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.

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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!

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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


 

2016…what a year!

2016 is almost at an end – and I should think we’re all mostly pleased to see the back of it. However, I will concentrate on a number of positive things that have happened in my life this year.

In Roman history, 69 AD is known as the year of the four emperors. For me, as an author, 2016 will be known as the year of having three novels published.

This may never happen again.

So, I do have a lot to be thankful for this year. Carved in Stone, Book III of The Starling Hill Trilogy, came out in February. Having this published was a thrill because when I wrote the first book, Starting Over, I had no idea there would be a second, let alone a third

The Circle Dance followed quickly, in March, and is a standalone romance set in the same area of Yorkshire as the trilogy books. Writing this was another ‘starting over’ moment, if you like – new characters, different plot, and one very special black cat.

I signed the contract for Christmas at Winterbourne in November 2015 – so it was a yearlong wait for its release in November 2016. I’ve described the process of writing this book in a guest blog for the UK Lesfic website called Journey to Winterbourne…and in part of a guest blog for Women and Words called Five and Counting.

I also contributed a short story to Affinity’s Holiday anthology, It’s In Her Kiss. Affinity authors were invited to submit stories for whichever holiday event took their fancy and the collection includes a wide range – Christmas, New Year, St Patrick’s Day, Hallowe’en. My story is called ‘Beltane in Space’, so you can see where my mind was going – fertility rites and so on – with an all female crew on a spaceship! The proceeds for this book are going to the Montrose Center, which provides services to the LGBT community in Houston, Texas.

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Affinity’s 2016 team of authors: Ali Spooner, Jen Silver, Annette Mori, Renee MacKenzie (Annette’s looking nervous – this was before the ceremony – when she collected a Goldie for Locked Inside.)

In July I travelled to Washington DC for the annual bun fight known as the Golden Crown Literary Society Conference. This was my second time attending so it was good to meet up with friends made the previous year – and to meet new ones. Also wonderful to meet so many people I communicate with on Facebook. The conference offers plenty of opportunities to interact with authors and readers through discussion panels, readings, book signings…and book buying. (Lesson learned from the first year – take a bigger suitcase.) Years ago when I first started reading lesbian fiction, I could never have imagined meeting such iconic authors as Katherine V Forrest, Lee Lynch, Karin Kallmaker, Rita Mae Brown, Dorothy Allison, Jewelle Gomez…to name a few…plus the host of talented authors who have come along since then.

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Have I mentioned I’m a big fan of Lee Lynch?

A few weeks after getting back from GCLS, I discovered there was an event happening closer to home…the very first Happy Valley Pride, being held in Hebden Bridge…a whole week’s worth of activities. So, I immediately volunteered to help out, as well as taking the opportunity to do a reading at the poetry evening (the poets very graciously let me read prose), and sell some books. The whole range of events throughout the week was well supported by the community and the Happy Valley team is already preparing plans for August 2017. The Christmas Festive Fundraiser earlier this month was fantastic fun as well…with the lip-sync competition as a highlight. (If you want to see photos, visit the Happy Valley Pride page on Facebook.)

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Volunteering at the Happy Valley Pride Box Office

In September I took part in what has become a yearly pilgrimage for me…two weeks on my knees at Vindolanda, the large ongoing excavation of Roman forts near Hadrian’s Wall. It is voluntary and I do love scraping away with a small trowel unearthing pottery and cow bones. Other volunteers found coins, toga brooches, numerous shoes and evidence of child cremations – but I’m not suffering from find envy – not much. Again, it was a lovely group of people to be with and the two weeks passed all too quickly. (Note: I have booked to go again next year.)

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In the trenches!

In October I had a visit from my mother. She lives in Victoria on Vancouver Island, so we don’t see each other very often in person. We have weekly chats via Skype, but it was wonderful to have some quality time with her.

The annual Azincourt Longbow shoot also takes place in October – on the anniversary of the famous battle. Famous in England and celebrated for the last 600 years, because we won. Nothing against the French, of course, but I was pleased with my three arrows on this target – the ones with the red and black fletchings. (Oh, and we dress up in mediaeval type costumes – woolly hat optional.)

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November 1st saw the release of Christmas at Winterbourne …quickly followed by signing a contract with Affinity for another book, which is scheduled to be out in July. This one is a golf themed romance and the title is Running From Love.

And then it was Christmas! Where did this year go?

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So, politics aside, I feel I’ve had a pretty good year and I’m looking forward to 2017.


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Buying options for my books:

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.

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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.

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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