Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Pact by Tom Durwood

Today I’m delighted to welcome Tom Durwood to the blog with a post about his new book, The Pact.

As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

A central question! The answer is this:

a) read and understand everything I can find on the era, following tributaries wherever they lead  

b) take notes   

c) put all sources and notes in a drawer and write a character-based story where the research finds its own way in.

Readers can tell in an instant when you don’t know what you’re talking about. If I don’t go the extra distance to understand how a seven-lock canal is built, or how to fix a broken wagon wheel, then my story has no value. 

My heavy-handed initial plotting and attention to detail tend to weigh the stories down. The best parts are the discovered or unexpected parts – where the characters respond to situations which neither they, nor I, nor the reader saw coming.         

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?  

Yes, I certainly do have two authors whose work always gets me back on the right track – Louis L’Amour and Robert E. Howard. I re-read the ‘Solomon Kane” stories and Westerns like “Kilkenny” whenever I can, and listen to them on audio as well. Both of these authors are natural storytellers, which I am not. Their works have that page-turning quality that my work rarely does, so living in their worlds does me good.   

As to historians, I love Barbara Tuchman and Gibbons for their strong voices. I am very happy when I can find opportunities in my own stories to echo their seeming mastery of the material. 

Chinese girl
Illustration copyright 2021 by Jessica Taylor. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Topkapi_palace_roof
Illustration copyright 2021 by Mai Nguyen. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Saratoga 1
Illustration copyright 2021 by Timothee Mathon. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Map square Boston Illustration copyright 2021 by Karin Willig. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”

Here’s the blurb:

Six international teens join the American Revolution.

Coming of age and making history.  

They went into 1776 looking for a fight. Little did they know how much it would cost them… 

Six rich kids from around the globe join the Bostonian cause, finding love and treachery along the path to liberty. 

A new perspective on one of history’s most fascinating moments. 

Amply illustrated edition of a young-adult historical fiction novel. 

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

Universal Buy Link

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Meet the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

Connect with Tom

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Don’t forget to check out the other steps on The Pact blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Usurper King by Mercedes Rochelle

Today I’m delighted to welcome Mercedes Rochelle to the blog with a fantastic post about her new book, The Usurper King.

Your book, Usurper King, is my sort of historical fiction book, offering a retelling of the past, with people who existed and lived, and caused themselves all sorts of problems. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Thank you for hosting me on your blog! Oh, yes, research is my favorite thing. I couldn’t imagine writing any other type of book, since research is such a big part of the process for me. In fact, I’m always sorry when I do have to rely on my imagination, because the “real” history always seems more interesting to me. To repeat a well-worn phrase, “you just can’t make this stuff up”. History never ceases to amaze me.

Back in the days of my 11th century work, I started writing about ten years before the internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. If the local library didn’t have a book, as far as I was concerned it didn’t exist. That’s one of the major reasons I moved to New York in my mid-20s. The New York Public Library was a treasure trove. I also remember my first trip to England; back then, used bookstores still had plenty of old hardbacks and in Hay-On-Wye I discovered the full 6-volume set of Edward A. Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest of England. Who cares that they weighed a hundred pounds? (Well, by the time I bought all the other books my suitcase probably weighed that much.) This is in the days before they had wheels on suitcases! But I digress. That set was truly my go-to source for all my novels of the period. Of course I eventually supplemented them with more modern scholars, but I never found a historian with more exhaustive knowledge. 

That is, until I jumped forward 300 years. Now my exhaustive historian is James Hamilton Wylie, with four books on Henry IV and three books on Henry V (vols. 2 & 3 published posthumously). Wow. But try finding him! The best you can get is a poor scanned copy, or an even poorer printed copy of the scan. 

When I moved from Harold Godwineson to Richard II, I had to start all over again with my research. It took me a year of daily reading before I even began writing about Richard II. I’ve learned that the fat books (in page-length) are the best starting points. They give us a broad brush-stroke (like a landscape painting) and create the structure for the story. The huge books tend to be sparse on details. Then I slowly get more specific, finding books that are more focused on a particular topic. 

By the time I delve into academic articles, I am ready to sort out the fine details of a scene. I learned to pay close attention to footnotes; this is where I find most of my articles. These treatises are specific to a particular subject, so the author puts every bit of knowledge into an event (including all contradictory source material). For instance, in my last book, THE KING’S RETRIBUTION, I had to tackle the death of the Duke of Gloucester before the 1397 Revenge Parliament. As is usually the case, historians were all over the place trying to decide what happened (at the time, it was a well-kept secret). Thank goodness for Professor James Tait. He wrote an article, DID RICHARD II MURDER THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER? in which he gave us the most detailed description of this whole episode, tracking all the dates and highlighting the missing passages in Gloucester’s written confession. As far as I can tell, this is still the most definitive argument on the subject, and he concluded that Richard was guilty as charged. I probably read that article a dozen times before I wrote the scene.

If I’m lucky, I often find these articles online. JSTOR.org is a fabulous source; I pay $10 per month for a subscription and it’s well worth it. Sometimes I have to pay for the article. Otherwise, they might be bound in a compilation such as Fourteenth Century Studies or The Fifteenth Century (in fifteen volumes) and can’t be had elsewhere. These can get very expensive, and alas, sometimes each volume only has one or two articles I need. If I’m desperate enough, I’ll bite the proverbial bullet and hope they will provide more help in future projects! 

So over the course of a novel, I usually consume well over 30 history books and fill two loose-leaf binders full of articles. After I’ve run my course, I go back to the beginning and re-read much of the material to pick up stuff I missed the first time through. You just can’t absorb it all when it’s new. The reading never stops while I’m writing; occasionally I’ll be able to insert something in my editing phase. Unfortunately, I never learned Latin so I can’t go to the source material (if it’s even accessible to non-scholars). But I’ve found that the important stuff is repeated in secondary sources anyway, which frankly is the bulk of what I would need for a work of fiction.

Each century has its definitive scholars. In late 14th-early 15th century England you absolutely must read Kenneth McFarlane; he opened up new scholarship on the period in the 40s and 50s. My favorite historian is Chris Given-Wilson, who did write a “fat” book about Henry IV. He also gives great background on the royal household and English nobility. Without the background, the history will fall flat. 

Needless to say, if I’m not enamoured with a subject, I’m not likely to write a novel about it. I would say I’m spending an average of two years thinking about and writing each book; with a series, I’m already researching one or even two books ahead. It helps foreshadow certain events. When I get to the end of a series, it’s like falling off a cliff!

Henry Bolingbroke with Richard II at Flint Castle, Harley MS 1319, British Library  (Wikipedia)

Coronation of Henry IV, Harley MS 4380, F.186V,  British Library (Wikimedia)

Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb;

From Outlaw to Usurper, Henry Bolingbroke fought one rebellion after another.

First, he led his own uprising. Gathering support the day he returned from exile, Henry marched across the country and vanquished the forsaken Richard II. Little did he realize that his problems were only just beginning. How does a usurper prove his legitimacy? What to do with the deposed king? Only three months after he took the crown, Henry IV had to face a rebellion led by Richard’s disgruntled favorites. Worse yet, he was harassed by rumors of Richard’s return to claim the throne. His own supporters were turning against him. How to control the overweening Percies, who were already demanding more than he could give? What to do with the rebellious Welsh? After only three years, the horrific Battle of Shrewsbury nearly cost him the throne—and his life. It didn’t take long for Henry to discover that that having the kingship was much less rewarding than striving for it.

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Mercedes Rochelle

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

Connect with Mercedes Rochelle.

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Don’t forget to check out the stops on the blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Book Review – Camelot by Giles Kristian – historical fiction – now available in paperback

Here’s the blurb:

‘Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive.’

I’ve just reread the review I wrote for Lancelot nearly two years ago, and even I’m blushing about how effusive I was about it!

Camelot begins in much the same way. The lead character is a young man, about to take his vows to become a monk on the tor at Glastonbury when his world completely changes. The depiction of life on the tor is wonderfully evoked, and even if the author could have just written ‘bird’ ‘tree’ and ‘flower’ I’m sure many will appreciate the attention to detail. (I’ve never been ‘at one’ with nature).

The story starts quite slowly, drawing you back into the world of post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain with deft skill and then the story truly begins to take shape, secrets are revealed, and the ties to the previous book begin to be revealed.

I truly don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the ‘quest’, for that is what it becomes, takes readers from Cornwall to Anglesey and then further, the fear of what is to come in the future a palpable threat and even though we all know what’s going to happen, in the end (outside the scope of the book) I couldn’t help but hope that it would all be very, very different. The characters demand it from the reader.

And the end, is once more, where I have some small complaints about the story. It’s not that it doesn’t do what I want it to do, it’s just that the ending seems wrong for the story, but then, perhaps, it was always going to because that is the legend of Arthur.

But before that ending, the legends of Arthur and his knights are beautifully evoked, and I think a particular strength is the depiction of King Constantine, a bit part character, but immensely powerful and the very embodiment of a land falling to chaos all around him, and yet not prepared to give way and accept what seems to be the inevitable.

This book, once more, has its flaws, some scenes seem unnecessary, and others are skipped over too quickly, but it feels so true to the legends. There’s so much that’s only half-seen, hinted at but never actually known.

A welcome return to Giles Kristian’s ‘world’ first created in Lancelot, and, I think the author notes at the end of the novel explain a great deal. Now, give me the story of Arthur and his knights at the height of their prowess (please!).

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Camelot is now available in paperback (Sorry I missed this on the 24th) 

The Last Warrior is a year old today.

Today, 25th June 2021, is the one year anniversary of the release of The Last Warrior. The anniversary has come round quickly, (I promise not to start doing this with all of my books), and gives me the perfect opportunity to once more say a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who has read, enjoyed, rated or reviewed the book. I’m blown away by how much readers love Coelwulf and his motley collection of friends, enemies, and horses, and how you eagerly embrace each new episode in their story.

I thought I’d use this as an excuse to give a few updates on the series. Book 1-The Last King is now an audiobook available on Audible. Book 2-The Last Warrior is in the process of becoming one. (I think I worried my narrator so much with The Last Warrior he had to rush to the end to find out what was happening:)).

I am busy finishing off Book 6, The Last Shield, and in the meantime, the first five books are now available in a beautiful hardcase laminate edition from Amazon, and I have to say, they look amazing, especially all together. The hardcase laminate uses the new covers as designed by Flintlock Covers. Amazon doesn’t have the preview showing of the hardcase yet so here’s a few photos, inexpertly taken by me.

In association with The History Quill, on online site for readers and writers of historical fiction, I am running a give-away for a paperback copy The Last King, with some other fab Viking authors, which can be entered here. but the closing date is the 30th June, so be quick.

So, once more, thank you for reading, and I promise to keep on writing as long as you keep reading.

Take care everyone.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sigurd’s Swords by Eric Schumacher

Today I’m delighted to welcome Eric Schumacher to the blog with a fantastic post about his new book (available for preorder now) Sigurd’s Swords.

Your book, Sigurd’s Sword, is set in a time period I love, but I don’t know as much about events in the land of the Rus as I’d like, or about Olaf Tryggvason’s early years. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

First of all, thank you for having me on your wonderful blog and for your interest in Sigurd’s Swords

My research isn’t as much of a process as it is a series of rabbit holes that I tend to climb down to gather information that I then convert to notes. I keep those notes in the writing program I use so that I can refer to them often as I write. That said, I often go back to the original sources for more information or for clarity. 

It is a bit tricky writing about Vikings, because they did not chronicle their events in writing. There’s was an oral culture. So what information we have comes from outside sources, and usually from sources who wrote their works decades or even centuries after the people lived and the events occurred. Thanks to the Byzantines, Sigurd’s Swords is the only book I have written that actually had a contemporary writer who chronicled some of the events in the book.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Yes! I usually start in the same place for all of my books. That place is the sagas, and in particular, Snorre Sturlason’s Heimskringla, or “The Lives of the Norse Kings.” That provides me with the guardrails and the general outline of the story. However, Snorre wrote his series of tales centuries after my character Olaf lived, so I cannot rely on him 100% for the details of my books. Nor does he get into the minutiae that help add flavour and depth to the story, such as weaponry, fighting styles, flora and fauna, food and beverages, the types of dwellings that existed, and so on. For those things, I rely more on individual books or research papers I find online. 

In the case of Olaf and his time in Kievan Rus’, I also turned to other sources that I found. The Russian Primary Chronicle, to which I found a reference on Wikipedia, was a tremendous help. Like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it is broken down by year, so it provided me with a better sense of the timing of events and what events my characters may have experienced during their time in that kingdom. That, in turn, led me to other sources for more detailed descriptions of those events. The Byznatines were a great help for this. Civil servant John Sylitzes wrote his “A Synopsis of Byzantine History” in AD 1081, which covered the Siege of Drastar I have in my novel. Leo the Deacon, who was at the siege, also wrote about it in his Historia. The foreign policy of the Byzantines is described in The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, and was also helpful to provide larger context for why certain events might have unfolded the way they did, such as the Siege of Kyiv in AD 968. Having these sources also provided a secondary verification of the timing of things. 

All that said, there was still much I could not unearth about the Rus or Olaf during that time. So I tried to fill in the gaps with plausible plotlines and information based on the research I could find. I hope it all comes together in an enjoyable story for your readers!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It sounds fascinating, and I will have to hunt some of it down. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb;

From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.

AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd. 

It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron

Pre-order link

Meet the Author

Eric Schumacher (1968 – ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.

Connect with Eric

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Sigurd’s Swords blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Book Review – Murder at Madame Tussauds by Jim Eldridge (Victorian mystery)

Here’s the blurb:

London, 1896. Madame Tussauds opens to find one of its nightwatchmen decapitated and his colleague nowhere to be found. To the police, the case seems simple: one killed the other and fled, but workers at the museum aren’t convinced. Although forbidden contact by his superior officer, Scotland Yard detective John Feather secretly enlists ‘The Museum Detectives’ Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton to aid the police investigation.

When the body of the missing nightwatchman is discovered encased within a wax figure, the case suddenly becomes more complex. With questions over rival museums, the dead men’s pasts and a series of bank raids plaguing the city, Wilson and Fenton face their most intriguing and dangerous case yet.

Murder at Madame Tussauds is the first of Jim Eldridge’s Museum Detective series, but it won’t be the last.

This is a very evocative portrayal of late Victorian London, complete with Hansoms and fog, and a terrible crime that needs solving.

A thoroughly enjoyable read with a fantastic conclusion.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. I’ll be hunting down the earlier books in the series now.

Competition time with The History Quill – win one of three Viking fiction books

Today I’m excited to share with you the details of a giveaway for a copy of The Last King, as well as 2 other Viking books by Eric Schumacher, Forged by Blood, and Kelly Evans, The Northern Queen, with The History Quill.

To be in with a chance of winning one of the 3 books, just click this link and add your details.

The competition runs until 30th June 2021, and please check the entry requirements.

If you don’t know The History Quill yet, they’re there for writers and readers, providing book recommendations through their book club and important resources for writers and would be writers.. Pop by and have a good look, and join the book club if you’re looking for good recommendations.

Good luck everyone.

Welcome to today’s stop on the new release blog tour for The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

Here’s the blurb:

The fight for vengeance has no victors…

AD 936

The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother’s assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.

The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they’re determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.

Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn’t know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar’s…

Read Tim Hodkinson’s newest epic Viking adventure.

Here’s my review

The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson is the fourth instalment in The Whale Road Chronicles, reuniting readers with Einar and the rest of the Wolf Coats.

It is an energetic and fast-paced jaunt through the sea kingdoms of Norway, the Scottish islands, and Iceland, and although we don’t go to Ireland, it’s never far from the characters’ thoughts.

I love this series because the author twists his story through the ‘known facts’ of the time period. I know what’s coming, and many others will also know what’s coming in future books, but the joy is in how we get there.

About the author

Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.

Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Ares Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

Buy links:

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Don’t forget to stop by the other stops on The Serpent King Blog Tour.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Guardians at the Wall by Tim Walker

Today I’m delighted to welcome Tim Walker to the blog with an extract from his new book, Guardians at the Wall, a fascinating time slip novel.

Here’s the blurb:

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.

He makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated the distraction of becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He’s living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding 2,000-year-old riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.

In the same place, almost 2,000 years earlier, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen. 

These are the protagonists whose lives will brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one commencing his journey and trying to get noticed, the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.

How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology mud rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by the attentions of two very different women, navigate his way to a winning presentation?

Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.

And here’s the excerpt.

Extract 1 – Archaeology in Action

[POV – Noah Jessop, archaeology student on a dig at Hadrian’s Wall]

I turned at the sound of Mike’s approach, his gum boots bouncing on the wooden boards preserving the moorland grass around the outer edge of the dig. Beyond him, white woolly blobs ripped at the tough turf with teeth and jaws suited to the harsh environment.

“Once you’ve photographed it, make an entry in the day log,” he said, before leaving me to check on the four volunteers who were sieving soil for hidden fragments of pots or small coins in a long wooden box outside the marquee.

It was the site of a settlement of wood and mud-daubed huts and their adjacent animal pens built by the Brigante people, next to what had once been the stone walls of the Roman fortress at Vindolanda. The Romans would have referred to the cluster of buildings as a ‘vicus’. Every fort had one. The fortress site had been excavated almost continuously since the 1930s, and had yielded a wealth of finds that revealed a detailed picture of how successive Roman garrisons had lived their lives – including written records and correspondence that had miraculously survived for almost two thousand years entombed in layers of peat and soft clay. Now a number of archaeology undergraduates had come together to excavate and map the vicus that had once serviced the needs of the Roman occupiers.

I returned to my trench and resumed scraping the earth beside the street. After ten minutes, I stopped abruptly as my trowel blade made contact with a solid object. “Another stone,” I muttered. I dug around it, slowly scraping the dark, loamy soil and patches of sticky clay, then I burrowed gently with my fingers to get underneath the object. It was no ordinary stone. I picked up my paint brush and swept away the clinging soil to reveal a carved face on a smooth, rounded stone, its form and facial features exposed to the sun and air for the first time in almost two millennia. And my eyes were the first to behold it. Time froze. The excavation didn’t exist, just my breathless awe at the face that had last been touched by the hands of someone from the Roman era. I embraced our private moment and then my excitement erupted.

“Mike! I’ve found something!” I yelled in the direction of my crouching supervisor.

Mike stood up and strode purposefully towards me, springing on the boards like a March lamb, calling, “I’m coming!” He knelt down and stared at the stone face peering out of the soil. “Yes, you’ve found something alright, young Noah. Brush away the surface and then photograph in situ before easing it out.”

One careful centimetre at a time, I freed the object, and I held it in my calloused hands, gently brushing away the top layer of clinging soil. I raised the carving and saw grooved swirls and inscriptions that would be revealed when it was clean, and the delicate features of the statuette. It was carved from light grey marble, had a flat base, and stood about ten inches tall. I estimated the weight to be about two pounds – a bag of sugar.

The other students and volunteers had stopped what they were doing and now gathered around, making cooing noises or remarking ‘nice’ and ‘lovely’. I brushed some more, exposing details of the impassive face and shrouded body that suggested it was a female form, its hands cradling the mound of its belly. After admiring her for a few seconds, I handed her over to Mike, grinning like a bridegroom.

“Hmmm, it looks like a deity of the Brigante tribe, perhaps a goddess of fertility or one to ward off evil spirits. Could be carved from a lump of marble found in the quarry pits that produced the blocks used to build the fortress walls. There’s a vein of quartz running through it that perhaps influenced its selection. I’ll take it to Professor Wilde to get her opinion. Well done, lad. Now everyone, back to work. Noah’s shown us that there are riches still to be discovered!”

I beamed with pride as if I’d uncovered the tomb of a pharaoh, and as Mike continued the process of recording and tucked up my beautiful goddess nice and safe, my eyes followed his every move, and I nodded as he talked me through it.  

*****

[In the year 180 CE at the same location, Centurion Gaius Atticianus returns to Vindolanda fort after a successful patrol. Kerwyn is his native scout.]

As his unit gathered and men dismounted to clasp each other’s forearms with relief, Kerwyn and his family came to Gaius’s side.

“Sir, I am indebted to you for coming to our aid, although I did not ask for it. I will await your punishment for my disobedience.”

“That punishment will come, Kerwyn, but not today. Be with your family and be thankful to the gods, and your brave wife.”

The scout nodded and pulled his wife forward by her hand. “This is Morwen, who put the mother of our gods to good use in my defence.” 

Morwen, still holding her woollen garment that was torn at the shoulder, held out a rounded stone in her other hand, and looked up sheepishly at the officer from behind an uneven fringe. In response to Gaius’s puzzled expression, she lifted the rock and showed him the carved face and body on its smooth, sculptured side.

Kerwyn explained. “Brigantia is the mother of our people; she is like your goddess, Minerva, and is the great protector of our children.”

“Well, she certainly protected you today!” Gaius laughed.

Kerwyn nodded. “The gods were with us today.” He looked shaken and ill at ease, rotating his felt riding hat through his hands.

Morwen said, “Please take the goddess to watch over your wife and family, sir.” She held the stone carving out, and Gaius hesitated before accepting it.

Gaius noticed that his men had assembled and Paulinus was organising them into two ranks, whilst still holding the reins of their horses. He nodded to Kerwyn and Morwen, then turned away and went to Paulinus. “How many have we lost?”

“I make it twelve Gauls and two Sarmatians,” Paulinus replied with a sigh.

Gaius flinched and took his gold coin from his pouch, burying it in his big fist. He hated the loss of any of his men, and now felt the heavy weight of his responsibility. He knew all the Gauls by name and much of their backgrounds. It was a hard loss to bear – the biggest loss in any single action since he had become cent commander.

Just then, two Gauls came into the square, leading their horses, to tired cheers from the men. It was the whipped troublemaker, Vetonrix, and another younger man with a bandaged head and bloody tunic. The men called out friendly insults in welcome.

“There is a story here,” Gaius whispered to Paulinus. They grinned their shared relief that two more had survived.

“There’s a story in your hand, sir,” Paulinus said, nodding at the stone carving. 

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Meet 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.

The last book in the series, Arthur, Rex Brittonum, was published in June 2020. This is a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum. Both titles are Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.

Tim has also written three books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), Postcards from London (2017) and Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).

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Today, I’m reviewing The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy (Roman historical fiction) as part of its new release blog tour

Here’s the blurb:

AD 105: DACIA

The Dacian kingdom and Rome are at peace, but no one thinks that it will last. Sent to command an isolated fort beyond the Danube, centurion Flavius Ferox can sense that war is coming, but also knows that enemies may be closer to home.

Many of the Brigantes under his command are former rebels and convicts, as likely to kill him as obey an order. And then there is Hadrian, the emperor’s cousin, and a man with plans of his own…

Gritty, gripping and profoundly authentic, The Fort is the first book in a brand new trilogy set in the Roman empire from bestselling historian Adrian Goldsworthy.

The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy is good ‘Roman’ era fiction.

Set in Dacia in AD105, it is the story of ‘The Fort’ under the command of Flavius Ferox, a character some will know from Goldsworthy’s previous trilogy that began with Vindolanda.

Mistakenly thinking this was an entirely new trilogy with all new characters, it took me a while to get into the story. Everyone seemed to know everyone else apart from me. But Ferox is a good character, and he grounded me to what was happening in the immediate vicinity of the Fort, and apart from once or twice, it didn’t really matter what had gone before.

This is a story of suspicions, ambition and lies, and it rumbles along at a good old pace. This isn’t the story of one battle, but rather many, a slow attrition against the Romans by the Dacians.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel, and some of the fighting scenes were especially exciting. Those with an interest in Roman war craft will especially enjoy it, although, I confess, I don’t know my spatha from my pilum (there is a glossary, fellow readers, so do not fear.)

About the author

Adrian Goldsworthy has a doctorate from Oxford University. His first book, THE ROMAN ARMY AT WAR was recognised by John Keegan as an exceptionally impressive work, original in treatment and impressive in style. He has gone on to write several other books, including THE FALL OF THE WEST, CAESAR, IN THE NAME OF ROME, CANNAE and ROMAN WARFARE, which have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. A full-time author, he regularly contributes to TV documentaries on Roman themes.

Adrian Goldsworthy , Author , Broadcaster , Historical consultant .

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