteenth century. Treasure Beyond Words grew out of a seedling idea of a male wallflower – a gentleman for whom the written word held untold terrors – and An Improper Marriage began life as a short story.

Nothing is ever wasted. Today’s ‘drivel’ could be tomorrow’s gem, so keep those warm-up paragraphs which seem to be going nowhere. Another day you may find a thread of gold among the fustian. So, when you are standing in that queue at the supermarket, be ready for the odd remark which might lead you to a murder most foul; when visiting the country park, open your senses and record the smells, plants and tastes of the seasons; when you’re drinking that well-earned coffee after a heavy morning seeking the perfect outfit, observe the other customers – they might all be stars in your next three books; and when you have occasion to visit the charity shop, collect old magazines, for therein may lie future characters, settings and plots.

I find certain charity shops a wonderful resource for research material, from the occasional ornament or picture to books on all aspects of life in the Georgian era. These I greedily squirrel away whenever my purse allows; I have been fascinated by the Regency since I read my first Georgette Heyer novel, The Talisman Ring, when I was about eleven. I have read and re-read most of her books, and I find the language of the time, in both prose and dialogue, comes quite naturally to me. It seems to suit my style of writing. That said, when I started writing Devil’s Hoof, I had no difficulty switching to the twenty-first century. I think if the story and voices in your head are strong enough, then changing genre shouldn’t be a problem.

Thank you so much Heather, for sharing your insights with us today. 
Find Heather at the links below, but first, read the blurb for her new release:

Matthew Swift, Special Forces veteran of the Iraq wars and invalided out of the army following an act of heroism, is struggling to adjust to civilian life. Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he is a loose cannon ready to explode, beset by horrific flashbacks and images. If that were not enough, Matt has broken up with his girlfriend and his father is fighting a hostile takeover, in the process hiding a heart problem from his family.
Sparks fly when Matt meets alternative therapist Shani Stevens, but then they become stranded in Rhandor Forest by unprecedented storms and have no choice but to help each other.

Both have scars, yet slowly they learn to trust. Mutual sympathy and understanding soon grow into an abiding passion, but Matt has a secret he cannot reveal…

Facebook -author page
Facebook - A regency repository             
Amazon author page
Amazon US author page

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Bingo! The Satisfaction of Research

This story has a sombre beginning, so let me tell you at the outset that she's okay now ...

A few months ago, my youngest daughter came to me and said, "Do you think I should get this checked out?" 'This' was a mole, which looked rather angry and, well, not quite right.

Okay, wrong kind of angry mole
Without wishing to add to her alarm, I said she should maybe see a doctor, just to put her mind at rest. She got badly sunburned during a school trip in her final year of primary school and she wondered if she had the mole at that point.

Well, I'm the first to admit that I'm a terrible mother, but I know she wasn't born with that mole. Did it appear after the sunburn? I couldn't remember.

That evening, I pulled out the old photo albums. Lots of 'em. I have three kids, and I love them. I love taking photos, generally, and especially of my kids. So it took a while. I even played a DVD of the Yr 6 school play - we know she was sunburned then because the feather boa irritated it (she was dressed as a toucan.) But of course, the feathers covered the area in question. 

I pored over the photos until I found a picture, taken a few weeks later, of her wearing a pretty skimpy t-shirt. The burn lines were clear, and so was the area of skin - and there was no mole. Bingo! Now all I had to do was find a photo of the mole. 

Given our weather, and lack of finances when the kids were young, there weren't too many photos of her in a t-shirt. But an hour later, I found a shot of her on the beach at Wicklow, two years after the sunburn incident, and the mole was just visible. Bingo again!

The sunny day in Co Wicklow

Now, I can't prove for certain when that mole appeared. All I can say is that it definitely wasn't there in summer 2008, and that it most definitely was there in 2010. And, despite the worrying reason for this mission, I derived a great deal of satisfaction from it.

My husband came home and I told him, "I missed my calling; I should have been a detective." And he simply looked at me and said, "Isn't that what you do anyway, when you research your history stuff?"

And of course he's right. A Bingo! moment is fantastic, but when you can add a Bingo again! to it, it's even more wonderful. Because even if it's not too narrow a time-frame, to have a proven point A and a proven point B is incredibly useful, for historians, and, especially, for historical novelists. Because then they are free to fill in the gap. Plausibly.

I would love to hear from any novelists out there who've had a Bingo! moment, especially if you've had a Bingo again! to go with it.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Christmas Lights and Easter Bunnies - Leah Brown gets inspired ...

I recently became aware of a promising new author and when I read all about her work I knew I had to interview her. It's rare for me to be able to welcome a guest like this, so today I am delighted to have as my guest Leah Brown ~

I began by asking her: ~

How old you were when you first started writing?

I was probably about 5 years old when I started school. I just did picture books not writing books to start with. My first book was called The Rainbow Girl. When I started school I joined the Rainbows, think that’s what gave me the idea for my book. It was a long time ago as I’m 9 now it’s hard to remember.

Some of the lovely pictures and book covers that Leah sent me

Where do you get your ideas from - do they just come into your head, or do you get inspired by things you see/hear/learn about at school?

All of these but mainly my ideas just come into my head. I have lots of imagination. I write about things that happen or want to happen in my life. I love magical and mythical things.

Where do you normally do your writing - at home, or at school?

Both the same. The book you saw I wrote at school but the teacher just told us what it was meant to be about . I wrote all the detail. I have a desk in my house to write. Sometimes I write in my garden.

How many books have you written, and can you tell us a little bit about them?

I have written lots of books but most are a bit childish to tell you about. I am getting better now I’m a bit older. I wrote one about a Magic flower that was fun as she did so many fun things a normal flower wouldn’t do. I like using my photographs as my covers because I love taking selfies.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on Easter bunny adventure. It’s about a little girl and boy and they find the Easter bunny and go with them every Easter to deliver the Easter eggs. They are my little sister Freya and big brother Jamie.

What are some of the favourite books that you've read, and what did you like about them? 

Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson. It’s about a girl and her dad keeps hitting her and her mum so they run away from their dad and start a new life in London. I love that author.

Do you hope to be a writer when you leave school, or is there something else that you'd like to do?

I would like to be an Author but for a part time job I would like to be a chef. My dad likes cooking, my Auntie Margo can't cook she burns everything.

Leah has wonderfully supportive family members, which as all authors know, is very important. Unfortunately, as yet, she doesn't have any links to a website or to buy her books, but here instead is an author profile:

and a sample of her work:

Thank you so much Leah - wishing you success in your writing career.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Writer on the Move - Linda Zupancic goes to Scotland ...

Linda Zupancic resides in Canada but recently had to get on a plane for the sake of the Skynner Chronicles:

Linda, how did Skynner Chronicles evolve?
My historical fiction novel was born from a labour of love for my Scottish Nana in 2013. What do you give someone who is turning 100 years old? Since I loved history and researching, I chose to research her married name ‘Skinnerʼ, creating an album with photo’s and information for her gift. The history of the name was intriguing, taking me to Denmark, England and Scotland. 
In Scotland the ʻSkinnerʼ name is considered a sept of the infamous MacGregor Clan,and officially listed as an ʻaliasʼ name for ‘MacGregor’ during the proscription of their name. (In 1603 it was illegal to use the name MacGregor). I was hooked! Skynner Chronicles is set in 1603 until 1715 ish.

Why go to Scotland?
I have been researching and writing for periods of time within the last 4 years. Since my family characters are fictionally woven throughout the history of Scotland, it made sense that I should walk the land and experience Scotland. My father agreed and invested generously in the trip. My husband Rene agreed to take on the challenge, armed with camera equipment and the courage to drive on the wrong side of the road in the UK. We booked our  tickets for two weeks, via Edmonton, via Iceland (we must stop in Iceland on our next trip).

What kind of preparations did you make?
I had 5 months to prepare for this adventure.
*making the plan to visit all the places in my story & more
*arranging the connections with people ahead of time
*adjusting the plan to new idea’s, or developments
*getting the personal details in order to leave a business
*making sure Jordie dachshund was cared for
*finding an affordable automatic car rental
*weather considerations for our wardrobe choices
*technology-what to take, what would work, wifi etc.
*leaving wiggle room for the unexpected things/people
*rest-not planning anything for the day after we arrived

What were your first impressions of Scotland?
Yikes, how do we get out of Glasgow! We opted out of the car rental GPS as it was very costly.
The rental lady gave us directions but it was like ‘greek’ to us, so armed with a paper map we headed  out of the airport. My husband was glued to the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and his eyes on the road, as I navigated our course. I suggested that we take the long scenic route to our cottage, which avoided going through the heart of Glasgow. It was a good choice. A few wrong turns and we ended up on the right highway leading out of the city....wheww! Aside from the NARROW roads with no shoulders and the rock walls that lined the country roads, we started relaxing somewhat. It took about 3 days for me to stop saying, ‘move over, you are too close to the edge’. My husband had the experience of driving in Tijuana Mexico and Guatemala, so he was up for this challenge. Next time we will rent an Austin Mini.

Where did you stay in Scotland and why?
Our base of operation was Little Briar Cottage on Loch Earn, located in the “Heart of Scotland”, Perthshire.
*most of the places we visited were located more or less an hour away (one weekend trip to the islands)
*our hosts Kim & Fraser live in an original thatched cottage that oozes the history of crofting farmers.
*the land beneath the cottages was originally owned by the MacGregor Clan before it was appropriated.
*due to our Canadian dollar being of low value in the  UK, booking a self-catering cottage for an extended time was prudent, also enabling us to eat out less frequently.

What are some of the things you did in relation to your novel ʻSkynner Chroniclesʼ?
 *We were on the hunt for a longhorn black Kye (cow), as black was the original colour of the Kyloes that came from the islands, later other colours became prominent. I had prearranged a farm visit toʻBarkers Highland Beefʼ (Hilary and Bernard) in Callander. What a treat, they hooked me up with a metal comb and a kye who was having a bad hair day. Hilary was also an artist, so I purchased some of her cow art (which included the elusive ‘black kye’).

*A steamship tour (S.S. Sir Walter Scott) on Loch Katrine in search of the ‘island refuge’ that is featured in my story. What a thrill to see it for real! I was also looking for the Goblin Caves across from the island but a landslide had covered them up. Interestingly the staff didn’t know about the caves at all, I had found them while researching a travel guide from 1899. Finally they located someone who knew about the caves and the landslide that hid them from view.
*Castle Eilean Donan, rated the most romantic castle in Scotland, has a large part in my story. I knew that you couldn’t photograph the interior of the castle, so I was thrilled to find a huge outdoor courtyard where they allowed photography. Such a BONUS for my purposes.

*a quick trip to the Islands of Skye, Harris & Lewis also known as the Hebrides. This was the most impactful part of the trip, the rugged beauty of the land, the hospitality and warmth of the people. It was hard to leave after our 3 nights.
*Rob Roy (remember the movie?) was a MacGregor so we visited his gravesite at Balquidder Kirk,

we climbed to a viewpoint that overlooked the whole valley surrounding Balquidder. Perthshire is ‘Rob Roy Country’, so he also showed up at Loch Katrine, Killin, and Comrie at the ‘Cattle Drover’s Exhibit’. Another feature in Perthshire is the ‘Rob Roy Wayʼ, the old cattle droving trail that has been re-purposed as a hiking route.

What are some eclectic points about your trip?
*tried Haggis two different ways, and liked it!
*loved the people, they were very warm and generous with their time and shortbread!
*we felt at home with the mountains all around us
*we had to adjust to the very slow pace of service in the restaurants, they all were quite casual
*we accidentally found a free castle ruin that was so much fun to walk through and photograph
*we visited Doune castle where Monty Python and Highlander was filmed, the audio-tour was great
*we dropped off some trackable geo-cache tags along the way, and found some treasure caches too!
*Scotland is very dog friendly, they are welcome in most accommodations, pubs and even some restaurants
*every single time I tried to get into the car, it was the wrong side

So, was it worth the time and money to go to Scotland?
Absolutely, it was part of moving forward towards my goals, by investing time, money and energy into discovering the land from ʻwhence I cameʼ.  Discovering the similarities and the differences to my own country brought new perspectives and a kinship, making the story come alive in a new way for me. Now begins the process of extracting what I have absorbed like a sponge, we covered a lot of ground in two weeks. Yet two weeks was long enough for that part, perhaps a week just chilling out after would have been the ticket. But I am a content sponge!

“We cannot live fully without the treasury our
ancestors left to us.” Quote: George MacKay Brown

Thank you, Linda, for sharing your experience with us.
For more about Linda and the Skynner Chronicles, 
visit her Facebook Page
or her Website
and find her on Twitter and on Instagram

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Fight for Grimeshaw Lane

It is fair to say that, at the moment, the outskirts of Lancaster do not look very pretty. The hillsides have fresh scars slashed across them as construction work continues on the M6-Heysham link road.

But, just a very short distance from there, I met a friend, who took me along one of her favourite walks.

Sometimes, history is not visible. Castles, stately homes, archaeological remains - all give us a link to the past which we can see, and hope to understand. At other times, we can only get a sense of what has gone before, and interpret as best we can what is left in our modern world. This makes such places much harder to protect, but it is no less important that we attempt to do so.

A determined group of people just outside Lancaster are trying, at the moment, to do just that, and to save Grimeshaw Lane and Denny Beck Lane from development. The future of Denny Beck Lane, is I suspect, more secure, given that it was victim to atrocious flooding last winter. But what of Grimeshaw? And how can we assess its historical significance?

It is believed that there might be a 'plague stone' on the lane - could this be it?

I began by trying to decipher the name itself:

Shaw (sceaga) - copse, small wood
Grim/e - devil
So Grimeshaw = Devil's wood?

This seemed a bit simplistic, so I delved deeper.

Margaret Gelling, in her book Signposts to the Past, says:  "It has been established that Grim meaning the masked one is a nickname for Woden, alluding to the god’s habit of going about in disguise; and the numerous earthworks called Grims Ditch, Grimsdyke, in many parts of the country are believed to contain this nickname, either because they were believed to be the work of the god, or as a vague expression of superstitious awe concerning their origin.

The use of disguise by Woden is inferred from the many instances in which the corresponding Old Norse god Othin behaved in this way. We do not have narratives concerning the Old English gods of the sort which have survived for the ON deities, and there are many dangers in transferring ON information of a much later date to our own relatively brief pagan period. But a major characteristic like this one seems likely to belong to both traditions.

Not all English place names in Grims- are of this origin. Grimr was a common ON personal name and in the areas of England where Danes and Norwegians settled in the 9th and 10th centuries there are such names as Grimsby, Grimethorpe and Grimscoat, which contain this personal name and are of no special archaeological significance. Even in the Danelaw, however, a Grims- name referring to an earthwork is likely to allude to the god."

From the top of the ridge, the proximity to the M6 is visible

A quick internet search told me (grimshaworigin.org) that "The Grimshaw surname originated in Lancashire in the northern part of England, apparently around 1000 A.D. There appear to be few records of Grimshaw family lines for the first 200 to 250 years. However, it is highly probable that the family’s roots are connected to the town of Grimsargh, which is a short distance northeast of Preston. The earliest recorded Grimshaw was Gilbert, father of William Grimshaw, who held the Manor of Grimsargh in thenage in 1242."

I looked for more information on the placename Grimsargh but could only find this, in Wikipedia: "The name Grimsargh is said to derive from an Old Norse name Grímr. One reference lists it as coming from the Domesday Book's Grimesarge, "at the temple of Grímr (a name for Odin.)" I had come full circle.

So what of the place itself? In Ancient Roads and Trackways in Quernmore/Lancaster Phil Hudson says: "There seems no doubt that in the pre-Conquest period there were some well used trackways which would have been part of the communications network for the many small, often defended circular ring-dyke farmsteads found in the area. Butler (l921)* makes reference to a "ridgeway" that passed through Quernmore on a north-south line, following the high scarp via Grimshaw Lane and across the River Lune ford to Halton.

An extension of this ran through Quernmore from Castle O'Trim up to High Cross Moor. This was probably the route, parts of which are still in use, taken by the Earlsgate, recorded in the medieval period. This route, which could be prehistoric in origin, was possibly the basis for the one which was in place during the Roman period when, it is assumed, there was a main road system in the north west created and maintained by the Romans. It is also assumed that the Romans had a network of minor roads or trackways to give access to their industrial sites and potteries on the eastern side of the valley."

From the top of the ridge, one can walk into Lancaster, and I was told the the witches of Pendle walked this way from the prison to their place of execution. From this high ridgeway, they would have known that they were walking in the direction of home, but never to return.

Although it is possible to 'name-check' these witches, overall this is a new facet to historical investigation for me. We do not know who else walked this route, where they lived, where they were going. I am used to having names as a starting point, even if they are only mentioned once or twice in primary sources. I research people, not places. To walk along that track, following the footsteps of countless  unnamed people, was a new experience. This place is most definitely historical, but it is not going to give up its secrets any time soon.

Or at all.

The campaigners are highlighting the route with ribbons

It is under potential threat of development, and a small but determined group of people is fighting to stop that happening.
If you would like to know more about the campaign, look at the group's Facebook Page 
If anyone has any evidence which they think is relevant they can write to Paul Hatch on planningpolicy@lancaster.gov.uk 
and if you live locally you can sign the Petition
The plan and information on the process so far can be found Here

Denny Beck

*Butler, M.E. A Survey of the Geographical Factors that have Controlled the History of Lonsdale. Unpublished M.A. University or Liverpool 1921, 3O-4O.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

The Secret Life of the Reviewer ...

Today I'm delighted to welcome as my interview guest, book reviewer David Baird: ~

I began by asking him: ~

How many books do you read in any given year - and when do you find that you read the most; is it during the evenings/weekend?

I set myself a goal of around 60 – 70 books a year and I do most of my reading during commutes to work and back. This amounts to around 2 – 3 hours’ worth of reading per day

You obviously have a passion for reading. When did that start and can you remember any particular book that really gave you the ‘bug’?

Ah, that’s easy. As a kid I never really liked reading, it hurt my eyes so I just didn’t try. I came to it by chance as an adult, I’d treated myself to a tablet to watch tv shows, surf the internet etc and I noticed the kindle app and since I have no issues with working with computer screens I thought I’d just give it a go.

Since I had no starting point I just searched the free books to start with and found a series called 80AD by Aiki Flinthart, it’s written for the younger audience but the story sounded interesting and I very quickly read all 5 of the books.
I read a few more books after this but the book that really got me interested in reading was Spartacus: Talons of an Empire by Robert Southworth. Id recently finished watching the tv series an wanted more and his book seemed to fit the bill. I’ve been a fan of Rob’s ever since.

How did the idea for a book blog come about? Were you already blogging, or was it a totally new idea?

You can blame Rob for that one.. and partly Goodreads. Being a fan of Rob’s I contacted him via Twitter to let him know how much I enjoyed the book and from chatting it became apparent how much he appreciated the feedback. I never really knew some authors paid such close attention to reader’s comments.

At the same time I was on Goodreads and I was looking for a few groups to join. I noticed a group where authors could request reviews. I thought it sounded interesting so I joined. It became clear just how many authors appreciate and need feedback so I decided to set up a blog.

My blog was going to be simple, review books and help promote the authors I enjoy.

I searched for blogging sites and Wordpress came up. Within 10 minutes I set up and ready to go.

The next thing I did was create a Twitter account for my blog where I could post these reviews and also connect with the authors. Within two hours of this being set up I had two review requests come in.

And I’ve never looked back since ☺

Authors get the benefit of your well-crafted reviews, but what do you gain, if anything, from publishing your reviews? What motivates you to do it - most people read books without reviewing them - so what drives you?

What drives me is simple. I want to keep reading books from authors I enjoy and the only way that can happen is by making sure they sell books and know just how good they are.

The one thing that is clear to me is that they’re so many authors out there.. it’s hard to know which book to buy.

My aim is to help others. Authors and readers alike.

What do I get from this? I get to read books from amazing authors I might have otherwise overlooked and I get to build some great connections for my blog, guest blogs, promos etc which can only enhance what I bring to the blog.

At the end of the day I want my blog to be useful, it’s a two ways street. I support authors and authors support me.

When I first started reviewing I noticed some reviews can be very negative and I just didn’t like it. I saw a 1* review simply because they didn’t like a character.. does that really make it a 1* book? I doubt it.

My reviewing process is simple, you can be critical without being rude. I see positives in every book I read but I’m not afraid to mention any negatives and I make sure my reviews are fair and give enough detail so the author/reader can really understand my point of view.

I can’t imagine that you have much free time but if you do, how do you spend it when you’re not reading?

When I’m not reading I’m either looking after my two beautiful 18 month old twin girls.. or getting some much needed sleep ha ha.

I used to watch a lot of TV but since my girls came the TV just bores me now. I enjoy nothing more than going for a walk with them. Seeing their faces as they see new things has got to be one of the best things in life.

You read and review across all genres - you probably can’t say too much for fear of not remaining impartial, but do you have a favourite genre? Or, conversely, is there a genre that you really can’t enjoy?

Oh I’m very willing to admit I do have a favourite genre and that’s Syfy. I’m a nerd at heart. I just love the endless possibilities. With other genres authors can be tied down to facts but with Syfy you can do anything. I have a particular soft spot for books where Syfy and Fantasy mix.

I do really enjoy pretty much any genre though. Through my blog I’ve had my eyes opened to the world of historical fiction and I have a real love for the genre. I’ve also been introduced to mystery/thrillers and how good they can truly be.

In all honesty I think the only genre that doesn’t really do anything for me is the more romantic/erotic genres. Don’t get me wrong I love a bit of romance mixed in the books I read but just not as the main theme of the book.

If authors would like to have their books reviewed, how can they contact you?

The best ways to contact me are via my blog - davidsbookblurg

Email - davidsbookblurg@gmail or by Twitter - @DavidsBookBlurg

I’m always happy to connect with authors and fellow bloggers.

Thank you, David, for casting light on the world of the book reviewer and for taking time from your reading and reviewing to talk to me today.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

B.R.A.G. Interview with Colleen Turner

This week I was honoured and thrilled to be interviewed by Colleen Turner on her blog

A Literary Vacation

Because my book To Be A Queen has been awarded an IndieBRAG gold medallion.

Find the interview and more about Colleen HERE

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Pictish Standing Stones - Malcolm Archibald Casts Light ...

Today's guest post is from author Malcolm Archibald: ~

"Even as I write this, busy women and men are scraping away the soil from another new-discovered Pictish site in Scotland. The presence of the Picts at Rhynie in Aberdeenshire has long been known, with the fabulous carving of ‘Rhynie Man’, featuring a bearded, long nosed man with an axe over his shoulder very well known, yet the Picts are still often depicted as mysterious painted people who emerge briefly from history and vanish again into the Caledonian mist.

Detail from 'Rhynie Man' - public domain image

It was the Romans who coined the term ‘Picti’ for the inhabitants of what is now the northern two-thirds of Scotland, and the Romans who built massive walls to keep them out, or possibly to prevent the indigenous Celtic Britons from heading north to join them. When the Romans withdrew, the Picts remained, consolidating into various kingdoms connected by a shared culture.

It has been said that it was the Picts that gave Scotland her unique identity and that may well be correct. The Celtic British of what is now southern Scotland were of similar culture to those in Wales and England; the Scottish Gaels were related to the Irish while the Anglo-Saxons of the south-east originated from a Northumbrian invasion, possibly augmented by Saxon slaves from later raids. Only the Picts may have been different, although there is a possibility there were people of similar blood in Ulster.

With a dearth of written evidence, one way of decoding the culture of the Cruithin – as the Picts seemed to have termed themselves – is by the symbol stones they left behind. That is an ongoing project as the symbols are unique, varied and possess an amazing vitality that is presumed to record the identity of either individuals or family groups.

These symbol stones are concentrated in the eastern half of Scotland, the areas of fine agricultural land, sweet water and easier communications where the Pictish kingdoms seem to have been concentrated. Some of the finest are in Moray, about half way between Aberdeen in the east and the Highland buckle-town of Inverness. On the northern coast, jutting into the Moray Firth in a broad-fingered gesture of defiance to the Arctic winds, the Pictish fort at Burghead was once one of the largest fortified sites in the country. Cruelly mutilated in the nineteenth century when the planned town of Burghead was built, enough of the fort remains to remind an imaginative visitor of the power and majesty of the Picts. With its triple timber-laced ramparts and prominent position, the fort would have presented a formidable obstacle to any invader, but to the archaeologist or historian one of the most fascinating remaining artefacts are the Burghead Bulls.

Around thirty of these pieces of sculpture were unearthed but in the casual manner in which nineteenth century workers treated priceless relics, most vanished. Six are now known to survive; two are in Burghead library, two in Elgin Museum and one each in Edinburgh and London. These objects are incised sculptures of bulls and cows and have created much debate about their meaning. Some think they formed part of a frieze that ran around the fort’s main gateway, while others believe they were fertility symbols tossed into the sea to ensure the local herds were prolific. It is also possible that they represented the totem animal for the local tribe.

On the western side of Moray, Brodie Castle has been the seat of the Brodie family for centuries. Despite the undoubted glories of the castle, for many people the single most important treasure is the Rodney Stone. This beautifully carved Pictish stone was unearthed in the nearby church yard of Dyke in 1781 and erected as part of a stone pillar in the grounds of Brodie. The name comes either from the man who wielded the spade – Rotteny – or more likely from Admiral Rodney, who was winning naval battles in the 1780s, a time that Britain was on the wrong side of the American War of Independence.

The Rodney Stone - carvings
The stone is a shade under two metres high and is crisply carved on two faces, with an elaborate Christian cross on one side and a selection of typical Pictish carvings on the other, with a pair of fish monsters, what is termed an elephant and what is known as a double disc and Z-rod underneath. Now all these mysterious symbols are fascinating, but best of all is the longest Ogham inscription so far found on any Pictish stone. Although many centuries of Scottish weather have damaged the writing, it is thought to say Eddarrnonn, which may possibly be the name of some local king to whom this stone was set up. If so these symbols may represent his clan or tribe.

The Rodney Stone - Cross

Finally there is the largest and perhaps best known of all.

Sueno’s Stone is the most elaborately carved of all Moray’s standing stones. At over six and a half metres of intricately carved sandstone it is impressive by anybody’s standards, and it stands on the eastern fringe of the town of Forres, neatly encased in protective glass. At one time there were two stones standing here but the second has long gone, so it is doubtful if many Forres folk know it ever existed. Sueno’s Stone does not have carvings of abstract symbols or animals, but carries a Christian cross on the western side, while the eastern boasts a pictographic recreation of a decisive battle fought sometime between 850 and 950 AD, presumably in this area. The weathered images show two armies of infantry and cavalry, a pile of decapitated bodies, the clash of heroes and the defeat and flight of one of the armies. Unfortunately, even historians are unsure who the combatants might be. Theories abound: the stone may have been carved to celebrate King Malcolm II’s defeat of the Norse, or Kenneth MacAlpin’s victory over the Picts. As Kenneth became the first king of the united Scots and Picts around 843, the date ich would fit in nicely with the supposed date: perhaps too nicely. Another theory claims the stone was raised to commemorate King Duff of Alba’s victory over the men of Moray around 966 AD. To add to the confusion, the Orkneyinga Saga mentions a victory by Sigurd the Powerful over the Pictish Mormaer Maelbrigte in this area, but it is unlikely that the locals would celebrate defeat with such precision.

There is also the intriguing possibility that the original two stones were part of an entrance gateway to some significant building. That invites the theory that the second stone is still here, buried and waiting to be unearthed, and the possibility of remains of an archaeological site on the scale of Burghead or Rhynie to be explored. Whatever the truth, there is no doubt that the Picts remain elusive, despite the enthusiastic efforts of busy diggers and scrapers. We wait the next discovery even as we marvel at the stone-working skills of the past."

Thanks Malcolm - not only for the interesting insights but for the wonderful photos too (all illustrations are the property of Malcolm unless otherwise attributed). To find out about Malcolm's astonishingly varied body of work, visit: 

Malcolm's Website