Hitting Hadrian’s Wall

Picture of Hadrian's wall at Cuddy's Crags and Housesteads Crags.

Hadrian’s Wall at Cuddy’s Crags and Housesteads Crags.

I’m in the research portion of my Moor Inspiration trip now. As you know, I’m exploring various historic sites and determining possible places to use in Eboracum Book V. I’m looking at the area around Dumfries, taking in the Antonine Wall (known as Vallum Antonini to the Romans), and following Dag’s route to where he fought the Dumnoni.

Excerpt No Turning Back: Eboracum Book IV

Dag hadn’t seen the like since he’d been wounded coming on two years back, fighting the Hibernians when they raided Glannoventa on the west coast, just south of the Great Wall. There had to be at least a thousand now facing them, and perhaps even half as many again. The deep, raucous ranks of warriors were doubtless lined up by tuath and by kin, maybe three hundred paces to the west at the foot of a long, gently sloped pasture. More wild and gutsy fighters you’d not find anywhere, Dag told himself as he watched the Dumnonii tribesmen slowly work themselves into a frenzy. And it was all so familiar: each man building his courage, adding voice to the roaring, thunderous din, backed by an endless clamour of thumping shields, stamping feet, and a screeching chorus of threats, insults, and loathing. And here he was, hoping his Picts would stand fast…

I’ll also head to Carlisle to see what’s left of the Roman fort there, Luguvalium. In No Turning Back, a young Dumnoni rider had trouble remembering this fort’s name.

“They’re running, probably from the Romans,” Dag interrupted, his eye firmly on those of the young Dumoni. “What happened to their ships, lad? They get caught in their own net?”

The man raised his eyebrows in surprise, but that was all. He seemed to consider his answer at far too much length, and even then he glanced first at Tarain before giving it. The ailing chieftain gave a barely perceptible nod, possibly because he figured it would be the only way he might learn what was going on. “Yes. They’re running. From the Romans. They’re throwing themselves on Talorcan’s mercy. They’re even willing to fight for him, but that would depend on what the Romans do.” The Dumnoni rider shrugged. “Me, I think they’re all panicking. I don’t think the Romans will follow them all the way to the coast. Too risky.”

“You do, huh?” Galam was scornful.

The man shrugged his indifference. “Don’t take my word. Talorcan figures they won’t, either. He figures they’d be afraid of getting themselves in too deep. He’s being careful, though. He’s moving our people south to stop them if they do.”

“How many Romans are there? And those ships. What really happened to their ships?” Dag glanced impatiently toward Galam, which was becoming annoying. The Roman’s expression said it was time to be moving north again, no matter how many of the enemy were out there. But if all them, Talorcan, the Scotti and the Romans, started fighting each other, there was likely an advantage to be had.

“The Scotti say they don’t know how many, exactly.” The Dumnoni rider shrugged with a nonchalance that told Galam the fellow likely had rank of some kind. “Enough to trap more than a thousand Scotti into abandoning their ships, and head inland. And certainly enough to risk following behind. How many would that be? Two, four, maybe five thousand? Nobody’s seen them except the Scotti.”

“So what did happen?”

“The Scotti sailed into the mouth of the Nithia, bent on raiding the town there. That’s in Novantae territory. It’s a fair way upriver to reach the town, and even then the tide has to be exactly right, just to get close. Someone must have sent word to the Romans, because they marched for a full day and into the night, all the way from that big fort at the end of their wall. Lugle…Luger…”

Luguvalium,” Dag suggested.

I’ll definitely hit Hadrian’s Wall, (not literally of course but literarily) and then drive to the ocean off Bridlington. This is where Bren is wounded early in Book IV. I called it North of Praetorio in No Turning Back and wrote an explanation in Appendix III, Place Names and Detail.

Picture of North Landing, Sea, Bridlington, Yorkshire.

North Landing, Sea, Bridlington, Yorkshire.

Praetorio (or Praetorium): the site of this fort has not been verified, but in the book it has been placed at a location that seems favoured by most historians: close by Bridlington, on the east coast, about 40 miles east and slightly north of Eboracum. It was later a base for one of the smaller legions of the comitatenses (See Appendix I). It was likely manned by a Gallic mobile infantry/cavalry unit, specifically formed to deal with the changing threat status of the later occupation.

I’m headed home to Canada at the end of this month. I’ll answer any question you have about my trip. Ask me in the comment section below.

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On my way

Picture of a Pict.I’m leaving for the U.K. today to start my “Moor Inspiration” trip. I’m going to play a little game with you to see if you can guess where I’m stopping first. In Eboracum: The Fortress, Galgar is a Caledonii king (or primary chieftain) and the leader of a combined tribal army.

Where was this army based?

Answer in the comment section below. (Either the historical or the current name will suffice.)

Moor inspiration – Graham in Yorkshire Tour

Roman Milestone on Pateley Moor, North Yorkshire.

Roman Milestone on Pateley Moor, North Yorkshire.

When I’m writing about an area, I like to get it right. This is especially important as a writer of historical fiction. I don’t want to put a mountain in the centre of the city of York (or in my books, Eboracum) when I know there isn’t one. That just takes you, the reader, out of the story and start doubting the authenticity of the characters. I don’t like doing that. That’s why next week I’m heading to Yorkshire to do some research as well as novel promoting and visiting family.

I’m Yorkshire born and born out of my former home are my four Eboracum novels. The fifth book is slowly being shaped and I’d like to check out some landmarks to make sure they fit in my characters’ landscape. Of course, I know after thousands of years things change but like I said above, you can’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

Scotland is my first stop and then I’m off to Yorkshire where I’ll be delivering books to a few radio stations that are interviewing me. One drop-off location is in Scarborough on the North Sea coast and where I first learned to swim. After those errands are done, I’ll spend the rest of the time on the moors doing research and being inspired by the scenery and ghosts of ages past.

The radio interviews start on Wednesday, Oct. 18 with Coast and County Radio, a North Yorkshire station. The next day, Drystone Radio is taping a talk about my books. Friday, Oct. 20 starts with an early morning chat with Yorkshire Radio. (I’ll keep you posted about the interviews via my social media.)

On my downtime across the pond, I’ll be exploring various historic sites for research and determining possible places to use in Book V. Three places in Scotland that I’d like to see are the Tava estuary, where Dag was holed up; Stirling, which I’m using as a new base for him; and also the road that goes to Agricola’s forts and where Selia fled south. (I’m glad the U.K. isn’t as large as Canada.)

At the end of October, I’ll return home to Alberta with moor inspiration and a clear view of old battlefields, ancient harbours and bygone villages. Readers, get ready to take on an action-packed Book V!

The North Bay, Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

The North Bay, Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

If you’re a reader of mine in the U.K., I won’t have room in my luggage to bring my new book, No Turning Back, to you. To buy it, go to http://bit.ly/2h0zkBc or for the ebook: http://amzn.to/2jZyWEw. Drop me a line under the comments section here and tell me about your favourite historical place to visit in the U.K.

Don’t get caught – new novel excerpt

Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from Eboracum, No Turning Back. Please, tell me what you think in the comments below.

From Chapter VIII:

She had no idea of the time, for the hut was dark and her sleep had been restless. The first intimation was a vague coldness about her legs, and the appearance of a black shadow that did not belong. Then her mind shrieked into consciousness as hands parted her knees, and a shadow fell on top of her body, smothering her with its overpowering weight. She wriggled and arched her back, but a hand clouted her face as the other hand grasped at her hair, holding her head firm against the dirt floor. Twisting and turning, she tried to break free, her mind in a crazed, snarling, frightened panic, then another blow fell across her face, a hard slap of knuckles that helped restore her reason.

She’d expected this, dammit; she’d figured as much! Selia reached awkwardly upward, her hand frantically groping for the rock hidden beside the rolled-up shawl she’d used for a pillow. At the same time Morlen’s wild poking succeeded, and she screamed as he rammed himself inside her. A large, heavy hand closed over her mouth, shutting off her cries, and, inanely, she remembered how filthy his hand had been. Her grasping finally found the rock and she found the sense to take a firm grip before swinging it as hard as she could against his temple.

Morlen stiffened, his body jerking with several short but heavy spasms, then grew rigid as if gripped by the mortification that followed death. Selia’s first thought was that she’d killed the man, then she swore aloud. The bastard had climaxed! She struck again, harder this time, her hand driven by disgust. But Morlen’s body had already begun to sag from the first blow, and he slowly rolled to one side as if dead.

She scrambled quickly to her knees, her mind a sickening mixture of disgust, filth, and blinding anger. For the moment she simply stared down at the dark shape sprawled by the embers and gasped for breath, vainly trying to halt the shaking that seemed bent on taking over her entire body. She belched aloud and realized her belly was doing its damnedest to vomit. She shook her head violently to stave it off, drawing deep breaths through a mouth suddenly rancid with the taste of sour fish. Then, with a raw determination born of need, she straightened her back, sagged to her knees, and reached for the man’s pulse. Its slow, steady beat offered neither relief nor regret. Morlen was unconscious, and she just hoped he’d stay that way.

What she did next remained mostly a blur, but through the jumbled haze she realized that flight was the one and only option, time was her enemy, and she had an overpowering need to clean herself. She lit several candles from the embers of the fire, filled a wash bowl, straddled it, and soaked and cleaned herself with a dripping wet cloth, at the same time wanting nothing more than to immerse herself in a deep, hot, soapy tub of clean water and remain there forever. But choice was not her ally.

Cursing under her breath, Selia climbed to her feet, dried herself on the hem of her skirt, and began gathering what she could from around the hut. Morlen’s knife; food-mainly barley and rolled oats; flints; candles; her bowl…the iron pan would have to remain, the only practical item of worth the Pict had brought with him; extra socks; soap; and a few odds and ends from the cupboard. For good measure, she added the gutted hare, then hastily pushed the whole lot into Morlen’s empty sack. She hefted it to figure the weight, decided it wasn’t that heavy, and threw the iron pan in anyway. There’d be at least something of value to gain from the man. Once finished, she stood by the fire’s embers and scowled down at the unconscious figure. If Morlen was discovered before waking, it would be obvious what had happened. His britches were around his ankles, and his limp penis drooped against his thigh, still leaking the last of his seed. Selia grunted her satisfaction at what they would find: the man would be judged a fool, and ridiculed. Yet while that gave a modicum of satisfaction, it was of no help, and there was certainly no staying around to find out.

As she turned to go, it occurred to Selia that there might be something of value hidden in his clothing. She again knelt down and ran her hand around his shirt and his jerkin, but found nothing. Then, as much as she was loath, she felt her way around the britches bundled around his ankles. A leather pouch hung from his belt, and she tossed it in the sack with the other items without a second look.

She stood up, finally ready to leave, but Morlen’s unconscious body stirred, and a low groan rolled from the back of his throat. The fool would be awake before she cleared the scattered ruins of the fort! For half a dozen heartbeats she considered slitting the man’s throat and having done with it. But if she was subsequently caught…Selia shook her head at the possibility of being retaken. If Morlen stirred and raised the alarm, then that would almost guarantee her capture. And then, well…and then the hell with it! If she was caught, she’d rather kill herself, first!

She reached for Morlen’s sack, meaning to retrieve the knife, but at the last moment decided she couldn’t cut his useless, gormless throat, not like that. It was just…well, it was just too much. Yet how much time did she need to get clear? The darkness beyond the door could still be well short of midnight, or it could be only two hours before the sun rose. Either way, she could take no chances. Selia hefted the rock, groaned her despair, and bashed it hard against the side of Morlen’s head. The blow felt far more solid than the last two, and when he didn’t so much as grunt, she suspected it just may have killed him. If not, and she hoped it was “if not,” he certainly wasn’t going to stir this side of dawn, whatever time it may come.

She moved over to the bed and pulled another two warm woollen vests down over her head for their extra warmth, then wrapped her cloak around her shoulders. She bent down to retrieve the sack, and as she did so, her eyes fell on the brooch still sitting untouched on the stone block.

It was nothing unusual, an ornately worked circle of silver left open at one end, where the heads of two hounds faced each other across a gap less than the width of her little finger. The fool had actually brought a gift with him, and Selia slowly shook her head, her eyes turning to the body lying silently on the floor. Was it dead or alive? She wasn’t up to finding out. Instead, both anger and despair swept through her mind. Anger because the oaf figured she was his for a woman’s trinket; despair because he had actually bothered to bring a gift with him. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but she was far too close to one or the other, and there was no time for either.

Selia heaved the sack over one shoulder, left the brooch where it was, and carefully slipped out through the door. It was almost as dark outside as it was inside, but for the moment there was a quarter moon casting enough light to tell one shadow from another, and she paused, pondering which way to go. They would surely think she’d choose south, and follow the coast from there…

For Chapter XII, go to my website: http://bit.ly/2wQNqfP. To buy the book, go to http://bit.ly/2h0zkBc or for the ebook: http://amzn.to/2jZyWEw.

Breaking up is hard to do

Me in my 'Man Cave' on a rainy September 2017 morning.

Me in my ‘Man Cave’ on a rainy September 2017 morning.

I dedicated Eboracum, No Turning Back to the recent Brexit decision. Brexit is controversial, to say the least, but it is history going full-circle. After more than sixteen hundred years, Britain will free itself of rule from Europe for the second time. As with most break-ups, it won’t be easy. There will be tears and fighting and lots of red tape. Perhaps an author in a couple thousand years will use it as fodder for a historical saga in the same way I’ve used the Roman invasion of Britain in my own Eboracum stories.

All my Eboracum books differ from what is usually found in historical (Roman) fiction and No Turning Back follows the same pattern. Yes, the books stick to the historic facts and are well researched (like most historic fiction); yes, there are conflicts and battles and crises that take place; and yes, there are complicated relationships and individual stories and a certain amount of romance. However, the characters’ stories are told with a pragmatic, realistic edge to them, to which you, reader, can ready relate. There are no stalwart heroes, no nasty, evil villains, but more the average person(s) for the most part – people like ourselves who struggle to get things done despite our flaws and idiosyncrasies and the odd ‘screw up.’ I feel that my characters are people you might still know today: people who mess up, and have their plans go awry; women who have moods and minds of their own; and men who are just as likely to go sideways as forward. The results often take place with that dark, ironic humour that surpasses time.

The ebook version of Eboracum, No Turning Back  is available now. It was just released today. I hope you’ll download a copy, curl up in a corner and spend time with some people in the past. They might have different names and hygiene habits but they’re just like you and me. As well, while you’re being entertained, you’re also getting a history lesson and learning about Eboracum…York…my home town.

Eboracum, No Turning Back  is also available in hardcopy and can be ordered by clicking here. Looking to start with Book I? Click here for the entire four book series.

No Turning Back

Well, dear reader, you’ve been with me through the founding of  Eboracum (York) and through the struggles of the families on both sides of the war for Northern Britain. I thought our time in ancient Eboracum was finished, but apparently, it’s not.

As you know, the Eboracum trilogy is a first century saga that spans the first thirty-five years of Eboracum’s history, from its founding as a fifty-acre timber fortress, to when it was completely rebuilt in stone. It was a story that followed three generations of both a Roman and a Brigante family, people of two vastly different cultures who, for the most part, accepted, if not necessarily assimilated, over a fairly short period of time. As the trilogy’s original characters reached old age, their stories had been certainly told. It was a good time to stop and move on to other things.

So I did.

I wrote three other books with absolutely no relation to ancient times. I wrote about federal politics using fiction to highlight the need for reform. I wrote about an accountant who is caught up in an interesting state of “affairs.” I wrote a memoir. But with every story I brought to life, Eboracum was demanding I give it more time too.

The old Roman fortress was always there at the back of my mind. However, where could I go with the story? My characters had done enough in their lives and deserved a rest. I needed someone and something fresh to write about. Then, an idea came to me. I had centuries of history to pull from and I had started at the beginning – writing about Eboracum’s founding by the Romans. What about writing about the inevitable Roman abandonment?

I skipped forward three hundred years for the ‘rest of the story’, and last week released Eboracum, No Turning Back.

The background: Rome finally withdrew all troops from Britain in AD 407 because she was stretched to the limit at home by treachery and violence, both internal and external. By AD 476, the Western Empire would collapse. The abandonment of Eboracum was a big story along the way, one that was likely just as traumatic as the original invasion, though, of course, not as well documented. Just over three hundred years after arriving at Eboracum, in AD 387 the Romans began withdrawing troops. Twenty years later, they were gone.  However, they left behind a fortress and town that, by the time of the Renaissance, had grown to be England’s second city.

Roman floor mosaic illustrating the Romulus and Remus myth.

Roman floor mosaic illustrating the Romulus and Remus myth. Discovered at Aldborough (Isurium Brigantum) near Leeds, North Yorkshire (formerly West Riding), UK. Exhibited at Leeds City Museum. Photo Credit: By Linda Spashett Storye book (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For an author, there are many threads here to pick up and start weaving into stories. In terms of time, Rome left over a relatively short period—twenty years.  I wanted to write about that. How did the locals deal with this? What about their families, both Roman and Briton. Who were they, who stayed, who left? What dangers did they face? How did they get by? And, of course, how did the ever-expanding Christian church fit in with all this? (Oddly enough, the archeology around York shows more signs of a continuing ability to function after the Romans left, than most other parts of Briton.)

The Roman withdrawal must have been an interesting time; a momentous time to create two more families.  As before, one would be that of a Roman, the other would be that of a Briton.  One would stay behind…with no turning back; and the other that of a Briton, who manage to prevail, and keep going.  Beset on all sides, a new era was starting…  Another trilogy?  Hmm…  Eboracum, No Turning Back, might just be the first volume of three. The second book has already been started…

May the fourth be with you

Roman reading a book roll.I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on the latest installment of Eboracum (the fourth book). The writing phase is almost easier than what is to come… my editor’s comments and suggestions. However, if I was an author in ancient Roman times, I would be writing and re-writing everything by hand.

Today, we have the computer. I can move words, sentences and even pages around with a flick of my wrist. Computers are also far easier than typewriters and I’ve used a few of those in my time too. (I wonder what the next installation of the writing mod con will be?)  Romans didn’t have books either, they had book rolls: papyrus (paper made from a water plant) rolled on rods. The Romans were fastidious in how they read their book rolls and there were certain manners that had to be followed. One thing has remained the same throughout the ages; authors are always looking for readers.

Roman authors of yore did have philosophy and theorizing book roll launch parties to publicize their accomplishments. Perhaps writers even started with, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” (I’m joking of course since that line was borrowed from Mr. Shakespeare, who lived a few hundred years later.) I’ll be looking for your eyes this March 2017. This is when I plan to be done my Eboracum edits and the fourth will be with you. Until then, tell me what you’ve been reading or what kind of novel you’ve been working on recently.

Cutting grass and growing words

GrassIt’s summer and while for some people that means holidays and rest, for me it means work… and I’m retired! I’m mowing the grass today around our place. It takes two of us to get the job done. I get on my mower, my wife gets on her mower, and then we go around and around for three hours until the green grass has been tamed. (Okay, not tamed – it’s not a wild animal but it is less unkempt.) The yard is about four acres and it looks like a manicured park after we’re done.

I’m still in the midst of writing Eboracum IV.  It has reached the 120,000 word count and I now think I know where I’m going. I may  start the first rewrite by September 1. Just like the grass though, I’ll have to do some cutting at some point. 😉

The long and short of it

Sound of Silence at the Little Free Library in Calgary.

Sound of Silence at the Little Free Library in Calgary.

Sound of Silence didn’t make the Whistler Independent Book Awards’ short-list. However, I was honoured to be in esteemed “long-list” company. Independent publishing is increasingly being taken seriously by the publishing industry and I’m glad the Whistler Independent Book Awards is recognizing indie published authors. All the best to those on the short-list.

Anybody have another view on the indie book market? I’d love to hear from you.