Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Hoping your 2009 is safe, happy and healthy.

Who's made a New Year's resolution? I really shouldn't - I never keep them - but I've resolved to write at least a thousand words a day, every day, this year. I think I'll last... oh... till Saturday. :)

And because I can't resist, here's the resolutions my characters would make. Let's see who can keep theirs. ;)

Book I

Marcus: I think it's time to bury the hatchet with my dad. He has been dead for more than two years. Ouch.

Gairea: To finally find out what these recurring dreams of mine mean. Oh, and I have a habit of falling in love with unsuitable men. I should probably knock that on the head.

Agricola: Come on. Guess.

Calgach: I will not make big speeches. I will not make big speeches. I will not make big speeches...

Cathal: *measures size of right foot, then size of the footprint in the Epidii kingstone* Eh? What? I missed that; I was... sort of busy.

Tuathal: I dunno. Get the kingship of Temair back from my daddy's murderer, I suppose. I should probably check with Mum...

Tacitus: You know what? I think I'll start writing history books. That should fill my spare time.

Book II

Aulus: (sheepishly) Should probably tell Kirsten exactly what's happened to me north of the Wall...

Firmus: Need to stop impulse buying. And commissioning altars. Any more, and the Hunterian Museum will have no more room for 'em.

Eilwen: I will smile. Or laugh. Or - I don't know - do something cheerful.

Aneirin: I should get up off my arse and figure out what my loyalties are.

Aurelia: Get a husband who doesn't divorce me/die suddenly/disappear in suspicious circumstances. One with a bit of stamina.

Cinioch: To gain the respect of at least one person in the world.

Seithved: I should de-skeleton my closet...

Book III

Aelius: Make sure that when I go boar-hunting, I never end up alone with my main political rival.

Cairpre: Nothing special. Escape a hostile king and a famine. Find land to settle for me and my followers. Found an influential Gaelic kingdom. Fulfil a prophecy made by my great-great grandmother. You know, the usual.

Septimius Severus: Well, I'll try not to die before slaughtering everyone north of Hadrian's Wall, but I'm not making any promises...

Caracalla: I WILL RULE THE WORLD. I mean... I'll help my dad fight the Maeatae and the Caledones. And look after my brother. Yep. That's totally it. Mm-hm.

Gwenllian: Maybe I should try to be more tactful...? Ah, bugger it, it will never work...

Gaius: Try not to get crushed between those two royal brats' quarrels. Easier said than done, though...

Plot: I promise, I'll try to be less like Star Wars.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Yule. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. Whatever you happen to celebrate.

Wishing you all the best for the season. Hope you have a great day!

(Yeah, that's our dog, and that's what he'll put up with for biscuits. My mum's idea, not mine.)

I'm home for the holidays and we're all ready for Christmas over here chez Campbell. Mum's been playing Christmas carols all day and thanks to a website Iona found, we've been singing them in every language from English to Japanese. :) The lights on the tree are blinking away, and the presents are all wrapped and piled up under the tree. Plus we're halfway through It's A Wonderful Life, with a ready supply of tissues to hand - though that's strictly for my cold. Honest. :)

Nooo! The money's gone!

Sorry. Real-time posting.

Anyway, after it's finished, we'll be watching another traditional Campbell favourite - A Muppet Christmas Carol. Love that film. :)

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Multiple PoV: some musings

Io, Saturnalia, everyone!

Like I said - somewhere - NaNo gave me a few ideas for some long-winded writing posts, and since my first semester exams are over, I'm taking a break from mooching around the flat with my friends, Christmas shopping, playing video games, and watching Doctor Who repeats, to write one of them. My review of Gillian Bradshaw's Dark North mentioned the issue of PoV, so this particular topic has been shifted into first place.

I don't at all mind reading books which are told from a single PoV, but when I'm writing, unless I'm writing in first-person, I tend to use multiple PoV. My plots tend to big, sprawling things, and by using more than one character as the reader's eyes, I can flesh out the many plot threads better than I could with a single PoV. The Ancestor Crown, for example, could theoretically be told entirely from, say, Marcus' PoV. The main plot is still there, and the reader still gets the adventure, the character development and all that, but it would also miss out a lot of important subplots. Like Calgach's struggle to unite the tribes, Agricola's dealings with certain Imperial intrigues, the Druidic wheeling and dealing that Gairea is in the thick of, and the Epidii politics that Cathal deals with. These themes would all be touched on, but not in such great depth. Giving all these characters a voice allows the entire story to sprawl out (and boy, does it sprawl) and allows me to do the main subplots better justice.

It also, I think, helps the credibility of certain plot twists. Let's take, for instance, the second book. If the entire thing was told from Firmus' PoV, we'd have the major revelation of "You know that woman you bought down the slave market? Actually the sister of some tribal king, the descendant of a major Caledonian rebel, and she was passing information about the movements on the frontier to her clansmen because her brother has some crazy idea about reviving their ancestor's confederacy" all at once. Possibly a wee bit too much shockgasp! material to swallow in one go? With so much backstory and baggage attached to that particular subplot, it makes more sense to have Eilwen's PoV in there as well, so this barrage of information isn't coming completely out of left field, to the reader, anyway.

This approach might be something of a double-edged sword: if you're going for suspense you might not want to throw all your cards on the table like that. And I do have a good few subplots where the enemy/culprit isn't revealed to the reader until it is to the characters. The trick my own approach is in dropping just the right hints in just the right places. With a bit of careful handling, you can still maintain the suspense. Then again, the approach makes for its own sort of suspense. For example, in Book Three, I know that Aelius and Gaius are eventually going to meet each other again on opposite sides of a war - but when? And how? The suspense is heightened as the reader waits for their stories to converge.

And, of course, giving more characters a voice is an advantage when it comes to characterisation, as it allows the reader to see more facets of a certain character than they might otherwise. This a particular advantage when it comes to villains/antagonists. Take Cathal. Again, if I told AC totally from Marcus' view, the portrayal of Cathal would be limited to his most dominant traits: his aggression, his arrogance, his ambition, and his hatred for all things Roman. It barely makes it to two-dimensional, but by including Cathal's PoV, I can let the reader see other facets to his character, like his genuine loyalty to his tribe, his moments of integrity (yes, it does exist!), and his relationships with his fellow warriors. I like to give at least some of the antagonists their PoV, and write them from the principle that everyone is the hero of his/her own story, which balances out their good and bad points a bit more.

And, of course, letting the reader into the minds of several characters gives them a better chance to find one to find at least one like. I always try to make my characters as interesting or appealing as possible, but it's a fact of life that you can't please everyone, and there are inevitably going to be characters who I love to bits, but who just won't work for another reader. Some are likely to find Calgach, the cunning and world-wise king, a more appealing guide than Gairea, the troubled teenage girl, and vice versa. It's all a matter of taste, and introducing more PoV characters gives the reader more opportunity to find one to their liking.

Well, there's the why. It's the how, though, that really gave me pause during November.

When using multiple PoV, the two main techniques are third person limited and omniscient PoV (some authors do use first person, though, but in my experience many of them don't give their PoV characters distinctive enough voices, so I don't think it works quite as well). My own preference is third limited, because omniscient sometimes disconcerts me when I've just got settled into one character's mind, only to flit to the next one. It's just a matter of preference, and both ways have their pros and cons.

Since I use third limited, the technique I went with in AC was to identify my main characters (Marcus, Gairea, Calgach, Agricola and Cathal) and tell their intertwining stories a chapter at a time. But, looking ahead, I've realised that there's a problem with this. My general rule of PoV is that a scene should be told through the eyes of the character who has the most at stake, to get the most emotion out of it. But then I thought ahead to the big set-piece of AC, which is the Battle of Mons Graupius. All five of my designated drivers are present for it, and it presents a huge turning point in each of their individual stories. So, whose head should the reader be in for it? The answer is: everyone's. But my chosen technique doesn't allow for it. By confining each character to their own chapter, I'd be splitting the battle into several sections, rather than making it flow as a whole, and that could slow the pacing. This was what first got me thinking about changing my technique. Maybe it would be better - overall, not just for that particular scene - if I let each PoV intertwine throughout each chapter, rather than segregating them as I have been doing. It definitely lend more fluidity to the narrative, and the more I think about it, the more I'm realising that this could apply to several events in all of the books, not just Mons Graupius.

I've also been thinking about being less strict with whose PoV I use. This came when I wrote a chapter in Cinioch's PoV during NaNo. He was never meant to be one of my windows, but the chapter just felt right when it was written in his PoV. It also showed Cinioch's motivations, rather than telling them. With this mind, I looked around and realised that it wasn't just my main characters who could contribute to the story: some of the secondary characters could also provide crucial insights at certain points in the story. Tuathal, Sargaid, Verecunda, Aulus, Seithved... I never intended any of them to have a PoV, but I'm realising that there are certain points where their input might be more valuable even than my main characters', and again, offer a little window into their heads, too. I gave a friend the first couple of chapters of Book Two to read during NaNo, and she remarked that Edarnan came across as weak, because at the ideal opportunity he didn't act on a subject that he professed was important to him. As the writer, I already knew that Edarnan didn't act right away because he had a long-term plan, but it occurred to me that sprinkling in a little of his PoV at certain times would strengthen his characterisation in the eyes of the readers and allow enough of a look into his head to know exactly why he's not acting when he should.

So I'm thinking about relaxing my "one character PoV per chapter" rule, and mixing them in together a bit more. It might make the separate stories flow together a bit better, and maybe allowing more than one person a look-in during a chapter will do the thing proper justice.

I don't know yet. I'm only just turning to this technique, and still need to experiment a bit. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Book review: Dark North, by Gillian Bradshaw

Insert your own likely spoiler warning here.

Let me just start off by saying that I'm so, so glad to see Iron Age/Roman Scotland being used more as a setting for novels. There were some pretty intriguing and not-too-greatly-documented events and characters, so it makes the ideal writer's playground. The Flavian invasion of the first century AD has gained some popularity with writers, and in Dark North, Gillian Bradshaw takes on the Severan invasion of the third.

The year is AD 208, and the Emperor Septimius Severus has arrived in Britain to deal personally with the troublesome tribal confederacies in the north: the Maeatae and the Caledones. Among the ranks of soldiers drafted over from the Danube frontier is Memnon, an African scout in the numerus (roughly, "unit") of Aurelian Moors. As the book opens, we meet Memnon playing an elaborate practical joke on the legionaries of the Second Legion Parthica. When said joke embarrasses the legion, infuriates the Emperor, and has the Imperial spies doing the rounds, Memnon's prefect, Rogatus, decides to get him out their way by sending him north, partly to save his hide and partly to punish him, to make an initial report to the unit's new garrison, Aballava (Burgh by Sands). Not too thrilled at this prospect, Memnon is assigned to a travelling party whose members are also bound northwards. Most of them are soldiers, but it also includes two members of the Imperial staff, the freedman Castor and Athenais, a secretary to the Empress Julia Domna.

Despite his introduction as a troublemaker, Memnon soon proves to be quite heroic, when the party is ambushed by Maeatae raiders and Castor and Athenais are captured. While the tribune in charge is all for retreating, Memnon breaks away and goes after the raiders by himself, spurred on by memories from his past. He succeeds, not only in rescuing the two from torture, but also in besting the Votadinian chieftain Fortrenn (pedantic quibble time: Fortrenn is actually a genitive form, the reconstructed name being *Fortriu, but I managed to live with it). After putting the fear into Fortrenn and his warriors, Memnon frees the two prisoners and they make their escape. Despite the anger of the tribune, he earns a hero's reputation amongst the soldiers, though because of his memories, he's not quite so glad about it. He also gains in Athenais and Castor two good friends at court.

Meanwhile, he and his unit move into Aballava alongside a resentful cohort of Frisian auxiliaries, and begin to scout the countryside in preparation for the war. But it soon becomes clear that it's not only the Maeatae that they should be worrying about, as, thanks to Castor and Athenais, he learns of the strife and intrigue within the Imperial family. The Emperor's two sons, the vile Antoninus (aka Caracalla) and the not much better Geta, are constantly vying against each other, and as they use their father's war for their own nefarious purposes, many lives become endangered: Castor's, Athenais', and even Memnon's, when the intrigues involve his numerus. In addition to this intrigue are Memnon's adventures on the frontier. Whilst on campaign, he is cornered by a group of warriors, but with his bravery and wit he gains the respect of the Caledonian chieftain Argentocoxus, and spends some time as his guest/prisoner. This allows him a glimpse into their culture, which ultimately humanises them to his eyes. When he escapes and returns to the army, his outlook begins to change. His years in the army have led him to love the Empire, but as he learns more about the power struggles within the Imperial family from Castor and Athenais, he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the people at the head of it. As the war rages on and the intrigues become more dangerous, Memnon and his friends will need all their wits to survive.

The novel is told entirely from Memnon's PoV, so it's a good thing that he's such an engaging and lovable hero. Bradshaw strikes a good balance between his good humour and his troubles, his practical jokes and his diligence as a scout. His past and the fears it has spawned in his mind are present, but never veer into draggy angst, as they might easily have done, and his personality means that there are plenty of humorous moments in between the intrigue and danger of the plot. There were a few times where I think Bradshaw let him get out of trouble a wee bit too easily, but luckily, he never turns into a full-blown Gary-Stu, remaining a very human protagonist. As well as the tribes and the Emperor's sons, he also has to deal with the prejudices of his fellow soldiers, who believe a black man to be an unlucky omen (despite, y'know, the Emperor being African), and of the tribes, who have never seen an Ethiopian before, and fear him to be a demon. Usually racial tension in historical novels of this period deal more with the Roman v. Gaul/Briton/German/Goth/etc. theme, so it was interesting to read about a form of racism (white/black) which is much more virulent in our own time. People, and, sadly, their prejudices, never seem to change.

Memnon is, I think, the best-developed character of the book, but there are others characters I grew fond of, like the unconventionally brave Castor, the intelligent and capable Athenais, and Rogatus, the hard-bitten old prefect with a heart of gold. I even got quite attached to Dozy, Memnon's trusty gelding. Historical figures such as Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla, Argentocoxus and his wife, also get small parts and cameos.

The novel's plot stays faithful to Cassius Dio's account of the Severan invasion (scroll down to paragraph eleven), including all the major events and utterances reported. Bradshaw also uses an anecdote from the, admittedly unreliable, Historia Augusta, albeit, as she points out in her author's note, one that might just be plausible. The world-building is sound, especially in the details of the Roman army, even if there were a couple of times where the narrative strayed a wee bit too close to an info-dump. Bradshaw does a good job in portraying the possible tensions between legionaries and auxiliaries, and even between auxiliary cohorts. I'm no expert, but the details of the cavalry, the horse training and care, all seemed pretty authentic, too. I should maybe add that Bradshaw's identification of the Maeatae as a confederation of Lowland tribes (Votadini, Novantae, and Selgovae) might be disputed by those who favour their location to be in Fife or further north, but since Dio describes them as living "next to the wall that divides the island in two", I'm inclined to agree with her.

The fact that the novel is seen completely through Memnon's eyes was perhaps its greatest weakness. He receives most of his information about the court intrigues second-hand through Castor and Athenais, who are in the thick of it, and maybe telling parts in their PsoV could have made the dangers more immediate and intense. For instance, Caracalla's cameo portrays him as rude, but not necessarily dangerous: we learn that mostly from the information passed to Memnon. Giving his friends their PoV would have enhanced the suspense of the novel, and fleshed out the historical cameos a bit more, as well as the complicated emotions created by the sorta-love triangle that develops between the three of them.

That said, Dark North was still highly entertaining and exciting, and I finished it in a couple of sittings. Bradshaw's other book about Roman Britain, Island of Ghosts, is definitely on my TBR list.

Friday, November 28, 2008

From the Rostra...

Wow, it feels like a long time since I posted on here. Not really had much time/energy/will to blog these last few weeks. Just an update, then.

It's a clichéd phrase, but it has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I went back to my mum and dad's for the first week for the funeral. I think it was both heartbreaking and relieving for us all when that day finally came, to be honest. I went with most of the family to see him at the funeral home the day before, and while it was hard summoning up the courage to walk into the room, in the end I'm glad I did. I still wish I could've said goodbye to him before he passed away, but going to see him managed to balm that particular wound a bit.

And I'll tell you something, there's no girl braver than my sister Iona. We were both reading bidding prayers at the funeral service, and though she was sobbing her heart out, she still managed to say her piece, up there in front of everyone. I'm so, so proud of her. If she can do that, then she'll have no problem singing in front of those sold-outs crowds at Budokan when she becomes a chart-topping singer. :)

The funeral was on the 5th, so as part of the wake we bought some fireworks. There were a lot of folk in the scheme setting them off, but ours were by far the best. That was a nice send-off for Granda, we all agreed. :)

Then, on the Saturday just after that, Father Conway, who was a great pal of my granda's and did the funeral service, also passed away. Needless to say, we were all stunned. Like my dad said, it's almost like they were waiting on each other.

Going back to uni after that was a bit strange. I stayed with my family for the rest of the week, and when I got back to uni I had a good bit of work to catch up on (and still do), had to get extensions on the deadlines for my first essays, and ran into a whole new set of assignments from my all subjects. The first week wasn't too bad - though with hindsight, I think I was still just wandering about in a daze, but last week was awful. My moods were all over the place, I was struggling to balance the immense workload, and didn't seem to have the mental strength to very much about it. I missed a good few lectures and tutorials and just getting further and further behind. That's when it all became too overwhelming for me and I broke down and ended up blubbing down the phone to my dad at half two on Friday morning, and going back home for the weekend.

Dad had intended that I take it easy, but no, as our dog, Sirius, became ill, and when we took him to the vet's on Saturday it turned out that he had prostatitis and kidney stones - lots of them, so they'd have to operate. Now, Sirry's ten years old (human years), one of his legs had to be amputated a couple of years back, and all that weekend he seemed so weak and in so much pain, so we... weren't optimistic. I think that at any other time, we all would've coped with the worry much better, but not this weekend. After what had already happened, we didn't feel we could bear another loss. To know Sirry is to love him: he's the loveliest, sweetest-tempered thing in the world, and the delight of all the primary school kids in the village. When they were making their Nativity set last Christmas, they painted in another special star - Sirius, the Dog Star, of course! So, yes, he's a big sook, but adorable with it, and none of us wanted to see him go. Not now, anyway. Not on top of everything else.

Good news, though. He pulled through. And he's back to hopping about like a mad thing, demanding cuddles and begging for food. In other words, he's back to his old self.

And I'm doing all right, too. It catches up to me at times, but I'm trying to get myself back into my normal routine. The workload is still huge, and it feels like I've spent every night typing out essays on Hallstatt D1, castles and burghs, total excavation versus problem-orientated excavation, Cicero's godawful letters, and a whole lot more, but I only have two left to write. Then, of course, it's exams. :( I'm still lagging behind in my work a bit, but I'll hopefully be able to bring myself back up to speed for the exams. Oh, well. *fingers crossed*

I've decided I'm going to slowly, reluctantly, let Latin slip by the wayside. I'm not going to stop working at it outright, but I am going to focus more on the subjects that matter most to me, those being Archaeology and Celtic. I'm glad, really, that we've only got a week of lectures left. I do like doing the Pliny, but our tutor for that part of the course - while a lovely, zany woman the rest of the time, when she's teaching Latin she's more like that centurion in Life of Brian...

I'm also trying to navigate the uni's new Student Absence Policy. It involves submitting various forms online, but - get this - for "significant absences" they want some sort of written proof. Well, that's all very well if you're ill, you can a medical certificate, but what the fuck are you supposed to give them if a family member's died? What the fuck do you want - a death certificate? Directions to the grave? I guess a meeting with Irish Advisor is in order. Ah, well. It's not like that's a bad thing, or anything. :)

There's good news, too, amidst this tale of woe. First... *drum roll*... guess who's going back to Vindolanda in the summer? And guess who's managed to drag her flatmate and fellow archaeology student Sara into coming with her? :D We decided we wanted to do a few weeks digging at an interesting site before we had to do the uni field school at Forteviot, Palace of the Rain and the Post Holes and Not Much Bloody Else. (Seriously, I've been to one of the post-season seminars they have. Cows, rain and post-holes. That's pretty much Forteviot. Not surprising, really, since the site was pretty much washed away in a flood at some point in antiquity.)

But, yeah. Vindolanda. Apparently it's the barracks this time. :)

And OMGfangirlsquee - the Doctor Who Exhibition is coming to the Kelvingrove Museum in March. Me and Alyson descended into a mad display of geekish joy.

Alyson also bought a Labyrinth poster the other day. It's pretty cool, but David Bowie's eyes follow you unerringly around the room...

Anyway, that's pretty much it. Just thought I'd post an update now that I'm feeling up to it, and while I've got some breathing space between assignments and studying. Trying to get back to normal, and that includes blogging. NaNo - which I'll be glad to reach 25K of by Sunday night; it gave me a good distraction during the first half of the month, but I've had to pretty much abandon it the last couple of weeks - has given me some ideas for writing-related posts, so I should be returning gradually over the next few weeks. :)

Friday, October 31, 2008

A hail and farewell

My granda, John Campbell, passed away last night. He went peacefully, surrounded by my gran, my dad and my aunts and uncle. They said he was prepared, and that he spoke to everyone before he went. The parish priests came to the hospital, more as friends than priests, and gave him the last rites, which comforted him so much. He was the most devout man I know. I don't share his faith, but I'm glad they could give him that comfort before he passed.

I still can't quite believe it. My granda has been there all my life, and he was such a solid, strong presence. Like my dad, I thought he was immortal. He was such a good, honest, generous-hearted man, who didn't have an enemy in the world, and who worked so hard for years so his children wouldn't have to. And he was such an unflagging spirit, even till the end. My dad told me that when he went to visit him at the hospital, lying there on the life support, my granda, though he was barely conscious, he lifted off his oxygen mask and said, "Son... what wis the Celtic score?"

It was 3 - 1 to Celtic, so that must have made him happy.

I've been at my gran's house for most of the day with most of the family. She's heartbroken, but bearing up incredibly well. She's a strong woman, but I can't imagine how this is for her. But one of the last things my granda said was that he wanted us to all stick together, so that's what we're going to do. His family meant everything to him.

Goodbye, Granda. I'm sorry I couldn't be there when you passed, but I'll remember you and love you all my life. The Campbell family isn't complete without you.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The news:

Thursday's Latin test... did not go well. (shrugs) There wasn't much hope of me passing it, but it's still a bit disappointing.

On the other hand, only one Cicero letter left to do! Woo-hoo! We do, however, have to translate part of his godawful Catiline speech (why God why are we being made to prepare "unseen" translations? Doesn't that render the very word "unseen" moot?). Then, finally, we can move onto Pliny.

I've managed to get my flatmates hooked on Cadfael. Three of us are Hugh Beringar fangirls. We're not odd. At all.

On a similar note, I'm well and truly addicted to historical whodunnits. I got one from Waterstone's the other day which was set in medieval Glasgow. No way I could resist that. :) It's called The Harper's Quine, by Pat McIntosh. I've not started it yet, but I'm all set to dive in tonight! :) Also waiting on Dark North by Gillian Bradshaw to arrive with those books I ordered for uni. It's not a whodunnit, but it is set during the Severan campaigns in northern Britain. :)

Talking of which, Uncle Gaius from the Severan novel has established himself as a main character. So it's Uncle Gaius no longer, rather Gaius Cocceius Marcellus, optio of the century of Gavilius, Legio II Parthica. Put in charge of the century when Gavilius is suddenly killed, helping invade his mother's homeland, and fighting against his nephew, the lad he practically helped his sister raise after her husband died.

Why do they do this to me?!

The Archaeology section in the uni library is also a treasure trove. I was looking - rather unsuccessfully - for some books about Iron Age Hallstatt culture - my essay subject. Most of the books on the Iron Age in Germany and Austria, however, are in German, and since I only did half of Higher German, I don't think they'll be of much help. I did find the Roman Britain section, however, which... er... distracted me from my search. They have books on Roman London! :) As for Hallstatt, I've still got my books and notes from first year Celtic Civ., so I should be okay. And Sara's doing Level 1 Celtic Civ. this year, so I can get links to decent websites from her.

And it's now only six days till NaNo! Woot! I'm dying to get started! I'd better start stocking up on snacks. Chocolate, hot chocolate, lemonade, grapes and tangerines all help me write... :)

Tomorrow night is also the first meet for the Glasgow NaNoers, so I'll be going along. Can't wait.

Also have my Hallowe'en costume to get together. I'm going as one of the Furies of Mona. So I'll need wild hair (well, I already have that, lol!), a black robe, blue face-paint, and a lot of fake blood. >:) Sara's going as a vampire - with plenty of body glitter. And if you don't get the joke - well - you're the lucky one.

Ooh, I love Hallowe'en, as much as Christmas. >:) It's the dookin for apples I like best. Also have to get our Hallowe'en movies together. I've already got Sleepy Hollow - the Tim Burton version - and I want to get Hocus Pocus, too. :D

I should have a proper post up soon, something Hallowe'en/Samhain related. I don't know what, but I've got a few ghoulish ideas. Mwahaha.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Latin, Latin, and more Latin

(Update, 16/10/08: All is not lost! An email from an unnamed student (though I know who, 'cause she told me), has reminded the lecturers that there are noobies. We now have vocab to learn, and apparently the translation will have a glossary, so my phantom state should only be for the next week or so. :D)

That's my current workload for uni. Let's break this down. I have four Latin classes a week: two translating letters, one doing an unseen translation, the other doing grammar. We have three different lecturers, and get work to do from each of them. Usually this is averages out at two letters a week, one passage for unseen, and one grammar worksheet.

In short, I have far too much bloody Latin work to do, and it's impacting the rest of my subjects, because I don't have the time to do extra studying for them.

Then there's the problem with the class. Last year, there were two Level One classes: one for absolute beginners, like me, and another, for people who had already done Latin at A Level or whatever. Those continuing into Level Two - from both classes - have been put in the same class, and it's made the whole thing very uneven, because we have the noobies and the advanced students doing the same work, the latter having at least two more years of Latin. What's more, the lecturers seem to have forgotten that there are noobies in the class at all, so we're sort of left floundering.

And what's more, our first test is next Thursday. It's worth twenty per cent of the overall grade. We're not allowed dictionaries. While I understand the logic behind this, it's put the noobies at a bit of a disadvantage, because the course we were on last year focused mostly on the grammar with little variation in vocabulary, and left us overly dependent on the dictionaries in that regard. In other words, while the advanced students have their three or so years' worth of vocab, us noobies are screwed. Because last year's course book sucked big time - and I hear this year's first years are using a different textbook.

Even that I could've dealt with, if we hadn't just been told this yesterday. The test in in a week's time. In other words, I've got about a week to learn at least a year's worth of vocab.

Worse, they're still giving us this massive amount of homework, so I'm barely able to find the time to learn any. If they'd just cut down on the amount of work they're giving us - like, for instance, not having us prepare the unseen translation, 'cause it's supposed to be - y'know - unseen.

So, I've so much work to do for Latin, I can't do the studying I need to do to pass this test, which is going to drag my overall score down. And that, in turn, is going to drag my grade point average down, and I'll need to get a good one to get into Honours.

To compensate for a bad Latin mark, of course, I have to get good ones in Archaeology and Celtic. But I don't have time to study for them, because I have all that sodding Latin work to do, and no sodding time to study the other two.

Did I mention I'm hoping to do a Joint Honours in Archaeology and Celtic Civilisation? Y'know, the two subjects I don't have time to study for. They're putting all these links and recommended reading lists online, and I have no. bloody. time.

Now let's add the essays onto that. I have the test next week, so I'll be trying to study for that this week. I have a Celtic essay due November 6, a Latin one due November 10, and an Archaeology one due November 11. Then there's this mysterious assessed worksheet we have to do for Archaeology, which was allegedly supposed to be given out during our first tutorial (three weeks ago). It's due in the end of October. We were given a worksheet to do during that tutorial, but I have a very vivid memory of my tutor saying that it wasn't an assessed piece. So I need to find out just what the hell is going on there.

The best one was one of my flatmates, who also ranted at length with me about the Latin situation, and about having no time to do any work... then promptly announced she was going out for the evening.


So it looks like I'm pretty much going to be a phantom online from now until November, if I'm to have half a chance of scraping a pass from my subjects.

How long is it till December? Seriously, I'm glad I only have to do Latin this term. I have the feeling I'll be dropping it after Christmas. Which sucks, because I love learning it, only the department is a complete fucking shambles.

See yous when I resurface.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Yeah, I have a cold. It sucks. My head feels like fluff, and I can't just curl up in bed 'cause I have work to do. Uni's keeping me busy, so I haven't been online as much as I'd like. :(

It's official: Cicero was a prat. I'm not surprised they had him murdered. Anything to shut him up. In the first letter we were set to translate, he spends half of it in high dudgeon because one of the consuls didn't ask him his opinion in the Senate first. He was only second. Shock bloody horror. And what with him having saved the republic single-handedly. Wash, rinse, repeat. Honestly, I was reaching the point (and I don't think I was the only one) where I was biting back a cry of, "Oh, just get over yourself, will you?!"

Seriously, I can't wait till we're done with Cicero and onto the letters of Pliny the Younger. At least he acknowledged that there were other people in the world apart from him. ;)

And NaNo's less than a month away now! Eep - I can't wait! Got a few bits of research to do before November starts - mostly about London, since a few chapters take place there, and other minutiae. And I think I need to start compiling a serious family tree. (sighs)

It's - what? - only October 4. Aargh, I can't wait! Bring it on, November!

See you later. I'm away to peruse various blogs and websites... then I think I'll go to bed. I'm feeling seriously crap. Night!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Well, I've done it.

I've gone and offered up my soul to NaNoWriMo. And I'm pretty sure I've got at least two essays to do in November. I must be insane. Now I just need to work out which plotbunny I'm invoking for November. I'm a bit far in with Ancestor Crown to make it my NaNo, but then there are the other two books in the trilogy. Minus the odd snippet or two from later on, in "linear" terms, Book Two only has the first chapter written, and Book Three only has a sentence. Hm...

'Course, there are other plotbunnies, like that one I got the other night that featured monks on Iona. And Vikings. >:)

Now I should get going. I vowed to revise Latin this weekend, since this week's lectures proved just how much I managed to forget, and I want to fit in at least a couple of hours before the Prima Vista's Crap Saturday Evening TV marathon starts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Excerpt: Will of the Gods

Well, uni started again yesterday. So far it's looking great, even better than last year. I'm so excited about Archaeology, and Latin'll be great (once I'm back up to speed with my grammar - erk!). Even Celtic doesn't look as bad as I'd feared. I was a bit worried they were going to get strung up on "Oh noes the English came and messed everything up!" but the first couple of lectures have assuaged that fear. It actually looks really good, or will be once I've got my Gruffudd ap Llywelyn separate from my Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. (headdesk)

Anyway, I'm still running around trying to sort out various odds and ends (bills, forms, bloody student loan letter that hasn't arrived, books for uni, etc.) so I'm cheating a bit with today's post and throwing up a nice long excerpt from my first NiP, The Ancestor Crown. Well, hey, I haven't put up one in a while, and it was either that or a moan about the Maeatae and why they're giving me a migraine. So... er... enjoy. (As ever, this is a rough draft version, and concrit is very much appreciated.)

A slight warning: there are a couple of expletives. I don't think there's any more than two, but I know some people are more offended by language than me.

Backstory: Late summer, AD 82. A daring night attack by a force from the allied tribes upon the camp of the Ninth Legion resulted in a desperate rescue attempt by the Twentieth. During the pursuit, legionary Marcus Valerius Laevinus went to the aid of an officer, but was captured by a band of tribesmen. Now, he wakes to face his captors.


If there was one thing that Marcus knew for sure, it was that Fortuna had no love for him.

He awoke to the sound of voices, and the soft lap of water - beneath him? But he wasn’t rocking, so he couldn’t be on a boat. Slowly, he realised that he was lying on his side with one cheek pressed against a rush mat. Beyond that, it was impossible to make out anything but the pain. Everything hurt. Every joint in his body was afire, and a heavy ache hammered his skull. His hands were behind his back, but when he tried to move them, rope cut into his wrists and he groaned in pain.

Where was he? He strove to remember, but all that came to him were dim blurs of memory. There had been so many warriors - and Vitulus, with no helmet - and a girl with red hair... then that older warrior had come at him and - yes - now he remembered. But nothing was clear after that. He should be dead. Surely he should have been killed. He had no idea what had happened next, all his mind could grasp onto were snatches of grey sky and wind-scoured hills, with the thundering of hooves and barbarian voices all around him.

A leaden chill settled in his gut then as he realised the truth. He was a prisoner. His eyes flew open, but the fog in his mind seemed to be affecting them, so all he could make out was the blurred flickering of a hearth. He thought he might be inside some building - the air was close, with a heady, herbal smell. The voices he could hear were coming from outside, but though he strained to make out their words, he couldn’t make any sense of the raucous speech.

Panic lanced through his stupor, and the blood pounded in his ears, the pain in his head beating rhythmically. He tugged at the ropes binding his wrists, but whoever had tied them had known what they were doing, and he was rewarded only with sharp burns. Fear rose like bile in his throat, but it was soon shot down by a bolt of urgency. He had to find some way to free his hands, then a way to escape.

And Vitulus. What had happened to him? He’d lost sight of the senior tribune when that warrior charged at him. He could be lying nearby even now, bound as he was. He had do something, couldn’t just lie here...

With a groan, Marcus pushed himself to his knees, but instantly wished he hadn’t as the sudden movement sent the blood rushing to his head. The wattle walls of the hut tilted crazily before him and he fell back, cursing. But there was no time to waste. If Vitulus was here, then he had to find some way to free them both and escape.

“And how, pray, would you go about that?”

He started, his heart leaping into his mouth at the sound of the voice. He’d thought he was alone. It took a moment for the shock to subside before he realised that the words had been spoken in Latin.

Blinking to clear his vision, he looked up. The speaker was a woman, and old, though it was hard to place her age. The face framed by those white braids was austere and deeply lined, yet her shoulders had only a slight stoop to them, and the dark eyes now appraising him were clear, with a direct gaze that possessed a depth so profound he felt suddenly humbled. Somehow, it was that which let him know what she was, even before he noted the white robe, or the polished knife at her girdle, or the oaken staff around which one bony hand was curled.

His throat went dry, and his back stiffened. For the first time, he realised that his weapons had been taken, and his armour with them. They’d left him with nothing. And now here he was, bound and helpless in the presence of this Druid crone.

She regarded him with what could only have been amusement. “Oh, come now, Roman. There is little need for that.”

“Where am I?” he demanded, in the fiercest tone he could muster. “Where have you brought me?”

“You are in my house. And that, for the present, is all you need know.” Though speared through by a thick, barbarous accent, her Latin was faultless, almost better than his own. “Now, come -” he thought he saw the shadow of a smile - “answer me. How do you intend to go about this escape of yours?”

Marcus’ mouth opened, but the crone’s words had shocked him into speechlessness. How could she have known exactly what he had been thinking at that moment?

“Who are you?” The question was out, sharp-edged, before he could stop it.

“I am Sargaid, Chief Druidess to Nechtain mac Cathair, King of the Epidii tribe.”

Instead of making things clearer, all that did was set Marcus’ head to reeling as he tried to pick out a name from that collection of guttural syllables. And the Epidii. Had he heard of them before? If only this bloody headache would stop, then he could think...

“Have you a name, Roman?”

He hesitated, wondering if he should lie, but then decided that in his current predicament, that probably wouldn’t help him any.

“Marcus Valerius Laevinus.”

“Well, Marcus...” She drew her knife. Marcus froze, but she only smiled at him in that thin, ambiguous manner. “If I untie your hands, do you give me your promise that you will not attempt anything foolish?”

What was he supposed to say to that? He nodded, mutely. Sargaid ushered him into a sitting position, and cut his bonds. As he rubbed his wrists, now branded with deep red welts, the Druidess moved away, paused to stir something in the cauldron above the fire, then bustled off to busy herself with an oaken chest at the other side of the hearth.

Marcus glanced around. The only way out of the house was the narrow doorway on the other side of the hearth. He looked up, hoping to see a smoke-hole or some weakness in the thatch, but all he could pick out was a dizzying arrangement of smoke-darkened rafters. For all that the occupant was a Druid, it was no different from other native houses in Britannia, except maybe a bit bigger, and the furs and hangings that decorated it were finer than those in most. Nothing very remarkable.

Then his eyes fell on a human skull, yellowed with age, that grinned down at him from one of the posts. He jumped.

“That one was a chieftain of the Creones before you were even born,” Sargaid told him. “A warrior of the Epidii gifted his head to me in gratitude for the gods granting him a successful raid.”

Privately, Marcus thought there must be easier and less grisly ways to say thank you, but said nothing. Sargaid was a Druidess, after all, and her kind had a morbid interest in these things. He sent another uneasy look towards the skull. If anything, it only served to remind him into whose clutches he had fallen. He didn’t quite manage to suppress a shudder.

“You’re lucky,” Sargaid went on, as she rummaged in the chest. “If things had gone differently, your skull might have ended up decorating Cathal’s house in just the same way.”

Trying, and failing, to keep that image at bay, he asked, “Was he the warrior I killed?”

“No, the one you killed was Domhnall of Clan Moireach. Cathal is the one who would have killed you, if not for my intervention.”

He frowned. Was he supposed to be grateful?

“Why did you keep me alive, then?”

“I confess, I don’t know.” Marcus opened his mouth to protest, but she went on, “It was the gods who delivered you into our hands, but their reason for doing so remains unclear, even to me.” She chuckled suddenly. “Though I must admit, most of the warriors feel you made a poor exchange for that polished young tribune they had before.”

“Then why don’t you just kill me and be done with it!” he snapped, the heat rising in his face. In truth, he wasn’t sure he wanted to face the sort of the death the Druids inflicted on their victims, but anger made his blood burn with recklessness.

Yet Sargaid was unperturbed by his outburst. She merely lifted her shoulders. “If that is what the gods will, then so be it. But I have the feeling you are not meant for the Otherworld just yet. So, in that case, will you allow me to tend your wound?”

Marcus blinked. “What wound?” A fresh pang burned through his skull, and he raised his hand to the place where he had been struck, only to realise that it had been bandaged.

“That wound.”

He shrugged, reluctant to have a Druid any closer to him than was necessary, but he couldn’t see what else he could do. So he allowed her to replace the moss press to the wound and tie on a new bandage, but he refused the cup she offered him, despite her assurances that it would ease the pain. His head still hurt to Tartarus, but he had too much experience of Druid potions.

That done, the Druidess stood and returned the chest to its original place.

“He got away,” she said suddenly.

He blinked. “Who?”

“The tribune. He slipped the grasp of Cathal’s warriors and ran.”

Marcus supposed he should be glad. He had, after all, done the noble thing and saved the life of a tribune. But at that moment, all he could do was curse both Vitulus and himself for their stupidity. He wondered, bitterly, who was the bigger fool: Vitulus, for ending up in danger in the first place, or himself, for blundering into it after him?

“I did my duty,” he said flatly. And now he was paying the price for it. He wondered if the rest of his contubernium knew what had happened to him. With a sinking heart, he realised that they probably didn’t. No doubt they thought he was dead.

Maybe it was better that way. A heroic death in battle rescuing a senior officer - even if that officer was Vitulus - was better than the truth.

Sargaid must have sensed something of these thoughts, too, for her voice was almost gentle when she next spoke. “It was a brave thing you did. You could have left him to die.”

A bitter noise escaped his lips. “Could I?” The thought hadn’t even occurred to him. He thought about Vitulus now. No doubt he’d been shaken, but by now he was probably recovered, and back to strutting around the camp like the spoilt little prick he was. Marcus clenched his fists, and forced himself to swallow his sourness. “He was a tribune. He needed help. I had to give it.”

“Then you have more honour than many,” replied Sargaid. “I know many men who would have baulked at such a prospect, even if it were their duty. It took courage, and the gods commend courage.” She flexed her fingers on her staff, studying him contemplatively. “What was your legion, Marcus? The Ninth?”

“No.” He shook his head, wondering what had prompted that question. “The Twentieth.”

“Ah, yes.” Sargaid’s voice was very quiet. “The boar.” She turned away and looked into the fire for a long moment, and Marcus could only wonder what she saw there, in the heart of the flames. Despite the warm fug of the peat-smoke and the soft glow from the rushlights, a chill crawled down his spine.

“Druidess Sargaid,” he said at last, unable to take the not knowing any more. “What am I doing here? I’m not well-born enough to make a good hostage, and I’m only a legionary; I can’t give you any information. Why have you taken me prisoner?”

He’d asked her straight; now she’d have to answer him straight.

But Sargaid only heaved a sigh, and turned to face him. For a moment, he thought he saw a troubled shadow cross her face. But the moment passed, and he saw nothing.

“I have told you already; I have no answers yet. I did not expect anything like this. This is the will of the gods, and I do not hear them as I once did. Gairea is their chosen messenger.”

He frowned. “Who?”

“Gairea ní Machar, my apprentice. She is a ban-fhàidh - what you would call a sibyl.” For an instant, her voice regained that subtle hint of private amusement. “You met, I believe, but were never introduced.”

He thought back, and remembered the girl from the clearing. Red hair. White gown. Eyes full of shadows. He remembered only too well.

His feelings must have shown in his face, for Sargaid said briskly, “Come, now. She’s not that terrifying, surely. She’s a gentle girl, and harmless.”

Marcus said nothing. He had a dim recollection of gentle, harmless Gairea aiming a dagger at his throat, but decided it wasn’t worth the correction.

“What now, then?” he asked. “What’ll happen to me? Do I have to wait till you’ve read all the signs before I get to know if I live or die?”

Sargaid was grave. “Just so. This was not something I had foreseen, and it may be that your presence amongst us will have consequences that will reach farther than we might imagine. For now I can only counsel patience.”

“Patience!” he echoed, incredulous.

“Have patience, and when the time is right, the gods will reveal all. Then, Marcus Valerius Laevinus, shall we know what fate they have decided for you.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting back into the swing of things...

My birthday was great. Didn't do anything in particular, since in recent years I've discovered I can't really be bothered organising a big do when all I really want to do on my birthday is stay in with my family and my prezzies. I had planned to do something for my eighteenth last year, since, y'know, it was my eighteenth, but I got so caught up in the last minute preparations for uni I forgot all about it. (sigh) C'est la vie.


My prezzies rocked this year. Not many fiction books this year, but I got a whole stack of cool non-fiction ones, including Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak and The Roman Conquest of Scotland: The Battle of Mons Graupius AD 84 by James E. Fraser. Suffice it to say, not once during my adolescence did I have to accuse my parents of the old cliché: "You don't understand me!!" ;)

Also got a translation of Apicius' famous cookbook. It's not the 1000 Classic Student Recipes, I give you that, but it's... er... interesting. Sadly, some of the ingredients - flamingo, parrot, ostrich, etc. - are a bit hard to get on a student's budget. Maybe I could manage the milk-fed snails, though, at a stretch... ;)

We didn't manage to make it down to London to see the Hadrian: Empire and Conflict exhibition on at the British Museum, so I also got the big book o' Hadrian published to accompany it. I've only flicked through it so far, but it looks pretty much like it has everything you could ever want to know about Hadrian and his empire. Not to mention it's chock-full of shiny photographs, mostly of Hadrian and his famous beard. Or as she's most commonly known, Sabina, heh-heh...

(coughs) Sorry. Rubbish joke, I know.

That's the only thing about that Hadrian book; it makes me want to write angsty Hadrian/Antinous stuff. And I really, really don't want the distraction. Not a month and a half till NaNo, at any rate (yes, Gabriele, I'm going for it this year!).

They also got me an Indiana Jones hat, which I love, just for the lols. Lookit (and please 'scuse the blurry photography):

Ah, shut up and stop laughing at the back there. Don't worry, I've already been warned. At one of the first lectures on archaeological practice last year, the lecturer put the poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark up on the overhead and said, brutally, "It's not like this."

Still, maybe I'll get a whip next year. Then again, maybe not.

The best present, though, was from my sister, who, because she is made of sugar and spice, awesome and win, got me the complete box-set of the BBC dramatisations of Cadfael. Because apparently I'm now an addict of historical murder mysteries, after years of thinking that whodunnits just weren't my thing. And I remember seeing bits of Cadfael when it was first on, when I was about eight. The Raven in the Foregate is the one that stuck with me for some reason. I never managed to eradicate the image of the priest's body in the mill-wheel...

Anyway. I won't bore you any more with listing what I got for my birthday. This was only meant to be a quick post to let you know I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things. When you've not blogged for a while, it's easy to lose the habit. So expect my usual moans about writing and stuff to make their return soon.

And uni starts again on Monday. It's Freshers' Week at the moment, and you can tell who the first-years are. They're the ones at Hillhead Station laden down with bags of free stuff. Sara and Marion actually went up to the uni the other day to infiltrate Freshers' Fair and get free crap themselves, though the stuff I got last year wasn't even good free crap. If I remember rightly, I got a whole bag full of toothbrushes from someone last year. But apparently the lure of "free stuff" is too great...

I've got course enrolments tomorrow (or today, rather, since it's 2.20 in the morning here), and Friday, and I should probably use the weekend to brush up on my Latin. I need books, too. Aargh...

The good news is that this year, none of my lectures are before midday, and I no longer need to get up at half-six in the morning to get the half-seven bus into town. (I say that, but I probably will get up that early, anyway.)

Well, I should probably go. It's half two in the morning, and I've already had one of my flatmates in here to relate the saga of her "fucked-up love life" to me. Hooray. The usual routine is back.

See you later!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Internet! Internet! *dances about*

Yes! At long last, we finally have the Internet. Hooray! *waves streamers*

We also finally have a full house here in the Prima Vista (our name for our flat; don't ask), and it's still a blast. Though we did have a bit of - er - drama the other night, though we did manage to avoid an all-out argument. What happened? you ask. Well, Sara and Marion managed to get themselves locked in Marion's room. At half eleven at night. Which meant that Alyson and I, the ones with out common sense still intact, were left with the responsibility of getting them out whilst they sat in there, claiming to be panicking whilst they giggled away. Needless to say, Alyson and I were not impressed. First, we broke several kirby grips trying to pick the lock, then Sara calls out our landlady at half-past twelve. She can't get the lock unstuck, either, despite more attempts to pick it, then a vain search for some WD40. By this point, me and Alyson are just about ready to erupt, so we look out the Yellow Pages for the locksmith pages, but then decide we don't really feel like calling out a complete stranger at half one in the morning. So we let the landlady out then went to bed. We warned the two stooges, of course, who complained a bit ("What if we need the toilet?" "Tough!"), but eventually quietened down. So Alyson and I say goodnight to each other and stalk off to bed.

In the morning we managed to get a locksmith out, after calling about five, who, although their adverts claimed to be twenty-fours hours, didn't seem to be open at half nine, but warned the captives that they were paying the £85 fee. When the locksmith comes out, he laughs, but me and Alyson are still pretty pissed off from the night before, and when Sara and Marion finally do get out, they're very, very quiet.

Still, by the afternoon, all was forgiven, but not forgotten - they ain't living that one down, ever. >:) But I've been told I'm getting a chocolate cake by way of an apology, so it's not all bad. :) We just warned them not to try locking the door again, or we'd knock it in and get 'em.

Welcome to the Prima Vista. Please leave your sanity at the door.

But it's okay, we're all friends again, all eejits and cold-hearted bitches together. ;)

And after my advisor meeting I'm continuing all my subjects from last year. Still think Level Two Celtic Civilisation looks a bit meh, but I need it if I want to do a Joint Honours with Archaeology and Celtic. I'll just have to knuckle down and do it, but it'll be worth it. The Honours courses look great. :)

And what about the writing, since - y'know - this is why I set up this blog in the first place. Well, I've been reading up on the Severan invasion of Caledonia in detail, and it looks like the third book is going to be even more of a sprawling mess than the first. (sighs) I managed to create some serious conflict... completely by accident. I had a minor character, Aelius' uncle Gaius, who I was trying to get rid of. So I decided to stick him in the army, and the first legion that occurred to me was for some reason the Second Parthica. Then, when I started the reading for the Severan novel, it turns out that the Second Parthica was probably involved in the Severan campaigns along with the British legions. Which would mean that Aelius would, effectively, be fighting against his uncle, his only living relative. Not to mention that while the family farm is being burnt down by Dacian raiders and Aelius is being pretty much press-ganged by some Druids, Gaius will be in Italy or Britain, so he'll most likely think Aelius is dead until he learns the truth about the identity of "Argentocoxos"...

Ooh... can't you just feel that conflict smouldering? ;) I think Gaius might even become a main character at this rate. And to think I was just trying to stop the plot from being too much like Star Wars...

...but that's another moan for another time, I think.

Like I said, sprawling mess.

And it's only an hour and twenty minutes till my birthday! Woo-hoo! See you later, and I'll try to get back into the blogging spirit soon...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Nope, still not up yet...

...but we should be getting set up on the 11th, so I should be back in the blogosphere soon. *fingers very crossed*

I'm staying over with my family tonight (wow, that's weird to say), so I can use my laptop to get the Net. :)

Still having a blast. One of our party isn't moving in till Monday, but we're still having a ball. Still watching kids' TV, and getting far too into it. Alyson, one of my flatmates, has a new Xbox 360, so Sara and I've been watching her play Assassin's Creed and mocking. The game, that is, not her. Don't get me wrong, it's a good game, but ever since I introduced them to Mystery Science Theater 3000 via Teenagers from Outer Space, all we seem able to do is mock every movie/video game we put on.

We're sane. Really. Honest. Yep.

Last night we quoted our way through Muppet Treasure Island and Hercules. And sang all the songs. Because obviously that's compulsory. ;) Then we MST'd the last half hour of Van Helsing. Because that's also compulsory.

Nothing much else to post, but here are a couple of pics. Here's my room:

And a slightly blurry close-up of the window-ledge, which now serves as a bookshelf for my keepers. All neatly ordered by height... er...

And here's my bed, with its SERIOUSLY PINK duvet cover. Honest, it didn't look that bright in the catalogue. Yep, there's more books crammed into the nightstand. And a Tonberry plush. Alyson has a Moogle and Sara has a Cactuar, so we managed to unite the trinity of cute Final Fantasy creatures. Ultimate Geek Flat a-go-go!

And my desk. Yup, with more books. And my DVDs. And my various video games. I was donated the family's Wii upon moving out. Yay!

And a shot of my laptop, where the magic happens, under the watchful gaze of a Roman sentry. That's Marcus, my little guy from Vindolanda, btw. He's now been joined in his vigil by Zidane from Final Fantasy IX, Auron from Final Fantasy X, and Teddy Cadfael (well, what would you call a toy bear in a monk's habit?).

Oh, and speaking of Marcus...

OMG WTF SPQR super-special-awesome plot twist! Who knew Marcus had an identical twin brother in the legions? That's Steve, and he belongs to Alyson. As she remarked, "Wow, you can totally tell we visit the same places."

So, see you when I see you! I''ll be up at the uni again on the 9th for a meeting with my advisor (my lovely, good-looking, Irish advisor!) so I'll drop in the library then for some more catching up.

Oh... and it's only ten days till my birthday! (bounces off walls)

Good to be back (sort of)!

Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm alive!

...Hello, birds! Hello, trees! I'm alive...


We're having much more of a to-do getting the Internet in the flat set up than I thought we would. No, it's not up yet. I'm writing this from the university library. Hopefully we'll get it sorted out once and for all over the next couple of weeks. *fingers crossed*

Not been writing much, either. Shockgasp. I had an urge to play some Final Fantasy X, since I hadn't in a while. So I opened a new game and started to play. And kept playing. And kept on playing. That's the thing about those FF games; they're great, but they tend to suck you into a void of levelling up and insane plot twists. So that's what I've been doing. Thankfully, I think I've managed to extricate myself from it for now, and I've written the first sentence of the Severan novel. Go me. "It was the prickling of hairs on the back of his neck that first let Aelius know he was being watched." Whee, could I get any more cliche? I also have to do a bit of research on Roman Histria, since that's where the book begins. Histria and Tara. It takes a wee while for the focus to shift back to Scotland. Just as soon as Sinnoch and Maelchon rescue Aelius from the smouldering ruins of his farm and tell him, "Ever heard of the Taexali? No? Well, you're their king now."

Anyway, I'm not on my computer so I can't upload any pics of the flat yet. But I can tell you it's an absolute ball so far! Between mocking video games mercilessly and spending four hours - I kid you not - watching cheesy 80s' music videos, we're having the time of our lives. Oh, yeah, and that whole cooking/housework thing. Heh. This morning we were all up to watch CBBC. Yeah, you read that right. You have to wonder just how much drugs these presenters are on. And I will forevermore have nightmares about being kidnapped by one of those creepy monks from Raven. That is all.

So I'm off to have a wee swatch at your blogs and see what I've been missing. Just wanted to let you all know I'm still breathing. :)

See ya when I see ya!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Happy Lughnasadh!

Looks like I spoke too soon on the 50k front. Word count last night at midnight stood at 20,625. Ouch! Not even at the halfway mark. Didn't get much opportunity to write this last week. Real life's a bitch. >.<

Still, that's more than I get written most months. Think I might give it another shot this month, see if I can beat my own record. Mwahaha.

Anyway, the lease on the flat started today. My dad was working today, so I didn't have anyone to help me move my stuff in, but I went over to get my keys from my landlady and pay my first rent. Hurray! I'm so, so excited! :)

There have been a couple of, er, hiccups, so it's just going to be me at first. The others aren't coming up till later. Doesn't matter too much, since it means I've got a week or so to get things sorted out as I like them (for a while, at least), not to mention it means I've got first pick of the rooms. I think I might have the one with the double bed and the armchair, the one that isn't facing onto the main road. :)

I'll be moving in proper on Sunday, so it'll be quite a hectic weekend as I get my things packed and sorted. I'm dreading looking under the bed. I think the plotbunnies I kicked under there have been there for so long they've cross-bred with the dustbunnies. Not to mention it's going to be difficult finding a box big enough to hold Cathal's ego. ;)

So, on that note, I wish you all a very happy Lughnasadh! This was a Celtic harvest festival sacred to the god Lugh, the traditional date being July 31/August 1. Incidentally, August 1 is also the birthday of the Emperor Claudius, who was born at Lyon in France in 10 BC. At that time, Lyon was known as Lugdunum - "the fort of Lug(h)". Nice little coincidence, that. :)

So, happy Lughnasadh, and I'll be back when I've got the broadband in the flat set up.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Random musings - mind's all over the place right now

And so the writing crawls on. There's a chance I might actually make the 50k, or damn near it in any case. I've found that if I just write and don't waste time himmin and hawin, I can write about a thousand words in an hour. The quality of the writing done in that hour leaves a lot to be desired, of course, but I'm forcing myself not to think about that just now.

I spent an hour the other night trying to find the right name for a bloody horse, which meant first I had to hunt down our Gaelic dictionary and flick through it for ideas. Stupid Epidii. It's not enough I have to find names for all of you, I have to find names for your precious horses, too.

Speaking of the Epidii, it's something I've been wondering about for a while. They seem to turn up in quite a few novels set in this sort of time period. They feature in Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth, Jules Watson's books, and of course, my own WiP. I wonder what makes them in particular so interesting. It must have something to do with Argyll. I know I first decided on the Epidii for Gairea and Cathal's tribe because I love that part of Scotland. Not to mention the name "Tribe of the Horse" has an appealing "Riders of Rohan" vibe to it. :)

Also wondering about certain names. To accent or not to accent? In purest Gaelic form, the name of Gairea's cousin should properly be written Áedán, which I don't personally have a problem with, but to an eye unused to Gaelic spelling, it may look a bit like acute-overkill. The spelling Aedan, without the acutes, is also perfectly valid, but since I like languages, I prefer putting in accents where they should be. I just wonder which variant of the name is more appealing to a non-Gaelic speaker. Here are different variants I've seen:





Which one do you prefer?

I'm also thinking I might post up an excerpt in the next few days. A snippet I've already written and read over, of course, not something out of the rubbish I've written this month. It's been a while since I've posted one, so watch this space. :P

And it's nine days till I move out! Wow.

See you later!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yet another writing update

Well, I'm slowly inching my way forward with the writing. It's a bit of a wrench, I admit, since I've forbidden myself from looking back and editing anything. And, since I'm a terrible perfectionist and obsessive self-editor, I hate pressing forward and knowing I've left an unedited mess in my wake. >.< I expect I'll spend most of August tearing everything I've written in July to shreds and rewriting it all over again.

Things are finally beginning to heat up now that Calgacus has travelled to the Novantae capital and found that their king is just as keen as him to see the Romans ousted. Enjoy it while it lasts, mate, they won't all be as easy as that. Especially not your ex-foster-brother up in Orkney.

Truth be told, I have more trouble with the Calgacus POV than I do with anyone else's, and I think that's because I haven't got as good a grip on him yet as I do the others. I haven't found out yet what makes him tick. As I see it, MCs have two journeys: an external one, and an internal one, interconnected. The external one is the quest, the journey to save the world (or whatever). The internal one is how the external journey affects the character: what do they discover about themselves? What inner demons do they have to battle? What, in personal/spiritual terms, do they get out of it?

With regards to my four other POVs (Marcus, Gairea, Cathal and Agricola), I have both the external and internal quests established. With Calgacus, I only have the external quest. I know he wants to unite the tribes to resist Rome, out of both a genuine desire for the freedom of his people - and also that dark little part of himself that likes being the king of the strongest tribe in Caledonia and doesn't really fancy the idea of giving up his leadership to any Roman governor. That in itself provides a demon for him to grapple with: knowing that his motives maybe aren't entirely as noble as he makes out.

But what else? What does he hope to gain - personally/mentally/emotionally/etc.? What will he discover about himself? What other flaws and demons are hindering him in his endeavour? These are the questions I still need to answer.

I think it's probably harder when you've created a character who has already proven themselves, as my Calgacus has. In TAC, he's already established himself as a great warrior and statesman, king of the most powerful of the northern tribes. It's not the same situation as with, say, Gairea, whose story involves her realising her potential and proving herself. Agricola, too, although with twenty years of military and political experience behind him, is still working now towards the high point of his career. I suppose the formation of the Caledonian confederacy will be the high point of Calgacus', with a trip and a fall at the end (ie, the defeat at Mons Graupius).

In short, I still don't know how he's going to grow as a character, and until he does, his chapters feel flatter than the other characters'.

Maybe... maybe, having already established his skills and reputation, his bid to unite the tribes will test all of them to the limit. Like, "Okay, so you're good. But are you really good?" Has he allowed himself to believe all his own hype? Perhaps his first attempt an alliance with the Novantae (which is beaten by Agricola), will lose him credibility with the other tribal leaders, and he'll be forced for the rest of the book to re-prove himself? Will he be stalked by self-doubt for the rest of the book, begin questioning his own convictions, ever contemplate surrender?

What is it, in the end, that compels him to make the disastrous decision to face Agricola in a pitched battle? Arrogance? Desperation? A need to vindicate himself?

Buggered if I know, that's all I'm saying. But we shall get to the bottom of it, yesss, preciousss, we shall...

And now it's onto the next Marcus chapter. Marcus is a strange combination of wry, self-deprecating humour, angst, and hormones, and a lot of fun to write. :)

In other news, it's a long way off, but the ending continues to look more and more solid. I think it's going to be good - when I finally get there. I'm a bit surprised at some of it, but it all makes sense, and wraps things up very nicely, while leaving the way open for the Antonine novel. :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More random causes for celebration

I promise, I should be back with a proper post before too long, but in the meantime, here are some things which have been making me hyper today:

So, yeah, the Antonine Wall's now a World Heritage Site. Hurray! And, according to this, there will be an Antonine Wall Centre opening at Glasgow University next year! Woo-hoo! I knew the Hunterian Museum was revamping its Roman exhibit, but I didn't realise they were giving it its own little niche. It'll be good to see all the stuff again; all they've kept on show at the moment are the distance slabs and the altars (including, of course, those dedicated by my favourite centurion, lol).

And, after a good couple of years of hiding, I think the ending of The Ancestor Crown has finally revealed itself to me! Without giving away too much, it'll involve much blood, sweat, and tears. Mostly mine. And several of the main cast will be... er... going into the west. Yeah. Because the days of the Eldar are past and... oh, wait... that's wrong... But several of them are definitely westward-bound. And the general outcome of Marcus' story is not what I expected at all.

And, also, last week's post on prosthetics in antiquity is up on The Celtic Myth Podshow blog as a guest post. It's a site I'm quite fond of, as it's a good place to find Celtic-related links, amongst other things, and Gary, one of the owners and presenters, was dead nice in asking to borrow my post and sprucing it up nicely on his site with pictures. So, of course, I like it even more now! :) (Still can't believe that anyone but me actually pays attention to the drivel that appears on this blog, but that's another story.) My baby words, all growed up and out there on the big, bad Internet all by themselves. (wipes tear)

And my computer's all set up, so I'm finally ready to get back to typing. Last time I looked, Calgacus was stuck in a curragh on a very choppy Firth of Clyde, and feeling decidedly sea-sick. I should go and put him out of his misery.

And that's me for now! I think I'll just go and dance for glee some more. I'd offer you all some virtual Falernian wine, but it looks like the cast drank it all at that party the other night. ;)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Unesco have announced the good news: the Antonine Wall is now officially a World Heritage Site! Hurray! I've come to the conclusion that the headache I had this afternoon must have been the cast of the Antonine novel having a celebratory party. :)

Let's hope the relevant authorities now do the monument it deserves, eh? There'll be quite a bit of work to do.

And my new laptop arrived this morning! Double hurray! It's all clean and pretty and shiny... and I need to upload all my files before I can get back to my writing. Damn. Oh, well, at least I know what I'm doing tomorrow.

And the worst of the PMS is finally over, so I feel up to writing again. :)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A quick update

Just to let you all know what I've been up to since I last posted.

My writing challenge... isn't going too well. I was on a roll that first day, but then on the second and the third, I didn't get very much written at all. In fact, I haven't actually written anything since Friday. :(

Part of the reason is that my new computer hasn't arrived yet, so I have to wait till my sister's not using hers before I can type up anything.

Another part is that I suddenly had a meltdown of the "OMGWTF I SUCK" variety. It's still not quite assuaged yet. I've written angry little notes to myself, telling me that my characterisation is about as flat as two-day-old Cola, my dialogue is terrible, my world-building sucks, my descriptions suck, and the only thing I've got going for me is my plot, and that's because I got it from Tacitus. It's going to be a while before I feel even halfway competent again.

Friday was my cousin's wedding, so I wasn't going to get anything written then anyway. It was a lovely day, though. She looked absolutely gorgeous, and the church service was lovely (even if I felt completely disoriented 'cause I didn't know any of the hymns, or those wee replies they give to the priest during Mass - can you tell I'm not religious?). She got some glorious sunshine for her big day, too, between two days of pouring rain. :) The only thing I can really complain about was the inept piper. I mean, bagpipes are bad at the best of times, but when played by someone who can't... (shudder)

Then disaster struck (for me, that is, not anyone else). Halfway through the afternoon, I realised my period had started, taking me completely unawares. (Yeah, sorry for the TMI, folks, but I need to moan about it to someone.) Worse than that, I didn't have any towels on me. Even worse than that, I was wearing very white trousers. >.< I ended up spending the rest of the evening with my bum anchored firmly to my seat, resisting all efforts by various relatives to get me on the dance floor.

PMS also struck bad this month. That night I cried for about an hour and a half non-stop after a horrible, horrible plunge in self-esteem. I have a lot of self-esteem issues, which I can usually handle, but tonight, for some reason, they just overwhelmed me all at once. It was probably the PMS, only I don't remember it ever affecting me quite so badly before. I felt better in the morning, but it was still horrible. Yeuch.

So... yeah. PMS also tends to wreak havoc with my ability to write, so even if my new computer does come this week, I still don't think I'll be doing much writing. Looks like an editing week for me. I can edit that crap I wrote on the first couple of days. ;) I'm dreading looking at it.

And in other moan-related news, I was very... dissatisfied with the series finale of Doctor Who. And for most of the episode, it was absolutely great. I loved it. It just sort of copped out at the end. The whole thing with Rose's happy ending just seemed a bit too nicely wrapped up in a pretty bow. I thought her story had been pretty neatly tied up at the end of the second series, anyway. It was so sad, but it was satisfying. It felt complete. I thought her ending in this episode rang a bit false, just shoved in there to placate the Rose fans. (I'm not active in the Doctor Who fandom, but I have a friend who is, and she claims the Rose fans are "batshit insane".)

That's not my biggest gripe, though. That's reserved for the send-off they gave Donna. I mean, wtf? Maybe it's just a personal thing, but I really can't abide following something - a book, or a TV programme, or whatever - getting to know a character and follow their development and growth, only for them to lose their memories at the end and render all that growth null and void. What was the point? Why bother? Why were her insecurities all laid bare in this last episode and then overcome, only for her to forget it all and regress into the person she had been before? Like I said, it's a personal peeve, but for me, the whole "protagonist loses all memory of the storyline at the end" thing ranks way down there with "...And it was all a dream."

Grrrgnash. And I'd absolutely loved this series, too. :(

And elsewhere... OMG why the hell can't the Irish sources agree on anything? Bloody Book of Invasions. Bloody Annals of the Four Masters. Bloody Book of Ballymote. Is it asking too much for a rough agreement on when Cairpre Riata might've lived? The dates I've garnered together range from AD 165, c. 200 - 220, 258 - 274. In short, no one can seem to make up their bloody minds. And was he the son of Conaire Mór of Da Derga's Hostel fame, or Conaire Coem? Can you make up your minds there? No? Oh, bloody hell.

Ach, tae hell wi' it. He's going in the Severan novel. Stupid, manipulated, politically-slanted genealogies. If you can make stuff up, so can I. Nyaaah. >:(

I shall return when the Feminax kicks in.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I challenge... er... myself.

I thought, since I'm just bursting with inspiration after my time at Vindolanda, and since I've really got nothing to do all July, I'd set myself a writing target. I've not been writing much since my exams, so I thought I'd go for something which would make up for that and kick-start The Ancestor Crown into the exciting stuff.

I've decided to aim for 50,000 words, the target count for NaNoWriMo. (Of course, in July I've got one day more than NaNo participants.) I hope to meet it by midnight, July 31. That averages out at 1613 words per day (once I've rounded up, that is).

Today's word count: 1648.

Let's hope I can keep it up. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ancient prosthetics 101

Regulars to the Scribbling Corner might be wondering if they're on the right blog. Don't worry, you are. :)

I mentioned in my post on character names that Aelius, the Roman protagonist of my Severan novel, will later gain the epithet “Argentocoxos” (Silver Foot), the name of a Caledonian referred to once in passing in Cassius Dio’s account of Septimius Severus’ campaigns in northern Britain. The big question was: how do I get from “Aelius” to “Argentocoxos”? It was going to have to be a nickname of some sort, but why was Aelius going to end up being called “Silver Foot”?

The answer turned out to be one of those things that occur to me just as I’m dozing off. “What if,” I thought, “Aelius ends up losing a foot and having a fake one put in its place? Made of silver? Like that guy from that Irish myth, only with a foot. Yeah... Zzzz...”

That seemed fair enough, and I promptly fell asleep. But then, in the cold light of day, I started reassessing it. Knowing next to nothing about medical history, I wondered, did they even have prosthetic limbs in the third century AD? And if they did, were they likely to be made out of silver? So I’ve spent the last week or so doing a bit of research on the history of prosthetic limbs, in order to come up with an answer. D’you want the short version or the long version?

Tough. You’re getting the long version. :)

Our earliest recorded description of a prosthesis is to be found in the Indian Rig Veda, which may date back as far as c. 3500 BC, but whose present form is conventionally dated to about 1700 - 1100 BC. One of the hymns mentions the warrior Vishpala, who loses a leg in battle and has an iron one made to replace it so she can re-enter the combat. The second millennium BC is also when we begin to find artificial body parts appearing in the archaeological record, the earliest examples of which are the artificial toes discovered with two Egyptian mummies. The oldest of these dates from 1295 BC, and at least one - the wooden and leather “Cairo toe” - appears to have been a functioning prosthetic, rather than a cosmetic touch.

Prosthetics also appear in the classical world, in literature and mythology, and also in archaeology. The bronze “Roman Capua Leg”, dating back to c. 300 BC, was, until the discovery of the aforementioned Egyptian toes, the oldest example we had of an ancient prosthetic. Classical historians also offer historical anecdotes of people with artificial limbs. For example, Pliny the Elder tells us, in the seventh book of his Natural History, of Marcus Sergius, the great-grandfather of Catiline, who, during the Second Punic War (218 - 201 BC) had his right arm amputated after sustaining injuries and had an iron hand created so he could return to battle.

So, we know the Romans had prosthetics. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether the Celtic-speaking peoples did. I think, however, it’s reasonable to assume that they did on some level. It’s interesting that the two documented examples I’ve already mentioned - Vishpala and Marcus Sergius - were warriors. I wonder if, in history, it was the warriors who were the most likely to want artificial limbs. The prostheses of Vishpala and Sergius would certainly have been as cosmetic as they were functional, if indeed they were functional. I suppose, especially for a warrior, a truncated limb would be a visible admission of weakness.

That brings us to the Celts. Given the nature of their culture, I imagine their healers must have been used to dealing with body parts which had got mangled in battles and cattle-raids. And with the Celts being as aesthetically aware as they were, I imagine there must have been some chieftain or other at one time who decided to go for a shiny fake hand or leg to show off to his clients. Unfortunately, we don’t have any records of Celtic prosthetics in archaeology or any historical documents. We do, however, have some myths which suggest that artificial limbs weren’t unknown in the Celtic world.

The first, and most obvious, is the Irish figure Nuada Airgetlám - “Nuada of the Silver Hand” (Welsh correspondent: Nudd Llaw Eraint). According to legend, Nuada was the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who lost his hand (or his arm, depending) in single combat, and had to relinquish his leadership. Dian Cecht, the god of healing, made for Nuada a silver hand which functioned as a normal one. This was eventually replaced by a real arm made by Dian Cecht’s son Miach (which drove the god to kill his son out of jealousy) and Nuada was restored to the kingship.

Another example can be found in the legend of the Breton/Cornish Saint Melor. The story goes that the uncle of the young prince Melor decided to make a grab for the throne, and, in an attempt to eliminate a potential rival, intended to have the boy murdered. He was dissuaded from actual killing, however, and instead had Melor’s right hand and left foot cut off (wow, nice). These were replaced with prostheses made, respectively, from silver and bronze, which grew as Melor did and functioned, like Nuada’s silver hand, as if they were made of flesh and blood.

Of course, these are legends, so the parts about the artificial limbs working like normal ones should really be taken with a pinch of salt. Nuada’s hand was, after all, made by the god of healing himself, and Melor was a saint, so obviously the hagiographer had to fit some miracles into the boy’s tragically short life. What’s noticeable about these stories, however, is that it’s the abilities of these metal limbs that are remarkable, not existence of the limbs themselves, which could be taken to mean that the Celtic-speaking peoples knew about prosthetics. Saint Melor belongs to the post-Roman Early Historic period - ie, in a time which has had experience of Roman surgical practice - but it’s a general assumption that the Irish myths, although written down during this same period, represent oral traditions that go back long before. It seems reasonable, therefore, to suggest that the Celts had some form of prosthetic know-how. And as far as Aelius is concerned, given that most of the prostheses referred to above were made out of metal, a silver foot is possible, from both a historical and mythological standpoint.

Which throws in a whole new plot point. Aelius will be vying for a Caledonian kingship, and an amputation will prove to be an obstacle. One of the stipulations in the Irish law tract Cóic Conairi Fuigill - “The Five Paths of Judgement” - is that a candidate for the kingship must be free of any physical blemish. This can be seen in the legends of both Nuada and Saint Melor, where their disabilities are enough to disqualify them. A real life example of this law in practice can be found in (of all things) the Bechbretha - a tract on beekeeping - in which it’s written that King Congal Cáech was put out of the running after being blinded by some bees.

So perhaps, although Aelius’ eligibility to the kingship is put in doubt after his amputation, it’s this silver foot which helps to preserve it. After all, I doubt Dian Cecht would have gone to the trouble of making that silver arm if it wasn't going to reverse Nuada's fortunes at all! I’ll see how it goes.

Whew! All that for the sake of a name. Now I just need to work out why Aelius is going to lose that foot. Frostbite? Gangrene? Freak hunting accident? Or perhaps that should be “accident” with the inverted commas?

I’m so nice to my characters, aren't I?


- Early Medieval Ireland, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Longman publishing, 1995
- BBC News article on the Egyptian toes
- History of Prosthetics, by the University of North Carolina
- Pliny's account of Marcus Sergius, from the Perseus Digital Library
- my lecture notes on Early Historic kingship (they'll do)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vindolanda, week II

Finally, I'm back with the second part. This should've been up before now, only I've not really been in the mood for blogging at any length these last couple of days. Anyway, without further ado, here's week two of my fortnight at Vindolanda.

After the first Thursday, I had two days off. Friday wasn't very exciting; I went into Haltwhistle - a very charming, ever so "English" town - and stocked up on supplies at Sainsbury's, then mooched around the cottage for the rest of the afternoon. Saturday was more interesting. Rested now, I decided to go out and take in some of Hadrian's Wall. The couple who owned the farm and cottage where I was staying very kindly offered to drive me into Haltwhistle (in fact, they drove me to and from Vindolanda every day; they were absolutely lovely) where I caught the Hadrian's Wall bus out to Carvoran (or Magna, as it was once known). I had a dauner around the Roman Army Museum and its haunted gift shop. Well, how else do you explain the avalanche of books that rained down on me even though I'd barely touched one of them? Lol! I bet it was the ghost of a Roman soldier who was once garrisoned at Magna. Would explain the hostility towards me, a rogue Caledonian on the wrong side of the Wall! ;)

So, after that minor embarrassment, I started on the short (but ultimately steep walk) to Walltown Crags, where, perched on the ridge, you can find - not the remains of Milecastle 46, as I originally put - but in fact Turret 45A (thank you, Harry, for pointing out my mistake), and a very well-preserved stretch of Hadrian's Wall itself. Here's the turret; it was just one in a system of watch towers strung along the Wall. It would have been a couple of storeys high and manned by a few soldiers, perhaps just a contubernium or two, I'm not sure...

The part of the Wall still standing here really is impressive. Say what you like about them Romans, they knew how to build stuff. At Walltown Crags, part of it was still standing at about two metres high.

But, I think what's most compelling about Hadrian's Wall is how closely it follows the topography of the Stanegate ridge. It must have had a profound effect on the Caledonians who watched it being built, this edifice that dominated the horizon, rising and falling as the land did. I wonder what the Iron Age equivalent for "OMGWTF!?" was. ;)

Here it is, looking east, rising towards the milecastle:

Imagine the manpower involved in building that thing. And imagine the jaws of Hadrian's staff hitting the ground as he outlined his plan for a bloody big wall stretching from sea to sea.

Anyway, I stayed up there for a while, taking in the views south - where you can get brilliant views of the South Tyne Valley - and, of course, north. It was glorious sunshine, and I'd brought a packed lunch with me, so I settled myself down next to the milecastle and sat there munching my Danish, perched on the very edge of "civilisation". Looking north from there, it was possible to see just why they chose the ridge for the ultimate frontier. Miles of empty land, stretching away north to the shadowy line of hills in the far distance...

Of course, sitting there by myself, I was very much a sitting target for the plotbunnies who happened to be lurking in the area. While I sat and gazed northwards, I encountered a few tense Roman sentries, Dux Fullofaudes (nope, I don't know what he was doing there either) and some die-hard Picts scaling the precipice. The effect might have been more phantom-like if it had been the dead of night, rather than high noon. But you know what plotbunnies are like; they'll risk anything to snag an unsuspecting author. ;) Anyway, after telling the various characters I'd think about their proposals, I managed to make my escape, 'cause my bus to Housesteads was due. They complained, but I think I managed to get away before any of them stuck seriously.

So, yeah, Housesteads (Vercovicium). Yet another Roman fort, just to the east of Vindolanda, and situated quite awkwardly, I thought, on the side of the hill. I mean, it was quite a step up the via principalis, and the slope puts the praetorium, the commanding officer's house, at quite a wonky angle. But, hey, those Roman builders knew what they were doing, and it's stood the test of time, so what do I know?

Anyway, I was on the via principalis - that is to say, climbing the slope, when I was caught behind a very slow-moving group of posh people, so I had to listen to them. For an insufferable smart-arse, I have an odd aversion to listening to other people trying to be clever. Ah, life's little mysteries. The best part was when one of the women remarked, "It looks very Roman, doesn't it?"

You don't say.

After looking around Housesteads - more lovely Roman stonework! - I'd intended to go on to Carrawburgh/Brocolitia to have a look at the mithraeum. Unfortunately, I'd had a bit of a mix-up with the bus timetables earlier in the day (ie, my timetable was telling fairy tales), so I'd lost a good couple of hours, and didn't have the time. Ah, well. Next year, maybe. :)

After Saturday, it was back to the daily grind. After one week, they tend to switch people about from one part of the site to another, to let them get a wider view of the site. This week, I ended up working on the east wall of the other granary, right next to the headquarters building (principia). It was pretty much the same idea as the previous week: we were to get down to the road level and see if we could find the wall. In order to do so, we first had to clear away the backfill from previous excavations carried out in the 30s (I think). Which meant that for the first two days, what bits of bone and pot we did find were out of context, and had simply been overlooked first time round. Still, if it's gotta be done, it's gotta be done.

The previous week, I'd noticed, there had been quite a few students involved; this week, there were less students and a good few retired couples who had been coming for the last few years. I met one couple who had come down from Edinburgh: the husband was an ex-Latin teacher and had, as a student, excavated at Birrens under Professor Anne Robertson, so at tea-break we chatted about Roman Scotland, the Antonine Wall and the Gask Ridge. Then I had a smart-arse moment when I corrected another guy on something to do with the Inchtuthil nail hoards. I don't think he took too much offence, though; he came over to talk to me the next day. Then there was the other guy who asked me if I'd broken all my nails yet. Cheeky sod.
I got on all right with pretty much everyone, though there was that time when someone asked me what I was doing at uni and I told them: Archaeology, Celtic Civilisation, and Latin. A woman I was working alongside - an otherwise perfectly nice woman - paused and said to me earnestly, "You do know the Celts didn't speak Latin, don't you?" (facepalm)

I'd had a bit of a cold over the weekend, and on Tuesday, I felt too lousy to go out. So I sat around the house, moping and thinking, "Bet this is the day they find something amazing." Still, I felt a bit better in the evening, so I figured I'd see how Wednesday went before deciding whether or not to go home early.

Wednesday morning was all right, though I still felt a bit light-headed, and you could follow me around the site with the help of the trail of used snot-rags that fell out of my pockets. Most of the backfill had been cleared out of one section, where a buttress had been uncovered, leading us to hope that there was more wall to find. So, while I cleared away the last of the dirt to get down to the road surface, another guy's taking a pickaxe to the rubble and dirt to find the wall. Unfortunately, after hours of back-breaking work on his part, all that turned up was another robber trench. Turns out the stone-robbers of antiquity had done a pretty thorough job on this side, though for some strange reason they'd left that single buttress standing there by itself, and given us all false hope. >:( It wasn't all bad, though. Now that most of the backfill had been cleared from the road, I and the couple who were excavating just along from me were now on the surface where artefacts could be found proper. They found a nice little coin, which was bagged up and taken away to be cleaned at the lab.

By the end of lunchtime, I'm feeling rotten again. Guy next to me is still having no luck, and he remarks to me, "You know what? I'm going to build a time machine, go back in time and wait for those stone-robbers with a gun, then I'm going to come back and excavate again, and the wall will still be here!" I offered to help. Damn, inconsiderate stone-robbers.

It gets to about four o'clock, and suddenly, I have this splitting headache that comes out of nowhere. I'm convinced now that I'm not going to make it through another day and I'll be spending this evening packing my stuff. Then, I'm brushing up some soil, when something suddenly pops out from where it was wedged between two cobblestones. I pick it up and look at it. It's a die, a bit brown but otherwise in perfect condition. Now, for most of that week, the backfill layers had turned up things like ballpoints and batteries, so when I pick up this perfect little die, I decide it has to be modern. I'm about to chuck it away, when the guy next to me, obviously desperate to be away from the Robber Trench of Doom, suggests he'll go and show it to Andy anyway, for a bit of a joke. So I give it to him and get on with my sweeping. Then I realise he's taking his time, so I glance up, and Andy and Beth are taking a hell of an interest in it, and some of my fellow volunteers are coming over, too. Andy shouts across to me, but the wind's in my ears and I can't hear him. I clamber out of the trench and the shout comes: "Kirsten, it's Roman!"

For a moment, I'm speechless. "R-Roman?"

"100% Roman," says Andy.

Roman die, made of bone, with the number dots incised. By now, my 100% Roman die is attracting a lot of attention, a lot of people oohing and aahing and running for cameras, myself included. Andy jokes that he reckons it's one of the commanding officer's dice. Turns out that dice are pretty special little finds. And I found one. On my first ever dig. I'm grinning like an eejit right now as I type this. :D

And here it is, my star find. The zoom on my camera isn't all that great, but if you click on the photo here, you should be able to just make out some of the numbers on the faces visible:

My personal favourite find of the fortnight. It earned me a thumbs-up from Andy, who told me, "Kirsten, over the next few years, you'll go on hundreds of digs, but you'll be hard-pressed to better that." My headache seemed to disappear after that. Talk about a miracle cure. :)

On the phone that evening, my mum said, "Now you'll have to bring in a character who likes dice." I laughed and agreed, then I realised if I did, I ran the risk of creating a Romano-British Ryuuji Otogi. And I really don't want to have that on my conscience. ;)

So I stayed for the Thursday after all. I didn't really find anything else that day, though we managed to uncover most of the road surface in our section, with some really frantic trowelling and shovelling during the last twenty minutes. More than anything else, I just wanted to prolong my time with the folks on the dig. It was quite a sad moment, really, when the time came for us to tidy up and sit on the granary walls for the end-of-the-week speech and group photo.

Here's my trench, with the buttress and a bit of road:

And here's the group, flocking to the arse-parking spot at the end of the day:

Of course, that was the day for buying rubbish from the gift shop for the folks back home. The Vindolanda shop has a rather droolworthy stock of books on Roman Britain, though amongst them I found The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier, by a familiar name, Alistair Moffat. I haven't entirely forgiven that Before Scotland travesty, so, it was with morbid curiosity that I flicked open The Wall to a random page. First thing I saw was yet another rant which added up, more or less, to, "Waaa! No one studies the people who lived on the sites of the forts before they were kicked off their land by that ebul Roman army!" (As Andrew pointed out to me, if there are British settlements beneath the forts, they're underneath up to eight or nine layers of Roman occupation, and several feet of stratigraphy, which makes studying their inhabitants kinda difficult, to say the least.) So I... didn't buy that one. I did, however, buy myself a little beanie Roman legionary. Guess what I called him. C'mon, guess.

And that, as they say, was that. I had a brilliant time getting in and involved in a real dig, and I'll definitely be going down again in the future. And plotbunnies ran unchecked across the South Tyne valley. I noticed that on the very first evening, when I went out for a walk with my dad. Everywhere we looked, there were bunnies scampering across the roads and through the fields. Big, epic ones that sat there and refused to budge, and little, shy ones that were there for a moment, then hopped out of sight before you could get a good look at them. Sure, they looked cute, but I recognised them for what they were! I'll be writing all July. :)