Drinking habits

black_sheep

Driving through Masham earlier this summer, we made a side trip to the Black Sheep Brewery. This is one of my favourite real ales.

I used to drink real ale exclusively. Nowadays you’re more likely to see me swigging a bottle of Corona or Desperados. Thinking about this, I realise that the characters in my books tend to reflect my drinking habits.

A few examples:

Excerpt from Starting Over:

They crossed over the bridge to the large pub on the corner. Groups of smokers were gathered outside and they had to push their way through to get to the bar inside. Jo immediately saw someone she knew so Robin ordered the drinks. It was a struggle to fight her way back through the crowd to find Jo. The noise levels were already making it impossible to have a conversation without shouting. Handing Jo her bottle of Corona, Robin fought her way back outside. She hadn’t smoked for many years, but now she wished she had a cigarette. At least, as a prop. The first gulps of beer helped calm her nerves.

Excerpt from The Circle Dance:

It was after nine when Sasha got home, exhausted both physically and emotionally. Relaxing with a glass of chilled white wine and maybe a bath was what she really wanted. Instead she would be facing an irate Phoebe.

She made it as far as the kitchen before Phoebe appeared and started wanting answers. “Where the hell have you been? And I know it wasn’t talking to Felix bloody LeMar.”

Sasha opened the fridge and was dismayed to see there was no bottle of wine. She would have to settle for a beer. Luckily there was a Corona nestled between the pasta and the remnants of Sunday’s chicken that she had planned to eat before her evening was derailed by the insane desire to see Jamie.

Excerpt from Running From Love

The cupboard was bare, as was the fridge. Sam took out the lone bottle of Corona and popped the cap. Not even a lemon or lime lurking anywhere. She took a sip and wondered what she was missing. When she spoke to Beth the night before, giving her the flight arrival time, her wife had sounded a bit distant, but nothing that couldn’t be put down to Beth being tired after a full day’s teaching.

My next book, coming out in November, demonstrates the change in my drinking. I wrote the main part of this story in 1993. When I revisited it to see if it could be developed into a novel, I decided it should stay in that time period. So I was interested to note that my main character was necking back London Pride. For those not in the know, this is a real ale brewed at Fuller’s Griffin Brewery in Chiswick, west London.

fuller_passport

1992 was the year a friend and I embarked on a Fuller’s sponsored pub crawl. We obtained a passport from the brewery that had to be stamped in each of their pubs we bought a drink in. It took us several outings to realise we didn’t actually have to buy beer to get a stamp. A soft drink would suffice. The passport was divided into sections and after a haphazard start we figured out that by concentrating on one part we would be able to cover enough pubs to qualify for a prize. We completed Area 1, a total of 46 pubs (well, 45 – one was closed)…such dedication.

We did also visit about another 20 pubs in the other two areas but realised we weren’t going to manage the complete 180 in the timescale. Still, a pretty worthy effort, I feel.

The prize was a minipin of London Pride…18 pints. (That more than made up for the soft drinks we’d consumed in order to complete the Area 1 section of the passport.)

fuller_pass2

I also don’t drink tea. And I’ve noticed that the majority of my characters don’t either. They drink coffee in the morning, preferably unsullied by either sugar or milk.

So although none of my characters are based on me, they do seem to have picked up some of my drinking habits.


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Buying Links:

Running From Love: Affinity Rainbow Publications / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


 

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Anniversaries

It’s quickly coming up to the anniversary of the release of my first ever published story.

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There Was A Time was published on 1 September 2014 by Affinity eBooks – now Affinity Rainbow Publications. (It is still available as a FREE ebook on their website.)

In 2014 I was very new to the publishing scene and recall my first Skype meeting with my publisher – it was a four-way conversation with JM Dragon in New Zealand, Erin O’Reilly and Nancy Kaufman in Texas, and me in the UK. Working out a time was hard enough. Anyway, I had a shower and wore a decent t-shirt, even though we wouldn’t be able to see each other. It felt like a job interview. I guess I must have done okay as they have published six of my novels so far, with number seven due out in November.

But back then; after they had accepted my debut novel for publication, Starting Over, I couldn’t quite believe I was going to become a published author.

When I received an email from Nancy with TWAT in the subject line, I wondered what I’d done wrong. Then I realised this was the acronym for my short story which was being published on their website ahead of the release of my novel. She told me later that she laughed when she typed it, imagining my reaction no doubt. Ever since, I’ve been more aware of acronyms in titles.

The blurb for the story:

Darts night at the Golden Dragon and Fin’s life is about to change forever.

Living in a small seaside resort she thought she was doing fine. Summer flings were great and winter evenings behind the bar were whiled away dreaming of the next conquest in the dunes.

Then in walked the stranger and Fin fell in love.

So, this very week, three years ago I was finalising edits for Starting Over, checking the blurb, approving a cover, and anxiously awaiting the release of my first story, There Was A Time. How would it be received?

What a great relief it was then to read the first review for the short story from Terry Baker. “This is the first thing I’ve read by Jen Silver. I know she has a full-length book due out soon, and if this story is anything to go by, I’m going to be first in line to read it.”

Whew!

But, of course, that was just the beginning. As every published author knows, it doesn’t really get easier. Each time there is the wait…after the months of writing, editing, proofreading, agonising over blurbs, deciding on covers…wondering if anyone will want to read this. And if they do, what will they think of it?

I feel incredibly blessed that readers, for the most part, have enjoyed my books. And I’m always thankful that the team at Affinity was willing to take a chance on a novice writer three years ago.

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Meeting some of the Affinity team in at GCLS 2015 in New Orleans: Erin O’Reilly, Annette Mori, and Ali Spooner

It’s been a wonderful journey of discovery and it’s not over yet. (Very deep that – a metaphor for life, perhaps.)

Another anniversary: I may have mentioned this before – this year my wife and I are celebrating 30 years together. That has also been an amazing journey.


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Buying Links:

Running From Love: Affinity Rainbow Publications / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes


 

Stepping back in time

It does feel like going back in time, stepping onto the site at Vindolanda or any of the fort sites available to view on Hadrian’s Wall. Tomorrow I will be there again as I mentioned in last week’s blog.

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Seeing this photo brings to mind thoughts of my first three published novels, now known as the Starling Hill Trilogy. I really hadn’t expected to write a trilogy. Starting Over, my debut novel, was complete in itself. But when I thought about what to write next, it was clear to me that there was more to explore… particularly in the development of the budding relationship between Professor Kathryn Moss and the journalist, Denise Sullivan.

They didn’t get off to the best of starts in the first book, and although they both claimed they were fine with a long distance relationship, when I started writing the second book it was obvious that wasn’t an arrangement Den was going to be happy with for much longer.

I’ve been told that the second book, Arc Over Time, hasn’t proved to be as popular as the first book because readers didn’t like Kathryn. I’m sorry about that, not because I desperately crave more sales, but because I have a soft spot for her. She’s not the easiest person to get along with and she doesn’t even have the only child excuse for not having learned at an early age how to socialise. Archaeology was a good career choice for her, dealing with the detritus left behind by people who lived thousands of years ago.

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It was after I had taken part in my first dig at Vindolanda that I wrote this for inclusion in the story, to give some explanation as to why Kathryn did choose her profession:

Deciding to use her free Sunday for a busman’s holiday, she had made the hour-long journey from her hotel to visit some of her favourite archaeological sites. From Vercovicium it was only a mile or so to Vindolanda. The ongoing excavations there were always fascinating as each year they uncovered more artefacts from the second and third centuries and incredibly, more of the writing tablets that had given historians valuable insights into the everyday lives of the soldiers and their families here on the furthest frontier of the Roman empire.

Walking amongst the ruins she was reminded of the many Sundays during her childhood spent roaming the moors above Sheffield with her father, often venturing into the Peak District. Her first sight of a stone circle had inflamed her imagination and she was hooked then. Luckily her father shared her passion for the early history of the British Isles. She had moved through the ages and finally settled on the Roman period as her favourite. When it came to choosing a future path, it was archaeology that beckoned.

Later on, in the third book, Carved in Stone, Kathryn and Den’s relationship is still in a state of flux. Den proposed to Kathryn at the end of Arc Over Time and in book three she moves to Durham to live with her. It’s a period of adjustment for both of them and at one point Kathryn attempts to explain her unease with the situation:

They stood facing each other. As usual, Den was finding it hard to gauge Kathryn’s mood. The professor broke the silence after a few minutes.

“Den. I’m sorry. This marriage thing. It’s going to take me some time to get used to the idea. I just never thought this was something I would have to even consider. I always thought it was one of the bonuses of being a lesbian. And now, just because we can, it doesn’t mean we have to. Lots of straight couples just live together…”

“I know. I never thought about getting married before either. When it wasn’t an option, I didn’t think it was important.”

“What’s changed?”

“I’ve met someone I want to spend the rest of my life with, and I want people to know. To show the world that our relationship is just as valid as anyone else’s.”

Kathryn twisted the ring off her finger. “I want to be with you, Den. But we both know I’m not ready for this step. Take this and ask me again at Christmas, if you still want to by then, that is.”

Den tucked the ring away to an inside pocket of her jacket. She pulled Kathryn close and whispered, “I will always want you.” Their lips met and Den was overwhelmed by the intensity of Kathryn’s response, her teeth opening to accept her tongue.

I enjoyed writing the second and third books of the trilogy, and I hope in time, they may appeal to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, it’s back to digging into the past for the next two weeks.

lastday


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Buying options for ebooks:

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

Getting Down and Dirty

In a week’s time I’m off to Vindolanda again. This will be my fourth year of digging there as part of their volunteer programme. And this is their final year of a five-year project called ‘Frontiers in Transition’.

It is two weeks of hard work, but the atmosphere and the enthusiasm of everyone there is what makes me keep going back. Other people have pictures of children or pets as screen wallpaper on their computer/tablet/phone. I have a photo I took of the Vindolanda site and surrounding countryside. Just can’t wait to see the real thing again!

vindolanda_2016

I’ve blogged about two of my previous digs and how I was inspired to go initially in the interests of research for my debut novel, Starting Over. (May 2015 / September 2016)

I learned a lot of things on my first visit, not all of which made it into the story. The detailed planning was one aspect that really impressed me. Each year the archaeologists on site have a plan specifying which areas can be uncovered. I thought that as the Vindolanda Trust owns the land they would be able to dig anywhere, but they have to apply each year to the SMC (Scheduled Monuments Consent) to outline which areas they want to explore and the related research objectives. This was evident on my second year when we were told to stop when we reached a certain point in one of the trenches. When we asked why we couldn’t keep digging there, we were told it wasn’t in that year’s plan to extend beyond that section.

(News from the first 4 weeks of digging this season.)


Book news

Aside from the digging, maybe I will have the energy to write while I’m away. I’ve started work on a Christmas story and have another novel at the 40,000-word stage.

And on June 1st, Affinity Rainbow Publications will be releasing my new novel, Running From Love. Look out for some excerpts on Facebook in the next few weeks.

This week I was thrilled to see a new review of The Circle Dance, published by Lynn Lawler. She has taken the time to analyse each of the six main characters, which I found fascinating (and informative).


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Buying options for ebooks:

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

The Vera Effect

There comes a point in the books I’ve written so far, which I’ve named “the Vera effect” after the detective in the TV series set in Northumberland.

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DCI Vera Stanhope (photo credit)

In most episodes, Vera and her sergeant will have spent three quarters of the allotted two hours talking to various people and trying to make connections that will lead them to the killer. Eventually she tells her team to gather round in their very nicely appointed squad room. They sit on the couch and stare at the crime board they’ve built up during the case and Vera will say: “What are we missing here?”

crimeboard

Crime board (photo credit)

Very often it is a minor detail that they missed early on. One of the detectives will make a comment that seems insignificant or off the wall, and it switches on the light bulb. Vera and her sidekick (it was Joe, now it’s Aiden) charge off to apprehend the right person, finally—usually in the last five minutes.

So, I find this relates to my writing. I’ve set up the situation, the characters and their backgrounds and have gotten a fair way along in the story when it hits me. What am I missing here?

It’s time then to step back and look at the whole picture. This means re-reading what I’ve written so far, checking through any notes I’ve made. And then something will stand out. When I was almost at the finish line with my first novel, Starting Over, I made a discovery that led to writing a sequel, and then a third book to complete the trilogy.

I could keep you all guessing and when there was only the one book this would have been a spoiler. But as anyone can now read the back of the book blurbs and look at the cover of book three, the revelation is out there. (But if you really don’t want to know, stop reading now!)

When two complete skeletons are discovered on Starling Hill Farm in Starting Over along with a lot of quality bling, I decided that my archaeologist, Dr Kathryn Moss, had made the discovery that would be the envy of anyone involved in searching for British antiquities. One of these set of bones had to belong to Cartimandua, leader of the Brigantes tribe at the time when the Romans came back for a second go at adding Britain to its empire. (Her final resting place hasn’t been discovered, so I was able to take some historical liberties here.)

Not a lot has been written about Cartimandua. However, Roman historians, writing a century or so later, clearly had a way of keeping their readers interested. One of the things they do say about the queen of the Brigantes wouldn’t be out of place in a modern soap opera. She, apparently, had an affair with her husband’s armour bearer, Vellocatus. So, it seemed to me, that when she disappears from historical record, she could have gone somewhere with her lover. And then came the light bulb moment. Why couldn’t Vellocatus be a woman?

I’m sure it would have been very difficult to pass as a man in the first century, particularly amongst Britons who had adopted Roman habits, such as communal bathing and bathrooms. However, I’m writing romantic fiction, so I didn’t feel it was necessary to worry about such details.

So, if you like the idea of a lesbian tribal leader in the 1st Century, take a trip into the hills above Huddersfield, West Yorkshire…and read all about it in The Starling Hill Trilogy.


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Buying options for ebooks:

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

The name game

I’ve now written seven novels—five published, one due for release in June, one submitted, fate unknown. And I’ve started on number eight.

As I was thinking of character names for the new story, it occurred to me that in the interest of not repeating myself, I needed a list of previously used names in each book and short story.

So I created a table in a document and slotted in names. There are a lot. And it’s not just people; there are cats, dogs, and horses too. Combining all the characters and pets in The Starling Hill Trilogy, I came up with 37. And I may have missed a few of the minor characters.

trilogy_names

The start of the lists

Of the standalone romances, I thought Christmas at Winterbourne would be the winner with 26, but the June book with 35 has topped it. No need for alarm though, readers. There are only six main characters, the rest are the supporting cast, some of whom are only mentioned in passing. But in the interests of being thorough, I’ve attempted to put all named characters on the lists.

fish

The book coming out in June features fish – they don’t have names!

I have had to resort to searching baby name websites at times. But names mostly come to me as I start to write and I get a feel for if the name fits the characters.

This list of the Top 10 American Girls’ names in 1967 was useful and I noted that I’ve used six so far.

Lisa / Kimberly / Michelle / Mary / Susan / Karen / Angela / Tammy / Melissa / Jennifer

This list reminded me—I also named the ten hens and two roosters in Starting Over, which brings that book’s total to well past Christmas at Winterbourne and level with the June release. The residents of the chicken coop at the farm were all named after Roman goddesses and gods: Juno, Ceres, Aurora, Venus, Flora, Fortuna, Diana, Bellona, Minerva, Luna, Apollo and Jupiter.

I’ve mentioned before that I use Scrivener as a writing tool. With having multiple points of view in my novels, it’s very good for helping me keep track of character movements as their interweaving stories develop. By naming each scene, I can easily find out where I left a particular character in a previous chapter.

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From Christmas at Winterbourne

Listing the names started out as an exercise to avoid repetition. But it has also served to give me an overview of the number of characters in each book. I was rather overwhelmed to see just how many there were – and, giving you fair warning, there’s more to come!


Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US

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Buying options for ebooks:

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

 

Working in magic

Vindolanda is a magical place—a site occupied by the Romans over several centuries. Evidence from the ongoing archaeological digs suggests that it was in use before Hadrian’s Wall was built.

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First view of Vindolanda approaching from the east

This was my third year of taking part in a volunteer session and each time, even though it is ten days of unaccustomed physical work, I am always reluctant to leave.

It is such a privilege to be part of the excavation team. Scraping away at the soil with a small trowel, uncovering pieces of pottery and animal bones, nails, boot studs—and if we’re lucky, a coin or a ring—it is a thrill to think that these objects have lain undisturbed for almost two thousand years.

digging

I was working in the fort, known to be the last stone fort built on the site, as I have done for the last three years. Hard to believe that four years ago it was a grass-covered field. Layer upon layer has been removed to provide the archaeologists with a growing portfolio of evidence of how life was lived in the fourth, third and second centuries.

A large part of the fort was a barracks for the cavalry and the soldiers would have slept with their horses. On the second day, I was working in the decurian’s house. His position entitled him to more luxurious quarters that even included a section of under floor heating.

Visitors often stop by the fence to watch the excavation in progress, usually to call out—‘have you found anything?’ The more knowledgeable ones add—‘of interest?’ I didn’t mind the questions as they afforded a chance to get up off my knees for a few minutes to explain what we were doing. One of the visitors made me laugh when she said the kneepads I had placed on top of a wall section looked like a large bra. I told her they were useful for when I needed to lie down to excavate.

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Kneepads

Along with the team of diggers there’s a post-excavation crew who work tirelessly cleaning and cataloguing the daily finds.

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Some finds – before cleaning

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Some finds – after cleaning

Excavating the fort is relatively clean work compared to working in the vicus, the civilian settlement. The moist conditions here help preserve the artefacts. This year alone, over 400 shoes have been taken out of one ditch. But extracting these requires painstaking sifting through each barrow load of claggy mud. Dog and cat bones were also found—no human remains as yet.

Volunteers and visitors come from all over—Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Europe, and all parts of the UK. Volunteers’ ages for this particular session ranged from 19 to 79. It is a fantastic experience, not just the digging, but also spending time with people who share the same enthusiasm for this period of history—being able to see it, feel it, touch it.

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A misty morning in the fort

I didn’t know that the excavation bug would take hold during my first dig session in 2014. The main reason for going was to undertake research for my debut novel, Starting Over. The sequel to this book, Arc Over Time, was released during my second visit in 2015. I told one of my trench-mates about my writing and he promptly downloaded Starting Over when he got back to where he was staying. This year I felt more comfortable telling anyone who asked that I wrote lesbian fiction when I wasn’t excavating. Although I don’t expect a massive upswing in sales, it did feel good to be able to talk about it and I was encouraged by the positive responses.

This magical place continues to linger in my memory until the next time I visit and I hope I will be able to do so for many years to come as more secrets of the past are revealed with each layer of soil removed.

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Chesterholm – part of the gardens behind the museum

Detailed information about the extraordinary work carried out at Vindolanda is available on the website and blog. And if you’re in the area, it’s worth taking the time to walk around the site and visit the museum.


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Book links:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Back in time…to Vindolanda

I’m going back to Vindolanda at the weekend for the start of the final two-week volunteer excavation session of the year.

This is an activity I’ve enjoyed the last two years and although there are many places of great beauty in this country, the part of Northumberland near Hadrian’s Wall has become one of my favourites.

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Part of the excavation site at Vindolanda

Archaeology was something I’d only ever enjoyed before from the comfort of an easy chair, watching episodes of Time Team. During my first time at Vindolanda, I was thrilled to take part in the hands-on experience even with the uncertainty of whether my knees would hold up with the long periods of kneeling. I didn’t find this to be a hardship—it was my wrists that felt the strain.

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On my knees!

Part of the reason for going to Vindolanda the first time was to do some research for my debut novel, Starting Over. I had finished the first draft but knew that there were gaps in the archaeology aspect of the story. The information gleaned from talking to the archaeologists and experienced excavators on site was invaluable, as well as having time to explore the museum thoroughly.

Volunteer excavators come from all over the world. Last year, just from the small group staying in the on-site accommodation there were three from Australia, one from Canada, and the Nicola Sturgeon fan from Scotland (He not only had a framed photo of himself and NS that he’d brought with him, but also a football shirt with Sturgeon in big lettering on the back). The year before it was two Americans and the man from Munich. There’s a complete mix of nationalities, ages, and a fairly even male/female ratio.

So I’m looking forward to another two weeks on my knees, scraping through soil to uncover artefacts from two thousand years ago. Whether or not I strike gold, every item revealed has its own value in telling the stories of lives lived all that time ago. Cow bones, potsherds, and nails are the most common finds in the areas I’ve excavated before but there’s always the chance of stumbling across a jet-inlaid ring or a toga brooch.

brooch

I would love to find something like this crossbow brooch – but I didn’t dig this up. It was a Christmas present from my wife.

Check out the Vindolanda blog to see what’s been discovered so far this season.


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Online buying options:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Relationships and dreaming bones

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The trilogy is here!

I was asked to describe my books using only one word in the Q&A for my author profile on the Lesbian Review website.

The word I chose after much deliberation, and consultation with my wife, was: relationships.

Not a terribly sexy word but it covers a lot of territory.

The characters in the books go through different phases of relationship. In Starting Over, Ellie and Robin are struggling to maintain their long-term one. For a large part of Arc Over Time, Denise is trying to get Kathryn to commit to a relationship, not willing to suffer through a continually frustrating LDR. And Jasmine discovers something about herself that leads to happiness. In Carved in Stone, Jo finds a love interest whose lifestyle is pretty much the opposite of her own wandering one.

Some readers have commented that they don’t think Robin and Ellie are a good match and don’t hold out much hope for Kathryn and Den to succeed in their relationship either. But, as in real life, what do we know about other people’s relationships? We’ve all met couples where we’ve thought – ‘how on earth did they get together?’ – or – ‘what does she see in her?’ We make judgments all the time that generally turn out to be wrong. And that is the joy of both reading and writing. We can get inside people’s heads and in the process some things will resonate about our own relationships, both good and bad.

 

Bones can dream

This almost became the title of Carved in Stone because of the character who isn’t there but who pervades the imaginations and subsequently, the actions, of the other characters.

In Starting Over the bones of a long dead historical figure are discovered at Starling Hill farm. They turn out to be the bones of Cartimandua who was the chief of the Brigantes tribe in Britain when the Romans turned up in force in AD43. I hesitate to use the title ‘Queen’ because I doubt that was a title bestowed on her by the tribe. It was used by the Roman historians who wrote about the period much later. We have no written records of this time in Britain. However, for the sake of not having to ascribe other words to denote her leadership, she is generally referred to as Queen Cartimandua.

Archaeologists in this country would love to be the discoverers of Cartimandua’s final resting place. No one knows where she went once her reign ended.

In these stories, and particularly Carved in Stone, Cartimandua becomes another presence. It is her influence on their lives that brings all the characters together one way or another.

This is fiction, of course. But I hope that one day Cartimandua’s actual bones will be found to give archaeologists the chance to piece together her life and what happened to her in those final days.

vin1

Digging at Vindolanda – finding mostly cow bones!


Book links:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

(All three books are available on Kindle Unlimited for the next 3 months)

 

 

 

Writing a weekly blog

I’m not very good at this. You would think it would be easy, being a writer and all. But actually, it’s really hard. Almost as hard as writing a synopsis for a novel or the back of the book blurb (I’m thankful to have a publisher who helps me out with that!).

The synopsis though, I have to write myself. After all, this could be the deciding factor in whether or not the publisher is willing to take a look at the novel. What’s so hard about it? You’ve just written a novel of 60,000 plus words and you can’t come up with a 400-word description of what it’s about?

I’ve seen various bits of advice about how to do this. One absolutely brilliant idea is to write a synopsis before you write the book. But that pre-supposes the concept that I will know what I’m going to write before I write it.

You can gather from this statement that I’m not a great plotter. My stories start with a few characters, a location, a situation…and go from there.

Pretty much like this blog. I started with the title and started writing.

Some people write fantastic blogs. I look forward to reading these. Fellow Affinity author, Annette Mori is particularly good at writing about her life, adding in funny memes and photos. I feel rather inferior by comparison.

(Stop reading this and head over to Annette’s blog. She may even have some cute kitten pictures to share as well.)

So, surprise, surprise! I’m going to fall back on promoting my next book. This is called Carved in Stone and it’s the third book of a trilogy (good that…trilogies come in threes, don’t they?).

Carved in Stone

Up front and personal – Queen Cartimandua and her lover get top billing!

My publisher had some reservations about publishing this. Book I sold well, Book II not so well, so why should they take a chance on the third? Especially as I no doubt submitted a crap synopsis.

Well, I’m pleased to say they did decide to go with it and the first two books are being re-released along with the third one on 5 February. They will all be available on Kindle Unlimited…so if you’re a subscriber, get in there!

What’s the book about? Now you’re asking. When I pitched the idea to them, it went like this:

The title is Carved in Stone. If you’ve read Arc Over Time you’ll know these are the last three words in the book. CiS starts immediately after the end of Arc. Jo has been left at the farm to look after the chickens and the cats while Robin and Ellie are at the Cartimandua exhibition in London. Awake in the night and hearing strange noises, she finally phones 999. One officer shows up to check things out and she becomes Jo’s love interest in the story. Interesting for Jo, as with her travelling lifestyle she’s never had a girlfriend with a proper job.

Meanwhile, Robin’s concerned about Ellie, who ever since seeing the reconstructed head of Cartimandua at the exhibition, has been ‘talking’ to her. Ellie says that the queen wants a proper re-burial with a monument. When it’s pointed out to her that this will cost a lot of money, the queen says that’s not an issue as there is a hoard of coins buried at the farm. (Venturing into the paranormal here!)

Kathryn and Den have their problems as well. Den realizes that Kathryn’s not ready for engagement, let alone marriage. Den huffs off to London and while she’s away Kathryn adopts an abandoned kitten (and the ice queen starts to melt, a little).

Robin decides to support Ellie’s conviction that she’s communicating with the long dead queen, and makes an effort to find the hidden hoard. She also hatches a cunning plan to get Den and Kathryn back together.

Max Fleetwood comes into it briefly as she attempts to reclaim Jasmine. So Steph and Jas go on a road trip up north – visiting both the farm and Durham.

And throughout all this, Jo and Ash (the police officer) are tentatively finding their way to love.

Carved in Stone has romance, adventure, a treasure hunt, and happy endings for all.

Some of this rambling made it into the back of the book blurb – see earlier note about how bad I am at writing these.

I don’t have a reservoir of cute kitten photos to fall back on, so this will have to do. She is the inspiration for the kitten in the story and was found on the doorstep shivering from the rain. (Unfortunately we couldn’t keep her because we’re both highly allergic. But we found her a good home…couldn’t leave you without a happy ending!)

piddles

We named her ‘Piddles’ because she had no control – but I’m sure her new family renamed her.

5 February 2016 – make a note – Starting Over, Arc Over Time, Carved in Stone – all available from Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited too!