Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

I'd like to wish everyone all the best for the new year. Have a very happy, healthy 2008. Hope everyone has had a great Hogmanay! (raises glass of Irn-Bru)

And remember those targets I set for myself? Well, I... didn't meet them. :( Revisions with the plot ended up with two having to be pushed quite a bit back, and as for the others - turns out I didn't have enough time to write as I'd wanted, and when I did have some time, I was a procastinating bugger. 'Nuff said. Still, I got some edits and revisions done, and managed to work out some kinks in the plots of all my NiPs. So it's not all bad. :)

So my New Year's resolution is not to be a procastinating bugger.

Aye, right.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dumb Britain

Hello, everyone! I thought I should break my radio silence, but I couldn't think of anything substantial to post. Hope everyone's recovering from Christmas! I've been amusing myself with my new DVDs and my obligatory Private Eye annual. This year, I also got a book of the entries from PE's Dumb Britain section - which reveals the silliest answers given on quiz shows up and down the country. Some of them might just be down to nerves; some are just plain dumb. Here's a selection of my favourites, hope they give you a laugh. Remember - these are all real.

Presenter: When the twins Romulus and Remus were abandoned, they were suckled by which four-legged animal?
Contestant: The minotaur.

Presenter: What G was the complex knot severed by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC?
Contestant: Granny.

Presenter: What type of weapon was a claymore? Was it (a) a mace, (b), a sword, or (c) a dagger?
Contestant: Well, I know it can't be a mace, as the police have only started using that.

Presenter: Complete this well-known saying: "Beauty is in the eye of the..."
Contestant: Tiger.

Presenter: In Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, who was king of the fairies?
Contestant: I'm not very good at history.

Presenter: Who wrote Treasure Island?
Contestant: Robinson Crusoe.

Presenter: What did Roger Bannister do in under four minutes in 1954?
Contestant: Orbit the earth?

Presenter: In which country are the ruins of the ancient city of Troy? Is it (a) Tunisia, (b) Italy or (c) Turkey?
Contestant: I think this is when all those years doing A-level Ancient History will start to pay off. (pause) Well it's not Turkey...

Presenter: King Robert I of Scotland was popularly known by what other name?
Contestant: Bob.

Presenter: Who said "Kiss me Hardy?"
Contestant: Was it his girlfriend?
Presenter: No, it was a man who said it.
Contestant: Was it Stan Laurel?

Presenter: Above the entrance to which place do the words "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" appear?
Contestant: A church?

Presenter: What travels at 300 million metres a second?
Contestant: A cheetah.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick word to everyone to wish you all a Merry Christmas/Sol Invictus/whatever you're celebrating. Hope you've had a good day! I know I have. Currently regretting eating so much Christmas dinner and cake, have watched the Doctor Who special, and now settling down for I, Claudius. God, I love men in togas. ;)

Anyway, here's a Christmas card of sorts. I don't think there was anything in the Nativity story about giant cats terrorising Bethlehem, but... er...

Hope your Christmas is/was a good one, and wish you all the best for 2008.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Got slightly trigger-happy with the camera tonight - trying to warm it up for Christmas - and the cat was looking so cute and cuddly curled up on my bed. I couldn't resist!

Everyone, meet Cleo(patra). While Clio is the Muse of history, Cleo is my muse of historical fiction. I can't write if I don't have her purring away in the background. :)

Just look at the feline wisdom, lol!...

This third one is, "Name of Bastet, Kirsten, are you not done with sticking that thing in my face yet?":

Now that the Muse is settled down, I might actually be able to get something written today!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hm. Spooky.

It's half three in the morning and I can't sleep, so I decided to do what I normally do, and that's choose something to read about until I do fall asleep. Tonight's topic: Mithraism. This has some bearing on one of my novels, where a female character chooses to devote herself to Mithras. (Long backstory, not relevant here.)

Anyway. Was Googling quite happily on Mithras and sun god cults in the Roman Empire in general, when what should I come across but the scrap of information that the gens Aurelia was especially associated with sun god reverence.

The name of the aforementioned female character? Aurelia.

I may need to give this some further investigation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Excerpt: Cathal and Gairea at Dun Add

I think I remember threatening at one point to put up a snippet from my NiP, so... here it is. I had to rummage around for a decent scene, because the point of the book I'm currently writing involves much of kings calling councils, generals poring over maps and centurions hitting people with sticks. This snippet takes place more than a year and a half into the book. It's still very rough, so any and all constructive criticism is not only appreciated, but craved.

(Yep, it's mine, hands off. No, seriously, don't steal. Not that you'd want to, but still...)

This excerpt takes place in the winter, AD 82/83. Tensions are running high at the Epidii seat of Dun Add. King Nechtain of the Horse Throne is in council with King Calgach of the Caledones, and there is an unmasked traitor somewhere in the upper circle of the dun. Gairea, seer and apprentice to the Chief Druidess, Sargaid, has just intervened in an unequal duel between Cathal, Nechtain's champion, and the Roman legionary Marcus, with whom she has formed a tentative friendship. Unfortunately, while well-intentioned, her actions have inadvertently affronted Cathal. And he's already a man with a score to settle...


She took a breath to steady herself, but before she could do anything, a hand suddenly seized her wrist and before she could so much as cry out, she was pulled into the shadows beneath the streaming eaves of a nearby house. A shadow moved in front of her, trapping her and blocking what dim light there was. Blinking stupidly, she looked up.

“What in Manannán’s name do you think you’re doing?” Cathal’s hiss was just audible over that of the rain.

Her back went rigid against the wall and she snatched her wrist from his grasp, feigning disdain to mask her panic. “I am not fond of being backed into corners. Especially not by you, Cathal.”

He ignored this, and his hands went out to grip her shoulders, hard. She felt a flare of pain, but pressed her lips shut in defiance.

“Answer me!” he demanded. “What - by all that’s sacred - did you think you were playing at? Was it your intent to make me look a fool before Nechtain, before the Royal Clan - gods! - before Calgach of the Caledones! Why did the Druidess bring you here, if not to support me?”

Dear Epona, what arrogance! Somewhere beneath her anxiety, she felt a spark of indignation.

“You’ve already lost my support,” she snapped. “Sargaid brought me here so I could be tested by the Chief Druid.”

“I see. And does that involve turning on me before the tribe? Shielding enemy soldiers?”

“Does the champion of the King need to beat a defenceless man to validate his position?”

His lip curled in a snarl, baring his teeth, and his fingers tightened on her skin, jerking her slightly as if he dearly wanted to shake her, but did not quite dare. The movement parted a fold of her cloak, revealing the triple-spiralled amulet that marked her as one of the Brethren. Only then did Cathal remember himself, that simply by touching her he was transgressing.

Abruptly, he pulled back. He glanced down at the amulet with a look that was half caution, half rage.

When he leaned in again, he was careful not to touch her, but his fury was palpable nonetheless.

“My position needs no more validation, Gairea. You would do well to remember that.”

Emboldened by her own anger, she shot back, “Have I a choice? You never let anyone forget.”

She saw his right hand twitch, then flex itself into a tight fist at his side. Her hand closed pointedly around her pendant. His face resolved itself into a sneer.

“Clutch at whatever authority you can, lady seer, but remember that two years of training do not make you a Druidess. You are still nothing. I have a position; you do not.”

“I am the apprentice of the Chief Druidess.” Her tone was steady enough, but her mouth was dry and her heart was pounding and she knew what he said was true. “I am the apprentice of the Chief Druidess,” she repeated, “and my only action was to prevent an unfair duel.”

“Unfair! Tell me, how was it unfair? We were both able, and we were both armed.”

Epona, give me strength.

“I’ve no wish to argue with you any more than I have to, Cathal. The duel was unequal and you know it. You willed it.”

“Did you not notice how everyone was cheering? It did them good to see their champion - their protector - defeat one of the Roman dogs who threatens their freedom. I would have thought even you would have been able to see that before you insulted me.”

She shook her head. “Marcus is here as Sargaid’s guest. If anyone has done any insult today, it is you.”

He strode towards her. She recoiled, involuntarily, and instantly regretted it. “Take some responsibility, girl! You slighted me before the tribe! Before your tribe, need I remind you, the tribe that gave you birth. And for what?”

“Marcus is my friend,” she said simply.

He made a noise of disgust. “The Romans do not have friends, Gairea. They have only slaves, and those they would make slaves. And when you affronted me, you affronted the tribe. Simply by showing that Roman anything less than contempt makes you a traitor to your blood. You and he were not even out of sight before I heard two men debating whether or not you had found yourself a sweetheart.”

The blood drained from her face. “That is ridiculous!”

“Is it, though?” Cathal’s eyes narrowed, searching her face with that penetrating gaze she had once found flattering, now intrusive and insulting. It was entirely the wrong moment to think about the veiled sadness in Marcus’ dark eyes. The sadness, and the pleasure she felt when she could replace it with a smile.

Her back stiffened, and she matched Cathal’s look with a glare of her own.

“I wonder...” He drew back, his scrutiny of her lingering just a moment before he lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “I suppose it matters little to me whom you choose to lift your skirts for. But, when you do, do spare a thought for your Sisters on Mona, the ones who did not choose to be taken in the dirt by Roman legionaries.”

In response to Cathal’s words, her consciousness suddenly stirred, lifting the veil and opening to the shadows. Flames leaping against the oaks. Blood dark on the sand. War-chants turning to terror. The scream of a woman as she was seized by rough hands and pushed down, her pleas mocked, her robe ripped aside, her her body breached - ruined...

Gasping, she shook herself free of the vision. Her body had gone icy, her vision spotted. The shame of a long-dead woman still coursed through her, so violent her head spun and she thought she would faint. She could not hear the sound of the sleet over the blood surging in her ears. Dazed, sickened, she raised her head to look at Cathal. Somehow he looked impossibly far away, but there was no mistaking his expression of triumph. Her horror must have shown in her face.

All fear of retribution gone, Cathal caught her arm and crowded her back against the wall. His touch recalled the hands that had grasped at the woman, and a new wave of terror rolled through her, but she could not find the strength to lash out at him.

“It is time for you to decide where your loyalties lie, Gairea. There is treachery enough at Dun Add, and I will exterminate it.” The menace in his words was hidden by a voice as soft as a lover’s, a knife edge wrapped in otterskin. When she dared to meet his eyes, she saw its glint in the depths of his.

“If I so much as suspect your friendship with the Roman has become too fast, I will kill both of you.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Io, Saturnalia!

Yes, it's 17 December, which means it's the first day of the Saturnalia (or would be, if we were in ancient Rome). It also means it's a week till Christmas Eve and I still haven't finished my Christmas shopping yet - erk!

Good news, however, I finally finished chapter six today. It took me longer than I thought it would. Seems that every single chieftain had their wee tuppenceworth to throw in, then someone mentioned the Iceni and that started off a whole new argument. (sighs) And Calgach just wouldn't stop with the speechifying. I told him, there'd be plenty of time for that later - like, say, the Battle of Mons Graupius - but apparently he just couldn't wait until then. Hmph.

Now I shall skip off to start chapter seven. Perhaps things might actually start happening now.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holidays and essays and pirates, oh my!

I'm in a much better mood than I was on Wednesday, mostly because term ended yesterday! Hurray! Technically, it ended for me on Thursday, since I don't have anything on a Friday, but I had to go in anyway to hand in my Archaeology essay (the importance of artefacts vs. monuments in assessing the impact of the Roman Empire in Scotland). I'm hoping the marker will find a gem of coherent thought in it somewhere, but I think I waffled a lot of rubbish for 1800 words.

And on Thursday, I got my second Celtic essay back. I got an A-! Even better than the last one, really, since this one was being marked more strictly, and according to my tutor, the Roman Britain question was probably the hardest out of all the ones given. Typical. He told me I could have touched more on certain details (though he didn't even mention my omission of Boudicca, hm), but I did a good job with such ahuge topic. Well, that was a relief! Got my Archaeology field notebook back, too. The comments were mostly positive; I made some good notes in some places, but I could have done with some more detail in others. Fair dos.

And, after all that, I've got exams in January, so although I'm technically on holiday, I'll probably keep working up until Christmas. (sighs) No rest for the wicked. I also met a friend from school in town, and we were talking about getting everyone together for a reunion. We'll have our work cut out for us in trying to arrange that...

In other news, the wreckage of one of the infamous Captain Kidd's ships has been discovered in the Caribbean, so right now I'm watching PotC to celebrate. (waves her tiny, solitary Norrington fangirl flag)

And now my brain's free, so my characters are running back in gleefully. I've got to get chapter six finished tonight: it's turning into the Council of Elrond and killing my soul at the same time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Was told this morning by a friend that I've been - effectively - chucked out of our group of flatmates for next year. She was genuinely apologetic about it, and I wouldn't be so annoyed if the reason hadn't been so odd. And unfair, from where I'm standing. In essence, I'm being shunted aside for a "theoretical" person. Lovely.

Minorly p-ed off right now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Time travel

So, Crystal asked me which time period(s) I would travel to if I could, and here's my response. Luckily, I can pick as many as I want, which is a bit of a relief. Yes, there's a lot. Either I was born in the wrong century, or I've been born in several different centuries and drawing on something. ;)

First stop: the Neolithic... somewhere. Anywhere. Let's say Neolithic Orkney, so I could see Maes Howe chambered cairn and the Tomb of the Eagles in use, observe a highly innovative and communal society, and ask someone to tell me once and for all what stone circles and cup and ring marks are all about!

After that, I think a trip to Bronze Age Kilmartin would be nice, since it's one of my most favourite places, and there I'd get to soak up some prehistoric spirituality. And maybe I could steal me one of those pretty jet necklaces!

After the Bronze Age, I think I'll take a break from Scotland and travel to the Bay of Naples for some sun. I'm thinking Pompeii, so I can get to know some of the people behind the graffiti messages and see if Celadus the gladiator is really as hot as everyone says ;). 'Course, I want to get back from this trip alive, so this visit would have to be some time between AD 62 - 79 (no earthquakes/volcanic eruptions plzthanx)

Staying in Italy, I'd take the opportunity to introduce myself to either Emperor Vespasian or Titus, then it's back to Scotland in time for the Flavian invasion (c. AD 79 - 83) to meet two of my all-time favourite figures: Gnaeus Julius Agricola and Calgacus. If Tacitus was there, I'd get an autograph! ;) Probably egg on the Caledonians at the Battle of Mons Graupius (from a safe distance). Wouldn't mind seeing the Antonine Wall in something other than bumps-in-the-grass form (c. AD 143 - 163), so I'd go there, too - probably to Auchendavy to see my favourite centurion!

Then it would definitely be time for some of the Historic period, so I think some retail therapy in the centre of trade that was Dalriadic Dunadd would be order! Try to catch a royal inauguration ceremony while I was there, of course - I could get an intentional photo of someone up on that outcrop this time, lol! And I'd see if I could find some distant ancestors there, while I was at it.

After that, I'd turn my attention to the Picts. I'd probably try for the court of King Brude (possibly at Craig Phadraig in Inverness). It would be an opportunity to find out just exactly what Pictish life was like, and find out what the Pictish symbols all mean. Entertainment would be provided by watching the showdown between Broichan the druid-type and ol' Father Columcille. I'd have to snaffle some Pictish silver somewhere - I'm a silver junkie...

Then, being chased back to my time machine/TARDIS/time-turner/whatever I'm using to get about, by an angry silversmith, I'd escape to the Hebrides, probably Lewis, to see some Viking settlements. I love the Vikings (and it'd be another chance to visit some "relatives", lol), but I don't know as much about them as I wish I did, so I'd take a wander around a settlement and see what was going on.

After that, it'd be a visit to a medieval burgh - just to round things off - then I'd come home (making sure that angry Pictish silversmith had managed to follow me, of course!)

That's where I'd go, anyway. Your turn!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Utada Hikaru - Deep River

The most beautiful song I've ever heard; I get tears in my eyes every time I listen to it. I love how, at 0.59, Utada has to keep herself from crying, too!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dunadd pictures

I got a bit "homesick" for Argyll and Dunadd today, so I dug out the camera and found the photos I'd taken while I was on holiday. There are some pretty good ones, if I do say so myself. ;)

But before I give you the pretty pictures, a quick history lesson. Dunadd is generally considered to be the "capital" of the Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada (Dál Riata). The traditional story is that it was founded c. 500 AD by Fergus Mór mac Erc of the kingdom of Dál Riata in Ireland (Co. Antrim). The archaeological record, however, doesn't really suggest any large folk movement around this time, more that Argyll and Ireland (especially Antrim) had strong links long before then. It's a theory I'm playing with in my first-century-set novel, The Ancestor Crown, and a good chunk of the story takes place in Argyll, away from the main line of the Roman advance. (Yes, there is method in my madness.) Dunadd itself turns up once or twice, and provides the backdrop for a few pivotal chapters.

Dunadd was an important site all throughout Dál Riata's flourishing, and it's in a superb location - defensible, and in the midst of one of Scotland's richest prehistoric landscapes (to get an idea of just how rich: linky).

As yet, Dunadd's precise function is still unknown: was it the place of residence for the king and his house, or was it merely a ceremonial location? In TAC - set a good four hundred years before the kingdom's flourishing - I've chosen it as the seat of the Royal Clan of the Epidii tribe, fulfilling both fuctions. It doesn't seem unreasonable to think that the Dál Riata would have adopted an already existing power base for their seat, and there are traces of an earlier, smaller fort, as my professors pointed out during our field trip.

And now, on with the tour! At the foot of the hill, you're faced with a short, but fairly steep clamber, until the ground levels out and you find yourself looking at this:

This is the entrance to the dun, carved straight out of the rock. As you can imagine, this would have given entrance to Dunadd a highly formal, even ceremonious, feel, and when I passed through, more than a thousand years after Dál Riata, I still got the feeling of being "waved through". It wasn't hard to imagine being watched by guards patrolling the rampart above...

From there, we pass into what I'll call the "main enclosure". The rampart is pretty well-defined, and it encompasses a wide area which includes what I think was a well. It's here that archaeology has uncovered traces of a fine metalworking workshop, which may have added to Dunadd's prestige. Marcus, my silversmith-turned-legionary, feels very at home here during his brief stay. :)

Here's a picture looking south over the rampart, out towards the hills and the Mòine Mhòr - the "Great Moss". I think, in Dalriadic times, this marsh would have just about surrounded Dunadd.

Another steep climb takes up to another outcrop (the inhabitants of Dunadd made clever use of all the natural terraces of rock, as we'll see). This is the interesting one: this is where the footprint is:

This rock slab is the most famous thing about Dunadd. On it there's not only a footprint, but a carved Pictish-style boar, and an ogham inscription. In the rock just behind the slab is a carved hollow, or "bowl", and it's thought these were all involved in the inauguration of the Dalriadic kings. An important feature of king-making ceremonies in Celtic Ireland was the king's symbolic marriage to the goddess of the land (the "Lady of Sovereignty", as she is sometimes referred to) and it's thought that a king placing his foot here was demonstrating that same union. Needless to say, I've got quite a few people who harbour hopes of sticking their foot here, including a certain Irish prince from chapter 24 of the Agricola.

(I came up with another, less serious theory: maybe the person whose foot fitted was the one who would be crowned king - a sort of mix of King Arthur and Cinderella, lol!)

The history of Dunadd really suggests a lot of religious significance. The Dalriadic kings were linked with the (then) up-and-coming Columban church on Iona, and according to tradition, this is where Saint Columba inaugurated Áedán mac Gabráin in the first Christian coronation of the Dalriadic kings (and probably tried his own foot on for size - wouldn't put it past him, lol!) When Dál Riata became Christian, Dunadd retained its religious emphasis. Quern stones inscribed with Christian crosses have been uncovered, amongst other things, alluding to a fairly active religious community.

The outcrop itself is quite small; only the king, a clergyman and perhaps a few elites would have been able to fit there during the inauguration ceremony: the lesser nobles and/or other clients of the king would probably have watched the proceedings from the main enclosure. The outcrop seems to be the focal point for the whole dun; if you look back at the photo of the gateway, it's the outcrop framed by the rampart, so it's the first thing you see as soon as you step through. Everything is making you look at that outcrop and what's going on there. I imagine the king would have cut quite an impressive figure, framed against the skyline like that. I thought I saw Phaedrus the ex-gladiator standing there with his foot in place, but it might just have been my imagination! (Think I might reread Mark of the Horse Lord soon!)

We now ascend to the highest outcrop on the hill, where it's thought the king's residence would have been. This is where photo fun really begins! From these images it should be easy to imagine how the landscape enhanced Dunadd's position, both in terms of defence and spectacle.

This is looking west, over the Moss, towards the Sound of Jura. I like how this one turned out; I think the beam of light adds a bit of drama!

Looking kind of southwest-ish. It doesn't show in the picture, but the side of the hill looking seawards drops into some pretty sheer cliffs for such a craggy hill. And the marsh would have covered a broader area (large parts were drained in the last few centuries for farming). Anyone trying to capture Dunadd would have had their work cut out for them (and yet somehow the Picts managed!).

This is looking east. Again, just to give you the impression of the kind of views the king would have enjoyed from up here. Good for defence, and good for the ego, no doubt! I actually spent a couple of hours up here by myself one morning, soaking up some atmosphere and looking down at the rest of the dun thinking, "That's where Cathal will challenge Marcus to single combat, and that's where Gairea will eavesdrop on Sargaid and the Chief Druid..."

The best photos I got, though, were the sunset pics. One evening we were treated to a pretty awe-inspiring sunset, so I snatched the camera and hopped up to the summit. Here are the best results:

Towards the Sound of Jura again:

Looking more northwest-ish:

Looking south. I like the gentler colour here:

Probably my favourite one, this is looking northwest-ish again:

This was coming up for about ten at night. Doesn't look it, does it? 'Course, the sunset was just so spectacular, I couldn't resist the urge to include it in a scene in AC - when Cathal puts the moves on Gairea. I'll be in for a challenge when it comes to doing it justice, though!

With such an incredible location - steeped in history, formidably defended and in the midst of such spectacular surroundings - it's no wonder this became the heart of Dál Riata!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Writing targets

I've never actually set myself any targets before, but I thought I should. I thought this would help give me some discipline, so I can get all these things written. I'm going to concentrate mostly on The Ancestor Crown, and I've set some targets for where I want things to be by the New Year. So, by the time the Bells start chiming and everyone starts singing Auld Lang Syne:

*Marcus should be fighting in Galloway.
*Gairea should have started her Druid training.
*Calgach should, if not physically be with the Novantae, then ready to travel to them.
*Agricola should be in Scotland and, at the very least, preparing for Tuathal's departure to Argyll.
*Cathal should already have appealed once to King Nechtain to join the Caledones' battle against the legions.

Hmm. That's quite a tall order. I'll see if I manage to make them. I've never done anything like this before, and I'm interested in seeing how it turns out.

Well, I'd better make a start!