Mastodon The Writing Desk: June 2021

26 June 2021

Book Review: Defenders of the Norman Crown, By Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Defenders of the Norman Crown is sub-titled ‘Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey’, and covers three centuries, from the founding of the dynasty to the inevitable end. During that time there were seven earls (or eight, with the fourth being the formidable Countess Isobel), and five were named William, so I have to admire how Sharon Bennett Connolly managed to avoid confusion.

Queen Elizabeth II is descended from the Scottish line of the second earl, and I was surprised at how profoundly the Warrenne earls influenced English, Scottish, Welsh and even French history, yet remained in the shadows – until now. 

I’m happy to recommend this very readable book, which combines a strong narrative with meticulous research, with many intriguing details which bring the fascinating stories of the Warenne earls to life.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Sharon Bennett Connolly is the best-selling author of three other non-fiction history books. Sharon is the author of Heroines of the Medieval World, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest and Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. A member of the Royal Historical Society, Sharon has studied history academically and just for fun – and has even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. She writes the popular history blog, Sharon regularly gives talks on women's history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Find out more at Sharon's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Thehistorybits

Disclosure: A review copy was kindly provided by the publishers,  Pen and Sword History.

See Also: 

24 June 2021

Special Guest Post: Warenne Family Ties, By Sharon Bennett Connolly, Author of Defenders of the Norman Crown

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto - by what warrant he held his lands - John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming “My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them”

When I started writing Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, I expected to find a healthy – or, rather, unhealthy - level of sibling rivalry. After all, this family was related to both the Norman and Plantagenet royal families, neither of whom are renowned for any sort of brotherly love.
You only have to look at the warring antics of Robert Curthose, William II and Henry I, to imagine the level of sibling rivalry involved in Norman times. The three brothers fought over who should have Normandy and England after their father’s death, to the extent that Robert Curthose ended up the prisoner of his little brother, Henry I, for the last 30 years of his life. The Plantagenets were little better, with Prince – later King – John trying to steal his brother’s throne while Richard I was imprisoned in Germany.

With these examples in mind, I was surprised to discover that the Warennes were a rather functional bunch as far as family goes. They went out of their way to help and support each other, even to the extent of half-siblings and in-laws. William de Warenne, the first earl of Warenne and Surrey (often referred to, simply, as Earl Warenne), pursued a private feud with English freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake, after he murdered William’s brother-in-law, Frederic. 

The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle claims that Hereward, ‘Among his other crimes, by trickery he killed Frederick, brother[-in-law] of Earl William of Warenne, a man distinguished by lineage and possessions, who one night was surrounded in his own house.’ Following Frederic’s murder, according to the Chronicle, ‘such discord arose between Hereward and William that it could not be settled by any reparation nor in any court.’ According to the Gesta Herewardi, Frederic was planning to capture or kill Hereward, who struck first by killing Frederic.

William de Warenne, 1st earl of Surrey
Holy Trinity Church, Lewes

William de Warenne was determined to get his revenge; he attempted to ambush Hereward at a place called Earith. One of William’s men tried unsuccessfully to bribe Hereward’s men to betray him. William was unhorsed when Hereward fired an arrow at him; it rebounded from William’s mailcoat, but the force of the shot saw William fall from his horse and rendered unconscious as he hit the ground. The ambush having failed, William de Warenne then appears in the Gesta Herewardi with an angry outburst against the Norman knight Deda, who had given a eulogistic account of the rebels on the Isle of Ely. According to the Liber Eliensis, William ‘flared up with weighty indignation, and alleged that he [Deda] had been inveigled by a bribe and was lying.’

William de Warenne, the second Earl Warenne, continued the tradition of looking out for family, when his younger brother, Rainald, was captured by King Henry I. In 1105 Rainald de Warenne was among the supporters of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy and Henry I’s oldest brother, who captured and imprisoned Robert fitz Hamon, a friend of King Henry, intending to ransom him. Henry saw fitz Hamon’s capture as an opportunity to deal decisively with Normandy, though he claimed he was invading not out of ambition, but to protect the church and the poor people of Normandy. 

Henry invaded in the spring of 1106. Rainald de Warenne was captured by Henry’s forces during a skirmish at the fortified Abbey of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dive. The abbot there had been plotting with Duke Robert to trap Henry, offering to hand over the castle to the English king, while sequestering Rainald de Warenne, Robert de Stuteville and their men within, ready to seize Henry as soon as he entered. Suspecting treachery, Henry arrived at daybreak with a force of 700 men-at-arms and took the garrison completely by surprise, capturing the duke’s men and burning the castle to the ground.

The sources vary, but Rainald was released either shortly before or shortly after the battle of Tinchebrai – the final, decisive battle between the royal Norman brother. Orderic Vitalis claims that William de Warenne served as one of King Henry’s chief commanders at Tinchebrai and that Rainald was released shortly before the battle. Grateful for his brother’s release, Earl William urged his men to fight the king’s cause with the utmost determination. 

According to the Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle, however, Rainald was not released until after the battle, when he was ‘reluctantly handed back to his brother, who pleaded for him to Henry.’ Whichever is correct, the result was the same, Rainald was now free, thanks to the insistence and loyalty of his older brother.

In the next generation, the children and stepchildren of William de Warenne, the 2nd Earl Warenne, got on remarkably well together. William had married Isabel de Vermandois, the widow of the recently deceased Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester. Isabel was already the mother of 9 children, including the famous twins Robert and Waleran de Beaumont, when she married William, with whom the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon claims she was having an affair, even before her husband died. 

With William, Isabel had a further 5 children, 3 noys and 2 girls. Earl Warenne was at King Henry I’s deathbed, alongside his son, also named William de Warenne (the future 3rd Earl Warenne), and stepsons, Waleran and Robert de Beaumont. When the 2nd Earl Warenne died, it was Waleran de Beaumont who became the head of the combined, and rather large, Beaumont/Warenne family. Indeed, Waleran and William de Warenne, 3rd Earl Warenne, having grown tired of the Anarchy – the war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda which lasted from 1135 to 1154 - departed on Crusade together in 1147. Unfortunately, William de Warenne was killed at the Battle of Mount Cadmus in January 1148, and Waleran returned home alone.

A touching story from just before his departure on crusade relates to the 3rd Earl Warenne and his two younger brothers, Reginald and Ralph de Warenne. The earl held a dedication ceremony for the new church at St Pancras Priory, Lewes, the mausoleum of the Warenne family, founded by the 1st earl and his wife, Gundrada. In the accompanying charter, the earl endowed the priory, in which his father and grandparents were buried, and where his mother would soon be laid to rest, with the tenth penny of his rents and ‘giving it seisin thereof by hair from his own head and that of Ralph de Warenne his brother, cut with a knife by Henry, bishop of Winchester, before the altar.’ 

St Pancras Priory, Lewes

It is not hard to imagine how moving a ceremony this must have been, two brothers kneeling before the altar to have their hair cut by the bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois, the brother of King Stephen. The scene is made all the more poignant in hindsight, knowing that the third earl never returned from the crusade on which he was about to embark.

And when the 3rd Earl Warenne failed to return from the Holy Land, it was down to his younger brother, Reginald, to look after the family interests and those of his brother’s sole surviving heir, William’s daughter, Isabel de Warenne, the 4th Countess of Warenne and Surrey. Isabel, though still only a child, had been married to King Stephen’s youngest son, William of Blois, probably before her father’s departure to the Holy Land.

Such examples of the earls taking care of their family, and working in alliance with their in-laws, was to be a feature of every generation down to the 7th and last earl, John II de Warenne, who was given the custody and care of his cousin, Edward Balliol, the son of John Balliol, the deposed King of Scots, around 1307. The Warenne earls, to a man, looked after their relations, both near and far. In the story of a family, it is quite fitting that the Warenne earls appear to have always put family first.

Sharon Bennett Connolly
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About the Author

Sharon Bennett Connolly is the best-selling author of three other non-fiction history books. Sharon is the author of Heroines of the Medieval World, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest and Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. A member of the Royal Historical Society, Sharon has studied history academically and just for fun – and has even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. She writes the popular history blog, Sharon regularly gives talks on women's history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' Find out more at Sharon's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Thehistorybits

23 June 2021

Guest Post: Writing a Novel, by Kate Ferguson ~ Part Two: Getting an agent

When I wrote the final words of my novel last September, I published a post reflecting on what I had learned in the five long years it took to complete my manuscript. Nine months on, having just signed with an agent, I’m ready to share the next part of my journey.

After taking a little time off, I began the process of redrafting. Some of this was fun, but most of it was tedious. Re-reading your own work can feel a bit like biting into a rotting apple. You do it because you cannot afford to let good food go to waste. But the lack of freshness makes it almost unpalatable. Also, the risk of encountering an existential crisis in the form of an enormous worm looms large.

Some wonderful friends, acquaintances and family members offered to read the manuscript. I collected their feedback greedily, compiling their comments in a Microsoft Word document. I was fascinated by the diversity of approach. While some honed in on small logistical details or individual moments, others took a far more sweeping perspective. How you read is how you see the world.

I also shared it with my writing group. The three of us have been meeting virtually throughout the pandemic and are already well-versed in each other’s works. We know about the joy and torment of writing a novel and they know my strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.

Finally, I sought professional guidance in the form of a manuscript assessment. I was lucky enough to know someone who offers this service. The person in question is a novelist herself and has previously offered me invaluable advice on structure and character development. If you can afford this, it is worth the investment. Just make sure that you check the individual or company out first. They’re not all worth the money.

Her comments left me nodding in recognition. It is wonderful to agree on what’s wrong with your work because it means you are looking at it through the same prism. She had wonderfully encouraging things to say, too. She believed it would be published but the crux of her advice was: don’t send it off just yet.

I took her advice and made a plan. I knew I couldn’t solve every problem, but I picked out the main areas of weakness and approached them systematically. This was not particularly enjoyable but it was necessary. With the support of my writing group, I looked afresh at my subplot and at one particular character whose interior I had not sufficiently inhabited. I worked and I improved, but it still wasn’t perfect. It was, I decided, 80 percent there.

It was an annoying, arbitrary metric. So near and yet so very far. My enthusiasm began to wane and there came a point where I could no longer bare to open the document. I abandoned it for a while, and tried my hand at some short stories. It felt good to delve into other worlds for a bit.

But still, it niggled at me. I didn’t want to have spent five years laboring on something that wasn’t going to see the light of day. What plagued me most of all was my opening chapter. I had agonized over it, for years. One night, in a fit of literary mania, the product I expect of weeks of low-key restlessness, I scrapped it.

It was, probably, the best thing I could have done because the ruthlessness of my decision buoyed me forward: yes, this novel wasn’t perfect but what work ever was? It was time to send it out. Years could go by before it was at 90%. A lifetime would pass without it reaching perfection. I picked up the 2019 Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook my sister had gifted me for Christmas two years ago and opened the agents listing section. I would work alphabetically.

The Internet is full of advice about how to find a literary agent and I devoured it all. I familiarized myself with people’s lists, took careful note of submission guidelines, and wrote a cracking synopsis. I wrote a personal but professional cover letter which I tailored to each individual agent.

I have been a while out of the dating scene, but for me, the process of finding an agent has been analogous. One of the most bemusing and prevailing features of a standard agency’s website is something along the lines of ‘Please don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear from us. We get thousands of submissions every week! Just because your work isn’t right for us, doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it.’ Then, a few lines down you get something like: ‘However, please let us know IMMMEDIATELY if you are offered representation elsewhere!’ The translation of this is: we’re probably not interested. Unless someone else is, in which case we’ll assume you’re the hottest thing since Sally Rooney.

In April, I sent about half a dozen submissions out. Most agencies tell you to assume it’s a no if you don’t get a reply within six to eight weeks. Having not yet heard anything, a month later, I sent out another bunch.

The next day, something extraordinary happened. An agent, wildly enthusiastic about the first three chapters, requested the full manuscript. Then, a few hours later, another I had written to the month before did the same.

The next two weeks were a whirlwind. The first agent who had replied offered me representation. Since I had researched agency etiquette, I knew that at this point, the polite thing to do was to write to all the other agencies to which I had submitted.

Almost overnight, I became a literary hotcake. A number of other agents requested the full manuscript. I gave them a week to get back to me. The audacity. Me – giving an agent a deadline! After five years of lonely labor, the whole thing was wonderfully preposterous. Some rejected it, but nicely. Others said they were interested. I talked to two other agents on the phone. In the end, in the most ridiculous turn of events imaginable, I had more than one offer to choose from.

I went for the first agent who had responded to me. Her enthusiasm was unbridled, so much so that at first I couldn’t quite believe it. But a literary marriage is nothing without passion. Two weeks on from signing, I am still in the best kind of writerly shock.

Right now, we are working together on a line edit – the first of many. Of course, there are no guarantees. Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning Shuggie Bain was rejected by 44 publishers. But for now, none of that matters because what a privilege, what a treat to have someone by my side as I once again, begin afresh.

Kate Ferguson

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About the Author

Kate Ferguson is an Irish writer and journalist living in Berlin. Her short fiction has appeared in The Wild Word and WWBL, a literary journal focused on women's writing. In 2019, her story "Emil Anonymous" was shortlisted for the New Irish Writing in Germany award. Kate blogs regularly about life in Berlin and her writing journey at Find her on Twitter @katekatharina

22 June 2021

Special Guest Post by Tracey Warr, Author of The Anarchy (Conquest, Book 3)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.

Writing with Place

The inspiration behind The Anarchy was place—the landscapes of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, and Cardiganshire in southwest Wales. I was living in Pembrokeshire when I started writing the Conquest series and I was working in Oxford as an art history lecturer. I travelled weekly between Narberth and Oxford and was intrigued by the view from the train window of Carmarthen Bay with its triple river estuary and the ruin of Llansteffan Castle up on the headland. 

Llansteffan Castle at Sunset (Wikimedia Commons)

At first I intended to write a timeslip novel set around the estuary with a woman in the future and the medieval noblewoman Nest ferch Rhys from the past. I was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary to work on the project. I went and stayed in Llansteffan, visiting the castle, walking the landscape, getting up close with what I’d seen from the train window.

I eventually disentangled the medieval narrative from the future narrative and wrote the two as separate books. (My novella set in the future was published as ‘Meanda’ in The Water Age and Other Fictions, Meanda Books, 2018). I drew my fictional portrait of Nest, her physical appearance, from a young Welsh woman I saw on that Oxford to Narberth train one day. Llansteffan Castle only played a small part in what is known of the real history of Nest ferch Rhys, but I made it the beginning and end and the heart of the three novels I wrote about her.

Norman and Welsh castles are scattered all over southwest Wales and are a visible reminder of the two-hundred-year struggle between the invading Normans and the Welsh resistance in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Welsh took advantage of their knowledge of the difficult terrain and weather of their homeland to harry their enemy. They won some notable victories, including the battle of Crug Mawr, near Cardigan, where one of the leaders of the Welsh force was Nest’s brother, Gruffudd ap Rhys.

Nest ferch Rhys was associated with Pembroke, Cardigan, Cilgerran, and Carew castles. Her Norman husband Gerald FitzWalter also had a fascinating connection with the Bishop’s Palace at Lamphey, which was very close to where I was living. [

Bishop’s Palace, Lamphey (Wikimedia Commons)

Gerald was enduring a protracted and increasingly hopeless siege by the Welsh forces at Pembroke Castle. His ran out of food, he was outnumbered, and his knights deserted. He smuggled a letter out of the castle and had it placed in the road outside the bishop’s palace where the Welsh fighters would find it. The letter was addressed to his overlord, Arnulf de Montgommery, and said that he did not need reinforcements and he had enough food for a further four months of siege. 

The Welsh believed the letter and lifted the siege. Walking around the palace ruin at Lamphey fed my imagination. Another fascinating feature of the landscape that I drew on in my story was the Roman goldmine at Dolaucothi, which was on the land belonging to Nest’s brother, Gruffudd ap Rhys. In my fiction, I made the mine a critical part of Nest and Gruffudd’s struggle to regain the kingdom that had belonged to their father.

My novels are based on real medieval women who receive very brief mentions in the chronicles, and I fill in the gaps. Nest has been described as Helen of Wales because she was kidnapped from her husband, Gerald, by the Welsh prince, Owain ap Cadwgan. She has been referred to as the most famous medieval Welsh woman, yet the historical record of her is slight. The story of her kidnap is briefly recounted in the Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes). I’ve noticed that all the women I’ve written novels about have been kidnapped. Almodis de La Marche in my first novel (Almodis the Peaceweaver, Impress, 2011) was kidnapped by her third husband the Count of Barcelona from her second husband the Count of Toulouse, although she may have been complicit in the kidnap. 

Emma of Segur, the viscountess of Limoges (who is one of the real women my characters were based on in my second novel, The Viking Hostage, Impress, 2014) was kidnapped by vikings from a monastery on the French coast and later returned to her husband after he paid a huge ransom. Then, Nest ferch Rhys was kidnapped by Prince Owain from her husband, Gerald. During Owain’s attack on the castle, which was probably Cilgerran, Nest reportedly advised Gerald to escape down the castle’s toilet chute. (You can read more about the wily Gerald in my blogpost here: I hadn’t consciously looked for kidnapped women when planning to write my novels, but I suppose my imagination was attracted by the abrupt shifts in fortune for these women. 

Relatively invisible women of the early medieval period are the territory of my fiction. I look for the agency of the women. Nest’s sister-in-law, Gwenllian, who led a small Welsh force against the Normans at Kidwelly Castle was also a fascinating part of history that I rolled into my story.

The Anarchy is the final book in a trilogy about Nest and Haith so I had loose threads to resolve including Nest’s love affair (true) with the Norman king, Henry I, and the story of Haith’s sister, Benedicta/Ida (fictional) who is a runaway nun. Reading biographies of King Henry by Judith Green and Warren Hollister, and historical accounts of the conflict between Empress Maud and her cousin King Stephen helped further develop my novel. I also drew on Susan Johns and Kari Maund’s critical and biographical accounts of Nest.

I didn’t want to tell a black and white story with the Normans as the baddies and the Welsh as the good underdogs. Lived history is more complex than that. Some Welsh collaborated and colluded with the Normans. Others were disinherited and oppressed by them and resisted the slow Norman invasion in Wales. Women were often at the forefront of integration through forced marriage and, of course, their children were both Welsh and Norman. Nest, who was the mistress of the Norman king and married consecutively to two Norman noblemen, stands for all those women, and I wanted to think—through fiction—about how she coped with the events of her turbulent life.

Nest’s youngest nephew, Rhys ap Gruffudd regained most of the kingdom of Deheubarth and Ceredigion from the Normans and was one of the most successful and powerful Welsh princes in the late twelfth century. Early in his career he took Llansteffan Castle from the Normans. 

View of the Sea from Llansteffan Castle Window (Wikimedia Commons)

It is not known where Nest ferch Rhys is buried, but the spectacular ruin of Llansteffan Castle on the headland overlooking the triple river estuary of Carmarthen Bay, which first inspired me to write the Conquest novels, seems a fitting memorial to her extraordinary life.

Tracey Warr

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About the Author

Tracey Warr’s novels are set in early medieval Europe. Her first novel Almodis was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and the Rome Film Festival Book Initiative. It is based on the life of Countess Almodis de La Marche, who was described by William of Malmesbury as being ‘afflicted with a Godless female itch’. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, recounts the true story of a French noblewoman kidnapped by Vikings. Warr’s trilogy Conquest follows the tumultuous life of the medieval Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys. It was supported by a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary. Warr’s next project, Three Female Lords, has received an Author’s Foundation Award and is a biography of three sisters who lived in 11th century southern France and Catalonia. She is Head of Research at The Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination at Dartington Arts School. Find out more at Tracey's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter at @TraceyWarr1

21 June 2021

Special Guest Post by Anna Belfrage, Author of The Whirlpools of Time

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

He hoped for a wife. He found a companion through time and beyond.

It is 1715 and for Duncan Melville something fundamental is missing from his life. Despite a flourishing legal practice and several close friends, he is lonely, even more so after the recent death of his father. He needs a wife—a companion through life, someone to hold and be held by. What he wasn’t expecting was to be torn away from everything he knew and find said woman in 2016…

My latest release saw the light of day on June 11. Now and then, I take a moment to consider that I have now published my nineteenth book. It makes me smile rather goofily, while at the same time my mind (and my VERY demanding muse, Ms Inspiration) is already on book twenty—and twenty-one. Ms Inspiration does not believe in slackers. Time off is for ninnies, according to her, going on to add that “we can all sleep after we die”. Seeing as Ms Inspiration doesn’t exist outside my head(not that I tell her so: it might hurt her feelings and then where will I be?) I’m not all that sure she needs to worry about death. Alternatively, she dies when I die. Hmm…

Before this post goes truly morbid, let us get back on track. Right, where were we? Oh yes: my new release. Allow me to introduce The Whirlpools of Time, a time travel romance set mainly in Scotland during the year 1715. Not a good year if you were a die-hard Jacobite, determined to see George of Hanover replaced as King of England and Scotland by the rightful heir, James Edward Francis Stuart. Quite a good year if you’d thrown your hat in with George… 

For my characters, caught in the middle of this rather stormy event, it was a much too exciting and dangerous time. Especially for poor Erin Barnes. After all, not only is she coping with a brewing rebellion, she’s also trying to get her head round the fact that she’s somehow dropped three centuries backwards in time.

“It wasn’t that easy for me either,” Duncan Melville protests. Well, no: the poor man was first dragged forward in time to 2016—where he propitiously saved Erin from some baddies—only to then be hauled back again, this time with Erin. But at least he’s back in his time, in a world he’s familiar with. 

Here’s the blurb:

He hoped for a wife. He found a companion through time and beyond.

It is 1715 and for Duncan Melville something fundamental is missing from his life. Despite a flourishing legal practice and several close friends, he is lonely, even more so after the recent death of his father. He needs a wife—a companion through life, someone to hold and be held by. What he wasn’t expecting was to be torn away from everything he knew and find said woman in 2016…

Erin Barnes has a lot of stuff going on in her life. She doesn’t need the additional twist of a stranger in weird outdated clothes, but when he risks his life to save hers, she feels obligated to return the favour. Besides, whoever Duncan may be, she can’t exactly deny the immediate attraction.

The complications in Erin’s life explode. Events are set in motion and to Erin’s horror she and Duncan are thrown back to 1715. Not only does Erin have to cope with a different and intimidating world, soon enough she and Duncan are embroiled in a dangerous quest for Duncan’s uncle, a quest that may very well cost them their lives as they travel through a Scotland poised on the brink of rebellion.  

Will they find Duncan’s uncle in time? And is the door to the future permanently closed, or will Erin find a way back?

And here’s a little excerpt: Duncan has just taken his first ever ride in a car…

Once the contraption had come to a halt, Duncan carefully released his hold on his seat. His head throbbed but most of all his brain ached, trying to make some sense of all these new impressions. Erin opened her door and got out. He studied the door on his side, not knowing just where the locking mechanism was. She made no move to help him. Mayhap she intended to keep him here, confined in this box of metal on wheels.
  He groaned and hid his face in his hands. What had happened to him?
   The door opened.
   “Need help?” she asked.
   “Aye.” With everything, really, starting with an explanation of where he was and how he came to be here. But he didn’t say that. He just took her offered hand and gingerly dragged himself out of the vehicle. Part of him—the rational part—was intrigued by it, wanting nothing more but to understand how this piece of advanced engineering worked. The other part quivered with fear. This was some sort of magic and he’d ended up in a time of powerful sorcerers. Except that Erin did not look like a witch should look. That curly hair of hers framed a face in which the most distinctive feature were her eyes, at present studying him with concern.
   “Are you alright? That gash on your forehead is bleeding.”
   “It is?” He lifted his hand to his head, surprised at discovering she was right. Blood coated his fingers. “No great matter,” he said. But the world was spinning and he gritted his teeth, willing the dizziness to abate.
   She slipped an arm round his waist, holding him steady. “It’s the concussion,” she said. “The nurse said you might feel the effects for some more days.”
   “Likely.” He’d had one several years ago when he’d stolen a ride on one of Michael Connor’s precious brood mares and been thrown for his efforts. That time, it had been Grandma Alex looking after him.
   She helped him to the door, had him steady himself against the wall as she unlocked, fiddled with something that emitted several strange high-pitched sounds, and then invited him inside. He drew in a surprised breath when she set her finger on a little protuberance and flooded the interior with light.
   The room was huge. On the opposite side, large windows replaced what should have been walls and even on a day as overcast as this, Duncan could not tear his gaze away from the large expanse of water that lapped at the shoreline a stone’s throw from the windows.
   “Stunning, isn’t it?” she said, and he could hear the pride in her voice.
   “It is.” Truth be told, everything about the space they were standing in was stunning. White walls were hung with paintings that were mostly a collection of colours, there was a thick Turkish rug on the floor that would have had Kate Jones turning green with envy. The thought brought him up short. Was she dead yet? And then he shivered: everyone he knew was dead—since centuries back. He shook himself free of these thoughts and concentrated instead on the huge hearth with wood neatly stacked to the side and a pelt spread out before it, the wide-open mouth of the cat who’d once owned the hide frozen in a permanent snarl. Beside him, she shifted on her feet.
   “I inherited it,” she said, sounding apologetic. “I’d never have bought a tiger skin.”
   “I guess my great-grandfather shot it before tigers became an endangered species,” she added and he didn’t understand one word of that but nodded all the same, kept on nodding as she chattered on about how few tigers there were left and how much she despised trophy hunters. He found her voice soothing even if he had never heard of trophy hunters and as to the poor tigers, how could one possibly know how many such ferocious beasts roamed the jungles?
   Other than the fireplace, the room contained a large table to one side, something resembling an overgrown settle on the other. Bright red cushions and matching throws added gaiety to a room otherwise dominated by wood and black leather. An opulent space, along the lines of the Jones’ residence in Annapolis, and Duncan threw Erin a look. In her revealing breeches—very revealing—a pink shirt that barely covered her midriff and shoes in brightly coloured fabric that covered her ankles, she did not quite match the furnishings. She reminded him of a butterfly, all bright colour and flitting movements as she darted from one side of the room to the other, plumping up a cushion here, tweaking at a coverlet there.

Anna Belfrage 

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About the author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk, has her returning to medieval times. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time, is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands. All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards Find out more about Anna, her books and her eclectic historical blog on her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @abelfrageauthor

18 June 2021

Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Are you ready to meet Miss Moonshine?
Life may never be the same again…

It’s summer in Haven Bridge and Miss Moonshine is getting ready for a busy season. From the window of her Wonderful Emporium, at the heart of the pretty Yorkshire town, she watches and waits, weaving plans to bring happiness to all who step through her door. For Miss Moonshine is no ordinary shopkeeper. She may not have what you want, but she will always have what you need…

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this anthology of uplifting stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This magical collection of contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry and wish for a Miss Moonshine in your own life.

Midsummer Magic at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium is an anthology put together by a group of romantic novelists and short story writers from Yorkshire and Lancashire in the north of England. The group meet regularly in the little town of Hebden Bridge, and this location, lying as it does on the moors near the border between the two counties, led to the group name Authors on the Edge, and to the inspiration behind this collection.

Hebden Bridge

Much cake was consumed by these authors in the making of this anthology!

A bit about the stories…

A Glitch in Time, by Jacqui Cooper

In 2021 Nicola disappears into Miss Moonshine’s changing room to try on a gorgeous vintage dress - and emerges in 1951. Meanwhile her grandmother Lily goes shopping for a new outfit in 1951 and finds herself in Miss Moonshine’s shop seventy years later. While both women get to grips with a time that isn’t their own, Miss Moonshine and Napoleon are working busily behind the scenes to restore the timeline. After all, it’s not as if this hasn’t happened before...

More about the author:  Living on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, Jacqui Cooper doesn’t have to look far for inspiration for her writing. Her short stories regularly appear in popular women’s magazines, including Woman’s Weekly, The People’s Friend and Take a Break. Writing has always been her dream and she is thrilled to now be able to do it full time.

Caught Red-Handed, by Sophie Claire

A shoplifter in Miss Moonshine’s steals a valuable pen in the desperate hope it might help her troubled grandfather. But little does she know that someone witnessed her misdeed, and when the stranger confronts her, she must rethink. Can she put right the wrong she’s committed? And can the pen help after all? Though perhaps not in the way she’d expected…

Sophie Claire writes uplifting emotional stories with their heart in Provence, where she spent her childhood summers. She is half French, half Scottish, was born in Africa and growing up in England she felt she didn’t belong anywhere – except in the pages of a book. Perhaps this is why she likes to help her characters find their home; a place in the world where they can be loved for themselves. Previously, she worked in marketing and proofreading academic papers, but writing is what she always considered her ‘real job’ and now she’s delighted to spend her days dreaming up heartwarming contemporary romance stories set in beautiful places.  Find out more at and find her on Twitter @SClaireWriter

Three Butterflies, by Marie Laval

Parisian chic meets guerrilla gardener... and a goose! Olivier Dumas, heir to a prestigious but struggling Parisian perfume house, needs to come up with a new fragrance, but instead of Bali or Fiji, he is sent to Haven Bridge to stay on a canal boat with gardener and charity worker Tamsin Sheridan, her cat Josephine and Frieda the allotment guard goose. Will Miss Moonshine work her magic and help Olivier find inspiration and romance in Haven Bridge?

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie now lives in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire. Her bestselling novels include ESCAPE TO THE LITTLE CHATEAU, shortlisted for the 2021 RNA Jackie Collins Romantic Suspense Awards, and her new romance HAPPY DREAMS AT MERMAID COVE is available from Amazon and various digital platforms. Find out more at and find Marie on Twitter @MarieLaval1

GU 1909, by Angela Wren

GU 1909 centres around Maddie - a character from the first anthology - who is coping with some difficult personal issues.  Miss Moonshine comes to the rescue through her need to get her old Wolseley E4 back on the road.

More about the author: Author Bio Angela Wren is an actor and director at a theatre in Yorkshire, UK. She loves stories and reading and writes the Jacques Forêt crime novels set in France. Her short stories vary between romance, memoir, mystery and historical. Angela has had two one-act plays recorded for local radio. Find out more about Angela at and follow her on Twitter @AngelaWrenAuthr

The Secret of Greymoor Hall, by Kate Field

Libby is intrigued when she discovers Greymoor Hall. Once the most notorious house in Yorkshire, now it faces ruin, and all its treasures are lost. Haunted by mysterious echoes from the past, and helped by the magic of Miss Moonshine, can Libby unlock the secret that might save Greymoor’s future?

Kate Field lives in Lancashire with her husband, daughter and cat. Her debut novel won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writers. Kate writes heartwarming, uplifting love stories and her latest novel, Finding Home, is available now from Amazon and other retailers. Find out more about Kate at and follow her on Twitter @katehaswords

The Treasure Seekers, by Mary Jayne Baker

Joely Fox is desperate to raise the deposit money to buy back her childhood home. When she and best friend Toby are accepted as contestants on The Great British Antique Swap gameshow, Joely pins all her hopes of buying Bluebird Cottage on winning the £20,000 prize. Can Miss Moonshine lend a helping hand with the aid of a mysterious wooden clock?

Mary Jayne Baker is a novelist from Bingley, West Yorkshire. Since her debut in 2016 she has published eight romantic comedies, including A Question of Us, which was the winner of the Romantic Novelists' Association's Romantic Comedy of the Year Award 2020. Mary Jayne also writes humorous, emotional women's fiction under the name Lisa Swift, and World War Two sagas as Gracie Taylor. Find out more about Mary Jayne at and follow her on Twitter @MaryJayneBaker

Ginny’s Ghost, by Helen Pollard

Ginny could do without the strange noises she’s begun to hear in her new flat at Haven Bridge Mills. She thinks she can do without Graham Crowe, a man with a very strange profession who turns up on her doorstep to offer his help. But with a local journalist intent on making her life difficult and rumours that the mill is haunted circulating, Ginny is forced to give in. Will they find the cause of the disturbance? And will she discover that she has more in common with this stranger than she first thought?

As a child, Helen Pollard had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading (long past her bedtime!) so she started to create her own stories in a notebook. Now a bestselling author of contemporary romance, she believes that good characterisation is the key to a successful book and loves infusing her writing with humour and heart. Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and the Society of Authors. Find out more about Helen at and find her on Twitter at @helenpollard147

I Shall Wear Purple, by Melinda Hammond

Inspired by a true story from the author’s own family, this is a tale of two people who are no longer in the first flush of youth. Seeing a pretty tea service in a strange little shop in Haven Bridge, retired vet Dan Hartley sets out on a nostalgia trip. He visits places and meets friends he thought he had left behind him, including Jeannie, his childhood sweetheart. Time has passed, they have both moved on, but can Miss Moonshine work her magic to give them another chance?

Melinda Hammond is a West Country girl who spent 30 happy years in the Yorkshire Pennines walking the moors and thinking up her stories. In 2018 she decided to realise a lifelong ambition to live by the sea and now writes her award-winning romantic historical adventures from her new home in the Scottish Highlands. Melinda also writes as Sarah Mallory for Harlequin Mills & Boon and has published more than 50 novels. Find out more about Melinda at and follow her on Twitter @SarahMRomance 

Music, Love and Other Languages, by Helena Fairfax

Edith O’Brien comes across a wonderful violin in Miss Moonshine’s emporium. The violin seems to have a mind of its own, playing exuberant folk tunes from the past. When Edith puts a video of her playing on TikTok, she receives a message from a stranger. What is the mystery of the violin’s past? Only Miss Moonshine has the answer…

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author of romantic fiction, as well as a non-fiction social history called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Readers can subscribe to her newsletter for book news, photos of her beloved Yorkshire moors, and the occasional free stuff.  Find Helena on Twitter @HelenaFairfax

17 June 2021

Book Review - Six Tudor Queens: Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife, by Alison Weir

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Having sent his much-beloved but deceitful young wife Katheryn Howard to her beheading, King Henry fixes his lonely eyes on a more mature woman, thirty-year-old, twice-widowed Katharine Parr. She, however, is in love with Sir Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Queen Jane. Aware of his rival, Henry sends him abroad, leaving Katharine no choice but to become Henry’s sixth queen.

The long awaited final book of Alison Weir’s ‘Six Tudor Queens’ series has arrived, and it doesn’t disappoint. In a poignant opening passage, Katharine Parr’s story begins with the sudden death of her father from the dreaded ‘sweating sickness’, which ravaged the world of the Tudors.

I’ve enjoyed reading the other five books of this series, and admit to being unusually well informed about the events of Katharine, my favourite of Henry’s six queens. There were enough fresh ideas to keep me gripped to the end – and, like the best historical fiction, many new questions for readers to reflect upon.

Is it possible that Katharine learned to love the garrulous king? Could she not see through the wily Thomas Seymour until others pointed out his flaws? Was she naïve enough to believe the ambitious men of the privy council would allow her to rule the country as Queen Regent? 

I was particularly intrigued by the portrayal of Henry VIII in his last years. Enigmatic as ever, he is in turns sensitive and blunt, yet Alison Weir shows her mastery of the craft, offering us a new perspective from Katharine’s point of view. 

If anyone might have been close enough to Henry to see through his façade, it must be Katharine, yet this book is woven through with indications his last wife was as much in his thrall as anyone. At one point she thinks of him as like ‘God on earth’, and the most powerful man who ever lived.

I recommend starting with the first book of this series, and reading them in order. It will take a while, but you will be setting out on a journey which could change your thinking about King Henry VIII and his many wives.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband. Find our more at Alison's website and fin her on Facebook and Twitter  @AlisonWeirBooks 

Disclosure: I am grateful to Alison Weir's publishers, Headline Books, for providing a review copy. 

Special Guest Post by Sarah Kennedy, Author of Queen of Blood

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1553: Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.

The Inspiration behind my series, The Cross and the Crown

My latest novel, Queen of Blood, which is also the fourth volume in The Cross and the Crown, my series about Tudor England was largely inspired by my interest in Mary Tudor. Mary Tudor is popularly known as “Bloody Mary,” because she supposedly led a violent counter-attack on the Protestant country she’d inherited from her father, Henry VIII, and her brother, Edward VI.

Mary’s reign interests me for a couple of reasons. First, she attempted to restore Catholicism as the official religion of England, and any attempt to change (or restore) a country so widely is a difficult undertaking for any leader. Secondly, and more importantly for me, Mary Tudor was the first real queen regnant in England. She ruled in her own right, and she had to fight to get and to keep her throne. She not only had to fight against subjects who thought a woman shouldn’t sit on the throne at all but she also had to fight to win over Protestant subjects to the cause of Catholicism.

Mary did have many of her subjects executed. Of that there is no doubt. Whether she was any more “bloody” than any other monarch dealing with uprisings and resistance, however, is open to debate. What’s clear is that her reign was a time of discord and polarization among English citizens, both nobles and commoners.

And this brings me to my real interest and inspiration: ordinary people, particularly women. I’ve long had an interest in how great cultural shifts affected the daily lives of people who were not living on the public stage of the monarchy—the servants, the farmers, the merchants and craftspeople who had to just get on with it if they wanted to eat and keep a roof over their heads. 

For women, this was all the more challenging, of course, because they also had to bear and raise children. I’ve long wondered how such seismic shifts in the culture around them, from Catholicism to Protestantism and back again to Catholicism, from one monarch to another, affected women. We know that the break with Rome resulted in the destruction of the monasteries and convents and that the former monks were able to become priests in the new church. We know something of some of the former nuns, but not a great many of them. We hope they survived, even if they didn’t thrive.

So what was it like, to be an ordinary woman in Tudor England?

For my main character, Catherine, it’s not easy. She is fortunate in many ways, in that she marries well and has healthy children. Because she was raised in a convent, she has an education. When Mary Tudor inherits the throne, the times seem to have turned favorable again; though Catherine has accepted the Protestant church, she still feels nostalgia for Catholicism. She is also glad that a woman now rules England, an event that she never thought could possibly come to pass.

But Mary Tudor is not an ordinary woman, as much as Catherine would like to think she is. A queen is not ordinary, and Catherine, despite her increasing wealth and the security it affords her, is still a commoner. She has to navigate and negotiate her way around the power of this queen, whom she has thought of as a friend. And Mary Tudor was a queen who used her power.

However intelligent Catherine may be, she is often left to her own devices as England heaves and rolls around her. I think this was likely true of many women—and men, for that matter. When things at the top change radically, those who live “below” must scramble to learn the new doctrines, forms of speech (and prayer), and acceptable behaviors. To fail at this might mean punishment, or death. Many did die, and surely many more whose names we will never know.

To bring these forgotten women and men back to life is my basic inspiration, and I hope that Queen of Blood does just that.

Sarah Kennedy

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About the Author

Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems.  A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Find out more at Sarah's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KennedyNovels

16 June 2021

Special Guest Post by Chris Wood, Author of Famous Last Words: Confessions, Humour and Bravery of the Departing

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Famous Last Words collects a fascinating selection of destinies culminating in their often flamboyant yet always captivating, final utterances before shuffling off this mortal coil. Revealed inside are tales of sangfroid bravery, astonishing ironies and overdue confessions often betraying grave miscarriages of justice, throughout British history. Revealed inside are tales of sangfroid bravery, astonishing ironies and overdue confessions often betraying grave miscarriages of justice throughout British history.

‘Famous Last Words’ is the result of an unwavering fascination with the themes of death and an individual’s passing to the ‘other side.’ How do people react and respond when approaching this inevitability that ‘greets’ us all? What do they say? This was of course a key aspect that I wished to explore in the book, by collecting a range of people’s last dying thoughts manifested in their final utterances upon this mortal coil as the reaper grimly approached.

Beyond this, I sought also to clarify exactly how the individual arrived at this point, so rather than the book being merely a listed collection of final words, there is, I hope, behind each case a ‘backstory’ which perhaps allows the reader to build some form of connection with the individual before the culminating final words. Whilst many of the cases involve final spoken words, included also is a host of written dialogue, some of which is clearly intended as a final act of humour or bravery, and of course, others that portray a more traditional and perhaps expected frame of mind - those paralysed with fear.

Also of importance in the book is the evolving nature of British society and how it deals with the often ‘taboo’ theme of death. Certainly, it was clear to see that in previous times the most important feature for many on their deathbed was to seek and gain repentance from God above anything else - as this would apparently ensure a ‘good’ death. Several cases in the book involve a final unburdening of sin, perhaps the confession to an act committed long ago for example, that, having unshackled themselves of such an affliction, would provide a repentance before God.

We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful resources, archives and libraries throughout Britain, and I should think that an almighty percentage of these were contacted at some stage in the researching process. Sadly of course covid emerged and enforced the closure of these, but I was thankful that I had utilised them, for the most part at least, prior to the pandemic. These wonderful establishments were all extremely helpful in helping me to unearth subjects for the book, and for this I am forever grateful. 

Of all of the documents that I had the pleasure of perusing throughout my research, I think one in particular - held in the vaults of Newcastle City Library - has remained with me. It involved the case of a man that was hung upon Newcastle’s Town Moor for the alleged murder of a security guard in an old pottery works. The document is a small pocket sized book which details the account of the murder, the subsequent trial, and also the felon’s death as he awaited the noose. His final words are documented within - largely a protestation of innocence - yet beyond this are also two leathery dark brown pages, which are said to have been made from pieces of skin extracted from the executed man following the surgeon’s anatomisation of his body. A rather ghoulish piece of ephemera perhaps, but wholly intriguing nonetheless - much as I hope readers will find ‘Famous Last Words’.

Chris Wood

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About the Author

Chris Wood was born in Northumberland, England, and remains happily there to this day. Chris is a student of criminology and psychology and possesses - perhaps unhealthily - a keen interest in most things of morbidity. In stark contrast to this, some of Chris’ previous roles have certainly instigated much debate, (and amusement!) not least when he masqueraded as an old woman on local radio stations, despite being a twenty odd year old man. He did eventually land a more ‘grown up’ job within the Probation Service which he thoroughly enjoyed, and was certainly better acquainted to his interests. Today, Chris loves to research and write with his second book due for release in 2022. He is happily married with a young daughter, who still refuses to sleep at conventional times, hence he does much of his writing in the dead of night. This being the case, his Twitter and Instagram accounts are aptly named, @hewritesatnight, where he would love for you to follow his journey, and his official website is at

Historical Fiction Excerpt: Guardians at the Wall, by Tim Walker

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Archaeology student Noah scrapes the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes, in the hope of uncovering an ancient artefact around which he can build a project-defining story.

Extract: Dreaming of a Dig

[Archaeology student, Noah, continues his desk research into Centurion Gaius Atticianus]

On Monday morning, I picked up where I’d left off with the Corbridge tablets. From what I’d translated, added to guesswork on what was missing, I deduced that Gaius was at Coria to report that his unit had been attacked by unknown barbarians, whilst conveying a payroll chest from Vindolanda to Coria for safekeeping. The garrison at Vindolanda was under siege from a large force of Caledonian warriors. He had diverted his unit off the Via Vespasian (not Hadrian, as I’d earlier speculated with Sima) at milestone twenty-six, to the estate of Lucius Gabia, Magistratus, roughly a mile from the road. Here, he buried the chest of coins and the cohort standard. The rest of the report was unclear after that, but he referred to a grave marker for a Domina Drusilla Gabia.
   “Hmmm, instructions on where to find buried treasure,” I said. I looked around, but none of the half dozen academics or staff were looking in my direction. My pulse had quickened and my mind was racing. Firstly, that stretch of the Roman road from Coria to the Vindolanda turn-off was constructed in the reign of Emperor Vespasian, between 69 and 79 CE. This was a new discovery, and Maggie would be pleased to hear of it. Secondly, Gaius was reporting that he had to bury the cohort payroll chest in the grounds of a villa estate, close to a tombstone, so perhaps in a family burial enclosure. This was approximately one hundred yards along a side road marked by a milestone marking twenty Roman miles. Perhaps it had been recovered, or perhaps not, particularly if all those involved in the desperate action had not lived to return at a later date. Also, it was possible others had long since read the report and recovered the chest. It was a long shot if it was still buried.
   I did some investigation and found that the milestones along what came to be called the Stanegate, in the post-Roman period, started from Segedunum Roman fort, now Wallsend in Newcastle, to the east, and increased in number as they progressed west. So, 26 Roman miles, indicated on the miliarium reported by Gaius, equates to 24.5 imperial miles. A check on UK driving distances showed me the distance from Wallsend Roman Fort to Corbridge Roman town to be 24.37 miles. So, the XXVI (26) milestone would have been situated roughly two hundred yards west of the track to the Roman fortified town of Coria.
   I got the detailed Ordinance Survey Map of Northumberland and measured two hundred yards west of the turning to Coria, using my ruler. The road was predictably straight, apart from a few kinks that mirrored the river course. I studied the rural location for a clue to a track that might have once led to a Roman farm estate. Green fields lined both sides of the current road, and the map showed some dotted lines to farm houses. Now, if I could only get an idea if there were Roman estates on one or both sides of the road with an entrance track close to that point.
   Sima came over, curious at my sudden burst of activity and my poring over a map.
   “What you doing?” she asked.
   “Oh hi. I think I’ve stumbled onto something from one of the tablets. A report from…” I checked myself, wondering if I should rush into spilling the full story whilst it was still formulating. Maybe caution and further investigation on my part was prudent before talking about it. “A report from an officer at Coria in the days or hours before the fire of 180 CE. I’m just checking on something that he referred to.”
   “Good for you, Sherlock. I hope it leads to something useful.” She paused and leaned closer, then continued in a hushed tone. “Thanks, Noah, for not running for the hills. I’m all right now. I’m usually calm and collected.” 
   “I know, Sima. I’ve noticed. I hope it all works out for you. Remember, you can grab me anytime if you want to offload.”
   There was relief in her smile when she turned towards her office, leaving me to get on with exploring my theory. I decided to send an email to Maggie, bringing her up to speed with my findings, and ask for ideas on how I could identify the location of a Roman estate to the east of Coria, one owned by the Gabia family in the year 180. If we could narrow down the search area, it might make a field study possible.

[In the year 180 CE, Centurion Gaius Atticianus is forced from the road by a barbarian attack]

A guard of shields awaited the runners as they filed through the gap into the estate, and Gaius staggered past sandstone columns to collapse in a heap beside his men on the grass, panting hard by a gravel track that led to an imposing villa. The last of the men entered and the gates were slammed shut and barred. Gaius noted that the high walls had metal spikes on the tops and grinned at his morsel of good fortune.
   Paulinus rushed to his side, and helped him to his feet. “Sir! There are thirty estate workers manning the walls with our men, throwing sharp objects and rocks at the bastards!”
   “Good job, Paulinus,” Gaius puffed, trying to catch his breath. “Let us hide the chest and standard and join in the fight.”
   “Already in hand, sir. The lady of the house pointed out a grave that has been part-dug in their family plot, sir. Two of the boys are burying them. Remember the gravestone is in the name of Domina Drusilla Gabia. Her recently demised mother, apparently.”
   “Then we must be grateful for the gap between her mother’s death and burial,” Gaius replied, holding the stitch in his side. He turned at the noise of fighting beyond the wall. “And we must also be thankful for their high walls. Do they run all around the compound?”
   “Aye, sir. They cannot come behind as a high thorn hedge prevents it. There is a small gate at the rear to a covered pathway that goes through an orchard to the woods, protected on each side by thick bushes, then down to the river. The owner is a magistrate, Lucius Gabia, who had made provision for an escape should the need arise. There is a path along the riverbank to the bridge at Coria. Our escape route, if these devils don’t get behind us.”
   “Praise the gods that the magistrate had enemies or is of a nervous disposition. We should send the civilians now, with the wounded and a couple of guards,” Gaius replied.
   “Aye, sir,” Paulinus said, shouting orders as he ran off.
   Gaius looked up at the serene, beautiful villa, with red roof tiles and a grape vine climbing up a lime-washed wall, a peaceful scene at odds with their predicament. Then he saw Aria and the other wives helping the wounded with bandages and splints in the side garden through an archway. He bowed to a matronly lady who must be the magistrate’s wife, standing in the shade of the patio, giving instructions to her fretting attendants.
   He jogged past the stricken soldiers, asking how badly were they wounded, to Aria, who looked up with a cry of relief. “My love, I am so pleased to see you unhurt!” She dropped a bandage roll and threw her arms around him. Brutus ran to him and hugged his thigh with the grip of a bear cub.
   “The gods be praised, I’m unhurt, Aria, but must return to my men. I have ordered two guards to take all the civilians and wounded out through the rear pathway to the river, and from there to the bridge at Coria, where the guards will look after you until we can follow.”
   Her tear-stained eyes widened in fright. “No, you must come with us! To stay here is to die at the hands of those barbarians!”
   “I must stay and organise an orderly retreat…”
   “Come with us, Papa!” Brutus cried, squeezing his leg tight.
   “You have a strong grip, my son,” Gaius said, lifting the boy. “Soon you will be the one protecting your mother. But for now, I need you both to be strong and prepare to leave. You may have to help the wounded, so do not carry anything heavy. Now pass on my instructions and organise the wounded to leave.” 
   He kissed the boy’s forehead, bent and put his son on the ground, then pulled Aria to him by her slender waist. He looked into her liquid green eyes and then kissed her lips with all the passion and madness of the moment. “Go now, my love, and I promise you, I will follow.”
   He held her shoulders at arms-length, then she turned away with a look of sorrow, grabbed Brutus by the hand and ran to the lady of the house to inform her. 
   “May the divine Jupiter and all the Caesars protect you!” he shouted, then turned and jogged from the peaceful surroundings, through the archway and down the gravel drive, past men shovelling soil onto a grave, to the scene of chaos at the main gates.

Tim Walker

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About the Author

Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After studying for a degree in Communication studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009. His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of a former Roman town. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries. Find out more at Tim's website: and find him on Facebook and Twitter @timwalker1666