Mastodon The Writing Desk: January 2019

31 January 2019

Book Review: The Tudor Cookbook: From Gilded Peacock to Calves' Feet Pie Paperback, by Terry Breverton


Available for pre-order from Amazon US 

Terry Breverton has clearly enjoyed bringing together over two hundred and fifty recipes from surviving records of the Tudor period. 

He suggests this is a splendid starting point for the adventurous cook - although some are a little alarming by modern standards, such as the secret of how to make a pie from which live birds emerge to delight the diners. (The origin of the nursery rhyme, four and twenty blackbirds.)

This little book is packed with fascinating details of authentic Tudor food. I was intrigued to learn how wide-ranging and exotic many of the ingredients were, showing the extent of medieval global trade. 

There is a useful list of references at the end, although I would have also liked to see an index. I will keep this on my bookshelf as a useful reference book, rather than as a source of recipes.

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Terry Breverton was born in Birmingham in 1946 to Welsh parents, and brought up in Wales before attending universities in England. He worked in over twenty countries before moving to acadaemia, lecturing in Milan, Bologna and Wales before escaping into full-time writing. A Fellow of the Institutes of Consulting and of Marketing, he has given the prestigious Bemis Lecture in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and has spoken twice at the National Festival of Wales in America and Canada. He has been awarded the Welsh Books Council's 'Book of the Month' five times. You can find Terry on Facebook

(A review copy of this book was kindly provided by Amberley Publishing)

29 January 2019

Book Launch Guest Post: Inspiration For Writing We Shall See the Sky Sparkling, by Susana Aikin


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Set in London and Russia at the turn of the century, Susana Aikin’s debut introduces a vibrant young woman determined to defy convention and shape an extraordinary future.

Like other well-bred young women in Edwardian England, Lily Throop is expected to think of little beyond marriage and motherhood. Passionate about the stage, Lily has very different ambitions. To her father’s dismay, she secures an apprenticeship at London’s famous Imperial Theatre. Soon, her talent and beauty bring coveted roles and devoted admirers. Yet to most of society, the line between actress and harlot is whisper-thin. With her reputation threatened by her mentor’s vicious betrayal, Lily flees to St. Petersburg with an acting troupe
—leaving her first love behind.


If there was one mysterious, spellbinding female member in our family tree to look up to when I was growing up, it was our great grand aunt, Gertrude Throop Cable. The mention of her name in family gatherings always created tension. But whenever my four sisters and I, who lived in Madrid, Spain, got together with our four paternal cousins, who lived in Manchester, it was only a matter of time before speculation about Lily’s adventurous life would begin to bubble up. 


Gertrude in theatrical dancing costume
The men in the family were not thrilled with Gertrude’s story. My father and his brothers shifted uncomfortably in their chairs when the topic was brought up. ‘She was no lady’, was their unwavering verdict. They were conservative, and having a ‘bad girl’ in the family disquieted them. Although, it had originally been one of my uncles, a passionate genealogist, who had spent years collecting photographs, letters, official certificates and older family members’ testimonies, trying to assemble the puzzle of Gertrude’s story.


Gertrude Throop Cable

And the legend that emerged from his research went something like this: in 1898, Gertrude, then only seventeen, one of the beautiful and talented daughters of our strict Mancunian family, left the house against her father’s will to become an actress. She worked at the Imperial Theatre in London for a year or two before she joined a traveling theatre company that ended up in St. Petersburg, Russia. There she met a handsome Russian aristocrat, Sergei Nikolayevich Latvin, fell in love with him and followed him all the way east to Vladivostok, where they settled and had a baby daughter out of wedlock, Olga.
Olga, 1 year old
The story got blurry at this point. For some reason, she and Sergei were separated, and Gertrude was forced to return to St. Petersburg with baby Olga. She arrived in a very bad state of health, and was diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis, after which the Russian sanitary authorities demanded she leave the country immediately. Gertrude then left her child Olga behind with Sergei’s mother, and traveled all the way back to England where she died very soon after her arrival. Her sisters kept her letters, her jewels, and the amazing fur coat she brought with her which had been a gift from her beloved. She died in 1906 at the age of 24, and the death certificate declared her to be spinster and theatrical dancer, and to die of pulmonary phthisis. 

After that, all trace of baby Olga was lost to our family.
Back of picture sent from St. Petersburg, Russia, 1904.

Gertrude’s tragic death and her disappeared child were sources of a lot of speculation in our family conversations, especially the fate of baby Olga. What had happened to the little girl? Did she perish afterwards in the Russian Revolution? But Gertrude’s charisma outshone all else—to have an ancestress who had defied all conventions to pursue an artistic career bestowed a very particular badge on the women of the clan.

Years later, after I left my family and my homeland and moved to New York to become a filmmaker and a writer, I thought many times about Gertrude and her solo flight across Russia at the end of the 19th century. Plowing through the hardship of growing into an artist in a difficult, competitive world dominated –still today- by men, is a hard predicament for any woman at any time and place in history.

Only recently did it occur to me, one idle Sunday evening, to google Gertrude’s name, and when she popped up immediately under ancestry.com’s website, I knew I was in for a trip down the rabbit hole. The first surprise was to find her photograph uploaded onto another family tree: the descendants of her daughter Olga listed her as their grandmother. I learned instantly that Olga had survived and lived an interesting, rich life, had married into a wealthy Ukrainian family and migrated eventually to the US in the 1950s.

The picture her family had uploaded onto the site was very similar to the photo my mother kept on top of her writing desk in the living room. In both images, Gertrude is richly dressed in a long elegant coat with a fur stole that reaches below her knees, and a large, elaborate hat dressed with something resembling ostrich plumes, or some other exotic bird’s feather. Both photographs were taken in Saint Petersburg in 1900.

I immediately got in touch with her grandchildren, who were very generous in providing information to fill in the gaps of her story. The most important piece I obtained was the copy of a short life memoir written by Olga herself, in which besides narrating her own life, she recounts everything she knew about her mother. This is how it starts:

I was born in Vladivostok, Maritime Province of the Russian Far East, on January 6, 1903. My father was Sergei Nikolayevich Latkin, Commissioner of the Customs for the Far East. My mother was Gertrude Throop-Cable.

During the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 my mother took me to St. Petersburg, while my father remained as a war correspondent there. The Trans-Siberian railroad had not been built, or completed at that time. We had to cross the Lake Baikal on sleighs, it was winter and my mother contracted a cold, which due to her weak lungs developed into tuberculosis... I do not remember her, since I was only 1 1/2 years old… From what I was told and the photography I have, she was a beautiful woman. Artists always asked my father to have her sit for a painting.

The moment I started reading this document, I thought about writing a novel.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Susana Aikin

"Aikin's novel is expertly plotted and rife with historical details in both its English and Russian settings, making for a rich story of the prejudices women faced at the turn of the 20th century and how the class disparity in Russia ignited the flame of revolution."~ PUBLISHERS WEEKLY 
"Beginning and ending with letters written to her family, this novel has the feel of a serial drama. Readers of Pam Jenoff and Eva Stachniak will appreciate the strong-willed and artistically driven female character who finds her own way through difficult times."~ LIBRARY JOURNAL
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About the Author

Born in Spain of an English father and a Spanish mother, Susana Aikin is a writer and a filmmaker who has lived in New York City since 1982. She was educated in England and Spain; studied law at the University of Madrid, and later Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. In 1986 she started her own independent film production company, Starfish Productions, producing and directing documentary films that won her multiple awards, including an American Film Institute grant, a Rockefeller Fellowship and an Emmy Award in 1997. She started writing fiction full time in 2010. She has two sons, and now lives between Brooklyn and the mountains north of Madrid. Find out more at Susana's website https://www.susanaaikin.org/ and find her on Twitter @Susana_Aikin 

26 January 2019

Stories of the Tudors Podcast: Catherine of Aragon


When Henry VIII married Catherine, she was an auburn-haired beauty in her twenties with a passion she had inherited from her parents, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, the joint-rulers of Spain.

This daughter of conquistadors showed the same steel and King Henry was to learn, to his cost, that he had not met a tougher opponent on or off the battlefield when he tried to divorce her.

You can listen to all the stories of the Tudors podcasts here:


24 January 2019

Book Launch: Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Blood & Sugar is the thrilling debut historical crime novel from Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark.

Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . .

To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him.

And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford . . .
‘A page-turner of a crime thriller . . . This is a world conveyed with convincing, terrible clarity’  ~ C. J. Sansom
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About the Author

Laura Shepherd-Robinson was born in Bristol in 1976. She has a BSc in Politics from the University of Bristol and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics. Laura worked in politics for nearly twenty years before re-entering normal life to complete an MA in Creative Writing at City University. She lives in London with her husband, Adrian. Visit Laura's website www.laurashepherdrobinson.com and find her on Twitter @LauraSRobinson

18 January 2019

New Book Spotlight: The Tragic Daughters of Charles I, by Sarah-Beth Watkins


Available for pre-order from

Mary, Elizabeth and Henrietta Anne, the daughters of King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, would be brought up against the background of the English Civil War. Mary would marry William, Prince of Orange, and be sent to live in the Netherlands. 

Elizabeth would remain in England under Parliamentary control. Henrietta Anne would escape to France and be the darling of the French Court. Yet none of the Stuart princesses would live to reach thirty. The Tragic Daughters of Charles I is their story.

Chronos Books presents the latest in a series of historical royal biographies by Sarah-Beth Watkins, author of Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII.
The Tragic Daughters of Charles I is out 26 April 2019.

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About The Author

Sarah-Beth Watkins has been a freelance writer for over 20 years, writing for magazines and websites on a wide range of topics. She has written over 300 articles for the web and also tutors creative writing and journalism courses. Growing up in Richmond, Surrey, Sarah-Beth began soaking up history from an early age. Her history books are Ireland's Suffragettes, Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII, Margaret Tudor, Catherine of Braganza, Anne of Cleves and The Tudor Brandons. Follow her on Twitter @SarahBWatkins 

14 January 2019

The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women: A Social History, by Elizabeth Norton


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Tudor period conjures up images of queens and noblewomen in elaborate court dress; of palace intrigue and dramatic politics. But if you were a woman, it was also a time when death during childbirth was rife; when marriage was usually a legal contract, not a matter for love, and the education you could hope to receive was minimal at best.

Yet the Tudor century was also dominated by powerful and dynamic women in a way that no era had been before. Historian Elizabeth Norton explores the life cycle of the Tudor woman, from childhood to old age, through the diverging examples of women such as Elizabeth Tudor, Henry VIII's sister; Cecily Burbage, Elizabeth's wet nurse; Mary Howard, widowed but influential at court; Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of a controversial queen; and Elizabeth Barton, a peasant girl who would be lauded as a prophetess. 

Their stories are interwoven with studies of topics ranging from Tudor toys to contraception to witchcraft, painting a portrait of the lives of queens and serving maids, nuns and harlots, widows and chaperones. Norton brings this vibrant period to colorful life in an evocative and insightful social history.

An absorbing look not only at the powerful women of that era, but everyday life for women throughout Tudor society.”
- Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Without romanticizing the era, Norton’s biography of the Tudor Everywoman weaves together the lives of well-known figures to lesser-known women. A captivating, inspiring and informative summer read not only for fans of Tudor England, but also those who are facing insurmountable obstacles themselves―and are looking to craft fulfilling lives for themselves.”
- Ms. Magazine

“Queens, servants, widows, nuns, harlots, and more are depicted in a rich tapestry of meticulous scholarship, historical detail, and insightful observations. Anyone interested in expanding and enriching her of his view of the Tudor era will enjoy Norton’s skillfully written study.”
- Booklist

“Engrossing and charming. By uncovering all the tiny, painstaking day-to-day details of these varied existences, Norton has constructed something inspiring.”
- British Heritage Travel

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About the Author
Elizabeth Norton lives in Kingston upon Thames, near Hampton Court Palace, with her husband and two sons. As well as her books she is carrying out academic research at King's College, London into the Blount family of Shropshire, contributing journal articles and giving papers at academic conferences and has appeared as an expert on television, including programmes for Sky Arts and the National Geographic channel.  Find out more as her website http://elizabethnorton.co.uk/ and find her on Twitter @ENortonHistory

11 January 2019

Plantagenet Queens & Consorts Family, Duty and Power, by Dr Steven J. Corvi


New on Amazon UK

What unacknowledged theme can be found across 250 years of English history? What thread runs throughout the Plantagenet Royal House, including as it does the ‘cadet’ houses of Lancaster and York, to the beginning of the Modern Period in 1485? It is the influence on events of the royal women; in particular, the queens. Without children, there is no dynasty, no ‘house’. 

Plantagenet Queens and Consorts examines the lives and influence of ten figures, comparing their different approaches to the maintenance of political power in what is always described as a man’s world. On the contrary, there is strong evidence to suggest that these women had more political impact than those who came later – with the exception of Elizabeth I – right up to the present day. 

Beginning with Eleanor of Provence, loyal spouse of Henry III, the author follows the thread of queenship: Philippa of Hainault, Joan of Navarre, Katherine Valois, Elizabeth Woodville, and others, to Henry VII’s Elizabeth of York. 

These are not marginal figures. Arguably, the ‘She-Wolf ’, Isabella of France, had more impact on the history of England than her husband Edward II. Elizabeth of York was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother of successive kings of England. As can be seen from the names, several are ostensibly ‘outsiders’ twice over, as female and foreign. With specially commissioned photographs of locations and close examination of primary sources, Steven Corvi provides a new and invigorating perspective on medieval English (and European) history.

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About the Author

Dr Steven J. Corvi has presented papers at West Point, to the War Studies Society, King's College London and Fort Hays State University. He researches and teaches the late English medieval period with a special emphasis on the Wars of the Roses and English Queenship. He regularly teaches graduate courses in British and European History. He has created seminar courses on English Queenship from Matilda to Elizabeth I. He is the author of three books and has been an advisor and commentator for documentaries produced for The History Channel.

7 January 2019

Guest Post by P. K. Adams, Author of The Column of Burning Spices: A Novel of Germany's First Female Physician (Hildegard of Bingen Book 2)


Available for pre-order  from

The Column of Burning Spices is the second part of a series based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century German composer, mystic, writer, and physician. As I wrote on this blog last summer when the first part, The Greenest Branch, was released, I first learned about Hildegard in a music history class at university.

I became fascinated by this famous medieval woman who was not a royal. How did she manage to achieve such prominence without the prerequisites of high birth? And how did she navigate the societal strictures that prevented women from accessing education, living independent lives, and having a public voice?

The Greenest Branch (which is currently a semi-finalist for the 2018 Chaucer Awards for pre-1750 Historical Fiction and will compete for the Grand Prize in April 2019) focused on Hildegard’s early life, after she had been sent to the Benedictine Abbey of St. Disibod in the Rhineland at age eleven. It traced her struggle to secure an apprenticeship with the abbey infirmarian and then work her way up to the status of physician.

Along the way she had to fend off repeated attempts by Prior Helenger to stop her from treating patients and writing about medicine, and to relegate her permanently to the convent’s enclosure. By the end of the book, it was clear that Hildegard must leave the Abbey of St. Disibod if she wanted to live her life and her vocation as she saw fit. But in order to do that she needed to save a lot of money and obtain her superior’s permission.

The Column of Burning Spices, which will be released on February 1, 2019, picks up where The Greenest Branch left off. In her early 40s now, Hildegard has the funds to move and is at the pinnacle of her fame as a physician. She has also begun to write on topics other than medicine—namely theological matters. This puts her on a collision course with the monks who cite the biblical passages that admonish against “women teachers.”

But Hildegard has a plan. She shares her writing with Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. He is both feared and respected throughout Europe and was a great admirer of Hildegard’s late predecessor at the helm of the convent, the ascetic Jutta von Sponheim. If he sanctions her activities, the monks will be powerless to stop her, and she might even win independence and establish her own foundation.

But will Bernard take up a woman’s cause and subvert centuries of established tradition? And will it be enough to protect Hildegard from a betrayal that lurks closer than she could ever imagine?

The Greenest Branch and The Column of Burning Spices are set against the backdrop of the lush oak forests, vineyard-covered hills, and sparkling rivers of the Rhineland, and bring to life the story of one of medieval era’s most fascinating and accomplished women.

P. K. Adams 
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About the Author

P.K. Adams is the pen name of Patrycja Podrazik. She has a master’s degree in European Studies from Yale University. She turned to fiction writing after a career that included working as a book publicist in New York and a copywriter and editor for a marketing company in Boston. She is a blogger and historical fiction reviewer at www.pkadams-author.com. Her debut novel, The Greenest Branch, a Novel of Germany’s First Female Physician, was published on Amazon in June 2018 and is currently a semi-finalist for the 2018 Chaucer Book Awards for Pre-1750 Historical Fiction. The second book in the series, The Column of Burning Spices, will be released in February 2019. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Find out more at her website https://pkadams-author.com/ and follow her on Twitter @pk_adams

6 January 2019

Book Launch Interview with Kaya Quinsey, Author of Valentine in Venice



Valentine wants to prove to herself that she's no longer the impulsive, daring girl who got married (and quickly divorced) in Vegas to a man she barely knew. Now, she is living by a new set of rules: planned, cautious, and carefully executed. But her plan is challenged when she falls (literally) into the path of her first love, Lorenzo. And with Valentine's Day around the corner, will Valentine be able to keep herself from making another big mistake?

I'm pleased to welcome Canadian author kaya Quinsey to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book?

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog, Tony. My latest book, Valentine in Venice, is a sweet romance novella set in none other than Venice. Valentine Wells returns to Venice. After having visited ten years earlier when she was just sixteen years old, it was where she had impulsively met Lorenzo Dipachio. Her first kiss. Her first love.

Now twenty-six, Valentine is a successful wedding photographer in Chicago. Still impulsive, Valentine is recently divorced after being married for about a minute in Las Vegas. And she doesn't miss the irony of being a divorced wedding photographer. Also dealing with her mother's recent diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's, Valentine's father convinces her that she needs a break.

Now that she is back in Venice, Valentine wants to prove to herself that she's no longer the impulsive, daring girl who got married (and quickly divorced) in Vegas to a man she barely knew. Now, she is living by a new set of rules: planned, cautious, and carefully executed. 

But her plan is challenged when she falls (literally) into the path of her first love, Lorenzo. And with Valentine's Day around the corner, will Valentine be able to keep herself from making another big mistake?

What inspired you to write Valentine in Venice? 

Venice is, without a doubt, one of my favourite places I've had the chance to visit. I knew that I wanted Venice to act as a meaningful setting in a future book. After having written 'A Coastal Christmas', I toyed with the idea of writing another holiday-themed novella. And with Valentine's Day coming up quickly, all of the pieces fell into place.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Keep writing! 

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The first scene from the first chapter was hardest scene to write. I wanted to do Venice justice, while also introducing the main character, Valentine Wells, and her backstory. 

What are you planning on writing next?

I am currently planning on writing a sequel to 'Paris Mends Broken Hearts'. Keep an eye out for it! Thank you so much, Tony, for having me on your blog. It has been a pleasure!

Kaya Quinsey

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About the Author

Kaya Quinsey holds her undergraduate and master’s degree in psychology. The author of three books, her work has sold in seven countries. Kaya’s passion for culture, travel, and psychology blend for a reading style that is fun, full of surprises, and easy to read. A romantic at heart, Kaya’s writing offers a contemporary twist to traditional love stories. Through her stories, she hopes to inspire readers to fiercely chase their dreams. Find out more at Kaya's website: www.kayaquinsey.com and find her on Twitter @kayaquinsey 

4 January 2019

Historical Fiction Spotlight & Giveaway: Fortress of the Sun: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Corinth, by E.M. Thomas


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It’s 243 B.C. and Greece is ready for a revolution.

Eighty years have passed since the death of Alexander the Great, the man who first cowed free Hellas into submission. His successors to the Macedonian throne have only tightened their grip in the interim, the present king no exception. Spartan rebellions, opportunistic usurpers, foreign invaders – for nearly five decades, King Antigonus has seen them all and crushed them all. He now stands alone astride Greece; 
he fears no one.

Aratus of Sicyon plans to change that. With a passion for freedom and hatred for the King that stem from the same childhood tragedy, he takes aim at Macedon when no one else would dare; takes aim at its crown jewel in the south, the linchpin of its control, the very symbol of its domination – Corinth. Hopelessly outfunded, outmanned, and outarmed, he embarks on one of the most audacious and stunning attacks in ancient history, one that would change Greece forever.

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About the Author

E.M. Thomas is an author of two novels – an epic fantasy (The Bulls of War) and a historical fiction set in Ancient Greece (Fortress of the Sun). Born and raised on the East Coast of the United States he is a world traveler at heart. He caught the writing bug early on and has a passion for all good fiction, but especially that of the fantasy and historical variety. One of his favorite moments thus far in his young career was writing a chapter of his latest book about the great battle of Corinth – while sitting amidst the ruins of ancient Corinth. For more information visit www.emthomas.com as well as Facebook and Twitter @EMThomasAuthor

Giveaway

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  Fortress of the Sun

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1 January 2019

Guest Post by Steven A. McKay: Researching The Druid and the 'Dark Ages.'


Northern Britain, AD430 A land in turmoil. A village ablaze. A king’s daughter abducted. In the aftermath of a surprise attack Dun Buic lies in smoking ruins and many innocent villagers are dead. As the survivors try to make sense of the night’s events the giant warrior-druid, Bellicus, is tasked with hunting down the raiders and thwarting their dark purpose. 

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

As an author of historical fiction it is absolutely vital that you have a good idea of the period you are writing about. What did they wear? What did they eat, drink, do for fun? And, in the case of my latest book, The Druid, what was their religion like? 

My first series was a retelling of the Robin Hood legend so that was fairly simple to research—there’s hundreds of books out there on the medieval period and probably the same number about the infamous outlaw. The druids, however, are a different matter entirely. 

We all have our own perception of what a druid would have been like, and probably most of us think of an old, grey-bearded man, in a long robe, holding a staff. Gandalf, or Merlin, essentially. The thing is, there are very few historical records from this period of time (5th century Britain in the case of my novel), with much of what we do have being basically propaganda written by the Romans to demonize their enemies.

So what to do? Where to start researching a book about a dark age druid? Well, the fact there are so few records about the druids can actually be seen as a good thing as it gives a writer license to use their own imagination to create a character and a religion of their own. However, we do know much about things like the weapons, buildings, foods, names of local gods and goddesses and so on, and that means we can steep ourselves in that and build a solid picture of the time in our head. This planting of oneself in a particular era is something I always do with my books and it allows me to build a solid, realistic world for the characters to appear within.

To find out more about the post-Roman period in Britain I made use of a number of books like Simon Young’s A.D. 500, which gives a fantastic overview, from the point of a Roman tourist actually, of the entire country and the peoples of the time. Then there’s Ancient Scotland by David Ross with chapters titled, for example, “Picts’ Houses”, “Farmhouses, Duns and Crannogs”, and “Languages of North Britain and Caledonia”. This is a fabulous little volume which is crammed with useful information. With these, and more, I was able to root myself in 5th century Britain, and then it was onto the difficult part: The Druids and their religion.

There are a few books available on the druids, but, it has to be said, no-one really knows anything for certain about them. One person who hadn’t even read my book, just seen an advert for it, complained about my use of Stonehenge because, to her, the druids were not interested in that monument – they venerated trees and water and open spaces, not some man-made ‘temple’. The evidence suggests that is true, but to me, if a druid felt inspired by a stone circle they’d have incorporated it in their work, without question. I would!

Similarly, everyone knows the druids sacrificed humans to their bloodthirsty gods, right? Well, maybe they did at one point but the religion of the druids was not like Christianity, with a rigid set of doctrines and commandments and rituals to be followed to the letter. My druid, Bellicus, would have learned his craft at the feet of his elders, but surely he would have used his own intuition and personal preference when it came to performing his ‘magic’. Much of what they did was down to performance anyway—how can an author research something like that?

You can’t, because, quite simply, no druids wrote anything down about what they did, so the writer is free to make up his own set of rules that stick to the known facts already discovered by reading books like The Quest For Merlin by Nikolai Tolstoy. That is a treasure trove of information on the oldest sources from Wales and Ireland in particular that deal with Merlin. If anyone can be said to be a druid it’s that guy, so where better to start researching than with this book?

The internet is also a valuable tool for finding period-correct things like names to use for characters, and even Youtube is handy. For the sequel to The Druid I wanted to describe a scene where the characters set animal traps and, having no knowledge of hunting myself, I found a video showing how to make a really simple snare, allowing me to describe it in the book.

Sometimes it’s simply not possible to visit a location yourself. I still worked a full-time day-job when I was writing my Robin Hood books so never once set foot in Yorkshire or Nottingham – yet readers who live there told me I’d got things spot on! With The Druid being, in part, set near my own home though, it allowed me to make some field trips to places like Dumbarton Castle and the site of a Roman fort, take pictures, note the geography and, perhaps best of all, just absorb the atmosphere. It’s amazing to stand someplace your character has ‘stood’ hundreds of years earlier and put yourself in their place!

I’m not going to detail every resource I used to research my novel—you can see many of the books in my photos, although there’s more stashed all around the house and in my car! The point, as with researching any historical novel, is to read as widely as possible, take what you need from each source, and mould it all into an exciting, somewhat-believable tale (I will say, there’s no fantasy style magic in The Druid, it’s supposed to be a realistic account of an adventure that might really have taken place).

Once you have your foundation you can let your imagination fly! 

THE DRUID excerpt

Bellicus drew the knife from its sheath at his waist and jumped headlong from the table, using the momentum to propel himself through the air at one of the nearest invaders. He crashed into the man, a great bearded brute with flashing eyes, and hammered the blade into his neck. The wound erupted in a gout of blood which drenched the druid’s hand, but Bellicus moved on without stopping.
“Cai! Here, boy!” The muscular hound slipped through the confused, shouting mass of people and appeared by the giant’s side as he fixed upon another target. “Attack.”
The dog lunged forward and fastened upon the man’s wrist, powerful jaws crushing the bones and drawing a scream of pure agony which was cut off as Bellicus punched him in the mouth, knocking him backwards to the ground. Cai moved then from arm to throat and, again, like some avenging demon, the druid’s huge robed figure moved on, searching for more of these attackers to kill, the lean form of Eolas now at his rear.
It wasn’t going well for the invaders, he could see. Some of the local men, and women too, had shown their courage by fighting back, despite the fact they wore no armour or carried war gear and now, only three of the intruders still stood.
One of those was beset by both Coroticus and Nectovelius and it was clear the man, tiring as he was, wouldn’t survive long, especially as the king’s guards were moving to surround him.
Another fell as Bellicus watched, borne down under the weight of four or five furious locals whose knives rose and fell in a bloody spray.
The third, a short barrel of a man, stood in front of the doors, almost as if he was guarding them, and Bellicus’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Why wasn’t the fool escaping? His companions were beaten and he’d be killed soon too if he didn’t get away.
A shiver ran down the druid’s neck. Something was amiss here – this was no simple raid gone wrong. 
“Take him alive!” he shouted, but as the cry left his mouth someone threw an empty amphora at the stocky swordsman, the pottery smashing into pieces on the unfortunate’s skull.
“Alive,” Bellicus roared again, but the people were too enraged to heed his words and they set about the downed interloper with fists and feet and whatever else they could find.
The screams didn’t last long. The hall was far from silent though, the babble of fear and confusion almost raising the rafters as everyone wondered what to do.
Men eyed the smashed doors, wanting to run to their homes and gather their shields and swords and axes, but fearing what might be out there waiting for them.
The king hurried across to Bellicus and together they peered at the doorway, trying vainly to see what, or who, might be waiting outside for them.
“Can’t stay in here all night,” the druid growled, and Coroticus nodded grimly.
“Guards, form up behind me.”

Steven A. McKay

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About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, "Wolf's Head", came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. "The Abbey of Death” is the final book in the Forest Lord series which has over 100,000 sales so far. Steven's new book, "The Druid" is the first in a brand new series set in post-Roman Britain and was published on November 1st 2018. He is now finishing off a standalone novel about a slave in Roman Britain. He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up. Find out more at his website https://stevenamckay.com/ and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay.